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I beg to move,
That this House
endorses the comments of Sir David King that climate change is the most serious threat facing the planet and congratulates him on his work in this area;
welcomes the Prime Minister's commitment to make the tackling of climate change a top priority for the United Kingdom's presidencies of the EU and G8 this year;
reiterates the UK commitment to a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon emissions by 2050;
strongly welcomes the coming into force of the Kyoto agreement on 16th February and the strong role the European Union has played in achieving this;
believes that it is vital that, post-Kyoto, the international community works to reach agreement on the action needed to tackle climate change, which should engage the United States but which should also recognise the importance of the energy choices which face many of the major developing countries;
calls on the global community to work with them in addressing those choices;
rejects the notion that tackling climate change will of necessity damage the economy and indeed suggests that it is failure to do so that will lead to that result;
believes that all parties in this House should by their own actions help convince the public of the need to take environmental matters seriously;
and therefore condemns Conservative plans severely to weaken the Environment Agency through the massive and debilitating cuts proposed for the Agency by that party, and its damaging plans to abolish the climate change levy.
It is a great pleasure to introduce a debate on the important subject of climate change just a few days before the Kyoto protocol comes into force on
During this Parliament, we have introduced three substantive debates on the environment in Opposition time. By comparison, there has been only one debate in Government time and the Conservatives have not introduced any at all. They were going to introduce a debate on climate change last year but, at the last moment, it disappeared and was replaced by a debate in which they opposed wind farms. That must be the only example in history where the horse has been pulled up before the runners are off.
No, I do not recall that. There is not a three-line Whip today—there is genuine interest among Liberal Democrats in the environment, as demonstrated by the number of my colleagues who are here today. I hope, incidentally, that subsequent interventions will be directed more towards the important issues that we are debating, instead of being narrow party points.
No, I do not recall that, but I do recall that we, unlike the so-called official Opposition, supported the Government on that occasion.
I do not want to rehearse at great length the examples that prove that climate change is occurring. We have all seen them in the newspapers and heard them on television and the radio, so there can be no doubt whatever that climate change is occurring or that it is induced by human behaviour. Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, has done a splendid job in drawing attention to the scientific evidence, which is now accepted by the vast majority of scientific opinion across the world. It is accepted by all parties in the House—I see a Plaid Cymru Member in his place—and I am not aware of any Member who fails to believe that climate change is happening and that it is humanly induced. If there are any such Members, I hope that they will make themselves known today.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is growing confusion about the issue? A week or so ago, there was a conference led by an Oxford professor, in which it was agreed that there was global warming. The next day's Metro reported that the increase would be 11o, but the professor subsequently said that it would be only 5o. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that some people are beginning to wonder whether there might be another ice age before we get really burned up?
I acknowledge that the science is not exact and that there are different projections for the future in respect of the exact level of temperature change. That is bound to be the case, but it is unquestionable that climate change is occurring and that temperatures are increasing. If the gulf stream switches off, that could well lead to downward changes in temperature for this country, but that does not show that climate change is failing to occur—it is occurring.
Has the hon. Gentleman seen the latest scientific assessment of all the papers on climate change by climatologists and other experts, which shows that there is no longer any significant argument about these matters among the scientific community? Indeed, there is hardly a single person who doubts the fundamental fact that the world is warming—and doing so alarmingly quickly.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct, and I pay tribute to the work that he did in government in bringing this matter forward and to his subsequent contribution in opposition. It is welcome to have such a knowledgeable voice on the Conservative Benches. He is absolutely right that there is no doubt among the scientific community. That is not to deny that some individuals are advancing the theory that climate change is not occurring. Indeed, I shall consider some of those voices now.
One voice is that of Julian Morris of the International Policy Network, who claims that climate change is a myth. Apparently, sea levels are not rising and Britain's chief scientist is "an embarrassment" because he believes that catastrophe is inevitable. It is worth pointing to the close links between International Policy Network and Exxon Mobil, which gave the organisation $50,000. Exxon lists that donation as part of its climate change outreach programme. There are also close links with the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute. We may be able to deduce from the comments of Julian Morris that there is an ulterior motive behind his denial of climate change.
