I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the UK’s progress toward net zero carbon emissions.
I am incredibly grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this debate, and I thank my co-sponsor, Caroline Lucas, as well as Anna McMorrin and all those who contributed to our application for this debate. Those included MPs from every political party across the House, and I hope that will be the spirit in which we debate these issues today.
I mainly, however, want to thank young people, and particularly the 2,000 young people in Oxford who decided that this issue was so urgent that they would take time off school to protest in Bonn Square in the centre of Oxford, and try to force us into action. If it were not for that protest I would not have applied for this debate. This is an opportunity for their voices to be heard in this place, and about time too.
The hon. Lady is making an incredibly important point, and I completely support the actions of those young people. Many young people did the same across Wales, and it was disappointing to see the attitude of some Ministers who dismissed their actions—[Interruption.] I accept that that did not include the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, but other Ministers dismissed the behaviour of those young people as being in some way irresponsible. No, it was responsible behaviour, because they care about our future.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. As a former teacher, I am here because I want to stop young people from having to do that again. We are coming up to exams, and it would be better if they stayed in school, but it is incumbent on us to ensure that action is taken.
May I agree enthusiastically with the hon. Lady about the energy and enthusiasm that we saw from young people on that Friday? I have grandchildren in Cambridge who demonstrated, as did schools in my constituency, and their energy and enthusiasm was remarkable. That is what we need to save this fragile planet.
I could not agree more. Climate change, as those young people were saying, is the biggest issue facing our planet, and in 2018 extreme weather hit every populated continent, killing, injuring and displacing millions, and causing major economic damage.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Does it not show how dysfunctional our politics have become that this is the first debate on climate change for two years? We are dysfunctional in the face of the biggest political challenge of our times. We are obsessed with Brexit, but we should be spending our time discussing this issue.
Indeed, and September 2016 was the last time that we debated climate change in the Chamber, which is shameful.
2018 was the fourth hottest year on record with average global temperatures nearly 1° C above the pre-industrial average. Yesterday in West Yorkshire there were enormous fires on Saddleworth Moor. The weather was lovely, was it not? But do we remember a year ago and the “beast from the east”? Such extreme weather events are not to be welcomed. They are not good things. They are a sign that something has gone horrifically wrong.
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. Does she agree that there is no time left for delay, and that the Government need urgently to show that they are serious about tackling climate change, and enshrine in law net zero carbon emissions by 2050? That is a clear strategy that we can all get behind.
The hon. Lady hits the nail on the head. We need to move faster and deeper. This is a climate emergency, and this place must stop taking as little interest in it as it has been doing.
I will make a little progress, if I may. Today’s debate could not be more urgent. Leading climate scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have warned that unless we take urgent action we have just 12 years before global warming rises above the maximum limit of 1.5°. After that, the risk of droughts, floods and extreme heat increases significantly. Just last week, the independent Committee on Climate Change warned that the UK would struggle to meet its own—not-ambitious-enough, frankly—binding targets on climate change unless the Government act to greatly reduce emissions from buildings, while the UK’s most polluting sector, transport, saw no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 2017.
We discussed these issues in the Welsh debate just now and their effect on Wales—I do not think the hon. Lady was here. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, of which I am a member, took evidence on energy efficiency and was told that the resources invested by the Scottish Government were four times higher than those invested by the UK Government and that investment was twice as high in Wales and one and a half times as high in Northern Ireland. This Parliament and this Government have taken their eye off the ball.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has secured this debate. She has made the point that emissions have not fallen. In fact, most recently, they have increased. Does she agree that the target of ending carbon vehicles by 2040 is not ambitious enough?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. Does she, like me, welcome the initiative of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has got momentum behind the idea of real investment in climate infrastructure through a green new deal? Does she agree that we urgently need that kind of approach in this country?
Who doesn’t like AOC? She’s fantastic. The green new deal was something we started when my right hon. Friend Sir Edward Davey was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, but that has now been removed from the Cabinet. That is an example of how the Government do not take this seriously enough—there is now not a Cabinet member whose sole purpose is to talk about climate change. It is not good enough. So my first question to the Minister is: are we planning to have a net zero emissions target for the UK, and if so when? I understand that the current target is 80% by 2050, which is not good enough.
Does the hon. Lady regret that in government the Liberal Democrats oversaw the scrapping of the Department of Energy and Climate Change—
I thought they did, but perhaps I am wrong. It was a machinery of government change. I am happy to be corrected if that is not the case. [Interruption.] It was subsumed into the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. But we also saw the end of the green new deal and of the energy efficiency standards in homes, which means we have a carbon lag that will be more difficult—[Interruption.]
Order. First, there is too much noise. Secondly, I appreciate that Layla Moran is being generous in taking interventions, but she is being generous with the time later in the debate when many people want to speak, and those who are intervening now might not be those sitting here for the whole debate. I encourage her to make some progress.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. The intervention she just took was wrong on every count. It was the Conservatives who got rid of the Department for Energy and Climate Change, the zero carbon homes allowance; the green deal, the carbon capture and storage experiments—I could go on—whereas the Liberal Democrats have a proud record. Under us and our policies, carbon emissions fell dramatically.
So where do we go from here? The COP24 summit in Katowice, where countries settled most elements of the rulebook for implementing the 2015 Paris agreement, did not go far enough. I have been contacted by non-governmental organisations, the Climate Coalition, Green Alliance and the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association, and they are all disappointed by the lack of forceful language and ambitious pledges to come of out COP24. Not enough was agreed.
I am delighted to hear, however, that we are bidding for the next round. What are we doing about it and what progress has been made? It is a good thing, but what is going on? We must make sure it happens. What can we do to lead from the front? The lack of action by Parliaments and Governments has prompted young people from across the world to strike. We all know of 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, whose solo protest outside the Swedish Parliament started this movement. The idea has spread rapidly. Across the world, 70,000 school children each week in 270 towns have wholeheartedly supported what we are trying to do here, but they ask us to go much further.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Does she welcome the fact that, as the PricewaterhouseCoopers report states, the UK has decarbonised faster than any other G20 country and has decreased its emissions by 29% in the last decade alone? It is a British success story, but there is a lot more to do.
I would point out that decline is due to Liberal Democrat policies that we forced through in government.
Here we are, and our aim must be that these students need not strike again. I must insert an element of party politics, however, because it is important to remember the now all but forgotten promise of the greenest Government ever. As my right hon. Friend rightly says, this Government have cut so much. The Conservatives alone have not been forcing this through in the way they should. What happened to the carbon targets? What happened to renewable energy? We have not had the progress we need. The Government have effectively banned onshore wind, which is the cheapest form of renewable energy, all while pursuing an ideological obsession with fracking and overriding the views of local communities who have rejected it. These policies make it crystal clear that the Government are not serious enough about cutting emissions. We must demand better for our environment and our planet.
I am sorry ,but I need to make progress.
We must take inspiration from our own communities, where local political parties seem to be coming together. The Liberal Democrats on Vale of White Horse Council put forward a motion that was passed almost unanimously. Oxford Council unanimously passed a Green amendment declaring a climate emergency. The same is happening in towns and cities across the country.
I am going to continue for a bit longer.
The Liberal Democrats want to see a carbon neutral Britain by 2050. To do that, we would bring forward a zero carbon Act, including measures to fast-track the switch from fossil fuels to clean energy and green tech. We would introduce a green transport Act, bringing forward the planned ban on new diesel and petrol cars by 2025 and 2030 respectively, and helping to fast-track the uptake of electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Then there is the zero carbon homes standard, which was recklessly scrapped by the Conservatives. I welcome the Plastic Pollution Bill, tabled by my right hon. Friend Mr Carmichael, which would set targets for the reduction of plastic pollution.
All in all, we need a new type of economy—one that is sustainable and which embeds the issues of the day at its heart. We must consider implementing radical financial changes, such as moving to a circular economy, as advocated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, using a carbon tax and dividend to use market forces to reduce emissions quickly. We should implement rewards for companies that demonstrate green investment and for pension funds that take pains to divest. We should reward companies that take this issue to their hearts, but I do not yet see the radical change that is needed.
The hon. Lady need not fear my intervention; she may find it helpful to her argument. As a member of the Backbench Business Committee, I found it a pleasure to hear her application and happily grant this debate. I entirely agree with her about fracking: I will oppose any liberalisation of planning law on fracking. The Government are misguided in their policy and should listen to their own Back Benchers, who have been making that point time after time.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention; I was simply trying to make progress and was not afraid of it.
It is also clear that Brexit poses a risk to our environmental standards, as outlined in the amendment tabled by Caroline Lucas to yesterday’s Brexit motion. Can the Minister confirm today whether the UK will continue to participate in the EU emissions trading system after Brexit? Those are the questions coming thick and fast into my inbox. Many are extremely worried about what will happen to environmental standards should we go through with a Tory Brexit as proposed.
I know there is great appetite across the House for change, but the message that came to us from the young people who went on strike the other day is that we now need to treat this as an emergency. We cannot wait another two years for the issue to be debated in this place. My solemn promise to those young people is this: the Liberal Democrats have heard you, and we promise to act. I thank all Members from all political parties and I hope that they will make the same pledge to those young people on behalf of their own parties. Only by finding a way forward together, that is ambitious and listens to the fears and needs of young people, will we find a way to safeguard our precious planet. After all, there is no planet B.
I applaud the hon. Members for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) for securing this debate. It is a great pleasure to be able to debate an issue that is one of many that are more important than Brexit, although some of my constituents disagree. What we are discussing is an existential issue; in year or two, if I am optimistic, or more, if I am pessimistic, we will have moved on from Brexit—I promise.
I can dream.
It is absolutely imperative that we tackle this issue of carbon emissions. The Pentagon, surprisingly for some, has looked carefully at the impact of climate change and our ability to tackle it. It refers to climate change as a “risk escalator”: it increases pressure on migration and imposes the huge cost of stabilising failed states, with the impact that that can have on the security of the world. No one should underestimate the impact that climate change will have and is having on all our lives.
I find it fascinating to look at the crucial nexus between environmental degradation and security. We face a huge challenge—not just because of the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and all that comes from those, but because of the wider context and implications of not tackling climate change.
The right hon. Gentleman and I have probably both received the National Farmers Union briefing. At the Oxford farming conference in January this year, the NFU president Minette Batters announced that British farmers were committed to greater action on climate change and the achievement of net zero carbon emissions from agriculture production by 2040. Does the right hon. Gentleman welcome that NFU announcement as I do? Does he welcome the changes that it is agreeing to for the future?
I do—and I speak as one who knows a bit about this subject. I have been trying to embrace techniques in what I have been doing through the less than perfect mechanism of the common agricultural policy and I am excited about the potential for agriculture to play its part. The NFU is right to be leading on that.
Before my right hon. Friend moves off the security relationship, does he agree that, almost certainly, other than North Korea and the dispute over the India-Pakistan border, the single biggest risk to international security today—much too little discussed—is the question of the climate fence around Bangladesh and the possibility of rising waters forcing tens of millions of people up towards the border with Calcutta?
My right hon. Friend is right. Looking out of an aeroplane window at that delta, one can think about the implications of even a 1 metre rise. It would have a devastating, catastrophic and tragic impact on those who live there. That impact would be multiplied by an enormous magnitude because of the knock-on effect it would have on the surrounding area. It is absolutely vivid.
On a related issue, we talk a lot about the melting of the polar icecaps, but in the Himalayas, which are often known as the “third pole”, the permafrost is thawing and the ice is melting. That could have absolutely huge implications for water sources and for the water that flows down to a significant area. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should be talking about that, as well as the polar regions?
We could go on a global tour of the planet’s vital environmental assets that are at serious risk of being irretrievably damaged unless we tackle this issue. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that point.
On a related point, it is not just the melting of the icecaps. The Tibetan plateau is the water source for 40% of the world’s population. The Chinese are developing that wild area, with serious implications for that water source and for that very important and highly populated part of the world.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. These debates are invigorating, desperate though the issue is, because there is an enormous amount of expertise across the House. Members really understand and have seen for themselves the risk we face and the impact it could have.
I want to cut off, I hope for the final time in my life, the question put by some people who deny the human impact on climate change. For people who are, like me, sometimes assailed by people who read certain journalists and acquire a view, I recommend a book by Richard Black, the former BBC environment correspondent, called “Denied”. It is a forensic demolishing and devastating take-down of climate change denial. It goes through all the arguments in absolute detail. It has an outstanding foreword by a Member of this House—[Interruption.] Yes, it is me. [Laughter.] The content of the book is absolutely superb and I recommend it, despite the foreword. Richard Black refers to climate change deniers as contrarians rather than sceptics. I think that is right. It is good to be a sceptic and it is good to be sceptical about received wisdoms, but contrarians tend to be the golf club bore who strikes an opinion with no basis of information. The book provides the scientific evidence that really nails the subject.
The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon rightly raised the school strikes. I think it was right to welcome that event. I think some people got it wrong and missed the point. We can all complain about children bunking off school, but that is not the point here. The strikes showed the extraordinary passion of the young people whose lives will be much more affected by those of us in middle age like me. That passion needs to be harnessed. I was moved, a couple of days ago downstairs in the Churchill room, to see the excellent “Year of Green Action” event organised by Ministers at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We heard evidence from two young people called Amy and Ella Meek, I think from Gedling, who have set up a venture called “Kids against Plastic” that has gone viral. It is that kind of action that we want to encourage among the young people who came to our offices on that day. This is not just something that policymakers and politicians will deliver. People on the ground, of all ages, can make a difference.
Thirty or so young people from Newbury turned up at my office. I was struck by their passion and their commitment, but I was also left with a strong belief that we need to inform people better about what is going on. I have already heard questions in this debate such as, “Why isn’t something happening?” when it is, and “Why aren’t we doing more on that?” when that is happening. We need to applaud in a cross-party, consensual way when good things are done and to push relentlessly where we think we are missing the point.
Does the right hon. Gentleman welcome my Little Litter Heroes campaign? We got primary schoolchildren involved in making sculptures out of their recycled goods and encouraged them to recycle everything where possible.
If my hon. Friend will allow me, I will just make a bit more progress.
When I was discussing this issue with these young people, I was conscious that none of them knew that the UK was the first developed economy to pass a Climate Change Act. Why should they? In a way, it is a rather a process-y thing to know. Nevertheless, it does show that across this House there has been a determination to act. This country has reduced its emissions by over 40%—more than any other developed G7 economy. I asked how many of them knew about Blue Belt and all their hands stayed down. Blue Belt is one of the policies in recent years that I am most proud of. My right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin was fundamental in driving that through despite, I have to say, a bit of institutional opposition in certain Departments, but he did it and we are now protecting an area of sea the size of India. That will shortly grow to much larger areas and we are policing that with modern satellite technology. It is an extraordinary thing that we in Britain should be proud of, particularly those of us who were swept away by “Blue Planet II”. At least we have a Government who are doing something about this.
There has been a huge leap in renewable energy. Record amounts of power are now generated renewably. The 25-year environment plan has things in it that those young people would be really pleased to see, and they would of course be right to push us to make sure that it happens. Work has been done in this House in recent months, particularly on the Government Benches—with letters to the Prime Minister and Ministers, and meetings with the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, who will respond to the debate—to move to net zero, which I think is clearly inevitable.
Why do we need that to happen? We need it to happen because the science is clear—it is staring us in the face. In October last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that there was an evens chance of meeting a 1.5° target for global CO2 emissions and spoke of the absolute imperative of reaching net zero. It set forth this extraordinary challenge to policy makers all over the world: there are 12 years left to deliver that. I am really pleased that the Minister, who has responsibility for climate change, has instructed the Committee on Climate Change to do a feasibility—an impact—study on what net zero would mean and what we would be requiring our economy to do. It is no good us in this House just stating words such as “net zero” without really understanding that there will be an impact. It will affect businesses, but if we do this in the right way, first, businesses can transition, and secondly, there is an economic opportunity for Britain to continue to be a centre for green growth. That fits in with the clean growth strategy.
In the wider context, this is a key moment for the United Kingdom. Domestically, we have new legislation coming before the House on fisheries, farming, the environment and other related subjects. As a farmer, a conservationist, and someone who has been, and is, active in the non-governmental organisation movement—I am a trustee of a charity called Plantlife—I am excited by the opportunities offered to take control of our environmental agenda and to make sure we do what we have been talking about for a long time, but seem unable to do, which is to reverse the declines in biodiversity, to significantly reduce emissions from agriculture, to weaponise, if you like, the natural environment, to lock up carbon and to be a sustainable source of the necessities of life, such as clean water.
I know of the right hon. Gentleman’s great reputation as a farmer. Do we not have to do something about the dairy industry and the effect on waterways, rivers and streams?
I think that the best way to protect our environment is to have more grass in rotation. If people make sweeping statements that close down certain industries—[Interruption.] I know that that was not the point that the hon. Gentleman was making, but there are swings and roundabouts. I was probably the only dairy farmer in the House of Commons until I stopped being a dairy farmer, so I know a little bit about this, and I am happy to talk to him about it.
Internationally, our leadership in tackling climate change, the protection of our oceans and reducing pollution can be a key component of what people mean when they refer to “global Britain”. As a Minister—and a devout pro-European—I sat in international forums such as the International Whaling Commission and the United Nations Conference of the Parties, and I sat for too long in EU co-ordination meetings, lowering the ambitions of the UK so that there could be a single, agreed view across the European Union. Now we can have those ambitions. We can raise our game. We can reconnect with organisations from which we have withdrawn. I am looking for silver linings to our current cloud, and that is very much one of them.
Let me end by returning to the issue of the schools strike. We make a mistake if we—whom those children would view as old people—complain about their having the nerve to bunk off school, or if we just tell them the good things. We need to agree with them that there is a problem and much more needs to be done, and we need to explain it.
Thank goodness climate change is a cross-party issue in this country, whereas in the United States it is a polarising, divisive issue. We can do this together, and we can be a world leader.
Order. I will give considerable leeway to the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, who will speak next, but I will advise that after that, if everyone speaks for between five and six minutes, we will manage without a time limit. I am not criticising Richard Benyon, who is a former Minister, and I do not expect the Chairman of the Select Committee to speak for only five minutes, because I am sure that she will have a lot to say, but after that, if Members speak for between five and six minutes we will manage without a time limit, in a courteous and consensual way.
It is a pleasure to follow Richard Benyon. I advise him to keep his mobile phone switched on, given the news that the Fisheries Minister, George Eustice, has just resigned. The Government may be looking for a new Fisheries Minister, and it may be the hon. Gentleman’s lucky day yet again. In the great tradition of reusing and recycling Ministers, I can think of no finer replacement.
I wonder whether the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth has resigned so that he does not have to answer the letter that my Committee has just drafted, which asks him about our progress towards becoming a so-called independent coastal state and how the negotiations with various regional fisheries organisations are going.
Let me now turn to the subject of the debate. Securing a sustainable future for the planet and our children is a responsibility that we simply cannot ignore. I welcome the chance to discuss this issue, because we have spent far too long discussing Brexit in the Chamber and not enough time discussing the thumping alarm that is being sounded all around us on our planet.
To achieve net zero, we must reduce our emissions rapidly and at scale in every area of our economy and in every area of our lives. Our Committee has talked about some of the personal changes that we can make, whether that means turning our backs on single-use plastics or considering how we can achieve, for example, a net-zero fashion industry. The report that we published last week took climate change into areas where it may not previously have gone.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the personal things we can all do is look into where our pensions are invested and establish, for instance, whether they are invested in fossil fuels or renewables? I have been doing that, and I hope that we will give some thought to where our moneys are going in the context of the parliamentary pension scheme.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. One of the things we did in our green finance reports last year was talk to the top 25 pension funds in the country and ask them what they were doing in this area, and of course we talked to our own parliamentary pension fund as well, and we ranked them as engaged, moderately engaged and less engaged. We need to shape and bend the entire financial system to invest in this new green economy and to ensure a just transition, because in areas such as mine, Wakefield, which were dependent on coal, we must not have thousands of people just being left on the dole. We need to skill up the current generations to meet the green future we want to see.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of our other great strengths is our great science in this country—the science base? Good policy based on great science really works.
I totally and passionately agree. We in the Environmental Audit Committee are privileged to have global thought leaders appearing before us and giving us the best available science. It is sometimes rather chilling, however; for example, Professor Jim Skea from the IPCC told us that our assumptions about how quickly we can decarbonise are perhaps based on over-optimistic assumptions and new technologies that have not yet been invented. So perhaps the discount rate for future technologies needs to be lower than at present. There are some truly profound moments in our Committee, and I am sure my hon. Friend would be very welcome to join it; we also have a couple of spaces for Conservative Members, so I hope we can get some volunteers following today’s discussion.
We have been leaders in this, and people still look to the UK for both thought leadership and policy action leadership. We provided that under the last Labour Government with the Climate Change Act 2008. A weakness in that Act has become apparent, however: there was no review process. We set up the Committee on Climate Change, which advises the Government—all well and good—but then it is up to the Government to heed that advice or to ignore it, which is less good, and there is no review process, so now if we do need to set this zero net emissions target, we will need to re-legislate, and I will be interested to hear from the Minister about the necessary policy mechanisms.
We have signed up to the 2015 Paris agreement and to the UN sustainable development goals to create a more equitable, sustainable world. Our Government will subject us to a voluntary national review at the UN this year, and I urge all Members of this House to participate in that process. It is about how we end poverty, violence and hunger in every aspect of our communities. Our Committee has looked at the hunger aspect, and I welcome the fact that the Department for Work and Pensions and the Office for National Statistics will now start to measure hunger in our country. Real sustainability comes not just with social justice, but with climate justice as well.
I want to talk about why net zero emissions matter. In October 2018, the UN’s leading scientists—some of whom were British—showed what could happen if we do not get to net zero. Extreme weather is already happening; the warming is already with us, as we are seeing with the tragic events on Saddleworth moor, the heatwaves in the Artic last year and the fact that we have had the hottest February day on record. The Arctic is warming twice as quickly as the rest of the planet, and in February 2018 temperatures at the North Pole rose above freezing during the polar nights, which is when the sun has not even started to come up; it was 30° higher than normal. When we talk about an average of 1.5°, that means a 7° rise at the North Pole. That is catastrophic for the melting of the sea ice.
