Photo of Alan Haselhurst

Alan Haselhurst (Deputy Speaker)

I have to announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4:08 pm
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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

I beg to move,

That this House
recognises the serious threat posed to the planet by climate change;
welcomes the decision of the Prime Minister to make this a priority for the UK presidency of the G8;
notes with concern however the lack of progress being made to secure effective international agreement on the way forward and in particular the wrecking tactics of the present US Administration and the total lack of leverage on this issue by the Prime Minister over President Bush, who is still in public denial of even the basic science;
believes that carbon emissions need to be cut by at least 60 per cent. by 2050;
further believes that without such action, measures to reduce poverty in developing countries will be severely undermined;
calls on the Prime Minister to use the G8 to win support for a successor regime to Kyoto based upon the principle of contraction and convergence, engaging the participation of both developed and developing nations;
further believes that he will be in a stronger position to give an international lead if he now tackles his failures in domestic climate change policy, which mean that the UK is now virtually certain to miss its 2010 carbon emissions reduction target and is now in danger of missing even its Kyoto target;
and urges him in particular to adopt effective policies to conserve energy within the domestic sector, and to cut emissions within the transport and energy sectors.

I am very pleased that we are able to have this opportune debate, initiated by the Liberal Democrats, on climate change in the run-up to the G8 summit. It is only a pity that, yet again, we have to rely on our Opposition day time for these major debates, rather than having Government time allocated. For the record, in the past four years there have been four Liberal Democrat debates on climate change in our limited Opposition time, only one Government debate on climate change and none at all from the Conservatives. I hope that Mr. Letwin will attempt to rectify that—provided that he is on the Front Bench long enough, given the quick succession of spokesmen representing the environmental interest for the Conservatives.

The right hon. Member for West Dorset made an interesting contribution on beauty, sunlight and daffodils, to which I listened with great interest. It was the sort of debate that I would have been delighted to take part in, perhaps in a study overlooking an Oxford quadrangle. I hope that he will be able to move on to climate change and other more serious issues before very long—which is not to say that beauty is not important, but climate change is perhaps more important still.

The priorities that the Prime Minister has set for the G8 are, as we know, Africa and climate change. Liberal Democrat Members certainly very much welcome those two priorities. They are completely correct, and the Prime Minister is right to consider what he can do through his presidencies of the G8 and the European Union to take those matters forward.

Although Africa is not the prime subject of the motion, my colleagues feel that significant progress has been made there. The Commission for Africa is a welcome development—a good first step—and we very much welcome the obvious progress that has been made on debt and aid, but I am afraid that the same cannot be said for climate change. It may be no coincidence that the Prime Minister has been rather more keen to talk about Africa and aid, where progress has been made, than about climate change, where it has not.

It a common view among hon. Members on both sides of the House that climate change is the greatest threat facing the planet, especially Africa. In January 2004, Sir David King, the Government's chief scientist, said:

"In my view, climate change is the most severe problem we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism."

Yet, shortly afterwards, the Prime Minister said:

"It's the single biggest long-term problem we face."

He appears to be at odds with his chief scientist about the urgency of the matter.

I make it very clear that the Liberal Democrats regard climate change as a problem today, not one for the long term. It is a problem that requires action now, both internationally and domestically. Everyone knows that climate change is kicking in. I do not need to rehearse the science—it is all very well documented—and people need only look at the weather in this country to see how it has changed in the past 20 years to know that climate change is here and is having an increasing effect on our country and the planet.

We believe that combating climate change and helping Africa are two inextricably linked goals. Indeed, we go so far as to say that we could sort out Africa's debt problems if only we could sort out the aid problems and even the trade problems. Unless we deal with climate change, the good work on the Africa agenda will be significantly undermined because Africa is in the front line when facing problems from climate change, desertification, extra flooding and changes to crop harvests.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said:

"It is important to understand that Africa and climate change are intrinsically linked, as climate change will affect the welfare of Africans for years to come."

Andrew Simms, the New Economics Foundation policy director, said:

"You cannot make poverty history unless you stop runaway climate change."

If the Prime Minister wants to make progress on Africa, that is good, but he must make progress on climate change as well, otherwise he undermines his own case.

I commend to the House and the Minister the recent report, "Africa: Up in Smoke", which looked at some of those issues in detail. The report made it plain for us all to see that the G8 nations have failed to join the dots between climate change and Africa. It made it clear that unless global warming is checked, development gains will disappear. Fourteen African countries are already subject to water stress or water scarcity, and they will be joined by a further 11 in the next 25 years. Rainfall is predicted to decline in the Horn of Africa and some parts of the south by as much as 10 per cent. by 2050. The land in Africa may warm by as much as 1.6°C, which can affect crop harvests for hundreds of millions of people. Aid policy for Africa needs to be recast to take account of climate change. Greater resources need to be given to adaptation, so that Africa is capable of withstanding some of the effects that are coming down the track towards it very quickly.

Sadly, most G8 nations, including the United Kingdom, are dragging their feet in paying aid to the third world for climate change. The UK has pledged £10 million to a special climate change fund, but so far has paid nothing. Japan, the United States and Russia, which ostensibly signed up to some degree to the aid agenda, have refused to offer any cash at all. Germany has so far paid nothing to the special fund.

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Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell, Labour)

I am pleased to say that the hon. Gentleman was one of the Members who came to the launch today of the parliamentary all-party group on climate change. Many Members from both sides were present. The hon. Gentleman referred to the contribution of other countries. Does he think that during our presidency of the G8, those countries will take the Prime Minister's view that climate change is as important as it is?

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

I will come to the other G8 members and climate change shortly, but the quick answer is that there is a commonality of view among many countries on the need to act. Unfortunately, that view is not shared by the United States Administration, and we need to overcome that problem if we are to make progress. The hon. Gentleman leads me on to the strategy for the G8 presidency but, first, may I congratulate him on his efforts this morning to set up the all-party group? I hope that it will do good work.

The Government's diplomatic strategy has been sensible. As far as I can tell, it has been based on four prongs. The first is to persuade President Bush and his acolytes of the scientific case for action on climate change; the second is to tie down the rhetoric on new technologies so that something actually materialises, rather than simply talking in a vacuum about what might be done; the third is to aim towards a communiqué that signs up everyone to a successor regime for Kyoto in some shape or form; and the fourth is to find a way realistically and fairly to bring China, India and other such countries on board. Those are sensible diplomatic objectives for the arrangements that the Prime Minister is entering into.

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Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East, Conservative)

If Kyoto is to be at the heart of our interest in climate change, will it not be very difficult to address the issues that climate change presents until we get the United States to come on board with Kyoto?

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

Undoubtedly, and I shall devote part of my speech to what we should do in that eventuality.

The United States is the world's major polluter. It has 4 per cent. of the world's population, but produces 25 per cent. of its carbon emissions. However, President Bush still denies the basic science that everyone else in the world accepts. His spokesman, Harlan Watson, said a couple of months ago:

"We are still not convinced of the need to move forward quite so quickly . . . There is general agreement that there is a lot known, but there is also a lot to be known."

In other words, that is being used as an excuse to do nothing and to justify the status quo and business as usual.

We have reached the stage at which the only people who do not appear to believe that climate change is with us are President Bush and Lee R. Raymond, the chairman and chief executive of ExxonMobil. They could fit into a telephone box and discuss the subject. That reminds me of the old adage about Liberal Members of Parliament back in the 1960s, who, it was said, would all be able to fit into a taxi. Fortunately, those days are now long gone, and I imagine that they went when Cyril Smith won a by-election in Rochdale. We have moved on, so let us hope that President Bush can move on with his best buddy the chief executive of ExxonMobil.

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Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness, Conservative)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is hard for us to apply the moral pressure on the United States that we all seek to apply when our Government talk tough about climate change and carbon dioxide emissions, set an ambitious target of 20 per cent. and then cut it to 13 per cent? They are failing to deliver. Does he agree with the recent report that suggests that this country now has a worse environmental record than that of the United States, which everyone seems to want to criticise? We all need to change.

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

I do not agree that we have a worse environmental record than the United States, but I accept that we need to ensure that our house is in order before we attempt to lecture others. There is a lot of work to be done on the domestic scene, to which I will come later. One of the joys of these debates is that Members are always keen to anticipate the comments that I shall make. I busily scribble them out as I go through my contribution.

We have to ask why President Bush takes the view that he does. Does he genuinely not believe that the science is proven—in which case, he is in a very small minority—or is there some other reason? We need to look at other elements of the US Administration to answer that question, and I look no further than Phillip Cooney, who was a chief of staff for the White House council on environmental quality. Leaked memos that have appeared in the press show that he consistently watered down official scientific warnings and intervened to blur the conclusions of Government scientists before they were published so as to minimise, as far as possible, their views on the threat from climate change.

Phillip Cooney is not a scientist; he is a politician working for President Bush. He was formerly a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's largest trade group and a lobby group vocal in denying that climate change results from man-made emissions. He resigned over the weekend 11–12 June, having taken a job with ExxonMobil that he will start shortly. I can do no better than quote Henry Waxman, a Democratic Congressman who sits on the committee on government reform, who said:

"At a minimum it creates a terrible appearance . . . This is one of the fastest revolving doors I have seen."

That is not a unique example of an individual in the US putting forward views based purportedly on science but actually on their interests or the interests of those they represent. The director of the International Policy Network, Julian Morris, described the Prime Minister's plans to use his G8 tenure to halt global warming as "offensive". Interestingly, ExxonMobil gave the IPN $50,000.

The leading spokesman for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Myron Ebell, attacked David King as an

"alarmist with ridiculous views who knows nothing about climate change".

Interestingly, ExxonMobil gave that organisation $280,000. Tech Central Station has also been leading the charge against the science of climate change. It received $95,000 from ExxonMobil. Can Members detect a pattern emerging among those US spokesmen?

Where does that leave the Prime Minister at the G8 summit? What should he do? I feel genuinely sorry for him. He has tried to move things forward with President Bush and the United States through that international forum, but he has been completely rebuffed. All the favours that the Prime Minister has given over Iraq and everything else count as nothing with President Bush. They have been contemptuously swept aside in the one-way street that is our special relationship. It looks as though the Prime Minister will return empty handed from the G8 summit as regards the American Administration. That will of course be only the latest in a long line of rebuffs from best friend President Bush. Whether it is the International Criminal Court, debt relief or Iraq—the list is endless—President Bush says no, no, no.

It is important to realise, however, that when we talk about President Bush we are not talking of the American people—those in America who understand climate change and are arguing strongly for real action. Evidence of a sensible and understanding approach in the US is becoming common.In the Senate, there were the efforts of the Republican Senator McCain to set up an emissions trading scheme by 2010, in a reasonably close vote on 21 June, only a few days ago. There are the actions of US states such as California, where Arnold Schwarzenegger said that the debate on climate change "is over". He has announced a climate change plan with targets to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to 2000 levels by 2010. As a Republican, he is taking action in the fifth or sixth biggest economy in the world, and he is moving Republican opinion in the US behind the need to take action on climate change.

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Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith, Labour)

Just as President Bush is not the USA, nor too is the G8. Does the hon. Gentleman support some of the initiatives from France and Germany, especially the idea for an airline tax, which would contribute towards tackling climate change and provide extra assistance for Africa? Does his party support that?

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

There is no question about the need to deal with aviation emissions. All the projections show that they will rise hugely in the next 20 or 30 years. Obviously, an aviation fuel tax would require international agreement and, as the hon. Gentleman will realise, that may not be forthcoming. However, there is the EU emissions trading scheme and my party—and, indeed, the Government, support the inclusion of aviation in that scheme. It is important that that takes place as quickly as possible and at a level that really generates reductions in emissions from aircraft, rather than simply allowing business as usual. It is not a perfect solution and we need collectively to consider others, but there is a major problem that must be dealt with, so we should listen carefully to well-intentioned proposals from other countries that want reductions in climate change gases.

I was talking about California, but other US states and cities have taken action. A pan-US initiative has been founded by Seattle's mayor, Greg Nickels, and dozens of cities have signed up to taking action on climate change. Most, but not all, are Democrat and each has the tough target of cutting its emissions by 7 per cent. Each mayor wants to take a different path, which is fair enough because of local circumstances, but they are all taking the problem seriously and doing something. The EU emissions trading scheme is being mirrored, or shadowed, by nine north-east states, so when the US Administration in Washington come to their senses, they will be able to plug into the scheme. A lot of good things are happening in the US, so the attitude that President Bush takes on the world stage does his country no good whatsoever.

So, how should the Prime Minister approach the impasse that is President Bush? Let me make it clear that getting the US into an agreement would be infinitely preferable to having it outside an agreement. It is a major polluter and a major world player, so we want it signed up as part of a deal to tackle climate change. The Government are right to try to push the button and see whether we can get there, but unfortunately I do not think that we will be able to achieve it. Given the diplomatic objectives that I mentioned earlier, perhaps we can make progress with President Bush on technology. There is investment in the US in areas such as the hydrogen economy, renewables and carbon sequestration.

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Michael Weir (Spokesperson (Environment & Food; Health; Rural Affairs; Trade & Industry); Angus, Scottish National Party)

I understand that one of the objections of the Bush Administration to Kyoto is that it does not cover the emerging economies of China and India. Given that it will be necessary to deal with them as part of any overall attack on climate change, will agreement among the G8 be enough? Surely we need a wider agreement over and above the G8 to deal with the problem. Will not the Prime Minister have to move the matter forward in other spheres after the G8 summit?

