Green Agenda — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:39 pm on 12th January 2012.

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Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Sub-Committee C - Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy 2:39 pm, 12th January 2012

My Lords, I will not get into the Essex origins because we went through this in a previous debate and, as the noble Baroness has indicated, it is probably absolutely the wrong route to go down.

I will reflect very briefly on some of the history of climate change. It is now 15 years since the Kyoto Protocol was first signed, although it did not come into effect until 2005. Of course the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, was very involved in making sure that that was delivered, and it was a very important role for the United Kingdom at that time. We had climate change science at that time that meant that the international community really made choices and decided to move forward, not in a perfect way but it actually moved forward. It started by setting itself targets, it determined who should be in and who should be out, and so on. Of course, since that time the scientific evidence for climate change really happening has become stronger because of the actions of human beings on this planet. So that is the background to this debate.

During that time, certainly over the first decade, we had real motivation to make sure that not only the United Kingdom but the European Union and the global community started to bring in policies, targets and plans that would make a real difference to the future of our planet and to global warming. We had the boost of "An Inconvenient Truth", the video from the other side of the pond; in our own actions we had the Climate Change Act 2008 that went through this House and the other place with broad all-party consensus. On the whole, everything was gung-ho until a couple of years ago.

Now we are in a very difficult place in many ways, because climate change is no longer fashionable, it is disputed by many people despite the facts, and we have tabloid papers particularly criticising electricity bills because of renewables-very understandable in terms of the problems of increased fuel poverty. I was very pleased that the report of the Committee on Climate Change, showing the vast increases in energy prices between 2004 and 2010, of an increase of around £450, only about £30 was due to renewable technologies. However, we have had various other assaults in terms of climate change and the green agenda, some of them very properly driven not least because of the current economic climate. What is clearly on the minds of most households and families, and therefore on the minds of most democratically elected Governments, is their economic and financial survival. They are not looking to the year 2050, as we did with the Climate Change Act.

However, that does not change what is important and what is not. We have to solve both of those crises -one medium and long term, the other immediate-in terms of getting through the democratic processes and ensuring the planet's survival in the future. One of the main reasons I was very committed to the coalition after the last election when that possibility arose was the very strong green and environmental core to the coalition's programme. Of course, at that time we knew that there would be economic difficulties. We did not think that everything was fantastic in terms of the economy, but we did not realise just how long those difficulties would go on.

I will come to some of my caveats later, but I want to congratulate the Government on the number of things that they have done already. Earlier this week we had the announcement of HS2. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who was in his seat earlier in this debate, brought that back on the agenda, and this Government have moved forward with it. There has been the Green Deal, as the noble Baroness mentioned. As we went through that legislation in Committee, we had reservations about a lot of things, and there still may be a lot of things that have to be tweaked to make sure that it works. However, certainly on briefings that we have had since then, I am very pleased that the Government are putting a lot more emphasis on the involvement of local authorities to make sure that streets and districts as a whole are converted so that that really happens. Of course, the thing about the Green Deal is that it is around energy saving. So often in the past the emphasis has been on new technologies, on ways of decarbonising power-all of which are important. However, energy saving, which is one of the cost-effective ways of producing a decarbonised and less energy-intensive economy, has often been left behind. I hope that that programme will last for decades.

We have had the announcement about the third runway at Heathrow. What we will do in the future about air travel is a more difficult issue, but the UK Government have backed Europe in terms of the EU ETS and airlines. Despite considerable resistance from China and the United States, we have gone ahead with that programme. The smart meters programme is continuing. The renewable heat initiative-again, brought in by the previous Government-although a direct cost on taxpayers in these difficult times, fiscally is still going ahead. The carbon budgets have been confirmed by this Government and go way off into the future. So even during these difficult fiscal times, we have a government programme that the coalition has stuck to. It is delivering those commitments despite great opposition from some Members of the Conservative and Liberal parties in terms of wind power and other such issues.

I would be interested to hear about particular policy decisions in certain areas. The Green Investment Bank, which has been mentioned, is clearly a very important part of the Government's jigsaw in moving the green agenda forward. I think that needs to be in place and functioning fully in its ability to bring in funds well before the next election. I would again ask the Government to look at biodiesel, a very important UK industry, to make sure that that is not held back by some of the changes announced in the Budget. On the point that my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith mentioned about carbon-intensive industries, the Government should start to look at carbon footprint accounting on carbon budgeting, as well as the production base, because that actually gets around that problem. One is not a substitute for the other; both of them should be taken into consideration.

I will mention two last measures. One is company reporting. In the Climate Change Act we had an amendment that brought in mandatory carbon reporting. The CBI is very keen that this starts and that it is defined properly. I would like to see that introduced. The last one is the whole area of research and development. It is something that we ought to be doing right across Europe, particularly when we have the new financial framework in Europe between 2014 and 2020. It is a combined European effort on research and development in climate change technologies.

I think that the Government have done well in resisting the pressure-sometimes even from the office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer-to pull back on their green agenda. I think we need to move ahead. We have not had a great result in Durban; we have had a much better one in Copenhagen. Now we need to get the rest of the world to follow us.