Philip Dunne backs calls for net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and calls on UK to take a lead

1st May 2019

Philip Dunne backs calls for net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and calls on the UK to take a lead in the necessary changes; in agriculture, transport and finance in particular.

I am grateful for your calling me early, Madam Deputy Speaker, and for being able to contribute—albeit briefly—to the debate. I start by agreeing with the Leader of the Opposition; he was right to call for consensus on tackling climate change. I also thought it entirely appropriate that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs clearly showed the cross-party support for delivering on the UK’s ambition and global leadership in this area, as well as pointing out how far the UK is delivering on this agenda. We need to introduce some balance into this debate, and I am pleased that both did so. I join others—on both sides of the House—in suggesting that we should proceed with efforts for London to host next year’s climate change conference. I very much hope that it does.

I am a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, and as such have the opportunity to review the Committee on Climate Change’s and activists’ claims and challenges, as well as to hold the Government to account on the delivery of the sustainable development goals and their climate change priorities. I was pleased therefore to support my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) when he yesterday introduced his 10-minute rule Bill, which was very well supported by Conservative Members. It is absolutely right that the House seek to commit to net zero emissions by 2050, and this in itself will require facing up to many significant challenges—some have already been mentioned, I am sure others will be—on land use, transport, energy sources, energy efficiency, joining up Government policy and showing international leadership to share the burden across the globe.

Taking that further and faster, however, as some have called for, would increase the challenge. As a farmer, I join the Secretary of State in applauding the NFU for accepting a net zero emissions challenge for agriculture by 2040. This will require very significant changes to land use, as has been graphically highlighted by the “Zero Carbon Britain” report from the Centre for Alternative Technology, which shows that diversifying land use is required across most of what we currently do today. We would need to double the land used for food for human beings in this country; to dramatically reduce the grassland for livestock; to double the forested area to a quarter of the entire UK; and substantially to increase the areas for biomass and renewable energy.

My right hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. On reforestation, did he share my enthusiasm for the Secretary of State’s remarks today about planting 11 million trees across the country? Could this not fire up schools’ imagination? We could get them to do much more of this and maybe have an award for the best primary schools locally to follow through on this agenda of reforestation.

That is well worth doing—we should encourage younger generations to recognise the power that trees have in capturing carbon—but 11 million trees goes nowhere near what would be required to get to net zero. It is a step in the right direction but only a single step.

Brexit and leaving the common agricultural policy provide the UK with a unique opportunity to take a lead, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing through the Agriculture Bill, in developing a new system of support to encourage such change in land use. While it will not be easy, it is absolutely right that we take full advantage of this opportunity.

We have heard much about the problems and challenges of meeting these targets but very few solutions offered yet in this debate, so I would like to highlight two. Innovation and maturing technology will create opportunities and solutions and drive down costs—as we have seen, solar costs have declined by 35% in the last three years alone—but a balance of technologies will be required; there will be no simple single solution.

There has been considerable focus—my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) mentioned it earlier—on the switch to electric vehicles, but this will pose very significant generation challenges. One example provided to me recently suggests that one motorway service station replacing 20 petrol and diesel pumps with 120 electric superchargers—the number needed to fuel the same number of vehicles in an hour—would require a 14.5 MW substation, which is equivalent to the electricity required for 32,000 homes. This is, then, unlikely to be the simple solution that some of us hope for, so I would like to make a quick plug for hydrogen fuel cell generation, which can become cheaper than batteries and is being pioneered by a small company, Riversimple, which was started in my constituency. It has the added benefit of reducing reliance on cobalt, which is required for batteries and is itself a finite resource.

The second solution is for changing attitudes and behaviour in an area of UK global strength—it is something I have taken a particular interest in on the EAC: the UK’s leadership role on emerging green finance initiatives. This was set out in our Committee report last year, “Greening Finance: embedding sustainability in financial decision making”. Climate risk reporting by companies and pension funds will make clear the financial implications of ignoring climate change and provides an opportunity for the UK to show global leadership.




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