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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 5:00 pm on 26th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 5:00 pm, 26th June 2019

My Lords, I will take that as my cue. I fear that I am intruding on a domestic, and of course we do not like to comment on domestic disputes. I assure the noble Baroness that I will attempt and indeed succeed to be somewhat more economical in time.

We welcome this debate and the tabling of the amendment. We understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and, in a different way, the point the noble Lord, Lord Deben, made in his very powerful speech—that we ought to understand more about how the means of this delivery will be willed. In the end, that is the key to achieving this objective.

This SI is the equivalent of sitting around a kitchen table, unfolding a map, pointing at it and saying, “That’s where we want to go”. It does not in any way get us any further down the road unless we understand how we are going to get there. I will try to maintain a practical end to this speech.

Call it self-indulgent or self-referential behaviour to point this out, but in September 2017 the Lib Dems approved a policy called “A Vision for Britain: Clean, Green and Carbon Free”, one of those great slogans we come up with. Its mission was to push the Government further and to push them to ask the question of the CCC about zero carbon in 2050. It was a milestone, and the reason I mention it is that it was an achievement for my colleague who cannot be here today, the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone. I wanted to acknowledge her role in some of this.

New Liberal Democrat policies will continue to press the Government harder and will be further refined. They will also seek to outline some of the challenges and issues that need to be addressed to meet this incredibly exacting target. It is not just about stopping doing things; we will have to take carbon, CO2 and greenhouse gases out of the system to achieve this. Although I respect the point the noble Lord made about using existing technologies, I challenge that it is the outer edge of existing technologies that will enable us to do some of those things. There is a lot of work for the Government to enable us to be in that position.

That is why we need the Government to explain how we are going to go forward. We should be approaching this problem multilaterally. We are talking about the United Kingdom, but we sit in the continent of Europe. It would be much more sensible if we were doing this as a bloc and a group in the European Union. Noble Lords would expect me to say that.

We need to be very clear on what we are trying to do and we need to be very honest about how we measure what we have achieved. That means basing it on our real footprint. There cannot be fudging of figures. We cannot disregard our imports, where we are simply exporting our footprint, and we need to be very careful about things such as offsets. The CCC sets out some big technologies, but I will pick on a few in no particular order, and not an exhaustive number. I will talk about low-carbon power, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, domestic heating, and air travel and shipping.

We of course need to accelerate the development of renewable and low-carbon power. As Liberal Democrats, we will be setting forward a much more ambitious target than we have even achieved now. It should be said, in the spirit of self-congratulation, that the level we have now was very much laid down through the work the coalition Government did, notwithstanding some dismantling around offshore wind, which occurred in the succeeding Government. The fact we have been able to have coal-free generation over the past few weeks is very much a credit to them. But creating the right investment environment for zero-carbon or low-carbon generation is a real challenge—I do not have to tell the Minister that—and we need to understand how the Government will work with industry to deliver the right investment vehicle with some idea of a framework. From a personal point of view, as I have said before, I think that included in that should be effective energy storage, because without that we will not have a flexible, low-carbon grid.

Everybody talks about energy efficiency; we have already heard about it twice. We have to introduce a major programme. We already have much of the legislation we need; we need to enforce the regulations.

On the subject of building, and not just conventional techniques, there is a revolution out there. I sat on the Science and Technology Select Committee. Off-site building can deliver much higher-specification buildings. The Government need to lead on that process with the buildings they commission.

Electric vehicles are interesting, because they are an important personal commitment for people. They are a big acquisition that people make in their commitment to the environment. Actually, it is quite hard. The waiting lists are long. One of the problems, as has already been mentioned, is battery technology. We have the Faraday challenge, but we are importing many of the batteries we need for current electric vehicles. We need a much stronger supply. Can the Minister tell us where we are on the Faraday Challenge gigaplant? When will the spades be wielded, because it will take years before it is working? How is the Road to Zero going? Where are we on it and will we firm up the targets? Things such as on-street charging remain behind the game. There needs to be consumer certainty around the plug-in car grant. Can the Government give a long-term view on that, rather than just to the end of the year?

Decarbonising heating is a very important point that has already been mentioned. There are options, such as hydrogen and heat exchange. How are the Government going to frame this? The last time we had a big domestic switchover, it was between coal gas and natural gas, and a single national monopoly delivered it. What is the means by which this process will be delivered? Will it be locally, through LEPs, by private enterprise? We know how well—or not well—the smart meters process has gone, so what is the thinking within the Government to deliver this?

Regarding air travel, for this Government on the one hand to move this SI and on the other to support—and indeed encourage—a third runway at Heathrow is completely hypocritical. The Minister could use this opportunity to declare that the third runway will be abandoned or reviewed. I suspect that he will not. On the other hand, he could use this opportunity to throw his weight in front of the bulldozers when they arrive, and take Boris’s place there.

None of us underestimates that there are many challenges. There is a will in this House to take this point on the map and go there, but we are not going fast enough and we are not all moving with the intensity that needs to be generated. We welcome the fact that the regret amendment has been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. We understand and will support it, but overall we want the order to succeed. We look forward to the Minister answering the nitty-gritty. It is only understanding the process—the steps—that will bring us closer to this absolutely vital objective.