Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Climate Justice — [Sir Charles Walker in the Chair.]

Innovation in Hospital Design – in Westminster Hall at 11:24 am on 4th February 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

[Sir Charles Walker in the Chair.]

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East 2:30 pm, 4th February 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered climate justice.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank Mr Speaker for granting the debate, and I welcome the Minister to his place. I also thank colleagues for being present, including those who have long spoken out in this place on climate change, climate justice and ecology.

Climate justice is a term often brandished around, but personally, and for the purposes of the debate, I take it to mean addressing the climate crisis in a way that is fair and equitable. Climate justice links human rights and development to achieve a people-centred approach, safeguarding the rights of the most marginalised people and sharing the impact of climate change equitably and fairly, because we know that those least responsible for climate change suffer its gravest consequences.

Disadvantaged groups will continue to be disproportion- ately affected as climate change persists. Those groups will be affected due to inequalities that are based on differences in gender, race, ethnicity, age and income. The fourth national climate assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that low-income individuals and communities are more exposed to environmental hazards and pollution.

Climate change is already forcing people from their land and homes. Oxfam found that climate-fuelled disasters were the No. 1 driver of internal displacements over the past decade, forcing an estimated 20 million people a year from their homes.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

Is the hon. Lady aware that the New Zealand Government have awarded visas for climate refugees so that they can live in New Zealand, and does she think that that will develop further over the coming years?

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention; that is a very good point. I certainly think that in the wake of the climate crisis we have to reassess our definition of economic migrants.

The World Bank warns that, without urgent action, 143 million people will be displaced in sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and Latin America by 2050. As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has rightly stated, climate justice is about not only ensuring that nobody is unfairly affected by climate change today, but recognising that future generations have rights too.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Labour/Co-operative, Feltham and Heston

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the debate. She is making an excellent speech. Does she agree that, based on some of the analysis that she has already referred to, the costs of not dealing with climate justice will far outweigh those of doing so, given the legacy that we will leave for future generations and what they will have to clear up?

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East

I agree with my hon. Friend. There will be no future generations on a dead planet. As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has stated, climate justice is not just about us here and now; it is about future generations too. I thank her for raising that point.

Continuing to burn fossil fuels or expand aviation, and compensating by paying poorer countries to offset those emissions, risks only worsening and entrenching current inequalities. Will the Minister categorically rule out the UK dumping our carbon reduction obligations on to developing countries? Failure to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of drastic climate and ecological breakdown threatens to reverse hard-won development gains and to increase poverty, inequality, hunger and humanitarian disasters.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Labour, Hampstead and Kilburn

I thank my hon. Friend for introducing this important debate, especially in the light of the fact that the UK will host the COP26 vital meeting later this year, which is really our last chance to come up with a meaningful plan to tackle carbon emissions. The Government have used very warm words on tackling the climate emergency, but does she agree that those words ring hollow when a UK Government agency, UK Export Finance, continues to fund new oil and gas projects across the world that, when complete, could amount to as much as a sixth of the UK’s total annual carbon emissions?

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East

My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. Indeed, current emission reduction pledges from the international community are insufficient to meet the Paris agreement goals and instead put us on track for a terrifying 3° of warming.

Despite the UK hosting COP26 later this year, more than 90% of the £2 billion in energy deals struck at last month’s UK-Africa investment summit were for fossil fuels. Will the Minister clarify how the deal struck by the Prime Minister last month is consistent with the Government’s stated aim of tackling climate change and setting an example for other nations?

Even with all the evidence before us, and in spite of the rhetoric, the UK Government are pressing ahead with Heathrow expansion. They have effectively banned the cheapest form of renewables, new onshore wind, through restrictive planning measures and removal of subsidies. They have cut frontline environmental agencies, such as Natural England, to the extent that they cannot even meet their basic statutory duties. Meanwhile, the UK is missing nearly all our international biodiversity targets, and species decline and habitat neglect and destruction are taking place at an alarming rate.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

The hon. Member is making a compelling speech. Does she agree that we should add to that litany of charges against the Government the fact that they continue to measure their emissions in terms of our production emission reductions rather than our consumption emission reductions? If we started to take account of what we consumed in imported emissions, the very bad progress that we have already made would look even worse.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I thank her for that, and for her many years of work in Westminster on climate justice.

In the light of all this, it comes as little surprise that on BBC Radio 4 this morning, Claire O’Neill, the former president of the UN climate summit in Glasgow, said that the Prime Minister has admitted to her that he does not even understand climate change. Will the Minister lay out what major changes—not promises, consultations or strategies, but tangible changes—have taken place or been set in motion since the House passed Labour’s climate and environment emergency last May?

Does the Minister agree that it is imperative that the UK gets our own house in order, and is seen to be making substantial progress on decarbonisation, climate change, adaption and habitat restoration, ahead of hosting COP26? Will he outline investments and actions in the pipeline between now and November—specifically, investments in infrastructure to create the green, clean jobs of the future? Will he clarify whether the Prime Minister is indeed entirely ignorant about climate change, as claimed by his former colleague? Lastly, is there a reason why the climate sub-committee has not met since it was first announced, and on what dates is it scheduled to meet?

There is a huge opportunity in Glasgow later this year, but decisions must be made and acted upon that keep fossil fuels in the ground, transform our food systems, decarbonise our production and consumption, restore ecosystems, and completely change our economies at a scale that matches the enormity of the crisis at hand.

Many Members will be alarmed by reports from the former president of the UN climate summit that the Government are

“miles off track” in setting a positive agenda for COP26, and that promises of action

“are not close to being met”.

What does the Minister have to say in response to assertions that preparations for COP26 are

“mired in chaos and confusion”?—[Official Report, 3 February 2020;
Vol. 671, c. 34.]

In the light of those significant concerns, will the Minister agree to provide the House next month with a substantive briefing update on preparations for COP26?

The question of how to support the countries most affected by the impacts of climate change has been a long-running debate at COPs over the years and is an important factor in achieving climate justice. After a year that has seen the likes of Hurricane Dorian and Cyclone Idai inflict extreme losses on disadvantaged communities across the developing world, addressing the issue of climate finance can no longer be delayed. Will the Minister outline for us the UK’s position on climate finance for poorer nations? How does he propose to involve disadvantaged groups in the planning and policy-making process, so that those individuals have a say in their own future?

It is imperative that developing countries receive the support they need to adapt to the impacts of climate change and reduce their own emissions. Developing countries should not be forced to choose between schools and medicine and coping with climate breakdown. Will the Government commit to working with others at COP26 to develop new sources of climate finance, such as a polluters’ tax, so as to not rely on the overseas aid budget alone?

With the addition of paragraph 51 to the COP21 decision accompanying the Paris agreement, developing nations reluctantly agreed that loss and damage could not be used to claim compensation from richer nations. Will the Minister outline the Government’s position on paragraph 51 and say whether he supports calls by the US to further exclude countries not signed up to the Paris agreement from any liability for the impacts of climate change?

