Question for Short Debate
My Lords, the Statement on Tuesday gave this House the opportunity to congratulate all those involved in the COP 21 talks: Laurent Fabius in particular and the French presidency in general, and of course our own UK team, including the noble Lord the Minister, and I am delighted that he is replying to the debate this afternoon. He has come back hot-foot from Paris, and I warmly repeat those congratulations formally in this debate.
Today is also an opportunity to explore in a little more depth the big questions for the UK that follow on from those successful talks and just how the Government will build on the successful outcome of COP 21. I am especially looking forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Sheehan, as I am sure the whole House is.
Paris has given tremendous political momentum that we must capture. It has been a very long time coming. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, is in his place, and I am sure that he feels it has been a really long time coming because he put so much personal effort into making sure that it stayed a live issue.
I will take a quick glance back and then a slightly longer look forward. I am sure that all noble Lords remember the time when climate change was labelled a “green” issue for scientists only. Although politicians talked about it, and NGOs mobilised people around the issue, it was not considered a “serious” issue like defence, foreign affairs or the economy. It was the noble Lord, Lord Stern, who focused attention on the fact that climate change affected all those serious issues fundamentally. He made people understand that economically it made absolute sense to tackle the issue. That enabled a position in the UK where the draft Climate Change Bill enjoyed all-party consensus and was passed as the Climate Change Act. The private sector began to ramp up its investments in a low-carbon future, but the financial woes of 2008-09 meant that momentum slowed to a crawl. It was only the valiant efforts of a few, such as my friend the right honourable Ed Davey, that kept it alive at all.
With a successful COP 21 we can again look to the future. I do not think that that future is a fantasy; it really is very nearly a reality. In that future your home could be its own powerhouse. It could be a flat in a building that is both a powerhouse and a green lung. Solar and ground source energy will mean that being cold due to fuel poverty will shortly be as unthinkable as not having running water in your home is now. Battery technology is moving on apace and storage will no longer be a problem. There will be a smart home that regulates itself according to your wishes. I welcome the Minister’s statement about the ambition for smart meter rollout in the near future.
The town and city of the future will have clean air and lots of green surfaces absorbing rainfall. Its businesses will have a circular economy where the waste from one process will be material for another and transport will be clean and green. This is not a fantasy future. The technologies are either in place or in development.
It is not only about new build. The BRE briefing paper just out shows how simple changes to the homes of older people could save the NHS £600 million a year. However, this future needs investment in research, skills development and support for private investment that moves us in that direction. I am sure my noble friend Lady Parminter will mention the solar power debacle. This future has to happen fast, of course, because our country urgently needs hundreds and thousands of affordable homes.
My first question to the Minister is: why do the Government think that affordable housing is incompatible with developing zero-carbon homes? Various organisations, such as Cardiff University and the BRE, have developed models of homes that are incredibly energy efficient and cost £1,000 or less per square metre to build. So the models are out there and they are coming in at the right price.
Some of the technology is incredible. Let us take as an example an everyday product such as cement. I have learned that cement as your Lordships know produces about 5% of the world’s carbon emissions. But the new-style cement being developed will be carbon negative because it will be able to sequester carbon dioxide as it ages, and that is in development now. So there are lots of very exciting things going on.
There are many things we need to do differently to address the climate change issues. We need, for example, to farm differently. We need to look after the soil, which can absorb much more carbon if it is full of organic matter. Soil that is rich in organic matter not only can grow more food but can absorb more water and suffers less erosion—and yet the UK has no soil strategy.
Looking abroad, one of the great success of COP 21 was that the final draft positively mentioned forests, particularly those in tropical areas. Your Lordships will know of the critical role that forests play. The UK can be rightly proud of its contribution to the REDD-plus programme which supports forested nations to restore millions of hectares of lost or degraded forests. It is another win-win programme because it not only has great climate change benefits but will restore habitats to many of the species that the human race has driven to the edge of extinction through the loss of their habitats.
This future will not be easy. Funding, of course, will be a major issue, as has been highlighted and spelled out by the IMF, which talks of the need for an international agreement on carbon prices and the sort of deal that would generate substantial fiscal revenues by eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and by charging for the damage caused by emissions. It is pretty complicated stuff and I am not going to try to address it today.
