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Private Sector: Environment and COP 26

Volume 813: debated on Wednesday 7 July 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to incentivise the private sector to make their operations more environmentally friendly ahead of COP 26.

My Lords, we are calling on companies to commit to cut emissions via the UN’s Race To Zero campaign, to join in submitting near-term plans plus, by 2050, a net-zero goal for independent verification. The UK will also be the first G20 country to require mandatory TCFD-aligned discourses, and we have secured similar commitments from the G7. These initiatives show, among other things, how global businesses are going green and leading the way to a low-carbon future.

The private sector was very useful when it came to the AstraZeneca vaccine, and the Government were incredibly thoughtful and rushed forward to support that company; it was a good example. However, the four objectives are a bit aspirational at the moment, so we need to push forward the way in which the Government can get the private sector on their side. May I suggest that they look again at some examples such as contracts for difference, which was about giving guarantees to start-ups and new businesses in the private sector in order to push forward? In that way, we can have the same response in the private sector for the environment as we got with AstraZeneca.

The noble Lord will I am sure be delighted to hear that we are launching a new contracts for difference round in December.

My Lords, the best multinational companies have actually been ahead of the Government in relation to the sustainable development goals. Therefore, I wonder whether the Build Back Better World initiative announced at the G7 summit recently by the Prime Minister will actively engage multinational companies in delivering the sustainable development goals, and will the UK have a key role in taking forward this initiative after leading the G7 in Cornwall last month?

The noble Lord makes a very good point, and indeed we will. Already, 40 of the UK’s leading companies have joined the net-zero challenge and, as he will be aware, as part of the 10-point plan, the Government have invested over £12 billion to stimulate a green industrial revolution in the UK supporting up to 250,000 jobs.

The industrial strategy challenge fund has 10 challenges, and one of these, as the noble Lord will be aware, is the transforming construction fund, with £170 million of public funding and £250 million of private funding, providing safer, healthier and more affordable buildings that use dramatically less energy.

Building on the role of enlightened international businesses and with the exciting international leadership offered by COP 26, will my noble friend ensure that the magnificent Siemens wind turbine blade factory and Green Port Hull have the opportunity to showcase the pivotal role of the private sector in enabling all operations to move to a net-zero future? I declare my interest as chancellor of the university and sheriff of the city.

My noble friend makes a very good point. She will have seen the announcement that we made only this morning on additional investment in wind turbine infrastructure in the Humber and the Tees. We will of course showcase the excellent efforts of these companies.

My Lords, given the enthusiasm that the Minister has expressed for the work being done and the fact that many companies are making great progress in this area, do the Government support the Better Business Act campaign business leaders who are calling for the amendment of Section 172 of the Companies Act to remove shareholder privacy provisions so that companies are legally obliged to operate in a manner that benefits all stakeholders. Do the Government have plans to review the UK’s corporate governance code to ensure that it is in line with our net-zero-by-2050 target?

The noble Baroness makes a good point. We keep all these matters under constant review. We are constantly looking at the corporate governance code and we are reforming audit and corporate governance at the moment. We will be announcing some plans when the consultation has closed.

In June, the Government announced that Microsoft would join SSE, Scottish Power, NatWest Group, National Grid, Sky, Sainsbury’s, Hitachi, Reckitt and GSK as principal partners for COP 26. Can the Minister explain the Government’s criteria for appointing the principal partners? Does this mean that they consider these companies to have clear plans for achieving net zero which are being implemented with a company-determined contribution?

All companies that take part in COP 26 will have joined our race to net-zero initiative. As I mentioned in response to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, 40 of the FTSE 100 companies have already joined it and we hope that more will follow.

My Lords, can the Minister get all the companies that run public electric car chargers together in one room and force them to simplify and standardise their access and payment technologies? I ask because if anyone wants to drive an EV to Glasgow for the COP 26, they will need a phone full of apps, a handful of cards and nerves of steel in case the charger that they urgently need is either occupied or broken.

I think that the House has some sympathy with the points made by the noble Baroness. She will be delighted to hear that the Competition and Markets Authority is carrying out a market study into electric vehicle charging in the UK, considering two broad themes: how to develop a competitive sector and attract private investment, and how to ensure that people using EV charge points have confidence that they can get the best out of the service. I am sure that the noble Baroness will want to contribute to that study.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of the late Sir Roger Gifford, an exceptional leader in the City and on the green finance taskforce. A key output of the latter was the Green Finance Education Charter, a critical step for embedding vital skills for accurately assessing climate-related risks and opportunities in business, finance, and professional services. As set out in the Green Finance Strategy, the charter forms an important part of the Government’s path to COP 26. Can the Minister recommit to the programme of work today that is set out in that, and will he ensure that it delivers on its full potential ahead of COP 26?

I am very happy to join my noble friend in recommitting to that. Sir Roger was an inspiring champion for using finance as a force for good in tackling climate change and improving the environment. All of us in government will remember his work.

My Lords, the increased attention given to climate change in boardrooms is largely being driven by investor sentiment. Last year, over 100 new environmental, social and governance funds were launched in Europe alone. ESG funds happen to be performing exceptionally well, demonstrating that ethical investing is profitable investing. Can my noble friend send a clear message to ESG investors today that the Government recognise their efforts, that they are welcome and that they will be supported?

I agree with the points made by my noble friend. The Government’s ambition is for the UK to be the best place in the world for green and sustainable investment. ESG funds are a crucial part of this. The Chancellor used his Mansion House speech on 1 July to announce a set of ambitious new policies to drive forward this important agenda.

My Lords, I refer to my interests as set out in the register. Can the Minister tell the House what steps the Government are taking to deliver decarbonisation of the existing housing stock and how they are supporting the delivery of the pipeline of skills required to undertake this work?

The Government are making substantial progress in this area. The noble Baroness will be aware that we will be publishing our heat building strategy shortly, which will help to set out this path. We are already doing a lot through a number of targeted investments, through the local authority delivery fund and the social housing decarbonisation fund, to help those on the lowest incomes to decarbonise their houses and properties.

How has the Minister’s department, BEIS, helped to support this transition while also fostering innovation by business at all times and at all levels?

My noble friend is very keen on innovation. I am delighted to tell him that, as part of BEIS’s £505 million energy innovation portfolio and our £10 million Industrial Energy Efficiency Accelerator programme, we have provided grant funding for technology developers—industrial sites to install, test and prove innovative equipment that could help to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. We have also boosted access for SMEs to energy efficiency innovation competition and provided £6 million to fund the development of innovative market solutions that can provide businesses with tailored energy efficiency advice.