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Green Economy - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:43 pm on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 5:43 pm, 12th March 2020

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for bringing the subject of climate change to your Lordships’ House once more by emphasising the green economy as a new economic model, the only truly sustainable model, necessitating the wholesale transformation of our economy and way of life. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken for their contributions to the debate.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, stated, the effects of climate change must take centre stage across all aspects and areas of economic activity and permeate all government policies. I am happy to repeat the oft-quoted words of the Government that between 1990 and 2018 the UK reduced emissions by 40% while our GDP increased by 70%. It is certainly possible and vital to grow the economy, improve environmental standards and decarbonise to meet the green targets in international obligations to halt climate change.

The Covid-19 experience reveals the realities of the new global economy of fast communications, supply chains and international movements of people. Faster, decisive action becomes ever more important and must be co-ordinated across the globe. The Government are not being ambitious enough with their net-zero target. The House discussed this on 6 February as part of a debate on a report by UK Fires entitled Absolute Zero, which was brought to our attention by my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton, who underlined the potential disasters again today.

Yet it is fair to recognise that the Government have come forward with many recent announcements, such as the green finance strategy, the creation last year of the Green Finance Institute, a review of net zero set up by the Treasury and due to report this autumn, and the creation of a Cabinet committee on climate change. Indeed, the Environment Bill has just been introduced in the other place. While all this is beneficial, without a comprehensive statement of objectives and strategy to connect all these initiatives, it resembles a scattergun approach. Again, I ask the Minister: are the Government any nearer to publishing the now long-overdue energy White Paper to set out, for all these initiatives on key aspects of the economy, the pathway towards achieving net zero in an effective manner?

The Government need to stop the mixed messages they continue to give out when, for example, they finance fossil fuel projects overseas through UK Export Finance with credit guarantees. They need to stop their policy reversals on renewable technologies—as, I am glad to say, they now have with respect to onshore wind and solar, with the announcement that these can now bid into the contracts for difference auctions from 2021. However, these reversals have led to a decline in green jobs—by more than 1,000 since 2014.

The debate has highlighted the huge challenges for all levels of government. The response must start now with the immediate publication of the energy White Paper. The Institute for Public Policy Research has assessed the size of the challenge: the Government need to spend an additional £33 billion per year to tackle the climate emergency, £11 billion of which is needed just to catch up with the previous targets in the fourth and fifth carbon budgets that the Government are not even on track to meet. In her contribution, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, expressed her disappointment at the lack of government recognition in the Budget yesterday. The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, concentrated her remarks on personal responsibility and the actions that individuals can take, especially in the use of plastics—a huge problem, also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol echoed the theological aspects of our responsibilities and the Church’s investment governance arrangements. My noble friend Lord Giddens moved the debate into reflections on civilisation and, of course, academic research. The noble Lord, Lord Gadhia, drew attention to behavioural transformation through smart meters and the investment environment behind them in green finance.

In the crucial energy sector, the Committee on Climate Change calculated that the UK’s production of low-carbon electricity needs to quadruple for net zero to be possible by 2050. It considers that the increase should be met by a mix of renewables and nuclear generation, with Hinkley Point C due to meet 7% of UK needs. I congratulate the ESB and EDF on all they are doing to invest in UK assets. Can the Minister tell us when the Government will publish their response to the consultation on the regulated asset base model for nuclear power?

Emissions reductions have been slow to come forward in the transport sector. Can the Minister confirm that a transport decarbonisation plan is also due to be published this year alongside the energy White Paper? Difficulties in this area were highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in his remarks on battery technology.

If the Government’s plans are to have credibility, they need to address emissions from international shipping and aviation, and include them in the net-zero target. As the UK is chairing COP 26 in November, it would be a wonderful achievement for the Government to include sign-up to these emissions in the 2050 target at the conference.

Confidence in the UK’s handling of this strategically important agenda has been severely shaken. International diplomacy needs time and needs to start now. Following the Oral Question earlier today, have the Government thought how they will seek to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on the preparatory work and strategy for the conference? Are the COP delivery unit staff properly resourced? Departmental battles will have hindered preparations. Can the Minister update the House on the outcome of the first meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Climate Change?

Another major challenge in the Committee on Climate Change’s report is to decarbonise heat. This gives rise to huge infrastructure challenges to gas, and brings into play the return cycle of carbon capture, usage and storage. The CCC is counting on a significant deployment of CCS technology to meet net zero, and for this to be available from 2030. Speakers today have expressed scepticism about this. Can the Minister give the Government’s view? The noble Lord, Lord Howell, sees CO2 as a resource. The development and installation of heat pump technology would be helpful. Would the Minister confirm that the heat pump road map and the CCS will be published in the energy White Paper?

The heating of homes and businesses raises the subject of energy efficiency, which many successive Governments have tried to bring forward in successive energy company obligation—ECO—schemes. None of these has been truly successful without further measures to tackle the scourge of fuel poverty. The noble Lord, Lord Marland, remembers the Green Deal affectionately. He rightly reminds us of the long-term nature of the challenge across many Governments. Still today more than 12 million homes fall below grade C in energy performance certificates. National Energy Action argues that energy efficiency should be given the same infra- structure priority as HS2.

I cannot do justice to all the excellent speeches made by all those contributing. I would, however, like to pay regard to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. I have noticed he is set to retire at the end of March. This may therefore be my last opportunity to thank him. I have taken part in several agricultural debates with him over many years, when he has always emphasised the importance of the role of science and research. Outside this House, he has served on the Agricultural and Food Research Council, chairing the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the Foundation for Science and Technology, which holds many important seminars on current policy issues. In this House, he has served on many committees, including the Science and Technology Committee. He has served with distinction, and I hope he will continue to contribute outside the House, most notably as chair of the trustees at Kew Gardens.

Imperial College London in conjunction with the Mayor of London is to establish a centre for climate change innovation, driving the development of new technologies, businesses and jobs, which will support a zero-carbon, climate-resilient future. Science is inherently an increasingly international collaboration. So will the Government confirm their full participation in Horizon Europe, the EU research and innovation programme from 2021? Also, will they prioritise access to the European Research Council as an important part of negotiating the future relationship with the EU?