Chris Skidmore – 2019 Statement on Climate Change

Below is the text of the statement made by Chris Skidmore, the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, in the House of Commons on 24 June 2019.

I beg to move,

That the draft Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019, which was laid before this House on 12 June, be approved.

It is an honour to be in the House debating this order less than two weeks after this seminal legislation was laid in Parliament. I should say that I stand here as the interim Minister for Energy and Clean Growth—as an understudy to my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry). It is a tribute to her efforts that we are debating this measure today. I am sure that she would have dearly loved to be at the Dispatch Box speaking to it herself. I pay tribute to her work, her industry, and, above all, her passion, which is testament to the legislation that is being taken through today.

The draft order would amend the 2050 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target in the Climate Change Act 2008 from at least 80% to at least 100%. That target, otherwise known as net zero, would constitute a legally binding commitment to end the United Kingdom’s contribution to climate change.

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a sobering report on the impact of global warming at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. In that report, it made clear that a target set to limit global warming at 2°C above pre-industrial levels was no longer enough. It made clear that by limiting warming to 1.5°C, we may be able to mitigate some of the effects on health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth. It made clear that countries across the world, including the United Kingdom, would need to do more. The House has heard of the great progress we have made in tackling climate change together, cross-party, and how we have cut emissions by 42% since 1990 while growing the economy by 72%.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)

When Greta Thunberg was in Parliament a few weeks ago, she called on politicians to be honest at all times. Does the Minister agree that it is a bit misleading to suggest that we deserve great credit because we have reduced emissions by 42% since 1990, since we have done that primarily by outsourcing a huge amount of our manufacturing emissions to other countries? We do not account for our consumption emissions, and if we did, our success would look rather less rosy than he has just presented.

Chris Skidmore

The draft order builds on a framework of legislation set in 2008; I see the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) in his place, who introduced that legislation. We have always recognised as a country that we are on a journey towards reducing our carbon emissions. That journey includes ensuring that we show global leadership and demonstrate to other countries that are not cutting their carbon emissions the need to do so. Above all, we recognise the need to do so sustainably and to ensure that we can continue to grow our economy. The last thing we want to do is reduce our carbon emissions at the risk of increasing unemployment and shrinking the economy. We have taken the independent advice of the Committee on Climate Change, which has demonstrated how we can do so not only sustainably but, importantly, in a just transition. It is important for some of the poorest in society that we have a just transition towards net zero.​

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab)

Does the Minister agree that the Government, as the largest purchaser of goods and services in the country, should also be a net zero purchaser and provider of services? That means a root-and-branch change of the way that government— local, national and quangos—procure what they buy for taxpayers.

Chris Skidmore

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and for the leadership she has shown on the Environmental Audit Committee. I will come on to how the independent Committee on Climate Change produced its response, but it set out clearly a range of scenarios involving a net zero transition and what action would be needed in industry, within society and among individuals to go from 80% to 100%.

We have set carbon budgets 1 to 5 to take us to 2032. Carbon budget 6, which will lead to 2037, will be set by June 2021 at the latest. It is important to recognise that we all have a role. Government especially have a role not only in legislating today, to ensure that we set the policy framework for achieving net zero, but in demonstrating each and every one of its Departments’ commitment to net zero. Her Majesty’s Treasury will conduct a review over the summer, as we move towards the spending review, of the impacts on business, society and across the public sector of the need to decarbonise swiftly and securely.

As part of that progress and the pathway towards net zero, we will be publishing an energy White Paper in the summer. A variety of different documents will be published, but I take the hon. Lady’s point; when it comes to the public sector, we will need to show leadership. We will need to be able to explain or change and to set out how all different areas of society will meet future carbon budgets—whether that is carbon budget 6, 7 or 8—on the road towards net zero.

Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)

Will the Minister give way?

Chris Skidmore

I have given way a significant number of times, and this will be the last intervention for a while so that I can make progress with my speech.

Dr Drew

The Minister will know that the NFU has set a target for earlier than 2050. At the very least will he look at options for bringing forward the date by which we should be able to meet the target of net zero emissions?

Chris Skidmore

We have obviously taken advice on the 2050 target from the independent Committee on Climate Change, which has suggested that at the moment 2050 is the earliest possible date for reaching net zero. Obviously, we are the first G7 country to make that commitment to 2050. Other economies, such as Norway, have committed to 2038. As part of the Government’s local industrial strategy, the Greater Manchester area committed, just last week, to a net zero target by 2038. I welcome the NFU’s commitment, but what we are saying as a Government is that all agencies across society will need to take action.

We welcome the NFU’s leadership on agricultural emissions and looking at how the agricultural sector can be decarbonised. However, when it comes to the framework of the Climate Change Act, as the right hon. Member for Doncaster North highlighted during the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary ​of State, the review mechanism is built into the legislation to allow us the opportunity to review the target in five years. When it comes to the overall cost—and some hon. Members may wish to reflect on the costs of going from 80% to 100%—the review mechanism is important. The Committee on Climate Change has recommended that the overall cost envelope of reaching net zero be the same as the 80% envelope, because since the original 80% target was set out, the costs of renewables and other technology have come down.