Action to tackle climate change is increasingly being viewed through the lens of human rights, internationally and legally. As has been seen in some key strategic cases, the human rights basis for litigation on climate change has increasingly resonated with judges. New lawsuits have been able to draw on advancements in attribution science to establish a critical causal link between a particular source of emissions and climate-related damage, so the message to the world’s biggest polluters is clear: “Your time is up.” The communities most impacted by the reckless and short-termist actions of Governments and major polluters are, with increasing frequency, having their day in court. Will the Government take a human rights-based approach to climate change ahead of COP26, supporting those most impacted by, and most vulnerable to, the impacts of climate breakdown?

People of my generation are here to claim our right to a stable planet. We are here to shake decision makers out of their comfort zones, because the kind of action needed to address the urgency and scale of the climate and ecological crisis can take place only outside of those comfort zones. If the Government are sincere about the scale and urgency of the problem, we will not continue to hear about endless plans, pledges and consultations, but will see concrete actions in the here and now. COP26 is a historic opportunity that simply cannot be botched, yet sadly everything we have seen and heard points to this whole process being recklessly mismanaged under the stewardship of this Prime Minister. I will end with some advice from the outgoing president of the UN climate summit:

“My advice to anybody to whom Boris is making promises—whether it is voters, world leaders, ministers, employees or indeed, to family members—is to get it in writing, get a lawyer to look at it and make sure the money is in the bank.”

That is what all of us in this room must resolve to do.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

If everybody sticks to about six minutes, we should get all Back Benchers in. If you do not stick to six minutes, I will introduce a time limit.

Photo of Theo Clarke Theo Clarke Conservative, Stafford 2:44 pm, 4th February 2020

I begin by congratulating the Prime Minister on launching the UN climate summit in London today. I had the pleasure of working with Sir David Attenborough last year on tackling plastic pollution, and I am delighted that such a revered conservationist has today supported the Government and the UK’s role as a world leader in tackling climate change. I welcome the call this morning for international action to achieve global net zero emissions. I also thank Nadia Whittome for securing today’s debate on the important subject of climate justice.

In my view, the science is clear: if we continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, climate change will continue to get worse and temperatures will continue to rise, along with associated impacts and risks—particularly severe and frequent extreme weather, including flooding, which affects my constituency of Stafford. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to stop adding to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. I was pleased that in 2008, the UK passed the Climate Change Act with huge cross-party consensus, becoming the first country in the world to set a legally binding target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I am also pleased that the target is now to achieve an 80% reduction in those gases by 2050 from their 1990 levels. The Government should be congratulated on their support for, and investment in, clean energy since 2010.

Reducing the impact of climate change is a matter of great interest to my constituents. We are currently having a public consultation across Stafford borough, through which residents, businesses and organisations have the opportunity to give their views on the draft climate change strategy produced by Stafford Borough Council. This follows the council’s declaration of a climate change emergency last year, with a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2040.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Labour/Co-operative, Feltham and Heston

I am very pleased to hear about what is going on in the hon. Lady’s local authority; a similar approach has been taken by Hounslow council, and I congratulate it on having done so. Does she agree that not only should everybody participate in those opportunities where they are available, and that the House should send out that message, but that where local authorities are not taking those steps, they should be strongly encouraged to do so by the Government?

Photo of Theo Clarke Theo Clarke Conservative, Stafford

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. I congratulate Stafford Borough Council on having been recognised as one of the leaders in our region by a Friends of the Earth survey of local authorities, showing that it has done a huge amount on this issue. I also draw attention to the city’s successful introduction of a number of initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, as well as the number of plans for the future that the council has introduced, such as installing solar panels on the roof of our civic centre and attempting to reduce energy consumption in our county council buildings.

I am pleased that last year, the UK became the first major economy to legislate for net zero by 2050. By having declared net emission goals, Britain is a front runner, along with a number of other countries including Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Costa Rica, France and New Zealand. I was also pleased that this morning, the Government announced that we will be moving away from petrol and diesel vehicles, bringing the phase-out date forward by five years—from 2040 to 2035—or earlier, if a faster transition is feasible. Of course, that must be subject to consultation. We should also consider including hybrids for the first time.

The Government should continue to work with all sectors of industry to accelerate the roll-out of zero-emission vehicles, helping to deliver green jobs in the UK, including in my constituency of Stafford.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Labour/Co-operative, Feltham and Heston

As somebody who has had an electric vehicle for a few years, I can attest to how incredible they are. However, there continue to be issues with easy access to vehicle charging, as well as the costs of the vehicles themselves. Does the hon. Lady agree that, if there is to be the roll-out we want, prices need to come down and the industry needs to do more to ensure that electric vehicles are affordable for ordinary families across the country?

Photo of Theo Clarke Theo Clarke Conservative, Stafford

The hon. Lady makes a good point. In my constituency, it is hard for someone with an electric vehicle to find a charging point, so I am encouraging the borough council to roll them out across the constituency.

Climate change is a global challenge that affects us all, not just within our national borders in the UK but around the world. It makes us vulnerable to the impact that rising temperatures are having on the weather, food production and water resources. As climate extremes worsen, the world’s poorest countries and communities will be most affected. I agree with some of the points made earlier by the hon. Member for Nottingham East.

I acknowledge the work of UK aid, which has helped more than 47 million people to cope with and adapt to the effects of climate change and natural disasters. I am proud of the Government’s commitment to spend 0.7% of our gross national income on overseas development assistance. We must ensure that our aid is congruent with the goals of the Paris agreement.

I will give a few examples to show how the Department for International Development makes a real difference on environmental issues. UK aid works with the Met Office to provide communities in developing countries with state-of-the-art weather information. In Uganda, it helps urban planners to identify the impacts of long-term climate change on urban water, sanitation and hygiene systems.

Cutting-edge British research has identified the fact that the Sahel faces three times more mega-storms, some of which are the size of England, than previously. I am proud that British scientists are working with city planners and officials in Burkina Faso to help to decide where hospitals and schools should be built and to protect them from future disasters. UK aid has provided 17 million people with improved access to clean energy, which should be commended and, I hope, continued by the Government.

I encourage the Government to continue to invest in clean green technology, to preserve our natural habitats, and to take measures to improve resilience to climate change. I am pleased that today, the Prime Minister reinforced his commitment to tackle climate change and biodiversity simultaneously, recognising the important role of restoring our natural habitat.

Hosting COP26 will be a major opportunity for the UK and nations across the globe to step up the fight against climate change. Five years on from the Paris agreement, it is a fantastic opportunity to build on our world-leading net zero target and push for international progress to tackle climate change. I am pleased that the Government have set out an ambitious 2050 net zero target. We must also remember that, last year, the UK went coal-free for 18 days, which is a record. The UK has also pledged to phase out unabated coal completely by 2025. We must use COP as a springboard to expand the Powering Past Coal Alliance and to urge others to join us in pledging net zero emissions. There is no greater responsibility than protecting our planet and that mission should be central to the Government.

The UK has a proud record of tackling climate change. We should raise our ambition this year to enable a greener future for all our children. I welcome the fact that today marks the kick-off of a year of climate action, with events taking place in all four nations of the UK. I encourage fellow hon. Members, businesses and charities to participate in the run-up to the upcoming summit in November.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy) 2:53 pm, 4th February 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Charles. I congratulate the new Member, Nadia Whittome, on securing this timely debate. I am sure there will be many more, but it is good to start having the debate as early as possible.

