Paris Climate Change Conference — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:14 pm on 17th December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales 4:14 pm, 17th December 2015

My Lords, this has been a debate of very high quality and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for raising this topic in the House and setting out how important it is for the whole world, which it certainly is, and presenting the case with such clarity and vision.

As noble Lords will be aware, I repeated a Statement in the House on Tuesday, after the Secretary of State had reported to the House of Commons on Monday. I absolutely agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, about the inspiration at Paris of many political leaders and others, including businesspeople and Members of this House. He singled out in particular Vice-President Al Gore—I think that people remain Vice-Presidents—and the noble Lord, Lord Stern. It is absolutely true that they made outstanding contributions, as did others. The noble Lord is also absolutely right about the role of negotiators. He mentioned Pete Betts, who had a key role to play, as did Ben Lyons and others who worked fantastically hard.

The Paris agreement is an historic achievement and takes a significant step forward towards reducing, on a global scale, the emissions that cause climate change. The right reverend Prelate paid tribute to France and the French for staging this conference as effectively as they did with their considerable diplomacy. In the light of the dreadful terrorist attacks, that was no mean feat. Not many nations could have pulled that off but I absolutely agree that the French did. I also agree with what he said about the role of faith, with people of many different faiths coming together to help build this agreement, which we as a world succeeded in achieving in Paris.

As has been said, the agreement protects not just our environment but our national and economic security, and that is true worldwide. It also brings with it new opportunities for growth, innovation and well-being. For the first time ever, all parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, representing nearly 200 countries, made a commitment to act. The noble Baronesses, Lady Northover and Lady Miller, and the right reverend Prelate also made the point about the role of small nations alongside large ones.

One heard as much at the conference and on its fringes about the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu, quite rightly, as one heard about China, India and others. I met representatives from Greenland, for example. It was a truly international agreement that has set out a clear, long-term goal for the world to achieve net zero emissions in the second half of the century. The long-term goal sends a strong signal to investors. That is important globally because of the likely—almost inevitable—reduction in the cost of many renewables because of the fact that nations and businesses around the world will be investing in them.

From the United Kingdom—and, indeed the EU—point of view, we had three major objectives: a rules-based system, which this is; a long-term goal, which we have achieved; and a review system, which again we have achieved. In fact, there are two systems of review. We were part of a “high-ambition coalition”, which also included the United States. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, raised questions about the role of the US. We are certainly hoping that this agreement will be ratified while President Obama is in office, and I think that is the likelihood. Obviously we cannot influence domestic policy in the United States, much as we may on occasion be tempted to do so, but we are sure that it will be validated and passed there.

The agreement is based on the INDCs—that is, the contributions—of 187 countries. This level of commitment is unprecedented and the review cycle, which I have mentioned, is central to the ambition. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, asked how that would be enforceable. It is enforceable in that every five years, countries will come back. It is a question of whether they restate their ambitions or ramp them up; that will be central to the way that this develops.

As investment grows, the costs of low-carbon technologies will come down. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked about battery technology. That is vitally important; for example, we are looking across government at electric cars and zero-carbon cars. I come back to the importance of the clear investment signal.

The financial aspects of this agreement are also important. There is to be $100 billion of support a year from the public and private sector, which will help developing nations, particularly small island developing states. On enforceability, again, some states will be ensuring that they meet their objectives because they will be getting financial assistance to do so, so the two will go hand in hand. There are obligations in the agreement to come back with mitigation measures every five years and to take part in the global stock-take, which will also happen every five years but on a different cycle.

The UK is, as I think was said, a substantial donor. We already have £3.87 billion in the International Climate Fund, helping millions of the world’s poorest. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, referred to this absolutely important point and asked whether we were able to give a guarantee that this will not go to any projects that have a carbon element. A carbon-proofing system is being applied in the ODA and we will be watching that like hawks, because we are the first developed country to commit to end coal-fired power stations. That is very significant and was commented on repeatedly at Paris. It sends out a clear signal. We are at some stage going to have to send out a similar signal about gas, of course, although that will not be just yet, as we need gas to transition to the lower-carbon—ultimately zero-carbon—economy that we want. Clearly, the worst fossil fuel is coal, but gas is a fossil fuel, too, so that will need to be addressed. As a nation we will have to face up to that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, referred most graphically to the global dimension, in a speech of moving personal reminiscence and very reflective thought, setting out her personal commitments. I am sure that we will hear much more from her on these issues as she participates in the life of the House. It was an excellent and outstanding maiden speech, on which I congratulate her massively.

During the two weeks of the conference, we saw a huge mobilisation of business—the first time really, I think, that it had happened on this scale. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, will back that up. We have not seen the involvement of business at previous conferences on the scale that we saw in Paris, which had the presence and indeed the support of the Governor of the Bank of EnglandMark Carney—Michael Bloomberg, Richard Branson, Paul Polman and a whole host of national leaders in business and other fields.

Forestation was mentioned. We have played a significant role in relation to REDD, and have committed money to Colombia, which has a very good record on halting deforestation. It is part of a progressive alliance, and we have committed money there as well. One should acknowledge the outstanding and not inconsiderable role here of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. He saw this issue before many others, and his support, both generally at the conference and over time, has been extremely important.

I will try to deal with some of the other points. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned insulation. She is absolutely right, and we are committed to 1 million more homes in this Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to demand reduction, which is important and which we are looking at. The smart meter programme commits us to that. Building standards were mentioned. I hate acronyms but one that is probably quite appropriate is a very interesting project called BAPS—buildings as power stations—which I visited just outside Swansea, run jointly by the university and private industry, with involvement that is almost totally British. These buildings do not cost an awful lot to erect, and the department is looking at this because it helps with the housing situation as well. So there are things to be looked at there.

I will try to cover some last points very quickly. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked about the importance of engaging with the National Infrastructure Commission. I assure her that we are doing that, particularly on the issues she mentioned, which are covered by one of the work streams. Work is still going on to finalise the terms of reference but clearly it is clearly a very important commission in terms of large-scale projects and in terms of the messages that it sends out.

I very much welcome the role of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and his modesty in claiming that he does not know a lot about these things. He seemed to me to know quite a lot. I agree with him about the significance of these issues and the fact that we have to think across government—which I hope we are doing—to look at the challenges that lie ahead, which are significant.

I thank noble Lords very much for their participation in the debate and once again in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for bringing it forward. It is a very timely and important debate, and I am sure we will return to these issues again and again. I certainly hope so, because this very important issue has been ramped up significantly by the highly successful conference in Paris. We should never forget that. We talk about the road through Paris—it is not an end in itself but a staging post—but, that said, we can give ourselves two pats on the back for Paris. However, the job is not done and there is still much to do. That will often be through the reviews—both through the global stock-take which starts in 2018 and takes place every five years, and through individual countries coming forward with their contributions every five years starting in 2020.