With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the current climate change protests and on our climate change policy. I apologise to Members of the House if we are covering ground that we covered extensively earlier, but I think it is a subject that will bear as much scrutiny as we care to give it.
Colleagues will be aware that public concern about climate change has grown to levels never seen before. In recent weeks, it has been incredibly powerful to see people of all generations, across the world, voicing their concerns about a warming climate and demanding a global response to this global crisis. We have heard loud calls today that we should declare a climate emergency. My answer to that is that we can say words from the Dispatch Box all we like; what counts is actions. I hope to set out the many actions that we are taking that have enjoyed cross-party support. My fervent hope is that we will continue to tackle this enormous crisis in that spirit.
There is no doubt that climate change is the most profound environmental challenge facing the world today, and one where more action is urgently needed. We should not shy away from that fact; we must recognise it. We welcome the strong and growing pressure for action to cut our emissions, but we should also ensure that, while we acknowledge the scale of the challenge ahead, we try as hard as we can to build consensus around change so that communities across the UK and, indeed, across the world feel secure, optimistic and involved in our shifts to decarbonise the economy.
As I said earlier today, we should be talking about hope, not fear, communicating the progress that we have made globally and that we have made here in the UK. That demonstrates that this urgent action to decarbonise the economy can comfortably sit alongside opportunity, growth and employment. The Government entirely accept, and I accept, that concerted action—more action—at national and international levels is urgently required. However, I still feel that we must focus on the fact—because it shows that this is possible—that we have shown real leadership in the UK thanks to the cross-party consensus that we have forged on this since the passage of our world-leading Climate Change Act 2008, over a decade ago.
I want to update colleagues on this progress and to outline priorities. Again, I hope that Members will forgive me if I cover some of the ground that we covered extensively earlier. In 2008, we were the first country to introduce legally binding long-term emissions reduction targets. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) was very instrumental in bringing that legislation forward, but it also enjoyed strong cross-party support. For me, the Climate Change Act has been an absolutely seminal piece of legislation, because I am one of the few Ministers in the world who can stand here with high ambition and high aspirations as well as a legally binding set of budgets that we have to report on to Parliament. It is a great way of ensuring the climate action survives the political cycle, and it has delivered. Since 1990, as many Members will know, we have cut our emissions in the UK by 42% while growing the economy by 72%. We are independently assessed as leading the G20 in decarbonisation since 2000.
People talk a lot about the disparity between territorial emissions and consumption emissions. I invite Members to consider the latest data that shows that our greenhouse gas emissions, on a consumption basis, fell by 21% between 2007 and 2016. Indeed, they fell by 6% year on year—in the year to 2016. [Interruption.] It is true—that is the data. I would be very happy to write to all Members and share it with them.
Well, again, I would be very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with the data and copy in Ms Thunberg.
Across the UK, almost 400,000 people are working in low-carbon jobs and their supply chains. It is a sector that is bigger than aerospace and is growing at a factor of two or three times the mainstream economy. We have continued to be active on the international stage. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) was the Minister who carried the baton at the Paris climate change talks, which were so instrumental in the world coming together, as it did previously in the Montreal protocol, to show that there is concerted international support for action to tackle these enormous international challenges. COP24 took place last December in the Polish city of Katowice—a city where you could taste the hydrocarbons in the air. That is what happens when you burn coal; it must have been what London was like in the 1950s. At that conference, we in the UK—I pay tribute to my excellent officials—helped to drive the work of progressive groups and secured global agreement on a robust rulebook that brings the Paris agreement to life. If you cannot measure it, Madam Deputy Speaker, you cannot manage it. We are continuing to take targeted and impactful actions to support ambition internationally through promoting global alliances and collaborations, from the Powering Past Coal Alliance—which now has over 80 members that, like the UK, are committed to rapidly ending the use of coal as a source of electricity generation—to the Carbon Neutrality Coalition.
I was frequently asked this afternoon, “What are some of things you have done in the last six months?” so I thought I would focus on a few choice morsels to share with colleagues. Colleagues will, I am sure, be sick of me waving around the “Clean Growth Strategy” document that we published in November 2017. We will continue to do that, because it is one of the most comprehensive documents that any Government across the world have put out, detailing how we will take decarbonisation action across the economy. To date, we have acted on the vast majority of those actions. I will highlight some of them.
Only last month, I launched the offshore wind sector deal, including a £250 million growth partnership with investors to ensure that we will continue to invest in the North sea—the best place in the world for offshore wind. We will, crucially, drive up the UK content of that nascent industry to over 60%, and we will ensure that the industry employs at least 30% women by 2030. This industry is regenerating coastal communities right around the UK. It is one in which we lead the world, and we will continue to do so.
In the spring statement, the Chancellor introduced the future homes standard, which will require all new homes to have low-carbon heating systems and world-leading levels of energy efficiency by 2025. That will radically transform house building in constituencies such as mine, where most homes are not connected to the gas grid. He also announced that we will increase the proportion of green gas used in the grid, in a bid to drive down the carbon profile of the hard-to-decarbonise heating network.
Only this Easter weekend, we had the longest run ever in this country of no coal contributing to power generation on the grid. When many of us were elected to this House, coal contributed 40% of our electricity. Our unilateral policies, including a carbon tax and emissions targets, have led us to do something utterly transformational that other European countries have been unable so far to replicate. We also continue to contribute internationally. We are one of the largest donors of overseas development assistance, with more than £6 billion committed in this Parliament. In January, UK Climate Investments announced almost £30 million of investment in a dedicated African renewable energy company, to try to make projects marketable and investable in much of the developing world, so that those countries never have to go through a high-carbon stage in their growth cycle.
