Warm Words Will Not Stop Global Warming; Only Concrete Action Will

Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak after so many engaging and insightful contributions this evening. As we meet today, it is easy to forget that it is almost 10 years since the Prime Minister, who was then Leader of the Opposition, decided it was time to hug a husky, and five years since he declared his determination to lead the greenest Government ever. 

Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak after so many engaging and insightful contributions this evening. As we meet today, it is easy to forget that it is almost 10 years since the Prime Minister, who was then Leader of the Opposition, decided it was time to hug a husky, and five years since he declared his determination to lead the greenest Government ever. As soon as he had walked down Downing Street and made his way through the rose garden, and once he was out of the earshot of the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), what did he do? He instructed his advisers to “cut the green crap”. I say that not to imply that the Prime Minister and his party were lacking in sincerity—of course they were not—but because it shows the undeniable truth that talking is easy but action is hard.

We saw that today in the Government’s failure to act to support the steel industry and jobs in my constituency, and we see it on climate change. Warm words will not stop global warming; only concrete action will. The connection between how we tackle climate change and how and where we get our energy is self-evident. It was for that reason that the Department of Energy and Climate Change was set up and why the Climate Change Act 2008 committed to reducing emissions by 80% by 2050. Alongside the Act was a detailed plan for moving to a low-carbon economy. Today, however, the Government are enthusiastically dismantling it, injecting as much uncertainty and instability into the energy sector as possible.

When I worked at the World Economic Forum, I was privy to the thoughts of CEOs and leaders of some of the world’s biggest companies. I have to say that most of those people got it. They would simply tell me, “Look, our business is not sustainable if our planet is not sustainable.” It is not just the case that business and the private sector could or should be partners in sustainability; the truth is that the business community desperately wants and needs to partner government on green growth. Like me, they have seen the reports that unchecked climate change threatens at least $4.2 trillion of assets around the world. They know that a sustainable business needs a sustainable planet.

I have seen the revolutionary capacity of private sector actors in attaining public goals—but that requires support from government. Part of that government support must be about creating an environment of certainty. Business can only mobilise and invest its intellectual and financial capital in green energy if it can have some sense of certainty—if it can be sure that the floor will not be pulled up from underneath it overnight. It is on this, and with the Bill in particular, that the Government are failing. Already the Government have decided effectively to block the solar industry from any certainty over the feed-in tariffs it will receive once projects are finished. Now we see greater uncertainty being injected into the issue of carbon capture and storage and wind farms with the early closure of the renewable obligation.

Onshore wind is one of the most cost-effective and low carbon energy sources available to us in the UK, so the Government’s decision retrospectively to close the existing subsidy scheme, which was not in the Conservative manifesto, is an example of the Government’s reckless chopping and changing of energy policy. It should be particularly worrying for the following reasons. First, it will cost jobs. Hundreds of highly skilled workers will be laid off because of the Government’s mismanagement of clean energy subsidies. Secondly, the Government claim that ending solar and wind support will save households 80p on their annual bill, but most of the savings will be offset by hand-outs they have announced to more expensive energy projects, such as Hinkley Point B. The Government’s approach is inconsistent: stripping support for clean energy—for the cheapest energy we have—just when it is on the verge of reaching parity with non-renewables, while announcing new subsidies for the most expensive forms of energy. That is not about a fair market, but about ideology.

Thirdly, all this has been done with almost no notice, so it will totally wreck investor confidence. I have to ask the Secretary of State to put herself in the position of an investor in the energy market. Faced with the choice of investing in the UK or the US, where renewables investment has doubled under President Obama, where would she choose? Faced with the choice of investing in the UK or Germany, which has seen renewables rise from 6% of the energy sector in 2000 to almost a third of the sector by 2014, where would she choose?

David Mowat: The hon. Gentleman mentions Germany. He is right that there are more renewables there than in the UK. It is also a fact that in Germany carbon emissions per capita are one third higher than in the UK and one third more per unit of GDP because of its reliance on coal. Does he not accept that the Government have a responsibility to decarbonise as cheaply as possible? There was a terrible announcement today in his constituency. The cost of electricity for making strip products in Port Talbot is double the price for an equivalent company in Germany. Does he not accept that part of what Government must do is mitigate that?

Stephen Kinnock: I absolutely accept there have to be exemptions for energy-intensive industries. The steel industry has needed the energy-intensive industry compensation package for over four years. The Chancellor recognised the need for that in 2011 and it has taken until now to get it sorted. One reason for that is that we are expending so much political capital in Europe trying to negotiate a Brexit, but that is another case altogether.

