Paris Climate Change Conference — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:06 pm on 17th December 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Parminter Baroness Parminter Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:06 pm, 17th December 2015

I add my thanks to those expressed by others to my noble friend Lady Miller for initiating this debate on what is, even if we do not all agree with the terminology, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, pointed out, an undoubtedly historic agreement. The inclusion of regular reviews of the activities of nation states is to be particularly welcomed. The comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, about how those reviews might be integrated into national legislation is an interesting one that bears further scrutiny. Like others, I congratulate those in this House who played a part in this success, including the Minister, and I also congratulate my new noble friend Lady Sheehan. It is a combination of action at the global, national and local levels—including in Wimbledon—that will deliver progress on this historic agreement.

I want to touch, as others have done, on the apparent failures since May in the Government’s policies in this area, which seem, in the light of Paris, to be somewhat counterproductive and short-sighted. First, as the right reverend Prelate said, the cuts to the cheapest forms of renewable electricity—onshore wind—and to the solar industry were relatively good news. Indeed, the relatively good news was that it was a cut of 64%, rather than 87%, but it is still a threat to the 19,000 British jobs that are dependent on the speed of development in that industry. It is somewhat put into perspective when you consider the £1 billion that the Chancellor put aside in the Budget last week to bribe people to support fracking.

I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on the Government’s paucity of ambition on energy efficiency. It is a retrograde step and the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who is not is his place, as Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, said only last week that it is an area in which we have failed. The Minister, in the debate on the Statement on Tuesday, said of energy efficiency:

“As a country, we probably need to do more on demand management”.—[Hansard, 15/12/15; col. 1976.]

We certainly do, and I have a question for the Minister in addition to those asked by the noble Lady, Lady Young: do the Government intend to bring forward new building standards as a matter of urgency, given that zero-carbon housing and the code for sustainable homes have been removed? If not, how will we give developers certainty about their costs in building the thousands of new homes that we need, so that we do not end up retrofitting homes that we propose to build in the very near future because they are not sustainable?

I have one further question and a comment. The question is about the need for a secure investment framework to support renewable energy. The markets will clearly be responding to the messages in Paris. We have already seen the shares of SolarCity, the biggest residential installer of solar in the US, jump by 12% on Monday. In the UK we need much clearer signals, so what guidance have the Government given to the new National Infrastructure Commission, given that one of its three focuses is to be on ensuring that investment in energy meets future demands? How do we make sure that that is renewable energy?

Finally, most of us agree that Paris was a success as we seek to tackle the challenge of climate change. Also, on a day when the Prime Minister is looking at our relationship with Europe, it is important to remember just how much the Paris negotiations have shown that we in Britain should play our role. By playing a strong role at the early stages of the Paris negotiations, we were able to put pressure on the US and Chinese to come forward with strong proposals early on. We would not have been able to do that as one country on our own. The fact that the Government recognised that we in Europe were able to use that leverage and influence was to their credit but shows that, if we are to solve global problems, Britain is stronger in Europe.