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Paris Climate Conference

Volume 604: debated on Thursday 7 January 2016

3. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the outcomes of the COP 21 climate conference in Paris. (902820)

18. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the UK’s contribution to achieving the goals on limiting global warming set out in the Paris agreement on climate change. (902835)

We are currently considering the implications of the Paris outcome domestically and with our EU partners. Our 2050 target of at least an 80% reduction in emissions from a 1990 baseline is already set in statute. We are committed to meeting it, and I look forward to setting out this Government’s proposals and policies for meeting our carbon targets later this year.

The floods over the past few weeks are a reminder of the effects of climate change and, as we have known for a while, these extreme weather events are here to stay. Given the Government’s proclaimed UK ambition at the Paris climate change talks, why at the same time were they undermining policies on, for example, subsidies for renewables and low-carbon technologies?

I do not accept that we are undermining those policies. What we are trying to do is get the right balance to support policies—to support renewable energy—while also looking after bill payers and ensuring that not too much is added to their bills. I also remind the hon. Lady that the UK is responsible for 1% of the world’s emissions, and the success at Paris was that we were dealing with nearly 100% of the world’s emissions. That is where we will get the real difference and change on carbon emissions.

I hope the Secretary of State will agree that delivering the Paris climate agreement requires a cross-departmental and economy-wide approach. If that is the case, will she explain why there appears to be absolutely no mention of climate change in the remit of the National Infrastructure Commission? Will she urge her colleagues to remedy that, and confirm that the urgent need for rapid decarbonisation will be a non-negotiable criterion for every single one of its projects?

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing up the National Infrastructure Commission. I have had a preliminary meeting with the head of it, and know that it will shortly be consulting on which projects to prioritise. The project that it has already said it will be looking at in our sector—interconnectors and systems operations—will be important for delivering on our decarbonising future, and will play an important role in achieving cross-party consensus on making the much-needed investment in infrastructure.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the legally binding UK commitment is about 30% to 40% faster than that signed up to by the rest of the EU in Paris. Indeed, some countries in the EU, such as Austria, have increased their emissions by something like 20% since 1990. What discussions does she plan to have with her colleagues in Europe on getting their processes up to the same level as those of the UK?

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. The fact is that the UK is leading in this area in terms of not only our ambition through the Climate Change Act 2008, but the structure of the delivery of our decarbonising—the five-year review and the transparency of the regime. I will be having conversations with my colleagues in Europe to ensure that they too step up and participate in the important effort-sharing decision that will take place this year.

17. The Secretary of State’s words are one thing, but credibility with the public is another. Wirral constituents are worried about both jobs in renewables and our real commitment as a country to the agreement we made in Paris. Will she be absolutely clear on whether she will do any more to protect work in the renewables sector that affects my constituents? (902834)

I know that the hon. Lady will be concerned about offshore wind, as it is so close to her constituency. I hope that she will welcome the fact that DONG Energy has publicly stated that it intends to invest a further £6 billion in the UK by 2020, which is encouraging news for her constituents who are so close to its important offshore wind development. What she can take from this is the fact that, having signed up to the Paris agreement and with the UK’s commitments on this basis, we are seeing more investment, from which her constituents will benefit as well.

If Paris had happened a year ago, would the Secretary of State still have made the same announcements that she has made in the past six months, adversely affecting onshore wind and solar energy, which has impacted badly on jobs and investor confidence?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s interpretation of the announcements that I have made. We have set out a clear path to getting a balance between ensuring that we continue to support renewable energy and ensuring that we get the investment we need, and also that we look after people’s bills. Paris has been a great triumph; let us not knock it. Let us recognise the fact that it starts to bring other countries up to the high standards that the UK has placed on it, and that it will encourage further investment.

On the decision to pull £1 billion from carbon capture and storage, the Prime Minister said to me at Prime Minister’s questions:

“You have to make decisions about technology that works and technology that is not working.”—[Official Report, 16 December 2015; Vol. 603, c. 1548.]

How was that assessment made, given that the competition had not yet been completed?

We do not rule out carbon capture and storage in the future. This Government have made substantial investments through our entrepreneur fund in early-start carbon capture and storage. We have industrialised carbon capture and storage projects operating and testing in Teesside. The fact is that the decision was made not to have a £1 billion investment. It was a difficult decision made in a difficult spending round. None the less, we recognise that carbon capture and storage will still have an important future in a low carbon economy.

The Prime Minister said that CCS was not working, but the Secretary of State says that it will work, so one of them is clearly wrong. In his list of technology that was working, the Prime Minister included small-scale nuclear reactors. Where is that technology working, and if it is working as the Prime Minister has claimed, why does it require £250 million of taxpayers’ money?

I think I can bring together some of the hon. Gentleman’s questions by highlighting the investment that we are making in innovation, which is an area in which we think there can be great steps forward in renewable energy. We can help to develop important new renewable energy technologies. For instance, in Paris, under “mission innovation”, various countries came together and agreed to double their investment in innovation, and I believe that carbon capture and storage and small modular reactors will benefit from that investment.

Now that DECC has accepted that the energy reset has pulled us further away from achieving the fourth carbon budget by some 54 million tonnes of CO2, meaning that we are on track to fall short of it by some 10%, or 187 million tonnes, and now that it is predicted that we will also miss our 2020 EU renewables target, will the Secretary of State explain precisely what steps she will take in the remainder of this Parliament to make good the Prime Minister’s boast that the UK is “leading the way” in work to cut emissions?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s depressing interpretation of our progress towards our important targets. Our EU renewables targets are difficult to meet, but we have exceeded the interim target. We know that we need to make more progress, which is why I am working with other Departments across Government to ensure that action is taken on heat and transport.

It was recognised in 2011 that there was a problem with the fourth carbon budget, and we now need to ensure that we put in place the policies necessary to meet it. Be in no doubt that we remain committed to achieving that.