I beg to move,
That this House welcomes the report of Climate Assembly UK; gives thanks to the citizens who gave up their time to inform the work of select committees, the development of policy and the wider public debate; and calls on the Government to take note of the recommendations of the Assembly as it develops the policies necessary to achieve the target of net zero emissions by 2050.
It is a pleasure to open today’s debate, for which I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee. The Climate Assembly UK’s final report runs to more than 500 pages, and, as I suggested in this place a couple of months ago, it provides an invaluable evidence base for Ministers in this and future Governments, and for colleagues across the House, as we chart our course to net zero.
I am grateful to my fellow Committee Chairs, the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) and the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), whose Committees, together with my own, set that work in motion. Most of all, I am grateful to all the participants, who gave up their time to make the Assembly a reality and so hasten the cause of ambitious action to combat climate change.
None of us doubts the urgency of that work and, with all the other challenges we currently face, we should not forget about the scale of the tasks ahead of us in reaching net zero and persuading other countries to do the same. Before I begin my substantive remarks, I should also declare my interests, as my wife is the head of external affairs at the Association for Decentralised Energy.
Today’s debate is especially timely for the House in the context of the Prime Minister’s so-called “Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution”. Today, using the Climate Assembly conclusions, and noting its outcomes as representative of the British people, I will highlight what the British people think about the Prime Minister’s 10 points. At a headline level: barely a quarter of the £12 billion highlighted in the Prime Minister’s plan represented new announcements, and our total proposed spend still lags behind that of other developed European economies. It is right to point out that the Committee on Climate Change target of 2% of GDP in net-zero spending includes leveraging private sector spending alongside public sector spending, but, unfortunately, we did not get much further on this issue in the spending review yesterday. Like others, I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement on a national infrastructure bank. Such a bank will have the potential to accelerate financing and free up large-scale investment for decarbonisation, but net-zero obligations need to be enshrined in the bank’s founding mandates.
On offshore wind, I am sure we all welcome the Government’s willingness to invest more in transmission and networks, and the restated commitments both to a quadrupling of our capacity and to significantly expanding the use of domestically manufactured components, but the public will expect action to bear out that optimism. The Government’s stated intention to bring these jobs home simply by incorporating requirements for UK content into contracts for difference just will not cut it without a seriousness about how, where and when these jobs will be created and trained for, underpinned by a detailed allocation of resources. Recent failures on this front, including the collapse of the BiFab—Burntisland Fabrications Ltd—contract in Scotland, bring into question our ability to reach our existing offshore sector deal targets, let alone future targets, and show the need for reform. The Climate Assembly report identifies support in excess of 95% for prioritising offshore wind within the UK’s energy mix, which should demonstrate to Ministers the appetite that exists for action of the pace and scale required.
Next, the Government’s plans to boost hydrogen production are also worth interrogating more closely. I know that a number of colleagues in the House have an interest in that and I look forward to their contributions later today. Although 83% of Climate Assembly participants took the view that hydrogen power should form some part of the UK’s eventual energy mix, they had substantive concerns about its scalability, value for money, and the risks and early-stage costs associated with producing and storing hydrogen as a usable fuel. Should Ministers agree with the Assembly’s conclusions in this report, they may wish to pause to reflect on those concerns and provide some answers on them. That is even truer, it has been argued, if the journey towards developing usable capacity for hydrogen is carbon-intensive, and truer still if the trade-off is forgone investment in cleaner and simpler routes to decarbonisation. However, as I say, I welcome the debate on this topic today.
Carbon capture technologies will also ultimately serve a purpose in complementing the transition to renewable energy, in enabling some less adaptive carbon-intensive processes to continue, and potentially in harnessing the potential of hydrogen, but the scale of that role is up for debate, and some people view the target of 10 million as inadequate without a much faster economy-wide transition to clean energy sources. In that context, the technology did not command a consensus among Assembly members, with just 22% support for carbon capture alongside fossil fuels as a long-term solution.
The eventual role of new nuclear power is also something on which the public are pretty sharply divided, with 34% of assembly members expressing support and 46% voicing opposition. The lines of disagreement will be familiar to Members, with supporters stressing nuclear’s reliability and potential to create jobs in the near term, but with sceptics worried about safety, non-carbon environmental degradation and high up-front costs.
The target for 600,000 annual heat pump installations by 2028 is welcome, in conjunction with both energy efficiency measures and obvious job creation. It enjoyed 80% support among Climate Assembly members, but the Government should consider whether these initiatives are best delivered through empowering and resourcing local authorities to drive investment in local communities, instead of a top-down approach that fails to take a technology-neutral position on policy making. Indeed, in the assembly report there was 80% support for heat pumps, 80% support for heat networks and 80% support for potential hydrogen, and the conclusion was that local people and local communities should get to decide which technology best suits their needs.
The extended deadline for the green homes grant is also welcome, but the early teething problems with the current scheme need to be fixed urgently and the remaining funding for those works, as allocated in the Conservative party manifesto, need to be forthcoming.
Moving briefly to transport, the Government’s hugely welcome headline announcement on phasing out conventionally powered cars commanded 86% support in the assembly. In order for the Government’s £1.3 billion to be spent efficiently, alongside the Chancellor’s welcome announcements yesterday in relation to money for rapid charging hubs and subsidies for home and street-side charge points, it is crucial that decisions are taken on the basis of credibly evaluating demand at the local level. One hopes that there will also be a greater willingness to come out of our cars and to use public and active transport more. Most assembly members support investment in lower-carbon buses and trains, as long as they run more frequently and less expensively, and some early announcements from Ministers, while welcome, must go further.
On jet zero, or lower-carbon intensive flight, the same questions of personal choice and collective responsibility are also at the centre of the debate about how to reduce emissions from air travel. Assembly members accepted that growth in air passenger numbers has to be slowed, but many baulked at the suggestion of outright restrictions on people’s ability to fly. Instead, there was broad consensus around the principle that passengers should pay in proportion to the frequency and distance travelled, and that airlines themselves must pick up some of the tab for decarbonising aviation.
Lastly, the prospect of a renewed focus on tree planting and peatland restoration, if underpinned by a fair system of incentives and sensitivity to the needs of individual farmers, proved highly popular, albeit with some participants expressing scepticism about the limits of its potential ecological benefit. This is one example where the role of Government in broader educative or explanatory notes on net zero policy decisions is important.
The question of fairness was central to the deliberations of the Climate Assembly, and it should be clear that the broad support that exists for decarbonisation can only be sustained by guaranteeing that the new economy offers the possibility of skilled, dignified work to everyone who seeks it, and that those currently employed in carbon-intensive industries do not disproportionately lose out from the net zero transition. Building such an insistence on fairness into our strategy for achieving net zero is a critical test set for the Government by the assembly, and I would welcome an update from Ministers on how it will figure in the plethora of now very delayed but highly anticipated announcements on all of these issues from the Department.
The public expect the Government to build on the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan with concrete, strategic and serious action that is adequate to the scale of the task at hand. Ministers can best do that by learning the lessons of the Climate Assembly, ensuring that our response to the climate crisis is deliberative, democratic and fair, and moving forward with the justified confidence that the public are on board and on side. The report itself also contains additional valuable suggestions beyond the Prime Minister’s initial 10 points—there are more things that need to be done—which I hope will be considered carefully.
