Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to declare a climate emergency.
My Lords, I do not intend to rehearse the threats, challenges and opportunities presented by climate change, as these have been well covered in previous debates, but we know that climate change is real, it is here, it is now and we have to confront it. It cannot be dealt with tomorrow or the day after; it must be done today, every day of the year, and every year of every decade. It is the number one issue—not Brexit, not economic growth, not any of the other issues that we might feel passionate about.
My question today is whether the Government intend to treat the climate crisis with the urgency that it demands by declaring a climate emergency. We know from the world’s scientific community that fewer than 12 years are left to prevent 1.5 degrees of warming, which will cause huge problems for humanity—it is a massive threat. The Government’s policies and plans do not come close to meeting this deadline. An urgent and rapid global response is necessary, as has been recognised by 44 local authorities in the UK which have declared a climate emergency—that is since Carla Denyer’s motion in Bristol, with all those other councils following suit. Some 17,000 people have signed a petition on this issue, and thousands of young people across the country have been taking part in climate protests and school strikes to protect their future. And, of course, the campaign, Extinction Rebellion, and many other planet protectors are putting their bodies on the line to stop the disaster.
If we are to tackle the climate emergency, we must first call it a climate emergency—we have to acknowledge it. That would send out an essential signal to business, to industry and to the financial markets that our policies will be more ambitious and more stringent with time. Sending signals to the financial markets is crucial; fossil fuel companies and their reserves are heavily overvalued at the moment. There is a strong likelihood that we will see a fossil fuel crisis similar to the 2008 credit crisis once financial investors finally realise just how much of those fossil fuels have to stay in the ground.
That is why many people are calling for pension regulators to assess exposure to high carbon risk, for the Bank of England to factor in the carbon exposure of banks in its reserve requirements and for the London Stock Exchange to require all companies to make disclosure on fossil fuel risk. Pension funds, banks and other institutional investors have to be weaned off fossil fuels as a matter of urgency or their investments could go up in smoke.
There is no economic growth without the complex web of biodiversity that supports life on planet Earth. Climate breakdown will impact adversely on our ability to supply ourselves with water, food and safe shelter. It goes to the very heart of humanity’s safety.
The cumulative effect of CO2, means that it is not just a matter of hitting a target by 2030 or 2050. If we fail to act today, we have to do more tomorrow. If we fail to reduce CO2 now, the target for reductions in 2030 has to reduce even further to take into account our failures. Every failure of today’s generation imposes a new cost on the next generation. Today’s excesses are a cost that they have to pay.
It is a worldwide problem and we in the UK have to hit the brakes hard because of our historical legacy of the industrial revolution and the vast amount of CO2 that we import from other countries—we take that for granted and tend to ignore it. Everything has a cost somewhere to somebody. It does not matter whether it is toys for Christmas, circuit boards for our computers, or exotic fruits—everything we import has a CO2 burden.
No doubt the Minister will direct us to the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy as proof of how seriously they are taking climate change, but it is a very poor effort and extremely overoptimistic about the potential for change. Optimism is not enough. Optimism is often based in ignorance. We have only to compare the Government’s strategy to the scale of the government response to the investment in the project of delivering Brexit. The Clean Growth Strategy justifies inaction by looking at “a long term trajectory”, exploring “voluntary” standards and having aspirations,
“where practical, cost-effective and affordable”.
That is all absolute rubbish.
Meanwhile, Brexit is seeing billions of pounds ploughed into contingency planning, two-thirds of civil servants in some government departments are being told to drop everything to focus on this one issue, soldiers are ready to take over essential services, and several Bills have been rushed through Parliament alongside some 800 statutory instruments—all to fulfil a self-imposed deadline of two years, which has now been extended by a mere two weeks. If the Government can pull out all the stops to deliver on the so-called will of the people, I absolutely do not see why they cannot do the same for a climate emergency, which is the largest threat facing humanity.
Declaring the climate emergency is just the first step to treating the situation with the urgency it needs. The real policies come next. We need a green new deal which will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and a low-carbon economy, to enhance the Committee on Climate Change and to carbon-proof all new laws and policies—and we need billions of pounds invested by the Government to do this. The Treasury must not be afraid to increase the public debt substantially to head off this emergency.
