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Volume 721: debated on Wednesday 2 November 2022

The Minister for Climate was asked—

Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use

1. What steps he is taking to help ensure that international partners deliver on the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use commitments. (902028)

14. With reference to the Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, what recent steps he has taken with international partners to conserve forests. (902042)

Through the Glasgow leaders’ declaration, 145 countries, representing 90% of the world’s forests, committed to ending and reversing deforestation this decade, and we secured $20 billion of public and philanthropic finance to help them. We also secured a commitment from the world’s biggest traders to stop buying commodities grown on illegally deforested land. At COP27, the world leaders who made that pledge are gathering again to report back on progress and agree next steps.

The Environment Act 2021 was passed nearly a year ago, but we still do not have the necessary strong secondary legislation to regulate the use of forest-risk commodities in the UK. Ministers are yet to decide which commodities should be regulated, and under every one of their own scenarios the Government will not even manage to halve the UK’s deforestation footprint between now and 2030. With COP27 starting in just a few days, will the Government commit today to bring in regulations within a year that apply across all items that pose a risk to forests?

The hon. Lady raises an interesting point. I am new in post as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but I spent three years there working on such projects. I assure her that the protection of sustainable forests is key to this Government, which is why we continue to ensure that the £1.5 billion specifically earmarked for forests across the current international climate finance period will be honoured.

A lot of good work was done at COP26 by the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) and others to preserve the world’s forests. The decisions by south-east Asian nations to participate in the declaration were not easy, because livelihoods and the environment are closely allied issues in those countries. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirm that our Government remain committed to working with the countries of south-east Asia both to deliver on the declarations and to help them with tricky issues, such as palm oil and the sustainability of timber?

My hon. Friend is right to praise my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) for what he and, indeed, the UK Government as a whole did last year, but I also thank my hon. Friend for his steadfast efforts at rallying partners across south-east Asia behind global forest commitments in his capacity as trade envoy. He is right that south-east Asia is critical to this, recognising that it is home to some of the most vibrant forest landscapes on earth, and we will continue to work with partners in the area to protect the critical ecosystems while supporting local livelihoods.

It is disappointing that the COP President has not been allowed to answer questions today. I hope that Lula’s election victory in Brazil at the weekend heralds a new era in protecting the Amazon from deforestation. Globally, however, it seems that little progress has been made on the ground since the COP26 promises last year. We have also just heard that the UK has failed to pay out more than $300 million promised at COP to the green climate fund and the adaptation fund. Was the Prime Minister trying to avoid going to Sharm el-Sheikh because he is embarrassed that the UK has not delivered on all its promises?

I think the hon. Lady is being ungenerous. All our pledges are still in place, and she will recognise this Government’s work to bring partners together. We established the Forest & Climate Leaders’ Partnership to gather high-ambition partners together to accelerate efforts to reach our 2030 target to halt and reverse deforestation.

The COP President worked hard in his role and achieved some worthwhile results at Glasgow’s COP26 on commitments such as the declaration on forest and land use, and I commend him for that. I certainly do not think he deserved to be demoted from Cabinet, along with the Climate Minister, just weeks before his handover and at a time when sensible voices on the climate crisis are needed around the Cabinet table more than ever. Does the Secretary of State agree that the PM’s decision sets a poor example to other countries, let alone to us in the UK? Can she tell us who will be driving forward these important international commitments in the future?

Indeed, the Prime Minister will be taking the lead on this agenda. That is recognised because, as was announced earlier today, he is attending COP. The hon. Lady should be aware that this is about an implementation process. At the same time, I remind her that Government representatives are already attending COP and the Montreal protocol partnership. This leadership on forests and land use is an important recognition of how nature-based solutions are critical to achieving that, which is why many people from Government are making sure that we achieve net zero and are supporting global efforts.

International Energy Self-sufficiency

2. What assessment he has made of the potential contribution of international energy self-sufficiency to meeting climate targets. (902029)

Home-grown renewable and low-carbon energy are fundamental to meeting climate targets for every country and are key components of energy security and independence, as outlined by the International Energy Agency. The alignment of economic, climate and security priorities has already started a movement towards a better outcome for people and the planet.

If my right hon. Friend supports self-sufficiency, why is the United Kingdom still importing such vast quantities of liquefied natural gas from the United States, especially when two thirds of all that gas is produced by fracking?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Of course, it makes sense to ensure that we maximise the albeit declining production from the North sea to this country. To those who suggest—including, it must be said, the separatist Scottish National party—paying billions of pounds to foreign countries to supply gas that we have to have, rather than producing it in Scotland with Scottish jobs, I say that is frankly absurd, as he will recognise.

