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Climate Change

Volume 762: debated on Wednesday 17 June 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to address the risk of climate change.

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her work on the ground-breaking Climate Change Act. We are determined to meet our commitments under this Act and cut emissions by 80% by 2050. I am pleased to affirm that commitment today, particularly given that it is a day of action for the Speak Up For The Love Of campaign. We are also working to secure an ambitious global deal in Paris this year that sends vital signals to communities, businesses, investors and people around the world that Governments are committed to a global low-carbon economy.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments. On 14 February, the leaders of the three main political parties, prompted by the For The Love Of campaign, which has also organised today’s mass lobby, made three clear pledges on climate change: to win an ambitious deal in Paris, to which the Minister referred; to work together to agree carbon budgets; and to phase out unabated coal in electricity. Much has changed since then, including which parties we might now consider to be the main three, but the need to tackle climate change remains. Can the Minister confirm that the Conservative Government remain committed to these three pledges, and can he provide details of what his department is doing to implement the other two that he has not mentioned?

I thank the noble Baroness for that. As she will know, unabated coal is likely to represent just 1% of emissions by 2025. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, Amber Rudd, are very committed to the whole agenda, and we are certainly fully committed to those three goals.

My Lords, what the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, says is extremely important, and indeed her work is very important; nevertheless, does my noble friend accept that the present policies of working towards decarbonisation in Europe and in this country are not working very well? Some of our energy prices are almost the highest in the world—certainly in Europe. Furthermore, coal-burning in this country is at a very high level and is increasing in many European countries, which is the very opposite of what is supposed to be happening. Can my noble friend assure us that the policy will be adjusted to make more progress on this front? We seem to be going backwards rather than forwards, particularly in respect of coal.

My noble friend makes a serious point in relation to Europe in general. With regard to the United Kingdom, we are on target for decarbonising and are decarbonising at the expected rate. It is true to say that obviously we need to keep a watch on external factors, but it remains the case that unabated coal is scheduled to represent 1% of electricity generation by 2025. That is the goal and we are very much on target for that.

My Lords, it is the case that the Conservative manifesto said that the Government would simply continue adhering to the Climate Change Act. However, does the Minister agree that that should now be the starting point, not the destination, and that we will need to go further—to meet a binding target to decarbonise Britain by 2050? Would he also agree that a practical step to assist in that would be to greatly expand the remit and breadth of the Green Investment Bank, a really pioneering development of the previous Administration based in Edinburgh?

The noble Lord is right in that we do need ambition in this regard. We are encouraging more ambitious targets through Europe. Of course we are working with Europe on a reduction of at least 40% by 2030 based on a 1990 baseline—that remains the case. But, yes, we do need to take account of the fact that there is a massive challenge to keep inside the 2 degrees increase in temperatures over the period that we are looking at.

What steps are the Government taking to sustain and enhance our competence in nuclear engineering, as indeed they have been encouraged to do in several recent reports?

The noble Viscount will be aware that we are very much on target for bringing on Hinkley Point C by 2023. After that, there are other nuclear generators that should be brought on, such as Sizewell. The noble Viscount is right that it remains very much an important part of the mix. We are working with EDF, taking account of what is happening in France and Finland, for example, to make sure that we deliver something that is entirely safe and contributes to a vital part of our energy supply.

My Lords, this is clearly a topical Question that everybody wants to get in on. The House seems to be calling for my noble friend Lord Ridley, and then we should perhaps hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones.

My Lords, given that global warming has been much slower over the past 30 years than what 95% of the IPCC models had forecast, and given that 14 peer-reviewed papers published since 2011 find that climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide is much lower than the 3 degrees assumed by the Government’s climate impact models, what is the Minister’s preferred estimate of climate sensitivity? Does he agree that the best scientific evidence now suggests that it will be 100 years before we hit the 2 degrees threshold and that perhaps there are other more urgent humanitarian and environmental priorities?

I find myself in total disagreement with the noble Viscount. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that this is a very, very serious issue and we do need to address it. The consequences if we do not are dire.

My Lords, this is not going to work unless we all try to follow the conventions that we are all accustomed to. I indicated before that it seemed that the House was asking for the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to have an opportunity to ask a question. Then, we will see what time we have left as to where we go next.

Thank you.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, should other countries such as Norway divest themselves of fossil fuel investments, the London Stock Exchange would be highly exposed because we carry something like 19% of the global carbon budget? Are the Government thinking about stimulating the green economy, for example, through PFI contracts or similar public service contracts?

The noble Baroness will be aware that the green economy is growing and, at the same time, there is a lowering of the carbon economy within the United Kingdom. This is a very favourable sign, which exhibits the point made by Sir Nicholas Stern and his committee. Clearly, many businesses have signed up to the importance of tackling climate change, as the noble Baroness will be aware.

Does my noble friend accept that the largest problem is that the Government have no plans for continuing the advantages for renewable energy and the like after 2020? We need to have clear pathways as quickly as possible because, unlike my noble friend, I think the science shows that we will reach 2 degrees much more quickly than he suggests.

I agree that there is an urgent need to look at the renewables programme. My noble friend will be aware that there is a new department and that we are all in new roles, but we are looking at the issue urgently.