Paris Climate Change Conference — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:49 pm on 17th December 2015.

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Photo of The Bishop of Salisbury The Bishop of Salisbury Bishop 3:49 pm, 17th December 2015

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for this debate and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on her maiden speech. What a great debate in which to make a maiden speech, when we are looking so much towards the future.

On Tuesday, we congratulated the Government, the Minister, the officials from DECC and some Members of this House on the contributions that they made in Paris. Many people will feel that this is an agreement for which they hoped and prayed. Someone said, “I can’t really comment. It was near miraculous”. I think that that might be true. It is particularly significant in the wake of the terrorism in Paris on 13 November. Terrorism seeks to divide us and creates fear. This agreement of nearly all the world acting together gives hope, which feels to be a very important statement. I have said before that I am particularly grateful for the creation of a predictable framework of $100 billion of climate finance for poor countries. That is particularly significant at a time when questions are being asked about overseas aid. This is an important contribution to that debate.

Among the faith communities, there has been a striking convergence of views about the environment. A Greek Orthodox theologian commenting on the Pope’s encyclical said that this is an issue that relativises all our other differences. Therefore, all people of faith and of no faith are able to act together in the care of our common home. All commentators have said that the key to Paris is its implementation.

It is very exciting to see how many things have been initiated this week and in the weeks preceding Paris which are already organising responses in institutions and organisations. We seem to be at a tipping point towards a low-carbon economy. It is really important that this impacts across the whole of government policy and that the Treasury understands it. This morning’s announcement about feed-in tariffs and solar energy is relatively good news—there will be a 64% reduction in the feed-in tariff rather than the proposed 87%.

In preparation for Paris, I went to a conference of European churches in Westphalia, a relatively poor part of Germany. Seven people were walking from Flensburg, on the Danish border, to Paris. On the day I was with them, 150 of us were walking, and at a town meeting in the evening there were about 400 people. The region had realised that 90% of its costs of energy were leaving the region. Therefore, there was huge enthusiasm for onshore wind and community energy schemes as a way of retaining money within the region.

Markets do not exist in a vacuum; they are created or made. It is really important that the Government think hard about how to create markets in which community energy becomes a more obvious way of creating renewable energy. If the Government are rightly concerned about subsidies of the way in which energy is produced, in addition to thinking about the subsidies of renewable energy, ending fossil fuel subsidies is a first step in speeding the renewable transition. It would create a triple win of enhancing energy security, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and bringing improved fiscal space for governments. It seems an obvious thing to work towards—and quickly.

We asked for an ambitious deal in Paris, and I think that we got it. We also need to go much further. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, was right. The desire to pursue further efforts to bring global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade is creating a lot of discussion about how realistic that is, but it is a good thing to have high ambitious and to try to do the right thing. I applaud the ambition and I applaud in particular the role played by the Marshall Islands in this. It is good when small countries make a big difference in raising our ambitions through the “high ambition coalition”.

Climate change is, in many ways, the big challenge that we face. It requires new thinking and provides new opportunities. This is an area in which being satisfied with meeting mid-range goals is not right. We must set our sights higher to exceed our ambitions.