Action is being taken not just in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy but across Government. We have published the ambitious 25-year environment plan and kick-started the creation of a vast northern forest, which will see 50 million trees planted from Liverpool to Hull. Tree planting is one of the most cost-effective ways to sequester carbon and improve soil conditions, as colleagues will know. Our new resources and waste strategy outlines steps to reform the packaging producer responsibility system, introducing a deposit return scheme and food waste collection scheme.
We should celebrate those actions, not to imply that we are in any way complacent or do not need to go further much more rapidly, but to demonstrate that this is a win-win for both the planet and future generations’ jobs and prosperity. As colleagues will know, last year we celebrated our first ever Green Great Britain Week, and I can announce that we will continue that process annually, with the second time on 4 November this year. We look forward to the celebrations and challenges around that.
We have not shied away from our responsibility. That is why, after the publication of the chilling Inter- governmental Panel on Climate Change 1.5° C report, we were the first industrial economy to ask our Committee on Climate Change for advice on our long-term targets, and particularly a net zero target. I look forward to receiving its advice on 2 May and will engage with colleagues across the House on our next steps in the light of that. It is worth pointing out that the last time we asked for this advice, the committee told us it was not feasible to do from either a technological or cost point of view, so it will be extremely interesting to see what has changed and how we can rise to that challenge.
I have the utmost respect for those who are pushing for stronger action to address the risk of uncontrolled climate change. The right to protest peacefully is a long-standing tradition in this country and a vital foundation of our democracy, and it has been good to see that the demonstrations have by and large been good-natured, and the policing response has been sensible and proportionate. I welcome the passion and fervour of the protestors and their constant reminder of our duty to raise our eyes from the next few years of conversations about our relationship with Europe, to think about the long-term challenges we face. I hope that those who have taken their passion public will continue to express their views without disrupting the daily lives of ordinary people, endangering the safety of the public or undermining the consensus that I strongly believe we will need to support further, bolder action.
We must work together to solve the challenge of climate change—in this House, in the other place, in classrooms and boardrooms across the UK, in international negotiating huddles, in homes and throughout civil society—and to deliver the broad, just and progressive action on climate change that we urgently need.
Mr Speaker has graciously allowed both an urgent question and statement on climate change today. That is unique in my remembrance, but it is uniquely appropriate, given the visit of Greta Thunberg to the House today. Through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to thank Mr Speaker for that.
In our earlier discussion, we focused almost exclusively on emissions reduction and energy policy, so I would like to start by asking the Minister to enlighten the House on the other aspects of our climate change policy that received less attention. Let us start with the national adaptation plan. The Minister will know that, of the 56 climate risks and opportunities identified by the Committee on Climate Change, 27 simply do not feature in the Government’s plan. Why is there no word on the transition for flood-affected areas ahead of the withdrawal of Flood Re? Why is there nothing on the dangers to elderly people’s health from overheating in summer?
Even where targets are set, there is a record of failure. The woodland cover target calls for 5,000 hectares of new plantation every year, so why is the rate so far only 1,500 hectares—less than a third? Has the Minister examined the work of Professor Ian Bateman on the differential natural capital values of such plantation depending on its location in relation to urban areas? What account is she taking of that? Over the last two years, increasingly frequent severe weather events have cost our economy £1.5 billion a year. In 2016, the Government acknowledged the increased risk of flooding and coastal erosion and accepted that the current levels of adaptation were inadequate. They promised to update their flooding and coastal erosion management strategy by 2019; 2019 is here so where is the updated strategy?
We naturally focus on the impacts on human communities, but the impact on our biodiversity is devastating. It is only through a coherent and comprehensive network of protected areas that our biodiversity will not suffer further loss. What does the Government’s climate strategy do to restore the 50% cut since 2010 to the income of Natural England, which is responsible for monitoring and maintaining that network?
The Minister said in her response to the urgent question that she does not see the value of declaring a climate emergency. The value is this: it tells the truth. On emissions reduction, the truth is that we are making some progress. I acknowledge and welcome that, but the full, honest truth is that we are not making progress fast enough. The Government’s own statistics show that. The fourth carbon budget is set at a limit of 1,950 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, but current policies are off track, projecting an overshoot of 5.6%. To counteract that overshoot, we will have to reduce emissions even further during the fifth carbon budget period. Because of that overshoot, we will need to reduce emissions by 334 million tonnes. Current policies leave us only halfway between where we expect to be at the end of the fourth carbon budget and where we need to be by the end of the fifth.
The Government have rightly asked the Committee on Climate Change for its advice on reaching net zero emissions, and I welcome the Minister’s assurance earlier that she will bring the Government’s response back to the House expeditiously. But I gently make the point to her that if we are already off track to meet our existing targets, we need urgent action to get anywhere close to meeting net zero.
The Minister spoke earlier of cross-party support on climate change. It already exists: the Labour party, the Green party, the Lib Dems, the SNP and Plaid Cymru all agree that we need to declare a climate emergency. We would love it if the Conservatives joined us. Will they? If we are to stand any chance of winning the battle against climate change, we must work together over the decades ahead to ensure that we are cutting our greenhouse gas emissions at the scale and pace demanded by the science.
Labour has already committed to enshrining a net zero emissions target in law, as have a number of other parties. Indeed, more than 190 Members joined together in a remarkable display of cross-party support for climate action in signing a letter championed by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) asking the Government to adopt a net zero target. Will the Minister commit today to taking whatever action the Committee on Climate Change recommends when it publishes its report and to enshrining the new net zero target in law? If the Minister were fully to accept the recommendations that the Committee on Climate Change report put forward, I give her this commitment: we on the Labour Benches will work as closely as possible with her and all colleagues across this House to ensure that we get a net zero climate target passed into law before the summer recess.