This picture is set against the background of falling prices for fossil fuels. While that will certainly bring joy to the motorist at the pumps, it will bring its own difficulties and make it harder to invest in renewable technologies in the short term. That is where the Government come in. It could also have a destabilising effect on some of the big oil-producing countries and, again, we will have to consider that in more detail later.
The noble Lord, Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee, said recently that the UK should be proud to have created a vehicle such as the Climate Change Committee, giving long-term certainty within a short-term democratic political system. He hit the nail on the head and was quite right. Without that committee, the momentum from Paris would inevitably dissipate as other political issues came up the agenda, not least Europe. So we warmly welcome the fact that we will have the fifth carbon budget in the first half of next year. It will be a chance to highlight the practical measures that the UK can take to get it back on track to meet its targets. At the moment we are not even on track to meet existing targets, let alone the new ambitious ones.
As I mentioned, the low-carbon future is not just about meeting targets: it offers so many win-win opportunities for a cleaner, healthier future for people. It is essential that the Government resist the old, tired siren voices that decried the debate on the Statement by calling it a love-in. Those voices have no place in the sort of future we are trying to build for our children. We all have a responsibility to wholeheartedly seize the opportunities, ramp up the targets and invest in all our futures.
My Lords, the responses to COP21 have been almost comic in their divergence—or would be comic if the issues were not so serious and consequential. Benny Peiser, a climate sceptic, says that the agreements are,
“non-binding—and, ergo, toothless”.
Al Gore, a pillar of the climate change establishment—if I may put it that way—says that this is an historic turning point. Bill McKibben, our well-known environmentalist says:
“This agreement won’t save the planet, not even close”.
Which of these views is correct? Perverse though it may seem, all of them are. They all grasp aspects of the problems which now face us.
COP21 was certainly an historic turning point so far as COP meetings are concerned. There are other noble Lords here who, like myself, were present in Copenhagen at COP15. So what happened there? Twenty-one years of nothing much happening. This is a much greater event than has been achieved in any previous COP meeting. It is a massive advance in terms of a comprehensive approach. I, too, congratulate the French leadership on what it has achieved
Benny Peiser and others are right to say that the UN has little global power, which rests largely in the hands of nations and blocs of nations, and international law has no teeth. It is right to stress, as McKibben says, that we are miles away globally—I have to stress this—from coping with the risks which climate change presents to our civilisation. They are risks which no civilisation previously has ever had to confront. We are nowhere near on a global level confronting them.
I shall make three brief points to which I ask the Minister to respond. First, whatever happens with the COP agreements, bilateral relations will remain crucial. China, the US and India produce well over 50% of total global emissions, so keeping those countries working together is absolutely essential. However, what will happen if a Republican President is elected in the United States? What strategy would this Government then adopt for the continuation of bilateral relations since they are so crucial to the planet’s future?
Secondly, the agreements supply the “what”; that is, what should be done. At the moment, globally, we do not have a “how”. Renewable technology is simply not up to the task of replacing the massive impact of fossil fuels. We must have technological breakthroughs in, for example, energy storage. Bill Gates is right to say that we need an energy miracle, and at least he is putting a lot of money after that statement. The Government have mentioned mission innovation. What concrete strategies will they put in place to follow those initiatives up?
Thirdly and finally, the plans that countries have for scrutinising their emissions are important because they make them transparent, but obviously that is not enough as a sanctioning mechanism. The only way these agreements will have real substance is if they are incorporated into national law, not just international law. The UK has been a leader in this. The Labour Government set up a good scheme which successive Governments have followed. What will the Minister do to put pressure on other countries to embody these agreements in national law rather than only in international law?
My Lords, it is indeed a great honour and privilege to be asked to serve in your Lordships’ House. It is a task that I do not undertake lightly and is one that I intend to fulfil with diligence to the best of my ability. Special thanks are due to my noble friends Lady Barker and Lady Kramer for their welcome support on the day of my introduction to this place. Perhaps I may also take this opportunity to thank noble Lords from all sides for their kind words of welcome.
As a young university student, I and some friends worked and travelled our way across America. One night in Chicago, we lost the car. To this day, I do not believe that my husband appreciates the importance of his unerring sense of direction to our enduring relationship. So, as one who can lose her way in a one-way street, noble Lords will appreciate the sincerity in my words of thanks to all the staff of your Lordships’ House, the clerks, doorkeepers, restaurant and security staff, who have all been so unfailingly kind in redirecting me on numerous occasions.