I have already mentioned the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Members may have heard the outrageous interview with Myron Ebell on the Radio 4 "Today" programme. He criticised Sir David King in hugely personal and outrageous terms and called climate change "a tissue of improbabilities", claiming that the objective was for Europe to "attack America's economic superiority". It is worth pointing out that the Competitive Enterprise Institute is also funded by Exxon Mobil—to the tune of $280,000 in 2001.
We could also mention Dr. Roger Bate of Tech Central Station. He also criticised Sir David King, who is fast becoming an object of derision for people associated with Exxon Mobil and others. He says that
"it is especially shameful for the British to attempt limiting debate"— apparently that is what we are doing—
"in a country that had science suppressed far too often in the past."
I do not think that many hon. Members will recognise that description of this country. The House may be interested to know that Tech Central Station received $95,000 from Exxon Mobil last year for climate change activities.
I am sure that some people are genuine and well meaning. David Bellamy, the former environmentalist, has denied climate change in the newspapers. I am not sure that we can give much credit to his views, but I think that he is genuine. Tech Central Station, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the International Policy Network are linked not by a belief that climate change is not happening, but by a need to advance an argument on behalf of those with a vested interest in action not being taken. A plethora of such articles has appeared in the press, supposedly from independent scientists. In fact, they are nothing of the sort: they are being paid by the oil industry to advance some very short-sighted arguments.
In the oil industry, Shell and BP have shown leadership. They embrace new technology and realise that we must change. There is a big difference between their activities and those of Exxon Mobil, which pretends that it can still keep its head in the sand.
I acknowledge that Shell and BP accept the science of climate change and that they have invested in other technologies. However, those two companies have posted huge profits in the past week. That raises the question of why they do not invest significantly more in renewable and energy-saving technologies. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that they could be doing a damn sight more?
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a windfall tax on those producers would be a good idea? That money could be invested in renewable energy technologies, as has been suggested.
I am not necessarily in favour of windfall taxes, but I believe that measures should be put in place to encourage companies to take the right steps. That can be achieved without a windfall tax, not least because it is in companies' economic interest to go down that road.
I want to speak briefly about media reporting of climate change. I make a particular plea to the producers of the "Today" programme on Radio 4. Can we please stop having artificial debates between those who believe that climate change is happening and the minority who say that they believe that it is not? We should move on from that: we need debates between politicians about how best to deal with the problem. Producers insist on presenting a ludicrous juxtaposition that does not help the argument. I very much hope that they will take what I say on board. We no longer argue about whether smoking causes lung cancer. That is now accepted, and I hope that BBC producers will accept that parallel.
I congratulate broadsheet newspapers such as The Independent and The Guardian on much of the exposure that they give to climate change and on the way that they raise the issue for readers, but it is not sufficient for their science editors simply to write a finite piece that causes people to think how dreadful things are. Politicians of all parties and countries should be engaged and asked what they are doing about the problem. The newspapers need to make the issue far more political than they have done so far.
It is slightly dangerous to go down the road of suggesting that people whose opinions may be erroneous or unpalatable should not have the right to express them on radio, if it is the presenters' choice that they should do so. I am generally in favour of what the hon. Gentleman is trying to do, but I think that that is dangerous.
Let me reassure the Father of the House that no one is suggesting that people should be censored, or that the "Today" programme's editorial content should be determined by anyone other than the BBC. However, it is neither sensible nor editorially justifiable to give equal weight to both sides of an argument when the overwhelming scientific consensus is on one side. That consensus is so overwhelming that it should be taken as read. For instance, a person who wanted to say on Radio 4 that lung cancer was not related to smoking would be given short shrift. That is the comparison that I want to make.
To set the record straight, is the hon. Gentleman saying that we should listen to what is being said, and that programmes should have a mix that includes politicians? Surely he is not saying that other people should be set aside, and that politicians should take control?
I am certainly not saying that. Programmes should dovetail scientists, politicians and pressure groups. That sort of arrangement applies in most other fields of policy, although it seems that it does not in respect of environment policy.
My hon. Friend has praised some elements of the press, and some of them do a very good job, but does he accept that the national media should also report what happens at a local and regional level? For example, one Sunday newspaper carried a very good story about the potential effect of climate change on a very old pub's daub and wattle structure. People realise that climate change affects faraway countries with which we have links, but they will be more likely to accept that they must change their lives and lifestyles if they understand that places in this country can suffer as well.
