OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on Climate Change

(Newspaper column as seen in the August 2019 edition of The Pigeon)

I’ve been contacted by a lot of people in recent months who are concerned about climate change. It’s something which deeply concerns me too. 

I was pleased that the Labour Party’s Shadow DEFRA Secretary, Sue Hayman, declared a climate emergency in March which we then passed on the floor of the House of Commons in May. It comes after Bristol City Council declared a Climate Emergency and coincides with Extinction Rebellion protests in Bristol and across the UK.  

The Labour movement has a long tradition of environmental protection, from the establishment of the national parks after the Second World War, through to the pioneering Climate Change Act. Strong environmental policy is a matter of justice, and ensuring that communities can breathe clean air, drink clean water, afford a good diet and enjoy our countryside is vital. 

Last month (July), I spoke about air quality in Bristol on the Sunday Politics Show. It not only contributes to the climate emergency but it is one of the biggest public health threats of our time – contributing to 300 deaths a year in Bristol. 

The way forward demands firm action and I was pleased to learn more about Bristol City Council’s plans in improving air quality in Bristol. They’re currently consulting on two proposals to help reduce pollution in the city. 1) A Clean Air Zone with daily charges for polluting commercial vehicles such as taxis, vans, lorries and buses in central Bristol, which includes Bedminster and Southville. 2) A ban on all diesel vehicles from entering the inner city centre. Under both plans, diesel cars would be banned from the road outside Bristol Royal Infirmary.  

There are other elements – improvements to bus provision, a scrappage scheme for diesel cars and the recently announced plans to close roads outside some of the city’s schools to the stream of traffic they host at school opening and closing times. You’ve got until August 12 to have your say, so please do. 

We cannot talk about the ongoing battle to tackle poor air quality in Bristol – particularly outside schools – without mentioning Bath and North East Somerset Council’s ill-conceived plans to build a new polluting road past Bridge Farm Primary School. I, like many of my constituents living in Whitchurch, are opposed to this. We must not allow 20,000 cars a day to spurt out toxic fumes into the air where children learn and play. 

The government is failing to make headway in reducing carbon emissions from vehicles – and this is partly due to its appetite for building roads. I will continue to press for the Government to recognise this and act to bring about a zero-carbon future.