As the climate protestors have told us, time is of the essence and we cannot afford to let this important piece of legislation be delayed any longer than strictly necessary. The clean growth strategy that is supposed to meet those budgets is simply not fit to do so, and once we have enshrined a net zero target, the clean growth strategy will be out of date. Does the Minister therefore agree that we need a new, more ambitious strategy? There is no shame in recognising that.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Earlier, the Minister spoke of the need to consider our international impacts: 97% of UK Export Finance support to energy in developing countries goes to fossil fuels, which is a subsidy to dirty, polluting energy worth nearly £5 billion. Will she look at that? We need even greater ambition and action if we are to inspire others in our bid to host next year’s UN climate change conference here in the UK, and my party will whole- heartedly give the Government its support to achieve that bid.
I see many colleagues standing, but I thank the shadow Minister for his commitment and his support for cross-party, and I want to answer some of his points.
The hon. Gentleman raised, rightly, the question of natural resources and the contribution they can make in carbon reduction. I am sure he will be pleased to know that, since 1990, emissions from that sector have halved. He is absolutely right that there is more to do, but they now account for only 15% of the total emissions pie. Indeed, there have been some amazing efficiency improvements, and I pay tribute to our farmers and to our innovative investors in this area. For example, it takes a third less CO2 to produce a kilo of pork now than it did in 1990. However, there is clearly more to do, and he clearly points out something with which he knows I agree, which is that we have to take a whole-economy approach to making these reductions.
I will say to the hon. Gentleman what I said earlier about declaring net zero. The only way to ensure that the actions we want to deliver actually can be delivered is to make sure, when we set them out, that they are fully understood, fully costed and fully planned, and that we have buy-in from local authorities, civil society and so on. I am really looking forward to seeing the CCC’s advice, but I will take the time that is required and work with whoever needs to be involved to ensure that, when we set that target, it can actually be delivered. I do not want to be the Minister who attempts to set out something very profound, only for it to be hived off because of other pressures that may occur down the line. If we make such a commitment, it must stick.
First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her outstanding record in her Department, on which I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd). Does the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth agree that one of the things that is essential in a grown-up discussion on climate change is that there should be a proper sense of proportion about what has been achieved and an understanding of what needs to be achieved, which everyone agrees is itself of the first importance? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the United Kingdom has been among the most successful countries in the developed world in growing our economy while at the same time reducing our emissions, which in itself is a very important lesson for the future?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments, and I would also like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), who did so much in this brief before I was lucky enough to take it on. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) is absolutely right: a sense of proportion is hugely important. I can go further and say that not only are we among the leaders, but, according to independent research, we have led the G20 in decarbonising our economy through looking at carbon intensity. Again, this is not to say that there is not more to do; it is to say that it can be done—it can be done in a way that does not jeopardise energy security, and does not put undue cost burdens on consumers or businesses—and that while we know there is more to do, we should take hope from the progress that we have made.
May I thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement? I have to say, however, that this statement seems very empty. It appears to be a case of saying something because she has to say something, rather than because she has something to say. It is a reaction to the protests we have seen, rather than a real plan for the future or any indication that there is a real plan for the future.
Since there was no mention of it in her statement, may I ask the Minister: where is the Government’s response to the report of the green finance taskforce? We were promised it in the spring of this year, and surely there should have been at least some indication of that in this statement on the way forward. Where, too, is the response to the comments of the Governor of the Bank of England warning of the economic risks of the low-carbon transition? Will the Government commit to creating a green and resilient pipeline of low-carbon projects, and will she clarify that institutional investors will be made responsible for limiting climate-related financial risks to pensions, savings and investments?
In June last year, the Environmental Audit Committee warned of an “alarming collapse” in investment in renewable energy, and this morning the Minister told us that wave and tidal power had been outcompeted for support. What are the Government doing to address the low investment in renewables? Finally, the UK is set to miss its emissions reduction targets under the Climate Change Act for the fourth carbon budget by 3% to 12%, and for the fifth carbon budget by 6% to 20%. Will she commit the Government to implementing the recommendations of its own green finance taskforce in full, and will she give that commitment today?
As I set up the green finance taskforce, along with my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, I am absolutely committed to bringing forward many of its proposals. Indeed, we have been making progress on its proposals. We are very lucky—again, it is a source of great success for us—that we have one of the most innovative financial capabilities in the world, and we are really capable of advancing progress in that area. For example, we have set up the green finance institute; there is the green finance strategy, and more details will be coming forward.
The hon. Lady raised the question of wave and tidal, and I just want to clarify that slightly. It is a question of how, if we have a limited amount of money, we are best to spend it to achieve the decarbonisation targets we want with the best value to taxpayers. I believe we have spent almost £60 million on innovation funding for wave and tidal—I will make sure that number is correct, and write to the hon. Lady if it is not—and we look carefully at every proposal that has come forward. I was very pleased to meet the Marine Energy Council, working on a cross-party basis, to see how we might do more to go forward.
Finally, I do not want to nit-pick, but the hon. Lady is citing numbers on the budgets that are simply not true. We are currently at 95% of where we need to be to meet CB4, which ends in 2027, and 93% of the way to meet CB5, which ends in 2032. Importantly, we are bringing forward policies and proposals all the time, including the proposals made in the spring statement, against which we have not yet done a CO2 accounting. As the House knows, I am confident that, with a level of investment, focus and support, we will achieve these budgets. However, that will not be enough to get us to a zero-carbon emissions net target by 2050, which is why we will have to continue to innovate and invest.
Obviously, the public sector’s contribution to this is equally important. What does the Minister have to say to companies such as Zebra Fuel in my constituency, which can play its part in bringing new technology on electric batteries to the public sector, but has actually found it quite hard, with its more innovative approach, to engage with many different parts of the public sector?
