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Green Finance - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:44 pm on 18th January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat 4:44 pm, 18th January 2018

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Fox. He is well known to be an expert on this subject. Indeed, to have four Members from the Liberal Democrat group speaking on this subject today, out of a total of nine or 10 for the whole debate, is an impressive total. It shows the expertise in that group on this subject. I deliberately thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his excellent contribution—I hope not to embarrass him by praising him too much—in opening and taking the initiative on this debate. It is such an important subject.

The expertise shown so far includes the very interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Barker of Battle. I agreed with him so much and he indicated, quite rightly, that the Government are now committed to this whole matter, whereas there were signs a few years ago that they were perhaps a bit slow in responding. The exception to that expertise in all the speeches so far is that now the quality goes down, because I am not the expert. I deliberately do not have a written text today because I want to pick up some of the points that came through in the debate. I prefer that because it becomes more of a real debate rather than just a series of conference speeches made on machine tools, following one after another.

I mention the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, again because, in addition to his expertise, there is what he did during his long and distinguished chairmanship of the committee on this subject. We first met when he was Chief Whip for the Lib Dem section in the European Parliament. He has focused on this as one of his leading subjects and we are grateful for that. I hope your Lordships in this debate will forgive me if I mention again a terrible joke—I have not used it for a long, long time. Many years ago there was a human cannonball in a circus in Britain who was injured in an accident. Fortunately, it was not a serious injury but the ringmaster wrung his hands in grief and said, “It’ll take us a long time to find another man of the same calibre”. I am embarrassing the noble Lord by insisting that there is a link from that to the quality of his contribution but it is true, and we thank him and the other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, was right to question whether there are still areas of complacency around this subject. Those areas are found in some governmental circles. I do not include the Minister who will reply today; I am sure he is fully committed, psychologically and in detail, to this new policy that the Government are developing for the sake of this country and our friends in the rest of the world. But there is still a problem with these matters, which I noticed was indicated even today in two contrasting points in the press. I refer to the quality newspapers—I include the Times in that, which I hope is not incorrect and rash.

The first article I should like to mention was on page 6 of the Guardian today. It referred to how much damage was being done, in Europe and Britain, by the huge increase in the purchase and use of microwave ovens. The figure given was that it was the equivalent of 7 million cars unloading carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The article went on to say that this trend in the sales of microwave ovens has become a brand-new feature of modern life in households in the European Union and here, as opposed to the old, traditional oven, which is still used in some circumstances. That it is now a major threat and causing serious concern in those expert circles which follow these trends.

In contrast, however, on page 6 of the Times today there was an interesting reference to a study published in the journal Nature, which,

“refines previous estimates of how sensitive the climate is to carbon dioxide by considering the historical variability in global temperature. It focuses on the key measure, known as equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), which is used by climate scientists to

The suggestion of this study—again, I quote from paragraph 2 of the newspaper article—is that,

“the target set in the Paris Agreement on climate change of limiting the average temperature increase to well below 2C is more achievable than some scientists have claimed”.

That is welcome news indeed, although, as someone has mentioned, there is a stricter target for island territories. That has, I hope, focused on reassuring people that this is a serious programme between countries and internationally, and between allies and friends and within the European Union—of which we are still, thank goodness, a member—and that we are now co-operating, following the lead in Paris. I live in France as well, and I remember, when the green sovereign French bond was launched, how excited people in France were by that first achievement. I echo the views of others in this debate who urged us to go down the same route. I hope the Minister will deal with that subject today.

Therefore, not all is depressing, but equally, not all is very reassuring in the total picture. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fox, when he said what a great mistake it was to sell the Green Investment Bank in that way. I think we will come to regret that later. As far as I know, the aim is really the usual fund-raising by the UK Treasury, which is, sadly, not known for its skilful management of the British economy over many decades. That is the trouble with the emphasis that we keep making. Of course, debt and debt governance for all Governments in the western world and elsewhere is a major preoccupation. I understand that.

If you take the US figures, they are now so high and unsustainable, but cannot in any way be reduced practically, that you end up feeling in despair when you think of what it is trying to do. I agree that the US is doing some things on the green investment strategy front, but it does not have enough resources. The United States defence budget is 10 times the size of Russia’s. There is not much green consequence or result in that defence spending in the United States and overseas. Another reason for us to work with our European partners on these matters is the EIB, which has been mentioned by a number of speakers. I agree entirely that it is important for us to continue that relationship if we can. I personally think that we should eventually reverse the decision to leave the EU through a democratic vote, in whatever form it might take. The whole thing is a nightmare proposition and more and more members of the British public will come to realise that.

About six years ago, we were all avidly reading the book The Burning Question by two very eminent scientists. The message there was to keep fossil fuels in the ground. That is a tall ask for the practical exigencies of the international, commercial and economic community and energy companies, but it is none the less something that should be our target for the future. We now have the good side of things developing: wind power, electric cars, solar panels and the rest of it. However, is it enough if the Government do not take the lead, as elsewhere, and with our EU partners in promoting these objectives? I thank the right reverend Prelate for his very important remarks: they showed his remarkable expertise on this subject. We are grateful for what the Church has been doing. We look forward to the Minister’s reply—with his history of many portfolios over the years and his skills and abilities—to give us a reassuring answer in this important debate today.