Greg Hands – 2022 Statement on the Net Zero High Court Ruling

The statement made by Greg Hands, the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, in the House of Commons on 21 July 2022.

Over the past three decades, the UK has driven down emissions by more than 45%— the fastest reduction of any G7 country. We have one of the most ambitious carbon-reduction plans in the world, pledging to reduce emissions by at least 68% by 2030 and by 77% by 2035, compared with 1990 levels, before of course reaching net zero by 2050. Our track record speaks for itself: the UK overachieved against the first carbon budget and exceeded the second by nearly 14%. The latest projections show that we are on track to meet the third carbon budget as well.

In its judgment on the judicial review of the net zero strategy, the High Court found that Government had not complied with Climate Change Act 2008 in relation to some specific procedural issues and the level of analysis published as part of the 164-page net zero strategy. I stress that the judge has made no criticism about the substance of our plans to meet net zero, which are well on track. Indeed, even the claimants in the case described the net zero strategy as “laudable”. The independent Climate Change Committee described the net zero strategy as

“an ambitious and comprehensive strategy that marks a significant step forward for UK climate policy”

and as

“the world’s most comprehensive plan to reach Net Zero”.

We are now considering the implications of the Court judgment and deciding whether to appeal. As we do this, our focus will remain resolutely on supporting people in the face of globally high energy prices and on boosting our energy security. Our recent British energy security strategy—launched by the Prime Minister—which puts Great Britain at the leading edge of the global energy revolution, will deliver a more independent, more secure energy system and support consumers to manage their energy bills.

Kerry McCarthy

Let us be clear: we are here because the High Court has ruled that the Government’s net zero strategy is unlawful and is in breach of the Climate Change Act. The Climate Change Committee, which the Minister cites, said only a few weeks ago that the Government

“will not deliver Net Zero”

on current projections. Not only have the Government failed to set out the detail of how they will reach net zero, but Ministers cannot even do basic maths, because, as the High Court made clear, adding up the emissions cuts in the strategy will leave a 5% shortfall. How embarrassing that his Department must be dragged to court to hear what we have known for months—that the numbers simply do not stack up.

This week has made it clear why we have to act now. The country has suffered through a sweltering heatwave causing fires across the country and infrastructure failure. But at a crucial time, this Government are directionless and collapsing in on themselves. The High Court has ordered that a revised strategy must be presented by next March. That will be under a new Prime Minister. Yet the current candidates have made their views on net zero clear. One has spent two years in the Treasury blocking climate action that might have saved the Government this embarrassment; the other wants to scrap green levies.

So forgive me if I have little faith that the situation is set to improve—but it has to. We need to insulate millions of homes to slash emissions and bring down bills. We need a green sprint for renewable energy to wean ourselves off expensive fossil fuels. Labour will deliver that, and more, with our £28 billion climate investment pledge. That is what the public want and what the planet needs, so will the Government get their act together, meet their legal obligations, and finally deliver the green future that we need?

Greg Hands

I thank the hon. Lady for that set of questions. Let me first stress that the net zero strategy—I have it here—is a very comprehensive document with pages and pages of annexes as well. It would be well worth all Members re-reading it today. It is a comprehensive plan for meeting our climate targets, outlining measures to move to a green and sustainable future. The Court found that we had not complied with the Climate Change Act only in relation to specific procedural issues and the level of analysis published as part of the strategy. The judge agreed that it did not need to contain measures with quantifiable effects to enable the full 100% emissions reductions required. [Interruption.] We are talking here about a strategy for the next 28 years. Inevitably, there will be some evolution in the strategy, and inevitably there will need to be some flexibility in a strategy with a 28-year timeframe.

The hon. Lady asked about the Conservative leadership candidates. In all the hustings that I have been to—and I think I have been to almost all of them—all the candidates made strong commitments to meet net zero, including at the hustings chaired by her near neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore).

When it comes to net zero and climate change, I am not going to take any lessons from Labour, which is the party that said in 1997:

“We see no economic case for…new nuclear power stations.”

That has set us back decades. There is a reason why 11 of our 12 power stations are coming off-stream before the end of this decade: the decisions, or non-decisions, by the last Labour Government, who increased our dependence on gas from 32% to 46% of our electricity generation—which could only have cheered Vladimir Putin. On energy efficiency, we inherited a position where 14% of properties in this country were rated A to C. We have increased that to 46%. When we took office, renewables made up only 7% of our electricity generation mix. That is now at 43%. So I am going to take no lessons from Labour. It is this Government who are taking the tough decisions, including on Sizewell yesterday, and moving forward on renewable energy and nuclear—not any of the Opposition parties.

Mr Speaker

We now come to SNP spokesperson Deidre Brock. [Interruption.] I am sorry. I did not think anybody was standing. I call David Duguid.

David Duguid (Banff and Buchan) (Con)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I did wonder if I had managed to catch your eye.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this Government, whoever leads them after the summer, will remain committed to the net zero by 2050 target, given that, as he rightly said, in successive hustings, all candidates confirmed their commitment to maintaining that target? Will he also confirm that the UK oil and gas companies are at the forefront of driving forward the energy transition through so many different initiatives, such as carbon capture and storage, which will be so important to the St Fergus gas terminal in my constituency?

Greg Hands

My hon. Friend is correct. He is always a strong voice for all the industries in his constituency, whether they be traditional oil and gas or those making the transition to carbon capture, utilisation and storage, hydrogen and so on. All these technologies will be crucial. The Climate Change Committee itself has said that carbon capture, utilisation and storage is “essential” to the achievement of our net zero goals. We remain on course to reach net zero by 2050 as a world leader, particularly under the COP presidency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma).