Thursday 18th January 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Question for Short Debate
14:35
Asked by
Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of recent reports that global heating is likely to pass the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold this year, and how they intend to cooperate with international partners to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who will be contributing to this debate; their participation is much appreciated. I also draw attention to my role as a director of Peers for the Planet and to the excellent briefing produced by it for this debate, entitled Why UK Action Matters. My own contribution will focus primarily on the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, its significance, and why breaching it matters.

Let me take us back to the last day of the Paris COP in 2015, when euphoria broke out because, against all the odds, 196 nations had signed up to the common intent of keeping global temperature rises well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to pursue efforts for a rise of no more than 1.5 degrees higher than pre-industrial levels. This agreement was important because it reflected the acceptance of the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that greenhouse gas emissions from the industrialisation of western economies since the 1800s are heating our planet to unacceptable levels. The evidence was incontrovertible then and it is even more so today.

I will just say a few words about the Keeling curve, named after its creator, Dr Charles David Keeling, who first started to plot the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere in 1958, taking measurements at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory. Keeling was interested in the seasonal variation of the concentration of carbon dioxide, which showed, if you like, the respiration of our planet as a living, breathing organism. However, as measurements accumulated, he noticed something odd: the annual trend in the concentration of global carbon dioxide was upwards, rising from about 360 parts per million in 1959 to about 370 parts per million in 2000 and around 420 parts per million today. The more numerically inclined noble Lords among us will notice that the rate of change is increasing. When taken together with measurements of concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide from Antarctic ice cores, and plotted on a graph, as NASA has done on its website, a frightening picture emerges. In the span of the 800,000 years for which we have data, there is an exponential spike in the concentration of carbon dioxide since the start of the Industrial Revolution—a comparatively tiny speck of time.

We also know that there is a direct link between atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and global warming, which is manifesting itself as the climate chaos and threat to nature that we see today. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation options. Through its assessments, the IPCC determines the state of knowledge on climate change. IPCC climate scientists are urging political leaders to do all they can to keep within the l.5 degree Celsius target because, in a world with a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius, many of the deadliest effects of climate change are reduced—some of which we heard addressed in the previous debate on infectious diseases. Beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, the catastrophic, irreversible melting of ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica is likely to be triggered, meaning that sea levels would continue to rise well beyond 2100.

There are signs that this is happening already. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that NASA studies show that Greenland is shedding 20% more ice than previously estimated. The loss of the ice sheet could mean that the associated albedo effect would be lost—that is, the reflectivity of the ice would disappear with the ice sheet, and the newly-exposed bare ground would absorb the sun’s heat instead and release methane into the atmosphere, exacerbating heating even further. In addition, melting freshwater would reduce the salinity of the surrounding ocean, with consequences for the system of ocean currents that govern our weather, including the Gulf Stream. We would quite literally be in uncharted waters.

The year 2023 was the hottest by far ever recorded—shockingly, even hotter than scientists had predicted. Despite that, we have not yet breached the IPCC 1.5 degrees Celsius target, which is a longer-term average, but are we going to overshoot it? The answer to that question has to be yes, very probably, but what matters is by how much and how we deal with it. That is still within our control. Indeed, COP 28 has instilled hope that we can limit the damage. The early success of COP 28 on day one, when the loss and damage fund was announced, boded well.

I cannot overstate the importance of the fund. Small island nations and low-lying nations are already suffering the consequences of the climate emergency. To ask them and other developing countries to pay to reduce emissions that they were not responsible for, and to put in place costly adaptation measures for their very survival, is to rub salt into the wound and unjust. In any case, they simply do not have the resources to do so. Yet research from Oxford University tells us that cumulative emissions from small emitting countries, ourselves included, add up to a significant 31% of total development global emissions. We are all in this together.

The fact is that, unless we get smaller developing countries on board, we cannot transition away from fossil fuels—a phrase that is now in the world lexicon thanks to the final agreement document of COP 28; although in my view, and I believe that of the Government’s team of negotiators at COP 28, “phase out” would have been the preferred term. Nevertheless, finally, after 26 or so COPs, we have a mention of fossil fuels—a belated but welcome recognition globally of the cause of the climate emergency.