Local authorities that have declared climate emergencies should be given a fund of money to go carbon-neutral by 2030. They deserve recognition by the Government for doing the right thing. The Government should set high standards that are enforceable and enforced, such as all new homes being carbon-neutral, and all existing homes being retrofitted to modern standards.
We have the Queen’s Speech coming up in May and the comprehensive spending review this summer. Now is the time for the Government to announce several new Bills alongside billions of pounds of funding to cope with the climate emergency. I see people taking a lot of notes, which I am very happy about; I hope it translates into action.
I assure your Lordships that Brexit planning is a drop in the ocean compared to the effort that we must put in to tackling the climate emergency; our great-grandchildren probably will not care whether or not we left the EU, but their lives will be permanently altered by whether or not we handled the climate emergency.
My conclusion is simple: when we fail to act today, we have to work twice as hard tomorrow. The Government must declare a climate emergency, taking climate change seriously in a way they simply have not envisaged so far. I therefore urge the Government to act now—today.
I congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this debate and on her introduction to it.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the average temperature of the Earth has warmed by an average of nearly one degree centigrade, and it is all the better for that. From the physics I studied at Cambridge, I am convinced that a part of that at least is attributable to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere, and that if we continue to burn fossil fuels, the temperature of the world—other things being equal—will continue to rise. We have to decide at what point the benefits of warming are exceeded by the costs, and whether those costs constitute an emergency.
According to the BBC website—we know we can trust the BBC, because it is so unconfident of its position that it will not allow anyone else to broadcast it—the principal danger threatening us as a result of rising temperatures is a rise in the sea levels as a result of melting ice caps. Certainly, if the ice caps melt it would raise sea levels by over 30 metres, which would, as the BBC adds, submerge many low-lying cities. However, the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that it will take millennia for the ice caps to melt even if we continue using fossil fuels at a high and unabated rate. I cannot help feeling that, at least in the next centuries, we may harness fusion and have limitless energy, enabling us to cope with these problems or find other ways of solving them. They certainly do not constitute an emergency.
The BBC goes on to list other disasters which could be more imminent, such as flooding, droughts, storms and declining crop yields. All these things happen already. They may or may not be becoming more frequent but what is undoubtedly true is that fatalities from any of these events have been declining rapidly decade by decade. In developed countries such as ours, the risk of dying from any such natural event has declined dramatically and is extremely unlikely. It is most unlikely that any of us will suffer loss of life or even major damage to our property as a result of these things.
If we lived in developing countries it would be different; they are at far greater risk. People in poor countries are vulnerable to climate disasters because they are poor—and they are poor because they have not yet harnessed energy in the same way as we have to improve their living standards, their infrastructure and their environment. If we prevent them using cheap fossil fuels to develop, they will remain poor longer and exposed to these emergencies, these threats, these risks. That is what we threaten to do.
What we do in this country is negligible. If we stopped using fossil fuels and stopped eating meat tomorrow, that would reduce the total emissions in the world by 2%, less than one year’s growth in China. If we are to treat this as an emergency, we are talking about keeping poor people poor by stopping them using cheap energy. That is not worthwhile because it exposes them to emergencies. The real emergency, the real crisis, would be in developing countries if we were to follow the logic of the noble Baroness’s position and keep them in the undeveloped state in which not using fossil fuels and not making emissions would leave them.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for introducing this short debate. I was thinking of talking about melting ice and the serious problems facing us and, after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, which I do not agree with—I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—I wish I had decided to do so. However, given the three-minute speech limit, I have decided to talk about something different: why the battle for public opinion on this matter has not yet been won. We have just heard an example of how it has not been won.
People have been conditioned to think of the natural environment, including climate, as a relatively benign thing which can be solved by technical fixes but this is not right. There are two reasons for this. One is that the climate of this planet has been relatively stable for some 6,000 or 8,000 years—perhaps a bit more. This has been absolutely crucial for the development of human existence as we know it. Farming settlements in the fertile crescent, the establishment of towns, trade—particularly in coastal towns and ports— learning, recreation and complex systems of government have led to relatively stable and complex societies, economics, geographies, networks and cultures. There is a general assumption that the environment is there and that it will be okay.