We had a deadly summer last year, and we also had the highest number of excess deaths last year because of the beast from the east; we had 40,000 excess winter deaths in this country. So when we talk about climate, we are also talking about ourselves; we are talking about the fact that we are conducting a vast experiment on the only system on which our life depends. We do not what we are doing; we do know how to stop it, but there is a kind of collective passivity around the action needed. When we see cities such as Cape Town in South Africa running out of water, and when we see power stations in Australia unable to work because it is too hot, we have to ask ourselves what a 1.5° or even a 2° warmed world will look like.
The IPCC also showed us what the difference is between 1.5° and 2°. At 2° sea levels will be 10 cm higher. That means 10 million more people will be affected by flooding and coastal erosion. That is what the difference between 1.5° and 2° means. At 2°, all coral reefs die. Our children will never see a coral reef at 2°. If we keep the increase to 1.5°, one third of reefs might survive. We have cold water reefs on our shores that we do not know about. We do not value what is beneath the ocean.
Our species are becoming extinct at a rate that has not been seen since the last global mass extinction. We have just been hearing about the insect Armageddon. Our planetary health inquiry found that rates of extinction are between 100 and 1,000 times higher than what is considered to be natural diversity loss. This affects our food systems, because if pollinator populations are devastated, we will have to pollinate our fruit trees by hand, as is already being done in parts of China.
Soil is the only carbon sequestration system that is known to work at scale and for free, yet we keep treating our soil like dirt. [Laughter.] That was my little joke. Soil is the Cinderella ecosystem. We like clean air and clean water, but what we should really like is dirty dirt. The more dirt that is in our soil—I do not mean bad dirt; I mean organic content—the better it is. In Paris, we signed up to increase our soil carbon content by four parts per 1,000, but I have not yet seen any policy to support that, either in the public goods debate around farming or from the Minister. I would be grateful if we heard something about how we will incentivise farmers to achieve that and to incentivise urban guerrilla gardeners such as myself to achieve it in our own homes. If I knew how to do it, believe me I would.
This is actually a serious interjection, unlike the previous one. I completely agree with the hon. Lady that we have neglected the soil, even though it was clearly identified in the national ecosystem services review, but does she not agree that the move to payment for ecosystem services should enable successive Governments to engage farmers in precisely that kind of activity?
Indeed it should, but there has to be a baseline measurement, and somebody has to pay for the measurement and the monitoring. The tragedy is that, if we leave the EU, this type of global thought leadership that we are now getting to will be lost and will no longer be able to be transmitted out to our friends and colleagues in the EU.
My hon. Friend is making an important point. In the Peak district, we have Moors for the Future, which is seeking to sequester as much as possible of the 580 million tonnes of carbon that is captured within peat. At the moment, we are seeing 3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere each year because of the degradation of those peat moors due to climate change, industrialisation and lack of care. Will she welcome any commitment that we can get from the Government to finance those important projects?
Absolutely. I was walking on Lost Lad in my hon. Friend’s constituency at Christmas, and it is an absolutely wonderful part of the world. It is above the Derwent reservoir, and we could actually see the village of Derwent because the water levels were so low. The draining of our peat bogs has been a catastrophe, and we have to re-flood them. Globally, the top 30 cm of soil contains double the amount of carbon that is in the entire atmosphere, so it is vital that our precious peatlands—lowland and upland—should be protected for future generations. They are of global importance.
May I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the amazing work being done on soil at Cranfield University, whose Soil and Agrifood Institute is the world leader? By investing in our universities, Britain is leading the thought on how to protect our soils not just across Europe but in many other parts of the world.
I passionately agree with the hon. Lady. I taught at Cranfield School of Management for seven years, although we never got too deep into the soil at that point because we were busy trying to start businesses. She is right to suggest that we have a long database of soil systems. A lot of people in this country like to collect things and keep them, and that is a great thing to have. We have samples that go back 100 years in some cases.
I want to talk about our carbon budget. The IPCC has calculated that a budget of 420 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide would give us a two-thirds chance of staying within 1.5°C, and that a 580 gigatonne budget would give us a 50:50 chance of doing so. Those are not betting odds. If I were told that I had a 50:50 chance of something happening, I would not think those are great odds, so 580 gigatonnes is not a good budget to have.
This larger budget, 580 gigatonnes, is the equivalent of 10 years of global emissions at 2017 levels. To achieve that, the global production and consumption of coal must fall by 80%—again, we have done important and good things on that in our country—and the global production and consumption of oil and gas must fall by 50% by 2030. That is why I have come to the conclusion that fracking is not compatible with the 12 years we have left, and it is why I regret that it is being treated as a national infrastructure project rather than onshore wind, which has the power to give us the clean energy we need.
We know there is uncertainty, and we know there are tipping points. We do not know what will happen if we get to 1.5°, but we know that, for example, if the permafrost thaws, releasing methane, or if the sea ice collapses, these things can accelerate.
We can tackle emissions and deliver healthier cities, healthier people and a healthier planet. The Committee’s latest inquiry on planetary health is looking at how these complex systems deliver. We have seen exponential growth of wind and solar, and we are experiencing an industrial revolution. We have done things we thought impossible 10 or 12 years ago, for which I pay tribute to politicians on both sides of the House. The revolution is happening at the speed of the technological revolution, which is good. Big data will help us in this fight, too, but we will need renewable energy to supply between 70% and 80% of all global power by 2050.
In this country, we have done a lot on electricity, but the Committee on Climate Change has said that this progress has
“masked failures in other areas.”
We have seen very small reductions in agriculture and buildings-related emissions. At a time when Persimmon is paying its chief executive £75 million, we have to ask why we are subsidising the Help to Buy scheme. Why are we not subsidising ground source or air source heat pumps, as is happening in Sweden, to make sure we have zero-carbon homes?
The Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee is making an excellent speech, as would be expected. She mentions that very little progress has been made in agriculture. I know this is part of the planetary health inquiry to an extent, but nearly 10 years ago, on
I totally agree. There is always a danger that we get called a nanny state, but if nannies are good enough for people on very large incomes—naming no names—we should provide the nannying for people with less money.
It is encouraging how, in some ways, the public have got ahead of politicians, such as with the rise of flexitarianism. We are all trying to eat less meat because of our knowledge, particularly about processed meat and the risks from nitrites. What does a net-zero diet look like? What does a net-zero city look like? We will have to start mapping out these big changes. Where we lead, other countries will quickly follow.
My hon. Friend is right that we need to examine the livestock sector and work out how we cut its emissions globally and at scale.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and she makes an important point about the way in which individual behaviour needs to be complemented by Government policy. That is particularly resonant for me today, because today I have got rid of my car and have become entirely reliant on walking, cycling and public transport. I am able to do that only because Nottingham has invested significantly in public transport. Is it not really disappointing that transport is one sector that is not pulling its weight at the moment? There has been little change in the level of transport emissions since 2008. Do not the Government need to get their act together to enable more people to make greener choices?
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend is right to say that there has been a net increase in transport emissions over the past five years.
I want to conclude by talking about what we need to do and what policies the Government need to adopt. Government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the country. I have been banging on about the need for the NHS, which has a huge budget, to decarbonise its fleet rapidly. We have had the NHS sustainable development unit before our Committee; there is talk about doing this by 2028, but that is too late. We need electric vehicles in every town and city. There is no sense in midwives and district nurses going out and polluting the cities, and then talking to parents about treating their kids’ asthma—that is absurd. We need cross-government working on this.
We need to talk about the difficult-to-decarbonise sectors, particularly heavy industry and transport. We come back to things such as bus regulation here; mayors could have the powers to state where buses go. We have Stagecoach today saying, “The stuff in Manchester is outrageous,” but it is running profitable bus services. We need to force these companies to invest in new, cleaner vehicles. We also need to look at our energy systems. Some 31 million homes in this country run on gas. How are we going to get them to a clean gas source? Is it going to be hydrogen? Is it going to be air source heat pumps? How are we going to lag those buildings? This is not that hard, but we need to choose our policy sectors. When we choose our sectors and our actions, we can have a just transition. We can have that new green deal. We know that the mayors are willing to do this.
Finally, we need to make sure that our financial systems are looking at the risks: the physical risk from flooding; and the transitional risk from stranded assets in coal and oil and gas-fired power stations, which our pensions are currently being invested in. We also need to make sure that we have a stable policy environment. The Government can be a leader on this. The Minister has proven that she can be a leader, not least in the actions she took in heading off a no-deal Brexit in the past couple of days. We need to practise what we preach. Net zero is not the end; it is just the start of the next mountain to climb.
It is a pleasure to follow Mary Creagh, the Chair of the Select Committee, of which I am proud to be a member. I am delighted that we are having this debate today, and I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who secured it. As my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon said, this is the most important issue. In an effort to chip away at my gigantic constituency majority in Richmond Park and North Kingston, one or two local opponents enjoy telling my constituents that I care more about the environment and climate change than I do about Brexit, and they are right—I do, for all the reasons we have just heard. So they can stick that on their leaflets.
This is already a year of records. Last year, we had record snowfall in March in this country. We had the joint hottest summer on record. Two days ago, we had the record temperature in any February ever. Clearly, we cannot attribute individual weather extremes or events to climate change, as that is just not scientific and not possible to do, but the trends do tell a story. The most recent Met Office report, from November last year, tells us that the UK is experiencing an increase in weather extremes: hottest days have become hotter; the number of warm spells has increased; the coldest days are not as cold; and there has been an increase in rainfall levels. None of that, individually, is catastrophic, but it is a sign.
Globally, the signs are even more alarming. The five warmest years in recorded history have been since 2010, with 2014 being the hottest year ever recorded—until 2015. It became the record year—until 2016. In 2016, at the time the warmest year on record, eight of the months were the warmest the individual month had ever seen in history. So the implications of all this, if the science is right, are truly alarming: ecosystems forced through such rapid changes that they are unlikely to be able to adapt; lands becoming harder and harder to farm; and refugees on a scale we have never had to deal with before as a species. We heard in an intervention from my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin about Bangladesh, which is probably the most extreme and alarming example. We should commit right here and now to trying to secure a debate on the issue—it is extraordinary that we have not debated it—but Bangladesh is just one among other examples. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that an average of 21.5 million people are already displaced each year because of weather-related sudden onset hazards. That figure will only grow if any of these predictions are correct.
Last year’s IPCC report painted the most alarming picture yet. The House will remember that the Paris agreement of 2015 commits the world to a target of limiting global warming to 2°C. The report looked into the difference between what we can expect if we achieve the 2°C target and what we can expect if instead we limit increases to 1.5°C. It tells us that the number of people exposed to water stress would be 50% lower if we kept to 1.5°C. It tells us that half a degree would mean hundreds of millions fewer people, particularly in the world’s poorest countries, being at risk of climate-related destitution. The half degree of extra warming would lead to a forecasted 10 cm additional pressure on our coastlines. That half degree is the difference between losing all our corals and managing to hold on to 10% of them.
Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the IPCC report on a 1.5°C target said that we need to make the necessary reductions to our greenhouse emissions by 2030? Unfortunately, the Government are telling the Committee on Climate Change that they cannot look at that reduction until 2050. That seems to me to be a little bit late in the day.
