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Environment and Climate Emergency

Volume 798: debated on Monday 1 July 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take following the adoption by the House of Commons on 1 May of a motion declaring an environment and climate emergency.

My Lords, the Government recognise the urgency of tackling climate change and protecting our environment. Following the Committee on Climate Change report, we have introduced legislation to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

My Lords, contrary to the Prime Minister’s misrepresentation, we on these Benches support the Government’s climate change initiative, but can we not do better by establishing a model that other nations can follow? When setting the model, will the Government ensure that there will be no creative accounting in carbon by offsetting imports, using international credits or carrying forward over- performance, and that we will introduce environmental stress testing and report? Then, we can be really proud of our achievement.

My Lords, I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord and the party opposite. I regretted its Motion on Wednesday last week because, as I made clear in the debate on the statutory instrument, I thought that it was unnecessary. We have set realistic targets following the advice that we received from the Committee on Climate Change—targets that we believe we can and should meet—and, as we set out in the order, we will aim to meet them.

My Lords, in last week’s legislative debate, a number of your Lordships spoke about the need to will the means, as did I, and about the technologies that we will need to deliver zero carbon by 2050. The Minister and I agreed that one technology that is needed is bulk energy storage for our electricity grid. Given that he agrees that we need it, can he please tell us what the Government are doing to will this? How much money is being invested and how is the industrial strategy helping to do this? What is happening in this area?

My Lords, in the time I have available to respond to a Question of this sort, I cannot go into detail on every single bit of research that we are doing into energy storage, carbon capture, use and storage, and a whole range of other things. I am more than happy to write to the noble Lord with greater detail on this—he seems to be signalling to me to do that—but I can say that we are committed to doing all we can to meet the targets. We believe that with existing technology we can meet them, and with advances in technology we can do even better.

My Lords, I am absolutely delighted that the Government think they can meet that target but so far, I have not seen the sort of action that is needed. We need a massively rethought-out new green deal so that that we can discuss it in this Chamber and suggest ways forward for government.

My Lords, we passed the legislation last week. We have announced an environment Bill, the Agriculture Bill is coming along, we have announced an energy White Paper and there is the industrial strategy, which has energy-specific parts. A whole range of government action is going on and there will be more to come.

My Lords, I will give the Minister a second chance—as he knows, everyone deserves a second chance—to answer the question that was not answered in last Wednesday’s debate. Why will international aviation and shipping not be included in the Government’s climate change emissions legislation?

My Lords, as I made quite clear in the debate last week, our plans for net zero cover the whole economy, including international aviation and shipping.

Is my noble friend in a position to clarify reports in the press that our aid budget is to be skewed in toto—or nearly in toto—toward reducing climate change impact on other nations, particularly the poorest in the world?

My Lords, I have no intention of commenting on press reports of that sort. The aid budget will continue to be used to provide aid as appropriate. Where necessary, that could include help on climate change objectives.

My Lords, to achieve the targets announced by the Government, will the Minister now announce that there will be no third runway at Heathrow Airport?

My Lords, again, this was asked of me last week. I was asked by one of the noble Baroness’s former noble friends whether I would lie down in front of the runway. I said that that was not my plan and I believe I made it clear—if I did not, I make it clear now—that we are awaiting further advice on Heathrow from the Climate Change Committee.

Can the Minister explain how the planned Oxford to Cambridge expressway, with up to a million houses to be built alongside it, will contribute in any way to the reduction of carbon emissions?

My Lords, following the comments on Heathrow, I do not think the noble Baroness would expect me to comment on every development or building project in the country. The Climate Change Committee has said that it believes we can meet our targets with Heathrow, but we are awaiting further advice from the committee. If it wishes to comment on the Oxford to Cambridge expressway, or we feel it necessary to do so, we will do so.

My Lords, if the Government are serious about climate change, do we not need to do much more about population growth around the world? I have visited some of the African states and, as the Minister knows, hardly any birth control methods are available to local communities. Should we not do more on this issue?

My Lords, I believe that birth control is at the forefront of the Department for International Development’s concerns, but the noble Lord will be aware that the rate of population increase is slowing. Many people are saying there is a good chance that it will plateau by the middle to the end of the century. We will continue to play our part in that.