The valuable, credible and timely conclusions from the Climate Assembly should be taken as a guide to our actions. The report’s key recommendation was that the Government should forge cross-party consensus to sustain action beyond political cycles that commands the support of successive Governments. I am confident, and I hope it is now clear, that across the mainstream of this House such consensus exists. It is time now, therefore, to act.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), who highlighted some very pertinent points. I welcome the Climate Assembly report and its recommendations, which form a valuable body of evidence about public preferences for how to get to net zero and show that there is public support to get this right. This path requires strong leadership from Government to forge long-term planning between people and businesses, and I therefore welcome the Government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, which is aimed at eradicating the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050. Two of the points in the 10-point plan that I would like to highlight today are to do with carbon capture and storage in nature, which tie into the Climate Assembly recommendations.
To achieve net zero by 2025 necessitates reducing greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible. However, reducing emissions alone will not be enough. Ways of removing and storing carbon were considered by the Climate Assembly. Assembly members heard about potential removal methods through tree planting and better forest management, restoring and managing peatlands and wetlands, and enhancing the storage of carbon in the soil. Better forest management was the Assembly members’ preferred option. They said that it was a brilliant thing to do but not enough on its own and a starting point.
Taking that into account, we must not forget about our coastal habitats and seas and blue carbon—carbon captured by our oceans and coastal ecosystems. Our oceans and coasts provide a natural way of reducing the impact of greenhouse gases on our atmosphere through sequestration of carbon. Protecting and restoring our coastal habitats is vital to tackling climate change. Our coastal habitats can play a vital role in tackling climate change and protecting us against rising sea levels, as well as being the home to internationally important wildlife. They also bring much-needed tourism and green jobs to seaside communities such as mine in Hastings and Rye, especially as we recover from the coronavirus crisis.
Globally, we have lost more than half of our coastal habitats due to a destructive combination of climate change, sea level rise, coastal erosion and development, and we are predicted to lose up to 3,000 hectares more per year by 2050. In beautiful Hastings and Rye, we are blessed with so much nature, including Rye Harbour nature reserve and a coastline of shingle beaches, reedbeds and saline lagoons. The banks of the River Rother, for example, are lined with salt marshes and wetlands that teem with wildlife. When properly functioning, salt marshes can suck up carbon up to three times faster than tropical rainforests, yet it is estimated that as much as 1 billion tonnes of carbon are being released annually from degraded coastal ecosystems worldwide.
In addition, when we lose this natural coastal buffer zone, coastal houses and businesses are put at much greater risk of flooding. Projects such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Wallasea island in Essex now protect local villages from repeated flooding. If we were to scale this up, it has been estimated that in England alone we could create 26,500 hectares of new salt marsh, which could make use of innovative partnerships that connect local communities and NGOs with Government and private investors. These projects can also provide new outdoor landscapes for local people to enjoy, with physical and mental health benefits, as well as tourism, potential income and rejuvenated fishing stocks.
Although the ocean’s vegetated habitats cover less than 0.5% of the seabed, they are responsible for more than 50% and potentially up to 70% of all carbon storage in ocean sediments. Seagrasses and marshes along our coasts capture and hold carbon, acting as a carbon sink. One acre of seagrass can sequester 740 lbs of carbon per year or 83 grams of carbon per square metre, which is the same as the amount emitted by a car travelling 3,860 miles. In the UK, up to 92% of our wonder plant, seagrass, has disappeared over the last 100 years. Seagrasses provide one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. An area of seagrass the size of a football pitch can support over 50,000 fish and more than 700,000 invertebrates, which is great for our fishing industry.
The benefits of blue carbon projects are huge. With the UK Government’s plans to decarbonise the maritime industry, the industry can and should play a vital role, working in partnership with blue carbon projects around the UK’s coasts. It is time that we unlock the potential of our coastlines to reach our 2050 goal of net zero emissions and to reverse our loss of wildlife, while simultaneously helping to provide our coastal communities with jobs and investment where it is needed most.
Please do not worry, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is not my speech that I am holding. You and I have seen a lot of reports since we came into the House, and I have here the “Millennium Ecosystem Assessment”, the “UK National Ecosystem Assessment”, the “State of Nature” report, “Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming”, the “Clean Air Strategy 2019”, “Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK”, “Reducing UK emissions: Progress Report to Parliament” and “How carbon pricing can help Britain achieve net zero by 2050”—just a small selection of what is on my shelf. Do we really need another report? Yes, we do.
All those reports are politicians telling the public what needs to be done. This Climate Assembly UK report, “The path to net zero”, is the public telling the politicians what needs to be done. About time too! Some fantastic principles have been used to get there. The report is 552 pages long—it is a big read—but it is underpinned by fundamental principles: education and information, fairness, freedom of choice, protecting nature and restoring our natural environment, strong joined-up leadership from Government and a joined-up approach. That is what makes it different.
I want to go straight to recommendation 1:
“We want the transition to net zero to be a cross-political party issue, and not a partisan issue”.
I take it that everyone in this Chamber is in agreement that we need to achieve that. If anything that I say to the Minister sounds like a criticism, it is not because I want to play party politics. I want to co-operate with the Minister, to work with him and to achieve what we have all set our face to achieve.
I want to focus on how the report looks at joined-up government. In that respect, I recommend to everyone yet another report, the National Audit Office report on “Achieving government’s long-term environmental goals”. It states that the 25-year environment plan
“brings together a number of government’s environmental commitments and aspirations in one place, but it does not provide a clear and coherent set of objectives…and…government has yet to set a clear course for the development of a coherent and complete set of environmental objectives, and for a full set of costed delivery plans”.
The report goes on to say that
“government has yet to set out whether or how it will clarify long-term ambitions for the five environmental goals that it has not designated as priority areas…and…that neither Defra nor HM Treasury yet has a good understanding of the long-term costs involved in delivering the Plan as a whole…Defra is developing governance arrangements to help manage the links between different environmental issues”,
and has set up the “two oversight groups”, but:
“In July 2020 the Implementation Board started work to assign responsibilities for managing the links between goal areas, although it has not yet agreed what the most important links are.”
Furthermore, the report recommends that DEFRA
“maps out the most significant interdependencies between the goals in the 25 Year Environment Plan and sets out how decisions about any significant trade-offs will be made, and by who”,
“Government’s arrangements for joint working between departments on environmental issues are”
simply not good enough. There are
“no clear indications of senior ownership outside Defra and its arms-length bodies for the Plan as a whole…and…no regular, formal arrangements at all for Defra to engage other departments”.
I now go to page 539 of the Climate Assembly report, where it states that 78% of people engaged in the assembly agreed:
““There should be a Minister with exclusive responsibility and accountability for ensuring net zero targets are met and government departments are co-ordinated in their efforts and achievements to meet their targets”.
The Minister must act and do that.
As Chairman of one of the six Select Committees that commissioned Climate Assembly UK to report on how the UK should meet the Government’s target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, I warmly welcome the report, thank all those who contributed and look forward to the opportunity to debate the contents in the few minutes that I have. I also thank the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), who was Chair of the Transport Committee when the assembly was commissioned.
I want to touch on the transport matters that the report focused on, because, as was rightly hailed, the transport sector is the poster child in its failure to turn itself around. Its carbon footprint still stubbornly contributes 33% of all carbon dioxide emissions released in the UK. There is much for the transport sector to do, therefore. The report rightly focused on surface transport, where 70% of the transport carbon footprint is made. I want to touch on a few of the causes and comment on what the Government are doing and perhaps on what more needs to be done.
