Lisa Nandy has been Labour’s shadow secretary of state for energy and climate change since last September. She was elected as the member of parliament for Wigan in 2010. Under Ed Miliband’s leadership in the last parliament, she was Labour’s shadow children’s minister before becoming the shadow minister for civil society.
On nuclear power: “I think [it] is important as part of the energy mix. I think it’s particularly important when you look at how we’re going to meet the commitments we made in Paris.”
On the Hinkley deal: “In terms of getting a good deal for bill payers and for the taxpayer, it seems to me that the worst possible way that you could go about a negotiation is to, essentially, box yourself into a position where you have to make the deal work before you’ve actually finished.”
On tidal lagoons: “I think tidal lagoons are really exciting…It seems to me that it’s absolutely something we should explore…Our energy and our investment should be going into projects like tidal lagoons, like CCS, all of the things that the UK is currently abandoning. It is really, really short sighted.”
On her own awareness of climate change: “For my generation, I think this is something that has always been part of an emerging political consciousness as you grow up…I think when we passed the Climate Change Act, that was a huge moment – a really significant moment – when it felt like the UK was actually tugging the world in the right direction…I think you have these moments actually – and Paris was one of them – where it felt like suddenly the issue had become much more salient.”
On the need for maintain political consensus: “I think it’s been one of the reasons why the UK has been able to lead the world at times in the fight against global warming, and have such clout on a world stage. But the key thing is that we cannot be allowed in the UK to unravel all of the things that would make real the commitment that we just made in Paris, just a few months after we signed that deal. The message that sends – not just to people in the UK, but to the rest of the world – I think is devastating.”
On talking about action on climate to her constituents: “When I talk to my constituents who worked down the mines, there’s no romanticising what that was like; it was incredibly hard work, it was dangerous, people lost their lives, people still suffer that chronic legacy of ill health…What they’re interested in, and what I’m interested in, is what happens next? Where are the opportunities for their children and their grandchildren?”
On the next generation: “I think for my generation we were probably the first to have grown up or become teenagers around the time people really understood about climate change. For people of my baby’s age, this will always be a given – that this is an imperative that we need to work together to tackle – and that gives me quite a lot of hope for the future…There’s a generation coming up who will refuse to allow that [the current government’s policies] to be the narrative and the direction of travel – and that feels quite exciting.”
On the need for the UK to stay in the European Union: “This is where you will find there is a real degree of the cross-party consensus that we need. Because Amber Rudd gave an interview very recently in which she said that it would be hugely problematic in terms of energy policy and climate change policy if the UK were to leave the EU and I completely agree with her. I think it would be bad for bills. I think it would be bad for our energy security. And I think it would be really disastrous for our ability to have a lasting global impact on tackling climate change.”
On the influence of the Treasury: “I think one of the really worrying trends in terms of energy and climate policy in this parliament has been the dominance of the Treasury in decision-making.”
On curbing aviation emissions: “Too little of the public debate, in my view, focuses on businesses who have structured their way of operating so that their staff are taking several flights a week.”
On the Paris climate agreement: “The negotiations through the EU helped ensure that we got there together, and that is really important for the UK, because of the potential implications of us trying to take action on climate change alone, which of course in the end, is impossible.”
On the need to increase ambition on climate action over time: “So, in reality, there is a lot more that we need to do, whether we set more ambitious targets or not. We’ve got to make actual, real, practical progress. That’s one of the reasons why the ratchet mechanism [in the Paris agreement] is so important, but I think it’s also one of reasons why the advice from the Committee on Climate Change is quite important.”
On the need for clean energy jobs: ” I and many others have been very, very focused on clean energy jobs, and about where the benefits of this transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy system are felt, in some of the poorest communities in the country. There ought to be a benefit from doing this.”
On allowing the UK to have a stake in Hinkley C: “There is a sense around Hinkley that it seems very odd that the government is so reluctant to allow the UK to get involved in the project, when they are completely relaxed about the idea of the French and Chinese governments being involved.”
On the Labour party’s attitude to climate change: “There is a real recognition in the Labour party that climate change disproportionately impacts some of the poorest people overseas and some of the poorest people in the UK…There is a very strong consensus across the Labour party that this is something that ought to be a first order priority and not a secondary consideration.”
CB: First of all, thank you and I’m going to start with the question: what do you think the UK’s energy mix will look like in 10 years’ time? And what should it look like? And how should we get there?
LN: I think two things. The important thing is that we have a mix, a good mix, that helps to ensure that bills don’t disproportionately increase and that we have security of energy supply, but the other dynamic which is obviously really important post-Paris is about this transition from an energy system and an economy that is largely dominated by fossil fuels to one that is much more focused on clean energy. And, at the moment, because of government policy, I think the transition that we’ve been making in this country has stalled, and will continue to stall unless we have a rethink from the government. But there’s a bigger problem, which is that the chopping and changing of energy policy over the summer and the autumn, particularly in relation to renewables, has, I think, sent shock waves around the energy world. It has damaged investor confidence. There was a whole host of organisations, led by the CBI [Confederation of Business Industry], lining up recently to make that point to government, and that lack of stability, that lack of certainty, has been very damaging for the energy mix generally. So we’re in a situation now where we’re scaling back on our investment in renewables, where we have axed the CCS [carbon capture and storage] commitment that we’ve had for a very long time, where we have one nuclear power station planned but it’s stalled again for the umpteenth time and is incredibly costly and complex, and where we are unable to get new gas stations built. So, instead, we’re throwing huge great subsidies towards diesel, just simply to do what they would have been doing, essentially, anyway. So, I think the prospects at the moment, if the government doesn’t change its policy quite significantly, are pretty bad. But I remain hopeful that with the range of different voices that are pushing the government to take a different approach — most recently the Committee on Climate Change — as well as business groups and investor groups, I remain hopeful that the government will change course and we’ll see a balanced energy mix and this transition to clean energy continue.
