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A Green Industrial Revolution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:27 pm on 15th January 2020.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy) 4:27 pm, 15th January 2020

One of the obvious advantages and pleasures of being called late in the debate is that I have been able to listen to several wonderful maiden speeches. In the two most recent speeches, Kenny MacAskill gave a full history of Scotland, and Alex Davies-Jones offered a wonderful portrait of her town and its people. It has been a pleasurable afternoon, and I am looking forward to the next maiden speech of the day.

It is just weeks since the general election, during which all Opposition parties proposed detailed plans for tackling the climate emergency and getting us to net zero emissions as soon as possible, and I have been encouraged by how the scientific consensus and the political consensus have matched. We have known for over a year that we need to keep global temperature rises to below 1.5° C and that our old target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions must change to net zero by 2050 at the latest.

The Opposition parties offer similar commitments to climate action, and we share similar thinking on the science and technology. We share similar aspirations for a just transition and for ambitious targets, but where is the Government’s plan? Climate action is notable by its absence from the Government’s plan for this new Parliament, and I have a term for that: climate action delay. The climate emergency is real, and we need urgent action now. Climate action delay is no better than climate change denial, because if we delay now, we will fail to keep temperatures below the threshold of 1.5° C necessary to avoid global climate chaos.

What does climate action mean in practice for transport, for energy and for our homes? In transport, net zero means that cars, lorries and buses need to be powered without using fossil fuels. For us that means no sales of new petrol or diesel cars from 2030; for the Government the target is 2040, which is too late. Is there a scientific reason for a 10-year difference? No. It is climate action delayed.

The next sector is electricity. In net-zero Britain, electricity must come from renewables and green hydrogen. For us that means massive new investment in renewable energy such as offshore and onshore wind, solar and marine power, starting now. No one should be in any doubt that this is a big challenge. Electricity usage will go up enormously as we transition from natural gas for heating and petrol and diesel for vehicles.

Our target is to generate 80% of our electricity from renewables by 2030. Net zero means completely transitioning out of fossil fuels in this sector. What would the Government do if they were serious about a net-zero Britain? They would support a fast and extensive roll-out of renewable installations, including onshore wind and marine power. They would demonstrate that there will be no fossil fuel extraction in the UK, and they would put a clear stop to fracking now. They would reduce and remove all fossil fuel subsidies.

What are this Government doing? The signs are not good. The indications are business as usual. Business as usual means going at a sufficiently slow pace so as to ensure the continued need for fossil fuels. That is climate action delayed.

The third sector is the energy efficiency of our homes. To get to net zero, we need to stop heating our homes with natural gas and oil. We will succeed in that transition only if we have an ambitious programme of insulating our homes to the highest energy efficiency standard feasible.

We know what needs to be done, and the technology is there. We can build new homes to high sustainability standards. What is this Government’s plan? Little or nothing. They are consulting on or suggesting making some changes five years from now. Once again, that is climate action delayed. We cannot afford delay any longer. We need a clear and decisive plan for how to adjust and change almost every sector to deliver net zero, starting now.

This Government talk the talk, but they do not walk the walk. We need climate action now.