I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the Government plan to reach net zero by 2050.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I am grateful to the huge number of Members from all parts of the House who have come along to Westminster Hall this morning. It really underlines the absolute priority that this House and the Government give to tackling the huge challenge facing us all.
There is no doubt that the UK leads the world on tackling climate change. We have decarbonised faster than any other major economy, reducing our emissions by 38% since 1990, but we all know that we need to go further and faster, which is why Parliament supported the world-leading net zero target, making the UK the first major economy to do so. The Government must now outline a strategy, with concrete policies and a road map showing how we will get there.
Climate change and the decline of nature is the most serious threat we face. Unchecked, it will lead to more extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, damage precious natural habitats, and cause sea levels to rise. The impacts could be irreversible. The response must be similarly comprehensive, and action must be taken across the whole of our economy. I am confident that we can do that, because there is concern and support for action not just in the streets outside, but in every home, every business and every community across our country. We are an imaginative, creative and innovative nation, and I think we have what it takes to rise to this challenge. It is an opportunity to grow our economy more sustainably. What is good for nature is good for human health and wellbeing.
Every week, like all hon. Members, I meet people from a wide range of organisations—local councils, students, schools, local businesses, and environmental activists—all of whom are fully invested in ensuring that we achieve our net zero target. In every meeting, there is agreement on what the challenge is and why we need to act, and the conversation moves on to how and when they can play their part. If we are to harness that enthusiasm and expertise, we need first and foremost to provide more information about the Government’s plans.
In this debate, we will hear lots of ideas for new policies to help reach net zero, and I hope that the Minister will take them on board. I will highlight just one: my recent ten-minute rule Bill, which makes the compelling case for the Government to set out a plan to retrofit energy efficiency measures in homes across the country. That Bill asks the Government to publish a plan for meeting the domestic energy efficiency targets in the clean growth strategy, to make provision for monitoring performance against milestones in the plan, and to establish an advisory body for the implementation of the plan. As we prorogue tonight, the Bill will fall, so I ask the Minister to take its provisions forward into the next Session. The Committee on Climate Change says that that action should be a priority, and the National Infrastructure Commission has also made it a priority.
The technologies required to enable decarbonisation of the building stock and energy systems are largely available today. Industry body representatives have set out clear plans, as have leading charities such as National Energy Action. Taking action on energy efficiency has the dual benefit of reducing carbon emissions and saving people money.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate, and commend her for her Bill. On housing and the Government’s performance, does she agree that it is regrettable that the ambition to achieve zero carbon homes by 2016 was torn up in the 2011 Budget? We would have made much greater progress had that not been done and we had pursued that ambition for 2016.
I would rather use today’s debate to show the collective will and determination of hon. Members to support the Government in reaching the new target, rather than engaging in a tit-for-tat about which Government could have or should have done what in the past. Let us focus on the future and on what we can all do as Members of Parliament to support the Government in reaching the target that the whole of Parliament supports.
Tackling fuel poverty will end a lot of preventable human misery, as well as save the taxpayer a great deal of money in the NHS, in social care and in the Department for Work and Pensions. Evidence clearly shows that when people live in a warm home, their health improves, children do better at school, and people are more likely to be in work. I know that Cornwall would very much love to be the area of the country to pilot the whole house retrofit.
Having pitched my Bill, I will focus my remarks on the main theme of this debate, which is the importance of making readily available to everybody in our society digestible information on what we are doing to reach net zero. That is really important, because not everyone will be able to read the 277-page net zero report by the Committee on Climate Change, or the 630-page report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which are difficult for many people to understand. Day in, day out, there is a barrage of announcements from Government Departments about what they are doing to tackle this challenge.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point about setting targets. As the United Kingdom, we have a target of 2050, while devolved Administrations across the UK are setting different targets. In Scotland, the target has been set at 2045, which is dependent on the entire United Kingdom hitting the 2050 target. How can we share information through different tiers of Government right across the UK so that all our citizens benefit and all our targets are met?
My hon. Friend makes a really important point about how different nations in the United Kingdom will need to set different targets. Scotland has an abundance of natural resources for hydroelectricity among other things, so it will be easier for it to reach net zero than for England.
Some industries, such as the water industry, have already committed to decarbonise by 2030, while the National Farmers Union has recently produced a plan. It is vital to make it easy for citizens, businesses and public sector organisations to see a road map showing exactly how we will reach our targets and the contribution that everyone in society is making to enable us to reach that goal.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does she agree that in providing better information to citizens and businesses, we must also seek to bring them with us? If people understand the issue and are made to feel part of the solution, they are much more likely to engage and take the individual actions that we need them to take.
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point: the changes needed are substantial and it is really important that people understand why we need to do what we need to and that we take people with us. We can do that largely by providing information not only about the why, but about the how. In my experience, most people are waiting for that information, because they understand the challenge and want to play their part.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate and on her Bill. Many of us believe that 2050 is not soon enough and would like to go further and faster, but irrespective of the target and the speed, does she agree that, precisely to bring people along with us, there is a role to be played by citizens’ assemblies? This is an opportunity for people to come together and work together to identify how best to make the transition.
I am glad that the hon. Lady has mentioned the target. The groundbreaking Climate Change Act 2008, which is unique to our country in having all-party support, set up the independent Committee on Climate Change. All Governments depend on evidence and the best science to show what we can do. The independent Committee on Climate Change says that the 2050 target is the right target: it is ambitious but feasible, whereas the 2030 target is not necessary and not deliverable. We risk undermining the very independence of the Committee on Climate Change and the evidence-based policy-making approach that we must take if we start to pluck numbers out of thin air for political gain.
The hon. Lady makes some powerful points. Listening to experts is crucial, so I hope she shares my concern—I hope the Minister is listening—about the Government’s decision to overturn the advice of their own Planning Inspectorate, given on climate change grounds, regarding the new Drax gas-powered turbines at Selby. They would undermine the target that she is pushing.
To return to the theme of my debate, I believe the Government can provide a lot more information. They can share data and expertise on the smartest way to get to work and school and to travel, on what local British food is in season and sustainably grown, and on the suppliers of the cleanest forms of electricity and heating. That information could be provided in one place, where any individual, councillor, business or student can find out all they need to know to reduce their carbon footprint. Information for business and public sector organisations about how to support innovation could also be made more widely available.
We have some of that information already, such as that last year we spent £26 billion on transport, but only £400 million of that was spent on active walking and cycling. Does the hon. Lady think that we need a shift of priorities so we are investing in green forms of transport that will also improve health?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the need to invest in cycling and walking infrastructure. Both of us, with many colleagues, participated in a debate in this Chamber on that very subject. The Government asked the Committee on Climate Change to consider what plans they need to put in place to enable us to reach that target; they are actively considering those plans and the Treasury is looking at the cost.
