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Volume 718: debated on Wednesday 20 July 2022

The President of COP26 was asked—

COP26 Outcomes

1. What steps the Government plan to take to help ensure the long-term effectiveness of COP26 outcomes after the transition to (a) a new Prime Minister and (b) an Egyptian presidency of COP. (901183)

The UK is working closely with Egypt and other partners to ensure that the commitments made by countries at COP26 are delivered. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the UK will hold the COP presidency until COP27 in November, and in the remaining four months we will continue to urge nations to implement the promises that they made in Glasgow.

The outgoing Prime Minister’s commitment to taking tangible climate change action has always seemed rather suspect, and, rather worryingly, the contenders to replace him seem to be even less committed. The President of COP26 himself, in a weekend interview with The Observer, described the commitment as “lukewarm”. Will he tell us who exactly he had in mind for that soubriquet?

Let me say first that the Prime Minister has been totally resolute in pursuing the net zero agenda, which is about delivering not just an environmental benefit but jobs and economic growth across the country. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Conservative party leadership; certainly from what I have seen and heard, all three of the remaining contenders are fully committed to that agenda.

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the ability of the current structure of government to achieve the ambitious target of the nationally determined contribution, namely a 68% reduction in emissions compared with 1990 levels by 2030?

My right hon. Friend has raised this issue with me before. It will of course be up to the new Prime Minister to see how he or she wants to strengthen the structures of government, but the key aim is for us to deliver on the commitments that we have made , and that is what we will be judged on at the next election.

The long-term effectiveness of COP26 outcomes derives at least in part from the credibility of pledges made in Glasgow and the serious implementation of climate policies at home, especially while we still hold the presidency. Does the President of COP26 share my concern about yesterday’s High Court ruling that the UK’s net zero strategy was unlawful because it failed to meet the Government’s obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008? Is he worried about the message that that sends to other countries, and will he use his best offices to ensure that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy does now fulfil its obligations as it is required to do?

Obviously, I saw the judgment as well. Let me first emphasise that the net zero strategy itself remains Government policy. That is not what has been squashed. The judgment was about providing information on the percentage of emissions reductions coming from individual policy elements. Of course BEIS is looking at this, and it will have to respond in due course.

Does the President of COP26 agree that the extreme hot weather this week serves as a stark reminder of the realities and danger of climate change, and the need for the UK and the rest of the world to strengthen their resolve to achieve the objectives set at COP26?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. What we have seen over the last couple of days here is what many millions of people across the world experience on a regular basis. That is why it is so important to ensure that the commitments that have been garnered internationally are delivered on, but of course we also need to ensure that we do that ourselves.

In the last two days, we have seen that the climate emergency is here and now, with wildfires raging across our country, tracks and runways melting, schools closing and the government under-prepared, and yet some people aspiring to the highest office in the land have suggested that tackling the climate crisis is a luxury that can be delayed—an indulgence, a niche project. Such people would put the safety of our citizens at risk. They are deeply irresponsible and they are economically illiterate. Does the President of COP26 agree that, given the demonstrable threat that we so obviously face, there is no place in serious political parties for such dangerous folly?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I did make an intervention at the weekend. As I have said, from what I have seen and heard, all three of the remaining contenders for the leadership of the Conservative party and to be our next Prime Minister are committed to the “net zero by 2050” agenda, and also to the near-term policy commitments to get there. The final two will have an opportunity to set out further details over the coming weeks.

The President of COP26 was so appalled by his own party’s leadership contest that he threatened to resign, and it is no wonder. He says that all the candidates are committed to the net zero agenda, but only this morning the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), the frontrunner in the leadership race, said that he would double down on the onshore wind ban because of the “distress and disruption” that onshore wind causes.

What is causing distress is the worst cost of living crisis in a generation. What is causing disruption is the most extreme weather in our country’s history. Onshore wind is a vital tool in tackling these crises, but the bizarre state of the Tory party means that the former Chancellor panders to the fanatics and sides with the sceptics. Will the President of COP26 now repudiate that position and condemn it for the dangerous nonsense that it is?

I am not really in a position to repudiate anybody else’s proposals—[Interruption.] I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we have a clear plan for expanding offshore wind. There is another 32 GW—[Interruption.] I will come on to that. Another 32 GW is effectively in the pipeline. In solving the energy security strategy, we need to keep everything on the table. There is already 14 GW of onshore installed across the country, and where communities are positively welcoming of onshore in return for reduced bills, that is an issue that we should keep on the table.

