Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note, further to the report by UK FIRES, Absolute Zero, published in November 2019, of technological and lifestyle efforts (1) to address climate change, and (2) to meet the 2050 net zero carbon emissions target.
My Lords, in opening this debate, I am conscious that I am neither a scientist nor an engineer nor an economist. I claim no expertise in any of the many diverse issues that climate change raises and which will raise their head in this debate. My aim is to spark a broad debate that includes those with such expertise but embraces all stakeholders and, at the same time, to encourage the Government and indeed ourselves, the political classes, to provide honest and brave leadership to that process. The message of Absolute Zero is strongly that, without honesty and bravery, we will see the manifestation of a genuine existential risk, and our children and grandchildren—if they survive it—will never forgive us.
The authors of Absolute Zero—a recent report by UK FIRES, a consortium of UK academic experts—have done us all a great service by authoritatively and painstakingly exposing the degree to which we are being misled by a techno-optimistic approach to the climate change challenge. This may explain why the report, despite being funded by government money, has not really surfaced since its publication. The report poses some deeply uncomfortable questions for the Government about their strategy and about tactics. The noble Lord the Minister knows that I admire and respect him greatly; he is, in my view, the ideal Minister to face the challenge that this report presents. The House has faith in him because we have confidence that he will give straightforward answers to the many questions that the report poses. I intend to ask only the major ones in my opening remarks, but I am sure that other noble Lords will draw attention to others that also deserve a government response—I know that from conversations I have had already.
I am exceedingly grateful that so many noble Lords want to speak in this debate and I look forward eagerly to their contributions. But, in a sense, I feel the need to apologise in advance because, although it has been increased, the time available is insufficient for them to raise everything that they might want to say on what I think is the most important issue of our time.
I thank all the organisations that have circulated briefing papers to speakers and more broadly. They are all of value and, like the excellent House of Lords Library briefing, have increased my knowledge and have added to our debate even before a word has been spoken in this Chamber. On that point, let me take just a few seconds to repeat a suggestion that I made in a debate on knife crime in your Lordships’ House in June last year. As I cannot do justice to any of the briefings I have received, which are all full of great stuff, and as we are searching constantly as a House of Parliament for ways to make our deliberations more relevant to a wider audience and to embrace others, can we not open a web-based portal for every debate? I understand that it would have to be moderated, but it would both allow people who wish to engage with us to post their briefings in real time, having them preserved with the debate, and expand the debate out into society. Along with the Library briefings and other relevant papers, it would create a much more inclusive context for our work and allow us a significant amount of outreach.
Despite climate change being a pressing existential threat, leaders have so far preferred a series of long-term grand targets and few, if any, of the grand policies needed to achieve them. On Tuesday, Boris Johnson revealed why. The Prime Minister, like many other leaders, believes that technological advances will do the job for him. He is, in his own words, a self-confessed techno-optimist. It is clear from his speech on Tuesday that Mr Johnson, who may not “get” climate change, certainly knows the scale and nature of the challenge and can accurately catalogue our failures to date. He also set out a policy for achieving the goal set in bringing forward by five years the ban on the sale of petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles. So far, so good.
However, he thinks that on the macro-target we are making good progress; in his words
“since 1990—cutting CO2 by 42 per cent … through sheer determination and technological optimism”.
It is 42% only if you ignore emissions from aviation and shipping and those associated with imports and exports—and do we import. If these numbers are included, the true figure is more like 15%. The most significant contributors to this success are a cleaner energy mix based on gas and renewables instead of coal and the falling demand for energy across homes, industry and business. It is difficult to see how techno-optimism has played any significant role at all, unless Mrs Thatcher’s policies on coal were driven by techno-optimism—but that may lead me down a path where I do not want to go.
While our leaders talk about future technology—none of which has yet been delivered at any scale able to make a significant difference, never mind a sufficient one—cars are now heavier, internal temperatures in our houses and where we work are rising and we are purchasing more stuff and flying more than ever. In each case, we must encourage the opposite behaviour.
Clearly, not every Minister agrees. The comments made by Health Secretary Matt Hancock in response to questions about the government proposal to bail out Flybe pushed back directly on the need for us to fly less. Asked whether he should be giving a different message, he simply replied “No”, going on to say that we should continue to do so but
“use technology to reduce carbon emissions”
“electric planes are a potential in the not too distant future.”
The Prime Minister made the same claim on Tuesday. Apparently, he has been assured that we are
“within a couple of years of having viable electric passenger aircraft.”
Technically, he may be proved right. At the Paris Air Show last year, a manufacturer unveiled an electric-powered plane that he promised would be flying in a couple of years’ time. We will see, but, even if it performs to the manufacturer’s optimum promise, it will carry nine people for a maximum range of 650 miles. Welcome as this is, there is no sign that this can be scaled up into a deployable technology that meets the scale of the aviation emissions challenge. Some 80% of such emissions are from long-haul passenger flights—flights of over 900 miles—a distance no electric aircraft presently in development could ever achieve, and none will unless there is a fundamental paradigm shift in electricity energy storage, which is not even on the visible horizon.
The techno-optimists have placed their faith in massive large-scale engineering solutions, but there is no convincing evidence that we can rely on their development in time—and time is running out. However, the contrary evidence is convincing. Absolute Zero quotes research from Imperial College showing that no significant energy technology has ever reached 20% of its eventual scale within 30 years of its first deployment. We simply cannot wait that long.
Apart from the fact that Absolute Zero is the most accessible reading on this subject that I have come across, this report is important in three respects. First, net zero is a misleading concept. The true target is absolute or real zero. There are no significant technologies to create negative emissions. No matter how you choose to do it, it takes more energy to take the carbon out of the atmosphere than we gained when we put it there in the first place. This—as I have learned recently—is the second law of thermodynamics: the energy required to create structure is always greater than the energy released in the destruction of structure. You simply cannot take carbon out of the atmosphere without giving it structure. If energy created by a non-emitting source is available, using it to do this would be a waste of that energy while we still use fossil fuels. Increasing the number of trees on the planet reduces the amount of carbon in the atmosphere only once. For example, if we doubled the area of forest in the United Kingdom, that would negate two years’ worth of emissions only—and only if we protected that forest for ever.
Secondly, no matter what incentives are offered, there are limits to the rate at which technologies can become significant. It is worth repeating that the report quotes research from Imperial College showing that no significant energy technology has reached 20% of its eventual scale within 30 years of its first significant deployment—we have only 30 years. This is because these new technologies are highly regulated and deploying them would require new standards, regulations, land rights, public consultations and discussions over finance and local communities. We are beyond the 11th hour on this issue and academics are screaming for the Government to show more leadership in this regard. So what confidence can we have that the Government are up to the pace of dealing with the barriers to deployment any better than they are judged to be dealing with the barriers to research investment?
Thirdly, and finally, there is the question of opportunity. The report reveals that once you embrace absolute zero, you can see a wealth of business innovation opportunity. I will give four simple examples, although there are many in the report: electrification of all existing energy services—I accept that it is simple to say and difficult to do, but it is simple and we have the technology to do it now; improvement and expansion of video-conferencing to stop people flying all over the world unnecessarily; turning down our central heating and stopping heating empty rooms would make a significant difference to our use of energy; recycling powered by renewables offers great opportunity for growth, exploiting the fact that global supply of steel scrap will treble in the next 30 years as an alternative to what we do at present. In the UK, we collect 10 million tonnes of steel scrap per year and export 80% of it, while in the meantime operating blast furnaces with imported coal and iron ore.
The report is a serious wake-up call. As Professor Richard Templer said this morning on the “Today” programme—he is not an author; I suspect that he was brought on to the programme to contradict the report but found he could not—the Government need to get very serious about this and pay attention to everything in this report.
Now that we are awake and being honest with ourselves and the people we purport to lead, it is not all doom and gloom. The report makes it clear too that, by changing our behaviours in a positive way and with incremental change exploiting today’s technologies, especially those that can be scaled up and already prove their worth, we can engage with this challenge now in a significant way and enjoy the breakthrough technologies when they emerge later. However, they will not emerge in time to solve the problem.
Constraints of time do not allow me to go into much more detail on the report, but there is not much point in doing so as your Lordships can read it for themselves. In preparation for this debate, it has been a pleasure to introduce many noble friends to this way of looking at the challenge, though not always successfully. A proportion of them responded by saying, “This report requires us to give up flying. That is unrealistic and will not be possible.” It does not do any such thing. It just tells us what we do not want to hear, which is that on the current trajectory, there will come a time when we are so far short of the target we have voluntarily and legally imposed on ourselves that the only way to achieve it will be, among other things, to give up flying and shipping. The authors of the report are not responsible for that—we are. We should not shoot the messenger for returning the message to its sender. We passed the law and we are responsible.
I have many questions for the Minister, but I shall restrict myself to three. Given that all of the negative emission options require us to expend more non-emitting energy than using energy to replace fossil fuels, do the Government accept that the use of net zero is misleading and that the target we have created is absolute or real zero? Secondly, the Prime Minister’s reference to the imminence of electrically powered passenger flight was calculated to make us all think that this was just the beginning of a journey that would significantly reduce aviation emissions by 2050. Will the Government publish the evidence that supports that rate of deployment of electric flight? Thirdly, assuming that Her Majesty’s Government are not solely dependent on technology to meet the 2050 target, can the Minister confirm that their intention is to do just as this report recommends; namely, to encourage changes of lifestyle and the incremental development of existing technologies to address this issue with what we know works? If so, will they publish a list of the initiatives that will advance that agenda?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, for securing this important debate. It is very timely because the appalling bush fires in Australia have put the challenge of climate change into sharp focus. However, the Climate Change Act commits us only to “net zero” within the UK territory. That will not do. We need absolute zero and we must count all the emissions for which we are responsible.
The reason we have reduced emissions by 42% since 1990 is because we have picked the low-hanging fruit by cutting coal-fired generation, driving manufacturing abroad and failing to count the carbon cost of importing goods and food by ship and air, while EU laws on electrical appliance efficiency have reduced UK domestic electricity consumption by around 15% over the past decade. So the second half, or should I say the remaining 85%, of reducing our emissions is going to be much harder and more expensive, and will require radical policies. We must stop burning fossil fuels and focus on harvesting the energy of the sun in all its forms. That will require major changes in infrastructure and behaviour. So please will the Government resist the temptation to put their trust, like the United States, in technologies that have not yet been invented? The scientists in the FIRES report remind us that it can take 30 years to bring new technologies into widespread use. What we need is to lavishly apply existing technology.
The report claims that to reach absolute zero, we will need to electrify all uses of energy, which is currently feasible except for aircraft and shipping. If we carry on at the current rate of growing non-emitting generation, we could be just about there by 2050, except for the inconvenient fact that by removing the use of fossil fuels, we will have massively increased our demand. So, while we accelerate our production of clean electricity, we will also have to reduce energy demand by about 40%. We will all have to change, so it is important for the Government to ensure that they take the public along. Young people are with us already, but not everyone. The CAB tells us that 38% of people think that they will need to change the way they heat their home, and most would be happy to do it—but they would need financial support. Do the Government plan to expand support for new boilers and home insulation?
This week, it was announced that all new cars must be electric by 2035. Can the Government explain how they plan massively to increase the number of rapid charging points by then? What are their plans to strengthen the national grid? If we are to use electricity for space heating, the grid will be less stable than the gas grid when there is high demand and could leave essential users without power.
