Climate Change Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:53 pm on 23rd April 2019.

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Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade 7:53 pm, 23rd April 2019

Mr Speaker has graciously allowed both an urgent question and statement on climate change today. That is unique in my remembrance, but it is uniquely appropriate, given the visit of Greta Thunberg to the House today. Through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to thank Mr Speaker for that.

In our earlier discussion, we focused almost exclusively on emissions reduction and energy policy, so I would like to start by asking the Minister to enlighten the House on the other aspects of our climate change policy that received less attention. Let us start with the national adaptation plan. The Minister will know that, of the 56 climate risks and opportunities identified by the Committee on Climate Change, 27 simply do not feature in the Government’s plan. Why is there no word on the transition for flood-affected areas ahead of the withdrawal of Flood Re? Why is there nothing on the dangers to elderly people’s health from overheating in summer?

Even where targets are set, there is a record of failure. The woodland cover target calls for 5,000 hectares of new plantation every year, so why is the rate so far only 1,500 hectares—less than a third? Has the Minister examined the work of Professor Ian Bateman on the differential natural capital values of such plantation depending on its location in relation to urban areas? What account is she taking of that? Over the last two years, increasingly frequent severe weather events have cost our economy £1.5 billion a year. In 2016, the Government acknowledged the increased risk of flooding and coastal erosion and accepted that the current levels of adaptation were inadequate. They promised to update their flooding and coastal erosion management strategy by 2019; 2019 is here so where is the updated strategy?

We naturally focus on the impacts on human communities, but the impact on our biodiversity is devastating. It is only through a coherent and comprehensive network of protected areas that our biodiversity will not suffer further loss. What does the Government’s climate strategy do to restore the 50% cut since 2010 to the income of Natural England, which is responsible for monitoring and maintaining that network?

The Minister said in her response to the urgent question that she does not see the value of declaring a climate emergency. The value is this: it tells the truth. On emissions reduction, the truth is that we are making some progress. I acknowledge and welcome that, but the full, honest truth is that we are not making progress fast enough. The Government’s own statistics show that. The fourth carbon budget is set at a limit of 1,950 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, but current policies are off track, projecting an overshoot of 5.6%. To counteract that overshoot, we will have to reduce emissions even further during the fifth carbon budget period. Because of that overshoot, we will need to reduce emissions by 334 million tonnes. Current policies leave us only halfway between where we expect to be at the end of the fourth carbon budget and where we need to be by the end of the fifth.

The Government have rightly asked the Committee on Climate Change for its advice on reaching net zero emissions, and I welcome the Minister’s assurance earlier that she will bring the Government’s response back to the House expeditiously. But I gently make the point to her that if we are already off track to meet our existing targets, we need urgent action to get anywhere close to meeting net zero.

The Minister spoke earlier of cross-party support on climate change. It already exists: the Labour party, the Green party, the Lib Dems, the SNP and Plaid Cymru all agree that we need to declare a climate emergency. We would love it if the Conservatives joined us. Will they? If we are to stand any chance of winning the battle against climate change, we must work together over the decades ahead to ensure that we are cutting our greenhouse gas emissions at the scale and pace demanded by the science.

Labour has already committed to enshrining a net zero emissions target in law, as have a number of other parties. Indeed, more than 190 Members joined together in a remarkable display of cross-party support for climate action in signing a letter championed by Mr Clarke asking the Government to adopt a net zero target. Will the Minister commit today to taking whatever action the Committee on Climate Change recommends when it publishes its report and to enshrining the new net zero target in law? If the Minister were fully to accept the recommendations that the Committee on Climate Change report put forward, I give her this commitment: we on the Labour Benches will work as closely as possible with her and all colleagues across this House to ensure that we get a net zero climate target passed into law before the summer recess.

As the climate protestors have told us, time is of the essence and we cannot afford to let this important piece of legislation be delayed any longer than strictly necessary. The clean growth strategy that is supposed to meet those budgets is simply not fit to do so, and once we have enshrined a net zero target, the clean growth strategy will be out of date. Does the Minister therefore agree that we need a new, more ambitious strategy? There is no shame in recognising that.