Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:04 pm on 2nd May 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Featherstone Baroness Featherstone Liberal Democrat 12:04 pm, 2nd May 2019

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. He put his finger on the pulse by saying that he expects that we will all make similar speeches, but it is the action that must take place that will be the judge of what we say today. For three years, before I stepped down, I stood here as the Lib Dem spokesperson for energy and climate change, and I said over and over again that what shocked me most when I came into post was the utter lack of urgency in the Government’s approach to action on climate change. I said over and over that we needed to go further and faster, and I often said that the Government appeared to think that signing the Paris agreement was an end in itself rather than a beginning.

This Government, without the strong leadership on this agenda that we had previously, during both the Labour Government, with the Climate Change Act, and the coalition, with Ed Davey and Chris Huhne as Liberal Democrat Secretaries of State and the huge advances we made under their stewardship, have pulled the rug from under that agenda. By the end of the coalition, we had made Britain the fastest-growing green economy in Europe. The amount of electricity from renewables had more than trebled. We had set up the Green Investment Bank, which up to the change in government had helped to fund £11 billion-worth of green infrastructure projects. In 2015 we had a record-breaking year, with millions of pounds poured into solar and wind energy and more homes powered by nature than ever before.

None of those things would have happened with a Conservative-only Government. We knew that at the time, but in the first two years of a Conservative-only Government we had a shocking list of anti-green measures. I shall not repeat the whole litany, your Lordships will be relieved to hear, but there was the precipitous cutting of subsidies for solar and wind, banning onshore wind, causing thousands of job losses in solar, scrapping the original £1 billion carbon capture and storage project, cutting the renewable heat incentive, pushing ahead with fracking, abandoning the zero-carbon homes policy—which was crazy—and on and on.

I am sure that when the Minister answers this debate, he will list what the Government have done, point to the industrial strategy and claim that they are totally committed but, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said, actions will speak much louder than words. We have real enemies out there: climate change deniers and the massive vested interests of giant oil companies. We have a climate change denier in the White House. Make no mistake, other countries will use Trump as an excuse not to act themselves. The wonderful, hard-won Paris agreement, which gave us so much hope when it presented a united global ambition to tackle climate change is now under threat, and the global consensus is in danger of unravelling.

The United Kingdom should be leading the charge to net-zero carbon. Thankfully, along came Extinction Rebellion and we have a moment of opportunity, but it really should not be necessary to bring London to a halt. We have made it clear what needs doing: we need action. I commissioned work to find a road map for what needed to be done to get us to net-zero carbon by 2050, because it is clear that the current 80% target, even if we were to meet it, which looks unlikely, would not deliver the Paris agreement. Culmer Raphael and Iken Associates, the consultants I commissioned, produced a report that I know the Minister has read; he has quoted its title, A Vision for Britain: Clean, Green and Carbon Free, and content back to me from the Dispatch Box. A huge number of experts in the field were consulted and gave their time and effort.

Even if we manage to do everything in that report, we get to 93% by 2050. Yes, we can make it to zero carbon with that extra 7% reached by technological advancement, but we now need even more radical action. What would it take? I would say close your eyes, my Lords, but that is always a bit dangerous here. Just imagine, as the ordinary citizen leaves his or her home in the morning, the commute to work has changed radically. In large urban centres, there are car pools of electric cars that anyone can rent, and rental, club and car-share ownership schemes have proliferated. People still occasionally own cars, but they use them far less and all cars are electric, with charging facilities available from most lampposts. Autonomous cars pick up and drop off from house to office and vice versa. Buses, tubes and trains are no longer the cattle trucks of yesteryear as people time-share slots to share familial roles, with many couples and non-couples sharing the working day. The third runway at Heathrow Airport never happened. A national anti-obesity campaign got everyone to get off their bus or Tube one stop early and walk, and separated cycle lanes are now in place on almost all major routes.

Houses are carbon-neutral. Gas-fired central heating and cooking now comes from green gas, hydrogen or green electricity. Renewable energy is the standard form of energy generation: solar, wind, geothermal, tidal and hydro dominate the market and prices have fallen dramatically over the past two decades and six tidal lagoons are now in operation. Hinkley Point was built but with vast public subsidy and coming in at three times the original price. It was, however, to be the last of its kind because before its construction was completed, nuclear was completely overtaken by massive changes in the energy market. Urgent and huge uplift in the provision of interconnectors took place in 2019. Fracking turned out to be a disastrous waste of time; the big companies abandoned their efforts as the geology proved too complicated and costly, not to mention the years tied up in local objections. People finally gained local control of the supply and delivery of their energy, with every household having its own battery storage and charging facility.

It has been years since carbon was allowed to get into the atmosphere as the technology of the 2020s saw capture and storage reach maturity. The exponential growth in renewables created an economic boom of huge proportions, and we are well on course to deliver the maximum rise of 1.5% in temperature. Industry cleaned up its act. We financed the transition in agriculture and land-use change, and we have a vibrant and successful circular economy. The financial institutions of our country changed the investment rules and regulations so that benefits to the planet and mankind were equally regarded alongside fiduciary duty. Exponential perpetual growth was frowned on as it was recognised that the world’s resources are finite. People self-regulated their eating of meat and accepted their ration of flying hours per year until the day that aviation became renewable. That is what it will take.

I like to think that the publication of our report helped to provoke Claire Perry into asking the Committee on Climate Change to look at zero carbon by 2050. This morning, the CCC launched its wonderful and extensive report on net zero. Britain’s future prosperity depends on developing an innovative, entrepreneurial, internationally open and environmentally sustainable economy where the benefits are shared fairly across the country and with future generations. This is indeed a climate emergency.