Levy Control Framework: A nominal cap on the support for low-carbon energy which is paid via electricity bills. The cap has been set at £7.6bn in 2020/21. Subsidies may be allowed to temporarily exceed the cap by up to 20% as a result of external factors, such as wholesale energy price fluctuations. Above this headroom, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) must agree plans to control spending with the Treasury.Close
Levy Control Framework: A nominal cap on the support for low-carbon energy which is paid via electricity bills. The cap has been set at £7.6bn in 2020/21. Subsidies may be allowed to temporarily exceed the… Read More
CB: You’ve sort of alluded to this already, but there have been quite a few concerns raised by many stakeholders and groups over the lack of transparency about how the Levy Control Framework forecasts are being calculated. This is particularly important because the government has, obviously, been using these forecasts to justify many of its changes to policies. What is your own vision for the future of the Levy Control Framework? For example, should it be extended out to 2025 and beyond? And, if so, how?
LN: So, I think the point about transparency is well made. I’ve tabled a number of questions about the Levy Control Framework and the projections, the internal forecasts that the government has made on which they’re basing their assumptions, because I think it’s important that we, the public and investors have a much greater understanding about the basis on which the government is making decisions. But I think there’s a bigger picture around the Levy Control Framework, too. I think it’s absolutely right for the government to argue that we need to control spending and we need to control costs, particularly when disproportionately some of the poorest households in this country pay more as a proportion of their income than wealthier households for the costs of energy. But at the same time, to take a whole host of energy policies and, effectively, subsidies that are outside of the Levy Control Framework and not provide any real control over spending there – and in the field of renewables to rule out some of the cheapest options available, particularly onshore wind, in favour of more expensive technologies – it seems to me that that undermines the government’s entire argument about controlling costs and the way that they’re approaching investment through the Levy Control Framework. So, you know, we had this absurd situation just before Christmas where the government had just announced it was going to cap solar subsidies at £100m, but then – I think it was either on the same day or just a few days later — they announced they were handing over £175m in subsidies to diesel, which is one of the most polluting energy forms available. So, it seems to me that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t argue that you need to control costs and refuse to publish your workings on why that has to happen, while at the same time allowing costs to escalate, and with the knock on effect to billpayers, which is the situation that the government has got itself into. So I think we need a much more long-term plan from the government. Over the summer, it became apparent that they were determined to unravel what was essentially Plan A; the plan that the coalition had in place, and they’ve quite successfully done that. What’s becoming more and more apparent, especially post-Paris, is that they don’t have a Plan B. And in energy, in particular, that is quite devastating because energy is a long-term commitment and you have to think through what you’re doing several steps ahead. That’s why I think you’ve had this chorus of voices from business, saying this is creating real problems; not just for investors, but for our energy security, too. And I think in the long term, as the Committee on Climate Change has warned, this could end up costing us more. You know, the short-sighted decision to axe CCS [carbon capture and storage] could end up costing us, in terms of delivering climate change policies. The only alternative to that is to abandon the commitment to climate change, which would be a tragedy after the Paris conference, so we need much longer term thinking from government about where they’re spending, why they’re spending, and about investing in the short-term in order to save in the long-term. And the approach that they’ve taken to renewables, I think, is really instructive in relation to that; particularly the severity of the cuts to technologies like solar, just at the moment when they stood on the cusp of becoming economically competitive, have killed off a lot of the jobs that had been created in that industry and put at risk thousands more. When you look at the fact that other countries around the world are investing in clean energy, it’s putting the UK on the back foot in relation to clean energy, just at the time when we should be investing in it. And it seems to me to make no sense to hand over large subsidies to polluting forms of energy like diesel which long-term we know don’t have a future when there is a real investment that could be made in clean energy now that would have payoff for us in the longer term.
CB: OK. Again we’ve touched on this a bit, but has the government got the balance right between the politicians’ kind of classic short-term goals of “keeping bills down” and “keeping the lights on”, with the longer term, more visionary goals required to achieve deep decarbonisation?
LN: I think the energy debate is really polarised between, essentially, two points of view. One is around cutting bills and maintaining jobs, and the other is around making progress on global warming and climate change and protecting the environment. Actually, everywhere I’ve been in the last few months and everybody I’ve spoken to, when they take their official hat off, they care about both, and I think that is reflected right across the public, right across this country; that people do care about whether they can afford their bills, whether they can safeguard their job and whether we can make progress on tackling climate change. Seems to me there is a huge gap in this country which is political will and leadership to try to take the different parts of that agenda and make them work on all fronts. What we’ve got instead is we have a government that tries to pit those things against one another. They say we can’t afford to heat our homes and and tackle global warming. Well, of course we can, if we make different choices. And one of the really exciting things that I’ve seen in the last few months is around the country, local authorities and communities working together have managed to get on the front foot and bring those two agendas together, so insulating homes, putting solar panels on roofs of some of the poorest families in the country. They’re creating jobs and apprenticeships. They’re bringing families’ bills down. They’re empowering people to understand much, much more about their energy use, how to deal with it, what to do about it, and they’re also making a contribution to tackling global warming and it seems to me that that is very much present at local level through communities and through local authorities, but it is almost completely absent at national level, and that’s what we need to see.