First, the assembly called for a ban on the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by between 2030 and 2035, and clearly someone has been listening because the Government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution brings forward the date from 2040 set earlier in the year to 2035 and now to 2030. That is an incredibly ambitious target from the Government, and it is going to be a big challenge for the motor manufacturing industry and the charging infrastructure industry to ensure they can deliver.
I am pleased that the Government have pledged £500 million to kickstart that shift, but the key is consumer confidence. It is essential that electric vehicle owners are confident, no matter their household circumstances or their travel plans, that the mode is the correct choice for them, although I understand that there needs to be a sea change and, indeed, ambitious targets must be set if we are ever to deliver a shift away from combustion to electric. I think that that will necessitate a look at pay-as-you-drive, and I am pleased that the Transport Committee will be looking at both the question of ending sales of vehicles with combustion engines by 2030 and new modes to pay for driving.
I also want to touch on the call for Government investment in low-carbon buses and trains. The Government have introduced, or plan to introduce, at least 4,000 more British-built zero-emission buses, which I welcome. In addition, two towns will have electric-only buses. That is a great start.
There is already a plan to decarbonise the rail network by 2040, and the Transport Committee is currently in the midst of the “Trains fit for the future?” inquiry. We stand at a great crossroads: with 15,400 kilometres of track currently non-electrified, we can look at electrification, at battery, or even further into the future towards hydrogen, but if we move solely to electrification, we should consider that 1% of the national grid is already used for electrification on trains and 60% of our energy that creates electricity is regarded as dirty, and thus non-renewable. Therefore, if we increase electrification there is a danger that we will increase our carbon footprint, and if in years to come hydrogen is more ready to be used, it would be a huge shame to have vested everything in electrification—and it is more expensive as well. That said, there is a big challenge in industry to ensure that we can get the speed, the range and indeed the freight capability for hydrogen, and at present I absolutely admit that electrification is the only game in town.
On the question of adding more bus routes and more frequent services, the Transport Committee called for a bus strategy. I am pleased the Government have done likewise.
I disagree with bringing public transport back under Government control, although some might say that that has already occurred by osmosis. Under privatisation over the past 20 years, rail passenger numbers have doubled, as private enterprise is more incentivised to get people on to rail services than the general taxpayer ever will be, so I disagree with that one part of the report.
There is much more in this fantastic report, however, but I have run out of time. I very much support everything the assembly has done.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) and, indeed, to see hon. Members from different parties participating in today’s debate. Although it is timely, we are very much focused at the moment, of course, on the health crisis created by covid. Normally, I would have had a chance to write a speech, but today I am working from some very rough notes. While we are rightly focused on the health crisis that we face, not just in this country but internationally, the climate emergency has not gone away. Indeed, if anything, it bears on us even more.
The health crisis also gives us reason for hope and for learning. We have seen what amazing things can be achieved in a very short space of time when there is the will to do so. We have seen that people are up for almost unimaginable change when they really understand why it is needed. Parliament made a really important decision when it agreed that we would reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. We cannot afford to wait. In fact, if possible, we need to go even faster, and that is a call that I would make. If we do not achieve that, our planet will be irreparably damaged. Having made that commitment, the Government, and all of us as parliamentarians, must set out how we will get there and how we will reach those decisions. In making those decisions and setting out the steps, public support will be essential, and that is why the role of the Climate Assembly is so vital.
I am really proud that the Transport Committee, which I chaired at the time, was one of those Select Committees commissioning Climate Assembly UK, but we owe a huge debt of thanks to the 108 people who took part and actually made this process a reality. I saw for myself, on the first weekend they met back in January, what it involved. It was fantastic to be in the room as an observer and to see the energy and the interest that they showed in the expert information that was being presented to them, the questions that they asked and the participation. It was really excellent.
It is important to recognise the value of assembling a group that is truly representative of the UK population in terms of age, gender, educational qualifications, ethnicity, where they lived, whether they were from an urban area or a rural one, and actually whether they were really concerned about climate change or slightly sceptical about the whole issue. Too often, we find ourselves in echo chambers. We just listen to those who hold similar opinions to ourselves or hear from those who shout the loudest. The assembly’s work provided a rare opportunity to hear some of the quiet voices of people who had been given the information and had time to consider their recommendations. That is hugely valuable.
The assembly’s hard work has produced a really comprehensive report, as has already been said, and a set of 50 policy recommendations, covering not only how we travel but how we generate electricity, how we heat our homes and what we eat. Those are clear and consistent, and if we follow them, they will help us to get to net zero. I think that they are an absolutely invaluable resource to support our work here in Parliament and our decision making. The recommendations are not binding, and I think that is right. We can make different choices, but we cannot avoid making choices and taking action. The Climate Assembly based its recommendations on a comprehensive and balanced set of evidence, and it heard a range of views.
I want to say a couple of things about the transport recommendations. I obviously welcome the assembly’s support for extra investment in low-carbon buses and trains and better public transport services, cheaper fares and investment in walking and cycling. I am delighted that the Government have already decided to act on the recommendation and brought forward the ban on new diesel and petrol cars to 2030, but I was disappointed that hidden away in yesterday’s spending review was a 15% cut in next year’s walking and cycling budget. I hope that when the delayed transport decarbonisation plan comes through, it does not disappoint us.
I would like to say more about road pricing. It is interesting that there was a wariness on the part of assembly members around that issue, so although I am glad that we are having a debate about it, we need to think about how we address the impacts on low-income households as we develop the policy.
As a member of one of the six commissioning Select Committees, I have followed the work of the Climate Assembly with considerable interest, but I have to confess that my initial impression was not favourable. The concept of a relatively small number of members of the general public—just 108 people, I think—being imbibed with any greater knowledge, understanding or wisdom than the ranks of experts that already advise Parliament and the Government on the one hand, and my own membership of a larger and infinitely more democratic citizens’ assembly—this place—on the other, made me doubt the value of the work being undertaken. Frankly, I was also concerned that the assembly would simply become a mouthpiece for some of the more extreme environmental pressure groups. But when the participants were surveyed about the quality of the information that they had received, 78% agreed that it had been fair and balanced between the different viewpoints. Although this was admittedly the lowest score for any of the evaluation questions asked, it still represents a substantial consensus of opinion.
Having now seen the assembly’s output, I recognise that my first impression was wholly a wrong one. Although the assembly’s work can in no way supplant the role of this House in formulating and then enacting public policy, its report has added greatly valuable insights to the debate on the mix of policies required to achieve our common goal. The standard answer to the question which technologies should be used to get to net zero is “all of them”, and that is still likely to be the case, but the Government should take note of the assembly’s views, and take note very seriously, given that public acceptance of the huge changes required will be critical to their success. If we do not bring the public with us, the best laid plans will be doomed to failure.
It is for that reason that I was so glad to read the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for the green industrial revolution. I do not believe that it is serendipity that this key policy announcement mirrors so closely the Climate Assembly’s conclusions: increasing our target for offshore wind capacity from 10 GW to 40 GW by 2030; promoting the hydrogen generation market; accelerating the transition to electric vehicles, as has already been referred to during this debate; pushing additional investment into public transport, walking and cycling; and researching zero-emission aviation and shipping. The list goes on. It shows that the Government have been listening, and listening hard, and that they are seeking to reflect many of the Climate Assembly’s key objectives. It is a testament to the value of this process, and all those who were involved should recognise the impact that their work has already had. But there are some interesting differences.
Technologies that hold out the prospect of fixing carbon emissions without the need for behavioural change by us as consumers did not receive as much support by the Climate Assembly as I would have expected. Carbon capture and storage—either direct air or from bioenergy—were, relatively speaking, less popular than other proposed changes. In the responses in chapter 9 of the report, there was a strong desire not simply to fix carbon emissions but actually to address their root causes.