The climate crisis will affect us all, but not everybody will be affected equally. If we allow it to get worse, it will create huge global inequalities on a scale that we have never seen. Some parts of our planet will be much worse hit than others, which will create extreme poverty, hardship, displacement and possibly even war. Those who are worse hit will be those already living in poverty and struggling against extreme weather conditions.

As a Liberal, I care deeply about people from every part of the world. People in China, Argentina, Nigeria and Iran are our neighbours, which is why I try to call out human rights abuses wherever I witness them. The point has already been clearly made that climate justice and the fight for human rights are directly linked. I feel called upon to avert the climate emergency, because it is about justice across the world and, ultimately, the human rights of people who live in areas of the world that will be much worse affected than here.

At our last conference, the Liberal Democrats agreed a credible plan for how the country could cut most of its emissions by 2030 and get to net zero by 2045. Our approach is evidence-based and pro-innovation. We need to put British innovators at the forefront of the fight against climate change. I agree with many hon. Members who have said that we do not need to be doom and gloom, but we do need a plan to effect change. The most important question for this debate is how we do that fairly in this country.

In the context of climate justice, fairness means protecting the low paid, the elderly and the just about managing from higher costs. It means an understanding that if an electric car costs more, only some people will be able to buy one, and thinking about how we can continue to offer choices that are affordable to everybody. Of course, we need to make sure that we build sustainable public transport links and that public transport is affordable—currently, even that is not an affordable choice for many.

Photo of Fay Alicia Jones Fay Alicia Jones Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

Does the hon. Lady agree that there are opportunities in the housing sector to embed renewable infrastructure in new housing developments and flats, so they are built with renewables and electric charging points in mind, and that we can take the opportunity to embed sustainability in the construction sector in this year of all years?

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy)

I completely agree, but unfortunately, the path to building net zero homes was stopped under the last Government. As a new Member, the hon. Lady is probably best placed to encourage the Government to make sure that we build carbon zero homes. In fact, our target is for them to be carbon zero by 2021 and at Passivhaus standard by 2025, because that is where we ultimately need to get to. That cannot be the reserve of only those who can afford it, however, so how do we build a sustainable housing programme for social and affordable homes, not just the private sector?

Fairness means that the energy efficiency of social housing and rented property cannot be an optional extra but must be a requirement for anyone wishing to be a landlord, so that it is part of letting a property for social housing providers and private landlords. A fair transition is the only way to fight the climate emergency while protecting the ideals of climate justice. A fair transition also ensures that people buy into the more radical choices involved in climate action. The climate emergency will affect us all, but it will affect some of us more than others. The longer the Government wait to implement meaningful climate action, the more people will suffer. We are running out of time to smoothly switch to a net zero Britain without compromising our health, happiness and freedoms.

At the core of the Liberal Democrat plan to get to net zero is a just transition commission to understand where the biggest economic impacts of changing to a net zero society will be, and to create future jobs before the job losses in fossil fuel industries are incurred. We need to set up citizens’ assemblies to involve all parts of the public in the discussion, so that we formulate together the aims and ambitions for getting to net zero fairly. Most of all, the Government have to set out a credible coherent plan to set the direction for how the UK will get to net zero.

As the country that led the industrial revolution, we have been one of the biggest polluters over time. We as a country have a moral duty to provide global leadership to tackle the climate emergency here and across the world without delay.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Conservative, West Worcestershire 2:59 pm, 4th February 2020

I congratulate Nadia Whittome on securing this very important and timely debate. Today, the UK published its 2018 carbon emissions, which showed that carbon emissions in the UK fell by 2.1% in 2018, down to 451.5 million tonnes. I mention that number because it helps to put into perspective the challenge ahead of us.

I want to speak to a solution that might not immediately jump to colleagues’ minds as a cost-effective course of action for the UK Government to take. That solution is empowering women and ensuring that girls have access to 12 years of quality education and to the same family planning choices as women get here in the UK. I was astonished to learn that that intervention alone is the single most powerful and most cost-effective step that we can take, as a world, to reduce the amount of carbon that we will emit by 2050. It is truly astonishing. Some studies have said that such a step could save as much as 120 gigatonnes of carbon from being emitted by 2050; other studies have it at more than 100 gigatonnes. A gigatonne is 1,000 million metric tonnes of carbon and the UK emits 451.5 million tonnes of carbon, so we could save 240 times what we currently emit annually.

It is a startling statistic that I thought deserved further investigation, and I discovered that it comes about through a range of different interactions. Education speaks for itself, as we can see from extensive studies. For example, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis discovered that a woman in Africa who has no access to any kind of family planning will have, on average, 5.4 children, if she has no education at all—that is the mean outcome. If she goes to secondary school, she will have, on average, 2.7 children. If she goes on to a college education, she will have 2.2 children. One of the effects of girls’ education is that women choose to have their families later and they tend to have closer to a replacement number of children. It also, of course, has an incredible impact on the ability of a women to earn over her lifetime, but it is the impact on carbon emissions that I found particularly startling. Some 214 million women do not have access to modern birth control. If we give them the same kinds of choices that we have in the UK, that would add up to some very startling statistics.

To put the numbers in perspective, if we had comprehensive global coverage in onshore and offshore wind, that would save 98.7 gigatonnes. If we completely managed our refrigerants, that would save 89.74 gigatonnes. Reducing food waste would save 70.53 gigatonnes; switching to a plant-rich diet would save 66.11 gigatonnes.

Girls’ education is so valuable on so many fronts—as is, within that, the Government’s objective to champion 12 years of education for everyone. It is not just a good thing in and of itself, and good for the world economy; there is this startling statistic of how education combined with access to UK levels of modern family planning would save 120 gigatonnes of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere by 2050.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South 3:04 pm, 4th February 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Sir Charles. I congratulate my hon. Friend Nadia Whittome on securing this debate.

My generation grew up to the sound of climate warnings. Before I was even born, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had said that human activity was to blame for a planet that was quickly getting hotter, and every few years since, it has warned that we are on course to do “irreversible damage” to ecosystems and species. Two years ago, it said that preventing climate catastrophe would require,

“rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

Since its first meeting more than three decades ago, CO2 emissions have risen by more than 40%. They continue to rise, and the powerful continue to ignore the warnings.

The effects are with us now. This winter, Australia burned and Indonesia drowned. Twenty-nine people died in the fires and 66 people drowned in the floods. Across the world, we see it again and again. The Solomon Islands are disappearing beneath the Pacific, forcing people to flee. Mozambique was battered by two of the worst storms in the continent’s history last year, which claimed the lives of more than 1,300 people. The Amazon rainforest—the lungs of our planet—was set alight by warmer, drier weather and reckless profiteers. Here in Britain, floods are hitting us harder and more often. Climate breakdown is with us already, but still the powerful ignore the warnings.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

I apologise to the hon. Member—because of the time limit, I must progress.

There was a time when many denied the science, but today there is a different kind of denialism. They do not deny the science—they deny the politics. They pretend that business as usual can combat the climate emergency, and that banning plastic straws, using bags for life or tweaking the system is enough. I am sorry—it is not, because the problems are not individual. They are collective. It is the same politicians who tell us to ban plastic straws who have left MPs’ pensions invested in deadly fossil fuels, so hon. Members will understand why we do not have high hopes for COP26 later this year and why we expect more platitudes and more hypocrisy. I ask hon. Members to take a lead from the students who have forced their universities to divest, and to divest now.

