Thursday, 29 April 2021

Climate Change, the G7 and COP-26

This year important steps are being taken to establish the UK’s leading role on the issue of climate change, with Cornwall hosting the G7 in June and the COP26 Summit taking place in Glasgow later in the year.

Climate change and environmental concerns more widely have risen up the agenda in recent years. Fifteen years ago, David Cameron made it a central part of his agenda. When the Conservatives came to power, we brought our environmental agenda with us. The UK has made significant progress over the last decade and is the best performing G20 country. We have reduced carbon emissions by about 44% so far and we have ambitious policies that will achieve more in the years ahead. We were the first country to introduce a Climate Change Act which sets targets for emission reduction. We have met the first two carbon budget targets and we are on course to meet the third in a couple of years’ time. However, everyone recognises that there is more to do to achieve our targets later this decade.

Last week, the Government announced that we would adopt the recommendation of the Climate Change Committee and set the world’s most ambitious climate change target, cutting emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels. The is also the first time that the UK’s Carbon Budget will incorporate the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions, which is an important step in truly tackling our global emissions. This announcement and the recent changes will bring the UK to more than three-quarters of the way to achieving net-zero ahead of our final target of being carbon-neutral by 2050.

In addition to this, earlier this week I hosted a Sustainable Agriculture round-table discussion. The discussion included representatives from Costa Rica, Vietnam, Morocco, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, New Zealand, Germany, the EU, Italy, the US and Brazil. The discussion explored some of the issues around sustainable agriculture and soil health which are increasingly on the agenda around the world. Furthermore, our new Agriculture Act sets out how farmers and land managers in England will be rewarded in the future with payments directed to enhance environmental assets like soils or hedgerows.

All of this forms the backdrop to the UK hosting the G7 summit in Carbis Bay in June of this year. Climate Change will certainly represent an important part of the summit's agenda. It is vital that as we build back better from the huge impact of the pandemic that we also build back greener. As we are the hosts for both COP26 in Glasgow and the G7 in Cornwall, is important that we set a high standard for our international partners. From changing the way business operates, reforming our key industries like agriculture and setting ambitious, yet achievable targets for cutting emissions, we are on a pathway to protect our precious environment for future generations.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Trevithick Day 2021

This year we are celebrating the 250th anniversary of the life of Richard Trevithick. Sadly, this year will be a more muted celebration, given the pandemic, with regular events such as the parade with the engine and other celebrations being unable to take place. Instead, the festival will be taking place mostly virtually with some elements such as a window-shopping competition taking place in-person. While we may not be able to enjoy the full day of celebrations, it is still an important opportunity to celebrate the achievements of one of Camborne’s favourite sons. 

Back in 2010, when I was first elected to Parliament, I made Richard Trevithick the focus of my maiden speech.  I found a wonderful statement from him saying that, although he had been criticised for trying new principles and was left in severe financial hardship as a result of his pioneering endeavours, he knew in his own heart that he had brought forward new ideas that would be of boundless value to his country.  For many years, Trevithick's achievements were not really recognised which makes it all the more important we celebrate them now even if we can’t do so in person.

As a pioneer Richard Trevithick invented the steam locomotive and epitomised the contribution made by Cornwall to the Industrial Revolution. It was the efforts of pioneers like Trevithick that put Cornwall on the map as a leading centre for industry and innovation. Whilst towns like Camborne and Redruth experienced some decline after the closure of the tin mines and Holman’s, new industries and technologies are beginning to establish themselves into our communities which offers the prospect of higher-paid employment in the future.

In the past, people had to choose between leaving Cornwall and taking a well-paid career upcountry or taking the lifestyle choice to live in the most beautiful part of the country but accepting a lower salary. That is starting to change.

Ever since I was first elected, I have made clear that economic regeneration in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle was my number one priority. Our local towns were once at the heart of the industrial revolution and our expertise in mining engineering was second to none. In Camborne, plans to revitalise the town have been stepping up with the Towns Fund Board formally submitting a proposal to the government in January.

While we may not be able to celebrate Trevithick Day in the usual manner this year, but we can still all take a moment to be proud of our local heritage and the significant leading role that this part of Cornwall played in the industrial revolution.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh 1921-2021