I also think that some people in academic circles and those who did A-levels and so on have an understanding of the natural world which is not quite as alarmist as it might be. Based on academic concepts from the 19th century onwards, natural change is an evolutionary and gradual, incremental thing. In biology, there was Darwinism and theories of evolution; there are geological concepts dating from pioneers such as Hutton, Playfair and Lyell, who were right at the time; there were geomorphological models based on the cycle of erosion developed by William Morris Davis; there were similar theories on climate and oceans and the structure of the continents; there are theories based on uniformitarianism—“The present is the key to the past”—associated with gradualism: that small incremental changes in climate and ecosystems, and all these other things, are the basis of change.
In the longer term, there is much truth in this, and it was a rational scientific alternative to ideas such as creationism, the great flood and other catastrophic ideas, but we all know of catastrophic changes. After all, the dinosaurs no longer rule the earth. At every physical scale—and scale is vital here—what pans out over time as gradual change often consists in practice of a vast number of catastrophic events, some small and some large, like landslides and the melting of ice. These can be global, continental and oceanic, regional, local and small. As human beings, we are at the bottom of the pyramid. Our civilisation and societies exist at small, local scales, and we are ourselves short-term people because we have not been here very long. Frankly, cata- strophic events, if we are not careful, will wipe us out.
My Lords, yesterday on social media, there was a small, viral video of two deer battling in the foreground, while far in the distance —as you could determine after watching it for a few seconds—a lion slowly emerged that, in one efficient movement, jumped on these fighting deer, killing them both. I draw a parallel: I feel as though the debate of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, today is that lion, while many other debates in this building are the deer in the foreground.
I was determined to speak this afternoon, because I have been through—to use a word from my own sector, technology—a pivot over the last six months, partly on the back of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report, and partly because of my partner’s establishment of a marine conservation charity, which has meant relentless tussles at home. I now feel it is not only the responsibility but the only moral thing that somebody with any small voice can do to constantly challenge and question why the climate emergency/climate crisis is not debated in public opinion in the way it should be, in the sectors I see, on the boards I sit on—certainly within technology, and with the inventors and innovators of the future. To give an example, I use Twitter, and after watching deer being devoured by a lion yesterday, I used it to ask what percentage of venture capital around the world was given to climate-related businesses. It would be bad if it was under 50% right now, because venture capitalists look to the future, imagining the solutions for the things we should be most concerned about. Imagine my horror at discovering that the percentage of venture capital investment in climate-based innovations has just decreased year on year. In Europe, it has gone from 3% to 2%, and in the US—get this—it has gone from 2.5% to 1%. This is a complicated number—there are investments across healthcare that you might determine are a climate issue, or possibly in fintech and so on—but even if it is 10 times that, it is half as much as it should be.
This is just one example of where it feels that we are wrestling deer in the corner, when the lion is approaching us from behind. As a technology innovator, I feel that we must demand more of the people that think they are inventing the future, because they are not inventing the future that I want to be a part of. We have to make sure that social media companies manage disinformation about the climate on their platforms; I declare an interest as a board member of Twitter. We have to demand that venture capital companies invest in solutions for everybody. This is fundamental, and these will not be challenges we can solve if we do not deploy all the weapons at our disposal. These are people who have proven in the past that they can solve complex problems, but the debate is not happening at the level that it needs to. That is why I could not support more whole- heartedly the notion of a climate crisis and emergency declared by the Government, because Governments lead and people follow, and that is what we need to encourage this Government to do.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, on introducing this debate. Her enthusiasm for the subject is in inverse proportion to that of my noble friend Lord Henley on the Front Bench. I must remind him that he still has not replied to the questions I posed to him in the debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on 24 January, despite having reminded him three times to do so.
The noble Baroness has raised an important matter and asks us to look at whether this is a climate emergency. The subject is hugely important but I will not follow her down the line of an emergency for two reasons. First, it is a climate choice. If you have a climate emergency, you may actually forget about the rest of the environment that is equally important: plastics, water, soil and all the things that she and I have been debating for the past couple of years. To make one factor within the overall environment an emergency rather demeans the others.
