UN Climate Change Conference: Government Response

– in Westminster Hall at 4:29 pm on 16th January 2019.

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Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North 4:29 pm, 16th January 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the UK Government response to the UN climate change conference 2018.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank all colleagues who are here for this important debate, particularly on a day such as this. I was disappointed that the Government felt it was not necessary to give an oral statement following their attendance at COP24. I am pleased that we have the opportunity today to debate and ask the Government the important questions about the action they are taking on climate change.

World leaders arrived at the UN climate talks in Katowice last month with a mandate to uphold the 2015 Paris agreement and respond with urgency to the climate crisis the world is facing. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warned of the urgency of this crisis when it recently stated that we must act now to cut emissions in half and limit global warming to 1.5° within the next 12 years, or face catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Global temperatures have been rising for over a century, notably speeding up over the last few years, and are now the highest on record. We know that this causes negative impacts, such as melting of Arctic sea ice, rising sea levels, prolonged heatwaves and chaotic weather conditions. We know why. We release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels for energy, farming, industry and transport, to name a few. These carbon emissions are causing the earth to warm faster.

Photo of Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Labour, Slough

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. According to the latest UN report, there will need to be a tripling of ambition globally to avoid more than 2° of warming, and a fivefold increase in ambition to avoid 1.5° of warming. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Minister should highlight what additional measures she is planning to ensure that the UK cuts its own emissions and, at the same time, what additional support the Government will give to developing countries around the world, so that they will meet their targets, too?

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention. I am coming to his exact point. It is now more urgent than ever that we take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this debate to Westminster Hall. Hopefully, the Minister will respond to all the important issues that we are bringing forward. Does the hon. Lady agree that, with the UK on course to miss its carbon reduction targets and its legally binding target of 15% renewable energy by 2020, it is essential that the Government step up to the plate and ensure that we address this issue urgently? As the hon. Lady rightly says, all of us across the world will suffer.

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we are set to miss our crucial international targets.

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

Absolutely. During those two critical weeks of discussions in Katowice, we saw a distinct lack of political will to tackle climate change with anything like the urgency required. Predictably, countries such the United States and Saudi Arabia sought to deny the science, and routinely disrupted proceedings. However, far too many countries came unprepared to strengthen the international climate process and to agree to finance all targets, leaving us with gaping holes in the rulebook for meeting those targets. Unfortunately, the UK was one such country.

Photo of Ellie Reeves Ellie Reeves Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. She talked about targets. Does she agree that if we are to meet our obligations under the Paris agreement, we have to aim for net-zero greenhouse emissions before 2050, and if we are serious about meeting that target, the Government must stop dragging their feet and legislate for that net-zero emissions target?

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

I completely agree with my hon. Friend on that important point, which I will address in my remarks. I hope the Government will respond adequately.

We saw that too many countries came unprepared to agree to those targets, leaving gaping holes in the rulebook. COP24 was a perfect opportunity to achieve two crucial objectives. First, it was a chance for nations to come together and take the deeply troubling recommendations of the IPCC special report on climate change seriously. Secondly, COP24 should have been used to strengthen the pledges in the 2015 Paris agreement, which experts agree is failing to deliver the action needed to meet its ambitious goals. The Paris agreement has us on course to live in a world of between 2.7° and 3.5° of global warming. Yet we are currently set to reach 3° and more.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

The hon. Lady is giving a really powerful and eloquent speech, I am only disappointed that the debate has been given so little time. There are two nations that are already at 2°: Mongolia and Tibet. Mongolia is the size of Europe; Tibet is the size of western Europe. It is also where 49% of the world’s population get their water from. We are already seeing temperatures in excess of 2°. Does the hon. Lady agree that we have had enough time for talking and counting the clock down? We are talking about Brexit right now, but this should be the biggest issue and much more time should be given in the House for debate on this matter.

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. This is the biggest issue the world is facing right now. We have been given only a one-hour debate in Westminster Hall—we had to push for that; I am very disappointed that the Government did not make an oral statement in the Chamber.

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Labour, Bristol North West

Given the advice from the Energy and Climate Change Committee to the Minister on how to reach net-zero emissions, does my hon. Friend agree that we should have Government time on the Floor of the House to debate this issue more fully?

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that the Government will consider that very seriously. The lack of leadership from those with responsibility to prevent suffering from climate change, I believe, is shameful. This Tory Government have done little to show that they are serious. We have sat back and allowed other nations to water down our multilateral commitments, and Governments to kick the can down the road and push any concrete decisions on countries cutting emissions to 2020.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady, but of course all nations, including this one, must do their bit to meet climate change. It is also important, however, not to run this country down. Is it not right to say that coal production and use is rising in India, Russia and Vietnam, but this country will phase it out by 2024? Is that not something to celebrate?