With that particular method of construction—[Laughter.] That was how buildings were made many hundreds of years ago. As always, my hon. Friend makes a valuable point.
I turn now to the comments of Bjorn Lomborg, associate professor of political science at Anglia university. He was the author of a book entitled "Global Crises". I believe that he is well motivated, but in error. If some hon. Members disagree, I can say that I am being generous for the purpose of this debate.
Lomborg suggests that we should spend the money necessary to tackle global warming on other matters, such as helping developing countries with aid, and so on. I shall describe later how I do not believe that there is a net cost to the prevention of global warming, but I think that Lomborg misses the point. He is worried about developing countries, but they are the ones that suffer most from global warming. They will be hit first by the floods associated with warming, and their populations and lifestyles will absorb the biggest impact.
Of the money given by the developed world to the developing world for energy projects, less than 3 per cent. is spent on renewable forms of energy. Does not the hon. Gentleman think that that is shocking? Should we not take that huge opportunity to get the latest technology to places where it will make a real difference?
I absolutely agree. The hon. Gentleman is Chair of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, and does a splendid job. Moreover, I watched him grill the Prime Minister very effectively this morning in the Liaison Committee.
All Governments—our own can do this through the Department for International Development and other Departments—need to look at how international development aid is spent. We need to know that the money we give in aid, for good reasons, is not making an environmental problem worse. In the end, developing countries need a secure environment even more than the UK does. It is an own goal to encourage fossil-fuel energy generation, as happens in some places.
It seems very likely that there will be an increase in global temperature of 2°C by the 2050s. The consequence for the developing world will be that an additional 250 million to 300 million people will be at risk of contracting malaria. Also, 12 million more people will be exposed to hunger as crop production falls, and 20 million more could suffer from coastal flooding. Clearly, that must be tackled. I suggest to Mr. Lomborg that merely giving aid and doing nothing else is like pouring water into a colander: it will not solve the problem.
Does tackling climate change have a negative economic impact? The Secretary of State will know that one reason given by the US for not engaging in the Kyoto process was the alleged damage to the US economy. Frankly, I think that that damage is somewhat overstated. To be fair to the Government, and their Tory predecessors, this country over the past 15 years has demonstrated an ability to disconnect economic growth from carbon emissions. That is a very important lesson to take out and sell to the Americans and to others who are sceptical about the proposition.
It is true that carbon emissions can be decoupled from economic growth, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that the aviation industry is the exception and that the problem that it poses needs to be tackled? Under Kyoto, this country has generally succeeded in decreasing emissions, but the aviation industry and some parts of the transport sector remain problematic. Does he agree that the decoupling that he describes has to happen in those sectors as well?
I agree, and I shall come to that later, if time allows.
One of the first things we must do is to end the "predict and provide" policy on airport growth, which the Government seem to have accepted. Secondly, fiscal measures must be introduced to put pressure on airlines for greater efficiency in minimising carbon emissions, which will soar if we do not take action soon.
On economic cost, is my hon. Friend aware that a Friends of the Earth report in 1997 predicted that, by 2030, the period between storm surges of the magnitude previously expected once every 100 years will be reduced to 12 years in Holyhead, five years in Cardiff and three and a half years in Milford Haven? The resulting damage will give rise to untold economic costs, and investment now is likely to pay for itself many times over in preventing damage in the first world, let alone the third.
That is right, and there are two equations. The first is the cost of doing nothing. Those who say, "Let's not take action because it would damage the economy," fail to cost in the effects of doing nothing, which are significant. Flood defence work is required in this country, but that is not the only example. Doing nothing will have huge economic costs. Parliamentary answers I have received have suggested that the total cost of damage to the environment in 2004 was £67 billion. Not all of that arose from climate change, but much of it did. That is the cost of doing nothing.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that another argument is that the United States Department of Energy showed that it could meet its Kyoto targets without harming its economy or changing the lifestyle of its people? The problem is that the targets are not high enough, but it is an absolute lie to suggest that they cannot be met other than by damaging the economy.
The right hon. Gentleman may want to refer to what Bill Clinton said in 1997 when he was President:
"The conversion of fuel to energy use is extremely inefficient and could be made much cleaner with existing technologies or those already on the horizon, in ways that will not weaken the economy but in fact will add to our strength in new businesses and new jobs. If we do this properly, we will not jeopardize our prosperity—we will increase it."
