Local organisations have mounted a campaign to convince Lewes MP Maria Caulfield to support the new Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill.
The CEE Alliance Lewes have called on the MP to back the bill which is awaiting its second reading in the House of Commons when Friday sittings are resumed. Debates on private members’ bills have been temporarily suspended due to coronavirus.
The campaign has seen Extinction Rebellion Lewes join forces with Transition Town Lewes, Seaford Environmental Alliance and Cycle Lewes – amongst others.
Dr Mark Slater, National Speaker Trainer for Extinction Rebellion, said: “We live in a world where politicians are very liberal with their promises but not very effective in actually carrying them out. Greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to rise at a terrifying rate. We’re getting lots of warm words but nobody is doing anything!”
Dr Slater, also a member of Extinction Rebellion Lewes, said the CEE Bill was vital as it will commit the government to legally binding targets. “It will force them to act – which is why they don’t like it,” he added.
The bill, which was tabled on September 2, 2020, states the UK must contribute fairly to limiting overall global temperature rise to 1.5C. It would also create a citizens assembly to work alongside the government.
Maria Caulfield said she welcomed the debate the bill has generated but has so far refused to give it her backing.
The alliance are writing an open letter to Mrs Caulfield giving their arguments in favour of the bill and the inadequacies of the government’s current policy on climate. Signatures from local community organisations and businesses are being gathered for the letter, with the aim of publishing it in local media.
A campaign poster featuring Mrs Caulfield is also being distributed around Lewes.
The campaign has reached out to prominent individuals with connections to the area. Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, who has family ties to Lewes, said: “It seems to me an excellent bill in every way. Absolutely worth supporting.”
Ms Toynbee said Maria Caulfield should “step up to the plate and support everything that can possibly be done to keep our climate from rising more than 1.5C,” and that so far “she’s shown no interest in the issue, which is a shame.”
“These things need to be debated out in the open between all parties. Her fear of public discussion is disgraceful for an MP,” she said.
The alliance wishes to have a conversation with Mrs Caulfield about the bill. Dr Slater said they had an online meeting arranged but that she cancelled at short notice, citing pressing engagements.
Mrs Caulfield has responded to constituents writing to her about the bill. She said she has concerns about some of its aims, notably to reach net zero emissions target well before the 2050 deadline targeted in current UK climate laws.
Green MP Caroline Lucas, who tabled the CEE Bill, said: “This date is far too late to stop runaway climate chaos, and the government isn’t on track to reach even that target. We need to be more ambitious, move faster and be honest about our global climate impact.”
According to TheyWorkForYou.com, Mrs. Caulfield has consistently voted against measures to prevent climate change.
Mrs Caulfield said: “I am passionate about tackling climate change which is why I was proud to vote for the recent legislation making the UK the first country in the world to legislate for a net zero emissions target.
“I am proud that on the back of this the Government has driven our renewable sector and we now produce close to 50% of our energy from renewable sources as we phase out fossil fuel.
“The bill hasn’t got a date for second reading yet as the sitting Fridays are cancelled due to Covid but I look forward to it coming to Parliament.”
Juliet Oxborrow, a member of Transition Town Lewes, said it was not the time for MPs to vote in a piecemeal way on the environment. “Constituents want their MPs to take climate change seriously – to make those difficult decisions and take action swiftly,” she said.
So far the CEE Bill has received support from 98 MPs across seven political parties, including Labour’s Diane Abbot and Liberal Democrat Tim Farron. It would need the support of a majority to make it law.
Currently no conservatives support the bill. Mrs Caulfield said instead they were working towards achieving the Prime Minister’s 10-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.
Dr Slater said people have been “duped” by the government’s 10-Point Plan and that conservative MPs like Maria Caulfield are not listening to scientists.
“We’re meant to be world leaders!” he said. “The level of scientific ignorance amongst MPs is appalling.”
Discussion around the bill comes at a time when the UK is preparing to host the UN climate change summit in Glasgow this November. Caroline Lucas said, as hosts, “it is essential that we get our own house in order.”
As a private members bill, its chances of getting through Parliament at this time are slim. However, the CEE Bill is in its early stages and may achieve success returning to Parliament later or in different forms. Its main purpose currently is to raise awareness.
The CEE Alliance Lewes are encouraging local people to find out more about the bill and asking them to write to Maria Caulfield on the matter.