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Volume 692: debated on Wednesday 14 April 2021

The President of COP26 was asked—

Covid-19: Green Recovery

What steps the Government are taking to promote climate action and a green recovery from the covid-19 pandemic ahead of COP26. (914039)

What steps the Government are taking to promote climate action and a green recovery from the covid-19 pandemic ahead of COP26. (914040)

The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan sets out our blueprint for a green industrial revolution—a plan to invest in green technologies and industries, leveraging in billions of pounds of private sector investment, supporting up to a quarter of a million green jobs and levelling up across the UK. It is a clear plan to build back greener from the covid pandemic.

The UK’s credibility as COP President rests on demonstrable climate action at home. The Government have set legally binding net zero targets but they are currently off track to meet their fourth and fifth carbon budgets, which are calibrated for previous, more lenient targets. Scrapping the green homes grant two weeks ago puts us into reverse. How will the right hon. Gentleman seek to progress local, national and international progress on energy efficiency and specifically on green homes in the run-up to and during COP26?

The UK has decarbonised its economy faster than any other G20 nation since 2000. We have met carbon budgets CB1 and CB2, we are on track to meet CB3, and of course we are pursuing plans to ensure that we meet CB4 and CB5. Ahead of COP26, we will publish a comprehensive net zero strategy.

The COP President has talked confidently about British leadership, but the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan is full of big words and no real detail. The total impact, by the Government’s own admission, is that they will not meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. When we pull back the curtain, there is not much to look at, and we are running out of time. He has just said, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson), that there will be a net zero strategy. We need it before the summer recess to make the Government’s word credible ahead of COP26. Does he agree with that, and if so, what is he doing about it?

As someone who was partly responsible for preparing the 10-point plan, may I suggest that the hon. Gentleman actually reads the detail of it? I have discussed the sector-specific points in it with individuals in different sectors of industry, who have found it quite compelling. Of course I agree that we need to be doing more, and that is why I have committed to publishing the comprehensive net zero strategy ahead of COP26.

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking, in his extensive discussions with leaders around the world on making progress at COP26, to develop a global standard or taxonomy of climate change impact in financial reporting and in green labelling investment products?

As my right hon. Friend will know, the UK has taken a leading role in climate-related disclosures by implementing a green taxonomy and, very importantly, by making TCFD-aligned disclosures—recommended by the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures —mandatory across the economy by 2025. In the conversations that I have with Governments around the world, I am urging other countries to follow a similar approach on financial disclosures. My right hon. Friend talks about asset owners in the financial services sector, and we are also encouraging asset owners and asset managers to make net zero commitments.

Tackling Climate Change: International Ambition

What progress the Government have made on raising international ambition to tackle climate change as part of preparations for COP26. (914041)

When the UK took on the role of the incoming COP26 presidency, under 30% of the global economy was covered by a net zero commitment. The good news is that that figure has now increased to 70% and of course I am pressing all countries to come forward with net zero commitments. However, as colleagues in this House have acknowledged previously, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s initial “NDC Synthesis Report”, published in February, showed that we have much more progress to make on the 2030 emissions reduction target, and I am pressing countries on that as well.

The UK is a global leader in protecting the ocean, as shown by the success of its Blue Belt and 30x30 programmes, but as my right hon. Friend will know, only 1% of international waters currently have effective protection. Will he commit the UK to taking the lead in pushing for a strong global oceans treaty at the United Nations, to establish an international framework for protecting marine biodiversity in international waters?

My hon. Friend raises a vital issue, and she will be pleased to hear that the UK is working hard to see negotiations concluded this year on a new UN convention for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdictions. That will enable the establishment of marine protected areas and help to deliver on the 30x30 target.

In a letter to all UNFCCC—United Nations framework convention on climate change—parties this week, the COP President rightly argued that we must halve global emissions by 2030 if we are to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5° within reach, yet he will know that recent UN analysis makes it clear that current national pledges will reduce emissions by just 1% by the end of this critical decade. We need the major emitters to do much more if we are to close the gap. That means a need for deep cuts in American emissions and for Chinese emissions to peak by 2025, but it also means a need for tangible progress on the part of India. With the Prime Minister meeting President Modi later this month, will the COP President tell the House what the UK is willing to put on the table, particularly in terms of climate finance and technological support, to help to ensure that India feels able to increase its ambition markedly ahead of the summit?

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman but, of course, all countries need to make much more progress when it comes to ambitious, nationally determined contributions to the 2030 near-term emission reduction targets. I have spoken with large economies around the world. As he knows, I met Prime Minister Modi a few weeks ago and, of course, we are working on a number of initiatives with the Indian Government. When the Prime Minister goes to India, I am sure there will be further announcements.

