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Paris Agreement on Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:19 pm on 7th September 2016.

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Photo of Jamie Reed Jamie Reed Labour, Copeland 5:19 pm, 7th September 2016

When I was on my way to the Chamber, one of the Whips told me that the debate had been rather serene and soporific. I do not think that that is the case, and, having listened to the debate so far, I am excited by the prospect of a heated agreement among all parties.

I support the Labour motion, for a number of reasons. Climate change requires all political parties to take it seriously and, if possible, to agree, which would be in everybody’s best interests. We need to bind a commitment to mitigating climate change in the hearts and minds of the people our country, and we must do so in perpetuity if we are to succeed in that mission. We need to commit the country, businesses and others to the mission at hand; it is no good to commit only Parliament or this or the next Government if we want to succeed. Tackling climate change has to become part of our national mission, and it should also become a central part of our national identity.

But words are cheap. Acts of Parliament can be meaningless—God knows that we have seen enough of such Acts—and the same can be said of treaties, arrangements, commitments and manifesto promises. That is why I am both hugely optimistic and a little sceptical about the Paris agreement. On paper, the agreement is absolutely huge, but, obviously, climate change does not happen on paper, and it will not be beaten, resolved or mitigated on paper, either. I am delighted that the US and China have signed the deal, but we have been here before. I am genuinely pleased that the tradition of US Presidents committing in their final weeks in office to international efforts that might not overjoy the American electorate remains alive and well, but—I know this view may not be widely shared—let’s face it: we have been here before.

My right hon. Friend Edward Miliband mentioned Kyoto. If Kyoto had worked, we would not have needed the Paris convention, so it has always been the case throughout my life that the prose required for climate change progress does not always reflect the poetry of climate change politics.

I will be candid: when I saw Heads of State hugging each other in front of the cameras in Paris, like a scene from a NASA mission control room at the end of a space disaster movie, I was pretty contemptuous. I put that to the former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, whose achievements and work I commend in the same way that Members on both sides of the House have done today. She was not very happy with my comments, but I stand by them, because the truth is that, so far, this is a diplomatic and political achievement, and nothing else. There is no doubt that that is important—the Minister was right to say in his response to the opening speech that China and the US signing this agreement is a game-changer—but let us acknowledge the physical realities.

Politicians alone cannot solve climate change. That is the task of scientists, engineers, inventors and investors. The role of politicians is to enable those people to do that by establishing market frameworks and by ensuring access to capital and stable, predictable policy frameworks. They also need a fair, improved and quicker planning process, which successive Governments have tried to achieve over at least a decade, and the centre of Government needs to develop a completely different relationship with local government and its local communities. Those are profoundly important issues, because without them investor confidence cannot be ensured and the progress that we all seek cannot be delivered.

The truth is that, despite some progress, this country is a long way from achieving that. Whitehall and Westminster do not work anywhere near well enough. That is not a partisan comment or a criticism of the current Government. Nobody could argue that, right now, our institutions are up to the task before them. I would go further and suggest that the machinery of government is actually stymying the efforts of those committed to combating climate change.

We will not achieve a low-carbon economy without industrial activism: an industrial strategy that, as many others have said, sees energy, economic and environmental policy as one and the same thing—a holy triumvirate, if you like—and I sincerely hope that the new Department has been designed to pursue that approach, which I have outlined and campaigned for over nearly 12 years in this House.

I am pleased that the Government have abandoned the market fundamentalism of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, which was touched on by my hon. Friend Dr Whitehead. Under his stewardship, the Treasury effectively killed the industrial strategy of the last Labour Government, who sought to pursue so many of the same aims articulated today by Members on both sides of the House.

Members have also mentioned nuclear power, which, along with every other source of electricity generation, should be central to our national industrial strategy. Right now, we have no such policy, only talk. We urgently need one, particularly post-Brexit. Let me be clear, however, that I do welcome talk of such a policy. The industrial strategy should have at its heart a commitment to combat climate change. Such a policy could transform our country for the better. It would secure our energy supplies and enable us to meet our climate change obligations and to transform our manufacturing and research and development sectors, including our universities. Crucially, such a policy could and should rebalance our economy, so I stand totally committed to assisting the Government in this regard, and I urge them to look no further than at the community that I represent. West Cumbria and my constituency of Copeland could and should be the engine-room of this national effort.

At Moorside, where three AP1000 Toshiba-Westinghouse reactors are shortly due to begin construction, my constituency will soon provide 7% of our electricity needs—clean, CO2-free electricity generation, providing thousands of well-paid jobs. I am a long-standing advocate of a tidal lagoon project nearby in Workington, which could be the largest in the world, providing another 7% of our electricity needs, along with thousands of jobs and helping to regenerate an area of traditional market failure.

It is my hope that the Government will prioritise both the schemes I have mentioned as a matter of urgency. We do not need the Paris agreement to get on with these projects. I say to the Government, “Let my community help you; let us be the engine-room of this national effort and let us get on with it without any further delay.” We should do everything we can to ensure that these projects are developed as quickly as possible. In particular, I trust that the Secretary of State and his Ministers will join me in highlighting the critical importance of Japanese investment in that regard, and the need to work on our crucial relationship with Japan.

Climate change wears no party colours. Although these are hollow words now, we really are “all in it together” and it is past time that we got into the business of implementing an industrial strategy with the climate change agenda at its heart. The lesson for all of us is that talk is cheap.