I have every confidence that the Government will produce detailed plans on how we are to reach the 2050 target, but I want them to set out clear milestones for the intervening period. Judging by conversations this morning with protestors, people think we will wait until 2050 to take any action, but we have already taken significant action, and the ambition is there to go further and faster. To give people hope and clarity, we need to set out the plans and milestones in detail so that people can see what is going on.
This country has the opportunity, through the COP 26 conference next year, to take the lead internationally on setting out actions that people and communities can take. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a role for people across this country, in the run-up to COP 26, to identify practical steps that communities and industry sectors can take, to bring those to COP 26 and to highlight them around the world?
We will bear that in mind, Mr Gray. My right hon. Friend makes a good point: COP 26 is a great opportunity, as he so well articulated. Some sort of roadshow would be a good idea, as it would harness the great work going on and give the Government an opportunity to communicate to communities the sort of innovation funding and support plans available, so people can engage.
I will be very quick. There is an opportunity for Members of this House to take a lead in our constituencies. Does my hon. Friend agree that a good way would be to have local assemblies, where we inform people of what is going on, they can inform us and we can feed that through?
My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. We are leaders in our communities and we have agency, as he describes, to make a positive difference.
This country also has world-leading universities and tech companies. I would like the Government to set up an ecotech innovation fund, so we can harness expertise to create user-friendly, accessible apps and websites that seamlessly compile impartial and accurate data and explain what people can do and how they can access support.
I am going to make a bit of progress because so many Members want to speak and I want them to be able to do so.
Businesses have an important role to play, and it has been great to see businesses come forward with their own net zero targets. The water industry, for example, has committed to carbon neutrality by 2030. To give hope to the citizens who are so worried about climate change, that information should be captured so that people can see what all sectors of our society are doing. To level up the expectation on all businesses to take action, the Government should require goods for sale to include climate impact on their labelling. That requirement could cover food, electronic goods, and so on. It would help consumers to make smarter choices when shopping and ensure that companies measure the carbon footprint of individual products. It will add a cost to business, but that is why we must create a level playing field by insisting on the provision of that information. We do not want businesses who do the right thing to be undercut by those who do not. Information is power and it will enable every workplace and home to make smarter choices.
To co-ordinate that activity I want the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to be given overall responsibility for net zero in the Cabinet Office. We should raise the status of the Environment and Clean Growth Inter-ministerial Group to a Cabinet sub-Committee. The Treasury could introduce a new net zero test for every Budget and spending review, to ensure that all new Government spending and investment is aligned with the target, or at least is not harming decarbonisation efforts. The Government could ask the Office for Budget Responsibility to scrutinise whether the targets are being met.
In the Liverpool city region, the combined authority and the Mayor, Steve Rotherham, are doing exactly what is needed to take people with us to hit that net zero carbon target. That includes plans for an ambitious tidal barrage on the Mersey, hydrogen trains—hopefully built by Alstom in Widnes—and an offshore wind array. They also oppose fracking. Is that not the way to hit the net zero carbon targets?
There are regional industrial strategies in the modern industrial strategy. The Government are clear about going for clean and inclusive growth in our economy, and I absolutely support that. I welcome the fact that local enterprise partnerships all over the country, including in Cornwall, are coming together to produce plans for us to meet our net zero targets while growing our economy sustainably. I commend any region of the country working with the Government to enable us to do that.
All the businesses I speak with want clarity and certainty about what the Government want them to do, so that they can start pricing in the changes they will need to make. Many see this as an opportunity not just to do the right thing but to innovate and reach new markets. Government Departments and their arms-length bodies should lead by example by making their buildings more energy efficient and switching to low-emission transport. That will save money as well as carbon.
I welcome the fact that Barnsley has declared a climate emergency. Cornwall Council has done the same, as have most of the parish councils in my constituency. People want to play their part. The Government have recently brought in some very helpful new regulations that will help councils. For example, most councils sit on huge pension funds; the new regulations, which came into force last week, make councils think about the impact of their decisions on reaching that net zero target. There are many contributors to enabling people, councils and businesses to make changes so that we can meet the target.
As was mentioned, the climate change movement will fail if we fail to take people with us. As we saw in France, we must be clear about why action to tackle climate change matters, and ensure people are not left behind as we transition to new, cleaner industries. It cannot just be about distant international summits with acronyms that few people understand. When the UK hosts the UN climate change summit in Glasgow next year, we must ensure that every sector of society is involved in the conversation. With an issue as big as climate change, we need everyone’s collective brainpower to find the right solutions, and we must have everyone on board if we hope to implement those solutions.
In the light of my hon. Friend’s comments about Britain’s world-leading efforts on climate change, and all the interventions talking about the action already being taken, would not efforts to take people with us be more effective if campaigners stopped insisting that nothing has happened in the past 30 years, which is simply not true?
I absolutely agree. There is a lot of scaremongering and misinformation. Most of the people that I meet are genuine and sincere, but there is no doubt that there are people who have seen the popular support and concern about what is happening to our climate and nature and are deliberately infiltrating and organising in a way intended to create chaos, and fundamentally to bring down our whole way of life. We must guard against that. In any democracy that enjoys as much freedom as we do—it is fantastic that we have those freedoms—we must guard against extreme elements in our society, which will always want to undermine and bring down our whole way of life. My right hon. Friend makes a very good point.
I believe that the biggest danger we face is not climate change deniers, but climate change delayers—those people who think we are doing okay. It is an emergency. The guys are out there because we have not done enough. Does the hon. Lady agree that we should all take note of that?
I gently ask the hon. Lady: how can she claim to speak for everyone outside? A little bit of humility in all of us does not go amiss. Everyone in this room is 100% committed to getting to net zero. It is clear from Parliament’s actions that we want to do that. That is why I wanted to focus this debate on ensuring that we have clear plans and communications and measures are reported in an open and transparent way, so that people cannot make cheap party political points, which damage people’s wellbeing and how they feel about this issue.
Let us be honest: in post-Brexit Britain, we will need a unifying cause. We will need something to bring the whole country together, and this is it. People from all walks of life, all backgrounds and all ages want us to work together, to tackle this huge challenge, which I believe is also a huge opportunity. In this debate we should show our unity of purpose in supporting the Government to take those actions, and that we are truly a United Kingdom that everyone can be proud of.
It will not have escaped colleagues’ notice that many people wish to speak. While I do not intend to impose a formal time limit, which I believe to be bad for debate, I leave it to the conscience of individuals to recognise that they should speak for two or perhaps three minutes, because if they go on longer than that, they will be squeezing out their colleagues. To save a bit of time, let me say that I am delighted to be your Chairman; you do not need to say so.
This debate, secured by Sarah Newton, is timely. We need to restate that climate change is real and that the climate emergency, which Parliament has declared, means we must do things differently.
The climate emergency declaration that this House passed is not just a statement of intent, but a challenge to business, Government, society and individuals, and it comes with a basic question: “Now that Parliament has declared a climate emergency, what are you doing differently?” If the answer is nothing, that is not good enough. If the answer is that which I have heard from many corporates, that is, the same insufficient amount as they were doing before but with more topspin, that is not good enough. If the answer is that we will park the action many decades away so that we do not have to take action now, that is not good enough.