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

Absolutely. The G8 is only a start, but it is an important start. We will also be able to use the EU presidency, but ultimately we need a system that is seen to be fair and equitable throughout the world, which means that we must get not only the US but developing countries on board. Perhaps a system based on contraction and convergence, which would be attractive to all countries due to its fairness, is the way in which we will get agreement in the longer term. However, China and India will not come on board if the biggest polluter in the world is outside any agreement, which is another reason why it is important to sign up the US. The sad reality is that President Bush will not even accept the science, so there is no likelihood of him accepting Kyoto or its successor. The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment said on 27 June:

"Americans are not going to sign up to Kyoto. You're just wasting your time if you think they are, so it's about how we can engage with the US".

Sadly, that is right.

We need to find out what we can get from the US. We might be able to make progress on technology, but we will not be able to get an agreement on Kyoto and we may not get an agreement to have something after Kyoto. Under those circumstances, the Prime Minister and other G8 members will have a difficult decision to make. Will they water down the agreement available to such a degree that the US signs up to it, in which case the agreement will not be worth having because it will be so weak, or will an agreement be signed among willing partners to allow them to plough ahead, even though the US is not on board at that stage? I make it clear that my preference is the second of those options because that is what we have done already by going ahead with Kyoto without the US Administration.

We cannot wait for the US Administration to catch up because we need action now to cut carbon emissions. Signing a robust agreement with other willing countries would strengthen the hand of those in the US—mayors, states, individuals and scientists—who want the country to join in. If, however, an agreement is signed that is not worth having in the end, where will that leave Arnold Schwarzenegger in California and others who think that drastic action is needed? I hope that the Prime Minister will reflect on my message that we need a robust agreement and that the Americans cannot be allowed to veto that agreement. However, I also make it clear that the US must be part of the long-term solution.

We need a target-based, country-based successor to Kyoto and we need support for such a successor regime from the G8. Ideally, we would base the scheme on the principle of contraction and convergence. We need to engage the participation of both developed and developing nations, so I am pleased with the progress that has been made in China and the seriousness with which it is approaching the issue. However, it will not be worth having an agreement if it is a lowest common denominator agreement.

I understand that representatives of China and India are to attend the Gleneagles G8 summit, which is an encouraging step. The message needs to be heard that climate change will affect developing countries first and that taking action on the environment is not a cost, but a benefit to the economy, because the cost of doing nothing in this country and elsewhere will be greater than the cost of doing something. There are good reasons for China and India to be present at the summit. We need to find a way to bring them on board that is not threatening and that ensures that we, as developed countries, acknowledge our role in creating the carbon emissions mess on our planet.

The Prime Minister needs to do one more thing: put his own house in order. With respect to the Prime Minister, it is not sufficient to make grandiose speeches on the world stage while carbon emissions increase at home and our chances of winning the battle against climate change are slipping away from us on our own doorstep. Stephen Tindale said:

"So far Blair's record on climate change is almost entirely a record of fine words and no action. His repeated failure on this issue is undermining his diplomatic efforts."

The public are crying out for action and are ready to take action. A poll published in The Observer on Sunday showed that 90 per cent. of the population believe that the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent, 79 per cent. believe that humans are responsible, and 48 per cent. say that Governments should take responsibility. The public are prepared to accept some pretty radical policy choices to move matters forward.

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Edward Vaizey (Wantage, Conservative)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me and with the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Wantage that one of the measures to combat climate change on which the Government have to make a rapid decision is nuclear power and whether to go ahead with the building of new nuclear power stations?

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

I believe that a decision is needed, but not for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman implies. A decision—a decision to say no—is needed quickly because while the debate and therefore the uncertainty continue, people are not investing in renewables and energy efficiency. While they are waiting to see what the Government will do, that investment, which is certain to bring benefits in terms of tackling climate change, is not happening.

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

Yes, although I do not want to turn this into a nuclear debate.

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Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell, Labour)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that, because I do not want it to be turned into a nuclear debate either. He referred to the recent ICM poll that showed that a great number of people are aware of climate change and that almost as great a number think that human activity is to blame. However, somewhat fewer think that the Government are omnipotent and can sort everything out themselves. Does he not think that that shifts some of the blame from our shoulders? Does he agree that we should all accept a personal challenge and will he sign up to reducing his own carbon emissions by 25 per cent. by no later than 2010?

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

Yes, I will, although I have already taken action in the past few years, so that is a tougher target for me than it might be for some others. None the less, I am happy to sign up and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his initiative. I have never regarded the Government as omnipotent. We have to take responsibility for our own actions.

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David Chaytor (Bury North, Labour)

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's personal commitment to setting targets and taking action. Why, in their manifesto, did the Liberal Democrats not match the Government's commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 20 per cent. by 2020?

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

That is our policy. As I recall, it appeared in the environment mini-manifesto and it remains our policy. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity to state that firmly this afternoon.

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John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley, Liberal Democrat)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government must revisit their plans for growth in air travel? A second runway proposed for Birmingham airport in my constituency is blighting many residents of Sheldon, but the runway is necessary only because the Government think that air transport will increase by more than a factor of three. Does he agree that it is not possible both to manage climate change and to have massive growth in air transport?

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

I agree. We cannot continue with the predict-and-provide aviation policy pursued by the Department for Transport. The aviation White Paper should be binned and the Government should make a rapid start on something far more sustainable.

Last week, in fact, the Sustainable Development Commission, which is chaired by Sir Jonathan Porritt, said:

"The Government's current aviation strategy is entirely unsustainable".

That is a big problem, but the Government are not paying any attention to it. It is the elephant in the room. They need to get to grips with transport policy and do something with it. The SDC report also said:

"Carbon emissions from road transport account for 24 per cent. of the total emissions, and are expected to rise by a further 9 per cent. by 2010. The SDC believes this sector needs radical solutions, and must be tackled urgently."

There is no sign that that is happening or that transport policy is anything other than a matter of waiting to see what happens. The handbrake is off and the car is rolling downhill.

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Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness, Conservative)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the growth in aviation and its impact on climate change are to be rectified we need to bring aviation within the emissions trading system across Europe? Such market mechanisms are the best and most efficient way of tackling this critical problem.

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

I think that I have already answered that, but I agree that market mechanisms are the best way of dealing with many, but not all, environmental problems. Regulation has its place and occasionally complete bans are required. Market mechanisms work, and the inclusion of aviation in the emissions trading scheme in Europe is one way forward. It may not be enough, however, to deal with the projected rise in emissions from that sector.

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David Chaytor (Bury North, Labour)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a vital tool in changing transport policy is the use of fuel duty combined with congestion charging? Will he remind us what his manifesto said about that?

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

As the hon. Gentleman is keen on our manifesto, I hope that he accepts that my party was the first to propose congestion charging. We are ahead of the game on road user charging, and we were the first party to suggest differential duty rates on vehicles. I am grateful for the opportunity to make those sensible points.

The Government's record shows that greenhouse gas and carbon emissions are on the way up. There is no chance at all that they will meet the 20 per cent. reduction target for carbon dioxide by 2010—that possibility has gone out of the window. The Kyoto target may not even be met. The Government keep saying that it has been met, but we have not yet reached the date when it kicks in. We are going backwards and we may yet miss it. The Government are complacent and are not keen to do very much. Power station emissions have risen by 9 per cent., and energy use has gone up by 7 per cent. since 1997. According to the latest projections, car usage will increase by 25 per cent. by 2010 and aviation emission by 83 per cent. by 2020. Carbon emissions are out of control, but the Government are not doing enough about the problem.

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Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith, Labour)

I, too, have had an opportunity to look at the Liberal Democrat manifesto—there has clearly been a run in the Library on that best-selling work. The Liberal Democrats are in favour of national road user charging, but I am puzzled as such a scheme would presumably require a central Government register to show where every single driver had been and whom they had been to visit. That record would be much more intrusive than, for example, an identity cards scheme. Can Liberal Democrat support for the "spy in the sky" national road user charging scheme be considered consistent with the party's policy on ID cards?

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

I note the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for ID cards and his Government's keenness for schemes of state control. I am an animal welfare spokesman, so I will not say that there is more than one way to skin a cat, but there are different ways of introducing road user charging, and I certainly would not want to go down the route that he suggested.

A revised climate change programme will shortly be introduced. It has been delayed, as the Minister surreptitiously announced on 16 June. The Government are in disarray and the legendary arguments between the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Trade and Industry continue. The Government are way off target, and they do not want to take a hard decision to get back on target. We need cross-party initiatives and agreement, so I welcome the creation today of the useful all-party group on climate change.

Before the election, my right hon. Friend Mr. Kennedy wrote to the leaders of the Conservative and Labour parties inviting some measure of cross-party agreement on climate change, welcoming the fact that some progress had been made and suggesting a common platform on which to go forward. We finally received a reply from the Prime Minister about three months late, saying nothing. We are still waiting for a reply from Mr. Howard. It seems that the enthusiasm to deal with the matter on a non-partisan basis is limited to the Liberal Democrats. We look forward to a more sensible response from the Conservative and Labour parties than we have had so far to that sensible initiative from my right hon. Friend.

Climate change is here. According to reports last night, Italy believes that 20,000 people died in the heat waves in Italy in 2003. Emergency measures are being taken in France and Spain to deal with the summer heat. In some places in Spain the temperature is over 40°C and it is only June. If the situation is that bad in Europe, what is it like in Africa? There is an urgent need to take drastic action, and to sell the need to take action to the British people more than has been done so far. There is a need to take action for this country, for Africa and for the world. We are willing to be part of that campaign. We look forward to a constructive and positive response from the other two parties to that challenge.

4:41 pm
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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"welcomes the UK's global leadership on climate change and in particular the Prime Minister's decision to make climate change one of the top two priorities for the G8 Presidency and a priority for the EU Presidency;
recognises that UK initiatives in 2005 have already made important contributions to the international debate on future climate change policy, in particular the scientific conference on stabilisation in February 2005 and the Energy and Environment Ministerial Roundtable in March 2005;
looks forward to the Gleneagles Summit and provides its full support to the Prime Minister's continuing efforts to secure a successful outcome;
commends the UK's plans to continue to strive for further international action following Gleneagles through both the G8 and EU;
further commends the Labour Party for being the only party to commit in its manifesto to a national goal to reduce emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010;
celebrates the UK's achievement in already reducing emissions to 13.4 per cent. between the base year and 2003, beyond that required by the Kyoto Protocol;
further welcomes the introduction of policies such as the climate change levy and renewables obligation that have been so important in achieving this;
and looks forward to the publication of the climate change programme later this year which will set out further policies to deliver the goal of a 20 per cent. reduction in emissions by 2010."

I welcome the opportunity for this debate and I hope there will be further opportunities in the not-too-distant future to discuss sustainability and climate change. If it is possible for the Government to facilitate such discussion, I am sure that we will.

I begin by correcting Norman Baker, who gets very enthusiastic about his argument. On the UK Government's commitment to overseas aid and the £10 million to assist developing countries with mitigation of climate change and adaptation, we are committed to that money, but the details of the scheme and how the money will be spent have not yet been satisfactorily resolved. We are confident that they will be resolved and that the money will be released. It is allocated and the commitment stands.

As a country we contribute more than we are obliged to contribute to the global environment fund, which is important for tackling climate change globally. We are one of the biggest contributors. The United Nations environment programme is a voluntary fund. It is not an indicative scale, though many of us feel that it should be. We are the largest single contributor to that fund. Let us be clear about our commitment to dealing with climate change internationally.

That does not take into account the assistance that we give through science. The Hadley centre has developed a regional software programme for predicting climatic change called PRECIS, which can be applied to subcontinents. I have had the opportunity to talk to international scientists from India and Brazil, for example, who are using that software, supported by UK scientists, to try and understand the implications of climatic change on subcontinents such as India. That is an important contribution from the UK and our assistance to developing countries in that way is much appreciated internationally.

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Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness, Conservative)

Does the Minister accept that although our money may go to some use abroad and may be welcomed there, our lead on the subject is poor at home? The root of the problem is that the Government have a record of telling others what they need to do, while at home you set a target of 20 per cent. by 2010 and you promptly drop it. So you are saying one thing abroad and another in the House. That is what the Government consistently do.

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Alan Haselhurst (Deputy Speaker)

Order. The hon. Gentleman should mind his parliamentary language. He should refer to a colleague in the third person. Good habits should start early.

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

There is more enthusiasm than factual accuracy in the comment from the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness. It is ludicrous to suggest that the UK is not recognised internationally as one of the countries giving the strongest lead on climatic change. Everywhere I go—as a DEFRA Minister, I attend many conferences and meet many people from all over the world—the importance of the lead that the UK has given is constantly raised and admiration is expressed for our Prime Minister's work and the steps that we have taken.

I shall outline those steps to the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness—I am sure that he will enjoy that—during the debate. Energy underpins our approach to climatic change. The energy White Paper, which sets out our energy policies for the longer term, is held up as a model internationally for what countries should do when defining a long-term energy strategy. I shall give a few examples of what we have done in the UK shortly.

If the hon. Gentleman wants to discuss a lead, perhaps he will tell me what other G8 country is on target to meet its Kyoto commitments, let alone to have reached it. He is welcome to intervene if he knows the answer. Apart from the UK and Sweden, what other European country is on track to achieve its Kyoto target?

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Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness, Conservative)

Are we going in the right or the wrong direction for meeting that target?

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

We are going in the right direction to meet the Kyoto target and are well on track for achieving it. The hon. Gentleman should not lead with his chin in interventions.

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David Chaytor (Bury North, Labour)

Have not the Opposition opposed every Government proposal for moving us towards the 12.5 per cent. target and subsequently the 20 per cent. target?