The recent Climate Change Committee’s progress report concludes that the UK Government’s net zero strategy contains warm words but little tangible progress, and that it will not be fully credible until the Government develop contingency plans such as encouraging reduced consumer demand for high carbon activities. It also recommends carrying out a net zero tax review to see how that might best support the transition by correcting the distortions that often penalise low-carbon technologies. Do the Government intend to take action on these specific recommendations, and what will the President do to ensure that the next Prime Minister and Chancellor urgently act on all the Committee’s recommendations?

Obviously, the Government are looking at a response to this. Let me make a general point, which is that I believe the current Prime Minister has shown leadership on this issue. These policies work if there is leadership right from the top, so I will certainly want to see from any future Prime Minister a laser-like focus on ensuring that we are delivering on our policies on net zero emissions but at the same time pushing forward on more jobs, more growth and more inward investment, which we have seen coming in.

Finance for Loss and Damage

2. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) his counterparts in other wealthy nations on mobilising finance for loss and damage. (901184)

In June at the Bonn intersessional meeting, the Glasgow dialogue on loss and damage was launched to discuss the funding arrangements for addressing loss and damage. This will continue to be a critical forum to discuss practical ways in which finance can be scaled up and effectively delivered.

This week’s record-breaking temperatures across the UK show that climate change is on our doorstep, but many of the world’s poorest countries have been dealing with this climate crisis for years. The cost of not acting on climate change is spiralling out of control, so can I ask what specific steps the right hon. Gentleman is taking to put Scotland’s world-leading approach to funding loss and damage on the agenda for COP27?

As the hon. Lady knows, at COP26 we agreed a way forward with the Glasgow dialogue, and that took place in Bonn. I am quite sure that the issue of loss and damage will feature highly at COP27, in whichever forum. It is vital that we also support developing nations to make clean energy transitions, and that is something we are doing through the just energy transition partnerships with South Africa and other countries such as India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Senegal.

COP Presidency: Objectives

The Glasgow climate pact was a historic agreement that the United Kingdom forged among almost 200 countries. Our presidency year has been all about getting nations to deliver on the commitments they made at COP26 across the areas of mitigation, adaptation and finance, and we will continue this work up to COP27.

The heatwave this week shows the need to take serious and immediate action on climate change. The Glasgow call for a phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies is one prompt way in which the Government can swiftly work towards delivering net zero plans. Does the Minister agree that instead of fossil fuel subsidies, the Government should focus on home-grown, cheap, clean energy sources that guarantee our energy security?

The Government are focusing on that, and I refer the hon. Gentleman to the energy security strategy that was published a few weeks ago, and also to the recent contracts for difference auction process for offshore wind, which delivered a price for offshore wind that is almost 70% lower than in 2015 and four times less than the current gas price. The future has to be green energy.

Our schools often set a great example in raising awareness of the climate emergency. On my recent visit to Ysgol Rhyd-y-Grug in my constituency, the pupils told me of their concerns about deforestation in the Amazon and about the 1 million species at risk of extinction. We must urgently halt and reverse this loss, so will the right hon. Gentleman support the call, led by my hon. and right hon. Friends on the shadow Front Bench, for a “net zero with nature” test to align all public spending and infrastructure decisions with our climate and nature commitments?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we got an agreement at COP26 from more than 140 countries, representing more than 90% of the world’s forests, to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. We now need to make sure this is delivered, and we are looking at mechanisms to keep this issue on the table so that countries are seen to be delivering on their commitments on an annual basis.

The COP26 President will have been as struck as I was at COP26 by the plight of low-lying island nations, and he will have been moved by how they are doing everything they can to protect themselves through nature-based solutions. Above all, they need the large, developed countries to tackle climate change. Will he redouble his efforts to persuade some of these large, developed countries to do better?

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. The small island developing states face a very acute climate emergency that is putting many millions of lives and livelihoods at risk. Yes, we need every country to come forward and deliver on its commitments, and particularly the biggest emitters: the G20.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published some excellent new targets for incineration in March. Will the COP26 President follow through on that and make a moratorium on waste incineration one of his objectives for the remainder of his presidency?

In this role, as my right hon. Friend knows, I am trying to corral international action. He raises an important point, and I will make sure it is raised with the appropriate Department.

Last month the Climate Change Committee issued a scathing annual progress report warning of “major policy failures” and “scant evidence of delivery” on net zero. This week, as we have heard, the Government had to be dragged to court to be told their climate plans are so woefully inadequate that they are unlawful and must be revised.

What kind of leadership does it set if the country holding the COP presidency cannot get its own house in order? I know the COP President will say that the Conservative party’s leadership candidates have paid lip service to net zero, but does he really have any confidence that things will get better?

The Climate Change Committee has described the net zero strategy as “ambitious” and

“the world’s most comprehensive plan to reach net zero”.

