Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:56 pm on 26th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Oxburgh Lord Oxburgh Crossbench 9:56 pm, 26th June 2017

My Lords, I shall speak today about energy and the environment and, in the interests of brevity, I refer to my interests in low-carbon energy and energy efficiency in the official register.

Brexit and the tragic events of recent months will understandably take much of our attention but we must not forget the longer term. Our actions today are making the prospects of future generations very bleak, both for the people and for the plants and animals with which we share the planet and which make the planet habitable for us. Today, I wish to focus on the consequences of the deluge of greenhouse gases that is largely produced by the burning of fossil fuels and released into the atmosphere. It is steadily and remorselessly shifting our climate. Admittedly, the causal relationship is based on probabilities but it is one endorsed, I think, by every national scientific academy in the world. It gave rise to the Paris agreement of 2015, under which countries pledged to do what they could to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. True, some of the pledges fell short of what the climate scientists calculated was needed to avert the most extreme consequences of climate change but something is better than nothing.

It was most welcome that in the Queen’s Speech, the Government renewed their commitment to meeting their Paris target. That said, it is far from clear how this is to be done. In the autumn Statement of 2015, the Treasury cancelled a £1 billion competition for industry to develop the carbon capture and storage technology—CCS—that is essential if the UK is to decarbonise at least cost. At a single stroke, this removed one of the three legs supporting the Government’s energy strategy: nuclear, renewables and fossil fuels, but with their emissions abated by carbon capture and storage. The then Environment Secretary, Amber Rudd, immediately set up an advisory group that I had the privilege to chair, comprising parliamentarians and external experts to advise on the way forward. The group scrutinised and then endorsed the Government’s previous view that CCS was needed to decarbonise heating and electricity generation. The group furthermore developed a business model by which this could be done at reasonable cost. The group’s report has been accepted by UK industry and has excited considerable international interest. Formal publication was last September, but the Government are yet to respond. They said they would do so in a decarbonisation plan, which would be out in the spring. It seems that spring is late this year because we have still not seen it.

The report emphasises that the technology is available but the timescales are long, whether for building power stations, laying pipelines or transmission lines or any other aspect of major infrastructure. This means that, for there to be any hope of meeting our Paris obligations, we have to decide urgently the outline of what needs to be done by both government and industry. It is essential that this outline has wide support across both Houses of Parliament because it must be robust to changes in Government. Chopping and changing in matters such as this is a certain recipe for wasting money and failing. There is no fundamental reason why this should be highly politicised, and this House, in particular, has a good record of achieving consensus on energy matters. If a broad outline can be agreed, details can be added later, as appropriate, and industry will be able to plan accordingly, but the Government will need to work hard because they must realise that after the cancellation of the CCS competition in 2016, their credibility is low.

I therefore ask the Government three questions: when will the decarbonisation plan be issued? Will the plan address the recommendations of the parliamentary advisory group on CCS set up by the previous Government? Will the Government seek ways of achieving all-party consensus on how decarbonisation is to be achieved?