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COP 28

Volume 830: debated on Wednesday 17 May 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what preparations they have made for COP28 and which Minister has responsibility for representing the United Kingdom at the negotiations.

My Lords, the right honourable Graham Stuart MP will be representing the United Kingdom as the Minister responsible for the UN and CCC negotiations at COP 28. Following the UK’s COP 26 presidency, we of course continue to work with countries around the world to ensure that commitments made in the Glasgow climate pact are turned into action. We want to support the agenda of the incoming UAE presidency and drive an ambitious outcome for COP 28 to keep 1.5 degrees within reach.

I thank the Minister for that Answer, and of course we all welcome Minister Stuart, but the fact that he is not a Cabinet Member raises some alarms as to quite how seriously we are taking this incredibly important conference that is coming up later in the year. Can the Minister provide clarity on when the UK will formally respond to the global stocktake of progress towards our nationally determined contributions? They are due in June but the CCC has noted that we are behind on both adaptation and mitigation.

I disagree. Graham Stuart is a very senior Minister who is committed to this agenda, and he has already taken part in a number of the ministerial negotiations. There is a cross-government group of Ministers chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster meeting to co-ordinate the Government’s response.

My Lords, are the Government aware of President Macron’s recent plea for a pause in EU environmental regulations in a push to reindustrialise France? Do the Government agree that we ought to consider that, especially in view of the fact that an increasing number of countries are profoundly disturbed about the cost of trying to limit global warming?

I had not seen President Macron’s intervention. Happily, what France and the EU do has nothing to do with us any more. They can have their own negotiations. We are just getting on with the job.

I agree with the noble Baroness that it is a great disappointment that we do not have a Secretary of State going to the Gulf for COP 28. Will the UK still be chairing the Powering Past Coal Alliance that it has led and chaired in the past? If so, will it therefore cancel its coal mine intentions in Cumbria, here in the UK?

I am not going to get into the debate about Minister Stuart. He does an excellent job and is well respected across the international community for his work, building on the work that we did at COP 26. We are committed to the Powering Past Coal Alliance. I think the noble Lord is being slightly disingenuous; he knows that the coal mine in Cumbria is nothing to do with power generation.

Do noble Lords share my concern that the Minister has just said that what France is doing does not concern him? Does he not understand that, if we are to deal with climate change, we all need to work together?

I think I said that what negotiations go on between France and the EU are not our concern any more because we are not a member of the EU. Of course we work collaboratively with many countries across the world, not just in the EU. This is a worldwide problem and we need to negotiate on a worldwide basis, which of course we do. Carbon emissions do not respect international borders.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Since 2008 developing countries’ debt has doubled, and many of the countries most at risk from catastrophic climate change are actually paying more in debt repayment than they are able to spend on climate adaptation. At COP 28, will the UK be talking with international finance institutions about issues such as debt swap, which could address this problem?

The noble Baroness makes an important point, although it is slightly off the topic of the COP 28 agenda. We are incredibly proud of the massive contribution of £11.6 billion that this Government are making towards international climate finance, helping those very countries. The wider issue of debt relief is also important and will be taken forward by international development colleagues.

My Lords, the Government have already set out some of their priorities for COP 28, one of which is to actively follow up on the phase-down of coal and the phase-out of all fossil fuels. The recent words of COP 28 president Sultan Al Jaber have been widely interpreted as meaning using carbon capture and storage to capture CO2 emissions and not completely phase out fossil fuels. What consideration have the Government given to these remarks and what steps have been taken to address them?

The noble Lord makes an important point, citing the chairman of COP. The reality is that there will still be a requirement for fossil fuels in the years to come. There will still be a requirement in the UK, which is why we have an ambitious programme —we are spending £20 billion on carbon capture usage and storage. That still enables emissions to take place but of course they will be captured and stored back underground.

Regardless of the status of whoever represents us at COP 28, will the Minister make sure that the Government understand and explain to the public that while we are getting on very well in decarbonising the electric power sector, that is only one-fifth of our total energy usage? Therefore, we are only still in the foothills of trying to climb the net-zero peak target, which requires massive expansion of both nuclear power—preferably small nuclear power—and wind power on a scale not yet contemplated and not yet being invested for.

My noble friend of course knows this subject very well from his time as Energy Minister and makes an important point. We already have invested massively in renewables. We have the biggest wind sector in Europe by far. We have the first, second and third-largest wind farms in Europe, so we are massively expanding our renewables sector. It makes sense because particularly wind power and solar power are cheap compared to fossil fuel generation, but renewables are intermittent, which is why we will also need our nuclear generation. He draws attention to the scale of the problem we face.

My Lords, I ask the Minister whether our Government are fully behind the COP 28 declaration to phase out fossil fuels, something that we tried to do at COP 27—not successfully. I assume the answer to that question is yes so, to help realise that aim, will the Government commit to the UK joining the fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty?

We are committed to phasing out fossil fuels and I outlined in a previous answer the progress we are making. But it is a transition: we have a requirement for fossil fuels during that transition period and have had exchanges about that before. I do not know the details of the declaration that the noble Baroness refers to, but I will certainly have a look at it.

My noble friend made reference to our co-operation with other countries. Do they include China and India, which continue to build coal-fired power stations and make the attainment of net zero pretty unlikely?

My noble friend makes an important point. We continue to liaise with and talk to those countries, as we do many others. The situation is complicated. While it is true that China continues to expand its coal-fired generation, it has also massively increased use of renewables. In fact, it has the largest offshore wind sector in the world now; it took over our lead on that.

My Lords, following the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I would be the first to recognise that the route to net zero is fraught with challenge and difficulty. But will the Government publish a considered integrated assessment of the optimum route forward for the UK and a detailed plan—which we do not have at the moment—of where we go over the next five to 10 years?

I am sorry to disagree, but we do have detailed plans on where we are going. We have laid them out in our building strategy and in our net-zero plan. Only just before the Recess we published our Powering Up Britain plan, outlining exactly the kind of details that the noble Lord referred to.

My Lords, do the Government have any view on the impact on COP 28 of the invitation for President Assad to attend?

I saw that the COP 28 presidency had invited Assad and all world leaders. It is a UN body, so of course we do not control who gets invited or who chairs it. Clearly, we deplore the invitation of such an appalling man to this event, but it is not something for which we are responsible.