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EU Referendum: Climate Change Commitments

Volume 613: debated on Thursday 14 July 2016

4. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the outcome of the EU referendum on the ability of the UK to meet its climate change commitments. (905851)

6. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the ability of the UK to meet its climate change obligations. (905854)

The UK’s climate change commitments are grounded in the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008, which commits us to a reduction in emissions of 80% by 2050, from 1990 levels. Our membership of the EU has no impact on our commitment to this Act, as hon. Members will have seen in our decision to accept the Committee on Climate Change’s advice on the level of the fifth carbon budget just two weeks ago.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but she will know that the Committee on Climate change has said that tackling climate change is going to be more difficult outside the EU. The vote to leave does not give the Government a mandate to undermine the global transition to clean energy, so will she confirm that the UK will maintain its commitment to meeting our 2020 clean energy target, which was agreed as part of the EU’s climate and energy package?

The UK is a world leader in tackling climate change. The 2008 Act is a UK Act that we are absolutely committed to. We are outperforming on our target on energy renewables by 2020, and we remain committed to that.

What estimates has the Minister made of the impact there will be on energy costs in this country if we leave the EU?

In my view, leaving the EU will not make a difference to the innate cost of energy or the challenges for the energy sector. Most of our transactions for electricity generation are home-grown. There is a global market for gas. We have very good connections with European and non-European countries on interconnection, and we will continue to make commercial arrangements that are to the advantage of both the UK and those partners in energy.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her ability to do the work of four Ministers with such panache. She will know that normally economists disagree about everything, but one of the few things they are agreed about is that the best way to achieve an objective such as that set by the Climate Change Act 2008 is through a price mechanism. However, if subordinate targets are set, that inevitably means a less efficient and more costly route. When we leave the EU, will we therefore be able to scrap unnecessary targets while maintaining that final target, and thereby reduce the cost to consumers of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050?

My right hon. Friend is right to point out the importance of keeping costs down while we decarbonise. The Department has always made it clear that every opportunity to decarbonise at the lowest cost to consumers will be taken. It is my view that leaving the EU will enable us to do that to an even greater extent than we have in the past.

Since 1990 the UK has decreased emissions by a third more than the EU average. We have now set a target for 2030 that implies a decrease of about double that which the EU put into the Paris INDCs—intended nationally determined contributions. Does the Minister agree that the real concern about Brexit might be that we will no longer be able to influence the EU to make more progress in decarbonisation?

I am entirely clear: European countries remain our friends and great allies, and we will continue to work with them. Leaving the European Union does not mean that we are suddenly leaving Europe in any sense, so it is my expectation and anticipation that we will remain closely aligned on global issues such as climate change, and that we will continue to play a leading role in the world’s attempts to tackle that great threat.