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

Yes, we are doing a lot on climate change, but not enough, and we are not showing adequate leadership internationally.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I echo what others have said about the importance of this debate. I am grateful that the hon. Lady secured it; a number of us tried to, but she was the one who succeeded and I am glad. On the point about the UK doing enough, is it not the case that it is easy to say, “We’re getting rid of coal, so we’re the good ones”, when in fact we are outsourcing our emissions to poorer countries? We benefit from our own consumption, but the emissions caused by that consumption are on the account of the exporting country—we should have consumption emissions, not just production emissions.

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady: we should have those consumption emissions at home in the UK and we should examine what we do, and how we count and account for the emissions that we create.

We have allowed the wealthy Governments internationally to dodge their responsibility towards the poorer countries. At Katowice, climate finance was defined in such a loose way that there is no certainty that adequate finance will be provided to help smaller countries meet their climate obligations. We have allowed loopholes to continue, which the wealthier Governments will continue to exploit.

I have secured this debate to focus attention on the action that this Government must take if we are to prevent runaway climate change—not what sounds good, but what will actually lead to hard outcomes. It is striking that it took at teenager speaking at COP24 to bring some attention to what needs to happen.

In the Minister’s written statement following the conference, she claimed that the UK Government were championing the latest climate science, but where is the evidence? The UK Government’s ambition for a net-zero carbon cluster by 2040 sounds good, but how will we deliver it? The Government have stated that they will be on track to meet the net-zero target only after the fifth carbon budget in 2032, which means that without speedier action over a much shorter timeframe, between 2032 and 2045, achieving net zero by 2045 is not feasible.

Why should we be surprised? We are still on course to miss those international carbon reduction targets. What are the Tory Government doing about that? They have sold off the green investment bank. They have scrapped the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Levels of new low-carbon investment are lower than when they took office. Subsidies and support for tried-and-tested forms of renewable energy sources, such as onshore wind and solar, have been cut, which has put jobs and new low-carbon projects at risk.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Labour, Cardiff Central

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. On solar, she knows that the Government are slashing funding for solar energy, ending the feed-in tariffs for solar producers and proposing to end the exporting tariff. Does she agree that that approach has cost 12,000 jobs to date—including in Cardiff, her city and mine—and shows that the Government’s climate plan is not worth the paper it is written on?

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Those are the tried and tested technologies that we should absolutely be supporting if we are going to move our economy to a low or zero-carbon economy, which we need to do to prevent runaway climate change.

New projects such as the Swansea bay tidal lagoon are given short shrift and ignored, but fracking is still going ahead, even under our national parks—apart from in Wales and Scotland, of course. There was not a single mention of climate change in the 2018 autumn Budget. It seems that the Government simply do not see climate change as a priority.

Photo of Rosie Duffield Rosie Duffield Labour, Canterbury

Does my hon. Friend agree that the 25% cuts to the number of Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff dedicated to dealing with climate change further strengthen her argument that the Government are not taking tackling fossil fuels seriously?

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

My hon. Friend makes an important point. If we are to take the threat seriously, we need to resource it properly, and not just in the Minister’s Department but across Government, and to make it an absolutely priority.

Photo of Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Labour, Slough

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does she agree that climate change is an interlinked issue? We are asking our Government to make representations to the Trump Administration and others who tried to block proceedings at COP24, but we need to make sure that we emphasise to them that climate change is connected to issues such as immigration, which are at the fore in the Brexit debate here and in the US, where they are trying to build walls. If we do not help developing nations, such as the Maldives, Bangladesh and others, which will be partially or fully submerged, we will have even more immigration and desperation from the residents of those nations.

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Climate change affects everyone, everywhere. We in this country have a duty to protect those suffering and most at threat, including those on the frontline where those changes are taking place. That is climate justice and it is why adequate finance needed to be agreed at COP24.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

To develop that point, I am the climate justice spokesperson for the Scottish National party and a member of the International Development Committee. The Committee recently visited Kenya and Ethiopia to see at first hand why migrants end up in refugee centres, some of them for 10 or 20 years. It is directly related to the climate.

I have two things to say to the Minister. First, a lot of funding that is distributed through the Department for International Development is short term, so the projects that are happening that aim to embrace renewables are small-scale and are for only one or two years, so things are not being developed systematically. Secondly, the World Bank cancelled all upstream oil and gas projects from 2019 so that there will be long-term sustainable renewable projects throughout the world. Unfortunately, the UK Government still fund upstream oil and gas projects throughout the developing world, which will be left with that legacy long into the future. Does the hon. Lady agree that steps need to be taken now?

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

That is a really important point. We need to make sure that adequate steps are taken in all areas of Government and that action is taken to reach out to communities that are suffering on the frontline where climate change is most urgent.