More spin will not do it. More of the same will not do. We need bold and determined action, which means being more ambitious and swifter in our action, and more honest with the people about the massive changes to the way we live, work, travel and consume that will be required to hit net zero, by 2050 or any other date. It also means that we need the Government to put as much effort into the climate emergency as they put into Brexit. Will the Minister pass on to his Treasury colleagues that the autumn Budget must be a climate emergency Budget as much as it is a pre-election Budget or a Brexit Budget? It must cut through on every single aspect of addressing the climate emergency; nothing less will do.
That also means that as MPs we need to readjust our own campaigns. My campaign to see the M5 extended from Exeter to Plymouth means that we must bring forward the date of getting rid of diesel and petrol engines, to ensure that only electric cars use that extended road. The campaign to reopen Plymouth airport means that rather than having planes using aviation fuel landing there, we must have electric aviation.
Those are big challenges that require big and bold investment by Government. We ned that investment now, because pushing it down the line will only make achieving net zero by 2050—or by 2030, as I would like, and as the Labour party has proposed, with the brilliant green new deal motion passed at our conference—harder to achieve. Let us have swifter action now and more honesty from Ministers about how much change is required to get there.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Sarah Newton on securing this important debate. We all know the scale of the challenge and the imperative it entails. Declaring an emergency comes easy and “net zero” trips off the tongue, but in reality, these things are difficult. To achieve that requires a per annum reduction in our emissions 30% greater than we have achieved on average since 1990. That is why the Committee on Climate Change said that a 2050 target was the latest that our country could credibly maintain our status as a climate leader while at the same time as being the earliest at which we could credibly deliverable it alongside other Government objectives.
I have asks of the Government, which I will come to in a moment, but, first, I have asks of the wider sector—everyone who has an interest in this vital subject. First, we must acknowledge progress. My right hon. Friend Mr Harper touched on this. There is a difference between saying that more must be done and saying that nothing has been done. It can become debilitating to think that no progress has been made and nothing has been achieved.
I first came across that when I was a junior Minister at the Treasury and I would meet Finance Ministers from other countries, and we would talk about climate change. They would say, “Of course, you in the UK are leaders,” and I would say, “We are? That’s not what I keep reading.” Other countries do look to us, starting with our framework of the independent Committee on Climate Change, the periodic carbon budgets and the rest of it.
In international studies we are ranked among the top 10 nations for our performance on tackling climate change. We have made huge progress on renewables, specifically offshore wind, where we are a world leader, if not the world leader. We have also set an end date for unabated coal. Our role at COP 21 was pivotal, as was our role in showing leadership in setting the net zero target. Our international work on climate finance through the Department for International Development is pivotal, too.
The second ask is that we prioritise and triage, because we cannot just tell people that everything must change at the same time. Some things must be prioritised. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth mentioned retrofitting homes. The two biggest things alongside that are energy generation and transport, particularly domestic transport. Those two massive areas are dependent on the development of batteries.
The third ask is that we go with the grain of peoples’ lives. It is a hard sell to tell people that they cannot go on holiday, they will be cold when they are sitting at home and they must become vegan. It is a much easier sell to say that the electric car is now as high-performance a vehicle as a petrol car, and that we can be warmer at home and it can be cheaper to heat our homes than it was in the past.
That becomes even more important when talking about developing nations. We have had our industrial revolution and we have all reaped the benefits. It is natural that other countries want that development too, and we must help them to have clean growth.
We need a bipartisan approach. That has been a great strength of the approach to tackling climate change in this country. It is tempting to say we must always do more and we must do it sooner. As with international aid, there are two aspects to this: first, what we do ourselves; and secondly, how we can leverage our position internationally. However, leveraging our leadership is helpful only if what we say is credible—if we say not only that we are going to do something but that we absolutely will do it. If we are going to say we must do this bigger, better and faster, we must be honest with people about the implications of that. I sometimes hear people talking about change for them versus system change, as if system change has no effect on individual families and companies, but it does: it affects the rate of economic growth, which in turn affects jobs and wages, and of course it affects the taxes people pay.
We must focus in particular on what can be done, especially in transport with electric vehicles. I join others in paying tribute to those who are doing great work locally. In my area, that includes the climate action network and the work the council is doing to plant a large number of trees. This is a global problem, and every nation must play its part, but we, in our individual communities, can make a difference.
I pay tribute to Sarah Newton for securing this important debate. Undoubtedly, climate change is a bigger challenge and a bigger crisis than even Brexit. It is important that we put it in that context, but given that I do not have all that much time, let me focus on Cumbria.
Cumbria receives 42 million visitors each year, and we are delighted to see them. We just wish that fewer would come by car, which is how 83% of our visitors currently arrive. That is a serious problem in our fight to achieve net zero carbon emissions, and I am sure what is true in my patch applies in many other places across the country. Therefore, in the moment or two I have, I want to address public transport, which is an enormous part of achieving net zero. Not only does the use of diesel and petrol-powered cars have a devastating impact on the environment, but the Government’s failure to invest in public transport prevents people from choosing better options.
Bus provision is a colossal problem in our communities in the Lake district. In the past 10 years, we have lost 888 bus routes in the north-west of England. To their absolute credit, communities have not just stood by; in places such as Sedbergh and Dent, they have established community bus services, which are a lifeline for people who would otherwise be isolated from the communities around them. I am massively grateful to the volunteers who make those services possible. However, with the closure just this month of bus services 552 between Arnside and Kendal and 530 between Cartmel, Levens and Kendal, the decline appears to be accelerating.
I am of course fighting those cuts along with the community but, more broadly, I ask the Minister to make provision of a comprehensive, affordable and reliable rural bus service in Cumbria a key plank in the northern powerhouse. From a rural Cumbrian perspective, the northern powerhouse does not look much like a powerhouse, and it is not even very northern.
The main public transport route into the Lake district is the Lakes line. Back in 2017, the Government shelved their planned electrification of the Lakes line on the basis of completely inaccurate projected costs. Electrification of the Lakes line is the easiest electrification project in the country. The 12-mile route carries hundreds of thousands of passengers each year, but it could carry four times as many if we introduced a passing loop at Burneside so we could run half-hourly services. If the Government are serious about tackling climate change, they need to speed up their electrification project, especially for the railway line that is responsible for taking people into Britain’s second biggest visitor destination after London.
The impacts of climate change are real, and they are being felt right now. My constituency in the lakes and the dales has been devastated by catastrophic floods. In the past nine years, we have experienced three flood events classified as one-in-200-year events, with one-in-100-year and one-in-50-year events filling the gaps. At this rate, we absolutely will need to revise the classifications. In 2015 alone, Storm Desmond caused 7,500 properties and more than 1,000 businesses to be flooded. The impact has been heartbreaking.
