Climate change: SNP and Conservative governments are failing to live up to their rhetoric – Jim McMahon MP

We know the world is facing a climate emergency, one we all must play our part in tackling.

A trademark characteristic of Boris Johnson is lots of talk and little action, says Jim McMahon (Picture: David Rose/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Reusing what we can will play a crucial role in our future sustainability. But I didn’t expect the UK government’s vision for greener transport to rely so heavily on recycled material.

The Transport Decarbonisation Plan was a chance to set out real ambition for the UK to lead the way ahead of Cop26 in Glasgow. It was a chance to boost our green economy, focusing on building and manufacturing, supporting public transport, maritime, freight and aviation while increasing the number of people walking and cycling.

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What we got were rehashed pledges on things the Conservatives should already be doing, vague promises of extra cash and yet more ‘consultation’. Lots of talk and little action is a Boris Johnson trademark.

This is the crucial decade for action on climate change. So why, on the Tories' watch, has the number of petrol and diesel vans on our roads rocketed? Why, when we know this increase is down in no small part to last-mile courier vehicles, does this plan treat the likes of Amazon exactly the same as a self-employed builder, whose van might be parked up outside a job all day?

Why does this plan do little to build on the new walking and cycling habits many have acquired during the testing 18 months we have experienced as a country, with 66 per cent of would-be cyclists saying they don’t feel safe on our roads?

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Climate change should be treated as an emergency in the same way as the pandemic...

Why, despite acknowledging electric vehicles can cut energy costs, has funding for charging points given to councils fallen from £15m in 2019/20 to £6.5m in 2020/21, with many schemes scrapped? The list goes on: rocketing bus and train fares, £1bn cut from rail infrastructure, failure to deliver on a proper flexible season ticket scheme.

Under the SNP the picture is equally uninspiring, with the Scottish government failing to meet its 2019 emissions reduction target. Despite boasting of ‘world-leading’ climate targets, the SNP have fallen at the first hurdle.

It’s a similar pattern of bold rhetoric with little substance, something we’ve become all-too used to seeing in Westminster.

If this was a test of our ambition to be ‘world leading’, ministers both sides of the border have flunked it.

We need bold action to get us on the right track. Labour would invest in our public transport networks to get more people travelling greener and move freight traffic off roads and onto railways; we’d make cycling safer by giving it the up-front funding it needs and we would introduce zero-interest loans to help those on low and middle incomes to transition from petrol and diesel vehicles, accelerating the rollout of charging points.

Transport emissions fell last year thanks to lockdown, but it remains the most polluting sector and those levels are certain to rebound. Before the pandemic, emissions had fallen by just one per cent in the decade up to 2019.

We know the Conservative government isn’t keen on scrutiny or being held to account, but if ministers are serious about tackling the most serious crisis we face globally, we need to see yearly progress reports to parliament. Their track record of failure means warm words are no longer enough.

Jim McMahon MP is Labour’s UK Shadow Transport Secretary

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