There is a desire to use our response to climate change as an opportunity to address what kind of relationship we should have with our natural surroundings—less an industrial supremacy and more, perhaps, of a collaborative symbiosis. Although it is my view that we will certainly need all our technological ingenuity in carbon capture and storage, and probably in nuclear, to achieve net zero carbon by 2050, as policymakers we should seek to understand and reflect this deeper and wider need. It is this more mature relationship between us and our environment that sets the current generation apart from its predecessors, and gives me such hope for the future.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on securing this important debate. I also congratulate the members of the climate assembly who took part in producing this important report. As the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) indicated, the involvement of people from across the country in our democratic processes and in discussing important issues should be celebrated, and there is no issue that requires urgent focus and consideration more than the climate crisis.
The report sets out clear, holistic principles that will be central to achieving a liveable future. From how we travel, what we eat and how we use the land to what we buy, how we use heat and energy in the home, how we generate our electricity and how we will remove greenhouse gas, this report provides a mandate for decarbonisation that we in this House cannot ignore.
Climate breakdown is not a distant threat but is happening here and now. The World Meteorological Organisation found that the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years. Human-caused climate change has already been proven to increase the risk of floods, extreme rainfall, heatwaves and wildfires, with dire implications for humans, animals and the environment. Yet the Government’s recently announced green industrial revolution does not go nearly far enough towards addressing this existential crisis. Only £4 billion of the £12 billion scheme is newly announced funding, and that is four times less than the recently announced £16 billion increase in military spending. As Sir David King, founder and chair of the Centre for Climate Repair at the University of Cambridge, said,
“it is nowhere near enough to manage the British Government commitment to net zero… by 2050 or to provide a safe future.”
Not only is the 2050 target perilously unambitious, but, according to the Committee on Climate Change, the Government are not even on track to meet it.
The Tory Government continued to give oil companies further tax breaks until as recently as December 2018. The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that, to prevent global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5° above pre-industrial levels—seen by scientists as a tipping point past which climate disasters will be locked in—oil and gas production must fall by 20% by 2030. I am gravely concerned that if fossil fuel companies are left to their own devices, such crucial targets will be missed. For example, ExxonMobil is projected to extract 25% more oil and gas in 2025 than in 2017. Oil companies such as Exxon and Shell knew that their extractive industries were causing climate change as far back as the 1980s, but instead of informing the public, they funded climate change denial and those lobbying against environmental policy.
A 2017 study in the scientific publication World Development found that worldwide fossil fuel subsidies amounted to $4.9 trillion in a single year. It is estimated that eliminating those subsidies would have cut global carbon emissions by 21% and air pollution deaths by over half. It is therefore vital that these subsidies are ended and that Government bail-outs are subject to stringent commitments to workers’ rights, tax justice and rapid decarbonisation.
Without immediate Government intervention, the urgent action required to preserve a habitable planet will be too slow. That will cause unimaginable disruption and could cost millions of lives, most immediately and sharply in the global south, whose countries have contributed least to climate change. The current crisis has demonstrated that we are only as secure as the most precarious among us and that rapid social and economic change really is possible. At this unprecedented moment, the Government must consider all possible interventions and regulation to phase out the extraction of fossil fuels and to transition to renewables as soon as scientifically possible. The climate crisis is a class crisis. It must be the big polluters and corporate giants, who bear the costs, not ordinary people.
I am a member of the Treasury Committee, one of the commissioning Select Committees for this report. I also speak as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the environment and, indeed, as a member of the Environment Bill Committee, which has today finished legislating on many of the measures that were included in this great report.
I see stopping environmental destruction as the defining mission of our generation. For those who have not yet seen the film “A Life on Our Planet” by David Attenborough, I highly recommend it. It shows what has changed on our planet throughout the lifetime of that remarkable individual, including the destruction of habitats, species extinction and climate change. We have a lot of work to do. Tough action needs to be taken, but we are a democracy and we need to take the people with us. Too often, those at the more radical end of the environment movement take a coercive approach: they want to turn back the clock, stop people doing things, dismantle capitalism and tell people what they can and cannot do. The trouble with that is that it risks a backlash. If we do not take the people with us, it might give rise to the anti-environmental populists that we see in other countries.
This is why the Climate Assembly is so important, and I thoroughly welcome its report. These are members of the public considering the issues carefully and coming up with their own recommendations. It really shows just how sensible the British public are. They accept the need to tackle climate change. They know it is a real problem. They are not trying to resist it, and they support practical measures to do it, but they want to do it without sacrificing quality of life, because we do not need to. They do not want to stop going on holidays or living the lives they lead, and it is that pragmatism that is so essential.
There are 50 proposals in the report overall, and I have little disagreement with any of them. I am delighted to say, as my hon. Friends did earlier, that the Government are already implementing many of them. This could be one of the most quickly implemented reports of all time. On electric vehicles, the report recommends certain other vehicles being banned by between 2030 and 2035, and the Government have said that that will happen by 2030. I thoroughly support that. I have just been legislating on the deposit return scheme, which is also one of the report’s recommendations. I thoroughly support that, too. The report recommends more offshore wind, and the Government are committed to quadrupling it in the next 10 years to 40 GW.
The report recommends nature-based solutions such as planting more trees and increasing carbon capture in soil. Again, the Government are now fully supporting that. It talks about hydrogen solutions for heating in domestic housing, and that is part of the 10-point plan. The Government are fully supporting that with £500 million to start with. As my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) noted, the Climate Assembly was less enthusiastic about some things, particularly carbon capture and storage, which I am rather enthusiastic about. It is a new technology, but it is being done elsewhere and it could form an important part of the mix, as most mainstream climate scientists agree.
I am glad that the Climate Assembly did not want to move the date for becoming carbon neutral forward from 2050, which is what some of the more radical environmental groups want. That 2050 date was set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The UN body said that it was necessary to do that to meet the Paris target of 1.5° warming. That was adopted in the UK by the Committee on Climate Change, which set out a programme of work that the Government and we as a country need to do to reach that target. Obviously we have now adopted 2050 as a legal target, and we are the first major country to do so. This shows the leadership that the UK has taken on this, and we can be thoroughly proud of that, but there is absolutely no room for complacency. The public support the strong measures we are taking. We are going to need to take a lot more strong measures in the future, but at least we know that the public are behind this. That is why I welcome the Climate Assembly, and I welcome this report.
This is a really excellent report and set of recommendations, and I want to thank all those members of the public who gave up their time over a series of weekends, as I understand it, during the beginning of the pandemic to consider the difficulties ahead of us as a nation and to think carefully about how we should respond. As they have put in all that time and effort to produce this report, I think it is incumbent on the Government to really think about it, to form their response and to take up the agenda for the radical change that we need to see if we are serious about tackling climate change. It is quite clear that the public are on board. They know what needs to be done, and it is time that the Government took up their call.
The recommendations in the report are wide-ranging and cover a wide range of Departments across Government. Government policy on climate change currently seems to be funnelled through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but it is quite clear in the report that the Department for Transport, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, not to mention the Treasury, also have a part to play in delivering these recommendations. With all due respect, is the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy sufficiently senior in Government to co-ordinate the response to climate change across each of those Departments? Should we not have a Department and a Secretary of State for climate change, as there used to be, to bring all these strands together and to be held accountable for delivering the Government’s net zero pledge?