I want us to mitigate the consequences of our failure to tackle climate change in time to protect my communities from further flooding, but I am also determined that the Government must make the big strategic decisions to fight climate change. That requires a revolution in renewables and a push for energy self-sufficiency, especially in hydro, tidal and marine, for which 95% of the supply chain, including Gilkes in my constituency, is British. That would protect our environment, boost our economy and give us vital energy security. Just a few weeks ago, I was with students in Kendal protesting against inaction on climate change. That was a reminder that the coming generation will not let us get away with it, and they are absolutely right not to.
The reality is that we are too late to stop climate change and have perhaps a dozen years left to avoid a major climate catastrophe. Tackling this global disaster will take change in every community and lots of steps that add up to a bigger picture. Clearly, public transport is an element of that. Will the Minister therefore agree to meet me and others so we can put together a comprehensive rural bus service under the umbrella of the northern powerhouse, and a plan for the electrification and expansion of the Lakes line? In order to succeed globally, we in the lakes are determined to act locally.
Let me begin by paying tribute to my constituents, who are highly engaged on this topic. The young people in the high schools in Stirling are especially on the ball, and they are taking a lead that I am glad to be able to follow.
We owe it to the British people to talk plainly about the implications of Parliament’s commitment to get to net zero by 2050. My right hon. Friend Mr Harper is right that that will not be easy to achieve. We need to spell out the options clearly, in a grown-up way—a way that I think our young grasp. If I have learned anything about the House since arriving here, it is that if we unite and work across parties on this issue, we can get the job done.
We have an obligation to the present, but we have a bigger obligation to the generations that follow. We have both a special responsibility and an opportunity. As has already been laid out, we have a responsibility because our country led the world into the first industrial revolution, but we have an opportunity to lead the world again in the development of new clean growth technologies and industries. There is a first-mover advantage to be had, and I urge the Government to be bold and take a lead.
In the interests of time, I will talk about one area in which the Government can take a lead and send a signal to private investors, who will then calibrate their calculation of risk and move into the sector. That area is carbon capture, usage and storage. I have the privilege of serving on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. We published a report on CCUS, the first recommendation of which was that the Government should
“view CCUS primarily as a tool for decarbonisation, rather than as an extra cost on power generation. Deployment should be prioritised because CCUS presents an opportunity to reduce the overall cost of meeting the UK’s emissions reduction targets.”
The report went on:
“Our view is that the Government should be both ambitious and clear. We recommend the Government sets a specific target to store 10 million tonnes of carbon by 2030, and 20 million by 2035, to keep the UK on track to meet its 2050 climate change targets, as recommended by the CCC.”
However, once the Committee had received the Government’s response to its report, the Chair felt the need to write, with our support, to the Minister, stating that we were
“disappointed by the response’s content: it barely engages with the arguments made in our report, but instead appears largely to repeat previous policy statements.”
The Chair continued:
“Please could you explain why you have not committed to supporting CCUS where and whilst it remains the cheapest route to decarbonisation.”
May I use this opportunity to ask the Minister for his response to the Select Committee’s positive encouragement to make a positive decision on that very important element of our work towards 2050 and the decarbonisation of our economy?
A net zero target is right, but we must be aware in our battle to tackle the climate emergency that time is fleeting. The greenhouse element of carbon dioxide is not a tap we can turn off. Approximately a fifth of the carbon dioxide emitted in the past year will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years. The damage we cause now will not go away if we decide to start acting responsibly in, say, 31 years’ time; it will become a feature of human life for millennia. The cumulative nature of climate change means that the more radical we are now, the less radical future generations will have to be to stop even more catastrophic change and fix the damage we have already caused.
The climate emergency has climbed up the agenda over the past months, but it is far from a new issue. The previous synthesis report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came out more than five years ago, and the Government have had plenty of time to digest its findings and implement the drastic policies that we need to tackle climate change. Sadly, however, that is not what we have seen.
We have seen the end of the White Rose carbon capture and storage project, and the end of solar subsidies and support for biomass. The Green Investment Bank has been sold, and we have given up on zero carbon homes. The Swansea tidal lagoon has been stopped, and the green tax target cancelled. Fracking continues despite local opinion in different areas of the country and an increase in ground tremors, and still the Government stubbornly refuse to lift their ban on cheap and green onshore wind. Indeed, we are led by a Prime Minister who said that wind farms could not
“pull the skin off a rice pudding”.
Action on climate change is not just necessary to protect our future; it can also provide future-proofed and sustainable jobs for many of our communities. We have seen glimpses of that prosperity already through the wonderful work of companies such as Ørsted in Great Grimsby. I was pleased to open its new £14 million east coast hub, and it also works with local schools and colleges to train the next generation of workers to be ready for a green economy. However, we seem to have a Prime Minister and Government who are genetically opposed to taking sensible decisions to protect the planet, and if we are to avoid even more catastrophic damage to our planet, we need a drastic change in governance.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Sarah Newton for her brilliant speech. I take pride in the fact that the United Kingdom is the first developed nation to commit to net zero emissions, and wherever we in this House sit on the political spectrum, we can take a measure of quiet pride in that achievement. It is critical to show leadership, because although in this place we rightly focus on what we do as a nation, it is what happens in other parts of the world—particularly China—that will make or break global efforts on this issue.
Consider the Paris climate accord. Emissions in the UK peaked in 1990 and are now 42% lower, but China’s emissions are forecast to peak in 2030. That matters because China produces something like 25 times more emissions than the United Kingdom. We must show leadership so that we can try to impress on nations such as China—it produces more emissions than the United States and Europe combined—that it is in its interests to take those critical steps as responsible global citizens.
What should we do? First, there is new technology, and secondly there is old technology. On the former, if the Minister has not read it already, I commend to him the report by Mission Possible UK, which considers how technology can help with those hard-to-abate sectors. That includes specific technological solutions, such as electric drive trains for heavy transport, or reducing the cost of electrolysis so that we can produce hydrogen at an industrial level. There are already solutions on the shelf that we should consider.
The Government are getting behind other technologies. They have invested around £400 million in charging infrastructure, and there is onshore wind, carbon capture and storage and so on, but let us not neglect old technology. The best piece of technology, which absorbs carbon in a way that is inoffensive and off the shelf is, of course, the tree. Let us therefore take the opportunity to plant trees and lean into our targets.
Dr Wollaston made a point about cycling and walking. After the second world war, there was a similar situation in the Netherlands with roads that crowded out cycles. In the 1970s a decision was taken to reverse that—there is no unwritten rule that people in the Netherlands should all cycle; that decision was made by the Government. We could do similar things in this country, certainly in places such as Cheltenham, which is flat and easy to cycle around. We must lean into such suggestions and ensure that we have sustainable transport. With old technologies, new technologies, and global leadership we can get this done.