However, the noble Baroness is absolutely right to say that the International Energy Agency reported that last year emissions of CO2 rose by 1.7%, which is the fastest rate of growth since 2013. The United States, having seen its emissions declining for some years, has experienced an increase. However, the main problem is in the Far East—China and India. What I am pleased about is that Europe’s emissions have fallen. Luckily, the UK is doing well in this area. We are a world leader and we have seen a fall of 42% in our production emissions from 1990s levels while still growing the economy by 70%. As my noble friend Lord Lilley said, growing the economy is important as the background to all this.
We must have more energy from renewable sources. I am glad that the Government have announced huge spending over the next decade on 30 gigawatts of offshore wind. That will produce a third of our electricity in 2030. The message must be sent out that we have to stop burning fossil fuels. When I was the Environment Minister, we were considered to be the dirty man of Europe. It is interesting to note that of the top 10 European emitters of carbon at the moment, not one is British. Seven firms are in Germany, which is supposed to be the clean man of Europe; now it is the dirty man. This is an important subject but it is not quite an emergency yet.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for introducing this important debate. I agree with her completely that we do indeed have a climate emergency. It is not just a question of moving away from fossil fuels, or of empty slogans. I am thrilled that 44 local authorities have declared this issue to be an emergency. While I was at the Greater London Authority I ran the London Food Board. We declared London to be a hunger-free city and everyone signed up to that with great excitement. However, that was in 2008 and actually there are even more hungry people today, so these must not be empty words.
For any policy in local authorities or indeed in central government to be at all effective, it must not be put in a box. It has to stretch right across, whether it is a question of energy, plastics, the marine environment or whatever it might be. Perhaps I may give an example from the work we did in London. When we think about working an environment strategy into transport, we would probably just consider getting people off the roads, on to bikes and into public transport. However, we have to think a little more: put up living walls by busy road junctions; plant edible green walkways between estates and schools so that children can walk; grow food in parks and plant trees on busy roads; and fund schools, which takes us into the area of education and building. Schools should be given funding to plant gardens. We ran a scheme called Capital Growth through which we created 2,500 new community gardens in the four years leading up to 2012. That cost as little as £250 per garden but in the end we had 180,000 volunteers, and 200 acres of otherwise derelict land in this city became green spaces full of bees and other insects as well as people gardening. It was easy to do, but it is about will and leadership.
The scheme had all sorts of other good benefits, as is the case for a lot of environmental schemes. For instance, the police reported less need for policing in the area. There was a reduction in the rate of depression along with a reduction in the rate of crime. However, to do this, fantastic leadership is needed. Even though I went to work for his predecessor, I am the first to step forward to applaud London Mayor Sadiq Khan for the ULEZ initiative. You need to be tough and you need to be bold. In Singapore—not a state that I am necessarily going to say is a great place to live—when it was realised what was the matter with diesel cars, they were banned from one day to the next. We need that kind of bravery and visionary leadership.
I am thrilled that our metro mayors, just this afternoon, are being afforded greater responsibility over their own transport policies, because then they can start to make a difference. If we can all feel engaged from the ground up, we may be able to make a difference. If we show our politicians that we care about this and that it is indeed an emergency, then maybe it will move out of the box and into the middle of government debate where it affects every single law that we make.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for making this important debate possible. I draw attention to my interests in the register.
The natural world is our life support system. It provides our food, air and water, and cleans up our waste. However, it faces a complex and dynamic ecological crisis resulting from human activities, and climate change is but one symptom. Sir David Attenborough told the UN in December that,
“the collapse of our civilisations and extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon”,
while scientists tell us that we have only a short and closing window in which to act to limit this unfolding catastrophe. Despite the current attention-grabbing, high- octane constitutional drama of Brexit, this climate emergency is an infinitely greater threat and is the real crisis that we face. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported last October on the enormous increase in harm that 2 degrees of warming would do to the climate, including risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth.
