Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

A Green Industrial Revolution

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:28 pm on 15th January 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington 5:28 pm, 15th January 2020

I welcome you back and congratulate you on your re-election, Madam Deputy Speaker. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake) not only on an extraordinary election result, but on a terrific maiden speech and on what she said specifically about the moorlands and the threat to them from man’s actions.

Almost 15 years ago, we were told by Lord Stern and others that we had to act urgently to address climate change. Former Vice President Gore called it right when he said that we faced an inconvenient truth. Now, not a week goes by when there is not a catastrophe caused by climate change somewhere across the world, including floods in Yorkshire and Derbyshire, Jakarta and Indonesia, or caused by Storm Idai in Mozambique. Most recently, we have seen the devastation of communities and the ecological destruction caused by the fires in Australia, Alaska and many other parts of the world.

The underlying climate trends are even more alarming. Perhaps most concerning of all was the report published this week in the periodical, “Advances in Atmospheric Sciences”, by a team from Penn State University. It concluded that the heat in the world’s oceans had reached a new record level in 2019, which suggests the “irrefutable and accelerating” heating of the planet. The world’s oceans are the truest barometer of the climate emergency, as they absorb more than 90% of the heat trapped by the greenhouses gases produced by human activity. According to the analysis reports of the past five years, those five years have been the warmest recorded for the oceans. The past 10 years are also the hottest on record.

It is not just academics who are making the argument for urgent action. Back in September, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, put it simply:

“Firms that align their business models to the transition to a net zero world will be rewarded handsomely. Those that fail to adapt will cease to exist.”

Clearly, it is no longer business as usual. Larry Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, which manages £7 trillion-worth of assets, said in his letter to investors yesterday that the climate risk must be placed at the heart of all investment decisions. That is encouraging and I hope he can be trusted. I simply ask that he and other fund managers look at the leadership shown by the Rockefeller Foundation over five years ago when it stated it would divest immediately from fossil fuel companies.

Parliament needs to do the same. It needs to act and show leadership with its own pension fund. What is incontrovertible and irrefutable is still being challenged by the deniers. That is why policy is so vital and why the world’s first climate change Act, passed of course by the Labour Government in 2008, was so important. It provided a true vision of what could be. It showed that we could address the risk of climate change while recognising the huge economic opportunity it presented. That is why the report from the independent Committee on Climate Change is so concerning. It states that the UK is off track to meet both its fourth carbon budget and the fifth carbon budget for 2028-32. Given the more recent statistics showing it is off track by an ever- widening margin, the alarm should be even greater.

When we reflect on the past 15 years—the period since the Stern report—we realise just how great the challenge is and how little time we have. As Craig Bennett, chief executive of Friends of the Earth, has warned, the aim of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is

“too slow to address catastrophic climate change”.

I accept and commend much of what the Government are proposing, but I am worried that it lacks true ambition. Their points about air quality and setting targets are to be commended, but we need to invest in measuring and enforcing them to ensure they are actually adhered to.

Overall, the Queen’s Speech showed a lack of true ambition on the part of the Government. On energy generation and infrastructure, the Swansea tidal lagoon could be an opportunity for Britain to lead the world in this technology, if only the Government could get behind it. As we have heard from across the House, there is the opportunity presented by onshore wind farms, in which so many countries, such as France and Germany, have invested heavily, but on which we have a virtual ban. The Government instead prefer fracking . We have seen huge investment in offshore wind farms, which is to be commended, but where the Labour party proposed to build 37 new offshore wind farms, with 51% public ownership, there was a deafening silence from the Conservative party. In solar, the number of installations has fallen by 90% since 2015.

As well as generation, we must look at how we tackle consumption. On house building, we had a wonderful opportunity to build much better homes, with the introduction of standards such as the passive house. That would have happened had the Labour Government been returned in 2010. We would have built high-density homes with low-energy consumption and ensured the provision of local transport—good public transport provided through hydrogen or electrification—to meet the needs of those high-density communities Labour was planning.

I want to turn to the automotive industry, an area I am passionate about. I respect and recognise the work the Government have done with the Faraday challenge. The introduction of the UK battery industrialisation centre just outside Coventry is to be welcomed and the work of Warwick Manufacturing Group, which I have seen for myself, is world leading, but the industry needs leadership from the Government and the frameworks to encourage business investment and ensure a true transition as quickly as possible from the internal combustion engine to alternative fuel products. That is so important for companies such as Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin in my constituency. Here again the CCC has criticised the Government, saying that they have not gone far enough or fast enough to address the opportunity.

We talk about how we can make those products more affordable, and their price will fall in due course, but the market needs to be driven by Government leadership, and part of that leadership is about providing the necessary infrastructure and addressing, for instance, the paucity of supply and investment in electric vehicle charging points. Let me put that it in context. In France 24,000 public charging points have been introduced in the past year, while the UK figure is just 6,500. That is why we are lagging behind, and why consumers are not switching to alternative fuel products.

We need more electric buses, and hydrogen fuel cell technology needs to be encouraged. The number of hydrogen-powered buses in Berlin is well above the norm. There is also a huge opportunity to encourage consumers to switch to electric bicycles. Great products are being introduced across the market, but let us compare the market uptake here with that in Germany. Last year 63,500 electric bikes were bought in the UK, whereas nearly a million were bought in Germany. How will we ever encourage consumers to switch unless we give them incentives to buy those bikes? They also need infrastructure—such as the Kenilworth to Leamington cycle route, for which I campaigned and which, I am pleased to say, the local authority is finally supporting.

There is much to be done. It is all about our ambition, and what the Government choose to do. However, addressing the climate emergency is not an option but an urgent necessity. We should be thankful for the students, the young people, who have been campaigning widely outside our schools and in our town centres. How on earth can a group such as Extinction Rebellion, which is so peaceful in its actions, be considered to be a terrorist organisation? All that those people are trying to do is raise this issue and make sure that the Government act with the urgency that is demanded by society.

May I suggest that we adopt the lexicon that we use when speaking of the financial crisis, when we speak of debt and of the deficit? We should be talking about environmental debt and environmental deficit. At the same time as recognising how much we are costing the earth, we should be setting legally enforceable targets, and ensuring that all Government policies are subjected to full scrutiny and environmental audit here in Parliament.

Let me end by saying that it is crucial for us to lead by example. Whether through the fleet of vehicles run by the Government or through our pension fund, we must show that we are serious about addressing the climate emergency. I believe that we must divest from fossil fuels in the parliamentary pension fund.