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International Solar Alliance: Framework Agreement

Volume 793: debated on Wednesday 24 October 2018

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That the Grand Committee takes note of the Framework Agreement on the establishment of the International Solar Alliance.

My Lords, I feel that I should do something that Ken Livingstone told me never to do, which is to start with an apology. I feel the Minister might not have expected to deal with this particular issue; I gather it is quite unusual to table a debate on a treaty like this. I thank the Government Whips for allowing this to happen; I know we are always short of parliamentary time, so I am very grateful to have this opportunity.

I felt compelled to bring this debate when I saw the Government’s accompanying notes to the International Solar Alliance Treaty. At first I was excited; it looked like a very positive step forward. However, that excitement gave way to disappointment and now I almost feel despair. It was bad enough getting the UN report this month about having only 12 years to make a difference to our future as humanity, and I feel the Government are not acting in the best interests of this country or indeed globally.

My excitement came from the ambitions of the International Solar Alliance. It is an international agreement, formed at the United Nations by treaty between 121 states. Importantly, the alliance is being led by India, which makes it the first large-scale climate initiative to be led by a developing country. Together the signatories seek to raise $1 trillion US dollars for investment in solar power, and by 2030 the treaty aims to provide affordable green energy to a billion people who do not currently have any electricity. These are lofty goals and a considerable source of excitement. They demonstrate an understanding that green investment gives the opportunity to significantly increase the living standards of the world’s poorest while protecting the ecological resources on which all our livelihoods depend. So far, all good.

However, my excitement gave way to disappointment when I read the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum to the treaty, written by the Secretary of State for International Development. Those notes celebrate the UK’s involvement in the alliance but then nakedly expose the true lack of ambition behind our involvement. It is stressed that our membership,

“places no legal or policy requirements on the UK”,

and that,

“initial UK ISA collaboration will be through existing UK government funded programmes”.

The focus is placed on developing our bilateral relationship with India, with this being a nice green gesture to move that along. It seems to me that the largest contribution that our Government will be making is creating new commercial opportunities and investment opportunities for UK business. My conclusion from the Explanatory Memorandum is that we are signing up to yet another impressive-sounding green initiative but then doing absolutely nothing of substance. I find this deeply disappointing and a continuation of this Government’s “promise big; deliver disaster” approach to green issues.

My disappointment then gave rise to despair when the International Panel on Climate Change published its report this month. These are the world’s leading climate scientists, who have been asked to give an authoritative review of the world’s climate future. It makes grim reading and, frankly, blows the ambitions of the International Solar Alliance out of the water. The IPCC report sets out the devastating scientific consequences of what will happen if global temperatures rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which at current rates is likely to occur between 2030 and 2050, well within the lifetime of our children and grandchildren. The report makes clear that limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees will expose 10 million fewer people to the impacts of rising sea levels, particularly in small island nations such as the British Overseas Territories. They are why we are involved in the alliance in the first place; we would not normally merit being included, but we are because of those territories.

Fish stocks, which Brexit has suddenly got so many people passionate about, will be devastated if temperatures rise beyond 1.5 degrees. Other risks of climate change, such as drought, crop failures and disease, will all be lessened by keeping temperature changes below that amount. Even someone like me, who has spent most of my life warning about the dangers of climate change, was deeply depressed to see all this written in one place and to be reminded of the rate at which we are hurtling towards climate breakdown. The IPCC report tells us that even the best-case scenario is bad. A 1.5 degree change will still wipe out 70% to 90% of the world’s coral reefs and lead to the displacement of millions of climate refugees. Importantly, though, the panel tells us that that limit is achievable with the right mix of political will, financial resourcing and international co-operation.

This is where the International Solar Alliance, and our Government’s attitude towards it, are really exposed. The ambitious $1 trillion investment by 2030 is pennies when compared to the $2.4 trillion that the IPCC says must be invested in clean energy each and every year to avoid catastrophic climate change. More than 2% of world GDP must be invested in avoiding climate change if we are to keep within safe limits. The report also highlights the importance of tackling global poverty and reducing inequality. Put simply, we cannot save the planet unless we significantly improve the livelihoods of the world’s poorest. When I talk about saving the planet, I do not mean the planet itself because the planet will survive whatever we do to it. What I mean is preserving the ecosphere that we as a human race need to survive.

