Net Zero 2050 - My Full Speech

I give a warm welcome to today’s legislation and to the Minister, who has taken this brief by the scruff of the neck since he was appointed, for which we are all grateful.

This is a moment to give sincere thanks to the Government and the Committee on Climate Change for acting and allowing us to act in the way we are set to, because the IPCC report, which the Minister referred to, is really devastating. If we do not manage to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C, we will find that sea levels keep rising to an unsustainable degree and that the impact on biodiversity is completely unsustainable. The difference between a 1.5°C and 2°C rise is clearly illustrated in that report. At 1.5°C, we will lose 6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates. That is devastating enough by any measure. At 2°C, the IPCC forecasts that we would lose 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates.

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared with 2°C has other consequences, most notably for us as a species. Keeping it to 1.5°C may reduce the proportion of the world’s population who are exposed to climate-induced water stress by 50%. The impact on an increasingly volatile and dangerous world can scarcely be overstated. We need to do this—the science is clear—and we need to rebut the notion that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), referred to. I agree with him that we need to fight back against the idea that the costs exceed the benefits, because doing the right thing for the environment is not at odds with doing the right thing for our economy. The UK’s performance since the 1992 Rio summit—we have decarbonised the most of any G7 nation at the same time as growing our economy the most—only goes to prove that.

The committee’s report was crystal clear that we can deliver net zero at no additional cost relative to the 2008 commitment to an 80% reduction in CO2 by 2050, ​owing to the pace of technological change. That needs to be factored into all our calculations when it comes to the achievability and costs of the commitment. Anyone who has listened to Lord Adair Turner talking about this, as he has done so well, and seen the work of the Energy Transitions Commission can be well assured that we are on track to deliver this in a cost-effective fashion.

This goes to the point that the coalition Government’s energy policy, under David Cameron, was a huge success. The contracts for difference mechanism, which enabled huge reductions in the cost of offshore wind in particular, goes to show that we can achieve massive economic and technological change if we incentivise markets to deliver the outcomes that we all need. Anyone who looks at the proportion of the UK’s energy generated by renewables—it stood at just over 6% in 2010 and is now 33%—will see that we can deliver far-reaching change in a very short period.

Luke Graham (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Con)

My hon. Friend is making a very important point about the good that Government can do and the change that they can bring about. Does he agree that to reach this ambitious target, we will need every level of government, including local government, the devolved Administrations and central Government, to work together to make sure that we can deliver this ambitious target for 2050?

Mr Clarke

I absolutely agree. No one can regard this as somebody else’s challenge, and that goes for the private sector as well as the public sector. Everyone will have to realign their expectations in the light of this commitment because it is genuinely groundbreaking. It is easy to underestimate the significance of what we are gathered to legislate for. This is a world-leading initiative by a developed nation. It is a profound statement of our commitment to a cleaner and greener world.

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Clarke

I will, but I promise not to take more than my allotted time.

Alex Chalk

My hon. Friend has campaigned so vigorously on this issue. He is right to say that this is world-leading legislation and that the UK is taking the lead, but does he agree that China, whose carbon emissions are something like 25 times that of the UK, really needs to play its part?

Mr Clarke

I do. That is not a counsel of despair. In many ways, we are setting a powerful example that other countries will be inspired to follow. By legislating for net zero, we start to create some of the economic opportunities that other countries will, in turn, be keen to seize. We can set a powerful moral and economic example for other countries to follow. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. He, too, has fought long and hard to make this happen, and I thank him for that.

On the economic opportunity, I will briefly bang the drum for carbon capture and storage. The CCC is absolutely clear in its report that we need to deliver CCS—[Interruption.] Contrary to what the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) said from a sedentary position, ​the Government are now taking CCS as an integral part of their green industrial strategy. We need to make sure that we get a number of clusters rolled out as quickly as possible, and one of those should be Teesside. I praise the work of the Teesside Collective, which is a pioneering group of industrial companies, all of whom want to see this happen, not least because there are certain industries such as steel, cement, plastics and fertilisers that emit CO2 as an inextricable part of their production techniques. Even if we fully decarbonised our energy mix, those sectors would still need CCS to avoid contributing to our carbon emissions.

Finally, this is a wonderful example of how the UK can take a moral lead in the world after Brexit, and I praise how we are fighting to deliver the COP 26, alongside Italy, as part of our efforts. If we secure that, I hope we will make the drive for net zero an integral part of our prospectus for the conference.