Today, I am reminded of another daunting occasion when I was the new girl. On a freezing cold day in January 1965, newly arrived on a BOAC jet from Pakistan, I can vividly recall my first day of school, unable to speak a word of English. Tooting in south-west London became home. It is not a great distance from Tooting to Wimbledon, where I spent many years working on behalf of local residents as the parliamentary candidate for my party, the Liberal Democrats. That my title should include those contiguous parts of my personal and political lives, which retain a special place in my heart, is fitting.
I have been many things in my life—among them an auxiliary nurse, an O-level and A-level chemistry teacher, a full-time mother and a councillor for Kew ward in the London Borough of Richmond—but it was my passion for environmental issues that led me to opt out of a career in advertising and return to my roots in science. So I congratulate my noble friend Lady Miller on securing this most timely debate. To my mind, the high probability of anthropogenic climate change was established several decades ago, but, sadly, we have had to wait for disastrous events to strike every part of the globe multiple times before a sense of urgency has taken hold. So, imperfect though the COP 21 agreement is, it is nevertheless crucially important that 195 signatories have agreed to pull in the same direction.
But I would like to turn to a possible impact of climate change which does not translate into a bad weather event but rather into the mass movement of people. Some in your Lordships’ House may be aware that I have taken an interest in the issue of refugees, who are arriving in ever greater numbers in Europe. And so it was with interest that I read an article in a recent issue of New Scientist entitled “Climate as a cause of Syria’s conflict?”. The article refers to a peer-reviewed paper by Colin Kelley of the University of California, Santa Barbara. It is an interesting paper and well worth reading in its entirety. It goes without saying that we must treat with great caution the possible links between droughts, migrations and conflicts, but I believe we must also question whether the impact of our changing climate on the existence of those who do not enjoy a buffer against the vagaries of the weather, which leaves them even more susceptible to geopolitical events, will come back to bite us here in Europe.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on her maiden speech, short though it had to be on this occasion. I am sure that noble Lords will welcome her to our House, and welcome in particular her commitment to energy and climate change issues, as well as the hugely germane point about the relationship between climate change and mass migrations into the future. I pay tribute also to her local experience in contributing to a greener Wimbledon, and her tireless campaigning for better local health services. She is an excellent addition to our House.
I also congratulate the Government and the Minister on the role they played in the historic COP 21 agreement. Success will, however, depend on all countries implementing rigorous and, in many cases, rather heroic measures once they get back home from the euphoria and exhilaration of Paris and recover. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, rightly looked at the global issues; I want to plunge to a much more local basis and home in on what this means in one small but important and quite illustrative area, and that is energy efficiency.
Obviously, decarbonising our energy supply is hugely important, but so is reducing the demand for energy, particularly in the domestic sector. If I were the Minister, I would say that good progress has been made and that 70% of homes with lofts are now insulated and that 73% of homes with cavity walls no longer have their cavities. But these figures alone mean that 30% of lofts are not insulated and that cavity walls are not protected to effective standards of energy efficiency. In houses with solid walls, only 4% have effective insulation. In that small area of domestic energy efficiency, still a lot has to be done.
However, in the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor axed the energy company obligation. The Green Deal has virtually gone. They were both key measures in retrofitting carbon reduction into the nation’s housing stock. We are told that there is to be a new scheme in 2017, which is quite a long way away. Again, the Chancellor has almost halved its budget from the previous schemes. The Secretary of State has reasserted government plans to deliver 1 million efficiency upgrades during this Parliament, but how will that be done? In itself, that is a 78% reduction in the number of homes which received support for energy efficiency during the previous Parliament.
The same is true for new builds. Time prevents me from going into detail but, again, apparently driven this time by pursuit of the holy grail of deregulation, we have lost the sustainable buildings code and the zero-carbon homes policy. Will the Minister tell us how energy efficiency will be secured in the domestic setting in new and existing housing? For me, that would be not only a practical act but also a totemic signal from the Government to show that they are in earnest about the implementation of the Paris agreement and particularly to show that the Chancellor is in earnest about its implementation.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for this debate and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on her maiden speech. What a great debate in which to make a maiden speech, when we are looking so much towards the future.
