Before I call the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) to ask his urgent question, I want, I hope on behalf of all colleagues across the House, to welcome Greta Thunberg, an enthusiastic and dedicated environmental campaigner who is with us today.
I, as Speaker, am very conscious that there are different views on these matters and different views on the matter of tactics in campaigning, but I think, across the House, we all believe in encouraging young people to stand up and speak up, to say what they think and to make their concerns known, so it was a pleasure for me, among other colleagues, to welcome Greta this morning. Greta, it was a pleasure to meet you, and I hope you enjoy listening to these exchanges.
I hope not to try the patience of the House—I will be making a further statement on this topic later this afternoon—but I want to take this opportunity to join you, Mr Speaker, in welcoming Ms Thunberg and her team to the United Kingdom Parliament. We tried very hard to meet her personally but, despite the best efforts of our diaries, we could not do it. I know she has met many Members of the House of Commons today, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Watching the protests over the past few days, both here and globally, has raised slightly mixed emotions in me. First, there is excitement that the conversations that many of us were having about climate change 30 years ago are finally moving from niche to mainstream. The question is not “Why act?” but “How fast can we act?”
Secondly, we completely understand the brilliant scientific evidence base, the motivation and the commitment that are driving people across the world to make their views known, but I worry that many of the messages we are hearing ignore the progress that is being made and, as such, make people fearful for the future, rather than hopeful.
Here in the UK, thanks to excellent cross-party working, we were the first country in the world to pass a climate change Act. We have led the world in reducing the carbon intensity of our economy over the past 40 years. We have made huge progress on plastics-free activity. Last month, renewables contributed to over 40% of our electricity supply. In fact, just this last weekend we had our longest ever period of no coal contributing to electricity generation in the UK; and we now have more than 400,000 people working in the low-carbon economy.
Of course we share the desire to raise this country’s ambition, which is why we asked our independent Committee on Climate Change to advise us on how best to reach our net-zero target—we were the first industrialised country to ask for that advice. I am also pleased to welcome the cross-party support for our bid to host the crucial United Nations climate change talks next year.
I have to say that, although the protests have been respectful and good natured, they have caused disruption for many hundreds of thousands of hard-working Londoners, and they have required a heavy policing presence. I thank the police—I think we should all agree on that—for their professionalism and for their proportionate response, especially over the holiday weekend.
We know we need to continue and accelerate the decarbonisation of our economy, across all aspects of activity, and crucially to help other countries around the world, especially those not at the same stage of economic development as us. That is going to require a broad-based, engaged, informed debate to deliver the low-carbon progress we need; this must be fair, just and progressive, and able to be shared. I am pleased to say that our progress to date has been supported by all political parties, and I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his great leadership and continued support in this area. Our work has been supported by all political parties in the UK, and I hope we can continue to work together to drive the changes we must make in order to secure our future. We have to secure the future of planet A, because there is no planet B.
I thank the Minister for her reply.
People can believe that the tactics of Extinction Rebellion are right or wrong—the Minister obviously believes they are wrong—but the demonstrators are certainly not wrong about the failure of politics to do anything like what is necessary to fight climate change: they are right. She said in her reply that we have made progress as a country, and I thank her for what she said about me, but the truth is that the planet is warming far faster than we are acting. Even the path-breaking Paris commitments will take us way beyond the disaster of 2°C of warming, as the Minister knows. The truth is that climate change is not some theoretical future prospect; it is with us here and now, with wildfires, droughts and floods. We have been warned by the scientists: it will get far worse if we do not act with much greater urgency. In these circumstances, it is no wonder people are disrupting the traffic and schoolchildren are striking. The response from Government cannot simply be to restore order and say it is doing a good job. The only credible answer of democratic politics in response to these protests is to admit that we need to raise our game and show we can act.
May I therefore ask the Minister today to commit to the following four actions as a down-payment on what is necessary? First, will she seek to persuade the Prime Minister to declare a climate emergency, as many local authorities have done, in order to focus minds across Government on the centrality of this issue to every Department, not just hers? Goodness knows that is necessary, because we know from the figures that came out just before Easter that the Government are woefully behind in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets covering the next decade.
Secondly, the Minister is to be commended for asking the Committee on Climate Change to recommend a date when the UK will need to hit zero emissions, which it will do next week, but these recommendations cannot be allowed to get buried in Whitehall. So will she now commit to responding formally to them before the summer recess? Only by Britain showing world leadership again, quickly, can we hope to persuade other countries to act.
Thirdly, will the Minister commit to working on the delivery of a British green new deal at scale, which could have the effect of giving work to hundreds of thousands of people across our country, for example, in retrofitting buildings, and showing beyond doubt that economic justice and climate justice go together?
Fourthly and finally, will she take up the idea of Extinction Rebellion and others to involve the public in these discussions about both the threat of climate change and the action necessary—and, yes, the trade-offs—with a process of citizen deliberation? For too long—this covers both parties—people have been shut out of the climate debate and made to feel powerless. That must change.
I wish to make one final point. Greta Thunberg, who is with us today in the Public Gallery, said this:
“I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”
She is right. If we do not act, people will say in the future, “You knew the facts, but you did not care enough.” We will be known as the generations with the knowledge of what was to come but without the will or imagination to prevent it. We will be condemned, and rightly so. The right response to rebellion on our streets is to produce a revolution in climate leadership, and the time for action is now.
In the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks we hear the passion that he has bought to this portfolio for many years, and I share that passion. Let me correct him: I do not disagree with the protests. I disagree with some of the methods, but certainly not with the message. As I have said to him before, I think that just a few years previously he and I would have been out there ourselves carrying placards.
Let me pick up on the challenges the right hon. Gentleman talked about. He is right to acknowledge that the Government were bold to ask for advice on a net zero economy—we are the first industrialised economy to do so. I will consider that advice carefully and proportionally and, crucially, I will work out how we are going to pay for it. He will know from his time in his climate change role that the Committee on Climate Change was unable to recommend a net zero target when previously we asked for that advice, because the committee did not believe it could be done cost-effectively or, indeed, that we had the technology. It is right that we give that work the focus that it requires.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we need to take a whole-of-Government approach. I was really pleased to see the Chancellor stand up and make the first ever green financial statement, in which he brought forward some extremely ambitious programmes to ensure that from 2025 no new homes will be built in this country that rely on fossil-fuel heating.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the declaration of a climate emergency. The thing is, I do not know what that would entail. I could stand here and say, “I believe there is a climate emergency,” and he could say that, too. Many of our local councils, including my own council in Wiltshire, have done that. The question is: what are we going to do about it? That is why we should be proud of the fact that we have the most detailed proposals for how we will hit our carbon budgets.
I will answer the right hon. Gentleman’s point about carbon budgets in a moment, but he needs to look, as I am sure he has, at what other Governments have done. It is the easiest thing in the world for a politician to stand up and say, “I’m going to do this and I’m going to set these targets,” knowing that they will be dead and buried before the targets have to be met. The responsible thing to do is to put in place legislation, as the right hon. Gentleman did, to bind every successive Minister who comes along to meet the budgets, or to explain why they are not met, and to hold every future Government’s feet to the fire—as he says, it often is a fire—in respect of how we deliver on our ambition.
