Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:26 pm on 2nd May 2019.

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Photo of The Marquess of Salisbury The Marquess of Salisbury Conservative 12:26 pm, 2nd May 2019

My Lords, the context of this debate has changed radically over the past few months. Whatever you think of the tactics of Extinction Rebellion, what has been created by its disruption has put the environment on the agenda in a new way and with greater urgency. The debate in the other place yesterday on a climate emergency was Parliament catching up with more than 40 councils in the UK that have decided to act in response to this climate emergency, including Wiltshire declaring that it will be carbon neutral by 2030. Two-thirds of Britons are now said to agree that the planet is in a climate emergency.

I welcome the publication of the climate change committee’s report. This is a creative opportunity and not only a moment of anxiety. We are in an industrial revolution. I was taken by Greta Thunberg’s comment:

“Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking. We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling”.

The Committee on Climate Change has set out the direction and detail of what it will do to respond to that challenge.

Net zero is possible and affordable. The cost of climate inaction will be more than that of achieving net zero. The business opportunities are considerable and we need to get on with it. This is urgent in the short term. The transition to net zero needs to be socially just and the costs fairly distributed. We should not use international offsets. The UK needs to continue to make firm commitments to developing countries to provide financial, technological and capacity-building support for their low-carbon development and resilience building. While 2050 is ambitious, 2045 could well be possible. A virtuous circle to spur greater action can be created by good policy.

In the faith communities of the United Kingdom there is a strong recognition of the need to change lifestyles and behaviours. We welcome the benefits that will follow, including cleaner air and warmer homes. We have already begun to embrace these changes, with thousands of places of worship powered by renewable energy and families committing to live simply and sustainably.

We need the greatest minds, hearts and souls committed to this task, with individuals, communities, businesses and government working together. I share the criticisms of others about some of the things the Government have or have not done, but the Government deserve to be encouraged for what they are doing in the right direction. The UK is giving significant leadership and has done so with a degree of cross-party consensus. That is important and I strongly support the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, about the need to build on and strengthen that if we are to face the greater urgency of the current challenge. There is so much more to be done.

Could we agree a legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2045? Such a target would require a cross-party approach. In the context of the climate emergency, some of the Government’s decisions are hard to comprehend. We need a much more coherent approach to energy. The continued subsidy of fossil fuels is now absurd and needs to end. The stimulus of renewable energy and greater efficiency is a priority. The inability to tax aviation fuel or to find a way to limit air travel is just plain stupid.

I recently asked the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, a Question about Woodhouse Colliery in Cumbria. He replied that the Government continue to be committed to the Paris agreement and referred to a request for advice from the Committee on Climate Change, which was published today. He went on:

Cumbria County Council took the decision to grant planning permission”,

and that it was its,

“responsibility to consider this application in its role as minerals planning authority, and the Council would have considered all relevant material considerations, including environmental impacts”.

That is odd when local decisions about fracking can be called in by the Government and resolved centrally. We need joined-up thinking and action, and we need policy formation that provides a framework in which individuals make good choices.

On the eve of the extinction rebellion protest, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, said that it is as if we have forgotten who we are and we need to rediscover our relationship with one another, God and the creation. To live in a revolution is hugely demanding. It will need the commitment of parliamentarians to engage strongly with our communities and establish creative policy frameworks that get the best out of people, not just because of anxiety but for the love of this wonderful creation. In this, the faith communities are a resource for prayer, thought and action.