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Paris Agreement on Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:23 pm on 7th September 2016.

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test 4:23 pm, 7th September 2016

Indeed, yes. That is now two stabs to the heart of the Minister’s career.

In his responsibilities and those of his Secretary of State, the Minister has a problem arising from the flurry of policies over the past year on the long-term considerations relating to climate change effects. If his new Department lets those policy changes lie, or runs further with them, the problem will be exacerbated, and his problem of writing a low carbon programme will be magnified.

The new Department benefits from particularly good appointments in the form of Ministers who completely understand and are at ease with the question of what we need to do, where we need to do it, how we need to do it and what the effects will be. We need to identify where those effects may continue to be felt outside the new Department. We can point the finger at what happened with some of those changes under the previous Department of Energy and Climate Change, and we can point the finger in the direction of the Treasury. During the latter stages of the previous Government and in the first period of the present Government, we had the Treasury’s energy and climate change policy and the Department’s energy and climate change policy, and the two rarely coincided. Let us guess who came out on top in terms of policy direction.

My first plea, coupled with kindly advice to the Minister, is to get on top of the Treasury straight away. If Treasury domination of energy and climate change policy is allowed to continue, regardless of the long-term climate consequences, the writing of a new carbon policy will end in tears. To illustrate that, we can look at the previous carbon plan, which came out in December 2011. That plan not only contained some bright ideas, but set out where we were, where we wanted to be in 2050 and how the transition would be undertaken in each of a series of sectors, and that was analysed thoroughly for those sectors.

In the context of the 40% emissions cut that we are now looking at in the European INDCs, the assumptions underlying a low carbon plan are important. How effectively do they cover where we are now, where we are going to be in 2050, how we make that transition and how that transition works in 2030, which is the period that we are now considering? The carbon plan 2011 is clear about carbon saving, the green deal and ECO. It envisages that all practical cavity walls and lofts will be insulated by 2020 and up to 1.5 million solid walls will be insulated. We know that that has gone. There is no longer even a remote chance of such an achievement, particularly with respect to solid walls and probably also with respect to other forms of insulation, because the green deal has gone and ECO has morphed into a pretty restricted version of the original ECO. Yet, the Committee on Climate Change, in its preamble to the fourth carbon budget, suggested, as an assumption in that carbon budget, that by the early 2020s over 2 million treatments of solid-wall properties would have to be undertaken as a central contribution to carbon reduction. So that has gone.

The 2011 programme says carbon capture and storage will

“make a significant contribution by 2030”.

In the scenarios modelled, it is estimated that CCS will contribute as much as 10 GW. Well, that has gone. The Treasury managed to bundle CCS into a cupboard very neatly just a little while ago. Personally, I thought that was one of the biggest enviro-crimes committed by the Treasury, in terms of its policies of cutting off the fundamental route to decarbonisation of remaining baseload power over the period and apparently not worrying about the consequences.

The 2011 carbon plan says:

“From 2030 onwards, a major role for gas as a baseload source of electricity is only realistic with large numbers of gas CCS plants.”

We have committed ourselves to close down coal by 2025, although we have yet to see the consultation on that, but that is to be undertaken, it is stated in the relevant consultation, only if the progress on building new gas plants is sufficient to allow that to happen—that is, the commitment is to phase out coal, but to replace it with a new dash for gas. Yet, the carbon plan and, indeed, the Committee on Climate Change indicate very clearly that gas itself can be maintained as a baseload only if it has a substantial amount of CCS attached to it. We are apparently going ahead with the dash for gas over the next period without any thought that in the reasonable future CCS may come in as far as gas itself is concerned. That has a substantial impact on our ability to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets over the next period.

The low carbon plan says:

“Looking to the future, between 21% and 45% of heat supply to our buildings will need to be low carbon by 2030”,

but the then Secretary of State warned last year that we are failing badly on our 2020 heat targets and there is no chance at present of getting to our 2030 target, so that contribution has also gone.

Finally, let me just pick out some of a larger number changes from the 2011 report. The report said

“all new homes from 2016” will “be zero carbon”, which would make a considerable contribution to the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. Well, of course, those homes will not be zero carbon, because the zero-carbon homes plan has also been pulled.