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International Climate Action

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:02 pm on 26th September 2019.

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Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 1:02 pm, 26th September 2019

I am delighted that my first statement as the Business and Energy Secretary is on a subject that matters so much to every Member of this House and also to every person on the planet. As we heard from a 16-year-old girl, Greta Thunberg, it is vitally important to act now so that our children and grandchildren have a bright future ahead of them. We only have this planet, and we all have a duty to do everything we can, cross-party, cross-country and cross-world, to leave it a better place than we found it. So today, with permission, I would like to make a statement on the UN climate action summit in New York that took place on Monday this week.

The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development joined the UN Secretary General, world leaders and key figures from business, industry and civil society at the UN climate action summit on Monday. The science is clear about the speed, scale and cost to lives and livelihoods of the climate crisis that is facing us. Costs show that the total global damage from climate-related events was more than $300 billion in 2017 alone. We know that, globally, emissions are continuing to rise year on year with tragic impact. We also know that the world’s most vulnerable are being hit hardest by the impacts of climate change. Natural disasters are already pushing 26 million people a year into poverty, with hundreds of millions of people potentially facing major food shortages in the coming decade.

The Prime Minister and other world leaders met because they are determined to take decisive collective action to cut emissions and to improve the resilience of countries and communities, and the Prime Minister showed very clearly what decisive climate action looks like at home and abroad. In the UK, we have cut emissions by 42% since1990 while growing the economy by 72%. We have cut our use of coal in our electricity system from almost 40% to only 5% in just six years, and we are leading the world in the deployment of clean technologies such as offshore wind. In just that one renewable sector, the UK is home to almost half the world’s offshore wind power. We became the first country in the G20 to legislate for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

We are already seeing thousands of jobs being created as part of this transition. Almost 400,000 people are employed in the low carbon sector and its supply chains, a number that we plan to grow to 2 million by 2030. We are also playing a critical part on the world stage. In his closing speech, the Prime Minister set out his determination to work together with others to tackle the climate crisis. He called for all countries to increase their 2030 climate ambition pledges under the Paris agreement and confirmed that the UK will play our part by raising our own nationally determined contribution by February next year.

To help developing countries to go further and faster, we also committed to doubling the UK’s international climate finance from £5.8 billion to £11.6 billion over the period from 2021 to 2025. This funding will support some of the most vulnerable communities in the world to develop low carbon technologies and to shift from fossil fuels to clean energy by, for example, helping to replace the wood-burning stoves and kerosene lamps used by millions of the world’s poorest families with sustainable and more reliable technologies such as solar power for cooking, heating and lighting.

This new funding will also help our incredible rain forests and mangroves, which act as vital carbon sinks, and help to restore degraded ecosystems such as abandoned land, which were once home to forests, mangroves and other precious habitats. So many of us have been glued to David Attenborough’s incredible series, “The Blue Planet” and “Planet Earth”, which really brought home the scale of destruction and the need for global action. Doubling our international climate finance will help the most vulnerable to deal with the damaging effects of climate change and to become more resilient.

On Monday, as part of the international climate finance commitment, the Government clearly put technology at the heart of our response with the new £1 billion Ayrton fund to drive forward clean energy innovation in developing countries. The fund is named after the British physicist and suffragette Hertha Ayrton, whose work at the beginning of the 20th century inspired the Ayrton anti-gas fans that saved lives during the first world war. This is new funding that leading scientists and innovators from across the UK and the world can access, to save lives in the future as Hertha Ayrton’s work did over a century ago.

Our Prime Minister is not alone in taking action. We led on the summit’s adaptation and resilience theme with Egypt, and delivered a powerful call to action, joined by 112 countries. As part of that, we launched a first of its kind coalition for climate-resilient investment to transform infrastructure investment by integrating climate risks into decision making, ensuring that, for example, when roads and bridges are built, climate risk is taken into account. We also launched a new risk-informed early action partnership, which will help keep 1 billion people safer from disaster by greatly improving early warning systems of dangerous events such as floods and hurricanes, giving people vital extra hours, days and even weeks to prepare for them.

We were delighted that 77 countries, 10 regions and 100 cities committed at the summit to net zero by 2050. The incoming Chilean COP 25 presidency announced a climate ambition alliance of 70 countries, each signalling their intention to submit enhanced climate action plans or nationally determined contributions.

Businesses are taking action, too. More than 50 financial institutions pledged to test all their $2.9 trillion in assets for the risks of climate change. Nine multilateral development banks have committed to supporting global climate action investments by targeting $175 billion in annual financing by 2025.

However, the climate action summit was by no means an end in itself. It was a call for global action, which the UK and many others heeded. We cannot and will not be complacent. Coming out of the summit, the combined commitments of all those countries and all that good will still do not put us on track to meet the temperature goals of the Paris agreement. People across the country and across the world are every day sending a clear message that we must all go further, and as the Secretary-General said, “time is running out”.

Globally, much more is needed. The UK, as an acknowledged world leader in tackling climate change and as the nominated host for COP 26 in 2020, has a unique opportunity to work with countries and business across the world, to build on the foundations laid at this week’s summit, to drive the action agenda forward and to turn the tide of emissions growth. There is no other planet: this is it, and we must look after it.