I have discussed the legal findings, but the principle is right. We need to do everything we can to make sure we deal with this issue. The last few days have been a real wake-up call for everyone in this country, and it is what many millions of people across the world experience on a regular basis. We have to deal with this issue.

Climate Targets: Energy Efficiency

4. What assessment he has made of the potential role of energy efficiency in meeting the UK’s climate targets. (901187)

8. What assessment he has made of the potential role of energy efficiency in meeting the UK’s climate targets. (901192)

Buildings are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in our country, accounting for around 22% of total UK emissions. Energy efficiency measures are, indeed, a vital lever to drive down emissions, energy demand and, ultimately, bills.

Increasing the number of energy-efficient homes will help us to meet our climate targets and reduce bills. Around 70% of homes in Luton have an energy performance rating of band D or below, and these homes are more likely to include our town’s most deprived households. What discussions has the COP26 President had with the latest Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about ensuring the green rhetoric on homes is equitable so that everyone can benefit from an energy-efficient home?

The Government are making £6.6 billion available over this Parliament to improve energy efficiency, and nearly half the homes in England are now rated band C or above, compared with 14% in 2010. On the wider point, we need an even bigger focus on energy efficiency in homes and buildings, as it will also help our energy security by driving down demand and bringing down people’s bills.

The Government have had a series of failed programmes on home insulation: the green new deal failed, and the recent green homes grant scheme failed, as the Public Accounts Committee has repeatedly reported. Does the Minister have any confidence that the Government will listen and tackle this major cause of emissions? If it is not tackled, it will put a serious dent in achieving the target of net zero by 2050.

The Government will, of course, respond to the report on the green homes grant, but I point out that some elements of it—the local authority delivery element and the social housing decarbonisation fund—have provided significant amounts of funding.

The COP President will know that the bulk of buildings that are around today will still be around in 2030 and 2050. Most of them are grossly inadequately insulated; even new buildings are not being built to an acceptable standard. When are we going to see some action on this crucial agenda?

I have set out the amount of funding the Government are providing over this Parliament—£6.6 billion on energy efficiency. I very much share the view that we need to be doing even more on this, particularly as we face energy security issues and energy prices are so high; more insulation in homes will deliver lower bills for households.

On energy efficiency, decarbonising in-home heating remains one of our biggest challenges in reaching our net zero 2050 target, so will the Minister join me in welcoming plans for a hydrogen village by 2025? Will he also have a chat with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary to encourage him to back our plans for one in Redcar and Cleveland?

I know that my hon. Friend is a great champion of green energy and, in particular, hydrogen in his area. I wish him luck with the plans and of course I will raise this matter the Business Secretary.

As has been pointed out, previous programmes to improve insulation in homes, under either this party or the Labour Party, have not delivered what any of us would have hoped. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if this was targeted effectively at the homes of those who suffer most, many of whom will also be paying unacceptable increases in their energy bills, we could have a very effective way of improving insulation, reducing energy use and improving energy efficiency?

I agree with my hon. Friend; this measure will not only lower bills, but reduce demand for energy at this critical point, where energy security is so important around the world and also in our country.

One way we could improve energy efficiency is by ensuring that new homes are energy-efficient. Will my right hon. Friend put pressure on developers to ensure that they are called to follow modern efficiency standards rather than the old ones?

Having modern, up-to-date standards is vital, and I will make sure I raise this with the appropriate Department.

Topical Questions

On this day, I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his domestic and international leadership on tackling climate change and biodiversity loss. He has championed both during his time as Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, and he charmed, cajoled and corralled his international counterparts to ensure that more than 90% of the global economy is now covered by net zero targets. Under his premiership, the UK forged the historic Glasgow climate pact, bringing together almost 200 countries, and he has been the driving force to deliver a net zero emissions economy. He has championed the creation of well-paid green jobs, bringing in billions of pounds of private sector investment in the UK. In all these areas, he leaves a legacy to be proud of.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the Whitetail project in Teesside, where an Allam cycle electricity generating plant will burn either gas or coal in pure oxygen, with zero carbon emissions? Does he agree that projects such as this ought to be fully compatible with not only our net zero commitments, but improved energy security, and that they could therefore form a long-term and permanent part of our future energy generating needs?

I am indeed aware of that project. My hon. Friend will know that the Government’s innovation funding has supported the development of Allam cycle power generation technology since 2012. Almost £5 million has been provided to fund research and development, and £1.3 million has been provided for technical studies.

T5.   The President well knows that tackling the cost of living crisis and achieving net zero go hand in hand. Will he go further and endorse a green new deal that brings together job creation, social justice and tackling climate change? (901202)

As a Government, we have a significant number of policies that are delivering, and we need to make sure that we double down on that. As I have said, we will be judged at the next general election on those policies and whether we have delivered.