The global poor are feeling, and will feel, the impacts of climate change most acutely. However, the implications will also be felt here in the UK, whether through forced migration from other regions or through disruption to our food supplies. Global temperatures are currently around 1 degree above pre-industrial levels. Within a handful of years we may face tipping points—such as an ice-free Arctic, which I have personally seen for myself is approaching—beyond which climate change may accelerate and impacts multiply, bringing unimaginable dangers. The IPCC report told us that we have just 11 years to complete, not begin, an unprecedented transformation to our infrastructure and lifestyles to decarbonise the economy and avoid climate breakdown. The good news is that halting climate change will bring us many other benefits, including warm homes, energy independence, a boom in green jobs, pleasant and healthy urban environments, affordable public transport, clean water and air, and the restoration of natural habitats.
Since the report’s publication, momentum has been building behind grass-roots movements such as Extinction Rebellion and the 1.4 million young people who last month joined school climate strikes worldwide, including several hundred in my home city of Bath, whom I warmly congratulate on their activism. They seek immediate environmental action proportionate to the enormous risks that we face. Last month my local council, Bath and North East Somerset, joined a rapidly growing group of UK local authorities—around 44 at the last count—to declare a climate emergency. With overwhelming cross-party support, my council also became one of a smaller group to set an ambitious target date of 2030 for its carbon neutrality. Councils demonstrating real leadership on this existential problem now require the full support of Parliament. The Government must acknowledge the scale and immediacy of this crisis and put forward a transformational plan for the future. They must also provide those authorities willing to step up to the challenge with powers and funds commensurate to the task.
Business as usual simply will not cut it. This truly is a climate emergency.
My Lords, it is true that the UK Government have been on the front foot on climate change and have commendably taken a lead internationally on the issue since the Paris agreement, but they still need reminding that the least developed countries are still suffering the worst effects and some—not just island states—face imminent threats from floods, drought and other disasters.
In 2018, we had some of the worst emergencies ever. We had some experience of it: the UK had unusual extremes of weather last year, and California’s autumn fires were catastrophic. But in the southern hemisphere, Kerala had its worst floods for more than 80 years last August, with more than 2.5 times the normal rainfall from the monsoon. More than 500 died and more than 1 million were forced from their homes, with 10,000 houses destroyed and roads damaged at a cost estimated at $3.5 billion. The warming of the atmosphere from greenhouse gas emissions is an obvious cause of such dramatic turns in the weather, and India is one of the countries that will suffer most.
South Africa, on the other hand, experienced three consecutive years of low rainfall, and Cape Town faced its worst drought ever a year ago. Taps ran dry in the city and residents were severely restricted. Again, scientists found that climate change made the drought three times more likely.
Argentina also ended its worst drought in 50 years last April, but the economic consequences for farmers were considerable. The soybean and corn harvests were down by 31% and 21%, and lost production cost Argentina $6 billion, plunging the country into recession. I am grateful to Christian Aid for providing those figures.
Very few people in Parliament or among the general public doubt that these major emergencies were linked to climate change, as has been reaffirmed at successive conferences. The Katowice conference in Poland made good progress last December towards implementing the Paris rulebook. In recent Westminster debate, the Government have sounded upbeat. One Minister has since even admitted that the UK will need to legislate for a net zero emissions target “at an appropriate point in the future”.
But the situation is urgent. According to Christian Aid, overall global emissions must reach zero—meaning that human activities absorb as much greenhouse gases as they release—by the middle of the century if the world is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade, the target set in the 2015 Paris agreement. Next year, there will be an interim meeting in Chile, but the real decisions will have to be made very soon in Europe.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for securing this incredibly important debate. Anyone looking at our newspapers might think that the single most important issue facing the whole world was Brexit, but of course, far more urgent, with far greater risks to humanity, most particularly to developing countries, is climate change. Measures to cut carbon emissions are growing but at nothing like the rate needed if we are to tackle the problem in due time.
I first mention solar energy, because the sun has almost infinite energy, if only we could trap it. Yes, solar panels are cropping up all over the place, but two major obstacles stand in the way of significant use of solar energy: the problems of storage and distribution, as I am sure most noble Lords know. Research programmes in a number of countries are working on those two problems, but they are too small and not co-ordinated to achieve the speed of progress so desperately needed. Can the Minister explain what the Government are doing to enhance research in this vital field? It is far too important to leave to the private sector, but too many Governments are just leaving it to private companies. It must be government-led and co-ordinated.
