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Under the last Labour Government, we in the UK took the initiative and developed the Climate Change Act 2008, a world first. We really should continue to take the lead on the world stage. I was therefore disappointed to hear the Minister say today that he cannot give us a timetable for ratifying the Paris agreement on climate change. I urge his Department to bring one forward as soon as possible.
People often wonder what the point is of us in the UK doing anything if the big players do not. But now China and the US are taking the initiative, which is particularly welcome because of the size of their economies and populations. I really would like to see the UK up there among the world leaders on climate change, keeping our position of influence on this extremely important issue.
Tackling climate change is an immensely important task, but one that it is very easy to put off, or accord only a low priority to, particularly when voters have more pressing concerns in their everyday lives. We ignore climate change at our peril, as we have seen from the numerous flooding incidents in our country in the past few years. As other hon. Members have mentioned, the problems are very much worse in some of the poorest parts of the world. Temperature increases and periods of drought are driving people from their homes and becoming a major cause of migration. At the other end of the scale, we have the problem of flooding, as was well explained by my hon. Friend Margaret Greenwood.
It is not for me to tell the Prime Minister how to organise her Departments, and there is certainly a logic in including energy with industrial strategy, but I am concerned that the abolition of DECC will make the issue of climate change less visible. It is extremely important that proper resourcing and importance should be dedicated to tackling climate change. More than that, tackling climate change should be a part of thinking and policy development in all Departments. As my hon. Friend Dr Whitehead pointed out, the Treasury is a key Department to get onside. I would have preferred to have a dedicated Energy Minister in the Commons rather than in the Lords because other Ministers will stand in for her at questions and debates in the Commons, which is not satisfactory.
The Government’s record to date on green issues, and on the incentivising behaviour that will help to reduce our emissions, has been inconsistent and disappointing. First, back in 2011, the accelerated reduction in feed-in tariffs for solar energy was announced before the industry had been properly consulted. We had a repeat earlier this year with the changes in valuation office assessments, which will make it less viable for businesses, including schools, as an hon. Friend pointed out, to benefit from having solar panels on their roofs and to contribute to a reduction in emissions. We also had the abolition of the green investment bank, which had provided valuable finance to incipient industries that cannot always get funding from elsewhere, and the abandoning of plans for the carbon-capture demonstration plants, despite their being a manifesto commitment.
On wind power, energy companies have effectively withdrawn from new projects in England because of the hostile environment the Government have created. We at least have a more positive attitude to wind power in Wales, but subsidies are a UK Government matter. Eventually, wind projects in Wales will be affected by those reductions.
The Swansea tidal lagoon is continuously postponed and kicked into the long grass—back in February, a review into tidal lagoons was announced. I urge the Government to look carefully at the tremendous potential that the project offers. Rather than looking at the cost of the Swansea tidal lagoon, they should look at the potential of lagoons elsewhere and the export potential. The Swansea proposals require no money up front from the Government—the taxpayer pays only when the electricity is delivered. The bosses of the project are very committed to sourcing as many of the components as possible locally in the UK. If we could be a world first and lead the way, it would open up opportunities to our manufacturing industry, not only in providing the Swansea lagoon, but in providing other lagoons here and abroad.