On Tuesday, we congratulated the Government, the Minister, the officials from DECC and some Members of this House on the contributions that they made in Paris. Many people will feel that this is an agreement for which they hoped and prayed. Someone said, “I can’t really comment. It was near miraculous”. I think that that might be true. It is particularly significant in the wake of the terrorism in Paris on 13 November. Terrorism seeks to divide us and creates fear. This agreement of nearly all the world acting together gives hope, which feels to be a very important statement. I have said before that I am particularly grateful for the creation of a predictable framework of $100 billion of climate finance for poor countries. That is particularly significant at a time when questions are being asked about overseas aid. This is an important contribution to that debate.
Among the faith communities, there has been a striking convergence of views about the environment. A Greek Orthodox theologian commenting on the Pope’s encyclical said that this is an issue that relativises all our other differences. Therefore, all people of faith and of no faith are able to act together in the care of our common home. All commentators have said that the key to Paris is its implementation.
It is very exciting to see how many things have been initiated this week and in the weeks preceding Paris which are already organising responses in institutions and organisations. We seem to be at a tipping point towards a low-carbon economy. It is really important that this impacts across the whole of government policy and that the Treasury understands it. This morning’s announcement about feed-in tariffs and solar energy is relatively good news—there will be a 64% reduction in the feed-in tariff rather than the proposed 87%.
In preparation for Paris, I went to a conference of European churches in Westphalia, a relatively poor part of Germany. Seven people were walking from Flensburg, on the Danish border, to Paris. On the day I was with them, 150 of us were walking, and at a town meeting in the evening there were about 400 people. The region had realised that 90% of its costs of energy were leaving the region. Therefore, there was huge enthusiasm for onshore wind and community energy schemes as a way of retaining money within the region.
Markets do not exist in a vacuum; they are created or made. It is really important that the Government think hard about how to create markets in which community energy becomes a more obvious way of creating renewable energy. If the Government are rightly concerned about subsidies of the way in which energy is produced, in addition to thinking about the subsidies of renewable energy, ending fossil fuel subsidies is a first step in speeding the renewable transition. It would create a triple win of enhancing energy security, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and bringing improved fiscal space for governments. It seems an obvious thing to work towards—and quickly.
We asked for an ambitious deal in Paris, and I think that we got it. We also need to go much further. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, was right. The desire to pursue further efforts to bring global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade is creating a lot of discussion about how realistic that is, but it is a good thing to have high ambitious and to try to do the right thing. I applaud the ambition and I applaud in particular the role played by the Marshall Islands in this. It is good when small countries make a big difference in raising our ambitions through the “high ambition coalition”.
Climate change is, in many ways, the big challenge that we face. It requires new thinking and provides new opportunities. This is an area in which being satisfied with meeting mid-range goals is not right. We must set our sights higher to exceed our ambitions.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Miller for securing this very timely debate and for her long commitment to this field. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Sheehan for her excellent maiden speech, and that of my other noble friend Lady Featherstone, in which she also mentioned climate change.
We know that the poorest will be affected the worst by climate change, but we all will be. Climate change plays its part in the conflict in Sudan, which we discussed earlier. Drought preceded conflict in Egypt and Syria. Every day we see results of that, as my noble friend Lady Sheehan just made clear. The agreement in Paris must be a major step on the way to tackling this.
Together with the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, I attended a parliamentary meeting hosted by the National Assembly and Senate in Paris alongside the main Paris conference. I was immensely encouraged by what I heard and the commitment that countries were making. I was struck by the emphasis on those who are particularly vulnerable to climate change, such as the Pacific island states, or indigenous people in South America, represented by, among others, a wonderful Andean MP, whose name, Hilaria Supa Huamán, sounds—appropriately for her—like superwoman. We know that we need some outstanding statesmen and stateswomen if we are to implement what was agreed at Paris. It is good to see women playing that part as women will be especially vulnerable.
There seemed to be an iron determination in Paris that this global conference should succeed, with what it means for future generations, especially given the recent terrible atrocities in Paris. There are some hopeful signs. Use of renewables in developing countries looks set to leapfrog what is happening elsewhere, just as the mobile money M-Pesa system did. Bloomberg puts investment in renewables in Africa almost level pegging with that in the West, and it is soon to overtake it. It does indeed mean, as Hillary Clinton made clear after the conference, that development does not have to be sacrificed for climate change.
