Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:21 pm on 2nd May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 2:21 pm, 2nd May 2019

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rooker for introducing this very timely debate and thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I congratulate him on his introduction and his choice of title:

“that this House takes note of Her Majesty’s Government’s legal responsibility”.

Against the background of recent events and demonstrations, it is time to show leadership and reset the parameters, taking legislative action in addition to resetting policy areas. I declare my interest in having five grandchildren.

Parliament is excellent at framing policies, debating issues and defining problems. However, there is a general lack of profile of this activity outside Parliament, such that to the public there seems to be a lack of activity, urgency and will. It is certainly not helped by trivialisation in the media, whereby today’s important report by the Committee on Climate Change is portrayed as merely calling for everyone to wear a sweater and turn down the heating. If only it were that simple. Dialogue with the public has certainly been helped by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove, admitting that not enough has been done, in contrast to the self-congratulatory stance recently taken by other members of the Government. By all means we will give credit where it is due—as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, admits—but let us get real. The climate emergency movement is to be congratulated on the way it has raised the profile of climate change and underlined its importance. Let us take up the challenge rather than argue about how to police such protests.

First, we need to get our figures right. Rather than self-congratulatory responses, let us look at whether Greta Thunberg is correct and include all forms of emissions, including aviation and shipping. Let us look at the built environment and at democratising responses so that everyone realises not only that they have responsibilities but that they must take individual action. All organisations must also undertake their own audits and put their own interpretations on how they must respond in their actions.

Let us look at the pace of change. The IPCC has given Governments its assessments of the science. The pace of change must quicken to bring about a new, green industrial revolution. In recognising and identifying what this information tells us, it is for Governments to reset legal targets for eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions within a demanding timeframe. Labour is taking the lead on this, and it is interesting that the Committee on Climate Change agrees in principle with the Labour target to achieve net zero emissions before 2050. This requires milestones to be set ahead to build in a pathway to survival and the elimination of threats. In recognition of the right culture that must be embedded throughout government, local authorities, organisations and individuals, these targets must apply across the board. For example, energy efficiency measures must include upgrading all buildings and households to an EPC band C standard by 2030 to undertake the demand-side response in addition to the decarbonisation of supply. The democratisation of response must be inclusive, so that Governments do not cut and curtail needed contributions from feed-in tariff schemes, necessary infrastructure development such as the continued successful rollout of smart meters, and other technological advances.

These targets will then set the parameters against which the Government and Parliament must develop sustainable, stable policies consistent with net zero emissions. The Liberal Democrats are certainly right to point out the policy reversals following the coalition’s end that mean the carbon budgets could well be missed. Yes, assumptions will need to be made, such as that nuclear new build will materialise to de-risk the extension of old, obsolete power stations. Yes, power margin tolerance must be expanded by reducing demand through energy efficiencies. Yes, developments are needed in battery technology and storage to cope with the divergence in responses to weather patterns as regards whether the UK is experiencing a long high-pressure period. Yes, more difficult solutions are needed in transport and heat, so that having eliminated coal—with the exception, at the moment, of China—we now turn with urgency towards eliminating oil and diesel.

Contributions from noble Lords have highlighted other important areas such as sea levels, farming, soils and water, hydrogen, afforestation and rewilding, investment funds, biodiversity and air, international effects, offsets and actions and social justice. All these issues and options for change must be identified, pursued and communicated. The Government, Parliament and public life have the necessary forums and structures to be utilised: the all-party groups, the National Infrastructure Commission, the various committees on climate change, the Environmental Audit Committee and universities’ academic modelling activities, abilities and research, with parallels in the devolved Administrations.

It needs to be recognised that we have not developed all the tools we may need. We need to revisit carbon capture and storage; tidal power still needs to be trialled and the Swansea tidal scheme reassessed; flexibility and its costs will need to be included. Naturally, the costs of these transformations need to be borne in mind. Putting all these costs at the door of consumers and households as a way to avoid action and responsibility needs to be examined—not to overburden consumers but to reassess the balance with taxation. Making consumers pay is regressive. If ever there was a creative accountancy scheme it was the Government’s levy control framework. The costs of delay and deferment of action must be recognised.

Can the Minister map out the Government’s response? Will the Government update the Climate Change Act to incorporate the new targets from the Committee on Climate Change? Will the Government use the forthcoming environment Bill to set out new milestones and necessary action? Will the Government broaden the forthcoming White Paper on energy to set out the wide-response policy developments needed? The Minister today needs to start the answers, and the Government need to use the vehicles to answer pertinent questions such as: why are emission reductions diminishing year on year, falling by only 1.5% last year against 3.2% the year before and higher percentages in earlier years? Can the Minster explain why the UK’s emissions from industrial processes, waste management and even agriculture rose between 2016 and 2017? Can he answer how the Government will meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets? Can he explain why emissions in the transport sector are higher than they were in 2010; why electric vehicles represented only 2.7% of new car sales in the UK in 2018 against, for example, a high 31% in Norway; and does he take responsibility for the UK’s sluggish transformation of the transport sector?

This debate has highlighted how we need to respond. It is a challenge to examine every aspect of everyday activity, and the Government need to reorganise and recognise the legal responsibilities that cannot be avoided.