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Volume 707: debated on Wednesday 19 January 2022

The President of COP26 was asked—

Paris Agreement Temperature Goal

1. What progress he made at COP26 on ensuring the Paris Agreement temperature goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius remains achievable (905158)

The Glasgow climate pact agreed by almost 200 countries is a historic agreement that advances climate action. It was the result of two years of marathon work and a two-week sprint of negotiations, following which the world can creditably say that we have kept within reach the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5° above pre-industrial levels. But to keep 1.5 alive, commitments must be translated into action.

The Minister will be well aware that Northern Ireland has a huge farming and agriculture sector. What funding will his Government give to that sector to allow us to get to net zero much more quickly?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is doing an enormous amount to tackle the issues in respect of net zero. On the COP itself and the joint work we are doing around the world, we have put in place a number of mechanisms that we will continue this year, particularly when it comes to sustainable development.

Given that the Centre for International Environmental Law states that plastic pollution and global warming are linked, does the Minister agree that we need to do far more to tackle the scourge of microplastic and microfibre pollution in our marine environment?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. He knows that in some of these policy areas we are leading the world, and he will also know that we have been leading the effort to get countries to make the 30by30 commitment to protect our oceans and, of course, our lands.

The COP President has not set out which countries are his priority for enhanced nationally determined contributions in the run-up to COP27; will he do so?

As the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee knows, all countries have committed to come back to their 2030 emissions-reduction targets by 2022, if necessary. Of course, the G20 is responsible for 80% of global emissions and will have to lead the way.

Important steps were made at COP26 but some were left incomplete. In my right hon. Friend’s remaining time as COP President, until November, on what particular item will he seek to make the most progress?

My right hon. Friend is right: a whole range of commitments were made, some of which will continue beyond the end of 2022. As I said, a key commitment was for countries to revisit their emissions-reduction targets by the end of 2022. We will work with the COP27 presidency from Egypt to ensure that countries deliver.

Two months on from the COP, there is a worrying lack of momentum in this pivotal year, and it could get worse if we learn the wrong lessons from the energy crisis. Does the COP President agree that the lesson is not that, as some in his party would say, we are moving too fast on green energy, but the opposite: we are moving too slowly and our dependence on fossil fuels leaves us vulnerable? The only way, therefore, to keep 1.5 alive and provide energy security is to go further and faster on the climate transition.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that the UK wants to have a managed transition to net zero, including in our energy mix. He will also know that under this Government we have led the world in offshore wind and that this Government are delivering investment in nuclear to ensure that we increase our baseload.

Consumers looking at their energy bills will ask, “If it is going so well, why are our bills rocketing and why are we so vulnerable?” We can keep 1.5 alive only if we have an energy policy that is fair at home and abroad. Many of the fossil fuel companies have made billions as a result of soaring prices, yet the Government say we should not tax them further because they are struggling. Is not the truth that we are only ever going to meet the Paris agreement if we stand up to vested interests, including the oil and gas companies, and that the fair and right approach is a windfall tax to help with the real struggles faced by the British people?

We want to see more private sector investment in offshore wind and, indeed, in renewables and the increasing of our green baseload. The right hon. Gentleman will have seen that in the net zero strategy we have set out a plan for an extra £90 billion of investment from the private sector. That is flowing in because of the actions of this Government.

Our young people have led the fight for tougher climate change pledges, so the world at least does not breach 1.5° of warming. To support their activism, Scotland recently hosted the UN Climate Change Conference of Youth ahead of COP26, has unveiled almost £1 million for a programme for young people in the climate conference and legacy activities, and has signed up to the UNICEF declaration on children, youth and climate change, along with countries such as Norway, the Netherlands and Peru. The UK Government have not signed up to that declaration. Will they, and when?

I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that we absolutely need to ensure that the voices of young people are heard loud and clear—and indeed they were at COP26, both in terms of civil society and youth groups. For the first time ever, leading into that COP, we set up a civil society youth advisory group that helped us plan for the conference and identify the issues to take forward. We will continue to engage with young people in civil society during our presidency year.

COP26 Commitments: Government Procurement

2. Whether he has had discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the potential contribution of Government procurement to delivering on COP26 commitments. (905159)

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government put in place a new procurement policy that underlines the UK’s global leadership in tackling climate change. Prospective suppliers bidding for contracts above £5 million a year must now have committed to the Government’s target of net zero by 2050 and have published a carbon reduction plan.

