Bishop of St Albans asks Government about progress made at UN Climate Change Conference

On 7th January 2015 the Bishop of St Albans, Rt Rev Alan Smith, asked an oral question of Government about the recent UN Climate Change Conference. The exchanges, including supplementary questions from Peers, are below:

Climate Change: UN Conference

Question

Asked by The Lord Bishop of St Albans

Bishop of St Albans

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the agreement reached at the United Nations climate change conference in Lima in December 2014.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Baroness Verma) (Con): My Lords, we secured the basis for everything that the UK Government want in the final agreement. We agreed that countries’ emissions reductions contributions must represent a progression on their current level of effort and be accompanied by information to facilitate understanding. We made progress in elaborating elements of the draft negotiating text and achieved a good result on climate finance by leveraging the UK’s leadership to help get more from other countries.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I thank the Minister for her Answer. I know that many people were very disappointed at the outturn of the talks. Is she aware of the little booklet produced by the Royal Society, A Short Guide to Climate Science, which assesses some of the scientific evidence and answers some of the concerns of those who believe that this is not a significant problem for us today? Can she assure the House that Her Majesty’s Government will give a bold moral lead among the international community as we prepare for the talks in December in Paris, so that we can get a significant breakthrough later in the year based on this solid scientific evidence?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is absolutely right that we need to show leadership. I am aware of the Royal Society’s recent publication A Short Guide to Climate Science and very much welcome its conclusions. It is an excellent and highly accessible summary of climate science and I recommend that those who are interested in the subject should read it. I would also like to assure the right reverend Prelate that this Government are absolutely committed to taking the lead and securing a science-led, binding agreement in Paris in December. We have worked very hard to ensure that other countries are working with us.

Viscount Ridley (Con): My Lords, given that the heart of the Lima agreement was merely “an invitation” for countries to define a carbon dioxide reduction target and that “may” was substituted for “shall” throughout the key text, does my noble friend think that sending a delegation to Lima was really worth all that money and aviation fuel? I declare my energy interests as listed in the register.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I am always grateful for my noble friend’s interventions. I reassure him that to try to bring so many countries from across the globe to a meeting to discuss a point which currently affects us all is most important. Given that we know that sea levels are continuing to rise, polar ice continues to melt and we have increased global temperatures, we need to bring people to the table to discuss such important matters.

Baroness Worthington (Lab): My Lords, I am encouraged to hear that the Minister thinks that we need to increase current levels of effort. As noble Lords will be aware, we negotiate in climate talks as the EU, and the EU is currently on track to comfortably exceed its current targets. Does the Minister agree that to unlock ambition, it might be time for the EU to review—and be prepared to increase—its 2020 target, which we may meet as early as this year?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that we need to ensure that ambition is always at the heart of what we do. However, we need to make sure that the rest of the world is coming with us so that we all remain competitive as well. Although the noble Baroness is right that we keep raising our ambitions, we need to make sure that others’ ambitions are raised as well.

Lord Teverson (LD): My Lords, one of the interesting developments at Lima was the inclusion of a paragraph, in the document to go forward to Paris, saying that the use of fossil fuels should be ended globally by 2050. Do the Minister and the Government welcome that thought which was put forward and promoted very much by the Catholic Church? Is that not a good second bow to the very dry climate-change targets that we have at the moment, important as they are, and a really positive way to go forward?

Baroness Verma: I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for raising an important point. We are weighing up the position of developing and developed countries in trying to get on to the same trajectory, so we need to be sure about the impacts there will be on the developing nations as well as the developed ones. We need to encourage everyone to be less dependent on fossil fuels and to do much more on the renewables sector.

Lord McFall of Alcluith (Lab): My Lords, Lima did make progress although it also leaves a lot to the imagination. The key is the Paris conference, and as the right reverend Prelate said, that will demand moral leadership. Will the Government therefore endorse the approach of Pope Francis, who will not only address the UN on this subject in 2015 but produce an encyclical to be read at every Catholic church in the world, urging everyone that it is their responsibility to take action on a moral and a scientific basis?

Baroness Verma: The noble Lord raises a very important point—that it is an individual responsibility for us all to take. Collectively, that is what Lima managed to do—to bring countries around the table to move forward on the contributions they will make. I agree with the noble Lord that we need to look at it both as individuals and as countries. The Pope and many other leaders across the globe are taking climate change issues very seriously, and I am really pleased that it is now on the top of most agendas.

Lord Vinson (Con): My Lords, whatever the Government decide, does the Minister agree that it is important that the measures taken should have a measurable effect on world CO2 levels and that we do not put our efforts into things that are merely tokenist? To that first end, will the Minister assure the House that the Government are looking seriously at the development of small, modular nuclear reactors, which are inherently safe, can be factory built and cost a fraction of what the main, larger nuclear plants currently cost? That would ultimately give us endless forms of electricity, totally CO2 free.

Baroness Verma: My noble friend raises another very important point—that we need to look at a diverse range of energy sources, as we do. The Government are always looking at how to ensure that we have the most efficient and cost-effective measures in place to deliver secure energy to all people all the time.

Lord Rooker (Lab): While we are on the subject of morality, can the Minister explain to the British public, whose support is required, the morality of the ludicrous position of paying tens of millions of pounds to the owners of wind turbines in order to stop them producing electricity? It is ludicrous and will lose public support for many measures relating to climate change.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, it has always been the case, even under the previous Government, that when there is spare capacity it is cut off and the providers are paid for it. It is nothing new; I have not brought anything new to the table, and the noble Lord is not raising anything new. He might have an aversion to wind farms, but this has always been done, even under his Government.

Lord Cormack (Con): The fact that it is not new does not mean that it is not stupid.

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, has my noble friend looked at the study by Oxford University’s department of engineering which showed that the development of tidal power in the Pentland Firth could supply 42% of Scotland’s electricity? Will she therefore encourage the development of these resources and promote them in other parts of the United Kingdom?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I know that we have steered slightly away from the Question on the Order Paper, but I suggest to the noble Lord that this Government are looking at all types of energy to ensure that we have a diverse mix of energy so that we are not dependent on having to bring energy from abroad but can supply our own energy at a cost-effective rate to the British public.

(via Parliament.uk)