Solar Alliance to light lives of a billion people

I find the ambitions of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) enormously exciting, which is why I organised a Lord’s debate on the UK Government signing up to them.  It is an international agreement, formed at the United Nations by treaty between 121 states. Importantly, the alliance is being led by India, which makes it the first large-scale climate initiative to be led by a ‘developing’ country. Together the signatories seek to raise $1 trillion US dollars for investment in solar power, and by 2030 the treaty aims to provide affordable green energy to a billion people who do not currently have any electricity. These are lofty goals and they demonstrate an understanding that green investment gives the opportunity to significantly increase the living standards of the world’s poorest while protecting the ecological resources on which all our livelihoods depend. So far, all good.

The problem is that $1 trillion investment by 2030 is pennies when compared to the $2.4 trillion that the IPCC says must be invested in clean energy each and every year to avoid catastrophic climate change. More than 2% of world GDP must be invested in avoiding climate change if we are to keep within safe limits.

The government whips kindly gave me time to have this debate, but that didn’t stop me expressing my disappointment at the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum to the treaty, written by the Secretary of State for International Development. Those notes celebrate the UK’s involvement in the alliance but then nakedly expose the true lack of ambition behind our involvement. It is stressed that our membership:

“places no legal or policy requirements on the UK”,

and that,

“initial UK ISA collaboration will be through existing UK government funded programmes”.

That means the Government want to develop our bilateral relationship with India, with the Solar Alliance being a nice green gesture to move that along. It seems to me that the largest contribution that our Government will be making is creating new commercial opportunities and investment opportunities for UK business. My conclusion is that we are signing up to yet another impressive-sounding green initiative but then doing absolutely nothing of substance. I find this deeply disappointing and a continuation of this Government’s “promise big, deliver disaster” approach to green issues.

The recent IPCC report makes clear that limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees will expose 10 million fewer people to the impacts of rising sea levels, particularly in small island nations such as the British Overseas Territories. They are why we are involved in the alliance in the first place and we will be letting them and ourselves down, if we don’t act faster and sooner to stop climate breakdown getting worse.

Clean Air Bill must include new agency to enforce the right to clean air

Four Parliamentary Committees have issued a joint report on air pollution today. One of its key recommendations is that there needs to be a new Clean Air Bill and that should establish a right to clean air. I have already committed to bringing forward such a Bill in the Lords, drafted by Clean Air London.

The pressure is building on the Government to act. Geraint Davies MP in the Commons and myself in the Lords, are both bringing forward draft bills to lay out what the Government needs to do. We need clean air to be a human right and with Brexit happening in the next two years, we need to urgently create an independent, environmental enforcement agency. I believe that we need a Citizen’s Commission to help people take the government and corporations to court if they fail in their responsibilities to public health and the environment. The loss of European Commission oversight with Brexit is both a threat to existing environmental protections and also, an opportunity to create something stronger in its place.

Community energy still in the dark over its future

In a dark and stormy year, one sunny news story has been the continued growth of solar power around the world. It’s now coming in cheaper than coal and gas in the sunniest parts of the world, and prices are still dropping in the UK too. Continue reading “Community energy still in the dark over its future”