CB: So, you’ve called for a moratorium on fracking until environmental concerns can be addressed. What would satisfy you for fracking to go ahead?
LN: So, before the election we called for a number of tests to be written into law, thresholds that should be met before fracking could go ahead. That included protection around drinking water sites, areas of outstanding natural beauty, national parks. Essentially to make sure that, although we aren’t opposed to exploratory drilling for fracking, to make sure that that doesn’t happen at any cost to the environment or to people’s safety. The government accepted the need for those safeguards in law before the election, but they’ve since rolled back on that commitment, and then we’ve seen constant flipping and changing of policy around the national parks and still that debate continues in parliament now. Because of that, we’ve called for a moratorium on fracking. I think it’s a hugely controversial issue. There are some people in this country who are very in favour and some people who are very opposed. There are economic and environmental arguments that need to be weighed around fracking and it seems to me that the government has got itself into a situation where it’s not prepared to offer reassurance to communities in that situation. Until it is – and it’s prepared to honour those promises that it made before the election – it’s impossible for me, for Labour, or for the public to have confidence that the government means what it says. So we’ve called for a moratorium and we also think very strongly that the government should show the same courtesy to communities that are concerned about fracking as they do to parts of the community that are concerned about onshore wind farms in their area…
CB: So, you see an inconsistency over the local decision-making about whether fracking or onshore wind goes ahead?
LN: I mean, it makes no sense to say that for onshore wind that it’s incumbent on those companies that want to invest in local areas to go and make their case to the public and for the public to decide, but to say precisely the opposite in relation to fracking. And we think the government should give control of those decisions to local communities and pay them the same courtesy and respect as they do to communities that are affected by wind farms.
CB: Do you believe fracking can be compatible with the UK’s carbon targets?
LN: I think the issue around fracking is around the UK’s use of gas and how long we plan to use gas for, and where we get our gas supplies from. So, at the moment, it’s very hard to find any experts who think we can phase out gas immediately. We know that we’re going to be reliant on using gas for some considerable time, and in the decade to come we need to make sure that we have a reliable supply. Now, there is a debate to be had, and I accept that, about where that comes from, whether that comes from the UK’s indigenous supply, or whether we import our gas from other countries like Norway and Qatar. I think in reality it’s likely we’ll end up with some kind of mix, but it’s very difficult to say because there hasn’t been a huge amount of exploratory drilling. The point about fracking, though, that really concerns a lot of people in this country, and that the government isn’t taking seriously, is the impact that that has on the environment in the short-term, and that’s something that the government has never addressed. And until they’re prepared to address that and legitimate safety concerns, particularly about the integrity of drinking water sites, we don’t think that it should go ahead.
CB: In terms of meeting the carbon budgets, the CCC says that there is a very small window to use gas — not fracking, but gas generally — as this bridge to get off coal and move towards a lower carbon future, that window is pretty small, and certainly is small without CCS. So, by the end of the 2020s and into the early 2030s is the time period they’re saying if we’re to be compatible with our carbon budgets. So, if you’re an investor today putting money down on the table with fast falling oil and gas prices globally, and you’ve got to build and get these rigs and sites up and running, it seems like a very, very small window. Our government is kind of backing a horse, kind of aggressively it seems at times, and yet it seems from an observer’s point of view that’s a very small window…
LN: I think the fall in the wholesale price has undoubtedly made a difference to the economics of fracking in the UK, no question about it. The government seems determined to press ahead regardless of the consequences and regardless of the wishes of local communities. It’s quite an odd position that they’re backed themselves into really, but I think it may be a reflection of the fact that we don’t have any new gas power stations coming on stream, that we’ve run into so many problems around Hinkley, that they are particularly keen to rule out some of the cheapest forms of renewables, so, you know, in terms of thinking about energy supply and energy security, I think they surely must recognise that they’ve run into real problems. But the answer to all of those problems taken in their entirety cannot be fracking and it seems to me the range of voices in the UK have made that point, but you’ve got a government…
CB: Is it a danger that you have a government which seems to be picking winners and highlighting losers – in its own framing, if you like? Going back to the idea of the mix that this country needs… is there a danger in picking such obvious winners in the government’s eyes?
LN: I think the problem is the playing field, and the tilting of the playing field in favour of one form of technology or another. To go back to your question about the Levy Control Framework and the way in which subsidies are produced through the Levy Control Framework and outside of it, I think that’s part of the problem, that it enables the government to hand generous subsidies to diesel while capping subsidies to solar, for example. In renewables, you’ve seen it very starkly, particularly with onshore wind and the energy bill that’s going through parliament at the moment, is that this government is determined to tilt the playing field. They argue that industries must stand on their own two feet, but they don’t apply that uniformly across the energy market and that creates all sorts of problems in the system, but it particularly means that you don’t get the power coming on stream that you need.
CB: Related to that, there are growing jitters over the progress and the costs of Hinkley C. But what if the Hinkley deal fails? And should the government really be helping to finance a new generation of nuclear power stations… in terms of the idea of helping to bring down costs or increasing the capacity, etc, over time?
