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Paris Agreement on Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:26 pm on 7th September 2016.

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Photo of Callum McCaig Callum McCaig Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Energy and Climate Change) 3:26 pm, 7th September 2016

That was a long conclusion. I have been sat like a taut spring for the last 10 minutes, since the Minister said he was getting ready to conclude—I will clearly take some time to get used to the new ministerial team. However, I welcome the chance to debate this issue as, I think, the House’s longest-serving Front-Bench climate change spokesperson —the irony is not lost on me.

We are here in our quarterly debate on climate change, and it would seem that we regularly discuss these matters. That is important—it is just a shame that it is, largely speaking, the same faces that we see every time. I think there is a wider body of folk in all parties who could do with hearing some of this, and it is, to a degree, regrettable that we see the same faces and largely hear the same arguments. We can push things on somewhat, and I think the shadow Secretary of State is attempting to do that today. I welcome the fact that we are having the debate.

I listened carefully to what the Minister was suggesting, and I am still slightly at a loss as to why we cannot press on with this issue. He said that the Government see the ratification process as a start and that they will start as soon as possible, but, as we say in north-east Scotland, it might be time to nip on a wee bit, because this is genuinely important. The symbolism the Minister talked about is key. The UK has been a leader on this issue, but with ratification by the US, China, France and others, we risk passing the baton to others. That would be regrettable for the UK’s global voice on this issue, but it is also regrettable in terms of the lack of opportunity and in terms of losing our impetus and our technological lead—the industrial lead we potentially have in deploying the technologies that will make the Paris agreement possible.

A year ago—this is something to be celebrated—we were sat discussing the possibilities of the pre-conference of the parties. I do not think anyone thought that the deal that we have would be quite as strong as it is. There is a lot to be done, but a global deal—a global consensus—to keep global warming well below 2°, with an ambition to keep it to 1.5°, is to be welcomed. They are incredibly challenging targets that have been set, and delay in ratification will not help. We need to get on with this. The terms of the debate are shifting. This is not just a subject for NGOs and those who care; it is becoming mainstream in political debate. The world’s biggest asset manager, BlackRock, in a warning to investors, said that we can no longer ignore climate change, and that

“climate risk factors have been under-appreciated and underpriced because they are perceived to be distant”.

We are already 1° warmer than the long-term trends, and the past three years have been the hottest on record. If that is not a wake-up call to what we need to do, then what is? If we are keep things below 1.5°, we had better get started quickly. We need to deploy the full range of our technological know-how, here and abroad, or we will miss the one chance that we get to make sure that we do not see catastrophic climate change.

The impacts of climate change here in the UK have been set out by the Committee on Climate Change in its risk assessment: increased flooding, and, conversely, drought; food shortages; and potential damage to critical infrastructure. This is a big country and a rich country. We can probably weather a lot of that—no pun intended—but others are not so fortunate. We need to be planning ahead. We need to get the mitigation and the adaption in place early—otherwise it will be more expensive—but we also need to help others.

The most precious thing that came out of the COP21 agreement is the international consensus, but there is a suggestion that it is already beginning to fray. President Duterte of the Philippines is not someone I would regularly seek to quote, but he said something that is symbolic of the attitude change that we risk causing if we are not serious about getting on with this. He said of the ratification and the INDC—intended nationally determined contribution—for the Philippines:

“You are trying to stymie us…That’s stupid. I will not honour that.”

He did change his tune a bit a little later in addressing the Philippine Parliament, when he said:

“Addressing climate change shall be a top priority but upon a fair and equitable equation. It should not stymie our industrialisation.”

That is a fair point. The greatest irony of climate change is that the countries that have contributed least to it are those that stand to lose the most. Above all, the poorest members of those communities, who have contributed even less, will be the first to see their livelihoods and way of life destroyed by it. We have to address the problem of climate change, but we have to do so with justice at its heart.

The £100 billion of climate change finance that was part of the Paris agreement is absolutely fundamental. That money can be used for adaption and new technologies. However, it has to be new money, and it has to be built on an international consensus that recognises that the rich parts of this world have contributed more than their fair share to creating the problem—to causing the mess—and that we are certain that we are going to pay more of the price in cleaning up that mess.

We cannot have a system where global development is stymied because countries cannot industrialise in line with the model that we agreed. We need to have new models of industrialisation. We need to skip the dirty phase and move on to the clean phases. These countries need to see the investment in solar and wind, and the new technologies that will come. They will need support. Some of that support will come through aid, no doubt, but it also comes in the form of opportunities. We have the technologies and the businesses to do this. We can help. This can be a mutually beneficial partnership with the poorer countries of this planet to help them develop. That is a moral responsibility on us, but it is also an economic opportunity. If someone does not feel particularly compelled to act based on the moral imperative, then trying to make some money out of it, at least, would be a way to go forward. The two things can go hand in hand, but they need the correct support both at home and abroad.

The Minister said that it is really important that, to use his term, there is industrial strategy on the “tin” of Government. That is welcome, but we have to reflect the converse—we cannot have it both ways—and off the tin has come climate change. It has come out of the lexicon of Government. That, to a degree, is regrettable. It may have been an oversight or it may have been deliberate. I do not know about the motivations for it, nor do I particularly care. However, it can easily be rectified by putting addressing climate change right at the very heart not just of this Government Department but of Government as a whole. With all due respect to the Minister, he is not going to solve this problem alone; it will take cross-Government, cross-sectoral engagement with the devolved Administrations and with the business community. That is fundamental to everything we will have to do as a country if we are going to get this right. So let us put it at the heart of what we do, and, as the Minister said, let us make a start.

Let us start with a big, symbolic gesture and ratify the Paris agreement as soon as possible. We can talk about the fact that we have led the world in the Climate Change Act 2008, and I can talk about the fact that Scotland has led the UK in that by exceeding our 2020 targets. We are already seeing a reduction on the 1990 baselines of 45.8%, against a target of 42%. The First Minister has committed to extending that target, because it has already been reached.

That is the sort of high ambition that we need, and we need it across all sectors. We are getting on fairly well with electricity, but we are doing more poorly in terms of heat and transport—the next big challenges. Tackling them will require money, support, innovation and skills, so there has to be the ambition to deliver on that right across the remit of Government.

The shadow Secretary of State talked about the damage that has been caused to investor confidence, and he listed a whole host of things. I gently suggest that just because there is not 100% agreement on this, that does not mean that we should risk losing cross-party consensus. If ever there was an issue on which we could benefit from political parties seeking to outbid each other, it is climate change. We should welcome the fact that the Labour party is trying to outdo the Conservative party and trying to outdo us. We should all be trying to outdo each other, because that ambition and desire to see things happen will make them happen.

I have commended, in the past, a number of things that the Government have done. The former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change played a great role in leading the high-ambition coalition at the negotiations in Paris, and that is welcome. In a few months’ time, the conference of parties will meet again in Marrakech. If we are to have these discussions, I would rather that the UK went to the table and was able to demonstrate the progress that has been made in one year. I want the UK to be able to say, “We have ratified our commitment. We are pushing ahead. We have taken x, y and z steps,” and I will come on to what those steps should be. If we turn up without having delivered on our promise, and without having been through the ratification process, it will undermine our position. That would be distinctly regrettable, because our voice, the soft power and the pressure that have been applied in this area are among the high points of British diplomacy over many years—potentially in my lifetime. That is too precious to put to waste.

In terms of the x, y and z of deliverability, I do not think that the Government’s renewable energy policies, U-turns and so on—in fairness, I am talking about the previous Government—have been welcome. There are unresolved issues and questions about investor confidence brought on by the Brexit vote.