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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

It was an anxious time. I remember following events on the Met Office website and thinking, “This is not looking good. I would not want to be the Minister in charge.” We cannot keep relying on luck. We must be fully prepared. I am disappointed that the Government’s flood review and the analysis of the resilience of national infrastructure to deal with flooding emergencies has been postponed. We understand that it was a Cabinet Office responsibility, and I have written to the DEFRA Secretary and the Minister for the Cabinet Office to find out where that responsibility now lives because there has been some confusion.

During the recent flooding, we found that if the transport network goes down because a bridge has been taken out or a road has been flooded, the police, the fire service and ambulances are unable to respond. People are unable to make phone calls because digital infrastructure or phone lines go down, and power supplies can also go down. People end up literally and metaphorically in the dark about the flood situation sometimes only 10 miles up the road. We heard that from the people of the Calder Valley who came to Leeds to talk to John Mc Nally, who is not in his place, and me, and we had an interesting conversation.

Turning to the Environmental Audit Committee’s work on looking at the Treasury, all such decisions are ultimately signed off or not by the Treasury. The National Audit Office told the Committee that there is a growing gap between our stated ambitions on climate change and the policies and spending that the Government are bringing forward to get us there. According to the Government’s own calculations, we are on track to miss our fourth carbon budget between 2023 and 2027 by 10%, yet we saw no action in the previous spending review to take us nearer to closing that gap.

In fact, the spending review contained a number of negative decisions that impacted on our ability to tackle climate change. The last minute cancellation of support for carbon capture and storage, for which industry had been preparing for seven years, has delayed the roll out of this crucial technology for a decade or more, meaning that the eventual bill for cutting our carbon emissions could be up to £30 billion more. Other last minute changes, including ending all funding for the green deal, cancelling the zero band of vehicle excise duty on low-emission cars, abolishing the zero carbon standard for new homes, cutting the funding available for greener heating systems available under the renewable heat incentive, and closing the renewables obligation to onshore wind a year earlier than previously promised, have all damaged business and investor confidence.

We need to start valuing our natural capital, such as our bogs, peatlands and rivers—our wild and special places. There is twice as much carbon in our bogs than in the UK’s atmosphere. If we practice farming techniques that drain that land, degrading peat soil and releasing that carbon, we are contributing to the problem, not taking away from it. We need to consider the role of soils—that was another excellent report by the Committee that did not get much Daily Mail attention—and what peatland and bog restoration can do for capturing carbon. That work is vital and contributes to the richness of our ecosystems and wildlife. We will continue to scrutinise the Treasury’s record and work with the National Audit Office and evaluate every future autumn statement for its environmental impact.

In conclusion, the US and China have worked together to ratify the agreement. They are getting a head start in the next great innovation race: the decarbonisation of advanced economies. We are fortunate that we have the Climate Change Act 2008 and the framework that forms the basis for this new industrial revolution in sustainable technology. I hope that all Members will continue to work together and do diligent work in our Select Committees and interest groups to ensure that the Government ratify and honour the spirt of the Paris agreement.