It is noteworthy that the very reason why we are able to sign up to the International Solar Treaty, whose membership is limited to tropical nations, is because of our territories that lie in the tropics. It is those overseas territories, most of which are small islands and coastal nations, that are most exposed to the risks of climate change.

Before I conclude, I want to stress how much our domestic energy policies are undermining any possibility of showing climate leadership on the world stage. This Government have decimated subsidies and support for domestic solar panels and made new onshore wind power virtually impossible. The 10:10 Climate Campaign says:

“Incredibly, the government is now planning to stop guaranteeing that people will be paid for the surplus energy their solar panels produce. Instead, in effect, the power will be donated for the energy companies to sell on. People installing solar after March next year will be left empty handed. Meanwhile millions of pounds go to fossil fuels. That isn’t just unfair. It’s quite literally daylight robbery—and it’s terrible news for the solar industry”.

We seem to have completely abandoned financing for energy efficiency and insulation schemes. The Green Deal was a failure and nothing ever replaced it, and of course our Government are obsessed with fracking to open up a whole new source of fossil fuels right at the time when we should be locking carbon up in the ground. I do not see how anyone can take us seriously when they see such anti-green policies in the UK.

Those are the reasons why I have called this debate today. I challenge the Government to increase their ambition on the global stage. We really ought to be making green investment the central plank of our international aid and development efforts. I want to give Ministers the opportunity to clarify their dismissive approach in the Explanatory Memorandum and set out a pathway for rapidly increasing our investment in the alliance.

Lastly, I ask the Minister to set out the Government’s analysis and response to the IPCC report, as we are reminded that climate change is the most pressing—and depressing—issue of our time. We all want to avoid climate catastrophe. I beg to move.

My Lords, I declare an interest, which will become apparent later, as a trustee of the Green Purposes Company, which holds the green share in the Green Investment Bank.

I welcome this debate. I do not think the noble Baroness should apologise at all because I do not think I would have been fully aware of this treaty if it had not been for this debate. I am going to take a rather different approach but I agree with the vast majority of what she has just said. We probably need Claire Perry from the Commons rather than the Minister here to answer some of these questions, although I am sure he will answer them very adequately.

I thought that this alliance and the agreement itself were good news globally at a time when we have bad news in terms of climate change, with the international consensus rather falling apart in this area. I also welcome the fact that India is the leader in this. I have to say that the history of India in climate change talks internationally has not been great. In fact the country was a blocker of some of the earlier global agreements on climate change—for good reason, in many ways, in that as a developing nation it sees the problem is one that has arisen from industrialised, developed countries and one that we are now throwing back to economies such as India to help us to solve, having been profligate in terms of our emissions in the past. Indeed, as the memorandum states, there are still issues in India with regard to the development of solar through protection in tariffs and in terms of wanting, understandably, to have its own internal solar industry rather than rely, as much as the rest of the world does, on China’s production.

Given “global Britain”, in a way it is rather a shame that this initiative was spearheaded by President Macron rather than by ourselves. That shows how France, which is obviously one of our closest European partners, is in many ways pushing ahead in many of these areas where we are hesitating and potentially retreating, particularly in meeting our fourth and fifth carbon budgets.

I was also pleased that this was not just about solar as we understand it here, which is a distributed energy, but is about putting energy back into the grid, and about individual commercial or domestic buildings. The fact that it is around water pumps and spreading the needs in this area is very positive. However, I was quite surprised that the Explanatory Memorandum centred only on solar PV. I would have thought that solar thermal was just as important, and I presume that the treaty includes that technology as well. Although on the whole these houses probably do not need the heating that we require here in the northern hemisphere winter in terms of hot water, that is still an important area where solar thermal can work well.