To prevent the climate emergency from becoming a climate catastrophe, we have to face up to what is driving the crisis. The answer is clear. It is a capitalist crisis, driven by capitalism’s need for expansion and exploitation. It is not the fault of a few bad apples; the entire system is rotten. It is a system that rose with the coal mines and steam mills that powered Britain to global dominance, and trashed the world’s climate to win wealth for colonial powers. Today, the global south still pays the price. If the climate crisis is a capitalist crisis, it is a neocolonial crisis too. Those least to blame—the global south and the global working class—will be hardest hit. While the world burns, the rich will build higher walls to protect themselves. They will let climate refugees drown and the dispossessed starve.

That is one future, but there is another. If we unite people across borders, and recognise that in this fight our enemy travels by private jet and not migrant dinghy, we can have a global green new deal, and it will look like this: dismantling the fossil fuel industry; taking resources away from a handful of private profiteers, and using them to plan a better future; insulating our homes and designing new green industries; building free public transport and creating millions of good, unionised jobs. That is how we unite black and white, north and south, migrants and those born here, people in Britain and people overseas. We all have an interest in survival. That is how we can build a world that is truly our own, with opportunities for all.

Plenty of people will call me naive, but the real naivety is to pretend we have another choice. My generation grew up watching global leaders bail out banks but ignore the warnings of a planet on fire. To stop that, we must finally make good on the promise of an old socialist hymn. With a global green new deal, we will

“bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old”.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 3:09 pm, 4th February 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Charles. I congratulate Nadia Whittome on a compelling speech and on securing this important debate.

Climate change is happening now, and those who have done the least to cause it are the ones who stand to lose the most. Climate justice, to put it bluntly, is a question of who lives and who dies. With a commitment to reaching net zero emissions now in law, I want to look at three areas that will determine whether the UK’s climate pathway will be a just one: the speed at which we decarbonise; how we decarbonise; and the degree of co-operation shown to other nations as we do.

First, speed. From a climate justice perspective, a net zero target of 2050 is simply not good enough. The Paris agreement commits countries to try to hold the global temperature rise to 1.5°. In its landmark report, the IPCC headline was clear: to stay below 1.5°, global emissions must halve by 2030 and reach net zero around mid-century. Let us remember that that is for only for a greater than 50% chance of staying within this level of heating, which, to me, does not sound like comfortable odds. By any measure of fairness, the UK has a clear responsibility to go faster than the global average. We are historically one of the biggest emitters. We started the modern fossil-fuel age with the industrial revolution, and the UK is one of the very largest per capita contributors to present climate change. We also have a greater capability than other countries. We are the fifth biggest economy and we have a GDP per person over two and a half times the global average, so we have to go further.

What would an equity-based emissions reduction target for the UK look like? Professor Tim Jackson from the University of Surrey has given us a rough guide. By taking the IPCC’s per capita carbon budget for 1.5° and adjusting it to allow each person in the poorest half of the world 33% higher emissions than each person in the richest half as an example of how to work on an equitable basis, Professor Jackson estimates the UK’s share of the remaining global budget as two and a half gigatonnes of CO2. On our current emissions reduction trajectory, counting only the UK’s production emissions, we will smash through that target in 2026. If we aim to reach net zero in 2050 on a linear emissions pathway, we will use around two and a half times our fair share of emissions, but if we are to include our consumption emissions—something I will return to in a moment—the budget on our current trajectory is exceeded in 2023, and a linear emissions pathway to net zero in 2050 would consume around four times our fair share.

There are many other ways of trying to cut the climate cake. Looking at it from a from an equitable perspective, a greenhouse development rights framework was set out in the 2019 report by the Committee on Climate Change on net zero. It cut the cake slightly differently, but it pointed out that the UK would have to reach 100% net emissions reductions by 2033 at the latest if we were to proceed on an equitable basis, and that means that by 2050 we would need to be net negative, drawing down more than half of our 1990 level of emissions. To be absolutely clear, however politically expedient a 2050 net zero target might be, it cannot be said to be just. It will further exacerbate the inequalities that climate change presents and push the burden once again on those who have done least to cause it.

A second consideration when it comes to the issue of justice is about how we make the transition, which has major justice implications both for those in the global south and for future generations. Now that net zero has become the established shorthand for climate action, let us examine what that little word “net” in net zero actually means. In the Committee on Climate Change pathway to net zero there lies positively heroic, for which read criminally reckless, assumptions about the potential for negative emission technologies to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Let us be really clear that the technologies are mostly yet unproven and in some cases entirely unknown. In other words, we are simply passing the buck to our children. They are the ones we hope will sort it out with some kind of technology. We do not even know what it is yet, and I think we should be honest about what we are doing. The level of warning we have currently locked in means that we are bequeathing to future generations a more dangerous world to inhabit. Leaving them with the burden and cost of highly speculative technological solutions is a grave injustice that we should avoid.

Finally, I want to talk about international co-operation. The UK does not exist in a climate vacuum. We have emitted far more than our fair share of the historic carbon budget. It has seen our economy, our wealth and our living standards increase dramatically, but it has also seen the lives of other people imperilled. We and other rich nations have used so much of the atmosphere’s capacity that we have pulled up the ladder behind us, excluding developing countries from the path that we have travelled. Natural justice dictates that we must now support other countries to adapt to the growing impact of climate change and compensate them fairly for losses and damages where adaptation is no longer an option. It requires a new fossil fuel-free development pathway, where less affluent countries leapfrog to a clean and sustainable future of higher living standards. One aspect of that concerns the transfer of technology. The UK leads the world in offshore wind and CCS development. We must transfer and make them available for the poorest countries to harness cheaply. As hosts of the UN climate summit this November, we have an incredible opportunity to reach out internationally in true climate leadership, to begin to make the reparations for the injustices of climate change and to take responsibility for the full impact of our trade, money and influence.

I have spoken about the kind of accounting that allows us to make it look as if our emissions have reduced far faster than they have. When we account for consumption emissions, our progress looks much less significant. It is also the case that our money and influence is used to actively fuel emissions overseas and lock other countries into the next generation of fossil fuel infrastructure. As the hon. Member for Nottingham East pointed out, more than £1.5 billion of UK Export Finance money went into oil and gas projects. It is no wonder the Environmental Audit Committee and Bond, the UK network for development organisations, have called for an end to all UK Export Finance support for fossil fuels. That is what I want to underline yet again. I know that it has been asked before by the hon. Member for Nottingham East, but I want to urge the Government Minister to demonstrate some seriousness when it comes to climate justice and at the very least to rule out any further use of UK Export Finance for fossil fuels.

Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Labour, Sheffield, Hallam 3:16 pm, 4th February 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend Nadia Whittome on securing this debate and on giving us an opportunity to discuss the climate crisis. It is the greatest existential threat of our time and climate justice is becoming increasingly urgent. It is timely that this debate has been called ahead of Parliament’s voting on the Government’s Environment Bill. As colleagues know, much has been made of the Government’s ambitious target to decarbonise by 2050, but it is simply a headline. At the moment, it is a plan.

