Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the threats presented by climate change.
My Lords, I remind the House that I am a trustee of the Green Purposes Company, which owns a green share in the Green Investment Bank.
It is a long time since I have been involved full-time in business, though I was for many years. During that time, one of the things that did not happen was that at each board meeting we did not look at corporate risk registers. They sort of existed, but not in the way that they do at the moment—the ones with probability up one side of the graph and impact along the other. They have big red boxes at the top right-hand corner which tells you what you really need to pay attention to as a business or as an organisation.
As I prepared for this debate, I thought that surely these are what we need globally—maybe the United Nations or whatever has a view on that—to give us the priorities. And, hey presto, the World Economic Forum now meeting in Davos has a global risks report. Guess what? Up in that top right-hand bright red corner, there are three particular risks, all environmental. The first one and the highest is that of extreme weather events, the second is natural disasters, and the third is our inability or potential inability to solve mitigation and adaptation policies in terms of climate change. I congratulate Davos on pinpointing some of the issues I want to go through in this debate.
Last year we celebrated 10 years of the Climate Change Act here in the UK—something that we can really be proud of across all parties in this Chamber, and in the House of Commons as well. A decade before that, in December 1997, the world agreed the Kyoto Protocol at the third conference of the parties. Again, that was the first time that the global community came together and really concentrated on how to solve the issue of climate change. Yet we have a background today where global temperatures are already 1 degree above pre-industrial levels; we have more than 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere; and we are now warned by the IPCC that we risk hitting that new target of 1.5 degrees by 2030. That is the context of our debate this afternoon.
What are the threats? Well, they are many. I suppose it is depressing to go through this list, but I will because that is the topic of the debate. I promise to try to raise our spirits as we go through this discussion. Clearly, there are the obvious ones to do with extreme weather: flooding; on the ocean side, sea-level rises, the potential of ocean currents stopping or changing, and ocean acidification; all the areas to do with the nature of biodiversity; the threat to our species from diseases migrating from the tropics northwards—and southwards—and, of course, invasive species, which we debated in the House yesterday on a secondary legislation instrument. Not least is the threat to the ice cover of our planet at the polar regions. Those threats give rise to consequential issues such as potential crop failure, human morbidity because of high temperatures, large migration and financial instability. I want to mention the strong role of Mark Carney as Governor of the Bank of England in raising these issues globally as well as in this country.
The effects of such threats are already being seen. We have seen droughts in Australia and South Africa; we have seen forest fires in Australia and California; and, in the United Kingdom, we have seen flooding and various other extreme events far more regularly than we used to.
However, the world has made progress. In 2014-16, emissions of carbon dioxide across the globe plateaued. In Kyoto, a big issue was the rising levels of emissions from both China and India. They were much smaller economies then but were growing very quickly, and they felt, rightly, that the developed world should take the strain on mitigation. However, we saw in Paris both those countries getting involved, with China starting to say that it should be the leader, taking over in many ways from the European Union and the United States.
We then had the Paris Agreement some two or three years ago, where it was agreed that we should move on from Kyoto and the disastrous Copenhagen conference and aim for 2 degrees and hopefully 1.5 degrees. In Katowice at the end of last year, a rulebook was agreed on how those targets should be met and how we assess carbon emissions. So we had good news worldwide. As for the United Kingdom, one of its greatest strengths in the past, as shown by the Climate Change Act, has been political consensus. Political bodies, business and NGOs all see it as a real issue that we should tackle. We can proudly say that the United Kingdom has reduced carbon emissions by some 43% from the 1990 baseline, yet we have had economic growth of 70% over that time, so we have seen a decoupling. We do not often hear it, but it is also calculated that we have saved some £4 billion per annum in our energy bills as a nation because of increased energy efficiency. As for our green technologies, the cost of solar has decreased by some 78% since 2010 and, over two years, the cost of offshore wind fell by 50%. I remember our debates during the coalition years about the “energy trilemma”. We no longer have that, because renewables represent the cheapest form of electricity generation. We no longer have issues around the cost of renewables, sustainability and probably energy security as well. Also understated is the economic engine that renewables can give us. Even in the dark days of 2008 in the depths of recession, the green economy grew by some 5% to 7%—with good jobs and not the bad ones.
However, the threats that I listed earlier are already starting to change our lives. They affect regions differently and the clock is ticking. Unlike in that other debate where an issue is the clock ticking, unfortunately we do not have the ability to extend the equivalent of Article 50. This is it and we have to make sure that we are able to meet the challenge.
Despite all that good news, there is not-so-good news as well. In 2017 global emissions went up by 1.6%; in 2018 it is estimated that they will be up by something like 2.6%. I regret to say that much of that growth has come from China and India. Even in the EU, where our track record has been good, our ability to reduce carbon emissions has plateaued and started to go down. Even if everybody who signed up to the Paris Agreement performs, we will still have a rise of some 3% in global emissions. Here in the UK, our great achievement of a 43% reduction is almost exclusively from the power sector, nearly all from taking coal out of the system. We are almost at the end of that road and cannot push that policy further; therefore, we have big questions about where we go, particularly now we are challenged by the withdrawal of Hitachi and Toshiba from our nuclear programme. We are now seen as being top of the subsidies league on fossil fuels within Europe, with some £10 billion-worth of subsidies per annum—although, probably like the Government, I question how that arithmetic was arrived at.
Perhaps most worrying of all is that investment in renewable technologies has plummeted and we are now at the lowest level of investment for a decade. I do not want to get into party politics here, except in one area: that consensus perhaps started to divide in 2015 with the Osborne Budget, when we had the privatisation of the GIB, the end of zero-carbon homes, the end of onshore wind, the end of carbon capture and storage and a relatively hostile taxation regime coming back in. But we have had, I am sure the Minister will remind me, a lot of strategies. We have had the clean growth strategy, the 25-year environment plan, the national adaptation programme, the “road to zero” strategy and the resources and waste strategy. That is great, but there has been little action around those strategies, and that is the big issue.
In transport, our emissions are going up. Our target for 2040 on electric vehicles, which does not include vans and is still fairly iffy, is seen as quite inefficient. In heating, which is a large proportion of our carbon emissions now, we have no strategy that we have started to implement, and the same is true for agriculture, although there has been good news from the NFU and its strategy to go to zero carbon by 2040. So there is much to do.
I have one or two questions for the Minister. The first is on carbon budgets. The climate change committee tells us we will not meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets: it is saying that categorically. How are we going to meet those two carbon budgets, the last of which ends in 2032, only a little over a decade from now? That climate change committee report to Parliament put forward four principles, very constructively. It said to the Government—and to all Governments—first, support the simple, low-cost options. That obviously means offshore wind in particular, but others as well. Secondly, the committee said that we should commit to effective regulation and strict enforcement. Even on those houses where we now have higher standards of insulation than we did, do local authorities ever check them? I suspect not. Third was the end of chopping and changing of policy—that is a real pointer to all of us here in politics—and fourth was the suggestion that we act now to keep long-term options open. Clearly, those four are simple ways in which really to start to concentrate on this issue here in the UK. Are the Government taking up those recommendations?
It is quite obvious that tackling climate change now, as the noble Lord, Lord Stern, said in his original report, is far cheaper than doing it in the future. It is not only cheaper; it offers growth for our economy to get ahead. Yet we already have insurance costs, and those threats of costs to households, companies and the country are affecting us now.
The United Kingdom needs to regain its leadership in this area. When I was young, my mother always used the phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. I say to the Government that the road to a scorched planet is paved with worthy strategies rather than action. I beg to move.
My Lords, the whole House is enormously grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for the positive way in which he introduced this timely debate. It is timely in the sense that we know very well that the Paris Agreement requires clear thinking, tough measures and innovation. Much of our industrial strategy will require innovation if we are to hit the targets—the 1.5% target is heroic indeed—of both reducing UK emissions and adapting to the inevitable climate changes which we know will happen. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, reminded us, there is no Article 50 here; there is no possibility of delay. We must keep very carefully to strategies that deliver.
I declare an interest as a retired farmer, because I will confine my remarks to following up on the climate change committee’s report of last November on land use—a critical contribution to the reduction of emissions. This report offered advice to the Government on the contribution that land use change could make in meeting climate change mitigation and adaption objectives. It follows a number of other reports in recent years suggesting how we could achieve more effective carbon storage from soils and biomass, and how different husbandry systems could reduce emissions.
