This month I visited an art installation at Meersbrook Park that has been organised by Extinction Rebellion. In recent weeks, local people have been taking part in the interactive installation by writing their hopes for a greener future on paper leaves and hanging them on the tree.
The tree at Meersbrook Park was part of a larger project that included similar installations at Endcliffe Park, Firth Park and in Pitsmoor. The Meersbrook part of the project has now come to an end and I was invited to the closing ceremony to read the ideas and thoughts that have been hung on the tree.
Since becoming an MP, I have consistently pushed the government to invest in renewable energy and green transport, backed initiatives to protect biodiversity, pressed for sustainable food production, supported campaigns against plastic use, and successfully fought against fracking. Reading through the ideas that were submitted to the art installation, it was abundantly clear that many local people also prioritise these environmental issues, particularly the urgent need to tackle climate change.
The serious economic challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, while worrying, provide us with an important opportunity to deal with these environmental issues. By investing in green industries and technologies now, the government could simultaneously tackle rising carbon emissions and provide the economic stimulus that our country badly needs.
As I wrote in the Star newspaper, Sheffield is well-placed to lead the way in this and should be at the heart of a green recovery. The University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, which works with firms from around the globe on world-leading research, is already developing new technologies in greener energy and manufacturing.
Unfortunately, government action has so far failed to match the scale of the environmental and economic problems we face. While the German government is investing £36 billion for its green recovery, the UK government has pledged just £3 billion.
This lack of ambition not only makes it more difficult for the UK to meet our climate targets, it also means that our economic recovery and industries are in danger of falling behind those of other countries.
We can emerge from the pandemic with an economy that reflects the hopes and ideas expressed in Extinction Rebellion art project, but this will require much more vision and action from government.