Virtual Participation in COP26

What plans he has to arrange for remote virtual participation in COP26 in the event of ongoing restrictions due to the covid-19 pandemic. (914042)

We are working very hard to ensure that we deliver an in-person COP that allows all countries to participate on an equal footing. That is incredibly important, as many parties feel strongly that negotiations must be in person. We continue to explore how technology and other innovations can make the summit more resilient, safe and inclusive.

I am grateful for that answer. Many respondents to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s survey of expert views, both academics and former COP attendees, highlighted the value of remote participation for otherwise excluded groups, and for reducing the conference’s carbon footprint. Will the COP26 President explore the possibilities of wider virtual participation at COP, in addition to physical attendance at the conference?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I have said on a number of occasions that I want this to be the most inclusive COP ever. Absolutely, we are looking at how we can expand our digital programmes to allow for more virtualisation. I hope that, at the appropriate time, I will be able to update the House further.

A diplomatic source in the British Government is reported in the papers today as saying about the conference:

“No one in Europe thinks it’s going to happen and the US is increasingly sceptical that it can happen without a delay.”

I support the COP26 President’s aim for a physical conference of national delegations but, of course, many stakeholders are politicians, business leaders, NGOs and others. When will the Cabinet Office produce a contingency plan to give clarity to stakeholders about how engagement can take place in November?

The hon. Gentleman, again, raises an important point. He will have seen the letter I wrote to UNFCCC members on the progress we want to make over the coming months. COP26 has already been postponed by one year, and the urgency of the climate crisis has not abated. I do not sense any desire among parties for a further postponement, and we are working very hard to ensure that we have an in-person, physical COP, taking into account, of course, any covid-related contingencies.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

What steps he is taking to encourage towns, cities and communities to deliver the UN sustainable development goals at local level in the run-up to COP26. (914043)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. That is a new title. I was happy with international champion, but I am sure vice-president is acceptable, too.

The actions we are taking to tackle climate change support the delivery of a range of UN sustainable development goals. Through the Together for Our Planet campaign and Race to Zero, we are encouraging towns, cities and communities to drive climate action at a local level. This is supported by the COP26 UK mayors and regions advisory council, which includes West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Kirklees Council, and it has set itself an ambitious target of being net zero by 2038.

Will the Minister and, certainly, the COP26 President, in whom I have great confidence, support what we are doing in Huddersfield to make Huddersfield a sustainable town and a sustainable community by rigorously pursuing the sustainable development goals? We are building a network of towns across the United Kingdom. We are up to about 20, and we need to get to 50 and 500. What can the Government do to help us, because it is about grassrooting and making sure that COP26 is not cop-out 26?

It is important that we encourage and, indeed, provide the tools—and the Together for Our Planet campaign is one of those tools—to help our constituents, our towns and our cities to understand and take charge for themselves of the impact they can have in helping to meet our Paris agreement challenge. That involves everything from household choices through to changes in how we run our buses and trains. Every council and every community has a role to play.

Green Investment and Public Transport

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on showing leadership on green investment and boosting funding for public transport in the run-up to COP26. (914044)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues about decarbonisation. My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is putting a green recovery for transport at the centre of his Department’s decision making in the run-up to COP26 and beyond.

Liverpool city region is developing a project to bring 20 hydrogen-powered double-decker buses to the streets, with the potential for further green investment to scale this up and achieve our ambition of being carbon net zero by 2040. Can the Minister tell us when the £30 billion in planned capital investment as part of the green recovery stimulus will be available to support our ambition?

I will ensure that the hon. Lady’s specific point is taken up with my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary. She will know that, last month, the Transport Secretary launched a multimillion-pound scheme to enable local authorities to roll out zero-emission buses. This funding will deliver 500 zero-emission buses, supporting the Government’s wider commitment to introduce 4,000 such vehicles.

There is no joined-up thinking on any issue with this Government, but we would all have hoped for some cross-Department thinking on this issue at least. We are, as usual, disappointed, with even the green homes grant gone after just a few months—so much for building back better.

There is increasing concern voiced internationally, too, about the UK Government’s lack of progress domestically on environmental commitments. Will the right hon. Gentleman show some real leadership and commit today to start seriously lobbying his Government colleagues to join up the dots and start delivering, so that we can look forward to environmentally sound investment, renewed support for a comprehensive charging framework for electric vehicles, real investment in hydrogen technology and marine energy, support for housing improvements and so on? Will he do that, or is he happy to leave us all embarrassed to be hosting COP26 while the UK seems to be striding off in the opposite direction?

I say to the hon. Lady that the role of the COP presidency is to ensure that we are working with all 197 parties to ensure that we are making progress on keeping the 1.5° C limit within reach. The UK, like any other country, needs to see what more we can do. I hope that she will acknowledge that we are seen as a leader in the world and that, since 2010, we have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 nation.