The right hon. Gentleman made a point about carbon budgets. He will know that we are not woefully far off: we are at 95% and 93% of the way to being where we need to be to meet the budgets that end in seven and 12 years. And that is without evening costing or calculating the carbon savings that we will have from the homes changes we have made. This is an ongoing process and we are absolutely committed to delivering.
I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point about citizens’ assemblies. The wonderful thing is that everybody can talk about this issue. A national conversation is now happening. We have to engage with citizens, businesses, politicians, local authorities, bill payers and taxpayers—with everybody—because there is not one single thing that will move the dial. We have to change everything, do it rapidly and do it in a way such that no future Government can wriggle out of their responsibilities.
In this policy area, it is most important that everything is based on the best possible science. I am sure we would all agree about that. What is the Government’s view on the likely changes in water-vapour levels and cloud cover, and on levels of solar radiation? Those are also important matters.
My right hon. Friend is right. As a newly appointed fellow of the Royal Geographical Society—I had to get that in there—he will know that we have some of the best climate modelling in the world. The problem we have is that the planet is an unbelievably complicated ecosystem. We are finding some feedback loops that we did not even realise about: for example, what happens to the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica could have a meaningful impact on our sea levels immediately. We have the best scientific evidence base we have ever had. The 1.5° report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was based on the best peer-reviewed science the world has ever seen. We have the message from our scientists; we must now continue to act.
I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) for his timely question.
The right to protest is one of the foundations of our freedom. From the Chartists to the suffragettes, and from the civil rights movement to the anti-apartheid campaign, all those victories were won by citizens uniting against injustice and making their voice heard. Extinction Rebellion and the school climate strikers are doing just that. I, too, thank the police for the way they have policed the demonstrations: on the whole, they have done so with good humour. I was delighted to meet the demonstrators at Marble Arch yesterday and I thank them for speaking the truth.
Many of us listened to Greta Thunberg earlier today. She spoke about truth—the truth that we are in the midst of an ecological and climate emergency. She also spoke about our refusal—our fear—to acknowledge the truth that stopping this catastrophe requires a complete rethink in the way we run our economy, so that GDP growth is no longer the touchstone. We are on track for catastrophic levels of global warming, yet in the UK we pride ourselves on the 40% reduction in emissions that we say we have achieved on 1990 levels, while achieving a 72% increase in GDP. But the truth is out there. Schoolchildren are teaching it to us. Those figures do not include aviation or shipping emissions. They do not include our imports, our exports and they have largely come from the clean power directive in the European Union, which forced us to announce an end to coal-fired power stations. That is why thousands of our schoolchildren are on climate strike: they know that we are not acting with the speed and seriousness that the climate emergency demands.
Therefore, I ask the Minister: will she listen to the voice of Extinction Rebellion and of our own children? I echo the call from my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North: will she join my party in declaring a national environmental and climate emergency and commit to bringing forward the Government’s response to the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations, which will be published shortly, to achieve net zero urgently? Will she do more to engage with the public in tackling the climate crisis, because it is clear that our citizens need to be in the driving seat for a sustainable future? Will she work with Treasury colleagues and the Bank of England to address what Mark Carney has identified as climate-related financial risks and make the emissions curve and natural capital the key elements of our future economic viability? We know that, however disruptive the climate demonstrations may have been in this past few weeks to businesses, they pale into insignificance against the capacity of climate disasters to wipe out human prosperity and human life itself.
I just want to pick up on a couple of factual points. First, I entirely share the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to the right to protest. It is a wonderful, wonderful freedom that we have and one that we should use judiciously. I know that he and I have both done so.
On the point about coal, it is not the case that other countries across the EU are phasing out coal. In fact, when I was at the climate change talks in Bonn, it was shocking to see the barges of dirty Ruhr coal floating down the Rhine because Germany took an ideological decision to phase out nuclear power. For us to get to zero now—it will be zero completely by 2025—is a huge achievement for an island that is built on coal and surrounded by fish and that had 40% of its energy generation coming from coal in 2010 when I was elected. That has been done not by the climate directive, but by unilateral policy decisions taken by the coalition Government and continued by my Government. That is how we will continue to lead the world—by taking tough decisions, hopefully with cross-party support, to make the differences that we need but that we can then accelerate around the world. Our leadership on coal has enabled me and my counterpart in Canada to set up the global Powering Past Coal Alliance—an alliance of 80-plus countries, cities and companies that have all committed to phase out coal thanks to the UK’s leadership.
I also want to reassure the hon. Gentleman. He made a brilliant point about natural capital accounting, which will be formal Government policy by 2020. I join him in paying tribute to the work of the Bank of England and the Governor, Mark Carney, who have identified the challenge for investors and companies, and indeed for regulators, if there is not proper accounting for climate risk disclosure—again, an area where we have continued to innovate and lead the world.
I am delighted to share many of the points that the hon. Gentleman made, but I do believe fundamentally that a market-based economy that delivers rapidly reducing costs of technology and innovation—the sort of innovation that has seen the price of offshore wind tumble over the last two years—is the way to go. I will look with great interest at the advice that we get from the Committee on Climate Change and act as soon as is proportionate and possible.
It is not just the protesters on the streets or the children coming to our offices who are raising this matter; this issue is being talked of around kitchen tables, among families whom we represent. The worst way to reflect those concerns—whoever they are from—would be for our Opposition parties to say, “The Government are not doing enough” and for us to say, “Look at all the things we’re doing.” I therefore absolutely concur with the Minister’s cross-party consensus on this matter. Does she agree that we should applaud the fact that this country is not like the United States, where this is a polarised political issue? This is an issue on which we, as a Parliament working together, can actually move the dial. The Minister has made some really good points, as have the Opposition. Does she agree that, on this issue, we really can reflect the needs and wishes of the people out there through the consensual nature of our debate?
I very much thank my right hon. Friend for his work as a Minister, particularly on waterways and rivers. This issue is not simply about the air or the biosphere. It is about the whole planet—all the ecosystems working together. He made an incredible amount of progress with that portfolio. Of course he is right. People look at us and see us filling this place with hot air over the three-year forward look regarding our relationship with the European Union, and then they see this place when we are debating these portfolios. In my time as a Minister, this is the fullest I have ever seen the Chamber when we have debated these matters. [Interruption.] Well, there have been very few Members on the Opposition Benches previously as well. People are right to look at us and say, “What are you going to do, working together across parties?” and to ask what role organisations such as the Youth Parliament can play—that is, whether there are organisations and assemblies which already include young people that can help us to make progress with the issue.
