Climate Change: Discussions with DEFRA

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – in the House of Commons on 30th April 2019.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on tackling climate change.

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Vice-Chair, Conservative Party, Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

Tackling climate change is a cross-government priority. Just last week my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth made an oral statement outlining the Government’s climate change priorities. Ministers in the Departments for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs meet regularly to discuss matters including waste management, agriculture, forestry, resource efficiency and the environment Bill. We will host the upcoming Inter-Ministerial Group on Clean Growth to discuss the report from the Committee on Climate Change and the UK’s offer to host the United Nations Conference of the Parties in 2020.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

After the Government’s refusal to declare a climate emergency, may I ask the Minister what he has personally taken away from the visit of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg and her most powerful advocacy on the need for urgent action?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Vice-Chair, Conservative Party, Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

I think we will be having a thorough debate on this issue of climate change emergency in the Opposition day debate tomorrow. When it comes to my personal role as the Minister with responsibility for science, innovation and research, I entirely agree that we need to be making more investment in climate change technology in order to reach our target of 2.4% of GDP on research and development. We have already announced our missions in relation to clean growth. I absolutely believe we should be listening to the experts—that includes the scientists and learning from climate science, wherever that may be—to make sure we can reduce our emissions.

Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

Since the Rio summit in 1992, the UK has actually decarbonised more than any other G7 economy, while growing our economy the most at the same time. However, we need to do more, which is why I am looking forward to the Committee on Climate Change report on Thursday. If it does indeed recommend a net zero target, will the Minister commit to ensuring that that is something the Government will very seriously consider bringing into law at the first opportunity?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Vice-Chair, Conservative Party, Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the achievements that have been made in recent years, but it is important that we redouble our efforts. The Committee on Climate Change report, which will be published on Thursday, was commissioned by the Government, and the Government will be taking actions on the back of its recommendations. It is important that we look to continue our actions, but it is also important that we do so with our international partners. We have the UN summit taking place in September and future COPs, including the one we would like to host in 2020.

Photo of Rachel Reeves Rachel Reeves Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

The Committee on Climate Change says that we need to double our production of onshore wind in the next decade; instead, it is likely to halve because of this Government’s ideological opposition to it. We are not on target to meet our fourth and fifth carbon budgets, let alone achieve net zero, so will the Government end their ideological opposition to onshore wind so that we can hand a better planet on to future generations?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Vice-Chair, Conservative Party, Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

I would not call listening to local communities and reflecting on the need to create sustainable communities locally “ideological opposition”. We need to work with everybody—all citizens. There has been talk of citizens’ committees, so why not ensure that local communities are able to reflect on the benefits of renewable energy in their communities, and begin such dialogues with them, rather than call them ideological opponents of renewables? I do not think that is very fair on those communities.

Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I would like to send the thoughts of Opposition Members to the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth. I welcome this Minister to his place and look forward to our exchanges over the Dispatch Box.

In 2016, the UK’s carbon emissions fell at 6% a year, and in 2017, emissions fell at 3% a year, but in 2018, the figure was 2%—just a 2% fall—so at a time when action should be ramping up to tackle the climate emergency, can the Minister explain why the UK’s progress is slowing down?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Vice-Chair, Conservative Party, Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

I do not recognise that. The fact is that we have met our first and second carbon budgets over the 2008-12 and 2013-17 periods. We have managed to reach those targets. Turnover for clean business was up 7% in 2017, contributing £44.5 billion to the economy. When it comes to ensuring that we look at our clean growth strategy, we have set out quite clearly opportunities to halve the energy use of new buildings by 2030 and to establish the world’s first net zero carbon industrial cluster by 2040. By comparison with our European neighbours, we are racing ahead—we are leaders in this field—and we want to make sure that we can continue to do so.

Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

With respect, the Minister is alluding to the UK’s emissions cuts since 2010, when the UK still benefited from policies put in place by the previous Labour Government—policies that the Conservatives have now scrapped. Secondly, it is irrelevant, quite frankly, to climate physics whether the UK is doing slightly better or worse than other countries that are also failing to take the necessary action.

I ask this in good faith and in all seriousness: does the Minister accept that the UK’s stalling progress is related to banning—in effect—onshore wind, reducing almost all support for solar power, scrapping the zero-carbon homes standard and selling off the Green Investment Bank? Will he be honest about the challenge, and work with Labour and right across this House on turning this around, so that we can truly tackle climate change and properly seize the economic opportunities within the green economy?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Vice-Chair, Conservative Party, Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

It is important to recognise that 56% of electricity power generation is now based around a low-carbon economy generation and that 33% of that is from renewables, up from 7% in 2010. Coal represents 2.5% of our electricity generation, and last weekend the UK went 90 hours without any coal electricity generation for the first time since the industrial revolution. As we are now involved in the fourth industrial revolution, we want to ensure that we continue to power through and that we can adopt more renewables for the future.