That is right and those who are concerned about the economic impact of tackling change should realise that it is not damaging, but an opportunity.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Has he seen, by any chance, the report sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, "Cry Wolf", which charts the way in which industry has consistently exaggerated the costs of incoming environmental legislation? Is he aware that Digby Jones came before the Environmental Audit Committee recently and could not name a single British company that had left the United Kingdom because of environmental laws?
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to that report. I am glad that not all parts of industry are negative. Some are forward-thinking and the work of the Carbon Trust is useful in that connection. For example, BP spent $20 million to implement its energy reduction strategy between 1998 and 2001. It embarked on that for environmental reasons, but released almost $650 million in financial savings in just three years. There is no doubt that such action can be economically as well as environmentally beneficial.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most important elements of ensuring that industry does not lose out economically from the business reaction to climate change is the security of forward signals for its future business? In that context, would he comment on the wisdom of abolishing some of those forward signals—for example, the climate change levy?
It would be extremely detrimental if the climate change levy were abolished and not replaced with something as or more effective—we would argue for a carbon tax. Pressure is being applied gently and should be increased, and it would send entirely the wrong signals to industry if that pressure were removed. All political parties should think carefully about manifesto proposals that might send the wrong signals for tackling climate change.
I could give other examples, but will not do so for the good reason of lack of time. However, there is no shortage of businesses that have taken action on the environment, often because they believe that they should do so for reasons of conscience, and have seen large consequential increases in their productivity and profits.
Does that not lead the hon. Gentleman to be displeased with the Government for going back to the European Union and reneging on their original proposal? They pretended that that had something to do with bureaucracy in the European Union, but the reason was that the CBI was leaning on the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister gave way, as he always does on this matter.
One of the joys of making speeches on the environment in the presence of hon. Members who are well aware of the facts is that they anticipate my points, although that is sometimes unhelpful to the continuity of my speech.
I agree that the position on the national allocation plan is unfortunate. The Government have reneged on the original targets and pulled back from them. That sent exactly the wrong message to countries in the EU that have not yet signed up. It is unhelpful if we send out conflicting messages saying that it is a good scheme but that we shall partly renege on it. The Government say that they have more information, which caused them to change their view. How convenient. That might be true, but does not seem convincing on paper.
I understood that the outcome of the dispute between the European Union and the Government was going to be cleared up this week. However, The Daily Telegraph, which I always read because it is a most reliable newspaper—I am sure that hon. Members agree, tongue in cheek—said today that the European Commission has forced Ministers to delay an announcement yet again until the matter is sorted out. When the Secretary of State or the Minister replies, perhaps they will clarify where we are with a national allocation plan, whether agreement has been reached and, if so, on what basis. If we have reduced our target—the reason would probably be pressure from uneducated elements of business—it would be unfortunate and unhelpful to the international efforts of the Prime Minister to convince others to treat climate change seriously.
On the international situation, first, I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister and the Government have made climate change one of the two priorities for our EU and G8 presidencies. That is absolutely right and if we were in government, we would probably have picked the same two priorities. We are pleased that that is the Prime Minister's approach and it is clear that he is giving time to it and that a lot of work is going on behind the scenes with the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and others in difficult negotiating territory. We support them in their negotiations and I hope that we can provide constructive support, as well as constructive criticism in an attempt to be helpful.
The United States Administration are the predominant problem, but we also need to accept the situation in developing countries, such as China, India and Brazil, whose economies are fast-growing. China has an immensely fast-running economy; it is almost unbelievable how fast it is growing. The result will be an increase in energy consumption, and we have a key role to play in such countries' choice of whether they will base their energy needs on renewable resources, fossil fuel, or nuclear options. If those developing countries ask why they should sort out the mess created by the western world and suffer the brunt of the problem, as they might, we must have a good answer. We must make it clear that we got it wrong in many ways, but that we now have collective responsibility throughout the world to try to sort it out. If we do not sort it out, they will suffer even more than we will.
The hon. Gentleman referred to developing countries, the central feature of which is population growth. The world's population is increasing by around 250,000 a day and the main growth is in India and China, but they are not using modern renewable technologies. Does he acknowledge that population growth is a key factor in climate change?
