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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 5:15 pm on 26th June 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Labour 5:15 pm, 26th June 2019

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s accepting the recommendation to change the target in the Climate Change Act to a 100% reduction by 2050. It feels very appropriate to be having this debate today, as we have marchers outside—tens of thousands of people who have come here to express their concern about the climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity that we are now living through—and others lobbying inside the building.

Climate impacts are being felt far faster than scientists and models predicted. The melting of the Greenland ice sheet this season is completely unprecedented for this time of year, at roughly three times the average. Heatwaves are blighting Europe throughout this month. Chennai, a city with a population of 10 million, is currently out of water. The everglades are on fire and coral reefs are continually being bleached. I could go on. We are living in an age in which the consequences of our actions are now becoming apparent. We have known about this problem for decades, but collectively, humanity has been too slow to respond.

In this context, the UK has shown great leadership and must continue to do so. We are now committing to a law that will take us to a net zero target by 2050, which is the right thing to do. We need to do this despite who is in the White House, despite China having 1,000 gigawatts of coal-fired power stations and despite Russia sitting on the largest fossil fuel reserves of any nation. To sit back and wait and expect some other country or institution to take this action would be a recipe for disaster. We cannot solve the problem ourselves, but we must lead by example.

We can work out how to deliver economic growth without contributing to the climate crisis. We have already made great progress. Thanks to decades of clever policy interventions, how we make electricity is now far cleaner. We are seeing large periods without any coal-fired power. This is incredible, given that we are the home of the Industrial Revolution and brought this technology to the world. We can use that clean electricity to make other parts of the economy cleaner too. Let us focus on transport, then on industry and heating. We now have the potential to get to net zero using existing technologies. The Government are therefore to be commended for agreeing to this change to the long-term target.

However, the Government have not fully accepted all the advice from the Committee on Climate Change and have said that they do not rule out using international offsets to get to our target. I do not object to this if they are well done and well regulated, and it will make no practical difference in law, because we do not set out limits and offsets until 18 months before the start of any budgetary period. However, having deviated from the very clear advice of the CCC, we can now go even further than the 100% reduction target because it will be far cheaper and easier should we allow international offsets into this system. In meeting this goal, if we want to stay at the costs we have accepted—1% to 2% of GDP—we can go further. It opens up the opportunity to go into minus figures—minus 120% or minus 150%. This is now possible, and it would be the right thing to do. This will not be the last debate we will have about the 2050 target. I think we will go further, beyond zero, because we will then be paying back the carbon debt we owe to the rest of the world. Historically, our per capita emissions far outweigh most countries’, and it is those countries that will see the impacts hit hardest. The pressure will be kept on us and I am sure that we will go to those much more ambitious targets in time.

Turning to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, I will make three points. First, the policy details of how we will get to our intended goal are obviously very important and emissions projections are not currently on track to meet our fourth and fifth carbon budgets. Better policies are needed to ensure that we harness the power of the private sector to deliver cost-effective reductions in the transport, heat and agricultural sectors. Part 3 of the climate change Act introduces a series of enabling powers that will allow the Government to introduce new incentives and penalties that would align business incentives with this goal. They would restrict or price emitting activities, and would reward and create incentives to invest in the solutions that get us towards our goal. These powers exist and all we need to do is conduct a public consultation on their introduction. That is what we should focus on now: broad, market-based approaches across the economy to align signals so that we can do what we have done in the power sector in all other sectors of the economy. We have to act urgently but proportionally, and aligning incentives is one of the most effective ways we can do that. That is the first step we must take and the CCA allows us to do it.

Secondly, Section 30 of the Act was accepted and introduced to allow us to omit international emissions from shipping and aviation using an SI. It is regrettable that the Government have not taken the opportunity to include that in the SI we are debating this afternoon. Rejecting once again the advice of the CCC is clearly a missed opportunity. Both international aviation and shipping sit outside the scope of the Paris Agreement and are governed by dedicated bodies. They are designing a rulebook that will help them to address climate change. The UK must lead in those negotiations to ensure we get an international solution to those two important sectors, but at the same time we must lead domestically; including them formally in the budgets would have given a clear signal that we intend to do that.

My third point concerns the statement that the Treasury will be encouraged to review the costs of meeting these targets. In this assessment, we must acknowledge that this issue cannot be reduced to a simple cost-benefit analysis. This is a moral question: the moral question of our time. No price can be put on the future of humanity; the planet will be fine, but most of humanity will not be. This is the critical issue: if we reduce this down to a nickel-and-diming of how much we will gain from one policy versus another—the net benefits or costs—failing to take into account that this is something we simply must now do, we will get the wrong answer. There are many examples of our doing things because they are morally correct, without carrying out a cost-benefit analysis, and this is clearly the defining example. When the Treasury is asked to look at this question, the one thing it must consider—it will be an essential part of making this politically acceptable—is the fairness with which we tackle this challenge and the distribution of the costs, to make sure that the people who are most able to pay do pay, and that those who cannot afford to take on extra burdens are protected. That is the question the Treasury should concern itself with, not a basic cost-benefit analysis of whether this is the right target. It is the right target; if it is not, then it is only because it is too weak and we can go further.

Finally, I return to the debate about measures and policies. I urge all those who are concerned about prioritising using our political capital to take action on policy that we refer to data and analysis. We can refer to the CCC’s own work. I fear that, too often, we are wasting our time talking about issues that do not currently involve large emission volumes. I am against the expansion of Heathrow, like everyone else, for local reasons, but it really has very little to do with the national issues of climate change. The same can be said of fracking. We must focus on the things that matter: transport, heat, industry and agriculture. I really hope we will focus on those in the months to come and introduce the policies we need to get to this target. I am very happy that we are having this debate today.