We welcome the fact that the Extinction Rebellion protests have largely been peaceful and non-violent in nature, and that so many of those protesting have been young, concerned activists, including Greta Thunberg from Sweden and Holly Gillibrand, whom I met today and who has led climate action protests in her home town of Fort William in Scotland; I welcome both of them here today. Along with other young activists, they have travelled here to meet the leaders of the Opposition parties to discuss how to respond to climate change. Given that the Prime Minister has yet to meet these young adults, will she take the time this week to discuss this vital issue with them? After all, it is our collective responsibility and the UK Government must show leadership.
Scotland continues to outperform the UK and is world-leading in its low-carbon transition, with figures showing that emissions in Scotland are down 49% since 1990, as opposed to 38% for the UK as a whole. Will the Minister join me in welcoming these figures from Scotland, and will she commit to increased, faster and deeper efforts by her Government to help the UK’s figures to come into line with Scotland’s?
The good news is that all the devolved Administrations and the Westminster Government have worked incredibly hard on the low-carbon transition. It is a joint project; we calculate on a joint account. Of course, the taxpayer subsidies that have gone into so much of the energy generation system, helping Scotland with its transition, have come from UK taxpayers and UK tax policy.
I cannot speak for the diary of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but I am always delighted to meet groups of people, as is the Environment Minister. As I have said, we worked really hard today to try to get our diaries to mesh with the plans of the groups coming here and we offered various meetings, but apparently they were not available at those times. It is a total pleasure to meet people to discuss these issues. Like so many other Members, I am sure, I only have to go home to hear my own children telling me what more we need to do and asking whether they should take part in the protests. I say to them, “Wouldn’t it just be easier to tell mum what you want over a cup of tea?” but it is more fun for them to protest. We genuinely have to listen and move on this issue, and we will continue to do so.
It is a testament to my constituents—young, old, of no religion, of any religion, whatever shape and size—that they have come to me about the environment. This is an overridingly important issue for everybody. Sustainability should be at the heart of every Government Department, and cross-party should be the name of the game. If we can do one really positive thing to reverse climate change, it will be to reduce our emissions to net zero, and to do so fast. I take my hat off to the Minister for going to the Committee on Climate Change and for asking for its advice on how we could possibly address this more quickly than our targets. The committee’s advice was that we could not do so by 2050. I am hopeful that it will change its mind. Will she please update us on that and will she tell us when aviation and shipping might be included, as they need to be?
To answer in reverse order, there has been progress made on aviation and shipping. That continues to be an international challenge because flights and ships leave and take off from different places, but there is work accelerating on it, and indeed some investment going into low-carbon fuels, which could be hugely important. I will happily update the House when we have received the net zero report and talk about the various aspects in that. We are investing in the first net zero industrial cluster in the UK, with £170 million of funding from the industrial strategy challenge fund. As my hon. Friend has reminded me, it is not just the young who are protesting: one of the most effective and wide-scale campaigning organisations in the UK in this area is the Women’s Institute, which has over 9,000 climate ambassadors. This is a problem that affects all of us, and the solution will involve all of us.
I thank Greta Thunberg and the climate strikers, and Extinction Rebellion, for showing more climate leadership on the streets than we often see in this Chamber. The Minister says that she does not know what a climate emergency looks like. It looks like doing what is scientifically necessary, not just what is deemed to be politically possible at the time. In that spirit, in the meeting this morning that unfortunately the Prime Minister could not clear her diary to make but all the Opposition leaders did, we agreed a number of proposals, including things like ongoing dialogue with the UK climate strikers and stress testing all new manifesto commitments to make sure that they do not exceed the 1.5° warming target. Will the Minister’s Government sign up to those practical proposals?
I do not want to politicise diaries, because of course invitations were issued, as the hon. Lady is well aware, that could not be accepted. We are not going to go into that sort of political tit for tat that takes us down a rabbit hole of conflict that this situation does not need. I have debated with the hon. Lady many times, and I frequently pay tribute to her for her passion and commitment and leadership of her party, but just once—just once—she could stand up and acknowledge the fact that the country she is proud to represent has led the world—
She is shaking her head. She cannot even acknowledge that the UK has led the world in this particular area. If we cannot acknowledge our leadership, and celebrate that, how can we possibly hope to persuade other countries that emit far more carbon than us, and have a far greater land area, that they should be making the changes that they also need to make?
While I have no time for those who deny climate change, I also have little time for those who deny that great progress has been made. If we have 40% of our electricity from renewables, which is up from 6% in 2010, is it not important that we listen to and work with our scientists and innovators who can improve this picture rather than just listening to those who lie down on the streets?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think that this debate is about consumption emissions. I will not take the House through the technicalities, but essentially there is an argument that we have exported much of our heavy energy-creating activities. It is also the case, as people will see if they peruse the base numbers, that our consumption emissions are down by 20% since, I believe, 1997. I will check those facts before the next statement. The whole world’s economic systems are changing. That is why the leadership that we display will help other countries to whom much of this activity has been transferred also to make these changes—in particular, to have a low-carbon electricity system as this is often the greatest cause of emissions in those countries.
The Minister put her finger on it when she said that this is going to be about some tough decisions. She expressed concern about describing this as a climate emergency because what she really wanted to do was to move the dial. Ireland has been able to move the dial not by leaving the public out on the streets but by bringing them into a citizens’ assembly—a proper citizens’ assembly that hears the views not just of the activists but of everyone. That has supported carbon taxes and an end to subsidies for peat extraction, meaning that Ireland is now the first country to divest from fossil fuel. Will the Minister meet me and others who are supportive of the idea of a citizens’ assembly to talk about whether that is the cross-party, cross-country way forward by which we can actually tackle this climate emergency?
With pleasure. I point out to the hon. Lady that we already have a carbon tax. We introduced a unilateral tax on carbon emissions, which is what has driven us off coal. She does not seem to realise what an achievement that is. When she and I were elected, 40% of our electricity system was coal-based. Of course I will meet her, but let us look at what has worked and see how we can do more of that.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the 2017 PwC report which shows that the United Kingdom is the fastest decarbonising nation of the G7? Can she tell us how the Government are supporting new technologies, such as the use of hydrogen to heat domestic homes in the Keele University experiment, and what further steps can be taken to promote geothermal energy in Clackmannanshire?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s mentioning an independent report which shows that we have decarbonised, as a proportion of our economic growth, faster than any other country in not just the G7 but the G20. We continue to work to accelerate our carbon reduction. He is right to focus on heating, which is a major problem for a centralised gas-based heating economy such as ours. Innovation is happening in Keele, Leeds and other areas to see how we might safely introduce hydrogen into the heating system. Of course, we then have to produce hydrogen in a low-carbon emissions form, which is an opportunity to use excess renewable energy, and particularly offshore wind. This is an incredibly innovative time. By the way, if we can help the world migrate to hydrogen boilers and make those boilers in the UK, we can export them and create a competitive advantage as part of this transition.
