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Climate Change

Volume 814: debated on Tuesday 7 September 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, published on 9 August.

The Government are deeply concerned about the findings of the IPCC’s latest report, which shows that there is no doubt that human activity has changed the climate. The report is a further warning of the need for urgent global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade and reach net zero around 2050. This reinforces the importance of achieving the Government’s COP 26 objectives and the necessity of a UK transition to net zero.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. Bearing in mind that he has indicated the Government’s concerns around the findings in the report, what new governmental, governance and statutory measures will the Government bring forward, in terms of amendments to the Environment Bill on Report and other means, to deliver on climate change and greenhouse-gas reductions? What plans will therefore be brought to COP 26 in Glasgow later this year, outlining that necessary climate-change stabilisation scheme?

I totally understand the noble Baroness’s point, but of course we have already legislated for the greenhouse-gas emissions, as covered by the Climate Change Act. It is therefore our position that we do not need to cover any further measures within the Environment Bill, as it is at the moment. Before COP, we will publish our net-zero strategy to set out our plans to meet these ambitious targets, and we have also engaged regularly with devolved Administrations.

My Lords, we all agree, I am sure, that the climate emergency is an immensely complex subject with many different facets. There is an urgent need and responsibility to educate and engage the public in responsible ways on the urgent priority of public and private action. Does the Minister agree that investment and a serious programme of public engagement are needed to combat climate change deniers, climate change delayers and those who say that there is no hope and nothing can be done? What are the Government’s plans for this?

The right reverend Prelate makes some good points, and of course tackling climate change must be a shared endeavour. Our ambition puts affordability and fairness at the heart of our efforts, and that goes hand in hand with supporting economic growth and prosperity. We support a number of campaigns to do exactly that, such as the Simple Energy Advice campaign and Together for Our Planet.

I congratulate the intergovernmental panel on a serious and thorough piece of work and the action that our own Government are taking. How confident is my noble friend that countries, such as India and China, that are not yet doing enough will actually step up to the plate on the basis of the scientific evidence before us today?

That is the £6 billion CO2 question, in that we will have to wait and see. A tremendous amount of diplomacy is going on. My right honourable friend Alok Sharma, the COP president, is obviously engaging extensively, and we hope that they will publish realistic NDCs before COP.

My Lords, the UK still has no fully costed plan to reach net zero. The Office for Budget Responsibility has made it clear that the cost of delaying will increase dramatically the longer we do so, and then we will not get the benefits of a more sustainable society and a greener economy. This vacuum of clear policies is now giving space to those who have vested interests in delaying and continuing subsidies for polluting fossil fuels—so can the Minister give the House assurances that he will act swiftly to address this misinformation and ensure that, in the forthcoming spending review, there are long-term investment commitments that take full account of all these costs and benefits?

We are certainly committed to action. We have published a number of strategies—the hydrogen strategy and the transport decarbonisation strategy—and the net-zero strategy will be published before COP. The noble Baroness will understand that I cannot give commitments for the Chancellor in the spending review.

In the face of the IPCC red card to all of us, will the UK Government commit to a faster date than 2050 for achieving net zero and more ambitious targets than the emissions reductions of 68% by 2030 and 78% by 2035? The IPCC report definitely pointed those out as needed.

Achieving the targets that we have already set will be difficult enough. I like the noble Baroness’s ambition to go even further and faster, but I think that we will stick with what we have got for the moment.

My Lords, a year ago when I asked the Minister whether it was not about time that the Government had a credible short-term action plan to tackle the climate emergency, he replied:

“Indeed, and we will be setting this out in due course.”—[Official Report, 6/10/20; col. 517.]

In light of the IPCC report, which makes it clear that global warming of between 1.5 and 2 degrees will be exceeded this century without drastic cuts in emissions, when can we expect to see that credible short-term action plan? I emphasise “credible”.

As I said in response to the previous question, we have published a number of our strategies. The heat and buildings strategy is to be published shortly; the net-zero strategy will be published before COP. We need to set an example, and we intend to do just that. These are difficult decisions involving a lot of different players within government, but we will endeavour to do so as quickly as possible.

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm Her Majesty’s Government’s assessment of the likelihood of meeting the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade?

Yes, our assessment is that it is still possible by the end of the century, but only with immediate and significant reductions in global emissions over the next decade and net zero by around 2050. It would be a challenge, but given concerted action across the world, we could still do it.

The IPCC report underlines the statistical proof of man’s footprint across the globe and that climate breakdown is already well under way and accelerating, with ocean acidification and glacier meltdown baked in for centuries to come. Does the Minister agree that the biggest threat that the world now faces is not climate denial but climate dither and delay? Will the Government now revise their NDC pledge to cut carbon emissions, on which my noble friend Lady Young sought clarification, and bring forward a more ambitious programme for action before COP 26?

As I said in response to a previous question, I admire the ambition of the noble Lord and his noble friend, but we have already achieved more than the vast majority of countries in the world. We have one of the most ambitious policies and one of the most ambitious reduction targets. We have made some of the fastest progress among all the G7 countries. Of course, it is right for the Opposition to keep pushing us to go further and faster, but we have done a lot.

My Lords, if anybody still has any doubts about the scale of the climate crisis, this report must surely put those to bed. As president of the CBI, I am very proud that one-third of the largest businesses in the UK with a market cap totalling £650 billion have already committed to net zero by 2050, but does the Minister agree that, although the UK’s 10-point plan is ambitious, we need to see more detail and clear timeframes for delivery?

Indeed. I can agree with the noble Lord on the first part of his question. It has been encouraging to see the number of major businesses that have joined us in the race to net zero. I pay tribute to the work of the CBI in helping us to do that. But we have already set a number of quite ambitious targets. We have legislated in this House for the carbon budgets, and we will produce the net zero strategy before COP, which will see further progress.

My Lords, as the European continent in the Middle Ages warmed up by 1.5 degrees centigrade and then reverted to normal temperature after a century, can the Minister tell the House of two scientific facts that show that we can stop or reverse climate change?

The noble Lord invites me to indulge in a long debate about the validity or otherwise of the various reports and the IPCC report. Perhaps we could discuss it separately outside. However, the IPCC report was a major piece of work taking on board many of the assessments from world-leading scientists, and we would do well to take it seriously.

My Lords, since 2007, the IPCC has rapidly increased its assessment of potential sea level rises. When will the planning process reflect the fact that siting nuclear power stations in coastal areas is not a viable option?

The noble Baroness raises a valid point, because the effects of climate change include rising sea levels, but they are consolidated, considered and adapted throughout the lifetime of nuclear power stations. As the noble Baroness is of course aware, we have a robust regulatory framework. Planning permissions and environmental permit requirements mean that no site can be built or developed unless all these factors are taken fully into account.