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con)

My hon. Friend is making a hugely important point. Earlier he talked about the need to balance the need to reduce emissions with concerns about jobs. Does he agree that we have already seen the creation of 400,000 low-carbon jobs in this country, and that by leading the transition to a clean economy—which will happen whether we like it or not—there will be even more opportunities for job creation in the future?

Chris Skidmore

I thank my hon. Friend for making that excellent point, and he is right. When we consider any impact on wider society of introducing this legislation over the next few decades, while we may see short-term costs from the transformation, we need to look at the investment opportunities that will be created by new green jobs, which are expected to rise from the 400,000 figure he mentions to 2 million by 2030, potentially creating an economy worth over £150 billion in the longer term. It is important that that investment is recognised, because we want the UK to lead the world in future technologies such as carbon capture and storage. The legislation today provides a catalytic moment for us to look at how we can achieve this target and to invest for the future. The Treasury review will lead into the spending review and we will wish to look at how we can continue to invest in clean growth as a technology.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

I congratulate the Government on bringing this proposal forward and assure him of my party’s support. I want to put that on record today. This issue is a topic of conversation every day in my office: it has become that sort of issue. Will the Minister outline how he intends to bring businesses along on the climate change agenda and ensure that they are encouraged, rather than forced, to make small changes that could make lasting changes globally? It would be great to bring small businesses along, as it would be a step in the right direction.

Chris Skidmore

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his leadership on the issue. We have had several conversations in the past few weeks on the legislation, but he is right that we have to take a whole of the United Kingdom approach to this. I know that it is more difficult for certain industries to make the changes that are needed, but for small businesses and those groups that we know will have questions or difficulties in making the transition, we will want to be able to set that out clearly. The energy White Paper will be published shortly, as the first in a series of documents to demonstrate the changes and consultations that we need. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that those consultations will allow the voice of small business to be heard in this debate. It is possible to achieve the changes, and we want to make sure that small businesses feel reassured of that.​

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend welcome the support of the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce, the NFU, the Royal Academy of Engineering and many household-name companies, because the legislation will give them certainty about investment so that they can benefit from the growth in our economy? It really is not only achievable to reach net zero by 2050, but affordable.

Chris Skidmore

I thank my hon. Friend for putting on record the wide range of support from many companies that have written to the Prime Minister and set out their own ambitious targets. I feel a bit like the BBC when it comes to whether I should name certain companies rather than others, but I know that many food manufacturers and retail corporations—big names on the high street—have already made the commitment to 2050. We are following in their footsteps as a Government and Parliament to provide the legislation today. My hon. Friend is right: the legislative framework will provide long-term security for those companies to begin their transitions.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab)

Within the Government, there are many different estimates of the impact on jobs and the cost to the Treasury. Why do we not have an impact assessment for this statutory instrument? That would be good regulatory and legislative practice.

Chris Skidmore

The way that the legislation from the Climate Change Act 2008 has been framed means that impact assessments are not needed specifically for the SI. We did not have an impact assessment when we moved from 60% to 80%, because the risk is incumbent on Government in making the legislation. The impact assessments that are needed under the framework of the Act arise through the carbon budgets themselves. We have already legislated for carbon budgets 1 to 5, to 2032. The framework for carbon budget 6 will be recommended by the independent Committee on Climate Change ready for next year: it needs to be implemented by June 2020. There will be a full impact assessment on the next period, 2032 to 2037.

Following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), it is the carbon budget process that needs the certainty in place for businesses and society to plan ahead. Any impact assessments that are made will reflect carbon budgets 6, 7 and 8. The Treasury is also taking forward its own independent impact assessment of the wider costs to business and society. That work is ongoing and will be presented at the time of the spending review.

Mrs Kemi Badenoch (Saffron Walden) (Con)

Many of my constituents, especially schoolchildren, will be delighted by this announcement, but others are rightly sceptical about the costs. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the plan will be achievable and affordable?

Chris Skidmore

My hon. Friend is right that the legislation today is not simply about warm words or passing a law. We need to be able to demonstrate the action that lies beneath it. Action will come relatively quickly with the publication of an energy White Paper in the summer that will look at the future of our energy ​supply, at a household level and an industrial level, and the energy network itself. The White Paper will demonstrate the action that the Government are taking and it will lead to a series of future consultations.

In order to lead the debate on climate change and demonstrate the global leadership that the UK wishes to have, it is right that the process highlights the need for clean growth. That is not oxymoronic: we can grow the economy at the same time as removing greenhouse gases from our atmosphere and ensuring that new, greener technologies and more renewable forms of energy come on board. It is right that we lead that conversation, that we reassure those who may be concerned about the future, and that we take action to demonstrate to those businesses worried about any economic impact that this transition is both just and sustainable.

