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UK Green Taxonomy

Volume 825: debated on Thursday 3 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to their commitment in Greening finance: A roadmap to sustainable investing, published on 1 October 2021, to consult on the “UK Green Taxonomy” in the first quarter of 2022, what plans they have to publish the draft taxonomy.

The UK green taxonomy is an important part of the Government’s ambitious programme of work on sustainable finance. However, it is critical that we learn from approaches being developed in other jurisdictions and take the time to get this right. The Government will continue to engage with scientific experts and market participants this year on how best to take forward work in this area.

I thank the Minister for her reply. As she will know, many firms really support the transition to net zero, but this will not be achieved without clear direction from government. The Government’s independent green taxonomy advisory group told them last month that they had to send a “rapid market signal”, or we risked falling further behind Europe, which launched its taxonomy in 2020. So when will the Government publish their consultation on the green taxonomy? Will we get it by Christmas, or will the market just have to accept that we will fall further behind in the world and never become the financial leader on green issues that we should be?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness on the importance of progressing this work at pace but it is also important that we get it right. For the green taxonomy to have real value for the market, we need to make sure that it is user-friendly and operable, and that is what we are focused on. We continue to progress our work in this area and remain committed to producing the green taxonomy.

My Lords, I welcome my noble friend back to her place on the Front Bench. Could she outline the work in this area to reduce greenwashing, and could she highlight the work on carbon offsetting? Does she share my concern that, although it is right and helpful, in environmental terms, to plant trees, they must be planted in appropriate areas, so as not to cause more flooding rather than reducing it?

The Government are taking a number of steps. The FCA, for example, has consulted on a sustainable investment-labelling scheme so that, when consumers and investors are told that they are investing sustainably, they have better information to show that that is based on an objective assessment of those investments.

My Lords, a year ago, the Prime Minister, then the Chancellor, made the commitment at COP 26 that the UK will be

“the world’s first net zero aligned financial centre”.

Does the Minister—whom I welcome back to the Front Bench—agree that, to achieve that, we need a robust and respected taxonomy for green investment? Does she also agree that this is an increasingly competitive area, with other countries having exactly the same objective? Does she accept the need for urgency in this area?

I agree that the green taxonomy is an essential part of being a leader in green finance. The UK has led the way: we were the first country to lay regulations to make reporting mandatory under the TCFD framework and firms listed on the London Stock Exchange have the highest sustainability disclosure rate of any global financial centre. But, if we want to continue that leadership, we need to continue to make progress. We have laid out a number of future steps under our road map. I accept that some have been delayed, and it is for us to continue to work to make better progress, to ensure that we continue to lead in this area.

Last night in this House, the Lord Mayor of London underscored that retaining our leadership position on green finance is essential to retaining a leading role in financial services far more broadly. Understanding the pressures generated by that, could the Minister please tell us when we will get the green finance strategy? Given all the government changes, could she publicly recommit to the earlier commitments to become the first net zero-aligned financial centre, as described by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman?

My Lords, that commitment has not changed. On the importance of retaining our leadership position on green finance for London as a financial centre, I completely agree with the noble Baroness: that is why we have been so ambitious in this area. We have taken a number of steps to ensure that we lead the way, and we work with our international partners to bring them along with us. When we chaired the G7 last year, we got commitments on sustainability disclosure requirements, for example, from all the G7 Finance Ministers. So we are not just leading the way; we are also trying to bring other countries with us.

My Lords, for the avoidance of doubt, I have already welcomed the noble Baroness back to the Front Bench. The concept of a green taxonomy is of value to investors assessing how green a company is—that is almost self-evident. It is also of value to companies because it protects them from litigation accusing them of greenwashing. A number of actions are occurring around the world in which companies are being sued for overpromising on greenwashing. To be really valuable, however, the taxonomy needs to be international. What progress is being made on gaining international consensus?

The noble Lord is absolutely right that, to be most useful, having international agreement on a taxonomy is essential. The Government have supported the development of international standards in this area: for example, we have worked with the International Sustainability Standards Board to ensure that there is international alignment on the work in these areas.

My Lords, I also welcome my noble friend back to the Front Bench. I echo the calls for us to urgently release the information on the green taxonomy. Could my noble friend please confirm that the Government remain committed to a green taxonomy that is science-led? Could she also confirm the position regarding natural gas as a transition fuel, given concerns about the security of the energy supply in the short term?

I assure my noble friend that we will be led by science in this area. Earlier in this Question, noble Lords referred to the work of the Green Technical Advisory Group, which was set up to advise the Government on the UK green taxonomy and is informing our work in this area. There is a question about the inclusion of both gas and nuclear in the green taxonomy. The Government have not made any decisions on their inclusion, but they will engage with experts and the market before making any final decision in this area.

I also welcome my noble friend back to the Front Bench, even though the Prime Minister has fired me but not rehired me—

I apologise; I was not after the violins. When I dealt with developing the green taxonomy in the European Parliament, we did not look only at companies that can certify themselves as green and ensure investors; we also looked at how to incentivise companies that are not yet green to become greener. How will the Government tackle that in developing their green taxonomy?

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to my noble friend’s work. I saw at first hand the energy and commitment that he brought to his roles. He is absolutely right that information is the first step on this path, and it then needs to be used to ensure that firms working in all sectors make plans for transition and action to ensure that their activities are aligned with net zero by 2050. Our green finance road map sets out the path that the Government think firms can take towards that aim.