That is why the Government’s stance in the United Kingdom since the election has been so surprising and, frankly, disappointing. They cite the Climate Change Act, but it is not an Act that they initiated. They cite what was done over the last five years, but that was by a Lib Dem-led department that had to fight the Treasury all the way under different leadership. The Government’s actions since May have taken the country backwards. That is deeply worrying, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out.
Recently, I met a young Kenyan entrepreneur whose firm, SunCulture, focuses on solar power in agricultural irrigation. He lost investment from a UK firm when the UK Government reversed their support for solar. This is an area where UK companies could lead the field. We have the science and engineering skills. I am sure that the Minister has a very strong personal commitment here, so will he assure me that no UK ODA money will go towards supporting fossil fuels? Most especially, can he take back to the Government the need to match their rhetoric in Paris? The UK must once again lead in tackling climate change.
My Lords, I warmly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for introducing the debate. Her credentials in this field need no defending. Her consistent interest throughout her parliamentary life in Westminster has been very special and challenging.
There are lots of people to be thanked and congratulated on having brought about the positive results in Paris: the Ministers, all the leaders from around the world, their civil servants, industry—all sorts of people. But we should also give a special word of thanks to the NGOs, which, when it was not popular to be raising these issues, were nagging and urging us to see the seriousness and immediacy of the issue. They have driven forward with so much energy towards what happened.
I see a partnership with those NGOs in fulfilling the potential. Let us remember that all we have from Paris is hopeful potential. I know from the sphere of work in which I have worked for most of my life that it is crucial to set aside money to tackle issues of justice and adaptation in less affluent countries. The challenge we face in doing that is ensuring that the money gets to the people who will really make a difference. In that sphere the contribution that can be made by NGOs is almost second to none. Therefore, I hope that the Government will reassure us that they will make partnership with NGOs a priority in bringing about the potential results.
I make just one other observation. It was very significant that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said that this issue was not just about low carbon but a healthier future for people. That is a vision which we all ought to share if we want a cleaner and healthier environment. We need to be imaginative and say that this issue is not just about alternative energy. We are trapped into talking about alternative energy all the time. We do not give sufficient emphasis in this country to energy conservation. It should be a real priority for new engineers starting their careers to consider how they can make a contribution in the sphere of energy conservation. We also need to look at different techniques from those used in the past. I have never understood why we have not given a higher priority to geothermal energy.
We have had a tremendous moment of hope and a great gate has been opened. We now have to march through it, but consistency will be vital. If we are to play the lead role in the world that we want to, everything the Government do has to be seen to be utterly consistent with the objectives to which they subscribed in Paris and in which they played a key part. Measures which they may think are justified, but which to the world seem to be marching in the opposite direction, will be highly counterproductive. Therefore, consistency and comprehensiveness by the Government are vital.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, on making an excellent speech at the appropriate time. This debate is not solely about what was agreed at Paris, but the progress that will be made following that. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, talked about refugees in her excellent speech. We talk a lot about the environment and the economy but refugees may well become one of the biggest complications in this agreement. Therefore, I want to spend the few minutes I have bringing home to noble Lords what we have to do to make sure that the promises made are carried out. That is the real issue.
I declare my interest in the Kyoto process and have negotiated various COPs during the last 18 years. I have seen the difference between them. In Kyoto, we only tried to get agreement from 40 industrial nations. To get an agreement from 190 nations is a magnificent achievement for French diplomacy. There is no doubt about that. However, the whole thing changed at Paris. People began to accept the scientific findings on climate change. That was brilliantly brought out by one of the heroes of this campaign, Al Gore, in his film “An Inconvenient Truth”. He made an excellent, powerful speech at Paris, which brought home to delegates how the situation had become worse since Kyoto. The noble Lord, Lord Stern, undertook an excellent review entitled The Economics of Climate Change. Over the intervening 18 years, people began to accept the intellectual basis of the science of climate change and its economic consequences, and those campaigners deserve credit for that. I also pay tribute to the negotiators, the French and the role played by the Government. I will come back to the Government shortly.
