Along with many other MPs I brought my tree back from Westminster on the train on Wednesday. It is a gift to Ipswich from the climate protesters who were camped around Parliament on Monday and Tuesday. I don’t approve of all their actions, but donating a tree to every MP is one initiative I wholeheartedly agree with. It is a way of drawing attention to the need to plant millions more trees across our country. My leading role in the session on tree-planting at the Labour Party Conference, alongside the Woodland Trust and the forestry industry, gave me the opportunity to point out that it is not just about improving the feel of our country and making space for our wildlife – important though those are – it is also about removing carbon from our atmosphere, helping to reverse climate change.
I was delighted when the Goldsmith Street council housing estate in Norwich beat London Bridge Station to win the Royal Institute of British Architects prize this week. “Faced with a global climate emergency, the worst housing crisis for generations, and crippling local authority cuts, Goldsmith Street is a beacon of hope” said RIBA president Alan Jones. Yesterday was World Homelessness Day, and while there are plenty of other actions we need to take to tackle homelessness, such as better help for drug and alcohol addiction, and more guidance for ex-offenders, the basic root of the problem is a lack of homes. There are plenty of Ipswich people who have done all the right things and tried their very best and who still find themselves without a permanent home. Ipswich Borough Council is making massive strides to build as many new council houses as possible, but they need support from the government if they are going to make the step-change we need, support which a Labour government is pledged to give.
It would be wonderful – and a huge boost to our ability to deal with the climate emergency – if all new council houses could be as environmentally-friendly as the Goldsmith Street estate. The tenants would benefit too, because the heating bills for such homes are virtually nothing. But the lack of government money for new housing makes that impossible, and the building regulations which govern how houses are built are of no help either. The Friends of the Earth report putting Ipswich near the top of environmentally-friendly councils in our region is very welcome, and I am immensely proud of all the initiatives that my colleagues on the Borough have carried out, some of which I was involved with when I was a Borough Councillor. But I know that there are many other things – such as food waste collections – that the council has tried to do, but have been stymied by the Conservative government.
So I was really interested to hear from AXA about their demands for new environmentally friendly building regulations, amongst other things. AXA is one of the most important employers in Ipswich. It’s not just all the people who work for AXA that depend on them being a forward-looking insurance business, but hundreds of others who might lose their jobs without the trade that those employees generate. AXA is using its leading position in insurance to push for the measures that we need to combat the climate emergency. They have disinvested from fossil fuel companies and tobacco companies and invested their customers’ money in green businesses that will help ensure a future for their customers – insurance against climate change in fact! And already they are reaping the reward in terms of secure returns on their investment – green investments are, by definition, the right investments for the future. Suffolk County Council take note!
I am really grateful for the impact that the climate protesters – including the school strike protesters – have had in raising the profile of the climate disaster that awaits us if we do nothing. But we are not going to deal with the Environment and Climate Emergency just by giving things up.
Of course there are various things we can individually do. But just trying to make people feel guilty solves nothing. We need to demand action from the government. People need to be able to lead their lives normally, with fulfilling jobs and enjoyable leisure. A government that is focussed on a secure, sustainable healthy future for all its citizens, not just the very rich, and is willing to invest in making it happen, will be able to make this country the environmental beacon we know it can be.