The report recognises the key role of land managers in delivering such ecosystem services as carbon sequestration, reduction of flood risk, improved condition of semi-natural habitats and enhanced biodiversity. Yet, at the same time they have to do so while ensuring that there is sufficient food production—we should not forget the primary role of agriculture—while reducing livestock, one of the recommendations of the committee, and giving up land for increased population, wildlife and environmental protection. These are conflicting stipulations which will require the Government—as the climate change report says—to assist with “skills, training and information” for land managers.
I am not surprised that land managers and farmers find this somewhat short of what will be needed. The chief executive of the National Sheep Association was quoted as saying:
“We are seeing criticisms from welfare campaigners, rewilders, climate change campaigners”,
all of whom,
“ignore the fact that UK sheep farming works very much in harmony with our environment, our landscapes, and our human ecology”.
Noble Lords may think that that shows a level of complacency, but land managers must be recognised as essential in delivering the targets that we are setting for the land use sector. They will need more from government than assistance with skills, training and information. Just as the rest of industry is recognised in the industrial strategy to be dependent—if it is to be internationally competitive—on appropriate support from publicly funded research and development, so will agriculture need innovation, research on new husbandry systems and development on increased productivity from low-carbon production systems.
The tragedy is that, until the 1980s, we had an extremely good applied research capacity in this country. It was decimated, and we now remain heavily dependent on countries such as Holland and even the west coast of the United States of America for funding the applied research that we can implement to produce these low-carbon husbandry systems.
The present welcome focus on ecosystem services was generated way back in 2011 by the UK’s National Ecosystem Assessment—a comprehensive overview of the state of the natural environment. It offered a new way to estimate our national wealth and offered policy options that could deliver protection and enhancement to the best effect. These ecosystem services would again inevitably have to be delivered in the main by land managers. But some of the ecosystem services were incompatible with each other. Someone has to make the decision: is the ecosystem service that you want afforestation, which clearly might be appropriate in some instances, or do you want to enhance the local landscape? I can tell your Lordships one thing: the moment you make a dramatic change to the landscape there will be an awful lot of objectors.
The other requirement, which is perfectly sensible and reasonable, is that as you determine which ecosystem services you are going to favour, you have to do it not just by allowing the land managers to make up their own minds but rather by going into partnership with local authorities, local communities, the private sector, conservation organisations, water companies, and so on. So there will therefore always be a danger that the land managers who will be charged with delivering the chosen ecosystem services for enhancement will ultimately be overruled. Yet without the sense of ownership from land managers for these land-use proposals, the chances of success will be small.
There are many successful examples of clusters of farmers working together in harmony with local government and neighbours; they constitute a precedent and are rolling out best practice. So if, when the climate change committee says that the Government should provide more information and the information they are to provide is examples of best practice, that is exactly the information required.
My Lords, this is an important debate, which was well introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. It is, first, an opportunity to review progress in understanding scientific progress and technological developments, especially those associated with extreme and unusual processes and phenomena. Secondly, we should review and identify new and appropriate technologies and strategies for urban areas and communities around the world. I declare my interest as an emeritus science professor at UCL and co-chair of the Asian Network on Climate Science and Technology.
Parliamentarians have supported how essential it is to have a broad and integrated approach to dealing with these issues and to support the Government in that respect. It is only when we work on international programmes that we can make contributions, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, commented. Nearly 10 years ago, I was proud to join other UK parliamentarians in helping the growth of the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment, which helped ensure that a large number of the countries in the world—150 or so—came together to develop policies that eventually led to the Paris Agreement in 2015.
I will use this opportunity to point out where the UK and other government agencies, as well as research and industry, could progress more rapidly using effective climate policies. I hope to explain the worrying rise in overall temperatures and how in many areas there are extremes in precipitation and other meteorological effects. To give your Lordships an example, when I was chief executive of the Met Office, I learned from our forecasters how west-to-east coherent jet streams in the northern hemisphere tended to become chaotic—I was going to say “fizzle out”—as they came over western Europe, therefore weather forecasters did not talk about the jet stream over Europe. But research that has taken place in the past five to six years in Europe and the United States now shows weather forecasters how the jet stream persists over northern Europe. This partly explains why, associated with the warming of the Arctic and the decrease in polar ice, the jet stream is now much stronger over Europe, which leads to considerable changes in the weather, as we have seen in the past few years. A number of severe winds and temperature changes have been observed.
In tropical areas, extreme precipitation has occurred more frequently over mountainous urban areas such as those in south-west China, including Hong Kong, and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Rapid reconstruction methods in communities damaged by floods have been invented by engineers in some developing countries, such as Malaysia, and a number of other developing countries make use of them—whereas there is a tendency, when you have damaging floods, simply to cast away all the woodwork and buildings.
Extreme winds and rainfall associated with tropical cyclones are becoming more dangerous. Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines had unique features: the wind was so strong that it pushed back the sea and lifted stones from the bottom that then crashed into buildings and vegetation even a few kilometres inland. In fact, the wind was so intense that the bark was stripped from the trees, which many people studying it said had never been seen before.
In my first debate in the House of Lords in 2000, noble Lords discussed their concern about the rise in coastal sea levels. Since then, there have been serious floods along the rivers associated with significant and persistent precipitation and high winds. Coastal communities in the UK and around Europe, agriculture and Governments are now having to contribute financially to raising the dykes and pumping schemes. That is a serious matter.
Other equally important and long-term risks in coastal areas have been associated with non-carbon nuclear power stations and nuclear waste-processing facilities. These are also being installed in Asia. Other risks in those areas are associated with volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis along coastlines, such as the Fukushima nuclear power plant breach, which UK insurance companies have been involved with. Artificially generated carbon emissions and earthquakes caused by fracking are also a factor.
People will continue to live in these dangerous areas. They will have to make use of these new methods to reduce risk. One of the most important developments in which I am involved is that of fusion energy in small, modular systems, which are now being supported by the Government and the private sector. We now expect those systems to be producing electrical energy, perhaps in the next five to 10 years—a considerably shorter time than the very large international ITER fusion project in France, which is not, I notice, being supported by the UK’s EU parliamentarians.
As recent articles in Nature and the newspapers have commented, urban areas are producing some new technologies. One of the most remarkable ones is Wuhan, where very high-level solar panels cover large areas of the city, so that the city becomes rather like a forest canopy, with a great reduction in radiation—heat—hitting the ground; it is reflected.
Finally, Members of the House of Lords who enjoy drinking wine might like to know that one problem of climate change is too much heat, which makes the wine too alcoholic. What are they now doing in France? They are putting solar collectors along the lines of the vineyards. That is very interesting.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Teverson both for bringing such an important debate to your Lordships’ House and for the breadth and depth of his introduction.
We in the UK have accepted that climate change is caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels. We have committed to, and even led, international efforts to tackle climate change, including the 2015 Paris Agreement and the SDGs, especially SDG 12. As a member of the EU and the G20, we are party to the pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, so why are we coming under increased criticism over our support for fossil fuel subsidies? A headline in yesterday’s Guardian stated that UK has the “biggest fossil fuel subsidies” in the EU. I know that the Minister will deny the claim, citing the Government’s own definition of a fossil fuel subsidy—which, by the way, is at odds with the WTO definition as agreed by 153 countries, including us. For the sake of argument, I will call it “UK financial support for fossil fuel projects”.
Although figures are hard to come by—transparency around this subject is a real issue—research conducted by the Overseas Development Institute and CAFOD shows that between 2010 and 2018, UK Export Finance supported a total investment of £3.8 billion in the exploration and production of dirty fossil fuels. Compare that to the paltry £29 million invested to support renewables over the same period. On the domestic side, the ODI figures show that in 2015-16, fiscal support for fossil fuel-based power for both industry and consumers totalled a whopping £7 billion. Surely it is time to stop the blanket subsidy and the support for fossil fuel-based power and instead target help towards poorer people both here and in the developing world.