However, even if we were to stop emissions from fossil fuels tomorrow, according to the Royal Society and other esteemed sources, it would take many thousands of years for atmospheric CO2 to return to pre-industrial levels, due to its very slow transfer to the deep ocean and ultimate burial in marine sediments. What is needed today is global leadership to move us away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. We must stop adding to the inventory of greenhouse gases while ramping up energy from renewables, because the world needs more energy.

For many years, the UK has been in the vanguard, particularly in generating renewables. Where we have led, others have followed. However, the world is aghast at this Government’s recent actions to give the go-ahead to a new coal mine in Cumbria and their insistence on pushing ahead with the unnecessary Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill to issue new annual licences to oil and gas companies. My own view is that both measures are gesture politics and neither will ultimately matter. The real damage is the loss of our powerful voice on the international stage, helping the world to move away from the precipice of climate breakdown and the associated collapse of our planet’s natural ecosystems.

I will leave noble Lords with one very important example of why our presence on the world stage matters. Action on methane is essential because methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and responsible for a whopping 30% of global warming since pre-industrial times. However, it is much shorter-lived than carbon dioxide and achieving significant reductions would have a potentially rapid effect on atmospheric warming. In Glasgow at COP 26, we led the world on getting a global methane pledge signed. I ask the Minister: where is our leadership on the issue today? What action have we taken?

In conclusion, hope has always sustained humankind and experience has shown that, when the global community acts as one, we can move mountains—and move mountains we must to safeguard our planet. Britain’s place must be at the forefront of that effort.

14:45
Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on securing this debate. Like her, I want to emphasise the importance of science and the IPCC. I studied physics at Cambridge, so I know that the basic science of global warming is rock solid—but many predictions about the likely consequences of higher temperatures are flimsier and claims of harms attributed to climate change sometimes lack any scientific basis.

First, you cannot prove a trend from a single event, however dramatic, or from a single year, however unusual. As an example, last year wildfires near some fashionable tourist resorts and smoke from Canadian wildfires blowing down to New York led to claims that this proved we were all going to roast. But NASA satellites have monitored wildfires for a couple of decades and I looked up what the NASA site said. It said that the area burned by fires had declined by 25% over the period that it had been monitoring it, and that on a typical day in August—it was August when I looked it up—there are 10,000 fires burning worldwide, so plenty to choose from if you want to be alarmist. Hurricanes and individual storms are dramatic, but there is no upward trend in hurricanes or in the damage they cause relative to the size of the world economy.

In the opposite direction, sea ice, which the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, mentioned is currently—this January—at the highest level for 23 years. But of course my point about a single event and a single year not being able to prove a trend applies just as much to that. Like her, I imagine that over time a warmer climate will lead to the melting of Arctic ice. But that is not the same as onshore ice—or rather, it will have the same effect on onshore ice. The noble Baroness quoted the IPCC but did not go on to say, as it says in paragraph 5.22 of its report on 1.5 degrees global warming, that this will take hundreds to thousands of years. I think that we can possibly deal with it over that period.

The best summary of what the IPCC says is in chart 12.2 in its most recent assessment review. It assesses what impact climate change has been having, whether it is out of line with variability in the past and what is expected to happen up until 2050 and the end of the century. It says, of course, that temperatures have been rising and are expected to go on rising. Extreme heat, as a result, has been rising and will go on rising. Mean precipitation has not yet risen out of line with normal variability but is expected to do so before 2050 and in the second half of the century. It will be more extreme in some areas and less extreme in others. However, the IPCC says that it has neither observed, and nor does it forecast, up to the end of the century, anything unusual in the way of river floods, landslides, droughts, wind speeds, storms, cyclones or fire weather. Despite the fact that it expects a continuing rise in sea level, it does not expect that to cause any appreciable or unusual coastal floods or erosion.

I think we ought to take into account what the IPCC says about these things. When I raised it before with the Minister’s colleague, his officials wrote back and said, “Oh, but that’s just in the science section of the IPCC report”. Well, I thought it was the science we were supposed to take seriously. But if we do not, previously I asked Ministers whether they knew of any IPCC-assessed reports that suggested that if we did nothing to stop global warming, it would lead to the extinction or elimination of the human race. They said there were none. So, let us not encourage exaggeration. I do not want to see global warming continue, because I am a Conservative and I do not like unnecessary change—but it is not going to lead to the elimination of the human race.