T3. Does my right hon. Friend agree that net zero should be achieved through rolling out low-carbon technology and scientific solutions such as the gene editing Bill, rather than measures that dampen economic growth and depress living standards? (901200)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Green technologies and innovations will help us to achieve the net zero target He made reference to gene editing, and I would also reference the recent CFD auction, which has delivered record renewables capacity in this country.

T6. Well insulated homes protect against extreme heat as well as extreme cold, while reducing energy demand and cutting bills, emissions and fossil fuel imports. So why are the Government delaying their national energy company obligation 4 programme, with 56,000 households potentially missing out? (901203)

As I have pointed out, the Government are doing a significant amount on energy efficiency. Of course we should always look to see what more can be done.

T4.   Will my right hon. Friend outline the discussions he has had with his colleagues in Government so as to act on the Climate Change Committee’s recommendation on the need for further support aligned to net zero to help people with their energy bills? (901201)

As my hon. Friend knows, support is being provided to help households. In particular, the most vulnerable households will receive at least £1,200 pounds of support. Of course, we also need to look at further energy-efficiency measures, and I am sure the new Prime Minister and Chancellor will look at all of that.

T7. Yesterday, a court found that the Government’s net zero strategy was unlawful because it included only 95% of the emissions reductions required to meet the sixth carbon budget and did not include the detail required to enable Parliament to properly scrutinise it. What will the Minister do to rectify that, and which aspects of the strategy will he strengthen now? (901204)

As I said in response to an earlier question, the net zero strategy is not what has been quashed. Obviously the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will look to respond to the judgment.

I commend my right hon. Friend for his amazing service as COP26 President. Will he make it his objective to ban the sale of Chinese lanterns across the UK? Across our tinder-dry land they are simply acting as unguided flamethrowers.

I thank my hon. Friend for her kind comments. I will make sure that the issue of these lanterns is raised with the appropriate Department domestically.

T8. The President showed great leadership at COP26, which we all respect him for. Will he do the same again and cut back on a project that is polluting the lungs of both his and my constituents? Will he please revisit the issue of the biggest CO2 emitter in the whole of Europe and think again about the new runway at Heathrow? (901205)

As the hon. Lady knows, my role as COP President is to corral the international community. She has raised a question, and I am sure the Department for Transport will respond.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the dramatic increase in fuel prices presents opportunities for decarbonising fleets and vehicles in key sectors such as social care?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Of course, decarbonising the transport sector, along with other sectors, should be a key priority going forward.

The recent Carbon Tracker report set out the exposure of each financial sector across the world to stranded assets—over $1 trillion in total. Will the COP President be engaging with each of the heads of the financial sectors—such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the London stock exchange—to ensure that they cope with that problem?

The private sector is very focused on the issue of the move to net zero. As the hon. Gentleman will know, in Glasgow, $130 trillion of assets were signed up to net zero. Anyone investing in assets that might end up being stranded has to be very clear about the financial decisions they are taking.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that establishing a price for carbon would give the free market the signal it needs to invest in low-carbon alternatives across the economy? Does he also agree that a carbon border adjustment mechanism is a necessary first step to achieve that?

I know my hon. Friend has raised this issue previously. Tackling carbon leakage is a vital matter. As he is aware, Her Majesty’s Treasury will be launching a consultation later this year and setting out a range of carbon leakage mitigation options, which includes looking at a carbon border adjustment mechanism.

Am I allowed to say to the COP26 President that many of us on the Labour Benches think that he has done a darned good job? If he survives the present wrangling in the Conservative party, will he make every effort to come back and “grassroot” what we are trying to do about climate change in every town, city and community? Let us have 500 sustainable towns and cities in this country. Does he agree with that?

In the words of Gloria Gaynor, “I will survive”. The point that the hon. Gentleman raises is that tackling the climate emergency is an issue for all of us—for Governments, civil society and individuals—and we all need to play our part.

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

I would also like to welcome Lord Mackay, who is retiring today. He served many distinguished years as Lord Chancellor.

Before I call Kim Leadbeater to ask the first question, it is only fitting to note that this is likely to be the final time that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) addresses the House as Prime Minister. I wish him and his family all the best for the future. We have been through many dark times in this House, and none more so than through the pandemic. That will always be remembered because of what this House did and because of the way that you conducted those duties during those dark times, Prime Minister.

I understand that Members will have differing views about the Prime Minister’s performance and legacy, and those views will be sincerely and passionately held, but I remind Members that our constituents and others around the world watch these proceedings. Let us conduct them in a respectful manner, focusing on issues and policies rather than personalities. I take this opportunity to remind Members of the words of Erskine May that

“good temper and moderation are the characteristics of the parliamentary debate.”

I expect to see that reflected today in the proceedings.