A fundamental change is needed in our choice of the industries we want to support; such changes must be carefully managed in a responsible way, ensuring a gradual phase-in, with the retraining of workers and making sure that the removal of subsidies does not harm the poor and vulnerable. With the £7 billion to be released annually, we should be able to manage that. The fact is that corporations and the well-off among us benefit from this financial support, which is hardly fair when schools, hospitals and other public services are starved of cash.
Let me digress slightly and mention the “Give it up” scheme being trialled in India, where people have been asked to give up voluntarily their liquid petroleum gas subsidy. Some 10 million people have done so. The money generated is being used by the Government to provide cooking gas to poor families—now there is an idea.
Air and sea currents see to it that no matter who is responsible for pumping greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, the malign effects of climate change are felt across the globe. Poorer countries are the least culpable but they bear the most catastrophic consequences. I will quote from an article in this Tuesday’s Telegraph, which began:
“Mega-storms the size of England are increasingly savaging countries across the Sahel”.
The article, based on UK-led research, stated that,
“the Sahel—which hugs the Saharan desert from Senegal to Eritrea—has seen a threefold increase in mega-storms over the last 35 years. The ferocious storms—which produce roughly the same amount of energy in 12 hours that the entire UK consumes in a year—”
almost 6 billion gigajoules—
“can devastate everything in their path”.
Professor Chris Taylor from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who led the research, said:
“Global warming is expected to produce more intense storms, but we were shocked to see the speed of the changes taking place in this region of Africa”—
the Sahel. That region is already plagued by poverty, irregular migration, smuggling and terrorist groups. I fear that we reap what we sow.
In November 2018, the International Energy Agency warned that the world has so many existing fossil fuel projects that it cannot afford to build any more polluting infrastructure without busting international climate change goals, which we now know are at the very limit that our planet can withstand. When the IEA, normally a very conservative agency, issues such a warning, we must take heed. But there is another way. The market in renewables is racing away. According to the IEA, solar generation in developing countries is forecast to expand from 2% today to nearly 10% by 2040. Battery storage costs are dropping rapidly and hydropower is set to remain big. The age of the internal combustion engine is over. Fossil fuels have had their day and it is time to stop using them and start to clean up after them. Locking Africa into dirty fossil fuel technology is to shackle it to the past, when the future is green. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
“People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change”.
We should not be subsidising fossil fuels. It is wrong.
My Lords, can I ask noble Lords to adhere to the allocated time? Any headroom we had has now gone and we will be biting into the Minister’s speech. Your help would be appreciated.
My Lords, climate science is intricate, but despite the uncertainties it offers two messages that most agree on. First, even within the next decade or two, regional disruptions to weather patterns and more extreme weather will aggravate pressures on food and water and enhance migration pressure. Secondly, under a global “business as usual” scenario we cannot rule out, later in the century, really catastrophic warming and tipping points triggering long-term trends like the melting of Greenland’s icecap, rendering some regions uninhabitable. There are diverse views on the policy response to these messages. Some economists apply a “standard” discount rate and in effect write off what happens after 2050. They therefore assign lower priority to combating climate change than to shorter-term ways of helping the world’s poor. But others argue that standard discounting is inappropriate here and that we should pay an “insurance premium” now to protect future generations against the worst-case scenarios.
As a parenthesis, I would note that there is one policy context where an essentially zero discount rate is applied, and that is to radioactive waste disposal, for which the depositories are required to prevent leakage for 10,000 years. That is somewhat ironic, given that we cannot plan the rest of our energy policy even 30 years ahead. Consider this analogy. Let us suppose that astronomers had tracked an asteroid and calculated that it would hit the earth in 2100, 80 years from now—not with certainty but with, say, a 10% likelihood. Would we relax and say that it is a problem that can be set on one side for 50 years? People will then be richer and it may turn out that it is going to miss us anyway. I do not think we would. There would surely be a consensus that we should start straight away and find ways to deflect it or to mitigate its effects.
The pledges made at the Paris and Poland conferences are a positive step, but they are not enough , especially if there is an aim to limit the expected temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. The recent report of the Energy Transmissions Commission, co-chaired by Adair Turner, was bullish about achieving the requisite global transition to zero carbon within 40 years. An extra investment of $900 billion per annum would be needed globally. That is a stupendous figure but it is only 0.6% of world GDP over the next four decades. However, that is still of course a massive challenge. Politicians will not gain much resonance by advocating unwelcome lifestyle changes now when the benefits accrue mainly to distant parts of the world and are decades in the future.
Achieving the energy transition will require accelerated R&D into all forms of low-carbon energy generation and other technologies where parallel progress is crucial, especially storage—batteries, compressed air, pumped storage, flywheels, et cetera—sequestration and smart grids. This scenario offers a win-win option for the UK. Implementing our Climate Change Act is important, although it will cut global emissions by less than 2%. But we produce more than 10% of the world’s best scientific research, and we can strive for a global lead and aspire to make far more than a 2% difference to energy R&D.
Solar and wind are front-runners, but other methods have geographical niches. One of ours is tidal energy. Our topography induces especially large-amplitude tides on Britain’s west coast. We should therefore explore tidal barrages and lagoons. Because of intermittency in sun and wind, the long-term goal should be continental-scale DC grids carrying solar energy from Morocco and Spain to less sunny northern Europe and east-west to smooth peak demand over different time zones—perhaps all the way along the belt and road to China.
It is surely worth while for the UK, given its traditional expertise in nuclear energy, to explore a variety of fourth-generation concepts, which could prove cheaper, more standardised and safer than existing nuclear designs. The faster these clean technologies advance, the sooner their prices will fall so that they become affordable to, for instance, India, where the health of the poor is now jeopardised by smoky stoves burning wood and dung, and where there would otherwise be pressure to build coal-fired power stations. It would be hard to imagine a more inspiring goal for our young engineers than to spearhead improved clean and affordable energy.
How can the long-term global goal of a low-carbon world get sustained political traction? How can it compete for political attention with urgent local issues? It can happen, just as other social attitudes have been changed in the past, if individuals with mega-influence can mould public opinion. I have two examples. The papal encyclical Laudato si’ had huge impact, eased the path to consensus at the Paris climate conference in 2015 and gained the Pope a standing ovation at the UN. This week our great secular guru, David Attenborough, has espoused the climate cause at Davos.
The young are far more activist, unsurprisingly, as they can hope to live to the end of the century. Their campaigning is welcome. Their commitment gives ground for hope. To give a parochial instance, I was especially pleased when some of our Cambridge students took an initiative that led to setting up the APPG for Future Generations. Today’s actions—or inactions—on environment and energy will resonate centuries ahead. They will determine the fate of the entire biosphere and how future generations live. We in this country can genuinely take a lead.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his remarkable, upbeat introduction to this important debate, and for his characteristic optimism. I also note the incredible expertise of some of the speakers in the debate so far: the noble Lord, Lord Selborne, on land management; the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on meteorology; and the noble Lord, Lord Rees, on astronomy and asteroids. I noted the optimism with which they spoke about their subjects, an example being the opportunities for farming. I love the idea of the vineyard-based solar panel system —what an amazing image of the opportunities arising from change.
My own subject expertise is in trying to change opinion and to campaign, and that is what I will touch on. That point about optimism is the key one I want to try to get across because, for all the threats we face, we have made progress. We should applaud the remarkable progress we have made to date, both the international consensus that has been built—the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, did very well to list some of the landmarks in that consensus—and the changes the Government have made. Emissions have been cut by 42%, faster than any other G7 nation, at a time when our economy has grown by two-thirds since 1990. That is a hell of an achievement for a country such as Britain.
However, no one is under any illusion about the need to do much, much more. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, put it very well. A lot of low-hanging fruit, such as reducing our dependency on coal-fired energy production, has already been picked off and we will face tougher decisions in the future. I worry that if we stick to the same tough, government-led, austere, fear-motivated approach, we will not be able to take people with us. I worry that there will not be enough money in the Government’s bank account to pay for enough infrastructure, enough political capital to force change or, frankly, enough emotional capital in the country to face the anxiety, year after year.