On that theme, the importance to the UK of our co-hosting of COP26 next year in driving through the change we would want to see internationally has been much talked about, not least by the Government. Would it not make sense to appoint a full-time person to oversee the UK’s contribution to this massively important event rather than ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to do that as part of his role? That person could then be well placed to co-ordinate across different Government Departments and become a focal point for driving the change towards net zero.
The contribution made to our carbon emissions by vehicles is well covered in the report, and I welcome its recommendation that electrical vehicle charging infrastructure receives greater investment and that the sale of petrol and diesel cars be banned by 2030. It was really good to see the Government commit to that in their 10-point plan last week.
As the Member of Parliament for Richmond Park, the issue of traffic, roads and parking is one on which I receive a great deal of correspondence. In some parts of my constituency, congestion is a real blight on people’s everyday lives, and we even see long queues of traffic through the national nature reserve that gives my constituency its name. The negative impacts of excessive car journeys on everyday life go beyond emissions and poor air quality: they threaten lives, create congestion, and cut people off from their streets and town centres; and inasmuch as people are choosing car journeys over walking or cycling, they cause inactivity and poor physical health. At least in urban areas, a policy to reduce the overall number of car journeys that people make would have profound benefits on quality of life in any number of ways beyond carbon emissions. There was a hope during the first lockdown that people might switch to other forms of travel, but that does not appear to be borne out now. I was therefore pleased to see a recommendation that overall car journeys should be reduced, although a reduction of 2% to 5% per decade seems unambitious when car use has risen by 7.5% in the past five years alone.
The report proposes policy solutions for greater investment in public transport, making it cheaper, greener and more accessible, with a greater investment in cycling. The provision of usable alternatives is key to reducing car journeys. I note that the Government announced a £27 billion investment in roads earlier this year and a £257 million investment in cycling infrastructure yesterday. This appears to be a nettle that has not yet been grasped. I also note that no further support for Transport for London is budgeted in the next financial year. That seems to suppose that public transport usage in London will bounce back to pre-pandemic levels by April 2021. Well, I am very pleased at what that implies about the speed and scale of the Government’s vaccination programme.
I was pleased to see the recommendations on upgrading our homes. It is clear that people want a range of solutions and financial support to access this. We need to develop and embrace new technologies for heating our homes, such as heat pumps, if we are to achieve our net zero target. The Government are right to say that this is an area of potential to create new jobs, and skilled jobs, in every region of the UK, but I am keen to understand how they plan to deliver them. According to answers to written questions I have received from BEIS, on 10 November the Government were expecting 80,000 jobs to be created through the £1.5 billion green homes grant. This mysteriously shrank to 50,000 in the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan last week. The shortcoming of the green homes grant is that it is only open for a year, and there are not enough skilled contractors to be able to deliver against the demand created. I asked the Department how long it would take to train someone to install heat pumps, and the answer was that an existing builder could take on skilled people and deliver that—
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on securing this debate.
I think that each Conservative Member speaking in this debate is a proud member of the Conservative Environment Network, and we all found a lot to welcome in the Climate Assembly report. Starting with its structure, I probably will not say this very often, but I echo what the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) said, because the fact that it was representative of the country at large meant that we got a set of recommendations with a lot of common sense that were not dogmatic, and, importantly, placed an emphasis on fairness. Too often, as I have said in this House before, we can have the affluent telling those on lower incomes that the holidays they go on, the cars they drive and the clothes they buy are all wrong. We have to take account of the fact that people have different means and can go at a different pace in making changes in their lives.
I welcome the report’s emphasis on education. We are fortunate in my constituency to have Westmill wind and solar farm, one of the few co-operatives to run a significant wind and solar farm. It has just been given a grant by the Government of a new visitor centre, which can accommodate six times the current number of visitors. There will be a heavy emphasis on teaching children in schools about renewable energy.
I welcome the report’s emphasis on getting people on to public transport. I want Grove station in my constituency to be reopened, not just because that would better connect the people of Grove, but because it would get people off congested roads.
I welcome, too, the focus on greener homes. We know that buildings and homes are an issue, and I extend an invitation to the Minister, and also to the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) or anyone else in the House, to come to see Greencore Construction’s Springfield Meadows development in my constituency, which is net zero both in build and in usage. It did not cost much more than normal homes do, so I recommend that people come to visit.
The assembly also wanted leadership from Government, and there is a good story to tell there—the first country to legislate for net zero and a landmark Environment Bill, which sets and imposes our new governance for a range of new measures on air quality, biodiversity and so on. I am more excited about the Agriculture Act 2020, because paying farmers public money for public goods is an exciting development in our attitude and policy towards farmers, in that we will protect them as custodians of the environment.
We have just heard the 10-point plan for a new green industrial revolution. That is the way to think about this. We led on the first industrial revolution and we can lead on the green one. So much of that chimes with what was in the assembly’s report, from making proposals on jet zero, so people can still fly but do so in a way that does not harm the environment as much, to bringing forward the date for banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, as well as greener homes, protecting nature and using offshore wind, which a remarkable 95% of the assembly supported.
There is much in the assembly’s report that chimes with the agenda that the Government have set out. I appreciate that people always say, “You could do more.” I accept that there is more to do, but what Government announcement has ever been met by people saying, “That sounds about enough.”? The Government are doing all they can there.
I am proud that we will host COP26 next year, and the assembly members should be rightly proud that they have helped to point the leadership direction that we should take.
I, too, welcome Climate Assembly’s report and its 14 recommendations on aviation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) said, this was a people’s assembly, not a politicians’ assembly. That is why its recommendations are so powerful.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), the Chair and former Chair of the Transport Committee, on which I sit. As I sit on that Committee, and because I represent a constituency adjacent to Heathrow, I am particularly interested in the chapter on aviation.
The impact of covid, to return to the other key topic of the moment, has been devastating for my communities, affecting up to one household in three. We seek support from Government for aviation communities right now, but that support could go hand in hand with actions on the climate crisis. Air travel accounts for 22% of UK greenhouse gas emissions and 7% of total UK emissions. That proportion is growing.
Unlike countries such as France and Austria, the UK did not provide covid sector-specific support for aviation, so, to date, the Government have missed the chance to impose conditions, and therefore help to introduce changes, on climate emissions. Such conditions would have helped to support not only work to address our zero-emissions target, but aviation communities such as mine.
The Government should look at emissions from international aviation and shipping, and include those in the Climate Change Act 2008. The Climate Change Committee has also called for the Government to formally include those emissions, so doing so would really show the UK’s leadership on this issue, set a clear policy framework around emissions, and create a clear path to the future. It would also help to boost investment in carbon-saving technology in the aviation sector.
Mention has already been made of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for the green industrial revolution, but I do not feel that this plan goes far enough. For instance, there has been mention of the Jet Zero Council, led by industry leaders, but to date industry on its own has missed targets, such as that to get 10% of fuels from sustainable fuel sources by 2020. With the scale of the crisis facing our planet, and with the rapid need to make urgent changes, we cannot afford to just create more grandiose councils: we need action and leadership from Government.
I will now address two specific aviation issues. On surface transport, we really need the Government to put their money where their mouth is on the western and southern rail links into Heathrow, to get more cars off the road and encourage sustainable transport. We need to require airports to take action on airside vehicles, from coaches, ramps and luggage transport to pushback tugs. In the air, of course, we need the Government to fund research into zero-emission planes, and also to level the price differentials between plane and train journeys to the same destinations.