I identify completely with the view expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that the memorandum is all about what UK plc can do and not rest of the world. But I welcome the fact that it will be an opportunity for the City to use its expertise in green finance, the London Stock Exchange and the issue of green bonds, to expand that activity to the benefit of a wider community. At the moment in green finance, we have gone down in the league tables—I have an Oral Question on this in the House next week—from number one on green finance to number three, with Sweden and Amsterdam now ahead of us. Countries such as France are issuing green sovereign bonds when we have not got that far yet.

The Green Investment Bank, which I was sad to see privatised recently, particularly when we have the challenges ahead that we do, is a manager of a British government fund, possibly through the Foreign Office, which has made investments in India quite recently. I would be pleased to understand whether the rest of that programme will coinvest British government money in this area and whether that programme will continue. I very much welcome it, even though placing some of that money has been quite difficult.

The irony of this treaty is that India is asking us to do this. Given our colonial background, India has decided that because the remains of our empire are scattered across the tropics, we should be a part of this agreement. Some of my question comes back to what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said. Are we at least going to use our leverage and resources and give our help to some of those overseas territories that are within the tropics? Are we going to be practical in making this agreement and alliance work for our overseas territories that are in the region of concern for this alliance?

I am sure I read in the Explanatory Memorandum that the overseas territories had been consulted on this, and I would be interested to understand whether the communities that represent Chagos have been specifically consulted on this agreement. Obviously it affects them and their future, not only where they are at the moment but where they want to be in the future.

The numbers are mind-boggling, although small in comparison with the $1 trillion that we need to save the planet. I am interested to know, and perhaps the Minister could tell us, which ATM that will come out of.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for initiating this debate, and I, like the noble Lord, do not think she should apologise at all. When I read that she had put down a Motion on an international treaty, it prompted me to do the same, so I am having a debate on an international treaty next Tuesday. It is a great opportunity for more public scrutiny of treaties.

Like the noble Lord, I think this is a good agreement, and we should praise the international community and the United Nations for their focus on this, and also praise Britain’s involvement. I have a number of questions, which have already been partly raised. Why this is good is that from a DfID responsibility, we know that the key to economic development is access to energy. Many local economies, particularly in Africa, are inhibited from growing because they cannot access energy, and I think the key to this ISA—if I can call it that—is that it will not only use existing new technologies but a range of them that are not simply reliant on big generation. It is moving into smaller and local generation that can help more remote economies to grow.

I have some specific questions. Initially, DfID said that its engagement would be limited to providing expertise, and that there would be no monetary contributions, but then in the memorandum it states that the United Kingdom,

“may consider committing financial resources”,

directly. Have discussions taken place with the ISA over potential future financial contributions?

I also want to pick up the point that we are members of the alliance because of our overseas territories; the noble Lord raised the fact about consultation. The memorandum confirms that all the overseas territories were in agreement with our membership. That is good, but what else did they say? Did they actually ask how it will impact on them, what concerns do they have, and will they be able to utilise it? What is DfID’s programme in terms of the alliance and the overseas territories? The Minister may not be able to reply tonight, but it would be good to receive information about how the overseas territories were engaged.

I agree completely with the noble Baroness in terms of us advocating one thing internationally and doing something else domestically. The noble Lord has said many times that the UN 2030 agenda does apply. It is universal, so what we are practising in the alliance is something we should be implementing. We are accountable for all the SDGs—the decision to set up the alliance came out of the UN 2030 agenda and the SDGs. I hope that the Minister can talk about how the policy that DfID is leading on will be addressed in the cross-department activity on the implementation of the SDGs. Perhaps he will commit in the report that is going to be made next year to the United Nations—our voluntary review of the SDGs—on how we will meet this particular aspect.

I have mentioned the possibility of direct financing, but of course we have a development instrument in the United Kingdom, a huge one for which the Government have committed to providing additional investment funding, and that is the CDC. Of course, the CDC does have as part of its five-year business plan a commitment to address the SDGs. I am not sure whether the CDC is an instrument that might be involved in the implementation or be part of our ISA engagement, particularly in terms of investment. One of the things I have raised in the past, along with many other noble Lords, is the fact that there are CDC investments which are not carbon neutral. It has made investments which are contributing to global warming mainly because, as I have said before, there is an urgent need in some developing countries for access to energy. I would like to see how the CDC strategy fits in with the memorandum that has been circulated.

