Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 2nd May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 2:30 pm, 2nd May 2019

My Lords, like all other noble Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for securing a timely and high-quality debate. I also thank him, as always, for his positive tone. He perhaps does not like me saying that, but on this occasion he was positive—I should probably say that he does not always want to be positive on other issues.

All noble Lords have made clear the importance of working together and, looking back on the history of these matters, I am reminded that that is what we have done. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, mentioned my friend Lady Thatcher, who made a great speech in 1989—a time when my noble friend Lord Deben was in government and possibly even wrote the speech—the first from a Government leader warning the rest of the world about the dangers facing us.

In talking about the history, it is worth mentioning the cross-party support for the Climate Change Act 2008, which the Labour Government took through. As the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, will remember, it had support from the Opposition. We recommended amendments increasing the targets, which the then Government accepted and we all took forward. This Government are well aware of their responsibilities under the Climate Change Act and, however much the noble Lord worries about the fact that no Parliament can bind its successor, he knows that we have followed that Climate Change Act and stuck with it. We have not sought to amend it downwards, if I can put it that way, and want to continue with it. It is important for us to remind ourselves of the history of what we have achieved under the coalition Government and the current Government, and what we are still achieving.

That legislative framework, with its ambitious package of policy proposals, has been matched by a vigorous programme of international action as we work and invest to help other countries mitigate and adapt to—I am grateful for what the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, said about adaptation—the impacts of climate change. I hope that, as a result, this country can offer leadership and encouragement to the rest of the world. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, asked for action. There has been and will continue to be action on what we can achieve domestically and what we can do in the wider world, either by our individual actions or through the process of offering encouragement.

As the House will be aware, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will publish an energy White Paper in the summer which will seek to address the challenges arising from the transformation of the energy system over the coming decades. That will be important, as many of my noble friends have pointed out; my noble friend Lady Altmann referred to electric cars and the strains they will put on the electricity system. The White Paper will take a long-term view of the energy requirements—up to 2050—consistent with what the Government wish to do on climate change.

We are already seeing the impacts of climate change around the world. Our actions have been determined but we know that more is needed. Last October, the IPCC published its special report on global warming. Its conclusions were stark. Our current rate of warming could see us reaching 1.5 degrees as soon as 2030, which would present many of the threats highlighted by noble Lords in the debate, including to food security, water supply, infrastructure, biodiversity and the ecosystem as a whole.

The science is now clear, and we are witnessing a groundswell of public concern, to which noble Lords have referred. There is an increased sense of urgency and more vocal demands for action. That is why we are seeking to a play a role, both domestically and internationally. I shall address both roles in turn, starting with the domestic sector.

Our legally binding carbon targets, set by our world-leading Climate Change Act, are among the most stretching in the world. We have achieved a great deal since 1990: we have reduced emissions by 42%, while growing our economy by 72%. Doubts have been expressed—first, by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and then by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others—about the system of accounting. We have to accept the system that we have, because we cannot change it unless we have the agreement of others. Perhaps that could come in the future but, at the moment, under the current system of accounting, we have reduced our emissions by 42% and, importantly, increased our economy by 72%.

At this point, it is worth looking at the opportunities presented by the growing green economy. Some 400,000 jobs have been created, and we estimate that that figure could rise to 2 million by 2030. The sector is growing faster than the main economy—up by some 11% per annum—with exports estimated to be worth between £60 billion and £170 billion by 2030. The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, referred to opportunities at a local level for areas such as the Humber and what could be—and I am sure will be—achieved there. If the noble Lord were to invite me to the Humber and show me what it is doing, its local industrial strategy and opportunities, I would be more than happy to go. However, one should also look at other opportunities, and I will refer to those in due course.

In 2017, we published our clean growth strategy, setting out our policies and proposals for further decarbonising the economy in the 2020s and the illustrative pathways out to 2050. The strategy also sets out our investment of more than £2.5 billion to support low-carbon innovation from 2015 to 2021, as we seek to realise the opportunities—I again stress the word “opportunities”—of the global shift to a low-carbon economy. I shall give just a few examples of the action we are taking.