Looking at the climate science, I do not suppose that a single Member of the House does not ask themselves, “How can we make the changes that are needed?” The Minister will be aware that the Committee on Climate Change said in November that emissions from homes are off track and we will need to replace gas with hydrogen boilers and supplementary electric heating. Given that about 80% of homes depend on gas for heating or cooking, how will that change happen?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise homes, although they are responsible for only 15% of our CO2 emissions. In fact, the biggest nut we have to crack is industrial emissions, which is arguably much harder to do. There will be no one-size-fits-all policy on homes. There will be some decarbonisation of gas, some introduction of pure hydrogen, a move to electrification and a use of community heating or heat networks. Some amazingly innovative local authorities—Nottingham and Leeds spring to mind—are trying to design new forms of heating system into their local economies and home building programmes. That is how we will innovate and drive the cost down. I think that the announcement of no fossil fuel heating in new homes from 2025 will kick-start a revolution, particularly in reducing the cost of alternatives such as heat pumps.
The protests last week did not greatly inconvenience my constituents, but many of them, like me, share the concerns about the grave emissions situation we face. I do not think that panicking ever helped any situation, but does the excellent Minister agree that if we are going to do our bit on these small islands, we have to face up to the poor energy efficiency of our existing homes? We will need a new green deal, as the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) said. The Minister can call it whatever she likes, but we will need a retrofit new green deal if we are going to move the dial—that seems to be the expression of the afternoon—and lower emissions.
I cannot disagree with my hon. Friend that the focus on retrofitting is hugely important. He and I put ourselves on the green deal Bill Committee because we believed there was a way to incentivise people—if someone retrofits their home, their energy bills go down, and they often get a higher sale price or a lower running cost.
We have to work in all sectors. There will continue to be an element of Government investment. We are working with mortgage lenders. There is evidence that offering a green mortgage pays for itself, because people can borrow more cheaply and get a better rate of return. There has to be many ways of doing this. In constituencies like mine, many homes are not suitable for traditional retrofit technologies such as cavity wall insulation. That is why part of the £2.6 billion we are spending on innovation over this Parliament has to go into finding solutions for such homes.
The Minister is right that there are some sectors, such as power generation, in which major progress has been made in carbon reduction, but does she agree that there are others, such as aviation, where virtually nothing is taking place? Does she agree that the Government should re-examine major expansion projects such as Heathrow specifically to look at the climate change implications?
The right hon. Gentleman tempts me into another Department’s area. I have to say that I believe that most of the emissions problems with this specific aviation project relate to transport to and from the airport, and clearly there is much more that can be done on that with the Department for Transport. Equally, however, we have to look at how we try to solve the aviation problem globally. Again, there is no point trying to do something unilaterally that disadvantages the UK economy, when we could be working to solve the problem. One of the things the Department has been doing is investing in alternative fuels, in many cases created from the waste products of other processes, and that is the sort of innovation we need to see because unless we can drop the emissions from aviation substantially, we will not be on track.
The science is clear that we need to stop pumping more emissions into the climate. I thank the Minister for spending time with the Science and Technology Committee today and answering very detailed questions on the Government’s policy. Does she agree with the other four experts before the Committee that the UK has led the world in investment in innovative technology, such as carbon capture and storage, and does she agree with me and many colleagues that the UK should continue to lead the world in investment in innovative technologies to help find solutions to this situation?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising carbon capture and storage. Members will know that a competition was run several years ago, and it was a rather crude, as it were, point-to-point competition—in one case, it was just decarbonising a coal plant that would in effect no longer be generating power. We are now trying to work out how carbon capture, usage and storage are embedded in an industrial cluster, so that we can actually decarbonise heavy industry and create a way of sequestering the carbon alongside clean power generation. This is how I think we will solve the problems: not looking at them in economic silos, but trying to solve these problems on a whole-economy basis.
The global food system accounts for 30% of emissions, and it is said that without any action—if we do not do anything about it—food and farming will take up the whole of the Paris carbon emissions budget, so why is no one talking about it? I have been sitting here listening to this, and I have sat here listening to many of these debates, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of parliamentarians who are ever prepared to ask what we are going to do about the global food system.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who has been walking the vegan walk now for many years and has been a doughty campaigner. She is absolutely right: CO2 emissions from land use and farming will continue to rise precipitously unless we have changes both in the way we treat soil—she will know about the UK’s plans for improving carbon sequestration in soil—and in how we farm. Unfortunately, the challenge is also about how we feed the world cost-effectively, and we need to continue to look at technological solutions for that, but she is right to focus on this. I find that this and the industrial emissions bit are the parts that people very rarely talk about, so I thank her for raising this issue.
The Minister is right to raise the effect that this Government have had on emissions, particularly from the power sector. I am sure she will remember that, during the Labour leadership campaign of 2015, the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) said he wanted to reopen the coalmines. He went on to win the leadership—it was a very popular policy—and a couple of months later he clarified that he wanted to reopen only one coalmine in south Wales. Will the Minister update the House on how the Leader of the Opposition’s campaign to reopen the coalmines is going?
I was not at the Durham miners’ gala where those pledges were made, but, with the exception of some Opposition Members, I think there is general cross-party support for phasing out coal, which is the dirtiest form of fossil fuel, as a power-generation source. Unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is also, I believe, against nuclear power, so that would leave an awfully big hole in the thermal generation part of the energy system.
I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who will know from his own constituency of Selby and Ainsty that some of these transitions can be difficult, involving job losses. This is why it is such a challenge for other countries, and why the transition we have to make has to be just and fair, and has to ensure that people’s jobs are maintained and new jobs are created.
The Minister asks what would be the point of her declaring a climate change emergency. Well, it is because it is an emergency. It is an emergency right now and it is an emergency across the world—glaciers are melting, seas are rising—and the Minister knows this. I just do not understand, and I do not think people watching or my constituents in Bristol West will understand, what is stopping her declaring a climate change emergency and then treating the problem as an emergency.
Let me try to help the hon. Lady and her constituents. I do not see the point of saying anything unless we take action to solve the problem. We are now realising that we have a massive, growing problem with our global emissions, affecting the balance of our economy. We in this country lead the world in trying to solve this problem. I accept that we need to go further and faster, but I want to focus on actions rather than simply standing here and saying, “I have said a few things—job done.” Let us focus on actions, not words.
Exactly; so having instituted the fastest decarbonisation of any G20 country, will the Minister remind the House what proportion of total global emissions we produce—I think it is 1%—compared with, say, China? We all know what would happen to an Extinction Rebellion demonstration in Tiananmen Square. If we want to make a real difference, what practical steps are we taking internationally to encourage China, the USA and India to take real action?
My right hon. Friend is right to point out that we make up only 3% of the world’s land area and we rank 17th for carbon emissions. If he will forgive me, however, his suggestion is a little bit of a false choice, because much of our growth and prosperity has been caused by putting the CO2 up there in the first place. I think that it is very unfair to say to countries that they cannot enjoy future growth unless they are prepared drastically to cut their standard of living.
The point is that we must work together. I pay tribute to many of the actions that have been taken in China and India, where some of the most rapid investments are being made in electric vehicles and renewable energy. That is the reason why solar panel prices have dropped more than 80% in the UK; we no longer need to subsidise them because of other countries’ investments. My right hon. Friend is right to point out that we must work together. A CO2 molecule does not care where it is emitted from, or where it is going. We are all contributing to the problem, and we must contribute to the solution.
