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Net Zero Targets and Decarbonising Transport — [Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:51 am on 4th February 2020.

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Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Minister of State (Department for Transport) 10:51 am, 4th February 2020

May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes? In the time available, I shall do my best to set out the Government’s strategy and to deal with the many points that were raised.

First, I thank my right hon. Friend Damian Hinds for calling this debate on the importance of decarbonising the transport sector. As the first Minister for the decarbonisation of transport, I welcome this opportunity and the many contributions from Members from, I think, all parties in the House. We have seen quite a lot of expertise, including from the former Chair of the Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood, and I have heard an awful lot with which we agree, including on the scale of the challenge of global climate change and the imperative of gripping transport decarbonisation now. There was an important point about avoiding climate anxiety while stressing the urgency of the situation. We do not want to depress people, particularly the young, by making out that this task is impossible.

We also heard about the real strides that we have made as a country and the need for the transport sector now to lean in and show the leadership that the energy sector has shown. I was particularly interested in the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire made about behavioural insights and understanding the real barriers to EV uptake and modal shift—indeed, we are putting a lot of emphasis on that in the strategy—and about the need for a smooth evolution of the support framework.

As the first Minister for the future of transport, focusing on decarbonisation, digitalisation and disconnection, I, with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, am absolutely determined that we will take an integrated approach. That means putting people and places—neighbourhoods—at the heart of the vision for transport, looking at what the transport sector needs to do to put people and places first and looking at our research and development programme across Government to ensure that we are backing the right innovations in technologies to support future green transport. To that end, we have established in the DFT a new directorate for the future of transport, which has seven workstreams and seven directors, dealing with R&D, finance, place, data, regulation, decarbonisation and the importance of behavioural insights as well of ensuring that we go with the grain of people’s aspirations for their families and their constituencies.

I do not want to take up too much time agreeing with everyone on the scale of the crisis. We have only to look to what has been happening in the past few months around the world—to Australia, to our own floods and to the rate of polar ice melt and the rising sea levels—to know that this is the defining global challenge of our generation. I can feel in this Chamber the appetite across the parties to show the electorate in this country, after the divisions of the past few years, that we are united in ensuring that we tackle it.

Let there be no doubt that this Government are 100% committed to leading—not just delivering but leading —and therefore we must accelerate our action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid longer-lasting consequences. That will mean reducing car dependency and building lower car dependency into the new houses that we are building, and that is why I was delighted last week to announce on the east-west arc, for example, that we are focusing on rail links to the new housing.

The decisions that we make will affect the future of the planet for generations to come. This is urgent. I am delighted that, as I am speaking, the Prime Minister is sitting down having just given his keynote speech defining how important this is for the Government. We will have to show new models of leadership globally, and that is why hosting COP this November is vital.

I will just take this opportunity to say that since Mrs Thatcher was, famously, the first western leader to warn of the pace of this back in the 1980s, we saw a few decades of quite slow progress until the last decade. I pay tribute to Edward Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg for putting together a consensus that we needed to act 10 years ago.

The Climate Change Act 2008 was the first of its kind in the world and made the UK the first country to have legally binding long-term emissions reduction targets, and we should be proud of that. Since 2000, we have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 country. Last year, with support from this House, we became the first major economy to set a legally binding target to achieve net zero emissions from across the UK economy by 2050. That will end our contribution to global climate change, but it does not mean the end of prosperity. I am equally proud that we have created more than 400,000 jobs in this sector. We need to be clear that green growth is more sustainable, resilient and globally exportable, and creates more opportunities for the next generation of people in this country.

Between 1990 and 2017, we reduced emissions by more than 40% while growing our economy by more than two thirds. Green growth works. However, we are not complacent—