The second area of potential breakthrough after solar, which I see as the absolute number one, is the use of hydrogen. I have received a helpful note from the Hydrogen APPG and wanted to convey a few of its main points. More than 30% of all UK carbon emissions come from domestic heating and cooking. Can we get that down to zero? We really need to. The H21 North of England report 2018 examined the potential for a large-scale conversion of homes and businesses from natural gas to hydrogen and found that such a conversion could, by 2050, achieve 17% of the Government’s carbon reduction target, set in the Climate Change Act 2008. No doubt we need to go faster than that, but it would be one hell of a step.
There is growing support from the Government for a large-scale hydrogen conversion project. For example, the Chancellor’s Spring Statement announced that the Government would explore options for decarbonising the gas grid. Can the Minister explain to the Committee what options the Government plan to explore, and over what timeframe? That sentence from the Chancellor reads as though he may not be doing very much at all, but it would be very interesting to know precisely what he has mind and how fast he plans to do it.
There are also significant benefits to a large-scale hydrogen conversion for the transport industry. What steps have the Government taken to convert cars, buses, lorries, trains, ferries or even aeroplanes to hydrogen use, and do they have a planned timeframe for such reforms?
It is of interest that the trade unions are supportive of the potential of hydrogen to create highly skilled jobs, especially in the north of England. That would be pretty helpful in the years ahead. The UK could become a world leader in hydrogen technology and a leading exporter of skills and technology. We can achieve such heights only if we get on with the changes so urgently needed. I look forward to the Minister’s response to this important, if short, debate.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has rightly asked us whether we see this as an emergency, and I put my hand up and say, “It absolutely is”. With this particular emergency, as with many national emergencies, there are lots of down sides in that there are all sorts of negative consequences to war, threats or security. Today, however, I want to go through all the positive things that come out of genuinely calling this an emergency.
First, even in conventional terms, we have economic growth. As we saw during the 2008 recession, the green sector was one that grew in 2017—those are the most recent figures. GDP growth rose by some 1.8%, but economic growth in the green sector was something like 7%. There are more or less 250,000 jobs just in the green growth and energy efficiency sector.
Clean air is one of the consequences of decarbonisation; King’s College London estimates that in recent years there have been some 36,000 premature deaths per annum because of dirty air. There are 2.5 million households still in fuel poverty, yet through proper efficiency programmes and the housing stock, we could eventually reduce that to zero. That would also help winter deaths, of which there are some 50,000 per annum. Indeed, with heatwaves these days, it is estimated that in the last couple of years there have been some 600 to 900 deaths due to excess heat. Obviously, figures have been far higher on the continent, which may show what is still to come.
We can reduce fuel bills, not just by increasing the energy efficiency of the housing stock, but by renewable energy now being cheaper than fossil fuels. Because of all this increased welfare, I hope we can increase national welfare but also reduce costs on the National Health Service. By doing all this, we are making a major move towards a circular economy, which means that the planet can start to exist within its own finite resources.
To come back to climate finance, the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, rightly mentioned the decline of venture capital and the restriction on it in this sector. I was interested to hear those figures. Having said that, a huge amount of money wishes to invest, and it is about finding those opportunities; maybe government, through the public sector, can help that to happen. France has produced sovereign bonds, which have been at coupon rates that are less than standard ones. All this would also provide the UK with climate leadership again, which we are starting to miss.
I will ask the Minister only the following question. On 2 May, the climate change committee will produce its report on what we should do to achieve only a 1.5 degree centigrade increase—reckless though even that is. Will the Government accept the committee’s recommendations, whatever they are?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for initiating today’s debate and challenging us to consider the climate emergency movement. It is more usual to apply the term “emergency” to specific events that everyone can recognise, to signal that an exceptional response is required. To apply it to the process of climate change underlines the urgency of the situation, to recognise that more extreme weather patterns are occurring across the world more frequently, and that emergency action is required to avert more catastrophic consequences, both numerically and in intensity.
While it is true that much progress has been achieved, that must not be a reason for self-congratulatory complacency. The climate emergency movement has highlighted the importance of setting a new policy framework across public institutions that recognises the urgency, sets specific tough but fair targets and relevant timeframes to prioritise policy responses and embed them in overarching governance arrangements, and to communicate this both nationally and inter- nationally.
