Energy Bill [HL] - Commons Amendments

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 12th April 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Labour 8:00 pm, 12th April 2016

My Lords, Amendment 9E is in my name. Our previous debate on this took place in October, before the historic climate agreement in Paris, which, for the first time, saw virtually all countries agreeing to take action together to avert the growing risk of global climate change. The significant breakthrough that made Paris a success was that countries are now individually responsible for coming forward with nationally determined targets and measures, while being guided by an overarching collective goal.

That process places the responsibility on countries to do what they can, with a view to ratcheting up ambition over time. The UK already has its own nationally determined commitments and we have been at the forefront of international leadership on climate change domestically and internationally for well over a decade. Again, I pay tribute to Secretary of State Amber Rudd, who deserves great credit for the role she and her team played in making Paris the success that it was.

Now, as we enter the final stages of this Energy Bill, which we have been considering since last July, the question we face is: how will we as the United Kingdom want to continue in that climate leadership role by demonstrating our commitment to domestic action, leading by example and forging a path that others can follow? We can and must do this, I believe, by reviewing and reforming an important aspect of our ground-breaking Climate Change Act; that is, how we measure progress.

As things stand, how we do this is complicated and unclear, made ever more complex by a decision introduced in secondary legislation and taken after the Bill was agreed that we should use European emissions allowances as the basis for accounting for our emissions in the power and industrial sectors. This is how things work currently but it cannot continue in this way for much longer. We must start counting our actual domestic emissions, guided by a common international goal set at the European and global level.

Our original amendment, agreed to in this House, sought to make this change in primary legislation, but since I have no desire to upset the timetable for setting the fifth carbon budget, which, as the Minister pointed out, we expect to be set before 30 June, and the process is now well under way, I have not retabled the amendment that was agreed in October. Instead, we have proposed what we believe is a constructive way forward and have listened carefully to the comments made by the Minister in the other place, which were constructive and talked about the timing being the main issue of opposition from the Government.

But there still is a fundamental question at stake here: do we wish to meet our carbon budgets in a way that we determine—for example, through policies and measures that we deem appropriate for our circumstances—or are we happy to have half our budgets set for us on the basis of ever-more complex rules agreed in Brussels? At the moment, as our decision to implement a carbon price support policy shows, we are taking our own path. We add an extra £18 to every tonne emitted in the UK and we are pursuing our own policies to decarbonise. Ahead of Paris, the Secretary of State made a historic commitment to phase out coal for power generation in the UK by 2025. She was rightly praised for this commitment because it sends an important signal to investors at home and to other countries struggling to reduce emissions from coal, including Germany and Holland.

Given that this is our chosen option—that we are pursuing leadership and taking our own path—it seems illogical that our carbon budgets should not reflect our own circumstances. Working on the basis of our own accounting would enable us to make sensible decisions about which sectors to move forward on quicker and which to give more time to; for example, we could provide more of a budget to sectors that are hard to decarbonise, such as heavy goods vehicle transportation or farming, while moving faster on the power sector, where we are currently overdelivering, as the Minister said. There are 36 million tonnes of overdelivery coming from the power sector. We should be able to use that and redistribute it to other sectors, but as things stand that is not possible.

There are very good reasons why our original amendment made sense, but as I listened to the considered words of the Minister in the other place, I concluded she was right not to accept that amendment at this time, as we are only weeks away from publishing the fifth carbon budget. We hope and assume that this number will follow the advice of the CCC and we expect that to help restore some confidence in the industry. But once that is in place, we should then determine how we will meet that ambition and part of that determination should be: what counts towards compliance with that budget? The amendment in my name, in lieu of our original amendment, sets out a process by which the Government can decide how we measure our progress and how we plan to meet our targets, including a deadline of the end of 2017 by which the matter should be resolved in secondary legislation. With the budget and the rules in place, we will then be in a position to develop a long-term plan to comply with those targets and lead by example.

Unfortunately, short-term thinking is endemic in our political system. More attention is paid to fleeting headlines and passing trends on Twitter than to the important details of often complex policy areas, such as energy, which are so necessary to drive investor confidence in growing our economy. Climate change is a long-term crisis that is slowly unfolding on our watch. Record losses in sea ice, massive coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, unexplained spikes in methane emissions—these are the warnings that are going off around us. We owe it to ourselves and to all future generations to do all within our ability to act and to cause others to act to mitigate this crisis.

What we in this Chamber can do, what opposition parties can do and what the Government can do is try to pass good laws that provide sensible, long-term frameworks to drive down emissions in least-cost ways. The Climate Change Act was agreed on that basis and it works, but it is now in need of review. I urge the Minister to consider this amendment carefully and if he feels it is within his power to accept it, I hope he will do so, so that we can embark on a process of proper reflection and review over a reasonable timescale, and then we can make the changes that are needed to repatriate the way we meet our most necessary climate obligations.