I will address exactly that point shortly.
Let me conclude my remarks on the IPCC report. If one looks at the trends, one sees that currently we are not heading for that apocalyptic 2°C rise; we are heading towards something that looks more like 3°C, the consequences of which we cannot possibly estimate. In that light, the idea that children missing a few hours of geometry or physical education to ring the alarm bells and wake up our political system is somehow a wasted opportunity or the wrong thing to do just seems churlish. It seems absurd and mean-minded.
My hon. Friend is on the central issue, but of course he is referring to a global problem and it has only a global solution, because we are talking about 2.6 billion people in China and India for the first time in 250 years returning to the historic norm of their occupying half of global GDP, with massive consequences for energy consumption and other things. Does my hon. Friend agree that we therefore need to talk not just about our own activities and those of the west, but about the question of how we restructure the international order, which is probably the biggest challenge facing the western world and the eastern world at present?
I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. My final remarks will relate partially to the point that he just made, and he is right. It would be madness for those countries that have not yet developed in the sense that we have to develop in such a way that required them to become addicted to the same system that is causing this problem. They have an opportunity to leapfrog into a much cleaner, leaner and more efficient future. The technology is there.
As my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon pointed out earlier, there are still doubters. Of course we can quibble with the predictions, because climate systems are complex. There is not a computer model on Earth that is capable of fully taking on board the complexity of the natural world and the realities of the positive and negative feedbacks that impact on climate. Nevertheless, we are faced with a pretty simple calculation: what happens if we ignore that overwhelming scientific consensus, listen instead to the sceptics, and are then wrong? The IPCC predictions have told us that we would be risking life on Earth as we know it. We would be risking civilisation.
What happens if instead we listen to that consensus, take action and are wrong? Well, by accident we would end up with a cleaner and eventually cheaper energy system. We would end up protecting more of the world’s forests and ecosystems. We would end up with an economic system that was more circular and less wasteful. It really is not a difficult calculation to make—and that is even more true given that almost everything we need to do to tackle climate change is something that we need to do irrespective of climate change.
The challenge is gigantic and no one doubts that—we are told that if we are meet that 1.5°C total global emissions target, we need to reach net zero by 2050 at the latest—but we can do it. In fairness to the Government, it is worth highlighting that we are already making progress—not enough, but progress all the same. We have already heard about the world-leading Climate Change Act, on which I am not going to dwell, but since 2010 the UK has reduced emissions by 23%. We have reduced emissions faster than any other G7 nation. I am delighted to acknowledge that the Government have instructed the Committee on Climate Change to look into how we can go further and move to a net zero emissions target. It also needs to be said, though, that at the current rate of progress, despite our having met the early targets and being on course to meet the next one, we are not on course to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, so we do have a long way to go.
Clearly, we will have to change much of what we do not just in terms of how we generate electricity, but in terms of how we use it, how we manage the land, and how we organise our transport, food and industry. There has long been a belief, a fear, that there must be a direct correlation between emissions and economic growth. That has been true. For much of the industrial revolution, there has been a direct link: emissions go up, growth goes up. However, it is not so clear now. Since 1990, we have cut emissions in this country by 42%, even while our economy has grown by two thirds. As we enter this gigantic economic transition, there will, of course, be losers—the polluters—but there will also be winners. Last year saw a record amount of power generated from renewable sources—more than 30% is now coming from renewables.
A much quicker transition to electric vehicles—something on which we really need to push—will mean more jobs and more investment. Supporting new, clean technologies means both jobs and investments. That transition will happen whether we like it or not. It is the old story of the whale oil. In 1850, every home in America was lit by whale oil. Nine years later, Edwin Drake struck oil, and we had the oil rush. Almost immediately, the whale oil sector simply evaporated. There is a cutting in a diary of the biggest whale oil trader at the time who said that he was astonished that he had run out of customers before he had run out of whales. That is what will happen. Old industries and old technologies will give way to new ones, and it is in our interests as a country to lead the charge.
Hon. Members have covered lots of areas on which we need to get going, but I want to focus on just one last point that has been neglected in almost all of the debates that we have had on climate change, and that is forests. Apart from transport, deforestation is the single largest source of emissions. It accounts for around 20%—a fifth—of all carbon emissions. Forests are one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, absorbing around 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon a year and storing many billions more, yet we are losing 18.7 million acres of forests every year, the equivalent of 27 football pitches every single minute. It is self-evident madness that that is happening—not just because of climate change. Forests provide us with clean air, water and soils. We do not fully understand their influence on world weather patterns, but we know that it is defining. They are home to 80% of terrestrial biodiversity. More than 1.5 billion people depend directly on forests for their livelihoods, many of whom are the world’s poorest people, so we need to protect them. That needs to be a priority.
The UK can be proud that we are the only nation in the G7, and indeed in the G20, to hit the UN’s target on overseas aid the year before last—we were the only country to do so. Only a tiny fraction of that aid—as little as 0.4%—goes towards nature, and we can do much more than that. The very existence of DFID is to tackle poverty, but the surest way to plunge people into desperate poverty is by removing the environments, the ecosystems and the free services that nature provides. Those are the things on which people depend. Of course, the world’s poorest people depend much more directly on nature than we do here in this House, but, ultimately, we all depend on the natural world.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is right to say that this country needs to help developing countries. One of the best ways that we can do that is by using our expertise in organisations such as the Met Office. Kew Gardens in his constituency has some of the world’s greatest scientists. We should work with other countries to make sure that they can adapt and indeed mitigate climate change.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I love the fact that he mentioned Kew Gardens and I thank him for doing so. I am trying to push through a private Member’s Bill, but it keeps being blocked by my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope—cue boos from people who happen to be watching this discussion. It would deliver about £40 million or £50 million extra to Kew Gardens without dipping into the public purse, and it would enable the scientists to do exactly the work that he has just mentioned, much of which focuses on helping developing countries, poorer countries, adapt to the reality and the risks of climate change. Those scientists do extraordinary work, and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to put that on the record.
In addition to being at the forefront of the new net zero revolution, which is what it is, let us also be world leaders in restoring ecosystems on a scale that finally matches the problem.
Order. I have let the debate run because it has been so well-balanced and constructive, but I am now anxious to make sure that everyone who has indicated that they wish to speak has a chance to do so, so we will have to have a formal time limit now of five minutes.
My starting point is that climate change is not some kind of future threat; climate change is here and now. The climate has changed, and that is the reality that we have to confront. Records have again been broken in the UK this week, as several hon. Members have already mentioned. On Tuesday, temperatures reached 21°C in London—Britain’s hottest February day on record. The records keep being broken not just in the UK, but right across the world. In January 2019, Australia had its hottest month ever, and prolonged droughts worsened California’s destructive wildfires last year. Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2005.
To be clear, this is not normal. We are not in a time of normal. The implications of these seismic changes for the future of life on Earth and human civilisation are profound, yet even after all the international conferences and pledges on climate action, the Earth is still set to warm by 3°C or 4°C. In that scenario, huge swathes of the Earth would be rendered uninhabitable, while extreme weather would ravage whole countries. Time is quickly running out to limit warming, even to the still dangerous 1.5°C or 2°C aspirations of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. We face a climate emergency and we must choose now how we respond. Above all, I believe that this calls for unprecedented boldness and vision, and a new way of thinking, to find a new way forward.
Here at home, the Government’s response to the climate crisis has been nowhere near ambitious enough. Since 2010, almost every existing sensible climate measure has been torched: zero-carbon homes scrapped; onshore wind effectively banned; solar power shafted; the Green Investment Bank flogged off; and fracking forced on local communities. On the Opposition Benches, while many hon. Members grasp the severity of the situation, the policies proposed by some of their parties simply are not good enough either.
It is not possible to tackle the climate crisis and expand airports or build new runways. We cannot tackle climate change while ploughing billions of pounds into North sea oil and gas. We cannot tackle the climate crisis while chucking billions into new roads. And we cannot tackle the climate crisis while our economy is built on the assumption that precious minerals, fresh air and clean water can magically regenerate themselves in an instant—that somehow the Earth will expand to meet our ever-expanding use of resources.
The IPCC says that we need to cut emissions to net zero by the middle of the century, but during that very same period the global economy is set to nearly triple in size. Let us be clear that that means three times more production and consumption than we already see each year. It would be hard enough to decarbonise the existing global economy in such a timespan; it is virtually impossible to do so three times over. That is why we need new thinking and it is why I am calling for a green new deal in this country—not to be mistaken with the green deal, which is a very different, failed British policy.
I am really proud to have been a co-founder of the first green new deal group here in the UK, 10 years ago. The green new deal is now getting real momentum from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US. It takes its inspiration from Roosevelt’s new deal in the 1930s, which saw massive investment in jobs and infrastructure in order to pull the US out of the depression. What we need now is a similar massive investment—not in infrastructure per se, but in green technology and green infrastructure. That means a complete and rapid decarbonisation of our whole economy on a much faster scale than our current national climate framework dictates. It means a huge programme of investment in clean energy, creating hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs. It means transforming huge areas of our country and allowing those proud communities that have been hollowed out through deindustrialisation and austerity to regenerate and thrive as they join a collective endeavour to protect the planet. To that extent, it might just be a way of bringing our country back together after all the divisions and polarisation of Brexit.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this very important debate. In Scotland, the Scottish National party and the Green party in the Scottish Parliament have been able to work together. I am not saying that everything is perfect, but does she welcome that cross-party collaboration to try to drive forward sometimes quite difficult decisions that will help to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; cross-party collaboration has to be central. The less that we depend on fossil fuels, the better, but I appreciate that that is something that we are all trying to do and it is incredibly important that we do.
This is urgent. That is why the alarm call that young people gave us in the climate strikes a week or so ago was so very important. They know that in this moment of political paralysis and morally unforgivable inaction on climate, only something really big will shifts our politics in a new direction and attempt something new. I am really proud that across the country we now have over 25 local authorities that have declared a climate emergency, with our schools and universities doing the same thing.
This Parliament must also declare a climate emergency. These are extraordinary times and they call for extraordinary measures. Declaring a climate emergency would mean that it would not be another two years before we have a debate like this in the Chamber. It would perhaps mean that we have a cross-cutting Select Committee on climate breakdown and make sure that climate change is part of every inquiry that Members undertake. It would mean that every new law must be climate-proofed. It would mean redefining and reshaping the debate on climate change.
We have made some progress. I hear the Government saying what wonderful progress they have made. But if we take into account our consumption emissions—the emissions linked to all the products that we consume because we have outsourced manufacturing—then actually our progress looks an awful lot less good. Let us be honest about the scale of the challenge that we face and deliver on the future for those young people.
Last night in the other place, the inspirational Lord Rees of Ludlow, who has been the astronomer royal since the mid-1990s and is a former president of the Royal Society, gave a deeply inspirational lecture about what the world might look like after 2050. It struck me that that is actually not very far away, because by 2050 my daughter will only be the same age as I am now. By then, the world’s population will have reached at least 9 billion. He pointed out that that means that the population of Nigeria will be larger than the population of the EU, the UK and the US put together. The world will be much more crowded and much warmer.