Let us look at the opening words of the economic chapter of the IPCC report:

“For most economic sectors, the impact of climate change will be small relative to the impacts of other drivers. Changes in population, age, income, technology, relative prices, lifestyle, regulation, governance, and many other aspects of socio-economic development will have an impact on the supply and demand of economic goods and services that is large relative to the impact of climate change”.


So I urge those who get alarmed about climate change to actually read the science. When they do, they will find it is a problem, but not the end of the world.

14:50
Baroness Kingsmill Portrait Baroness Kingsmill (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, for initiating this short debate. It is interesting that there was some overlap between these issues and those that were mentioned in the previous debate: I found it very useful to be able to sit through both. I am also grateful for and somewhat amused by the very contrarian view that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, put forward: it is the essence and the strength of this House that such contrasting views can exist contentedly together. I, on the other hand, feel that global warming is the biggest threat to life that the world faces over the coming decade. The year 2023 was the hottest on record, according to the WEF Global Risks Report published ahead of COP 28 in Dubai.

In light of this, it is gratifying that there was, at the COP, a historic agreement to transition away from fossil fuels. Some might say, “About time”, and others will perhaps say, “Too little, too late”. It is nearly 30 years since the first COP in Berlin, and some 10 years since the Paris Agreement establishing the goal to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. It is likely, in fact, by most views, that this figure will be exceeded this year. I would be grateful if the Minister would explain how the UK is planning to contribute to the transition and how the issue of new oil and gas licences for exploration in the North Sea will assist this transition.

However gratifying the agreement may have been to the participants and those who worked so hard in Dubai to reach this level of compromise, it is simply not enough. It was not accompanied by a plan of action or a timetable. No country can provide this alone; what is needed is a global strategy and partnerships. Again, I would like the Minister, perhaps when he closes this debate, to examine what partnerships he has in mind and how we are going to work together with our partners to address these issues.

Nevertheless, while climate heating is a global issue, it is most closely felt at a local level and it is the poorest and most climate-vulnerable countries that are feeling the worst effects of sea levels rises and extreme weather events. For example, floods in Pakistan last year are estimated by the World Bank to have caused at least $30 billion-worth of damage. In Dubai, at COP, in addition to the agreement to transition away from fossil fuels, it was agreed to operationalise a loss and damage fund to assist countries most affected by global heating. Some $700 million dollars was pledged, but this has been described by experts as “minuscule” in the face of the disasters endured by many as a result of global heating.

So far, it appears that these are pledges only. The money has yet to be forthcoming, nor is there yet a plan for how and to whom it will be distributed. Perhaps the Minister would like to confirm what the UK’s actual contribution to this fund will be and what plans there are to distribute it.

As has been mentioned, COP 28 also stipulated a tripling of investment in renewable fuels. The UK has a good history in renewable energy, and I would be grateful if the Minister could advise the House on the current investment in renewables and what plans there are to meet COP’s tripling target.

COP 28 cannot be just a talking shop with vague agreements and pledges but no legally binding commitments. There must be continuing serious debate about how issues of fairness and equality can be addressed, if there is not to be a great loss of trust in COPs generally. Furthermore, the wealthy countries, whose historic and continuing carbon emissions are the dominant cause of global heating, must take action. Fine words are not enough: we need serious action.

I am advised that, at another major global conference taking place in Davos, climate heating is low on the agenda, unfortunately, as conversations about war, inflation and Trump dominate. It is apparent that, for the moment, this is a time when other issues need to be addressed as well.

14:56
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on bringing this debate, but when I sat down to write my speech, I felt this great wave of weariness wash over me. Not because of the topic, which is an existential threat for many species and scenarios, but because I have been talking about climate change and its dangers, disasters and opportunities for three decades. Of course, the Green Party has been publishing its policies to cope with these devastating changes for the past 50 years. So, I could simply refer noble Lords to my speech of blah, when I said “Blah”, and so on, but I will play the game and debate.

When 99% of scientists explain that we have a problem, it is a fool who listens to the 1% who disagree. But that is what keeps happening, with individuals and governments. Intelligent people like the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, pick and choose their facts to argue that it is fine: there has always been variation, it has been hotter in the past, it will not be as bad as everybody says it is—but of course, it will be. The 1% of scientists who—

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

No, I will not give way and use up my time. You can speak afterwards.