Each organisational level of government must fulfil its responsibilities through relevant ranges of actions to reduce emissions and increase resilience. With more easily achievable low-hanging fruit having been plucked already, it is now imperative to redouble the UK’s national efforts to tackle the most intransigent areas of heating, gas decarbonisation and transport, including shipping. The Government’s official target is still to reduce carbon emissions by 80% below 1990 levels. With the IPCC’s recent report that recognises the tipping point of 1.5 degrees warming above pre-industrial levels, that target is likely to be breached between 2030 and 2050. Labour has recognised that this will require a net-zero emissions target, not a new cost-benefit analysis.
The pace of change must increase as the urgency is not being adequately addressed by this Government. Being science-led, Labour will tackle the structural change by resourcing a national transformational fund that will also address the behavioural change needed across society, encompassing waste, energy efficiency, transport and the environmental security of a circular economy. The scale of the response needed must be addressed at all levels of government, including internationally through international trade deals.
The estimated 1.5% fall in emissions seen in 2018 was the smallest drop recorded over the past six years. What now is the Government’s response to the Committee on Climate Change’s challenge that the Government are no longer on course even to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets? Will the Government now bring forward ambitious and credible proposals for reducing emissions for the lagging sector areas of transport and heat, and could they inform us of that today?
The Environmental Audit Committee recently stated that the Government are “coasting on climate change”. Does the Minister recognise that the pace of change must increase across all government departments to eliminate policy contradictions and mixed messages across government, such as those on fracking?
The UK needs a new green industrial revolution. Greta Thunberg and our schoolchildren are right to demand it, and the Government and the investment community need to resource it through environmental governance.
My Lords, I first thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for securing this debate, which has been of high quality, even if all speakers have been limited to a mere three minutes each. In fact, perhaps that made the quality even higher, I do not know; it has certain advantages.
I will make the point, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, and to others who are worried that the debate is not happening, that the debate is very much happening. This might just be one very tiny, minuscule part of it, but we know—mention was made earlier of demonstrations by schoolchildren and others—that the debate is happening up and down the country. As other noble Lords put it when they talked about local authorities, it is happening at local authority level.
A number of questions were raised, and I will not be able to respond to all of them this afternoon. I have been criticised by my noble friend Lord Caithness, quite rightly, for failing to respond in a previous debate to his questions about the effect of the shifting of magnetic north and cosmic rays on global warning. I will write to him in due course, but he will recognise it is quite a difficult thing to respond to because there is not much evidence.
I also give an assurance to all those who spoke that the Government are aware of the threats posed by climate change, and that we respect the sense of urgency. We understand it, agree that there is an urgent need to do things, and accept that impacts are already being felt. The Government are responding, and we continue to demonstrate strong leadership worldwide—I will get on to that later on—to tackle it at home and abroad.
I will start with the IPCC report on climate change, and what our response will be. We are already seeing the impacts of climate change—the hottest days of the year are getting hotter, and minimum temperatures are getting milder. There is a clear trend, and I remind the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that we have not always had the stable temperature he seems to think we have. I refer him to the late Middle Ages, when there were vineyards in the south of England. The same was true in Roman times, with a colder spell in between. After the Middle Ages warm period, we had the mini-ice age of the 17th and early 18th centuries—so the climate has always changed, but something is happening at the moment. We agree that there is a trend and that something needs to be done; and we know that, without action, rising temperatures will result in even more serious effects.
For those who think we have been slow off the mark, following the IPCC’s report last October, within a week we had requested advice from the Committee on Climate Change on the implications of the Paris agreement for the UK’s long-term emissions target. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that when it comes out in May—I was not sure of the precise date but he said 2 May, which I think is right—we will respond as appropriate. He would not expect me to say at this point that we will accept everything the committee says. It would be a rash Government, possibly a Liberal Government, who would take that line. As an aside, I do welcome his genuinely positive approach to what the Government are doing—and I think one can take a positive approach.
