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Climate Change: Phasing Out Fossil Fuels

Volume 834: debated on Wednesday 6 December 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the comments by the COP28 President that there is “no science” to suggest that phasing out fossil fuels will limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

In begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare my relevant interests.

My Lords, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which represents the best available science, is clear that minimal use of unabated fossil fuels is a critical part of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade.

My Lords, is it still the Government’s view that we need to phase out fossil fuels? A lot of the debate is between “phase down” and “phase out”, so I would welcome the Minister’s clarity on that point. UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme, estimates that the world is planning to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than is consistent with a pathway that has any hope of staying on 1.5 degrees. It also concludes that the UK is showing no evidence of actively winding down our oil and gas production. Given that it will do nothing to help consumers domestically and that we should lead by example, as we always say we are doing, will the Government reconsider their decision to continue licensing new fields, particularly the approval of Rosebank?

It is our policy to phase out the unabated use of fossil fuels. On the second question, even with the granting of any new licences, UK oil and gas production will continue to decline at a faster rate than most other productive fields in the world.

My Lords, I very much welcome that the Government have sent a number of Ministers to COP 28. I am sorry that the noble Lord the Minister is not there to put the UK’s views forward. Does he realise that the good will we are building up there was undermined by the many announcements on climate change made a couple of months ago? They take away from our international leadership. When will Downing Street understand that its announcements on climate change made domestically for political purposes are heard internationally and undermine that reputation, not least with the industrial investors we need for the future?

I thank the noble Lord for his good wishes, but I am very happy to be in the House answering noble Lords’ questions rather than being in Dubai. Two members of my department have been there. I do not recognise the picture the noble Lord presents. I regularly meet international investors; we have one of the largest investment flows of green finance into the UK of any industrialised country and one of the largest in Europe. Our sectors—solar, offshore wind, hydrogen and CCUS—are all benefiting from enormous flows of inward investment, which we welcome. The Global Investment Summit a couple of weeks ago saw a further £30 billion of commitments, so I am afraid the noble Lord is just wrong.

My Lords, last week at COP the Prime Minister said the UK is

“delivering on the historic Glasgow deal to end deforestation”.

When will the relevant regulations under the Environment Act be laid? It is now two years since it received Royal Assent, since when the EU has agreed more ambitious rules on deforestation. I hope the Minister will say that the regulations are imminent.

The responsibility belongs in a different department so I am not sure of the exact date of the regulations the noble Baroness refers to, but I will certainly write to her on that.

My Lords, will the Minister find time today to remind the House of the extent of the UK’s progress on the route to net zero? I think we are 58% of the way there, compared with France at 40% and Germany at about 48%. Can he confirm those figures, which put the UK in a really strong position and put the Prime Minister’s recent remarks in context? Can he also say something about his views on carbon capture and storage, and whether he feels it has an important role in the reduction of greenhouse gases?

I do not need to find the time to do it, because my noble friend has just done it. Our record is an excellent one. We decarbonised faster than any other G7 nation between 1990 and 2021, cutting our emissions by around 48%. We were the first major economy to set a net-zero target in law. I am grateful to my noble friend for reminding us of those key facts. He is also right to talk about carbon capture, usage and storage, another area in which the UK has fantastic potential. We have already committed £20 billion of expenditure on CCUS. We have announced the first two industrial clusters and we are powering ahead with negotiations with those clusters. We hope to make some final investment decisions on that by quarter 3 next year.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, on her Question. Will the Minister take this opportunity to congratulate Harry Acheampong, the interim Prime Minister of the Children’s Parliament, who addressed the hangout in Dubai and talked about climate change and water security, including for Ghana, supported by the Darwin200 conservation project, as well as raising funds for the Kenya water project at Obama school?

I am sorry to disappoint the noble Baroness, but I have not seen those particular remarks. I am sure they were excellent, and I will certainly take the trouble to have a look at them.

My Lords, earlier this month it was revealed that the UK has fallen behind when it comes to attracting investment in renewables, slipping to seventh behind the US, Germany and others. This was a direct result of what EY described as the “diminishing of green policies”. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government have made any assessment of the impact of this on jobs and investment in the UK? How do the Government expect to encourage investment in green industries when they are pursuing climate delaying tactics at home?

We are not pursuing climate delaying tactics. Our legally binding net-zero commitment and carbon budget remain exactly the same. I do not know whether the noble Baroness was listening to the answer I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, but we are attracting record amounts of inward investment. At the Global Investment Summit, a whole range of inward investors promised considerable new funding in the order of £30 billion to all these exciting new industries, in which the UK is a world and European leader.

My Lords, in his COP 28 speech, the Prime Minister referenced the 48% reduction in UK territorial emissions, but he did not refer to the consumption emissions related to goods made outside the UK. One tool for addressing emissions leakage is via effective carbon pricing, so can the Minister tell the House when the Government will publish their response to their consultation on measures to mitigate carbon leakage, including via a carbon border adjustment mechanism?

The noble Baroness highlights an important matter. We consulted on this in the summer. We are currently doing the work to consider all the implications of carbon leakage measures, including CBAM, which we are looking at closely. We will have more to say on that very shortly.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. There was reference earlier to imminent decisions. Can I press the Minister on the question of the Energy Charter Treaty, which he answered last week? When will we know the Government’s decision on this? Will it be, as I hope, to withdraw from the treaty?

I have certainly heard what the noble Baroness has to say on this. I cannot go any further than what I said last week. As soon as I have some further news, I will be sure to update her.

My Lords, as the Minister knows from last week, I was inclined to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that it is good for Ministers to go out to Dubai. But then I heard that there are 90,000 delegates there—nearly twice as many as there were in Glasgow, all flying in. It will be the same next year, the year after that and the year after that. Why can this COP not be held virtually?

I think there is considerable sympathy for the noble Lord’s point of view. I went to the COP in Glasgow. Unlike the Greens, I went by rail.

Where are the Greens when you want them? It occurred to me that a few hundred people were doing all the important negotiations, while the other 30,000 were talking about them. I will let the noble Lord draw his own conclusions on that.

I am sure my noble friend the Minister will agree that we cannot just stop fossil fuels at the moment if we want to have a modern, digital economy with high-speed electric rail. How long do the Government envisage the continuous use of fossil fuels as we transition to a fully net-zero economy?

My noble friend makes an extremely good point. We are in a transition, so our use of fossil fuels will clearly decline. Even the Climate Change Committee has recognised that, in a net-zero scenario, we may still use about 20% of the quantities of gas that we use now—albeit abated with carbon capture, usage and storage. Fossil fuels will still have a use, but we need to treat them responsibly and to slowly phase out their use as we transition to net zero. My noble friend makes an important point that we should bear in mind.