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

They have. I was intrigued by the Conservative manifesto and wondered how abolishing the climate change levy and the funds for the Carbon Trust would help to fulfil our commitments on energy efficiency and our targets.

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Nick Hurd (Ruislip - Northwood, Conservative)

Does the Minister recognise the role that the dash for gas, led by a Conservative Government, played in our ability to meet the Kyoto targets? Will he acknowledge that CO 2 emissions have risen under the Government since 1997?

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

Emissions have increased only marginally since 1997. I shall explain the reasons for that shortly. It is true that the dash for gas contributed to the fall in CO 2 emissions and I would not pretend otherwise. However, the measures that we have introduced over the years mean that the percentage contribution of the dash for gas has fallen from 40 per cent. to 30 per cent. It will fall further to around 25 per cent. as other measures kick in. One of the other contributions was the destruction of jobs and industry under the Conservative Government. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not like to be reminded of that.

The UK has demonstrated clear leadership in tackling climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and showing that that need not affect our economic competitiveness. Although there has been a small increase in CO 2 —generally due to increased coal burn—we have had the strongest economic growth in the EU, yet CO 2 emissions have risen in every other mainstream EU country by a much greater rate than in the UK. I say that to put matters in perspective. It is not an excuse because we intend to tackle the problem. However, it is wrong to suggest that the UK is out of sync with other industrialised nations. Our record remains one of the best.

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Oliver Letwin (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; West Dorset, Conservative)

Does the Minister agree that there has been uneven development in that pattern of growth? Does he know how many manufacturing jobs have been lost during the Government's tenure? Does he agree that, if manufacturing is declining, CO 2 emissions should decline with it?

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

Manufacturing jobs have declined in the UK, as has been well documented, although not as much as previously. They have also declined in other European countries.

There are a number of reasons for the increase in CO 2 emissions—transport and energy are the biggest contributors. I shall return to that point in a moment. The 2003 figures show that the UK has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 13.6 per cent. since 1990, while the UK economy has grown over the same period by more than 36 per cent. I do not think that any other country could demonstrate such a record of economic growth while keeping emissions down.

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

I will make some progress, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

In 2000, the Government introduced the UK climate change programme, which focused on policies and measures to achieve our Kyoto target. The Kyoto target is important and we are one of the very few industrial countries that are well on track to meet it, but we want to do more. We therefore set ourselves our own domestic target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent., as the hon. Member for Lewes rightly stated. We also want to do more by reducing CO 2 emissions by 60 per cent. by about 2050.

I heard what the hon. Member for Lewes said about his party's manifesto. He will know that, before the election, the non-governmental organisations asked for four key commitments from all the parties. We made all those commitments and put them in our manifesto; we were the only party to do so. One of those commitments was that we would recognise the fact that, if we did not take further action, we would not reach our target in 2010. We conceded that. We also reaffirmed our commitment to reaching the target of a 20 per cent. reduction by 2010, and that commitment remains. I shall explain how we intend to achieve that.

We accept that if we take no action from now, we will not achieve a 20 per cent. reduction. However, that is not the position that we are going to take. We have put in place the climate change review, which will come out in November. It is looking at all methods and options that can be used to achieve our target. Without the measures introduced in the climate change programme in 2000, involving energy efficiency, domestic targets, changes in company car taxation, the climate change levy and the UK carbon trading scheme—the first national scheme of its kind in the world—we would probably now be producing about 15 per cent. more than the 1990 level of greenhouse gas emissions, rather than producing about 14 per cent. below that level, as we were in 2003. That is the kind of impact that our domestic measures have had. There are, however, still pressures that have resulted in a rise in CO 2 , and I shall address those issues in a moment.

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

I should like to make some progress. Perhaps the hon. Lady could intervene later.

We have to consider what we can do to achieve our domestic goals, and that work is under way. We have no illusions about the challenge that we face. We have deliberately set ourselves ambitious targets because we want to demonstrate that we are serious about what we are doing in our own country to reduce greenhouse gasses. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Lewes that, if we are to give global leadership—as we are doing—we must demonstrate our commitment in our own country. We are absolutely committed to doing that. We cannot tackle climate change unilaterally. We must give a clear lead in our own country and face our own responsibilities, but we must also take action in conjunction with our international partners. That means being successful in our own domestic programmes.

The Prime Minister has made tackling climate change a central theme in the UK's G8 presidency this year, as the hon. Member for Lewes rightly pointed out. The Government's primary objective is to raise the profile of climate change as a matter that deserves the attention of the Heads of Government in the G8 and beyond, so as to promote international consensus on the need for further action to control emissions. It is fair to say that some people still need to be convinced of the need for further action, although I am glad to say that their number is declining. Nevertheless, we need to make that case.

We have set ourselves some more detailed, and no less ambitious, objectives. First, it is important that at the Gleneagles conference we come to a better understanding of the science involved, which means addressing some of the doubts that have been raised. We very much welcomed the statement from the national scientific bodies of all G8 countries, including the American Academy of Sciences, which was important.

Secondly, we want to ensure that the G8 agrees to a package of practical measures focused on technologies with significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions than traditional technologies—such as clean fuels and the hydrogen economy, as has been pointed out—on which a great deal of work is taking place within the G8 and which requires co-operation. There is also a need for technology transfer to emerging economies and developing countries.

Thirdly, we need to work in partnership with the major emerging economies to reach a new consensus on how to deal with the future challenge. That is why I am pleased that China, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and India have deliberately been involved in the G8 process, as we must bring those major economies on side. Incidentally, China emits more greenhouse gases than the whole European Union put together and is now the world's second biggest emitter. I was pleased at the positive response from the Chinese when we discussed those issues in the environment and energy round table meeting as part of our G8 process, which 20 Ministers from around the world attended, including Chinese and Indian Ministers, which was useful.

I should emphasise that the Gleneagles aspect is but one part of our G8 process. The science conference, which we hosted at the Hadley centre in February, was successful in attracting the world's leading scientists. Its outcome suggested that the risks identified with climate change are probably more serious than was previously thought, which makes the need for action even more important. The statement on 7 June from all the science academies backs that up. The science academies also called on G8 nations to

"identify cost-effective steps that can be taken now to contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net global greenhouse gas emissions".

That supports our objectives under the UK's presidency.

We also want to consider practical measures on technology, and specific proposals are being prepared in collaboration with our G8 partners on cleaning up fossil fuels and improving energy performance. The G8 has already agreed, under the Evian action plan on science and technology for sustainable development, to accelerate the research, development and diffusion of energy technologies, and we hope that the G8 can build on that by agreeing to turn what is currently political agreement into real action.

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Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North, Labour)

In the course of the discussions at Gleneagles, can my hon. Friend examine closely new environmental technologies? In terms of the further research that is needed and the action plan, will he examine what opportunities might exist for collaboration between companies and Government in this country and in China and India? For example, new kilns in the ceramics industry, which are currently being fitted, do not receive full tax concessions, but a collaborative exercise could make a huge difference in terms of combating global warming.

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is scope not just for collaboration with some of the emerging economies, which will reduce emissions, but for collaboration that will be beneficial to our industries, improve innovation and help companies that have new technologies and new ideas. We should not forget that environmental technologies will create jobs, and that dealing with climate change also provides opportunities—it is not all about restrictions and costs. I shall make that point as well.

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Nick Hurd (Ruislip - Northwood, Conservative)

On the subject of partnership with emerging economies, the Minister will be well aware of the importance of rain forest and forest vegetation in terms of storing carbon. He will also be aware that Brazil is the major steward in the world of such forest vegetation, and that forest stripping has returned to 1995 levels, despite the best efforts of President Lula. Does he expect that the G8 agenda will include discussions on the role that the international community can play in helping Brazil combat that problem, possibly by giving it some financial credit for the assets on which it sits?

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

I am sure that those issues will be discussed. They have already been discussed in the United Nations forum on climate change and the United Nations forestry forum. There are serious questions to be asked about how forests can be used as carbon sinks, and the possibility of carbon credits. I think that the appropriate forum is the climate change forum, because this is a global, international issue. Some people believe that the G8 should set targets, but it would be very arrogant for just eight of the world's richest countries to decide what everyone else in the world must do. The G8 countries must give a lead and give encouragement, but the commitments must involve the international community as a whole, and that must take place in the UN framework. The G8 cannot short-circuit the process.

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David Chaytor (Bury North, Labour)

My hon. Friend speaks of costs and opportunities. When the price of oil was $30 a barrel, it was understandable that business should think costs were involved in adapting to climate change. As the oil price reaches $60 a barrel and moves inexorably to $100 a barrel, that—more than anything that we could do—will concentrate minds on the opportunities and benefits.

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

That is a good point. Moreover, with prices at those levels, some technologies and developments that were not viable when the price was $30 a barrel are viable now, when the price is unlikely to return to the lower levels of the past. There are many reasons for seeking non-fossil fuel alternatives, but now there is that additional incentive.

We expect economic development to continue in the developing countries, which means an increase in greenhouse gases. We in the G8 have a role in helping emerging economies to move towards a low-carbon future. That means thinking about clean coal technology, energy efficiency, renewable energy and what we can provide in terms of capacity-building, technical assistance and extra finance. We have been keen to involve the developing countries and key emerging economies in discussing the possibilities.

As well as those emerging economies—Brazil, Mexico and South Africa—we should consider the vulnerable developing countries. We must help them respond to the challenges of climate variability and climate change in the context of our overseas development budgets and the aid that we provide, not least in the context of the UN millennium goals. We are off track with those, particularly in relation to water and sanitation, and the impact of climate change does not help.

We must ensure that developing countries have adequate regional and national data, and the capacity to interpret them. That will involve our role in engaging with the United States. I accept that, as has been said, the United States—as the biggest single emitter—needs to do more, but many states, cities and companies want to do more than the current Government allow, and we are engaging with them as well. I attended a meeting of the climate group in Canada, where a number of American states were represented, including California. It is necessary to move faster and further with the coalition of the willing, and we intend to do that. In the G8, however, we must look for common commitment to energy security, local air quality and efficiency savings, as well as to tackling climate change. We expect a robust debate on climate change with our G8 partners at Gleneagles.

The hon. Member for Lewes loves to read what is written in newspapers, but he should reserve his judgment until the final outcome of the G8. A great deal of negotiation is going on, and it will continue to the final minute of the G8 meeting.

The Prime Minister is looking for a meaningful outcome. He did not have to do that; he could have gone for the traditional, well-meaning statement that comes out of the G8. Following such a statement, everyone slaps each other on the back, returns to their respective countries and nothing happens. The Prime Minister wants more than that, but of course, there is a risk involved. We might not be able to persuade people to go as far and as fast as we would like, and we have to accept that. But I ask the hon. Member for Lewes and the House, is it better to go for the soft option or to take a risk, even though there is the possibility of failure? I think that we should go as far and as fast as the agreement that we get will allow us.

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

If the current US Administration decide not to sign up, do we go with a coalition of the willing, or do we opt for a piece of paper signed by everybody, which is less worthy?

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

We are already going with a coalition of the willing. As I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman, the action that we are taking domestically is unilateral, and in that respect we are going far beyond any international agreement. The climate group, to which I have already referred, is also going beyond any international agreement and, of course, what has been agreed by the G8. We want to find a consensus and to make progress where we can, but that does not mean that we will not go further in other areas; nor does it mean that Gleneagles is the end of the story, a point to which I shall return.

As I have said, we want the actions taken at Gleneagles to complement the United Nations framework convention on climate change. That is the proper forum for such matters and we must work with it. This process also involves looking at new international frameworks. The hon. Member for Lewes referred to contraction and convergence, and I want to make it clear that the UK remains open to any new international framework, so long as it is realistic, relevant to countries with different national circumstances, robust, capable of being adjusted in the light of experience, and durable. Such a framework should not become irrelevant within a few years.

I am quite interested in contraction and convergence, particularly the social equity aspect, which is its great strength. There are potential problems, however. For countries with very large populations—or for those that have done little to empower women on issues such as birth-control choices or school education—such an approach could involve some negatives. It could give certain countries a huge carbon allocation, which would remove any incentive for carbon efficiency. I recommend to the hon. Member for Lewes an extremely good pamphlet on global climate change, produced by the Pew Centre, which lists more than 40 different approaches, including contraction and convergence. They are all worth looking at, and we have an open mind on this issue.

We are also engaging with international businesses in order to hear their views. The views expressed in the poll in The Observer were very interesting and we should take note of them. That said, nearly a third of those questioned felt that businesses should take the lead in tackling climate change. It is clear that the business community has a critical role to play, and many individual businesses have already taken major steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin, Conservative)

I hope that the rural economy, farming and their relationship with the environment will be discussed at the summit. I should be interested to hear the Minister's views on bioethanol production and sugar beet production, particularly in my Shropshire constituency.

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

The Government have set up a taskforce, chaired by Sir Ben Gill, to look at biofuels. His report will be coming out very soon. The hon. Gentleman might also like to know that we recently set up a rural climate change forum, the first meeting of which took place this week. It is examining the entire range of rural issues, including the very one that the hon. Gentleman raised: the contribution that agriculture can make in dealing with climate change. I am glad that we are fortunate enough to have prominent people on that forum, who can give us the benefit of their experience.

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Robert Smith (Deputy Chief Whip; West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Liberal Democrat)

Will that taskforce also look at using biomass as a renewable heat substitute, and can a renewable heat obligation finally be introduced, in order to allow our rural areas to make their contribution to reducing carbon emissions?

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

I have not seen the report of Sir Ben Gill's working group. I know that it is looking at biomass, but I am not sure how that fits in with the heat obligation. I am well aware of these arguments and I have some sympathy with them. It is perfectly reasonable that we look at them in the context of the climate change review.