The other factor was the Civil Service. One of the best civil servants that I had in Kyoto was the major person who convinced the others that we could have a formula for the connection between climate science and the temperature itself. In fact, there were two people: Peter Betts, who is working with the Government at the moment, and Peter Unwin, who worked with me—civil servants of the best order. They provided the theory, analysis and connection that made it possible to convince people they should go along that particular path. They did a great job.
The others who played a part are the politicians themselves. GLOBE International, the Senate in France, the Council of Europe, the Climate Parliament and the IPU have, together, pressed governments to do things. At the time of Kyoto there were only 42 pieces of environmental framework legislation throughout the world; now there are 880. That came as a result of the pressure by NGOs and other political people to make a difference. They will be important in seeing that Governments carry out what they have promised. Those promises in Kyoto were fine but, as was mentioned, my own Government have cut zero-carbon housing and the carbon storage system, and they have taken subsidies from renewables to give to the oil industry. That was not what was promised in Paris. Paris will only prove successful if people carry out what they promised to do.
I would suggest that the Climate Change Act we introduced, followed by the creation of an independent committee, is the only way to keep the Government on their toes and to deliver what they promised. We are the only country that has a legal framework. I suggested during the negotiations that every parliament should enact climate change legislation in their countries, which would give the Back-Benchers the strength to force Governments to carry out what they need to do. That is the way we get the legal framework and the understanding. I hope we will now look seriously at how to make sure these promises are really implemented.
I add my thanks to those expressed by others to my noble friend Lady Miller for initiating this debate on what is, even if we do not all agree with the terminology, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, pointed out, an undoubtedly historic agreement. The inclusion of regular reviews of the activities of nation states is to be particularly welcomed. The comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, about how those reviews might be integrated into national legislation is an interesting one that bears further scrutiny. Like others, I congratulate those in this House who played a part in this success, including the Minister, and I also congratulate my new noble friend Lady Sheehan. It is a combination of action at the global, national and local levels—including in Wimbledon—that will deliver progress on this historic agreement.
I want to touch, as others have done, on the apparent failures since May in the Government’s policies in this area, which seem, in the light of Paris, to be somewhat counterproductive and short-sighted. First, as the right reverend Prelate said, the cuts to the cheapest forms of renewable electricity—onshore wind—and to the solar industry were relatively good news. Indeed, the relatively good news was that it was a cut of 64%, rather than 87%, but it is still a threat to the 19,000 British jobs that are dependent on the speed of development in that industry. It is somewhat put into perspective when you consider the £1 billion that the Chancellor put aside in the Budget last week to bribe people to support fracking.
I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on the Government’s paucity of ambition on energy efficiency. It is a retrograde step and the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who is not is his place, as Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, said only last week that it is an area in which we have failed. The Minister, in the debate on the Statement on Tuesday, said of energy efficiency:
“As a country, we probably need to do more on demand management”.—[Official Report, 15/12/15; col. 1976.]
We certainly do, and I have a question for the Minister in addition to those asked by the noble Lady, Lady Young: do the Government intend to bring forward new building standards as a matter of urgency, given that zero-carbon housing and the code for sustainable homes have been removed? If not, how will we give developers certainty about their costs in building the thousands of new homes that we need, so that we do not end up retrofitting homes that we propose to build in the very near future because they are not sustainable?
I have one further question and a comment. The question is about the need for a secure investment framework to support renewable energy. The markets will clearly be responding to the messages in Paris. We have already seen the shares of SolarCity, the biggest residential installer of solar in the US, jump by 12% on Monday. In the UK we need much clearer signals, so what guidance have the Government given to the new National Infrastructure Commission, given that one of its three focuses is to be on ensuring that investment in energy meets future demands? How do we make sure that that is renewable energy?
Finally, most of us agree that Paris was a success as we seek to tackle the challenge of climate change. Also, on a day when the Prime Minister is looking at our relationship with Europe, it is important to remember just how much the Paris negotiations have shown that we in Britain should play our role. By playing a strong role at the early stages of the Paris negotiations, we were able to put pressure on the US and Chinese to come forward with strong proposals early on. We would not have been able to do that as one country on our own. The fact that the Government recognised that we in Europe were able to use that leverage and influence was to their credit but shows that, if we are to solve global problems, Britain is stronger in Europe.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for her skill in securing this timely debate and her felicitous choice of time-slot, which allows us to deal with not only the outturn from COP 21 but what the Government will do to try to resolve that. I also thought her speech was extremely interesting, wide ranging and far seeing. She highlighted a point that a number of noble Lords picked up on—without really noticing, we have moved from regarding green issues as very much a techy subject to something we must all take on board and deal with. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on an excellent maiden speech. We will all look forward to more contributions on climate change and refugee issues if she is able to speak as she did today.