I am delighted that we are having this debate, because the Scottish Government have been leading the way on our transition to a net zero emissions society. While UK energy policy seems fixated on nuclear power, with its massive costs and technical challenges, Scotland has charted a course for a 100% renewable society, and it is on course to achieve that.
There is action on the ground and out at sea to transition our society to net zero emissions. Such actions are required to meet the statutory targets that were set out in legislation last week by the Scottish Parliament, and to move Scotland forward to having net zero emissions by 2045, and to be carbon neutral by 2040. Our infrastructure is being renewed and repurposed as a key pillar of moving to carbon neutral and net zero emissions. Our rail network will be decarbonised by 2035, with electrification across Scotland progressing at a rate not seen in 30 years. Half a billion pounds have been invested in bus infrastructure, and the foundation of the Scottish National Investment Bank will provide a financial backbone and the capital needed to transform our nation. We are building the UK’s first electric highway along the A9—the spine of Scotland—and investing more than ever before in the installation of charging points for the growing fleet of electric cars on the roads.
Those actions, and many more, are some of the practical steps being taken right now to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and to leave a long-lasting and sustainable legacy for our zero carbon future. All that action is being taken by the Scottish Government, but although they have cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament, they have one hand tied behind their back. Scotland could go further and faster if it had the energy levers that remain reserved to this place—powers that, as we have heard, are not being used appropriately. Such actions include cutting subsidies to onshore wind, removing support for solar energy, cancelling carbon capture and storage at Peterhead, and imposing unfair electricity transmission costs that disincentivise renewable development in remote areas—hardly a record to be proud of.
I will conclude with some thoughts from a 1981 National Geographic energy special that I picked up in a charity shop in the constituency of my hon. Friend Drew Hendry. It is entitled, “Facing up to the problems, getting down to solutions”, and 40 years later, although we have come a long way, in many ways that title still resonates.
The biggest takeaway is that the environment is given nary a mention. For example, environmental concerns are mentioned as one of the last drawbacks of coal energy production. One quote that resonated with me came from an agriculturalist called Steven C Wilson:
“With our bigger-is-better disposable non-renewable energy past, I wonder if, in squandering fuel, we have not also subverted self-reliance, neighbourly concern, the active appreciation of balance and harmony. I think confronting this legacy of too much, too soon would be the proper response to the energy crisis.”
Forty years on, that still means something. It shows that we must all play a part in this, because it is not just an issue for Governments.
I thank my hon. Friend Sarah Newton for her excellent opening remarks, and for putting this subject back on the agenda. I also commend my constituents, hundreds of whom have spoken to me this year about their concerns in a way that has been constructive and productive, and that has helped me to understand my role as a local MP in bringing about change. We must do all we can to accelerate our charge to reach net zero emissions, as that is the right thing to do. The opportunity to improve people’s lives is significant, and much can be done straightaway. What is not to like?
We can improve and deliver cheaper-to-run homes and transport. Getting that right will lead to improved and sustainable farming and food production, improved and healthier natural environments, and improved skills and pay, particularly in vocational jobs. In places such as St Ives, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, vocational jobs in construction and renewable energy are a way of creating and spreading wealth.
This is a great opportunity for a progressive Government, and we need leadership. If we want to bring forward plans to ban the production of cars powered by dirty fuel—and I think we should—we must find a way to step up the production of electric vehicles and support low-income families to purchase them. We must properly roll out smart meters so that we use energy when it is available, and we must help households to generate and store energy. To achieve a significant reduction in carbon emissions, the Government can introduce helpful, exciting and ambitious legislation to bring those things together and help families to use better and cheaper transport.
My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth talked about the opportunity to reduce emissions from our homes. As has been said, homes and transport contribute an enormous chunk of our carbon emissions. We can quickly accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions by addressing those things. With my background in the building trade, I know that it can be done. It is right to accelerate policy to make all new homes carbon neutral, and to look at providing interest-free loans to improve the efficiency of businesses and homes. However, as the draft environment Bill comes forward, we should quickly seize on the idea of having the most ambitious nature recovery network to benefit every corner of the country.
Climate change is not an inconvenient truth, as Al Gore put it. It is a global emergency. That is why thousands of people outside this place and millions across the world are saying, “Act now.” They know we are essentially smoking ourselves to death with fossil fuels. We are guzzling gasoline as if there is no tomorrow. They know, as we should, that that will force migration, war, famine, water shortages and loss of insects—the list goes on. We sit around here saying, “We played a great game in Britain,” but the reason carbon emissions have gone down in Britain is that we closed our coal mines and exported our industry to China. Now we are bringing it over in ships, using more carbon. We sit here talking about 2050 as if it is a great achievement, when it is not. The latest prediction, given by Nature last year, was 1.5° change by 2030, not 2040. That is why we need to up our game to 2030 ourselves.
The Government go ahead with fracking, which generates 5% of methane emissions. Methane is 83 times worse than CO2 for global warming, making it worse than coal. We should stop fracking now. The Government stopped onshore wind because of a few nimbies. We want wind. We want waves in Swansea lagoon. We want solar. Everyone is going on about nuclear, but the biggest nuclear opportunity is the sun itself. We should have networks—we have got Africa linked into southern Europe—and work together for change.
The Committee on Climate Change says we have done woefully badly on insulation in homes. We could combat fuel poverty and reduce emissions. We need a new clear air Act. We need to bring forward the banning of the sale of all cars that run on fossil fuels—diesel and petrol—to 2030 instead of 2042. We need to tax. We need a fiscal strategy to drive people’s expectations and interest towards carbon neutrality and carbon negativity, but we are not doing that because we want to please the motorist, and we keep a freeze on diesel. We want a tax on plastics as well.
We also need to think about our trade. Why are we, with the whole process of Brexit, turning away from our nearest market to markets further afield? There should be a carbon charge on our trade, and we should think carefully about Brexit. Why is it that we can all fly to Spain for 50 quid, when it costs £100 to go by train to Swansea? That is not sustainable. Why do we not act? It is because we are frightened of people. What about fossil fuel subsidies? We are subsidising fossil fuels by £12 billion a year, compared with £8 billion for renewables.
The reality is that if it is not painful now it will be agony later. We need to take the tough action now and stop messing around patting ourselves on the back pretending we are solving the problem when in fact we are part of it. Those who will not act should shift to one side and let someone who will do it.
Someone once said:
“It is mankind and his activities that are changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways”,
“It is no good squabbling over who is responsible or who should pay…we shall only succeed in dealing with the problems through a vast international, co-operative effort.”
In her address to the United Nations in 1989, as on so many things, Margaret Thatcher was right and was demonstrating far-sighted global leadership. That is what Governments of both parties in this country have done. The Climate Change Act 2008 was passed with all-party support in this House; it set the original target to reduce our emissions by 80%—at the time, an ambitious target. It was with cross-party support in this House that we set a more ambitious target to hit net zero by 2050. That cross-party effort is helpful because it gives business and consumers the confidence to invest and plan ahead, knowing that the policies will continue regardless of who is in government.
