Last week I was delighted to take part in a debate on climate change ahead of the vital UNFCC climate talks in Paris which start this week. In June, as shadow secretary of state for energy and climate change I led a debate on this topic on the first opposition day of the parliament. The more recent debate gave us the chance to step back and ask what has happened since June.
To start with we now have 156 intended nationally determined contributions submitted by countries that are attending the talks. While we know these submissions do not achieve the crucial target of keeping us under two degrees of warming, significant progress has been made. The bilateral agreement between the United States and China is one important step that would not have been taken without this process. When we think of the many years fighting for climate action, and the long road from Kyoto, we know this is no small step. But we also now realise that we have a long way to go, as the opposition of India and Saudi Arabia to a review mechanism in the G20 communique shows.
I would still like to see the European Union raise its ambition from at least a 40 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 to 50 per cent, in line with our own targets. I hope the prime minister can press this point, but you have to wonder whether the amount of political capital he is expending on the renegotiations he is carrying out to placate his backbenchers harms his ability to do that. And even then any leadership on this could be questioned by his own secretary of state, who said that the United Kingdom should cease to play a leadership role and move ‘in step’ with the rest of the world.
Since the election a number of policy changes are affecting our ability to meet climate change targets and to create new investment and jobs. We have seen the two cheapest forms of renewables undermined, onshore wind and solar. The Green Deal has been axed and nothing to replace it leaving a gaping hole in this country’s energy efficiency plans. Zero Carbon Homes have been scrapped, which I remember from my time as a housing minister was a crucial policy for getting construction companies to think about how to make the homes we live in more efficient and better insulated. Renewables have been forced to pay the climate change levy, an absurd move which I opposed as shadow secretary of state. And the contracts for difference auction has been delayed, further damaging jobs and investment.
The news that a date has been set for phasing out unabated coal generation is welcome, as we know coal is the biggest emitter and the dirtiest pollutant. But sadly the government has given up on CCS which we need for industrial processes like steel production as well as for electricity generation, but was cut in the autumn statement. The last six months have been disappointing, and the policy framework and certainty just is not there to deliver the deep decarbonisation that we need to see.
As chair of the Labour’s backbench committee on energy and climate change, I want to ensure that members of parliament from across the parliamentary Labour party come together to hold the government to account for their failings. We are all hoping for a strong deal in Paris – then we want to see the government deliver at home.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
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