Biodiversity Loss and Climate Action

What steps he is taking to promote action on biodiversity loss alongside climate action as part of COP26 preparations. (914045)

Climate change and biodiversity loss are inextricably linked, which is why the UK has made nature a core priority of our COP26 presidency. We pioneered and launched the leaders’ pledge for nature in September last year, and we are also driving global action to protect and restore critical ecosystems such as forests and accelerating our transition towards sustainable agriculture while mobilising the finance to support this.

In order to tackle biodiversity loss, the convention on biological diversity, COP15, in May, will support new targets on nature. However, with the Environment Bill delayed yet again, how will the Minister ensure that the outcomes from this conference will feed into COP26 in November?

The Prime Minister and President Xi have agreed that the UK and China should work together, as respective hosts of the United Nations framework convention on climate change COP26 and the convention on biological diversity COP15, to reinforce and amplify those linkages between climate change and biodiversity loss and to achieve mutually supportive and ambitious outcomes at both summits. We are working closely with our Chinese counterparts and with the UN secretariat of the UNFCCC, the CBD and the United Nations convention to combat desertification to strengthen the links between these conventions to deliver the best outcomes for nature.

Highest-Emitting Countries: Policy Objectives

What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in countries that are the highest emitters of carbon on policy objectives for COP26. (914046)

I have so far engaged with Ministers and negotiators from more than 80 countries and briefed all parties to the UN on a number of occasions. This, of course, includes discussions with representatives of countries, including China, the US, the EU and India.

In the light of Germany’s coal phase-out Act, which states that it will not end the use of coal-powered energy until 2038, how does the Minister intend to use COP26 to promote nuclear power, particularly at key UK sites such as Wylfa Newydd on Anglesey, in order to meet the UK’s net zero targets?

My hon. Friend is a consistent and strong champion of both the nuclear sector and the Wylfa site in her constituency, and I commend her zeal. As I have said to her previously, nuclear power clearly has a role to play in our clean energy mix as we work towards net zero emissions by 2050. She will know that, in the 10-point plan that the Prime Minister set out, we are backing large nuclear as well as small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors.

Business Consultation

I have engaged with hundreds of global and UK businesses through a combination of speaking at high-profiles events and bilateral meetings, and my COP26 business leaders advisory group. Businesses have a key role to play in tackling climate change, and I encourage them all to sign up to the Race to Zero campaign.

Derbyshire County Council recently launched a £2 million green entrepreneurs fund for businesses that are interested in green energy and carbon reduction. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an excellent example of local government and businesses working together, and will he share my praise for county council leader Barry Lewis and his visionary leadership on this issue?

I commend both my hon. Friend and the leader of Derbyshire County Council, Barry Lewis, for championing this excellent initiative. This is precisely the type of scheme we want to see—supporting businesses, growth and jobs while cutting emissions.

Civil Society and Youth Groups: Consultation

What steps he is taking to consult with (a) civil society and (b) youth groups in preparation for COP26. (914048)

What steps he is taking to consult with (a) civil society and (b) youth groups in preparation for COP26. (914056)

I want COP26 to be the most inclusive ever. The voices of young people are vital to this process. That is why I have set up an international COP26 Civil Society and Youth Advisory Council, allowing for a regular dialogue with youth activists, NGOs, indigenous people and faith groups as we plan for COP26.

I have a pile of letters on my desk from children at GEMS Didcot Primary Academy and John Blandy Primary School, who have written to tell me what they have learned about climate change and what positive changes they saw in the environment during lockdown, and to give me their ideas of things they think the Government should be doing. Will my right hon. Friend tell me how children and young people will be able to feed into the preparations for COP26?

I thank my hon. Friend for championing the views of young people in his constituency. I pay tribute to the pupils of John Blandy and GEMS Didcot primary schools for their enthusiasm for climate action. I will be delighted to receive their letters and review their ideas; and, through him, I will respond in writing to his constituents.

My right hon. Friend and I both have the privilege of representing seats in Berkshire, where many young people are passionate about climate change and are active in local groups such as the West Berkshire Climate Action Network. This is their first real opportunity to see UK leadership in action. Will my right hon. Friend confirm how those young people can access the youth council that he just described and other mechanisms to feed their ideas into the COP later this year?

I thank my hon. Friend for the work that she does to promote climate action. I would be very happy to hear from young people and youth groups in her constituency. We will be engaging further with schools in relation to COP26 to unleash the enthusiasm and energy of young people across the UK and tackle climate change.

We all have a stake in protecting our climate, particularly young adults in my constituency, who I hope will be the pioneers of change. As part of the UK-Italy COP26 partnership, what are the plans for the “Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition 2021” event to be held in Milan in September?