In power, 50% of our electricity now comes from clean sources—I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for reminding the House of this—and by 2025 we will have phased out coal from our energy mix in its entirety. As a Cumbrian, I shall pause here, because I see the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in his place. Since there was some mention of consent being granted for a new deep mine in Cumbria, I will say that that decision has been made. However, it is not coal for energy consumption but coking coal for the production of steel. At this stage, we have no other way of producing steel without using that coal. The alternative would be to import it across the seas from other, possibly rather dubious, parts of the world. I think it is better to take it out of the mines in that mining area. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, does not agree with me.

On 7 March, we published our offshore wind sector deal. It pledges that 30% of British electricity can come from offshore wind by 2030. We have seen dramatic growth in the use of offshore wind and, it is worth reminding the House, an enormous reduction in the cost of offshore wind. We have seen the same in solar power as a result of its use, with enormous reductions in the cost. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked us to continue to look at tidal and mentioned the Swansea Bay barrage scheme, which we rejected on the grounds of cost. We will of course go on looking at issues such as tidal, but I do not think there are likely to be opportunities for dramatic reductions in costs for schemes of that sort because they are largely about putting large amounts of concrete—a rather carbon-producing product—into the ground, whereas with offshore wind and solar there are genuine opportunities to reduce costs, and we will continue to do so.

There are other renewables that we will continue to look at and research. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, that I was very interested to see old mine shafts in a mining park in Glasgow being used as heat pumps. I do not understand the science of it—the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will no doubt help me out on this—but it is wonderful to see that old mining areas can possibly make a contribution to renewables by making use of those old mine shafts and what goes with them.

There are all sorts of other things that we can and will be doing in research into renewal. One thinks of all the work that goes into storage. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, touched on the production of hydrogen from nuclear power stations. One can also look at the production of hydrogen from wind farms—I have seen it in Orkney—that can be used in transport or other things. We can do research into artificial intelligence and other such things to improve the smartness of our grid. All this can improve energy efficiency, make better use of power and reduce our consumption. I could go on, but I would be in danger of running out of time.

I now turn briefly to my noble friend’s report. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Deben and the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for all the work they have done in producing it. It is a great, big, square book. As they said, there are 600 pages, and I make an honest confession that I have not even opened it yet, because I got it only this morning. However, it will be studied in the department by Ministers in due course. I believe we acted rightly and quickly in commissioning that report from independent experts from my noble friend’s committee to provide that advice. It has come at a crucial moment and will be worth serious study. I guarantee that we will study it and I guarantee my noble friend that, in due course, my right honourable friends the Secretary of State and Claire Perry will respond to it and take it forward in the most appropriate way.

I said that I want to talk about what we are doing domestically, but it is also very important that I now turn to our role internationally, what we are doing and how important it is. The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, talked about that from his experience. We can do an awful lot not only by example—I refer to the history—in the way we have shown how individual countries can cut their emissions and at the same time grow economically. We can show that since we have possibly the best record in the G7 or even the G20 since 1990, but obviously we can do more and we will continue to do more. We have offered to host COP 26 next year, which will be a pivotal global moment to take stock, encourage global ambition and prepare the ground for further action.

We know, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, said, that climate change is a risk multiplier with the potential to exacerbate global instability through resource stress, population displacement and the impact on trade and global economic and food security. For too many people, climate change is already a matter of life and death. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, stressed this. Millions around the world have been left without homes or livelihoods, as we have seen recently following the cyclone that affected Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. We are promoting climate security internationally and are helping Governments build resilience while reducing emissions. Through the UK-led Centre for Global Disaster Protection, we are working with developing countries to increase their preparedness for and resilience to climate change and natural disasters. Through our world-leading international climate finance, we are supporting cleaner economic growth and so far have helped some 17 million people with improved access to clean energy and some 47 million people to cope with the effects of climate change. Between 2016 and 2021, we are providing at least £5.8 billion in climate finance and are aiming to spend half of that on building resilience and half on emissions reduction.

I shall say a word or two about that. I remind the House—I think this was a question from the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann—that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced only yesterday three major new aid programmes to help farmers across Africa and in southern Africa affected by climate change and to boost climate resilience in Ethiopia. We are also playing a key role in the commitment from developed countries to mobilise $100 billion a year in climate finance from 2020. The UK will co-lead efforts on resilience and adaptation ahead of the United Nations Secretary-General’s climate action summit in September. Investing in resilience not only reduces the risk to lives and livelihoods but is the opportunity we talked about to create jobs, spread prosperity, accelerate development and enhance security.

I believe this has been a good debate and that—