This is not simple, because all these issues are interdependent. Take, for example, the complexity for the construction industry when building new homes to high energy efficiency standards such as Passivhaus. Building a new house costs about 65 cubic tonnes of CO2. This could come down massively if all the materials were manufactured and transported using green electricity. When you demolish old properties, how much of the material is recycled? Are the Government planning any new regulations about this, especially in the light of the high carbon dioxide cost of making cement, given that we do not yet have a substitute? The Association for Environment Conscious Building has calculated that to deep retrofit all our old draughty homes would take one thousand million cubic tonnes of insulation, plus the new windows and doors, so a massive upsurge in retrofit to save carbon would itself have a carbon footprint, which the association amusingly calls the “carbon burp”. It makes it clear that without the decarbonisation of manufacturing and transport, the most ambitious retrofit programme will achieve nothing.
Perhaps I may now go back to the need to produce more non-emitting energy and ask the Government about their plans, after Brexit, to support the massive increase in renewable energy generation we need. In Bangor University alone, much important work is being done to help us to absolute zero, currently supported by EU and Welsh Government funding. The new Smart Efficient Energy Centre has received £4.6 million from the Welsh European Funding Office. It supports research into the development of tidal and offshore wind energy, while €1.2 million came for work on synthetic landfill microbiomes for enhanced anaerobic digestion to biogas. Research into the production of more efficient solar panels at Swansea and Bangor was funded by EU structural funds. Can the Minister say whether that funding will be replaced by the UK Government as part of the effort to reach absolute zero?
My Lords, I agree with page four of the report, which states that in reality, most UK cuts in emissions have been the result of Mrs Thatcher’s decision to switch from coal to gas-fired electricity generation. We must remember that both the Labour Party and the Liberal party fought tooth and nail against those reforms.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, for instituting this debate and for saying that he wants a wider debate on these issues. What is confusing to start with is whether we are going for net zero or absolute zero. Both are heading in roughly the same direction, but they will take us to different points and will affect our lifestyles and livelihoods very differently. So we need to be clear which one of the two we are going for and we also need to be clear that the rest of the world is following in the same way. We cannot go down one route by ourselves while the rest of the world goes down another.
I will focus on one key message, which is set out on page 2 and covers the food and agriculture industry. It states:
“Beef and lamb phased out by 2050 and replaced by greatly expanded demand for vegetarian food.”
That statement is contrary to the message that was put out by Dr Debra Roberts, the co-chair of the IPPC working group in August last year, that we would include sustainably sourced food as part of our diet for the future. Which of the two are we to go for? What the report also does not do is mention any of the consequences. What are the consequences of this action for the rest of the environment and biodiversity?
The report focuses on cattle because they produce methane. Cattle are not the biggest producers of methane in the world, termites are—but we are not talking about termites because we do not farm them. What the report does not tell us is that beef cattle raised on deforested land produce 12 times more greenhouse gas emissions than cattle reared on natural pastures; there is a huge range of emissions from the same animals, depending on how you feed them. One must remember, of course, that our cattle greenhouse footprint in the UK is currently about two and a half times lower than the world average. That is because most of our cattle are on pasture.
While we are on cattle and sheep—which they want us to abolish—the report also says, on page 4, that absolute zero means absolute zero: there cannot be any emissions. So you can give up your beef and lamb, but you also have to give up your farmed prawns, farmed fish, pork, chicken, cheese, beer, dairy milk, eggs, coffee, tofu, nuts, pulses, rice, beans, carrots, barley, wheat, potatoes, oats and maize. They all produce emissions and they all have to go, if we believe this report. It is worth pointing out that a bar of chocolate from a deforested rainforest emits more in greenhouse emissions than a serving of low-impact beef—so let us treat the report with a little care.
So far as the UK is concerned, it is worth noting that our cattle numbers in England and Wales are about the same today as they were in 1932. In 1974 they were about 56% higher in the UK than they are now. So far as sheep are concerned, we graze about the same number of sheep in England and Wales now as in 1868. Sheep numbers are well down from their 1992 peak.
The report also says that we ought to reduce our cutting down of trees. The number of trees cut down in the UK in the last 100 years is not that many. In fact, in England and Wales the amount of forestry has doubled in the last 100 years, so there has not been any cutting down of trees. There is also a new report which says that, because of the increased annual rainfall, the forest and forest floor are not as good at absorbing carbon as they used to be. That is from a study in America. A lot more work needs to be done on that.
Despite the fact that this report has produced a very gory headline that appealed to the press—getting rid of lamb and beef—it needs to be treated with a certain amount of caution.
My Lords, I warmly welcome this report and this vital debate. Never before in the scale of human history has there been such a wide and deep threat to our ecosystem or to human flourishing that was so clear and predictable on the horizon. Technology alone is not enough.
In his letter to the whole world in 2015, Pope Francis notes how
“the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor”.
Our response must be nothing less, he argues, than an “ecological conversion” of every person and every part of society. Responding to the current emergency is the responsibility of every family, workplace, village, town and city, company and public institution.
The earth is God’s gift as well as God’s creation. We need to recover the insight that human beings are far more than consumers. We are called to be just stewards of creation, to care for the poorest and the weakest. Human fulfilment lies not in escalating consumption but in meaningful rest and labour and learning to be content.
The churches and faith communities must play our part and are beginning to do so. The Church of England’s General Synod is to debate the climate emergency next week. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book this year, Saying Yes to Life, focuses on the environmental crisis. It will be supported by an extensive digital campaign, Live Lent, asking every Christian to review their lifestyle choices. Many dioceses, including my own, are placing care for the earth at the top of our agenda for the coming years, recognising the distance we still have to travel. This means measuring and restricting our own carbon emissions, commending lifestyle changes, undertaking energy audits and campaigning for wider change. It means identifying challenging but achievable targets and the practical path to reach them. We need to hear the voice of government in policy detail, not just principle.
The Church Commissioners have led the Transition Pathway Initiative, backed by investors worldwide representing over $16 trillion in assets under management and advice, increasingly drawing companies into line with net-zero targets. Our sister churches and faith communities are each taking similar initiatives. This summer, hundreds of bishops from across the world will gather for the Lambeth Conference, many from regions already deeply affected by ecological disaster: low rainfall, rising sea levels, fire, flood and hunger. A major theme of our gathering will be the global climate emergency and the response needed by every section of society.
Along with others, I invite the Government to provide clear and ambitious policy signals, as they have just done with petrol and diesel vehicles, and to invite every institution and organisation to engage in this great question of our day so that the leadership we offer to the COP summit is demonstrably grounded in the trinity of policy intervention, technology solutions and changing the lives of our entire population.
My Lords, I hope I may be forgiven for concentrating my remarks in this extremely timely debate—for which I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton—on the international negotiating challenges presented to this country by its chairing of the COP 26 meeting in Glasgow in November. It is a formidable challenge, all the more so as it comes on the heels of the relative failure of COP 25 in Madrid at the end of last year. We need to avoid being proprietorial about this. Chairing a massive international conference such as this does not mean you own it, nor that you can hope to fashion the outcome to your will and to fit your interests—but if it turns out a failure, even a relative failure, you can bet your bottom dollar that this country will get a disproportionate amount of the blame.
I declare an interest as having been at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, where I worked for a team headed by the Prime Minister, Sir John Major, and the noble Lords, Lord Howard of Lympne and Lord Blencathra. Since that promising start, there have been plenty of warm words about checking and reversing climate change and all too little effective action to achieve it. Current trends mean that, if we cannot break out of that contradiction at Glasgow, the chances of mitigating —let alone reversing—climate change will slip away from us and this world will be faced with increasingly damaging consequences for us all.
The first requirement for success is that there must be a team effort, not just an occasion for burnishing our own national image. That will mean working closely with our Italian partners, with whom we are sharing the chair during 2020. You do not hear an awful lot about that in government statements, though I recognise that the Italian Prime Minister was here this week. It also means working as a team with the United Nations, because this is a UN process—not just a national one—and there is a mass of UN expertise, from scientific to negotiating skills, that could play an integral part and needs to be harnessed, not marginalised, in any team effort.
The other requirement is to realise that this is a political process involving national decisions to be taken at the highest political level in every country involved. Important though the technical aspects of dealing with climate change are, they will not cut through if the politics are not right. That means our own Government getting involved at the top level—that is to say, the level of the Prime Minister—and our team being headed up at a level that would ensure access at the top level to Governments all around the world. In that context, and without wishing to comment on the personal aspects of it, I welcome the Government’s recent decision to upgrade the leadership of our team. Since climate change policy is not a party-political issue, would it not be sensible to put together a team that cuts across party lines and disregards them, as the French did in the run-up to the Paris conference? The UN has shown us a really good example of that by the inspired choice of Mark Carney to head up their team.
In the major diplomatic effort that will have to be made, we can hope for no help from our closest ally, the US, but can we attempt to persuade President Trump at least not actively to cut across our efforts, which if successful would, after all, benefit the US every bit as much as the rest of the world? We will need to bring it home to our friendly countries, such as Saudi Arabia and India, which played an unhelpful role in Madrid, that a repeat of that will not be without consequences or pass unnoticed. At every stage we need to work in a co-operative partnership with China, without which we have little chance of success. Of course, the engine room of any successful campaign will be our recent partners in the EU, without whose solid and active support we will get nowhere. That is quite a challenge for 2020, but one to which we have every interest in rising.
My Lords, for the past few days I have been absorbed in the book A Farewell to Ice by Peter Wadhams, the head of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge and one of the world’s leading authorities on the Arctic. The Arctic ice has crucial properties in stabilising global temperatures, since it reflects a significant proportion of solar radiation back into space, and it is simply melting away. A “practical catastrophe” for humankind is how he describes what is happening there, since there is no way back.
What can the UK do to counter such destructive forces—a country of 66 million in a very large world? The answer is pretty clear. By being in the vanguard it can act as a role model for others and in the immediate future, as noble Lords have said, inject driving force into COP 26. Absolute Zero is a significant contribution to this endeavour, especially if it can be further developed and generalised. I like it partly because I am an academic myself and a whole range of very distinguished scholars and other figures are involved in it. The idea of a “living lab”, in which leading figures from different branches of industry collaborate with academic experts to chart ways forward, is compelling.
At the same time, we must think much more macroscopically. We must progress locally and globally. I support those who declare a state of climate emergency. Humanly induced climate change on a grand scale is unique to our era and a fearsome challenge. It is not a question of “saving the planet”—the planet will survive whatever we do—but of saving our civilisation. It is a challenge quite different from any which ever preceded it. No society ever in human history has had to face an issue like humanly created climate change on a global level before. It shows the immense task that there is.
Every crisis is an opportunity, or so they say, and the authors are entirely right to put great emphasis on this. I also endorse their optimistic tone, as long as it is balanced with the recognition of the absolutely huge nature of the risks. The authors say that we cannot depend on breakthrough technologies to get to zero emissions, yet we must surely continue to fund research into them quite heavily. Among the billions the Government are proclaiming they will spend on this and that, they must actively promote blue-sky research into technologies that might cut emissions and I hope at the same time have positive economic benefits. I would welcome a comment on that from the Minister.
This must include geoengineering, even if the risks and dilemmas around it are very large. Here we must return to Peter Wadhams. He says we have already passed the tipping point. At this point, we have to budget to at least investigate removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere on a large scale.
As it stands, the Environment Bill falls short of reaching absolute zero emissions, yet it will codify into law that the UK must reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Some 60 other countries have announced similar ambitions, including France and Germany—both sizeable economies. However, the sheer scale of the challenge is shown by the fact the three major countries standing on the sidelines—the United States, China and India—have a combined population of more than 3 billion people.
COP 26 will be the largest conference of world leaders that the UK has ever hosted. I ask the Government to involve our top researchers and scientists directly. I ask the political parties to put aside their other differences and work with the others in putting real substance into the calls for a green new deal. I ask my party, represented in front of me, not simply to bash the Government over the current difficulties with the COP 26 presidency but to be constructive and engaged. I hope the Government will listen and respond. This time, the whole world watches and waits.