I have two examples. First, how do we protect the poorest and most vulnerable during this important period of change? The Stern review made depressing reading on that front. It spoke about detailed, multiple, overlapping and costly interventions. The noble Lord, Lord Stern, explained that:
“These interventions keep on growing, as one measure is layered onto another, increasing costs and inefficiencies. The interventions have been wide open to pervasive lobbying and capture, and the result has been”—
and this is the important point—“significantly higher costs”. According to government statistics, 2.5 million households are defined as fuel poor; that is 11% of all households. I know from personal experience that old people are suffering in this tough, cold winter. How will we be judged as a society if the vulnerable and weak are paying for society’s decisions?
Secondly, how do we ensure that we continue to take people with us? Support for the climate change agenda is undoubtedly strong, particularly, among the young, as the noble Lord, Lord Rees, said. But if it overtly costs working families jobs and cuts young people’s opportunities for full and exciting lives, can we rely on that support? We have to work a bit harder to shore up the political consensus.
I have two recommendations, one of which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson: to ensure that we do not rely on hand-wringing and shroud-waving for our political motivations. Instead, we must talk about an optimistic future. Of course, the threat to future generations is profound and should not be ducked, but we have to try to create a sense of opportunity. The idea of taking advantage of tragic events to push for change is awkward and disturbing. But we cannot inspire only through fear. We must find a way of turning the threat into an opportunity. The noble Lord, Lord Rees, talked interestingly about trying to get the most brilliant minds focused on this as a generational challenge. We need to think about ways of getting people inspired to turn their modern, unhealthy lifestyles into healthier, natural habits—more bicycling and veganism and less fillet steak and gas guzzling, and more of the wonderful vineyard solar panels of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.
My second suggestion is that we have to get across a positive vision of where we are going that accords with the natural human ambition for progress and advancement. I would like to leave the House with that. Rather than berating politicians for failing to do enough, how can we inspire this generation to accept this challenge and step up to it?
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. It is timely and important and I strongly endorse the many excellent contributions that have been made so far. I intend to focus my remarks on the UK’s domestic policy response to the formidable challenge of climate change. It is—literally—domestic policy: what is it doing about houses? We have to face up to the fact that we have 20 million homes in this country and the Government would like to be building an extra 200,000 a year, and the standards of the existing and new ones are absolutely crucial to tackling climate change. So I am afraid that my remarks will not be quite as positive as those of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. Perhaps he will provide the carrot and I will provide the stick to the Government to persuade them to get on with some of the things that need to be done.
The built environment contributes 30% of the carbon dioxide emissions of the United Kingdom, so any policy that we have to reduce carbon emissions has to take tackling emissions from the built environment deeply seriously. Better energy efficiency for our buildings, especially for our homes, reduces carbon emissions, saves energy consumption, reduces the amount of power we need to generate in the first place, lowers the cost to the consumer and improves their health, and reduces costs to the NHS. There are so many different boxes that you have to tick once you start on it that it is perhaps very surprising that we do not take improving energy consumption in the built environment with anything like the seriousness with which we treat improving energy consumption in the transport sector—which actually produces fewer CO2 emissions.
I am afraid that the present Government have a very poor record of inaction and of making things worse as far as the built environment is concerned. They blocked the introduction of zero-carbon homes energy standards for new homes in 2016, they have frozen and diverted a lot of the energy company obligation payments which were due to be supporting improvements to the existing housing stock and they have abolished feed-in tariffs. At present, 51% of homes with cavity walls still do not have insulation in those cavities, 63% of the roofs of homes in England have less than 200 millimetres of insulation, which is regarded as the minimum to ensure sensible living standards, and 44% of those on the gas network still have older boilers with up to twice the gas consumption of up-to-date condensing and combined boilers.
Those figures come from the ironically titled Progress Towards the Sustainability of the Building Stock in England: Sixth Parliamentary Report, which was published in July last year. It may be characteristic of the problems that its publication date was delayed by 15 months and came only after I had asked three Parliamentary Questions about when it was going to be published. It contains many well-hidden gems, including that the average efficiency of new homes fell in 2016 compared with 2015.
The Government try to deflect responsibility for taking action on to others and to rely on transparency and peer pressure in order to achieve progress. That is why I asked a Question in December about the proportion of public buildings that display energy performance certificates and what the Government were going to do to improve those figures. The Answer I got was interesting.
“We have no estimate of the proportion of publicly-owned buildings to which the public has access which display an Energy Performance Certificate”.
It goes on to state that responsibility for enforcement rests with local weights and measures authorities—LWMAs. They have guidance issued by the department. The Answer states:
“This guidance has been updated periodically since 2008, most recently in March 2016”—
and it is for them to get on with it. I looked at that guidance, but obviously the person who drafted the Answer to the Question did not.
I am very aware of the time here. The guidance makes very clear the duties of those authorities, and that their duty is to report annually to the department, which will,
“publish each year the outcome of their submissions”.
If that is true, the Answer I received to my Question was clearly false, because the Government do have an estimate of the progress being made and of the proportion of public buildings. It might have been more truthful to say, “We haven’t actually bothered to look and we really don’t care that much”. The impression is that slowly, stealthily and insidiously the Government are backing out of their climate change commitments. I will be more charitable: I think that they have just completely lost focus on the easy wins of CO2 emission reduction in the built environment.
That brings me to my final point. A briefing from Oxfam alerted me to the fact that the UK Government are currently considering offering to host COP 26—the Conference of the Parties 26—in 2020. Oxfam wants the UK to do so in order to,
“ensure that the international community honours their commitments”.
My plea to the Government is that, while we weigh up the options of hosting that event and of pulling splinters out of other nations’ eyes on their carbon emissions, we should also urgently start to pull the planks out of our own.
My Lords, I start by declaring my interests as vice-chair of the Committee on Climate Change and chair of its Adaptation Committee. I repeat the thanks expressed by others to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for bringing this important debate to the House today.
This week started with a stark reminder that the climate is changing. We have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Rees, about the debates at Davos. Tuesday’s City A.M. paper reported on its cover that 2017 and 2018 have been the costliest back-to-back years for economic losses from catastrophic weather events, at a financial cost of over half a trillion pounds and with a much greater human cost. We had Hurricane Michael in the US, Typhoon Jebi in Japan and Typhoon Rumbia in China. The Camp Fire in California was the state’s deadliest and costliest fire on record, destroying the town of Paradise and costing some $12 billion. The California fires have also resulted in the largest corporate bankruptcy to date due to climate change—the Pacific Oil & Gas corporation. Insurers globally are now looking at how and whether they can continue to insure against risks that result from the impact that we are having on our climate. Closer to home, the “Today” programme on Tuesday informed us that a record number of wild flowers were in bloom on New Year’s Day this year. Literally thousands of species in the UK were observed flowering—charming but ominous.
It is good, therefore, to have a debate on the impacts of climate change where we can consider what needs to be done to ensure that we maintain people’s well-being and livelihoods in the face of the changes ahead. We should remember that, even if we could stop all greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, which we clearly cannot, the impacts of the emissions and warming that have already taken place will continue to develop over the next century: ice will continue to melt, sea levels will continue to rise and the weather will continue to change.
If that is what 1 degree of warming delivers, we do not want to imagine what the 4 degrees or so of warming that we are currently on track for by the end of the century will bring, and we certainly do not want to leave future generations to cope with the consequences. As people have said, it is critical that we meet our commitments made at Paris in 2016 and make our contribution to keeping warming well below 2 degrees, with an ambition of limiting it to no more than 1.5 degrees. We should take a global leadership role in demonstrating that this can be done and we should support others to do so.
We may not want to think about what 3 or 4 degrees of warming could mean, but that is just what we have to do on the Adaptation Committee. Using the latest scientific evidence and excellent modelling from the Met Office, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, we work with leading academics and consultants to produce the UK climate change risk assessment evidence report every five years. This forms the basis of the Government’s risk assessment for the national adaptation plan.
We hear, as we have in this debate, a lot about the risks overseas—the typhoons and forest fires, and the impact of sea-level rise on small island states. These are all critical but I want to talk about the risks at home. The climate change risk assessment identifies the following six areas of serious risk to the UK: flooding and coastal change; health and productivity effects from high summer temperatures and heatwaves; water shortages for households, farmers and industry; risks to our plants, wildlife and beautiful places; risks to food in respect of both production and trade; and risks, as we have heard recently, of new pests, new invasive species and new diseases taking hold.