In line with the COP26 goal of adapting to protect communities and natural habitats, what conversations has my right hon. Friend had with colleagues to ensure Government procurement of biodegradable face masks?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. The Department of Health and Social Care is indeed actively exploring the use of reusable face masks, reusable eye protection and reusable transparent masks. I will ensure that the relevant Minister from the Department writes to him with more details.

As the COP26 President knows, the Glasgow climate pact reaffirmed the ambition to limit global heating to 1.5°. He also knows that the International Energy Agency has made it really clear that if we are to meet that target there can be no new oil, gas or coal projects. So will he make the case to the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister that the 40 new fossil fuel projects in the pipeline for approval in the UK are plainly incompatible with the terms of the agreement that he presided over?

I wish that sometimes the hon. Lady would praise the work that the Government are doing in terms of pushing forward on renewables. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has set out a consultation on a climate compatibility checkpoint when it comes to future licences, and she should write in and set out her views.

Transition to Net Zero: North Sea Oil and Gas Industry

3. What assessment he has made of the potential role of the North Sea oil and gas industry in the transition to net zero in line with objectives agreed at COP26. (905160)

Through the North Sea transition deal, the oil and gas industry has committed to early targets for offshore production emissions reductions, with 10% reductions by 2025, 25% by 2027 and 50% by 2030, setting out the path to achieve a net zero basin by 2050.

I certainly will praise my right hon. and hon. Friends for their amazing work on renewable energy, and on the transition to net zero, but does my right hon. Friend agree that, although the net zero challenge is the greatest challenge of our generation, to keep energy bills down and to keep our energy security we must make best use of our oil and gas resources?

My right hon. Friend makes a very strong case. Obviously the answer lies with renewables, but it also makes no sense for us to increase imports of volatile-price fossil fuels, which come to us with higher embedded emissions. That is why we have the North Sea transition deal—not to close down the industry, but to work with the sector to make the transition to the net zero future that we all signed up to.

In a recent written question, No. 98384, the Government were asked if they would explain how individual policies in the net zero strategy, including on North sea oil and gas, would reduce emissions. In a reply dated 14 January 2022, the Minister said that he would publish the information when

“decisions on the design of the associated individual policy intervention are sufficiently advanced”.

How is it possible that the Government published a net zero strategy without an understanding of what the individual policies will mean, and how can we therefore believe their promise that we are on course to meet crucial targets for 2030 and 2035?

Of course the Government are fully aware of these issues; there is no change in the Government’s position. We published the net zero strategy and we are seeing it come through. We are delivering on all of the aspects. My right hon. Friend the COP President just mentioned the climate change compatibility checkpoint. We are delivering on all of these things with haste.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s response and the Government’s ongoing commitment to support the UK oil and gas sector in their role to drive forward the energy transition to net zero. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming yesterday’s High Court ruling to throw out claims by certain environmental activists that UK Government support for the industry was unlawful?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We welcome yesterday’s judgment. I, probably like he, wonder whether the SNP and the Scottish Green Government in Edinburgh would share our welcome. There will be an ongoing need for oil and gas as we reduce demand amid the transition to lower carbon energy, which, in the end, is the solution. I know from my visit to his constituency just last month how important renewables are for delivery in his constituency of Banff and Buchan.

COP26 Commitments: Carbon Capture and Sequestration

4. What assessment he has made of the potential role of carbon capture and sequestration in delivering the UK’s COP26 commitments to reduce emissions. (905161)

The UK can become a world leader in technology to capture and store harmful emissions away from the atmosphere. In the net zero strategy, the UK Government announced their ambition to capture and store 20 to 30 megatonnes of CO2 per annum by 2030, with 10 megatonnes to be delivered by track-2 clusters.

The Scottish carbon cluster site would address Scotland’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters. It would unlock 30% of the UK’s carbon dioxide storage capability and combine hydrogen production, direct air capture and a shipping terminal to serve the rest of the UK in terms of carbon dioxide storage. Why then was the Scottish cluster relegated to reserve status and what representation has the right hon. Gentleman had from the “lightweight” Scottish Tory leader about this disgraceful decision?

As ever, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As he knows, Acorn is the first reserve, which means that it met the eligibility criteria and performed well in the evaluation criteria. As for the Scottish Conservatives, I speak to my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, frequently. I also speak to the local MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), and others. The Scottish cluster, Acorn, has a good future. I have also recently met with Storegga, INEOS and Shell to discuss specific aspects in relation to the cluster, which moves ahead.