Climate change needs to be a priority. The Government do not see it as a priority, but that must change. We need climate policies and targets that will lead to urgent reductions in carbon emissions. First, we must get working on achieving net-zero emissions by 2045 immediately, not push it down the road. The technology and the infrastructure are there. The Government just need the political will to get moving on the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, and make climate change a priority. The UK was once a global leader on climate change. Let it be that again. The Climate Change Act 2008 was the world’s first legal framework to set binding carbon and emissions targets. It needs to continue to live up to that precedent.

The Minister needs to think more like the Welsh. A commitment to sustainable development has long been a distinctive feature of Welsh devolution. Before becoming a Member of Parliament, I was the specialist adviser for environment and climate change in the Welsh Labour Government, and I am proud of my work helping the Welsh Government to lead the way with a green growth agenda that provides an alternative model for business. Climate policies are entrenched in the Welsh legislative framework through the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. A future generations commissioner has been appointed in Wales to ensure that that commitment is being delivered, which puts Wales above and beyond many Governments around the world, especially the UK Government. In Wales, a focus on low-carbon communities encourages communities to come forward with small-scale renewable energy schemes and changes to infrastructure and transport. That brings about change from the bottom up and hardwires the ability for our communities to be sustainable, which extends to the way that our housing is built and managed in Wales.

Across the UK, I want to see changes to our building regulations to ensure that we are building sustainable housing, which will make it cheaper and easier for everyone, and that there are energy efficiency targets. Action on fuel poverty in Wales has brought together outcomes on tackling climate change and on local skills training and jobs, and has helped to lift people out of fuel poverty. We need to see such policies across the whole UK, not just in Wales. That change to our economy will ensure that green growth is rooted in our businesses, our services and our communities.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Labour, Cardiff Central

Given the importance of European Union grants to green energy projects in Wales, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be good to have confirmation from the Minister today that those sorts of projects will be able to apply for funding from the new UK shared prosperity fund? We were hoping—we were told—that the public consultation would be open by last year, but it has not happened yet.

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. It would be good to hear from the Minister on that exact point.

In the light of yesterday’s Brexit vote, we need to keep in mind our role within the European Union and the importance of our being a full EU member. The EU has become the global environmental standard and regulation setter, and it has used its significant influence in trade to tackle climate change. Last year the EU announced that it would refuse to sign deals with countries that did not ratify the Paris climate agreement. That meant a huge shift in how the EU was perceived and in the action it is taking. Brexit also threatens to have hugely negative consequences for our climate action here in the UK. The loss of EU funding and leaving the EU emissions trading scheme would all mean a significant weakening of our ability to take action.

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Minister of State (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Clean Growth)

I know that the hon. Lady is extremely knowledgeable, so I am sure that she will be aware that since 2000 the UK’s reduction in carbon intensity is 60% higher than the EU’s. That is enshrined in domestic legislation. Therefore, I am sure that we will continue to overachieve relative to our EU partners. I would hate for this exceptionally important global debate to be narrowly focused on Brexit.

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

I thank the Minister for her intervention. I think that it is a wider point, and a very important one, to talk about the impact that Brexit will have on our domestic legislation here in the UK. For example, the loss of EU environmental legislation, which covers roughly half of the UK’s emissions reductions up to 2030, and losing our place as a key advocate of bold action within the EU, will demolish, at a single stroke, Britain’s role as a key player on climate change. We cannot solve this climate crisis as a single nation; climate change recognises no borders.

As I saw with my own eyes in the Arctic recently, climate change is already wreaking havoc on our world, our communities and those who need us most, and it is only set to get worse. It is time for the UK Government to face up to the imminent risks and show leadership. Our response to climate change will define us for years to come. It must be a bold part of the work of every single Government Department, leading the way from the top down to the bottom up. We are rapidly reaching crisis point, and we need to start acting like it.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee

I think I have three hon. Members who want to catch my eye, which means basically five minutes each, if they could keep to that. I call Mary Creagh.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 4:53 pm, 16th January 2019

Thank you very much indeed for that guidance, Mr Betts, and for your courtesy in calling me to speak. I am aware that I arrived a little late, but I was doing some media on the report on sustainable seas by the Environmental Audit Committee. I was over the road to do that, before running here through the rain.

May I begin, Mr Betts, by saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship today, and to have such a brilliant and committed member of the Environmental Audit Committee as we have in my hon. Friend Anna McMorrin?

Safeguarding the future for the planet and for our children is one of the defining challenges of our generation. The climate change conference—COP24—was a real opportunity to take decisive action in this area. I will very quickly focus on the scale of the challenge, the solutions that are already available and, of course, the finance that we need to put behind any action.

I will start with the Arctic, which I and the rest of the Environmental Audit Committee visited last year. We saw for ourselves the unprecedented extreme weather that the Arctic faces. The climate is a closed system, so when we warm the ocean, the climate redistributes that heat through the winds, the currents and our weather. We are performing a giant experiment on ourselves, our planet and our oceans, and it really is a very dangerous experiment.