The work of the 1% of scientists who say that climate change is not as bad as it is made out to be often contains errors and cannot be replicated. It is an excuse to keep things as they are when clearly, that is exactly what is causing such serious problems. Somehow, the last few seasons of floods, droughts, record-breaking temperatures and unsettled and unseasonal patterns have failed to wake up these deniers and delayers. The impact of these happenings—the deaths, the starvation, the absolute distress—does not seem to register.

There are things we must stop doing and other things we must start doing: there is a constant balance between mitigation and adaptation. For example, I spoke to a Conservative Peer earlier today and he talked about the future of carbon capture and storage, which the Government have recently ploughed money into. Yet our natural carbon capture and storage systems—the oceans, wetlands, plants, et cetera—are constantly trashed in the name of progress. There are plans for deep-sea dredging, not knowing which ecosystems could be damaged. We know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the deep ocean. Our ignorance will cause more problems, probably not too far in the future.

It is possibly not the end of the world but it is the end for many species, and probably the end of a comfortable life for the majority of people—obviously, not for the super-rich; I dare say, they will cope. For example, yes, we should plant trees, but we should also stop cutting down older trees in forests. We must insulate houses when they are built, which is better for the dwellers and for the planet. Transport accounts for around a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions across the world, and many Governments are implementing policies to decarbonise travel. We are behind on that. We can make it easy to walk and cycle, to use public transport or car clubs. We must reduce our flights, especially the use of private jets.

Finally, I have a question and also a suggestion. Does the Minister see that this Government have failed on the climate crisis and that they need to dump the idea of new oil and gas licences and adopt the Green Party’s policies, so we can keep our fingers crossed that we do not reach the next two degrees of warming in the next decade or so? I recommend reading our Green Party manifesto. It is chock full of practical, sensible policies, often cheaper than anything the Government are promoting. They are policies that really do make sense—and they will not cost us the earth.

15:00
Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of Peers for the Planet. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, both on securing this serious debate and on her comprehensive, well-evidenced introduction to it.

I accept and find myself in accord with the analysis of the scientific evidence given by the noble Baroness and the noble Baronesses, Lady Kingsmill and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I will leave it to the Minister to respond to the analysis of the IPCC report—the whole report, not only the bar charts and the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. I know that the Government do not agree with what he is suggesting and that their 2030 strategic framework for international climate and nature action, published in March 2023, stated that climate change and nature loss were

“two of the defining challenges of our time”.

I do not find it totally reassuring to be told that whatever climate change does and whatever its threats and challenges, it does not mean the extermination of the human race. That does not make me sleep better in my bed, thinking about my children and grandchildren’s future, or the future of the people who live in countries threatened by sea level rises, floods, famine or drought.

We have enormous challenges before us. This country has done well, and we have led in this area. What worries me is the backtracking we are seeing on our own commitments; as a result, we risk losing credibility in providing leadership. I worry that the Prime Minister’s change of direction has led to a loss of credibility and undermined our own efforts. One of the problems is that we are dealing with a phenomenon that impacts a huge number of sectors, as we heard in the last debate. We see them individually, but we do not see issues of supply and demand together, or health alongside business, transport and energy. We do not have a co-ordinated and comprehensive approach.

The machinery of governance for climate change issues is a real problem that we need to tackle. We need a more comprehensive approach that recognises the effects across different sectors and policies. As I said earlier, I am worried about the Government’s announcements telling us that a better, fairer way of meeting our obligations would involve putting back the planned date for phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, putting back the date for phasing out the installation of oil and liquid petroleum gas, and exempting households from the requirement to phase out some fossil fuel boilers. They will all have an effect on demand, and that will make it more difficult for us to meet our targets. I put in a plea for a comprehensive government approach to this and to the delivery of the very high-level aspirations that the Government have in this area.

15:05
Lord Young of Norwood Green Portrait Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on giving us the opportunity to debate this issue; it is a very opportune time to do so. At the risk of being called a fool, a denier or a contrarian, I concur with what the noble Lord, Lilley, said, because he was absolutely right in his analysis. That is not to say that I am not worried about climate change or, to refer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the future for my children and grandchildren—of course I am. But the question of what we do about that is the real importance of this debate.

