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Paris Agreement on Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:27 pm on 7th September 2016.

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Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade 2:27 pm, 7th September 2016

I am delighted that the hon. Lady has referred to the Climate Change Act 2008 and to the fact that the commitments made under the Act are legally binding on us. Later in my speech, I shall examine exactly what the legislation stated and try to show precisely where the Government have deviated from it over the past couple of years. This is why we have been on a pathway of divergence rather than convergence in this House for the past two years. The bipartisan—indeed, cross-party—approach that used to obtain in the House on these matters has been severely tested by what has been seen as the Government’s backsliding on those legally binding commitments. I shall adumbrate that a little later.

Until this morning, it was not clear to me why the olive branch I had extended to the Government had been quite so haughtily ignored. Then I found out what the Minister had said to the Aldersgate Group and what the Secretary of State had quietly revealed to journalists at his departmental cocktail reception for the ladies and gentlemen of the press yesterday evening—[Interruption.] They laugh. They said candidly that they would not be publishing the carbon plan by the end of the year. Carbon plan? What is that?

This is not the kind of thing that any normal member of the public would think sounds terribly important. If I were to explain that it is really important because it is supposed to set out precisely how the Government are going to meet their carbon budget, that same hypothetical member of the public might look blank, because people do not talk in these terms. They do not talk in terms of carbon plans and carbon budgets; they talk in terms of effects, not budgets. They know that climate change is causing disruption across the world, with more flooding in some places and more drought in others, with stronger hurricanes and typhoons and with the loss of crops and arable land. They know that that is related to the emissions polluting our air and our children’s lungs, and these things are important to them.

That is precisely why we politicians agreed, back in 2008—under a Labour Government but very much on a cross-party basis—to limit the ways in which we were causing those problems. We agreed to reduce and limit those emissions that were changing the world with such devastating effect. That is why we created the Committee on Climate Change to set legally binding carbon budgets that would precisely limit the damage that we were doing, but we tasked it to ensure that we always adopted the most cost-efficient pathway, so that we could move towards the long-term target of at least an 80% reduction in admissions by 2050 at the lowest possible cost to the public, to industry and to business.

That is why this carbon plan is so important. How dare the Secretary of State let slip to a few journalists at a cocktail party that of course he will not be publishing the carbon plan by the end of this year? How dare the Minister reveal to the Aldersgate Group that he “may” find space in the timetable to publish it in 2017? May? May? I ask the Minister to read the primary legislation, which states that after the publication of a carbon budget, the Government must publish a plan to put it into effect

“as soon as is reasonably practicable” thereafter. The fourth carbon budget was published in 2011. Five and a half years later, we still have no carbon plan. My grasp of the English language is not so weak that I would think that five and a half years, during which we have had a change of Government and a new Prime Minister, constitutes “as soon as is reasonably practicable”. And now the Minister says that he “may” get around to doing this in 2017.

Earlier this year, the Government promised that the reason for the delay was simply that they now wanted to include their measures for achieving the fifth carbon budget in the plan, which they set almost three weeks later than the legislation required. This is another area in which the Government have lost the people’s confidence. The primary legislation is very clear. It states that a carbon budget must be deposited on 30 June 12 years before it comes into effect. The Government published it before then, but they did not set it in legislation, as was required by law, until 19 July—almost three weeks late.