In the end, it is important that we are able to review these international agreements. I will conclude by saying that we welcome the Government’s commitment to the alliance. I hope that that will be more than just simply providing specialist assistance and that we ensure that we support fundamental changes. As the noble Lord said, India has a requirement to use energy and it has been utilising quite dirty energy. We want to see our support being given not only to middle-income countries but spread across all developing countries. Given that, I welcome the report.

My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for raising this issue and initiating this debate. It gives us a good opportunity to put several points on the record. I shall try to cover most of the questions which have been raised. Some relate specifically to other departments and therefore I will take up the kind suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, to write to noble Lords about them.

Perhaps I may begin, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, by setting out the Government’s position in relation to the alliance and then move on swiftly to the specific questions. The International Solar Alliance is a ground-breaking initiative which aims to accelerate the deployment of solar energy. That deployment is critical to achieving the seventh sustainable development goal which seeks to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. The ISA plans to raise $1 trillion of investment for solar projects, enough to provide 700 million of the 1.1 billion people who are currently without electricity with solar energy. It was quite right of the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Teverson, to point out the rural aspect of this issue because most of those who do not have access to energy live in rural areas. The development of off-grid solar energy sources therefore offers life-changing opportunities for them. In doing so, it would reduce CO2 emissions by over three gigatonnes per year. That is around 10% of the global CO2 emissions from energy—a very significant contribution to SDG 13 on tackling climate change. In doing so, the ISA will also support global development, providing the energy that enables businesses to be productive, services—such as health centres and schools—to function, and providing safe and affordable light and heat to the hundreds of millions of people who currently live without it. The ISA can play a critical role in contributing to the low carbon future we need to ensure that dangerous climate change does not wipe out past development gains. If we are to protect our citizens and companies, we must tackle climate change abroad as well as at home; UK membership of the ISA will help this to happen.

The UK stated its commitment to the ISA when the UK Prime Minister met the Indian Prime Minister in April 2018 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. At this meeting, the UK identified four areas where the UK could collaborate with the ISA. The UK’s four “I’s”—as they are known—are investment, innovation, implementation and institutions. On investment, the ISA has set an ambitious target to mobilise $1 trillion by 2030. Five years ago, this target would have seemed unachievable when the global green bond market was worth just $13 billion. In 2018, the global green bond market is expected to raise over $200 billion, much of which will be done through the City of London, showing that the ISA’s targets are entirely possible. These figures also indicate that private finance, much of it from the UK, will have a crucial role to play.

The second “I” is innovation. The ISA’s success will depend to a significant extent on the development of the next generation of solar technology and business models. These will increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve the viability of solar investment. The third is implementation, which is critical to success. The ISA is about delivery on the ground, not grand conferences. For example, DfID’s Africa Clean Energy Programme is already working with ISA partner countries to develop viable projects for ISA investment along with UK partners such as the Shell Foundation and the Carbon Trust.

The final “I” is for institutions as they need to play their role in making the solar revolution a reality. At the international level, the UK is working with multilateral institutions to meet their commitments to investment in clean energy countries. We will also work with ISA member countries to develop the national level institutions required to develop a flourishing national solar sector. This is why the ISA is such an important contribution to 21st century institutions.

I turn to the points raised during the course of the debate. I will start in reverse order because they piled up as they were received. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the UK contribution directly. We are not yet a full member so we cannot currently contribute. We are in discussions with the ISA about a secondment opportunity so that UK expertise can begin to work directly with institutions in India. This is alongside the aligned partners already signed on for working with renewables and investment in the City and we will consider further contributions in due course.

Sitting suspended.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, asked specifically about the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Chagos Islands. We have regular dialogues with the overseas territories: there are Joint Ministerial Councils that are chaired by my noble friend Lord Ahmad and which I attend as the Minister responsible for some of the islands that are eligible for overseas development assistance. Of course, their attentions have been focused on the consequences of climate change, including hurricanes in the Caribbean last year. There was certainly a lot of interest and support for doing more on this. We are having discussions on the development of geothermal on Montserrat and about solar and wind on St Helena. These are very important elements.