Does the Secretary of State really think that investors are going to choose the UK, where one could be liable to see governmental and regulatory support wiped away overnight with no warning, or choose to invest in an environment of ever-increasing certainty? In fact, would she not consider investing in emerging markets, such as China, which is now investing more in clean energy than the whole of Europe combined, or in India, which is planning a fivefold increase in its clean energy investment by 2020, instead of putting money in an uncertain British market? We must be clear: the uncertainty will affect not only the renewable sectors explicitly covered by the changes; there will be contagion elsewhere from this assault on investor certainty.

On today of all days, I feel the need to talk about a specific example of where the Government’s failure to act decisively to support sustainable energy and create certainty for investors is costing our country dear: the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. As hon. Members will be aware, Tata Steel announced over 1,000 redundancies today, with 750 of them at the Port Talbot plant in my constituency.

Mr Lilley: I can scarcely believe that I would hear such a clear example of sado-masochism: an hon. Member representing a steel constituency calling for the highest-cost energy in the western world to go ahead. That can only make the problem of the jobs of his workers even worse. I just cannot imagine how he stands any chance of being re-elected.

Stephen Kinnock: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his excellent advice. I will leave the last bit of his intervention for my constituents to decide. As I explained to the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), there is a need for a compensation package for energy-intensive industries. As I have mentioned many, many times in interventions and speeches on the steel industry, the Government’s foot-dragging on the compensation package is a major reason why we are seeing the crippling of the steel industry. It has been too little, too late.

This happened because of the Government’s failure to act against the dumping of subsidised Chinese steel, the failure to produce a long-term industrial strategy for steel, and warm words backed up with no concrete action on procurement and energy. The priorities for my constituents are preventing further job losses and Government action to support retraining and transition for those made redundant. The Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project is an opportunity for both job creation and support to the steel industry, because steel turbines would be at the heart of the lagoon project. The Government, however, have dodged and delayed the decision. Every missed deadline sets the project back. Every day or week of delay costs months or years—and it costs jobs. The Swansea Bay tidal lagoon would be the first of its kind in the world and shows how important it is for the Government to act decisively and create certainty. My constituents urge the Secretary of State to take urgent and decisive action to support the project. We have been let down by the Government too many times, today being a prime example. It is about time the Government took action, so I would appreciate a specific answer from the Secretary of State about the tidal lagoon project in her wind-up.

It is not just on the tidal lagoon and the arbitrary scrapping of the renewables obligation that the Government are failing. The decision to axe the carbon capture and storage programme, just when Britain is on the brink of securing major investment from the private sector, puts the entire future of UK CCS at risk. CCS technology not only offers the chance of decarbonisation and of transforming non-renewable energy into something that can be made part of a viable sustainable energy mix, it supports jobs. But, again, we see a Government who are unable to create an environment of certainty for investors, employees and our country, and so our energy security is put at risk, as is the future of our planet. There can be no doubt about it, the Government’s actions are being noted around the world. The Prime Minister will parade his signature of the Paris accord, but colleagues around the world, as well as in this Chamber, see him slashing vital support for clean energy.

The UK's reputation as a world leader on climate change is under threat, and we now face an uphill battle to meet our legally binding EU renewable energy targets. We should ask: what is the theme running through all this? It is of a Government and a party driven by the politics of now: that is why in 2005 we saw “hug a husky” and in 2010 the pledge to be the greenest Government ever; that is why we saw the ditching of the green deal when those pesky Liberal Democrats had left the Cabinet table; and it is why today we see an end to support for wind, solar and CCS. Government Members have had too many complaints at their local association meetings. Government Ministers have been too preoccupied with expensive nuclear projects and cosying up to China. The Government—or Mr Lynton Crosby—do not feel green issues and the environment are fashionable any more, and the internal politics of the Conservative party pushes them again back to their comfort ground and away from a commitment to a sustainable future.

The climate challenge cannot be met by the politics of now. It cannot be met by short-term thinking and internal party management. The Conservative party claims to be the party of entrepreneurs. I say it is about time it started acting like it, with an entrepreneurial state willing to collaborate and work with the support of all those in the private sector who want to build a sustainable future. There has to be a collaborative approach between business and Government. At the heart of that, there has to be an environment of certainty. That is how we will secure investment and how we will secure jobs. Most importantly of all, it is how we will secure a sustainable future.

I implore the Government today to rethink and to go back and pay heed to those saying stop. They should stop destroying investor confidence, stop the uncertainty and start supporting a sustainable energy market and future.