The Prime Minister gave a keynote speech to the World Economic Forum annual conference at Davros. He asked 25 international businesses, including Swiss Re, BP, Hewlett Packard, E.ON and Ford, to look into the issue of climate change and to produce a message that he could take to the other G8 leaders at Gleneagles. It brings us back to the point that some people internationally still believe that taking action on the climate will damage their economies, but that is not necessarily the case, so we must emphasise the opportunities. The message from those companies proved to be a strong one: they said that we must take action now and that Governments must send a strong policy signal to the markets to take into account the long periods over which investments in infrastructure are made. They highlighted the need for rapid commercialisation of new technologies, many of which are already developed; they dismissed the notion that climate change causes harm; and they pointed out the economic benefits, on which we should all focus.

We must also ensure that we feed in from the G8 into the forthcoming Montreal conference. I am pleased to say that a seminar of Government experts held in Bonn this year saw very constructive discussions on the future action of the COP—conference of the parties—that went beyond the original remit of that seminar and exceeded expectations in the positive nature of its tone. There would have been no meeting of Government experts in Bonn had it not been for the work of the EU group at the conference at Buenos Aires—the last COP. I pay tribute to the Dutch presidency and the Dutch Minister Peter van Geel and his team. We also played an active role in respect of bilateral negotiations with the US and others, bringing about agreement to have the seminar, which paves the way for looking at future commitments post-2012. Without the EU, there would have been no agreement at all in Buenos Aires.

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John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley, Liberal Democrat)

Will the Minister explain what might happen at the G8 in respect of international flights? My understanding is that Kyoto ignores international flights. The UK emits perhaps 1 million tonnes of carbon a year that is domestic and 8 million tonnes that is international. Is it possible at Montreal, in the climate change review, or at the G8 summit to bring international flights into the calculations?

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

The G8 is not the forum for that because international agreement is required. The appropriate forum would be the United Nations framework convention on climate change. I believe that we should take action on global aviation and we have raised the issue. In all honesty, I would have to say that, at the moment, a majority of the international community is against taking global action. I greatly regret that, but that is where we are. That does not mean, however, that we cannot take action on aviation in the EU. Indeed, as mentioned in the debate, one of our objectives for the UK presidency is to bring forward proposals on how best to include EU aviation within the EU carbon trading scheme. I am optimistic that we will be able to do that, but we will not be able to complete the negotiation process under our presidency, because the time scale is longer than six months. We can get it on the table, start the process and build support for our approach, which is very important.

I conclude by returning to the point that Gleneagles, the G8 presidency and the process are all important, but that Gleneagles is but one part of the process. There are some key new summits scheduled for the autumn—the EU-India summit, the EU-China summit and the EU-Russia summit, for which the UK will be in the chair as president. We have already discussed with those countries, in connection with the ministerial round table discussions, the issue of climatic change and we expect it to be a feature of those summits. That will represent an important step forward.

On 5 and 6 October, we will host an international business conference on climatic change. The purpose is again to stress the point that taking action on climatic change is not necessarily bad for the economy and that there can be advantages in it. Furthermore, on 10 and 11 November we will host a joint EU-G8 conference on environmentally friendly vehicles, which will be held in Birmingham. Those are all steps towards building consensus, raising the issues, getting support internationally and moving forward to the crucial next COP in Montreal of the United Nations framework convention on climate change. That is where we have to aim to achieve global agreement. At Montreal, we will press for the conference to agree to start negotiations on the framework beyond 2012, which we hope will produce a regime capable of tackling this most pressing challenge.

I have spelled out the Government's proposals in some detail and what we are doing both nationally and globally. I have also set out what we have done to tackle climate change and what we are doing for the future review. I do not believe that any other major industrial nation has a record that can rival the UK's.

5:15 pm
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Oliver Letwin (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; West Dorset, Conservative)

I begin with an observation about the character of the debate that Norman Baker may find surprising. More than is the case with any other matter, we are all in this together. There is not a scintilla of difference between the three main parties—and I suspect that the same is true for the minority parties, too—about our objectives.

For that reason, we all ought to make a solemn and binding agreement that we will not introduce into the debate any unnecessary crypto-partisanship. On the whole, I absolve the two main speakers, and I do not propose to make remarks about the contents of the Liberal Democrat election manifesto. That party has been seriously committed to trying to do something about climate change for as long as I can remember. That is clearly the Liberal Democrat position, and it is also the Government's as the Minister has been committed to the same goal, also for as long as I can remember.

Of course, there are shades of opinion and commitment within the Government, as there are in the Conservative party. The Minister is aided and abetted by quite a powerful Minister—the Prime Minister—and we should do the Government the credit of recognising that they aim to do the right thing.

The Conservative party is also committed, and that has been the case for a very long time. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition persuaded the US to join the framework convention by means of a piece of shuttle diplomacy that is one of the most important elements in the evolution of this debate. Therefore, this is not one of those issues that divide the three main parties. However, I happen to agree with the motion and I shall ask Opposition Members to vote with the Liberal Democrats this evening.

The real problem is not about intention, but delivery. It has two dimensions, both of which the hon. Member for Lewes explained clearly. I agree with his observations about one of those dimensions, but my slant on the other is rather different.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the Government's delivery on the domestic agenda. The Minister made a typically mellifluous, comprehensive and knowledgeable contribution, in which he sketched many of the steps that the Government have taken. Although the Government have taken a great many such steps, various hon. Members pointed out that they have not proved sufficient to achieve a persistent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Indeed, I stood at this Dispatch Box recently and said that there had been a serendipitous fall in the nitrous oxide emitted as a result of the use of adipic acid in nylon production, and that farmers had done very well in reducing methane emissions and the use of nitrous oxide in fertilisers. Without those factors, the Government would not merely be in danger of not meeting their Kyoto targets but, as the hon. Member for Lewes correctly pointed out, nowhere near fulfilling them. There is therefore an underlying problem.

Leaving aside the fact that Ministers must always present a good front, I am sure that this Minister is perfectly aware of the difficulties facing the Government in meeting the Kyoto objectives. That is not unique to this Administration: all British Governments face the same problems, as this is a very difficult matter. The nation—and Government Departments—must be led to adopt policies that consciously reduce national income. We have to admit to ourselves that a cost is involved. Most of the things that the Government—like most Governments before them—wish to do are aimed at increasing national income. Therefore, having a set of policies that are consciously designed to reduce national income—in some respects—is a difficult proposition and it is no surprise that the Government have encountered some difficulties. However, it is also unhelpful if Ministers pretend to themselves, perhaps through fear of political partisanship from the Opposition, that they can continue to persuade the public that we are going to make progress on—not present policy, because I accept the Minister's point that the review is imminent—what is likely to be policy.

All parties will have to admit that not only for the next four or five years, but for the next 40 or 50 years, the nation will need a framework for the approach to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and thus the prevention of rapid global warming, or at least our contribution to it, that is parallel to the process that the Chancellor successfully achieved through the transfer of monetary policy to the Bank of England and the establishment of fiscal rules. The Chancellor created an external discipline. It is not perfect and, in previous roles, I have proposed amendments to it, but it has been on the whole successful in creating fiscal discipline that would otherwise be lacking. We do not, as yet, have an analogous external discipline on the behaviour of this and future Governments in relation to climate change. Until we have such a framework, I am convinced that no Government—not this one nor, as I hope, a Conservative Government in due course—will be able to resist the pressure from many quarters to diminish the speed with which we address the problem, because of the economic costs. I hope that we will reach the point when we agree about that.

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Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland, Labour)

Is not the right hon. Gentleman confusing the costs of tackling climate change and making the investment to become more efficient with the notion that those costs will reduce national output? Tackling climate change will not necessarily be a dampener on the rate of growth of the economy. Indeed, it could be an economic opportunity.

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Oliver Letwin (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; West Dorset, Conservative)

To a degree, the hon. Lady is right. Parts of the wide portfolio of measures that need to be taken to get anywhere near the 60 per cent. target by 2050 have present value advantages and, almost certainly, long-term economic gain attached to them. A classic example is home insulation with fibreglass. There is no doubt that, for most householders, that is already an economic proposition. Part of my case against the Government is not that they have not sought to promote such insulation, but that they have not found an effective means of doing so. Most of our countrymen do not know how they can insulate their lofts, do not know what the economics look like and therefore do not recognise or realise that economic advantage.

We should not delude ourselves. The number of cases in which early economic gains would be made as well as climate change gains is limited. In many other cases, there would be social and economic costs, many of which would last for a long time as well as having a short-term impact. If we were to run the electricity supply industry as cheaply as possible, it would persistently fail to contribute to climate change goals. There is a contrast between what the economics of the situation would dictate and the dictates of climate change. Of course, those relationships alter from time to time, sometimes adversely and sometimes favourably. At the moment, gas prices are rising and coal prices are falling, and that has an adverse effect on a climate change strategy. At other times, technology and other changes will have a different effect.

My point is that we must not delude ourselves. If we are serious about the issue, as opposed to merely playing with it, we need a range of measures over the next 50 years that will have economic costs. We should not think that we can get away without such costs and we have to recognise that, in a democracy, considerable pressure will be felt against such measures. There will also be social costs, such as people having to live next to things that they may not want to live next to, or people having to see things in the countryside that they might not want to see. Those costs also have to be overcome. We therefore need a clear-minded, effective external framework that constrains democratic politics where there is a consensus, in order that we can make real progress over a sustained period.

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Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell, Labour)

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify exactly what that would be called? Only the other day, I heard a proposal for a carbon policy committee, analogous to the Monetary Policy Committee, that would set an annual carbon budget independently, outside the control of the Government. Is that the kind of proposal that the right hon. Gentleman is making this afternoon?

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Oliver Letwin (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; West Dorset, Conservative)

The hon. Gentleman asks a good question and the honest answer is that I do not yet know. I am in discussion with my hon. Friends to come up with a view about this. Friends of the Earth is promoting a climate change Bill that will advance a view that may or may not be similar. I believe that there is considerable interest in the idea on the Liberal Benches and I suspect that we may be able to persuade many Labour Members to share that.

I hope that we can reach the point where, no doubt with variants for discussion, we can all agree that there needs to be some form of framework. It may involve a proposal of the sort that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, or other mechanisms. But what is clear to my mind is that we cannot simply rely on constantly hoping that the Government of the day will do everything that needs to be done, hang the democratic effects, because we live in a democracy and there are democratic pressures and we would be asking our population to take present pain for future benefit, which is a difficult thing to achieve, so we shall need a very special mechanism if we are to do it over the sustained period that is required in as consistent a way as is required.

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman a serious question in response to the serious points that he is making. I accept that it is sometimes difficult for a Government of whatever complexion to take decisions that may be deemed necessary but have short-term political disadvantage, even if they are necessary in the long term. I refer to the letter sent by my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats to the leaders of the other two parties, seeking a common agreement—at least a baseline agreement on which we could all build our different structures. Is the right hon. Gentleman minded to give a positive response to that initiative, so that we can genuinely find a common platform, at least at a baseline level, that takes us slightly further forward in a non-partisan way?

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Oliver Letwin (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; West Dorset, Conservative)

As the hon. Gentleman has offered a serious question I am going to make an admission. By the sound of it, when that letter was sent I was shadow Chancellor, not shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and, until he mentioned it an hour ago, I had not the slightest knowledge of its existence. I shall try to trace it, but let me offer him something that it is within my power to offer him: wholehearted consent to discussions with him and with the Minister or the Secretary of State about these matters, in an effort to discover the extent to which we can agree on methods, as we are already agreed on goals.

Let me turn to the main point that the Liberals are making in their motion, and with which I also agree. This is not in the spirit of criticism of the Government but in the spirit of offering a constructive way forward. [Laughter.] That is not an ironic remark. I mean that genuinely. The spokesman for the Liberals said, and I understand his motivation in saying it, that the Prime Minister was right to go into the G8 saying that his two priorities were global poverty and climate change. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, as an objective assessment of the problems facing the world, the Prime Minister was right. Given that we are reasonably prosperous and reasonably at peace, those are the two great issues facing the world that probably most need tackling. I am not so convinced that the Prime Minister was necessarily wise to include climate change if he could not achieve more than it currently looks—I take the Minister's point that we do not yet know the outcome—as though he may emerge with. I want to explain why, and then I want to make a proposal about what the Minister and the Secretary of State might recommend to the Prime Minister that he might entertain as a possible way out of the impasse as he participates in the negotiations in the next few days.

I accept that the Minister is right to describe the international negotiations as a long-running process that will run through to the Montreal meeting and beyond. Indeed, it dates back many years to the formation of the original framework convention. I agree that that process exists, but the business of those negotiations is best described, roughly speaking, by the analogy of a large boulder being pushed up a steep hill. It needs a constant effort to go up.

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

Like everything.

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Oliver Letwin (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; West Dorset, Conservative)

It is not quite like everything, because if we stop moving forward with some cases of public policy, we just stay stationary. This process is not like that. If the boulder if not being pushed up, it will roll down. In fact, if the G8 summit is seen as a reverse, it will be a reverse. As I found when I was negotiating the Intelsat agreement, there is a terrible tendency in international negotiations for the parties to decide that, if the thing is too difficult, they will turn their attention elsewhere. There is a real risk that, by elevating climate change as a major component of the G8 negotiations, the Prime Minister will have created the basis for a negative impact from the G8 summit that might not have occurred if he had not originally so elevated it.