In 2018, the Arctic experienced its third winter heatwave in a row. During winter polar nights—so no sunshine—there were temperatures of 28°C in the Arctic this year. We know that the average temperature rise of 2°C disguises the extremes in temperature that we see at the North Pole. For example, a 1°C rise at the Equator means a 7°C rise at the North Pole, and the temperature in the Arctic has already risen by 5°C, which has huge impacts on the mammals that live there, and of course on the humans who live there, even down to the way that they build their houses.

In this country, we had the “Beast from the East” in March 2018. We were proud to launch our inquiry into UK heatwaves with the snow lying thick on the ground. The Committee Clerk turned to me and said, “Chair, nobody wants to give evidence about heatwaves when there’s snow lying on the ground”, and he was right. But we struggled through that and launched our heatwaves report in 35 °C of searing heat, and we had the hottest ever summer in England. These are extraordinary times. I was walking in the Peak District above Sheffield, Mr Betts, up Lost Lad hill, and I looked at the Derwent reservoir, which was only 75% full, and the village of Derwent and its church spire were now visible.

The world’s leading scientists have warned us that we have just 12 years to avoid devastating climate change. They gave us a report that spelled out the difference between a 2°C rise and a 1.5°C rise. Under a 2°C rise, we lose all the world’s coral reefs; under a 1.5°C rise, we lose “just” 90% of them. That shows the damage that is already baked into the best-case scenario. Of course, in the UK heatwaves raise the spectre of heat-related deaths, such as those in 2003, when there were 2,000 excess deaths in just 10 days. We have never known so much and we have never realised before just how much we have to do.

Our Committee produced a report on greening the finance system and we heard that the carbon bubble presents a huge systemic risk to our investments and our pensions. It presents liability risks, as oil and gas companies are potentially sued; some of them are being sued by the state of New York for some of the damaging issues that came with Storm Sandy. It presents physical risks to us, including the risk of tidal and coastal surge, and of course the transitional risk. If someone’s pension is invested in an oil and gas company and that company cannot get its reserves out of the ground without reaching 4°C, 5°C, or 6°C of warming, their pension is essentially valueless.

We need to move very quickly to green the financial system to avoid a carbon bubble bursting in an unmanaged way. We also need to move much more quickly to mobilise green finance into our economy: into solar, wind, and the new technology that we need.

The two tried and tested examples of carbon capture and storage come from nature: soils and forests. We conducted an inquiry into soils and globally the top foot of soils—the 30 cm of soil around the Earth—holds double the amount of carbon that is in the atmosphere, and more than all the carbon held by all the forests and the oceans combined.

Soils are absolutely critical and I am really glad that the Government signed up to the 4 parts per 1,000 initiative last year. What concerns me is that we do not have a route map to achieve that goal. We have got some great scientists in the UK; they know what the soil content has been over the last 50 years. We need to start paying farmers, through the common agricultural policy, or whatever succeeds it if we leave the European Union, to make sure that we measure, monitor and increase our soils’ carbon content.

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North about withdrawing the finance for feed-in tariffs and the difficulties that the green deal has had, including the problems that people have had with it, and the scrapping of the energy efficiency measures in our homes. If we want climate solutions, we must also have climate justice, which means keeping people warm and safe in their homes.

The climate conference was held in Katowice, a coalmining region of Poland. Can I make a bid that, if the UK holds the climate conference in 2020, we hold it in the coalmining region of Yorkshire, which is an example of how we can swiftly move to the new green economy and create jobs in the process? I am sure that Sheffield, Mr Betts, Wakefield and Leeds would be happy to argue the toss over who should win that bid.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee

I call Alex Sobel to speak, but only for four minutes now, I am afraid.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West 5:00 pm, 16th January 2019

Thank you, Mr Betts. I thank my hon. Friend Anna McMorrin for securing this debate. She is not just an excellent constituency MP; she is a leading voice on this issue, here and for the people of Wales, so it is great that she was able to secure this debate and make her speech. As my hon. Friend Mary Creagh said, the IPCC has told us that we have 12 years to restrict global warming to 1.5°. It has already risen by 1° from pre-industrial levels. This nation was the first to industrialise, which we should be proud of; it was also the first nation to de-industrialise. Many of the comments the Minister made in her intervention relate to our early de-industrialisation and, obviously, our early industrialisation.

The Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products—which includes researchers from the great University of Leeds—has shown that the UK will miss the fourth and fifth carbon budget targets, which are binding on us under law and are part of our agreements under the conference of the parties process. Those carbon budgets take us to 2032, and CIE-MAP has found that one of the five sectors of most concern was construction. What has happened in housing? When the Government came in in 2010, they scrapped the code for sustainable homes—something that would have kept us on track to meet our carbon budgets for housing. As my hon. Friend Jo Stevens said, the feed-in tariff proposals take us further away from that target. We need to build low-carbon modular housing, and we need to take control of that process and not listen to the siren voices of the volume housing developers.