My Lords, I declare an interest as CEO of SECR Reporting Ltd and as CEO of the Energy Managers’ Association, which represents about 5,000 energy professionals whose front-line job is to reduce the amount of energy used in the business sector. Its standing has been recently promoted by many companies declaring a climate emergency, which is a great thing to do, except that most companies in this country have not the ability or the understanding of how to reduce significantly the amount of energy they are using, which will be a problem.
I will take a different tack from many noble Lords and instead of lambasting the Government I will say that they are a world leader and, if they follow this route, will be seen at COP 26 as one of the premier Governments in dealing with climate change reduction. The reason for that is due to George Osborne. I do not think anyone has ever seen him as much of a climate champion, but back in 2016 when David Cameron was reported to say, “Let’s get rid of all this green crap”, what it meant was reducing the different energy subsidies such as FIT, RHI, CCAs and the CCL and replacing them with one taxation, the CCL, which came into effect in April 2019.
Linked to that was a report that 10,000 of the largest companies in the country will have to undertake in their financial year. The first tranche will have to start reporting in April 2020 when they lodge their report. The amazing thing about this report is that it sets out the road map for those companies to declare publicly what energy and carbon they are using, then set out quite clearly in a document that will be lodged with Companies House, if it is not in their own report, exactly what they are doing. For any shareholder, stake- holder or NGO that wants to look at that report, it will be totally clear to see what actions are being undertaken.
What have the Government actually mandated large companies to do? First, they have to record all their energy usage: electricity, gas and transport fuels. A lot of companies do not understand the amount of emissions they undertake on transport fuels. They have to report that in kilowatt hours. Then they have to report all the carbon in scope 1 and scope 2, and voluntarily in scope 3. They must then put in an intensity metric, which, because this report is coming out year on year, will show whether companies are going forwards or backwards. Obviously, it does not matter whether they grow or shrink, but it is a science-based target.
Interestingly, they must then say which methodology they have used to get to this—the EMA has written a handy methodology which can be used—because the next bit, which is fantastic, is that the companies must state the principal energy efficiency measures that they have undertaken. The Government have not set out what a PEEM—sorry, the Government are not great at acronyms—is, so in the EMA methodology we have set it out quite clearly. A company should state what policy and strategy it has for energy reduction, and who in the company is responsible. It should say what capex it is spending as a company and what opex it is undertaking, what contracts it is taking out with its FM providers, or what internal and external maintenance contracts, to ensure that it is doing things in a more energy-efficient manner going forward. Companies should look at their transport—which, of course, means electrification—and behaviour change.
This report must be lodged with Companies House. I will ask a couple of questions if I have time, but we have been talking to large companies, and it could be exciting if, by the time of COP 26 in Glasgow, the 10,000 companies are well on their way to publicly declaring this information, which is not replicated anywhere in the world. The really exciting part is that we are now discussing with large companies getting their supply chain to undertake SECR. They can do it very cheaply and lodge it for free on Companies House. Any company can then check its supply chain just by going to Companies House.
I finish with two questions. Will the Minister agree to a meeting with his excellent BEIS officials, who have written a fantastic programme, to see how this can be made part of the COP 26 process? Will he discuss with Companies House enforcing this as an electronic report that should then be available to all? Currently it is paper-based.
My Lords, I am glad to follow that very challenging speech from the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. It is important to have clear answers from the Government on what is being done.
I want to put on record my unqualified admiration for my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton, not only for this debate, but also for his consistent commitment and work in these areas. We have been talking for a long time about the challenge and responsibility to our children and grandchildren for what is happening to the world. It has become clear that it is not just a matter of our children and grandchildren. The crisis is immediate and real, affecting people now, as we debate it in this House. The urgency of action cannot be overemphasised. However, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford reminded us, it is not only a matter of aspiration but of being certain about the means and the detail. That is why this specific debate is so important. The detail is critical in how we are going to do this.
One of the huge challenges we face is that there must be great international co-operation. There is no other way that we can achieve any slowdown in climate change. We must look to our close neighbours, and across the world. One of the challenges is that we are demanding this action and recognising the need for it at a time when millions of people across the world have not gained access to the way of life we take for granted. There are terrific issues of social justice at the heart of this.
Let us look for a moment at some of the immediate things that are happening, to emphasise this point. Escalating migration trends across the world, unsustainable agricultural production and irresponsible trade deals are all leading to instability and dangerous conflict. Recently, the FAO warned that the total number of people going hungry in the world has been rising again for three years in succession. The recent cyclone in Mozambique vividly illustrated how the poorest can suffer. Mozambique’s emissions are negligible compared with ours, but the number of climate change-related disasters—floods, storms and extreme heat—has apparently doubled in the last 25 years. In Mali, farmers, herders and fishermen have been caught up in conflict over the reduction of the River Niger’s water levels, a situation made worse by climate change and increased demand due to population growth. Plans by the Governments of the neighbouring countries to build dams will further affect the water availability in the Niger Delta. This will affect more than 1 million people.
In Uganda, many women walk for six hours a day to fetch water. As the dry season becomes longer, they will be forced to walk for longer to collect water and firewood. With millions already forced to leave their homes by climate change, the World Bank has reminded us that 143 million people in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere will be displaced in the next 30 years unless urgent action is taken. We need very convincing arguments from the Government today not just about their aspirations but about what they are doing and how they are doing it.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Browne for introducing this debate. I declare my interest as chairman of the scientific advisory board of Tokamak Energy, a fusion energy development company—fusion has not been discussed much today—and I speak as a former researcher in the scientific challenges of fusion. Later I was director of the Met Office and developed my long-standing interest in the growing threat of climate change. There is also a pressing need for Parliaments around the world to play a strong role to address this threat.
Global measurements show a sharp increase in the average temperature in the atmosphere and ocean since the 1950s and an even sharper rise in carbon dioxide over that time. Over the past 50 years, global climate change has been caused by human-generated carbon emissions and the consequent trapping of outgoing longer-wavelength radiation within the troposphere— that is, the greenhouse effect. This is leading to a likely rise in global temperature of two to four degrees Celsius this century, with huge ecological and societal impacts.
The most effective global climate policies are those driving carbon-free energy generation, which must be accompanied by a dramatic reduction in hydrocarbon combustion. Carbon-free electricity from wind and ocean currents and photoelectric energy from the sun captured by solar panels can all contribute to these policies. However, energy supplied by these methods needs modification for essential continuity and controllability.
Nuclear fission generates electrical energy at large scale by steam-generation systems. These reactors work well, but they face regulatory and public acceptability hurdles. Fusion is of growing importance for low-carbon energy. Fusion could reduce significantly carbon emissions in the 2030s and be an important source of safe, clean energy for centuries to come as the fuel is plentiful and cheap. Currently, the UK has a world lead. The JET tokamak fusion reactor at Culham generated 16 megawatts in 1997. The UK Government continue to back fusion research at Culham and the international ITER project, despite the slow progress, but they seem to be ignoring privately funded fusion development by Tokamak Energy.
We need a sense of urgency to tackle climate change and CO2 emissions, and if we act urgently there will be big economic benefits to the UK as well as environmental benefits to the world. Tokamak Energy, a private company that I have advised, has made great progress in developing compact spherical tokamaks, as pioneered at Culham, and combining them with the latest generation of high-field superconducting magnets. The result will be high performance in compact, low-cost systems enabling a much faster and cheaper path to commercial fusion energy. This company plans to deliver energy to the grid by 2030, about 10 years sooner than the fastest estimate of government and EU projects. The target is to produce 150-megawatt modules to be built in UK factories and shipyards and deployed rapidly around the world in the 2030s.
The heat produced in fusion reactors can be used to generate electricity and could also be used for industrial processes, such as steel making, and to produce hydrogen from water in a highly efficient manner. The oil and gas companies of the future could use the heat from fusion to produce hydrocarbons, absorbing CO2 in the process. Fusion reactors could be mounted on ships, as by mentioned by other noble Lords, leading to massive savings of fuel and carbon emissions. Fusion power systems could be deployed globally and would be safe in the event of natural disasters, for example, the Fukushima event.
The UK FIRES report introduced by my noble friend Lord Browne suggests various options for lower use of carbon fuels. The report is sceptical about carbon capture and storage and prefers lifestyle changes as a low-carbon strategy. Perhaps this is optimistic, since most people do not pay much attention to climate change according to surveys. Using taxation to change behaviour would be regressive and unpopular. Ironically, the UK FIRES report, funded by the EPSRC, does not consider fusion seriously, despite it being a major element in the EPSRC’s energy portfolio. The other factor missing from the report and, indeed, from climate change committee’s reports is any consideration of the rest of the world. It is essential that UK’s programme of moving to becoming carbon-neutral collaborates with other countries. These are the main points we should be considering.
My Lords, I welcome this debate and the Absolute Zero report by UK FIRES. It is essential that academic experts with experience in energy issues, both technical and social, work closely with politicians in getting us through the crisis. In the same way, I welcome Greenhouse Gas Removal by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering.
This huge topic left me wondering whether to discuss something very specific—for example, the real overall systems cost of connecting wind turbines to the grid—or something broad and general. I am opting for the latter; I shall discuss how we should approach this world crisis and what an ideal energy system might look like in the future.
Regrettably, but not unusually for engineers, we find ourselves working on a problem that we cannot quantify accurately. The modelling of how human behaviour is changing weather systems is even more difficult than modelling the weather itself, and, although there have been great advances in weather forecasting, accurate long-range forecasts are still beyond our capability. However, we cannot wait around while we solve this problem. We have no option but to proceed as quickly as possible.
I spent 20 years in industry in the United States and I recall vividly what happened when we ran into serious problems in the development of large systems. Everyone who had knowledge and skills in the areas relevant to the problem, including those in the research laboratories, dropped what they were doing and applied their talents to solving the immediate problem. In that case, delivering the product was more important than working on future technologies. If the product did not reach the market in time, customers would buy from other companies and there would be no future for the company.
However, we are not dealing with a company. We have taken on something far vaster—the future of the planet. Our deadline of 2050 precludes the use of future technologies. We must concentrate more of our innovation on improving ones that have already been demonstrated to be feasible. We should therefore resist calls to work on everything we can think of in the hope of a breakthrough technology that will rescue us. As the UK FIRES report points out, 30 years is not long enough to bring breakthrough technologies to full-scale implementation. Having said that, I am tempted to agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has just said, because I think there is hope for fusion but probably not until about 2050.
That leaves us with just wind, solar and nuclear for electricity generation, and heat pumps, improved ventilation, insulation and lower temperatures in our buildings for heat. In the end, if we truly harness nuclear, we can use electricity for heat. For transport, we are relying on electrification, perhaps optimistically assuming that the electricity is clean.
The problem with nuclear is cost but analysis of the cost of Hinkley Point shows that it should be possible to realise less than £60 per 100 megawatt hour by reducing the borrowing cost of 9%—after all, it is not the purpose of the energy sector to subsidise the financial sector—and by building replicas of our reactors. We have never built a replica in the UK. China General Nuclear has established the feasibility of the EPRs that we are trying to build at Hinkley Point by having two of them already reliably supplying 1.5 gigawatts each to the grid.
Small and modular nuclear reactors—SMRs—also offer the opportunity for lower costs in the right timescale, and the Government have now offered modest support for their development. Rolls-Royce has for decades built SMRs for submarines and heads a consortium that is proposing to build SMRs that can be located on one-10th of the area needed for large-scale reactors. In addition, they can be built in factories with robotic assembly, and the reactor vessel can even be delivered on a truck. They will supply 220 to 440 megawatts, last for 60 years and supply electricity at a cost of less than £60 per 100 megawatt hours.