The Minister was engaged in a subtle and rather elegant manoeuvre to persuade us that, after all, the G8 summit was no more than a small part. That may be a useful part of the rhetoric of avoiding the problem, but I fear that there is great expectation not just in the UK press, but in the world's media, and if the G8 summit does not produce a noticeable step forward, it will be difficult, even with the massive presentational skills of the Prime Minister and the Government, to persuade the media not to regard it as a significant setback. Certainly, the Minister and the Liberal spokesman will be as aware as I am from meeting the non-governmental organisations that there is widespread scepticism and concern among the NGO community, which will be reflected into the media.

How then can the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, even at this late stage, hope to make some significant progress from the G8 summit? In answering that question we must admit, of course, that it is not the case the US will sign up suddenly or, indeed, at any time to the current Kyoto agreement. Nor is it the case—I very much take this point—that the US will sign up until and unless it believes that China, India and probably Brazil will also come into the fold.

I accept therefore that this is a jigsaw puzzle and it is a mighty difficult jigsaw puzzle to get right. It is difficult to find the pieces that lock together in the right way. I also accept that that will not occur at the G8 meeting. That need not be fatal if—this is what the Prime Minister ought to try to negotiate—what comes from the G8 summit is not just, for example, a commitment to a nugatory investment in certain kinds of technology or warm words, but rather a definitive process, with a timetable attached, so that people can see that—between the G8 summit and what happens at Montreal and, indeed, beyond—the US, together with China and India, has been brought into a process that stands the chance of creating a new agreement within the framework convention. In principle, that seems an achievable goal.

I am not so close to the negotiations as the Minister—still less, obviously, than the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State—but I have the sense that if the ambition is made sufficiently restricted, it will be achievable to gain progress, and be seen to gain it, which would mean that the boulder was pushed up the hill, even if only by an inch or two, rather than rolling back down.

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Elliot Morley (Minister of State (Climate Change and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Scunthorpe, Labour)

I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He is making a good case in a typically thoughtful way. He is right in some aspects of what he is saying, but he is not right to say that timetables should be agreed during a process such as that of the G8. A process could well be agreed—that is not unreasonable—but it would be arrogant for the eight richest countries to start to agree timetables on a global issue without involving the rest of the world community. The place for the engagement of the world community is within the UN process. That is where that must take place and the G8 cannot short-circuit that. I would also say that the Prime Minister is right to be bold—

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Michael Lord (Deputy Speaker)

Order. That is supposed to be an intervention. Perhaps those points might be made in the winding-up speeches or some other time. I call Oliver Heald [Hon. Members: "Letwin."] I think that that is the second time that I have done that, so I do apologise.

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Oliver Letwin (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; West Dorset, Conservative)

Some of us are not blessed with surnames that have a relationship to the peerage so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I forgive you entirely.

I am perfectly willing to accept what the Minister says. If he is telling us that it is conceivable to negotiate a process and to have a communiqué that establishes a process to which the US and, because they are offline participants, China, India and Brazil are signatories, but that it is not possible to have a timetable without offending much of the rest of the word, that is fine. Let us have a process, and not a timetable. What is important is that we make the shift between not achieving a substantive goal that cannot be achieved at the G8 to achieving a process goal that, in principle, can be achieved at the G8. That is extraordinarily important.

There is a matter of perception that will become a matter of reality. If the G8 is seen to produce a process and that process is then followed, it will be seen that the US has moved into the mainstream. If the G8 is seen not to produce anything, because it has not produced any serious substance other than a few beans for investment, it will be seen as a reverse. As the Liberal spokesman pointed out, that, if anything, will give comfort to the opponents of taking the issue seriously within the US Administration and discomfort to people such as the governor of California, who has done so much good work.

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Nick Hurd (Ruislip - Northwood, Conservative)

I would like to bring my right hon. Friend back to the important point that he made about accountability. At the time, he seemed to restrict his comments to the UK's performance but, in the context of what he has just said about the international process, does he agree that part of the failing of Kyoto was the lack of international accountability for hitting the targets? Would he support a greater role for an organisation such as the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development in monitoring and publishing national CO 2 reduction targets?

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Oliver Letwin (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; West Dorset, Conservative)

There will inevitably have to be a role not just for more conspicuous national mechanics to constrain democratic Governments into behaving in the long-term interest of their nations but more conspicuous international mechanics for constraining those Governments who do not have sufficient domestic mechanics to achieve that goal. Whether it is the commission that my hon. Friend refers to or another is a matter that must be negotiated and considered, but I am clear that there needs to be a multilateral framework and a unilateral framework within each country. That means that, together, progress is regularly and sustainably made.

In effect, we are talking about a curve and it is not the curve itself but the area under it that matters. People sometimes talk as though CO 2 emissions were a matter of how much is being emitted 50 years from now, but it is not. It is a matter of how much is emitted between now and 50 years from now, and it is important that the area under the curve is right over that period. That will certainly not be achieved unless there is international monitoring of some kind and a seriously enforceable series of mechanisms.

I wish to make a final point. There is no doubt that there are sceptics about climate change. The Liberal spokesman referred to the fact that the governor of California recently said that the debate is over. Many people regard it as a test of sanity, mainstream political allegiance or whatever that people sign up to the science. The Minister referred to the fact that the Prime Minister and Secretary of State have been keen to promote more agreement on the science, and I have no objection to that. But I think there is a severe danger that most of us—I include myself—who have no scientific expertise will try to persuade ourselves that what really matters is whether we buy into the science. It does not matter two hoots whether I buy into the science. I know nothing about the matter, so my adherence to it is of no more interest than whether my 12-year-old son believes that two and two equal four. They do equal four and if he does not know that fact his education is in trouble, but it tells us nothing about the truth or otherwise of the matter, and my adherence or otherwise to the science is equally irrelevant to the truth of that science.

Moreover, there are plenty of examples in history of establishment views about science proving in the long run to be wholly fallacious. There are cases in which 99 per cent. of all the then scientists took a view and turned out to be wrong. I do not base my absolute belief that we must take the problem seriously, to the extent of actually doing something about it, on an adherence to a view of the science, but on a kind of Pascalian wager. It seems clear to me that if the great bulk of the scientific community who believe that a terrible problem is about to inflict us turn out to be wrong and— notwithstanding the costs that I was debating with Helen Goodman—we have invested in a number of harmless and, in many cases, for other reasons, positively useful devices, we shall have wasted a little of our national income. To take her point, even then not all of it would be a waste in economic terms. We could probably organise things so that, in the meanwhile, the place is a little nicer to live in as a result. I do not think that anybody in the world would suffer dramatically from that. If, on the contrary, we do not take the problem seriously—even if we go around saying that we believe in it—and we do not actually do anything about it, and what the great bulk of scientists is telling us is about to occur begins to occur, the costs in social and economic disruption will be immense. That is a risk not worth taking.

We no longer need to debate the science, not because scientific debate among scientists is ever over and not because we who are not scientists know the truth, but because we would have to be lunatic not to try to do that which has a relatively slight cost if done early and face the possible consequence of a disaster that would have an enormous cost later. I hope that in my party, and more generally across the nation, we quit that debate and get on with the business, in which we have been engaging—usually constructively—this evening, of trying to work out how we make things happen across the globe and in this country. In that endeavour, I hope we can join.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

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Michael Lord (Deputy Speaker)

Order. The time for debate is short and at least five Members are seeking to catch my eye, so if contributions can be reasonably short I hope that we can get everybody in.

5:42 pm
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Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith, Labour)

I shall take note of your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although many issues have been raised in the debate and I want to comment on some of them.

Mr. Letwin, at the beginning of his thoughtful speech, called on Members not to engage in crypto-partisan comments. I am not quite sure what those are, but I have observed that when people ask other Members not to engage in partisan debate it tends to mean that their own arguments are rather weak and that they do not want too much focus on them.

I shall take the right hon. Gentleman's advice in the spirit in which it was given, although I intend to begin with a few comments that may be seen as partisan, because it is important to examine some of the Liberal Democrat policies and their record on this matter; it is after all a Liberal Democrat day. In tackling climate change, it is important that the rhetoric of politicians is matched by their actions and I have to say that, on too many occasions, Liberal Democrat rhetoric is not matched by action. That needs to be emphasised. The headline policies are good, but the specifics on how they are to be implemented are not so good. Indeed, there are occasions when it would appear that Liberal Democrats would happily run a mile if any of their environmental policies might run the slightest risk of scaring voters.

Earlier, there was a short exchange of views about national road user charging and Norman Baker confirmed that his party supports such a scheme. Earlier today, I noticed that my constituency neighbour, John Barrett, bravely confirmed that in the Scottish Liberal Democrats manifesto for the recent election it was Liberal Democrat policy to

"scrap petrol duties and car tax altogether replacing them with a national system of road user charging based on location, congestion and pollution."

I commend him on his bravery in saying that, especially because he represents Edinburgh, which is an urban area with plenty of congestion, so the policy would probably cost those of his constituents who drive into the centre of Edinburgh perhaps £100 a week in road user charges.

I mention road user charging because the Liberal Democrats support a national road user charging scheme, but when we had a debate and referendum in Edinburgh earlier this year on the introduction of a congestion charging scheme in the city, which was recommended by an independent report and supported by most independent transport exports, the campaign against the scheme was led by the Liberal Democrats in Edinburgh. Of course, they were not against congestion charging per se—they were in favour of it in principle—but they said that that particular scheme was not quite right and had not come forward at the right time. The Liberal Democrats had the perfect opportunity to promote their green credentials, but when it came to actual nitty-gritty politics, their policy had the opposite effect on the environment to the headline policies that they proclaim in debates such as this.

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John Barrett (Edinburgh West, Liberal Democrat)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us the details of what happened in Edinburgh. The Labour authority's incompetent proposal on road user charging went out to a referendum in which it was wholeheartedly rejected by the citizens of Edinburgh. Will he tell us where he stands on road user charging? He is criticising the Liberal Democrats for their brave stand, so does he oppose the policy?

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Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman described the scheme as incompetent, but as I said, it was endorsed by an independent report following a comprehensive inquiry, so clearly many people did not think that. Yes, the scheme was rejected by the electorate in Edinburgh, but I was making the point that the Liberal Democrats were at the forefront of the campaign against it. This is an example of how politicians must talk the talk and walk the walk. They must deliver on both what they do locally and their national headline policies if they want to build a consensus on such an important issue.

I intervened on the hon. Member for Lewes to make the point that a national road user charging scheme would undoubtedly require a system to monitor the time at which drivers made their journeys and every journey made. A national system of information collection would be required so that people could be sent bills that reflected the number of miles that they had driven. I then contrasted that with the views of the Liberal Democrats on what would be a much less intrusive national identity register. I make that point because if we ever get to a stage at which we legislate for a national road user charging scheme, I suspect that the Liberal Democrats will be the first to find reasons to oppose it, just as they found reasons to oppose the congestion charging scheme in Edinburgh.

That is precisely what I think would happen in practice, so I have a lot of reservations about going down the road of thinking that national road user charging would be a panacea. If we were to follow that policy in the immediate five or 10 years, there would be a risk that measures that could otherwise be introduced to try to tackle the growth in vehicle traffic would not be implemented because we would be putting all our eggs in the basket of national road user charging. We have not been able to get consensus on policies such as motorway tolling and urban congesting charges, so I wonder whether we would get consensus on national road user charging. I have reservations about the policy; not perhaps because of the scheme itself, but because I wonder whether we would ever obtain the political consensus to make it possible.

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John Barrett (Edinburgh West, Liberal Democrat)

We are listening to a non-stop attack on the Liberal Democrats. Has that been triggered by the massive fall in the hon. Gentleman's majority and the fact that he now has a very marginal seat?

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Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith, Labour)

My comments are not motivated in that way. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that I have taken this line of argument on many occasions in the past few months. I am sorry if he feels that I am engaged in a non-stop attack on the Liberal Democrats, because there is more to come before I move on to the wider political agenda.

I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Lewes, whose record demonstrates some principle in these matters. Like me, he recognises that we cannot simply wait until national road user charging is introduced, as though it will be the panacea for all our transport problems and the environmental problems caused by excessive transport growth. In fact, the hon. Gentleman is in favour of motorway tolling—a controversial policy in many quarters.

As well as examining the Liberal Democrat manifesto earlier today, I took a quick look at an interesting website—the hon. Gentleman's. The section entitled "Norman's Views" is interesting—and pretty long; he has lots of views on many subjects. On transport, he says:

"on our roads we need to do what we can to persuade people out of their cars and onto public transport, without penalising those who have no alternative. That could for example mean road tolls on some of our motorways where a rail or air alternative exists. Someone driving from London to Edinburgh has a choice to use public transport."

I take it that he is suggesting introducing a toll on the roads from London to Edinburgh. It could not be a motorway toll, because we do not have motorways going all the way from London to Edinburgh; obviously he is not aware of that fact. None the less, it is an interesting policy. I am not sure that it is supported by the Liberal Democrat Transport Minister in the Scottish Executive, or even by his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West. I do not know whether motorway tolling between London and Edinburgh is Liberal Democrat policy, but I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Lewes for his bravery in suggesting it. He is, however, not so brave as to suggest road tolls in his own constituency—in fact, on his website he says that road tolling would not be possible there. Perhaps that speaks for itself.

In an intervention, I raised the proposal emanating from the French and German Governments, and now being taken forward in the G8, for a tax on air travel. I should have thought that the Liberal Democrats would support that proposal. In view of the criticism that they have levelled at the Bush Administration—much of which I support—surely we must seek other ways of advancing the international agenda. I expected to hear positive support for—or at least interest in—the German and French proposal from the hon. Gentleman, but as hon. Members who were present for his speech will have noticed, he quickly skipped over my invitation to discuss emissions trading and did not endorse the proposal for an aviation tax.