It is worth reiterating that we have made considerable progress—but not because we want to pat ourselves on the back, as Geraint Davies suggests. It is worth reiterating it for two reasons. The first is to demonstrate to people that the issue is one that legislators take seriously and have acted on. Britain has one of the most impressive records globally, and we have demonstrated the global leadership that my hon. Friends the Members for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) and for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) spoke of. That enables us to keep up global pressure on countries that emit far more carbon than we do, which will be critical in hitting the target. The other reason is to demonstrate to the younger generation that people in this place take the matter seriously. We can debate—I am happy to—how much we are doing and how fast we are going, but anyone who says nothing has happened in the past 30 years is being dishonest and disingenuous. It is simply not true. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but that is exactly what I heard a number of Extinction Rebellion demonstrators say when they were interviewed on “Sophy Ridge on Sunday” on Sky. They said over and over that nothing had happened in the last 30 years, which is simply not true. I do not think that it helps the debate if people perpetuate untruths.
It is worth mentioning some of the considerable achievements that the Committee on Climate Change set out in its report, including massive reductions in emissions from power, waste and buildings. We have made considerable progress. However, I am the first to acknowledge that there are considerable challenges, and the Committee on Climate Change sets out areas where we need to make ambitious changes, such as in transport and housing—issues that Opposition Members raised.
There is a challenge for the Government, now that we have legislated for the target. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham brought in a ten-minute rule Bill, the Climate Change (Net Zero UK Carbon Account) Bill, before the Government moved in that direction, and he should be commended for that. The challenge is to respond now with detailed policy work, because it is through such work that we will get the achievements. If we are to deliver the changes while improving the population’s living standards, the challenge is to deliver the technology and innovation to reduce carbon emissions while raising living standards for all our people.
I have always thought that one of the most empowering sentences ever to be uttered was “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and in Hull we are living it. At present, forests store up to 45% of land carbon. In Hull we want to increase that. We are launching our ambition to become a butterfly city through the mass planting of more than 3,000 alder buckthorns at the end of the year. The aim is that it will be a continuing project to create the UK’s and, as far as I know, the world’s first true butterfly city. We are beginning with the adoption of the beautiful sulphur-yellow brimstone butterfly.
The project has brought together people throughout the city. The Deep, Hull City Council, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation, the Plant a Tree Foundation, community allotment groups, community orchards and Hull and East Yorkshire woods group, which is responsible for delivering the northern forest in our area, have pledged to include 2,000 buckthorns in their planting over the winter. Even Highways England has got involved, having agreed to include the tree in its work on the A63 at Castle Street.
For the public planting—the launch is on Saturday
Those 3,000 plantings will, however, still leave us a long way short of the target of a carbon-neutral way of life, or indeed the reversal of the dramatic decline in insect numbers across Europe. As immensely proud as I am of the response that the project has received from all areas of the community in Hull, the biggest challenge lies at the feet of Government. The market alone cannot and will not solve the challenges of CO2-driven climate change. The international community is crying out for leadership on climate change, and the implementation of Labour’s green industrial revolution would provide just that. To quote Greta Thunberg,
“We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.”
I love the way Emma Hardy promotes what her community does. I am just as proud of my council in Bath and what it is doing.
It is true that we need to harness the energy of everybody. It worries me that we have all been guilty of complacency; we have not done enough. It is not that we are saying that we have done nothing, but we have not done enough. This Government need to step up and to understand that we need to do more than we have done in the past. That is all I am pleading for.
As Liberal Democrats, we believe that at the heart of the transition needs to be a massive transformation of how we do things in the next 10 years. There needs to be a fair transition. We need to set up a fair transition commission—the Government could do that tomorrow—to look at which communities are the most affected by the change, where we will face the most job losses and where industries will collapse, and to provide new jobs and new opportunities. We need to take those communities and the people who are most affected with us, so that the people who can least afford it do not have to pay the highest price. That is very important. The Government could set up a just and fair transition commission tomorrow if they were serious in their thinking about the subject.
Bringing people with us has been talked about a lot, as well as how we are organising citizens’ assemblies. Again, the Government could start that process now. It is not just a matter of informing people about what we want to do; we have to involve people in decision making. Citizens’ assemblies do not take decisions out of Government or Parliament; they allow people to be part of decision making by letting them develop options. Anybody who is serious about taking people with us should look at the way citizens’ assemblies work. They do not just inform people at the bottom from the top; they allow people from the bottom to help us come to good decisions. I trust in people and I believe that we can involve them. Let us set up citizens’ assemblies; we can do that tomorrow.
I thank Sarah Newton for securing the debate and I congratulate the Government on the policies they have. I will suggest some ideas that they may want to take forward.
We need funding models such as the regulated asset base model for large-scale investments, including all new nuclear plants, plus a clear commitment to the funding and delivery of carbon capture, usage and storage at scale. We need to ensure that all new properties are zero carbon and have a smart meter, and to build in connection points and ultra-fast charging for electric vehicles. We need to boost energy efficiency through a national energy efficiency programme, and restrict the sale and new tenancy of properties below energy performance certificate band C from 2030. Better targeting of social support and winter fuel payments is needed.
I commend to the Minister the stance that the National Farmers Union has taken and the commitment that farmers have given to achieving carbon zero by 2050. We must farm smarter, focus on improving productivity, encourage carbon capture and boost our production of renewable energy. The climate impact of UK grazing is among the lowest in the world; that should be recognised by the Minister and this Government. At the same time, UK farmland conserves important carbon stocks in England’s uplands. The NFU has a strategy to achieve carbon zero by 2050. It is committed to doing that and has said:
“British farmers have an important role to play in tackling climate change and our members are committed to this challenge, alongside fulfilling their responsibility to the public in providing high quality, sustainable and affordable food.”
I will be extremely brief, Mr Gray. Labour Members are proud of the Climate Change Act 2008, but we are even prouder of the green new deal that we passed at the Labour party conference, which takes forward the principles of decarbonisation, jobs and justice. That is why we held a citizens’ assembly in Birmingham within 24 hours of Parliament declaring a climate emergency. Several ideas emerged from that, which I will touch on.
First, we need green power. We spend £10 billion a year on green power in our region. Some 99% of that spend leaves the region, which is why we need a municipal solar company to turn our rooftops into power plants across the region.
Secondly, we need to decarbonise our transport system. We cannot do that unless we connect transport together. That is why we need powers over bus and rail franchising. Crucially, we need to transform the number of electric vehicle charging points. There are more EV charging points in Westminster than in the whole of the west midlands; that is not acceptable. We need to decarbonise our housing stock, which means we need devolved control of the £175 million of ecofunding that is our entitlement. We need to start building homes to A plus standards.
Finally, we need to make sure that we have a regional investment bank to back the green firms that are creating green jobs.
