Net-zero Emissions: Behaviour Change Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Cabinet Office

Net-zero Emissions: Behaviour Change

Lord Bishop of Oxford Excerpts
Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Asked by
Lord Bishop of Oxford Portrait The Lord Bishop of Oxford
- View Speech - Hansard - -

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to support behaviour change as part of the pathway to net zero emissions.

Lord Bishop of Oxford Portrait The Lord Bishop of Oxford
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I appreciate the time given to this debate, despite all that is happening elsewhere in Westminster today. We face many challenging issues as a country and a world, but none is more serious than climate change and the environmental crisis. The context of our debate is the real prospect of global heating of more than 1.5 degrees by the middle of the century, with escalating extreme weather events in the UK and across the world, rising sea levels, devastating fires and floods, significant loss of life and damage to infrastructure, wars over scarce resources, shifting patterns of harvest, an increase in zoonotic disease and a massive displacement of people as large parts of the earth become uninhabitable.

Your Lordships may well have seen the final episode this week of BBC documentary “Frozen Planet II”, detailing the effects of global warming on people and wildlife. The most sinister pictures for me were of the small bubbles of trapped methane being released in great quantities from the permafrost, with devastating consequences for the earth.

It is a privilege to be a member of your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Environment and Climate Change under the able leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. Last week we published our first major report, In Our Hands: Behaviour Change for Climate and Environmental Goals, which I commend to the House. My questions to the Government are based on the report’s findings.

The world is agreed that to avert disaster in our lifetimes we need to reach net zero by 2050 or before. That means radical action in this decade and the next. The committee agreed with the Committee on Climate Change that behaviour change is a key element in that journey. Around 32% of the change needed involves some kind of behaviour change. This includes the adoption of new technology and changing habits and practices around diet, transport, heating and consumption. Each of these behaviour changes has significant co-benefits and all have potential economic benefits. They are essential stepping stones on the path to net zero.

Responding to climate change is a challenge for all of us—every individual and family, every charity, every church and faith community, local government and business. The Church of England has an aspiration to reach net zero by 2030. In my own diocese we are encouraging every church to become an eco-congregation and to be a community of change. We initially set aside £10 million, over three years, to begin to insulate more than 400 vicarages across the diocese. All the different agencies must work together, but to do that means common policies and clear leadership.

I believe, personally, that our Government have given imaginative and committed leadership in the area of climate and the environment, including at COP 26 and in the recent Environment Act. The Government have also acknowledged the need for behaviour change across the board. We must all play our part. It is helpful to see government commitments to behaviour change summarised in the Library briefing for this debate. To give one example, the Minister said in your Lordships’ House last year that the Government wanted,

“to make it easier and more affordable for people to shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle while at the same time maintaining freedom of choice and fairness”.—[Official Report, 16/09/21; col. 1571.]

The committee takes a broadly similar view. We know that the public are looking for stronger leadership from the Government in this area. Some 85% of the general public are concerned or very concerned about climate change, double the number from 2016. However, the committee found a very significant gap between what the Government want to do and the leadership actually being offered. There are significant gaps in understanding the challenge from department to department. There is too little joined-up thinking and policy. There are quick wins not being adopted. There are massive areas for development and new policy, particularly around domestic heating, which is the subject of our next inquiry. The leadership and committee structures within government are opaque. There is a lack of expertise and knowledge within government. There has been no real attempt at public information and engagement campaigns. Confusion and discord over public guidance on energy-saving tips for this winter have been reported in just the last week. The party leadership debate that we had over the summer raised real questions about the new Government’s commitment to net zero, which were being worked through yesterday in the other place.

Our report offers a set of recommendations to the Government in this area of leadership. Other speakers will no doubt have other questions to the Minister on other aims. Can the Minister reassure us that the Government will take these concerns and questions seriously and will put real energy, creativity and determination into the process of supporting behaviour change into the future and as a matter of great urgency?