Question for Short Debate
To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to support behaviour change as part of the pathway to net zero emissions.
My Lords, I appreciate the time given to this debate, despite all that is happening elsewhere in Westminster today. We face many challenging issues as a country and a world, but none is more serious than climate change and the environmental crisis. The context of our debate is the real prospect of global heating of more than 1.5 degrees by the middle of the century, with escalating extreme weather events in the UK and across the world, rising sea levels, devastating fires and floods, significant loss of life and damage to infrastructure, wars over scarce resources, shifting patterns of harvest, an increase in zoonotic disease and a massive displacement of people as large parts of the earth become uninhabitable.
Your Lordships may well have seen the final episode this week of BBC documentary “Frozen Planet II”, detailing the effects of global warming on people and wildlife. The most sinister pictures for me were of the small bubbles of trapped methane being released in great quantities from the permafrost, with devastating consequences for the earth.
It is a privilege to be a member of your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Environment and Climate Change under the able leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. Last week we published our first major report, In Our Hands: Behaviour Change for Climate and Environmental Goals, which I commend to the House. My questions to the Government are based on the report’s findings.
The world is agreed that to avert disaster in our lifetimes we need to reach net zero by 2050 or before. That means radical action in this decade and the next. The committee agreed with the Committee on Climate Change that behaviour change is a key element in that journey. Around 32% of the change needed involves some kind of behaviour change. This includes the adoption of new technology and changing habits and practices around diet, transport, heating and consumption. Each of these behaviour changes has significant co-benefits and all have potential economic benefits. They are essential stepping stones on the path to net zero.
Responding to climate change is a challenge for all of us—every individual and family, every charity, every church and faith community, local government and business. The Church of England has an aspiration to reach net zero by 2030. In my own diocese we are encouraging every church to become an eco-congregation and to be a community of change. We initially set aside £10 million, over three years, to begin to insulate more than 400 vicarages across the diocese. All the different agencies must work together, but to do that means common policies and clear leadership.
I believe, personally, that our Government have given imaginative and committed leadership in the area of climate and the environment, including at COP 26 and in the recent Environment Act. The Government have also acknowledged the need for behaviour change across the board. We must all play our part. It is helpful to see government commitments to behaviour change summarised in the Library briefing for this debate. To give one example, the Minister said in your Lordships’ House last year that the Government wanted,
“to make it easier and more affordable for people to shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle while at the same time maintaining freedom of choice and fairness”.—[Official Report, 16/09/21; col. 1571.]
The committee takes a broadly similar view. We know that the public are looking for stronger leadership from the Government in this area. Some 85% of the general public are concerned or very concerned about climate change, double the number from 2016. However, the committee found a very significant gap between what the Government want to do and the leadership actually being offered. There are significant gaps in understanding the challenge from department to department. There is too little joined-up thinking and policy. There are quick wins not being adopted. There are massive areas for development and new policy, particularly around domestic heating, which is the subject of our next inquiry. The leadership and committee structures within government are opaque. There is a lack of expertise and knowledge within government. There has been no real attempt at public information and engagement campaigns. Confusion and discord over public guidance on energy-saving tips for this winter have been reported in just the last week. The party leadership debate that we had over the summer raised real questions about the new Government’s commitment to net zero, which were being worked through yesterday in the other place.
Our report offers a set of recommendations to the Government in this area of leadership. Other speakers will no doubt have other questions to the Minister on other aims. Can the Minister reassure us that the Government will take these concerns and questions seriously and will put real energy, creativity and determination into the process of supporting behaviour change into the future and as a matter of great urgency?
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate, the Government and the Minister for proposing and enabling this debate today. It is an extremely important subject. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for her committee’s report on this subject, as has been mentioned.
We all agree, I think, that decarbonisation is a very desirable goal, but that aspiration is different from the specific net-zero 2050 policy. That target was essentially invented by the Climate Change Committee in 2019, passed through secondary legislation in this Parliament with limited debate and, since then, has been creating radical change to the economic structure of this country. My own party is just as much to blame for this situation—possibly even more so—as the parties of noble Lords opposite.
To be fair to the Climate Change Committee, it correctly stated in 2019 that there would need to be policy change to deliver this goal. It specifically mentioned decarbonisation of industry, the grid, insulation, renewables, boilers, carbon capture and storage, and so on. Now, however, we find, first, that all these technical measures are extremely expensive to install; secondly, they make energy and normal life very expensive for people; and, thirdly, they are increasing the unreliability of the energy sector, worsened by the destruction of energy supply that is actually reliable and by the addition of too many renewables that destabilise the grid.