I am disappointed that my right hon. Friend’s constituents are finding it difficult to engage, because leadership in the public sector is actually something on which we can really demonstrate progress. We have introduced a voluntary public sector emissions reduction target of 30%. We have actually over-achieved on the central Government estate on narrower targets. We have set up a new greenhouse gas reduction target of minus 43%—of course, this also saves taxpayers’ money—and we have things such as the Salix Finance programme, which provides zero-carbon funding through a revolving fund to ensure that the public sector can access funds where needed. I encourage us all to make sure that our local authorities are aware of that fund. If my right hon. Friend wants to send me any more information, I will certainly make sure that that engagement happens.
I want to ask the Minister about the global context. We have had 1° of warming already. Paris set the objective of no more than 1.5° of warming, but I think I am right in saying that the Paris pledges add up to about 2.7° of warming, and the world is off track on the Paris commitments. Can the Minister tell us what progress has been made since Paris on improving the pledges globally? It seems to me that very little progress has been made. In the run-up to the conference of the parties in 2020, wherever it is hosted—I hope that we host it—what is the strategy for getting there? People are out on the streets not just because of the domestic context, but because they think that a rise of 2° will be a disaster and we are going to go well above that, so the global context is vital.
I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman makes such a profound point, given his experience. Whatever we do in the UK and however much we talk about our progress, it is an infinitesimal part of the current emissions profile.
Two things have happened since Paris. First, I know it sounds very boring and dull, but the development of a rule book, so that we can look each other in the eye and hold each other to account on an agreed set of measurements, is really important. If we cannot measure it, we cannot manage it. Secondly, the COP next year will be important because we will set out our nationally determined contributions and be able to quantify, on a like-for-like basis, what the current emissions profile looks like.
It is incredibly important that the COP is successful and ambitious, but we should not forget how seminal it was to get 196 countries even to agree on that target and to agree a process for working together; that is unprecedented. My hope is that the global protests and conversations will focus the minds of Ministers across the world and result in a successful outcome from the 2020 COP.
I listened, “Blue Peter”-style, to the statement that the Minister made earlier, and I congratulate her on her bold assertion that there is no planet B. Does she recognise the actions of institutional investors to save the planet? The Church Commissioners, as shareholders, require the companies in which they invest to be compliant with the Paris agreement, thus demonstrating the power of market forces to effect change.
Some of the most important meetings I have been lucky enough to have in this role have been with faith groups. Interfaith groups work extremely well, setting their own targets and using the significant power of their own investment might to effect change. During our first Green Great Britain Week, people asked, “What else can I do? I have turned off my lights; I am cycling a lot; and I am recycling.” The most effective thing we can do is to think hard about our pension funds—either through our investments or by lobbying trustees, such as those of the House of Commons scheme—because it is 27 times more effective to get an institutional investor to make the shift. The good news is that that is happening right across the world, and amazing groups, such as the Church groups, are doing it in the UK. That is the power of market forces, and such actions will dwarf the amount of money that Government are investing in this low-carbon transition.
I am proud to have supported the Climate Change Act 2008, and I pay tribute to the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). The Minister is right to say that progress has been made by successive Governments, but one area that is very challenging is the built environment. Does she agree that more has to be done, particularly in England? The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee is doing an inquiry on that topic, and the statistics are that the Welsh Government spend twice as much as the UK Government, Scotland four times as much and Northern Ireland 1.5 times as much. She keeps saying that we need action, so let us have action in this House by this Government.
Good. I was coming on to say that one of the most effective ways to influence the built environment is at a local level. I have been struck by the ambition of, and the progress made by, local authorities and combined authorities across the UK. Of course the Government can set ambitions and change regulations, but it is much more powerful for local authorities to say, “This is what we want to do, and this is where the investment needs to go,” and design it themselves. I have been particularly pleased, in the homes environment, with the announcement that we will not be building homes reliant on fossil fuel heating by 2025. Not only will that transform heating, but it will improve the market conditions and drive down the cost of that technology.
I am not entirely sure what is meant by declaring a climate emergency. As far as I am concerned, there is a climate emergency. The IPCC report gives us 12 years to get this sorted out, which is a nanosecond in climatic science terms. We do need to scare the pants off our constituents about the changes that we need to make, but it will only work if we carry our constituents with us. With their busy lives, they will simply turn a tin ear to finger pointing and negativity. We need to mobilise the essential optimism of the British people about the opportunities for change that exist right across the economy.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I paid tribute to him earlier for making the point that this is not just about our atmosphere, but about our watercourses, our land use and our entire ecosystem. We must focus on the opportunities. When many people hear that we have 12 years to save the planet—that is a terrifying thought—they think, “What is the point? We cannot possibly change anything, because there is so much CO2 and we will never get rid of it.” The point is that we can change, and we have changed. We have done so in a way that has not impoverished people or interfered with our energy security. Energy bills have actually gone down, because energy efficiency in the home has increased. These are myths that we must bust, and we must take people with us as we make the changes.
When I met young people from Carlton le Willows Academy recently and received their petition, I could feel their frustration in what they said about climate change. They think we are sleepwalking towards disaster and we need to wake up. They think this Parliament is asleep. What are we going to do about that?
I ask the Minister to reflect on the language that she uses, because some of it sounds complacent. The Government have done things, but we need to convey the sense of urgency and explain how we are going to get a move on before the world collapses and implodes on itself. Building on what my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) has said, what are we going to do to bring the world together? This is a wake-up call for our own country and countries across the world, if we are going to avert the disaster that is staring us in the face.