When we talk about climate change, we speak about the climate emergency. The summer saw swathes of the Amazon burn, and Australia is currently fighting the wildfires that have gripped areas the size of our own counties, so we are right to speak in terms of an emergency. However, I fear there is no recognition of that emergency in the Government’s response to the crisis so far beyond declaring one. There is no sense of urgency. There is more CO2 in our atmosphere now than at any point in human history, so before we pat ourselves on the back for small reductions in production—as has been mentioned, the offshoring of our share hides the truth on consumption—we must remember that we need to up our game and set out a radical course of action. We cannot let COP26 be a cop-out. It is our last chance to correct the path to climate disaster.

Locally, Sheffield City Council has declared a climate emergency and has set out a carbon budget with the Tyndall Centre, which shows the city would use its entire budget for the next 20 years in less than six. Rightly, it has set a course to try to get to net zero by 2030. Before Christmas, again, communities across South Yorkshire experienced flooding. The impact of an international crisis played out locally. If the UK was serious about preventing climate breakdown, we would not be seeing more investment going into drilling in new oilfields or building more pipelines. Instead we see UK-headquartered banks and the Government bankrolling fossil fuel extraction and directing more and more finance to fossil fuel companies, rather than solutions to the crisis. If we were serious about climate justice, the Government would regulate and penalise private banks for providing billions for fossil fuel extraction at home and abroad.

Between 2016 and 2018, HSBC gave $57 billion to the fossil fuel industry. Barclays, the biggest funder of fossil fuel infrastructure in Europe, gave almost $25 billion to fossil fuel companies in 2018 alone. The Government offered only £100 million of private investment for renewable energy investment in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018, which shows the difference in scale. Through their campaigns, organisations such as People & Planet and Greenpeace have brought to light the fact that our banks have been acting like fossil fuel companies with the amount of extraction they are financing, showing a determination to see the industry continue. It needs to stop. Without further regulations and legislation for our financial system there will be almost free rein to continue to make our worlds toxic and to continue to push us over the cliff we are balanced on, with temperatures potentially soaring by three degrees, which we know will be catastrophic.

Average wildlife populations have already dropped by 60% in 40 years, so we must act now and take our responsibilities seriously or risk further loss of species and populations. The Government are not exempt, either. In June, the Environmental Audit Committee exposed how UK Export Finance had been using British capital to finance fossil fuel extraction in the global south, undermining the effect of the UK’s carbon emissions cuts and any commitment to climate justice.

The climate crisis is a threat to us all, but we do not all face it equally. In fact, we must remember those who have already tragically lost their lives, swept up in the climate disaster, trying to protect communities and fight for the frontline of public services across the world. The Government need to end their support for climate colonialism and penalise banks that are accelerating climate breakdown at the frontlines. Climate justice absolutely requires recognising and mitigating the worst effects of the crisis and facilitating environmental migration in response to disaster displacement, which is unavoidable at this point. Fundamentally, we need to take a radical approach. Let us take as our starting point the root cause of the issue—where our Government are accelerating and exacerbating climate breakdown. Climate justice means acting now to stem the worst effects of the crisis, and for that we need to take aim at the banks that are choking our future. Our inaction is also choking our future. We continually raise the issue not to try to be a thorn in anyone’s side, but to be the roots that can lead to a shoot of hope for future generations.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

Thanks to the discipline of colleagues, the Front-Bench speakers have approximately 12 minutes each, leaving two minutes at the end for the Member who moved the debate to sum up.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development) 3:21 pm, 4th February 2020

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate Nadia Whittome on securing this hugely important debate. The beginning of the new Parliament is the perfect time to raise the issue.

I am delighted to be continuing in my role as the Scottish National party shadow International Development Secretary. I am particularly focused on the need to tackle climate change globally and to ensure that there is climate justice. That, I believe, will be a regular topic, if not the key topic, in this Parliament, and the defining feature of the next decade. Prior to last year’s general election, I was proud to propose the opening resolution—passed by acclaim—at the SNP conference on climate justice. We recognise that, while it has been the most developed and industrialised countries that have been the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, it is the poorest communities in the world who feel the devastating impact of climate change. We must recognise this reality and our obligation to right this wrong. Countries that have become prosperous while damaging the environment have a responsibility to help developing countries adapt to the consequences of climate change.

That is not just empty rhetoric. The SNP Scottish Government have been at the forefront of the global fight, tackling climate change and delivering climate justice, and showed bold leadership in establishing the world’s first climate justice fund in 2012. By 2021, £21 million will have been distributed through the fund, which is now supporting projects in Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Rwanda. Some of the fund’s successes so far include establishing 217 village-level committees to support water resource management and resilience, improving agricultural practices and irrigation services for more than 11,000 people, and providing 110,000 people with training in climate change. Going forward, the climate challenge programme in Malawi will support rural communities to identify and implement their own solutions for adapting to and building resilience against the worst effects of climate change.

Similarly, the climate justice innovation fund will support projects that are developing innovative solutions for strengthening African communities against the effects of climate change. The most recent projects to have secured funding address deforestation, food security and rural water supplies, while also empowering women, youth and other disenfranchised, vulnerable stakeholders in those communities. Through the climate justice fund, the Scottish Government are promoting the economic benefits of a just and fair transition to a low-carbon economy. The fund aims to share the benefits of equitable global development and the burdens of climate change through a people-centred, human rights approach.

What I have outlined has been done with a fund of £21 million over nine years, which has delivered incredible results. Just think of the potential if the UK were to follow the same model, given the scale of its resources. We hope that, through our example of leading on the issue of climate justice, we can embolden others in the international community. It is therefore vital that the UK Government follow the Scottish Government’s lead. Indeed, last year’s report by the International Development Committee on UK aid for combatting climate change highlighted the usefulness of climate justice as a framework for policies and programmes and called for the UK Government to adopt the concept of climate justice explicitly, to guide its international climate finance spending. However, that has so far been misrepresented or misunderstood by Secretaries of State or other Ministers when addressing the House of Commons, or has simply fallen on deaf ears.

The report was also clear that DFID must have adequate resources. Evidence to the Committee suggested that DFID’s capacity and expertise on climate had been reduced in recent years. That is not indicative of a Government who are tackling climate change and climate justice at the heart of their agenda. It is vital that DFID rectify that and that it should have sufficient members of staff who have climate expertise and are focused on climate programming. Furthermore, DFID must remain a strong stand-alone Department if the UK is serious about climate justice. Development spending must be focused on helping the poorest and most vulnerable, and on alleviating global poverty. If we are to embrace the concept of climate justice and help the worst-off deal with the effects of climate change, we must have a Department equipped to do that, rather than one that views development through the ideological prism of national and commercial interest.

Trade and development are distinctly two different areas and they must not be forced together at the expense of the world’s most vulnerable people, particularly in the midst of a climate emergency. That is a growing concern for me and my party, and for NGOs at national and international level. In addition, there must be policy coherence on climate change across Government. We simply cannot have the situation that currently exists, whereby international climate finance spending to tackle climate change is undermined by support for the fossil fuel economy in developing countries by UK Export Finance, as has been mentioned several times in the debate. That will leave a legacy of dependency on fossil fuels and will disincentivise investment in renewables. Therefore, climate change should be an explicit strategic priority across all Departments. It is overdue and needs to be addressed now.

