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Amendment to the Motion

Part of Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019 - Motion to Approve – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 26th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative 4:45 pm, 26th June 2019

My Lords, the issue before us has been debated often before, but I think it would be helpful if I were to describe how the process works. First, I want to go back to the Climate Change Act and remind the House that it was entirely a cross-party decision. It was proposed by all the Opposition parties. It was prepared by the Conservatives with Friends of the Earth, and it was supported by the Liberal Democrats, the nationalist parties and the independents—yet it was not pushed in that way. It was pressed upon the Government that the Government should introduce it in order that it would be a totally cross-party decision. My predecessor, the first chairman of the climate change committee—I declare my interest as chairman—was manifestly independent and able to mirror that cross-party agreement. There were a few who voted against it. My noble friend Lord Lilley has been opposed to it ever since then. I venture to say that he was wrong then and he is wrong now, but that it not the point. He is in a minority now, as he was then.

The reason we passed that Act was that we saw that climate change was the biggest material threat to us that existed. Now fast forward to Paris. It is worth reminding the House that the agreement in Paris is, of course, not perfect, and many countries will not do what they promised to do. Indeed, if they all do what they promised to do, it is still not enough; they will have to do more. However, the fact is that it was a unique moment in the sense that every country in the world agreed to do something together. That has never happened before and is illustrative of the fact that the world understands just how serious the issue is. Those who seek to hold Britain back must remember that this is a decision which the world has made and is continuing to make a reality. I will come in a moment to the question of the distinction between production and consumption emissions, but it is worth starting by saying that we agreed on measuring production emissions because those are the emissions that we can control; they are the things that we can make sure we reduce and, if we concentrate on them, we will not double count.

We had to put Paris into operation. In the cross-party balance that I shall seek to have, I must start by congratulating the Government on being the first Government who asked for the means whereby we could meet our Paris obligations. It was that request which the climate change committee sought to answer in its recent report. I was unhappy to hear those who said that the report was uncosted and unprepared. It has been recognised universally as the most seriously presented, costed effort to show the answer to the three main questions we were asked. The first was: was it necessary to do this and, if it were necessary, should it cover carbon and greenhouse gases as a whole or just carbon? The second big question was: was it possible? The third big question was: by when was it possible? The committee approached these questions by using all the information that was available, by seeking to fill in gaps where there were gaps and by seeking the best information and the best scientific base in order to fill those gaps.

Those who do not accept what we are doing today have a responsibility to argue the case, the details and the facts, and to show the science which they claim argues a case different from this one. I put it to your Lordships that this is by far the best document that has been produced, making the best attempt to look at how to face this real international emergency, and that so far no one has made any basic statement, backed by facts and science, that gainsays the argument that we can do it, that we have to do it and that we can do it by 2050.

Therefore, I thank the Government for asking the question. I remind the House of what I said in another debate: if you ask the question and you get the answer, you cannot ignore it. The problem with knowing is that it brings with it responsibility. It is the story of Genesis: once you know, you cannot avoid responsibility. Mr Trump does not want to know because, if you know, you have to act.

I put it to the House that those who deny the way in which we propose to act, feeling that it is impossible, have to explain to the House why this issue is not as serious as we think it is. It is no good just saying, “Well, it’s going to be expensive and difficult, and really we don’t much like it”. They have to explain why they believe that climate change is not the threat that it is and that ignoring it will not risk what most of us believe we risk.

I remember a comment made by my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones. He said to a climate change sceptic, “If we do what the climate change committee says and it turns out not to be right, we will have cleaned up the world in a remarkable way. It might have cost us a lot of money but, on the other hand, if we do what the sceptics say and they turn out to be wrong, we will have buggered up the planet”. That is the fundamental choice that we are making. The Government have accepted that that means that we have to set this zero target, and it is of course a target for all greenhouse gases and not just carbon. Those of us on the committee came to the decision that that was so, and we have argued that case on some very—if I dare use the word—conservative lines.