Many of the businesses, citizens and workers who have had their lives disrupted over the past week by protesters—some of whom flew thousands of miles in CO2-emitting aeroplanes to cause roadblocks, which led to more CO2 emissions, and then arrogantly threatened to disrupt the Easter holidays of many hard-working families—will be amazed by some of the attitudes expressed in this House today. Will the Minister tell us why police actions that have been used against previous disruptive protests in London were not used on this occasion? Was it because of Government direction, the Mayor of London or a decision taken by the police?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a strong point. I pay tribute to the response of the Met police, under its commissioner; the right hon. Gentleman will have seen the response today. I think there was a little bit of nervousness at the beginning of the process, unfortunately, led by the Mayor of London, who did not recognise that millions of people’s lives would be disrupted. [Interruption.] Hang on a minute; Members are moaning and whinging, but what is the point of stopping people using electric public transport so that they have to take cars? That seems utterly counterintuitive. We ended up with a proportionate response, and I pay tribute once again to the police, who acted in a very good-humoured way to confine the protests.
It is imperative to reduce greenhouse gases, and the replacement of coal by natural gas has vastly reduced such gases. Does the Minister agree that we should back a responsible UK oil and gas sector, and not offshore our climate change responsibility?
I do, and my hon. Friend will know, as do many of his Conservative colleagues, that the incredible contribution of the oil and gas sector to the Scottish economy cannot be overstated. He will also know that we can decarbonise gas very effectively, and, frankly, we produce it with environmental standards far higher than those in the countries from which we import.
The two things are entirely linked. We are a highly gas-dependent economy, as we know. We want to cut the amount of gas that we use, but it is a good transitional fuel. The hon. Gentleman always shouts over me, which is very rude. We want to explore soberly and scientifically whether there are opportunities to extract gas onshore in a way that helps us with our energy security—something he used to care about, when he was mining the black stuff all those years ago—and helps us to generate jobs. Why is it that we trust the science on climate change, but when science says that shale gas extraction is safe, we refuse to listen?
The environment is important to all of us in the Kettering constituency, which is one of the greenest boroughs in the whole country, with 30 very large wind turbines generating almost as much electricity as is consumed by all the residential houses. I am concerned, however. While we must of course allow people to protest and this is a very important issue, I do object, on behalf of many thousands of my constituents, to encouraging schoolchildren to go on strike. It is important for schoolchildren to have strong views on topical issues, but why can they not protest at the weekend? Education is very important.
It is a very serious point. Ms Thunberg’s efforts, which have become a global phenomenon, demonstrate the power of a young person deciding to make these statements. What I would say to protesting schoolchildren is this: “We need the climate engineers, the geo-physicists and the scientists of the future. Those are skills that you will learn best by engaging in education. You are protesting; we are listening. We have to work together and we need your skills to solve this problem.”
The west midlands was the home of the industrial revolution. We sparked the carbon revolution; we would like to lead the zero-carbon revolution. However, it has been harder to decarbonise our power system since the Government phased out feed-in tariffs for solar. It is harder to decarbonise our transport system because of the confusion, identified by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee before Christmas, around electric vehicles. It is harder to decarbonise energy in our homes when the Minister cannot tell me, in parliamentary answers, our share of the energy company obligation funding that might fund that retrofitting. Cities in this country would like to lead the green industrial revolution, so why does she not help them?
I will certainly look at the last point. It may be that we just do not cut the data by metropolitan area. ECO is an important fund that we are using to focus on fuel poverty and create more innovation. I do not think there is confusion. The feed-in tariff scheme, which he will know given his time in the Treasury, was an extremely expensive scheme. We have spent almost £6 billion so far and it will cost us £30 billion over the future of the scheme. Essentially, as I mentioned to my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), we have seen the price of the renewable technologies we are supporting tumble. We do not have to subsidise to drive take-up. The smart export guarantee, which I will introduce soon, will pay people for that generation and ensure there is a demand-side aggregation created in the homes investing in it.
On transport, we have been very clear. We have one of the most ambitious programmes of moving to zero-carbon new vehicle sales. [Interruption.] It is true. Opposition Members should look at what other countries are doing. The right hon. Gentleman will know from his constituency that one in five of the electric vehicles sold in Europe is made in the UK. We do not just want to be leaders in how many are driving on our roads; we want to be leaders in investing in the technology that the world is moving towards.
Does the Minister agree that caring about climate change and the environment is not a monopoly of the left—far from it, as evidenced by the many actions of this Government—but that there is a political debate to be had? Does she agree that it is possible to reduce emissions and grow the economy and that this is particularly important not only for the UK but for many of the world’s developing economies?
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. There is too much fear and not enough hope. If we look at the UK, the low-carbon economic sector is growing four times faster than the mainstream economy and we have 400,000 people—bigger than the aerospace sector—employed in green jobs. We can continue to see the global opportunities from investment. This is a massive opportunity. Not only are we saving the world’s ecosystems; we are creating jobs for the future. We know that 65% of those under 24 want what they call a green-collar job. They just do not know how many are out there.
One way we can decarbonise homes is by using geothermal energy, particularly in former mining areas. The University of Durham has done a lot of research on this subject. Would the Minister like to come to learn about the research it is doing and consider how we can implement it?
It would be a pleasure to come and visit. We have had several debates on geothermal heat, in particular from old mine workings. It seems only fitting that the blood, sweat and tears of those thousands of men who dug up the energy source of our first industrial revolution could somehow be reused by using hot water as another source of energy.
I welcome the Minister’s comments about listening to and acting on the science. If that is the case, the Committee on Climate Change has questioned whether support for oil and gas may become incompatible with the Government’s long-term climate change objectives. In the spirit of not disappearing down a rabbit hole of conflict, perhaps we can agree, on both sides of the House, on whether there is a sustainable way to reduce fossil fuel extraction to move from maximum economic recovery to sustainable economic recovery.
That is a very important point. The oil and gas industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of people, has contributed billions to our Exchequer and is extremely important to communities north of the border. It is one of our most productive industries. It is part of the transition, and the exciting thing is that technologies such as offshore wind, the sector deal for which I announced just recently, will be a brilliant industry for many of those employees to transition into. In fact, our world leadership in working in very difficult offshore conditions in oil and gas exploration is perfect for offshore wind, so there is a natural transition. Of course, these are important industries, which I believe also recognise the role that they have to play in the transition.
A young woman from Boroughmuir High School in my constituency wrote to me ahead of the school climate strikes, calling for politicians to prioritise wind and tidal power over nuclear and fossil fuels. The Scottish Government are trying to do that, but until such time as we become independent, we require the UK Government’s assistance. Can the Minister tell me when the Government will reverse their policy of prioritising new nuclear plants and putting the kybosh on tidal power in Scotland?
