Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:11 pm on 2nd May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee 2:11 pm, 2nd May 2019

My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of the Green Purposes Company that holds a special share in the Green Investment Bank. It is a delight to take part in a debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, given his key role in this House and in Parliament when the Climate Change Act was finally approved just over a decade ago in 2008. It makes me wonder whether determination and enthusiasm about this issue runs on a 10-year cycle. I hope that it does not and that it will be a bit more consistent over the next 10 years. I want also particularly to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Deben, on his work on the Committee on Climate Change. Along with a number of other noble Lords, I was privileged to be at the presentation of the report this morning. We were asked by the chief executive, Chris Stark, to read the whole document because it is comprehensive and it will do us good. That is quite a big ask for us these days, but it is good. Having said that, one of the things about this debate is that it generates passion, which there needs to be, along with some attitude. I was a little disappointed with the noble Lord, Lord Deben, when he attacked by my noble friend Lady Featherstone. Believe me: you are both on the same side on this issue, and I am sure that that is true for this subject more generally, as it was back in 2008.

It is important not only that we agree but that we call government to account, because that is what Parliament and this Chamber is partly about. It is impossible not to, as my noble friend did, mention the car crash at the time of regime change in 2015. Then, frankly, onshore wind disappeared, carbon capture and storage ended, and there was the vandalism of stopping the zero carbon homes initiative. Not only that, the Department of Energy and Climate Change was abolished, which illustrated all too well where we were. The person who instigated that is no longer in the Government and in fact is no longer in Parliament; he edits the local evening rag in London and is doing a great job there. But what that says to me is that if there is one thing the Government need do on climate change—be it the current Government or whatever we have in the future—it is to get the Treasury on board. We have to make sure that more than anyone else, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the standard bearer for climate change and this particular crisis. For the past four years we have been resting on our laurels because of those changes. While I do not for a moment question the authentic wish and determination of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, Claire Perry MP and Greg Clark MP to implement this policy, more needs to happen.

The outcome of resting on our laurels is that the Committee on Climate Change now says that we will not meet our fourth and fifth carbon budgets even as they are at the moment; that is, aiming for an 80% reduction by 2050. The fourth budget will start in 2023, which is only four years ahead. I have only one question for the Minister. I cannot ask him whether the Government will commit to meeting the aims set out in the report published this morning because that is not reasonable. The Government first have to consider it. However, can he tell us what actions the Government will take to meet their current commitments to the fourth and fifth carbon budgets? At the moment we have had a lot of very good and worthy pieces of paper. We have had a number of strategies, including the Resources and Waste Strategy, the Clean Growth Strategy, the 25-year environment plan, and the Road to Zero Strategy, but what is the outcome of those?

Let us look at some of the major emitting sectors. On power generation, yes, the past Administrations of this country have done very well. We now have a hole in terms of nuclear, given that the Toshiba and Hitachi stations do not look like they will go ahead. However, the one thing I give absolute credit to the Government for is carrying on with contracts for difference for offshore wind. A further 900 turbines are going to be delivered under the present plans. That is excellent but it is not going to do everything, so we need to improve in that area.

Heating, mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, is a big issue. We have got nowhere on that and we are still discussing it. I was delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, brought up transport. We are seeing emissions rise through use of white vans for mail order deliveries. While I have not looked at the sales, I have checked the stock of electric vehicles. What percentage of our total stock of motor transport is electric? It is 0.2%: one fifth of 1% of vehicles on our roads are electric, so we still have a huge distance to go. Sir John Armitt of the National Infrastructure Commission reminded us only last week that we absolutely must have a working infrastructure of charging points. That will give people the courage to buy electric vehicles because they will know that they can drive them anywhere. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said, we do not have that at the moment.

I turn to agriculture and land use. The NFU has now committed to zero carbon by 2040, although that is quite sketchy. But, again, we are seeing no real action. Our peatland areas are of concern to me. They act as one of our biggest carbon sinks, but we still have a voluntary code governing the use of peat in horticultural compost. That use is actually going up rather than coming down. We need mandatory controls on that. I am delighted that Claire Perry has said that we should have carbon capture and storage schemes operating by 2030, but we have already been told by other experts that as things stand in the sector, it will not happen commercially.

The new chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, Chris Stark, told us earlier that in the past the plan was to do all of these things serially, working through the major sectors one after the other. We now have to do them all at the same time and that is going to be a challenge, but it is doable with our current technology. I want to congratulate the Committee on Climate Change on not factoring in future technologies. The report is on existing technologies and, taking the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about bringing the date forward, I hope that, when that technology changes, the date is brought forward. It certainly needs to be.

I have perhaps sounded a little pessimistic. As I did in the debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, in the Moses Room only a month ago—which was rather less well attended—I will go through some of the huge benefits we get from meeting these targets. One is clean air, which is already a rising political issue. Another is better health. We are going to have higher and better-skilled employment and, I believe, strong and robust economic growth in this sector. We will also have a circular economy—it is not just about carbon emissions—in which we use the resources of our planet again, circulate them and make that sustainable. By following this new trajectory of zero carbon by 2050, we as a nation take back that leadership on climate change that I believe we have partly—only partly—lost over the last four years.

I have really enjoyed this debate. What I really like about it is the passion, the attitude and the fact that we are agreed; there are no climate change deniers here today, as the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, mentioned. We now know that this is the truth. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches might want to call the Government to account, but we are desperate to join Members of all other parties and none in this House to work towards the solution and achieve zero carbon emissions in 2050.