First, we have assumed, and argued on the basis, that we have only the technology that we have; we have not taken a sort of Bush-ite attitude that something will turn up. Secondly, we have not taken into account the extra advantages that one could argue would come in other areas, such as health. We have not done that because we felt that we should put the most conservative —in other words, the most expensive—facts before the nation, as that was the right way to do it. We have also made sure that we have not included any major estimate of the reduction in costs, even though the costs of what we are doing have fallen dramatically in the past. We did all those things because we believed that that was the way to make the nation accept that this was possible, necessary and affordable, even if we put the highest price tag on it, as we should.

We are disappointed, I have to say, that those who appear not to have done the mathematics have produced new figures, some entirely out of the blue and some based on absolute nonsense. The Global Warming Policy Foundation talked about a figure reached by suggesting that to retrofit every house in Britain would cost £150,000 per house. Of course, you can produce any old figure you like if you start with rubbish figures in the first place.

I am sorry to see that a letter was sent to your Lordships by the president, I think, of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which says, first, that we are presenting a new Bill. There is no new Bill here. We are saying that the amount of money, of between 0.5% and 2% of GNP—which Parliament had already voted for to cover the 60% reduction in emissions that we first thought we had to achieve, then voted for again to cover the 80% reduction—is the same amount that will be necessary to reach net zero. The reason for this is that we have been able to meet the 80% reduction at a much lower price than we expected, not least because of a reduction in the cost of offshore wind and the like. I remind the Government, to whom I have one or two things to say, that offshore wind became as cheap as it did because the Government intervened, providing the possibility of the money to create a market, which meant that offshore wind dropped in price. This is not just a matter of leaving the market to act, but of creating the circumstances in which the market can act.

I point out to the House that the figures in this document—this letter written to everyone—are just not true. The true figures are those that have been worked on for months by the best brains we could put together. Those are the figures on which we should base our future, not figures that have always been wrong. The Global Warming Policy Foundation has been wrong on every single figure it has put forward; there is no reason now to accept what it says. I say to my noble friend that when you agree to a net zero target, agree that it will be statutorily enforceable, and agree that you will commit to it, it is necessary to provide the means of doing so. The Government have not done that. As we said in our last annual report, the Government, although on course to meet the third carbon budget, are not on course to meet the fourth or fifth carbon budgets. Unless they do so, they cannot meet the net zero target we are today putting into law.

The whole idea of having budgets was that nobody would put off until tomorrow that which they should do today; that is why we have budgets. If we did not, as we perfectly well know, every Government—Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative or any party you like—would always find a good reason for not doing today what they ought. The targets in those budgets set a mechanism by which we have to do what is needed now. If we do not meet those targets, we are laying on the shoulders of future generations that which we should carry. We have to carry it. The words of these young children remind us that it is their future we have in our hands. Many of us in this House will not be here in 2050, but what happens in 2050 will affect all those we love most. The idea that we should betray them by not doing what we know we should is unacceptable.

The Government have to recognise that they are behindhand on their decisions about transport. The year 2040 is far too late; we cannot do it on that basis. It must be at least 2035 and, in my view, 2030 ought to be our target because I do not see how otherwise we give ourselves enough elbow room to reach it. The Government have not faced up to the problems of heating, which is a real issue.

The area where the Government are most to blame is of course their refusal to improve the regulations for housebuilding, which means that every year we are building more than 200,000 houses that do not meet the requirements and will have to be changed in future. I am afraid I have used an improper word about this before but we are building crap houses and putting the cost on the shoulders of the people who buy them. That is unacceptable and the Government could change it tomorrow. If they do, though, let us make sure that means that it starts immediately and we do not excuse people who have planning permission so the building goes on for five or six years.

Frankly, I am ashamed of the housebuilders who, given that nine of them make 80% of the houses built, could have done this together. Instead they have blamed the Government and said, “The Government have to do it: we’re not prepared to do it ourselves”. If you applied the amount of money given to the chief executive of Persimmon to the houses he built, he could have built them all to the sort of standards we necessarily have. I look to the Government to make significant changes as far as that is concerned.