The sacking last week of Claire O’Neill, the former Minister of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, as president for COP26 has shown what a complete shambles the UK Government are in. Their approach to international climate change policy has been patchy at best. On Radio 4 this morning Claire O’Neill said that the Prime Minister has shown

“a huge lack of leadership and engagement”, and that he

“doesn’t really understand climate change”, leading the UK to be

“miles off globally from where we need to be”.

It is therefore little wonder that the Prime Minister is doing everything in his power to stop the Scottish Government being represented at COP26 in Glasgow later this year. To put it simply, the Prime Minister does not want to be upstaged and embarrassed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who certainly does recognise the urgency and moral responsibility that we have with climate change, and who leads a Government whose work has been described by the UN climate change secretary as “exemplary”.

Putting it frankly, if the UK Government are not willing or able to properly prepare to host what is a major international event, perhaps they should speak with the First Minister for some blunt advice. As things stand, it is impossible to conclude anything other than that the UK Government are in a shambles and are playing politics with the global climate emergency. Therefore, if the UK Government are serious about alleviating the harm that climate change will bring to some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, they must follow the bold leadership of the Scottish Government and the recommendations of the International Development Committee and explicitly adopt the concept of climate justice to guide their climate spending. To do anything less is to reject our global commitments, our global partners and our global responsibility. While it is obvious to most that Brexit will undoubtedly make the UK smaller and poorer, not taking climate justice seriously will also make it both short and brutish.

The SNP has every reason to be proud of its record in championing climate justice abroad. More than 75% of the mentions of “climate justice” in the past decade in this Parliament have come from SNP MPs. I hope to see the same interest in the subject on the UK Government Benches in this Parliament. The simple fact is that we face a climate emergency that threatens us all. It will result in a less safe world, where ecological and demographic crises are unmanageable and where the development gains that have been made will be reversed. What good is our work on delivering aid for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable if it is undermined by disasters, disease, and displacement caused by climate change? It is now time to put climate justice at the forefront of aid spending and urgently do all we can to address the crisis.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham North 3:29 pm, 4th February 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Charles. When I saw this debate on the list of upcoming Westminster Hall debates, I was keen to participate not only because it is such an important topic, but because it is being led by my constituency neighbour and hon. Friend Nadia Whittome. It is a real privilege to respond for the Opposition.

My hon. Friend is quickly making her mark on the House, and I know she will be a strong voice for our community in Nottingham and for communities around the world who need people to stand up for them. I have known her for a number of years, and she has shared her voice, her power and her platform—be it for a popular or an unpopular cause—with people who are in need and who are without a voice or power. I know she will bring great credit to herself and our city in her time as an MP. We in Nottingham are proud that we will be the first city in this country to be carbon neutral, which was born out of community activism and campaigning. People took to the streets of Nottingham and pestered their elected leadership by being clear about what they wanted on this issue. Local leaders then reflected that by making it into policy, which is exactly how things should be.

Members of different parties have made a number of excellent contributions to the debate. I took double pleasure in the contribution from Theo Clarke, who has such a strong record from her professional experience. I know she will be a strong advocate for an independent, well-resourced DFID. My previous winding-up speech for the Opposition was in the dying embers of the last Parliament, and sitting about three chairs down from where she is sitting was her predecessor, Jeremy Lefroy, who is remembered fondly in this place for his contributions on a variety of issues, but especially on international development—there is clearly something in the water in Stafford. I take her point on the importance of the congruence of ODA policy and the Paris goals, and Britain’s climate obligations. I will return to that later, because we are at a point where they are starting to diverge.

I turn to the contribution from Wera Hobhouse, who made an important point about our neighbours. Everyone is our neighbour. We talk about constituency neighbours, but our fates are so intrinsically linked these days. We are on the same planet currently hurtling headlong towards the same dreadful fate, so we have a real job of solidarity and responsibility to each other. I was very pleased to hear her talk about the importance of citizens’ assemblies, as other Members did. I will make a shameless plug as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for deliberative democracy—all allies are welcome. For the climate emergency and many more issues, our democracies would be strengthened by bringing people in and having proper, evidence-based conversations on thorny topics.

Harriett Baldwin mentioned an extraordinary fact about the impact of gender and of all girls around the world getting 12 good years of education. My heart leapt when she brought gender into the discussion, as we ought to be feeding it into every debate in this place. Meeting only a basic decent standard would help us tackle climate inequalities and all sorts of inequalities around the world. She talked about enormous scales of improvements and carbon reductions, but they do not even factor in that, if we had a basic level of education for women and girls around the world and the freedoms that go with it, we would also have better leadership. The scope for making much greater inroads into other knotty climate challenges—in fact, into all our global challenges—would be enormous, too.

My hon. Friend Zarah Sultana made a critical point that came up in the election when we talked to people on the doorstep, and to which we have to keep returning at all times: climate change is not a theoretical exercise, but is happening now. That not only behoves us to take immediate action, but reminds us that our actions are late. As such, they need to come with the scale and ambition that mean we are catching up. In that vein, Caroline Lucas reminds us of our historic obligations—the duality of having both a historical legacy but also the greatest capacity for change.

We in Britain have a real responsibility to take global leadership. I suspect the Minister will start with that, because most, if not all, Government Ministers do so. We are in danger of believing our own hype that we are doing enough with our current emissions reductions. It is great to see the reductions, but they are not enough. We must take a real global lead by using our assets. As my hon. Friend Olivia Blake said, that is inconsistent with the decisions being taken on drilling, oil deals and fossil fuels, to which I will return shortly.

I will make a couple more points. We had the COP26 announcements today, but I want to talk about an announcement from two weeks ago, not least because I raised this issue at departmental questions last Wednesday and the Minister accused me of not having read the announcement. I thought it slightly unkind, not least because I was quoting verbatim from a written answer from the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Dr Murrison.

Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister stood at a podium—he was probably waving his hands around—at the UK-Africa investment summit and made his flagship announcement on the climate emergency. He told 16 heads of state and the world’s media that the UK would stop investment and development assistance for coal mining and coal-fired power stations overseas. Garlands flowed from virtually all our newspapers, and there was a real sense that it was a seismic and totemic moment for such a promise to come from the Prime Minister. Looking at the announcement and what it really means, the reality is that UK aid funds have not been used to support coal since 2012, nor had UK Export Finance supported coal overseas since 2002. It was a re-announcement of something that had happened many years ago.

There is nothing new in spin—I confess that I have used a bit in the past—but this is too important an issue on which to equivocate. Although the Government were briefing one thing on climate and saying what wonderful progress was being made, they were actually very busy doing quite the opposite at the summit. The Government helped strike £2 billion-worth of energy deals, 90% of which were for fossil fuels, primarily oil and gas. The five fossil fuel deals include an investment of £26 million in gas assets in Tunisia by Anglo Tunisian Oil and Gas, and an investment of £1.2 billion in oil production in Kenya by Tullow.

