Campaigners request response over climate inaction

Laura White
Laura White

More than 20 campaigners in the Torridge and West Devon constituency are accusing their MP, Geoffrey Cox, of failing to address their concerns.

The group all share a belief that the Government is not doing enough to combat the climate and nature crises. And they say they have been trying to persuade Mr Cox to acknowledge their concerns since June. However, despite lobbying the MP by email, letters and telephone calls the campaigners say the MP has failed to respond.

The 26 constituents, aged between 22 and 83, include a former NHS intensive care nurse, a retired police officer, scientists, teachers, students and others from the business world. They have written an open letter to The Moorlander calling on Mr Cox to act on their concerns.

The constituents first contacted Mr Cox in June as part of ‘The Time is Now’ a virtual lobby of Parliament organised by The Climate Coalition. They sent emails individually, and as a group, requesting a virtual meeting with the MP. After failing to hear back the group telephoned the MP’s office and was told he was too busy to take part.

The group accepts that at that time Mr Cox was busy dealing with the coronavirus disease outbreak in the constituency. But they point out that more than 280 other MPs did manage to speak directly to their constituents. Eventually Mr Cox replied to some of the group with a ‘round robin’ email listing the UK’s past achievements in tackling climate change.

The group then wrote a letter and compiled a series of documents outlining their concerns on subjects including climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, agriculture, housing and transport. The documents requested Mr Cox to act on their behalf by writing to ministers and asking questions in the House. These were emailed to Mr Cox and hand delivered to his constituency office in August, but despite follow up calls and emails to Mr Cox’s office the group have not received a reply.

The campaigners say they’re pleased that the Government has come forward with both an Agriculture Bill and an Environment Bill. However, they wanted Mr Cox’s help in calling for amendments to the Agriculture Bill, while no progress has been made on the Environment Bill which has remained ‘parked’ for the last six and a half months. Members of the group also each sent Mr Cox a brief personal statement outlining their concerns.

Isobel Eggleton, 24, told the MP: “I am very worried about my future; I do not know whether there will be a safe enough world for me to raise children in. I just want to have the security and opportunities that your generation took for granted.”

Rosalind Pierson, from Tavistock, said: “Along with many other people I have seen the catastrophic decline of our wildlife – birds, small mammals and insects; the building of roads and estates where once were green fields, with no planned infrastructure, and failing to address the need for affordable housing for local people.”

In her statement, Jo Brett Ellis said that as a teenager she had chosen to do a degree in environmental science, aware that humans were greedily pillaging the planet for profit. She explained: “Twenty-five years later my children are already feeling a sense of hopelessness, that our climate and natural habitats will be irrevocably affected by their predecessor’s greed by the time they reach adulthood. What should I tell my 11-year-old son when he is crying at bedtime because of what we are doing to the planet and his future?”

The campaigners accept that the coronavirus disease pandemic is presenting a major challenge to the Government, but they point out that climate change threatens even more lives and that the pandemic is itself a consequence of rainforest destruction that has brought people into contact with new species. Some in the group acknowledge that in the past Mr Cox has enjoyed a reputation as a good constituency MP, but the campaigners say he doesn’t have a good voting record when it comes to climate change and the environment. The website, They Work for You, states that Mr Cox has ‘generally voted against measures to prevent climate change’.

The group believe Mr Cox’s time may be being taken up by his private work as a barrister. The MP, who was replaced as Attorney-General in February, is now working for a London chambers that he co-founded in 1992. Last month he took on an additional role at another city legal firm as its ‘consultant global counsel’ for which he’ll receive an annual salary of £468,000. This is on top of his MP’s salary of almost £82,000 plus allowances.

We ask The Moorlander to print this open letter to our MP, Geoffrey Cox, in hope of eliciting a response to our emails, letters and the telephone calls we have made since June expressing our concern about the Government’s lack of action on the Nature and Climate Change crises.

We are a group of 26 constituents, aged from 22 to 83, and from a wide variety of backgrounds. In June, as part of The Time is Now, a lobby organised by The Climate Coalition, we invited Mr Cox to attend a virtual meeting with us. We sent emails individually, and as a group, but the MP’s office informed us he was too busy.

