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Climate Change

Volume 813: debated on Tuesday 29 June 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they intend to take in response to the Climate Change Committee’s 2021 Progress Report to Parliament, published on 24 June.

Over the past three decades, we have driven down emissions by 44%, the fastest reduction of any G7 country, and set some of the most ambitious targets in the world for the future. Our forthcoming strategies on heat and buildings, hydrogen, transport and comprehensive net zero will address many of the changes in policy that the Climate Change Committee is calling for, and we will respond formally to the CCC report by 15 October.

My Lords, the Climate Change Committee report rightly praised the climate progress in the past that the Minister has referred to—but the past is the past and the committee was scathing about the Government’s plans to meet future targets. So how will the Government practically now save our nation’s previously good and hard-won reputation and retain our credibility as president of COP 26? A destination is useless without a route to get there.

The noble Lord is of course quite right, and we do have a route to get there. We will be publishing a number of sector strategies, as I mentioned in my opening Answer, including the transport decarbonisation plan and the heat and buildings strategy, which will illustrate to the noble Lord exactly how we will get to the destination that he refers to.

My Lords, it has been reported that over £400,000 was donated to the Conservative Party by firms that subsequently obtained licences to explore North Sea oil and gas. How does the continued extraction of fossil fuel square with the Government’s policy of carbon-neutral energy when hydrogen gas and biogas are capable of coming onstream?

The noble Baroness should read the Climate Change Committee report, which itself recognises the ongoing demand for oil and natural gas, including in all scenarios for how the UK will meet its target for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

I declare my interests as recorded in the register. The Climate Change Committee has been saying for the past decade that there is a gap between the Government’s rhetoric and the reality in actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions. This year the chief executive, Chris Stark, said that

“progress is illusory. Government strategy has been late and what has come has almost all been too little.”

In this context, what action will the Government take, and when, on aviation and dietary change, as recommended by the Climate Change Committee?

As I said in my earlier answer, the noble Lord will have to be a little bit patient and wait for the sector strategies that are coming out, which will help to address his point—but I do not accept that we have not done anything. We have taken action on transport with a £5 billion package and we have spent £3 billion on buildings and £1 billion on carbon capture, et cetera, et cetera. So we have done a lot, but I totally accept that we have much to do.

Can the Minister assure the House that at the very least no decision to approve the Cambo heavy crude field, or any other oil and gas field in UK jurisdiction, will be taken without subjecting it to the test of whether it is compatible with the UK’s legally binding net-zero commitment?

As I said in my answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, the report itself recognises that there is ongoing demand for oil and gas, including in all scenarios for how we meet net zero. We have worked closely with the sector and across government to agree a North Sea transition deal, delivering the skills, innovation and infrastructure required to decarbonise North Sea oil and gas production.

My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet. The Climate Change Committee report, as the Minister will know, was explicit about the need for all government policies to be subject to a net-zero test, yet we have before the House at the moment a skills Bill—and skills will be crucial to the green jobs of the future—that makes no mention whatever of our net-zero targets. So will the Minister undertake to have discussions with his colleagues at the Department for Education about supporting the amendments to the Bill that I am tabling to remedy this serious omission?

I cannot promise the noble Baroness that we will support her amendments; I will need to look at them first. But we are doing a lot on skills. For example, the green homes grant included tens of millions of pounds that we spent on grants to encourage providers to provide the training that will be required to undertake many of the green improvements that we all want to see.

The Climate Change Committee has called out the Government for the scale of the yawning gap that exists between government rhetoric and the Government’s lack of decarbonisation realities. Can the Minister confirm that the missing net-zero strategy will set detailed timelines for how each element of each missing policy will start to deliver decarbonisation with the required urgency, and then ensure that adaptation to climate change is properly integrated into that plan?

Well, the strategies will provide some of the detail that the noble Lord is looking for. We will set out a detailed road map of exactly how we will meet our net-zero targets, as he suggests.

My Lords, surveys suggest that public engagement should focus on deepening public attitudes towards climate change, not just by increasing knowledge of the science of climate change but by connecting the public to their values, a sense of identity and a cultural worldview. What plans do the Government have to deepen this meaningful public engagement?

The noble Baroness makes a good point. Achieving our net-zero target will be a shared endeavour, requiring action from everyone across society. We will set out our approach to public engagement in the net-zero strategy. For many years the Government have been funding and running public workshops and deliberative dialogues, and the noble Baroness will be aware that, ahead of COP 26, we launched the Together for Our Planet campaign to further raise awareness.

My Lords, the Climate Change Committee has declared:

“The UK does not yet have a vision for successful adaptation to climate change, nor measurable targets to assess progress.”

Can we expect such a plan, and when?

I cannot give the noble Lord precise dates, but we are committed to publishing the strategy and plans that I mentioned earlier, which will be out later this year. We are currently finalising them within government. So I ask the noble Lord to be a little bit patient and wait for those documents.

My Lords, following the publication of the committee’s report, the Independent quoted a government spokesperson saying that

“any suggestion we have been slow to deliver climate action is widely off the mark.”

Does that dismissive approach to a report from an independent and highly respected committee, chaired of course by a former Tory Minister, reflect the way in which the Government are going to approach the formal response that the Minister told us would arrive by 15 October?

I understand why the noble Baroness wants us to go further and faster, but I remind her that we have already driven down emissions by 44%, which is the fastest reduction of any G7 country, and that we have set some of the most ambitious targets in the world for the future. So, while I am sure she is going to push us to go further, I think we have made good progress so far.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, this issue clearly has added importance as we are hosting COP 26. How we set our targets and the metrics that we use are vital. Do we take into account the impact of technical innovation?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. Over the past three decades, as I have said, we have reduced our emissions by 44%. We will continue with policy engagement. We regularly review the frame- works that incentivise the further deployment of new technology. I can give the noble Lord an excellent example in the form of the UK electricity market framework.

My Lords, I declare my interests as listed in the register. How is it logical or consistent with the Government’s carbon-footprint ambitions to transport meat all the way from Australia to the UK, especially given that our farmers provide a high-quality product?

The noble Lord of course makes an important point about worldwide emissions and our overall carbon footprint. We have been at the forefront of measuring the emissions associated with our global carbon footprint every year. Defra publishes statistics to account for emissions generated overseas in the production of goods and services consumed here in the UK. The latest statistics show that our overall carbon footprint decreased by around 26% between 1997 and 2018, while our territorial emissions fell by 38% over the same period.

Sitting suspended.