It might be helpful for the Committee to note that at the ISA General Assembly on 3 October the restriction on members having to have a territory within the tropics was removed from the original provision. It is correct that France and India established the ISA in 2015 in Marrakesh, but it is incorrect to suggest that the UK is slipping behind France. More solar is installed in the UK than in France. Significantly, 49% of all EU solar investment is from the UK. In the first half of this year, one in five EU electric vehicles was sold in the UK, second only to Germany.

Internationally, we do more too. The Powering Past Coal Alliance has been launched with Canada. Over the weekend I was in Copenhagen at the partnering for green growth summit. The initiative is being led very powerfully and effectively by the Prime Minister of Denmark. There was significant recognition on the international stage of the contribution that the UK is making in terms of green growth finance. One of the delegates specifically mentioned the Powering Past Coal Alliance which was launched around a year ago, and of course the International Climate Finance facility.

As for how this links with the SDGs, we had a light grilling by the Environmental Audit Committee just a couple of days ago on our readiness for the SDGs. What I was able to say there I also say to the Committee, which is that we view these issues through the lens of the SDGs: they are the best hope we have and they must be applied rigorously, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, domestically as well as being the focus of our efforts internationally.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, spoke about fracking. In the UK we have been regulating for gas and oil drilling for many years and we have tough regulations in place to ensure on-site safety, prevent water contamination and mitigate air pollution. All projections suggest that the UK will require gas for decades ahead. By 2030 we could be importing three-quarters of the gas we need, and that is the rationale for exploring an alternative section of development.

We welcome the IPCC report on 1.5 degrees. We are a world leader when it comes to cutting carbon intensity but the evidence is clear: Governments, businesses and communities must take further action to confront this challenge. That is why we are asking the international climate experts of the Committee on Climate Change for a road map to a net zero economy, including how emissions might be reduced and the expected costs and benefits of doing so. Those will also be followed up at the next meeting, which will take place in Katowice in December.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked what we are doing domestically. The UK was the first country to introduce legally binding emission-reduction targets through the Climate Change Act of the previous Labour Government 10 years ago. Our current 2050 target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% relative to 1990 levels. That was set in 2008 and we are already making progress, as evidenced by our strong domestic performance. However, there is more to do. Low-carbon innovation is at the heart of the Clean Growth Strategy published last year, and over £2.5 billion of government investment in low-carbon innovation from 2015 to 2021 is a key part of delivering that. This forms part of the largest increase in public spending on UK science, research and innovation in almost 40 years.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, asked about the specific bodies that might be involved in the ISA. We have a list that I am happy to provide to him, but the one that he may have been referring to is the India/UK virtual clean energy research centre, UK Research and Innovation India, formerly RCUK India, one of those announced some time ago by my colleague Sam Gyimah, a Minister at BEIS.

On what we are doing domestically about renewals and emissions reduction, we are committed to maintaining our position as a global leader in renewable energy. We hope that the ISA will present opportunities for British business abroad. Private sector investment, subsidy-free, may soon be a viable option for technology. The key message here is that the SDG gap in terms of funding to meet the SDG goals is running at some $2.5 trillion per year, and therefore it is impossible for $150 billion of aid flows to go anywhere near meeting that. That is the reason why we need to use vehicles such as the CDC, the City of London and the ISA to leverage in private sector capital investment. Of course, that is now available because the technology is now so advanced that solar-powered energy is indeed competitive and economic and can provide a return on investments.

We are pleased to see that the establishment of technologies such as onshore wind and solar is reducing the cost. If this continues, they may have the capability to play a significant role in the generation mix in future. No decisions have been taken about the future of CfD allocation rounds for established technologies but it is right that we should focus support on those technologies where the need is greatest.

Perhaps I can give the Minister good news. He may not be aware of this but UK Climate Investments is the organisation in question. The British Government, along with Lightsource Renewable Energy and UK Climate Investments, part of the Green Investment Group, are putting in the seed asset for the partnership that will lead to a 60-megawatt project in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The Government have made that investment this year and I congratulate them on that programme, but I was interested to understand what else they would manage to deliver in future.