We need to look at vehicles—an area in which we are way behind. The Norwegians are talking about phasing out petrol and diesel by 2025, just six years from now. We are talking about a target of 2040, and we cannot even give a clear answer on whether we are going to ban hybrids; we can imagine lots of gaming of the rules if we allow hybrids to continue. On food and drink, the Germans have a plan for resource efficiency. We have no such plan; we are way behind. On clothing and textiles, the Government need to look at the Environmental Audit Committee’s report—its Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, is here, as are several other members of our Committee. That report arose from our sustainable fashion inquiry, and we found so much that could be done within the UK fashion industry and its main production facilities, which are abroad, to make fashion more sustainable. In electronics and appliances, we are not doing enough to drive down electricity use. There is no catching up here; there are no second chances. The Government have said that we will be net carbon zero by 2050, but if we do not do the right thing over the 12 or 13 years to 2032, we will not be able to catch up in the 18 years between 2032 and 2050. It will be game over for our global climate. Who wants that legacy hung around their neck?

Lastly, we are on track in energy production because coal-fired power stations are being scrapped. The industry itself has seen the future, and has already decommissioned or moved into biomass and other forms of energy production. However, if we think the solution is continued gas production—undertaking shale gas extraction in the United Kingdom—we will again fall behind our targets when we move into the fifth carbon budget. We cannot allow that to happen. We need to look at alternatives, including domestic solar, onshore and offshore wind, hydrogen, hydro, and obviously tidal lagoons, for which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North is a great champion. If we do not do that, we will again be behind, and will not meet the legally binding targets that we must meet as a nation. The Government must do better. In the main Chamber, Members are debating confidence in the Government, and part of the reason for my lack of confidence in this Government is their failure to tackle the catastrophic climate change that we will face if we do not meet this challenge.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 5:04 pm, 16th January 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Betts, and I again congratulate Anna McMorrin on securing the debate. The UK has historically played a leading role in global climate negotiations; for example, it pressed for the 1.5° ambition in the 2015 Paris agreement. However, in the words of the former UK climate envoy, John Ashton,

“Rule one of diplomacy is, walk your talk: otherwise people stop listening”.

The tragedy is that in recent years, the global leadership role that the UK played on the international stage has been undermined by the systematic dismantling of climate policy at home. We have heard some of this already, but since 2010, Ministers have scrapped zero carbon homes; sold off the Green Investment Bank; made it almost impossible to build onshore wind farms; cut off support for solar power; made no progress on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies; gone all out for fracking, which is quite extraordinary given that that is a whole new fossil fuel industry; and in the area of energy efficiency, which is all too often a poor cousin in these debates, we are woefully behind on some targets—for example, retrofitting some of our most energy-inefficient homes. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, we could be over 50 years late in getting that target sorted.

The impact of those failures is incredibly real, and we have heard from the Committee on Climate Change that once again, the UK is way off meeting its fourth and fifth carbon budgets. “With each delay,” it says,

“we stray further from the cost-effective path to the 2050 target.”

Beyond that, the sad truth is that even if all those policies were still active, it would not be enough. The problem is that our economy is built on the assumption that precious minerals, fresh air, clean water and rare species can magically regenerate themselves in an instant, and that somehow the Earth will expand to meet our ever-expanding use of resources. The reality is that we have stretched the planet beyond its limits and, without a bold reimagining of how our economy works, it will simply not be able to spring back into shape. The UN 1.5° report made clear that we need to cut emissions to net zero by the middle of this century, but the global economy is set to nearly triple in size during that same period. That makes the job of decarbonisation massively greater.

Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old climate activist, told world leaders at COP24 in December that

“if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself.”

She was right. Of course, we need massive investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency and a new, clean public transport system, but we also need to think far more boldly about the way we integrate concerns about our natural world in the way we run our economy. Crucially, we need to limit the resources that we all use. Those in the global north who can radically reduce how much they consume and throw away must do so. We must find new and innovative ways to recycle and reuse materials; there is much talk of dematerialisation and decoupling from energy and consumption, but the truth is that there is no example anywhere in the world of absolute decoupling in anything like the timeframes that we will need if we are serious about getting off the collision course that we are currently on with the climate crisis. We have a huge job of work in front of us.

I am really grateful for this debate, and I want to add one last thing: my quick scan of Hansard suggests that over the past year, there has been only one debate in the main Chamber on climate change. That is not good enough. I hope that we can reinvigorate the all-party parliamentary climate change group, and I invite everyone at this debate to join that APPG so that we can be a bigger force in this place for better climate policy.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee

We will now hear from the Front Benchers. The Scottish National party and the Labour party spokespeople each have five minutes, and the Minister has 10 minutes.

