Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Climate Change - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:09 pm on 6th February 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 4:09 pm, 6th February 2020

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing us to this report. It makes extremely interesting reading and I agree with many of its conclusions; not all of them—I am slightly more techno-optimistic—but I agree, essentially, that we cannot just expect some technological solution to turn up, unless we invest in it and understand the limitations. That means that we should focus on using technologies that already exist, or are very close, to change behaviour over the next 10 or 20 years.

One statistical point: we may call it net zero or absolute zero but whether we succeed in offsetting the challenges to our climate—and therefore to our society and way of life—depends not on reaching that point by 2050 but on how we reach it. We need to make dramatic reductions in the early part of the next 30 years. That means concentrating on the technologies we already have because a straight-line reduction will not do it, nor will delaying until the 2040s. We need to do it in the next 10 years.

The challenge that will face Governments, and our Government in particular since we will chair the Glasgow conference, is to ensure that we adopt on a multinational basis policies that will make a real impact. But those who will gather at Glasgow—the leaders of our nations and indeed Members of this House—are partly responsible for this situation. We tend to think that carbon in the atmosphere has gone up since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution but over half of the carbon concentrated up there now has been put there by us since the Rio conference, and therefore since the point when there was clear scientific consensus and most political leaders accepted that consensus. Yet we have failed to reverse the direction in which the planet is going. This means that the responsibility is on us and our contemporaries in other countries to ensure that we take effective steps, at Glasgow and immediately beyond, towards a coherent approach to this.

It is clear that Governments have not done enough yet to convince the population to be prepared to accept changes in their lifestyles. The evidence provided to us by Citizens Advice shows that, yes, 80% of people recognise that we need to make changes, but in relation to specifics, such as changing the heating system in your house, less than 30% are prepared to do so. We have a long way to go. Governments have persuasion but have not yet persuaded.

However, they have stronger measures at their disposal. Changes to consumers’ behaviour come not from moral virtue, or through taste or fear of the future, but from the price of the product at the time they buy it. If we are trying to switch consumer behaviour away from the ever-increasing size of cars powered by petrol or diesel, we have to take fairly draconian measures in taxation to favour low-carbon and smaller cars. If we are to change our behaviour on household heating, we have to make some systems changes, which may involve using either hydrogen or electrification for domestic heating. We need an early decision on which we are going to do—or whether we will do them both—but moving in that direction will also mean that we need to persuade individual households and businesses to reduce the temperature within their buildings in the interim.

The interventions by government have to be fairly draconian. Price increases brought about through taxation are never popular but if we are to change behaviour, we will have to grasp that nettle—and grasp it with our colleagues, particularly in the developed nations, so that there will be no way in which some nations will beggar their neighbour and undercut the consensus that we need change. It means that the European Union, the United States and other developed countries need to act in concert, in a way that will probably alienate some of their citizens but will mean that they do not undercut each other.

A lot of technologies are there or almost there. Even in aviation, there are some possible benefits in taking small steps but unless we change the overall behaviour of our citizenry and businesses, we will not get there. We need to do that on an international basis; Glasgow is the first step towards doing just that.