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Norman Baker (Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lewes, Liberal Democrat)

Let me correct the hon. Gentleman. I am sympathetic to the aims of the French and the Germans. He is concerned that road user charging might mean that nothing else is done in the years leading up to such a scheme being introduced—which is not our policy, by the way. Equally, if we put all our eggs in the aviation kerosene tax basket, regardless of whether that is the right environmental policy, nothing will happen in aviation until that is achieved—and it is highly unlikely that we will get international agreement on aviation fuel tax. We have to find measures that, in the short-term at least, will be more effective.

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Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith, Labour)

I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman regards the airline tax proposal with some sympathy, but that sympathy does not appear to be shared by some of his Scottish colleagues. A headline in The Scotsman a couple of weeks ago read "Scots MPs hit out at airline tax for Africa aid plan", and his hon. Friend Mr. Carmichael appears to be leading the charge against the proposal, which would both tackle climate change and raise money for Africa.

Interesting though it is to go through their websites, I do not intend to spend all of the limited time available to me attacking the Liberal Democrats. I shall not refer in detail to the website of Mr. Breed, which mentioned the £700 million investment programme in new roads in the south-west by the Department for Transport. I thought that he would oppose such a programme, but he appears to congratulate the Government on that major new road programme. The Liberal Democrats may have one headline policy, but there are different policies on the ground.

I am making those points to emphasise that everyone, if we are to tackle climate change, must recognise that the environment is not just a headline policy. We must be prepared to follow through and accept the consequences of policy choices. I accept some of the arguments for differential changing on air routes to the Scottish islands. There is a case on certain occasions for new roads. I am not against all road development, but as politicians we must be more consistent in our approach to those issues if we wish to try to change public opinion and achieve the consensus for which the hon. Member for Lewes and the right hon. Member for West Dorset called. If the Liberal Democrats genuinely want to achieve consensus with the Government they must do more to achieve the conditions in which it will be possible to develop it.

Having done all that party political stuff, I was going to adopt a less partisan approach but, in view of the time, I shall have to skip that part of my speech. Hon. Members will be relieved to hear that, but unless they would like to hear it, I shall simply make one point. The environment is an unsung success of European policy. Undoubtedly, the European project is under attack from various quarters, but we should not forget that a combined European approach on environmental issues has enabled the 25 countries to reach an agreement on targets for CO 2 emissions. That would have been unthinkable without the European Union as it has developed in recent decades. Everyone in the Chamber broadly supports the same policy direction on climate change, and most of us support a more effective Europe, so that agreement is one of Europe's most encouraging achievements in the past few years. It emphasises the fact that there are alternatives to following in the wake of whatever decision is made by the US Administration. The Government have a good international record on providing leadership on climate change, which is recognised in Europe and beyond.

My hon. Friend Colin Challen said that individuals need to make choices about what they can do to try to tackle climate change. The Government must show leadership, but as politicians we must show leadership both locally and nationally. My earlier excursion on the failings of the Liberal Democrats was a little longer than I intended, but I wanted to make the point that we must be consistent in what we say and do locally and nationally if we are to bring about consensus.

Finally, I remind hon. Members that they will have an excellent opportunity to display consensus on practical measures to tackle climate change, monitor this country's performance in controlling greenhouse gas emissions and advance practical measures to promote renewable energy, microgeneration and renewable heat when the private Members' Bills promoted by my hon. Friend Dr. Whitehead and myself receive a Second Reading on 11 November. I hope that across the House there is support for my Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill and my hon. Friend's Management of Energy in Buildings Bill. Notwithstanding my criticism of the Liberal Democrats, I hope we will have their support. I hope that we will have support from the Conservatives and from the Government for those measures, which will give us an opportunity to take forward in a constructive way the agenda upon which, at heart, all Members who have spoken in the debate today agree.

6:00 pm
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Nick Hurd (Ruislip - Northwood, Conservative)

I am grateful for the chance to make a brief and, I hope, constructive contribution to the debate. I congratulate Norman Baker on securing it.

On the issue of climate change, we are discussing arguably the most demanding test of political leadership that the world faces. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin mentioned, the science has moved on to the point where every science agency that matters is telling its Government that action is required. It is time to move the debate on.

The imperative is to understand better the likely impacts of climate change and to focus on the response. Do we try and control it, or do we focus on adapting to it? The political difficulties are immense. There remains huge uncertainty about the impact of climate change and the acceptable limits of greenhouse gas concentrations. The need to take out an insurance policy is clear. All insurance policies carry a cost. For that cost to be acceptable, there needs to be acceptance of the risk, not just by the scientists and the politicians who "get it", but by the public out there who tend still to see the problem as being "out there". They may be increasingly aware that the climate is less stable, but they are less clear about the link with the choices that they make in their day-to-day lives.

To be effective, any insurance policy on climate change needs to be global, requiring a degree of international co-operation that has never been achieved. Given these difficulties, it is perhaps not surprising that there is a vacuum of leadership on this key global challenge, a sense of drift reinforced by a lack of accountability. The superpower is clearly not engaged, at least at the federal level and at least until 2008. I shall argue today that there is an extraordinary opportunity for the European Union to fill that void, to leverage the power of the single market, to play a constructive and possibly decisive role in building the coalition of the willing that the hon. Member for Lewes mentioned, and to find a path beyond the first, very small step that was Kyoto.

It must be for Britain to goad the EU into that role. We are uniquely placed to do so given our relationship with the United States, given that we are one of the few countries likely to meet the Kyoto targets, courtesy of the dash for gas led by a Conservative Government, and because we should see it as the right response to the current crisis in the EU. At the heart of the crisis is the need to redefine the relevance of the EU and to prove its value to a new generation. I would argue that that means giving priority to two things: first, re-establishing the EU's credentials as a force for prosperity, and secondly, proving that the EU can take an effective lead on some of the issues that we cannot tackle on our own. Climate change should be at the top of that list as an issue of growing salience to the people of Europe.

What the world lacks, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset eloquently pointed out, is a framework that takes us beyond 2012. The EU can take a lead in shaping and selling that framework. There is considerable merit in the contract-and-converge principle, but there are difficulties with it and it requires serious consideration. What is clear is that any agreement needs to be acceptable to the United States and the emerging giants.

To be successful, we need to win the argument that lower CO 2 emissions need not come at the expense of growth if we act now. In policy terms, that means focusing intensely on more efficient use of energy and the development of technology that cleans up the supply side. It means bringing the world of business and its customers with us, which in turn means talking less about cost and more about opportunity. We must build into any framework much greater accountability and transparency at individual country level and at the international level.

In building that coalition, there is a great deal that the EU could do to set a lead. I shall give three brief examples. The first is emissions trading. As a Conservative, I believe that emissions trading should be at the heart of a global market-led solution to the problem. The EU emissions trading scheme should be seen as an opportunity to develop a model for a global scheme. It needs to be robust and it needs to be seen to be robust. Critically, it should include aviation. The Minister sounded optimistic about that, but early signs are not encouraging on either front. Real political will needs to be applied to make an emissions trading scheme work and be seen to work.

The second example is the Prime Minister's favourite topic, the common agricultural policy. If the taxpayer is to subsidise farming, let us ensure that we get more bang for our buck. The link has been made with protecting the environment. Why not use the subsidies to incentivise the production of crops for biofuels, which have the capacity to transform the environmental impact of road traffic?

The third matter on which the EU could take a lead is developing technology, for example, clean coal. I congratulate the Government on their recent carbon capture and storage initiative, but we must acknowledge that its impact on the global problem will be marginal. Let us consider the huge coal reserves in the United States and China and face the fact that coal is here to stay. The challenge is to develop clean coal. Rather than mucking around with small, unilateral initiatives, it is time for the EU to take a bold step and gather international support for a large-scale demonstration project of a clean-coal power plant in India or China.

The Prime Minister rightly identified climate change as a priority. He is in a position to show the same leadership as Mrs. Thatcher when she put the issue on the political agenda. Britain can be a role model in showing the world that emissions can be cut at little or no cost to economic growth. However, before anyone listens to us we must set our house in order.

The Government have rightly set ambitious targets, but carbon emissions have risen on the Prime Minister's watch and that stark fact undermines our credibility and makes it unlikely that we shall hit future targets. We need a coherent policy framework, which is supported by a process that is more robust in making the Government accountable. Politicians arguably talk too much about processes, but we need a credible road map to reach the long-term targets. It is sensible to break down the targets into shorter-term milestones, backed with a more transparent plan for achieving them.

I should like humbly to recommend three priorities for domestic policy. First, energy efficiency appears the least controversial aspect on which to focus. Who could argue with the proposition of saving money and the planet at the same time? There is huge scope for improving the energy efficiency of our relatively old and inefficient housing stock, out of which seeps approximately 25 per cent. of our emissions. The Government can play a crucial role in breaking through consumer apathy, which is genuine, by a combination of education and compelling incentives to invest in making our homes and offices more energy efficient. Ideally, those incentives should extend to landlords in the private rented sector and small businesses, for which the climate change levy appears to be an ineffective stick.

Many people were disappointed by the Treasury's failure in the previous Parliament to devise new economic instruments to promote energy efficiency. Conservative Members tried to be creative by proposing a reform and extension of the energy efficiency commitment. It is imperative that we find common ground in this Parliament on the way forward on that crucial policy.

My second priority would be to send stronger signals to businesses, whose attitudes are critical. They need to understand that the environmental agenda can bring opportunities as well as costs. For example, let us consider the motor car. I am convinced that new technology provides the solution to road transport emissions. Rather than trying to force people off the road, the right long-term approach for the Government is to go with the grain of public preference and encourage British motorists to make greener choices by making the least polluting cars cheaper to own through the tax and grant system and establishing a coherent long-term framework of fuel differentials to support the greenest fuels.

The current market share for the greenest cars and the greenest fuel remains below 0.5 per cent. and that must be too low. It is imperative that we accelerate technology and incentivise the key manufacturers to recognise a global market opportunity, not least when China is on track to be the largest car market in the world in a generation. Britain has a role to play in that process and we are not meeting that challenge.

The third priority must be to educate consumers and bring them with us. Their day-to-day decisions will make the difference. In that context, I congratulate The Independent, which has been especially effective, not least in its recent exposé of the way in which our standby culture contributes to emissions.

The link between aviation and climate change presents another opportunity to educate. In 2002, a Department for Transport survey showed that only one in eight people make a connection between flying and climate change. That must cause concern, given the growth in aviation emissions. The motor industry showed a positive example by giving consumers more information on emissions from the cars that they buy. Is not it time to put pressure on the aviation industry to follow that example, perhaps by putting information about emissions per journey on all relevant travel documentation? I stress the importance of consumer education because if we are forced in future down the route of a more aggressive tax regime, which the Liberal Democrats favour, to affect behaviour, it can be sustained only if hearts and minds are won first.

It is time for Britain to put its house in order and the issue that we are considering should cross party lines. It is time for Britain to lead the EU in seizing an historic leadership opportunity. If it takes the opportunity, the EU will take a critical step in redefining its relevance to the people that it serves.

6:10 pm
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David Chaytor (Bury North, Labour)

I have listened intently to this afternoon's debate. The forum in which it is taking place—the parliamentary Chamber of the House of Commons—is usually completely unsuited to the topic that we are discussing, yet it has been striking that speaker after speaker—with the possible exception of my hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz—has stressed the importance of consensus and the building of coalitions. I do not criticise my hon. Friend for taking the opportunity to expose some of the political inconsistencies in one part of the Opposition, however.

In my view, climate change is of such overwhelming significance—in the opinion of the chief scientific adviser, it represents the most significant threat that we face and a far greater threat than terrorism—that the conventional forms of debate and parliamentary procedures to which we are all accustomed are increasingly irrelevant if we are to rise to the challenge of formulating policy on the matter. It is striking, too, that I should follow a Conservative speaker, Mr. Hurd, who could have delivered his speech from the Labour Benches. With the exception of the three words "as a Conservative", everything that he said could have been delivered by one of my colleagues or, conceivably, by anyone on the Liberal Democrat Benches.

I want to dwell a little on how we can do more to build such consensus. I entered the House in 1997, when climate change was still a marginal issue that was poorly understood, if it was understood at all, by most Members. If we continue along the path that we have taken since 1997, with each party remaining nervous of the risks of setting out the radical options that are needed, we shall never make progress; we shall continue the drive towards the precipice. We must construct a new way of operating, and build new alliances between the parties.

I was very taken by the remarks of Mr. Letwin about the need for an external framework within which to operate, and which had public support. His analogy of the sub-contracting of responsibility for interest rates to the Bank of England was an interesting one. I do not know whether we could get an independent body to establish a national carbon budget or achieve all-party agreement on such a budget or some other framework, but the right hon. Gentleman made exactly the right analogy and pointed us in the right direction.

There are already good examples of cross-party agreement and working on this issue. Only this morning, several of us here attended the inaugural meeting of the all-party group on climate change, whose chairman is my hon. Friend Colin Challen. We launched the 25-5 challenge, in which Members are urged personally to commit to an annual 5 per cent. reduction in their own CO 2 emissions. I think that that is imaginative, that it will take off and that it will gain an increasing measure of public support.

In addition, the all-party globe group, of which I am the secretary and Malcolm Bruce is the chairman, will hold an important conference here this weekend that will bring in parliamentarians from all across the globe, including China, India, Russia and south America, and which will be addressed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The guest of honour on Sunday evening will be Senator John McCain, a potential presidential candidate. These coalitions and alliances are forming and a huge amount of work is being done to reach consensus.

