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Zero-carbon Economy

Volume 663: debated on Tuesday 16 July 2019

We have made world-leading progress, cutting our emissions by 42% while growing the economy at the fastest rate of any G20 country since 2000—a point recognised by the International Energy Agency in its recent report. The Committee on Climate Change is clear: our clean growth strategy and industrial strategy provide the right frameworks for delivering net zero. I hope Members will welcome the recent launch of the green finance strategy as a clear demonstration of how seriously the Government take net zero.

The Government are failing to act quickly and robustly enough to tackle the climate emergency, particularly in solar and onshore wind. Will the Secretary of State welcome the actions of the peaceful Extinction Rebellion protesters across five cities in this country, including my own of Cardiff, to disrupt business as usual and send that important message?

What I welcome is that our legislating on net zero—we are the first country in the G7 to legislate for net zero by 2050—marks a catalytic moment for everyone to recognise that we need a whole-of-society approach to this. I welcome all action, whether from the Climate Coalition, whom I met recently, or businesses and industries: organisations such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer, for example, have committed to net zero. We all have a part to play.

In light of the Government’s abysmal progress on carbon reduction, last year the Committee on Climate Change issued 25 policy recommendations; the Government delivered just one. What clear steps will the Government take in the next six months to ensure that we get back on track for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets?

On the work the Committee has taken forward in its recent report, we welcome that the Committee acts as a critical friend. Now that we have net zero in place, we must go much further much faster. We have over-achieved on carbon budgets 1 and 2, we are on course to meet budget 3, and we are 90% there on carbon budgets 4 and 5, but I admit that we must do much more. I look forward to going to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee later to discuss this in greater detail, but the net-zero commitment now gives the opportunity to move on this.

Three times as much energy is delivered by the gas grid and electricity grid, so what is the Department doing to support moves to hydrogen from natural gas?

Hydrogen is a really interesting source of energy and we need to explore it further. There are lots of opportunities that other countries, in particular France, are taking forward, such as by looking at hydrogen supply and how we can combine that with the gas grid. That makes the point that innovation here is crucial. We make up 1% of the world’s emissions; if we are going to be able to make a real difference worldwide, it will be by innovating in this country—innovating in areas such as hydrogen, where we can make a far greater impact across the world.

Given our abundance of tides as an island nation, it seems to me that we could be doing more to utilise them for sustainable energy generation. What does the Minister think?

I think we have the opportunity to look at alternative sources of all energy and power. The latest round for contracts for difference opened in May and will close on 18 June. We have looked at alternative sources of power and we want to be able to explore that. But this is also about creating a market mechanism by which we can look at establishing new technologies, moving away from subsidies and ensuring that we have a proud record for the future on renewable energy supplies.

The most recent report from the Committee on Climate Change shows that we are moving in the wrong direction in terms of meeting our fourth and fifth carbon budgets. We have now rightly strengthened those objectives to achieve net zero, but without a single policy to help us get there. The long-awaited energy White Paper has still not been published, so can the Minister confirm today that that White Paper will be published before the summer recess and that it will include policies to get us there with onshore wind, solar technology, battery storage and electric vehicles?

The hon. Lady mentions electric vehicles and battery storage. The Prime Minister made a significant announcement yesterday at her business council, attended by the Secretary of State: £500 million-worth of export finance will be provided for electric vehicles. There are also the guarantees on looking at charging points. The White Paper is due this summer; I cannot give any more guarantees beyond that, but it is absolutely critical as the next milestone going forward that we have the legislation in place for net zero, and we now need to set out a plan. The clean growth strategy was set out earlier—late last year. We are on track to meet 90% of carbon budgets 4 and 5, and we will do more to ensure that we meet them.

Publicly owned buildings such as schools and hospitals can access interest-free loans in order to retrofit their buildings and put on solar panels and so forth. What consideration will be given to allow that kind of scheme to be available to small businesses?

I entirely agree that taking a local, bottom-up approach is the way in which the Government want to go. For instance, the rural communities energy fund has recently been established—an extra £10 million has been made available there—and we have the smart export guarantee when it comes to looking at renewable sources of power for small businesses or other small community buildings—

The hon. Lady just carries on chuntering. She has asked her question and I have given her an answer. She should allow me to respond to other Members of Parliament. She needs to accept that this Government—[Interruption.]

