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Climate Emergency

Volume 797: debated on Tuesday 7 May 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the climate emergency declarations by the First Minister of Scotland on 28 April, the Welsh Government Minister for the Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on 29 April, and the House of Commons on 1 May, what plans they have to formally announce a climate emergency in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, our approach will continue to be defined by the action we take, not the words we use. The Government fully recognise the urgency of tackling the challenge of climate change. We were the first country to introduce long-term, legally binding carbon reduction targets and have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 country.

I am very pleased to hear that we have nothing to worry about and that all we need to do is just more of the same. I worry because 80 years ago, when we were facing the arguments of what to do about Nazi Germany, people used the word “appeasers”. In 30 or 50 years’ time, are this Government, the Government after them and the one before them going to be seen as appeasers around the environment? That is what really concerns me. May I suggest that the noble Lord considers the possibility of looking at the future generations legislation in Wales, which brings together the environment, poverty, health and all these questions, so that we can offer a future to our children?

My Lords, I did not say that we have nothing to worry about. I and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State have made it clear, including in the debate we had last week in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that there is something to worry about. We are certainly worried about climate change, but we are also of the view that we have taken considerable action in this country; we will take further action, both in this country and internationally, for the benefit of the whole planet. We will also offer leadership, internationally, as a result of actions both international and national.

My Lords, on the Minister’s final point, it is vital that the Government take all necessary steps to avoid the impending climate catastrophe. This includes, as he touched on, using powers to lobby our allies to cut emissions. Can he explain to the House what steps, if any, Her Majesty’s Government are taking to persuade President Trump’s Administration to return to the Paris agreement and meet their obligations to cut pollution?

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right to stress the importance of taking action domestically, because by doing so we can offer worldwide leadership. I can give an assurance that we will continue to offer that leadership as a result of the very good record we have. That is why we want to host COP26 next year: it will be an opportunity for this country and the whole world to put it to America, and other countries, that they must all play their part in this field.

My Lords, without a doubt we have to change the way we farm and the way we eat if we are to avoid this climate emergency. The Government’s new Agriculture Bill might not be perfect but it does go some way towards addressing these issues by setting out what is in the common good: we will cease to subsidise in the way we do at the moment and reward farmers for biodiversity, and for soil and water management. My question is: where is the Bill? When are we going to get it? Given the state we are in, why can we not hurry up?

My Lords, as to where the Agriculture Bill is, I fear that I cannot help the noble Baroness, but no doubt my noble friend sitting beside me will be able to offer advice in due course. All I can say is that we will do all we can in all fields—there are a great many fields in which work needs to be done—to reduce our carbon footprint. As I have said before, we have done a great deal, but there is a great deal more to do.

My Lords, the Government met the Extinction Rebellion campaign recently. What did they learn from that and what policies are going to change as a result of the meeting?

My Lords, the most important thing is that we had the report a few months ago from the IPCC, which we put to our own climate change committee. Last week we received a report from the climate change committee and we will respond to it in due course.

My Lords, returning to the agricultural issue, one way of reducing the climate change impact of agriculture is to grow fewer crops. We could do that by reducing waste. Tony Juniper estimates that about one-third of food in this country is wasted. That is equivalent to cultivating an area the size of Yorkshire and Lancashire and then throwing all the food away. Does the Minister agree that, for whatever reason, the message is not getting over to the general public, food companies and food services? What are the Government going to do and what can we all do to help the Government get this message across?

The noble Lord makes a good point. The first thing to say is that we should all eat up our greens.

I will restrain my carnivorous habits in the future. However, the noble Lord makes a good point, and everyone should get that message—there is a great deal of waste in the food chain, just as there is throughout the world. We have possibly a lot less waste than in the third world as a result of the efficient means we have of moving food around and processing it, but as the noble Lord said, there is still a great deal of further waste, and more must be done.

My Lords, in support of the point made by the Labour Member just now, and in light of the fact that 99.3% of all carbon emission increases arise not, alas, in this country but in the wider world—in particular in Asia, Africa and the United States, where the per capita energy consumption is the highest of all—can we have an outline from the Government, maybe through a White Paper or a climate report, on exactly what the younger generation and the whole country are doing to bring to bear the resources on the technology needed to fight climate change and determine our own future rather than just make speeches?

My Lords, the gist of what I am trying to say is that what we are doing through our actions is important in this country. Obviously, as my noble friend makes quite clear, what is happening throughout the rest of the world is far more important, because we are only a small island, producing a relatively small amount of carbon emissions. However, as a result of what we do—and we have a good record, which goes back through all Governments who have been in power over the last few years—we believe that we in this country can show international leadership and hope to persuade other countries to follow suit.