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Volume 712: debated on Wednesday 20 April 2022

The President of COP26 was asked—

Domestic Solar Energy

1. What assessment he has made of the potential contribution of domestic solar energy generation to meeting COP26 commitments. (906484)

Solar is a UK success story, with more than 99% of the UK solar PV capacity deployed since May 2010 totalling almost 14 GW, which is enough to power more than 3 million homes. As the Government’s British energy security strategy sets out, we want to see a fivefold increase in deployment by 2035.

The Government’s British energy security strategy sets out a very ambitious aim to grow solar capacity by five times as much by 2035, yet Xinjiang produces about 45% of the world’s supply of the key components used in solar panel polysilicon. Despite raising that issue countless times, my calls have languished, as the Government continue to import goods that use forced Uyghur labour. Will the Minister set out what steps he is taking to ensure that the expansion of solar capacity in the UK is not tainted by the ongoing Uyghur genocide?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. The Government are deeply concerned about the reports of forced labour and the impact on the global solar panel supply chain. He will know that the Government announced robust measures last year to ensure that no UK organisations are complicit in that, and those measures are now being realised. They include strengthening the overseas business risk guidance and introducing financial penalties under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. He will also know that the UK’s main solar industry trade association, Solar Energy UK, is leading the industry’s response through a whole range of measures.

I yield to no one in my determination to see us reach net zero by 2050, but does the Secretary of State not agree that the right place for solar is on buildings, including domestic buildings across the nation, as the question from the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) suggests? We do not want hundreds of acres of prime agricultural land to be threatened, as is happening in Wiltshire, by vast and unplanned solar farms that people simply do not want to see, particularly post-Ukraine.

Of course, we want an expansion of renewables across the country, but I point my hon. Friend to the energy security strategy, which sets out our plan to ensure more rooftop solar, not just on commercial buildings but on public sector property.

The COP26 President acknowledges the tremendous contribution that solar has made and can make to the achievement of our net zero goals. I am sure that he also acknowledges that it is now one of the renewables that is cheapest and most quickly installed, so why are the Government ignoring its future development, having devastated the industry a few years back by precipitously withdrawing all support for development, and doing nothing to ease the penal planning restrictions on both domestic and ground-mounted solar installations? He says merely that he expects installations to increase fivefold by 2035, but without providing any support to allow that expectation to become a reality. Is it not time that the Government took seriously the contribution that solar can make to net zero targets?

I respectfully disagree with the shadow Minister; the Government are doing an enormous amount on this issue. In the latest contracts for difference auction process, solar is back in. We have already removed VAT on solar panels to allow installations on residential accommodation. If he looks at the detail set out in the energy security strategy, he will see that there will be a big focus on solar, wind and, of course, nuclear.

Glasgow Climate Pact: Businesses

COP26 was one of the first such conferences to have a significant private sector presence, as well as key corporate commitments to tackling climate change. For example, more than 7,000 international companies have signed up to the Race to Zero campaign, committing them to reach net zero by 2050 at the latest.

According to the Met Office, my beautiful Eastbourne constituency has held the record for sunshine hours recorded in a month since 1911. Arguably, we should be leading the nation in harnessing solar power. On my right hon. Friend’s earlier point, we do not have land readily available locally, but we have acres of rooftops, courtesy of three commercial and retail parks. What work is he doing, including with other Departments, to promote feasibility studies to identify untapped potential for solar generation and to promote financial incentives so that local businesses in my town can play their part in tackling climate change?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and her beautiful constituency is well worth a visit. She makes a vital point about rooftop solar, and she will know from the energy security strategy that our plan for rooftop solar is to radically simplify planning processes, with a consultation on relevant permitted development rights, to help support the deployment of rooftop solar on commercial premises. We will also consider the best way to make use of public sector roofs.

Local energy companies are often well placed to support small and medium-sized enterprises with the transition to net zero. Local authorities, with their insight into local opportunities for things such as solar, are best placed to help with that. What assessment has the COP26 President made of the opportunities that that model may afford?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the role of local energy companies in helping the transition to net zero through the provision of renewable energy. Close to my constituency we have Reading Hydro, a community-financed, built and operated hydro plant that supplies renewable electricity to local businesses. The Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change and I would be happy to meet him to discuss this matter further.