I turn now to the effects even closer to home, by which I mean, like the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, at home. One in six properties in the UK today is at risk of flooding: river flooding, coastal flooding or surface water flooding from drains overwhelmed by the increasing incidence of intense rainfall. Yet there is no requirement for property-level flood resilience measures, even in new homes being built on the flood plains of the south-east. Some of our most recent research for the Adaptation Committee shows that a few measures installed during building, at almost zero cost, could save thousands of pounds in damage and get people back into their homes much more quickly after a flood event. As we approach 4 degrees of warming, a tripling of UK flood damage is predicted.
Some 20% of UK homes overheat already in a cool summer, and the Government’s own research shows that all new-build homes are likely to be prone to overheating. But there is no legal requirement to consider overheating in new homes. Average summer temperatures in the south of England have a 50% probability of being 4 degrees higher than today and a 10% probability of being 6 degrees higher than today by 2050—and those are just average temperatures. By 2050, the summer of 2018 will not be seen as a hot summer; it will be the norm. Currently, we have around 2,000 heat-related deaths per year in the UK; by 2050, it is likely to be well over 5,000.
On the current path to 4 degrees of warming, unless we take additional action much of England is predicted to see severe water shortages by 2050. If we reduce our current per capita water consumption from 140 litres per person per day to around 90 litres, as well as addressing leaks and improving industry water efficiency, we can avoid this problem. It can be done. We have some of the highest water consumption per head in Europe; in Belgium, people already manage on just over 100 litres of water per person per day. All these problems can be addressed. We cannot prevent a level of climate change but we can ensure that we have the right measures in place to keep people comfortable and healthy, keep businesses working and keep food growing. Clear objectives are needed from government, with measurable time-based targets supported by committed investment and strong, enforced policy and standards.
I conclude by asking the Minister to ensure that the objectives in the national adaptation programme are clear and measurable. As these objectives are, in the main, those of the 25-year environment plan, I ask that they appear in the environment Bill and other related Bills. While a big step in the right direction, the current proposed indicator framework for the 25-year environment plan has no measurable targets, only directional indicators. We know that the climate is changing, and increasingly we can predict how it is changing, but we are not responding strongly enough.
My Lords, I am sorry to say this again, but could we please stick to our allotted times?
My Lords, in declaring my interest as a vineyard owner, I am intrigued by the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, that vineyard-based solar panels are a practical idea. I see that he is not in his place at the moment but I will take this up with him when he returns. The idea of clambering over the panels when pruning or harvesting is definitely a challenging one.
On a serious note, I believe that one of the worst threats of climate change will be to our agricultural systems, because of extreme weather events. Reports from Australia today show record temperatures of 46.6 degrees. One of the results is that 2,500 camels have been culled—camels are used to hot conditions, so that is pretty severe—and wheat yields are down by one-third to a half. Perhaps more insidiously threatening is that soil moisture is at an all-time low. That is important because it makes recovery much harder. If noble Lords think about how difficult it is to get a totally dry sponge to absorb water at first, that should give them an idea as to why totally dry soil has problems reabsorbing water. Equally disastrous, of course, is too much rain too fast, flooding out newly planted seeds, for example.
Recently the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology had a meeting on agriculture and climate change. We had a presentation from Professor Gideon Henderson, which was especially memorable. Usually climate change discussions leave you feeling depressed—as my noble friend Lord Teverson said in his excellent introduction—and full of fear for the next generation. However, Professor Henderson’s message was different. He had just finished chairing a working group for the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society, and the resulting report is an ambitious plan for how the UK can lead the way in deploying greenhouse gas removal technologies to achieve net zero-carbon emissions by 2050. His conclusions were very land-use based: ramping up forestation, habitat restoration and, crucially, soil carbon sequestration. His emphasis on soils as a major part of the solution was especially interesting to me. Our soils have an extraordinary capacity to absorb and hold carbon if land is farmed and used in the right ways. We could turn the agricultural sector from a major greenhouse gas emitter to a really effective carbon sink.
When Professor Mark Kibblewhite from Cranfield gave evidence to the same all-party group three years ago during the soil inquiry that we held, he made the point that soil research should be fully integrated with other areas of research, such as climate change, but that was not really happening. Given that that was three years ago, I ask the Minister: is such research now better integrated?
We need to change the way in which we produce food and, to some extent, our diet. However, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Bethell—one of the meat lovers among your Lordships—that he will not have to give up his fillet steak; he just needs to change the sort of steak that he is eating. Luckily, production methods that are high in animal welfare and low in greenhouse gas emissions can coincide. For example, the meat from pasture-fed livestock in the UK, where grass grows in abundance, is more nutritious and more welfare-friendly, as the animals spend more time on pasture, and avoids imported soya, which may well have caused deforestation in somewhere such as South America.
Pasture-fed livestock is one example of a win-win-win situation. One thing that the Government could do to help it is a simple labelling regime. At the moment you can label your meat “pasture-fed” if it is fed on pasture only 51% of the time, but it needs to be fed on it 100% of the time to gain those benefits. I hope the Government will support the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association and make that small change.
Another example of a win-win-win situation is agroforestry. A much more forested landscape, with all that carbon capture, offers less soil erosion and more shade and windbreaks for animals. Under CAP rules you can have such a scheme but so far the UK Government have refused to implement it. Whether or not we end up with Brexit, we must ensure a much more positive policy on agroforestry.
This is about how we use our land. When the Agriculture Bill comes to your Lordships’ House, we should make sure that we have some provisions in it for ensuring that in future our agriculture is better aligned to dealing with climate change as well as food production, because at the moment that is missing.
My Lords, regardless of greenhouse gases, human beings would be discussing climate change today. We are in a warm interglacial period. These warm periods last about 10,000 years and the last ice age ended 12,000 years ago. It is a reasonable hypothesis that one of the reasons the ice age was prevented from coming again was that hunter-gatherers started settling and becoming farmers. That was the initial start of the check and the hot climate change we are experiencing today.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, said, one of the consequences of climate change that we are now suffering is that sea levels are rising. During our lifetime, the north of Scotland has been steadily rising out of the sea. This is called post-glacial rebound uplift. Dynamic Coast at Glasgow University confirmed to me yesterday that its latest evidence shows that sea levels are outpacing the uplift, so the north of Scotland is now suffering from higher sea levels. Today, we have been told that the Barents Sea is at a tipping point from a climate change point of view. It is changing from an Arctic to an Atlantic climate. That will have quite major effects. This has been described as the first modern example of a rapid climate change shift event.
It is the melting of not just glacial ice but sea ice that has caused problems and has contributed to the moving of magnetic north. Recent research on the movement of magnetic north, which has suddenly accelerated, has shown that it is human abstraction of water, particularly in Eurasia and India, that has helped to shift magnetic north. What does my noble friend on the Front Bench anticipate being the effect of this on climate change? Does he think it is now increasingly likely, as some scientists are predicting, that we will get a global shift again? These happen every 400,000 years or so. The last one was 780,000 years ago, so perhaps we are due for a global shift. That will complicate matters not a little, I suggest.
Let me move from magnetic north to the magnetic field around the Earth. What does my noble friend think of the latest research in Sweden by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, which claims that cosmic rays have a major effect on our weather? Its research underpins research done about 10 years ago, also in Sweden, which says it is the high sun activity, particularly at the moment, which is the greatest it has been for at least 1,000 years, that is causing climate change. As a result, we have overestimated the amount that carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases are contributing to our climate change. If we have done that, all our models—the models the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, relies on—are wrong. If we are to tackle climate change, whether it is getting colder or warmer, we need to have a factual scientific base. If some scientists are now saying that the reasons are different from what we thought, undermining much of what has been said in the debate, we need to take that into account.
I move quickly on to mitigation and follow up what the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, said. Sea erosion is caused not just by the waves but the sediment in them and their force at sea level. Latest reports say that more than 1 million houses are at threat from coastal erosion in the next 60 years. We ought to start to get a planning policy that forbids any development, not just on flood plains, but in any of those areas that will be subject to coastal erosion. We need to identify areas that we are not going to do anything with, where we are going to let nature take over and where we will make protection. Could my noble friend tell us what is being done on that?
