MP Thérèse Coffey at Greener Rendlesham

Suffolk Coastal MP Thérèse Coffey held a public meeting on 19th July, promoted by Greener Rendlesham.

Thérèse told us she has been Minister of State for the Environment for three years (and was appointed again under new PM Boris Johnson on 25th July). She opened by conceding that “climate has been on the agenda for some time” and referred to the IPBES report on species extinction and habitat loss and the significance of our oceans – responsible for half the air we breathe and now in the forefront of widespread concern about plastic pollution.

Thérèse’s message was positive. She talked about how excited she was that 2020 is to be a “magical” year for global agreements, in particular, the UN Ocean Conference, and UN Conference on Climate Change (which might be held in the UK). She also mentioned the UN Sustainable Goals, due for review in 2030.

Following her brief introduction, Thérèse took questions on:

Sizewell C
Concern was raised about the impact on Minsmere, building on a SSI, species loss etc.
TC said that Sizewell was developed in the ‘60s, and the area designated as an AONB in 1970. ‘I do believe that the environment and industry can co-exist,’ she said. She views nuclear power as a carbon-free ‘solid baseline power.’

Plastics and recycling
An audience member spoke of the difficulties of correctly identifying what plastics to put in which recycling bins.
There is no national agreement on manufacturers’ labelling. TC quoted a 25-year government plan looking into a mandatory scheme on plastics and recycling. Consultations have happened, but nothing has been announced.
The aim is for food waste to be collected from every home by 2023 and there is still deep discussion about a possible ban on plastic straws and the introduction of bottle banks.
She identified challenges like the film used in microwaves meals, and the volume of single plastic use in the NHS.
She mentioned that a majority of countries have approved the legally-binding UN Plastic Waste pact.

Solar power
Why isn’t it law that municipal buildings and new houses must have solar panels?
The majority of solar has been installed since 2010. TC commented that in 2015 the European Court of Justice ruled against VAT reductions on energy saving materials. As for wind power, decisions are made by local councils.
The 1987 Montreal Treaty is one of the most successful global treaties, she said, and has phased out several fluorinated gases.
(In the UK,  a member of the audience pointed out, VAT on domestic gas and electricity – fossil fuels – was cut from 20% to 5%).

East Suffolk Council climate emergency (tabled by SCGP’s Rachel Smith-Lyte)
It’s hoped that all policies will now have to consider the environmental footprint.

Palm oil and habitat loss
A suggestion was made to tax palm oil to make room for cheaper, more sustainable alternatives.
TC said that palm oil is among the issues under consideration by the Global Resource Initiative over the next year.  She hoped that leaving the EU might pave the way for a better relationship with, for example, Indonesia over timber logging.

Northern Route bypass
TC got a round of applause when she asked, ‘Do we need another dual carriageway?’ She understands the desire for more housing, but doesn’t think it’s the right thing to do.

Our future
12-year-old Eve got a standing ovation for her honest, direct appeal to, not just TC, but all of us. She said we were stealing what little time her generation has left and is frustrated that people complement her for her ‘passion’ about climate change when, in fact, she has better things to do on a Friday night. Younger people face a dystopian future as the price for the current obsession with economic growth. Action needs to happen now on aviation, fracking and oil.
TC replied honestly that the government could not commit to zero emissions by 2030 which Eve called for, saying she ‘didn’t believe we can achieve that.’ The Committee on Climate Change recommends zero carbon by 2050 and TC appreciated that hers was a ‘frustrating answer.’ She emphasised nature-based solutions – ‘Technology is not there yet’ – and the importance of acting, not just saying we will act.

Eve’s friend seconded her plea for quick action and talked about the benefits of mangrove forests.
TC drew parallels with Suffolk’s salt marshes which similarly provide habitat and coastal defences.

After 9 years of cuts, how can government support local councils?
TC conceded that grants had fallen and said she wouldn’t pretend it’s not challenging.

Climate change acceleration
Climate change isn’t linear; it’s unpredictable and unprecedented (e.g. methane from melting ice caps). Scientists are out of their comfort zones and while it’s great that there are 60 people here, there should be 60,000. How to get people on board and is there, in fact, a big, holistic agenda to tackle the crisis?
TC referred to next year’s Biodiversity Conference (?). The government has adopted a National Adaptation Programme but this has been criticised, TC noted, by the Climate Change Committee for not having a particular timeline. This is now being looked at more carefully.

Too little, too late
One audience member spoke about feeling as if she were in a timewarp. Actions are 30 or 40 years too late. The UN General Secretary said we should have changed direction by 2020. Is it time to move to rationing and a war time economy?
TC recognised that people want more, and quicker. It’s a challenge. The UK, she said, has been at the forefront of the EU in pushing for environmental changes and will continue to work with them.

Does the government need more teeth to persuade us to change our consumer habits?
TC wants a move to a circular economy, with changes in design which are based on recyclability, with accompanying regulations.

Concrete is a huge part of many infrastructure projects but causes 8% of CO2 emissions. How can we reduce concrete use eg, in motorway bridges and can tax breaks be given to alternative solutions?
TC said she didn’t know the answer but would find out more and write to the questioner.

Third World Countries
Countries like Uganda are the most badly off. It receives the rest of the world’s plastic and has put up expensive solar panels, but cases 1% of the problem while suffering from the other 99%.
TC has been to Uganda and commented that it was one of the poorest place she’d visited. Like Bangladesh, it disproportionately handles the world’s waste while suffering the most ill effects…

I had to leave at this point, just before the meeting closed. I’m writing this some time after the event, so many apologies for anything mis-remembered or left out.
Report by Libby Ruffle

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