Fail to invest in fire and rescue, and you fail to invest in vital climate change adaption – Matt Wrack, FBU


“The scale of what is needed is huge. Those in power cannot be trusted to deliver. Here and across the world, we need to build a movement that will.”

By Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union.

I’m heading to COP26. Unlike some others travelling there, I will not be viewing COP26 as something which could be the saving of us all. It may well end up being remembered as COP-out-26.

After all, if we are to ever prevent or adapt to climate change with the urgency and scale required, the driving force for that change will come from outside those who believe in incremental steps and in market based solutions – a group most of the world’s leaders sit in. Instead, trade unions can and should be key here. Working people increasingly know that it is in our interests to protect the environment and fight climate change, and through trade unions we need to organise to do this.  

But the other reason I am perhaps lacking optimism when it comes to COP26 is because of many governments’ dreadful records on climate change, including our own. Governments have had 40 years to act, yet global emissions have continued to skyrocket, in no small part due to the failures of government. Our communities remain insufficiently protected from the immediate effects of climate change, both here and abroad. Everywhere we look the evidence for these points is clear: for instance, only last week our government decided to cut tax on domestic flights.

A key example of our government’s disastrous record is fire and rescue investment. There are not many areas where you can make as direct and instant a difference to mitigate the effects of climate change. Investment in fire and rescue equates to concrete, tangible and immediate aide to climate change adaption.

This is because the fire and rescue service has a key part to play in fighting two potentially devastating effects of climate change: wildfires and flooding. Whether it is helping people out of rapidly flooding buildings, streets and communities or fighting flames as they devastate our landscape or approach large settlements, firefighters provide a vital element of our climate change adaption.  

But this means that as climate change gets worse we are asking firefighters to do more and more. This is not possible without the resources we need for that. Large scale floods and wildfires are very different from most fire service incidents. They increasingly extend over larger and larger areas and they can last for days – or weeks – drawing crews from across the country for lengthy periods of deployment.

There is so much evidence we can draw on to make the case that these resources are not being provided, even to the extent needed to fight the wildfires and floods we have today, let alone at the levels we will have in years to come.

For instance, there is no statutory funding specifically for flooding for English fire and rescue services. In Scotland, while the government just acknowledged that climate change will cause a further burden to fire rescue in years to come they made no further funding commitment to deal with it. And across the whole of the UK we’ve lost 20% of firefighters since 2010, meaning that as climate change has picked up resources have been cut.

We need major new funding commitments to reflect the fact that climate change is getting worse and we are relying on fire and rescue more every day. We need to plan for the future now. The FBU wants support in this campaign. We are also aware that adaptation and mitigation are only part of the answer.

We also need the social and economic transformations necessary to rapidly de-carbonise, with new systems for delivering energy, transport and buildings as well as all the other necessary changes.  The scale of what is needed is huge. Those in power cannot be trusted to deliver. Here and across the world, we need to build a movement that will.

  • Matt Wrack is the General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, you can follow him on twitter here.
London Fire Brigade 2003 Mercedes-Benz Atego. Photo credit: Wikicommons

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