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Paris Agreement on Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:26 pm on 7th September 2016.

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Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 5:26 pm, 7th September 2016

I strongly agree that what investors and businesses want is certainty. Members of the Conservative party may want to see outcomes, but one way of achieving those outcomes is to set a strict framework and then stick, within that framework, to the interim targets that we wish to meet. The hon. Gentleman has played an important part in the Environmental Audit Committee, sharing with us not only the Scottish experience, but his wider global experience.

As we know, 23 countries have now ratified the agreement, and over the past week the United States and China have come together. Given that they represent 40% of the world’s carbon emissions, this is a really significant moment. It seems to me that they are firing the starting gun for the next big industrial revolution. Britain led the way in the first industrial revolution, with the spinning jenny, electricity and other forms of energy, and the steam engine. The second industrial revolution, in the 1990s, introduced technological change which has revolutionised the way we think and do business. This will be the third great industrial revolution of our time. Whichever country first gets to market with individual transport solutions that are non-emitting—solar-powered cars and battery storage—will have a massive competitive advantage in the global race.

We have heard about the Climate Change Act 2008. That was Labour’s achievement, but it was a cross-party achievement in that only five Members voted against it. It committed the United Kingdom to reducing its emissions by 80% of the 1990s level by 2050. It has been copied, replicated and imitated across the world because it gives investors certainty, which is crucial, particularly at a time when, following the referendum result, there is a great deal of uncertainty in our economy. The Act sets out long-term goals, but it also gives Governments flexibility to decide how they want to meet those goals. Our Government also introduced feed-in tariffs and the renewables obligation, which brought about an energy revolution in this country. In 2005, none of our energy was being produced from renewable sources, whereas at certain points last year, 25% of our electricity was coming from such sources.

I want to say something about the work of the Environmental Audit Committee. I have here a copy of an excellent report that we published about 10 days ago, entitled “Sustainability in the Department for Transport”. It did not receive quite as much press coverage, or Daily Mail pick-up, as the microbeads report, which is a great shame. I am sure that no Member who is present, or anyone sitting in the Galleries, uses microbeads. I must say that we are all looking very polished and relaxed after our summer break.

What the Committee found was concerning. We found that the UK is failing to reduce its carbon emissions in the transport sector, that air quality targets that were supposed to be met in 2010 will not be met until 2020 at the earliest—and the only reason there is a plan for developing them is the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, and the threat of action against us by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice—and that although a year has passed since we discovered, on 18 September, that Volkswagen had fitted cheat devices to a range of cars, the Government have yet to decide what action, if any, to take against the company. As far as I am aware, not a single Volkswagen has been recalled in this country for any sort of fix or refit. That is completely unacceptable to Volkswagen customers who, for instance, may wish to change their cars and are unable to obtain a fair valuation.

Domestic transport is the single largest emitting sector of the economy, accounting for 22% of UK emissions. Those emissions need to fall by 31% over the next 10 years. We found that the UK is on course to miss that target by 50%. So demand for transport is growing and, despite marginal falls in average car and van CO2 intensity, this is driving up emissions. Therefore, we are not going to be on the most cost-effective pathway to those 2030, 2040 and 2050 targets. That is deeply worrying, because if we are not on the most cost-effective pathway, it means we are idling along in the slow lane, hoping that something will turn up to suddenly help us meet those carbon budgets later on down the road, literally and figuratively.