I was very interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, mention that we supported a coal mine in Cumbria. It produces a tiny amount of coal and, if we had not produced it there, it would have been imported. I very much doubt the idea that that will somehow destroy our leadership in the world.

The oil and gas licences are perhaps more important, and I can understand the concern about them. But I want us to focus on the fact that, no matter what a number of people may think, we will continue to need gas for approximately the next 20 years. Those who oppose the use of it seem to have forgotten the fact that we actually import LNG, which makes up about 20% of our usage. It comes from the USA and Qatar, and none of those countries extracting gas has come to grief, although there are lots of predictions about that. If we will not accept that, those who argue against it should tell us how we will survive, but I do not believe that they have the answer to that.

I listened carefully to my noble friend Lady Kingsmill and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. The latter said that, because she and her party have been talking about this for so many years, it means that they are absolutely right—unfortunately, it does not. No one is arguing with her that we should not deal with the challenge of climate change; her solutions are what people, quite justifiably, challenge.

The other thing that people seem to suggest is that nothing will change technologically—but it will. The Government are supporting the development of small modular reactors. They will be very important and a good development in government policy. They will give us the opportunity to create green hydrogen or maybe even blue hydrogen. Carbon capture and storage is still expensive at the moment, but it will definitely come. There will be other developments in technology. Should we be worried that other countries are not taking up some of these developments? We should—and we should encourage them to do so.

It is interesting that we contribute only 1%—we seem to forget that. We also seem to forget that the biggest culprits are certainly China, probably the Soviet Union and maybe the USA. We are still leaders in what we are doing, and I am puzzled to hear those who want a change in government policy imply that we are somehow not. It is unfortunate that people say that.

I ask the Minister to confirm the point that I made about small modular reactors and their possible contribution. I heard the talk about having fewer flights; we will have to live in a very poor world if we take up all these policies. We are developing biofuels, which will make a significant contribution to that.

I make my own contribution. I cycle in every day and I have an electric car, so I encourage other people to do the same. I genuinely congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, because it is important that we regularly have these debates and get the Government to justify the stances they are currently taking. I thank the noble Baroness and those who have contributed. I hope people will accept that I am neither a denier, a fool nor a contrarian—although there is nothing wrong with being a contrarian; they are often proved right.

15:10
Earl Russell Portrait Earl Russell (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Sheehan for bringing this timely debate and all who have spoken. Earth is on the brink of surpassing the internationally agreed threshold for climate warming. The Paris Agreement’s long-term goal of keeping warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and aiming to limit it to 1.5 degrees is a global benchmark, conceived and internationally agreed to avoid the worst impacts of global temperature rise and to minimise risks. To my mind, the issue is clear. To the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, I say that every disaster movie starts with somebody questioning a scientist.

For the first time, 1.5 degrees of warming has been passed temporarily, and 2023 obliterated the record for the hottest year by a large margin. Earth was 1.48 degrees hotter. The average temperature was 0.17 degrees higher than in 2016. Half of all days were 1.5 degrees warmer. The last three months were 1.7 degrees warmer. Huge Canadian wildfires drove up yearly global carbon emissions by 30%. Sea surface temperatures rose alarmingly. We are outside the safe limits that humanity requires and the target for controlling global climate change is closing.

However, we must have hope, and a lot has changed. Other speakers have referred to that already. A decade ago, we were on target to hit 3.5 degrees by the end of the century. Due to the international action already taken, this has now reduced to a probable 2.4 degrees to 2.5 degrees. To keep global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees, current global emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050, according to the UN.

Last year was a step change for the growth of renewables, with an extra 507 gigawatts of capacity produced globally. Last year, China alone added more solar power than the world added in 2022. Last year saw a 49% global increase on the previous year, and the International Energy Agency recognises that enough renewables to power the whole of America and Canada should be produced over the next five years.

I warmly welcome the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto commitments to net zero by 2050. We need to work collectively on these issues. The time for arguing about the science is over. I also recognise the great work that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others have done on this issue. It is important that we work together.

