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Paris Agreement on Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:51 pm on 7th September 2016.

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Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Labour, Doncaster North 3:51 pm, 7th September 2016

It is a pleasure to follow James Heappey, who spoke eloquently, particularly about the role that renewable heat can play. I commend my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner for securing this important debate. He brings huge knowledge and depth to his role and I wish him well in it. I should also take this opportunity to congratulate the new the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Mention was made earlier of the fact that he was my shadow when I was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. I always respected his ability and commitment on climate change. I was deeply disappointed by the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change but the one saving grace was his appointment and that of his extremely able Minister for Climate Change and Industry. I have spoken to the latter since the election about climate change. I do not want to damn his career too much, but I can say that he is a class act, as we will hear when he speaks.

Having got the niceties out of the way, I should add that, when I was thinking about my speech for this debate, I recalled a number of things the Secretary of State said when he was my shadow. Among other things, he called for more generous feed-in tariffs than the ones I proposed; for more generous commitments on carbon capture and storage; and for more generous resources for the renewable heat incentive. I look forward to his making good on all the aspirations he had in opposition now that he has the chance in his new role.

In the main, I want to talk about the impact of Brexit on climate change, but I should mention in passing that I could not help hearing in the Minister’s remarks the wheels of government grinding on the issue of domestic ratification. As his speech wore on, we got more of a sense that it would come more quickly than slowly. I encourage him in that, because my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North is right about the signal it would send.

The central issue for UK climate policy is Brexit. That is the unavoidable context for discussions about climate change. I have been nice about the Minister of State. I am not going take it back, don’t worry—maybe he’d like me to. He talked about British diplomacy. There is a big elephant in the room for British diplomacy on climate change: Brexit. We have to address it. I understand that the Prime Minister says she does not want a running commentary—fair enough—but there is a difference between a running commentary and a Trappist vow. There cannot be a Trappist vow. We have to engage with the many, many hard questions raised by Brexit for UK climate policy. Saying “Brexit means Brexit” does not really solve the problem.

The case I want to make is this: first, our membership of the EU has helped us to be a persuader for global action on climate change. Secondly, the ability to persuade is needed more than ever after the Paris agreement. We all know the issue in the Paris agreement: an aspiration to keep global warming below 1.5° with pledges that add up to about 3°. Thirdly, Britain’s ability to be that persuader for greater ambition is gravely endangered by Brexit. We cannot shy away from that. The real issue I want to focus on is this: the kind of Brexit we opt for—whether it is hard Brexit, which leaves Britain on its own, or whether we forge a new close relationship with the European Union—will be absolutely crucial to the issue of UK influence and the world’s ability to tackle the problem of climate change. That is why, having paid them nice compliments, I want to say to the Secretary of State and the Minister of State that they have a big responsibility in this process—I am sure they are aware of it—to ensure we have the right outcome in these negotiations on climate and energy.

The starting point for addressing this question is to understand that, in this area and in many others, the debate about our co-operation with the EU has not somehow ended with the referendum. It is only just beginning. I was on the remain side, but we all know the reality: the British people did not vote for a particular model of Brexit. They voted to leave the European Union, but the model we decide now has to be a matter of detailed debate and negotiation. As the House knows, in the international negotiations on climate change we currently negotiate as part of the European Union. As part of the EU, we are on a par with players such as China and the United States. The EU is responsible for about 10% of global emissions and Britain is responsible for about 1%. In the EU, we have been a successful advocate of strong European ambition on climate change. We have been—mention was made of this earlier in the debate—at the forefront of landmark international agreements, punching above our weight as a country. To be fair, we have seen that under Governments of both parties: at Kyoto in 1997, with the role played by John, now Lord, Prescott; and just last December, to give her rightful credit, with the role played by the last Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, now the Home Secretary, in the negotiations around the Paris agreement.

We in this House should be proud of what Britain has been able to achieve, but we should be under no illusions. The influence and role that Britain has played in the past two decades on climate change, which has been hard won, is now gravely at risk. The danger, in this area and in many others, is that we are outside the room when the big decisions are made, or are in the room as bit-part players. A recent paper from Chatham House, the respected international think-tank based in London, said that the danger of Brexit is that we would

“move alongside other second-tier powers such as Australia, Canada and South Korea”.

All those countries have played varying roles on the issue of climate change, some of them important and honourable, but we have had greater influence. I want to preserve that influence.