On Friday morning we all received the sad news that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and Consort to Her Majesty the Queen, had died peacefully while at home at the age of 99.  While in some ways it was not unexpected, many of us were moved by it.  He has been such a central part of the Royal Family and our national story for so many years.  Having been married to the Queen for 73 years, he was the longest-serving Royal consort in history.
We all understood that he had offered huge support to the Queen throughout her reign.  However, like many others, through the many tributes and obituaries, I actually found that I learned new things about his life story that I hadn’t realised before. In particular his early childhood and how he and his family had to leave Corfu and how, as a baby, he made the journey in a crib made from an orange box.  He fought in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and was mentioned in dispatches for his part in the Battle of Cape Matapan in the Mediterranean in 1941.
Reflecting on his life is also a reminder that he was a forward-thinking man who embraced new ideas and was ahead of his time in many areas.  He was fascinated by engineering and technology and championed these industries all his life and embraced new ideas on the Royal estates and new technology within the Palace.  He was instrumental in the decision to open the Royal Family up to make them more accessible, persuading the Queen to participate in a televised documentary during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  He was also passionate about environmental issues long before they became fashionable.  He had spotted in the 1960s that the way we were living posed a threat to nature and that we had to change our ways.  He was the first president and a co-founder of the World Wildlife Fund which has championed nature across the world ever since.
He was famous for straight-talking and we will all recall moments where reports of his latest colourful intervention have raised a smile.  Those who knew him well say that this was more often than not his way of breaking through stilted formality, of breaking the ice to put people at ease or to put things in perspective and challenge people to recognise what mattered in life and not to stand on ceremony too much - although he did his share of that too.
He was also someone who believed passionately in the potential of the next generation and the importance of supporting young people to find their vocation and develop the confidence to thrive.  A large part of his legacy will be the long-running Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. Many will have memories of taking part in the D of E Scheme while at school or college; discovering an opportunity to build confidence, work with others and grow and learn vital life skills. The scheme has allowed many over the last 60 years, particularly from poorer backgrounds, to support their local community and improve their chances in life. 
This Saturday we will all pause to reflect on his huge contribution to British National life throughout his 99 years.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

The Second Step on the Roadmap: The Opening of Shops and Pubs

This week the Prime Minister confirmed that the second step on the roadmap would be going ahead; this will begin on April 12th, which is this coming Monday. The first step of reopening schools and the continued success of our vaccine rollout have allowed us to meet the four tests that the Prime Minister previously outlined. 

Throughout the last five weeks, the government has made every effort to offer schools support in the form of tests and PPE to prevent infection and monitor the situation. There was some concern that the reopening of schools would lead to a rise in cases and would force us to delay this second step. However, thanks to a brilliant effort by teachers, students, and parents this has been avoided and numbers have continued to fall or remain stable at a low level across the country.

As I write this, we have now vaccinated over 31 million people, with an additional 5.5 million have had their second dose. The roll-out of the vaccine is a key route for us out of lockdown and the pandemic. The first priority was getting our young people back to school and help get their education back on track. However, now we have achieved this, we can begin to reopen parts of our retail and hospitality sectors and begin the process of undoing the untold damage caused by this pandemic.

The change next week will be a huge relief to many, who have been longing for the chance to see friends and family again for a drink in the pub or to go out to the shops. However, it is vital that we do not let ourselves get complacent and allow ourselves to let our guard down. The progress we have made up to this point has been brilliant, but costly, so we must all try to ensure that we preserve the benefits. 

From drawing examples of other countries around the world, we can see that the progress of an effective vaccine rollout can be undone by outside factors. For example, Dr Chris Witty, the Chief Medical Officer, gave the example of Chile to show this. While Chile have managed to vaccinate a large proportion of their population, they have not managed to see as significant a drop as other countries. While it is speculation at this point, this may be due to the impact of cases coming in from Brazil or other areas. As a result, it is vital we all work hard to protect the progress we have made so far. 

Nonetheless, while there are plenty of reasons to be cautious, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful too. The progress we have made up to this point should be celebrated. I am sure many, myself included, will be looking forward to a pint of beer or glass of wine in a Cornish pub garden over the next few weeks.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Tackling Littering

One of the things that we have valued more during this pandemic is the ability to have access to the natural world and outdoor spaces. With all of the restrictions in place and three lockdowns which have required us to stay at home, the ability to get out and exercise, and form a connection with the natural world has been important.

However, the blight of litter on our environment has come into sharp focus over the last year in Cornwall. We have all seen our favourite walks, beauty spots and green spaces suffer from dropped masks, plastic bottles or food wrappers. 

Last week the government launched two consultations that aim to strengthen some of the laws around the way we manage waste and to encourage companies to use less packaging and take more responsibility for recycling the packaging they do use.

It is vital that we stop the millions of tonnes of plastic that are being dumped every year. In the UK alone, we go through an estimated 28 billion drinks bottles and cans a year, with nearly 12 million tonnes of packaging placed on the market in 2019. As we strive to tackle climate change and build back greener from the pandemic, we need to come together for our planet across all of society to make a lasting difference.  

We have already made huge strides to tackle plastic pollution, including banning microbeads in rinse-off products, announcing a plastic packaging tax and prohibiting the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. But there is still a lot more to do to turn the tide on plastic. 

Our 5p plastic bag charge has shown just how effective small financial incentives can be in encouraging far-reaching behaviour change, with a 95% drop in supermarket sales and billions of harmful bags taken out of circulation.  

Through new powers in the new Environment Bill, manufacturers will take more responsibility for the packaging they produce, with the levying of fees not only encouraging more recycling but also greater recyclability. Much of our packaging is too difficult to recycle and we must ensure that more is captured and turned back into new products. 

We are also developing plans for a new deposit return scheme.  Many of us remember the old glass Corona bottles where you could return them and receive a 10 pence deposit.  The idea is to do something similar with plastic bottles which will attract a surcharge and people will be able to return them to collection machines or retailers to get a refund.

We want to bear down on the waste and carelessness that destroys our natural environment and kills marine life. With the G7 in Cornwall this year, it is important that we set a high standard for our international partners who will be visiting our region in June. From changing the way business works to increase recycling and helping households, we are on a pathway to protect our precious environment for future generations.