LN: Well, I think nuclear power is important as part of the energy mix. I think it’s particularly important when you look at how we’re going to meet the commitments we made in Paris. So, in terms of government involvement in trying to get new nuclear power coming on stream, I think that’s completely legitimate. The problem is the way that they’ve gone about it in relation to the Hinkley project. It’s the reason that I wrote to Meg Hillier on the public accounts committee and asked them to look at it. It’s not been a particularly transparent or competitive process. The deal that we’ve ended up with puts Hinkley on course to become the most expensive nuclear power station ever built anywhere in the world, and just recently we’ve seen again the EDF board stalling and no final investor decision yet signed. It seems to me extraordinary that in the middle of that the prime minister would meet with the Chinese premier and sign an agreement while negotiations are still going on. In terms of getting a good deal for bill payers and for the taxpayer, it seems to me that the worst possible way that you could go about a negotiation is to, essentially, box yourself into a position where you have to make the deal work before you’ve actually finished…
CB: And so you need the deal to happen as well…
LN: Exactly. So, in terms of the way the deal’s been done, I think that’s a real problem. But there is potential with Hinkley, if it does come off, because of the significance of the amount of power that it can generate – I think 70% of our, sorry, 7% of our electricity supplies, which is hugely significant. But the longer that it stalls, the more problematic that becomes because of the need to plug that gap in the meantime with other forms of energy as well.
CB: So, it’s not getting to a situation where Hinkley at any cost? Where do you draw the line where the government has overreached in terms of its attempt to get over the line and get it built?
LN: It’s a really difficult question for me to answer, because like everybody else in the UK, I haven’t seen the finer details of the deal that they are currently negotiating…
CB: But if EDF pulled out, for example…
LN: I think if EDF pulled out…
CB: And the Treasury had to sort of…
LN: The deal, as we know it, is off, isn’t it, if EDF pulled out? At that point, I don’t know what the government would do. But one of the reasons I wrote to Meg Hillier on the public accounts committee about it is because there are a number of other nuclear projects which, as far as I know, the government didn’t consider as alternatives to Hinkley in the first instance, but which have the potential to come on stream either after or instead of Hinkley. And the key thing is to make sure we don’t repeat this shambolic process in relation to those, because we know we will need nuclear power as part of the mix. So we need to find a way of getting on and doing that, without…
CB: What about something like tidal lagoons and tidal barriers and things? Would you support that equally as well as Hinkley, or could it be an alternative to some degree, or…
LN: So, I think tidal lagoons are really exciting, particularly a lot of my Welsh colleagues in here [parliament] have lobbied me very hard because of the impact that it would have on the wider economy; on jobs and on growth in parts of that economy. I think it is exciting technology as well, and there’s the potential that we would be investing in something that would go on to become cutting edge, that we could export to the rest of the world. So I don’t see them as directly parallel to one another. But the benefits of one are very different to the benefits of the other. But it seems to me that it’s absolutely something we should explore. I think when he appeared before the liaison committee David Cameron was quite dismissive of the prospects of that. I think that’s a real shame because, particularly given what’s just happened in Paris, with almost all of the countries in the world coming together to agree this pathway towards climate safety, there is no question that this is the way that the world is moving, and that our energy and our investment should be going into projects like tidal lagoons, like CCS, all of the things that the UK is currently abandoning. It is really, really short sighted.
CB: Slight change of gear: can you remember the first moment when the penny dropped for you about climate change? Was it a book, a person you know, a speech you saw, a film of something…? Can you remember?
LN: I’m not sure, actually, because I think for my generation, as you become politically aware through your teens, climate change was already an issue. It was already something that was the subject of Hollywood movies that people were talking about, and, particularly then later on when I was in my twenties, you had a Labour government that was very committed to tackling global warming. I think I was 17 when John Prescott went to Kyoto and literally banged heads together and helped to get that deal. So, actually, for my generation, I think this is something that has always been part of an emerging political consciousness as you grow up. But there have definitely been moments in the last few years when I’ve thought we’ve got to take this more seriously. I think when we passed the Climate Change Act, that was a huge moment – a really significant moment – when it felt like the UK was actually tugging the world in the right direction. I think I’ve been a big admirer of the work Al Gore has done over the years in terms of seizing the world by its lapels and shaking us and saying we need to do better. And he did it recently in the run up to Paris with some comments about the UK and the direction that our policy’s taking now. And I think you have these moments actually – and Paris was one of them – where it felt like suddenly the issue had become much more salient. But the risk is that what then happens is that the spotlight turns away and then we unravel our commitment to clean energy in the UK and we can’t meet our commitments, and when you’ve even got an energy secretary who is writing to fellow members of the Cabinet, warning them about the progress that’s being made and the need to change course, there is a real risk, I think, that the spotlight moves away.
CB: You mentioned Al Gore, and, obviously, in the US climate change has become a particularly partisan issue. And Al Gore – for good or bad – has obviously been a symbol of that, to some degree, in terms of what he says and the reaction to what he says. Do you think there’s a danger – and if there is, how do you prevent it – that in the UK climate change becomes, or grows worse than it has ever been, a partisan issue? Where it becomes an issue where the left supports climate action and the right doesn’t, or wants to retract from that?
LN: Yeah, I mean I think there’s a real danger of that happening at the moment because we’ve seen that the cross party consensus that carried us right the way through to pass the Climate Change Act, right the way through until the general election in 2010 and then has sort of lasted over the last parliament, is under real pressure now. And it’s particularly under pressure when you have a lot of backbenchers in the Conservative party who are very opposed to certain forms of clean energy technology, and you can feel when you’re in the House of Commons chamber that the energy secretary is feeling the heat about that…
CB: From her own party?