If there is any communication of complacency, I am horrified. I think that we have to focus calmly on the science. It is striking that in this debate, nobody has stood up and said, “This is a hoax, and it is not happening.” That is incredible, and it would not have happened 10 years ago. There is almost universal acceptance of the challenge and our progress.
One thing that I hear from young people is, “You have done nothing.” What does that say about what so many colleagues in this House have done for the past 10 years? Colleagues have done incredible things. They have supported huge changes to our energy system. When I was elected, 40% of our power came from coal. Over this Easter weekend, that figure has been zero, and it will be down to zero completely by 2025. That is a huge achievement. We must say to people, “You are right to encourage us to do more and to be angry with us, but don’t say that we have done nothing. None of you was asleep at the wheel before we got here, and we certainly haven’t been asleep at the wheel since then.”
Will the Minister elaborate a little on the importance she attaches to growing the economy at the same time as tackling climate change? Is it not the case that we will need to be able to invest in the technology that we will require to cut emissions further?
Yes. One of the challenges that I have heard is that we need a fundamental reworking of the market-based system to solve all our problems. My recollection is that centrally planned economies historically had some of the worst records on environmental pollution, climate change and emissions. I have seen the power of the private sector investment that my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) referred to earlier, the technology and innovation that come from competition and things such as the auction system—I see the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey), who previously occupied the post held by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and who helped to design the system—which have sent the costs of offshore wind tumbling over the past few years. The market-based system does deliver, but we need Government to set ambition, to regulate where required and to convene where necessary.
This statement is very timely, given that Marsden moor, outside Huddersfield, and Ilkley moor, outside Bradford, have been on fire—raging—this weekend. Today, there has been a machinery of government announcement that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is transferring greenhouse gas business emissions over to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and 12,000 companies will now report on that. In that new guidance there are just seven pages on water, three pages on waste, two on resource efficiency and biodiversity, and woodland creation, and the greenhouse gases associated with it, has been relegated to one page in annexe K. May I urge the Minister not to lose sight of the natural world? When the new greening government commitments are made in 2020, may I ask that every Government Department is properly accountable? Our audits have found that they are failing to meet them in both the policy sphere and in their own operations.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady and the Environmental Audit Committee. She knows that I and others are very impressed with the work she does. She raises an important point. The whole-of-Government approach is so valuable. We can no longer just point to a silo and say that if we have solved that, the problem is solved. We have to advance on all fronts. I will look at what she suggests we review. If improvement is needed, we will deliver it.
The Minister quite rightly outlined the very wide-ranging ways we are decarbonising across all sectors. That is absolutely the right thing, but does she agree that better management of our soils could go a very long way to achieving many of our emissions targets—indeed, getting to net zero sooner—if only we managed the soils better? We have a great opportunity to get this right through the 25-year environment plan, the Agriculture Bill and the environment Bill, which will be the biggest piece of environmental legislation since the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Does that not show that while we get the message about the crisis—we are hearing that—the way to put it right is through policies?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work on this topic, on which she is something of an expert. She had a very successful soil summit just before the recess. We have realised that some of the most cost-effective ways of sequestering carbon, such as soil improvement, changes in land use management and forestation, are also those that are best for the natural environment. I think we have all collectively realised how we need to continue to invest in these important areas.
In thanking the Minister for her kind words about the design of CfD auctions, which has ensured that Britain is a world leader in offshore wind, I have to say to her that I found her statement rather panglossian. Renewable energy investment has fallen off a cliff in the past two years. The major expansion in renewable investment was really about investment decisions made before 2015, which, I have to say, her former colleague, the then Chancellor George Osborne, tried to unpick directly after the 2015 election. May I refer her to the point made by the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) on the Paris climate change treaty? Does she not accept that it was Britain’s leadership in the European Union on climate change that led to very ambitious targets adopted by heads of state of the EU in October 2014, that led to the Americans and the Chinese being more ambitious on climate change, and thereby to the Paris climate change treaty? What is going to happen when Britain is not at the table at the European Union showing that leadership?
I would slightly challenge the right hon. Gentleman on the point about investment. He will know that investment can be quite lumpy—it depends on when you are having an auction round—and we are buying far more with less, because the price of renewables has fallen so much. We are paying far less per unit of renewable energy. I was very struck, when we launched the offshore wind sector deal, with how turning out that market provides investment certainty. There is a real lesson to be learnt there for other technologies. I do not accept the point that without the UK at the table we will no longer be able to push the EU and other countries. We will continue to have a loud voice in this area and continue to lead from the front.
To peacefully protest is a fundamental part of our democracy, but I do think that forcing people to not take energy-efficient public transport on their way home, creating disruption for those going on a hard-earned holiday, and causing our excellent police force to give up their leave over Easter—I want to pay tribute to the police—should make people think long and hard about the tactics they are using.
The Minister regularly takes me to task for not being positive enough about her Government, so I am going to surprise her. I am going to overlook the fracking, the expansion of Heathrow airport and the new coalfield up in Cumbria, and say that when it comes to global climate work the Government are doing good work. But even there, it is undermined by the work of the UK export credit agency, which is giving so much—billions of pounds—to more oil and gas exploration in some of the poorest countries. Will she surprise me in turn by saying she will be doing something about that?
I have to say, Mr Deputy Speaker, that this is a wonderful day to have the hon. Lady being positive about the work that not just my Government but the whole of the UK are doing. She raises an important point about the challenge of investment. We of course support those industries that are highly productive and generate jobs and revenue. She will know that one thing we are looking at is to ensure we are not supporting, for example, coalmining. We will continue to look at that, but we also have to make sure that when we are supporting exports they deliver revenues and jobs for the Exchequer, so we can continue to invest in the low-carbon revolution.