We see a situation where the technology does not deliver the goal or aspiration by 2050 and behavioural change is beginning to fill that gap, which I find somewhat troubling. I will make three remarks. First, “behavioural change” is a nice phrase, but let us look at what it actually means: it means making it harder for people to do things that they would otherwise choose to do. One of the Government’s slogans is:
“Make the green choice affordable”.
Another way of putting that is: subsidise substandard and ineffective technologies, chosen politically by government, which people would not choose to use otherwise. Behavioural change, then, reduces human welfare, making people do things that they do not want to do, rather than things they do.
Secondly, if we take the phrase at face value, behavioural change should be voluntary. It means encouraging or nudging, but it often feels as though that is not what is being described. In 2021, the Climate Change Committee said:
“Behaviour change … comes through consumer adoption of low-carbon technologies such as electric cars”.
You do not get any choice about that: from 2030, you have to buy an electric car. That is not nudging but compulsion. The same is true for heat pumps from 2025 and closing roads for cyclists—it is all compulsion.
The same is true of the aspiration to learn from the pandemic set out in the committee’s report, from which I note my noble friend Lord Lilley wisely dissented. Yes, behavioural change was encouraged during the pandemic, but the key aims were achieved by legal compulsion: making it illegal to leave your home and meet people, and fining you if you did so. That is not nudging but simple compulsion, and if people mean legal compulsion, they should say it.
Finally, we are already in a society where far too much is governed by politics, which is too much in every sphere of everyday life. I worry that behavioural change and climate measures are shrinking the private space of individuals. They turn every decision—every time you go to the supermarket or travel—into a political act, which is a bad thing for society. Free societies should have large spaces where there is free choice.
I conclude by urging the Government on this. They have done quite enough encouragement of behavioural change as it is; there is no need for more. The right way to the decarbonisation goal is on the supply side. Provide the energy that people need but do not tell them not to use it. The right way forward is from natural gas to nuclear, with renewables at the margin, and investment in new technology—batteries and hydrogen—so that we have the low-carbon power that a modern industrial society needs. That is the way forward.
My Lords, I am also a member of the Environment and Climate Change Committee, and I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford on securing this extremely timely debate so soon after the publication of our committee’s report on the importance of changes to people’s behaviour, by which I mean the importance of securing changes to our behaviour to achieve the legal target of net zero by 2050. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his excellent opening remarks, which set the scene and tone for the debate well.
The Question tabled underlay much of the proceedings of our committee’s inquiry. Helped by the last contribution, this short debate centres on whether the Government have a role to play in encouraging change that will contribute to a lessening of our emissions. It also centres on what that that role is and whether such initiatives are, in themselves, unreasonably restrictive, nannying, bossy or any other word plucked from the Rolodex of adjectives employed reflexively by those ideologically suspicious of any attempt by the state to engage in any way with individual freedom of choice. Lastly, it centres on whether such behaviour change will make a substantive contribution to smoothing our path to net zero.
In conducting this inquiry, the Select Committee heard evidence from across government, industry and the third sector, but I was particularly struck by the evidence we received from former members of the Climate Assembly. Like the vast majority of witnesses, they made it clear in their testimony that the public supported behaviour change and that they were looking for greater government leadership to make it happen. It is unfortunate that the pandemic eclipsed the report’s release in September 2020 and that it consequently gained rather less public traction than its contents deserve. It makes clear that the participants in the assembly regarded cross-party co-operation as essential, that government has a significant educative function in mobilising public consent for the changes needed and that the deliberative process involved in the assembly had motivated each of them to make changes in their individual consumer choices designed to minimise their environmental impact. This is perhaps the best evidence we heard of the effect that education and knowledge can have in prompting individuals to make decisions for the collective good.
To address the concerns of those who feel that the cause of net zero is being hijacked by a group who wish us to regress to some kind of pre-industrial world, I gently point out that at no point in the 550 pages of the assembly’s report is any mention made of abolishing industry, travel and the edifice of post-modern capitalism and returning to some prelapsarian world structured around our circadian rhythms. The citizens’ assembly on climate change was not constrained by moderating voices from inside or, much more importantly, outside government, which allowed it to apply the common sense that led it to balance the demands of business and individuals, supply chains and customers, and individual choice and broader social goods in its deliberations.