In conclusion, I welcome the work the Government have done to support walking and cycling, which helps to cut our personal climate emissions, and look forward to hearing the Government’s response to the Climate Assembly recommendations on aviation.
I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Obviously, having been part of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s commissioned report, and given my previous background working for the World Wildlife Fund, but also a company called Shell, I have a particular interest in this sector.
Like all Members of this House, I welcome what this report has said. We have gone through how many great recommendations it contains and how good it is, but the question I want to pose to the House is this: what now? The Government have already come out with a very good 10-point plan. They are already implementing this, so what value does this report actually add? Yes, it shows that the public are on our side—the side of lowering carbon—and I completely agree with them, but we knew this before. Did we need a report to help us formulate these ideas? The Government have already moved forward with quite a lot of them.
To me, the assembly’s report missed a slight opportunity, because although we have talked about quite a lot of the measures involved—increased wind power, road pricing, electrification, and hydrogen, which Members know I am a big fan of—they lack some sense of ambition, and of bringing the public forwards. Dealing with our carbon emissions is not only something we need to do for the good of our planet and of our health, but a huge economic benefit for this country. It is the new technologies that I am very excited about. A warmer home—a better-insulated home—is not only better for a person’s carbon emissions, but it is better to live in. An electric car is not only good when it comes to emissions: it is a better thing to drive. These new technologies that are helping us deal with the climate crisis are giving us a better standard of living, and although I appreciate that this report was looking at how we reduce our carbon emissions, I fear it could have been so much more, to help show the public that lowering our emissions is a good thing for everyone. Regardless of the carbon side of it, dealing with our emissions is going to lead to better homes and more jobs, and I very much believe that if we get it right, we are going to see a huge economic boom for this country.
Some people have already mentioned hydrogen. I was a bit disappointed with the assembly’s report when it comes to the hydrogen elements for transport, because although electrification of passenger vehicles is very far ahead, we have missed the boat on the economic side. With 73% of all batteries made in China, we are not going to get an economic advantage from passenger vehicles. Yes, we can deal with the carbon advantage, and I completely agree that is very important. However, we also want the economic advantage, which is why I think hydrogen transport—I have an Adjournment debate on this topic later today—can decarbonise heavy goods vehicles, trains and even planes. That is something we are not fully addressing. If we get that right ourselves, we can create jobs and have an economic boom in this country. That is what I think we should do.
So much of this discussion is about how we lower our carbon emissions. But that argument has been won. Nobody in this House has stood up and said that they disagree with the report and that we should not lower our carbon emissions. We have all said that we should. What we should be talking about now is how we get there faster and how we can create economic opportunities for this country. An Opposition Member—I cannot remember which one—talked about having a separate climate change department. I would say no to that. I would like climate change combined with the business side, because the two are interlinked. By lowering carbon, we can have an economic boom. I would rather have climate change in every single Government Department, with every single Department looking at different elements of it, rather than a stand-alone department which would be ignored. I want it embedded at the heart of the Government and I am pleased that it is embedded at the heart of the Government.
One aspect I want to briefly touch on is that I believe so much more can be done on carbon. When we talk about planning new homes, we should be mandating that every new home has an electric charge point and a heat pump. We should be building for the future, not the present.
I congratulate my colleague, neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on securing this debate. As the then vice-Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, I attended one of the sessions of the Climate Assembly in Birmingham. I was impressed by the set-up: how assembly members had been selected, and the huge amount of work and expense that went into trying to ensure it was representative and reflective of the general population. I was also impressed by the contributions of expert witnesses and the efforts that were made to ensure that their work informed deliberative discussion in each group.
There were disadvantages. I share some of the scepticism of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) about the exercise. It is expensive, certainly if we are looking to replicate it at a local level, as we are in Bristol. If we want to do it right, we have to put in quite a lot of resources. It also takes time. There is the question: we actually know quite a lot of these things, so why do we not just get on with it, rather than having an exercise that will inevitably delay things? One Conservative Member spoke about how the Government were introducing a deposit returns scheme. He implied that that had come out of the Climate Assembly report. The Environmental Audit Committee has been making these recommendations and investigating that side of things for a long time, and that was already on the agenda. On electric vehicles, the December 2019 Labour manifesto called for a phase-out of petrol and diesel by 2030. It did not really need the Climate Assembly to nudge the Government in the right direction; they could have just listened to the Labour party instead.
Having said that, I was won over by going along and listening to the discussions. There is a quote in the executive summary from an assembly member, who said that he or she—it was someone called Chris, so I am not sure—was worried when they got there that the debate would be somewhat one-sided and it would all be people who were very passionate about the climate emergency. They said it was refreshing to see that it ranged from people for whom it was a complete crisis to those who were in complete denial about the issue. Getting that balance is what an exercise like that should be about, but I worry that it means that the process will inevitably lean towards consensus. That could lead to a watering down of ambition when the scale of the twin crisis—the climate crisis and the ecological crisis—means that more radical solutions are needed.
Some people have criticised the assembly for not reaching the right conclusions and have said that that was because they were not asked the right questions. These are people who feel that the 2050 target is not ambitious enough. It is worth noting that proposals to bring forward the 2050 date, without a specific date in mind, were put before the assembly but were rejected, with quite a significant proportion of people unsure about it.
I attended the sessions on what we eat and how we use the land, which is a particular interest of mine. I was pleased with the recommendations on low-carbon farming, food waste and natural climate solutions such as peatlands and forestry. It was interesting to see that, by and large, people were coming quite new to those arguments, whereas perhaps if it was a discussion about transport they would have given it a lot more thought in their everyday lives. It was interesting to see the further information they were asking the experts for and how willing they were to shift their views as they listened to the answers they were given.
In the final few seconds I have to speak, I wish to reflect briefly on the additional recommendation that we should get to net zero without pushing our emissions to anywhere else in the world, which was endorsed by 92% of assembly members. The fact is that we are already doing that. We cannot tackle climate change in this country unless we also look at our global carbon footprint.
I add my voice to those who have welcomed assembly’s report. As an initiative with its roots in Parliament and an exercise in co-operation across the different Select Committees, it was innovative and courageous and something on which we should now look to make progress and to build.
My constituency has been at the heart of this nation’s energy supply for the past 40 years. As we have relied on hydrocarbons, we have been home, very successfully, to two of the largest oil terminals that bring in hydrocarbons —oil and gas both—from the North sea and latterly from the area to the west of Shetland. We have a long history of being central to this country’s energy supply. We are now coming to a phase of our nation’s history in which we anticipate that our reliance on hydrocarbons will wind down. My constituency remains equally committed to playing a full part in energy provision for our future needs. It is therefore somewhat frustrating for us still to find that the opportunities that we have to contribute to green renewable energy in the future are somewhat frustrated by a lack of action and recognition on the part of the Government in respect of the opportunities that exist.
I met the Minister earlier this year with the Marine Energy Council, from which he heard about the opportunities that exist in the development of wave and tidal power, which has been a long, slow burner. We have now reached the phase of having finished the research and development work but not yet being fully able to go to commercial deployment. Every technology goes through this phase; we know that because back in the 1980s we were at the forefront of the development of onshore wind. The prototype of many of the turbines now seen throughout the country was built not far from my house in Orkney, on Burgar Hill—it was initiated by Cecil Parkinson back in the day. We did the groundbreaking, leading work on developing the technology, but we did not then fund the next stage to get it to commercial deployment.