We wished to remind him that the UK is still the third worse carbon emitter in Europe. We wanted to talk to him about the loss of biodiversity, the dramatic decline in pollinators and the failure to protect our rapidly dwindling wildlife habitats. We also wanted him to represent to Government our concerns about the lack of sustainable housing and transport infrastructure in a world already affected by climate change. Instead of an opportunity to talk, we received a round robin email listing the UK’s past achievements in tackling climate change.

In this email Mr Cox covered old ground. He referred to the Climate Act and the speed at which our country has cut carbon emissions since 1990, but failed to acknowledge that these measures were introduced by a previous government and that our renewable energy industries are now only just on a level with other leading countries in Europe.

He mentioned the Green Recovery Group and how, post COVID, it intended ‘to capture the economic growth opportunities from the shift to net zero emissions’, but did not draw attention to the fact that green investment would be dwarfed by traditional economic investment into an extensive road and house building plan, nor that, compared to Germany and France who have recently vouched £36 billion and £13.5 billion respectively, the UK was investing just £3 billion.

He assured us that all government departments were now focused on targeting climate change. However, Mr Cox himself does not have a good record of voting for measures to limit climate change and neither do many ministers. He referred to the Government’s ‘ambitious 25 Year Environment Plan’ but did not mention that over the last ten years the Government has failed to reach the majority of the environmental targets set, nor that the Government has slashed funding to all environmental agencies, including Natural England, which has had its budget cut from £265 million in 2009 to £85.6 million in 2019.

Having been denied the opportunity to voice our concerns, we put together a letter and several documents outlining our concerns on issues including climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, agriculture, housing, transport and UK investment in fossil fuel industries abroad.

We are particularly concerned that tens of thousands of houses are being built across Devon with minimal sustainability features that will all need to be retrofitted to reach future carbon emission standards. In addition, the requirement for new builds to be fit for changing weather conditions, rising temperatures and flooding is also on hold until 2025. Too late for all our communities. We are concerned that whilst the Government is investing £106 billion into the HS2 rail line between London and Birmingham, there is lack of investment into electric charge points in rural communities and a lack of investment into electrification of local rail and bus services.

We also responded to Mr Cox’s comment in a local newspaper that the UK contributed just 2% of the world’s carbon emissions. He did not include in this our air and shipping emissions or the massive investments the UK puts into fossil fuel industries abroad. The UK’s consumer appetite for food, clothes, technology and other products means we are a major importer from overseas and thereby transfer our carbon footprint to other parts of the world.

The Committee for Climate Change (CCC) has made it very clear that the UK is not on track to meet its legally binding 4th and 5th carbon budgets and is failing to meet most of its climate mitigation targets. Our concern is that government is not investing in the future safety of this country. Its response does not match the urgency of the scientific evidence on climate change and the nature crisis. COVID-19 and Brexit continue to dominate our thoughts, but climate change and the nature crisis have not gone away. The world’s scientific community continue to warn us of the danger of relegating them to the back shelf. Now is the time to show leadership both at home and internationally.

We sincerely hope that Mr Cox will find the time to read the information we have sent him, act on our requests and give us the courtesy of a reply.

Sarah Cooper (Tavistock)
Jon Valters (St Giles on the Heath)
Robert Weston (Lifton) et al

A spokesman for Mr. Cox said: “Mr Cox was part of the cabinet that decided to ensure Britain became the first major economy in the world to set a target of net zero emissions by 2050 and would host the world climate change summit, COP 26, to be held in the UK next year. He has consistently voted in favour of measures like the Climate Change Act. He also met local climate change activists at the House of Commons and held a public Town Forum last year, which discussed the issue.

‘However, as he has explained to these campaigners, while he has read and responded to their earlier campaign correspondence, and fully understands the points they continue to raise, since March he has not been able to hold his usual face-to-face meetings with constituents and has been flat out every day dealing with the individual and collective impact of the coronavirus  in the constituency, which has generated unprecedented and often urgent demands on his time and that of his staff.

‘His meetings and online conferences have been focused on this immediate crisis and he will resume ordinary surgeries as soon as possible when he will be pleased, as always, to meet local representatives of campaign groups like Extinction Rebellion and The Climate Coalition.”

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