Zero Emission Vehicles

At COP26, the UK launched a joint statement with more than 100 signatories, committing to work towards all new car sales being zero emission by 2040 globally, and by 2035 in leading markets. Thirty-two per cent. of the global car market is now covered by manufacturer commitments to phase out polluter vehicles.

Cornwall is keen to take the lead in the emergency green economy, in particular looking at local lithium to store electricity. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on what action the Government are taking to utilise this important asset and what benefits she sees for the people of Cornwall.

My hon. Friend the Minister for industry visited innovative UK companies Cornish Lithium and British Lithium just last week to see their exciting progress towards producing lithium in the UK. These are great examples of UK enterprise benefiting from Government funding to support jobs and growth in Cornwall and providing a critical mineral to support our green industrial revolution. We are looking forward to working further with industry as we develop our critical mineral strategy later this year.

The UK COP presidency has established the Zero Emission Vehicles Transition Council. That will bring together the Governments of the world’s largest car markets to work towards accelerating this transition. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what role the council will play in the UK’s presidency year, ahead of COP27?

The UK will continue to work through the Zero Emission Vehicles Transition Council for an accelerated and equitable global transition to zero emission vehicles as well as delivery of its 2022 action plan, which includes collaboration on regulations, heavy goods vehicles, infrastructure and support to developing countries. The ZEVTC will be one of the leading initiatives for international collaboration under the Glasgow breakthrough on road transport.

The most pressing issue for a successful roll-out of electric vehicles is grid capacity. The National Grid is a private company. Who will pay for this huge investment in the National Grid?

The ongoing work that the net zero strategy has set forward, which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change continues to work on, will help build the new grids that we need, as we know that we are going to be requiring up to four times as much electricity. Also, our use of electricity will be through a much more distributed grid system. That will be ongoing work in the months and years ahead.

What does the Minister think is more likely to encourage greater use of electric vehicles: the Scottish Government’s grant scheme, with up to £28,000 for the purchase of a new vehicle, or her Government’s decision to cut the equivalent grant in England to just £2,500?

The Government are leading the way in supporting the transition that our vehicle manufacturers are making towards zero emission vehicles and through the work that the COP President set out, ensuring that all countries across the world will be part of the zero emissions revolution.

Coal Use Reduction

In the Glasgow climate pact, all parties agreed to phase down the use of coal, the first ever specific mention of coal in the UN climate decision text. The global coal to clean power transition statement gained 77 signatures from countries, sub-nationals and organisations, and the Powering Past Coal Alliance grew to 165 members

I congratulate the COP President on his achievements at COP26. I welcome our move away from the use of coal, and that should include any new exploration for both thermal and metallurgical coal. With that in mind, does he agree that the UK can be a beacon to the rest of the world and we can show a progressive environmental example by not going ahead with the proposed coalmine in west Cumbria?

As my hon. Friend is aware, an independent inspector has overseen a public inquiry into the scheme and a report is now being prepared with recommendations for Ministers to consider. He will understand that it is not appropriate for me to comment at this stage. However, more generally, the UK has shown leadership on coal, not least through the significant reduction over the past decade in coal use to generate our electricity.

It would be entirely appropriate for the COP President to comment on that and to intervene—it is a political decision whether to go ahead with a new coalmine in Cumbria. Should he not cancel it now and instead invest in wind, hydro, marine and tidal energy that can be championed by Cumbrian businesses such as Gilkes, investing in green jobs rather than dirty, old-fashioned ones?

I thought that the hon. Gentleman liked independent processes and that is what is running now.

Topical Questions

I have just concluded constructive visits to Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, the respective holders of COP27 and COP28. I met a range of Government Ministers and businesses, and we agreed that we would work closely to ensure the lasting impact of climate negotiations and other climate commitments made in Glasgow.

Just days after the Glasgow COP ended, Tory Ministers were wining and dining with senior fossil fuel executives, including from Shell and BP, apparently to urge them to keep on drilling for oil and gas in the North sea. As COP President, does he not agree that, instead of being in the pockets of fossil fuel giants, Ministers should be following the United Nations’ call for an end to all new fossil fuel projects—[Interruption.]

Order. Topicals are meant to be short and quick. You cannot have a full statement—other people have got to get in.

The hon. Gentleman is definitely making my job harder by the amount of hot air he is emitting—I wonder whether he will offset those emissions. Let me be clear that we have a commitment to have a managed transition in our energy mix, and that is what we are doing.