The risk now is that we will do the same thing with marine energy, and in particular the development of tidal energy. We have done the research and development; we now need to find something like an innovation power purchase agreement, or a similar mechanism, that will get the industry through to the point at which it can contribute its full potential through a mature technology. We know that we are not going to get there, but we know also that if we leave it to others, others will take the opportunity. Just in the past week or so we have heard that the European Union is coming forward with its draft marine energy strategy, and it now speaks about an altogether different scale of deployment and development.
My worry is that we are about to lose the opportunities in respect of not just generating power for use in our own country but the development of a home-grown supply chain, which could be crucial and central to providing the green jobs about which we all speak in this Chamber. The sums of money involved in an IPPA for the marine energy sector are relatively small; the opportunities that they could produce for the UK as a whole, and for Orkney and Shetland in particular, are enormous. The Minister has heard this from the industry’s mouth; I hope that when he comes to respond to the debate he will have some good news to tell the industry.
I, too, pay tribute to the members of the public who came forward, not only for giving up their time to participate but for the effort they put into listening, learning and debating—unlike many of us politicians. It is amazing to see how many recommendations they were able to make on a consensual basis, and they are to be commended for that, too. The recommendations are also reasonable and practical, and I wish to look at some of them and see how the UK Government and the Scottish Government measure up against them.
Perhaps the first UK Government fail is the publication of the 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, which of course makes no reference to the Climate Assembly, nor does it really accord fully with its recommendations. I do welcome the fact that they have brought forward the date for phasing out internal combustion engines to 2030, which matches the recommendation of the assembly. The assembly also calls for grants for low-carbon cars and a car scrappage scheme, which I fully support, but the Government have not yet implemented that, and there need to be bigger grants for electric vehicles. The Scottish Government do interest-free loans for the purchase of ultra-low emission vehicles, and they have extended the interest-free loans to the purchase of second-hand cars to try to extend the market and open it out for a wider public. I think that is something the UK Government could look at as well.
The assembly calls for investment in low-carbon buses and trains. Thanks in part to funding from the EU as well as funding from the Scottish Government, in Aberdeen we have the world’s first double-decker buses that run fuelled by hydrogen. The Scottish Government have awarded £7.4 million to bus operators through the Scottish ultra-low emission bus scheme, and that is going to procure 35 electric buses manufactured in Falkirk by Alexander Dennis Ltd, protecting jobs in these tough times. So where are the UK Government’s proposed electric bus town and the associated orders, and what replacement funding is there—to replace EU funding—for hydrogen buses?
The assembly’s recommendations on air travel are also realistic and welcome, especially the effective points where the polluter pays. We do need to see more from the Government on sustainable aviation.
When it comes home heating, there was strong agreement on the need for hydrogen, heat pumps and heat networks, so again a hydrogen strategy is required. The initial steps outlined in the 10-point strategy are a start, but we need a proper heat decarbonisation strategy. We have 27 million homes currently reliant on fossil fuel heating, so even if we start in January 2021 and go all the way to 2050, that equates to 20,000 homes a week, roughly, that need to be decarbonised. That is the scale of problem we are dealing with, and it needs to be addressed quickly.
The Government are talking about a roll-out of heat pumps, and again that is welcome, but these need to be targeted, initially for homes off the gas grid. But the roll-out of these needs to be aligned with energy-efficient installations, because the heat pumps themselves do not work unless the homes are properly energy efficient. Again, the UK Government need to spend more. We need to see this £9 billion that has been pledged in the Conservative manifesto for energy efficiency.
When it comes to electricity generation, it was welcome to see the strong embracement of both onshore and offshore wind by the assembly. That shows that the decision to stop onshore wind bids in the last couple of CfD auctions was actually a major blunder, but it is good that onshore wind can now bid again. But we do need to see the contracts for difference procurement process improved to incentivise the use of local supply chains. It is a disgrace that a yard on Teesside is due to close, and there are the pressures in the BiFab yards in Scotland. I realise there is a consultation ongoing on the CfD procurement process, and hopefully the outcome of that will be that UK supply chains are incentivised.
The public in the assembly also recognised that nuclear is expensive and that waste storage is an issue, so when will both the UK Government and the Labour party wake up to this? It is insane to me that the 10-point plan is committing something like £40 billion to £50 billion to new nuclear. I would love to go back to the assembly, ask it to prioritise that £40 billion to £50 billion and ask where it would want to spend it—would it be nuclear energy, marine, tidal or more floating offshore? I think we know what the answer would be.
My one disappointment in the recommendations was the lack of support for carbon capture and storage, because to date that has been integral in the UK’s planning for net zero. We in the SNP want to see carbon capture and storage go ahead at Peterhead as part of the just transition away from oil and gas. This shows at least a rethink in policy, or much better re-engagement with the public, is needed if the public are to be taken with us on carbon capture and storage. The UK Government need to take account of this.
When it comes to the natural environment, I welcome the recommendations on and understanding of peatland restoration and reforestation. Again, the Scottish Government have led the way on this, because 85% of trees planted in the UK in the last few years have been in Scotland. Over 10 years, the UK Government have only planted 20,000 hectares of new forest, so how they are going to get to 30,000 hectares a year by 2025 is a mystery, and we need a long-term strategy for that.
There is so much more I could talk about in terms of land use, food production and all the rest of it. It is a great report. I really hope the Government take account of it and we see that in forthcoming policies.
It is a real pleasure to respond on behalf of the Opposition to what has been an extremely interesting debate. I thank all Members who have contributed this afternoon, the members of the Climate Assembly for taking part in the process and, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) for securing the debate and for the focused and well-argued speech with which he opened it.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and others made clear, we are in the midst of a climate and environment emergency. With the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere continuing to rise unabated, the issue is not whether we can stop climate change—the climate crisis is, after all, already upon us—but whether we are willing to do what is necessary to transition to a net zero world in the coming decades and thereby arrest runaway global heating.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) made clear, there is no solution to the climate crisis that does not confront the issue of carbon consumption, but even if viewed through the lens of production emissions, the UK is still not doing enough. Not only are we not on track for the net zero target that Parliament legislated for just over a year ago; we are not even on track for the less stringent one that preceded it. When it comes to the UK’s record on territorial emissions, there is much to be proud of, but progress to date is largely the result of having picked the low-hanging fruit, particularly in relation to the power sector. The decarbonisation involved—this is the key point—has only had a very limited impact on people. If we are going to get on track for net zero, we will have to make rapid progress in sectors such as transport and housing that are far more difficult to decarbonise and where the impact on people will be much more acute.
Faced with the sheer scale of the challenge, with all the disruption that the kind of systems change required entails, there are those who believe that we will somehow need to distance or even remove people from the decision-making process entirely. The Opposition take precisely the opposite view. The transition to a low-carbon economy is unavoidable, but the pace at which it happens in a democracy like ours and the extent to which it is orderly depends on the consent and, indeed, the active involvement of people and places—a point made by the hon. Members for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) and for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne). Far from that greater involvement leading to inertia or paralysis, the final report of the UK Climate Assembly suggests that if people are provided with the facts, and if they are given responsibility and a real stake in the process, they are likely to support bold climate action.
I do not have time to do justice to the many recommendations set out in the report, and in any case, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West and others have done so in their remarks. I want to briefly step back and look at two of the fundamental principles that the overwhelming majority of Climate Assembly members felt should underpin the transition to net zero and that have been prominent themes in today’s debate: the need for strong leadership from Government and the need for fairness.
First, on the need for strong leadership, the Climate Assembly showed clear support for
“Leadership from government that is clear, proactive, accountable and consistent”
and leadership that allows for
“certainty, long-term planning and a phased transition.”