I will not correct the hon. and learned Lady on too many things, but we have a mixed, diverse energy supply, which is decarbonising very rapidly. We have not put the kybosh on tidal. In fact, we invested the same amount in R&D funding for tidal as we did with any other technology; it is just that other renewables have out-competed it much more rapidly. However, I was pleased to meet the renewable energy council and cross-party support recently to see what more we can do to support that. I believe that nuclear has a part to play. It is part of our zero-carbon future. We have a nuclear sector deal and it is an incredibly productive industry for the United Kingdom.
I welcome what the Minister had to say on our cleanest and greenest year for electricity yet and her approach to the Committee on Climate Change, but does she share some of my concerns about the goals of Extinction Rebellion? This is an organisation that has pledged to take non-violent direct action but whose co-founder was arrested on charges of criminal damage against corporate headquarters. To what extent are the Government also looking at how we can mitigate the potentially violent actions of this movement?
My hon. Friend is right to point out that we should be able to have a civilised, important and strong debate about our aims. It is challenging, though, to see that there are acts of violence or acts of criminal damage. I am also aware that no political party or campaigning organisation is endorsing one of the key asks of Extinction Rebellion, which is a net-zero emissions target by 2025. It is simply not something that can be delivered. It is right to have that challenge, but we have to be able to take what we do best in this country, which is to have a civilised debate, and apply it to the most important issue of our time.
The Minister mentioned her international influence in relation to reducing carbon emissions. The USA is one of the biggest CO2 polluters in the world. Can she ask the Prime Minister to use all her influence when President Trump comes to the UK to get the US to recommit to its obligations from the Paris summit and to set up a climate emergency in the USA to tackle global warming?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but despite the rhetoric, the US’s decarbonisation record is very good. In fact, it cut its carbon intensity by 3.7% for the year ending in 2017, which is well ahead of the global average and, indeed, well ahead of the EU’s average. He will know that this is about not just federal actions, but the actions of states, cities and companies. The We Are Still In coalition, which is hugely accelerating work on decarbonisation action—for example, the net-zero targets of the state of California—is delivering real change in the United States, and we should celebrate that.
I, too, had the honour of meeting Greta Thunberg at the parliamentary leaders’ roundtable discussions this morning. I would like to put on record my thanks to all the youth climate change activists who have succeeded in putting climate change at the top of the agenda.
Climate change waits for no Government. I travelled to London on the train with Heather Bolton from Gwynedd. She was on her way to attend the Extinction Rebellion protests in Westminster. We talked about Fairbourne on the Gwynedd coast where the whole community has been warned to prepare to move out within 40 years. Climate change is more than a passing inconvenience to the people of Fairbourne. Will the Minister accept my invitation to visit the community and see the economic, social and human cost of inaction?
I am always delighted to visit installations in Wales—I visited Bridgend with the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) and saw the amazing innovation work being led there—so it would be an absolute pleasure. The hon. Lady is right to point out that this is not just a challenge for a few. The Karman layer—the line where the earth’s atmosphere merges into outer space and where all the gases on which life depends are found—is 60 miles deep. I would not get even halfway to her constituency, if I was driving straight up, before I tipped out of the atmospheric layer. That is why this is such an important opportunity and we must work together.
If you can believe it, Mr Speaker, it was not in the too-distant past that I was a young activist. What I hated then and what I know young people hate now is when politicians say the future is theirs, because the present is theirs and this planet is theirs. One of the four demands of the climate strikers is extending the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds. They are so passionate about this topic. Will the Minister agree to giving them the vote so that they can vote on it?
I did not realise the demands had got that broad. The hon. Lady is right to focus on something really important: it is the job of Governments to steward what they have for a period of time and then pass it on in a better state to the next generation. Whether it is the earth’s climate or the economy, that is what we exist to do. I do not know where the argument about the voting age sits in that. We have heard loud and clear what the next generation, and indeed grannies, grandpas, parents—all of us—need to do. We need to work together to accelerate our actions.
I congratulate the young people in many countries across the world without whom we would not be here today having this debate. They have reminded us how urgent the climate crisis is and that we have to be very ambitious—a lot more ambitious than we have been so far. Are the Government committed to making our electricity grid 100% carbon zero before 2050? If so, when will we know about this new target?
When I launched the offshore wind sector deal, I said that power generation would be at least 70% net carbon zero by 2030—in only 11 years—so we can extrapolate from that. There is a view among energy system modellers, however, that there will always need to be some level of thermal energy generation on the grid, because you cannot do a cold start based on current renewable and storage technology, which raises the question of how we further decarbonise our gas supply in particular.
Complacency in government is the reason young people have left their classrooms to educate politicians and to challenge us in this place. Rather than just warm words, in the light that we are going to miss our fourth and fifth carbon budgets, will the Minister commit to setting every public authority and local authority stringent carbon budgets?
The hon. Lady is right to point out the role of local authorities. I believe that much policy is best pulled through at a local level, where it is possible to join up regeneration, transport systems, cycling and walking strategies and so on, rather than pushed out from Westminster. The young people of today—it is such a patronising phrase, isn’t it? Everybody in the UK today should be proud of the fact that we listened and 10 years ago with cross-party support passed the world’s first Climate Change Act. We listen in this place. We might not act as quickly as people want, or in the ways people want, but we must look at our early movement and the fact that we have led the world in decarbonisation. We are listening and we are acting.
Dealing with the climate emergency will require us to ensure that billions of pounds are invested in low-carbon technologies. Most of that money will come from the private sector, and must be invested in heat and transport technologies in particular. The money is there, but for it to be invested at scale will require certainty.
Since 2010, zero-carbon homes have been needlessly scrapped by the coalition Government; now that is coming back. The energy company obligation solid-wall programme lasted less than a year after it was announced. Tidal lagoons have been flirted with, and have gone nowhere. The carbon capture fund money was put up and then taken away. Onshore wind was banned entirely. The Green Investment Bank was set up, and has already been sold off. That is fundamentally why green investment in the UK is falling. Where there has been certainty—mainly in offshore wind—progress has indeed been rapid. However, it is not just the protesters but those in the financial markets who are saying that while there has been some good progress, it is just not enough. Perhaps it is time for the Government to listen to one or both of those groups.
Many of the projects that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned were being funded entirely by Government subsidies. The Government have no money of their own; the money that they have is other people’s money. Someone has to pay—either the taxpayers and consumers who have already borne many of the policy costs, or private sector shareholders. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the importance of certainty, and policies that will stand the test of political time, such as those that we have set out now in the clean growth strategy, will secure that investment certainty. The good news is that the world is moving rapidly away from high-carbon investments, and investors are looking for opportunities that we are able to offer.
We salute 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, the school climate strikers and Extinction Rebellion. They have shone a light on the issue of the issue of climate change in a way that it seems only David Attenborough is able to equal. Surely the Minister recognises that her Government must do more. Perhaps they could follow the lead of the SNP Scottish Government, with their world-leading climate change targets, and perhaps—as was suggested by the hon. Member for Midlothian (Danielle Rowley)—they could follow our example of allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote on these issues, because they are clearly well ahead of some of the dinosaurs in this place.
