Net-zero Carbon Emissions: Behaviour Change DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Baroness BlackstoneMain Page: Baroness Blackstone (Labour Independent - Life peer)
(1 month ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness for bringing this topic to the Chamber this afternoon and for her excellent speech.
Up to now, most of the adaptations and changes required to reduce carbon emissions have been done to us, or for us, by the Government or have been as a result of business decisions. For example, all the changes in the means of production for energy have been done for us. We have hardly been aware of those changes—unless, of course, like me, noble Lords have solar panels on their roof. Only now are we starting to get to the more difficult bits, such as starting to change how we heat our homes.
There are exceptions. For example, we have adapted to paying for plastic bags; as a result, we use far fewer of them. Most of us could talk at length about local recycling schemes, the differences between them and the benefits of some of them. However, the lessons of those two examples are that it takes a long time to bed in change in our behaviour. We face a climate emergency. The big question is: is 2050 early enough for net zero? There is real doubt about that. The answer? Probably not. The longer it takes to start, the more radical the changes must be.
In the time I have, I will concentrate on transport because it is the single biggest sector for CO2 emissions. It is also the only sector where, in recent decades, emissions have not fallen despite technological improvements. Earlier this summer, the Government produced a welcome transport decarbonisation plan. Unfortunately, it started with a complete fallacy. It said that we can carry on doing everything we currently do and that technology will make the changes we need to reach net zero. This argument was even applied to aviation.
The problem with transport is that we all want to travel more, not less. The pandemic has given us pause for thought and demonstrated that a lot of our travel can be avoided. During the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about finding new, healthy and environmentally friendly ways in which to live and work. Now that the Government think the pandemic is over, their rhetoric has immediately pressed us to get back to the office despite the fact that we have demonstrated that we can do a great deal of work without being in the office. Fortunately, many employers and employees are resisting this, but trains, the Tube and buses are crowded again and our roads are very congested, with traffic volumes up to and beyond pre-pandemic levels because people are now reluctant to use public transport. We were beginning to see the switch to public transport, but that has regressed.
There is a saying: “Never waste a crisis.” The danger is that the Government will waste this one by not seizing the moment and not capitalising on the pause that the pandemic created. There is every reason to review, for example, business travel because Zoom can do much of it without the same waste of time or CO2. There are major opportunities for change, but we are also at a dangerous point because we are no longer bound to the EU where the rules have set world standards for so long. We must not allow ourselves to slide back from that.
Specifically, there is the problem of time lag. Vehicles manufactured today will still be on our roads in 20 years’ time. The time lag is even greater for buses, planes and ships. The Government need to influence what we buy and use now. We are buying enormous modern SUVs. The Government also need to influence how we drive them. We need information so that we understand all the implications of our behaviour. All social revolution needs this; it needed it for drink-driving, seatbelt-wearing and smoking. We must have government information backed up with regulations to give us a nudge. We need taxation to encourage us not to buy SUVs, to ensure that aviation tax is reformed and to discourage frequent flyers. We need regulation change; for example, to encourage us to drive more slowly.
We face an emergency, and emergencies require urgency. The rain is falling on the ice caps now. Belgium as well as Bangladesh face people dying in flash floods. It is not enough to plan for tomorrow. The Government need to plan for today, utilise the expertise of our universities, our scientists and throughout the Civil Service, and ensure that we have an effective public debate.
My Lords, I want first to express my appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for her excellent contribution and for securing this debate on this extremely important subject. There were some splendid contributions from all sides of the House, and I hope to address as many of the points raised as possible.
There is no doubt that achieving our net-zero target will be a shared endeavour, requiring action from everyone in society—from people, businesses and government. This Government absolutely accept this and are determined for the UK to play its part in upholding the Paris Agreement and our net-zero commitment, particularly in the run-up to COP 26. The Government agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that net zero can be achieved only through engagement with the public and changing behaviours. As he observed, we are also publishing other world-leading strategies, such as the hydrogen strategy and the transport decarbonisation plan. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that the Government share her concern about the urgency of tackling climate change. I particularly liked her quote that there is no silver bullet and only silver buckshot—I know that she will be opposed to shooting, but I liked the analogy anyway.
In June 2021, the UK Government set the sixth carbon budget at 965 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent, which is a world-leading target which will see a 78% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 compared to those in 1990. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, pointed out, this is how the Government intend to lead by example on climate change. This target is in line with the latest science, as the level recommended by our expert advisers at the Climate Change Committee, and consistent with the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees centigrade and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees centigrade. The target would achieve well over half of the required emissions reductions from now to 2050 in the next 15 years.