Is it not the truth that business has learned that this Government are entirely inconsistent from one day to the next? The COP26 President talks about solar, but only a few years ago the Government cut feed-in tariffs, which decimated the industry. Business really needs to know that the Government have a strategic plan, such as the Labour party’s green new deal, so that it can make long-term investments and know that the Government will say tomorrow what they are saying today.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have published a net zero strategy that clearly sets out our long-term plans for creating hundreds of thousands of extra jobs. Green jobs get many billions of pounds-worth of private investment. One of the reasons we are not reliant on Russian hydrocarbons is that over the past 10 years we have built the second biggest offshore wind sector in the world, and we want to quadruple the size of that sector.

The only net zero that really matters is the one for planet Earth as a whole, so does the COP26 President agree that there is real potential for shooting ourselves in the foot on energy-intensive industries in this country? I am thinking about James Cropper, the paper manufacturer in my constituency that makes the paper for poppies and Hansard, and paper with medical and military applications. If we tax it too much, or if we allow its bills to be so high that it goes out of business, all we will do is export its carbon emissions to other countries. Will he talk to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about help for our energy-intensive industries in the long run?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government are providing support to help energy-intensive industries decarbonise. Through the COP26 process, the breakthrough agenda is working globally to see how we can decarbonise some of the most difficult sectors. There is a global plan as well as a domestic plan.

Will the COP26 President work with the agriculture sector on pursuing his COP26 goals? We have some of the most sustainable farming practices anywhere in the world, and many farmers and growers want to go further in playing their part in protecting nature and safeguarding the climate.

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and his Ministers are, of course, working on that. Again, at an international level, we are looking to start an agriculture breakthrough, so that we have a global focus on this issue.

Facebook promoted ads containing outright climate falsehoods and scepticism during COP26, and it is reported that fossil fuel companies and lobbying groups spent an estimated $574,000 on Facebook ads during the summit, resulting in more than 22 million impressions. Many of these ads were directly aimed at undermining efforts to achieve climate progress. Does the COP26 President agree that the best way such businesses can help in the fight against climate change is to put the planet before their profits and come down hard on the climate naysayers? What action has he been taking to address that?

At COP26, probably for the first time at a COP, we saw the business community coming together in force to make commitments on tackling climate change. The business community is, of course, determined to deliver on these commitments. I will happily write to the hon. Lady separately on the specific issue she raises.

Tackling Climate Change

12. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the Glasgow climate pact on tackling climate change. (906496)

Countries made significant commitments at COP26 on emissions reductions; finance and support for developing nations; and adaptation, loss and damage. We are continuing to press countries to deliver on their promises. Together with the COP27 presidency of Egypt, I will next month be co-chairing a meeting of a representative group of Ministers from around the world, hosted by the Danish Government, to take stock of progress on the delivery of the Glasgow climate pact.

I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to Winchester earlier this month for my “ask the Minister” session, which was attended by hundreds of my constituents and children from many schools across the patch, including Peter Symonds College, and for answering their questions so elegantly and openly. I am sure he would agree that the young people from those schools were so positive and care so much, that they asked searching questions, as they should, and that they are very optimistic about this presidency and the whole agenda. What more can we do to empower them to push forward this agenda during our presidency year?

I very much enjoyed my visit to Winchester and I commend my hon. Friend for all the work he does in his local community. We had some excellent questions from the very many young people at the event and they were positive in their outlook. In the planning for COP26, and in the country visits I continue to make, listening to the views of young people has been invaluable. That is why in the Glasgow climate pact we have urged countries actively to involve young people in climate change processes.

As the Minister knows, the UK accounts for only 1% of global carbon dioxide emissions, yet the steps we are taking to combat climate change will cost businesses and the Government untold billions. Does he agree that while the UK does what is perceived to be the right thing, it is highly likely that other nations will miss climate targets and that the enormous expense and impact on our own economic competitiveness will all be in vain?

Tackling climate change is the right thing to do and it is also economically the smart thing to do. That is why at COP26 we had $130 trillion of private sector money signed up to net zero. It is why our presidency has managed to persuade 90% of global GDP to sign up to net zero. It is why our net zero strategy talks about many hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of inward investments. My hon. Friend talks about costs, but I just say to him: look at what the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates as the unmitigated cost of climate change. We are talking about almost 300% debt to GDP by the end of this century. I know that he is a fiscally responsible Conservative, as I am, and he would not want to burden future generations with that level of debt.

