Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
My Lords, before I embark on my comments, I echo the thanks given by all Members of the House today to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for introducing this debate, with his prescient and occasionally optimistic summary of the outcome of COP 27.
I also join all those who have congratulated my noble friend Lord Leong on his maiden speech today. As he reminded us, he is Labour’s first Peer of east Asian origin; we hope to have many more. I have known my noble friend for some years, and his warmth and generosity of spirit are very welcome in your Lordships’ House. I loved his comment about seeking, by joining us, to offset his mother’s carbon footprint, and the fact that he balanced that with his enthusiasm for inspiring a new generation of young people concerned about the future of our planet. Worthy words indeed.
Before moving on, I very much welcome my noble friend Lord Prescott to the Chamber today. He played a major part in ensuring that the British Government addressed at the Kyoto conference the impact of adverse environmental activity across the world. As one of our first major leaders and spokespeople on the environment, he played a key part in ensuring that we kept to the task in tackling major environmental issues.
Because the Prime Minister raised it in his Statement following COP 27, I want to raise again the case of Alaa Abd el-Fattah, which the Prime Minister also raised when he was in Sharm el-Sheikh. Amnesty International reported yesterday that after ending a seven-month hunger strike, Alaa is in critical condition. It is vital that he be released as soon as possible and gets the urgent medical care he needs. In view of the Prime Minister’s comments, I wonder whether the Minister can update us on what further steps the Government are taking to end his suffering.
The implementation plan agreed at COP 27 and its breakthrough agreement to create a fund providing loss and damage funding to vulnerable countries that have been victims of climate disasters is very welcome. This ends almost 30 years of waiting for the nations facing the devastating impacts of climate change. Sadly, there was nothing in the Prime Minister’s Statement on loss and damage. Other noble Lords have said that we need more detail on our funding commitment. I look forward to the Minister picking up that point.
There were other welcome developments, as noble Lords have said, such as pledges on adaptations—that is, adjustments in ecological, social or economic systems in response to climatic changes—totalling more than $230 million. The SCF will report on doubling finance in this area at next year’s COP in Dubai. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, raised the importance and value of looking at both adaptations and mitigation.
The implementation plan also set out the cost of moving to a low-carbon economy. This is a small but important step towards it, priced at around $4 trillion to $6 trillion per year in investment. There were other, vital continued deliberations on the $100 billion pledge, climate finance and global stocktake, which will hopefully continue to lead to further progress in these areas.
Outside the implementation plan, the new annual high-level ministerial round table was a welcome development in symbolic terms; in future, it could be a productive tool in raising global ambition. Less welcome was that most Ministers in attendance said that limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees—which we will all be talking about and which I will say more about—was a red line.
A joint work programme was launched in respect of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will surely play a key role in accelerating the development of technologies that do not yet exist, but which we will be unable to reach net zero without, and to which noble Lords have referred. We also saw the launch of the Forests & Climate Leaders’ Partnership—a too-often forgotten aspect of the climate fight—following last year’s declaration. Forest loss and land degradation simply must be stopped. Using the $12 billion committed at last year’s COP and the further $4.5 billion since in an effective joined-up way must be a priority. Here in the UK, we are beginning a much-needed debate on our own lost rainforests and their recovery.
Despite all this welcome progress, the fact is that on the most crucial issue of 1.5 degrees, the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh cannot be seen as anything but a failure. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has warned of what we face. He said, quite simply, that
“at the present level, we will be doomed”.
He is not wrong.
What are the Government going to do in the next year to change direction? A number of noble Lords, such as the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan and Lady Hayman, raised the issue of leadership. We have had lots of Secretaries of State for the Environment, but an absence of leadership. This is long overdue; we need clarity of direction.
We are currently at 1 degree of warming compared to pre-industrial levels—the hottest the world has been for over 100,000 years—and we are already witnessing the disastrous effects. According to the UN, instead of another 0.5 degrees, the limit we need to halt at, we are currently on track for another 1.8 degrees. Unless something changes, and changes now, our generation will leave behind a shameful legacy.
We should be leading on the climate. It is our responsibility, but also an opportunity to set the pace and transform the UK for the future. This does not just mean turning up at COP once a year. How will the Government show leadership every day? That is what is needed. Will they commit, as the Opposition have, to a 2030 zero-carbon power system—the new gold standard of international leadership? Will they end the damaging ban on onshore wind and the blocking of solar, which are the cheapest and cleanest forms of power available to us? Will they acknowledge the continuing damage of fossil fuels?
It was of course welcome that the outgoing COP 26 president, sadly sidelined by the Government, argued that the conclusions of COP 27 should include their phasing out—but these efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. COP 27 did not conclude with a timetable or even reassurance that polluting fuels would be phased down by all countries. India’s proposal foundered after opposition from oil-producing and gas-producing nations. The extraction of the reserves that remain would lead to warming far beyond 1.5 degrees, yet that is the path that the Government are set on. Dashing for new fossil fuel licences—a number of noble Lords referred to these—which will have minimal, if any, impact on the bills that the country is currently struggling with, and refusing to rule out a new coal mine in Cumbria, speak loudly of the Government’s commitments in the wrong direction. So why are they continuing along this path, while arguing that the rest of the world should stop?
This is a form of international hypocrisy. Leadership on the climate also means meeting targets, not just setting them. Will the Government finally get on track with the targets that we have set and fix the net-zero strategy, which was found to be unlawful? Indeed, at Copenhagen in 2009, wealthier nations committed to mobilising $100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries. Despite the worsening climate crisis, and following COP 26, this target has still not been reached. How will the Government ensure that the target is not only met but exceeded during the five-year period to 2025 and beyond? In the Minister’s discussions with other countries, has the Government’s decision to cut our overseas aid budget been helpful in achieving that end?
Next year, leading up to the 2023 global stocktake, is the last real chance to save the target of 1.5 degrees. In years to come, every Government and politician will be judged on how they responded at this moment of jeopardy for the world. I hope—the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, spoke passionately of hope today—that the Government might begin to give the House some clues about how they aim to rise generally to the challenge of that jeopardy.