None of this will change the imagination without a significant investment in nature. At the moment, we need a forest the size of Tunisia to absorb all the carbon that is produced by the west midlands. That will not happen, but we could insist that our airports become carbon neutral and use that investment to replant Shakespeare’s great forest of Arden. The citizens in Parliament Square remind us that it is not acceptable for politics to remain frozen while the planet is warming. That is why we need to crack on.
I congratulate Sarah Newton. She said that everyone in this room is committed to net zero; she is correct about that. She also said that things must go further and faster, and that we must see a strategy and concrete policies from the UK Government. I agree with her on the need for targets, tests and scrutiny, as well as on her points about retrofitting energy efficiency. However, I will be a critical friend during the short time I have to speak and point out areas where things could be done much better by the UK Government.
Spending per head on energy efficiency in Scotland is four times that in England. If it were more, we could do even more in Scotland. The UK Government are falling short on home and business energy efficiency, and they are way behind on carbon capture, utilisation and storage. They need to get on with decarbonisation of the gas grid, which must be accelerated to enable low carbon heating for homes and businesses. They must flatten the pedal on vehicle and tax incentives to promote low carbon choices. VAT must be reduced on energy efficiency improvements. This Government must drop their ideological opposition to renewable onshore wind and stop holding solar power back.
Luke Pollard said that more of the same will not do. The budget needs to cut through to every aspect of climate change, and big, bold investments are required. James Richardson from the National Infrastructure Commission said:
“You need to really push ahead with renewables in the 2020s.”
Chris Stark from the Committee on Climate Change said that the choice is between nuclear and CCS; I firmly believe that CCUS is the way forward. Evidence abounds that poor air quality affects productivity. The National Infrastructure Commission has said that the money we need to spend on air quality should not be seen as a cost, but as a benefit to us.
I agree with what Stephen Kerr said about young people. I will focus on what he said about CCUS. He is correct that we on the Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy were unanimous in expressing huge disappointment about the UK Government’s response to CCUS. Scotland has enormous potential in this area. Storage and readiness at St Fergus has the infrastructure, expertise and transferable skills to move with a fast first-mover advantage. It has capacity to store at least 5.7 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. To put that into perspective, that is 150 times the emissions from Scotland in 2016. That is a massive storage capacity. The UK Government need to get on with doing that. Existing oil and gas infrastructure must be plugged and transferred, or it will be lost.
My hon. Friend Gavin Newlands talked about the UK’s obsession with nuclear power. He outlined the many actions of the Scottish Government and talked about the cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament. He said clearly that we could do more if we had the powers to do so. The UK Government need to step up and allow us to go even further and faster with what we need to do.
The cost of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, already the most expensive single development on the planet, is set to rise by nearly £3 billion. The Government should not be pouring money down the bottomless pit of new nuclear when offshore wind, for example, is much less than half the price for consumers and does not blight the planet with further nuclear legacies. It is important that this Government strip out their nuclear obsession.
Emma Hardy talked about the fantastic opportunity for butterflies and, more important, for trees. Forestry is a critical area where this Government need to up their game dramatically. In 2019, the new Scottish Government forestry strategy and tree planting scheme across Scotland took enormous strides. The industry employs 25,000 people and the trees planted in Scotland make up 84% of all trees planted across the UK. Some 22 million trees were planted in Scotland, while England fell 7 million short of its target. The Government need to get that fixed.
I will not take any interventions, because I want the Minister to have time to respond.
The Scottish National party Scottish Government are leading by example, redoubling efforts to end Scotland’s contribution to climate change by 2045. The Secretary-General of the United Nations described Scotland’s holistic approach to tackling climate change as “a qualified success,” and called on the UK Government to follow. The UK Government should use their reserved powers to help Scotland to achieve its climate change ambitions, not hinder us with opposition to renewables and inaction on energy efficiency.
We welcome the UK’s joint bid with Italy to host the UN framework convention on climate change COP 26 in Glasgow. That should be a progressive and inclusive event, and the Minister here today should absolutely disagree with the Prime Minister, who said at the Tory conference that the First Minister of Scotland should be banned from attending. That comment was puerile, ignorant and has been roundly condemned across Scotland; I hope the Minister will do the same today.
I congratulate Sarah Newton on obtaining today’s debate. It is truly important, but should not have been obtained by a Back-Bencher. It should have been scheduled in Government time, on one day, as I called for a few months ago when we passed the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019, amending the Climate Change Act 2008 to move to net zero. That was a 90-minute debate on an amendment, and this is our next debate on the matter.
In the words of my hon. Friend Luke Pollard, it is not good enough. We need urgently to debate this matter properly. An indication of why that is so important is the tremendous turnout of hon. Members today, and the informed and thoughtful contributions from around the Chamber that hon. Members have had to gabble through on a two-minute time limit because there is no opportunity to debate the topic properly, on the Floor of the House, in Government time. The first thing I ask the Minister is whether he is willing to ensure that a debate is obtained at the earliest possible opportunity, to discuss this important series of events properly and do it justice on the Floor of the House.
We might ask ourselves why it is that a debate has not been scheduled. Is it that:
“Overall, actions to date have fallen short of what is needed for the previous targets and well short of those required for the net-zero target”?
Maybe that is why this issue does not seem fit for a debate. Is it because:
“The Government’s own projections demonstrate that its policies and plans are insufficient to meet the fourth or fifth carbon budgets…This policy gap has widened in the last year as an increase in the projection of future emissions outweighed the impact of new policies”?
Is it because the Government:
“has been too slow in developing plans for carbon capture and storage”?
Is it because:
“The ‘Road to Zero’
ambition for a phase-out of petrol and diesel cars by 2040 is too late”?
Is it because:
“Policies are not in place to deliver the Government's ambitions on energy efficiency”?
None of those words are mine; they are all the words of the Committee on Climate Change’s 2019 report to Parliament, which set out a coruscating catalogue of things that should have happened and have not as far as policy development is concerned. That underlines a theme that has been part of our debate this morning. It is not that nothing has been done since 2008, when the Climate Change Act was passed; it is just that nothing much has been done, and that ambitions for doing things next fall woefully short of what is needed, given the climate change emergency that we have declared and that we know is underlined by the people now demonstrating outside Parliament.
It is not that nothing has been done on climate change in particular areas, but, as the Committee on Climate Change itself indicates, the only area where any significant progress in reducing carbon emissions has happened since 2008 is in the power sector—not even the energy sector as a whole, because nothing much has happened on heat. The power sector has been responsible for 75% of emission reductions overall since 2008. Every single other sector has been level or increasing—in transport, housing and industrial sectors, emissions are level or going up. Those are areas where we can go further than saying that nothing much has happened: nothing has happened in those areas over the period.