I conclude by challenging us in the West. We are terribly good at thinking we are doing good things with climate change, and it does our ego the power of good to drive electric vehicles, but it does climate change no good at all if we drive an electric vehicle that is made in the Far East, and the power to make it is generated by burning coal. That is far worse for the world than using our old diesel cars.
My Lords, yesterday I received a letter from four children called Bamba, Louie, Oscar and Jakson, from year 6 at the Rofft Primary School in Marford, near my home. They are learning about climate change and are concerned that polar bears are losing their habitat. They have questions for the Government which I will come to later. To help me reply to the children, I turned to scientists at one of our leading Welsh universities, Bangor. They told me about the increasing rate of decline of the sea ice in the Barents Sea, and the feedback loop which will mean that within a decade the limit of the Arctic habitat may have moved a great deal further north. As mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, there is little we can do to stop it—it is going to carry on. This indicates the danger of the 1 degree of warming we already have, already affecting our climate in the UK. Last year’s “beast from the east” may very well have been caused by it, so polar bears are not the only ones affected by loss of sea ice—we are too.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, may not, but 97% of scientists agree that greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of our warming climate. The Paris accord and government policy were based on estimates of how quickly we need to reduce emissions to avoid the dangerous 1.5 degree rise. However, a recent article in Nature magazine quoted evidence that current predictions may be too conservative and we could get to dangerous levels as early as 2025. The Government’s target of 2050 may sound a very long way off—though it is not for the children of the Rofft school—but 2025 is a great deal nearer.
Far away from the polar bears’ habitat, but also related to warming oceans, Dr Gareth Williams of the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor drew my attention to the effect of the more severe climate change estimates on coral reef regeneration. His conclusion is that in some areas it is much more severe than previously predicted. The warming effect that would result, even if all the Paris Agreement pledges are realised, would not allow corals sufficient time to regenerate between bleaching events.
Why should we in the UK care about coral reefs? The answers are: biodiversity; new medicines; fishing to feed millions; that the loss of low-lying islands means the relocation of people; and that the UK has several overseas territories with coral reefs. Is the UK prepared for increased frequency and intensity of coral bleaching events? What if we start to lose some of our overseas territories due to the erosion of coral reefs? Many of these places support human populations and some house military bases that we share with allies. Will the Government respond to the latest research and revise their emission targets to halt the speed at which ocean warming events are occurring? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rees, that the Paris Agreement is not enough—it will be too little too late.
Moving from sea to land, every sector must reduce its impact on climate change. Agriculture accounts for 9% of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Another paper, from Professor Chadwick of Bangor, showed that greenhouse gas emissions from global agriculture are increasing at around 1% per year, yet substantial cuts in emissions could be achieved. His group assesses the mitigation potential of land sparing: increasing agricultural yields, thereby reducing the area of farmland needed and at the same time actively restoring natural habitats on the land spared. Restored habitats such as broad-leaved woodlands, wetlands and peatlands can sequester massive amounts of carbon and offset emissions from agriculture. The study showed that planting mixed broad-leaf woodland is much better at sequestering carbon than monocultures of fast-growing conifers, as well as promoting biodiversity. As has been said, it also contributes to cooling, prevents soil erosion and flooding, and slows down the release of fertilisers into waterways. Combining this approach with strategies to reduce food waste and meat consumption could help the UK achieve its climate objectives.
Higher yield potential could mean 30% to 40% of current farmland being used for carbon storage, with numerous biodiversity and social benefits. The researchers concluded that if this “spare land” was used to increase UK tree cover from 12% to 30% by the middle of this century and to restore 700,000 hectares of wet peatland, the farming sector could deliver its contribution to the legal target of cutting carbon emissions by 80% from 1990 levels.
The most promise was shown by improved crop plants that are more efficient at capturing nutrients from the soil, using water and photosynthesising. This requires investment in non-medical life science research, which had only a minor role in the Government’s industrial strategy, so I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Selborne, about the potential improvements that we could make through agriculture. Will the Minister say what work is being done in this area? Might our revised agriculture environmental support strategy, aimed at payments for delivering ecosystem services, result in displacing food production overseas unless we improve our own yields at the same time? There is a danger that, unless we increase yields, we could reduce our own emissions at the expense of those of other countries where there might be worse environmental and animal welfare standards.
Is Defra looking at land sparing? What government support is being given to efforts to plant more trees? As for the children, they ask what the Government are doing to get companies to reduce their emissions since only 10% of companies have a strategy for doing so. They are going to write to some local companies to ask them. They also want the Government to encourage more use of renewable energy. I think those are very sensible questions and I hope the Minister can answer them.
My Lords, I will raise a matter which is slightly wide of today’s debate but none the less very relevant to the future of our world.
Yellowstone Park’s volcano is a massive cauldron which contains several tens of thousands of kilometres of magmatic material. The chances of an explosion are currently thought to be around 1:730,000, but a sudden weakening of the geological layers could trigger a sudden depressurisation event, with the entire system exploding into the atmosphere. The most explosive eruption would produce about 2,500 times the amount of volcanic material resulting in the 1980 destruction of Mount St Helens.
Such an explosion would project ash and lava up to about 16 miles high, which would then be transported around the atmosphere with horrendous effects on our climate, food and drink et cetera, resulting in years of significant cooling. Another immense eruption would cost the lives of so many people that, while it would not be the end of civilisation, it would change the world for the worse.
My Lords, it is quite a rare event for me to speak from the Front Bench. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for giving me this opportunity. I must look back in time to when we did many of these debates on the Climate Change Act 2008—we looked at increasing the amount of reduction needed in carbon dioxide—which was one of the cornerstones of the climate change committee.
I have been working on this area for many years and was one of the founding members of the All-Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group. The words of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, brought back happy memories of the debates we had where it was thought by many in this House that sunspots caused climate change. I find it interesting that the debate has moved on so considerably that that sort of viewpoint is very much in the minority and the real effects of climate change through manmade action are very rarely questioned.
It has been a very wide-ranging debate. The discussion started by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, on land management—echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about how we should use soil, echoed in turn by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley—is one of the areas that we will have to think about very carefully indeed.
As an aside, I was talking to the gravedigger at my local church, who had found that the soil was incredibly dry at the base, which is almost unheard of in Northumberland. We should look at that, because one of the times when people start talking much more readily about climate change is during a drought. We are looking at a drought situation coming up—I declare an interest as the CEO of the Water Retail Company and we have been looking at selling water in summers when there is a drought. This could be a problem with Brexit. Four types of chemical are used and they are volatile and short-lived. If we have a hard Brexit, it might cause even more problems if we cannot get those chemicals.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brown, talked about the engineering issues around flooding. Most of the country’s drains are designed for 1950s rainfall. Now that we have flash floods, we are seeing situations such as happened in Hull, where flooding took place on top of a hill, because we do not have the drainage to deal with present rainfall—which is a slight worry.
A couple of days ago, the Minister called me a Jeremiah over my view of the death of the nuclear industry. I take issue with him, given that we are down to perhaps one new build from four. What I said may be true of a Jeremiah, but I am much more taken with chapter 29, verse 11, which talks about hope in the future and moving forward. In that spirit, one of the most hopeful things to come out in the past couple of years which could affect how we deal with climate change in this country has been led by the Minister’s own department, BEIS. It was brought about by David Cameron and George Osborne. The Minister might remember the fantastic expression, “Get rid of all the green crap”, which led to the Government reassessing how they subsidised renewable energy—they were going to sweep away all the renewable energy. That led to the decision to get rid—from April—of the carbon reduction commitment and greenhouse gas reporting. That will be replaced by a new regime, the nattily named streamlined energy and carbon reporting, or SECR—which does not really flow off the tongue. However, when it comes into effect, it will apply to 10,000 companies—in fact, any company listed under the Companies Act 2006 will have to undertake the assessment once a year. This is quite incredible. The final guidance, which the Minister’s department will probably issue at the end of January, and the SI that went through in July last year state that, each year, companies will have to record all their energy consumption, all their carbon emissions and all principal energy efficiency measures. That will be quite an interesting list. I declare a further interest as the chief executive of the Energy Managers Association and many of my members will be dealing with this. We will be looking at creating tools to help companies to do this.