All human activity is key in climate change, and population growth is one factor. It is important that as far as possible our international development and other policies encourage sustainable living. Population growth is best tackled by providing security and a decent standard of living in developing countries. That will take pressure off population growth, as we have seen in Europe, where it is much lower than in Africa. The way forward is to take an enlightened approach to those countries.
I want to touch briefly on the tactics adopted by the Government towards their partners in the EU and the G8. In December, my colleague Sir Menzies Campbell, the Lib Dem shadow Foreign Secretary, and I wrote to the Foreign Secretary about the tactics to be deployed in negotiations with the United States. I appreciate that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will not want to lay bare those tactics before the House, but it is important to understand that there are two possible ways to proceed. The first is to assume that the United States genuinely does not believe the science, and to spend much time and effort to persuade the US that the science is there. The alternative is to assume that the US knows the science but pretends not to—which is where I think we are—and that it is stalling for time in an effort not to bring in measures that are inevitable. I am frightened that the British Government are spending too much time taking the American position at face value and thus neglecting the opportunity to make more progress. Kyoto will come in next week, in the teeth of US opposition, so it is important that those who have signed up to Kyoto take this opportunity to go forward together. If we go forward together strongly, the US will follow at some point. Furthermore, without causing diplomatic incidents, we should work with individual US states—in the north-east, California and elsewhere—which are actually doing good stuff.
Indeed. Those states and countries are moving forward on emissions trading and tackling climate change. American business, too, increasingly recognises the opportunities in the world from tackling climate change. That is what is happening from the grassroots up in the US, but it has not yet reached the White House.
We need to encourage those elements. What we must not do, in any circumstances, is to try to find a halfway house that brings the Americans on board but would involve abandoning key targets to get them to sign a piece of paper that the Prime Minister can wave Chamberlain-style saying, "Climate change agreement in our time." We must avoid that at all costs.
I am worried. Although I believe that the Prime Minister is well intentioned, I am not convinced that he has the diplomatic skills to get the right result in his negotiations with President Bush. A whole range of issues, whether the International Criminal Court, Iraq or even the Chancellor's laudable attempts to secure debt relief, are being stopped, stymied, blocked or opposed by the United States. It is difficult to think of anything that the US has done recently that is helpful to the UK. Our special relationship with the United States is peculiar; it is all give on one side and all take on the other. That seems a peculiar arrangement. I wonder whether it is seriously worth pursuing the idea that we can secure any agreement from the Americans. That is not to say that we should not talk to them. We can agree on matters such as technology and investment in technology and we can agree to share science and so on, but we must not in any circumstances allow the US to be a brake on the post-Kyoto arrangements. We must ensure that those arrangements are put in place with the countries that are willing to agree to them. We must also ensure that they include targets.
The Secretary of State will be aware of a report in The Observer that suggested that in the December Council the British Government made an attempt to abandon the 2050 target for a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. We were told subsequently that that was a tactic by the British Government and that in March the policy would come back in.
I am sure that The Observer will have seen that and will reply at length on Sunday. Sadly, none of us has the opportunity to do so in that particular format. However, I have seen the minutes so I take the Secretary of State's comment with a pinch of salt. It looked to me, from reading the minutes, as though The Observer was accurate, but never mind, we will take the matter at face value.
I have not concentrated on domestic policy because it is important to get the international scene right. With due respect to the Government, however, if they are to achieve credibility abroad they must deliver real progress at home. Grandiose speeches abroad are no substitute for action at home. I do not pretend that it is easy or that all the problems can be solved overnight, but there are significant shortcomings in the Government's performance that must be addressed. One is Government structure. The Government, sadly in my view, abandoned the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which for the first time brought transport and the environment together in a sensible way. We now have DEFRA, which, with due respect to the Secretary of State, does not carry the same weight in the Government as the Treasury or the Department of Trade and Industry.
As well as the desperate need significantly to reduce carbon emissions, we are making a double whammy of the crisis. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned that fact. It has been calculated that over the past 25 years we have chopped down 5 million sq km of rain forest—the one instrument, so to speak, that can actually mop up carbon dioxide emissions. That 5 million sq km is equivalent to 20 times the size of the land mass of the United Kingdom.
That is a good point, which demonstrates how impossible it is to cover the whole range of issues in a speech such as this, especially as I do not want to take any more time from the other Members who want to speak.