The Government might well make a case for why they should support and broker investment in fossil fuels, and they ought to, clearly and honestly. The Minister has a platform, and I call on him to make it clear what was done at the summit and why it is important. It should be debated publicly—that is how it should work. The public ought to be able to make their own assessment of whether their leaders understand the greatest challenge of our time, and whether our actions match up with the rhetoric. When we stand at a podium and say we are doing one thing, and then quietly do another in the backrooms, it serves nobody. It certainly does not serve debate and will not tackle the existential challenge that we collectively face. As we go into COP26, I hope we can use the announcements, including today’s, to have proper and honest conversations about climate justice and the climate emergency.

I will make a point on climate justice and ask the Minister a few questions. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East for raising this issue—we talk a lot about the climate emergency, and we ought to do so. It is the question of our time and leads to a technical question: what can we do to tackle the issue? What should we do to reduce carbon, and how can we save our planet for future generations? In answering that, we miss the challenge of fairness and justice, because it is seen as a lesser emergency. However, there is no true solution to the climate emergency unless it is just.

I will put on record five ways that the UK could adopt a full climate justice approach at COP26, and I would be interested in the Minister’s reflections on them. First, we need to provide climate finance for adaptation, resilience and mitigation, which should be targeted at the people who are worst affected. Will the Minister consider embedding the principles and standards of the ODA in climate finance spending, to ensure that it explicitly reaches those who are most marginalised?

Secondly, it is long overdue that the UK ends its investment, finance and aid funding for oil, gas and fossil fuels overseas. Will the Government immediately switch their support for energy overseas to renewable energies? In the light of what outgoing COP chair Claire O’Neill said, did the Prime Minister understand the other elements of his announcement on coal? Will the Minister make it clear how the announcement of divestment from coal, which has previously happened, is compatible with the deals that were struck?

Thirdly, as the demand for renewable energy expands, we cannot simply replicate previous injustices by allowing large corporations to extract raw materials for products such as solar panels on the back of cheap labour and conflict. Can the Minister assure us that people in the global south will not be exploited anew in the quest for new resources? What will we do differently to ensure that outcomes are more just in the future?

Fourthly, those affected will not get justice until the international community and the UK start to find ways to make amends for our role in historical emissions—that relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion. The UK can start by recognising the need for financing for loss and damage, so will the Government consider doing so ahead of COP? Will the Minister ensure that the tab is picked up by the world’s worst polluters, and that it is not subsidised solely by British taxpayers, the vast majority of whom have not benefited and, indeed, are living with the impacts themselves—another hidden local injustice?

Fifthly, we urge the Government to take immediate action to cut the UK’s carbon emissions in the coming months before the conference so that we set an example for other wealthy nations. We should be pleased with the progress that has been made—I know what the Minister will say about our record in recent years—but we should have an honest conversation with people, because this is about not just our raw top-line emissions figures but our consumption figures, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion said. Let us have an honest, in-the-round conversation, and be really clear about what we are doing and the improvements we are making so that we can be global leaders.

It is time for us to step up as global leaders, not just on tackling the climate emergency so that future generations have a planet, but on ensuring that the outcomes are just and that we do not make the same unequal errors that we made in the past. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s views. I once again express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East for securing and leading this important debate.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

Minister, would you leave two minutes at the end, for the mover to wind up?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development) 3:41 pm, 4th February 2020

I am grateful to Nadia Whittome for securing this important debate on climate justice. I am also grateful for the contributions from my hon. Friend Theo Clarke, Wera Hobhouse, my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin, and the hon. Members for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana), for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake), for Dundee West (Chris Law) and for Nottingham North (Alex Norris). It is particularly apt that every Back-Bench speaker has been female, given that my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire, touched on the role that women can play in addressing the injustices of climate change.

At same time as severe drought across east Africa has left 15 million people in need of food aid, devastating fires have raged across Australia. These events serve to remind us again that no country is immune from the effects of climate change and environmental degradation. Here in the UK, the Met Office predicts that our summers will become hotter and drier and our winters increasingly warmer and wetter. As recently as November 2019, flooding across South Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and West Mercia, left more than 1,000 homes flooded and over 500 businesses impacted.

As all hon. Members said, on a cross-party basis, the science is clear: carbon levels in the atmosphere have reached their highest for 3 million years and climate extremes are already damaging prosperity, security and human safety globally. I am proud that the UK is at the forefront of action to tackle climate change, both domestically and internationally. In June 2019, we set a legally binding target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions across the UK economy by 2050. We are the first major economy in the world to legislate for a net zero target, which will end the UK’s contribution to climate change.

We have already shown that, with our world-leading scientists, business leaders and innovators, it is possible to cut emissions while growing the economy. Between 1990 and 2017, we reduced our emissions by more than 40% while growing our economy by more than two thirds. We have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 country.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

Not only is the Minister once again looking only at production emissions, not consumption emissions, he is refusing to accept the fact that, when talking about emissions reduction—sorry, it has gone out of my head. I am going to sit down and come back to it because it has just gone, but it will come back any second.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

It has come back to me. Does the Minister really think that it is possible to absolutely decouple growth from emissions reduction? His statement implies that he thinks that that absolute decoupling is possible, and that one can get to the point of separating growth from emissions growth. There is absolutely no evidence anywhere in the world that decoupling on the scale, speed and absoluteness that we need is possible. There is nothing to reassure us that it is possible to go on growing while bringing down our emissions.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The hon. Lady and I take a different approach. The Government believe that it is important to protect jobs and the economy. We can still grow the economy, but we can do it in a sustainable, balanced way. A lot of people, including the hon. Lady in the past, are guilty of suggesting that we have to stop all economic growth in order to achieve that, but we cannot. We have to harness the expertise of the private sector and the public sector. Everybody must work together to achieve what we want. That is what we have done: we have led the G20 over recent years by taking that balanced approach.

Since we set our net zero target, we have committed around £2 billion to support clean growth in a range of sectors, from transport to industry. In July, we published our green finance strategy, setting out our approach to catalysing the investment in green infrastructure, technologies and services that will be needed to deliver net zero. Earlier today, the Prime Minister announced that a ban on selling new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars in the UK will be brought forward from 2040 to 2035 at the latest, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford said.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Labour/Co-operative, Vauxhall

On the point about vehicles, in my constituency of Vauxhall, which is the start of the congestion charge zone in London, young people in a number of schools are having to use masks because the air quality is so bad. Does the Minister agree that the lack of an emissions target in the Environment Bill means that it will not address the problem? Until the Government commit to that, it does not matter if we continue to change our vehicles. We need key action on this really important issue.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I agree: we need to go further and faster. Today’s announcement is encouraging. As a former Minister for the automotive sector, I remember working on the “Road to Zero” policy paper, which looked at how we can roll out electric vehicles across the UK even faster than we planned. We were always keen to review the evidence and be guided by the science on how we can move these things forward. I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement today on that increasing ambition, but we always need to look at ways to go further. This debate is about climate justice, and air pollution disadvantages disproportionately the most disadvantaged communities in this country. We need to work together and be ambitious. We need to look at decarbonising the whole transport sector. We have been most successful so far in the energy sector, but transport still has a long way to go. I welcome the ambition today, but I agree with the hon. Lady that we need to go further and faster.