There is a genuine public appetite to protect the environment, but it is not always clear to people where to direct their efforts. That is where the Government have such an important role in incentivising behavioural change. Will the Minister advise how she is trying to harness that public appetite by better signposting people to ways in which they can do their bit, and how they might help her in lobbying other countries which have been less successful in reducing their emissions?
My hon. Friend will have hopefully heard our announcement that we will have our second Green Great Britain week, which is a brilliant week-long opportunity from 4 November to say what we have done, challenge others to do more and work right across the country. I would hope the whole country would recognise that if we are able to win the bid to host the climate change talks, not only would that be an amazing chance for us to help the world move to decarbonisation, it would also be an incredible opportunity to showcase some of our best green technologies and businesses. Hopefully people will realise the benefit that comes from those investments in terms of jobs and growth.
Does the Minister agree that we should all hang our heads in shame? The great political parties and all their members have not done enough. We should be ashamed that it took a little Swedish girl to come here today and tell us that we need a sense of urgency and leadership, and recognise that we must act sooner rather than later to stop this threat that will destroy this fragile planet. Does she not agree with me that we should have listened to the scientists years ago? Twenty-five years ago, I started the Socialist Environment and Resources Association—SERA—a campaigning organisation in my party. We should have listened to the scientists then. We are still not listening to them clearly and closely enough now.
We should have been listening to the scientists in 1950, when the link was first found. What has been important about Ms Thunberg’s visit today—it is amazing to see the work—is that the conversation has gone from being niche, held between people who, like me, have long-standing interests in this area, to a mainstream conversation where everybody is talking about what it is that we need to do. That is why this is such a challenge but is so important. For the first time, the whole country is talking about climate change. I believe the whole world is talking about climate change and how we stop it. There are no deniers on the Conservative Benches.
The UK has a good and proven track record in meeting the challenges of climate change, from passing the Climate Change Act in 2008 to the emergence of a world-leading industry in offshore wind, which is bringing significant benefits to my constituency. That said, we can do more. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to dramatically reduce carbon emissions from our existing housing stock, which will tackle the scourge of fuel poverty, and will she consider recognising housing as a key component of national infrastructure?
My hon. Friend has been a marvellous champion of renewable energy. It was a delight to launch the offshore wind sector deal in Lowestoft and to see the regeneration that it is bringing to that proud port. He is right to talk about retrofitting homes. I sat on the green deal Bill Committee, as many others did, and we thought that we had an answer there, but it did not work. We have to keep going and recognise that such things as green mortgage lending could make an important contribution. Hopefully he will be pleased to see that we have focused the whole of the ECO budget on fuel poverty and have also upped the innovation component, because we need to have innovation in the area of retrofitting homes, particularly to drive costs down.
There seems to be precious little action on achieving the Aichi biodiversity targets. The UK is on track to achieve only five of these 20 targets by 2020, so what action does the Minister intend to take to rectify this woeful situation?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady is challenging the breadth of my knowledge on this. It is not my Department’s area, but I would be very happy to engage with her further. She points out that we can no longer talk about climate, ocean and biodiversity as separate silos. We have to join them up, so I look forward to a conversation where she can perhaps educate me more on that point.
Authoritative research from Carbon Brief shows that the UK has now cut CO2 emissions to the lowest level since 1888, that in the last seven years the decline in CO2 emissions has been the fastest sustained fall in history, and that since 1990, the UK has cut carbon emissions faster than any other major economy in the world. Are not all three very proud achievements of this Government?
I know that my hon. Friend’s constituents in Kettering are among the most green-minded in the country, as he often points out to us. He mentions an important fact—yes, we have more to do, but we should be really proud of our achievements. People thought that this would be impossible, but it is possible and achievable, and we will continue to do more.
Despite the views of many in this House that Government action can control and fine-tune the complex world climate, the fact of the matter is that climate change is a natural phenomenon. We have experienced it throughout the history of the world and we will experience it in the future. A small part of that is greenhouse gas emissions, 97% of which are natural, caused by water vapour, volcanic activity and decaying vegetation, and 3% of which is caused by man. One per cent. of that is caused by the United Kingdom—a very small percentage—yet we have changed our economy dramatically. While the Minister has outlined the Government’s achievements, she has not pointed out that we pay dearly for energy bills and have fuel poverty, and that we have lost tens of thousands of jobs in energy-intensive industries. At the same time, while we are setting these targets, nature and our competitors are offsetting our draconian actions.
The right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that I disagree with his scientific analysis. The link between CO2 emissions and temperature increases is proven to an extent well beyond the proof that smoking causes lung cancer. The challenge that he rightly raises, though, is how we act in a way that is just and fair and ensures that we do not put people out of work and that we do not put bills up. The Government go through a process of making sure that our energy-intensive industries are held whole and they do not overpay for their energy. We all supported a price cap Bill to ensure that the cost of energy is held down, but ultimately, this is why when we act, we have to act in a proportionate way and make sure that whoever ends up having to pay for this—whether it is customers, taxpayers or shareholders—is paying a fair and proportionate amount.
Cornwall and the wider south-west have clean growth at the heart of our local and regional industrial strategy. Many innovative businesses will be delivering the solutions that we need to decarbonise, so will the Minister publish the green finance strategy when she publishes her response to the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change, because like her, I think that market forces can be forces for good?
In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), the Minister said she liked local innovation but refused to direct any resources for improving the built environment in local communities, which he was calling for. What resources will local authorities have access to in order to carry out the innovation she is talking about?
I neglected to mention the £8 million we have put into local energy partnerships. We often find that local authorities have lots of ambition but not necessarily the skills, and we want to make sure they have them and the investment. I also referenced the Salix pot, which is available for many local government buildings, which are also an important part of the built environment.