Sir Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con)

This measure is not long overdue but it is welcome, and I believe it will be very popular right across the country. Has my hon. Friend looked at the interim report of the all-party parliamentary group on British bioethanol, which proposes that E10 petrol should be introduced as standard in the UK, as it is in most parts of Europe, America and Australia? That would reduce carbon emissions from standard petrol by the equivalent of 700,000 cars; it would save jobs in the north-east of England, where the two British bioethanol plants are based; and it would be cleaner in terms of pollution. It would, of course, be a temporary measure while we introduce more electric cars, but is it not overdue?

Chris Skidmore

My right hon. and learned Friend has also raised that point with me in private, and I am happy to raise the issue of bioethanol with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has responsibility for agriculture. It is important to reflect that, as part of a grand challenge in our industrial strategy, we have set out a number of missions on the future of mobility and transport in our cities, including the reduction of congestion, the introduction of electric vehicles and the adaptation of battery technology. I was delighted to visit Warwick Manufacturing Group on Friday, to discuss the advances it has made with lithium batteries. We must do that because of the need to reduce not just carbon emissions but air pollution; we know that tens of thousands of people are literally dying as a result of air pollution in our streets and cities, so the impact we make today is not just for 2050 but for now.

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab)

The Government have committed to phasing out new sales of the internal combustion engine by 2040. My Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has recommended that the date be brought forward by almost a decade, if there is to be any chance of meeting the commitment of net zero by 2050. Will the Minister look again at the phasing out of the internal combustion engine, so that we can get more electric vehicles on our roads and bring down carbon emissions?

Chris Skidmore

I could not agree more with the hon. Lady: we want to see the greatest possible transition, as fast as possible, to electric and hybrid vehicles for the future, but we have to be able to do it in a sustainable way. We have to ensure that electric vehicle technology, including batteries and other opportunities, moves with ​us at the same time. Other countries have moved faster than us, and I recognise the points the hon. Lady makes, but what is important is that we begin this discussion about how we can achieve that. There are a number of policy measures by which we can do it. There is also a supply-side as well as a demand-side issue when it comes to electric vehicle technology, and we need to be able to work on both sides of that economic argument in order to increase the number of electric vehicles on our roads. There are issues about charging points, which I also recognise. We need to do it in a sustainable and affordable way that ensures that we can continue a transformation of the economy.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Ind)

I would really welcome an earlier shift towards electric cars and electric bikes, but is it not the case that, where possible, we really need to be getting people out of their cars altogether and encouraging greater use of cycling and walking? Will the Minister assure me that there will be increased investment in cycling and walking?

Chris Skidmore

I will get back to my speech in a moment. It is important that the Government are able to set out a pathway for considering the range of responsibilities across society, and that will encourage a range of individual actions. The Committee on Climate Change is the lead independent committee whose advice the Government have taken in order to legislate today. It has set out a range of future possibilities to reach net zero, many of which include individual actions for reaching the final 4%, but this is about system change and decarbonising our energy and heating systems, both domestically and industrially. There are a large number of areas where we will need to take action across society, and we need to be able to take that action now.

Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD) rose—

Chris Skidmore

I have been generous in taking interventions—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)

Order. If I might help the Minister and, indeed, the House, the Minister has been very generous in giving way and a great many Members have intervened on him. Perhaps the House is not aware that this debate has been allocated 90 minutes. That means that we will stop at 13 minutes past 7, which is only just over an hour away. Every time somebody intervenes, they take away the time of Members who have been sitting patiently, waiting to make speeches.

Please do not be angry with the Minister for not giving way. He has been very generous and I am going to encourage him not to extend his generosity much further.

Chris Skidmore

The Committee on Climate Change has told us quite clearly that ending the UK’s contribution to global warming is now within reach. It has advised that a net zero emissions target is necessary, because climate change is the single most important issue facing us; that it is feasible, because we can get there using technologies and approaches that exist, enabling us to continue to grow our economy and to maintain and improve our quality of life; and that it is affordable, because it can be achieved at a cost equivalent of 1% to 2% of GDP in 2050. As I have said, owing to falling costs, that is the same cost envelope that this Parliament accepted for an 80% target. That is before taking into ​account the many benefits for households and businesses—from improved air quality, to new green-collar jobs. I applaud the committee for the quality, breadth and analytical rigour of its advice.

Recent months and weeks have been a time of huge and growing interest in how we tackle the defining challenge of climate change. Calls for action have come from all generations and all parts of society—from Greta Thunberg to David Attenborough, from schoolchildren to women’s institutes. My message today is, “As a Parliament we hear you, and we are taking action.”

This country has long been a leader in tackling climate change. Thirty years ago, Mrs Thatcher was the first global leader to acknowledge at the United Nations

“what may be early signs of man-induced climatic change.”

Eleven years ago, this House passed the ground-breaking Climate Change Act, the first legislation in the world to set legally binding, long-term targets for reducing emissions. The Act, passed with strong cross-party support, created a vital precedent on climate: listen to the science, focus on the evidence, and pursue deliverable solutions.

Today we can make history again, as the first major economy in the world to commit to ending our contribution to global warming forever. I ask Members on both sides of the House to come together today in the same spirit and to support this draft legislation, which I commend to the House.