COP26 Conference Priorities — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:46 pm on 22nd July 2021.

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Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 1:46 pm, 22nd July 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe, and to follow Caroline Lucas, who is an important member of the Environmental Audit Committee. I agree with her and with my hon. Friend Mr Clarke, who opened this debate, that it is hard to overstate the significance of the opportunity that hosting the COP26 conference gives the Prime Minister to show leadership in climate action on the world stage. He needs to seize this opportunity in front of every nation on Earth to set out clear signals of UK Government action, to meet the ambitious targets set to achieve net zero Britain.

Obviously, the pandemic has been the Government’s priority for the past 16 months, but now the Prime Minister and the whole of Government need to give the same urgency to tackling climate change, which—as we are seeing from the extreme weather events happening this week around the world—is getting ever more pressing. We need delivery of more plans and more action to implement them, to show world leaders that it can be done. We can decarbonise our economies and still improve our prosperity with more and better jobs, but we are running out of time as a country to get these plans in place. Today, the innovation strategy was published, which provides a welcome focus on clean technology. Yesterday, in the Select Committee on Science and Technology, we learned that the hydrogen strategy will be published during the coming weeks, during recess. That is welcome, but many more strategies need to be published ahead of COP26 to show our intent. The heat and buildings strategy is foremost among them, alongside the Treasury’s net zero review.

I will focus my remaining remarks on how Parliament can help deliver a successful conference of the parties. The Environmental Audit Committee has been at the forefront of co-ordinating parliamentary scrutiny ahead of this great conference. We brought together the Chairs of 10 relevant Select Committees to establish a Committee on COP26 to provide routine scrutiny each month, covering climate finance, climate diplomacy, cross-Government support for COP26 objectives, and net zero delivery. We intend to follow this up after COP26 as part of our overall monitoring of delivery on the net zero agenda across Government Departments, and we will be chairing the first post-COP26 session in December to review the outcome of that conference and examine its implications for UK climate policy: how will the UK deliver on any multilateral commitments made?

Achieving our commitments is going to require a huge cross-Government effort that cuts across departmental boundaries—an area of interest for our Committee. We regularly scrutinise across Departments, and the Government need to develop delivery mechanisms across Departments, too. I was pleased to see the presidency programme for COP26 published yesterday, inviting MPs and peers to register interest in attending the blue zone. It is encouraging to see young people and community engagement being offered a focus, and many groups around the country are keen to know how they may participate; frankly, our Committee is keen to know that, too. Along with other Select Committees, we put forward proposals—some 14 Select Committee Chairs put forward proposals, I think—for an engagement programme around COP26 in Glasgow or London. As yet, we have not heard any formal response on whether they will go ahead. The purpose is to engage with parliamentarians across the globe at this conference. There will be many people attending virtually and physically, and we need to harness their enthusiasm.

I hope the Minister sheds some light on whether there will soon be a formal response to that Committee request. How have the machinery of government changes introduced to support the president designate in bringing COP26 issues to the top of every departmental agenda across Government worked in practice? Will they endure to help the Government to deliver commitments that they make in Glasgow in November?