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International Energy Agency Report

Volume 821: debated on Tuesday 26 April 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to implement the recommendations in the International Energy Agency report, Playing my part: How to save money, reduce reliance on Russian energy, support Ukraine and help the planet, published on 21 April.

My Lords, we are working closely with the US, the EU and other partners to end dependence on Russian oil and gas in response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, recognising the different circumstances and transition timelines. The net-zero strategy is the Government’s plan to achieve a green, sustainable future, including how we will support the public to play their part in this transition. We note the report’s recommendations and will continue to consider further steps to support the public.

My Lords, the UK is a member of the International Energy Agency, and I expected a more positive view. I fully accept that it is the Government’s role to take the national and the global view, but people want to be able to play their part and feel that they are contributing, above donations and above helping refugees. The nine points in the plan are voluntary except for one: speed limits. We could save an enormous amount of energy if we reduced the speed limit to 60 miles per hour, as we did during the three-day week. It is not a massive inconvenience for people and it saves a lot of energy. While I am uncomfortable talking about boiler temperatures when millions of people in Ukraine are living below ground at the present time, the estimate is that this plan could save 220 million barrels of oil and 17 billion cubic metres of gas. It is worth a real push by the Government to get people to play their part.

I do not disagree with the noble Lord. We are encouraging people to play their part and, of course, we encourage people to drive as slowly as possible and responsibly. We encourage people to turn down the temperature of their boiler if this can be achieved while still heating their home properly and providing the appropriate levels of comfort. Of course we will support people to make responsible choices.

My Lords, I declare an interest in energy matters, as set out in the register, and a long time ago I was a rotating chairman of the International Energy Agency. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is quite right that increased efficiency and reduced oil intensity are ways to reduce the growth of demand and renounce Russian exports. However, is not the best way, in the very short term, to get the OPEC producers of oil and gas to increase their supply, which they can easily do, and bring down petrol and gas prices very quickly, which that would do? As OPEC has broken with the IEA recently, should we not be pressing that issue much more directly with our so-called friends in the Gulf?

My noble friend makes an important point. As well as encouraging OPEC to increase production, we are trying to increase production from our own domestic sources and ensure that there is increased investment in our own resources in the North Sea.

My Lords, has the Minister had a chance to read the excellent blog on this subject by the former clerk to the Lords Science and Technology Committee, Dr Simon Cran-McGreehin, which reminds us that, in 2012, 2.3 million insulation measures were installed in the UK before policy changes reduced that to an average now of 10% of the peak? Does he therefore agree that the quickest way to restore these levels would be immediately to appoint Liberal Ministers back to government, given that this was during the coalition? Failing that, will he consider which of the policies in place at that time could be adopted now to speed up building insulation, which I know he is as keen to do as the rest of us?

The noble Lord will forgive me if I do not accept at least one of his policy recommendations. For that to happen, the Liberal Democrats would need to win an election, which is vanishingly unlikely in the current circumstances.

However, the noble Lord knows well my support for insulation measures. Insulation—energy that we do not use—is the most efficient form of energy. We are rolling out a considerable number of measures. He will aware that, under ECO4, we are introducing support of up to £1 billion a year, as well as the social housing decarbonisation fund, the local authority delivery fund, the home upgrade grant, et cetera—all of which are rolling out insulation measures for the poorest members of our community.

My Lords, we are fortunate in the UK that our dependence on Russia for energy has been diminished thanks to successive policies to support renewable electricity, but is the Minister aware that just less than one in five litres of diesel comes directly from Russia? What plans does the noble Lord’s ministry have to speed the transition from diesel to electric vehicles, which will save drivers money, increase our energy independence and clean our air?

We are seeking to end imports of Russian oil by the end of this year. We already have one of the fastest transition periods to electric vehicles in the western world; we will ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030. We are already rolling out more efficient vehicles, although we should be aware of the cost of these to many families at the moment.

My Lords, the International Energy Agency report contains useful recommendations for citizens to use energy more efficiently and highlights the many benefits of doing so, but the Government do not seem to be leading by example. Why did the energy security strategy fail to deliver in this area and what steps will the Government take to ensure that sensible personal decisions are backed by them?

Of course, it was regrettable that we did not manage to include some more insulation measures within the energy security strategy, but the Government always back people to take responsible decisions, as I mentioned in my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. We want to support people to make responsible choices, whether in heating their home, in travelling or in their personal circumstances.

The House has debated this subject on many occasions, and we will continue to be led by the science. My noble friend will be aware that the Secretary of State recently commissioned the British Geological Survey to have another look at the scientific evidence for fracking, but we cannot ignore the problems that were caused by the Cuadrilla test wells. If those objections can be overcome and we can gain the support of local communities, there is no reason why we cannot do it, but let us not think that this will be a short-term answer to our problems.

My Lords, speaking of responsible decisions, the last three words of the title of the International Energy Agency’s report are “help the planet”, yet the Government are currently subsidising polluting companies—for example, Drax—to the cost of £2 million a day. Will the Minister take that back to his department and explain that biofuel companies such as Drax do not produce renewable energy?

To respond to that point would take longer than I have for this answer, but I disagree with the noble Baroness—although I have great respect for her—that biomass is not renewable. This has been studied at great length, and supporting Drax and other power stations to move to renewable sources of power with waste wood is an environmentally responsible thing to do, in our view. The energy pathway for that is audited.

My Lords, in response to my Written Question of 24 March about government plans to encourage people to turn their thermostats down, the Minister referred me to the Met Office’s WeatherReady campaign. This turns out to be a web page to help people prepare for severe-weather measures, such as putting on sunscreen and drinking more fluids. Therefore, let me put the question a different way: when will the Government launch a full-throttled campaign asking the British public to turn down either the heating or the air conditioning? This will save money, end once and for all our import of Russian gas, show support for Ukraine and reduce greenhouse gases—everything the Government say they want to achieve.

There are, of course, very few people in this country who benefit from air conditioning; rather, it is heating that is the issue. Nothing will drive people to turn down their heating at the moment more than the current high gas prices. I am not sure that we need much of a government information campaign to encourage people to save money where they can, but we do not want it to be at the expense of people living in cold homes.

My Lords, I echo the tributes paid to the amazing career of Lord Plumb, whom I remember so well in a previous commodity crisis as an interlocutor with the then Agriculture Minister, John Silkin. He was very effective. Given the somewhat limited scope of the IEA-promoted self-help that we have seen in this report, can the Minister remind us of what the Government are doing to insulate consumers, the elderly and struggling small businesses from the mushrooming of energy prices that we have seen?

Indeed, I would be happy to help my noble friend and build on the answer I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Oates, earlier. We are spending from £750 million up to £1 billion a year on ECO 4. We are spending £6.6 billion over this Parliament on all the different insulation and energy-efficiency schemes that I mentioned earlier, delivering practical measures in hundreds of thousands of homes up and down the country. These very successful schemes are driving up the energy efficiency of the poorest households in the country. They are excellent schemes and worthy of the House’s full support.