In a cunning trick, Theresa May has locked her Tory successor into doing something about climate change.
The outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May is scrambling to build a legacy after three years of Brexit chaos. It is no surprise – her domestic agenda has up to now fallen flat, and five of her keystone pieces of legislation have ground to a halt in the House of Commons.
At the very least, she can claim to have played her part in attempting to avoid climate disaster, by today announcing that she will put into law a new target for the UK to be zero-carbon by 2050.
The Prime Minister’s pledge to “leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it” has, up to now, fallen completely flat.
Although the government has published endless “strategies” and “plans” making lots of bold, broad brush policy commitments, not a single piece of legislation has put any of it into force.
The Government’s Draft Environmental Bill got chopped in half after Tory MPs complained about the protections for animal sentience that it contained.
The Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill, which were both intended to give effect to the major Brexit promises that leaving the EU will allow us to replace the Common Agricultural Policy with an environmentally focused scheme, have quietly disappeared and show no sign of returning. The government has been held hostage by the extremists in their own Tory Party.
This track record of failing to deliver on the legislation needed to turn big environmental promises into any real action explains why the Prime Minister has chosen the Net-Zero target as her legacy.
Unlike the other measures, which require an Act of Parliament to pass through her unruly House of Commons and the sticklers for detail in the House of Lords, the Prime Minister can change the UK’s carbon targets using a statutory instrument.
Statutory instruments are subject to very little parliamentary scrutiny: they aren’t routinely debated and, although Parliament can vote them down, this is a once in a generation event.
We are left in a rather ironic position. A lame duck Prime Minister circumventing her rebellious Tory MPs using secondary legislation to implement one of the most important policy decision in UK history.
Net zero by 2050 is too little, too late; and dumps the real work of implementation on her successor’s head – but it’s a huge step forward which would have been politically unimaginable if she didn’t seize the moment in the way she has.
I’m not sure whether history will remember Theresa May for it, but at least she has set a baseline target from which Greens and future governments can continue to improve on as we work towards a sustainable future for humanity and our one Planet Earth.
In contrast to the ongoing Brexit chaos, the Prime Minister has set our country on a clear path to a better future.
Jenny Jones is a Green Party peer in the House of Lords.
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