In the context of the climate crisis, self-sufficiency cannot simply mean yet more new extraction and burning of fossil fuels. According to the UN, Governments still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global heating to 1.5°. To help us to assess production against climate targets, will the Minister urge all countries at COP27 to join Germany, France and Tuvalu in giving diplomatic support to the new global registry of fossil fuels that is designed to help us to do precisely that?

I thank the hon. Lady for what she said. Of course, it is important in this country to recognise that, given the Climate Change Act 2008, the fact that production here is from a declining basin, and that our production is expected to fall faster than is required for oil and gas around the world, producing that at home, with lower emissions for our gas than for liquefied natural gas, is a sensible way to go.

I thank the Climate Minister for agreeing to speak at the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly on Monday. Does he agree that there is scope for far more co-operation between European nations to ensure energy security and, in the short term, to meet the challenge of Russia’s war of aggression?

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right, and we are seeing increasing co-operation. This summer, we saw electricity exports from the UK while the French nuclear fleet was down. We saw gas exports from the UK helping to fill storage there. We are also looking to renew our co-operation in the North sea co-operation apparatus and a memorandum of understanding on that is expected to be signed soon.

We are often told by the Government that they follow the science. How safe is fracking? Would the Minister want it happening in or near his constituency?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. As the Prime Minister made clear, the moratorium on fracking has been reinstalled, so that is an effective stop on fracking.

Net Zero Strategy and Carbon Budgets

3. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet members on the Net Zero Strategy and carbon budgets. (902030)

6. What discussions he has had with Cabinet members on the steps they are taking to meet the commitment to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68 per cent by 2030. (902033)

Delivering net zero is essential to tackling the global challenges facing countries around the world, including the impact of climate change, threats to energy security, the decline of nature and slowing economic growth. Ministers from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and from across Government Departments, such as those represented on the Front Bench, including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, are committed to that agenda.

I thank the Minister for his answer. A couple of weeks ago, the former BEIS Secretary, the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), dropped plans to appeal against a High Court ruling that found the UK Government’s net zero strategy was unlawful after a trio of non-governmental organisations challenged the Department’s strategy on the basis that it failed to show how its policies would cut emissions enough to meet legally binding targets next decade. What recent discussions has the Minister had with Cabinet members to ensure that legally required information on how carbon budgets will be met is available to Parliament and to the public?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and his close interest in these issues. The net zero strategy is Government policy and it has certainly not been quashed. The judge in fact made no criticism about the substance of our plans, which are well on track, but he is right that it was about the information provided, and we will respond in due course. In fact, it is notable that the claimants themselves described our net zero plans as “laudable” during the proceedings.

The Treasury has warned of a £50 billion financial black hole. This has been caused by crisis after crisis—the war in Ukraine, inflation, Brexit and the cost of living crisis—yet oil giants are still making record profits. BP intends to pay around £700 million in windfall taxes on its North sea operations, but more than three times that in the share buyback programme, which puts surplus cash into the hands of their shareholders, rather than renewable investment. Does the Minister think this is ethical, and does he agree that the UK Government should expand the windfall tax for fossil fuel extraction?

Of course, taxation is a matter for His Majesty’s Treasury. The point I would make to the hon. Lady is that a system that encourages those companies to reinvest in the North sea, and produce gas with much lower emissions attached than the liquid natural gas that we import from abroad, is good for Scottish jobs, is good for our energy security and, because of those lower emissions, is good for the environment.

As the Prime Minister will no longer be chairing the Climate Action Strategy Committee, what structures working across Government Departments does the Minister expect the Prime Minister to use to drive delivery of the nationally determined contributions to the COP programme and net zero Britain?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his excellent question. As he will doubtless be aware, we are working across Government—as represented here today; people can see just how cross-Government our efforts are. The Climate Action Implementation Committee, which met only a couple of weeks ago and on which I and multiple Ministers sit, is very much driving forward reviewing our carbon budgets and ensuring that we have the policies to stay on track.

In his discussions with other Cabinet members, did my right hon. Friend reflect on the contribution new nuclear projects, such as Hinkley Point C, can make to the delivery of the net zero strategy and how the objections of some to those types of projects mean we simply end up emitting more carbon?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is bizarre that those who claim to be green oppose the green baseload that is provided from nuclear. Of course, if we take the separatist party over there, with an aspiration of 100% renewables, that is reliant upon the baseload nuclear provides from England. It is not green to oppose nuclear. That is why we have set a 24 GW target and that is why we are committed to it, and the jobs and the technology that are associated with it.

