Opinion: Cop26 may be our last hope – yet the Tories are taking us backwards

Opinion: Cop26 may be our last hope – yet the Tories are taking us backwards
The government continues to delay the urgent action we need, says Wera Hobhouse. As if business as usual with a few nods to renewable energy was all that is needed to stop climate change

There is no question about it – the IPCC report was the starkest in a long list of wake up calls. There is no time for delay or excuses and governments must act now to stop irreversible damage to our planet.

From flash floods in London to record-breaking heatwaves in other European countries, we are already seeing the damning impact of the climate crisis.

We must face the grim reality and build a future without carbon emissions now. That means new ways of creating non-carbon power for transportation, heating, manufacturing and agriculture. It means changes to our land use, our diet and our planning system. And we need action to help nature to recover.

The UN Climate Change Conference (Cop26) in Glasgow may be our last, best hope to tackle the climate crisis. Yet despite that, it’s clearer than ever that the Conservative government is taking us backwards in the fight against climate change.

While the prime minister still hasn’t woken up to the climate threat at his door, Liberal Democrats have. We have a green recovery plan that would create jobs and cut emissions to net zero, taking on Britain’s global responsibility as one of the richest countries in the world and one of its historic carbon emitters.

Take our countryside. While the Conservatives claim to be championing our natural environment, they’ve missed their own self-set targets on tree planting and biodiversity recovery. Meanwhile, they’re driving our farmers out of business. The very people we need to look after our countryside are feeling betrayed because the Tories can’t protect our high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection.

We need to set legally binding targets to improve our water, air, soil and biodiversity. The Tory government is big on talk but small on action. It must stop talking about how many trees to plant, and actually plant the 60 million trees a year we need.

But, it’s not just in the countryside where the Conservatives’ climate failure creeps in – it’s in our homes too. Our homes are some of the worst quality in Europe for energy usage. 2.5 million live in fuel poverty due to poor insulation and heat loss.

The Conservatives are taking us backwards. They scrapped zero-carbon home standards in 2016, and then they scrapped their own Green Homes Grant after chronic mismanagement.

We need an emergency 10-year programme to upgrade insulation in every home and to ensure new homes are built to zero-carbon standards, with renewable energy generated on-site alongside low-carbon heating.

A green home building programme will create thousands of new green jobs too, helping our recovery from the pandemic.

Most of all we need the government to set a clear direction of how our existing homes will be heated in the future without relying on fossil fuel gas that comes straight out of the ground.

It is incomprehensible that the Tories have stopped the development of onshore wind farms since 2015 and slashed subsidies for solar power when now is the time to develop as much renewable energy as possible.

The government continues to delay the urgent action we need and deliberately keeps the fossil fuel industry going as if business as usual with a few nods to renewable energy was all that is needed to stop the climate crisis.

And there is another serious issue where the Tories have failed all of us and left us with broken promises: air pollution.

One in four children attend schools in areas over air pollution limits. Air pollution is a killer which causes 40.000 early deaths every year. We cannot stand by while the Conservatives allow the nation’s children to breathe unhealthy, dirty air.

By 2025 air pollution is likely to cost the NHS £1.5bn. Cleaning up our air has to be at the heart of any green recovery plan.

The UK has a unique opportunity in hosting Cop26, bringing together the global community to agree on tough climate action. But we need a government that can credibly show its own record at home.

If this Tory government doesn’t wake up to the severity of the crisis we face, then Cop26 will be remembered as the conference where the world stood still as the earth burned around us.

Wera Hobhouse is a Liberal Democrat politician who has served as MP for Bath since 2017 .