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Carbon Budget Delivery Plan: High Court Ruling

Volume 838: debated on Wednesday 8 May 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they intend to take in response to the ruling of the High Court on 3 May that their carbon budget delivery plan was not sufficient to meet legally binding targets.

My Lords, we are immensely proud of our record on climate change, having gone further and faster than any other major economy in cutting our carbon emissions. The Carbon Budget Delivery Plan sets out more than 300 policies and proposals which the Government have put in place to reach their carbon budgets. The judgment focused on the decision-making process and did not criticise the policies themselves. We will publish a new report, compliant with the court order, within 12 months.

Thanks to ClientEarth and its partners bringing a judicial review, the courts have now told the UK Government not once but twice that their climate strategy is not fit for purpose. The Government believed they could get away with the “vague and uncertain” plan that was referred to in order to deliver the carbon budget delivery plan. They have now had to pledge to do another redraft within the next 12 months. I ask the Minister: why should we trust the Government to do a better job this time, or is it going to be third time lucky?

The Government are determined, as all of us who supported the Climate Change Act are, to live by the legal requirements we set for all Governments to hit the carbon budgets. The Carbon Budget Delivery Plan was not criticised for the measures it included. It was criticised in the judgment for the information provided to the Secretary of State. We totally accept that. We accept the ruling and will respond. We will make sure that we are putting in place measures to address this. Sections 13 and 14 of the Climate Change Act are, in hindsight, a little opaque. In a way, this has helped us clarify this and we will work to give all the information needed to show that we will hit our carbon budgets.

My Lords, can the Minister unpack the pride that he has in the Government’s achievements so far in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions? If we look at the last six years, what proportion of those reductions have resulted from external factors, such as Covid and the war in Ukraine and the consequent slowing growth in our economy, and what proportion have resulted from implementation of policies in relation to transport and agriculture?

The noble Lord asks a very detailed question. The third carbon budget ended in 2022, so I do not think that issues such as Covid will have been particularly relevant to that. We exceeded that by 15%. The noble Lord outlined some of the most difficult areas that we have to tackle: transport, housing, and agriculture. Agriculture is currently responsible for about 12% to 15% of our emissions, and that will grow as a percentage of our emissions as other sectors decarbonise, which they can do more easily. It is incredibly difficult. Defra, working with the Climate Change Committee and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, is seeking ways in which we can absolutely make agriculture play its part in reducing our emissions.

My Lords, is there not something a bit strange about this whole debate? I am sure that the High Court ruling was made correctly on the basis of all the evidence before it, but achieving net zero on all electric delivery plans has, in fact, hardly started. About nine-tenths of our total energy use is yet to decarbonise. How can anyone possibly know at this stage whether these plans are sufficient? It cannot be done.

We have to work with the Climate Change Committee to show that they can be. Interestingly, the judge said in his judgment that the assessment involved

“an evaluative, predictive judgment as to what may transpire up to 14 years into the future, based on a range of complex social, economic, environmental and technological assessments, themselves involving judgments … operating in a polycentric context”.

I had to look that one up: it means “many centres” but I am not quite sure how it applies here.

My noble friend is absolutely right that we have go across a range of different sectors to deliver on our carbon reductions, so it makes good economic sense to do so, as well as complying with the law.

My Lords, this is the second time in less than two years that the Government’s plans have been found wanting. The court found that government policies were simply not justified in evidence and insufficient to deliver the required cuts on time. One of the most pressing gaps in net-zero policy exists in heating and building insulation. What measures are the Government taking to increase the uptake of the Great British Insulation Scheme, which has the dual benefits of lowering bills and helping us to meet our net-zero targets?

That is precisely an example of what the Government can do by putting their money where their mouth is. Some £6 billion has been put into that scheme up until 2025, and that will go a long way to tackling the greenhouse gas emissions from housing, which is one of the most difficult areas to tackle. Alongside that, the Government are working on building regulations and other measures to ensure that new and existing housing is compliant.

My Lords, the Government, and many Governments around the world, are pinning an enormous amount of their strategies on carbon capture and storage. There are currently just 41 CCS plants operating globally and they account for 0.1% of annual global emissions. When Exxon tried to use that as an argument last week in the United States, the technology was described as going “at a snail’s pace”. We have none in this country. We have four clusters that have been identified, but as yet no plans have been made; yet if you look at the net-zero strategy, carbon capture and storage is playing a really large part. Can the Minister update the House on where we are with this and whether he is actually confident?

This is a matter on which my colleague, my noble friend Lord Callanan, will have the facts at his fingertips. I will make sure that he or I contact the noble Baroness for the details of how carbon capture and storage will deliver and can be a major source of decarbonising our energy system.

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the amount of carbon we are emitting is less than 1% of the world’s emissions? Can he confirm that, when we come down to zero, there is a serious risk that the Chinese will still be burning vast quantities of coal and fossil fuels, and that world carbon levels will be rising?

My noble friend may be right—but why would we not want to do this? The net-zero economy grew by 9% last year, and there is £74 billion of gross value added to British businesses in the net-zero work being done right across the industrial sectors. So it makes sense to do this from an economic and a business point of view. Why would you not want to decarbonise your business or your home? That is why we have to work to hit these carbon budget targets, and there is an economic reason for doing so as well.

My Lords, I am glad to hear the Minister applauding the net-zero green industries, but how does he square that with the decision by the North Sea Transition Authority—possibly misnamed—to grant 30 companies the right to look for hydrocarbons on sites that had been earmarked for offshore wind?

I am not aware of those sites, but it is predicted that, even if all those licences are taken up, there will be a continuing reduction of 7% a year in oil and gas requirements for this country. That is one of the fastest reductions in fossil fuel requirements of any industrialised country.

My Lords, how will the High Court’s ruling that the carbon budget delivery plan is fatally flawed impact the UK’s next nationally determined contributions, due early next year?

The judgment did not actually criticise the measures. The plan has more than 300 measures and proposals for the Government to deliver. It was a process failure, if you like, to make sure that the Secretary of State had all the information at his fingertips in order to make that plan compliant. We will make sure that it is compliant. But the noble Baroness should have confidence that this Government are absolutely determined to deliver on this. The Liberal Democrats were part of a Government who saw some reductions that have halved the carbon emissions in this country. Are they losing their touch? They usually take credit for everything, but all they do at the moment is criticise.