We need to invest more in our world-leading expertise, particularly in the north of England, where one in five of all the electric vehicles sold in Europe are made, the world’s biggest offshore wind turbines are being built, and carbon capture and storage is being pioneered. In addition, last week in the House of Commons we introduced the Environment Bill, which sets out how we plan to protect and improve the natural environment in the United Kingdom. The Bill will ensure that the environment is front and centre in our future policymaking. It will support the delivery of the most ambitious environmental programme of any country in the world. That landmark Bill will enhance wildlife, tackle air pollution, transform the way in which we manage our resources and waste, and improve the resilience of our water supplies. The speedy return of the Bill to Parliament following the general election underlines our commitment to tackling climate change and protecting and restoring our natural environment for future generations, as we maximise the opportunities created by leaving the European Union.

We are making net zero a reality as we raise our ambition at home. We will use the opportunity of COP26—officially launched by the Prime Minister earlier today—to demonstrate global leadership on climate action and bring the world together to achieve real progress. As has been said, it is often the poorest countries and people who are the worst affected and least prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. That triple threat threatens to undo decades of progress towards the sustainable development goals. The World Bank estimates that, unless serious and urgent action is taken, 100 million people are at risk of being pushed into poverty by climate change by 2030.

We are committed to supporting the most vulnerable countries adapt and build their resilience and to supporting low-carbon growth and development. We remain the only major economy in the world to put into law our commitment to meet the internationally agreed target of investing 0.7% of our national income on international development. That shows that we are an enterprising, outward-looking and truly global Britain that is fully engaged with the world.

We are committed to transforming the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people by giving them access to quality education and jobs, about which my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire, spoke so eloquently, and by supporting millions in dealing with the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation while promoting Britain’s economic, security and foreign policy interests.

Since 2011, our international climate programmes have helped 57 million people cope with the effects of climate change; provided 26 million people with improved access to clean energy; and helped to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 16 million tonnes, which is the equivalent of taking three million cars off the road for a year. In September, the Prime Minister committed to doubling our international climate finance to at least £11.6 billion over the next five years, which will make us one of the world’s leading providers of climate finance.

That funding really works. In 1991, a category 6 cyclone hit Bangladesh, killing 139,000 people. In 2007, an even stronger cyclone killed 4,000. That is still far too many deaths, but the incredible 97% reduction was achieved by Bangladesh’s investment in better disaster preparedness, with support from international donors.

UK Government research into drought-resistant wheat varieties has delivered benefits more than 100 times greater than costs, delivering an annual economic benefit of between $2.2 billion and $3.1 billion. Our forestry programmes have supported Indonesia in introducing regulatory changes, including setting up independent monitoring and improving law enforcement. Today, 100% of timber exports are sourced from independently audited factories and forests, and over 20.3 million hectares of forest are independently certified. In Ethiopia, our productive safety net programme helped to prevent 4.2 million people from going hungry when the country experienced severe drought. Our programmes have helped smallholder farmers in Burkina Faso deal with increased rainfall variability and higher temperatures; have assisted with the production of Kenya’s national climate change action plan; developed early warning systems to reduce the impacts of disasters in Chad; improved flood defences in South Sudan; and delivered solar power to clinics across Uganda .

Addressing the contribution from Chris Law gives me the opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of the Scottish Government, who have also recognised that the poor and vulnerable at home and overseas are the first to be affected by climate change and will suffer the worst. The Scottish Government’s work—particularly in Malawi, which he mentioned—continues to be cited by the Department for International Development as a really good example. I take exception, however, to the hon. Gentleman’s claim that DFID’s expertise has been reduced in this area. We have made a number of investments, and I hope that he welcomes this Government’s appointment of Lord Goldsmith as a joint Minister for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and DFID, to bring expertise to both Departments and determine how we can better collaborate to tackle the issue.

Turning to the UK-Africa investment summit, which was also mentioned, we may not agree, but energy is essential to economic growth and poverty reduction. Currently, 840 million people have no access to electricity, and 2.9 billion have no access to clean cooking. Our priority is to help developing countries to establish a secure and sustainable energy supply while supporting climate and environmental objectives. Increasing our overseas development support for renewable energy has been the top priority. Since 2011, UK aid has provided more than 26 million people with improved access to clean energy and installed 1,600 MW in clean energy capacity.

We recognise that countries will continue to need a mix of energy sources as part of a transition to a low-carbon sustainable economy, including renewable energy and lower-carbon fossil fuels such as natural gas, which produces significantly less carbon than coal or other commonly used fuels. Our approach to fossil fuels is therefore to support them where there is a clear development need and as part of a transition to low-carbon economies. When assessing new support, we will ensure that assistance does not undermine the ambitions of a country’s nationally determined contributions, and that an appropriate carbon price is used in the appraisal of the programme.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy)

We have about 30 years to get to net zero. How long does it take to develop new fossil fuel industries and then see them as a transition? They will just remain in place even though we have to reach net zero. Does the Minister not recognise that we have run out of time for a proper transition and have to get to net zero as soon as possible?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

We have to get to net zero as soon as possible, but we have to do so in a balanced and proportionate way. To give an example, the oil and gas sector contribution to the Scottish economy is £16.2 billion in gross value added, and some 105,000 jobs in Scotland are dependent on it. It would be slightly hypocritical of us to continue employing so many people in the oil and gas sector in the UK—we see it as part of our energy transition, using gas in particular to decarbonise our economy—if we were to say that other countries around the world could not use gas as a low-carbon alternative to the dirtier fossil that they use, particularly coal. We take a balanced approach on those matters, but I know that there will be disagreement across the House.

I was pleased that in addition to the £6.5 billion-worth of deals that were announced at the UK-Africa investment summit, we announced £1.5 billion of new DFID programmes to support sustainable growth across Africa. We will continue to work in partnership with African countries as part of our broader strategy for Africa, which has seen a significant uplift in our resources on the continent for the first time in decades.

Successfully tackling climate change will require action from the whole of society: Governments, business, communities and each of us in our individual choices. We know that the impacts of climate change will not be borne equally between rich and poor, women and men, and older and younger generations. At the start of her speech, the hon. Member for Nottingham East said that climate justice means

“addressing the climate crisis in a way that is fair and equitable.”

I agree, and that is fundamental to the Government’s approach.

As an international community, we must renew our efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals and fulfil our commitment to leave no one behind. The UK will not only play our part in that domestically, we will provide global leadership, as we invite the world to Glasgow in November to agree on and increase the urgent action that we need to take to protect our planet.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East 3:57 pm, 4th February 2020

I thank the Minister for his response and every hon. Member who attended for their contribution. I am reassured by the widespread recognition that climate change does not impact everyone and every nation equally. It crosses borders and there is an urgent need to invest in infrastructure and adaptation, and to decarbonise. I was particularly pleased that Caroline Lucas and others made the point that 2050 is not good enough as a target for decarbonisation. I was also pleased to hear examples of local authorities across the country leading the way to reach net zero, particularly in our own city of Nottingham, which is on track to be the first carbon-neutral city in the UK.

Whoever is in government or opposition, the climate emergency cannot wait. I look forward to working with Members across the House to hold the Government to account on their pledges. In that vein, I will follow up with the Minister and I hope that he will respond in more detail to the questions that I have raised, particularly about whether the Government will rule out carbon offsetting, why the climate sub-committee has not yet met and when it will do so, and whether he is prepared to give a substantive update briefing on COP26 preparations in the light of the serious concerns that have been raised.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered climate justice.