Oral Question: Paris Climate Change

- Thursday, 19th November 2015

 

Piggy Bank

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) on securing this debate. In my experience, if we ask most people what they want politicians to do, we find that they want us to work together to tackle the really big challenges, and that is quite hard in this place, as any newly elected Member soon comes to appreciate. However, there was one moment a few years ago when this place really did come together; as my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) pointed out, the Climate Change Act 2008 was supported by almost everyone in this House, and rightly so. It was a groundbreaking piece of legislation, setting out the structure we need to tackle one of the key problems of our age. The Climate Change Committee, by setting out the carbon budgets—we anticipate the next one soon—creates the framework within which investors and innovators can operate with some certainty, 

 

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and without which we would not be able to make progress. It is a model of how a modern competitive economy can operate, with markets regulated in the interests of the common good. It is good for citizens, good for the environment and good for business; this is the model of how a modern economy looks to many of us in the Labour party.

 

How disappointing, then, that even with this excellent model, recent actions by the Government have taken us backwards. Their erratic U-turn on renewable subsidies; the selling off of the Green Investment Bank; the green deal disaster and binning of the decade-long zero-carbon homes plan have left the green energy sector infuriated and non-plussed, and left investors nervous. We are already lagging behind Germany, India, Japan, China and the United States in green investment, and cutting our commitment to renewable energy is hardly likely to improve matters.

 

Yet, what an opportunity we have. There is huge interest in these issues in Cambridge, and I commend to the Secretary of State the Cambridge climate message, which is supported by an impressive array of local organisations. They are clear that they want COP21 to be a success, not a cop-out. Cambridge and the wider East Anglian region is at the forefront of the clean-tech revolution, with more than 1,000 businesses already active in the sector, ranging from product development specialists to multinational enterprises with global reach. Some 10% of the UK total of low carbon and environmental goods and services companies are in the region, which means that the per capita concentration of companies is twice the national average. That emerging cluster is supported by a network of world-class universities and research centres, a highly skilled workforce and some of the world’s leading technical consultancies. Growth there can be built upon to bring about a halo effect for similar success outside our region, but it depends upon attracting investors. At the moment, these investors are scratching their heads and closing their wallets when faced with the Government’s constantly shifting policies on green energy.

 

I recently met people from Cambridge Cleantech, a highly effective members organisation supporting the growth of clean-tech companies in the greater Cambridge area, with the clear ambition to further develop Cambridge as a leading clean-tech centre in Europe. To fulfil that ambition they need to see better-defined, more stable Government policies that influence confidence in clean-tech investment.

 

Mr Lilley: Subsidies.

 

Daniel Zeichner: Not subsidies. One of the outstanding local projects, Cambridge Retrofit, is a network of public and private sector organisations working together to bring at-scale retrofits to the building stock of the Cambridge community.

 

Mr Lilley: Is the hon. Gentleman giving us the welcome news that these developments can take place without subsidy?

 

Daniel Zeichner: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. What we know is that when the private and public sectors work together effectively, we get a market that works. The problem in the current situation is that without investor certainty, the market does not work.

 

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Let me return to talking about Cambridge Retrofit, which I commend to the right hon. Gentleman. Led by Professor Doug Crawford-Brown at the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, it is helping the UK to meet its CO2 emission reduction targets, while helping the community reduce energy bills and supporting local businesses. When completed, the project will make a massive 20% to 30% reduction in carbon emissions in the Cambridge area. This shows that it can be done; it is about political will and political leadership, and that is what we need in the run-up to Paris.

 

We need—in fact, the wider world needs—to hear from this Government a clear assurance that they intend to prioritise innovation and reinstate long-term policies that will demonstrate their confidence in clean, green energy and technology. Attracting investment to this sector will help us deliver on our national energy, economic and environmental ambitions, and help the UK meet its international obligations and achieve a just transition. This House has shown before that it can rise to the challenge to come together to meet the great challenges of our age. My question is: can the Government?

 

2.34 pm

Callum McCaig (Aberdeen South) (SNP): I add my thanks to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) and the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate to happen, in incredibly timeous circumstances. The debate has been very enlightening and well-conducted. The importance of the COP21 meeting should not be understated. The Prime Minister said on Tuesday that he was confident that a deal would be struck; the issue was whether we got a good deal or not. I wish to talk a little about what that good deal should look like.