Solar energy plays a crucial role. Last month, I met the Minister and Moray-based AES Solar, which explained its concerns about the cliff edge the industry was facing because of a change in policy. More than three weeks later, that policy gap still exists. I am sure she accepts the urgency of this issue, so can she tell us when the Government will publish their smart export guarantee policy?
It will be published as soon as possible. I thank my hon. Friend for that meeting. As he will know, energy companies are voluntarily bringing forward what are in effect smart export guarantee prices, so those price signals are already coming through. As I said, we want to get it right. We do not want to find, as we did with feed-in tariffs, that we have committed more than £30 billion, as we will have done over the lifetime of that scheme, to deliver a relatively small number of installations. We want to future-proof the smart export guarantee and we want to make it stick.
The Minister mentioned in her statement that the Government had sought the advice of the Committee on Climate Change on a net zero target. Can she reassure the House that, should this advice entail a greater investment in low-carbon innovation than the £2.5 billion detailed in the clean growth strategy, the Government will commit additional funding as necessary?
The hon. Gentleman is inviting me to make funding bids to my colleagues in the Treasury. Of course, I would want to make that bid. Innovation funding and co-partnership on innovation is a huge success and one we need in order to drive down costs and drive up deployment.
None of us can doubt the energy and determination of the Minister to deal with this issue, but could I encourage her to take an hour out of her week to watch the fabulous Channel 4 documentary, “The Street”, about the very innovative way Cherwell District Council is allowing people to self-build houses in Bicester? I think she would be as surprised as I was at the way eco credentials become very important when people build their own home. Will she watch this documentary—it’s Kevin McCloud, so it won’t hurt her—and think more carefully about how to encourage people and local councils to embed eco values when they build?
My hon. Friend points out an incredibly important fact. While people want to do the right thing, they often do not know where to go, and centrally imposed standards often suppress rather than stimulate innovation. Trying to get that right is the subject of a review by other Departments at the moment, but perhaps she could pour me a glass of organic wine and we could watch it together.
I asked the Minister earlier what she would do to incentivise all renewables, and I got a very narrow answer, so let me try again. Small-scale renewables such as solar panels have been fitted in developments in my constituency, such as the social rented housing one in Pollokshields, built by Home Group, but Hannah Smith of Scottish Renewables has said
“that the end of the feed-in tariff will mean, at best, a period of enormous uncertainty for the companies that install these projects and for the people who work for them”.
The solar sector in Scotland has sold the equivalent of 360,000 solar panels every year since 2010. It is no small industry. What will she do to restore certainty and incentivise that industry?
The hon. Lady makes the important point that we need to hurry up with the smart export guarantee and make sure it works to deliver that, but I would gently encourage her to look at the outcome that we are delivering, rather than focusing on a particular technology. Last month, renewable energy in the UK was at over 40%, and we can now source things such as offshore wind at subsidy-free prices, so we are delivering and will continue to deliver, but we need to do that in a way that provides value for money for consumers.
That is a joint bid by my hon. Friend and me!
I want to ask specifically about sustainable development goal 12 on responsible production and consumption. It seems to me that we are using far too many of the world’s natural resources producing things we do not actually need just to keep money flowing between buyers and sellers. How can we limit that circle and use our natural resources more wisely?
As a Nailsea girl, I would naturally be biased in favour of a Bristol bid, but I suspect that there will be a “whole of the UK” bid.
The hon. Lady has made an important point. I think we have made progress with the so-called sustainable economy and will continue to do so, but our continued progress will require Government action alongside action by producers. Again, we are trying to lead by example, but there is clearly much more to do. I must challenge one of the hon. Lady’s points: I think that climate change is involved in 15 of the sustainable development goals, which means that it is fundamental to nearly all of them.
The Minister is right to talk about the need for more action at an international level, but can she explain how she intends to use the bid for COP26 to achieve that, and, specifically, will she spell out the more ambitious targets that she thinks the world should embrace?
Earlier this year, the Mayor of Greater Manchester published his clean air plan. I welcomed that, but we need help from the Government to deliver it. In particular, we need funds for a vehicle scrappage scheme and for retrofitting our bus fleet. What assurance can the Minister give us that funds will be made available to us for those purposes?
I commend that plan as a good example of the work that can be done to pull through change. We have increased our support for the transition to zero-emission vehicles across the country to more than £1.5 billion, which will fund charging points, some support for buyers, and the transition to clean mass public transport. I would welcome conversations both with the hon. Lady and with colleagues from other Departments. If we are to accelerate this process, we need to do that first in areas where it will make a real difference to air quality.
The nature of this emergency necessitates a national mission-orientated approach, the same sort of vigorous approach that the Americans adopted in the 1960s when they had a national mission to put a man on the moon. That requires the Government to be much more proactive, and much more active, in their approach to bringing forward technologies, de-risking them, and launching them into the wider marketplace in our economy.
A good example of the current failure is in the offshore renewables sector. BiFab yards in Scotland are currently lying idle, with no certainty about their future, because both the UK Government and the Scottish Government are failing to get a grip on the need to allocate a level playing field. Navantia, the Spanish shipbuilder, is currently benefiting from 35% subsidies from the Spanish Government, but this Government are taking no action to level the playing field. We have been ripped off by companies in competitor nations that are stealing our technologies and also undermining our industrial base. What is the Minister going to do about it?
I understand the BiFab situation, which the hon. Gentleman and I have discussed before, but I must gently correct him. The offshore wind sector deal included a commitment to ensuring that UK content—real content, not just intellectual property content—would rise to 60%, and a commitment to a much better audit process. I am aware of the claims that the hon. Gentleman has made, and we must ensure that there is a level playing field when we are essentially committing taxpayers’ money to developing the industry further.