Our report takes the same approach. Led by the evidence, we concluded, as we record in the summary:
“People want to know how to play their part in tackling climate change and environmental damage, and the Government is in a unique position to guide the public in changing their behaviours. The Government should provide clarity to individuals about the changes we need to make, in how we travel, what we eat and buy, and how we use energy at home, and should articulate the many co-benefits to health and wellbeing of taking those steps. A public engagement strategy, both to communicate a national narrative and build support for getting to net zero, is urgently required. Behavioural science evidence and best practice show that a combination of policy levers, including regulation and fiscal incentives, must be used by Government, alongside clear communication, as part of a joined-up approach to overcome the barriers to making low-carbon choices. A behavioural lens must be applied consistently—
and this is the important one—
“across all government departments, as too many policies … are still encouraging high carbon and low nature choices.”
To address the concerns of those who feel that the cause of net zero is being hijacked by those who wish that regression, I encourage them—including, with respect, the noble Lord, Lord Frost—to actually read both reports before levelling these groundless accusations.
In short, the role the public wish the Government to play is that of an enabler, not an enforcer. Both the assembly’s report and ours are clear that it and we do not wish this—or any future Government—to remove the power of decision-making from individuals. We want them to fashion a context in which the gap between ethical and practical decision-making is closed. For those who wish to preserve individual liberty, including the noble Lord, surely a context within which people can make the decisions they wish to make, on an ethical basis rather than by purely practical considerations, is desirable.
My Lords, I start by acknowledging the report, In Our Hands: Behaviour Change for Climate and Environmental Goals, produced by the Environment and Climate Change Committee, chaired by my noble friend Lady Parminter. I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, who, by tabling this debate, has given us an early opportunity to address the crucial role of behaviour change in meeting our net-zero targets—a debate I was hoping would be informed by hard evidence, experience and sound judgment. The future of our planet deserves no less.
That we are in a climate emergency is borne out by hard evidence—the evidence of our own eyes and the experience of those who are already feeling the catastrophic impact of extreme weather events and slow-onset effects such as the depletion of nature and the rise in sea temperatures. I think that a sentence or two here on the evidence for the need for urgent action would not go amiss, given that we still have parliamentarians who deny that climate change is real, that immediate action is necessary and indeed that the public even want change.
There can be few harder indicators of the damage we are doing to our planet than the monthly measure of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere carried out by the Mauna Loa Observatory. The annual peak in May this year was the highest ever, at 422 parts per million of carbon dioxide. In the preceding 800,000 years for which we have ice core data, concentrations have ranged between 170 parts per million to a peak of 300 parts per million. To put this into context, over the mere 150 years since the start of the fossil fuel era, carbon dioxide concentration has rocketed from about 200 parts per million to the 422 parts per million we see today.
We are in uncharted territory. It is a fact that the temperature of our planet rises in tandem with concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The effects of that temperature rise, at a rate unprecedented in geological time, must dictate urgent and immediate action—anyone who denies that is wearing blinkers, quite frankly. Hard evidence clearly says that the Government must act now to fulfil the aims of their laudably ambitious agenda to reach net zero by 2050, with an interim goal of a 78% reduction by 2035. However, the Government’s own advisory body, the globally respected Climate Change Committee, has said that this is unachievable—not difficult, but unachievable—without leadership by the Government and a well-designed campaign to get the public on board. The British public have indicated that they stand ready to play their part; all that they lack is leadership in how best they can do this, and there is plenty of evidence in the report to back that up.
Experience shows that where the Government have taken a lead and delivered a well-designed policy, the results have been positive. Take the example of renewable electricity: emissions from electricity generation have fallen by nearly 70% in the last decade. A second example where clear leadership by the Government has had excellent results is in the uptake of electric vehicles, which are being adopted in greater numbers each year.
I will mention two important areas where decisive leadership from the Government has been sadly lacking. First, the gap in policy for better-insulated homes is, quite frankly, shocking. A well-designed, government-led campaign to effect behaviour change would reduce demand in homes and deliver the co-benefits of reducing emissions and helping to bring down energy costs for vulnerable households. What is holding the Government back? This is a question I would really like the Minister to attempt to answer.
Secondly, agriculture and land use policies are vital to delivering net zero but are virtually non-existent and, like everything that this Government have touched, currently bathed in confusion. Yet it is clear that a well-designed and well-communicated policy will generate a number of co-benefits, not least in long-term food security and biodiversity.
In conclusion, the public have clearly indicated that when behaviour change is urgently needed, they will step up to the mark; for example, with the unusual demands made of them during the days of the Covid pandemic. It is time that the Government too stepped up to the mark.