I do not see too many dinosaurs in the building today. However, I pay tribute to both the devolved Administrations and the Westminster Government, who have worked incredibly well on these issues. We share one goal, we share one set of climate budgets, and we share one set of, largely, taxpayer receipts which have paid for much of this investment. We must continue to work together, and we must look for points at which we can come together rather than looking for those at which we can diverge, which I am afraid the hon. Lady’s party often wants to do.
Climate change is not a party political issue, but an issue of global importance. In the light of that, the Government’s complacency today, and their refusal to take leadership at a national level, is extremely worrying.
I feel very emotional about this issue. I listened to Greta earlier, and I applaud her for pointing out the obvious, for inspiring us, and for reminding us how crucial it is that we take action now. This morning my granddaughter was born. Looking at her, I feel that we owe it to these children and young people—the Government owe it to them, and let me politely say to the Minister that she owes it to them—to demonstrate that we are doing more than talking about this. What actions will the Minister take to ensure that those young people have the future that they deserve?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on becoming a granny. That does not seem possible.
Whatever I say, or other Ministers say, from the Dispatch Box is reported in Hansard, and is the next day’s chip paper. What we must do is act. We must set out actions, set out our ambitions, and work together. I am disappointed to hear that the hon. Lady thinks I have been complacent at the Dispatch Box. I have tried incredibly hard to show that we are listening, we are acting, and we are delivering. We must accelerate that, but the hon. Lady should be proud of the fact that ours is the first developed country to say, “Help us to understand what net zero looks like: what will the changes have to be?” Does that sound hopeless? It sounds hopeful to me.
Despite living in an area of multiple deprivation, the vast majority of my constituents own their homes, but it is very difficult for them to make those homes viable and to conserve energy. The previous system, introduced by the coalition Government, was a complete and utter disaster: local businesses closed, and a great deal of shoddy work was done. Many families were desperate, because they thought that they had wasted money and were financially out of pocket themselves. Will the Government look closely at a new means of ensuring that people like my constituents can do their bit, although they have not much money in their own pockets?
I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that the Each Home Counts review that we did, whose recommendations we have accepted, and where we have a trust mark for the work he mentions, should stop this problem happening in the future. Too much shoddy work has been done. Reparations have been made. Essentially, people have to have confidence that the work they are having done to their homes is of a high standard and is effective.
Tragically, Ella Kissi-Debrah lost her life to asthma, and the courts are currently looking at whether the authorities had any responsibility in that tragic death. I believe there is a crisis in children’s respiratory health. There is a meeting tonight with the title “Pollution Has No Borders”. One thing the Government could do would be to take away the cuts to local councils, which were looking at having more clean buses. Just increasing the number of bus journeys rather than car journeys would help not only lots of people on low incomes but the planet. Please could that be one thing that the Minister takes away from these questions and pledges to look into? Will she give that money back to councils so that action can be taken on our terribly polluted air?
The hon. Lady is right to point out that one problem we do not talk about enough is that CO2 pollution is often associated with particulate pollution, and one of the co-benefits of cutting emissions is that we get cleaner air. However, I gently say that she is wrong to focus on a reduction in budgets for zero-carbon transport. My recollection—I will check this and write to her—is that those budgets have gone up, and I myself have seen some of the hydrogen and hybrid buses that are running. Of course, the challenge is also to get more cars off the roads, because they obviously have a far greater level of pollutant per mile travelled, and to ensure that children, particularly in the most deprived areas, have clean air to breathe.
Extinction Rebellion is a vital movement. During the protests on Sunday, my five-year-old son Andrew and I found an amazing sense of positivity, peace and passion for change. Young people are leading the way, and we must listen to them. Does the Minister recognise that, for all the action that is being taken, it will not be enough on the current trajectory, and that we need a transformation in the level of our ambition if we are to secure our future?
I do recognise that ambitions need to be raised not just here but around the world. That is why I hope we will have the chance to secure the crucial climate change talks next year, because we need to demonstrate that that is possible and not something to be frightened of. We need to work together with other countries to try to raise ambition collectively, and it will be wonderful to have cross-party support for the UK to be the host of those talks.
I think I could sum up the Minister’s response today as, “The rest of the world is rubbish. We are better. We are doing things ahead of everybody else. I can’t understand why people came here and demonstrated.” By definition, it was a peaceful definition, but over 1,000 people managed to defy the authorities to the point where they were arrested. These people are not going to go away. So, Minister, what has changed as a result of their protests over the last few days?
I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that I think that that is a really wrong reading of what I have said, and I am happy to send him Hansard—he will find that quite the opposite was said. What has changed is that everything has changed in a way, in that we now know how broad this protest is and the depth of people’s feelings. We are as frustrated as they are about some of the challenges, but we also have to recognise in this place that whatever we do is fair to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, to my constituents and to those who pay for the changes. I must also mean that the world can come with us, and I want to keep emphasising that point. We must not be complacent—nobody is complacent—but we have shown that we can deliver, that we will deliver and that we know we need to do more. However, we will have to do that together.
The Extinction Rebellion protest over the last few days has prevented business as usual, but that is nothing compared with what climate change will do, and is doing, in certain areas of the world. It is not good enough to talk the talk and not walk the walk. This issue needs a fundamental, transformative shift in our economy and in what we do. The Secretary of State is shutting her eyes and ears on this. Will she tell us today what action is actually being taken across Government to demonstrate that fundamental shift and to challenge business as usual?
I thank the hon. Lady for my inadvertent promotion. She just has to look at the numbers: we have had the cleanest year for electricity generation that we have ever had, and this weekend this country, which was built on coal, went for the longest period ever without using any coal. We are legislating to ensure that homes will have no more fossil fuel heating, and 42,000 homes in my constituency are now off the gas grid. From 2025, no home will be able to be built there unless it has some other form of heating. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady shakes her head, but she knows better than many in this place, given her long involvement in these matters, that it is all very well for politicians to stand up and mouth empty platitudes but what we have to do is deliver actions, not words. That is what we are delivering.
As the Minister knows, the Governor of the Bank of England warned last week that climate change poses a financial risk to investments such as people’s pension savings. In March, the $1 trillion Norwegian sovereign wealth fund declared that it would no longer invest in oil and gas exploration, in order to minimise exposure to those climate-related financial risks. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the green finance strategy includes incentives for people to invest and for organisations to provide investments that are sustainable?
The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of pension fund investing. When we had our Green Great Britain Week last year, we said that one of the most effective things that an individual could do was to their move pension fund if they were able to, or to lobby the trustees of their pension fund, like the House of Commons pension fund’s trustees, to move away from fossil fuel or unsustainable investment. The opportunities are there, and I am really proud of the work that the Bank of England has done on the climate risk disclosure, but clearly we need to do more. If the hon. Lady has ideas, we would be extremely keen to discuss them, because we would be much better off if we all put our heads together.
