Earth Summit

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th June 1992.

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Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East 12:00 am, 17th June 1992

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about the role played by the Government at the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the outcome of the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

I refer the hon. Members to the full statement made on Monday by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The successful outcome of the conference, and the constructive role played by the United Kingdom in securing that outcome have been widely welcomed.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

Is the Secretary of State aware that many scientists take the view that the United Nations convention on climate change and the United Kingdom and European Community commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000 are insufficient to prevent serious global warming? Does the Secretary of State agree with those scientists? If so, will the Government use their presidency of the EC to secure tighter commitments in that area?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

I have no doubt that some scientists take the view expressed by the hon. Gentleman. He is right to identify the considerable scientific uncertainty that exists in that regard. That is why we place great emphasis on the importance of keeping our commitments under review. They will, indeed, be reviewed and if there is greater scientific unanimity either way, or greater technological information that we can take into account, we shall not hesitate to amend and revise them in the light of that review.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York

I welcomed the announcement made by the Prime Minister before he went to Rio that he would recycle empty bottles from Downing street by taking them to a bottle bank. Doubtless that will make a significant contribution to the energy-saving commitments given by the Government in Rio. But will the Secretary of State reverse his advice to local authorities that he will give no more supplementary credit approvals for kerbside collections so that local authorities can do the same as the Prime Minister and encourage more people to save glass?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

If the hon. Gentleman examines the details, he will find that local authorities have adequate resources to fulfil their environmental obligations, and the best local authorities are discharging those obligations very effectively.

Photo of Mr David Nicholson Mr David Nicholson , Taunton

The attitude of the United States Administration to the Rio conference is to be regretted, but will my right hon. and learned Friend say whether the United Kingdom Government played a part in bringing the United States Administration forward in that respect? In particular, what developments took place at Rio with regard to safeguarding tropical rain forests?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

We certainly played a part in reaching a position that enabled the United States to sign the climate change convention. As the United States is responsible for 25 per cent. of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, it was essential that it signed up to that treaty. The United States took a different view about the biodiversity treaty, but it has agreed to take part in the processes under that treaty. Nevertheless, I hope that it will be possible for the United States to sign up to that convention in due course. After very protracted negotiations we were able to reach an agreement on forests—not a convention as we had hoped, but an agreement that holds open the possibility of moving towards a convention. We shall vigorously pursue the possibilities of reviewing the agreement in that way.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I remind my right hon. and learned Friend that Zaire has two thirds of the world's tropical rain forests. How will any arrangements secure the future of those forests, bearing in mind the pressure on that poor country to use its resources to improve its position and that of its people?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

I shall send my hon. Friend a copy of the agreement, which sets out in full provisions that will enable progress to be made in Zaire and in other countries and encourage countries to engage in the proper management of their forests, while recognising that it would be foolish to suggest that not a single tree should be cut down and that such countries will not wish to make use of those resources. It is important that we develop a way in which sustainable use can be made of those resources, and that is the objective of the forestry agreement.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Whatever reservations there may be about the Rio summit, may I congratulate the Secretary of State and his team on the signing of the two conventions on biodiversity and climate change? In order to keep up the momentum, will he give an assurance that, during Britain's European presidency—which falls to us from 1 July—we will immediately set about negotiation of the protocols to the conventions and take the lead in ensuring that they are both ratified quickly, and will now sign a like-minded countries' declaration on climate change?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I can go one better than he suggests. In his statement to the House on Monday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that he would write to the other countries in the European Community and to the other G7 countries proposing a follow-up to the conventions that were signed at Rio. The hon. Gentleman can be assured that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government in general will continue to take a lead in these matters.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor Shadow Secretary of State

Will the Secretary of State say clearly what the Prime Minister failed to say on Monday—that the Government will accept the target of stabilising carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000 as a clear commitment with no strings attached? Will he acknowledge that if the Government had accepted that target—for which we have been arguing for many years—earlier, more progress could have been made in combating global warming and indeed in strengthening the hand of the British Government in their negotiations?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Secretary of State for Environment

No. I entirely reject the hon. Lady's suggestion. I do not think that there is any foundation for it at all. When we revised our commitment just a few weeks ago and committed ourselves to bringing down emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000, we made it clear that we would do that if other countries took similar action. It is important to appreciate that this is a global problem which requires a global response. It is as important to secure multilateral, rather then unilateral, action in this matter as it was in respect of disarmament, when the stand taken by Her Majesty's Government proved to be effective, in contrast to the stand urged upon us by the Opposition.