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Paris Agreement on Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:58 pm on 7th September 2016.

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Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 5:58 pm, 7th September 2016

Last time I checked, France was still a full member of the EU, with no intention of leaving.

We had the announcement last night, and we have heard the loose interpretation of legal obligations today in the Chamber when it comes to the preparation and delivery of the fourth and fifth carbon plans. That announcement, the approach and what we heard today confirmed the need for today’s debate, and it is why we are right to press the motion.

It is astonishing how quickly the Government have trashed our hard-won reputation for leading the world in responding to the challenges of climate change. Our role as key EU negotiators at Kyoto, our world-leading Climate Change Act 2008 and our progressive reputation at the Paris climate conference all risk being left in tatters if we are seen to be dragged to the table at the last minute as a result of being outside the EU. Whereas China, the US and France, among many others, have all ratified the Paris agreement, despite what the Prime Minister said earlier today, we are being left lagging behind.

At least the Government have moved on from the position under the previous Business Secretary, who refused to let the words “industrial strategy” pass his lips. The new Business Secretary will have to develop a strategy. That is especially true in respect of green energy. The argument for energy, particularly green energy, to be at the heart of our industrial strategy was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland, and the Minister made similar remarks in his speech.

Last year, we were going to lead the way in Paris with a £1 billion carbon capture and storage competition. The United Nations framework convention on climate change identified CCS as one of the interventions that could help countries worldwide meet emissions reduction targets, yet just a week before the Paris climate conference the Government scrapped their plan, despite the international praise it had received. After the Paris agreement had been signed, the Government abolished DECC, precisely when the Department’s expertise would most sorely be needed. They cut subsidies for green household energy initiatives by 65%, and then they increased subsidies for fossil fuel production at the same time as cutting investment in green technologies. While the cost of green energy has been falling, the Government have instead focused on fracking.

There are signs, with the arrangements for devolution, that we are starting to see the sort of long-term, ambitious vision at a local level that is sadly lacking at the national level. My hon. Friend Steve Rotheram is Labour’s candidate for metro mayor for the Liverpool city region. After many false dawns, we finally have a chance for the Mersey barrage to be a reality, developing the high-tech industries that can drive forward the economy and deliver the quality jobs his constituents and mine so badly need, while potentially delivering energy self-sufficiency to the city region. The devolved Administration in Wales are committed to green technology, with eye-catching proposals for tidal lagoons—something mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli. Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan has committed to make London a city run entirely on clean energy by 2050, joining the leaders of 50 Labour-run councils in making a 100% clean-energy pledge. Sadiq and his Labour colleagues recognise the damage being done by harmful emissions to the health of the people they represent.

Labour in local government and in the devolved Administrations wants to deliver on the green agenda, but it cannot do these things alone, and they should not have to be done in a piecemeal way. Why is the green agenda not a national priority, on which Government, local authorities and Assembly Administrations can all work together to deliver as full partners? Where is the underwriting by the Government of the development of our green industries? Where is the Government-backed green energy company to challenge the market and to address complacency from the energy cartel, which is simply not set up to put the needs of residential or business customers first? That is what follows from the short-term nature of the stock market-listed companies that make up the cartel and from their need to put shareholder returns above all else. Where is the development of a national energy strategy to address the very real security concerns about supply? If the Government are committed to the green agenda, why, oh why, did they privatise the Green Investment Bank?

The Government are missing the fact that inconsistency and uncertainty are the enemy of investment. Last year, for the first time, the UK fell out of Ernst and Young’s top 10 most attractive countries for renewables investment. We used to top the table, thanks to clear long-term planning that gave investors confidence, but we fell to fourth in 2013 and 11th in 2015, and now we are 13th. The Government’s inconsistency is also undermining confidence in green tech start-ups. Why has confidence gone among investors? Because the Government have put short-term budget cuts before strategic investment, and because they make and revoke green policy piecemeal and in a vacuum.

There is an overwhelming economic case for the UK to build infrastructure and cutting-edge technologies, not just to meet our Paris agreement commitments. We are well placed to serve the market that exists given that 180 countries signed Paris. There are nearly 100,000 low-carbon and renewable energy businesses in the UK. UK Government figures value the green economy as a whole at £122 billion a year—double the size of the automotive industry, twice the size of the chemicals industry and five times the gross value added of aerospace.

Green energy is a major trade opportunity. We have signed deals for low-carbon trade of £6.7 billion with China and £3.2 billion with India. The global green energy market is growing at over 4% a year and is expected to reach £5 trillion this year. Trade in green energy has the potential to transform our export prospects just at the moment we most need it, following the Brexit vote.

Then there is the long-term cost of failing to invest. The decision to cut the pioneering CCS project might have saved the Exchequer £1 billion this year, but it is forecast to push the bill for meeting climate change agreements up by more than £30 billion, according to the National Audit Office—a very clear example of false economy. So where is the strategy: where is the coherence? Where is the Government’s fabled long-term plan? Whether we are looking for an environmental, economic or business rationale, the plan simply is not there. No wonder the 100,000 members of the public who signed the petition on ratifying the agreement on environmental grounds were joined by investors worth £13 trillion arguing the business and economic case for early and enthusiastic ratification of Paris.

The complete lack of strategy in green and renewable industries is threatening to rob the UK of a golden opportunity at the very time when it is most needed. The opportunities exist in renewables. They include the potential for us to be self-sufficient, the delivering of energy security, lower prices, a chance to develop world-leading status in a high-tech sector, and a massive export opportunity at a time of great economic need—and all the while we deliver on our obligations to the international community and to the environment.

We have a new Business Secretary: the chance for a fresh start. If he wants to—I hope that he is serious about an industrial strategy and about our global and domestic responsibilities—he has the chance to develop and deliver a strategy that puts the green sector at the heart of what his Government do. He has the chance to support our renewables industry, so that it can be the world leader it wants to be and can be. I hope that he takes the chance he has been given.