Government Plan for Net Zero Emissions — [James Gray in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:51 am on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 10:51 am, 8th October 2019

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.