I pay tribute to the work of the COP26 President, and I am sorry he has been removed from the Government. Let me take this first opportunity at the Dispatch Box to congratulate the Minister on bringing down the last Government in the vote on fracking.

Before it fell, that Government pledged to end the onshore wind ban in England, changing the planning rules to bring consent for onshore wind

“in line with other infrastructure.”

But the new Prime Minister spent the summer campaigning for an onshore wind ban because of the “distress and disruption” he says it causes. So can the Minister tell us: is the Government’s policy to change the planning rules as promised by the last Government, or to keep the ban on onshore wind as promised by the new Prime Minister?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I am delighted that, as has been announced today, the Prime Minister is going to be leading our delegation to the COP. We are working to ensure the speedy take-up of a whole range of technologies across the piece to ensure that we can deliver the net zero targets and stay on track.

It is a mad world when the new Government make the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) look like an eco-warrior, and he was in favour of lifting the ban. This is just one example of their failure. We are way off track from meeting our climate targets, the net zero strategy was ruled unlawful, the PM sacks the COP President and all this when the UN is telling us we are heading for 2.8 °C of global warming. Is not the truth that this year began with a Prime Minister who made grand promises that have not been fulfilled, and it ends with one who has to be dragged kicking and screaming even to turn up?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Government of which he was part had to be dragged kicking and screaming by the Conservative party to pass the Climate Change Act 2008 in the first place. Since he left office, this country has moved from renewables accounting for less than 7% of electricity to more than 40%, and seen the transformation of the energy efficiency of our housing stock. This Prime Minister will not only lead us at COP, but take us forward. We are on track to meet our net zero targets, and we will meet our carbon budgets. The Conservative party, and this Government, have a track record of action rather than rhetoric—although I have to admit the right hon. Gentleman is increasingly good at that.

Global Temperature Rises

4. What recent assessment he has made of progress towards limiting global temperature rises to (a) well below two degrees and (b) 1.5 degrees. (902031)

Every major report published this year shows progress on bringing down warming projections compared with last year, but we are still far from the 1.5°C pathway. That is why we need more countries, especially the major emitters, to implement their Glasgow commitments. I welcome the fact that 26 countries have new or strengthened nationally determined contributions as part of their response to the Glasgow climate pact.

The global methane pledge that emerged from COP26 committed its signatories, including the UK, to collectively reduce methane emissions by at least 30% below 2020 levels by the end of this decade. By how much have the Government reduced UK methane emissions in the year since the COP26 summit, and when will they outline a strategy to meet their 2030 commitment in full?

I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman with a detailed response, but I hope he will welcome the progress being made. For example, we have people at the Montreal protocol agreement right now. We also welcome the US Government ratifying the Kigali amendment. Other measures, including on gases, will help us to achieve, hopefully, that 1.5°C.

Is my right hon. Friend concerned that in the Arctic countries the temperature is rising something like four times faster than in the rest of the world, and in some places six times faster? What more can we do to assist the Arctic countries to resist the worst effects of the rise of the oceans and the rise in temperature?

I know my hon. Friend has long been concerned about this and he is right to be so. That is why we will continue to work with high-level ambition partners, and work towards our 30 by 30 ambitions around the world, which will also preserve the Arctic and Antarctic.

Loss and Damage Settlement at COP27

5. What discussions he has had with his Egyptian counterpart on achieving a loss and damage settlement at COP27. (902032)

Throughout the UK’s presidency, my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) has engaged with all parties, including co-operating closely with the upcoming Egyptian presidency on the issue of loss and damage. Addressing loss and damage will continue to be a priority for the UK presidency in the run-up to, and at, COP27.

The Egyptian presidency of COP27 has hailed Scotland as leading the world in taking steps in the right direction regarding loss and damage. Scotland’s First Minister has called it a moral responsibility finally to acknowledge the damage done by developed nations through emissions, and to contribute towards loss and damage funding. What more can this Government do to follow the lead of the Scottish Government in tackling that important issue?

Loss and damage has been, and continues to be, a priority for the UK COP26 presidency. The Glasgow climate pact dealt explicitly with that issue, recognising the urgency of the challenge, and the Santiago Network will enable technical support for countries to understand climate impact, and to plan and carry out actions on account of that.