The noble Lord’s skills know no bounds. Would he like to take a place in the Box behind me? That is very good research and I am grateful for it.

Solar PV is a UK success story. The last eight years have seen the technology deployed rapidly, with over 99% of the UK’s solar PV capacity deploying since May 2010. In 2015, 49% of total EU investment in solar PV occurred in the UK. We have installed more than twice as much capacity as any other European country—more than Germany, France and Australia combined.

On how the UK is contributing to the environment of climate change following the IPCC report which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked about, we have launched our 25-year environment plan. It sets out how we will replenish depleted soil, rid seas and rivers of rubbish and cut greenhouse gas emissions. We have talked specifically about eliminating avoidable plastic waste and supporting the creation of a new northern forest. We have embedded environmental net gain principles for development, including housing and infrastructure. We have created a new network of sites covering 500,000 hectares where nature and wildlife can thrive, and we have implemented a sustainable fisheries policy.

Those are the main points that were raised during the debate, but of course I will review the Official Report and write to noble Lords should there be any gaps.

Can I clarify a point? The report says that all the overseas territories were consulted. As the British Indian Ocean Territory is on that list, who do the Government consult with?

The noble Lord makes a very specific point. He will be aware of some of the challenges we are currently facing in our consultation with the Chagossians, who are based largely in Mauritius. I do not have the name of a specific individual, but I can certainly undertake to write to the noble Lord and set out any other points that have not been covered.

I thank the Minister for his response. He has raised a lot of issues and I could not keep up with them all. I can assure him that, probably against his preference, I shall pick up on them when I read the transcript. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Collins, for supporting me. I take back my apology for bringing this issue to the table. Ken Livingstone was right: one should never apologise.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, appears to be more optimistic than I am. Perhaps it is my job in the House of Lords to bring a hefty dose of green pessimism to our debates so that we have to stretch ourselves to accommodate it. As regards the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I am absolutely delighted that I have set a precedent for testing these treaties. It allows for more scrutiny of the things that the Government are doing.

The noble Lord, Lord Bates, talked about the road map and I would be interested to hear more about that. I am sure that there are links which I can refer to. We cannot live on past glories. I realise that some of the things he talked about are happening not because of the Government but in spite of the Government. People like me have put solar panels on their houses in spite of the Government slashing feed-in tariffs simply because the technology is becoming cheaper. The Government should support solar panels. I lived on a semi-tropical island in the Seychelles for six years and I am well aware of the impact that climate change is going to have on many islands in the Indian Ocean, as well as other places. Even a small rise will mean the loss of a lot of land because many of the islands’ perimeters are quite shallow. That in turn will mean the loss of livelihoods. I can well understand why the small island states are extremely anxious about the fact that we are such big polluters. It is up to us as well as places such as China, India and the USA to make sure that we limit our disastrous carbon emissions. One of the points made in the UN report is that we have to reduce inequality and poverty. That will be a major factor in helping to reduce our impact on the planet. It is something that I believe in very strongly as well. Most of these states do have a source of energy. The tides are small, the waves are often big, but of course they have the sun, so solar energy is a way to find more energy.

On fracking, I am sure the Minister knows that up at Preston New Road in Lancashire the fracking started and within days there have been six tremors. Fracking is a nasty way to recover fossil fuels at a time when we should be keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Fracking is not only unnecessary—it is not necessary for a secure energy future—it is dirty and dangerous. I am delighted about the growth of green finance, but Greens have strong suspicions about the growth of finance and whether or not there is real green finance. It is wonderful if there is growth in green areas, but there has to be a concomitant scaling back in other areas.

Finally, I know that a Conservative Government, naturally, but a Labour Government as well—or even a Lib Dem Government—would care very much about the cost of things. The question of how much this is going to cost us is a good one, but of course the real question, the question Greens always ask, is: how much will it cost us if we do not do it? Actually, the amounts are phenomenal, and they include global insecurity and a lot of quite bad impacts on us. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 8.11 pm.