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.