The Minister will of course know that one reason why Britain’s emissions are so low now is that we have exported most of our filthy, polluting manufacturing industries to poorer nations of the world, so those countries are being polluted in order to provide for our lifestyle. It is almost nine years since world leaders agreed to establish a climate change impacts loss and damage mechanism. Last year, the Scottish Government led the world in committing millions of pounds to that mechanism. When do the UK Government intend to follow Scotland’s lead?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, at COP26 we agreed the Glasgow dialogue on loss and damage. That was the first time we had significant text in the cover decision on this issue. That work is going forward, as is work on the operationalisation of the Santiago network.

Of course as we urgently seek to combat climate change it is vital that we do so in a just and fair way, particularly for communities in the north-east of Scotland. Bearing that in mind, does the Minister agree that his Government should do three things: fund the Acorn carbon capture and underground storage project; match fund the Scottish Government’s £500 million just transition fund; and finally, eventually, reform the TNUoS—the transmission network use of system—charging scandal that is happening at this moment in time?

The hon. Gentleman has eloquently raised a number of domestic policy issues and I know that the Energy Minister would be happy to write to him on all of them.

The recent climate assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was deeply worrying, saying that current global policies will lead to warming of more than 3°, but it also offered hope in the dramatic fall in the price of renewables, which means they are now the right choice for cheap energy and to tackle the climate crisis. Given that onshore wind is the cheapest, cleanest, quickest form of power to deliver and is also supported by a large majority of the public in the UK, will the COP26 President explain why the Government persist—including in their recent strategy—with planning policies that in effect block onshore wind in England?

I certainly agree that we need to do more in terms of renewables, which is what the energy security strategy is all about. We already have 14 GW deployed throughout the country and there is another 5.8 GW in the pipeline. On future developments, we have said that we want to work in partnership with supportive communities that will host new onshore wind farms, and in return they will enjoy such benefits as local energy discounts.

The COP26 President knows that the Prime Minister caved in to those who wanted to block onshore wind—and I think the Minister for Energy knows it too.

Let us try another. To tackle the cost of living crisis and the climate emergency, energy efficiency measures are a no-brainer, but the Chancellor steadfastly refused to offer a penny more for energy efficiency in the recent strategy, meaning higher bills for people and more people in fuel poverty. The COP26 President is responsible for holding Departments to account for net zero; is it not time for him to wield some presidential power, knock heads together and sort this problem out?

The cost of living is an issue facing many families in all our constituencies throughout the country, which is why the Government have put forward more than £9 billion-worth of support in respect of the cost of living. On energy efficiency specifically, the right hon. Gentleman knows that we are investing more than £6.6 billion over this Parliament to improve energy efficiency and decarbonise heat. That will of course lead to lower bills, particularly for those most in need.

Forest and Woodland Conservation

4. What steps he has taken to conserve forests and woodlands to deliver on the leader’s declaration on forests and land use agreed at COP26. (906487)

The forests declaration is an unprecedented commitment from 141 countries, covering 90% of global forests, to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. It is underpinned by $16 billion of public and private finance, by sustainable trade and by support for indigenous people’s rights. We are working closely with the declaration’s endorsers to implement it.

I thank the Minister for recently visiting my constituency. She will know that North Norfolk is blanketed with ancient forests and woodlands. It is very encouraging that woodland coverage is increasing across the UK and that the Government are committed to preventing the loss of forest. Will the Minister update the House on what progress she is making to increase levels of woodland wildlife as well?

It was a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s wonderful constituency and great, as ever, to hear about the precious ancient woodland in North Norfolk. We are acting on the need to increase wildlife in Britain in many ways: through the Environment Act 2021, the Government have committed to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030; we are using the nature for climate fund to accelerate tree planting that improves biodiversity; and we are increasing funding to bring woodlands into active management, which is fundamental to the enhancement and conservation of wildlife.

We know that deforestation is causing huge issues for indigenous people around the world. What more can the Government do to put pressure on Governments worldwide, and particularly in Brazil, to prevent deforestation from being carried out by companies that operate here in the UK?

The hon. Lady raises a vital point of which we are fully aware, which is why 141 countries signed that commitment in Glasgow to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation. The Government introduced a “due diligence” clause in the Environment Act, so we are making our businesses look at the sustainability of their forest products. We are leading by example, but we have a great deal more work to do around the globe to stop deforestation.

