Four Climate Change Questions For David Cameron

Cracked earth under cloudy sky in desert landscape
Cracked earth under cloudy sky in desert landscape

Following the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, one of its intellectual architects says it raises crucial questions for the Prime Minister ahead of his appearance before the Liaison Committee tomorrow.

The Paris Agreement achieved just before Christmas represents a historic turning-point in the world's struggle to combat the threat of dangerous climate change. But any agreement is only as strong as the manner of its implementation, and attention is already now turning to how countries will translate its commitments into action.

For the British government this raises important questions. The government deserves great credit for the role that it played in securing the Paris outcome. But it is not just an agreement for other countries to implement: it impacts our domestic policy too. So the Prime Minister's appearance before the House of Commons Liaison Committee tomorrow offers a useful opportunity to ask him how he intends to respond to the Agreement he helped to achieve. Four key questions might be posed.

(1) The Climate Change Act of 2008, achieved with cross-party support, has made the UK a global leader in this field. The Act commits the government to setting five-year 'carbon budgets' - national limits on greenhouse gas emissions - consistent with the aim of holding the rise in global temperature to below 2 degrees. But the Paris agreement, acknowledging the increased risks understood by climate science, includes a new goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees. So the Prime Minister should be asked if he will instruct the independent Climate Change Committee to examine whether the Act needs amending to reflect the new 1.5 degree goal. Will the Government be reviewing its policies to ensure they are consistent with it?

(2) To meet this goal, the Paris Agreement commits the world to phasing out net greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of the century. This will require around 80% of fossil fuel reserves to be left in the ground. Yet the government is set on the expansion of fracking for shale gas in the UK and is now subsidising highly-polluting diesel and coal power plants. As research by my IPPR colleague Dr Jimmy Aldridge has shown, diesel generators can now get potential returns of over 20%, paid for in consumers' energy bills. The Liaison Committee may be keen to hear how the Prime Minister reconciles these increased incentives for fossil fuels with the agreement he helped achieve in Paris.

(3) Since the election the government has reversed or weakened sixteen separate climate change policies introduced and supported by the previous coalition government, including a major reduction in support for renewable energy. The Department of Energy and Climate Change has recently acknowledged that the Government is not on course to meet its statutory carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act, and the gap is getting bigger. The Prime Minister might be asked if he accepts that his recent policy changes have pushed the government further off course. What plans does it now have to meet its legal obligations?

(4) The Paris agreement includes a requirement for countries to take adaptation measures to deal with the changing climate. The devastating floods we've seen over Christmas have revealed some fundamental weaknesses in British floods policy. Questions have been raised, not just about whether we have the right flood defences in place, but even the right models to tell us where to build them. Does the Prime Minister believe that the country's preparedness for the climatic changes we are now experiencing, and likely to experience in the future, should now be fundamentally re-assessed?

When he appears before the Liaison Committee tomorrow the Prime Minister should be praised for helping to achieve the Paris Agreement. The issue facing him now - in common with governments around the world - is whether he will ensure it is implemented.

Michael Jacobs is IPPR Visiting Fellow and Associate Director for Energy and Climate Change. He tweets at @michaelujacobs