As things stand, the Government are not providing leadership of that kind. I have no doubt that the Minister will robustly refute that point. In truth, he knows as well as I do that the Government still do not accord emissions reduction the status that it warrants and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) pointed out, there is still not the kind of grip from the centre necessary to co-ordinate and drive progress on ambitious climate action across Government and ensure clarity, certainty and consistency of approach.
We have seen plenty of announcements from the Government in recent months, some more significant than others, and a 10-point package—I will not call it a plan, because there is still no sign of a comprehensive strategy for achieving net zero and no serious attempt to close the net zero investment gap that exists. We have seen policy making that is at times so wildly inconsistent with that target that the Chancellor sees no issue whatsoever with delivering a spending review in which, in one breath, he talks about investment in a greener future and, in the next, he celebrates Britain’s biggest ever investment in new roads. The Government must do better.
The second point, which in the long run is probably more important, is that the assembly’s final report stresses the need for fairness to be at the heart of the transition. Historically, our country has a terrible track record of managing industrial change in a fair way. The loss of jobs and the damage to communities in previous transitions, particularly the brutal deindustrialisation of the 1980s, makes people rightly suspicious of claims that this time it will be different. The transition to a low-carbon economy is a much greater challenge in many ways than deindustrialisation, affecting in different ways almost every industry and region of the UK. The challenge ahead is to ensure that green policy is designed effectively so we mitigate the inevitable disruptive change that comes with that transition, and to ensure that people and places are protected and supported through it and—as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and others have argued—that there are tangible benefits, particularly for those most affected and the nations and regions hosting infrastructure. For that to happen, I would argue that people and communities will need to be actively involved in the process. Community power and worker voice will have to be factored into an industrial strategy when we finally see one.
The gilets jaunes movement in France is only the most notable example of how badly designed green policy and a failure to embed fairness of process and outcome in the transition can erode the public support necessary for it, so we need to hear more from the Government about how fairness can be embedded in the net zero process, and we need action now to ensure that the benefits of the green transition are realised here at home. I have to say that that is something the Government, along with the SNP Scottish Government, have demonstrably failed to do in letting the BiFab engineering yards in Scotland go to the wall, putting at risk the UK’s supply chain for the deployment of offshore wind.
In conclusion, we very much welcome the Climate Assembly’s final report. While the deliberative process, such as the one used for it, is not a substitute for representative democracy, we believe that it can improve the way it works. In the Minister’s response, as well as addressing the various points made today by hon. Members, I very much hope that he will indicate that the Government also recognise the importance of actively involving the public in shaping the pathway to net zero, and that he will give the House a sense of what consideration, if any, his Department is giving to building deliberative processes into any forthcoming net zero strategy.
I thank all Members; this is one of the best debates I have seen in the House. I thought it was temperate, with lots of extremely well considered and informative speeches, so I am very pleased to take part in it.
I thank the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) for bringing this debate to the Floor of the House. I particularly thank the citizens who gave up their time to take part in the Climate Assembly UK. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spoke at the launch of the report, and we have taken this report extremely seriously in the Department in which I serve as a Minister. Initiatives such as the Climate Assembly play an important role in helping to develop policies that are achievable and fair.
In response to the point from the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), clearly, citizen engagement—the engagement of our people—is absolutely necessary if we are going to achieve the net zero carbon emissions target that we have set ourselves. I am very pleased that the Select Committees of this House took the initiative and were able to inaugurate this process. Many of the recommendations—people have said this—of the Climate Assembly report have been reflected in the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan that was announced last week, and I will return to some of those at the conclusion of my speech.
Public engagement of this kind, as I have said, is absolutely necessary. We completely agree with the spirit of the Climate Assembly’s recommendation on greater citizenship involvement, and that point was very ably raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) and for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne), who is not in his place, and it was alluded to by the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich. The Government will continue to engage with the public on the changes that are needed to develop our ambitions on net zero and to listen very attentively to feedback. People from all over the UK are already doing their bit on climate change, and, with the Together for our Planet campaign, we aim to celebrate this and inspire even more of our fellow citizens to join them.
As a Government, we have also increased dramatically our engagement with the public on policies for net zero. In the past year, we held deliberative workshops with the public on transport, heat, carbon capture and, particularly, on the environment. Last week, as I said and as has been mentioned many times, we saw the Prime Minister announce the 10-point plan. I remind the House that that 10-point plan delivered and reflected many of Climate Assembly UK’s recommendations. The assembly called for a green recovery. The 10-point plan is the Government’s plan for that green recovery, particularly focused on jobs.
I am very grateful to the Minister. Speaking of the recommendations, the second most-supported at 94% was:
“We need much more transparency in the relationship between big energy companies and the government, due to concerns over lobbying and influence”.
His Department is responsible for that, so will he take that on board, because transparency is absolutely at the heart of gaining public confidence?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Transparency is absolutely central to any governing process, but particularly in respect of the challenge of fighting climate change.
The assembly called for more wind and solar power. We have stated not only in the manifesto on which we stood last year, but also in the 10-point plan, that we would quadruple offshore wind capacity to 40 GW by 2030. The assembly called for the driving of the growth of low-carbon hydrogen, and the 10-point plan committed £500 million in the first instance for low-carbon hydrogen production across the decade.
The assembly called for a faster transition to net zero emissions vehicles, and I was very pleased to hear the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) mention that in her remarks. She pointed out the fact that in London, and particularly in her constituency, congestion, traffic and pollution are huge issues, and they apply equally to my constituency, which is only a few miles away from hers as the crow flies. I am very pleased to say that that call was listened to, and we have brought forward the zero emissions vehicles target to 2030. I have to add at this point that many natural supporters of the Government have been somewhat sceptical about that ambition, but it is something we are absolutely focused on delivering.
Furthermore, the assembly called for the Government to invest in low-carbon buses and trains. Again, we have committed in the plan to £4.2 billion on city public transport and £5 billion on buses, cycling and walking. The assembly requested that the Government speed up progress on low-carbon aviation, and that point was raised directly by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury). Once again, as the MP for Spelthorne, which is even closer to Brentford and Isleworth than it is to Richmond Park, I fully endorse that move. I am pleased to announce that the 10-point plan commits to research projects for zero emissions planes and also for sustainable aviation fuels.
The assembly called for a strong policy on greening our buildings, and that point was ably raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (David Johnston). I am pleased to say that the 10-point plan provides £1 billion to extend the schemes announced by the Chancellor earlier in the year to put energy efficiency at the centre of our building strategy. The green homes grant has been inaugurated and we have extended its deadline. We hope to achieve further successes in the roll-out.
Finally, the assembly recommended maintaining and restoring our natural environment, and that is central to the Government’s ambition to meet the net zero carbon target. It is an ongoing area of policy. Initially, the plan has committed £40 million for a second round of the green recovery challenge fund, but I feel strongly that there will be more to come in that respect. Next year, we will publish a comprehensive net zero strategy and, crucially and critically, we will use our G7 and COP26 presidencies to promote international climate action and to provide the leadership that the hon. Member for Bristol North West spoke of in his remarks.
I thank Darren Jones for offering not to do a wind-up, saving another couple of minutes.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House welcomes the report of Climate Assembly UK; gives thanks to the citizens who gave up their time to inform the work of select committees, the development of policy and the wider public debate; and calls on the Government to take note of the recommendations of the Assembly as it develops the policies necessary to achieve the target of net zero emissions by 2050.