LN: From her own party behind, you know, and I think it would be real tragedy if that consensus was able to break down. I think it’s been one of the reasons why the UK has been able to lead the world at times in the fight against global warming, and have such clout on a world stage. But the key thing is that we cannot be allowed in the UK to unravel all of the things that would make real the commitment that we just made in Paris, just a few months after we signed that deal. The message that sends – not just to people in the UK, but to the rest of the world – I think is devastating. And also because, in the end, we’ll only make progress on global warming if we make the case publicly and we take the public with us. Now, there’s one narrative that the government seems to have, which is that climate change is costly, that it will cost jobs, that it will cause higher bills. There’s another way of thinking about it – if we made the right choices, and we formed broad alliances to help deliver it – which is about a transition to a clean energy system that helped to power our economy, that helped to create jobs and investment in some of our poorest communities, that helped to ensure that young people in towns like mine in Wigan had access to those clean energy jobs of the future. We could look forward to the next hundred years and say its doom, gloom and despair, or we could look forward and say there’s a massive, massive opportunity for the UK here. And I feel it particularly strongly because I represent a town that is a former mining town where most of my constituents in the past, or their ancestors, would have gone down the pits, would have done really dangerous, difficult, dirty work and helped to build this country’s wealth through the industrial revolution – and give us the global influence that allowed us to go to Paris in December and help to lead the world in negotiating that historic deal – it’s communities like mine, constituents like mine, who ought to be given the chance to do that again. Wherever I go at the moment in the UK – whether it’s in the north east of England or the north east of Scotland, whether it’s on council estates in Lambeth, or in communities in Nottingham – that’s what people are asking for. They’re asking for that plan, that strategy, that investment, that will help to – as you said at the beginning of this interview – to keep the lights on, to keep bills low, to safeguard jobs and the move us towards climate change… [cut off!]
CB: Do you find this conversation difficult sometimes with the kind of the core Labour supporters you talked about in your constituency? When you talk on the doorstep with people who have a heritage of coal mining and, essentially, the messaging is “we need to get off coal as fast as possible” and transition away from, you know, you could even argue that some of the steel industry, that coal mining, all these kind of core Labour supporter sectors and industries… Do you find that a difficult conversation to have with people at times?
LN: No, I don’t think so. When I talk to my constituents who worked down the mines, there’s no romanticising what that was like; it was incredibly hard work, it was dangerous, people lost their lives, people still suffer that chronic legacy of ill health. But nevertheless, they – and I – are very proud of the fact that people in Wigan, and people in Barnsley, and around the country, helped to ensure that we had the wealth and the products that gave this country its prosperity, that helped to build our economy, that helped to give us our global influence. The impact of that still lasts today. And what they’re interested in, and what I’m interested in, is what happens next? Where are the opportunities for their children and their grandchildren? Where is this country going next? What sort of jobs are we trying to create? How are we going to invest in those communities? And it seems to be that there’s a thread that connects them both, which is people that want to play their part, which is doing the right thing for this country and for the world. And that cannot be either jobs and bills, or action on climate change. It has to be both. And I think people outside of here understand that very well, I’m just not sure that the debate in political circles has really caught up – but I’m determined that it should.
CB: You’re a new mum. Congratulations…
LN: I haven’t slept for nine months!
CB: Has being a parent changed the way you think about climate change and the implications for future generations, obviously, notably, your new child? But, unusually in your role, you’re thinking not just a political cycle or two ahead – as most government roles or policy-making roles do – you’re thinking sometimes two or three generations ahead and some of the decisions we need to make today. As a new parent, how do you grapple with that very long-term thinking?
LN: Well, I suppose as a new parent I grapple with staying awake quite a lot of time [laughs] as much as thinking about the next 50 or 100 years! But, actually, I think children and young people always do focus your mind on the future, partly because you’re trying to think what the world will be like during the course of their lifetime, and what consequences the decisions that you make now will have for them, but also because I think they feel it very strongly. I used to work with children and young people before I came into parliament and I think they think very strongly that the impact – not just of our decisions, but of our indecision or lack of decision-making in some areas and our lack of progress – will fall to them to solve. They don’t get a vote, so they don’t nationally often have much of a voice, so it’s the responsibility of everybody in politics, or in a position of influence, to try and think about that, and to try and shape that and give them a voice. It is quite exciting, though. I met with some young people at the Paris climate change talks who were there to lobby politicians and to campaign for us to go further and faster on climate change, and it is quite exciting to see that much of the passion and the enthusiasm and the will to push us to go further is coming from that generation. I think for my generation we were probably the first to have grown up or become teenagers around the time people really understood about climate change. For people of my baby’s age, this will always be a given – that this is an imperative that we need to work together to tackle – and that gives me quite a lot of hope for the future, because even though the government is taking the axe to subsidies around solar and onshore wind, even though they’re scrapping CCS, even though we’re taking short-term decisions that will be to our long-term lasting damage, there’s a generation coming up who will refuse to allow that to be the narrative and the direction of travel – and that feels quite exciting.
CB: So, what do you say to the so-called “Heathrow 13“, who have been found guilty of trespass at Heathrow for a direct action protest? They’re due to be sentenced at the end of this month and they’ve been told to expect a custodial sentence. It’s the young generation making a pretty big point, and willing to take a pretty big personal hit to make a big statement about climate change. What do you say to them and to that generation?
