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Climate Change Policies

Volume 832: debated on Wednesday 20 September 2023

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what changes they plan to make to the UK’s climate change policies.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice, and in so doing declare my interest as chair of Peers for the Planet.

My Lords, the UK is leading the world on climate change. We are committed to net zero by 2050 and the agreements that we have made internationally. The Prime Minister will make a statement on this issue later this afternoon.

My Lords, that really will not do. We have all read what the proposals are. I understand that it is very easy to see on WhatsApp the paper on this issue put to the Cabinet this morning at its emergency meeting. I also understand that the plan was not to have Parliament sitting at all and to make these major announcements on Friday. Instead, because they were leaked, we at least have some opportunity in this House to question the Minister, but I hope he will not hide behind waiting for 4.30 pm, when the Prime Minister will talk to the press and not to Parliament.

In New York today, the UN is underlining that no country has done enough to meet the challenges of climate change, so it is both ironic and depressing that the UK Government are proposing such a damaging retreat from our global leadership position. What is the Minister’s response to the horrified reception these proposals have received from business leaders, who see delaying the transition to net zero as the complete opposite of what they need—ambition, certainty and commitment?

Is it not deeply disingenuous to suggest that rolling back our climate commitments is in the interests of hard-pressed families, when slowing down ambition on home insulation, for example, will only be, as the CEO of E.ON UK put it,

“condemning people to many more years of living in cold and draughty homes that are expensive to heat, in cities clogged with dirty air from fossil fuels, missing out on the economic regeneration this ambition brings”?

Finally, can the Government explain why they are disregarding all the advice from the Treasury, the OBR and others that delays to the actions essential to achieve net zero by 2050—to which the Minister says they are still committed—will make the task more difficult, more chaotic and more expensive?

My Lords, there were a number of questions there. In essence, I think the noble Baroness is asking whether the Government are really committed to net zero. As I said in the original Answer, the answer is yes. More importantly, we have the track record to prove it. The UK has overachieved on all our carbon budgets to date; we have reduced emissions faster than any other major economy; we are home to the first, the second, the third and the fourth-largest offshore wind farms in the world; and renewable power reached a record share of 48% of total generation in the first quarter of 2023. All those matters have been achieved under a Conservative Government. It is our record and we are proud of it.

My Lords, the Climate Change Committee and Chris Skidmore, who was the Government’s own adviser, say that the Government cannot at this moment reach net zero, even before they cut back. Last week, the Government failed the offshore wind industry. This week, it appears that they are making car manufacturers unable to do their jobs. How are this Government going to restore the confidence of investors, businesspeople and the general public that they will stick to their word?

Yet again, the noble Lord is wrong in his statements. As he well knows, we have the largest offshore wind industry in Europe and the second largest in the world. Other European countries are racing to catch up with our record. We have over- achieved in meeting our carbon budgets, and I remind the House that these are legally binding commitments. We are on track to overachieve on carbon budgets 4 and 5. We are also on track to achieve carbon budget 6, which does not start until 2033, so I am afraid the noble Lord’s statements are wrong.

My Lords, it is worth emphasising the comments from Ford UK in its response to today’s news:

“Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three”.

These are not isolated comments; many businesses have made more. Why are the Government content to hurt working people by selling out British business and the long-term future of our economy in this way?

The noble Baroness makes a number of statements before she has even heard what the Prime Minister has to say later; perhaps she might want to read what the Prime Minister actually announces and revise her statements in light of that.

My Lords, the Minister has provided a list of things that all of us have been proud of in the past, but the point is that is the past. This announcement is a tragedy for this nation because that leadership that we had globally, of which we all were proud, is about to disappear. The Prime Minister is likely to say that the target of net zero still exists, which is a fabrication. We know from the Climate Change Committee, the Government’s own adviser, that we are already behind that in terms of policy. This will kill that objective.

We have the IRA in the United States and the green investment plan in the EU. We are now retreating from international investment. The question I ask the Minister is where the investment will come from to get us to net zero, but the question I really want to ask is how come any Ministers are still in the department for net zero. They should have all resigned this morning.

As the noble Lord knows, net zero is a legal commitment imposed on us by Parliament; it is the duty of Ministers to meet that commitment, and we will do so. As I have said, we are currently overachieving on carbon budgets 4 and 5; carbon budget six does not start until 2033. I have sat down with policy officials, and we are confident that we are on track to meet that as well. We are attracting record amounts of inward investment into this country. I talked earlier about the windfarm industry; we could talk about hydrogen or CCUS—the UK is world-leading on all those policies and many global companies are rushing to invest in the UK. Our difficulty is prioritising some of that investment.

My Lords, in responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and a number of others, the Minister has come out with a list of the Government’s claimed achievements. He has not mentioned once the issues of home insulation and energy efficiency, on which the Government’s record is disastrous. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, this means that people are in cold, impossible-to-heat and unhealthy homes. Can the Minister reassure me that we are not going to see back-pedalling this afternoon on home insulation and energy efficiency?