From 28 to 30 September, the Youth4Climate event will bring together 400 youth delegates from across the globe to discuss topics under a range of thematic areas. The event will culminate in a declaration and discussion between the youth delegates and Ministers attending the pre-COP26 event.

Topical Questions

If we are to protect our planet from the ravages of climate change, we must support developing countries to respond, but without adequate finance the task ahead is well nigh impossible. That is why on 31 March, the UK presidency convened around 50 developing and donor countries and multilateral institutions to consider how we can get more—and more timely—public finance flowing into climate action. I am pleased that we have secured a range of commitments from the likes of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and donor countries to move this vital work forward. It is our moral duty to protect the most vulnerable communities from a climate crisis that they have not caused.

How does supporting a new Cumbrian coalmine, giving new licences for oil and gas exploration, scrapping the green homes grant and reducing incentives for electric vehicles reflect the Government’s stated commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050—or is this more dad-dancing rhetoric by the Prime Minister, unconvincing and unco-ordinated?

The hon. Lady raises a number of points. In previous answers I have set out the ambition that the UK has and the progress that we have made. Specifically with regard to oil and gas licensing, the UK Government will introduce a new climate compatibility checkpoint before each future oil and gas licensing round to ensure that licences awarded are aligned with wider climate objectives, including net zero emissions by 2050.

Surfers Against Sewage in my constituency are ardent environmental campaigners, particularly on plastic pollution and water quality, and our environment is all the better for their work. The Government have a key role to play on protecting the environment, so can my right hon. Friend assure me that when the world gathers for COP26 in November, protecting and enhancing the environment, particularly for the people of Cornwall, will be at the very top of the agenda? (914089)

The COP26 nature campaign is driving ambitious international and domestic action to protect and enhance our environment, and this will be a high priority at COP26 in November. I commend the work that Surfers Against Sewage are doing on water pollution and water quality, which I hope to see first-hand when I visit Cornwall as part of the G7 summit in June. Protecting the ocean, including through nature-based solutions, provides multiple vital climate change adaptation and resilience benefits.

Last month, the COP President wrote that the world is doing nowhere near enough to limit global warming to 1.5° C, and he is right. A green economic stimulus could make a huge difference to meeting the target, but while we have put it as the top item of the G7 agenda, the sum total of the Chancellor’s measures here in the UK promised just £12 billion of green spending over a decade, and he has already cut £1 billion from that. Our investment is 60 times smaller than President Biden’s green infrastructure plan. Is it not a very significant challenge for COP26 that when it comes to a green stimulus we are telling others to act but not doing so ourselves?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that we agree on many of these issues on tackling climate change, but when it comes to Government money, we have also ensured that we leverage in private sector money. It is not just about Government money; it is also about leveraging in private sector money. Ultimately, this is about not just cutting emissions but creating jobs for constituents across the UK.

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, as COP26 host, our actions face particular scrutiny, and I think he will know that the international community is increasingly concerned, and not just on green recovery. The Government call on others to power past coal but flirt with a new coalmine; say to others, “Adopt a net zero target”, but are off track on ours; and tell countries to support the world’s poorest but slash aid spending. Rachel Kyte, former special representative of the UN Secretary-General, said this week of our record on climate:

“What the UK is doing is like dad dancing…they are very uncoordinated.”

Is it not time the Government gave up the dad dancing on climate and showed some consistent leadership?

The right hon. Gentleman himself is obviously a very good dancer and therefore unlikely to take part in dad dancing; we should try it together at some point.

Of course every country, including the UK, needs to make more progress on cutting emissions. The right hon. Gentleman makes particular reference to coal. He will know that our energy mix with regard to coal has gone from 40% in 2012 to less than 2% last year, and we have been leading the Powering Past Coal Alliance, to which a large number of countries have now signed up. So we are making progress; of course, there is more that we can do.

What diplomatic steps has my right hon. Friend taken to engage with international partners on preparations for COP26? (914091)

We are working closely at many levels with international partners on preparations for COP26 and to accelerate climate ambitions. The COP26 President-designate has met large numbers of Governments. He is already out and about visiting many countries—15 in the past few weeks—and briefing UN member states on a regular basis. I am working with the most vulnerable countries to make sure that they are supported in their ambitions to meet their resilience challenges.

Converting UK homes to zero carbon heating will be a huge task. Does the COP President believe that heat pumps can adequately replace all gas boilers? If there is a need for supplementary heating, what form does he think it should take? (914080)

I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the 10-point plan, which sets out clearly the progress that we want to make on decarbonising buildings and homes, and heat pumps will of course play a part. We have also set out there our plans on the use of hydrogen for home heating.