LN: Well, I think there are lots of young people around the country who are campaigning and making their voices heard in different ways. I think the best way that we could help to make sure that young people can make an impact on the debate is to extend the right to vote to 16 and 17 year olds. It will be their generation that has to solve these problems, and it appalls me that they don’t have legitimate means to have that say in the same way that someone of my age does, who arguably – my generation – is involved in not solving the problem. So, I think there are lots of different ways you can make your voices heard, and there are lots of young people who are out – they’re doing lots of different things, protesting and so on. But not very far from here in Lambeth, there’s something really exciting going on, and that is a solar project that the local authority had backed, that is about estates taking on and powering their own homes through solar, and there are young people there – and in Warrington, where they’re doing a similar scheme and in Hackney at one that I visited the other day – who are employed in apprenticeships and in jobs helping to run those schemes and power those scheme and extend them to other estates. And they are not just protesting, but they’re actually having a direct impact on the future, and it seems to be that is what we should be encouraging.
CB: Another big long-term decision that has implications for many generations ahead is the “Brexit” vote. What impact would a vote by the UK to leave the European Union have in terms of energy and climate policies here in the UK, and also within the EU?
LN: So, this is where you will find there is a real degree of the cross-party consensus that we need. Because Amber Rudd gave an interview very recently in which she said that it would be hugely problematic in terms of energy policy and climate change policy if the UK were to leave the EU and I completely agree with her. I think it would be bad for bills. I think it would be bad for our energy security. And I think it would be really disastrous for our ability to have a lasting global impact on tackling climate change. You only have to look at the way the Paris deal was done to understand how important it is for the UK to be that voice in the EU, helping us to move the world much further on. And, you know, there are lots of politicians in here who constantly say the UK can’t be a world leader on this. And I don’t agree with them: I think the UK can be a world leader in the fight against climate change. But one of the key ways we can do that is to help move the world forwards in step with our ambition. And the EU is a crucial tool to do it.
CB: One of the things that the EU has given us is the 2020 renewables target, and we’ve just recently seen with a leaked letter in the Ecologist highlighting that the UK’s heat and transport sectors are struggling to lower their emissions and might be a reason we may miss that 2020 target, compared to say the power sector. How do you propose that those two key sectors – heat and transport – lower their emissions?
LN: The letter was quite extraordinary, because it was the secretary of state writing to her colleagues in the Cabinet to warn them about the consequences for meeting those targets should their departments not take action. I think one of the really worrying trends in terms of energy and climate policy in this parliament has been the dominance of the Treasury in decision-making. And my reading of that warning was that it was a secretary of state who is very personally committed to trying to advance this agenda who was trying to take some ownership of that and move that agenda forward. But the big question really is, is the Chancellor listening? Because it’s becoming increasingly apparent that there’s where decisions are being taken. Unless you have that backing from the Treasury in this government, at least, it doesn’t seem likely there will be much progress. And then there is a real risk that we miss those targets. Now there’s a big question then about how the government chooses to respond to that – does it want to take the hit and pay a fine, or is it really committed to making that progress? – and I think that will become apparent quite shortly.
CB: How should aviation emissions be dealt with, both here in the UK and the EU, but globally, too? For example, would you support a frequent flier tax to replace air passenger duty?
LN: Something that we’re looking at at the moment is about how you deal with the whole issue of aviation. A lot of the public debate ends up being concentrated on families who take one holiday a year; many of my constituents are in that position. Too little of the public debate, in my view, focuses on businesses who have structured their way of operating so that their staff are taking several flights a week, and it seems to me there is much more we could do to try to ensure that the costs of any policies aren’t borne disproportionately by people who aren’t in the driving seat of causing them. So, it’s something that we are definitely looking at at the moment in terms of our policy, but we haven’t make any final decisions about that yet. Carbon Brief will be the first to know!
CB: You’ve said that the government’s capacity market has failed – paying millions to dirty diesel and old power stations – so how would you specifically change that?
LN: Well, I think the key issue around the capacity market is that we’ve had several rounds and yet it still hasn’t brought forward new investment in gas power stations, which the government says they so desperately want to be built. So, it seems to me that there is a fundamental problem with the way the market is operating at the moment. It something that – sorry to repeat this – but it is something that we’re looking at, in terms of the way that that operates…
<Aide mentions that Alan Whitehead has tabled an amendment to the Energy Bill that specifically would eliminate diesel from any future capacity market>
LN: …the amendment is, basically, a hook to try and push the government on the decision that they made before Christmas. Of course, we’re hoping they’ll do it, but in terms of the committee, we haven’t got the numbers. But if we can push them on that decision they made before Christmas and to push them into a slightly better decision in terms of the way the capacity market operates, I think it might be quite a helpful thing to do. And then, obviously, the bill has to go back to the House of Lords, so there would be the potential to reopen the debate there afterwards, but we can keep you posted about it.
CB: Would the Climate Change Act be at risk if, say, George Osborne became the next prime minister?
LN: Well, I think at the moment, what we’re seeing with David Cameron as the prime minister is that there is a very worrying weakening of the cross-party consensus around energy and climate change. And the Committee on Climate Change has been a particularly helpful plank in that consensus – the independence of that advisory body – I think that just recently they set out quite starkly to the secretary of state that there will need to be changes to government policy and practice in this parliament if we’re meet our existing commitments. So I hope that she’s listening to that. I hope that David Cameron’s listening to that, but I think we have quite an immediate debate to be had, and some quite immediate and fundamental changes that need to be made before we even face the prospect of George Osborne becoming leader of the Conservative party and – God help us – prime minister.