If, however, we are to continue to build consensus, we have to redefine the nature of the problem. To date, it has been defined as a conventional domestic political issue of redistribution. The whole argument is about who will gain and who will lose, and what are the consequences of any change of policy or redistribution. Hence, when the issue of the role of fuel duty arises, the problem is defined as one of hitting the long-suffering motorist; when the question of the climate change levy arises, the problem is defined as yet another burden on business. We must move away from that.

To support my argument, I want to introduce the other issue of fossil fuels apart from the science of climate change. The right hon. Member for West Dorset made the point that it did not really matter whether the science was 100 per cent. accurate, as it made sense in its own right to start to make the move to renewable energy sources and a renewable energy system—whether the transfer is from a carbon economy to a hydrogen economy remains to be seen. However, there is another problem that is hardly discussed at all—the whole question of the finite nature of fossil fuels. The purpose of making the shift away from fossil fuels is not merely because of the threat of climate change, although that is the primary reason at the moment, but because we all know that fossil fuels are finite and will one day be exhausted.

It is remarkably interesting to see in the press in the last two, three or four weeks the increasing number of articles not only about the rising price of oil, but about the onset of peak oil—the concept of the peak of global oil production, after which oil production will inevitably decrease. Many Members will be familiar with the work of various scientists on peak oil. There is now an Association for the Study of Peak Oil, and that Colin Campbell is the leading exponent of the theory. The argument put forward by that association is that the peak will be reached in 2010—far earlier than was previously thought. That does not mean that oil will be exhausted by 2010, but it does mean that from 2010 onwards oil will inevitably be in shorter supply, and as current consumption increases new discoveries of oil will decline and the price of oil will continuously increase.

Both on the ground of responding to climate change and the ground of increasing scarcity of fossil fuels as each year goes by, we must redefine the nature of the problem as not an issue of sharing the pain within each nation, but as an issue of national security.

It seems to me that perhaps this year the public throughout the United Kingdom will start to understand those problems as they have not done previously. That is partly because of the impact of the recent hot weather, partly because of stories about drought, partly because of the experience of the drought in France two years ago, partly because of the recent assessment given by the Italian Government of the excess mortality through drought in that country, and partly because of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's lead in placing the issue at the top of the agenda for the G8 meeting. As a result, the public mood is now far more receptive than ever before to more radical policies to respond to the threats of climate change and the finite nature of fossil fuels.

To do that, however, we cannot argue among ourselves about punishing motorists or putting more burdens on business—we have to identify the problem as one of national security, and we therefore need a framework that will work in the national interest and help to move us towards self-sufficiency in energy.

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Norman Lamb (Shadow Secretary of State for Trade & Industry, Trade & Industry; North Norfolk, Liberal Democrat)

I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and especially with what he is saying about the need for consensus. He mentioned the need for fuel security. Given the shift in the public mood, is this not the time for the Government to make a decisive move on the biofuels obligation?

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David Chaytor (Bury North, Labour)

I can only agree. Later I will specify aspects of domestic policy about which more could be done. It has been argued that biofuels are not the whole solution and that the acreage of land required to generate the amount currently consumed by our transport fleet would be enormous and unsustainable, but biofuels make an important contribution. It is regrettable that in my part of the country, the north-west of England, there does not seem to be a single filling station that sells biodiesel. I have raised that with the Minister more than once.

I have said that we need to develop a new way of working in Parliament. That can succeed only if there is consensus. We also need to redefine the problem as an external threat and we need to respond to what the public are saying. I think that in many areas of environmental policy the public have moved ahead of the Government. There is an analogy with waste issues. There is now a general understanding of the waste crisis: ordinary citizens recognise that it is impossible to go on putting more and more waste into the ground and they seek a lead from the Government on recycling. We are moving in the right direction in that regard. I believe that the public are ready to accept a lead on climate change and fossil fuel production as well, and we must respond to that readiness. The difficulty arises with the question of costs and benefits. We must redefine the problem. If we define it as something that will simply impose more costs on individual households, businesses and motorists, we cannot win the argument.

That brings me to areas of policy in which the Government have made great progress, but could do more. Arguably, the most controversial area of domestic policy related to climate change in which progress is needed is transport, and aviation is central to that. The aviation lobby is mounting a huge campaign to resist duty on aviation fuel. It supports emissions trading, but emissions trading is not the solution. The Government have committed themselves to including aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme that will begin by 2008. I do not think that any Minister believes that aviation will be part of the scheme by then. I suspect that it will not happen until many years later.

According to the Environmental Audit Committee report published earlier this year, or perhaps late last year, if we do nothing aviation will contribute 60 per cent. of our carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. The situation cannot continue and the public know that. While benefiting from and enjoying the amazing increase in the number of cheap, sometimes free, airline tickets, the public understand that the situation is unsustainable. From experience, I would say that they are prepared for the Government to take a stronger fiscal line.

Biofuels were mentioned earlier in connection with transport. In the Budget, the Government took important steps on the taxation of alternative fuels. They reduced duty on liquefied petroleum gas and also on biofuels, which brings it down to the level of duty on conventional diesel. Again, however, there is much more to be done. The Government have tried to introduce a banded system for vehicle exercise duty. I am not sure how many bands there are now, but the system is designed to encourage people to use more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The reality is that the existing fiscal incentives to trade down to a more fuel-efficient vehicle are derisory. For anyone currently running a larger-engined, more inefficient vehicle, a saving of £80 to £90 a year in vehicle excise duty is an insufficient incentive to encourage them to trade down. The public understand the principle behind that idea; they are waiting to be given a lead in terms of greater fiscal incentives to trade down. Exactly the same analogy applies to domestic energy efficiency. Grant schemes exist that provide incentives for making greater use of insulation, but those incentives do not yet send sufficiently strong signals to encourage people to make the change.

There is more that I would like to say, but I hope that my contribution has built on the lead given by my hon. Friend the Minister and that it has been reasonably consensual. I should stress that if we continue with the conventional parliamentary modus operandi, we will not rise to the challenge of climate change.

6:26 pm
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John Barrett (Edinburgh West, Liberal Democrat)

I want to join the consensus that was building—with one notable exception—in the Chamber. The exception in question has clearly spent many hours surfing Liberal Democrat websites, and long may he continue to do so.

The G8 summit in Gleneagles will focus on two themes: climate change and Africa. This time, the public are more involved than ever before, partly because of the celebrities involved, but also because of what happened 20 years ago, when we saw—for many people it was the first time—the drought in Ethiopia on our television screens. When Michael Buerk brought those images into our homes, we saw the harsh reality of life on the edge: men, women and children suffering from malnutrition, with those who managed to survive the journey trekking miles to camps for a meagre food supply. These events triggered Live Aid, which connected many people, through television and music, to this vital issue. Twenty years on, we have to ask, what has changed?

To coincide with the G8 we have the Live8 concert in Edinburgh, which is taking place at the Murrayfield stadium in my constituency. The Make Poverty History march will also take place in Edinburgh, on 2 July. We are expecting in excess of 100,000 people to march through the city centre, and to make a "white band" of people to send a message to the leaders at Gleneagles. I invite others to join that march.

When we saw those images in Ethiopia 20 years ago, a drought was expected once every 10 years; now, a drought is expected approximately once every three years. Fewer Ethiopians are dying from malnutrition, but more are on permanent food aid. We now see humanitarian disasters unfolding elsewhere in Africa. Many factors are contributing to the disaster in Darfur, in Sudan: tribal conflict, Government corruption, too many guns in the country and no clean water supply. But one vital factor that is directly linked to the troubles is the increasing size of the deserts and the battle for scarce resources such as water and fertile land. We in this country think that we are witnessing extreme changes in our weather, but those who will suffer most are the most vulnerable, who live in the world's poorest countries. Many young children in such countries will never see adulthood.

At the other extreme end of the scale, approximately 100 million people in the United States are overweight. Interestingly, Paul Higgins, an earth systems scientist from the university of California, reckoned that if the food energy used to feed excessively those 100 million Americans were turned into an exercise regime, and if the basic resources spent on producing that food were spent differently, that in itself would impact on the climate.

I have tried to make some small contribution myself. My hon. Friend Norman Baker will be pleased to hear that I gave up my four-wheel drive car and went instead for a fuel-efficient model. We cannot just pass the buck and blame this problem on the Government; we all have to accept responsibility for the results of our actions. However, the Government are in a unique position because of their presidency of the G8.

Global warming is not an abstract or distant threat. It is real and current, and must be dealt with as a matter of urgency. The G8 nations at Gleneagles account for 47 per cent. of global CO 2 emissions, so it goes without saying that the G8 nations themselves, acting globally, can make a real difference. Tougher international action is crucial to combat climate change and it is time to wake up to the threat before it is too late.

Climate variation is now an accepted part of the natural cycle of our planet. We know that, historically, temperatures have been both higher and lower than they are now. However, what makes the current pattern of climate change so worrying is the pace of change. Projections predict an increase in the average surface temperature of between 1.5o and 6o over the period from 1990 to 2100. That is between two and 10 times larger than the value of observed warming over the 20th century and it is without precedent during the last 10,000 years. Global warming will affect us at home and abroad and it will have social and environmental impacts. Indeed, it will impact on almost every aspect of our lives. It is not surprising that our own chief scientific adviser said that the threat from climate change was greater than that from global terror.

The Kyoto agreement was a good and positive first step towards tackling the issue, but even if the US signed up to it tomorrow, it would not solve many of the problems. We have to remember that the agreement is very much a first step—and a modest one at that. For example, it does not include many developing countries and the largest polluter of all has not signed up to it. Furthermore, many scientists believe that even if the countries producing CO 2 emissions signed up and kept to the limits, it would still not be enough to tackle the problem. The agreement aims to reduce emissions from industrialised countries only by about 5 per cent., whereas the consensus of many climate scientists is that in order to avoid the worst consequences of global warming emissions may have to be cut up to the order of 60 per cent. across the board. That is why we should not put all our eggs in the Kyoto basket.

With that in mind, it is disappointing that so many countries have still failed to meet even those most modest targets. Indeed, it seems increasingly likely that the UK will miss its own Kyoto targets. It does not give the Prime Minister the strongest platform from which to argue for greater efforts from others to combat climate change when we seem unable to put our own house in order. I very much hope, though, that our own failings will not have an adverse effect on the Prime Minister's chances of brokering an agreement on climate change at the summit.

I am sure that Members from across the House will have shared my disappointment and concern at the news that documents on climate change for the G8 have been watered down. It seems that the US is still failing to concede that climate change exists as a problem at all. I find it extraordinary that doubt is being cast on the notion that the world is getting hotter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes has branded George W. Bush the environment's "public enemy No. 1", and I am inclined to agree with him. It is unacceptable that the US—the world's largest polluter, responsible for more than a third of the world's pollution—refuses to take its responsibilities seriously. It is unacceptable that the US President, George W. Bush, simply ignores the advice of his own scientists and continues to refuse to take action to deal with pollution or to accept his responsibility under the Kyoto treaty. There is a serious risk that the US President will prevent the summit from agreeing to realistic and timely actions on climate change and that the rest of the G8 will let him get away with it. While the Prime Minister likes to believe that he can sway the President's judgment on these matters, I believe that when it comes to climate change, he may have little or no influence at all.

A leaked draft document on climate change for the G8 summit spells out as good as any other the danger of inaction. It says:

"If we miss this opportunity and fail to give a clear sense of direction, then we will be locked into an unsustainable future that will threaten our long-term security and prosperity."

I could not agree more. The G8 summit must reach a positive agreement on climate change. It is too important an issue to be lost among international squabbles and petty transatlantic rivalries. I urge the Prime Minister not to let that happen. We must move towards consensus in the House. If the parties in this Parliament cannot agree, how can we expect the leaders at Gleneagles to agree?

6:34 pm
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Jamie Reed (Copeland, Labour)

I will be brief, and I begin by commending Mr. Letwin on his approach to this matter. He illustrates precisely the attitude that we must adopt if we are to make progress on what may be the most important issue of our age.

A fresh approach is indeed called for and, in searching for ways to combat and solve the problem of climate change, we must cast off much of the ancient dogma that tends to characterise the debate. There has been much discussion of the consensus, to which I am committed and which I hope to extend. However—I address this comment to both sides of the House—it is intellectually dishonest to recognise the reality and speed of climate change, and its social and economic consequences, but then fail to recognise the contribution that nuclear power makes to solving the problem.

It may please some hon. Members to segregate the nuclear debate from the climate change debate, but that is both impossible and misleading to the British people. Failure to recognise the benefits of nuclear power in the context of climate change is little more than a prejudiced conceit. Throughout the debate, hon. Members have been urged to put their own houses in order in respect of climate change, but the same is true of their attitudes to the nuclear industry.

If we are serious about the problem, we must embrace every available solution.

6:35 pm
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Edward Vaizey (Wantage, Conservative)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate—and it will be brief, especially as Mr. Reed has spoken about one of my major points.

I wanted to dwell on the Government's record in this area, which has been one of lamentable failure. I apologise to my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin for breaking the consensus, but my generation cares passionately about climate change and we feel that this Government have missed a golden opportunity to make the changes that are so desperately needed in the fight against it. This country is still woefully behind the rest of Europe in our attitude to energy conservation and recycling.

I want to make four brief points. First, I support my hon. Friend Mr. Hurd, who said that it is essential, when we debate climate change, to work with the grain of human nature rather than against it. People will always want to use their cars and go on cheap holidays, and we must be aware that great scientific strides will be made as technology develops. Many fuel-efficient, low-emission cars are already available, and they will get better; British Airways has already given up some of its carbon allowance because it uses more fuel-efficient planes; and people are already changing their lifestyles by working at home using the internet. Energy use will change and be reduced through the use of technology. Mention has also been made in the debate of the use of biofuels. Science will find a way.

