Debates between Lord Ravensdale and Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle

There have been 1 exchanges between Lord Ravensdale and Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle

1 Thu 6th February 2020 Climate Change
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
2 interactions (1,412 words)

Climate Change

Debate between Lord Ravensdale and Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, for bringing this important report to our attention. I agree with it on a couple of key areas: we must not be misled by techno-optimism. Techno-optimism leads us to think that we can have a business-as-usual approach and just change the technology behind it. It also suggests we can have a one-for-one replacement of fossil-fuel cars with electric cars when, instead, the vast bulk of the replacement has to come from walking, cycling and good, affordable, reliable and convenient public transport.

Some of that techno-optimism lies in the idea of carbon capture and storage, which, rather like nuclear fusion, is a fantasy that has been receding decades into the distance for a very long time. Similarly, there is the idea of off-setting. I was at the Bonn climate talks three years ago, where there was an understanding that off-setting was dead. We need nature-based solutions; we need to grow many more trees and to treat our land very differently, but that is as well as slashing our carbon emissions, not as an alternative. It cannot be a trade-off.

Where I disagree with this report is on the goal of either net-zero carbon or zero carbon by 2050. I know your Lordships’ House has found this a very stark message, but I would say, as the science and the IPCC say, that we have to get to those levels by 2030. We need much faster change. I also very much disagree with a particular aspect of the language of this report. It talks about “lifestyle change”, which suggests a focus on how individual people behave. In fact, many people have no choices in changing their behaviour, because they are forced by the system to act the way that they do now. There is no point in telling people to leave their car at home and catch the bus if there is no bus service; it cannot be done. That is true in so many cases—people cannot afford the locally grown, organic food because it is more expensive. What we need is system change.

Perhaps to add further to the pessimism, the climate emergency is just one of the planetary limits that we are running up against. We are also trashing our planet with the nature crisis—of biodiversity and bioabundance —we are filling our oceans with plastic and we are destroying our soils. Behind all that are, essentially, externalised costs. Our current economic system is built on some people—big multinational companies, by and large—drawing large amounts of profit, with all of us carrying the weight of the cost of the climate emergency. We need system change, not climate change. We have seen growth as an alternative to equality: the poor get the crumbs; the pie gets bigger and so they get a few more crumbs. That cannot continue. We cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.

Instead of techno-optimism—and to shift in tone—I want political optimism. That is what we can offer. In a democratic system we can offer people a better life: the green new deal and a just transition. The Minister will be very familiar with the phrase “levelling up”. We are talking about levelling up for the inequality of the north and other areas of the UK. That has been seen to mean more stuff—more high-energy transport—but let us think about levelling up life across the UK with a four-day working week as standard with no loss of pay. That can cut carbon emissions and improve people’s lives. Let us level up with affordable, reliable, convenient public transport. Let us level up with warm, affordable homes for everybody. This is the political optimism we can offer the people in a democracy to make the change.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for bringing COP 26 into this debate. This is the crucial position we are now in. What will the future remember about the United Kingdom? Almost nothing that has ever been said in this House, but if we deliver a successful COP 26 in Glasgow, it will be remembered as a crucial turning point in global history. If we fail, that also will be what history remembers about the United Kingdom. A number of noble Lords have referred to Donald Trump and Scott Morrison. To quote the Governor of Texas at the Bonn climate talks, “Donald Trump is not an excuse for any of you.”

Lord Ravensdale Portrait Lord Ravensdale (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for tabling this important and timely debate. I declare my interests as an engineer in the energy industry, specialising in nuclear, and a director of the cross-party group Peers for the Planet.

I am a techno-optimist, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. Maybe it is inherent in being an engineer. Oscar Wilde said:

“The basis of optimism is sheer terror”,

which feels appropriate in the context of the climate crisis. Although I believe the report’s approach is correct in looking at currently available technologies, there are two key omissions: first, viewing carbon capture and storage as a breakthrough rather than an incremental technology; and secondly, the nature of the absolute zero target due to the perceived lack of negative emissions options.

First, although the report is correct that carbon capture and storage technology is not yet being deployed at a meaningful scale, it is mature. I apologise for getting into the nuts and bolts somewhat, but a recent report from the Royal Society of Chemistry assessed the capture and transmission elements of CCS as being at a technology readiness level of 9, the highest available. The challenges are in the integration and scaling up of the technology.

It is quite common in these discussions to quote the glacial pace of previous energy transitions, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, as a reason that CCS cannot contribute to net zero, but in fact the current energy transition is proceeding at breakneck speed and will continue to do so. For example, gas went from a tiny fraction of our electricity generation mix to around 40% in less than 10 years. Wind got going only in the late 1990s, and look at where we are with that now. There is no reason why CCS cannot follow a similar path if the political will is there to do it. It is an oven-ready technology, as the Prime Minister might say.

Following on from CCS, bioenergy CCS is a negative emissions option currently being scaled up by industry, for example in the pilot at Drax power station. As with CCS, the key challenges are in the integration and scaling up of the technology. The Committee on Climate Change has done a lot of good work on bioenergy CCS. In its 2050 net-zero scenario, it estimates that bioenergy CCS could sequester around 35 megatonnes of CO2 per year, enough to counter the residual effects of the aviation industry. Afforestation can play a big part there as well.

The effect of these two technologies could really change the 2050 picture completely. The effects of cement and steel production would be mitigated because the emissions from those industries can be captured. Shipping and air travel could continue because their residual remissions can be offset by, for example, bioenergy CCS. Electricity production can increase through the use of CCS generation and an increase in the use of nuclear power, as the noble Lord, Lord Broers, mentioned. But that is not to underestimate the challenge. The Government need to move quickly by investing in CCS and getting pilot projects moving to define the commercial approach.

I turn now to talk briefly about the policy implications of CCS. Along with other firm power generation methods such as nuclear, which are needed for a least-cost electricity system, it suffers from being compared on a levelised cost of electricity basis with intermittent renewables, in terms of pounds per megawatt hour. The levelised cost of energy calculation is done at the point of generation, not at the point of use, so it does not take into account the system integration costs of intermittent generators, which are significant. The Committee on Climate Change estimates that these could be up to £20 per megawatt hour for high penetrations of renewables. Perhaps the Minister could comment on how the Government intend to address the shortcomings of levelised cost of energy metrics and move towards a level playing field for generation, because it is absolutely vital to recognise that not all generation technologies provide the same services to the system.