My Lords, I too have the happy duty of being a member of the Environment and Climate Change Committee. I congratulate both my colleague on that committee, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, on having obtained this debate, and the chair of our committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, who has been remarkably good in the face of the differing opinions of the committee in reaching what I think is an excellent report.
We as a society have committed to decarbonisation. I hope that we have also committed to allowing a lot more space in our lives for nature. In making those sorts of commitments, we need the Government’s help to see it through. In playing our part, we want to be owning that process and to have a sense of agency, knowing that what we are doing is doing good. But even in the most basic aspects of this, the Government are failing.
Most of us recycle, but do we know what happens to our recycling? In my experience, a lorry turns up and tips my recycling into the back of it; the next sound I hear is the crunching of glass being shattered and mixed in with the paper. What happens after that? Is it all shipped off to Africa? Can someone unmingle it? Is it actually a useful thing to do? No one trusts us with that information. If the Government want us to be part of what is going on, we need to know.
The Government would like us to consider a more vegetarian lifestyle. That is fine; I have been persuaded of that by my daughter and am enjoying the process, except when I go to the shop and find that oat milk is twice the price of cow’s milk. Why? Again, who can help us? The Government should be helping us. You cannot say you want a change and then find that you are asking people to consume half as much of something that should be, according to the theory of things, a great deal cheaper. What is going on? That is what I want the Government to tell us.
Similarly, we are told that we should not travel so much by air, but the cost of a lot of the flights we might take is a third or a quarter of that of the journey by train. Are we being given the honest figures? The answer is no, we are not. We are just told the fuel consumption, not the total cost of the two systems. It is not explained to us why air travel is so much cheaper. Usually, things are cheaper because they have a lower impact on the environment and use fewer resources. Again, the Government owe us some detail.
Similarly—this will come up in our next inquiry—Nesta has shown in a recent report that heat pumps are substantially more expensive to run than gas central heating. Just comparing the fuel consumed by one against the fuel consumed by the other does not give us the total systems impact of changing from one to another. If the Government want us to have agency to be part of the national narrative in making changes that decarbonise the economy, they must share with us the information that allows us to understand and have a grip on the decisions they are asking us to take.
I am sorry that the Government decided not to publish help for people on how to use less fuel and live in a house with the thermostat turned down. I think we need honest, truthful, open information. It helps us sort the myths from reality. I—along with many other noble Lords, I suspect—spent a great deal of my youth in the company of my noble friend Lord Frost’s cousin Jack. We know that, apart from the displeasure of chilblains, it is possible to live without central heating, but none of us wishes to. We are all delighted that we have it, but when we started out with central heating the British kept their thermostats at 15 degrees. It was only the Americans who pushed it above 20, but now people seem to consider that 24 is normal. We need help to get back and reset society, and to think whether we need to have such an impact on the environment or whether we can moderate what we are doing.
I am very grateful to have been nominated to join your Lordships’ Environment and Climate Change Committee on the retirement of our esteemed colleague Lord Puttnam in January. It is a great privilege. I thank the committee’s excellent chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for her welcome and the committee members for their tolerance throughout. I join others in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford on securing this debate today, so soon after the committee’s report was published last week—he must have had a premonition.
The Minister and many of his colleagues have already admitted the case and its urgency from the analysis of the Climate Change Committee, yet the paucity of government support is clearly exposed with recommendations for action in this report. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Frost, that, without change, human behaviour is proving destructive to the planet, and that should concern us all.
In their net-zero strategy of last October, the Government set out six principles needed to underpin behaviour change. I highlight the three critical elements: make the green choice the easiest; make the green choice affordable; and set out a clear and consistent vision and pathway of how people and businesses can engage to get to net zero and fulfil their role with changed behaviours.
The committee’s report sets out a detailed analysis with clear recommendations. I am glad to be able to keep the report on the agenda, keep raising the issues, and keep the urgency on the Government to respond more fully with an exhaustive reply to the report as soon as possible.
If behaviour change is accepted in all quarters—so that, in the grudging words of the most recent former Secretary of State for Defra, George Eustice:
“Behaviour change is quite integral to many parts of Government policy”—
I would like to concentrate my remarks on the most crucial area of everyday behaviour with the most crucial need for improvement and change: everybody’s homes and buildings. They are where most people spend most of their time. This also highlights a key area for the Government to co-ordinate and encourage with resources and responsibility, namely with local authorities, schools, health authorities and businesses.