The Government must make more progress on transport, where there has been a big increase in emissions which is out of control. Road traffic will grow by about 25 per cent. over this decade alone. Public transport fares are rocketing. The cost of travelling by rail has gone up by 84 per cent. since 1974 and is about to increase again; the cost of travelling by bus has grown by 71 per cent., while the cost of motoring has gone down. We have the aviation problems to which Mr. Thomas rightly referred earlier and they, too, need to be tackled. Stephen Tindale of Greenpeace has said that the Government have failed and that they seem to have given up on controlling emissions from transport. That is a big problem and the Government must sort it out. They must also ensure that their energy White Paper, which contains many good ideas, is brought to fruition.
The motion sets out the absolute importance of the need to take urgent action on the serious threat facing the planet from climate change. It recognises the need to engage the US and developing countries, and calls on the Government to ensure that that is a key priority. I hope very much that the House will support the motion.
I find myself in a rather unusual position for a Minister taking part in an Opposition day debate. Although, inevitably, I do not agree with everything that Norman Baker has just said, I am in agreement with the sentiments expressed in the motion. As the opening words of the motion draw attention to the overwhelming importance and gravity of the threat of climate change, it is welcome and not altogether surprising that there should be common ground and agreement on both sides of the House, or at least in most parts of the House.
Climate change is a global problem—probably, as the motion says, the most urgent challenge facing the global community. It requires not only political leadership but ultimately a global solution. The Prime Minister, as is acknowledged across the world, is doing his utmost to provide that leadership and is leading international efforts to tackle climate change. It was his decision to make climate change a top priority for both our G8 and our EU presidencies. I welcome the recognition of that fact in the Liberal Democrat motion.
I begin by reiterating, as did the hon. Member for Lewes in his opening speech, the sheer breadth of consensus on the science of climate change—a degree of consensus, which, as he said, is not always reflected in the way in which scientific discussion is reported. Over about 18 years, the intergovernmental panel on climate change has brought together more than 1,000 international scientific experts on climate change.
The IPCC's third assessment report in 2001 concluded that there was strong evidence that climate change owing to human emissions of greenhouse gases was already occurring and that future emissions of greenhouse gases were likely to raise global temperatures by between 1.4 and 5.8° C during this century. I am always conscious of the fact that that does not sound very much, but I am equally conscious of the fact that the scientific evidence suggests that such a rise in temperature would have a wide range of impacts both on the natural world and, in consequence, on human society.
Nevertheless, some are still questioning whether we should worry about climate change. The most vociferous challenges that we hear nearly all come from self-proclaimed experts with little real expertise, whose arguments nevertheless receive attention that is out of all proportion to either their numbers or their relevance. That is not unprecedented, of course. The hon. Member for Lewes gave the example of those who query the link between lung cancer and smoking, and there are still more who still query the link between HIV and AIDS. So that phenomenon is not uncommon, but it is dangerous.
I will not reiterate the examples that the hon. Gentleman gave, but I will make an observation about one of those whom he quoted. As he rightly says, Professor Lomborg talks instead about diverting resources that could be used to help to tackle the problems of climate change to tackle those of development. Indeed, we all accept that development needs to be addressed, but the real danger of his argument is that if we follow the route that he prescribes—the hon. Gentleman used the example of pouring water into a colander—we would certainly be in danger of running to stand still, because of trying to tackle impacts that we were not seeking to mitigate. Such people must not be allowed to divert us from the real question, which is not whether climate change is happening, but what we could and should do about it.
May I add a further consensual proposition? We have the very unusual circumstance of an Opposition motion on the Order Paper without an amendment from the Government or the Conservative party. There is consensus among the main parties, and broad consensus among those outside who know what they are talking about. Will the right hon. Lady join us—I know that she tries to do this all the time—in persuading the media to place more importance on the huge international issues on which there is agreement than on ridiculous attempts to divide us on matters of zero importance to people abroad, let alone people at home?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Of course, I understand the anxiety expressed by the Father of the House, my hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell. No one is talking about stifling debate, but there is no harm in giving a proper weighting and relevance to the different contributions to that debate, and I share the view expressed by the hon. Gentleman and his colleague the hon. Member for Lewes that, unfortunately, that still does not seem to be happening in many parts of the media, which give entirely disproportionate space, time and coverage to those whose views are neither widely shared nor widely respected.