However, to my mind, the Conservatives stopped being world leaders last year. I find it strange that the Uxbridge parliamentary by-election was a tipping point in this country’s conversation on climate change. The PM decided to take a new course on climate change, now backing the motorist, feeling that we must “ease the burdens”. Commitments on phasing out petrol and diesel cars and gas boilers were diluted. The tone and the language changed, and the urgency was scaled back. Our commitments risk being collateral damage.

The pointless decision to extract new North Sea oil will do nothing to provide us with energy security and, as others have mentioned, damages our international reputation and standing. Chris Skidmore, who resigned over these matters, said:

“There’s been a pivot towards trying to create a culture war on the back of net-zero as somehow being a measure that is juxtaposed to energy security. It is completely false”.


As a direct result of that decision, our international reputation has suffered—built over years, destroyed in seconds. The public spectacle of our climate change Minister being flown back to support the Prime Minister did not help.

We need to set a clear example. We need to be a world leader. The Climate Change Committee did welcome the Government’s 2030 strategic framework, saying that overall it was commendable. But more must be done to support the ambitions with detailed further actions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kingsmill, argued.

I ask the Government to stick to their own policies, to reduce the anti-green rhetoric and to continue to step up to the challenge. Given that the IPCC’s remaining global carbon budget for 1.5 degrees is not getting any bigger, perhaps the Minister might tell the House what additional measures His Majesty’s Government will now take to reduce emissions in line with the UK’s proportionate share of that crucial budget.

15:16
Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, for securing this debate and for her introduction. I am mindful of the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, and my noble friend Lord Young. It is good to have these debates, not least to recognise some of the challenges that we face and the need to hone all the evidence and bring the arguments together to make sure that we can move forward together on this important issue.

As we have heard throughout the debate, analysis published by NASA indicates that the earth’s average surface temperature in 2023 was the warmest on record, with global temperatures around 1.2 degrees Celsius above their baseline period of 1951 to 1980. This links with what billions of people around the world have experienced—extreme flooding, rising sea levels and exceptional heat, accompanied by widespread unprecedented media coverage, bringing evidence of these impacts into households across the world.

The inclusion of the 1.5 degrees Celsius target was regarded as a great breakthrough in the Paris climate agreement of 2015. Although this was a drop of only half a degree, the IPCC has since spelled out the growing risk of calamities if 1.5 degrees is breached, and the consequent need to halve carbon emissions by 2030 to have any chance of avoiding them. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and my noble friend Lady Kingsmill for outlining those calamities, and the risks, so well.

As we know, the EU’s Copernicus earth observation programme has stated that 2023 was the warmest year on record “by a large margin” and has estimated that it is likely that a 12-month period ending in January or February this year will exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level. The Met Office has also projected that global temperatures could temporarily exceed the 1.5 degrees threshold in 2024. Although this would not of itself mean a breach of the Paris agreement, I think we can almost all agree that the first year above 1.5 degrees will indeed be a difficult milestone to reach in climate history, even taking into account the impact of El Niño in boosting temperatures.

Against this backdrop, serious alarm has been raised about the current UK Government’s changes in policy, despite the rhetoric and their welcome commitments and targets. As we have heard, these policy changes include: pushing back the planned date for phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030 to 2050; reversing the plans to introduce a new requirement for landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their properties; and the even more damaging decisions to approve a new coal mine in Cumbria and to allow the approval of new oil and gas licences in the North Sea—which, we also know, will not contribute to reducing energy costs or increasing energy security.

This all speaks of a Government who simply do not understand the impact of trashing our reputation as a world leader on tackling climate change, the damage they are doing to the confidence of investors and businesses and the subsequent damage to our economic prospects, as well as our ability to deliver net zero. Indeed, although the Climate Change Committee’s 2023 progress report commends the overall aims of the Government’s 2030 strategic framework, it cautions that

“more must be done to support the ambitions expressed in the document with detailed future actions”.

Further, it criticises the Government for the reputational damage the UK has suffered over the past year as a result of their policy changes, stating that these changes represented a “retreat” from the strong leadership position established during the UK COP presidency in 2021. The report talks about the

“decline in profile for international climate issues”,

highlighting that domestic policy decisions

“clash with the UK’s international messaging”.