Photo of John McNally John McNally Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment) 5:08 pm, 16th January 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate Anna McMorrin on securing this highly topical debate. She is an unswerving member of the Environmental Audit Committee, and I am always impressed by her knowledge, her astuteness and the way she expresses herself in that Committee, which is ably chaired by Mary Creagh, who is also here today.

Some relevant points have been made by other speakers, particularly regarding missed targets and the UK Government’s lack of political will to face up to their responsibilities. Climate change should lie at the heart of every choice that those in power make, for those decisions affect every individual on our planet. We only have one planet—we cannot make any more—and we should be mindful of that every time we make a decision. In the face of the present climate emergency, the possibility of the UK’s 1970s status as the dirty man of Europe returning is becoming more distinct, and I am very fearful of that, as is everyone who attends the Environmental Audit Committee and other committees on climate change.

As has been mentioned, only in October last year the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that we have 12 years to make the unprecedented and unparalleled changes needed to prevent global temperatures rising by above 1.5°C. Exceeding that by even half a degree risks global catastrophe, including floods, fires and famine.

Scotland has long been a leader in the fight against climate change, and we will continue to forge the way in tackling the crisis. The UK Government should look to us, and probably to Wales, for a successful holistic approach to what will be terrible blights on our community if we do not act. A decade ago, in 2009, Scotland set itself the world’s most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target when the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to cut the country’s emissions to 42% by 2020. The latest statistics show that we remain well on track to achieve that.

In 2012, Scotland established the world’s first climate justice fund, seeking to mitigate the damage caused by climate change on the world’s poorest communities. By 2021, £21 million will have been distributed through the fund, which is now supporting 11 projects in Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Rwanda. Before the United Nations climate change conference, the First Minister announced a further £200,000 for action to tackle climate change. That will be provided to the body supporting the implementation of the Paris agreement. As well as that, the decarbonisation of Scotland’s electricity sector and reductions in emissions from waste have seen us outperform the UK overall, as emissions continue to fall year on year to nearly half of 1990 levels.

Scotland is committed to achieving a substantial reduction in emissions as soon as possible. We have already reduced emissions by 49% compared with 1990. We have met our annual statutory targets for three years running, and are outperforming all countries in western Europe except Sweden. By 2030 we will have the equivalent of 50% heat, transport and electricity consumption supplied from renewable sources—achievable ambitions to do the right thing. A landmark Scottish energy efficiency programme was rolled out in 2018. We will phase out the need for petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 through an expansion of the vehicle charging network in urban and rural Scotland, investment in innovative solutions and, most importantly, leadership on procurement from the public sector.

The Scottish National party remains concerned about how climate change will be tackled after the UK’s departure from the EU. The UK Government must give—I hope to hear this from the Minister—clear assurances that there will be no reduction in standards and targets, or that appropriate powers will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. That is the best solution. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on that very point.

It is clear that the consequences of climate change are environmental at first but can quickly become political and military. The long-term security implications of climate change must therefore be considered when forming defence policy. I look forward to encouraging more green business. It was a pleasure to help with the recently announced Scottish stock exchange plans. I was asked to further the awareness of the Bourse business development through my network of friends and companies that I know. The ethics and environmental and social impact objectives of the Euronext ambitions for long-term investment are sound corporate practice. That will open up excellent opportunities for all companies that wish to grow within Scotland.

I thank the Minister and hope that she has listened to what I have said. Mother Teresa always said, “If you want to change the world, you begin in your own little corner.” I believe that in Scotland we are doing that.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade 5:13 pm, 16th January 2019

Thank you for your guidance during the debate, Mr Betts. I am delighted to congratulate my hon. Friend Anna McMorrin, and indeed all my hon. Friends who have spoken so eloquently in the debate.

When the Minister responds, I am confident that she will remind the House that the Government was a progressive voice in Poland. That is true. Along with other members of the High Ambition Coalition, the UK pledged to step up our ambition by 2020. It is easy to be a progressive voice when what is needed is progressive action, but progressive action requires political will. Repeating a promise that every nation made in Paris three years ago does not show political will. What was needed in Katowice was a clear commitment to deliver on the ratchet process that Paris put in place.

The Minister and I have many political differences, but I say to her in all sincerity that if in a few minutes she were to rise and use the platform of this debate to pledge that the UK will reach net zero emissions before 2050, as Labour has committed to do, I would not play politics. I would welcome her announcement publicly, because it is the right thing to do. Of course, it is a pledge that must be backed by a coherent plan, but in my view it is necessary if we are to chart a way that is even remotely compatible with keeping below the 1.5°C threshold.

I also suggest to the Minister that she may care to reflect that there is also a very good political reason for her to make such a pledge. Failing to do so would make a mockery of her bid to host next year’s conference of the parties. Labour wholeheartedly supports holding COP 26 here in 2020, but as things stand we have serious reservations about whether the Government are up to the task.