 

As we have heard, the UN has analysed the INDCs submitted by 90% of the countries on Earth, suggesting that if they are met, we will get down to a 2.7° increase in temperatures. That represents huge progress from the 4° to 5° that we would have with no change, but it is still not enough. An increase of 2° C is the Rubicon that we must strive not to cross, as the impact on life on this planet if we get things wrong almost does not bear thinking about. As we have heard from a number of hon. Members, the impact will be harshest on the poor. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) has said, those who have contributed least to global warming stand to lose by far the most. As one of the planet’s earliest industrialised nations, and as a major producer and exploiter of carbon dioxide in terms of fossil fuels, we have a moral responsibility here.

 

One really encouraging sign, which has been touched on in this debate, is that there has been a decoupling of growth and carbon emissions. According to the International Energy Agency, at the global level we have 3% growth, with flatlined emissions. From the UK perspective, we are talking about 2.8% growth, with an 8.4% reduction. The comments about not offshoring are pertinent, but if we are having 3% growth globally with no increase, the suggestion is that it is possible to achieve growth and prosperity, which is required, but without the detrimental effects on our planet and the ensuing impact on populations—and then the knock-on effect on our economic prosperity.

 

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What do we require? The commitments to seeking five-yearly reviews are fundamental. Whatever deal we get cannot be seen as enough in and of itself; it will have to be reviewed and improved upon, which will require concerted effort from Governments across the Earth. We also need the commitment to finding the money that is required—$100 billion has been suggested in order for us to feed in the required changes. That money needs at least in part—we hope it will be a considerable part—to be new money, because if it is a redistribution of existing aid, we will not meet the dual aims. We have heard about the sustainable development goals, which are fundamental. These things go hand in hand, and we cannot be seen to be taking money from sustainable development, in terms of some aspects of eradicating poverty, and putting it into climate change. There must be a combination of moneys and a concerted effort to ensure that we do this.

 

The action we will take in Paris, the words we will use and the power that we will exert—the soft power, in the form of diplomatic pressure on the rest of the world to take a lead—must be backed with action at home. The Secretary of State’s announcement yesterday on coal can be welcomed by most of us. I do not think that commitment should be understated—it is hugely important—but it should not be overstated either. It needs to be taken in consideration with some of the other things the Government have been doing, which we have heard about and which are damaging to our attempts to meet our climate change commitments. Mention has been made of the changes on onshore wind and solar, the removal of the climate change levy from green energy production, the scrapping of the commitment to zero-carbon homes—in England and Wales, I assume—and the decision to privatise the Green Investment Bank. That headline of scrapping coal will be the thing that many in the world will see, and it does provide a certain legitimacy to the Secretary of State and to the UK Government in arguing for change, but let us hope that people do not scrape too far beneath the service, because if they analyse this Government’s action in depth, they will find that the world-class rhetoric is not borne out by action here.

 

As we have heard, the change on coal and its replacement with gas can make a significant contribution, but it will also lock in change, potentially for 30, 40 or 50 years. I have this ask of the Secretary of State: when we are looking at that new generation of gas-fired power stations, can we consider how we can use them, or at least make them ready to be adapted, should CCS be commercially deployable? If they are built ready to adapt to that technology, it will mitigate the amount of carbon that we cannot afford to have released.

 

I hope that in the autumn statement and the comprehensive spending review next week, the commitment to the funding of CCS is still there. That is essential, and we back the go-ahead of both Peterhead and White Rose. I agree with the Climate Change Committee’s assessment that we need at least another two projects coming out of this Parliament. That is probably the easiest way to adapt to a low carbon economy, but it requires support. Being at the forefront of that technology could allow us to benefit financially as well as ecologically.

 

I support the calls for a reconsideration of the policies around renewable energy. Again, we need to look at the economic case. I come back to the IEA, which has suggested that, in the coming years, 60% of all money 

 

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that is spent on energy infrastructure will be on renewables. That is hugely important. The Secretary of State is very keen on offshore wind, and she will know that we have the potential to become a world leader in that area. We also need to see what more can be done with solar energy and onshore wind. I welcome her suggestion this morning that there is an open mind to the possibility of subsidy-free onshore wind, and a willingness to engage with the industry to make that happen.

 

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North about Scotland’s climate change legislation. We are on track to meet our agenda. It is ambitious—moderately more so than the UK agenda as a whole. We are uniquely placed to contribute to the UK’s carbon reduction and to take more than a fair share of global reductions.

 

Mr Lilley: Subsidies!

 

 

 

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