The UK parliament has become the first in the world to declare a climate emergency after responding to growing pressure from climate activists and a motion tabled by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Climate change has dominated the headlines in the last few weeks as civil disobedience campaign Extinction Rebellion took over key locations across London and various UK cities.
The movement gathered momentum with the arrival of Swedish climate activist and founder of the Youth for Climate strike, Greta Thunberg, who attended the protest in London before meeting with party leaders, with the exception of Theresa May.
In a statement after the debate in the House of Commons, Corbyn said: “Today we have seen something incredible, the UK parliament has passed Labour’s motion and become the first in the world to declare an environment and climate emergency.
Declaring a climate emergency can “set off a wave of action from governments around the globe”, said Corbyn, where the UK could lead by example and encourage others to follow.
“We pledge to work as closely as possible with countries that are serious about ending the climate catastrophe and make clear to US President Donald Trump that he cannot ignore international agreements and action on the climate crisis,” he said.
Responding on behalf of the government, environment minister Michael Gove said: “The environment belongs to us all, and the cause of climate change is a fight that unites us. All of us in this House have a common humanity that we need to defend.
“I make it clear that the Government recognise the situation we face is an emergency. It is a crisis, and it is a threat that we must all unite to meet.”
Theresa May was not present at the climate change debate as she was appearing before the Liaison Committee, Gove said.
Later on in his speech to the Commons, Gove also made reference to Trump, who is due to make a controversial state visit to the UK this summer. “I hope I might have the opportunity to make clear to the President of the United States when he comes here, perhaps over dinner – I will probably opt for a meat-free option on that evening – that as the world’s biggest polluter, he has to take responsibility,” he said.
A statement from Extinction Rebellion posted on Twitter said: “ UK MPs pass a motion to declare an environment & climate emergency. This has seen them start to #TellTheTruth about the climate & ecological crisis. They must now halt biodiversity loss, go net #ZeroCarbon2025 & create a #CitizensAssembly.”
As well as debating the motion to declare a climate emergency, MPs discussed a range of ways to tackle climate change and reduce emissions, including how to move to a green energy economy; ramping up the UK’s capabilities in renewable energy; prioritising sustainable travel; the proposed expansion of Heathrow airport; and protecting biodiversity and pollinators.
It comes as today the government advisory group Committee on Climate Change published its report on how the UK could reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Extinction Rebellion has called for this target to be brought forward to 2025.