The IPCC report offered a stark warning that our current rate of warming could see us reaching 1.5 degrees, possibly as soon as 2030. That would have devastating effects—it could do a great deal to our infrastructure, food, water supplies and so on. It went on to point out that up to 90% of coral reefs could be lost, with irreversible effects such as melting ice sheets that would continue to have impacts for centuries to come. The report is a rallying cry for Governments around the world to do something—to innovate, to invest and to raise ambition. It is therefore right that we should follow the scientists. As all noble Lords have made clear, we are now witnessing a groundswell of public concern. There is an increased sense of urgency from people all around the country—I mentioned the recent demonstration by schoolchildren—and more vocal demands for action.
The Government absolutely share their mission to solve this global challenge. To do so, we are taking action both domestically and internationally, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked us—because there is no point in us just doing things domestically if we do not try to provide the international lead that I believe we can and will. I shall touch on both of those.
On domestic action, our carbon targets are among the most stringent in the world and have provided a blueprint for climate action internationally, with elements of our framework emulated by many other leading nations. We should be proud of our record, which was cited by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester when he stressed that we have reduced emissions since 1990 by 42% while—this is the important thing—growing the economy by 72%.
But there is more to do. In 2017, we published our Clean Growth Strategy. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, called it “a very poor effort”. I have to say that I do not agree. The important thing to remember about the strategy is that “growth” appears in its name. As I have said, we have seen a cut in our emissions by 42% while continuing to grow our economy by 72%. The strategy set out our policies and proposals for meeting future carbon budgets and the illustrative pathways for the 2050 target. It explains just how the Government are investing more than £2.5 billion to support low-carbon innovation from 2015 to 2021, building on the UK’s world-leading expertise in areas such as offshore wind—where we have seen the price of offshore power come right down—and electric vehicles.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked about research that we are doing in that area. It is important to emphasise what has been achieved. For example, the noble Baroness will see what a success story solar has been over the years as a result of government intervention, with deployment and cost reductions exceeding expectations to the point where two large-scale projects have already deployed without subsidy from the Government, and the planned construction of two more large-scale, subsidy-free solar projects has recently been announced. That is as a result of the investment that government has made and the encouragement and support that we have given—again, we have seen the price drop. I cite these just as examples; there is much more research in other areas.
The noble Baroness asked about storage, which I agree is the vital thing to address if we are to make renewables such as solar and wind, which are necessarily variable, of great use. Yes, research on hydrogen has been going on. I have seen some serious work being done by Heriot-Watt University in Orkney, where they are beginning to power ships using hydrogen. I also went to the Clyde to see some new CalMac ferries being built that will be powered by hydrogen. There is a future for hydrogen there; there is possibly a future for hydrogen in cars. Electricity might take over—I do not know—but all avenues need to be explored, and the Government will play their part in that. We are certainly exploring hydrogen’s potential to deliver against our own clean growth aims.
I see that I am running out of time so, rather than going on with examples of the sort of research that the noble Baroness asked about, I will quickly move on to say a little about the international position. I am very grateful for what the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said about welcoming our international role and the role that we can play. As I said, what we do in the UK on our own is not going to make much difference. We believe that the United Kingdom has played a key role internationally in demonstrating leadership through its domestic action, through climate diplomacy and through financial support, and that our world-leading economic, scientific and technical skills are shaping the global debate. I am proud to say that United Kingdom negotiators played a central role in securing the Paris agreement in 2015, while the UK scientific community was at the heart of the international effort behind the IPCC’s special report.
Our world-leading climate science programmes are helping developing countries to mitigate and adapt. We are fully aware of the concerns that the noble Earl and others raised about the problems that other countries are having. We are providing at least £5.8 billion between 2016 and 2020, helping over 47 million people to cope with the effects of climate change. This September the United Kingdom will lead the resilience stream at the UN Secretary-General’s climate action summit. Our ambition is to drive transformational change in the way that we think and take decisions on resilience, enabling people and the planet to adapt and cope with shocks and stresses.
I conclude by reiterating the determined action that the United Kingdom Government are taking to tackle climate change both domestically and abroad. Our sense of urgency is real and the challenge that we face is great. The IPCC report made that clear, and it is necessary for us to build on that momentum, acting now to build a brighter future for ourselves and for our children.