Paris Climate Change Conference — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:36 pm on 17th December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Giddens Lord Giddens Labour 3:36 pm, 17th December 2015

My Lords, the responses to COP21 have been almost comic in their divergence—or would be comic if the issues were not so serious and consequential. Benny Peiser, a climate sceptic, says that the agreements are,

“non-binding—and, ergo, toothless”.

Al Gore, a pillar of the climate change establishment—if I may put it that way—says that this is an historic turning point. Bill McKibben, our well-known environmentalist says:

“This agreement won’t save the planet, not even close”.

Which of these views are correct? Perverse though it may seem, all of them are. They all grasp aspects of the problems which now face us.

COP21 was certainly an historic turning point so far as COP meetings are concerned. There are other noble Lords here who, like myself, were present in Copenhagen at COP15. So what happened there? Twenty-one years of nothing much happening. This is a much greater event than has been achieved in any previous

COP meeting. It is a massive advance in terms of a comprehensive approach. I, too, congratulate the French leadership on what it has achieved

Benny Peiser and others are right to say that the UN has little global power, which rests largely in the hands of nations and blocs of nations, and international law has no teeth. It is right to stress, as McKibben says, that we are miles away globally—I have to stress this—from coping with the risks which climate change presents to our civilisation. They are risks which no civilisation previously has ever had to confront. We are nowhere near on a global level confronting them.

I shall make three brief points to which I ask the Minister to respond. First, whatever happens with the COP agreements, bilateral relations will remain crucial. China, the US and India produce well over 50% of the total global emissions, so keeping those countries working together is absolutely essential. However, what will happen if a Republican President is elected in the United States? What strategy would this Government then adopt for the continuation of bilateral relations since they are so crucial to the planet’s future?

Secondly, the agreements supply the “what”; that is, what should be done. At the moment, globally, we do not have a “how”. Renewable technology is simply not up to the task of replacing the massive impact of fossil fuels. We must have technological breakthroughs in, for example, energy storage. Bill Gates is right to say that we need an energy miracle, and at least he is putting a lot of money after that statement. The Government have mentioned mission innovation. What concrete strategies will they put in place to follow those initiatives up?

Thirdly and finally, the plans that countries have for scrutinising their emissions are important because they make them transparent, but obviously that is not enough as a sanctioning mechanism. The only way these agreements will have real substance is if they are incorporated into national law, not just international law. The UK has been a leader in this. The Labour Government set up a good scheme which successive Governments have followed. What will the Minister do to put pressure on other countries to embody these agreements in national law rather than only in international law?