This is a huge commitment which the Government are working flat out to achieve. Already our emissions are down by almost 44% across the last 30 years, and our economy has grown by 78% in that same period. If the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, does not like the economic growth, perhaps she will like the emissions reductions we have managed to achieve at the same time. The net-zero strategy, which we will publish ahead of COP 26—a number of noble Lords asked me about that—will set out our vision for transitioning to a net-zero economy. This strategy will build on ambitious plans already published in the past 12 months across key sectors of the economy, including the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, which mobilises £12 billion of government investment, the energy White Paper, the transport decarbonisation plan, the industrial decarbonisation strategy and the hydrogen strategy.
These strategies deliver on many of the recommendations made by Climate Assembly UK, which a number of noble Lords referred to. The assembly called for a green recovery; the 10-point plan is the Government’s plan for a green recovery, delivering high-skilled green jobs. The assembly called for more wind and solar power; we will quadruple the capacity of offshore wind to 40 gigawatts by 2030. The assembly called for a faster transition to net-zero emissions vehicles; we will end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030. The assembly called for the Government to invest in low-carbon buses and trains; this plan commits to a £4.2 billion investment in city public transport and £5 billion on buses, cycling and walking. The assembly called for the Government to speed up progress on low-carbon aviation—I know this is of particular interest to my noble friend Lord Kirkhope; this plan commits to research projects for zero-emissions planes and sustainable aviation fuels. The assembly recommended maintaining and restoring our natural environment; our plan committed to £40 million for a second round of the green recovery challenge fund.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn referred to the importance of enabling everyone in society to contribute to achieving the net-zero target. I agree with him. We want 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. These are two of the key principles also recommended by Climate Assembly UK. The Government are already taking steps to do exactly this.
For example, we are continuing to engage with key cycling and walking organisations to develop a behavioural change campaign aligned with our cycling and walking investment strategy action plan. We have funded digital tools that can support people in reducing their carbon footprint, including the Simple Energy Advice service, which can help people reduce energy use in their home, and the “Go Ultra Low” website, which provides information and advice on electric vehicles. We are supporting motorists buying electric vehicles through the plug-in car grant, which provides up to £2,500 for those making the switch to electric cars—I hope my noble friend Lord Kirkhope was able to take advantage of this Government’s generosity for his new purchase. As well as this, in partnership with industry we have supported the installation of nearly 25,000 publicly available charging devices in what is now one of the largest networks in Europe.
The forthcoming food strategy White Paper will build on existing work across government and identify new opportunities to make the food system healthier, more sustainable, more resilient and more accessible for those across the United Kingdom. Defra has also committed to a substantial update of the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services, which provide a framework of mandatory and best practice standards for public sector procurers. This update will look to strengthen the emphasis on local procurement, SMEs, high procurement standards and sustainable, healthy produce.
Reaching net zero will require not only changes to our energy systems and substantial new low-carbon infrastructure but shifts, as individuals, in how we travel, what we buy and how we use energy in our homes. Given this, we will need to engage with the public on the changes required to deliver this ambition and listen very closely to their feedback. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, asked whether we could create a national debate on how everyone can contribute to the country achieving net zero, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, stressed the importance of informing people about it. To respond to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, in the net-zero strategy, which will be published ahead of COP 26, we will communicate our approach to public engagement and supporting the public to make green choices.
Many people from all over the UK are already doing their bit on climate change. With the Together for Our Planet campaign we aim to celebrate this and inspire more people to join them. The campaign is building momentum in the lead-up to COP 26 by showcasing how people across the United Kingdom are going one step greener to tackle climate change. We are working across government and with numerous commercial partners. Our 26 “One Step Greener” champions and campaign will show how taking one step can have a positive impact on the environment, encouraging the general public also to do their bit, however large or small. We are also working with small businesses across the UK to support their journey towards becoming greener and more sustainable. This aims to create a mass movement of small green steps across the country in the lead-up to COP 26 to raise awareness of climate issues and launch a powerful legacy campaign to drive long-term behavioural change.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, stressed the importance of empowering citizens to hold the Government to account and share their views. We have already increased our engagement with the public on policies for net zero. Since 2019, we have run deliberative dialogues on a range of net-zero topics, including net-zero societal change, homes and heating, hydrogen and the transport decarbonisation plan. I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that we will continue to monitor and evaluate public engagement to ensure effectiveness. We already track public views on climate change on a regular basis, for example through the BEIS Public Attitudes Tracker, which is published every quarter.