The remaining uncertainties with wind turbines are their reliability as they approach their 20 to 25-year lifetime—half that of nuclear plants—the overall systems cost of having to connect several thousand of these massive machines to the grid, which may increase their effective cost to about £50 per 100 megawatt hour, and having their highly variable output efficiently used. None the less, wind turbines have been very effective in rapidly reducing carbon, which is what we need, and they will be essential in meeting our 2050 target.
In the long term, the simplest and most efficient strategy might be to progressively increase nuclear capacity until we reach the level that exists in France—that is, about 70% or even higher. This will of course be a vast political challenge but it would be nice to join France and Scandinavia as a green country on the world energy map.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Browne on securing this debate and on his opening exposition of the UK FIRES report.
Like many in this House, I have, over time, come to the conclusion that maintaining the ecosystem of our planet is the defining global challenge of our age. We have been successful as a species—indeed, so successful that we have come effectively to dominate the biosphere of the planet on which we live. The next phase will be defined by how well we are able to manage that success.
As the report sets out, it is clear that, however we define success, it must be in the context of a circular economy —one that, like nature, generates no net waste. This is the question that we and the Government face: what happens if we fail to manage our success? The science and scientists of climate change are unequivocal: they are increasingly united in identifying many trends that serve as warnings and indicators that clearly point to our current mismanagement. These include carbon emissions, which we mentioned, and—no less importantly —microplastics, air quality, management of fish stocks, topsoil depletion, insect pollination, and nitrogen. I could go on.
What is less clear than the science is the impact of these various changes on the state of our national and global economies. While the science is clear, the economics are not. The current mainstream models on which the views of many, including some in the Government, I think, are based, turn out to be hopelessly conservative —no pun intended—and wholly unrealistic estimates of the likely impact of these changes. For instance, the economic impact sections of the IPCC report claim that estimates of global annual economic losses for additional temperature increases of about 2°C are between 0.2 and 2.0% of income.
In other words, it is claimed that, economically, climate change is no big deal.
This is fake economics, which deludes and leads astray leaders and Governments. I am grateful to the experts at the Institute for Strategy, Resilience and Security at UCL, which I have the honour of chairing. They have examined in detail the underlying basis of these assertions and have identified what appear to be very serious errors in how these conclusions are reached. I will give merely two examples. In one, a distinguished economist simply assumes that over 80% of the United States economy’s GDP will be unaffected because the activities happen indoors:
“they largely take place in controlled environments and are not really exposed to climate change”.
Furthermore, it predicts that no less than a six-degree increase would reduce GDP by a mere 8.5%.
Scientists on the other hand regard that change as likely to drive our whole species out of existence. Clearly these two views cannot be reconciled. As we have seen in Australia this year, only a one-degree increase in global temperatures has had some terrible consequences because of the fragility and irresilience of the infrastructure on which we depend.
In this short debate, I want to highlight the issue of fake economics deluding us into a false sense of security. The assessments on which we base the urgency and magnitude of the changes that we need to make as a society—and the legislation that this House may have to consider—have been drastically underestimated. We cannot predict the exact consequences of climate change. However, when we extrapolate from our current conditions to a world unlike anything experienced not only in civilisation, as one noble Lord mentioned, but in the whole history of our species, we need to ensure that climate change economists have faithfully reflected potential consequences. I put it simply to noble Lords: the economists working on this are giving us a false view that is starkly contradicted by the conclusions of the scientists—and my money is on the scientists.
My Lords, the UK has already made much progress on the path to net zero, and we should not diminish that. CO2 emissions per capita are now well below comparable countries, as is our energy use; greenhouse gas emissions are down by over 40% in 20 years; half of our electricity is now produced, carbon-free, from renewables and nuclear; and coal burn will soon come to an end. However, 75% of our energy at point of use is still petroleum or gas-fuelled. Half of all our energy is consumed by households and is currently 85% carbon-generated. Transport consumes the most energy of all and is 98% carbon-fuelled.
The route ahead is mighty challenging, but we should be bold and not incremental or hair-shirt in forging a way forward. We can be optimistic, not pessimistic. However, only 1% of cars are currently electric or hybrid, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, reminded us. Can the Minister tell us how we will ensure readily available, easily accessible, rapid charge points for electric vehicles in our cities, towns and countryside? Only one-third of our rail network is currently electric: what is the plan for a zero-carbon railway? How will we move to electric or hydrogen heating in our homes, which are currently 90% powered by oil or gas?
These transformations are likely to need three to four times the level of electricity that we produce now but, as we all know, renewables are intermittent and cannot reliably produce energy exactly when it is needed. Currently, we store only a miserly 6% of peak electricity demand. Will we massively increase our storage capacity? Will we build more nuclear power stations to ensure a carbon-free baseload? We and other countries are stumbling badly in our nuclear plans. Will we adapt our approach to sharing risk with contractors on these advanced technology projects?
Newer technologies may—or may not—overtake us and offer better solutions. We should remember that technology has improved enormously in respect of renewables in the last 20 years; they are very much more efficient than they were in the past. However, any plan that we forge is likely to need regular revision. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, reminded us, nuclear fusion may ride to the rescue. Battery technology, which is currently sluggish, may experience a breakthrough, or we may learn to extract carbon cost-effectively from the air.
The noble Lord, Lord Reid, a moment ago, amusingly raised the issue of what the impact will be on our economy, which is a hugely important question. Philip Hammond talked of a bill of £1 trillion spread over 30 years. Who will pay—the consumer or the taxpayer? What will be the impact—this is a massive issue—on other public spending? How will we protect the poor? Will net-zero investment stimulate growth or stifle it? Britain is a small country, responsible for only a tiny fraction of global emissions. How will we ensure that we march in step with the whole world, and especially the big emitters? I thought that the contribution on that matter of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was very effective.
We will not carry people with us through this transformation if we move well ahead of the pack; that was the warning of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. How can we focus public debate on what most matters? One day, air travel may be electric, or powered by sustainable fuels, but it is the biggest technical challenge of all. International air travel, however, is currently responsible for only around 1% of emissions. It cannot be our first priority and crowd out far bigger and more easily achievable carbon-reducing solutions.
We cannot expect the Minister to answer all these questions today, but I hope that he will tell us how the Government plan to get a plan, and when we shall see it.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing us to this report. It makes extremely interesting reading and I agree with many of its conclusions; not all of them—I am slightly more techno-optimistic—but I agree, essentially, that we cannot just expect some technological solution to turn up, unless we invest in it and understand the limitations. That means that we should focus on using technologies that already exist, or are very close, to change behaviour over the next 10 or 20 years.
One statistical point: we may call it net zero or absolute zero but whether we succeed in offsetting the challenges to our climate—and therefore to our society and way of life—depends not on reaching that point by 2050 but on how we reach it. We need to make dramatic reductions in the early part of the next 30 years. That means concentrating on the technologies we already have because a straight-line reduction will not do it, nor will delaying until the 2040s. We need to do it in the next 10 years.
The challenge that will face Governments, and our Government in particular since we will chair the Glasgow conference, is to ensure that we adopt on a multinational basis policies that will make a real impact. But those who will gather at Glasgow—the leaders of our nations and indeed Members of this House—are partly responsible for this situation. We tend to think that carbon in the atmosphere has gone up since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution but over half of the carbon concentrated up there now has been put there by us since the Rio conference, and therefore since the point when there was clear scientific consensus and most political leaders accepted that consensus. Yet we have failed to reverse the direction in which the planet is going. This means that the responsibility is on us and our contemporaries in other countries to ensure that we take effective steps, at Glasgow and immediately beyond, towards a coherent approach to this.
It is clear that Governments have not done enough yet to convince the population to be prepared to accept changes in their lifestyles. The evidence provided to us by Citizens Advice shows that, yes, 80% of people recognise that we need to make changes, but in relation to specifics, such as changing the heating system in your house, less than 30% are prepared to do so. We have a long way to go. Governments have persuasion but have not yet persuaded.
However, they have stronger measures at their disposal. Changes to consumers’ behaviour come not from moral virtue, or through taste or fear of the future, but from the price of the product at the time they buy it. If we are trying to switch consumer behaviour away from the ever-increasing size of cars powered by petrol or diesel, we have to take fairly draconian measures in taxation to favour low-carbon and smaller cars. If we are to change our behaviour on household heating, we have to make some systems changes, which may involve using either hydrogen or electrification for domestic heating. We need an early decision on which we are going to do—or whether we will do them both—but moving in that direction will also mean that we need to persuade individual households and businesses to reduce the temperature within their buildings in the interim.
The interventions by government have to be fairly draconian. Price increases brought about through taxation are never popular but if we are to change behaviour, we will have to grasp that nettle—and grasp it with our colleagues, particularly in the developed nations, so that there will be no way in which some nations will beggar their neighbour and undercut the consensus that we need change. It means that the European Union, the United States and other developed countries need to act in concert, in a way that will probably alienate some of their citizens but will mean that they do not undercut each other.
A lot of technologies are there or almost there. Even in aviation, there are some possible benefits in taking small steps but unless we change the overall behaviour of our citizenry and businesses, we will not get there. We need to do that on an international basis; Glasgow is the first step towards doing just that.
My Lords, the world will need substantially more energy as it grows and prospers and living standards improve. But at the same time, we need a sharp reduction in carbon emissions for there to be a good chance of meeting the Paris climate goals. There is no simple solution to this challenge, but any viable, sustainable path for the energy system needs to take account of both elements—more energy, less carbon.
The UK FIRES report does not include any role for carbon capture and storage or hydrogen as a source of energy in its description of how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, the Committee on Climate Change states that those technologies will be key in reducing the UK’s net carbon emissions. Will the Minister comment on that? The FIRES report, Absolute Zero, states that, rather than breakthrough technologies,
“the only solutions available in the time remaining require some change of lifestyle.”
Do the Government not agree that it should not be either/or? It should be both: technologies and a change of lifestyle. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for initiating this debate. This UK FIRES research document, funded by the Government for £5 million, is about achieving the reduction in emissions by 2050 and talks about resource efficiency.
The conversation that is now taking place is long overdue. As vice president of the CBI, I draw attention to our recent report, A Decade of Delivery, which set out our policy and the fiscal decisions that must be made over the next 10 years in order to set the UK on a trajectory towards net-zero emissions by 2050. We are currently off track as a country. They include: setting the policies in an attractive investment environment, good governance of the low-carbon transition, export potential and a just transition. Some of the major hurdles to decarbonisation, such as improving energy efficiency and switching to low-carbon heat sources, will require a significant increase in skills provision to enable the delivery of new investment in technology, and the Government must adhere to this moving forward. Does the Minister agree?
It is incredibly important that we have this discussion now, when climate change sits at the forefront of the public and political agenda. Last year, 2019, was a banner year and we have a world first: a net-zero by 2050 target brought into law by us. We have seen the images coming to us from Australia and Jakarta, and 2020 will be a really important year. How we deal with this now will make a huge difference. It is five years since the Paris agreement and we will have the COP 26 summit. We must not forget that a lot of this—the net-zero target, the strong proactive action—is being driven by the private sector. We are off track to meet our carbon budgets and there is a lot of work to do, and this year will be crucial.
The changes needed are physical and practical. Heating homes and businesses will be one of the biggest challenges to decarbonise. Some 24 million homes have natural gas boilers that will need to be replaced with a low-carbon alternative. We await progress from the Government on their heat road map due this summer. Will the Minister give us an update? It is clear from the work that the University of Birmingham and the CBI are undertaking into the policy frameworks required that we will need not just a national approach but clear responsibilities, power and resources at a local and regional level to plan effectively for this major infrastructure challenge that will require so many solutions—a long-term, credible plan, with the required inward investment by the private sector.
As we have heard, transport accounts for 25% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. At the University of Birmingham, where I am proud to be chancellor, we have developed a hydrogen train. The Centre for Railway Research and Education, which recently won a Queen’s Award, designed the Hydrogen Hero, a demonstrator train, in 2018, which has proven the technology possible. It is ready to be developed with an industrial partner. So it is possible to have more environmentally friendly technology with similar performance.
We can also make progress with aviation. BP, for example, has BP Biojet, which uses recycled cooking oil blended with conventional jet fuel. It helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 60% compared with conventional jet fuel. BP Biojet is already available at airports in Norway and Sweden and has been used in the United States, in Chicago. Do the Government agree that these sorts of developments in aviation are possible?
Finally, the UK does not have a clear picture of its real emissions. We currently measure only territorial emissions and not consumption emissions. The CBI strongly advocates for the UK to begin measuring both consumption and territorial emissions so that we can have a true and clear picture of our impact on the rising emission levels. This will have wider- reaching impacts on what the UK chooses to import and whether we tax high-carbon products. Does the Minister agree?
To conclude, at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Forest Research we have created an “impact of climate change and environmental change woodland”, where we have built a free-air carbon enhancement experiment set in woodland that will improve our climate projections. The most famous statue in the world is the Statue of Liberty; next to that should be a statue of responsibility. We have a responsibility and I am proud that the UK is leading the way.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for bringing the report to us. It has certainly led to a fruitful debate. I was also grateful that he brought in two of the authors to meet noble Lords and have a chat about it beforehand. I say that because I am much more critical of the report than many people who have spoken in this debate. I am not so much critical of the science. Anybody who can construct diagram 2.12, which explains what I have always wanted to know—exactly how the cement production chain works—is working very hard. It is not the science that I particularly want to dispute but the insensitivity to the politics.
My general belief is that we are not doing as well as we should be on climate change, but we are doing better than we could have done. My general belief is that the Stern report was basically right in saying that it was possible to deal with climate change and, at the same time, preserve something like our present economy. My crucial point is that there is a big difference between what we have all accepted now—zero net emissions—and what this report proposes: zero emissions. Not a single particle or atom of carbon is to be produced by man, and that means no aircraft, no shipping, no cement and various other extreme things.
Other noble Lords may find that helpful. I do not find it helpful in selling this prospectus to people in the future. I think it sounds too scary. It is not the case that if we go above zero, there will be Armageddon. There is a set of scenarios of possible temperature rises with a set of emissions. It could be worse or better—scientists do not know precisely. So the idea that we have to get rid of absolutely every particle of emissions is crazy. Having taught people that planting trees is a good thing to do, we cannot turn round and say planting trees makes no difference whatever, because we cannot plant enough in England. To spurn carbon capture and storage—one of the major potential contributors to doing something about this—is patently absurd. I also think the authors of the report are extremely pessimistic about the potential for developing more forms of electricity that are non-polluting, particularly nuclear. In Sweden, a civilised country by any standards, virtually all electricity is produced by nuclear reactors. That is a tremendous leap forward which we too will need to make if electric cars are to replace diesel cars, and so on.
We also need think about the political challenge a bit more carefully than we sometimes do. It is all very well for the House of Lords—we will be long gone by 2050 and do not need to get elected in the meantime. We do not have to worry about it, but the political challenge is enormous. The strange thing about the report is that it acts as if climate change is all about what one country does. If we look at the practical difficulties facing us now, what are the worst of them? President Trump and Mr Scott Morrison in Australia, who says that the cause of the bush fires was that he was not allowed to light enough fires himself to cause fire breaks. I am much more sympathetic to the many leaders of developing countries who say, “Well, you have had all the benefits from carbon, why should we take all the costs, especially when our people are starving, thirsty or lack the basics that you take totally for granted?”. Dealing with those issues seems absolutely major.
I am not a denier at all; I strongly believe in dealing with climate change. But if we were to put this report before the British people, it would be received in much same way as was the Labour manifesto: “Oh, you cannot be serious.” And we know what the result of that was. We need a practical programme to deal with climate change, working towards a sensible target for zero net emissions. As well as spending time on developing the technological and engineering changes needed to produce that, we need to spend time converting our people to the importance of what we are asking them to do.
My Lords, as global emissions from ICT have now overtaken those from air travel, you can imagine that, as someone who started an online travel agency, I am feeling pretty fantastic. I want therefore to focus today on how I perceive technologies to be at play over the next decade, while taking on board this interesting report’s view that technology will not save us. I am certainly not a techno utopian—I believe that technology could do a lot of harm if not deployed correctly, if investment is not deployed correctly and if information distributed online cannot be deployed correctly—but I think that there is much to gain by putting the digital world at the heart of the debate over the next few years.
First, I am constantly flabbergasted at the level of investment, both venture capital generally and tech-specific venture capital, going into climate-based solutions. It is shockingly small. In Europe alone, I think I am right in saying that £9 billion went into financial technology start-ups over the last year, whereas only £1 billion went into anything that we could loosely determine as environmental-based start-ups. What are we doing? What are we investing in? We do not need more financial-based start-ups. I have instigated a hashtag when I speak called “#NoMoreCRMSoftware”. We do not need any more enterprise software to help businesses grow and run; we need to focus on the biggest challenge in front of us.
In the US, the picture is not much better. Some individual corporates are doing a slightly better job. Microsoft recently announced a $1 billion climate-specific innovation fund, but, overall, the lack of investment in the things that will help us through the next decade and the derisory amount focused specifically on some of the suggestions made in the report by UK FIRES make me very alarmed. I read yesterday of another start-up that has been funded which does your shopping, brings it to your front door, comes into your home with a smart key, unpacks the shopping into your fridge, leaves you a bunch of flowers and then leaves. This, my friends, is why we are in the pickle we are in: more software developers pitching for more businesses that will help them directly build more software. We have to rebalance the investment cycle to focus on the things that really matter.
Secondly, we need to scale the innovations that are already proven and work. While I acknowledge the important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that it will take time to scale those technologies, there are technologies that are working now. I point to Impossible Foods, which has invented a plant-based way of replacing meat and other proteins. Its products are now used in manufacture across many fast-food restaurants but could still go further. There are many other inventions as well, particularly around the food and waste sectors. We need to back them and help them continue to scale.
Finally, and perhaps most crucially—I say this declaring my interest as a director of Twitter—we need to make sure that misinformation about the climate is taken as seriously as other forms of misinformation and exploitation online. I do not for one minute suggest that the work around terrorism, child exploitation, paedophilia and so on that many platforms have undertaken has been not been valuable—of course, it has—but, to my mind, making sure that the climate-based information that we see on the internet is accurate is as important as some of those other axes. I do not believe that companies and platforms are yet homing in specifically on these issues.
What can the UK do in this? This is where I ask the Minister to respond. As a small country, post Brexit—I am not making a political point, but we are now less connected than we were previously—I believe that there is an opportunity to make sure that the UK leads in how we deploy technology well, how we show what good information looks like and how government, corporates and the civil sector come together to make sure that we build the most sustainable future using the tools of the modern age.
My Lords, I think every noble Lord in the House agrees about the threat and danger of climate change. I start from the position that it is not just a question of reduction but also one of removal—the two are equally important. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Broers, who referred to the report by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society which emphasised that point—we need both.
My concern about this report, following some of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Lipsey and others, is that it is a bit too optimistic about changing human behaviour and is focused on one country. Some years ago, I mentioned to the Malaysian Minister the problem of deforestation there. He pointed out, gently but very firmly, that Britain had chopped all its trees down 300 years ago and started the Industrial Revolution, which got us to where we are. So we have to be a bit cautious on this.
The first thing I want to say to the Minister is that, to engage the public as far as possible with this, we have to avoid frightening them and avoid the panic measures because they do not work and they tend to make people switch off and look away. What we could do—and this is where I come to one of the removal techniques, which are well known—is plant more trees. I see no reason why the Government could not lead a campaign, involving individuals, local authorities, businesses and organisations of all types, in order to plant trees across the UK on a much greater scale than we are doing. I accept the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that we are planting more trees than we used to, but we could do a lot more. We could also make it part of our overseas aid programme to those countries who want to plant more trees and have the land space to do it. Leading a campaign of that type would be very good.
A danger which I have come across over many years in grabbing hold of a particular industry or issue is saying, “If we stop people doing other things, it will solve the problem.” It will not. If you grounded every aircraft in the UK today, you would still not be able to stop the rest of the world from flying. Aviation fuel is developing—several noble friends made the point about using renewable fuels, which are used on a number of airlines in the UK at the moment—but the point is, if you were to focus on just one issue, the one to focus on would be cement. If the cement industry worldwide was a nation state, it would be the third largest emitter after the United States and China. Does that mean we stop building houses, high-speed rail or whatever else that requires an enormous amount of cement? No, we cannot. The problem is that we do not have a quick answer to that, so we need to look for both reduction across the scale and for new technologies.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Hunt about the potential for fusion, but there are other ones here that we can relate to. I warn against panicky reactions. If you think about what happened with nuclear, both Britain and Germany gave up nuclear power stations because of the argument of the green movement. Then we had to rush like mad to try to build them again because we saw them as part of the solution. This is not the first threat to mankind. The first was CFCs and the depletion of the ozone layer, which is now repairing. It was much easier to deal with that because there were limited causes of it, whereas the causes of this are much more complex, but we cannot do it without a much wider-scale response.
I would like to hear from the Government—I have indicated this to them before—whether the Agricultural Bill will include things such as soil carbon sequestration. That is an important one and we need to know because there has to be some sort of strategy involved in here, which I do not feel any country has at the moment. We really do need a strategy and I think there is something to be said for a cross-party approach to these things. Where are we up to with the Strategic Priorities Fund, which we have not heard too much about recently? I would like to know where we are up to on that.
My final point is on the importance of getting the strategy right for our legislation. People may have received information today from Drax, which is linked up with one of the energy companies and the national grid, on producing systems that will enable us not only to reduce existing use of carbon but to develop things like hydrogen as a fuel. One point it makes is that, unless there is a regulatory system, that will not be able to be developed to its potential. Leeds City Council has expressed interest in using hydrogen as its heating fuel, but it would need some regulatory structure. That is where we need to think ahead to get right the governmental structures that enable companies to develop these systems. They are not straightforward.
I am also interested in the use of seaweed; we do not talk about it very much and I know it is still very contentious scientifically in terms of whether it could work as well as people think—though there is certainly evidence that it could. It is another thing that we ought to look at.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, for bringing this important report to our attention. I agree with it on a couple of key areas: we must not be misled by techno-optimism. Techno-optimism leads us to think that we can have a business-as-usual approach and just change the technology behind it. It also suggests we can have a one-for-one replacement of fossil-fuel cars with electric cars when, instead, the vast bulk of the replacement has to come from walking, cycling and good, affordable, reliable and convenient public transport.
Some of that techno-optimism lies in the idea of carbon capture and storage, which, rather like nuclear fusion, is a fantasy that has been receding decades into the distance for a very long time. Similarly, there is the idea of off-setting. I was at the Bonn climate talks three years ago, where there was an understanding that off-setting was dead. We need nature-based solutions; we need to grow many more trees and to treat our land very differently, but that is as well as slashing our carbon emissions, not as an alternative. It cannot be a trade-off.
Where I disagree with this report is on the goal of either net-zero carbon or zero carbon by 2050. I know your Lordships’ House has found this a very stark message, but I would say, as the science and the IPCC say, that we have to get to those levels by 2030. We need much faster change. I also very much disagree with a particular aspect of the language of this report. It talks about “lifestyle change”, which suggests a focus on how individual people behave. In fact, many people have no choices in changing their behaviour, because they are forced by the system to act the way that they do now. There is no point in telling people to leave their car at home and catch the bus if there is no bus service; it cannot be done. That is true in so many cases—people cannot afford the locally grown, organic food because it is more expensive. What we need is system change.