The UK has come very far with regard to addressing climate change. I am very proud that we have cut emissions by 40%—more than any other developed country—and that we have led the world in areas like renewables, which now account for about a third of our energy supply. Because we know that this is a global challenge, we have put in that diplomatic effort. I have seen how it was often the UK pushing the rest of Europe to act, if perhaps sometimes not as fast as we would have wanted. I know how our leadership at the Paris agreement negotiations was absolutely fundamental in getting those 181 countries to sign up to take the temperature changes seriously.
Absolutely. The Minister is a force to be reckoned with on climate change, and I thank her for her leadership not just in this country but across the world.
If we are to leave the planet a safer and better place not just for our children but for their children and grandchildren, then much more must be done. The science is very clear. We cannot continue to pump more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and we must achieve the net zero target by 2050, or sooner if possible. However, it is not good enough just to talk about the targets—we must also think about the actions that we need to take as a society, as individuals and as Governments.
We must also think about how we harness the powers of science and technology to help us to find these solutions. I serve on the Science and Technology Committee. We are in the middle of doing a study on the technologies that we will need in order to meet the clean growth targets. It is a fascinating study. We are in the middle of taking evidence. I do not want to prejudice the final report, but perhaps I can make some comments on some of the actions taking place. First, on energy supply, it is absolutely vital that we continue to work on more zero-carbon energy sources, investing in renewables. I know the Minister knows that I would like to see a pathway to market for onshore wind again, especially to re-power the old sites that are often in the windiest parts of our country but now have very old turbines. We could make them much more efficient. There is very exciting technology being developed. We have heard about floating wind—going out to our deeper oceans and having floating turbines. As a physicist, I will always campaign for continued investment in nuclear fusion, because the potential benefits are too enormous to be ignored. We then need the storage, batteries, air compression and smart grids to go with it.
We must do more on the energy efficiency of homes. In my constituency of Chelmsford, the district is building 1,000 new homes every year. Our new homes should be zero carbon, and we need to reignite the discussion about how we retrofit old homes to make them more efficient and decarbonise heat.
Net zero means that we need strategies to take carbon out of the atmosphere, which is why the Agriculture Bill is such an opportunity. We must incentivise tree planting in woodlands, but in a way that does not take away from our carbon sinks.
I would like to thank the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for the paper it has produced. I am a sucker for a puffin, and I have visited puffins all over the UK. The RSPB made the excellent point that peatland in the UK is estimated to hold more carbon than the forests of Britain, France and Germany combined. We must protect our peoples.
The food that we can grow and eat will fundamentally change because of climate change. In universities and institutions such as Rothamsted Research and the John Innes research centre in Norwich, we have world leaders in food technology, and we must continue to encourage their work.
I want to wrap up by talking about plastics. I am pleased that the Government have taken action on bags, beads and bottles, launched their “producer pays” tax and are looking at better ways to recycle. However, this is a global problem. Plastic is a true disaster in developing countries, where plastic waste is blocking waterways and causing flooding and disease, and uncontrolled burning of plastic is polluting the air.
This time last year, I led 41 Conservative MPs in giving up plastic for Lent, to make us all think about our environmental footprint. Yesterday, Tearfund held an excellent drop-in where it encouraged Members across the House to do the same again but also to partner with it on the work it is doing in some of the poorest parts of the world. I encourage Members to not only give up plastic but think about other things they will do this Lent. I will be going lentil for Lent and giving up meat. Any Member who would like to take up a pledge for the environment this Lent should let me know.
I am going to be slightly partisan in what I say, and not for the sake of it, but more as a polemic. I genuinely feel that those young people called their school strikes because they think this place is sleepwalking off a cliff edge, not in terms of Brexit—although we may well be doing that—but ecologically. I am happy for Conservative Members to challenge me at any point.
I am speaking from the Back Benches, but I was appointed by the shadow Chancellor as the first ever shadow Minister for sustainable economics. The next Labour Government understand that we can no longer allow the Treasury’s short-termism and obsession with neo-classical economic orthodoxy to block the bold and radical fiscal, monetary and regulatory changes we need to deal with the climate crisis. Labour understands the scale of the challenge before us and the national and international purpose that we must set ourselves. It can be nothing less than a radical transformation of the way our economy works.
That is a problem for people who are tied to an economic system, as the Conservative party is—it is a conservative party, so it wants to keep the economic model we have. Some Labour Members understand that if we want to make these radical changes in the timeframe we are talking about, we need to radically change how the economy works and who it works for. That will be a challenge to some Conservative Members, and I will tell the House why.
We know that the wealthiest 10% are responsible for more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions on our planet and in our country, and yet we also know that the poorest 50% are responsible for just 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. This is not about a false choice between consumption for the poorest and the environment. The poor cannot cut what they are not consuming. We need to see a contraction and a convergence. The poorest in the world and in this country will need to consume more, and the wealthiest—not just individuals, but corporations—will need to do more of their fair share. That is a challenge to the economic orthodoxy that those on the Conservative Benches champion.
That is the challenge before us, and we can see what happens when we do not ensure that social justice is at the heart of the changes we make. If we look at the gilets jaunes movement in France, we see that it happened because of the technocratic centrist fixes the Macron Government were trying to make. There were €40 billion of carbon taxes, yet only a small fraction of that was invested in public transport or for the poorest, and it fell disproportionately on those least able to pay, who are actually those consuming the least carbon. As a result, there was not one single tax on French aviation fuel. That is what caused the frustration and anger in France—inequality and a lack of justice at the heart of that economic policy.
This is why the green new deal mentioned by Caroline Lucas is capturing the public imagination. There does not need to be a trade-off between the environment and jobs, or between economic and social justice and the environment.
How did we respond to climate change and the sustainability issues facing us in the UK? We decided to expand Heathrow—fantastic! I think the Heathrow issue is probably one of the most decisive splits we will see in politics in the coming years. It is the biggest single source of emissions in the UK, and the expansion has now given the green light to 300 million tonnes more of carbon being poured into our atmosphere. No Government who aspire to tackle the climate crisis and to keep temperature rises below 1.5°C would ever allow Heathrow to happen.
Let us quickly run through some of the failings of this Government. They have slashed solar subsidies, blocked onshore wind and prevented a closed-loop reuse and recycling sector. They have supported fracking, privatised the green investment bank and supported Heathrow expansion. They have blocked mandatory climate risk-related reporting for the finance sector, they have never issued a green bond, and they have axed their own flagship energy efficiency policy. Those young people were not just calling for incremental change. They were calling not for climate change, but for system change.
Climate change is not a new concept. For millennia the earth has oscillated through periods of warmth and of cold, but for the first time in Earth’s history natural trends are changing. Unlike in times gone by, however, human beings have their finger on the scale: we have tipped the balance. Our impact on the environment is often hidden, out of sight and out of mind, but international scientists are clearly telling us that our actions have dire consequences—consequences that we are starting to see and feel. Heatwaves, hurricanes, wildfires and flooding are just some of the realities we now face. The positive news is that we know it is happening. We know a key driver of this change is our relentless production of greenhouse gases, so we have to take action to change that and work towards a net zero carbon economy.
I am proud that the UK is leading the way in tackling this issue, and I do think that we are leading the way. Since 1990, we have cut emissions by more than 40%, and we have done so faster than any other G7 nation, all at the same time as our economy has grown by two thirds. Our emissions will continue to fall as we generate more of our power from clean sources, and we are on track to deliver 35% of energy from renewables by 2020-21.
Another way in which the United Kingdom can take a first mover advantage is in relation to using carbon capture and storage. If we were to make a commitment as a Government and as an economy to implement it, that is an area in which we could really make a startling difference to what we are achieving in carbon emissions in this country and in exporting such technology across the earth.
I completely agree. That is certainly much-needed technology, and technology with which the world leader, which I hope we will be, would certainly be able to make a massive difference, as well as a huge economic difference for businesses here as well.
This change is often being driven from the ground up by businesses, as my hon. Friend says, and by local councils, supported by Government initiatives, and I have seen this in Chichester. Covers timber merchants in my constituency has transformed its business to incorporate sustainable business practices. It has installed solar panels across its sites, which has allowed it to save 810 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted in 2017 alone. On my last visit there I saw its newest introduction of electric forklift trucks, which were operating in the yard silently loading lorries. That business, and many others, are doing what they can to minimise their environmental impacts, and West Sussex County Council has been developing its renewable assets, with solar panels now on more than 30 schools, as well as on council buildings and fire stations. Today the council produces an average of 23,350 MWh of renewable energy per year, which significantly exceeds the 14,000 MWh consumed in delivering services across its core estate. Such innovative efforts are slowly but surely changing the way we operate our businesses and services in this country, together with our individual actions as consumers.
As many Members have said, this is a global issue and we need a global solution. Our role in that is becoming increasingly important, and reports of international underachievement and key players pulling out of international agreements make the need for us to remain steadfast and show continued leadership all the more important. We need international collaboration and to support developing economies to grow in a more sustainable way than we did. The Government have committed £5.8 billion of international climate finance from 2016-20 to help developing countries mitigate the effects of and adapt to climate change.
We must consider best practice adopted in other countries, and support the development of new technologies such as carbon capture and storage, which my hon. Friend Stephen Kerr referred to. As an island nation we should continue to develop and support growth in marine energy. I welcome the Government’s ambition to become a world leader in clean technology and services, and I look forward to them further developing those opportunities with our world-class universities. Sustainable growth can ultimately be more profitable in every respect.
We owe it to the next generation to make every effort to mitigate climate change. Several Members have referred to the 15,000 schoolchildren who came here to tell us that they care, and we are here today to say that we care too! Their voices are being, and will be heard by every one of us.
As MPs we cannot fail to be impressed by the knowledge of the younger generation in every school we visit, as well as by their knowledge of the impact on the environment, and their passion to take action and combat climate change and create a more sustainable world for their future. I promise—I am sure we all do—that we will continue to support every effort to improve our environmental plan and support our 25-year strategy, our clean growth strategy, and the forthcoming environmental Bill, which shifts focus on to the environment and should therefore be welcomed.
On a personal level, we will all give up something for Lent—I am sure that my hon. Friend Vicky Ford has been on to us all. I gave up plastic this year, and I think this year I am picking up litter and might even try lentils as well. Tolstoy famously said:
“Everybody thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing themselves.”
We need to do both.
It is a pleasure to follow Gillian Keegan. Earlier this month I attended a question and answer session at Green End Primary School in Burnage in my constituency. One of the young people said, “What do you talk about in Parliament, and what do you wish you talked about?” I said, “Well, we talk about Brexit, endlessly, but I wish we talked about climate change.” That is why I welcome today’s debate and the opportunity to make a brief contribution.
As we speak, fires are raging for the second year running on Saddleworth Moor on the outskirts of my constituency. I remember the smoke drifting across my constituency last year, and I do not want to see that again this summer. The weather may have been glorious over the past few days, but this February was the hottest on record and the past five years have been the hottest five years on record. The scientific evidence is clear.
On my regular school visits, the two issues regularly brought up by young people are plastic pollution and climate change. It is heartening that they are engaged and want to make a difference, but we cannot afford to wait for those 10-year-olds to get into positions of influence before we see faster action. For relatively prosperous inhabitants of a windy, rainy island, we are not taking fast enough action.