CB: Just to follow up on that Brexit point – and I think you answered that you supported the UK staying in the EU for energy and climate reasons – I just wanted to ask you to expand on that, if you could, and precisely why you think the UK is better off staying in the EU in relation to our energy goals and climate targets?
LN: OK, where shall I start? I’ll start with the point about energy, I think, because, in terms of where we get our energy from, we are essentially part of the European market. Being in the EU gives us a lot more flexibility about where we import energy from, when we need to. So, I think the consequences of coming out of the EU would be quite stark in terms of energy security and the flexibility that it afforded to us, especially as we move in the direction of increasingly becoming reliant on renewables – wind and solar. The other consideration, of course, is around climate change and the progress that we’ve made in climate change in recent years. Certainly, Paris showed how important it is for the UK to be part of the EU, the fact that we’re able to work through the EU helped to ensure we got a better deal, globally, and also helped to ensure that we moved the world forward in step with our ambition. The negotiations through the EU helped ensure that we got there together, and that is really important for the UK, because of the potential implications of us trying to take action on climate change alone, which of course in the end, is impossible.
CB: One of the things that came out of Paris was this idea of this so-called ratchet mechanism, or the ambition mechanism; this idea that, over five-year periods, the countries of the world come together and increase their domestic efforts, or regional efforts. Relating to that, I just want to go back to – you may not have seen it – but Jeremy Corbyn wrote to Ed Davey last February and he was citing some Tyndall Centre research showing that the UK and EU’s cuts would have to be 80% by 2030, for it to be a “fair share” of global efforts to stay below 2C. But, of course, the EU is currently pledging to cut emissions by “at least 40%” by 2030. Bearing in mind the Paris agreement and the ambition mechanism and also the idea that we have to now pursue “well below 2C”, not the 2C limit that was previously agreed to, bearing all that in mind, should our targets, both the UK and the EU’s, now be tightened?
LN: The first thing that I would say is that it’s very clear that Jeremy is keen to see us make progress on climate change and tackling global warming. He made that very clear in Paris, when he spoke at a packed event there, during the climate change, during the COP. But one of the realities of Paris is that, although it’s an incredibly ambitious deal, the plans that the countries have submitted don’t actually add up to the target that we have set out, that we all aspire to reach. So, in reality, there is a lot more that we need to do, whether we set more ambitious targets or not. We’ve got to make actual, real, practical progress. That’s one of the reasons why the ratchet mechanism is so important, but I think it’s also one of reasons why the advice from the Committee on Climate Change is quite important. Essentially, what they’re saying is, there is a need, ultimately, for more ambitious targets to reach climate safety, but in the current parliament there will have to be changes to government policies and practice, if we’re going to reach the targets that we’ve set out at the moment. In all honesty, I think that should be the priority.
CB: In that same letter, that Jeremy Corbyn sent to Ed Davey, he suggested one option for maximising emissions cuts, would be to introduce what is known as a “carbon fee and dividend“. Basically, in essence, a revenue neutral tax, it would place a rising cost on carbon, and see the money redistributed from the wealthy, high-emitters, to poorer, low-emitters. Is that a sensible way forward, do you think, or, perhaps, more pertinently, is that politically possible?
LN: I haven’t actually seen the details of what he’s proposing in that letter. I haven’t seen the letter, actually. But I think that there’s two sides to this. One is, as Barack Obama recognised, in his address to the COP in December, the very pressing need to understand that some of the countries who are least responsible for climate change are suffering the worst effects, and that the world needs to recognise that, and to take action to address that social injustice. But there’s also a very pressing need in the UK, I think, domestically, to ensure that as we make progress on global warming, that some of the poorest people in the UK don’t shoulder the bulk of the burden for doing that. That’s one of the reasons why, since I took on this role, that I and many others have been very, very focused on clean energy jobs, and about where the benefits of this transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy system are felt, in some of the poorest communities in the country. There ought to be a benefit from doing this. Similarly, we’re very keen to look again at the way that low-carbon technologies are financed and funded, because at the moment we’ve got a situation where, because of the way that the levy control framework works, some of the poorest households in the country are paying six times more as a proportion of their income than the wealthiest, and it seems to me that that is, ultimately, not just unfair, but also unsustainable, because it weakens the collective – what’s the word that I’m looking for? – it weakens the collective solidarity around tackling climate change.
CB: So, how do you get around that inequality then, and that fairness issue, in terms of how do you make the wealthier portion of UK society – which is, obviously, in per capita terms, they emit more carbon, or are responsible for emitting more – how do you rebalance that?
LN: I think there are different ways to make this transition. So, just in relation to, for example, in relation to nuclear power and Hinkley, one of the suggestions that’s been made is that the state takes on a much more interventionist role; so might take on, for example, the construction of the project, in order to bring costs down. Other suggestions that have been made have been around having a much more open and competitive system, where you have different technologies competing for those contracts and for those subsidies. So, I think there are ways, actually, that we can do this, not just more fairly, but in a way that doesn’t cause us to incur disproportionate costs. One of the things that we’re looking at, particularly as the Labour front-bench, is the way that the costs of, currently, of low carbon policies on consumers, because, essentially, it’s a flat fee that people are paying, and, of course, that disproportionately impacts on the some of the lowest income…
CB: So, would you take that cost off bills and move it into general taxation?