Perhaps to add further to the pessimism, the climate emergency is just one of the planetary limits that we are running up against. We are also trashing our planet with the nature crisis—of biodiversity and bioabundance —we are filling our oceans with plastic and we are destroying our soils. Behind all that are, essentially, externalised costs. Our current economic system is built on some people—big multinational companies, by and large—drawing large amounts of profit, with all of us carrying the weight of the cost of the climate emergency. We need system change, not climate change. We have seen growth as an alternative to equality: the poor get the crumbs; the pie gets bigger and so they get a few more crumbs. That cannot continue. We cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.
Instead of techno-optimism—and to shift in tone—I want political optimism. That is what we can offer. In a democratic system we can offer people a better life: the green new deal and a just transition. The Minister will be very familiar with the phrase “levelling up”. We are talking about levelling up for the inequality of the north and other areas of the UK. That has been seen to mean more stuff—more high-energy transport—but let us think about levelling up life across the UK with a four-day working week as standard with no loss of pay. That can cut carbon emissions and improve people’s lives. Let us level up with affordable, reliable, convenient public transport. Let us level up with warm, affordable homes for everybody. This is the political optimism we can offer the people in a democracy to make the change.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for bringing COP 26 into this debate. This is the crucial position we are now in. What will the future remember about the United Kingdom? Almost nothing that has ever been said in this House, but if we deliver a successful COP 26 in Glasgow, it will be remembered as a crucial turning point in global history. If we fail, that also will be what history remembers about the United Kingdom. A number of noble Lords have referred to Donald Trump and Scott Morrison. To quote the Governor of Texas at the Bonn climate talks, “Donald Trump is not an excuse for any of you.”
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for tabling this important and timely debate. I declare my interests as an engineer in the energy industry, specialising in nuclear, and a director of the cross-party group Peers for the Planet.
I am a techno-optimist, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. Maybe it is inherent in being an engineer. Oscar Wilde said:
“The basis of optimism is sheer terror”,
which feels appropriate in the context of the climate crisis. Although I believe the report’s approach is correct in looking at currently available technologies, there are two key omissions: first, viewing carbon capture and storage as a breakthrough rather than an incremental technology; and secondly, the nature of the absolute zero target due to the perceived lack of negative emissions options.
First, although the report is correct that carbon capture and storage technology is not yet being deployed at a meaningful scale, it is mature. I apologise for getting into the nuts and bolts somewhat, but a recent report from the Royal Society of Chemistry assessed the capture and transmission elements of CCS as being at a technology readiness level of 9, the highest available. The challenges are in the integration and scaling up of the technology.
It is quite common in these discussions to quote the glacial pace of previous energy transitions, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, as a reason that CCS cannot contribute to net zero, but in fact the current energy transition is proceeding at breakneck speed and will continue to do so. For example, gas went from a tiny fraction of our electricity generation mix to around 40% in less than 10 years. Wind got going only in the late 1990s, and look at where we are with that now. There is no reason why CCS cannot follow a similar path if the political will is there to do it. It is an oven-ready technology, as the Prime Minister might say.
Following on from CCS, bioenergy CCS is a negative emissions option currently being scaled up by industry, for example in the pilot at Drax power station. As with CCS, the key challenges are in the integration and scaling up of the technology. The Committee on Climate Change has done a lot of good work on bioenergy CCS. In its 2050 net-zero scenario, it estimates that bioenergy CCS could sequester around 35 megatonnes of CO2 per year, enough to counter the residual effects of the aviation industry. Afforestation can play a big part there as well.
The effect of these two technologies could really change the 2050 picture completely. The effects of cement and steel production would be mitigated because the emissions from those industries can be captured. Shipping and air travel could continue because their residual remissions can be offset by, for example, bioenergy CCS. Electricity production can increase through the use of CCS generation and an increase in the use of nuclear power, as the noble Lord, Lord Broers, mentioned. But that is not to underestimate the challenge. The Government need to move quickly by investing in CCS and getting pilot projects moving to define the commercial approach.
I turn now to talk briefly about the policy implications of CCS. Along with other firm power generation methods such as nuclear, which are needed for a least-cost electricity system, it suffers from being compared on a levelised cost of electricity basis with intermittent renewables, in terms of pounds per megawatt hour. The levelised cost of energy calculation is done at the point of generation, not at the point of use, so it does not take into account the system integration costs of intermittent generators, which are significant. The Committee on Climate Change estimates that these could be up to £20 per megawatt hour for high penetrations of renewables. Perhaps the Minister could comment on how the Government intend to address the shortcomings of levelised cost of energy metrics and move towards a level playing field for generation, because it is absolutely vital to recognise that not all generation technologies provide the same services to the system.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Browne for securing this debate and we have heard some very interesting speeches. I will focus on transport, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Birt, said, is one of the biggest current polluters. My worry is that a lot of us, as well as a lot of speakers in this debate, have focused on one or more new technologies, or possibly lifestyle changes, but we have to guard against focusing on the one solution that may cause us the least inconvenience. There are people in many other parts of the world at risk of drowning through weather events or suffering famine as well as everything else, which really has to be taken seriously.
Current government policies look like they will have a lot of catching up to do if they are to achieve what I think we all want as we move forward. Heavy funding is still going into new roads. The Government’s forecasts for traffic growth indicate that there will be an increase of 50% in traffic by 2050. We are looking at extra airport capacity. Why? We are looking at fuel duty, which has not gone up for many years while rail fares are rising. Why, if we want to encourage people on to rail? Where is the funding for buses, which are much more environmentally friendly than people driving around? Worst of all, while we rightly have endless debates about who is building more houses where, how are people supposed to get from those houses to their schools, offices, shops or wherever they want to go without a car? Public transport needs to be integrated with where people want to go.
We have an even greater problem with the movement of freight. We already have electric cars, but electric trucks bringing oranges from Spain are probably impossible at the moment. If they were possible, the cost of manufacturing the equipment would be very high. Cheaper rail fares and lower charges for rail freight would be a good thing, and perhaps the Government would like to follow the example of the German Government, who have just cut access charges for rail freight by 10%. I hope the Government will come up with some new policies on this before COP 26 in the autumn.
It is worth reminding ourselves that Friends of the Earth suggests that traffic reduction by 2030 should be somewhere between 20% and 60%. That is the opposite of going up by 50%. Surely that is something we should really be looking at much more seriously.
There is a great deal to be done on behaviour and the changes that will need to happen in our population growth, the nature and location of work, education, housing, healthcare and leisure. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, mentioned, digital technology is also very important. There is also paying for road use or electricity and possibly even reducing the need to travel in going about our business. Flying should increase in cost. We never mention shipping very much, but some of the emissions from ships need serious challenging as part of this campaign. We really need more rail travel for people—more stations and freight terminals—and to be aware, if we want hydrogen-producing transport, that it costs energy and electricity to make hydrogen. It is easy to go down one route and forget about how the rest of it will happen.
There needs to be a plan of action. As a colleague, Professor Anable of Leeds ITS, told me, we need traffic- reduction targets—not an increase, and not just for roads but for rail and air—and some real incentivisation to co-ordinate transport and planning objectives with the need to reduce travel. We need to do many other things, such as regulation and increasing investment in non-car modes, but it ends up as quite a change in lifestyle as an example to the rest of the world —which will be miles behind, if we are not careful.
My Lords, a key message of the UK FIRES report is that it is tough to meet even our declared 2050 targets without a drastic speed-up in the deployment of novel technologies. I argue that there is a more compelling motivation for prioritising and expanding such efforts: even if we meet our targets, it makes only about 1% difference to global CO2 emissions. Far more crucial for the world is what happens in developing countries, whose challenges are more daunting—as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, reminded us. We could surely aim to facilitate a bigger fraction of global emission cuts by collaborating with developing countries on meeting their challenges and targets.
We in the UK can realistically move to an economy that uses less energy, but the developing countries in Asia and Africa cannot reach what we consider acceptable living standards by 2050 without generating far more power than they do today. Not only must their per capita energy consumption rise, but they will by then harbour more than 1 billion more people. It is the CO2 emissions from these countries that matter more to the world’s climate, and indeed to us. We must hope that these countries’ growth will be far greener than Europe’s has been, and that they learn from our mistakes and follow the precepts of the UK FIRES report.
Unconstrained climate change, with the risk of tipping points leading to genuine catastrophe, is a threat to global security. Minimising this threat deserves the scale of sustained effort that we commit to our national defences. The urgency is appropriate to a national emergency.
We have a head start. For decades we have had the Culham laboratory for fusion research. The newly funded Faraday Centre to develop improved batteries is a welcome step. This should be the nucleus of a broader and larger venture encompassing other energy technologies—especially those where it is realistic for the UK to achieve a lead—and computational climate modelling.
If a scaled-up and wisely prioritised programme can give the UK a lead in more efficient and cheaper carbon-free generation, vast developing markets could afford to leap-frog directly to clean energy, rather than building, for instance, coal-fired power stations. Our efforts could thereby make far more than a 1% difference to the global effort to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.
The optimum structure and governance for accelerating our national effort—hubs of expertise to spearhead innovation and development—deserve serious discussion. We need institutions with long-term missions devoted to a national goal, crucial supplements to product-driven research in industry and journal-driven research in universities. Should these be free-standing national labs or beefed-up versions of the so-called catapults with mixed public/private funding? In any case, a modest fraction of funding should be reserved for blue-sky exploration of speculative ideas, probably best done in universities, which is the idea behind the fashionable ARPA model. How can we best ensure that there is take-up from UK industry so that we accrue long-term economic benefits if we pioneer important new technologies?
Unlike R&D in a defence arena, we are aiming here to combat a shared global threat, so we should forge co-operation and alliance with other nations, especially the developing countries for whom the threat is most severe and most intractable. How best this can be done is a severe political challenge that should surely be addressed.
A key mantra for the UK should be “If we don’t get smarter, we’ll get poorer.” With bold reforms to our education and measures to promote an innovation culture, we could contribute far more than our pro rata share to solving these global challenges. It would be hard to think of a more inspiring challenge for young engineers than to deploy UK expertise to provide clean energy for ourselves and for the developing world, nor a better investment in the UK’s future.
At this late stage of the debate, I am bound to repeat much of what has already been said. For a start, it must be said that unless, in a very short period, humans can forgo the activities that emit greenhouse gases, they will unleash forces beyond their control that will eventually overcome climate change. These would include the inundation of low-lying croplands, drought, famine, pandemic disease, industrial collapse and large-scale human mortality. In the process much of sub-Saharan Africa and much of the continent of Australia would become uninhabitable and there would be an unprecedented migration of human populations.
It may be doubted whether such eventualities can be averted by the foresight and abstinence advocated in the UK FIRES document we have been discussing. My fear is that we may run out of time before most people will be prepared to accept the stringencies being proposed. Indeed, some of the measures proposed are liable to cause an economic collapse in advance of the otherwise inevitable one. For that reason, they are liable to be resisted.
The report dismisses the possibility that significant technological advances will be available to redress climate change within the time at our disposal. It has identified activities that must cease if the 2050 target of zero emissions is to be achieved. These include terrestrial, marine and aerial transport, which contribute largely to our current emissions. Land vehicles will have to be powered exclusively by electricity. Flying must cease. International shipping, which depends largely on diesel fuel, must be curtailed.
Among the significant industrial sources of carbon emissions are the production of steel and cement. Electric furnaces must replace furnaces fuelled by coke. The emissions from steelmaking come from both the coke and the limestone or calcium carbonate employed in the processes. In future, steel would have to be obtained by recycling scrap metal within electric furnaces.
Cement, which consists of anhydrous calcium oxide, is produced by heating limestone to a high temperature to drive off the carbon dioxide. Its continued use in a decarbonised world would require carbon capture and storage, a technology about which the report is sceptical. Without an abundant supply of cement, and in the absence of other materials, building would have to be curtailed. Finally, mention should be made of the substantial quantity of methane that is emitted by grazing domestic animals. This is a potent force for global warming. We are told that to avoid the effect, we must forgo our consumption of beef and mutton.
To achieve the objectives of the report, there must be a plenitude of electric power. The report is curiously silent on how this will be provided, and the impression is given that it is expected to come from renewable sources. It is estimated that if we continue to increase the amount generated from renewable sources at the current rate, then by 2050, if we exclude all fossil-fuel generation, we will have 50% more power than we have today. This would be enough to satisfy 60% of our current energy-consuming activities. Thus, a substantial reduction in economic activity is implied, even though this has not been explicitly proposed in the report. This would amount to the economic collapse that I have mentioned previously.
We can do much better than this if, without delay, we espouse a nuclear future. I am surprised by the reticence of the report in this connection, and by its failure to recognise some of the resulting advantages, not least of which would be the ability to store energy in the form of hydrogen. This could be generated by electrolysis, if nuclear power was sufficiently abundant. The storage of energy in hydrogen would overcome the problem of the intermittence of renewable sources of power. Much of our transport could be powered by hydrogen fuel cells, and the two-tonne Tesla electric car—of which a quarter of the weight comes from the battery—would be seen as a white elephant.
The question arises of whether our nation can afford to go it alone in staunching our emissions of greenhouse gases. The authors of the report assert that if there is to be any chance of averting the catastrophe, we must take the initiative. We must give a lead to others, regardless of how unwilling they might be to follow us. In the process, we are bound to seek technological alliances to promote the development of, for example, fourth generation nuclear reactors and the use of hydrogen for the storage of energy, for heating and for powering our transport.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register, having worked until recently for the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, which is a major grant-giver to organisations working to tackle climate change.
It is daunting to speak from the Front Bench for the first time on this subject, amid the great expertise and knowledge that have been on hand in this debate. It has been made even more daunting by my Chief Whip walking in about a minute before I stood up. I hope noble Lords will bear with me.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, on having secured a debate on such an important report. As we have heard, the challenge facing us can feel overwhelming and insurmountable. The efforts required of our society, and of us as individuals, have been likened to mobilising for war. However, this is complicated by the fact that, to a significant degree, we are our own enemies. It is we collectively who are resistant to taking the actions that we know need to be taken. Unlike tackling an issue such as TB or malaria, here we will have to reduce doing some of the things that we like to do, such as flying. We must understand this.
As a political society, we are quite good at setting ambitious targets for the years ahead, and these are welcome, but we are much more reluctant to set out the detail of what reaching these targets will entail for us all. So long as the targets are a long way ahead and the detail of how we will reach them is not given, these are, to some extent, costless promises and, to a degree, worthless. However, this report is very important, because it starts to lay out the choices that will be demanded of us. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, said, this is not about telling us what we must do. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness said “they” want us to give up beef or lamb. I do not think they want us to do anything. What they want us to understand is the things that will have to be done if we are to meet that target.
As my noble friend Lady Walmsley and other noble Lords have said—and the report makes the point—we cannot focus simply on reaching net zero. We have to aim at absolute zero, and not just on the territory of the UK but in relation to the carbon that we are in effect generating. The scale of that challenge is enormous. It is matched only by the scale of our moral obligation to the generations who follow us. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said, if we do not act with the urgency that the situation requires, our children and our grandchildren will, rightly, never forgive us.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, made the important point that we cannot think of these as just lifestyle choices that people make. We have to create the environment in which people are capable of making them and in which the choices are available. This will require significant attention from the Government because it requires action across the board. A lot of what is talked about in this report is incredibly challenging for us to deliver politically, which is why it is worrying that we are not doing even some of the things we need to do which are less challenging. For example, on transport, we are way behind on electrifying the whole railway system, and that would be relatively easy to do. Likewise, my noble friend Lord Stunell did a lot of pioneering work in government on emissions from buildings and established the zero-carbon homes standards, which were later allowed to lapse. We simply cannot go on pretending we can achieve the targets we set when we are not doing even the relatively easy things.
On our energy mix, I have a number of reservations about nuclear but I fundamentally believe that at this point we cannot afford to be ideological. We have to investigate all the options in front of us in a sensible, rational and scientific manner to ensure that we have the tools available to meet the challenge ahead.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Redesdale that this issue is far too important for us to allow it to become a partisan football. While I slightly disagree with him on George Osborne’s position—I spent quite a lot of time battling with him during the coalition Government when he seemed to want to block everything from the Department of Energy and Climate Change— I take the point that this is something that we have to tackle together, and I welcome the actions that the Government have taken, including the recent announcement of the phasing out of petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by 2035, and I welcomed the previous Government’s adoption of the 100% target. This issue lends itself to far-off political decisions without much political cost, and we must address that.
In this debate and in previous debates noble Lords have mentioned worries about costs falling on people on the most marginal incomes. This is a serious issue. We must urgently turn our attention to how we take the actions we have to take in a way that creates an equitable burden. However, the actions we need to take are not an option. We have to take them, so cost is not an excuse for not acting. We just have to work out how to take those actions. It is incredibly urgent that we do so because, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, this is not just an issue for the future; particularly for people in developing societies, it is a current issue. It is impacting on people in a devastating way and it is increasingly likely to fuel conflict and mass migration.
Although we must be prepared to understand the scale of the threat that we face and the significant changes that will be required, like the noble Lord, Lord Soley, I also believe that we should not think that fear is the best way to effect change. We have to inject hope into the debate if we are to effectively galvanise society to take the decisions that have to be taken. As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, wrote in his excellent book, The Politics of Climate Change:
“Martin Luther King didn’t stir people to action by proclaiming ‘I have a nightmare!’”
He gave people a dream. He did not try to pretend that there were not huge obstacles in the way of achieving that dream but he gave people a reason to seek to overcome them. I fear that in some of the language of despair, we give people a reason to think that there is nothing that we can do.
Luckily, as the report tells us, there are great opportunities, as well as threats. The report says that delivery of absolute zero within 30 years with today’s technologies requires restraint, not despair. It also sets out the tremendous opportunities that exist through committing to zero carbon. To borrow again from Martin Luther King, we all have to recognise the “fierce urgency of now”. We have to act but, in devoting our attention and efforts to acting, we have to look not just at the technical and practical steps but—perhaps as importantly, if not more importantly—as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said, at how we tackle the political challenges, which may well prove to be the most complex problem of all.
This has been an excellent debate on the imperatives of climate change. I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton for initiating the debate and throwing down the challenge with the report entitled Absolute Zero by UK FIRES, a research collaboration of five British universities. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Oates, to his party’s Front Bench.
The report is an excellent critique, with a fresh look at what must be achieved to reverse climate change, set against the parameters outlined by the Committee on Climate Change in its advice to government on achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The vast span of these reports is reflected in the number of speakers today, and I thank all contributors for their thoughtful remarks.
It is also interesting to reflect on a third report called Zero Carbon Britain, recently published by the Centre for Alternative Technology, an educational charity dedicated to researching and communicating positive studies for environmental change.
The obvious realisation is how far behind the pace the Conservative Government are. They need to move forward from standing on the shoulders of the giants of the climate change transition movement, especially when they have reversed policies, cut programmes and cancelled projects in the 10 years they have been in unfettered power. Back in May 2019, the Committee on Climate Change reported:
“Current policy is insufficient for even the existing targets.”
That refers to the target of reducing emissions to 80% below the baseline of 1990 by 2050. The committee repeatedly points out that the Government are not even on track to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets.
The pace of climate change is quickening. The policy reports from the IPCC and others are piling up, and the Government are dithering. The UK now has the challenge of a net-zero target by 2050. The Government are yet to set policies to achieve this. They have secured COP 26 in Glasgow and are waking up to how vital it is for the international community to begin to make rapid progress on climate change action, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said in their remarks.
The Government must reset the dial after the weekend’s debacle and demonstrate determination by getting on with the agenda, publishing the long-overdue White Paper and the road map across all technologies and sectors of the economy. A wonderful achievement would be for the world leaders to sign up to announcements at the conference to bring international aviation and shipping within the scope of measures to combat climate change.
The international aspects and politics of climate change were reflected in the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and my noble friends Lord Lipsey and Lord Soley. New disasters can trigger conflicts in fragile settings, while climate-related disasters already displace 25 million people annually.
The importance of this report, so ably introduced my noble friend Lord Browne, is that it suggests a further, more ultimate objective. Over time, as progress is made, new horizons, possibilities and imperatives for further progress materialise. If the Government’s pace of response does not speed up, more will have to be achieved with more urgency. It will be a huge challenge even to meet the necessary parameters of the new net-zero legislation, which must be interpreted as a mere staging-post that will have to be replaced with better horizons even before these targets can be reached.
The second message of this report is that plans should build on existing and experienced technologies to be reliable, rather than expecting untried, theoretical technologies to come to the rescue. My noble friend Lord Browne calls this mindset “techno-optimism”. As advised by the CCC, the Government cannot reliably build on carbon capture utilisation and storage as achievable in time when they have not set up any trials or projects that could get the technology going.
That does not mean that the Government should not embark on this and other technologies: all will be needed to power past milestones set by targets such as net zero. The energy mix will change and advance. For example, the UK, a coastal state, has yet to make much progress on tidal power.
The comparison of net zero and the absolute zero of this report, coupled with realistic assessments of timing achievements, is startling. While it calls for incremental change, the report challenges the Government, business and the general public to make strategic change a priority. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, told us, the Stock Exchange and the CBI are already responding to investments set by environmental, societal and governance goals. Further returns to companies, pension funds and investors are being shown to be consistent with this new measure.
All sectors of the economy are assessing their future risk registers with climate change in mind. This includes their employees. As members of the public, they too want to be able to add their contributions through supporting renewable schemes. In this regard, I congratulate the Government on introducing the smart export guarantee scheme for solar PV and other technologies last month.
All speakers highlighted the extent of the challenge that societal changes will make to people’s everyday lives. It was hugely disappointing that the Conservative Government scrapped Labour’s zero-carbon homes. Energy efficiency of homes still remains a huge challenge after the failure of the Green Deal. Citizens Advice said that 92% of survey respondents would be happy to make their homes more energy-efficient to ensure that the UK meets its net zero targets, and 60% of them suggested that they would need support to do this. Some 79% said that they would be happy to change the way they heat their homes; of these, 76% also suggested that they would need some help. This is 60% of all homes—that is, 17 million households.
Still requiring insulation, improved lighting efficiency and a ramping up of the introduction of heat pumps, buildings account for roughly 34% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. My noble friend Lord Whitty reminded us that the Government have all the powers of persuasion through incentives and the tax system, as well as the stick of regulation. In this regard, mayors, local government and councils also have their roles to play. All needs to be bold on the huge challenge of decarbonising heat—a once-in-a-generation challenge, perhaps the biggest since North Sea gas.
While the UK has made progress on adapting and changing sources of power generation, especially through renewables and nuclear, it is way behind on transport, currently the largest source of emissions, which regrettably rose between 2013 and 2017. The Absolute Zero report argues that all transport must either be electrified or phased out. The report also sensibly calls on the Government to focus on scalable technologies and stop giving out mixed messages with contradictory actions. All forms of transport are still works in progress, including aviation and shipping.
To the public, Britain’s railways have been a shambles since the Government’s privatisation agenda, yet the challenge is to integrate not just the UK’s disparate rail network but that of the continent. There is no reason why rail journeys cannot replace all flights where journey times are less than five or six hours, including check-in and other time-consuming activities; travellers can already reach their destinations by rail and cut out these polluting flights. This is a new perspective on the requirement for high-speed rail.