I conclude by asking the Minister for the Government’s views of the risks posed by the temperature rise predictions highlighted in today’s debate. Further, do the Government have plans to respond constructively to the criticisms levelled at them from the international community? Does the Minister acknowledge that our reputation has been severely damaged and, if so, will he tell us what actions the Government will take to restore our reputation as a global climate leader?

15:21
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank and pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, for bringing forward this important debate. It has been short but interesting none the less, with some excellent contributions from across the Chamber. I will seek to address as many of the points made as I possibly can.

Although the title of this debate focuses on efforts to adapt to climate change, it is of course equally of paramount importance that we do our utmost to limit further warming in this critical decade. In sharp contrast to the picture painted by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Blake, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, the UK is—and is proud to be—a world leader on climate change. We are totally committed to net zero, to the Paris agreement and to keeping 1.5 degrees alive. We were the first major economy to halve its emissions, and we have one of the most ambitious decarbonisation targets in the world. We have achieved that while growing our economy by more than 70% since 1990. We have a much better record than—to pluck a random example—Germany, where the socialists and the greens are in government, because it is practical action that counts rather than fancy green rhetoric.

On assessments relating to the likelihood of exceeding 1.5 degrees of warming relative to pre-industrial levels this year, the World Meteorological Organization and the Met Office recently confirmed that 2023 was the warmest single year on record globally, at around 1.45 degrees above pre-industrial levels. While reaching 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels in a single year does not mean that the Paris agreement long-term average temperature goal has been reached, it is clearly a concern that record temperatures are already being set. The latest IPCC synthesis report drove home just how important it is that we limit the rise in average global temperature to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Every increment of global warming will increase the adverse impacts of climate change, multiplying hazards and compounding risks that are more difficult and more complex to manage. That is why we put keeping 1.5 degrees within reach at the heart of our own COP 26 presidency and our international climate diplomacy efforts since then.

To answer the points made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones, Lady Hayman and Lady Blake, the Prime Minister has underscored our commitment to delivering on net zero. Our 2030 target means the deepest cuts of any major emitter since 1990, and we are determined to deliver on that. We were the first major economy to set a net-zero target in law, and we are committed to delivering net zero at home and, of course, to driving forward progress internationally to keep 1.5 degrees within reach in this critical decade.

However, it is of course a fact that the UK produces just 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. We can address the remaining 99% and keep 1.5 degrees in reach only through international action and leadership, which is what we are providing. We made it the centrepiece of our COP 26 presidency and under the presidency, the proportion of global GDP covered by net-zero targets increased from 30% to over 90%. We will continue to focus on the most practical and deliverable measures that bring the largest global carbon savings.

At COP 28, we focused on driving forward efforts to protect forests, to scale finance for the transition and to accelerate net-zero transitions across a number of different sectors. On forests, we announced £576 million to support countries taking action to halt forest loss and to protect nature, and we saw the commitment to halt and reverse deforestation enshrined in the UAE consensus. We drove forward initiatives to scale finance, including the Prime Minister announcing £1.6 billion worth of new international climate finance programmes, and we endorsed the climate finance framework, which champions reform of international financial institutions to make them bigger, better and fairer.

The UK was also at the forefront of efforts to accelerate decarbonisation in many key sectors. To take an example, the International Partners Group, co-led by the UK and the EU, launched the Vietnam Just Energy Transition Partnership—JETP—a £15.5 billion resource mobilisation plan to help accelerate Vietnam’s transition from fossil fuels through to clean energy. The Powering Past Coal Alliance, which we also co-chair, announced 13 new members—including the USA, which has the world third-largest coal fleet—all committed to phasing out unabated coal power and to building no new coal capacity. We were also pleased to see two new breakthroughs launched on buildings and cement. In response to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Kingsmill, these are just some of the international partnerships and initiatives that we will continue to drive forward action on.

As many noble Lords noted in the debate, important progress was made in Dubai. We are now globally unified around a commitment to transition away from fossil fuels, underpinned by a goal to triple renewables and double energy efficiency. A new fund for loss and damage has been established, and the first global stocktake under the Paris Agreement was successfully concluded.