The UK’s housing stock is among the oldest and least efficient in the developed world. The private rented sector has some of the least fuel-efficient homes, with high numbers not connected to the grid. Figures from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities show that heat and power currently make up 40% of the UK’s total energy use. In the net-zero strategy, carbon emissions from new-build homes must be around 30% lower than current standards and emissions from other new buildings, including offices and shops, must be reduced by 27%.
Under the heat and building strategy, the future trajectory for the non-domestic minimum energy efficiency standards will be EPC B by 2030. Clearly, the Government must initiate a national engagement strategy to highlight the benefits of improved energy efficiency of homes, which also comes with the benefits of reducing household bills and the cost of living.
As the Minister highlighted at Second Reading of the Energy Prices Bill last night, ECO Plus with ECO 4 needs to be prioritised, and learning the lessons that he recognises from the past failures of the green homes grant is a crucial and central plank to encourage the necessary behaviour change to be embedded in the consciousness of the public. This will call for determination and consistency of support. Results from Climate Assembly UK’s findings into public perceptions on retrofitting homes showed that, in addition to the costs involved, major anxiety concerned the scale of disruption to be lived with throughout the process.
Will the Minister assess whether the new efficiency schemes could reintroduce the landlord energy savings allowance, to permit landlords to offset the purchase and installation of the most important energy-saving measures from their income returns? Have the Government reconsidered the zero-carbon homes measures for housebuilders? Although it is encroaching on the Treasury’s recent confusing energy statements, may I call for consideration of the promotion of green mortgages and reductions in stamp duty should a property qualify with energy-efficiency ratings?
Necessarily, the Government need to prioritise support for energy cost relief this winter. However, they cannot row back on the long-term imperatives necessary to achieve the crucial targets to ensure that net zero can be reached with the least cost.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the speaking limit? He has rather exceeded it.
My last sentence is this: this is the first mixed message the Government must learn to avoid in the report today.
My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on securing this debate and apologise that, through my incompetence, I am speaking the gap—although, sadly, because of events in Downing Street the whole debate is likely to slip not through a gap but into a black hole.
The committee on which the right reverend Prelate and I served called for and received evidence about the lifestyle changes necessary to meet net zero. The sixth carbon budget from the CCC provided the answer:
“Around 10% of the emissions saving in our Balanced Pathway in 2035 comes from … Particularly … an accelerated shift in diets away from meat and dairy products, reductions in waste, slower growth in flights and reductions in travel demand”—
in short, lifestyle changes. The other 90% comes from industry and households adopting new technologies which are intended to enable us to maintain our lifestyles.
The 10% saving from lifestyle changes was far lower than expected and a disappointment to those who wanted to make us adopt more frugal lifestyles, so the committee decided—quite consciously—to omit the 10% figure and, after the report had been drafted, asked officials to find a larger, headline-grabbing figure. They provided two figures, both of which the committee adopted. The first was that 63% of the required savings rely on
“the involvement of the public in some form.”
Apparently, this includes savings from industry deploying carbon capture and storage; I am not sure what public involvement is required in that, but it is certainly not a lifestyle change.
The second, less outrageous, figure was that 32% of savings rely on
“decisions by individuals and households”.
This was rounded up in the committee’s press release, which claimed that
“a third of emission savings … must come from people changing their behaviours.”
That is doubly disingenuous, first since the bulk of the savings comes not from individuals’ decisions but from removing their right to decide to buy fossil-fuelled cars and boilers in future. Secondly, if electric cars and heat pumps work as their advocates claim, they will not require lifestyle changes. We will be able to drive, not cycle or walk, and heat our homes as at present rather than having to adapt to lower temperatures. Yet the bulk of the report claims that behaviour change will involve more active and frugal lifestyles, which will be good for our bodies and souls.
I respect and like my colleagues on the committee, most notably our brilliant chairman, but the committee’s brazen economy with the truth was sadly distressing. Presumably, it was designed to shield the public from inconvenient facts that might undermine their willingness to go along with the net-zero agenda. The Climate Change Committee showed that we could meet net zero with pretty minimal changes of lifestyle, but some people are so eager to manage our lives that they ignored that advice and advocate re-enacting the hugely intrusive policies of the pandemic, which were mercifully temporary, on what must be a permanent basis. I regret that conclusion.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. We have listened carefully to him throughout our proceedings. I find that, in politics, it is not worth always talking to people you agree with. In our committee, we listened carefully and based our conclusions on the evidence. That is the role of a Select Committee in the House of Lords. The evidence is clear. The noble Lord was in a minority: he was the only member of the committee who disagreed with it. We stand by it.
