Ed Miliband – 2021 Speech on Net Zero Strategy

The speech made by Ed Miliband, the Labour MP for Doncaster North, in the House of Commons on 19 October 2021.

I thank the Minister for his statement, and send my warmest congratulations—as I have already done directly—to the Secretary of State on the birth of his new baby.

Let me start by saying that it is good that tackling the climate crisis is a shared national objective across the House, and that we want the Government to succeed at COP26 in just ten days’ time. However, there are two central questions about the strategy that has been published today: does it finally close the yawning gap between Government promises and delivery, and will it make the public investment which is essential to ensure that the green transition is fair and creates jobs? I am afraid that the answer to both questions, despite what the Minister said, is no. The plan falls short on delivery, and while there is modest short-term investment, there is nothing like the commitment that we believe is required—and we know why. When asked at the weekend about the Treasury’s approach to these issues, a source from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said:

“They are not climate change deniers but they are emphasising the short-term risks, rather than long-term needs”.

The Chancellor’s fingerprints are all over these documents, and not in a good way.

We have waited months for the heat and buildings strategy, but it is a massive let-down. We are in the midst of an energy price crisis caused by a decade of inaction. Emissions from buildings are higher than they were in 2015. The biggest single programme that could make a difference is a 10-year house-by-house, street-by-street retrofit plan to cut bills and emissions and ensure energy security. There are 19 million homes below EPC band C, but according to the best estimates of today’s proposals, they will help just a tiny fraction of that number. Indeed, there is not even a replacement for the ill-fated green homes grant for homeowners. Can the Minister explain where the long-term retrofit plan is? Did BEIS argue for it and get turned down by the Treasury, or did he not make the case?

According to the Government’s own target, we need 600,000 homes a year to be installing heat pumps by 2028, but the Government are funding just 30,000 a year, helping just one in 250 households on the gas grid. Why does the Minister’s plan on heat pumps fall so far short of what is required? As for transport, we agree with the transition to electric cars—and I support and welcome the zero emissions mandate—but we need to make it fair to consumers. We should at the very least have had long-term zero-interest loans to cut the costs of purchasing electric cars. What is the plan to make them accessible to all, and not just the richest? Will the Minister tell us that in his reply? On nuclear, I was surprised, given the advance publicity, that the word did not even cross the Minister’s lips. We have seen a decade of inaction and delay on this issue, so can he tell us why there is still no decision on new nuclear?

The failure to invest affects not just whether this transition is fair for consumers but workers in existing industries. Take steel: it will cost £6 billion for the steel industry to get to net zero over the next 15 years. If we want a steel industry—as we do across the House—we will need to share the costs with the private sector. However, there is nothing for steel in this document, and a £250 million clean steel fund some way down the road will not cut it. Can he give us his estimates of the needs of the steel industry and how he thinks they can be met?

The same is true of investing in new industries such as hydrogen. There is a global race in these areas and I am afraid that the UK is not powering ahead but falling behind. Germany is offering €9 billion for a new hydrogen strategy; the UK is offering £240 million, and we are putting off decisions until later in the decade. We see the same pattern across the board, including on land use, industry and transport, and because of this failure to invest, there remains a chasm between promises and delivery.

Finally, it was noticeable that the Minister did not say that the plan would meet the target for the 2035 sixth carbon budget, but surely that is a basic prerequisite of the strategy to 2050. At less than halfway to net zero, do the policies in this document meet the target, or fall short of it? Despite hundreds of pages of plans, strategies and hot air, there is still a chasm between the Government’s rhetoric and the reality? My fear is that the plan will not deliver the fair, prosperous transition that we need and that is equal to the scale of the emergency we face.