Climate change is already having a catastrophic effect on biodiversity and the environment. Two years ago I visited Australia and went to see the barrier reef. That was my second visit because I went previously about 25 years ago. What I saw shocked me because, even though it was a long time since my first visit, I vividly remembered the colours and life on the reef; it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I went back to the same part of the reef on the same boat. It was bleached and looked as though the life had been drained from it. It brought it home to me that the environmental emergency is already happening. We urgently need to listen to the warnings of the scientists and the environmental experts who are trying to alert us to the danger.
With the Committee on Climate Change recommending a review of the 2050 target, the time to act more quickly is now, and a first step would be for the Government to commit to a target date for net zero emissions. As a prosperous country, we are committed under the UN climate convention to be more ambitious than developing nations, and we need to lead by example. Greater Manchester Combined Authority is a good example. We need change in all sorts of areas—energy production, transport, green infrastructure, housing—and the authority has just published a draft plan for homes and the environment. A key aim is that all new buildings and other infrastructure be net zero carbon by 2028. It is an important step towards its pledge to become a carbon neutral area by 2038, which I welcome.
We have a huge opportunity. There is an environmental and economic benefit to retrofitting older buildings, and in the longer term the growth in green technologies has to be part of any future industrial strategy. We also have to take personal responsibility with a cultural move away from cheap disposable products and a throwaway culture, whether that be single-use plastic bottles or single-wear clothing. I congratulate Emily and Michael Eavis, the organisers of my favourite weekend of the year, the Glastonbury festival, on banning single-use plastic bottles for this year’s festival, which will take 1 million plastic bottles out of circulation. We also need a personal emphasis on using fewer resources, eating less meat and using public transport. Like my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood, I gave up my car about six months ago, but I can do that only because in Manchester we have a very good tram and bus system—by the way, the bus system needs regulating.
It is in our grasp to act quickly on behalf of those children in my constituency who are telling me that we have to act quickly. I want the Government to act more quickly so that pupils in my constituency worried about their future can see that this generation are acting on their behalf.
I thank the hon. Members for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) for securing this debate, and I pay tribute to the West Yorkshire fire authority officers who worked so bravely to put out the moorland fires in Saddleworth and Marsden this week. They are heroes.
It took a 15-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, to speak the words that needed to be spoken about the destruction of our planet and to prick the world’s conscience. Now our children and young people are grasping their future, condemning the irresponsible actions of past generations and demanding a cleaner, greener, more sustainable environment, which is their right. Article 24 of the UN convention on the rights of the children states that every child has the right to the best possible health and that Governments must provide good-quality healthcare, clean water, nutritious food and a clean environment, and education on health and wellbeing so that children can stay healthy. We owe it to future generations to be doing all we can to give them a clean environment to grow up in.
In England and Wales, hundreds of thousands of children are being exposed to illegal levels of damaging air pollution from diesel vehicles at more than 2,000 schools and nurseries. The World Health Organisation estimates that around 7 million people die every year from exposure to polluted air. Air pollution alone causes many adverse health effects for children, from neurodevelopmental issues, child obesity and asthma to childhood cancers and higher infant mortality rates.
Article 12 of the convention states that every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them and to have their views considered and taken seriously. I was proud to see children protesting earlier this month, engaging in political action, to share their concerns about the future. I believe that environmental studies and climate change should be an integral part of the curriculum, but it needs to be part of a society-wide rethink on the environment. Yes, positive steps have been made, but there is much more to be done. Labour’s green transformation, covering the economy and the industrial strategy, aims to address the calls from our youngest citizens. It will be driven by science—by what is necessary, instead of what can be achieved through political compromise. In addition to supporting the target to build a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050, Labour will ensure that 60% of the UK’s energy comes from low carbon or renewable sources within 12 years of coming to power.
I want children and adults to work together to drive forward the UK’s progress towards making net zero emissions a reality. To the children and young people worldwide who took a stand a fortnight ago, I say thank you for making your voices heard and for advocating a better future. We hear you.
Rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all parts of the economy: that was the call to action from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Without acting on it, we will miss our climate change targets and global warming will cause fundamental damage to our planet and the way we live our lives. So why is this the first time in two years that we are debating climate change on the Floor of the House of Commons? Why is this debate not being led by the Prime Minister herself? Why is not climate change at the heart of every major statement from this Government?
The IPCC has given us 12 years. The independent Committee on Climate Change has said that we are falling behind and not acting with enough urgency. The climate strike protestors, whom I visited in Bristol, are rightly demanding more radical and urgent action now. What has been the response? The response to the IPCC report was to write a letter to the independent Committee on Climate Change, asking for advice. We should have been amending the Climate Change Act 2008 by now to upgrade our climate change targets in line with the Paris accord. We should be setting out how on earth we are going to finance the huge investment needed in upgraded infrastructure, energy and food security and in the technologies needed to meet our negative carbon emissions in future.
I cannot give way because we are so short of time. That is the problem: it has taken two years for this issue to get to the Floor of the House, and we have four minutes—four minutes!—to deal with an issue of this enormity. There is no time at all to talk about how we will not be able to meet our electric vehicle targets without investment in the infrastructure system; no time at all to talk about the efficiency of energy use in our homes; and no time at all to talk about food security, agricultural reform or the need for investment in the energy network. That is completely unacceptable.
I do not think that climate strike protestors from my constituency will be particularly pleased with the idea that their Member of Parliament—and many other hon. Members here today—has only four minutes to deal with this issue. When will it come back to the Floor of the House? Will the Minister tell us in her summing up when we will have days’ worth of debates to get into the issue of climate change?
There is a total lack of vision about the long-term risks. A world that is 3° warmer than pre-industrial levels is unimaginable yet is within the lifetime of my daughter. The United States and China—gone; Africa, southern Europe, the middle east, India, South America will be uninhabitable, based on models from universities. Refuge for the world will be focused on Canada, the United Kingdom, northern Europe, Scandinavia and Russia. Hundreds of millions of people will be displaced as climate refugees. The world will be dominated by Canada and Russia. Agricultural and food supply chains will be completely lost. This happens within the lifetime of people born in the past year or two, yet we have four minutes to talk about it.
How we live, what we eat, how we collaborate in a global community: how on earth will we meet the cries from the independent advisers, from the community, from young people, from the scientists—from everybody in the world who says we are not doing enough to tackle this problem? We have four minutes to deal with those issues.
We are talking about the future of our planet, the world that we want to live in and the role that this country must play, and it is all up for grabs. I stand in solidarity with those young people, the next generation, who took their time away from school to strike on this very issue and say that not enough was being done, and I say that this debate is not enough, although I congratulate the hon. Members for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) on securing it. I look forward to the Minister’s confirmation later about when more time—Government time—will be allocated to this important issue.
Time is short for this debate and for the planet. I am going to speak up for the 3,000 young people who came out in Leeds two weeks ago on the youth climate strike and all the other thousands of young people who came out in every other town and city in the country. I spoke to those young people and said that I would come to the House and support their call for us to address the climate emergency. I call on the Minister today to say that the Government will declare a climate emergency as they would a civil emergency, because we are on the precipice of disaster.
NASA’s latest measurement of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 411 parts per million. The historic high for this planet is 300 parts per million in 325,000 BC. In 2005, it was 380 parts per million. We are on a trajectory towards the global extinction of humanity. The insects are the canary in the coalmine of our planet. There has been a 75% reduction in flying insects in Europe in the past 25 years. Where the insects go, we will follow. How are we going to tackle this scale of emergency?
We need a rapid programme of decarbonisation. We need to become a leader in decarbonised technology in this country and in Europe. We need a world in 2030, not 2050, that looks radically different to the world we have today, a world where petrol stations are as common as coaching inns, if we are to avoid climate disaster. We need electric vehicle charge points in every parking bay. All new houses need to be made in factories from airtight and energy-efficient timber. We need to harness the internet and open and smart data, so that everybody knows everything about their lives, from the quality of the air to the amount of carbon in their clothes.
This is the brave new world we need to aspire to. We do not need gradual change; we need a paradigm shift in our system. I call on us not to have a green new deal; I call on us to have a Marshall Plan for the environment across Europe and across the planet.
Time is very short, so I am going to continue.
After the second world war, we got together and we rebuilt this continent. We need to rebuild a planet free of emissions. That needs to be our single, unifying goal. We need to readdress the COP process to that point. We need to re-energise our relationship with our European Union partners—I say that in the strongest sense—to engage and to create this plan. That is where we need to be. If we do not get there we are failing not ourselves, but our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. At the end of the century, they will look back on the Governments of the early part of the century and say, “They failed us. They did not do what was needed.” They will be looking at their own extinction—the extinction of our race.
This surprisingly warm weather has been a pleasure for most of us this week, but I know I am not the only one who feels unnerved by it. We must be cautious about attributing every single extreme weather event to climate change, but evidence of our senses, as well as what the vast majority of climate scientists tell us, is overwhelming. The Met Office has already warned that changes to our weather are unprecedented. In 2018, global carbon emissions, a key driver of global warming, reached an all-time high. We are going in the wrong direction.
It is difficult to know why political leaders have taken so long to address climate change when the public want them to, and it is impossible to comprehend why some are still wasting such precious time denying it. I am pleased that Bedford Borough Council has committed to declaring a climate emergency, but the older generation is really letting young people down on this issue. They have every right to be angry about the future that we shall pass on to them. Rather than criticising them for taking time out of school to protest on the biggest issue facing our planet, it is time we listened to them and shared their sense of urgency and alarm.
“We are destroying the natural world, and with it ourselves.”
Many of my constituents were moved and compelled to write to me after the shocking scenes in “The Blue Planet”, which showed the impact of human activity on marine life and the extent of plastic pollution in our oceans. There is a huge appetite from the public to stop this.
I am pleased that the UK has signed up to the Paris agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, but we are a long way off achieving it. Tougher action is needed, which is why I support the target of net zero emissions by 2050. The Government claim to support the target but that has not been followed up with action. The scale and scope of our policies to address climate change should be defined not by political compromises and unambitious targets but by what is necessary to keep temperatures within safe levels. I agree with Sir David Attenborough: unless we sort ourselves out now, we are dooming our children and grandchildren to an appalling future.
I am very pleased to be co-sponsoring this important debate and I congratulate Layla Moran on securing it, but why are we holding this hugely important debate only now? Like my hon. Friend Darren Jones, I, too, would like to see this debate in Government time. Over the last year, we have had only two debates in Westminster on this hugely important issue. One was led by me and the other by my hon. Friend. That is not good enough. We would like to see more of this and more action from the Government in this place.
My Westminster Hall debate was on the UK Government’s response to the UN climate change conference in Katowice, and it was well attended by Members here today, but I was baffled by the lack of an oral statement from the Secretary of State on what was achieved at COP last year. That is even more perplexing when we think that it was the first UN climate change conference since the release of the deeply worrying IPCC report, which, as we all know, was hugely stark.
One of the iconic images from the conference was that of the teenager speaking out on behalf of her generation, imploring more action. It is our children who will bear the brunt of our lack of action. I am really pleased that the climate strike from just a couple of weeks ago has spread to more than 14 countries worldwide. I am proud to have supported that strike in Cardiff the other week, supporting our young people in having that voice and being with my 15-year-old daughter there, and I am proud that she wanted to have that voice.
In the decade since COP 15 in Copenhagen, there has been an unwritten agreement between countries and Governments that we must pursue climate action, but only in so far as it does not jeopardise our neoliberal economic model or damage any incumbent interests. Despite its success, the Paris agreement did not fundamentally change the situation. It was non-ambitious and non-binding enough to get signed, but I am pleased that it did send a signal to the world that we have to have a very clear trajectory about going towards a zero-carbon economy.
As I speak, the UK is currently on course to miss its carbon reduction targets and the legally binding 15% renewable target by 2020. It has sold off the Green Investment Bank and scrapped the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and it must take much more action to meet those targets. If we crash out of the EU with no deal—I am pleased to see that the Minister has done what she can to try to prevent that—our environmental record will be even worse, with just a race to the bottom and the loss of EU environmental legislation, which covers roughly half the UK’s emissions reductions targets.
We need to get working on this, but we need to do so now. We need to see action across every single Department. Every Minister should be responsible for achieving those carbon emissions cuts. They should be taking action on climate change, and as I said in my Westminster Hall debate, we need to
“think more like the Welsh”—[Official Report,
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and particularly to my involvement with community renewable energy and solar energy.
Many colleagues have talked about the huge challenge that is climate change, and they were absolutely right to do so. We must act much more quickly. If we are to do that, however, we must ask what is the real barrier. Of course there are political barriers, whether they are represented by President Trump in America, President Bolsonaro in Brazil or Brexit, and we need to break them down. There are also some technological barriers, such as the need to improve the efficiency of storage, although that is coming along much faster. But the biggest barrier now, in my view, is finance. We must change the way in which our financial system works.
Fossil fuels have been the energy leader for 200 years, so they have seeped throughout our society and our economies. Whether we are talking about the City, our banks, our pension funds or hedge funds, fossil fuels are entwined with their investments in a very deep, profound way. In our stock markets, we have Shell and BP, which are very successful companies, but a significant part of someone’s pension may well come from the returns expected from a BP or a Shell investment. That is the challenge that we face. If we are to green our economy, we really must get serious about finance.
In my experience—both my experience as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and my experience of working in the renewables sector—too many of our financial institutions do not really get the fact that investments in renewable energy can be fantastic; nor do they get the fact of climate risk, which will cause investments in fossil fuels to fail. The so-called carbon bubble will burst and people who thought they would get returns from fossil fuels investment will have their fingers burnt, and that could affect the pensioners of the future.
No, because Hinkley Point is a low-carbon asset—and I did not actually sign it off; I did the heads of terms agreement. It was the current Government who signed it off. We could have a discussion about nuclear, but the difference between Hinkley Point and the fossil fuels investment to which I am referring is that Hinkley Point is low carbon.
The real issue that I am trying to bring to the House’s attention is the huge number of vested interests in the fossil fuels sector that seep throughout economies and finance. If we are to be really radical, we need to decarbonise capitalism. We need new regulations and new laws to change the incentives completely, so that any investor will need to factor in climate risk. Let me give some practical examples.
I hope to meet the Governor of the Bank of England in due course. It will be a private meeting. What I want to say to Mark Carney—whom I consider to be a hero in this area—is that I think the Bank of England should include in its reserve requirements a requirement for banks to be weighted according to how carbon-intensive their investments and portfolios are. That will encourage banks to lend to green initiatives.
I want to ensure that the pension regulators are looking at the pension portfolios and determining which are low carbon and which are high carbon, and supporting the low-carbon initiatives. I want to ensure that, through corporate governance, there is complete disclosure in a company’s accounts and its assets and liabilities of how much of that involves fossil fuels, so that investors can decide whether they really want to invest in a company that is so exposed to carbon risk. I want to ensure that if a company wants to be listed on the UK stock exchange, it must be transparent and disclose how much of its activities will be in fossil fuels.
I want a new treaty to back up the Paris treaty. I would call it a fossil fuels non-proliferation treaty. It would be a global treaty, and it would say, “We have enough fossil fuels. We do not need any more. In fact, we will not be able to use those that we have.” That is the sort of radical change that we need if we are to tackle climate change. This is not just about the policies in this country, although we have made some real progress.
I do agree. I do not think the position is quite as the hon. Lady has described it—I think that that investment has been dramatically reduced—but it still needs to be go down further.
We are looking at this in the Environmental Audit Committee, and that is not the case. The investment has gone up hugely, and we think the Government need to put a stop to it.
If the investment has gone up, I am very alarmed about that and will want to read the Committee’s report in due course.
The agenda I am putting to the House tonight is radical. It would mean that we needed a system-wide review through the Bank of England, the Prudential Regulation Authority, the Financial Conduct Authority and others to make sure we have the right incentives and regulations in our country to change this 200-year relationship between finance and fossil fuels.
The climate change agenda is also significant globally. If we get this right, we can take a major step forward in tackling human poverty, because we will bring electricity to rural Africa and rural India, and the children and families there will have the light and be able to keep their food and medicines cool, to educate themselves better and to be part of the global economy. So this is one of the biggest ways, particularly through solar energy, that we can tackle poverty. But it is even better than that: this is a way of promoting peace and reducing conflict and tensions throughout the world. Fossil fuel control is held by a small number of men in our world: Vladimir Putin, the dictator in Venezuela and so on. If we can get renewable energy, we can take the power away from those people and give it to all people—to all humanity.
It gives me great pleasure to follow Sir Edward Davey and other learned Members on this issue.
One of my constituents wrote to me about climate change recently. Monica was concerned that her
“children would never know about the beautiful natural world that is ebbing away”, and she told me:
“We need to act fast.”
Monica is 10 years old and I had the pleasure of meeting her at St Mary’s primary school the other week. She showed me around each class in the school; they all asked me questions and every group asked some about global warming. Children care about this; my 12-year-old’s most frequent question to me about politics is why in this House we spend so much time on Brexit and so little on climate change, so it gives me especial pleasure to speak today, and I hope he is listening.
In High Peak we are seeing the impact of climate change on the moorland of the Peak District national park. Not only was there the largest wildfire on Saddleworth moor after the driest June on record last year, but even in February we are seeing wildfires. It is a sign that parts of our peat moorlands are drying deep down.
Peatlands are among the best carbon sinks on the planet. In England we store 580 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in our peat, but degradation caused by industrial use, climate change and fire means that those peatlands are releasing 3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.
I pay tribute to Moors for the Future and the moorland indicators of climate change initiative, which brings secondary school children up to the moorlands from our towns and cities to measure the impact of climate change on our peatlands. They are one of the best indicators.
Moors for the Future has EU funding until 2020 but after that it needs a long-term commitment to investment, and I call on the Minister to look at this and make a commitment to its vital work. Alongside beautiful moors, between Manchester and Sheffield we have seen cuts to our bus services and trains, with little opportunity for off-road cycling. People in my constituency are obliged to drive, and not just our cities but even towns in the countryside like Glossop and Tintwistle are seeing air pollution exceeding safe levels. But we have only one public electric vehicle charging point in High Peak. Electrification by 2040 is just too late.
Our bus services are still being cut, and there are cuts to commuter trains, giving my constituents little choice. But I pay tribute to all my constituents in Sustainable Hayfield, Transition Buxton, Transition Hope Valley and Transition New Mills who are working locally on developing sustainable transport and energy solutions, on tackling plastic, on refillable water bottle schemes, on locally grown food and on the first community-owned hydroelectric scheme in the UK in New Mills. Our communities are acting, but they see us in Parliament doing little, as colleagues have mentioned. We cannot just pay lip service. We have great recycling bins with big stickers on, but all the rubbish from Parliament goes into the same bags. We must commit to doing, as well as to just talking. We must commit to zero carbon by 2050 and to reinstating the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which will offer a much better opportunity for Conservative Members than fishing, I am sure. This will help us as a Government but it will also create a better society.
I am delighted to follow Ruth George, and I congratulate the hon. Members for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) on securing this long-overdue debate. Surely we have seen evidence of global warning this month in the record high temperatures for February, as well as in the disturbing reports of melting polar ice caps. Collapsing ice at the poles is a powerful indication of a warming world.
Tackling carbon emissions is absolutely a matter of urgency, and achieving the necessary emissions reductions for the world that we leave to our grandchildren will require the collective efforts of all peoples and decision makers on a global scale. Young people recently walked out of lessons at their schools in protest against what they see as the lack of interest in and commitment to green issues. Their action showed how aware communities are of this important topic. We as individuals must all do our bit and show leadership, and our debate on our UK carbon emissions is an important step. We must explore cross-party support and progress towards net zero carbon emissions.
The threat of climate change is more real than ever, and it absolutely must be taken seriously. The Inter- governmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that to obtain net zero carbon emissions, or carbon neutrality, global society will have to balance its carbon emissions with carbon sequestration by 2050. Failure to limit global warming to 1.5° or less could result in sea levels rising as well as the occurrence of natural disasters such as extreme weather conditions. This in turn would result in the mass displacement of people and the disappearance of entire ecosystems such as tropical coral reefs.
The UK signed up to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 when the EU ratified the Paris agreement in 2016. Under the Climate Change Act 2008, the UK Government committed to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. Under their 2017 clean growth strategy, they pledged to work with other countries towards achieving net zero carbon emissions in the second half of this century. The Government have also promised to use legislation to provide legal clarity that this target will be met at an appropriate point in the future. I would like some clarity on that point. Are these plans working?
The Scottish Government’s 2018 Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill raised their commitment on carbon emission reductions to 90% by 2050, a target that the UK Government Committee on Climate Change currently considers to be at the limit of feasibility. In March 2016, the then United Nations climate change secretary, Christiana Figueres, said that Scotland’s progress on climate change had been “exemplary to the world”. We have now established a climate change Bill that will set new statutory targets for reduction by 2050, moving into a net zero emissions target as soon as possible. Scotland has long been recognised for punching above its weight on tackling climate change. Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary, has stated:
“To be successful, we must create an environment in which industries can transition smoothly to a low or zero-carbon future.”
I am very sorry, but I do not have time.
It is worth mentioning that a new stock exchange is opening next week in Scotland, and I am delighted to have been invited to the opening in Edinburgh. Bourse Scot is focusing on social and environmental companies. This new social and environmental exchange will involve rules on the activities of firms, with the staff requiring participating firms to prove what they claim about social and green outcomes. Bourse Scot hopes that the renewable industries will see it as a place to raise funds. For me, the opening of that stock exchange plainly demonstrates that there is long-term certainty and confidence in Scottish ambitions across all parties, and that Scotland is indeed a centre for excellence. I know this cannot be achieved overnight, as it is a generational challenge. We are moving in the right direction, and the quicker we move in that direction, the better.
I think the UK Government are politically and geographically broken. If we want to change the world, we must follow the girl who was mentioned earlier and get busy in our own little corner, and Scotland is doing exactly that.
This has been a tremendously good, positive and applied debate, and, from my 21 years in this House, I cannot say that has always been the case. I have attended virtually every climate change debate in this House, and it is shocking that we have not had one for two years.
Those previous debates were usually characterised by a claque of climate change deniers who regularly attempted to derail them. This debate is perhaps a reflection of where we have got to now. I thought that one of the last remaining serious climate change deniers in the House, David T. C. Davies, would take part, but it turned out he wanted to talk about Welsh tourism, which is a mercy.
We are all together this afternoon, perhaps for the first time, when it is almost too late. Everything that has been said by climate scientists, and that has been said in all the debates I have been involved in during my long time in the House, is coming true and proving to be right. We should perhaps talk not about a climate change debate but about a climate is changing debate.
I am not smug about the fact that what I was saying in our previous debates has been proved right, and what those climate change deniers were saying has been proved wrong; it scares me stiff. We are now at two minutes to 12 on the climate emergency before us. I thank all the hon. Members who, in different ways, have contributed this afternoon on that central point.
I thank Layla Moran for securing this debate, and I thank the hon. Members, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) and for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin), who pointed out just how little time we have had for these debates. When we get the advice of the Committee on Climate Change on a net zero future, it might be appropriate for the Minister to make sure that we can have a debate in Government time, for at least half a day—or a whole day, if we want to be ambitious—on that advice and its implications and ramifications so that hon. Members are allowed the proper time to put across what they want to say about this climate emergency and what we need to do to deal with it.
I am scared stiff because I know that the ability to do anything about this climate emergency is on our watch. Members of Parliament over the next 12 years, as mentioned in the IPCC report, will have to get their act together on climate change or forever miss the opportunity to do anything about it.
My hon. Friend is making an important point about the time constraints, and about how this House has not done nearly enough to debate this issue. Does he agree it is critical that other Government Departments, not just BEIS, focus on the implications of climate change, particularly the Department for Transport, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Defence and so on? We must understand the impact those Departments have on Government policy in shaping a holistic approach to policy making across all parts of Government.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that the action we need to be taking in this House for the future must not just be the province of one Department, as Caroline Lucas pointed out. It needs to be something that seeps to the core of every part of government and of this House. Everything we do must be judged by whether we are making progress on reducing carbon emissions and fighting the effects of climate change or whether it is going in the opposite direction.
In that context, I want to draw the House’s attention to what we have done so far and what we are—we hope—going to do for the future, because that is crucial in terms of moving from our current target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 to that net zero target. Of course a net zero target does not just mean doing things that reduce carbon; it means doing things that actually put carbon back in the ground. We are talking about negative carbon emissions, as well as positive carbon emissions. It means planning a whole different system of doing things, as my hon. Friends the Members for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) and for Cardiff North drew attention to. We need to do things in different ways in order to make that change in our economy, so that we have a permanent low-carbon, sustainable economy for the future.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves off that point, would he agree that one of the more encouraging signs is that technology is being developed for carbon reuse, which does not necessarily mean putting it back in the ground, but at least recycles it?
Yes, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct about that; using carbon cycles so that they are as long as possible and in the end the carbon is sequestered is a good way of ensuring that we make our economy as circular as possible, in addition to sequestering the carbon arising from it.
We have been given the Government’s clean growth plan. It was set out in response to the fifth carbon budget requirements, which, among other things, require us to get our carbon emissions down by 57% from 1990 levels by the end of the fifth carbon budget. I have to say to the House that the clean growth plan fails to do what it says it is going to do about the fifth carbon budget. Indeed, it suggests that we may be as high as 9.7% over the targets for the fifth carbon budget in terms of the things that the Government are setting out to do. So absolutely the first thing we need to do in considering our progress towards zero carbon is to make over, fundamentally, that clean growth plan so that it actually works. Not only must it achieve the terms of the fifth carbon budget, but it must go beyond that so that we are ready and setting ourselves up for the advice we are going to get from the Committee on Climate Change as to how we get to zero carbon. I invite the Government to start work today on getting that clean growth plan reorganised so that it can meet the terms of net zero when they come to us. Were the Government to embark on that strategy, they would have the full support of the Opposition in making that work and making sure that we are ready for net zero, and not running along behind, as we have for so many years in this House when the climate emergency started to come upon us.
I wish to say a genuine thank you to all Members for coming here on a one-line Whip Thursday, after a long and hard few weeks of Brexit debates. Again, I wish to pay tribute to the hon. Members for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) for securing what has been a really high-quality debate. We have heard some excellent speeches and suggestions, and I will try to pay tribute as I go through some of the main points raised. Of course, there were so many good questions that I am not sure I will be able to respond to all of them, but if any colleague wants to stop me to ask me about specific points, or to put them in writing, I will be happy to address them.
What a joy it was to debate, as my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith said, something that will affect us all for the next 30 years, rather than the next three years—something that is so fundamental to the way we live our lives that it deserves much more time in this place and much more discussion outside it. I would be delighted to spend many more hours in this place, on the Front Benches or wherever, debating these issues.
I entirely agree with everything the Minister just said about the importance of this issue. Perhaps she would agree that, given that an opinion poll has found that 72% of the public are either very concerned or fairly concerned about climate change, if we spent more time talking about it here, that would be welcomed by them as well as by us.
I entirely agree. Many groups out there will be waiting to see what we say today, including those young people who took to the streets with great energy and verve. It was an absolutely amazing thing to see. I note that in applying for this debate Layla Moran said she was
“very supportive of them but as a teacher” a little concerned
“because it would really have annoyed me in my physics classes”.
I am afraid she probably would have been cross with me had she been my teacher, because I fear I would have been out there with them at their age—although, of course, I was studying geography and meteorology, not physics.
I wish to address a few points: first, where we are; secondly, why we need to do more; and thirdly, why this is so incredibly important. By the way, I welcome the really collegial cross-party tone of the debate. There were some political digs, but I am not going to get into political point scoring, because unless we pull together on this, we will not make progress. This has to be a cross-Government, cross-party, global initiative, and we need a lot more consensus than we have had.
Following the previous debate, let me say happy St David’s Day for tomorrow to the very many Welsh Members. As Members representing all four nations in this great group, we can take pride in the UK’s record on tackling climate change. We were among the first to recognise the problem. Indeed, Mrs Thatcher spoke about the impact of human activity on the climate at the UN in 1989; Sir Nicholas Stern’s incredible work in 2006 laid a pathway for how we had to think about the problem; and we used cross-party strength in this place to pass the world’s first Climate Change Act 10 years ago.
I am one of probably a tiny number of Ministers who has statutorily binding carbon budgets, given to us by the CCC and upon which we have to agree, and who has then to defend those budgets and the record on them to the House of Commons. It is worth noting, as others have, that we are on target to drop our carbon emissions by 57% by 2032. Of course, we need to get to 80% by 2050. Some will say that we have not yet set out exactly how we are going to reach those targets. We published the clean growth strategy—the most comprehensive document I have ever seen from a Government—setting out policies and proposals to decarbonise right across our economy. I am happy to say that we have delivered almost all the action points and commitments that we have made so far. We know that we have to do more and we will do more. We have to go further than those budgets, as is the point of the debate.
My right hon. Friend and I have often discussed this question, but I hope she will acknowledge that the provision of the basic charging infrastructure on the trunk road network now proposed by Next Green Car would be a huge step forward. If we can cure range anxiety for electric vehicles, we might see a tipping point, which would have a big effect, even on the things mentioned by the former Energy Secretary, Sir Edward Davey.
My right hon. Friend makes the point well about some of the things that the Government can actually do. So much of this is about a combination of the public and the private sector working together, but there are absolutely parts of the equation on which the Government can and must lead, such as through legislation and incentives. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend.
I will of course try to take as many interventions as I can, but I just want to respond to some of the points made in the debate.
After the very startling and worrying IPCC report, we were the first developed country to ask for advice on how we would achieve that target. We have asked how, by when and how much it is going to cost. We have to be pragmatic about this: we have to recognise the need for urgency, but we cannot bring forward policies and proposals that do not command the support of the people we represent. We can see just across the channel what happens when we do that.
The current advice is that it is not technically possible, so I have asked the CCC to set out clearly when it thinks we should be able to achieve it. I look forward to sharing that information with the House and think a debate would be appropriate.
This is about not just actions, policies and words, but delivery. As others have noted, PricewaterhouseCoopers has said that the UK is at the top of the G20 leader board in this space. Since 1990, we have cut emissions by more than any other developed country—as a proportion of our economic growth. That is important because the best way to cut emissions is to have recessions, which is not a good thing for the prosperity and the future of our constituents. It is extremely important therefore that we recognise and celebrate that progress, but that we commit ourselves to do more.
My question really is what would our position look like on that league table if we were to take into account consumption emissions. My general point is that, although the Minister says that we cannot go faster than the country as a whole wants us to do, there is also a role for Government to show real leadership. The way to do that is to make sure that social justice is at the heart of the approach to climate. That way, we will not have the problem of the gilets jaunes.
The hon. Lady makes an important point. Of course the role of Government is to set ambition and to lead. I wish to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr Hurd, who was in his place earlier. He, along with many other Members in this place from all parties, has contributed so much time and ingenuity over the past few years to come up with these policies. I accept the hon. Lady’s point about the calculation, but that is the basis on which that chart is calculated. The consumption emissions of all countries are not necessarily allocated. The point is that, on that basis, we have led the world, and that is something on which we should absolutely focus.
I will talk about some of the other things that we have delivered—things, I hope, that the hon. Lady will feel pleased about for once. Last year was a record year for the generation of power from renewables. We were at 32%. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is heckling like one of the gilets jaunes. I wish that she would listen and behave like the elder stateswoman that she could be. We have had the world’s first floating offshore wind platform in operation. We have set out an auction structure for offshore wind. [Interruption.] Offshore wind is rather important in decarbonising our energy. We also had the first set of coal-free days in our energy generation since the industrial revolution, which has allowed us to take global leadership in the Powering Past Coal Alliance to encourage 80 other countries, states, cities and companies to operate in a coal-free way.
I thank the Minister very much for giving way. I know that she is very short of time. Although I welcome all of those achievements, does she not agree that, if we really are to meet the highest possible necessary carbon neutral targets, we need to invest more and more in renewables and less and less in fossil fuels?
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. That is why I am about to bring forward the offshore wind sector deal that sets out how we will continue to drive that capacity. It is why we are spending almost £6 billion over the course of this Parliament—
I would just love to make some progress, because I have only three minutes left. I wish to leave some time for the hon. Lady who called this debate.
In that case, having given way very generously, I will say this: I entirely accept the challenge of working further and faster. We must keep leading from the front so that we can avoid the climate catastrophe that others have been so eloquent about. We must find the new opportunities that this transition presents. We must repair our ecosystems so that we can look the next generation in the eye and say that we did what we had to do to protect our planet for their future. We protected planet A because there is no planet B.
I simply wish to say thank you so much to all those who have contributed to this incredibly important debate. I am pleased to hear from the Minister that, next time, Government time might be available to debate these things. I had a number of emails from other Members in this House who were desperate to be here, but who could not make it for other reasons. The fact that this is a Thursday afternoon and we have managed to more than fill the time suggests that this is a subject that everyone across this House finds incredibly important.
I will end by saying to those young people who got together and made us act: may this not be the last time that we do this, but the first of very many times that we come together to try to solve this problem for them.
The Minister is right to note that there are a few seconds left, which has surprised me given that this has been such a well-subscribed and well-ordered debate this afternoon. There, I have taken up the few seconds that were remaining. Thus, we are at the point where I can put the question.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the UK’s progress toward net zero carbon emissions.