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Climate Change Bill - the government admits being clueless

I intervened a number of times during the Climate Change Bill Third Reading. The link is to the debate in Hansard. I will extract the interventions and my speech then comment.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I am slightly confused about this issue. Last Monday, the Prime Minister said that we needed a constantly rising supply of oil, notwithstanding the use of renewables. Does the Minister have any idea of whether our oil consumption is expected to fall over time—whether or not aviation and shipping are included—and in which year would we first see a fall?

Joan Ruddock: I shall not speculate on the extraneous matters that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

John Hemming: I am a little confused by the Prime Minister saying that we need an ever-increasing supply of oil. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that as a result of the Bill there will be a reduction in the amount of crude oil used by this country?

Gregory Barker: I do not think there is going to be an immediate reduction in the amount of crude oil used as a result of this Bill, because the Bill is simply a framework. It is a form of regulating and auditing our emissions; it sets targets. What we need to follow the Bill is a really ambitious transformational set of policies, which will allow an incoming Conservative Government to effect the sort of dynamic changes that have been so absent during the past 10 years, but without harming our international competitive position. The big danger of the Bill is that people place too much emphasis on the targets and auditing mechanisms contained in it, which are then mistaken for policies that will deliver the transformation to a low-carbon economy that is imperative. We will not find them in the Energy Bill. A whole range of policies are sadly lacking from this Government, but would not be lacking from an incoming Conservative Administration.

John Hemming: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way to my standard question about oil. Last week the Prime Minister said that we needed an ever-increasing supply of oil, which confused me in the light of our objective of having a low-carbon economy, because burning oil creates carbon dioxide and water primarily. Will my hon. Friend share his views on whether we can satisfy the objectives of the Bill, with or without the inclusion of aviation and shipping, while having an ever-increasing supply of oil?

Steve Webb: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. From our perspective we need to get on with decarbonising the economy. The goal of an ever-increasing supply of oil is literally nonsense and should certainly not be an aim of Government policy.

John Hemming: I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman my usual question. If we are going to reduce carbon emissions, why do we need a constantly increasing supply of oil?

Dr. Strang: The important thing is the demand for oil. We must use less oil; that is not in dispute. Obviously, we want to use less oil, and fewer fossil fuels. I do not quite grasp the hon. Gentleman’s point—

John Hemming rose—

Mr. Gummer: I think I will leave the issue of oil alone, as it has been somewhat widely discussed but is not entirely germane, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the issues that concern us at this moment.

John Hemming: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Nia Griffith: I shall give way, but if the matter is about oil, I suspect that you would prefer me not to refer to it at this stage, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

John Hemming: I find it somewhat confusing when we talk about shipping emissions. A significant point about shipping is that the consumption of energy is linked to the fourth power of the velocity, which is an important reason why it is possible to reduce shipping emissions. However, all these things are powered by oil. If we do not take any view about whether we need a constant supply of oil, there will be a problem.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady was prescient. Obviously, we want to have a good debate, but we have a formidable Order Paper before us and we need also to make reasonable progress.

Nia Griffith: This issue is about counting and monitoring, which is why it is important that we include mechanisms in the Bill such as making provision on advice and listening to the Committee on Climate Change. Those are the tools that we are using. The monitoring and reporting processes, and the targets that we put in place, will make us think about how we achieve the necessary reductions in emissions and how we create a low-carbon economy.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): I had hoped that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) would be here for his customary intervention on this issue. The answer to the question about oil is that by the time we come out of the current global financial crisis, two things will be queuing up. The first will be the climate crises already in the pipeline. Secondly, by that time we will probably have passed the peak oil level anyway, and we will have to move to a post-oil economy if we want a viable economy of any sort.

John Hemming: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hurd: If it is about oil, the answer is no.

John Hemming: It is about shipping.

Mr. Hurd: All right.

John Hemming: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that shipping is one of the modes of transport that, historically, operated without any carbon emissions?

John Hemming: I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) because, apart from the fact that I have no confidence in the Government, his speech contained little of substance with which I disagree.

The Government’s attitude to new clauses 10 and 11 demonstrates their attitude to the Bill. They resolve to be good, but not yet. We must therefore consider the direction of travel on the consumption of fossil fuels, of which the three main ones are gas, coal and oil.

The Government clearly want more oil burned every year. The Prime Minister said that—at column 33 of last Monday’s Hansard. Tonight, we had confirmation that the Government’s objective is to build some nice new coal power stations. The second law of thermodynamics constrains the energy efficiency, but the Government are saying that the power stations will not be carbon capture systems and that we will simply emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Those power stations may be more efficient because the engines are better designed, but the Government do not intend to try to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted. That leaves gas. If we are going to burn more oil, more coal and, one therefore presumes, more gas, we are not going in the direction of reducing carbon emissions.

The reality is that we have to start somewhere. At some point, we have to say, “We’re going to reduce carbon emissions, so we don’t need more oil, more coal or more gas,” and we should have a strategy for that. It may take time to change direction, but we cannot have constant increases in oil supplies, which is what the Prime Minister says we require.

All our constituents are crying out about the increasing costs of energy. I happen to take the view that the UK has gone far too far down the free market route and that the European model is far better, which is not necessarily something on which I am 100 per cent. aligned with my party. The green new deal is an option. We have managed to find £50 billion for the banks, but what about £50 billion to sort out the energy intensity of gross domestic product? That should not necessarily be the precise figure of course, but the principle that we should invest in energy efficiency to reduce the amount of energy used and, by reducing demand, thus reduce prices must be the way forward.

New clause 10 basically says, “Let’s get on with it and do something,” but the Government do not want to know, while new clause 11 would introduce a permissive power. I accept that “may” in new clause 11 should be “shall”, but the Government do not even want that. They have therefore taken a very clear view: they are in favour of being good, but not yet.

What you see in the interventions is that some MPs recognise that we actually need to change direction towards using less fossil fuels. Others don't see the relevance and think it is merely an issue of counting.

Sadly the government are of the mind set that sees increasing fossil fuel usage at least in the near future.


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