My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for securing this timely climate change debate today. It is an opportunity for us all to focus on and support a strong, determined, non-political pathway for change. As public concern about climate change has increased to levels we have never witnessed before, that concern must be addressed. Climate change has moved to the top of the political agenda, resulting in an urgent need to instigate more decisive action for future generations. Yesterday, the other House acknowledged the climate change plan, which could make Britain the first major economy to reduce its carbon footprint to zero. That is a dramatic change from the current target of a reduction of 80% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.
The UK has become the biggest user of offshore wind energy farms. They have grown up in a relatively short number of years as costs have fallen significantly, with further enhancement to develop the so-called carbon capture utilisation and storage facilities. To continue reducing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and help to drive net emissions to zero, the UK needs to build a number of CCUS plants to hold those millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, that the Humber region is host to one of the UK’s biggest on and offshore wind farms in the UK.
On the face of it, we have a colossal amount to do. The people expect more in the agenda of addressing change. We need to tackle the growing environmental crisis now, because the longer we delay, the harder it will be. Last year, 6.8 tonnes of greenhouse gases were emitted into the atmosphere per head of the UK population, so we must look at the mechanism to bring that down to zero. Everything must be included in the mix for those massive future changes: transport, retrofitting of housing, replacing boilers with heat pumps, and major changes in food production, to name a few. As climate change takes hold, we are now seeing increasing storms, rising sea levels, disappearing coral reefs, catastrophic flooding and ice caps melting. Current temperatures are on course to rise by 3 degrees centigrade, leading to devastating heatwaves and raising the risk of large-scale, irreversible impacts.
Five years ago, nearly 63% of UK electricity was generated by coal or oil, compared to 15% by renewables. Last year, the equation had changed from 63% fossil fuels to 44%, and the proportion for renewables had risen from 15% to nearly 32%. That is a good marker, and 2018 was the greenest and cleanest year.
I mentioned food production. Management practice must improve in agriculture, helping to reduce carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, which will have an impact on future diet requirements and the costs associated. We have also seen a loss of crop yields, wildlife and wetlands. Our countryside has a large part to play in climate change, and we must use it to the best advantage: for example, by freeing up land to plant trees, and looking to increase forest cover from 13% to 17%. Miles of hedgerows have been pulled out, so we need those reinstated. Shrubs can absorb carbon dioxide, as well as enhancing the environment. Nature is waiting. What is the latest number of tree-planting schemes started, completed or in the pipeline?
I am pleased that the UK is leading by example in reducing annual emissions by more than 43% since 1990, but much more is needed. Time is of the essence. As my noble friend Lord Deben said, we cannot hang about too long; we must get a move on to reach the goal of a zero-emission target, enabling our future economy to be cleaner, smarter and more efficient for our future generations.
As we say, we are all in this together: people young and old want to play some part in driving that challenge for change, and in recent days we have seen a call for action. There is no doubt that climate change is the most profound environmental challenge facing the world today. We have a target date for net zero of 2050, but we must have well-designed policies to reach that goal, and climate change must be placed at the heart of our economic agenda.