LN: It’s one option that’s been suggested to us, but we haven’t made a final decision about our policy on that yet.
CB: And what about bringing Hinkley into public ownership and actually having it as a project owned by the country, rather than the French or Chinese, or whoever?
LN: So, one of the suggestions that’s been made to me and that we’re looking at the moment is around whether it’s possible for the state to take a greater role. The proposal, specifically, that was made by the IPPR[ Institute for Public Policy Research] was about the state actually taking on the construction of projects, like Hinkley, which, on the plus side, gives you much greater control and also potentially brings costs down, and I think it’s certainly worth looking at, but we haven’t made a final decision yet.
CB: What’s your timeframe for making such decisions? Is there an internal deadline you’ve set — by the spring or something — when you’d actually come out and publicly state X, Y or Z – this is what we think is the sensible way forward?
LN: So, we’re having a discussion among the shadow team at the moment and with other members of parliament. The next step in that process in our decision-making is we would take that to shadow cabinet and then, because we’re a membership organisation, we make policy through our members, so we’d have to, it would have to go to the party as a whole. But I think there would be very strong support for doing this differently. It’s just a question about whether a greater role for the state is the most efficient way of delivering new projects, or whether, actually, more competition, which is a proposal that Policy Exchange made, real competition, not just between different companies, but between different technologies as well, might be the way forward. I think, just generally, there is a sense around Hinkley that it seems very odd that the government is so reluctant to allow the UK to get involved in the project, when they are completely relaxed about the idea of the French and Chinese governments being involved. There is definitely a sense, as one person expressed it to me, that any country is welcome to come and invest in Britain, unless it’s Britain itself.
CB: Presumably, it’s because of…
LN: …You know, a position we’ve got into for ideological reasons, but isn’t in the country’s interest.
CB: Well, presumably it’s part of, I don’t know, George Osborne’s mantra about, you know, austerity or bringing back the domestic, you know, getting off national debt and things like this, and reining in that. That’s presumably the thinking behind that…
LN: I don’t actually think it is, because if you look at the decisions that are being made, particularly around Hinkley, it’s becoming increasingly clear that by ruling out any kind of role for the British stake in the process, apart from handling the negotiation, you’re ruling out the potential for costs to actually come down. So, I don’t think austerity is a decent reason for it. Actually, I think it’s much more about an ideological desire in the Conservative party to roll back the role of the state.
CB: On that point of ideology within parties, it’s kind of noticeable that there’s a number of climate sceptics within the Conservative party ranks. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one or two, maybe someone like Graham Stringer, in the Labour party, but are there any climate sceptics in the Labour team, and, if there are, what do you say to them?
LN: So, I think the party is very united on this issue, actually, on tackling global warming. You tend to find it in all sections of the party, you know, right across the political spectrum. I think, for a number of reasons, partly because we’ve got a very strong record of taking action on it in government that people are rightly proud of, but also because I think there is a real recognition in the Labour party that climate change disproportionately impacts some of the poorest people overseas and some of the poorest people in the UK, and if you look at what happened over Christmas with the flooding, if you look at what happened straight after New Year, when London broke its air pollution limits for the year in the first couple of weeks of 2016, it’s children growing up in inner cities with chronic asthma, it’s people dying younger as a result of air pollution. These are all things that actually impact disproportionately some of the poorest people in the country and in the world, so I think there is a very strong consensus across the Labour party that this is something that ought to be a first order priority and not a secondary consideration.
CB: And just sort of finally, perhaps, how much more should this government be spending on flood defences, which you just mentioned there, and where would you find the money?
LN: I think it’s a question actually of two things: one is making sure that we spend the budget that was allocated for flood defences in an effective way. So, essentially, what happened was the government came in in 2010 and cut the budget that had been allocated for flood defences, and then three years later, when we had those horrendous floods in 2013/14, ended up having to spend more than that simply to repair the damage and put in place some emergency measures which then a couple of years later we found weren’t that effective and ended up having to spend more money again. So, essentially, we are haemorrhaging money on dealing with the crisis and the chaos caused by flooding, because we’re not investing in our flood defences in the first place. It’s quite typical I think of this government’s really short-sighted approach to public finance, which is cut now and pay through the nose later.But the second side of this, of course, is we know already that these events are becoming much more frequent. We know because of the work of the Committee on Climate Change that if we don’t do something to tackle temperature rises, then we will see more homes underwater, and I think they estimated that a rise of around 4C would put a billion more homes at risk of flooding. At the same time, we’ve got planning permission being granted for people building on floodplains, and we’ve got a committee that’s been set up in the wake of the floods that is chaired by the same person who chaired it last time, that produced not a single recommendation or any action at all. When I asked Amber Rudd in the chamber about this committee, whether she was on it, whether anybody from her department attended it, whether it had met yet, she didn’t know anything about it. So, I think there is a much bigger issue about how seriously we take this as a country, and, quite honestly, in the last few months it’s becoming increasingly apparent that we don’t. And that is partly about finance, about putting the funding up and spending it properly, but it’s also partly about having a plan for how you’re going to deal with the impacts of climate change on some of the poorest people in this country and from businesses that deserve better.
CB: Thank you for your time.
LN: Thank you.
This interviewed wa conducted by Leo Hickman on 1 February 2015 at Portcullis House, London.
Sharelines from this story
The Carbon Brief Interview: Lisa Nandy
Lisa Nandy on the government's policy agenda, #fracking, #renewables, & more