The noble Baroness also asked how we can engage with hard-to-reach citizens. BEIS has commissioned research from the Carbon Trust, with leading academics, which is exploring how the UK can reach net zero in a fair, socially inclusive way. I know this will also be of interest to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. A key part of this will be advice and recommendations on how we best ensure that vulnerable and underrepresented groups can have their voices heard. Furthermore, findings from Climate Assembly UK have formed a valuable addition to the Government’s evidence base on assessing the UK public’s understanding, attitudes and perceptions around net zero.
The noble Baroness also asked whether the Government have assessed work on climate change assemblies undertaken in countries such as Scotland and France. I can confirm that we have been closely monitoring national and local citizens’ assemblies and officials have met the organisers and facilitators of these initiatives. In September 2020, we invited the Climate Assembly UK expert leads to present the assembly’s findings to officials. Over 400 officials attended these briefings.
In the lead-up to COP 26, as I have said, we will publish a comprehensive net-zero strategy which sets out the Government’s vision for transitioning to a net-zero economy, making the most of the new growth and employment opportunities across the UK. My noble friend Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, asked whether the net-zero strategy will include a public engagement strategy. This also addresses the points of the noble Lord, Lord Oates. I confirm again that, through this strategy, we will communicate our approach on public engagement, supporting the public to make green choices. The strategy will mark an important moment, where our priority shifts towards setting out a clear plan for delivery, which will allow us to look beyond COP, outlining a sustained effort to tackle climate change in the longer term.
To address the points raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady Bull, the national curriculum provides the knowledge that pupils need to help address climate change in the future, while schools have the autonomy to go into as much depth on these subjects as they see fit. In citizenship, pupils are taught about the wider world and the interdependence of communities within it. At primary school, pupils are taught about what improves and harms their local, natural and built environments. More detailed content on climate change is included in geography and science. Certainly I have been receiving in my postbag an increasing number of letters that children have written in their classrooms. DfE has established a Sustainability and Climate Change Unit, which is preparing a change strategy. This will likely look at topics such as education and skills for a changing world, taking into account net zero, resilience to climate change and how to create a better environment for future generations.
In addition, we established a Green Jobs Taskforce, working with industry, unions and skills providers to advise on how we can develop plans for new, long-term, good-quality green jobs, and support workers to transition from high-carbon sectors. Its independent report, published in July, will feed into and inform our net-zero strategy.
The Government are committed to publishing a heat and building strategy later this year; I think it was my noble friend Lord Kirkhope who asked me about that. The strategy will set a comprehensive set of actions that will set the way for net zero in heat and buildings by 2050, with a real focus on the action needed in this decade to reach our interim targets.
Moving on to transport—a topic raised particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and others—we published the first plan in the world to set transport on a path to net zero by 2050: the transport decarbonisation plan. Enabling people to use public transport, to walk or to cycle is one of the plan’s six strategic priorities. Backed by a £2 billion package of investment, we are committed to establishing a world-class cycling and walking network in England by 2040, delivering on the Prime Minister’s bold vision that he announced last summer. This plan also commits that we will deliver a net-zero rail network by 2050, with sustained carbon reductions in rail along the way, by supporting new technologies such as hydrogen or battery trains and removing diesel-only trains. We also want to get more people on to trains, and we are building extra capacity on the network and working with industry to modernise fares, ticketing and retail to encourage a shift to rail.
To address the points raised by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford on international leadership, in addition to the action we are taking at home, we remain committed to demonstrating global leadership in tackling climate change. It is a global challenge and, of course, no country can tackle it alone. There is a clear need for countries across the world to do more. We have strong relationships with key emitters—including India and China—on climate, and we work closely with their Governments on a range of mutually beneficial programmes, with the aim of reducing emissions while also improving their resilience to climate change. Of course, we will continue to push for more ambition globally as the host of COP 26.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, for his views on the quality of life and how net zero will be beneficial for all. He referred to the importance of enabling youth to drive climate action, and I agree: it will be key to listen to their concerns. Therefore, we have a dedicated youth engagement team which is co-ordinating the UK Government’s strategy to ensure that youth voices are heard at COP 26 and in its legacy.
Inclusive public engagement that gives representation to different groups’ diverse needs and interests, as well as their meaningful participation in decision-making, is vital to inform the design and implementation of successful net-zero policies. Public engagement can help build awareness, acceptability and uptake of sustainable behaviours over the longer term. Therefore, we are increasing our work on public engagement on net zero, both in communicating the challenge and giving people a say in shaping our future policies.
I hope I have been able to provide at least some reassurance to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone.