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Net-Zero Carbon Emissions

Volume 812: debated on Monday 7 June 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to publish a strategy for public engagement and behaviour change to support their target for net zero carbon emissions by 2050; and if so, when.

My Lords, leading up to COP 26, we will publish a comprehensive net-zero strategy setting out the Government’s vision for transitioning to a net-zero economy, making the most of new growth and employment opportunities across the United Kingdom. Through the net-zero strategy we will communicate our approach to public engagement and support the public to make green choices. Achieving our net-zero target will be a shared endeavour requiring action from everyone in society.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. For public-led behaviour change to happen, there will need to be perceived and real fairness. Those are not my words, but those of Dr Christina Demski, who has been advising the Government on this issue. Currently, that fairness is lacking. The Cambridge Sustainability Commission report shows clearly that it is the global elite who have been responsible for most of our emissions since 1990. What are the Government doing to tackle this inequality, both real and perceived? The BEIS public attitudes survey shows that there is a great deal of concern about climate change but quite an area of misunderstanding of what net zero means. Will the Minister encourage the Government to write to every household in the UK explaining what it means and what they can do to play their part in it, so that when we get to COP 26, we will all feel involved?

The noble Baroness is right that we need to involve all members of society in this. We have done a lot in this space. Since 2019, we are funding or running 13 deliberative dialogues on a range of net-zero issues such as net-zero homes, heating and transport, decarbonisation, and so on. A lot is going on in this space.

My Lords, will the Government let us know how they propose to get many more members of the public to commit to or be remitted the considerable expense of exchanging their gas boilers for ones with zero carbon emissions? What will be the carrot and what will be the stick?

The noble Baroness is right that this will indeed be a challenge. If she will be patient, we are planning to publish our heat and buildings strategy in due course. That will set out how our industry and consumers can take the immediate actions they need to take in order to reduce emissions from all buildings, both industrial and commercial.

My Lords, according to a summary report from the Public Accounts Committee, as much as 62% of the reduction in future carbon emissions will rely on individual choices and behaviours such as replacing boilers or buying electric vehicles. Have the Government told the public that they are relying on such behaviour change and what it will mean ultimately for individuals if they have no choice but to comply? When will the Minister tell the public how much net zero will cost them? As we have just heard, gas boilers cost a great deal less than the heat pumps being proposed, which produce a lot less heat. For an ordinary home to achieve net zero will cost approximately £90,000. Whether they are carrots or sticks, they are very expensive regardless.

I do not recognise the figures given by the noble Baroness. It will be an expensive change, but I do not think that it will cost that much per home. However, she is right in theory. We need to educate people about the changes required and to take them with us, and of course the policy will be brought about by a mix of regulations and grant assistance.

My Lords, given the Government’s admirable net-zero target for carbon emissions by 2050, will that include all transport becoming electric? We will have silent motorcars and buses, but will there also be legislation to make motorcycles electric?

These are matters to be decided in the future, but we will not be able to power all transport by electric means. Certainly, some will be, but heavy articulated lorries, trains and so on mean that we will have to look at other solutions such as hydrogen.

Do the Government recognise the key role that local authorities need to play in public engagement strategies to support net zero? Can the Minister tell the House what discussions his department has had with the Local Government Association on how best to integrate the work of central and local government in this respect?

The noble Lord is quite right that we need to involve local authorities and we are doing that. Indeed, local authorities are one of our key partners in many of our strategies, such as the local authority green homes grant. I am the Minister responsible for this. We are working closely with local authorities and so far they are doing an excellent job in helping us deliver it.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Can my noble friend explain how our planned net-zero goal actually contributes directly to checking the prospective growth in global carbon emissions and atmospheric concentrations? As these continue to rise worldwide, as they are likely to do, are any changes in priorities or in the direction of British resources to combat climate change being considered so as to make a real impact on the major emissions sources, especially the Asian utilities, where most of the increase is going to come from?

My noble friend has made a good point. The UK was one of the first major economies to legislate for net-zero emissions by 2050, and of course our ambitious domestic action gives the UK the credibility to influence and to accelerate global action. If the noble Lord looks at some of the commitments that have been made by major economies before COP 26, he will see that considerable action is being taken.

My Lords, I return to the issue of decarbonising homes. Does the Minister accept that public confidence and engagement have been damaged by the failure of several schemes, culminating in the green homes grant? Will the much-delayed heating and buildings strategy provide a clear and comprehensive framework for the changes that are necessary, including costings, so that industry and individuals alike can plan?

The noble Baroness will have to be patient to see the detail of the heating and buildings strategy, but it will provide a clear and comprehensive road map for the challenging work that we all understand will need to take place on decarbonising the heat that goes into both commercial and domestic buildings.

The Government are right to insist that companies bidding for government contracts should publish their plans on how their own companies will achieve net zero. However, for the Government, it is necessary that they publish detailed delivery plans to accompany legislative targets in a timely fashion. The current policy is insufficient even for the existing targets. While we await the net-zero strategies, how are the Government working together with the devolved Administrations, mayors and local authorities to secure buy-in? Does the Minister agree that it is unsafe to rely on as yet undeveloped technologies to come along just in time?

As I mentioned in my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Oates, we are working closely with local authorities and the devolved Administrations because this will be a shared effort. There are often challenging targets that we need to meet, but we are working with all our partners across the country and engaging with the public as well so as to take them along with us on this journey.

My Lords, total CO2 emissions from the national vehicle fleet have hardly reduced in recent decades, despite emissions from individual cars being much lower in many cases and despite the increase in popularity of electric vehicles. The main problem is the increasing number of highly polluting SUVs on our roads. Does the Minister agree that the Government need to restructure taxation levels so that people are discouraged from buying more heavily polluting vehicles?

The noble Baroness will be aware that I cannot give any commitments on taxation because that is a matter for the Chancellor. However, there are some excellent examples of electric and hybrid SUVs; people can continue to use these vehicles while still contributing to the cause of reducing their emissions.

Does the Minister agree that the engagement of the not-for-profit sector in developing public strategies is absolutely crucial? Does he also agree that this is an excellent opportunity to ensure that we strengthen our democracy by involving young people through non-governmental organisations?

We are closely engaging with young people. The Youth Climate Action Team is closely working with many young people’s groups on this agenda.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that what he is going to publish before COP is merely the start of a long, ongoing process that will happen every year, for many years to come? Could he tell the House what he is doing, particularly with schools, as an education programme? Unless we are all educated, we will not achieve anything near the target that we all hope for.

Indeed, my noble friend is right that COP is an important milestone, but that this work—this strategy and policy—will go on for many years until we achieve our net-zero target in 2050. The young people in schools and taking part in youth groups now will be consumers in the years ahead, so it is important that they are educated and informed of the changes that they will need to make.