We should look at the condition of the UK’s climate diplomacy team, which was referred to earlier. In 2009, under Labour, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had an army of climate staff—277 strong. Seven subsequent years of Tory austerity halved that. Then Boris Johnson became the Foreign Secretary, and the number of officials working full time on climate fell to just 55. I ask the Minister what discussions she has had with the current Foreign Secretary about restoring that workforce of climate diplomats.

Climate diplomacy matters now more than ever. At COP24, the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait refused to welcome the IPCC’s report. Our climate diplomats should have known that in advance and taken active steps against it. When they finally made their position public, our Government should have offered criticism. They did not, just as they did not when President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the United Nations framework convention on climate change.

Leadership means speaking out. It also means acknowledging our responsibilities as the nation that ushered in the fossil fuel era. Rich nations like us have evaded calls to support the victims of loss and damage. Can the Minister tell the House what we, the fifth richest country in the world, are doing to address loss and damage in the most climate-vulnerable nations resulting from our addiction to fossil fuels? That would be climate diplomacy that could genuinely bring about change at a UK COP.

This year the Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage is up for review. It is the perfect moment for the Government to make us the first developed nation to provide additional financial contributions to address loss and damage. The latest figures show that climate aid reached $70 billion in 2016—still short of the 2020 target of $100 billion, which COP24 agreed would rise from 2025.

Will the Minister provide an assurance that the UK will take on its fair share of that increase? Will she confirm that she has had discussions with the Chancellor or the Chief Secretary about how they will increase the UK’s contribution towards international climate finance in the next spending review? I am not asking for figures; I am simply asking whether those discussions have taken place in Government. If not, will she accept that they are a necessary precondition to any credible bid by the UK to hold the COP?

Of course, the last thing I want is a trade-off that reduces still further Government finance for tackling climate breakdown here at home. As has been said, investment in our low-carbon economy is at its lowest level in a decade, down 57% in 2017. Will the Minister acknowledge publicly that, according to the independent assessment of the Committee on Climate Change, her clean growth strategy does not get us back on course to meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, and will she explain why, for all her protestation about the effectiveness of energy policy not being simply about how much money the Government spends, she still thinks that the 75% capital allowances for the fracking industry are a sensible use of public money?

I ask the Minister not whether she has read the IPCC report—for all our differences, I acknowledge that she is a diligent Minister and know that she will have done—but whether she will state publicly that she agrees with it. Will she explain to the House why, having read it, she can conclude that the Government’s current policies constitute a sensible response to the climate crisis that it outlines?

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade

I cannot, because of the time.

We need radical, transformative action, and we need it now. The IPCC report demanded

“rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”— a far cry from what the Government are offering.

Denial comes in two packages. I do not accuse the Government of denial of the science, but there is another sort: denial of what it will take to stop climate change. Among the many speeches by world leaders at COP24, I was most affected by the words of the 15-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg:

“We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.”

Those are the words of the next generation. I hope that the Minister will heed them and act accordingly.

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Minister of State (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Clean Growth) 5:20 pm, 16th January 2019

Thank you for your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Betts. I have been asked an awful lot of questions and I have limited time to respond, but I will be happy to try to answer them further later. I will instruct my officials to write to hon. Members, particularly in answer to the factual questions asked by the shadow Minister, Barry Gardiner.

As always when we have this conversation—perhaps this is a little reminiscent of the debate going on in the main Chamber—I feel as if we are looking at two different sets of facts. I accredited Anna McMorrin to attend the Katowice talks and I know that she was disappointed that she could not go, but I am a little saddened by her accusation that my officials were not prepared for those talks. It remains the case that our civil servants—more than 150 people in the international climate finance team and in my excellent negotiating team—go to conferences of the parties extremely well prepared. We are perceived to be one of the most effective negotiating teams in the world. Because the negotiations often happen late at night, I was privileged to sit with that team—

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Minister of State (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Clean Growth)

Let me finish please, because I am concerned about the time.

I was privileged to sit with that team in the room and see the impact of our responses, both on the EU and on the global climate proposals. Although the hon. Lady could not attend, as an expert in the area she will know that we were never going to have a change of individual or collective ambition at this COP. We have set out a very clear pathway for what the COPs are expected to achieve. COP 2020, which I have expressed interest in hosting in the UK, will be the one at which we show our national determined contributions, but we cannot manage what we cannot measure. One of the great points of controversy in the COP process has been whether collectively we can agree an inventory calculation mechanism and a rulebook to assure ourselves that the world is on track. Despite the low expectations, I think we achieved that at COP by levelling the international playing field, which is particularly important for our UK businesses, and by building trust.