A letter has been signed by me and by Councillor Tudor Evans, the leader of Plymouth City Council, and co-signed by 65 young people aged from three to 17 who attended the climate strike outside the council’s offices. If they were listening to the debate, they would have heard nothing from the Minister about agreeing to declare a climate emergency. Those young people would want me to ask the Minister please to declare a climate emergency and work across parties, so let me ask the Government, on their behalf, to demonstrate that they are listening to them.
I am sorry if that is the impression that has been given. I cannot say too often that we need actions, not just words. It is the easiest thing in the world to stand up with a document and say, “Look, here is our plan.” Unless there are actions that we can deliver, unless we can show those young people that we are prepared to put our money where our mouth is, we should all just pack up and go home. Well, I am not going home. I will continue to campaign on climate change, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will do so as well.
Pupils at Kelvindale primary school in Hillhead, secondary school pupils at the Glasgow Academy and students at Glasgow University have all taken part in the climate protests. They understand the importance of tackling the issue, not just here at home but around the world. Is the Minister committed to the principle of climate justice, and in particular to supporting people in developing countries who are feeling the effects of climate change first and hardest but have done the least to cause it? If the Government support that she has mentioned is being counted in the overseas development assistance target, can she assure us that it is being spent in developing countries rather than subsidising other Government work being done here?
That is an incredibly important point. In fact, we should be really proud of the way we spend funding. We are trying not only to ensure that we fund adaptation and mitigation, but to invest in projects that help other countries leapfrog some of the things we have done—for example, relying on a coal-based energy system. From Brazil, where we are supporting reforestation, to renewables in Africa, our projects are really making a difference. They are providing employment, they are providing skills and they are ensuring that we have that just transition that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
I join others in acknowledging the progress made under successive Governments, but the truth is that, unless the status of emissions reduction is raised in this Government, and the UK’s response to climate crisis is driven vigorously from the centre so that all Departments are forced to act, we will continue to fall short. With that in mind, how well prepared does the Minister think the institutions of Government are for the scale and pace of the transition required?
I think that part of the challenge, but also part of the opportunity, is that this has to be a cross-Government process. We simply cannot sit and make policy around transport emissions without thinking about infrastructure. We cannot talk about energy without thinking about planning systems. There is therefore absolutely fundamental cross-Government agreement on this, as well as, hopefully, cross-party agreement. It is telling that, when we agreed to put forward our COP bid, which involves a not insubstantial cost, that was done with complete Cabinet unanimity, because everybody recognises the importance of this issue and how fundamentally every part of our economy has to change.
At the beginning of her statement, the Minister said how good the Climate Change Act 10 years ago was because it put legal obligations on the Government. One of the interesting things Greta Thunberg said earlier today was that we needed to move from the politically possible to the scientifically necessary. The high point of political possibility was reached in Paris, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) pointed out, that is not enough—that is not delivering the goods. When the Minister goes back into the international arena, in Chile at the end of the year, will she think about promoting legal obligations and not just pledges at the international level?
The hon. Lady is right that we have to act as well as just setting out these warm words. One of the things we have been doing that is working is encouraging other countries to pass their own climate legislation so that they are not setting interesting, politically attractive targets and then all going off and having lunch. They are actually putting in law the sorts of budgets and reduction trajectories that we have had to enact. That means that Ministers have to stand up and have these uncomfortable grillings in front of people who know a lot more about the subject than they do.
I listened carefully to the Minister’s statement, but I was particularly struck by one phrase, which stood out above the others: that we here in the UK should be proud that we “have shown real leadership.” I latched on to that phrase because, as the Minister will know, we have no functioning Assembly in Northern Ireland. We also have no Environment Minister in Northern Ireland, nor have we had one since January 2017—for over two years. I need to know—and I am sure my Northern Ireland colleagues also need to know—that there has been real leadership in Northern Ireland in terms of carbon emissions, in the absence of a functioning Assembly. That, of course, must mean that the Minister and her officials have worked closely with the Northern Ireland Department responsible for this issue. Can she offer me that assurance and give me some details of that work?
Indeed I can offer the hon. Lady that assurance. I have regular ministerial quadrilaterals—in this case with the civil servants, who do an excellent job representing Northern Ireland on many issues, including climate change progress and deal or no-deal planning, so the system is working. Obviously, we would like to see political leadership as well in Northern Ireland, but the process is working, and the market mechanisms that have been put in place are delivering the CO2 reductions that we want to see.
The right hon. Lady might be sick of hearing me ask the same question over and over again, so I will try to ask it in a different way. She says that she wants action and not words, and I agree with her, but the two are not mutually exclusive. She comes up with lots of ideas and, as she said, there is a lot in the various documents that she has referred to, so why not have actions and words? Powerful words often lead to much more powerful action. This is an emergency, and today’s young people feel a sense of urgency. They need to see leadership coming from within this room, so will the Minister please think again and declare a climate emergency?
The hon. Lady will get the same answer, but she gets points for persistency. I am still waiting for my vegan meal to be delivered to the Houses of Parliament, by the way. The point still stands that it does not matter what we all stand up and say; what matters is that we go out of here and do. I know that she is passionate about this on behalf of her constituents and the country that she is proud to represent, and we are delivering and will continue to deliver. I want to be the Minister who actually commits us to a course of action, not just to a slogan that sounds good on a T-shirt.
The Minister is absolutely right to focus on actions. The Government’s own analysis shows that the introduction of E10 would take the equivalent of 1 million vehicles off the road. That is something that could be done now, so will she, as one of her actions, immediately speak to her colleagues in the Department for Transport and get them to accelerate the move to E10?