Of course, we all know that that is not enough. Looking ahead, we have to work harder with partners to ensure that many of these key commitments are met, such as that to triple renewable power. The noble Lady Baroness, Lady Kingsmill, questioned what we, as the UK, are doing to scale up renewables. First, we have made very significant progress already. Since 2010, renewables have gone from less than 7% of our electricity supply to 48% in the first quarter of this year. Today, the UK is proud to be home to the five largest operational offshore wind farm projects in the world, and we have an extremely ambitious target to increase offshore wind to 50 gigawatts of capacity by 2050.

On the international side, we will continue to scale up renewables through UK initiatives such as Power Breakthrough and the Green Grids Initiative, which is all about scaling up the net-zero grids that we will all need for a net-zero future.

In answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on new oil and gas licences, this is of course a matter which we have debated across this House many times. I point out that while the Government are of course scaling up our own clean energy sources, such as offshore wind and nuclear, I agree with my noble friend Lord Lilley and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, that the UK still needs to utilise oil and gas for most of our energy needs. That will be a continued need over the coming decades.

New licences will slow the decline in UK production levels, rather than see them increase above current levels, as has been implied. Even with any new licences, oil and gas production in the UK is still expected to decline by 7% year on year—faster than the average global decline needed to align with the UN 1.5 degrees centigrade pathway. I have made the point many times before that it makes no sense to import LNG from other countries with higher carbon emissions when we could obtain it from our own resources, albeit that these resources are continuing to decline as the fields become depleted.

On adaptation, as noble Lords have set out, the impacts on climate change are already being felt. The UK has long recognised its importance. We are delivering on our commitment to spend £11.6 billion on international climate finance through to 2025-26, to ensure a balance between adaptation and mitigation, including at least £3 billion on protecting and restoring nature.

To support the most vulnerable in our world who are experiencing some of the worst impacts of climate change, at COP 27, the Prime Minister announced that we would triple our funding for adaptation from £500 million to £1.5 billion by 2025. Over the past 12 years, our international climate finance has helped over 100 million people cope with some of the worst effects of climate change. At the COP 28 summit, the UK negotiators were successful in helping to agree a framework to bring the global goal and adaptation into alignment. Of course, although we accept that there is further work to be done, this is a critical step towards more meaningful action. During our COP 26 presidency, we secured a commitment to double adaptation by 2025. We will continue to push for more donors to help deliver on this commitment.

To address another point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kingsmill, we welcome the establishment at COP 28 of the new fund covering loss and damage, with funding in excess of $650 million. The UK announced a contribution of up to $40 million to this fund, with a further $20 million for funding arrangements, including for early warning systems and disaster risk finance. Given the scale of the need, it is essential for the success of the fund that it attracts new and wider sources of funding, including grants and concessional loans from public, private and some innovative sources. We will continue to progress this as much as we possibly can.

Also at COP 28, my colleague, the Minister for Development and Africa, announced a further £100 million of UK funding to help many vulnerable people adapt to climate change. The UK can be proud of its record and of everything that we are doing—both domestically and through the leadership we are providing abroad.

Lord Young of Norwood Green Portrait Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the Minister sits down, will he respond to the point I made about the Government’s support for small nuclear reactors?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to do so. I did not cover it directly in my speech because we made a big announcement about it last week. I answered Questions on it in this House only the other day. We are progressing big-scale nuclear reactors. We are committed to making a decision shortly on the progress of Sizewell C. We have provided £200 million to Rolls-Royce for the development of new SMRs. Great British Nuclear is rolling out our campaign of both SMRs and AMRs. Many of our existing nuclear plants will go offline towards the end of this decade. We need to make sure that we make the investments to replace them because that will be essential if we are to reach net zero. The noble Lord’s point is well made.

My time is up, so I will draw my remarks to a close. The House can rest assured that the UK will continue to deliver on net zero at home and to push and accelerate action internationally, while championing the need to address many of the worst impacts of climate change. The science demands that we drastically accelerate global action on mitigation in what will be a critical decade ahead. We will progress all these efforts both at home and internationally. Once again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, for securing this debate, and all noble Lords who contributed.

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thought I would just repeat the point made earlier in the Chamber by both the Leader of the House and the Opposition Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, concerning the importance of brevity in this debate—indeed, in all debates. If noble Lords speak for the full time limits in this debate or exceed them, there will be insufficient time for the Minister and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, to respond. So I humbly request that noble Lords stick to the allocated speaking time, which is a maximum of seven minutes. Thank you.