However, this fabulous piece of reporting does not even stop there. Present reporting regimes such as ESOS—the Energy Saving Opportunity Scheme, which covers the period to 2019—require only a report to be made to be signed off by a director, but the new report will have to go in front of the auditors. I have just been going around many auditors talking to them about how they will audit the reports for all their companies. They will have to look at how they audit all the individual measures. The report then has to go in front of the board for sign-off. It is particularly interesting that LLPs, which were not part of the original ESOS, will be brought in. I liked the measure which requires a named member of the LLP to take the report to the rest of the members. If that named member gets the figures wrong, they can be sued by the other LLP members. That has a real effect. However, the real kicker on the end of it, which I must say is genius from the Government, is that those companies will have to put all this information into their company report. That is a public document that must be listed with Companies House. The problem we have always had is that we have talked about the Paris accord, the agreements and what we are looking to achieve in carbon reduction, but these have always been commitments by the Government. This will be a way of measuring the ability of every large company in the country not only to record the carbon energy it uses but to list all its energy-efficiency measures and make sure that a director is responsible for them. For the energy managers, this is nirvana, this is heaven, because finally directors will be responsible for dealing with energy efficiency, which has always been a Cinderella subject
Of course, as many noble Lords will notice, the best form of energy is that which is not used at all, especially in carbon terms. I welcome very much the way that this is being brought forward. It means that if directors do not take these measures, there are sanctions, which could include a prison sentence. Of course, that will probably never happen, but we will end up with something that I do not think has taken place anywhere else in the world, which is a legal obligation on all the largest companies in the country to come forward with a measurement of their own use of energy, but also what they are doing about it. I hope the Minister will grab this with both hands and take it forward, because it is the most fabulous way of bringing forward energy efficiency in large companies, and if we are to tackle climate change severely, that is where we will have to do it. If we do go to COP, that will give two years of evidence of what all the companies in our country have been doing.
I could go on at great length about all the issues, because there have been so many raised that need to be addressed. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, that the trouble with climate change, and one reason people do not take it seriously, is that if we really believed in climate change we would not take flights on holidays, we would not take that second hot bath, we would decide that our impact on the environment is very large. That is one reason people do not go down this route. One of the difficulties with climate change is that it is such a large subject that people shut down and think, “There is nothing I can do”. But as the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, said, we have to take people with us and I hope that the Government, especially with SECR, will do just that.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for introducing this debate. It has sparked a big response and I thank all noble Lords who have contributed. It was particularly interesting to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, who serves as deputy chair on the Committee on Climate Change and also chairs its Adaptation Sub-Committee. The debate has highlighted the key threats that have been increasingly recognised on a global scale through the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at COP 21 at the Paris agreement in 2015 and the most recent updated COP 24 in Poland in December 2018.
All contributions recognised the threats to be immense. The increased risk of extreme weather patterns was recognised by the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Rees, the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan and Lady Brown, and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who mentioned exceptional volcanic eruptions. The increased risk of rising sea levels that could reach 2.5 feet by 2010 was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. The increased risk of habitat changes affecting biodiversity in ecosystems was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brown. The increased risk of rising ocean temperatures and acidity, through increased carbon dioxide amplifying their effects, was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. The increased risk of climate-related effects on human populations was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. Disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, especially in coastal regions, would be most at risk, and reduced yields of staple crops such as maize, rice and wheat are likely.
The latest IPCC report highlighted new critical predictions that, on current trends, global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052. The debate has highlighted how imminent this is, and how short the timespan is to identify and implement key responses with assertive actions. What does this mean for the UK? How have the Government been leading the challenge? Is it adequate, and what further impetus is needed? In this regard, the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, challenged what the Government are doing on the built environment, housing and energy efficiency.
The debate highlighted the key challenges for the UK, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, outlined a list of these. It included flooding and coastal change risks, also highlighted by my noble friend Lord Hunt, and the risks to communities, businesses and infrastructure. All this was experienced around the UK in recent winters, with coastal storms and erosions in the east, damage to homes and businesses in Cumbria, the Thames Valley and Somerset, and damage to the Dawlish section of western rail. There are also risks to health, well-being and productivity from high temperatures, and, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Selbourne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, risks to agriculture, the economy, soils, freshwater supplies and ecology, as well as to energy generation and industry.
The debate has highlighted key roles for industry and actions it can take. The noble Earl, Lord Selbourne, highlighted the role of land managers with low-carbon husbandry systems. Once again, my noble friend Lord Hunt raised the role of universities, agencies and policymakers on an international scale, and many speakers remarked that the Government could engage better in their sectors of interest.
In response to their responsibilities under the Climate Change Act 2008, the Government agreed in 2017 with these key priority risk areas, and in July last year published their most recent national adaptation programme, or NAP, and a strategy for climate adaptation reporting, with over 100 key actions for the period 2018-23. I look forward to the report from the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, and her Committee on Climate Change, due later this year. But the initial response to the Government’s document has been less than complimentary—it has been described as only a partial plan, not entirely sustainable or effective. Only some of the urgent risks are dealt with in this list; gaps have been left and the Government initiatives are contradictory—for example, the withdrawal of Flood Re, which is critical to those who live in flood risk areas getting affordable home insurance.
Have the Government looked far enough ahead to reflect on their current objectives and short-term policy actions? What is the Government’s response to the challenge from the Met Office’s UK climate projection that summer rainfall could decrease by up to 47% while winters could be up to 4.2 degrees warmer, with a 35% increase in rainfall during winter months? The noble Baroness, Lady Brown, argued that overheating and water shortages are challenges that should become part of UK action plans. Wide-ranging, ambitious plans are certainly needed to limit temperature rises to below 1.5 degrees. Practical, purposeful ways are needed to build a greener economy, investing in new skills and new industries.
The initial challenge posed by the Climate Change Act 2008 was well met at the start, but response and progress have noticeably faltered following the Conservative win at the 2015 election. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, highlighted this key date in his introduction. The Government immediately withdrew or reduced renewable energy obligations and feed-in tariffs for wind and solar, undermining the establishment of new industries and jobs. They upset the investor community with reversals of policies and scrapped new initiatives into new technologies such as carbon capture and storage and the Swansea tidal lagoon—as regretted by the noble Lord, Lord Rees. They cut and scrapped grants to encourage low-emission and electric vehicles, and are now presiding over a nuclear mess. The Committee on Climate Change has reported that the UK is no longer on track to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is correct to ask what the Government’s response is to this challenge.
While the Government can show leadership at Paris and take key roles internationally, they need to take care not to take a self-congratulatory tone when so much more is needed. While renewables made up 33.3% of energy generation in 2018, transport reductions have barely been affected, with transport having overtaken energy supply as the highest emission sector in the UK. Transport emissions are continuing to rise rather than fall. A report this week, highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, shows that the UK leads the EU in giving subsidies to fossil fuels, and that over €12 billion a year is spent in support of these fossil fuels—significantly more than the €8.3 billion spent on renewable energy. The latest October 2018 IPCC report concluded that global net human emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2013, reaching net zero emissions around 2050.
Labour has responded with a commitment to a net zero emissions target by 2050, increasing the ambition of the Climate Change Act, which requires only an 80% drop. Labour is committed to generating 60% of energy from renewables and low-carbon sources by 2030. These plans mean that offshore wind capacity must be multiplied by a factor of seven. Onshore wind needs to double its capacity and be allowed access to bid in future CfD auctions, and the solar industry must be reinvigorated by the challenge to triple the UK’s capacity.
As my time is short, I will finish by posing the following questions to the Government which the debate has highlighted. What are the Government’s strategies on these important issues? They seem to have disappeared. Will they concentrate on economic low-cost solutions? Will they encourage best practice by stakeholders working co-operatively and provide positive signals to agriculture and forestry? Lastly, will they support new technologies and research into new sources of energy storage and rebalancing subsidies?
