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Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Volume 801: debated on Wednesday 5 February 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to publish their policies to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 ahead of the United Nations Climate Change conference to be held in Glasgow in November.

My Lords, 2020 will be a vital year for climate action and we will set out our ambitious plans in the run-up to COP 26 through a number of sectoral strategies, including the transport decarbonisation plan, the energy White Paper and the building strategy.

I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. I have Claire O’Neill’s letter here and, quite honestly, it is such a rich source of information on the process so far that I do not really know where to start. I just say that so far I have seen nothing from this Government in terms of vision or strength of purpose that will actually deliver what they are promising by November. I wonder where they are going to get those ideas and vision from.

We have the vision. This year, significant steps will have to be declared. There will be an energy White Paper in a matter of weeks. Following thereafter will be a transportation decarbonisation plan, a heat policy road map, an English tree strategy, an aviation consultation, a net-zero consultation and a building strategy, as well as a fuel poverty strategy. These will fit into the timeline taking us toward COP 26 in Glasgow. The important thing for the noble Baroness and all here is the opportunity to discuss this further. I commit my department to meet regularly to discuss the emerging policies on the road to COP 26.

Is it not important that the Government set out a clear plan? For example, in the motor industry, people need a long lead time for production. To suddenly discover that hybrids will not be allowed and that the date has been brought forward makes things extremely difficult. Surely the Government have to work with manufacturers and give clarity, because these things cannot be achieved overnight.

My noble friend is of course absolutely right. There will be clarity and, needfully, ambition. We need to be more ambitious than we have been to date to hit the targets of net zero by 2050.

My Lords, there have been some reports that the Government are considering moving the conference away from Glasgow. Can the Minister confirm that that is not the case?

My Lords, COP 15 back in 2009 was organised by the Danish Government in Copenhagen. It was chaotic and Denmark suffered humiliation globally—I must put it as strongly as that. We do not know who is leading for our country, there are question marks about the location and we are supposed to be chairing the conference partly with Italy, so there are many unknowns. My question is simple: do the Government understand that if they do not get this right and the conference is chaotic, this country will be humiliated on the global stage?

The stakes could not be higher. The question of who is to lead on this issue is simple: the Prime Minister will set the direction and the pace. The question of who delivers that has yet to be put in place, but the important thing to recognise is that there are fewer than 7,000 hours until we reach that point. The strategy we put in place will deliver, but equally we must ensure that other nations are able to step up to the plate and deliver alongside us. Even if we reach net zero tomorrow, the problem will remain. We must do more to bring others alongside.

My Lords, I have a straightforward question. We have made good progress on decarbonising our electricity, but 50% is still generated using methods that produce carbon dioxide. While we are doing that, everything using electricity, including of course electric cars, will still emit carbon dioxide. When do the Government plan to completely decarbonise electricity generation, what combination of nuclear and renewables will be used, and can they give us a guarantee that the lights will not go out when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine?

I come from Scotland; the sun does not shine very often but the wind does indeed blow. It is important to stress that we have powered past coal and it is no longer a vital part of our electricity generation. As we begin to decarbonise domestic heating and our transport fleet, the real challenge is that the demand for electricity will grow so we will need to find innovations. We are already a world leader in offshore wind, but we will need to look at nuclear and decarbonising hydrocarbons through carbon capture, utilisation and storage. However, the lights will not go off.

My Lords, as we move from heating by gas to heating by electricity, will my noble friend bear something in mind? As you move north, it gets colder, heating bills are higher and incomes are lower, so those bills make up a higher proportion of people’s incomes. Heating by electricity costs four times as much per thermal unit as heating by gas. Does he think that people in the red wall voted to quadruple their heating bills?

My noble friend is right to remind us that the challenge we face as we move to decarbonise our domestic heating is real. The question of whether we move towards full electrification or whether we move towards hydrogen or a hybrid option is yet to be determined. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that we cannot increase fuel poverty as a consequence of the choices we make. This Government are not about making people poorer in order to reduce carbon dioxide levels.

My Lords, given that millions of homes, schools, hospitals and factories in this country are heated by gas and discharge carbon dioxide, what timescale have the Government set for the necessary changes to be made, and who is going to foot the bill?

There are three elements to that. The first is that we need to decarbonise domestic heating, which is a real challenge. Most people still heat their homes by gas; I include myself. We need to make a choice between electricity or a potential hydrogen hybrid. The second element is that we must try to be more efficient in the way that we use our electricity. Finally, on the question of who will ultimately pay for this, I am afraid that there is no easy answer. Ultimately, it will be the people of Great Britain. We need to recognise that, to ensure that those affected by fuel poverty do not bear the brunt of the costs.

My Lords, can my noble friend assure the House that the devolved Administrations will be officially represented at the conference in Glasgow? Can he also give us some idea of when a chairman will be designated? My noble friend would be an admirable candidate, as would my noble friend Lord Goldsmith.

We await the call. Who knows? My noble friend is right to ask when there will be a new COP chairman. I suspect that the Prime Minister will look at that as part of the wider re-examination of Government. Our relationships with the devolved Administrations are absolutely vital, as is our relationship with the great city of Glasgow itself. It is a great city in which to conduct this climate change conference.