The title of the debate is indeed about progress on COP 21, but today we have talked mainly about what the Government will do to meet Britain’s climate change commitment. As my noble friend Lord Judd said, we are looking for consistency—in the aspirations achieved in Paris, and in the political reality on the ground. That has been picked up outside. Business leaders, academics and environmental campaigners all believe that recent U-turns on wind, solar and other clean technologies have fatally undermined the UK’s ability to meet the new CO2 targets. Many noble Lords have pointed out that, since the 2015 general election, the Government have cut, delayed and scrapped the Green Deal home improvement fund and the zero-carbon homes policy. They have cut solar and onshore wind subsidies and undermined progress on carbon capture and storage.
It will be obvious to anyone who knows the structure of our Front Bench that this is not my area; I should have started by apologising for the fact that I am neither my noble friend Lord Grantchester, who had commitments up in Liverpool and had to go back, nor my noble friend Lady Jones; I am sure that the whole House will join in sending condolences to her on her recent loss. However, as an outsider watching the politics of this, it is obvious from the debates around COP 21 and the good points made today by a range of speakers across the House that there seems to be a green moment. By that, I mean a short period in which the political calendar will allow a determined Government to sweep through some very far-reaching, game-changing proposals. Does the Minister recognise that, with a good Paris behind him, momentum on his side and support all round Parliament and beyond, there is an open goal? Do his Government have the policies to take advantage of this green moment? Perhaps more importantly, do they have the courage?
My Lords, this has been a debate of very high quality and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for raising this topic in the House and setting out how important it is for the whole world, which it certainly is, and presenting the case with such clarity and vision.
As noble Lords will be aware, I repeated a Statement in the House on Tuesday, after the Secretary of State had reported to the House of Commons on Monday. I absolutely agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, about the inspiration at Paris of many political leaders and others, including businesspeople and Members of this House. He singled out in particular Vice-President Al Gore—I think that people remain Vice-Presidents—and the noble Lord, Lord Stern. It is absolutely true that they made outstanding contributions, as did others. The noble Lord is also absolutely right about the role of negotiators. He mentioned Pete Betts, who had a key role to play, as did Ben Lyons and others who worked fantastically hard.
The Paris agreement is an historic achievement and takes a significant step forward towards reducing, on a global scale, the emissions that cause climate change. The right reverend Prelate paid tribute to France and the French for staging this conference as effectively as they did with their considerable diplomacy. In the light of the dreadful terrorist attacks, that was no mean feat. Not many nations could have pulled that off but I absolutely agree that the French did. I also agree with what he said about the role of faith, with people of many different faiths coming together to help build this agreement, which we as a world succeeded in achieving in Paris.
As has been said, the agreement protects not just our environment but our national and economic security, and that is true worldwide. It also brings with it new opportunities for growth, innovation and well-being. For the first time ever, all parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, representing nearly 200 countries, made a commitment to act. The noble Baronesses, Lady Northover and Lady Miller, and the right reverend Prelate also made the point about the role of small nations alongside large ones. One heard as much at the conference and on its fringes about the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu, quite rightly, as one heard about China, India and others. I met representatives from Greenland, for example. It was a truly international agreement that has set out a clear, long-term goal for the world to achieve net zero emissions in the second half of the century. The long-term goal sends a strong signal to investors. That is important globally because of the likely—almost inevitable—reduction in the cost of many renewables because of the fact that nations and businesses around the world will be investing in them.
From the United Kingdom—and, indeed the EU—point of view, we had three major objectives: a rules-based system, which this is; a long-term goal, which we have achieved; and a review system, which again we have achieved. In fact, there are two systems of review. We were part of a “high-ambition coalition”, which also included the United States. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, raised questions about the role of the US. We are certainly hoping that this agreement will be ratified while President Obama is in office, and I think that is the likelihood. Obviously we cannot influence domestic policy in the United States, much as we may on occasion be tempted to do so, but we are sure that it will be validated and passed there.