Topical Questions

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was published this month, makes it clear that the window to limit the average global temperature rise to 1.5° is closing alarmingly fast. We need to make faster progress, so the UK continues to urge all Governments, but particularly those in the G20, to honour the promises that were made in the Glasgow climate pact. We are also working to get finance flowing to climate action. Last month, I co-chaired a meeting of G7 Ministers, multilateral development banks and the private sector on the expansion of just energy transition partnerships to support developing nations. Today, I will travel to the World Bank spring meetings to drive that work forward.

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that rising international gas prices do not push back up the use of coal?

At COP26, all countries agreed to phase down the use of coal domestically, and we will continue to urge them to deliver on that commitment. As a result of the current energy security and pricing issues, I do believe that we will see an acceleration of renewables and clean energy capacity globally.

T2. To keep the hope of 1.5° alive, 28 billion tonnes of emissions need to be taken out by 2030. What steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking to advance green new deals such as the BioYorkshire project so that they can get on and bring that new technology forward? (906535)

As the hon. Lady will know, the Government are providing a significant amount of investment in new technologies, and, as I referenced in an earlier response, the contracts for difference auction process is one very good way of doing that.

T4. Brazil announced strong environmental commitments at COP26 that exceeded expectations. My own visit to Brazil after COP26 reconfirmed that Brazil is experiencing an economy-wide shift towards lower carbon emissions. Will the COP26 President provide this House with his own observations following his own recent visit, and does he agree that Brazil also has much to offer the rest of the world in terms of renewable energy, especially where ethanol-based technologies are concerned? (906537)

I commend my hon. Friend for his work as the UK’s trade envoy to Brazil; he is doing a brilliant job. During my recent visit, I encouraged the Government to formally submit their 2030 emission-reduction targets of 50% under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and they have done that now. We also discussed Brazil’s plan for a significant expansion of renewables, and I offered to share the UK’s experience on expanding our own offshore wind sector.

T3. This month, a set of floating wind projects under Cerulean Winds, worth a potential £10 billion, was announced alongside a memorandum of understanding with wind turbine manufacturer, Lamprell. Unfortunately, most of the fabrication work for these projects seems destined to be carried out in the United Arab Emirates. Does the Minister agree with me, the GMB union and other manufacturing unions that we must do better in building back better and greener and providing UK-based manufacturing jobs? (906536)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. Floating offshore wind is a key part of the energy security strategy announced by the Prime Minister last week with a 5 GW target ambition by 2030. On securing and improving the UK supply chain, floating offshore wind is still a relatively nascent technology, but I will make sure that I take the point that he raises to the supply chain taskforce.

T6. As the Foreign Secretary writes her international development strategy, what conversations is the COP26 President having about the importance of international climate finance for the very poorest countries in the world? (906539)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We need to make sure that we honour the $100 billion pledge, but, as I said earlier, we are also working with countries to ensure that they have funding for clean energy transition, and I am off to the World Bank meetings shortly to take that work forward.

T8. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in order to achieve net zero by 2050, we need to transition from North sea oil and gas, but very importantly, this is a transition and not an extinction, as many parties opposite are calling for? (906541)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is vital that we have a North sea transition; that is the purpose of the Government’s North sea transition deal and that is what we are delivering on with the sector. Some Opposition parties want to see an extinction. That would not be in the nation’s interest and would only lead to a rise in imported hydrocarbons, which is also not in our interests at this time.

Does the Minister realise he is guilty of being too nice? We do not just need, “Where’s the plan, Stan?”; we need, “Where’s the money, honey?” Why does he not get into No. 11, shake the Chancellor of the Exchequer until his teeth rattle, and get the money that he should be putting into environmental concerns and saving our planet?

Since March 2021 and through the 2021 Budget and spending review, the Government have committed a total of £30 billion of domestic investment for the green industrial revolution. Not only that, but we are ensuring that many tens of billions of pounds of private investment flows into green transition.

Is extraction of fossil fuels from new oil and gas fields consistent with meeting our climate change commitments during the transition?

As I have said, we want to see a managed transition. That is not going to happen overnight. My right hon. Friend will also know that we have set out in our domestic energy security strategy that future licensing rounds will have to be compatible with the climate compatibility checkpoint, which will be set out shortly.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that a British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on