I echo the words of the last speaker, the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), about how monumental the decisions will be that need to be taken this November, because November’s COP26 in Glasgow is a historic opportunity for Britain to provide leadership to the world on climate change.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) and his colleagues on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, who have produced detailed reports that should be influencing the Cabinet Office and shaping the agenda in the run-up to COP26. Scientists and climate experts are urging the Government to lead the way in adopting ambitious deadlines for achieving net zero along with shorter-term interim targets, and it is those targets that are vital. The former Prime Minister committed the UK Government to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The BEIS Committee said last week that
“no details have yet been provided on how success will be measured”
for COP 26. We cannot achieve significant carbon reductions by empty words, good PR or grandiose declarations. It takes action.
I have to say, last week’s Budget does not give us much hope of demonstrating world leadership. In fact, for some of us, it is a cause of despair and shame. The decisions by the Government to freeze fuel duty and to dig a new coalmine, and the pathetic scale of the Government’s environmental policies are a dereliction of duty to the planet and to future generations. It is a failure of Government, who could have acted to create hundreds of thousands of climate jobs in areas from wind turbines to tidal lagoons, from electric car charge points to tree planting, but there was no evidence of the scale of investment and scale of ambition that the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West called for. Instead of tying corporate tax breaks and investment write-offs to clear climate criteria, the giveaways announced in the Budget could hinder, rather than help our carbon reduction strategy.
The verdict of Richard Black from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit was that this was
“a Budget that didn’t even try to get the Conservatives on track to their net zero target”.
Today, there are reports that the Government will cut air passenger duty on domestic flights. Frankly, I would struggle to find a more regressive policy, and I speak as somebody who represents a constituency with Heathrow in it. I would struggle to find something that is more regressive than encouraging domestic aviation before we have had that debate and discussion and the development of the environmental aviation strategy.
It is crystal clear to me that this Government have no co-ordinated plan and no cross-departmental agenda to drive the decarbonisation that we seek. This is not just my view, but that of the Public Accounts Committee, which has been quoted. The PAC published a report on achieving net zero with the brutal conclusion, “Government lacks a plan”. Never have four words better summed up an Administration than that.
In terms of the modest 2050 target, the Committee said, damningly:
“there is little sign that it”—
“understands how to get there”.
I will raise just one other point from the report, which said:
“Local authorities will also play a major role in the move to net zero, and Government will need to engage more with local authorities about how they can contribute”.
The irony is that today we learned that across the country more than two dozen councils are on the brink of bankruptcy, stripped of the funding to provide the statutory services their communities need, let alone the funding they need to take on the challenge of climate change.
The autumn statement is expected to be delivered on the eve of COP26. I just say to the Government that we hope for something better then. Otherwise, unless a serious plan is brought forward and unless there are significant resources attached to that plan, what leadership can the UK Government hope to offer the rest of the world? What authority can it possibly have in those vital discussions, when we are trying to bring together others, some more recalcitrant than others, who will be brought to the table to have a serious discussion only when they see others leading by example?
I believe that without drastic action COP26 risks exposing the UK Government as a laughing stock on climate change if we are not careful. I urge Ministers to change course and show some leadership. I urge them now to look at the reports our Select Committees have produced. They provide not just an agenda of issues to be addressed, but a direction that the Government could take. Otherwise, it is a betrayal of future generations. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West claimed the future for himself. Well, some of us older ones have an interest in the future as well, with our children and grandchildren. This November will ensure, hopefully, that they will have a planet that they can survive on and flourish on.
From the evidence I have seen so far—it is not just me; I think it is independent experts as well—the leadership the Government are showing is nowhere near the scale or commitment we need to demonstrate to the rest of the world what can be done, what needs to be done and what our country can contribute.