The agreement is based on the INDCs—that is, the contributions—of 187 countries. This level of commitment is unprecedented and the review cycle, which I have mentioned, is central to the ambition. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, asked how that would be enforceable. It is enforceable in that every five years, countries will come back. It is a question of whether they restate their ambitions or ramp them up; that will be central to the way that this develops.
As investment grows, the costs of low-carbon technologies will come down. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked about battery technology. That is vitally important; for example, we are looking across government at electric cars and zero-carbon cars. I come back to the importance of the clear investment signal.
The financial aspects of this agreement are also important. There is to be $100 billion of support a year from the public and private sector, which will help developing nations, particularly small island developing states. On enforceability, again, some states will be ensuring that they meet their objectives because they will be getting financial assistance to do so, so the two will go hand in hand. There are obligations in the agreement to come back with mitigation measures every five years and to take part in the global stock-take, which will also happen every five years but on a different cycle.
The UK is, as I think was said, a substantial donor. We already have £3.87 billion in the International Climate Fund, helping millions of the world’s poorest. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, referred to this absolutely important point and asked whether we were able to give a guarantee that this will not go to any projects that have a carbon element. A carbon-proofing system is being applied in the ODA and we will be watching that like hawks, because we are the first developed country to commit to end coal-fired power stations. That is very significant and was commented on repeatedly at Paris. It sends out a clear signal. We are at some stage going to have to send out a similar signal about gas, of course, although that will not be just yet, as we need gas to transition to the lower-carbon—ultimately zero-carbon—economy that we want. Clearly, the worst fossil fuel is coal, but gas is a fossil fuel, too, so that will need to be addressed. As a nation we will have to face up to that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, referred most graphically to the global dimension, in a speech of moving personal reminiscence and very reflective thought, setting out her personal commitments. I am sure that we will hear much more from her on these issues as she participates in the life of the House. It was an excellent and outstanding maiden speech, on which I congratulate her massively.
During the two weeks of the conference, we saw a huge mobilisation of business—the first time really, I think, that it had happened on this scale. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, will back that up. We have not seen the involvement of business at previous conferences on the scale that we saw in Paris, which had the presence and indeed the support of the Governor of the Bank of England—Mark Carney—Michael Bloomberg, Richard Branson, Paul Polman and a whole host of national leaders in business and other fields.
Forestation was mentioned. We have played a significant role in relation to REDD, and have committed money to Colombia, which has a very good record on halting deforestation. It is part of a progressive alliance, and we have committed money there as well. One should acknowledge the outstanding and not inconsiderable role here of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. He saw this issue before many others, and his support, both generally at the conference and over time, has been extremely important.
I will try to deal with some of the other points. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned insulation. She is absolutely right, and we are committed to 1 million more homes in this Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to demand reduction, which is important and which we are looking at. The smart meter programme commits us to that. Building standards were mentioned. I hate acronyms but one that is probably quite appropriate is a very interesting project called BAPS—buildings as power stations—which I visited just outside Swansea, run jointly by the university and private industry, with involvement that is almost totally British. These buildings do not cost an awful lot to erect, and the department is looking at this because it helps with the housing situation as well. So there are things to be looked at there.
I will try to cover some last points very quickly. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked about the importance of engaging with the National Infrastructure Commission. I assure her that we are doing that, particularly on the issues she mentioned, which are covered by one of the work streams. Work is still going on to finalise the terms of reference but clearly it is clearly a very important commission in terms of large-scale projects and in terms of the messages that it sends out.
I very much welcome the role of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and his modesty in claiming that he does not know a lot about these things. He seemed to me to know quite a lot. I agree with him about the significance of these issues and the fact that we have to think across government—which I hope we are doing—to look at the challenges that lie ahead, which are significant.
I thank noble Lords very much for their participation in the debate and once again in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for bringing it forward. It is a very timely and important debate, and I am sure we will return to these issues again and again. I certainly hope so, because this very important issue has been ramped up significantly by the highly successful conference in Paris. We should never forget that. We talk about the road through Paris—it is not an end in itself but a staging post—but, that said, we can give ourselves two pats on the back for Paris. However, the job is not done and there is still much to do. That will often be through the reviews—both through the global stock-take which starts in 2018 and takes place every five years, and through individual countries coming forward with their contributions every five years starting in 2020.