Climate Change

Part of Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [Lords] (Programme) – in the House of Commons at 6:08 pm on 24th June 2019.

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change) 6:08 pm, 24th June 2019

I rise to emphasise just how strongly we support this order. As you have said, Madam Deputy Speaker, we have 90 minutes to debate it, but I for one think that that is miserably insufficient time for what we need to talk about. I hope that the parliamentary authorities will arrange a whole day’s debate as soon as possible on the order and its implications. I of course accept that this is how orders work, but I know that hon. Members across the House are itching to talk about the consequences of this momentous change and to review what it means for how we go about tackling climate change, the measures we will have to take and, indeed, the commitments we will have to make over the next few years to make sure that the order does not fall dead from a legislative press but instead really works in our war on climate change.

The Labour party has long called for that change. My hon. Friend Rebecca Long Bailey called in the House for net zero as long as a year ago, as indeed did the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn. The change has, of course, been widely called for by climate strikers and green activists across the country. This first step in the right direction is for them as much as for the Members debating it today. It also a tribute to the sagacity and draftsmanship of the original Climate Change Act 2008.

The 2008 Act was taken through this House by my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband, who is in his place. The fact is that such a momentous and far reaching change in the UK’s target horizon, on the removal of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the move to a permanent net zero carbon economy, can be effected by an order consisting, effectively, of one article and the substitution of one figure in one subsection in the Act. It is possible to do that, because, as the Minister mentioned, section 2 of the Act states that the Secretary of State may, by order, amend the percentage specified in section 1(1)—the current 80% target—if it appears to the Secretary of State that there have been significant developments in scientific knowledge about climate change.

I am sure the Minister agrees that that is precisely what has happened since the passing of the Act. What we thought might be a sustainable emissions reduction target to keep the global temperature rise to below 2°C by 2050 already looks insufficiently robust. The UK’s contribution to a global effort seeking to arrive at a 2°C outcome—a commitment to reduce the UK’s emission load of carbon dioxide by 80% from a baseline of 1990 levels—is no longer sufficient. We need to aim for global temperature rises of no more than 1.5°C by 2050. The Minister mentioned the recent seminal Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which shows us why the target is so important and why even limiting temperature change to 2° will not get us to a tolerable safe place as far as the effects of global warming on the planet are concerned. That does indeed count as the “developments in scientific knowledge” specified in the Act.

The UK’s contribution to the global effort has to ensure that we can achieve net zero emissions by 2050—or, I would hope, before 2050. That has to be our new target and it has to be enshrined in our legislation. I say before 2050, because it may well be that further scientific advances indicate that we need to achieve the target before then. I think that that will be the case and the Act could be amended further, if necessary, to take that into account.