Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:47 pm on 2nd May 2019.

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Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 12:47 pm, 2nd May 2019

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on securing this debate. I declare my interests as set out in the register, in particular my work with the Water Industry Commission for Scotland, which is the water regulator for Scotland. I also co-chair the All-Party Group on Water.

In setting the scene for this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, called on the Government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and respond to the challenge of climate change. My noble friend Lord Deben referred to the role of the Paris Agreement and how to achieve what was agreed there through today’s report from the Committee on Climate Change. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is absolutely right to press for greater international commitments to match what has been achieved by the UK and Europe. I am pleased that he singled out the fact that India and China are the enemies of climate change prevention and that there are climate change deniers in the US.

Successive UK Governments have been pioneers in this regard. The UK was the first country to set a science-led, long-term and legally binding greenhouse gas emission target. We have to accept that science changes; the science has already moved on. Every household is playing its part, with the emphasis on renewables and clean energy technologies. Undoubtedly, this has led to higher fuel energy bills.

In 2018, renewables contributed 37% of the UK’s electricity supply and the UK has already reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 25% since 2010. The UK is also one of the largest international donors of overseas development assistance and we are thereby contributing to helping developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. However, echoing the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, I regret the Government’s focus on and obsession with fracking. There can be no surer way to increase our greenhouse gas emissions. I hope we will turn the corner and put an end to future prospects for fracking.

The conclusions of the climate change committee today are welcome. I congratulate it and its chair, my noble friend Lord Deben, on setting out the framework going forward. I have one question for my noble friend: why is it always those living in the south of England, in largely arable areas, who tell us to produce less meat and turn our heating down? Having represented upland farmers for 18 years in the other place, I accept that 65% of our land is best suited to grazing animals. I welcome the fact that farmers are committed to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across England and Wales by 2040. There are always smarter and more environmentally sustainable ways to farm and farmers are rising to that challenge.

Any proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will impact on British business, British consumers and British competitiveness. That is why I believe any action should be based on a multilateral, international approach—on initiatives such as that put forward on the eve of the forthcoming Future of Europe summit, to be held on 9 May, in a letter from 50 CEOs of businesses based across the European Union, calling for the adoption of the European Commission’s vision, A Clean Planet for All. The letter from these top European businesses calls on Heads of State and Government to endorse an EU strategy for climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest. I believe we would do best to support that, whether we remain in the European Union or following Brexit. We should follow their lead.

Others have spoken of the great challenge of replacing petrol and diesel vehicles with electric ones, and the need to make air and sea transport more environmentally friendly. Like the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, I am fully signed up to what we have achieved in North Yorkshire by planting more trees. I direct the Minister to the Slowing the Flow at Pickering pilot project, where, by planting trees, making dams and creating peat bogs that take some 200 years to build, we have made a flood defence scheme at the same time. There is no better way to capture and store carbon than planting these trees.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that we must push for better catchment management and ensure that any new houses are built in appropriate places, not on functional flood plains, with proper infrastructure for resilience—in particular, a sustainable water supply with freshwater in and wastewater out.

I end with two questions to the Minister. In encouraging electric-powered vehicles, from which sources of energy will this electricity be supplied? If we are all agreed, which has been the main thrust of the debate so far—politicians, industry, farmers and even schoolchildren—will the Government ensure that we deliver on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and address the challenge of climate change, and that we do so by seeking international action?