The breadth of topics and areas covered by this report is extensive. It is impossible to do justice in the time available to all the important points drawn out by our speakers today. Climate change sets the parameters within which the Government need to keep up with policies that focus on reducing this one global threat. My noble friend Lord Reid set out the responsibilities of government. The Government need to make headway; they need to respond with ambition, tenacity and encouragement, and this cannot be soon enough. The challenge is to stop polluting the planet. No one can pretend that it will be easy.
My Lords, as expected, this has been a wide-ranging debate, covering a great many aspects of energy.
I have before me a big lump of coal, which I picked up on the beach of St Andrews when I was studying geology there many years ago. This has powered a revolution, changed the world and brought poverty under control. It has also begun to create the very issues that we are dealing with right now—some of the most serious issues this planet will ever have to deal with. It sits as a bookend on my desk. I put this piece of coal before me as a reminder that, back in 2015, we said that we would phase out coal by 2025. Today, in 2020, we are going through several weeks at a time with no coal whatever in our electricity generation. Setting a target further away does not mean that you wait until that date arrives; it means that you set your ambition and try to achieve it before then. There is every possibility now that we will reach a situation in which no coal is used in our electricity generation at all, nearly five years ahead of that scheduled date.
I have tried to think of a way of summarising the report. It is like fashion in the 1970s: good in parts, shocking in parts, and in some other bits, not so good at all. The reality is that the things we see in it shock us. They are a reminder that we cannot be complacent. A number of noble Lords today have spoken of their fear of our complacency. A number of others have said that we cannot rely on these breakthrough technologies because—goodness me—they will take so long to reach that point at which the reality of what they can deliver will be manifest. But we have to recognise, as we have with offshore wind and some of the other technologies that we are seeing now ,that we do seem to move them forward faster than expected. I appreciate the challenge in aviation, but I note that the distance between the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk in 1903 and having significant fleets that could cross the Atlantic was far less than 30 years. We are finding that we can see technologies moving faster than expected.
We are not talking about breakthrough technologies. The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, reminded us that, as we look at something such as carbon capture and storage, the real question is often one of scalability. The elements of the technology are in place; what is required now is commitment to deliver against them. If we start looking at bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, we begin to see the movement we might even make towards the negative emissions world. This will not be easy, and it will require investment. Right now, our Government are committed to investing in carbon capture and storage; we have to do that as part of the solution. Look again at the IPPC’s report: it says that carbon capture and storage will be part of the solution. This country is slightly guilty, having put forward £1 billion to address this, but then no one took it up and the £1 billion disappeared. You might therefore think the UK was particularly bad but, as a former MEP, I can tell you that a significant sum of money was put forward for carbon capture and storage across Europe—and no country took it forward. We missed a trick some time ago, but we cannot miss it again and will not do so. This Government are committed to making sure that carbon capture and storage is a significant part of what we do.
Equally, when we look at the emergent technologies within nuclear, it is easy to talk, as many do, of fusion as always being over the horizon. However, we can start looking at different sorts of nuclear now: the small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors. We are putting substantial amounts of money into them, and there is a remembrance that doing so can also begin to change the paradigm. If we set off with the assumption that we cannot do it with these particular technologies, then the report may well be accurate; but the problem is that it is not accurate if these technologies can be developed at scale. We have to grasp that with both hands, particularly in the year of COP 26 in Glasgow. I am struck by how important that event will be for us here in this country to send a message elsewhere.
I was also struck by some of the words of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. He is right to remind us of the question of social justice across the globe. It is easy for us here, who dug out the coal and hewed it from the pits to build an Industrial Revolution, to look across the globe at those who still have those resources but will not be able to take them out without the climate experiencing problems. Look at Africa: Botswana sits atop one of the largest untapped coal reserves in the world. Can we tell them “Leave it in the ground”, and that their electricity must therefore come from other sources? Bear in mind that, right now, most of their electricity comes from over the border. It does not even get generated inside that country. The reality is that most of that country does not have electricity at all; people create their energy by burning wood. We have to recognise that there needs to be a fair transition and a just transition.
We in this country have not just talked the talk; we have walked the walk. Since 1990, we have seen a 42% reduction in our emissions. It may be argued that these are low- hanging fruits, but we have still done more than anybody else, alongside a 73% increase in our GDP. That is the message India wants to hear: that they can have economic development and growth by decoupling from emissions. What they do not want to hear is that they will have to put a depressant upon their ability to grow. One of the most frightening things to have in the developing world is for this nation or others to say, “You shall go no further; you must rest where your development is now, because that is what we dictate it must be”. We cannot do that. It will not surprise your Lordships to realise that no country will follow our lead if that is what we say. We must be able to show how to decouple our energy and emissions from our ability to generate economic growth. If we can do that, we will make significant progress.
As we look at the calendar year ahead, this Government will be making statements about the way forward that will take us towards net zero by 2050. I say again net zero, not absolute zero, based upon what the Committee on Climate Change says. That committee was established to advise the Government—whichever party happens to occupy the Government—and we rely upon it to give us the advice that we will go forward with. We will have a number of strategies.
In housing, we will look at the domestic decarbonisation approach and our strategy to deliver this. We will need to do so in tandem with fuel poverty; again, there is no point in decarbonising while making people cold and sick. We need to make sure we go hand-in-hand with that just transition for all the people.
We need to look at a decarbonising strategy inside transport. There, we have a challenge that will not be easy to meet because, in truth, most people do not have an electric car, and we are nowhere near the tipping point where that car will become affordable. Again, we need to find that tipping point and we have a strategy coming out in order to help us deliver that.
There will be an overarching energy White Paper that will look at the bigger decisions that we have to take. Decarbonising domestic heating will be a real challenge. Shall we electrify the entire grid? If we do so, bearing in mind that electricity tends to be more expensive, we need to address fuel poverty head on if that is the case. Or are we looking at putting hydrogen into the grid in a hybrid or pure form? We will resolve that question this year. We will make a decision to determine that and to support the way forward. It will not be an easy transition, however. Underpinning all the things that we have spoken about today is the question of who will pay. The answer is that we will all pay. Either as consumers or taxpayers, the same individuals will pay, whether through the tax code or ultimately through bills. We need to recognise that.
Also this year we will have to address the issue of agriculture. My noble friend Lord Caithness was very clear. He basically asked what message we were seeking to send to our own farmers. If the message as we approach the distant point of 2050 and have not met the target is simply that there will be no more sheep on the hillsides and no cattle at all, we are not sending a message that helps them build and grow. So, again, we must look at what the EU will do and what the UK will do. There needs to be a support structure in place to help our farmers address the emission challenges. We need to recognise that that will not be straightforward. It will not be easy and there will be a cost that will need to be met. But we have to encourage them to do that. Again, the Agriculture Bill coming forward will be necessary to do that.
There will need to be a peatlands strategy. The last thing we want in Scotland, Wales or the north of England is our peatlands drying out. We sometimes forget how important the carbon sinks are. A number of noble Lords spoke about that. If we find ourselves in a situation where that is possible, we need to find a way of addressing it. There will be an English tree strategy—which sounds slightly niche, but it is about not just one tree but a whole, wide forest. The Government have made a commitment to plant the Northumberland forest.
Some may say that forests are a little like the notion in the Catholic Church of someone praying for your sins on your behalf—I look to the right reverend Prelate on that, although I am not suggesting that it is perpetuating it. But we have to recognise that afforestation will have a significant part to play, not just in the sequestration of carbon but in biodiversity. Restoring quality forest will matter—not just plantation forests. That could make a significant difference.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that we were sometimes guilty of not speaking enough about Italy. Of course, we are co-hosts of COP this year and it is important to stress that we are working in collaboration with Italy. We will be doing significant events with Italy, whose focus this year will be on Africa and youth. We are working in collaboration with Italy to ensure that COP 26 going forward recognises both those things.
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, posed a question about ice and seeing the end of ice. The albedo effect is absolutely critical in the way that we address warming and we need to ensure that we do all we can to preserve the ice structures that we presently have. That will perhaps be the biggest test that we have, and some will say that it might be beyond our ability because of the systems inherent in the ice itself. I do not believe that that is necessarily true.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, was very helpful with a number of the points that he raised. He was supportive of the Government. I am not sure his Chief Whip will be smiling at him, but I none the less recognise that the statements he made were helpful. The Government have done a significant amount, particularly in relation to companies and the register at Companies House, to ensure that people are now on track to record the wider question of energy usage. He asked whether that could be done electronically. I see no reason why it cannot, so I will give a tentative commitment to say that I will explore that as strongly as I can to see if we can do it. I am sure that I will quickly receive a letter from the Box if I am wrong, but I happily commit to that in the short term.
The noble Lord, Lord Reid, is often very specific in the way that he puts his points. He spoke about the dislocate between what a scientist might say and what an economist might say. I remember an old joke. When different people on a desert island were asked how they would escape, the scientist explained how he would build a boat. When asked the same question, the economist said, “First, assume you have a boat”. The problem with economists is that often they have a very different way of looking at things. We need to be talking about science, and the Government’s policy needs to rest on science. It cannot rest on the idea that economics will drive this forward. There needs to be a balance between them.
I have been told that I have one minute to finish, which seems a limited amount. I will say two things to end: the net-zero approach is important and we are a global leader in that. The challenge will be to get others to come alongside in this year of climate action, not least the European Union to join us in the same endeavour—that will be important. We need to be able to show that our technologies are scalable at home and deliverable abroad. They need to be available to the rest of the globe, so that the globe can enjoy the benefits of our technological achievements and scientific advances. If we can do that, we can make progress.
The important point—the Banquo’s ghost of this discussion—is that finance will be at the heart of decarbonising the globe. In doubling our commitment to the International Climate Fund to £11.7 billion, we are making a substantial commitment. We invite other countries to do the same. That money will be used for mitigation and adaptation, in order to address the climate and also climate consequences. We need more money to do that going forward, otherwise it will be a very different world a lot sooner than 2050, because we are living through real change now.
I fear that I have not been able to answer all the questions that have been put today, but I am against a tighter timetable than I had anticipated. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I have not. I am happy to commit to writing at any point in answer to these questions. I will give the rest of the time to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, whom I thank for bringing the debate before us. It has been a useful discussion and I hope that he will be able to use the time I can give him to complete his journey.
My Lords, I knew when I secured this debate that it would be a good one. It is a privilege to be a Member of this House, where so many noble Lords know so much and are so willing to share that knowledge. It has been a pleasure to listen to so many interesting and informative speeches and I have learned from them. In thanking all noble Lords who have contributed, including the Minister, whom I will come back to in a moment, I hope they will forgive me if I do not engage with individual points; I intend to reflect on the debate.
At the outset, I said that I hoped to generate a debate. I will be true to that. I have the benefit in UK FIRES of some of the best minds in the country to reflect on what was said and to advise me. To some degree, because of reactions that I would not have had otherwise to the debate, they can fact-check some of the things that have been said. I will respond in detail and encourage UK FIRES to publish that on its website. It has an open-portal website that invites conversations. If I cannot persuade Parliament to open such portals, I will continue this debate in that way, if noble Lords will permit me, and they can engage further.
I thank the Minister, who did not let me down. He made a spirited defence of techno-optimism. He gave us comprehensive lists, which he will be held to, of the Government’s aspirations—the things they will do and the challenges that, if not met, will have bad consequences that will have to be engaged with. I will do my best to keep him to them and he will thank me for it.
I will try to encourage the scientists to have a wee bit more political sensitivity. It is important that they have a bit of political sensitivity, but I shall say, “Everything that I want you to do, I want you to do against the standard that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has challenged his diocesan parishioners with.” I will ask them not to worry about us and not to worry about the difficulties that other people will have in living up to what they need to do. I will ask them just to place care for the earth at the top of their agenda.