It is always a pleasure to hear from the “noble Green lady”, even though she sounds increasingly red sometimes. I am very happy to talk about our record on home insulation. In 2010, under Labour, 14% of homes had an EPC rating of C or above. It is now almost 50%. Clearly, we need to go further, which is why we are investing £6.5 billion over this Parliament on home upgrade retrofit measures. The Treasury has already committed £6 billion from 2025 onwards—the noble Baroness shakes her head; she should listen to the facts. Last week, I was pleased to announce the Great British insulation scheme— £1 billion over three years. Even if the noble Baroness wishes to, she can apply for it online as we speak.

There is no doubt that His Majesty’s Government have done many good things, and we need all sides of the House to work on this vital area. However, this is not just something which affects some groups; it particularly affects those parts of our nation where air quality is so bad that it is materially affecting the health of many young people and causing huge additional costs to the NHS. What assurances can the Minister give us about the progress of moving to electric cars, to try to make a tangible difference to air quality in our urban areas?

The right reverend Prelate asks a very good question on electric vehicles; let me give him the facts on that. The UK had among the highest battery electric vehicle sales in 2022. We are registering a new EV every 60 seconds. Full-battery EV sales are up 88% year on year. Most of the UK’s emissions cuts have of course come under this Government; we are very proud of our record on electric vehicle sales. We are seeing record investments from BMW, Nissan, Tata and Jaguar Land Rover. Again, the UK has a record we can all be proud of.

My Lords, I hate to disagree with the Minister, but just this morning on the Environment and Climate Change Committee we heard from car manufacturers that they absolutely did not want these targets delayed, because that is what they were doing and they needed that certainty. I have two questions. Does this announcement have anything to do with the ULEZ row that took place at the recent by-election? Secondly, everyone agrees on one thing about climate change: the more you delay, the harder the measures are going to have to be to get us to net zero by 2050, which I am glad the noble Lord still agrees on. Have the Government commissioned the OBR to do a thorough cost analysis of what these delays are going to mean, not for us today but for people in five, 10 and 15 years’ time?

The answer to the noble Baroness’s first question is no. With regard to the OBR, I am not quite sure why the OBR has a role in this. We obviously have our Climate Change Committee which gives the Government advice, but, to be frank, lots of other external organisations send me more advice on this subject every day, so we are not short of helpful academic advice on all the topics under consideration. As I said, we are looking towards the future. The Government are still committed to our legally binding climate change targets. That means sticking to the legally binding carbon budgets that we have overdelivered on, and we are on track to deliver on the next one.

My Lords, it was Nuclear Week in Parliament last week, which showcased a myriad of gigawatt and small, advanced and microgenerating nuclear power. Can my noble friend the Minister reassure me not only that the Government are still committed to investing in nuclear but that they understand the urgency of doing so if the UK is to benefit from both the supply chain and the employment possibilities in areas of the country that desperately need levelling up, such as north Wales?

The noble Baroness has been resolute in her support for nuclear and does a fantastic job in advocating for it. I am very happy to give her the reassurance that she is looking for. Of course, again, the nuclear industry was left to decay under the last Labour Government. We have resumed it through building Hinkley Point, and we are about to take a final investment decision on Sizewell. I know the noble Baroness is particularly keen on the announcement of Great British Nuclear. These are all contributing towards our climate change goals. Nuclear will provide us with cost-effective, CO-free power for many years into the future.

My Lords, the Government have a track record on stuff like this. In 2015, George Osborne cancelled zero-carbon homes about six weeks before it was due to be implemented and when housebuilders had already geared up for its implementation. We lost 10 years of opportunity for net zero-compliant homes and warmer homes for people. The Tory Government have done it again with a major U-turn on their policy on home insulation, boilers and electric vehicles, against the advice of everyone, including the manufacturers and business. What will the Minister say to his colleague, Chris Skidmore, who did the net-zero review for the Government? He came to the conclusion that not enough was being done and is incandescent with rage at the likely announcements this afternoon. What is plan B when we are going to lose another 10 years on the path to net zero?

We will not lose another 10 years on the path to net zero. I outlined our policies earlier. For the sake of repeating them again, we are still committed to net zero and to meeting the carbon budgets; we have an excellent record. We are committed to meeting the 2050 target. We will continue to advance on that path, but we will do so in a fair and proportionate manner that takes people with us rather than by imposing things on them.

My Lords, a third of all emission reductions to get us to our net-zero target will need to be made by people adopting new technologies, choosing new products and services or going for less carbon-intensive consumption. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, all the evidence to our committee’s EV, boiler upgrade and behaviour change inquiries showed that what people and industry want is policy certainty, consistency and clear leadership from the Government. In the clear absence of those this afternoon —as I am sure we will see—how on the earth will the Government achieve their net-zero goals?

The key phrase in the noble Baroness’s question was people choosing green alternatives. We want to help them to do that, and we want them to do it voluntarily. We want to make the choices attractive, which is why we provide incentives for insulation schemes. I refer once again to the Great British insulation scheme that I announced last week, which offers £1 billion over three years to help people in council tax bands A to D to upgrade their homes. If the noble Baroness has a little patience, in the next 20 minutes she will be able to listen to the Prime Minister and I think that she will find at least some announcements that she will like pertinent to some of her recent inquiries.