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Lords Diary: Baroness Worthington

4 min read

Perhaps it’s human nature to only value something properly when you know it is coming to an end but as I approach a leave of absence from the Lords, I realise how much I am going to miss it

It’s been a privilege to be a Member since my introduction 12 years ago – coinciding with the birth of my son, now almost as tall as me and in his first year of secondary school. I regret this will mean not being able to take part in the final stages of a number of bills. The Energy Security Bill has finished committee but report stage has yet to be scheduled. It’s the latest of several energy bills I have worked on and far from the best. Too much of it has been written to serve the incumbent energy players with far too little attention paid to what citizens and the wider economy need: an efficient and affordable energy system based on clean electricity.

One of the areas I’ve paid attention to is the taking of new powers to run village scale trials of hydrogen for home heating. This neatly encapsulates the problem – an inefficient, potentially dangerous and expensive experiment is being foisted onto people, to serve the interests of gas distribution and boiler manufacturing companies. There have been 33 independent studies published that conclude that electricity, not hydrogen, is the best path to making our homes warm and safe while not damaging the environment. Yet, thanks to the vociferous and well-connected gas and hydrogen lobby, the attention, public money and support that should be being given to electric heating – from individual air source to community scale ground source heat pumps – is being wasted on poorly thought through proposals.

I know the debate will continue as the bill leaves the Lords and heads to the Commons, not least because the indomitable citizens of Whitby and Redcar – the proposed trial “villages of the damned”, as I referred to them in committee – have armed themselves with the facts and will not be ignored.

Insufficient attention is still being paid to risk in the financial sector

As I write, I am preparing to speak at the Financial Times Climate Capital conference about regulatory versus voluntary approaches to the climate crisis. The Financial Services and Markets Bill is currently in the Lords and I have tabled a couple of amendments to highlight regulatory gaps. There is considerable evidence – not least the recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank – that insufficient attention is still being paid to risk in the financial sector and, when it comes to climate risks, there is complacency where there should be urgency. This is thanks in part to an over-reliance on flawed models, which are not keeping pace with observable impacts at even today’s elevated global temperatures. 

The other relates to regulatory oversight of carbon markets. While the promise of uncovering the most cost-effective solutions via a market is seductive, over the years I have seen many examples of fraudulent and misleading claims and I remain very concerned that an unregulated voluntary market, atoning for climate sins with cheap “offsets”, will serve to delay action. Especially since the science underpinning what constitutes an effective offset is in dire need of an update.

Related to this, I have submitted a Question for Short Debate for one of my last days in Parliament, asking what more the government can be doing to support the building of a real-time global greenhouse gas monitoring system. An integrated approach, using land and sea-based sensors, coupled with satellites and complex models, would give a much clearer picture of what’s driving the relentless increase in greenhouse gas concentrations – from our activities but also from changes in nature. Whether the ballot affords me this opportunity or not, it’s a subject very dear to my heart and I will continue to work on it – just not from the comfort of the reassuring red benches.

Baroness Worthington is a Crossbench peer

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