Topical Questions

Let me take this opportunity to put on record my thanks, and I know that of the whole House, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) for his absolute and unwavering commitment as COP26 President on behalf of the United Kingdom. His team, led by Peter Hill, have worked tirelessly alongside him and deserve great praise. My right hon. Friend has brought the world together, not only raising ambition across the board for net zero strategies, nation by nation, but building trust and confidence that that can be achieved by driving the global change in the private sector’s view of money. In turning investment green, he has been able to drive the commitments of Governments and business to make decisions with net zero at their heart. If Paris set the mitigation goal, Glasgow—under his leadership—turned that into real commitments. He has now challenged the world to put adaptation for resilience at the heart of all we do, and the Egyptians will continue that work.

I welcome the Minister to her new role. As we all know, Shell is making windfall profits—more than double those last year. Despite that, it is not paying a penny of the UK’s windfall tax, because of a get-out clause that obscenely incentivises new oil and gas extraction in the UK. Given that we know that drilling for more fossil fuels is incompatible with the target of 1.5°C to avert climate catastrophe, will the Government now remove that loophole?

All matters of tax are for His Majesty’s Treasury, but it is clear that all our formerly fossil fuel companies are indeed energy companies, and they are investing incredibly heavily across the piece in renewables as well. We will continue to work with them to ensure that they invest their profits wisely.

T4. When Ministers go to the COP27 conference, will they give the cold shoulder to Germany to show our country’s disapproval and disgust at it continuing a massive expansion in its use of lignite, which is the dirtiest way of generating electricity? (901998)

After the COP presidency is handed over to Egypt, we will ensure that we continue to work with all our international partners to find solutions that move to renewables and clean energy.

T2. Will the Secretary of State update us on what steps are being taken to reduce methane gas emissions by 2030, in accordance with the global methane pledge set at COP26? (901996)

As I just said to the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), I will have to get the detail and write to him. I will share the same letter.

T5. This year, I have met pupils at Sayes Court and Manorcroft primary schools who wrote to me about the environment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that alongside the big—the Glasgow pact—the small such as local environmental activism is critical to protecting our environment and join me in being proud of the pupils we have in Runnymede and Weybridge? (901999)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to commend the children at Sayes Court and Manorcroft schools. It is the children who are genuinely the future, and leading by example in what they do is an element in reducing waste. Nature-based solutions are fundamental to tackling climate change and, as we embrace them through programmes such as Eco-Schools, they must be the way forward for his schoolchildren and indeed our country.

T3. What recent discussions has the Minister had with the incoming Administration in Brazil in seeking to tackle deforestation and the clearing of the Amazon rainforest, the lungs of the planet? What consideration has she given to an international preservation alliance where richer countries pay for carbon credits to keep rainforests alive? (901997)

If I may, I will write to the hon. Lady with more detailed information, but the work that Lord Goldsmith in the other place has been doing as part of the COP26 team over the last two years, as was set out, has driven work on deforestation and commodities. We continue to do that. I will ensure that she gets a fuller answer.

T6. While it is admirable to assist other countries in meeting their net zero goals, closer to home, the planning laws mean that polluting companies gain planning permission to build waste transfer plants such as the one in Cwmfelinfach in my constituency. Will the Government reform the planning laws to be mindful of net zero as well as granting permission against the wishes of the community? (902000)

I think that planning is devolved to the Welsh Administration, so the hon. Member may wish take that up with the Welsh Government directly. Of course, we will always ensure that our obligations on improving the environment are honoured as we take forward any potential reforms to planning.

T7. Coventry is leading the way in the manufacture of electric cars. Despite that, our Conservative Government continue to flip-flop both on attending the COP27 climate summit and on investing in green technologies. When will the Government step up and sign off the gigafactory for Coventry? (902001)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We are absolutely committed to having zero-emission vehicles and I am pleased to say that we have led on that, with our 2030 and 2035 targets now, I notice, being copied by our European neighbours. We remain committed under the Prime Minister to continuing our leadership. We have reduced our emissions by more than any other major economy and we will continue to do so.

T8. Shell and BP have announced bumper profits while they have also benefited from a loophole put in place by the now Prime Minister which means they secure taxpayer support for drilling oil in our North sea. Does the Minister think that that is a good decision or a bad decision ahead of the COP27 summit? (902002)

I have said repeatedly that it is absurd to suggest that bringing in gas from abroad, for instance, with higher emissions attached to that and paying billions of pounds for it, is sensible when we can produce it at home. That is why we incentivise investment in the North sea. It is declining, it is a managed decline, and it is compatible with net zero. It is about time that the hon. Lady backed the British economy and British jobs, and did not play politics with this issue.

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