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

That is one of many things we will have to do in the very near future as we address how properly to sort out the new target. As I will come on to say, there is a big list of challenging things we need to do, and that is just one of them. There are many, many new policy guidelines that we need to get into place to get us to that target.

The Committee on Climate Change, established under the Act as the guardian of science in our proceedings on climate change in the UK, reported strongly, as has been outlined, that we need to move to net zero and that we could do it by 2050, within the cost parameters established in the original target, if we put in place the very challenging policies it outlined. We strongly support that small change that means so much.

As the Minister will know, however, that is not the end of the matter. In fact, it is barely the beginning. I therefore want to ask the Minister for some points of clarification and some further information when he comes to respond to this short debate. There are, essentially, four points to consider.

First, the Minister will know all about the carbon budgets, which were admirably and clearly established under the Climate Change Act. They are designed to keep us on track for a steady reduction in emissions and to put in place measures to keep emissions decline on track. It set out three budgets from the 2008 start date, established in total size by the Committee on Climate Change, and required a Government plan to be put into place on how to meet each budget. The Minister will know that while we have done well by international standards in reducing our emissions by 47%—it is much less in consumption emissions, if we look at it that way—that is not a sufficient trajectory for net zero carbon targets. Our current performance, and likely achievements on known policies right now, place us in a disadvantageous position as we seek to adhere to the budgets that will drive emissions down to net zero by 2050.

The carbon budgets are designed—all five of them, to date—to put us on a path for an 80% reduction and 2°, not net zero 1.5°. It is shocking that we are currently failing to get to grips with the later budgets, budgets four and five, even under the circumstances of 2°. We have exceeded our earlier budgets only partially because of policy and partially because of economic circumstances, meeting or exceeding the first two budgets and probably the third.

After that, however, it gets very sketchy. Indeed, the latest updated emissions projections from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy show us badly off target: over by 139 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent for the fourth carbon budget, or 7% over on central estimates; and 245 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, or 13% over the central estimate for the fifth carbon budget. This is at a time when we will need to introduce a radically reduced sixth carbon budget, and subsequent budgets, to meet our new challenges. We are failing even to get to grips with the old targets, which will make our work so much harder when the later budgets come upon us.

What urgent steps are the Minister and the Government taking to get us back on track for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, on which we are currently failing so badly? I can make an offer to the Minister: if he wants to sit down and sort out a raft of new policies, extended commitments to policy programmes, and extensions of the urgency of existing programmes, we will happily jointly draft those with him, so that there is solid buy-in across the House for that vital initial effort.

Secondly, we received the alarming news recently that the Government seemingly intend to roll over historical surpluses—some 88 megatonnes of carbon dioxide saved from the second carbon budget—to ease the passage of the third carbon budget, thus creating a higher starting point for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. That move is not completely illegitimate in terms of the construction of the Act, but the Committee on Climate change has always recommended that that should not be done, and that banking and borrowing on future budgets would gravely distort the safe progression downwards of carbon dioxide emissions. Similarly, we should not seek to offset our own account through international emissions allowances, as the Government seem intent on doing.

Will the Minister explain why the Government have moved to set aside emission surpluses from earlier budgets? Will he say now that he will unwind that intention and not use them to inflate future budgets? Will he confirm that international offsets will have no place in future budget setting? We note in the explanatory memorandum to the order that despite the committee’s recommendation in the report that the UK legislate as soon as possible to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with the target of a 100% reduction in greenhouse gases from 1990 covering all sectors of the economy including aviation and shipping, the Government have, for the time being, merely left headroom in the budgets for international aviation and shipping. Shipping and aviation currently make up 3.2% and 2.1% of global emissions, but this could rise to over 30% if action is not taken alongside other greenhouse gas reductions. What is the Government’s intention with regard to aviation and shipping coming properly and fully into carbon budgets, and why are they continuing to delay what we all know is an essential inclusion if those targets are to be meaningful for the future?

Thirdly, does the Minister recognise, as I am sure he does, that net zero is the practical outcome of the legislation to require a 100% reduction in the UK’s net carbon account? Net zero means that in addition to developing low carbon policies, as we were for the 80% target, we have to develop policies that are essentially carbon negative—that put carbon back into the ground in one way or another to compensate for the remaining positive carbon elements of our overall account. This means that techniques such as BECCS—bio-energy with carbon capture and storage—extended carbon capture and storage, carbon capture from the air and radical afforestation are all important policies for the future target. What plans do the Government have—[Interruption.]