Every type of major energy source is available in my constituency. Harwell is the site of the first nuclear reactor to be built in Britain, and Didcot is dominated by the large power station that supplies most of the energy for the south-east. Recently, our community was divided by a vigorous debate about the siting of a wind turbine in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

However, I want to speak about nuclear power. I support what the hon. Member for Copeland said. I am fully aware of the risks, such as the difficulties involved in dealing with nuclear waste and in ensuring security.

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David Chaytor (Bury North, Labour)

Is the hon. Gentleman fully aware of the costs associated with nuclear power?

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Edward Vaizey (Wantage, Conservative)

The hon. Gentleman must be telepathic, as I was just about to say that the costs of nuclear power—

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Edward Vaizey (Wantage, Conservative)

The costs are incurred by the construction and running of power stations and by the disposal of nuclear waste. Nevertheless, two of the chandeliers above us in this Chamber are powered by electricity from nuclear power, either our own or bought from France—

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Robert Smith (Deputy Chief Whip; West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Liberal Democrat)

Which ones?

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Edward Vaizey (Wantage, Conservative)

That one and that one. Nuclear power is a proven technology. Nuclear stations can supply carbon-free energy for the nation in the sort of amounts that cannot be matched by renewables.

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Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith, Labour)

If the hon. Gentleman will not answer the question of costs, may I supply it instead? Building a new-generation nuclear power station costs £30 billion: would not it be better at least to try the possibilities offered by micro-generation, which could provide as much energy at half the cost?

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Edward Vaizey (Wantage, Conservative)

Nuclear power for the whole country at the cost of 40 domes is cheap at the price.

The vital aspect and the Cinderella of this debate is energy conservation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood pointed out, 25 per cent. of CO 2 emissions comes from our homes. I hope that the Government will seriously consider reforming stamp duty laws to reward energy-efficient homes and reforming building regulations so that new homes are built with energy-efficient methods.

6:40 pm
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Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, International Development; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Vaizey, who rightly emphasised the fact that science and technology have a role to play, although we have not today fully explored the issue of nuclear power. It is too late now for me to run through the issues, but perhaps the House will have an opportunity in the future to debate them.

My hon. Friend John Barrett rightly reminded the House that the headline issue for the G8 in Gleneagles next week is addressing the problem of global poverty, especially in the poorest countries. I have some misgivings, however, about the way in which the G8 agenda has been set. The eight richest countries—we might call them the R8—will discuss the problems of the poorest. We should apply the maxim "Never about them without them". In other words, we should not talk about the poorest countries—perhaps we could call them the P8—without inviting them to be present. The R8 should not discuss the P8 without eyeballing them at the same time, to ensure that the R8 fully understand and speak to the countries that will be affected by the decisions that come from the top table.

In the lead-up to the summit—of grey-suited men discussing complex issues—it has been encouraging to see many members of the public drawn into the debate through Live8 and the Make Poverty History campaign. Now that their passions have been aroused, I hope that those people will not feel only a momentary compassion on arguably the most serious issue facing the globe at present—the poverty of those in developing countries—but that their compassion will continue in the weeks and months ahead. As people leave the rallies in Edinburgh and the concerts in London, at the Eden project in Cornwall and elsewhere, I hope that they will carry on the campaign. I hope that they will go to supermarkets and ask, "Where does the food come from? Can you reassure me that my purchase of this product will not damage the very people I have been campaigning about, who are the reason why I am wearing this wristband?" People need to apply the principles of that compassion to their activities. They want information and reassurance, and I hope that such continuing interest will be one of the outcomes of the campaign.

My hon. Friend Norman Baker was, as ever, forensic and passionate on the issue of climate change and spoke strongly for the motion. As Mr. Letwin explained, the debate as a whole has demonstrated the difficulty of persuading others as well as ourselves of the consequences of our actions. When we bring a hammer down on our finger we can see the connection between the hammer, the finger and pain. We learn from that and we make future judgments on that clear relationship. However, when we turn on the ignition of our car or decide to go on holiday, we do not necessarily see the immediate connection between that choice and some meteorological catastrophe elsewhere in the world or some unwelcome climate change that undermines our efforts to eradicate poverty in developing countries. But, as the right hon. Member for West Dorset argued—I think fairly—we need to apply a precautionary principle to this matter before it is too late. If we are wrong, at least we will have achieved some improvements in the way that we live. On the balance of scientific opinion, however, I feel comfortable with the line that we are taking, and it is clear from the Government's line and the policies of all parties that we are going in the right direction in tackling this issue, about which, to be fair, there is still some uncertainty.

I shall try to skirt over the Minister's selective quotations from manifestos and so on, and his failure to acknowledge the fact that when non-governmental organisations requested political parties to sign up to their four key commitments at the time of the last general election, we signed up to them too. Perhaps he did not surf the websites that Mark Lazarowicz did, otherwise he would have uncovered that.

One of the main points that the Minister made in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes was that Britain is leading the world in the action that it is taking on climate change. He asked what other G8 country was on track to meet the Kyoto target. What other European country is on track to meet the Kyoto target? I look for reassurance from the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr. Bradshaw, who will wind up the debate in a moment, that those words are not a sign that we are going to see the politics of the lowest common denominator. That would be most unwelcome and I hope that the Government will continue to be sincere in their language and ensure that we are attempting at least to set the highest possible standards.

The Minister said that there had been a decline in the number of people who need to be converted to understand the consequences of our lifestyles and their impact on climate change. I think we know where to find those on whom we primarily need to concentrate; they are some rather large and difficult nuts to crack, mostly across the other side of the pond. We might argue that we are—I hope that we are—witnessing the last days of the modern-day equivalent of the Flat Earth Society as far as that is concerned. I urge the Minister and the Prime Minister to do all that they can to ensure that the United States is seen to be isolated in its unwillingness to act in the way that the UK and other countries are prepared to act.

The Minister said that the G8 should not set targets for the rest of the world and I agree that it should not take a patronising approach, although the General Secretary of the United Nations has written to the G8, encouraging it to ensure that it at least sets an agenda that can be pursued still further.

The right hon. Member for West Dorset attempted to pour oil on troubled waters, to be conciliatory and to offer to adopt the role of peacemaker in the rather more fiery exchanges that we witnessed between my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes and the Minister. He applied his intellect and principles to the issue rather than, if he does not mind my saying so, his expertise. I think that, on balance, he made a significant contribution to our debate. I do not say that simply because he announced that Conservative Members would support the Liberal Democrats in the Division Lobby this evening, although on that basis I shall resist attacking some of the past Conservative policies and what they have achieved.

The right hon. Gentleman made a significant point: we in all three parties, as well as other parties, agree that we must face up to some very difficult economic challenges in persuading our electorates that we must make progress. In fact, we need to sell such messages to our electorates. I hope that we can stick together and help each other to sell these difficult decisions and conclusions. Having gone from the sunlit uplands of conciliatory debate, we went to the depths of partisanship with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith. However, it is a pity to end on that point and I look forward to the Under-Secretary of State's response, but I urge the House to support the Liberal Democrat motion this evening.

6:50 pm
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Ben Bradshaw (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Exeter, Labour)

This has been an excellent debate. I cannot recall a debate on an issue of such importance that has commanded such consensus across the House. We heard good contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) and for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz)—perhaps his speech was not so consensual as others, but he can claim as an excuse provocation by the Liberal Democrats in Edinburgh about the congestion charge there.

We heard a good contribution from John Barrett, who should be commended for his action in getting rid of his 4x4 vehicle. He might like to know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs often refers to me, only half in jest, as a one-man Government carbon-offsetting scheme, because I gave up my car 12 years ago and now rely mainly on my bicycle.

There was a good contribution from my hon. Friend Mr. Reed, who set an example to the House in his brevity. I am sure that the debate will continue and he may wish to make a longer speech in future on the issue that he mentioned. We also heard a good contribution from Mr. Vaizey.

It is invidious to single out a Member for praise in such debates, and I do so at the risk of ruining what otherwise I suspect would be a promising career, but the contribution from Mr. Hurd was particularly impressive. It was most refreshing to hear a Conservative Member say that the European Union could play a positive leadership role in a major policy issue. [Interruption.] I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if that has damaged him, but it was not meant in that spirit.

Let me bring the House back to the focus of the debate: next week's very important summit at Gleneagles. The House recognises that that meeting in itself has stimulated debate and provided a boost to the vital work that is happening at regional, national and international levels. Indeed, Norman Baker acknowledged that in what he said about the real progress that is being made at state level in the United States, partly as a result of the British Government giving the issue such a high profile.

We always knew that addressing climate change during our G8 presidency would be tough. There are real differences of opinion about the best way to respond to the challenge. That is why the summit is so important and shows how the G8 functions best when taking on the big issues of the day and reaching out to other key nations.

Our aims for the summit are threefold: first, to secure agreement about the importance of the issue and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to take urgent action; secondly, to find practical ways to speed up the development and deployment of new technologies, both in the G8 and in developing countries, using a comprehensive Gleneagles plan of action, covering energy efficiency, power generation, research and development, investment and financing, as well as adaptation to climate change; and thirdly, to reach an agreement to continue dialogue on climate change, clean energy and sustainable development that will complement the existing UN process.

There has been much debate this afternoon about the position of the United States and whether we should try to persuade the US to sign up to the Kyoto protocol. That has never been our aim. We remain committed to the Kyoto protocol, as do the other signatories. The US, at national level, takes a different line—that is a matter of fact—but there are significant areas of common ground. Just because we have different views on the Kyoto protocol, it does not mean that the US cannot work with Europe and the emerging economies on measures to tackle climate change. The G8 summit provides an opportunity to discuss with the US and those emerging economies what we can do to bring together energy, environment and development policies to create the political will necessary to succeed.

On this issue, some of the consensus that built up in the rest of the debate was challenged. Although stressing the importance, as he saw it, of getting the United States on board for an agreement, the hon. Member for Lewes seemed to suggest that he would rather have a better agreement without the US than a weak one with it. However, he acknowledged that we can continue to do the good work that we have been doing on the basis of a coalition of the willing. We will continue to do that.

Mr. Letwin used his vivid analogy of pushing a heavy boulder up a steep slope to suggest that it was important that Gleneagles results in our going an inch up the slope. He appeared to say that he was worried that we were being too ambitious. I do not accept that we are being too ambitious and therefore face the risk of failing, which would be seen as a defeat. We have charted a wise and careful course and, by and large in the debate, hon. Members resisted the temptation, based on misleading press reports that appeared a few days ago, to prejudge what is likely to be achieved at Gleneagles.

There was also not the degree of consensus that I would have liked on what the UK Government have achieved in terms of showing the leadership at home that we can deploy internationally. It is important to remind the House that, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment said in his opening remarks, we are the only country apart from Sweden that is on course to meet our Kyoto obligations—and not just to meet them, but to exceed them. We are not on course to meet our own much more ambitious domestic targets for CO 2 emissions, but we are reviewing our climate change programme with the specific aim of getting back on track to meet those targets. As my hon. Friend also pointed out, Labour was the only political party at the last general election to have a specific pledge in our manifesto to that 20 per cent. cut by 2020.

The right hon. Member for West Dorset made an interesting contribution to the debate about environmental gain and economic growth. This is an important debate to develop further even though we do not have the time to do so now. I urge him to look at the speech made by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood, who said that he wished that we would talk more about opportunities and not costs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North pointed out, this country has achieved cuts in our emissions while having robust economic growth, and we are now beginning to achieve a similar situation on waste. We are cutting waste production while growing our economy. It is no accident that the two countries that have done best on climate change—Sweden and the United Kingdom—have strong records on economic growth. I do not think that environmental gain and economic growth are incompatible; the opposite is true. It is only through sustainable development that we will protect the environment and achieve the sustainable economic growth that we all want.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North made several constructive suggestions about potential fiscal incentives. Many of us on both sides of the House agree that more fiscal incentives have a positive role to play in helping us to get our own and international targets back on track.

Hon. Members understandably concentrated on Gleneagles but, as several pointed out, this issue is not just about the G8. It is also about the EU, and its leaders are already showing leadership and setting objectives based on the need to limit temperature increases to 2° C. We want to lead the international debate. We also recognise that the EU cannot do it alone. The international effort to tackle climate change will not succeed unless we get the US and the emerging economies talking. That is why we want Gleneagles to be the start of a new dialogue complementary to the UN process.

I regret the fact that in spite of the consensual nature of this debate, it looks as though the House is going to divide on the Liberal Democrat motion—

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge, Liberal Democrat)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 220, Noes 313.

Division number 24

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House welcomes the UK's global leadership on climate change and in particular the Prime Minister's decision to make climate change one of the top two priorities for the G8 Presidency and a priority for the EU Presidency; recognises that UK initiatives in 2005 have already made important contributions to the international debate on future climate change policy, in particular the scientific conference on stabilisation in February 2005 and the Energy and Environment Ministerial Roundtable in March 2005; looks forward to the Gleneagles Summit and provides its full support to the Prime Minister's continuing efforts to secure a successful outcome; commends the UK's plans to continue to strive for further international action following Gleneagles through both the G8 and EU; further commends the Labour Party for being the only party to commit in its manifesto to a national goal to reduce emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010; celebrates the UK's achievement in already reducing emissions to 13.4 per cent. between the base year and 2003, beyond that required by the Kyoto Protocol; further welcomes the introduction of policies such as the climate change levy and renewables obligation that have been so important in achieving this; and looks forward to the publication of the climate change programme later this year which will set out further policies to deliver the goal of a 20 per cent. reduction in emissions by 2010.