UK Net Zero Emissions Target - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:39 pm on 12th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:39 pm, 12th June 2019

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I give the Statement on legislation I have tabled today to end our country’s contribution to global warming. There are many issues in this House on which we passionately disagree, but there are moments when we can act together to take the long-term decisions that will shape the future of the world that we leave to our children and grandchildren.

Just over a decade ago, I was the shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change when the right honourable Member for Doncaster North secured Royal Assent for the landmark 2008 Climate Change Act. I was proud on behalf of my party to speak in support of the first law of its kind in the world setting a legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 relative to 1990 levels.

Today, I am proud to stand on this side of the House to propose an amendment to the same Act which will enable this Parliament to make its own historic commitment to tackling climate change—a commitment that has been made possible by many years of hard work from Members across the House of Commons and beyond.

I want to thank in particular my noble friend Lord Deben for his leadership as chair of the independent Committee on Climate Change, the committee’s members and staff, and the honourable Member for Leeds West and my honourable friend the Member for Cheltenham for their recent Bills that have also paved the way for today’s legislation. I also pay tribute to the extraordinary work of my friend and ministerial colleague the right honourable Member for Devizes.

Today we can make the United Kingdom the first major economy in the world to commit to ending our contribution to global warming for ever. The United Kingdom was the home of the first industrial revolution. Furnaces and mills nestled in English dales, coal mines in the Welsh valleys, shipyards on the Clyde and in Belfast harbour. They powered the world into the industrial age.

We now stand on the threshold of a new fourth industrial revolution—one not powered by fossil fuels, but driven by green growth and clean, renewable technologies. Once again the United Kingdom and all its parts stand ready to lead the way. It is right that economies like ours, which made use of carbon-intensive technologies to start that first industrial revolution, should now blaze a trail in the fourth industrial revolution. Whether it be through our global offshore wind industry, our leadership on green finance or our unrivalled research base that is leading the charge on electric vehicles, we are showing that the economic benefits of cutting emissions can help to grow our economy.

Through our industrial strategy, the UK is already forging that future, leading the way in the development, manufacture and use of low-carbon technologies. By responding to the grand challenges that we have set—including on the future of mobility and clean growth—we are already creating thousands of new jobs right across the country. We are showing that there is no false choice between protecting our planet and improving our prosperity. We can and must do both.

Low-carbon technology and clean energy already contribute more than £44 billion to our economy every year. In 2017, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the UK reached their lowest levels since 1888. Last year, we secured more than half our electricity from low-carbon sources. Just last month, we set a new record for the number of days we have gone without burning any coal, since the world’s first public coal-fired power station opened in London in 1882. We have said that we will completely phase out unabated coal-fired power generation by 2025, ending the harmful impacts to our health and environment for good. Together with Canada, we launched the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which has now seen 80 national and local governments, alongside businesses and NGOs, join together in a pioneering commitment to phase out unabated coal.

If our actions are to be equal to the scale of the threat, nations across the world must strive to go further still. We in the United Kingdom must continue to fulfil our responsibility to lead the way. That is why in October, following the latest evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Government wrote to the independent Committee on Climate Change to seek its advice on our long-term emissions targets. Last month, it issued its response recommending that we legislate for the UK to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, taking into account our emissions from international air travel and shipping, so I am today laying a statutory instrument —in fact, it is already before the House—to amend the Climate Change Act 2008 with a new legally binding net zero emissions target by 2050. Ending our contribution to climate change can be the defining decision of our generation in fulfilling our responsibility to the next.

However, it will require the effort of a generation to deliver it, so I am grateful to all those business leaders, faith leaders, scientists and climate campaigners—and many Members of this House—who have written to the Prime Minister and me to express support for this landmark proposal. It will require government and political parties of all colours to work together with all sectors of business and society. We must fully engage young people too, which is why a new youth steering group, led by the British Youth Council, will be set up to advise government—for the first time giving young people the chance directly to shape our future climate policy.

The assessment of the independent Committee on Climate Change is based on the latest climate science. It drives our ability to drive action on the international stage and considers current consumer trends and technologies. The committee concluded that a net zero 2050 target is feasible, deliverable and can be met within the exact same cost envelope of 1% to 2% of GDP in 2050 as the 80 per cent target when it was set, such has been the power of innovation in reducing costs.

It is, however, absolutely right that we should also look carefully at how such costs are distributed in the longer term, as Professor Dieter Helm recommended in his report to the Government. The Government are also today accepting the recommendation of the independent Committee on Climate Change for the Treasury to lead a review into the costs of decarbonisation. This will consider how to achieve the transition to net zero in a way that works for households, businesses and public finances. It will also consider the implications for UK competitiveness.

In fulfilling the scale of the commitment we are making today, we will need technological and logistical changes in the way we use our land: for example, with more emphasis on carbon sequestration. We will need to redouble our determination to seize the opportunity to support investment in a range of new technologies, including in areas such as carbon capture, usage and storage, hydrogen and bioenergy. But as the committee also found, the foundations for these step changes are already in place, including in the industrial strategy and the clean growth strategy.

Indeed, there is no reason whatever to fear that fulfilling this commitment will do anything to limit our success in the years ahead—quite the reverse. In our industrial strategy, we have backed technology and innovation, including the UK’s biggest ever increase in public investment in research and development—the biggest that has ever taken place in the history of this country. The International Energy Agency report on the UK, published last week, found that:

‘The United Kingdom has shown real results in terms of boosting investment in renewables, reducing emissions and maintaining energy security’.

By doubling down on innovation in this way, we can expect to reap the benefits as we move forward toward meeting this target by 2050.

I believe that by leading the world and harnessing the power of innovative new technologies, we can seize the full economic potential of building a competitive and climate-neutral economy, but we do not intend for a moment for this to be a unilateral action. If we are to meet the challenge of climate change, we need international partners across the world to step up to this level of ambition. While we retain the ability in the Act to use international carbon credits that contribute to actions in other countries, we want them to take their own actions, and we do not intend to use them.

We will continue to drive this, including through our bid to host COP 26. As the IEA report found last week, the UK’s efforts are,

‘an inspiration for many countries who seek to design effective decarbonisation frameworks’.

Just as we have reviewed the 2008 Act in making this amendment today, so we will use the review mechanism contained in the Act within five years to confirm that other countries are taking similarly ambitious action, multiplying the effect of the UK’s lead and ensuring that our industries do not face unfair competition.

Finally, I do not believe that this commitment will negatively affect our day-to-day lives. No G20 country has decarbonised its economy as quickly as we have. Today, the UK is cleaner and greener, but no one can credibly suggest that our lives are worse as a result. Quite the reverse, we are richer in every sense of the word, for being cleaner, for wasting less and for cherishing, not squandering, our common inheritance.

We may account for less than 1% of the world’s population and around 1% of global carbon emissions, but by making this commitment we can lead by example. We can be the ambitious global Britain that we all want our country to be. We can seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle one of the biggest threats to humanity, making this a defining and unifying commitment of an otherwise riven and often irresolute Parliament—a commitment that is agreed by all, honoured by all and fulfilled by all.

In the first industrial revolution, we applied the powers of science and innovation to create new products and services in which this country came to excel, but which came at a cost to our environment. In this new industrial revolution, we can innovate and lead all over again, creating new markets and earning our way in the world in the decades ahead, but in a way that protects our planet for every generation that follows ours. When history is written, this Parliament can be remembered not only for the times it disagreed but for the moment when it forged this most significant agreement of all. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.