I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for calling this important debate on a day when, sadly, the focus will be much more on the evidence of an incompetent Government. In the area of behaviour change, it is quite clear what a competent Government would be doing. First, they would be setting targets for net zero and willing the policies to deliver that. This Government have rightly set targets for net zero, but the evidence is that they will not be reached without members of the public changing their behaviour, both in adopting new technologies and in reducing their carbon consumption. Our report clearly showed that the Government have failed in that second task of willing policies.
Secondly, if they wanted to address behaviour change, a competent Government would be leading. They would be helping the public to make the choices they want. Now, she is not going to be doing any leading any more but, at her conference only last week, the then Prime Minister said:
“I’m not going to tell you what to do or what to think or how to live your life.”
She is not going to be doing that any more, but that is entirely consistent with the mantra of the Government’s net-zero strategy, where they say that they will go only
“with the grain of consumer choice.”
That is not leadership.
Leadership is about understanding that the public care passionately about climate change and want help to get to net zero. Leadership is about giving them the information to enable them to make the choices they need to make and providing the policies to help them get there. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, said, what we need are policies that do not stop people getting to net zero. We are still getting far too many policies that are high-carbon, low-nature. So those are the three things that a competent Government would be doing on behaviour change.
We are about to get a new Government under a new Prime Minister. What do we want them to do? First, there is the opportunity to refresh the net-zero strategy. Chris Skidmore’s review of the strategy is welcome. It means that the Government will not respond to the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations on getting to net zero until next March. This is good. Let us hope that the new Government take the opportunity to refresh the net-zero strategy and put behaviour change at its heart—because they will not get to net zero unless they refresh their strategy.
Secondly, the Government need to bring forward a public engagement campaign. All the evidence shows that public engagement is needed on this issue. I share the regret of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the BEIS department was unable to persuade No. 10 of the need to spend £15 million or £17 million on a public information campaign to help people reduce their energy bills this winter. It would have done the job of both helping people get to net zero and lowering their energy bills. It is very depressing that the Government were not prepared to make that step. It suggests that a broader campaign on net zero and behaviour change is not going to be forthcoming—but that does not mean it should not be there.
Thirdly, the Government need to be refreshing their policies. We know that you cannot get people to change their behaviour by information alone. All the evidence that we on the committee received showed very clearly that you need the policies to will the means. The Government should use all the tools at their disposal—regulations, fiscal incentives and disincentives—and should address three key areas: how people heat their homes, what people eat and buy and how they travel.
If anything, our committee was perhaps a bit too ambitious in all our recommendations. I have heard both the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, today prioritising a national drive for home insulation. This has to be the priority to help people change their behaviours and tackle what is a massive part of the greenhouse gas emissions that we face.
Those are the three priorities—reviewing the net-zero strategy, committing to a public engagement campaign and willing all the means available through the policy levers at the disposal of the Government. This is what good government looks like, not relying on the ideology we have heard spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Frost, and others.
My Lords, I sincerely thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and the committee for bringing the debate to this Chamber. We have heard from several of its members today. I thank them for the work that has gone into this. I start by declaring my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I will start by talking about the crises facing the country related to this agenda. How was I to know that there would be a further crisis today, with the announcement from No. 10 and the loss of the Prime Minister? I say that because leadership in this agenda matters. We need to keep our eye firmly on the ball as we go forward.
With respect to the agenda facing us today, we are all too painfully aware that we face three concurrent crises. The cost of living crisis, including energy bills, continues to affect millions of families and businesses across the country. The energy security crisis was created by a lack of government action over the last 12 years and exacerbated by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. The impacts of the climate crisis are being felt first-hand all over the world. For all three of these crises, getting to net zero will make a tremendous difference, either by reducing impact or by increasing resilience. Many things need to be done to achieve this, whether by 2050 or by the 2030 target to which the next Labour Government have committed.
The impact of behaviour change, and the actions taken by both individuals and organisations to reduce their energy use, will be significant and an essential part of the journey. Taking people with us will be imperative. This kind of behaviour change does not happen in a vacuum. There are many things that can be done at all levels of government to encourage this change in an effective but not prescriptive way. We have examples from this country and also from Germany, which has seen a dramatic reduction in gas usage as the result of a public information campaign.