Order. The Minister is right. The hon. Lady has asked her question and it was answered. It might not have been answered to her satisfaction, but it was answered and that is the end of it. Please be quiet.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) that when it comes to looking at how we should be creating new schemes, this is the direction in which we need to go. We will do more and I am happy to discuss with him the opportunity to involve small businesses. This will be part of the energy White Paper, and we recognise that we need to make significant strides to ensure that small businesses are able to retrofit their properties.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has shown that, as if being hostile to onshore wind and destructive to solar were not enough, the Department will not achieve its climate ambitions due to its ambivalence over carbon capture and its failure to emulate Scotland on energy efficiency measures. The net zero 2050 target was imposed by the Prime Minister above Ministers’ heads. As they prepare to leave their posts, will the Minister admit that his Department lacks the policies to achieve that target, and that his legacy will be one of abject failure?

No. If anything, I think that my legacy will be as the Minister who signed the legislation ensuring that we were the first country to achieve net zero by 2050.

I also hope that our legacy will be a successful partnership bid with the Italians for COP26. The Italian ambassador came to meet Members of Parliament here yesterday. I did not see the hon. Gentleman there, but never mind about that—[Interruption.] He might not recognise that we had the Italian ambassador here to cover our COP26 bid, but he would have been welcome. An email was sent to him, inviting him to attend, but unfortunately he did not turn up. Our commitment must be UK-wide and we are making UK-wide schemes available, including recently ensuring that we can subsidise energy supplies for the north of Scotland, which demonstrates the benefits of the Union in delivering net zero.

With bizarre and rubbish answers like that, it is no wonder that the polls in Scotland are showing greater support for the Scottish National party and for independence than ever before. Will the Minister do just one thing? Will he rule out serving under the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and vote against a no-deal Brexit to prevent further harm?

This is what it always comes down to. Here we are in BEIS questions talking about clean growth and, yes, about how the Government need to make more progress on net zero, but what is the hon. Gentleman’s No. 1 priority? Independence for Scotland. He wants to divide and rule as usual—[Interruption.]

In fact, it is being within the United Kingdom that has allowed Scotland to benefit from 16 contracts for difference projects recently, allowing for 2.6 GW of green energy. Also, £4 million was recently announced for Project Acorn in Scotland for carbon capture, utilisation and storage projects. The hon. Gentleman never mentions the policy benefits of the Union or the investment that it delivers in Scotland. No—all he wants to talk about is independence. But let us look at what the Scottish people had to say about—

Order. We are grateful to the Minister. He has spoken with considerable force and alacrity, and I am sure that he is very pleased with his own words, although we have had enough of them.

Does the Minister agree with the TUC that, while decarbonisation presents exciting economic opportunities, the lack of a comprehensive and just transition policy and a coherent industrial strategy means that many well-paid, highly skilled unionised jobs are under threat?

I will half-agree with the TUC on this point. It is concerned about reaching net zero through a just transition. We are living through a revolution, and we are going to need to take the population with us when it comes to jobs and job security. We have 400,000 green jobs now, and there is a potential for 2 million by 2030. We need to work with the unions and to ensure that when we look at the future of the world of work, we take the entire population with us.

I do not believe that the Minister provided any specifics in that answer. What is his plan for the workers in the closing coal plants? Why are yards in Fife losing out to international rivals for wind farms that are only a few miles away? Why has Dyson, a British company, chosen Singapore over the UK for the production of its electric vehicles? Germany is investing €1.5 billion in battery production; this Government’s measly £246 million comes nowhere near that.

The truth is that the party that devastated the UK’s industrial heartlands in the 1980s does not have a just transition plan. Will the Minister put ideology and laissez-faire economics aside and work with us on this side to make a real green industrial revolution a reality?

The hon. Lady seems obsessed with talking about the 20th century. I want to talk about the 21st century—about what will be going on when we get to 2030. Why did she not talk about Jaguar Land Rover’s announcement yesterday that it will be investing in building electric vehicles here, in the midlands? Why did she not speak about the fact that electric Minis will now be rolling from plants in Oxford? These are positive investments for the United Kingdom, which demonstrate that we can make the change towards net zero and clean technology by having clean growth—by investing in the economy and in jobs and ensuring that we have record levels of new green jobs going forwards.