T3. Will COP26’s Clydebank declaration for green shipping corridors set the course for more zero emission shipping routes? That is particularly significant for air quality for my constituents in Eastbourne and Willingdon, who live alongside the busiest shipping lane in the world. (905152)

It certainly will. The declaration aims to support the establishment of at least six green corridors by the middle of this decade while aiming to scale up activity in the following years. We definitely want to see more such green corridors in operation.

T2. Surely a just transition means not leaving millions to cope with soaring energy prices as inflation hits its highest level for 30 years. Why will the Government not heed Labour’s suggestion to protect them by introducing a one-off windfall tax on North sea oil and gas producers who have profited from the surging prices? (905151)

I am surprised that the hon. Member is pursuing that line of inquiry. Labour’s motion here in this Chamber last Tuesday totally unravelled and was rejected comprehensively. The Government are taking action—we are supporting vulnerable households through winter fuel payments, cold weather payments, the household support fund and so on—but the Labour proposal unravelled tragically last week, Mr Speaker, as you saw.

T4. My right hon. Friend is well aware of my concern about deforestation in the Amazon. As he deals with the Brazilian Government over the coming months, will he put pressure on them to make sure that they not only keep their commitments made at COP26, but stop the illegal deforestation that is taking place now? (905153)

My right hon. Friend raises a really important point, and of course I will continue to work very closely with Brazil on the commitments that have been made to make sure they are implemented. I will be speaking to Minister Leite, the Environment Minister, in the coming weeks to reaffirm those commitments and our view that they should be followed through.

T5. With millions of species at risk of extinction and deforestation accelerating across the globe, it is imperative that we limit global warming to 1.5 degrees to halt this catastrophic decline, so will the Minister now accept Labour’s call for a net zero and nature test to align public spending and infrastructure decisions with our climate and nature commitments? (905154)

If the hon. Member was at COP 26 or was following what was going on, he will have seen the huge commitment to protecting nature. Of course, we also want to ensure that CBD15 is a success.

T6. How does the COP President reconcile his narrative of the global leadership required for COP26 and net zero with the acute reality that we still need to extract hydrocarbons, not least to keep energy costs down? (905156)

Of course, as I said earlier, we want to see an orderly transition to net zero in our energy mix, which includes oil and gas, but the answer to delivering net zero, keeping bills under control and ensuring security of supply is to continue to build out our world-leading offshore wind sector and invest in nuclear and hydrogen, as this Government are doing.

T7. The Government have just upped the risk of climate-triggered wars in the coming decades from medium to high. Our planet is on fire, but this Government are too busy fighting fires in Downing Street instead of showing leadership, and slashing aid for climate-vulnerable communities, locking them into fossil fuel. How long will it be before they stop being embroiled in their own scandals and realise that we are embroiled in a climate scandal? (905157)

The Prime Minister has absolutely been leading on this agenda for years—[Interruption.] He has been leading for years. I would just say that it was a Conservative Government who put in place net zero by 2050, and Members should just look at the commitments we have made under the current Prime Minister, with our nationally determined contribution and our carbon budget 6. We are leading the world when it comes to going green.

The Minister will know that Teesside is the hydrogen capital of the UK, where we already produce more than 50% of our commercially viable hydrogen, so will he consider throwing his weight behind Redcar and Cleveland’s bid to become home to the UK’s first hydrogen village by 2025?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He knows that we are co-operating very closely internationally and domestically on hydrogen. On Redcar’s bid, he is a passionate advocate for all things related to Redcar, and his message has been heard loud and clear by the Government.

Two years ago, Together Energy was providing 350 jobs in my constituency, leading on innovation for small and medium-sized utility companies. Yesterday, it went bust. While his Prime Minister and his Chancellor are missing in action doing other stuff, can the Minister tell me what his Government and Ofgem are doing to support small and medium-sized utility companies deliver zero emissions and deliver jobs in my constituency?

I am not going to take any lectures from the hon. Gentleman. He knows very well that the Government are working very closely with the sector. He knows that we have put in place a price cap, and he knows that, when it comes to jobs, this Government are investing, and we want to see 2 million green jobs created over the coming decades.

Order. [Interruption.] I certainly do not expect any more. For the moment, we have one more question before Prime Minister’s questions.

If the Government had not scrapped the green homes grant last year, they would have saved thousands of households money. When will the Government reform and bring back the green homes grant?

We are supporting the green transition across all sectors through the work we are doing. I am sure that the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change would be delighted to speak to the hon. Lady about the issue she raises.