Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Targets

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – in the House of Commons on 11th June 2019.

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Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

With reference to the report entitled, “Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming”, published by the Committee on Climate Change on 2 May 2019, what assessment he has made of the adequacy of the Government’s greenhouse gas emissions targets.

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 join colleagues from across the House in welcoming the Committee’s seminal report on net zero. The UK’s record in tackling climate change is world leading, and the CCC’s report sets out a path for us to continue that legacy by becoming the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming. The Government recognise the need for urgent action on climate change, which is why we asked for this advice last October, and we will respond in a timeframe that reflects that urgency.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

I am sure that, like me, many Members receive beautifully handwritten letters from schoolchildren. Nine-year-old Elizabeth from West Oxford Community Primary School says:

“Words are not enough—urgent action is needed within the next decade if the world is going to survive as we know it.”

Out of the mouths of babes—but not all of them are learning about climate change. Will the Minister work with the Department for Education to ensure that all children, including those at key stages 1 and 2, learn about this incredibly important matter?

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 certainly have the opportunity to do so, because I also sit in the Department for Education as Universities Minister. The Secretary of State for Education is keen to highlight that climate change is taught in schools, but I will pass on the hon. Lady’s comments about ensuring that the next generation continue to learn about the urgency with which we need to tackle climate change.

Photo of Colin Clark Colin Clark Conservative, Gordon

We recently went for two weeks without using coal in our electricity mix, largely due to the use of lower greenhouse gas-emitting natural gas. Does my hon. Friend remain committed to the North sea oil and gas industry, which supports 120,000 jobs in Scotland and 280,000 across the United Kingdom as a whole?

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 hits upon a crucial point. If we are to have clean growth and a sustainable pathway towards net zero, we must ensure that we continue to use gas. We have weaned ourselves off coal, and it is remarkable that we went 18 days and seven hours without coal—not that I was counting. Anyone can follow the reduction in the use of coal over the past seven years, which has happened because we have been able to adapt and put gas back on the market. Going forward, we will have to ensure that we invest in a multitude of energy sources, including solar and other renewables, but gas will be a vital part of the mix in a sustainable transition.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

Last month, this House declared a climate emergency and called on the Government to

“set ambitious, short-term targets for the roll-out of renewable and low carbon energy and transport”.

Will the Minister outline what he has done to set and achieve those targets?

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 incredibly important that the Government are committed to publishing an energy White Paper this summer. As for targets, we have already taken forward the grand challenges of setting out missions for transport and buildings, for example. Clean buildings are incredibly important, because 28 million buildings make up 25% of all carbon emissions. We are beginning that work, and we will be putting bids together in the run-up to the spending review that reflect the grand challenges and those missions.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean Conservative, Redditch

Does my hon. Friend agree with the CBI, which says that the Labour party’s plans to renationalise the energy system are already harming our efforts to tackle climate change? What commitments will he make about continuing to reduce our emissions to zero?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Yes, but do not bang on about the Opposition’s policy. That is not the Minister’s responsibility. We can hear a brief word about the Government’s policy. The trouble with following briefings from outside organisations is that they can lead Members astray.

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 the key point is that the reforms that have led to the reduction in the use of coal over the past seven years have been taken forward using a market-based strategy. That was highlighted last week in a report by the International Energy Agency, which praised the UK’s commitments to addressing climate change by using market-based approaches.

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

We have a moral obligation to bring our carbon emissions down to net zero, and there are real economic and social benefits in doing so. Although the Chancellor has expressed his scepticism, despite the fact that we face a climate catastrophe, will the Minister offer real leadership and commit the Government to supporting the Bill I will be presenting to the House this afternoon to bring down our carbon emissions to net zero by 2050?

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 will certainly be present to listen to the hon. Lady’s Bill. I want to make that commitment, but I recognise that across this House, across all parties, we cannot do this simply by taking a party political approach. It was her Government that passed the landmark Climate Change Act 2008, which introduced the carbon budgets that now allow us to adapt the legislation to look towards net zero.

There must be a whole Government approach, and I want to be able to work towards that. When it comes to looking at carbon budgets and the baselines, those are specific issues on which I want to work with the Committee on Climate Change. I look forward to hearing the hon. Lady’s Bill, on which we all want to move forward together.

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

I welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities while Claire Perry is on compassionate leave. We hope the right hon. Lady makes a speedy return to the House.

Assuming the Government will do the right thing and legislate for net zero by 2050, in line with the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change, why has the Minister decided to weaken the third carbon budget by carrying over surplus emissions from the second carbon budget, against the committee’s specific advice?

While the Minister is at the Dispatch Box, perhaps he will confirm that net zero can be achieved within the current cost envelope for an 80% reduction of 1% to 2% of GDP. The Chancellor’s claim of £1 trillion spuriously adds together all the costs over the next 21 years and fails to subtract any of the benefits or savings.

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 put on record the content of the Government’s letter to the Committee on Climate Change. After careful consideration of the committee’s advice, the Government decided to hold in reserve a small proportion of over performance from carbon budget 2—88 megatonnes of a total over performance of 384 megatonnes. The reserve will act solely as a contingency. [Interruption.] I have 384 mega- tonnes, but I will happily correct the record when I look at the statistics. Eighty-eight megatonnes are being held in reserve and act solely as a contingency against changes in the baseline. This will be released once it is clear that it will not be needed to address any technical changes to the baseline. We have also asked the Committee on Climate Change to look at those technical changes. We would not have asked the committee to take forward work on net zero if we did not believe we will be able to implement this.

When it comes to the cost reduction, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that costs have come down on technology and will continue to come down. The Committee on Climate Change has made it clear that it can be done within the envelope of 1% to 2% of GDP, as set out for the 80% reduction.