We know that the Government have been in the right place on some of this. Last year’s net zero strategy had a subchapter entitled:
“Empowering the public and business to make green choices”,
highlighting the role of those choices in reaching net zero and making a number of positive commitments to act upon this. They committed to exploring and enhancing their public-facing content; to enhancing their Simple Energy Advice service; to supporting businesses, including by exploring a government-led advice service; to increasing awareness of net zero; to empowering both businesses and the public to make green choices; and to making these choices affordable and easy by working with business and industry. However, we know that the Government of last year are not the Government of today—and, until today, we did not know they would not be the Government of tomorrow, either. So, last week, we saw the now soon-to-be former Prime Minister pull a public information campaign to help people cut their energy use, on the grounds of either cost or ideology, depending on who you ask—only, we understand, to U-turn three days later, during Prime Minister’s Questions, a pattern that obviously quickly became a tradition and has contributed to the chaos we are facing today.
Of course, putting it back on the table was the right decision, and the £15 million or so should be seen as a sensible investment, but the lack of leadership in this is frightening. In my city of Leeds, we have a wealth of experience in this area, led by the Leeds Climate Commission. Other local authorities have similar experience to share. We know that successful schemes often need to be driven locally. Alternatives also need to be in place to achieve a modal shift in transport, to inform decisions on change of appliances and fuel sources, and so much more. Without the alternatives, we cannot expect people to change their behaviour.
Motivation other than simply achieving net zero is a great enabler. For example, health concerns contributed massively to the surge in interest in electric vehicles following the scandal of diesel emissions. Most recently, cost of living concerns are driving the imperative and urgent demand for action on energy efficiency schemes, especially for those most at risk of not being able to pay their bills. Accurate, transparent information remains essential in helping people make those decisions. We need leadership at all levels, and I ask the Minister to do everything in his power in the week ahead to make sure that this agenda is at the forefront when the decisions are made that will determine who the new Prime Minister of this country will be.
I thank everyone who has contributed. On the last point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, she is perhaps attributing more power and influence to me than I might have in the selection of the next Prime Minister, but I thank her for her faith in me.
I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for bringing forward this very important debate on steps the Government will take to support behaviour change as part of the pathway to net zero emissions. I also thank the House’s Environment and Climate Change Committee for its report on the Government’s approach, and all those who contributed to that report. I start by assuring the House that the Government recognise that achieving our net zero target will be challenging and will require enormous changes to our energy systems and infrastructure. I want to reassure the right reverend Prelate that we take the concerns raised in the Select Committee report seriously and will carefully consider all its recommendations.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, we know that public concern about climate change is high and has doubled since 2016, with 85% of people telling pollsters that they are either concerned or very concerned, although it is fair to point out that the potential solutions are not as well known to members of the public. Many people think that they are doing their bit by putting their recycling out, which of course they are, but the extent of the additional changes required is quite severe, and I am not sure that there is so much support of that.
Nevertheless, in terms of the information that is given to them, many members of the public have shown that they are willing to make green choices to combat climate change and to reduce their own costs, provided that they are not too severe or too impactful on their everyday lives. As many businesses and civil society organisations are already leading the way in engaging the public on net zero, the role of government is to set the overall direction, our priorities and a narrative to support that transition.
I agree with my noble friends Lord Frost and Lord Lilley that we want to support the public in making these green choices in a way that maintains people’s fundamental choices and freedoms. My noble friend Lord Frost made some excellent points but, based on very good Conservative principles, we should be supporting more renewables because they are cheap. The cost of offshore wind is now a sixth of the price of gas-generated power. From good Conservative liberal principles, we should be supporting more of that. I totally accept that he will say, “but it’s intermittent”. He would be right, so we need more baseload power from nuclear and other carbon-free sources. Nevertheless, at the moment, with sky-high gas prices, renewables producers on contracts for difference are paying hundreds of millions of pounds back into the system, because the prices are above their strike price, and are subsidising people’s bills, which would have been even higher without this production.
Whatever view you take on climate change, however sceptical you are, just from an energy security point of view we should be generating more power on our own shores, rather than paying some very unstable and unpleasant people in other parts of the world for our power, and we should be doing this because it is cheap at the moment. The CfD scheme has been so successful, particularly in generating large amounts of offshore wind power, that the rest of Europe is trying to follow us with essentially the same systems. We have very ambitious plans to roll out more of it, but that will probably be quite difficult, given the supply chains and that everybody else will be trying to do the same.
As referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, in our net-zero strategy we set out clear principles outlining how we will empower the public to make green choices by making those choices easier, clearer and more affordable, and by working with industries to remove barriers to those cleaner choices. I can happily assure the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, and the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that we are indeed helping people to know how they can play their part by supporting them in making green choices. It is not through a hectoring campaign or through compulsion, but by providing people with clear advice on what they can do to save themselves money and save the country money. It is set out in our Heat and Buildings Strategy, which is about enabling people to do the same things differently and more sustainably. It sets our approach for engaging the public, both in communicating the challenge and in giving people a say in shaping future policies.
Let me give some examples of government support. We are putting our principles into action using a range of policy measures that support the public to make those greener choices across different sectors. We are of course helping people to travel more sustainably. We are not preventing them from travelling—that would be wrong—but helping them to do it more sustainably by better integrating transport modes, by having more bus routes serving railway stations, and by improved integration of cycling and walking networks.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, welcomed the uptake of electric vehicles. We do need that, of course, but we are also investing £2 billion in building more cycle lanes and low-traffic neighbourhoods—which have varying degrees of popularity, depending on where they are implemented. We also announced funding worth £200 million for new walking and cycling schemes across England, through a new body called Active Travel England, overseeing 134 fairly ambitious projects. This new body will ensure that the Government’s unprecedented investment in active travel makes the green travel choice easier for the public.
In response to the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan and Lady Parminter, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, the Government’s approach to decarbonising our heat and buildings is set out in the Heat and Buildings Strategy, which provides a clear long-term framework to enable industry to invest and deliver the transition to low-carbon heating and retrofitting measures, In this strategy, the Government have set out a combination of policy measures to address a range of practical barriers to some of those choices.
From good conservative principles I am also a great believer in energy efficiency. The cheapest energy is that which we do not use. There is some practical advice that we can offer to people—again, not in a hectoring way but clear and simple advice. The one that I am the keenest on is turning your boiler flow temperature down. You can achieve the same heat in your house and be just as warm, but you can do it about 8% to 10% more efficiently, saving on your gas bills, saving the country money—saving taxpayers money at the moment, because we are subsidising energy prices—and helping our energy security. What is not to like about these measures? This is something that we can clearly and easily support, and we will provide advice to the public on how to do things such as that. Many energy companies and others are already doing that, and we will support them in those advice sessions.
We are making the transition to low-carbon heating cheaper for households because—I again agree with my noble friend Lord Frost—people will not make these choices until we make them simple and easier, and we can demonstrate to them that they will save money by adopting measures such as heat pumps and other low-carbon heating measures. We can do that by rolling them out and decreasing the costs over time, but it is very much in its infancy at the moment, so it will take time to build these policies up. Nevertheless, we are supporting the transition with the £450 million boiler upgrade scheme, which is providing £5,000 in capital grants to households. We are also rolling out a consultation on a new market-based incentive for heating system manufacturers.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, who referenced the ECO scheme—the energy company obligation—we are boosting its value under ECO 4 from £640 million to £1 billion a year from 2022 to 2026. That will help an additional 450,000 families with measures such as insulation and better boiler control. The noble Lord also referenced the ECO Plus scheme, one of the measures that so far seems to have survived from the mini-Budget.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and my noble friend Lord Lucas, on addressing information gaps and helping consumers make informed decisions, this summer we launched a new energy advice page on GOV.UK. I encourage all noble Lords to check it out. This is a website where you can put your personal details in, and it links to the EPC database and provides home owners with personal, tailored advice about the energy performance of their homes. We hope to extend it even further to provide signposts to the different measures of support that are available to people in future. Nevertheless, it provides excellent advice to home owners on how they can save themselves money and increase the country’s energy security.
These policies, which seek to address some of the major practical barriers to individual behaviours, will bolster the low-carbon heating market and create new opportunities for businesses and better choices for consumers. My noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, made some acute observations on the affordability of making green choices. Both noble Lords will be aware that Chris Skidmore MP is leading a rapid review of the Government’s approach to net zero to ensure that we deliver on that now legally binding target in an economically efficient and sensible manner. I do not want to pre-empt the findings of the review but I believe his intention is to publish by the end of the year.
As I have set out today, the Government recognise that achieving the legally binding net-zero target has to be a shared endeavour and requires action from everyone in society, including people, businesses and the Government. We are committed to taking practical steps to support the public in making green choices in a way that supports their fundamental freedoms, supports their freedom of choice and maintains their individual freedoms. We will continue to take this approach across net-zero policies to support the UK’s transition to a green and sustainable future. As I said, we are carefully considering the recommendations in the Environment and Climate Change Committee’s report. We will publish that response in due course, in line with normal parliamentary procedures. I thank the committee for its consideration.