My city of Oxford is the first in the country to create a citizens assembly focused on the climate crisis. The Minister said that she wanted a broad-based debate, but we all know what happens far too often: we have a politically expedient knee-jerk reaction to anything that goes against the status quo. So please will she come to Oxford, see what we are doing, and look genuinely at these cases so that we can have a much more broad-based discussion about the climate crisis and do something about it?
Of course, and part of the reason that I am so passionate about this is that I studied climate change, geography and meteorology at Oxford University many years ago. Many of the people associated with the university have been world leaders in understanding the science, and Oxford City Council has done some amazing things in this space. Again, we are really keen to learn. I do not accept that there are knee-jerk political reactions. The clean growth strategy sets out what we will do over the next 25 years to meet our budgets, but if we have good ideas, let us stop hoarding them; let us share them.
One of the sectors that has not done well on reducing carbon emissions is road transport. One of the policy levers that used to be available was the fuel duty escalator, which the coalition Government ceased to proceed with and which the current Government do not want to return to. Does the Minister agree that that matter needs to be looked at again and that, in terms of carbon emissions, those decisions were a mistake?
I mentioned at the beginning that we have to do things that are proportionate and fair. I know that the hon. Gentleman supported the cap on fuel prices that we put in, because we had to ensure that it was not the least well-off who were paying for the transition. I pay tribute to his work and to his own personal cycling activities. As he knows, the city of Cambridge is an exemplar for cycling and for effectively ensuring that road transport becomes a thing of the past.
I thank the Minister for supporting the message and for her actions. I was among the MPs who attended the meeting to listen to Greta Thunberg today. She is 16 years old and an inspirational young girl; she inspired me and many other Members as well. At 16 years of age, she is just six years older than my oldest grandchild Katie, 10 years older than my grandchild Mia and almost 16 years older than my grandchild Austin. What message would the Minister give to my three grandchildren and all other children that the climate action being taken today will have made a difference?
The Minister will know that over half of the UK’s planned carbon reduction is tied up in some way or another with EU regulations and that EU agencies are key to enforcement. Assuming that the Government’s new office for environmental protection is ever established, will it have a climate change enforcement remit? If not, why not?
The hon. Gentleman will be able to discuss that matter further during the passage of the environment Bill. He makes a powerful point, but I reassure him, as I have said many times, that no part of our exiting the EU will compromise our climate ambition. Indeed, our progress to date is well ahead of the rest of the EU.
I extend my thanks to and express my admiration of Greta Thunberg, whose speech I had the honour of hearing today—her microphone was working, which I know was of concern to her at some points. Much needs to change, and we need to move forward together as a country to deliver that change sustainably. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), what substantial and specific plans does the Minister have for how we should formally engage with the public on how we respond, in policy and legislative terms, to our climate crisis? Why will she not consider a citizen’s assembly?
I have not ruled such an assembly in or out, and I am interested in how one would work. I am also interested in how the Youth Parliament could provide a steer for younger people coming to this place. The hon. Lady said that we have not had this conversation, but I was struck when I launched the first Green Great Britain Week last October that it marked the first time that we had had a national moment at which we could come together to talk about what we had achieved and then challenge ourselves to go further. There have been many campaigns, such as the Climate Coalition’s brilliant #ShowTheLove campaign, but one of the exciting things—the hon. Lady asked me what we are doing that is different—is that this conversation has stopped being niche and started being mainstream. If the hon. Lady thinks that citizen’s assemblies are the way to go and that we should be listening to them to get a stronger steer, let us have a conversation to see how that could work.
There is no ban on onshore wind, as the hon. Lady well knows. I was elected on a manifesto which said that large-scale wind development, of which there is now 13 gigawatts in the UK, rising to 14 gigawatts over the next year, is not appropriate for many parts of England. She will know from her constituency the benefits that offshore wind can deliver. We can put up 198 turbines, each as tall as the Gherkin, which offers incredible opportunities for the offshore servicing fleet in her constituency. We can regenerate the coastal communities that service such developments. We will continue to invest in onshore wind, but large-scale onshore developments are inappropriate for many parts of England.
Alongside a growing list of my Opposition colleagues—71 as of now—I have written to the Minister, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House calling on the Government to table at least a day’s worth of debate in Government time to discuss their response to the Committee on Climate Change on how we will achieve net-zero carbon emissions sooner rather than later. Will the Minister support that request today and join us in that debate?
The Minister is keen to trumpet the fact that the UK went 90 hours and 45 minutes without coal power, but the reality is that her Government are not making nearly enough of our potential in onshore and offshore wind, solar, wave and hydroelectric, particularly in pump-storage hydro. Scotland’s efforts are being stymied by her Government’s policies. What specific measures will she bring in to incentivise renewables across the UK?
We are already incentivising renewables. We have always said—I believe that this is right—that we must be technologically neutral in such things. All technologies started out from pretty much the same place, but some have progressed faster than others. We must also have cost-effectiveness, so we cannot spend other people’s money on supporting technologies that will remain expensive over the long term—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady is waving her hands, but is it not incredible that the price of offshore wind has dropped over the past two years by a proportion befitting a technology company, let alone a mechanical engineering company, because of the policy and auction structure and the market investment that we have brought forward? We should be celebrating that and the fact that the North sea is the best place in the world for offshore wind.
Global Witness published a report this morning that found that $4.9 trillion is invested in oilfields and gasfields that are either in development or not yet in production and will therefore contribute to exceeding a global warming scenario of 1.5°, as per the terms of the Paris accord. Much of that investment comes from FTSE 100-registered companies. What legal advice will the Government be giving to London headquartered businesses that are investing in breach of our international obligations?
I am sure the hon. Lady has also read “The Burning Question”, which was published in 2013 and addresses the challenge of the valuation of oil and gas reserves. Indeed, I have already answered a question on this subject. There is a challenge on how quickly the oil and gas companies are transitioning but, as we were discussing earlier, many people in the UK, including the Exchequer, rely on this industry, which has allowed us to cross-subsidise much of the renewables success we have delivered. She also knows that these companies are global organisations, and we need to work globally to ensure we solve the problem.
The Minister talks about action not words, and she also talks about the clean growth strategy. What does she think of the plans to downgrade the electrification of rail lines and, as the Secretary of State for Transport has done, to invest in and promote bimodal trains, which obviously are diesel for part of the time?
I am having a flashback to my old job as rail Minister. The hon. Lady’s constituency is a beneficiary of some of the big investments we are making, such as in the wind turbine factories located up there. We always need to balance cost, carbon and competitive advantage, and it was the case that we could deliver those benefits to passengers with those bimodal trains, which obviously have much lower CO2 emissions than if they were full diesel, and I am sure her constituents welcome that investment.
The point of declaring a carbon emergency is to take action immediately, not in 2025 or 2030, so why are we not changing the planning rules so that all homes have to be carbon neutral now? Why are we not ensuring that all new buses on our streets are non-carbon emitting? These things are possible.
A thousand people have been arrested on the street in order to raise this issue in the House and in the country. Does the Minister agree that it is not in the public interest to prosecute those people? They should be getting awards, not prosecutions.