Sleaford

Caroline Johnson: Why I’m against the Extinction Rebellion disruption

This week, activists from the climate change group Extinction Rebellion began a fortnight of coordinated protests shutting down all the streets into Westminster. Over 20,000 people are expected to block bridges, disrupt public transport, and lock themselves to lorries. I know their concerns about the environment are shared by some in our constituency, with around 40 Lincolnshire environmental protesters travelling to London to take part, in addition to a number of protestors taking part in an event in Sleaford.

As a mother, a doctor, and the Member of Parliament for Sleaford and North Hykeham, I am committed to ensuring our children inherit a world that is cleaner, safer, and greener.

I respect their motivation and passion on this issue – but not their tactics intended to cause mass disruption.

Everyone has the right to peacefully protest; it is a proud British tradition and a vital part of our democracy. However, people do not have the right to break the law and disrupt the lives of others. Protesters do not have the right to cause misery for those going about their daily lives – disrupting individuals going to work, attending hospital appointments, or dropping their children off on the school run.

These individuals are neither responsible for nor have agency over the issue of climate change – yet the inconvenience they must suffer is seen as justifiable collateral damage by these protestors. The same logic applies to our emergency services, who suffered great difficulties on the road networks during similar protests in April. As a Consultant Paediatrician I know just how precious every minute is for an ambulance – and they should not have to navigate through open air yoga classes on Westminster Bridge when responding to a person in urgent need.

In shutting down all the streets into Westminster, one of their objectives is to shut down all the Government departments – the irony being that the hard work by ministers and civil servants across these departments has put the UK at the forefront of global efforts to fight climate change. We were the first country to introduce legally binding long-term emissions targets under the landmark Climate Change Act in 2008.

We’ve introduced a legally binding net zero target to end the UK’s contribution to global warming entirely by 2050. We’ve reduced greenhouse gases by a quarter since coming to office in 2010; increased renewable electricity generation six-fold since 2009; and reduced emissions faster than any other G20 country. Indeed, the last time emissions in the UK were this low was in 1888 when Queen Victoria was on the throne.

The Conservatives have always been strong advocates for the environment – in fact, Margaret Thatcher was the first leader of a major economy to recognise global warming as a threat. Since 2010 the government has cut single use plastic bags by 86 percent through the plastic bag charge; legislated to ban other harmful plastics such as microbeads, straws, stirrers, and cotton buds; ensured cleaner air for the next generation, through supporting local authorities with funding worth more than £260 million to tackle those road junctions with particularly bad levels of air pollution; and ensured 25% of UK waters are now Marine Protected Areas.

There is more to be done, of course, but these achievements show that rather than turning a blind eye towards environmental issues, we have been at the forefront of efforts to tackle them. I have been proud to play my part through my work on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee; including scrutinising the Environment Bill, which will establish a world-leading environmental watchdog that will ensure parliament keeps the environment at the heart of decision making for decades to come.

It is a common refrain that all politics is local, and climate change is no exception. Reaching the ambitious goals we have set will require action at all levels of government. In our constituency of Sleaford and North Hykeham, we are lucky to be served by district and county councils that take their role in reducing emissions seriously. North Kesteven District Council has reduced its carbon footprint by an incredible 70%; while Lincolnshire County Council has reduced its carbon emissions by 24% since 2012. LCC was also one of the first authorities that took part in the Carbon Trust Local Authority Carbon Management programme in 2006. I am proud that Lincolnshire is committed to playing its part in tackling this issue.

I believe this government’s commitment to the environment is clear to see, and the mass disruption caused by these protests only serves to cause unnecessary misery and even alienate many potential supporters. Extinction Rebellion have the right to protest – but not the right to break the law.