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Climate Change: COP 26 and Civil Society

Volume 801: debated on Wednesday 15 January 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to engage civil society in climate change issues ahead of COP26, to be held in Glasgow in November 2020.

My Lords, we engage regularly with civil society, and will continue to do so en route to COP 26 and beyond. As a delegate at COP 25 in Madrid, and while an MEP in Lima, Paris and Marrakesh, I saw at first hand the important role that civil society plays in such gatherings, and anticipate that such groups will be vital to the success of COP 26.

I thank the Minister for his Answer, but people now accept that civil society has a very important role to play. The location of Madrid was agreed at the last minute, but the fact that there was so little civil society engagement led to its failure. Therefore, I do not feel very reassured by the Answer that the Government are really on the case with this. When we signed up and bid to host COP 26, did we agree to anything—in the way that a country hosting the Olympics agrees to enhance sport in schools—such as making the understanding of climate change more available to everyone?

The noble Baroness is right to state that COP 25 in Madrid did not have the full participation of civil society. One of the simple reasons was that COP 25 was due to be in Santiago. I suspect that a number of people had booked tickets there and discovered that they could not get a refund. However, I suspect that in Glasgow there will be full participation in those proceedings, because right now there is a great appetite to explore and express those views. In response to the second part of the question, I can say that Glasgow was chosen because it is seventh-highest in the world in the global destination sustainability index. We also have a direct train line into the venue, which will ensure a lower carbon footprint. I believe that there will be a legacy left in Glasgow, and that the Governments of Scotland and the UK will continue to build on it.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on getting COP 26 in Glasgow. It is a great thing for the country. It is also important because of the climate emergency which the other place has declared. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister say in October that there would be a cabinet committee for climate change, to ensure that it was across Government. How many times has it met under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister?

The noble Lord will be aware that very soon after that was announced, there was an election, and shortly after the election there was Christmas. Unfortunately, the cabinet committee has not yet met, but it will meet this month, very shortly. I will report back to this House on what has been discussed at that meeting.

I congratulate my noble friend on the United Kingdom lowering its CO2 emissions from 2% to 1% of the world’s output, but meanwhile, worldwide net emissions of CO2 have gone up. Are we not in great danger of meeting 2050 with no net CO2 emissions only for worldwide CO2 emissions to have gone up, because the Chinese and Indians will have continued to build coal-burning power stations?

My noble friend is right to express that simple point: carbon emissions have gone up year on year since the beginning of the COP process, and some significant emitters are doing too little to address this. The United Kingdom has been powerful in its advocacy of decarbonising, while still growing the economy. If we can continue to grow the economy and secure jobs while decarbonising, that is a model that the world should follow.

My Lords, rather in contradiction to what was said in an earlier question, the Government are woefully slow, as the House debated last June, in coming forward with policies and measures to meet new emissions targets—starting with the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, which are not being met, and including bringing international aviation and shipping emissions within the scope of the Paris Agreement. The Government’s White Paper is already at least nine months beyond its promised date. Would not the best way to encourage debate on these issues be to get on with these essential tasks and provide real leadership?

I am sure that the noble Lord will not be surprised to hear that I do not agree. In the Government’s declaring net zero by 2050, the UK became the first major economy to do so. We will publish our energy White Paper imminently. The EU itself has struggled with aviation. We must ensure that aviation and international shipping are part of the decarbonisation process. Not to do so would be to ignore one of the most important elements of the carbon in our atmosphere.

My Lords, the Scottish Government have supported the Government’s approach and have welcomed the arrival of the COP process in Glasgow. We are working in close collaboration with Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government to ensure that the COP is a success. We are on the same page, we recognise the same challenges and we are pulling on the same rope in the same direction.

My Lords, may I, as someone from Edinburgh, welcome the fact that the conference is to be held in Glasgow? Will the Minister encourage his colleagues to ensure that as many as possible of the international conferences to be held in the United Kingdom are held outside London—in Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, as well as in Edinburgh and Glasgow? Will he also do everything he can to ensure that both Edinburgh and Glasgow remain part of the United Kingdom? I am sure he will.

That was an extraordinary link, but I fully endorse the noble Lord’s belief that Scotland, including Glasgow and Edinburgh, must remain part of the United Kingdom. We are stronger and better together: I am happy to confirm that. We should have more international conferences outside London, and Scotland is a perfect place for that; so are the north of England, Wales and the West Country. We have an extraordinary country with extraordinary offerings. Let us do more outside London.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. COP 26 gives this country the opportunity both to show leadership and to showcase achievement. However, welcome though the commitment to net zero in 2050 is, does the Minister agree that by the time of the Glasgow meeting we need a sector-by-sector detailed road map of how we will actually achieve that target?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. The White Paper will be a part of that, and will set out exactly how we will both achieve our own domestic targets and show the leadership required to bring about the necessary negotiations to deliver a good outcome in Glasgow.