There is another danger. We have been persuaders for ambition in the European Union and the real danger is that our absence from the EU waters down and dilutes the commitment of the EU. The danger is that our absence tips the centre of gravity away from the high-ambition countries to those countries that have more anxiety about the issue. That is why the implications of Brexit are not just self-serving ones about Britain’s influence in the world and on climate change; they are also about the world’s ability to make the right things happen in the fight against global warming.

The risk that I have described about Britain’s influence comes with other associated dangers, including for the role of British science and research, which I am sure the Secretary of State and the Minister are concerned about and which draws huge benefit from EU resources, and of the European Investment Bank, which in the past few years has either loaned or given the UK a quarter of the money for energy and climate change projects. There is also a massive issue relating to the repeal of environmental legislation from the European Union.

I now come to the question of the mandate of the referendum result. Personally, I do not believe that when the British people voted to leave the European Union, they did so to diminish our influence or to weaken laws on air pollution or other environmental legislation that comes from the EU. That is why, as I said at the outset, there is a huge responsibility on us to shape new arrangements that can protect British influence and, indeed, our national interest.

Some people say that the best we can hope for in the negotiations is a Norway-style arrangement in the European economic area or the European free trade agreement. I like Norway—I spent part of my holiday there this summer—but I do not think that that should be our aspiration. It is a country of about 5 million people and we are a country of 65 million people. Our international role has traditionally been different from theirs, and I think that Norwegians would say that, too. On the issue of the climate, Norway negotiates on its own, not as part of the European Union. Crucially, if we went for a Norway-style arrangement, it would leave us without a voice on key aspects of environmental legislation. We would be affected by them, but we would be rule-takers, not rule-makers. That is the Norwegian problem: it accepts directives on air pollution and so on, but it does not have a say in the formation of that legislation.

What is to be done, given the referendum result? Surprisingly, I agree with some in the leave campaign who say that, after the referendum, we have to carve out a role for Britain that reflects our size, position and global reach, and that does not necessarily emulate the role played by other countries.

I want to draw the House’s attention to a recent pamphlet produced by an august group including Paul Tucker, who is the former deputy governor of the Bank of England, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag, and a senior advisor to the French Government. They propose a continental partnership between Britain and the European Union. What does that mean in practice? Essentially, it is an argument for the closest possible co-operation on a host of issues of foreign and defence policy and, crucially, climate and energy.

What should that new arrangement mean? In my view it should mean that we continue to negotiate with the EU in international discussions, thereby protecting British influence. There is no earthly reason why, following the vote on the European Union, we should not continue to be part of the European bloc on those issues. We can write our own script for the future on those questions. We should also continue to be part of the emissions trading scheme; after all, Britain played a role in coming up with it, so there is no reason why we should leave it. I also believe that we should continue to be part of crucial environmental legislation, such as car emission standards and waste management. The reality is that we will probably have to accept that legislation anyway, if we want to gain access to the single market, so it is far better to find an arrangement that gives us a say on the rules.

I want to be clear: we would not continue to be members of the European Union—our status would change—but we would be crucial partners, and in my view that is completely consistent with the referendum. We should do that because it is in our national interest. Whether Members think we have gone too far on climate change or not far enough, nobody in this House, on whichever side they sit, has an interest in diminishing our influence. I think it is just objectively the case that we are in real danger of diminishing our influence as a country on this vital issue for the future of our people.

That provides some thoughts about where we need to go and where we need to take our new relationship, but there is a hard truth here for Government Ministers. For this to happen, it requires those in government who are sensible and who care about these issues to stand up to those who want hard Brexit. Let us not be under any illusions: hard Brexit is about detaching ourselves from the EU on all these issues. It is about some form of free trade arrangement, although goodness knows what, when what is at the front of the Government’s mind gets more confusing by the day. Leaving that to one side, it is not about having these kind of relationships.

I view the three Ministers who are in their places on the Front Bench as people who all care about these issues, so I urge them not to leave their climate convictions at the door when it comes to the Whitehall battles around Brexit. As I said at the outset, I do not doubt their commitment, but they have got to prove it in the proposals that the Government eventually produce.

Finally, I believe in the principle of co-operation with our closest neighbours in Europe, and I believe that we are strengthened, not diminished, as a country when we do that. Climate change is just one example of where that is the case. That was true before the referendum, and it is true after the referendum as well. I think that both the Secretary of State and the Minister of State know that, too. The stakes could not be higher on this issue and on what unfolds in the coming months and years. We will hold them to account, because Members of all parties care about not just tackling climate change, but making sure that we can continue to punch above our weight as we do so and get the right outcome for humankind. A lot rests on those Ministers’ shoulders; if they make the right decision, we will support them on it.