It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that those things happen, and they are woefully failing to set policies that can really shift those numbers on climate change, given the 12 years that were set out by the IPCC as the time available to achieve measures that move us toward the zero-carbon economy. We have set ourselves that target, but we have no policies in place to achieve it. We have 12 years to get those policies, not only on paper, but in place in reality on the ground.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to look seriously at how we live in the homes we already have and the energy efficiency needed in our homes, not only in Wales, in Cardiff North where I am, but across the whole UK, as well as ensuring that the new homes we are building are built to a very high sustainable standard?
My hon. Friend has read my mind, because I was just about to come on to that. She is absolutely right, and it is one element of the difference between the ambition we should have for the extent of the changes we need to make, and what we see before us in terms of the existing clean growth plan, which, as I have emphasised, is not meeting its own targets even on the old emissions levels, and is certainly not addressing what we need to do with our new targets. We need a comprehensive, country-wide, house-by-house energy refit, and it must be done urgently—in stark contrast with the pick-and-mix approach that has been taken so far on energy efficiency management, with the occasional person getting a refit.
There are a whole series of other areas where the numbers that we need to achieve bear no relation to the ambitions currently in Government policy. To achieve our energy ambitions, we urgently need to increase our offshore capacity sevenfold over the next few years. We need to increase solar provision threefold over the next 10 years. As Drew Hendry mentioned, we need to really get going on carbon capture and storage, not just with a few projects but comprehensively across industry across the country.
We need trees, as has been mentioned, but we do not need to put a few trees in here and there, important though that is. In order to replace the forest cover lost in this country over the years, which is absolutely central to capturing and maintaining carbon stores, we need to plant 2.4 billion trees over the next 10 to 20 years— 30,000 hectares per annum of new forest cover—to get us anywhere near the sort of levels we need to achieve our ambitions. That is solely lacking in the Government’s actions at the moment.
I will just draw attention to one little thing that came out recently.
Very briefly. The 2019 spending review came out with the fabulous figure for decarbonisation of £30 million. To get some scale on that—
Indeed; I am about to wind up, Mr Gray. For scale, “Paddington 2”, the movie, had a budget of £32 million.
Thank you very much, Mr Gray. I have to say that this has been an excellent debate, and I sincerely commend my hon. Friend Sarah Newton for securing it. I hope that we can have more time in the House of Commons to discuss these important issues.
One thing that struck me in the debate was the level of consensus. There were one or two examples of political point scoring here and there, and we can accept that, but I was delighted to see so many MPs sing the praises of their local councils and of the fact that local communities are making great strides. In one of the few agreements I have ever had with Emma Hardy, I completely agree that the Government have to be involved in this. No one in this House has praised the free market as extensively as I have over the years, but even I, as an energy Minister, realise that, as she clearly said, private enterprise and the free market economy will not deliver this target on their own. That is very clear. As a Government Minister, I am absolutely committed to the target.
We can argue about how quickly we are reaching the target, and I happen to think that we have done a great deal as a country. Dr Whitehead said, “Oh well, you’ve done okay in the power sector”, but the power sector is huge. Looking at the history of this country, at what the industrial revolution meant and at industrialisation across the world, power is absolutely at the heart of it. For a country that for 300 years was powered by coal burning and fossil fuels, taking coal off the system entirely in 2025, in terms of power generation, is an achievement.
I do not want to rest on my laurels. I do not want to be accused of complacency—there is still a hell of a lot to do. However, to face the future, we have to recognise where we have come from. I pay tribute to the last Labour Government for passing the Climate Change Act 2008. I do not think we need to play childish, point-scoring games on that. It was a significant piece of legislation, and I am happy to say that. I think that what we did in amending that Act in 2019 was also significant and bold and showed leadership.
As the new Minister—I have been in post for two months—I have seen a number of my counterparts across the world, and all have said that the United Kingdom is a leader in this area. That does not mean that we have solved everything. I think it is impressive that we have reduced our carbon emissions by 42% since 1990 while growing our economy by two thirds, but I fully recognise that we need to do more on energy efficiency and insulating homes, which is why we are spending a large amount of money dealing with fuel poverty. We have put in bids for the Budget; it would be inappropriate for me to say exactly what those bids are, but we are looking at this. Our officials and Ministers are very focused on the idea that fuel poverty is a real problem.
We have also committed ourselves to offshore wind. Ten years ago, many people thought that offshore wind was a crackers and slightly bizarre idea. An energy specialist was telling me that the reduction in the costs of offshore wind is the biggest story of the decade. We were looking at costs of £150 per megawatt-hour at the beginning of the decade. The first auction came in at £119. Only two weeks ago, the price was £39 per megawatt-hour. That is a significant achievement. Nobody was saying that these targets were in any way achievable, and while I fully appreciate that Opposition Members say that we should move further and faster, and I fully understand that we are not exactly where we should be, we have to recognise that there have been big achievements in this.
On the forward view, we can dwell on the past and say that we got the right legislation, but my right hon. Friend Damian Hinds and my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth are absolutely right that we can all say a date. It can trip off the tongue—net zero by 2050 or 2030—but how do we actually get there? That is exactly what the Government are trying to set out. My team is looking at pathways to net zero, and it is clear to me that the best way, in terms of energy security and also cost, is to have a balanced approach. The question of an entirely renewable economy was raised, but the problem with that is that we would need huge amounts of capacity because of the intermittent nature of that power.
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the target has changed. The Climate Change Act 2008 set an 80% reduction, but this year we have set a net zero carbon target. There is absolutely a wider debate about how we move on— [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is trying to put words into my mouth, but I am just saying that there is a broader debate.
I am not going to give way any more; I have to sum up.
It is absolutely right that we should debate these subjects. There has been considerable progress with a bipartisan approach. I will not stand here and say that everything that Labour did was terrible and that everything we have done is brilliant. That is a childish approach—[Interruption.] For the avoidance of any doubt, I am not saying that Opposition Members are saying that. I am just saying that we have to have a bipartisan approach, because as an hon. Member suggested, that is the only way that businesses will be able to invest in this sector and work with the Government.
Lastly, I will talk about COP 26. Hosting it in Glasgow will be a great opportunity for the United Kingdom to show its strengths and to show the progress we have made in this area. People from around the world are looking forward to this event. They say that Britain seems to have cross-party consensus. They look at our politics in other areas, such as Brexit, and think it is very disunited, but on this particular issue, people say that, across the board, from the Conservative party to the Labour party, the Scottish National party and the Liberal Democrats, there is a degree of consensus, which we should build on and encourage. In that spirit, I will take a very quick intervention.
First, we need to get other countries to sign up to the net zero carbon target. They have not done that. This is one thing that will absolutely be at the top of our agenda at COP 26. That is exactly how we are showing leadership. The Chinese Energy Minister says that they do not want to pollute their country and want a cleaner energy approach, and that they are looking to countries such as Britain to help them. That is where the leadership comes in, and that is what we will apply at COP 26.
In the very few seconds I have left, I thank everyone here. Can I take it that I can add their names to an application for a Backbench Business debate in the Chamber, so that we can carry on this really important debate? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I will do that.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the Government plan to reach net zero by 2050.