The hon. Lady rightly referred to points made early on at COP. There were concerns from some countries, but as is often the case, I saw a coming together at the end, with an enormous amount of collective action and a rulebook that is more than sufficient for its purpose and flexible enough to allow for the differential between ambitions in different parts of the world. I pay tribute on the record to our superb civil servants who led the negotiating team. It was particularly poignant because in Katowice we could taste the coal on the air that we breathed—a reminder of one of the challenges of the whole process.

I know that these debates exist for hon. Members to make political points, but many Opposition Members are far more intelligent than some of the points they tried to make. On the issue of just transition, as Mary Creagh will know from her constituency work, persuading the world to create immense job losses in primary industries and tax people more to invest more Government subsidy in areas that will help to drive that transition is a non-trivial challenge. On an issue so vital to the world, I would have hoped that we might one day have a tiny measure of cross-party consensus, but I guess we all live in hope.

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Minister of State (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Clean Growth)

I will try to leave the hon. Lady a moment to wind up, as it is her debate.

As hon. Members pointed out, the conference was rooted in the IPCC report, which is very much supported by our superb UK science base—another area in which we have led the world in this space. The report gives a very stark warning on what the risks would be. Mr Dhesi, who is no longer in his place, referred to the challenge that small islands face. The subject was discussed at length at the Wilton Park forum, which we are proud to co-host with New Zealand and at which we discuss the issues facing countries looking down the barrel of climate change—an existential threat to small island nations.

Of course, it is entirely right that collectively we need to do more. Again, we seem to live in a world of different facts. We were the first Government of an industrialised country to address how we will get to a zero-carbon future. It is not about setting some kind of target for when we will all be long gone—I am sure none of us will be in government by then, and some of us may even be six feet under. It is about “how”. The difference with this Government is that it is not just about empty targets, uncosted numbers or a promise to bring back the proposal for the Swansea power station, which would have been the most expensive ever built in the country and would have created 30 jobs and taken two months of Port Talbot’s steel supply—I can think of much better ways to spend taxpayers’ money. It is about actually setting out a detailed action plan for “how”. That is important because our policy making has to survive the travails of politics and successive Governments.

We have a Climate Change Act that was strongly supported across the parties, and we have budgets—I am not going to go through the debates again. On our current numbers, we are 3% and 5% off the budgets that will end in eight and 10 years’ time, and I am pretty confident that we will get there. We have a Prime Minister who is committed to it, and we have clean growth as a fundamental part of our industrial strategy.

It was suggested in this debate that we have somehow rowed back on our climate diplomacy. The reason we are so successful is that this is a fundamental part of who we are and what we do. Our offer to the world is premised on clean growth. The almost £6 billion of taxpayers’ money that I spend on their behalf as part of international climate finance is focused 50% on adaptation and 50% on mitigation, but we are also thinking about how we can take brilliant British inventions such as the solar fridge funded by the Department for International Development and change people’s lives in the developing world.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

I thank the Minister for giving up such precious time. She makes valuable points about international investments, which is all well and good. However, I would really like a response to my earlier poit that in the countries most directly affected by climate change, we have multi-billion pound investments in oil and gas.

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Minister of State (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Clean Growth)

I find it odd to hear an SNP Member, who represents a country that claims that its entire independence policy is based on oil revenues, being dismissive of the same activities in other countries.

Moving on to climate action, I agree that we can only ever be credible when we talk to other countries if we try to lead from the front. We have reduced our emissions more than any other G20 member over the past 20 years. We have published our clean growth strategy—a very detailed set of actions. We had our first ever Green Great Britain week. From listening to some hon. Members, one would think that we were still massive coal emitters, but we are at over 32% renewables—we hit a monthly high of 54% in August. As hon. Members know, I have set a challenge for us to have the world’s first net zero industrial cluster by 2040. I have held a conference on carbon capture, usage and storage that was considered to be the most senior and committed gathering in the world. We are driving global action—we should be proud of what we are doing, and we will continue to lead from the front.

It was nice to hear, on a point of consensus, that the Labour party supports our bid to host COP 2020, where the rubber hits the road. I pay personal tribute to the hon. Member for Wakefield for her Committee’s work—I know that yours is doing fine work too, Mr Betts. Giving evidence to hon. Lady’s Committee and looking at its reports and recommendations is vital. That is the sort of cross-Government and cross-party consensus that delivers results.

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North 5:28 pm, 16th January 2019

Thank you, Mr Betts, for chairing the debate. I also thank hon. Members for their excellent contributions, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) and for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), and Caroline Lucas.

I do not doubt that the Minister is very sincere in her intent to change things and the way she wants to do so, but this takes more action—it requires action right across Government. I was at the climate negotiations when they were last held in Poland in 2013, at which 300 members of the UK Government were present, with Scotland and Wales there. There has been a weakening of that priority. It needs to be ramped up, with action right across Government—we are not seeing that at the moment. The issue reaches across the political divide. It goes beyond party politics—

Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).