My Lords, the debate is due to end at 5.55 pm, so I hope the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will understand if I eat into any time that he was hoping to use to wind up at the end of this debate. I take this opportunity to join all other speakers in congratulating him on introducing this debate and, as my noble friend Lord Bethell put it, on doing so in such an optimistic and positive manner. It is important to be optimistic on these matters, as most speakers have been. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said that I had accused him of being a Jeremiah—I have possibly accused all Liberals of that on this subject in the past, and I will probably do so again. It is my nature to be an optimist, and I am an optimist in this field. Dare I use the title of my noble friend Lord Ridley’s book and say that I am a Rational Optimist on these matters? We have a good story to tell; I say that as a Minister in this Government, but it is a good story for the United Kingdom as a whole. We can refer back to the 2008 Act, which went through with the agreement of all parties. We can refer back to the work of the coalition Government. All three parties and the entire country have played a role.
I again offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on the expertise that he attracted to the debate. We are very fortunate when one considers that we have such people as the noble Lord, Lord Rees; the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, vice-chairman of the CCC and chairman of its adaptation committee; and the noble Lord, Lord Chesterton, a former head of the Met Office. I think it is almost 25 years since I visited the Met Office as a Minister in another department; we all grow old. There has been expertise from all sides, and to that I add my noble friend Lord Selbourne, given all the work that his various committees have done over the years. That is not to downgrade the expertise and experience of all the others who have spoken in the debate. I was very grateful for the brief intervention from the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, on volcanoes. I shall not respond to that now, but if I get an inquiry in due course, I shall write to him—but it might be beyond me or even those who advise me.
As always, I begin by repeating the assurances that the Government have always given about where we are on the threats posed by climate change. I stress again the commitment that all Governments have made over many years to deal with it, and to demonstrate global leadership in doing so. We are already seeing major impacts of climate change both globally and here in the UK. Many noble Lords have spoken of the various changes we have seen. I add to that that we have had the 10 warmest years on record since 1990; eight of those have been since 2002. The hottest days of the year are getting hotter; minimum temperatures are getting milder.
I heard it put in much the best and simplest terms by an old land manager in my part of the world, Cumbria, when he retired. He said, “Every year has been the somethingest”. It is not necessarily all going in one direction, but as I think we all want to point out, the weather becomes more unreliable, the climate becomes more unreliable and we are seeing more extreme events. I put it in these terms: every year has been the somethingest, and the trend is clear.
Much reference has been made to last October’s intergovernmental panel on climate change and its special report warning of global warming of 1.5 degrees. It is the most comprehensive assessment we have of the evidence for that rise in global temperatures and its impact. Its most pressing message is that the world must act with urgency, because the evidence suggests that we are currently on track for a 3-degree rise in global temperatures, and we cannot say how devastating that could be. Large-scale irreversible effects such as melting ice sheets would continue to have an impact not just for a short period but for centuries to come. Biodiversity and ecosystems could be affected. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly referred to the loss of coral reefs. According to my figures, some 90% of coral reefs could be at risk. Poor and disadvantaged populations would be disproportionately affected, particularly those on small and low-lying islands. Our food and water supplies and infrastructure would be threatened.
The report states that with concerted effort and urgent action, we can limit warming to 1.5 degrees, but even that will obviously have a significant effect for which we need to be prepared. However, the most serious impacts caused by rises in temperature would be avoided.
That raises two questions: first, how do we protect the UK and other countries from those inevitable rises; secondly, how do we limit temperature increases to avoid the projected 3-degree rise? The answer is adaptation and mitigation, and I will address both in turn. On adaptation, some climate impacts are unavoidable, so we are integrating climate risk into our long-term planning. We recently published our second national adaptation programme. I apologise in advance to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, because I will refer to a number of programmes we have published; indeed, he said that the road to hell would be paved with them. However, if we were not making plans of this sort, I believe I would hear even more from the noble Lord. It is right that we make plans.
As a result of that programme, we will invest £2.6 billion between 2015 and 2021 to reduce flood and coastal erosion risk. We review multiagency flood plans on an annual basis; coming from Cumbria, I take that particularly seriously. We have had two pretty bad occasions of flooding there in this century alone: in Carlisle, where I live, and in west Cumberland, in Cockermouth. I remember going to Cockermouth as the Adaptation Minister and seeing the work being done there. The noble Baroness, Lady Brown, is right to point to the small things one can do when rebuilding and developing houses, including moving power points higher so that when the floods come in next time, with a bit of luck, the electrics will be beyond the water. So things are happening.
Since 2003, an annual heatwave plan has been published by the Department of Health; I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who talked about problems there. We are also helping developing countries to deal with the impacts of climate change: building their capacity to take action and catalysing large-scale public and private finance initiatives. Our climate finance has already helped 47 million people to cope with the effects of climate change, supported 17 million people to access clean energy and reduced or avoided more than 10 million tonnes of CO2. So we are doing a lot on adaptation, and I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, that we will continue to do so.
On mitigation, how can we do our bit? One small island can only do so much, so the rest of the world must do more to limit temperature rises. We can limit our emissions, develop technologies and drive international action; indeed, we are doing all three. In 2008, the UK led the world by passing the Climate Change Act. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. we can be collectively proud of that. The Act requires us to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050, compared with 1990 levels. The Act created the world’s first legally binding targets and provided a blueprint for climate action internationally.
Since then, we have shown that we are serious about decarbonising our economy. We are showing the world that you do not have to choose between growth and climate action. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for stressing the figures: we have reduced emissions by more than 40%, compared with 1990 levels. He gave the figure of 43%, which I think is correct. At the same time, the economy grew by some two-thirds. We outperformed our first carbon budget and are on track to meet the second and the third. However, we recognise that we need to go further, and therefore I hope that in due course we will show that we can move towards the very demanding fourth and fifth budgets.
We have published the Clean Growth Strategy, which again sets out our robust plans to tackle the challenging decarbonisation still to come. It sets out policies until the end of 2030. Again, I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that I do not think that that is a question of chopping and changing. It focuses on areas where decarbonisation has clear joint benefits such as cleaner air from low-emission vehicles and so on. We have set ourselves ambitious targets to meet the challenges ahead. For example, we want to improve business efficiency by 20% by 2030 and improve the energy efficiency of existing and new buildings by then. We want to end the sale of all conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040 and to develop one of the best electrical charging networks in the world. Noble Lords will know that further research is going on in universities up and down the country, much of which the Government are supporting. We are also looking at hydrogen and other areas.
Agriculture is a concern of my noble friend. There too we are getting on and making progress, but I should say to him that we also welcome the CCC’s report on land use, which makes an important contribution to the evidence base. We will consider it very carefully and we look forward to the CCC’s follow-up feasibility report next year.
Our commitment, investment and strategy are helping us to become a world leader in low-carbon business. The world is turning towards clean energy and we will support UK companies to take full advantage of this opportunity. Through the support of Governments of all persuasions—Labour, the coalition and the current Government—we have already seen a reduction in the cost of renewables, allowing us to increase their use dramatically. In 2017, some 50% of our electricity was generated by clean sources, while last year we achieved a record 76 hours of continuous coal-free electricity generation. By 2025 we will have phased out coal from our energy mix altogether.
We will continue to support and improve the route to market for all renewable technologies. I will give just one example, which is that of offshore wind. We are making some £557 million available for the further contracts for difference. More is happening with offshore wind generation. I recently visited what is now the largest wind farm in the world, off the coast of Cumbria. We are making enormous progress and seeing the costs coming down—we referred to this only last week in our short debate on the subject of nuclear generation. Nuclear becomes harder and harder as the cost of renewables comes down and as we see advances in the technology for battery storage and other forms of generating energy.
I am coming rapidly to the end of my time and have only two minutes left. I am afraid that I am going to have to say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that on this occasion I will not be addressing his concerns about the shifting of magnetic north. It is probably important and I can assure him that there is some research into its possible contribution to changes in climate variability. If I can find out more, I will let him know and write to him.
There are other questions I would love to have addressed but, as I said, I wanted to give that optimist’s picture. We are at the forefront of efforts to tackle climate change domestically and abroad. But, having been optimistic, I do not want noble Lords to accuse me or the Government of being complacent. We recognise that the delivery of our future carbon budgets will require concerted action across the economy. We want to build on the success achieved by all Governments to date to deliver cost-effective emissions reductions in our homes, businesses and transport. This was part of the general theme expressed by all noble Lords and is something that the Government—but also academia, business and civil society—have to do.
My Lords, I apologise but the time allotted for this debate has now elapsed and therefore I must put the Question.