The international community has taken an unprecedented and significant step. It is particularly significant in this context because it is clear that the whole international community has accepted the science of climate change and thereby agreed to the Kyoto protocol, whose entry into force we will celebrate next Wednesday. But the Kyoto protocol is just a first tiny step towards tackling climate change. There is little doubt that the uncertainty of the past year or so about when and—indeed, at some stages—whether it would come into force had led to a loss of momentum in international discussions on climate change, and we urgently need to renew that momentum. That is why the Prime Minister put climate change, with Africa, at the top of the international political agenda this year.
I have not made formal representations because I must admit to my hon. Friend that, over my years in politics, I have not found that formal protests to the news media about such issues are very productive. However, I am aware—I think that this is widely known—that, for example, a thoughtful, well-constructed letter making exactly that point but not challenging people's right to be heard has been sent to such organisations from national representatives of four of the best known non-governmental organisations. I thought for a day or so that that plea had been heard, but in more recent days, there is some evidence that it has been set aside yet again. I share my hon. Friend's view that it would be advantageous to us all if we could move on from what is a very sterile dispute into the much more difficult territory of what we do and how we do it most effectively.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people who say that climate change is not real and is not happening can have quite a damaging effect on our ability to take effective action, by giving people an opportunity and an excuse to say that they do not need to change their lifestyles? That could have a very damaging impact on the future.
I agree with my hon. Friend that, indeed, such claims can have a damaging effect, and some of their manifestations are more bizarre than others. I was faintly surprised to hear that someone is now suggesting that there is no evidence of sea level rise. I should have thought that that was one of the easiest things to observe—in fact, it is taking place.
Our presidencies of the G8 and the EU give us the opportunity this year to refocus political attention both on the scale of the challenge and, indeed, on how we can meet it. As the Prime Minister said at the Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum, we need to send a clear signal of our common direction of travel to show that we are united as a world community in moving in the direction of greenhouse gas reductions, thus making that a signal that business and the global economy will understand and can follow. We need to underpin that with a firm push for research and technology and for the implementation of technological developments. We need to reach out to the developing world, both to those rapidly industrialising economies whose growing energy needs must be met sustainably and to the least developed countries, which—again, as the hon. Member for Lewes said—stand to lose most from the effects of climate change.
I do not wish to sound churlish and I hear what the right hon. Lady says and welcome the prominence given to the issue in the EU presidency, but has she spoken recently to the Foreign Office, which produced a Command Paper called "Prospects for the EU in 2005" this month? One might have thought that that provided an opportunity to set out the stall for the objectives on climate change, but climate change is mentioned in only two of 97 paragraphs in that document. That does not fill me with confidence that the Foreign Office, at least, has seized that agenda.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would do so, too. I simply say that what the Foreign Office was seeking to do in that paper was to highlight the things that perhaps people do not know are very much already on the agenda, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have the utmost help and co-operation from the Foreign Office, from the Foreign Secretary and, not least, from the many more junior members of the Foreign Office who are in place in our posts in all the various countries with which we need to work and who provide an excellent and very co-operative service, working with my Department, to spread some of these messages. I understand the anxiety that the hon. Gentleman highlights, but I assure him that the Foreign Office is very much on side.
To map our direction of travel, we need to be guided by the best scientific evidence on the potential impact of climate change. That is why at the start of our G8 year, at the Met Office in Exeter last week, we convened a meeting of the top international scientists working on climate change. Those at the meeting concluded that, compared with the IPCC's last assessment in 2001, there is now greater clarity and less uncertainty about the impact of climate change across a wide range of systems, sectors and societies. In many cases, those at the meeting suggested that the risks are more serious than previously thought.
Those at the conference noted that there is evidence that the sensitivity of the climate system to greenhouse gas emissions is now likely to be higher than was believed even in 2001, and that that implies a greater likelihood both of temperature increase and of damaging impacts at lower levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Those at the conference also noted that delaying taking action is likely to require greater action later to achieve the same temperature target, and suggested that even a delay of only five years could be significant.
As I read those words, I was reminded of a remark that an American business man made to me in Davos—it used sailing as a metaphor, so perhaps it is appropriate today. He said that if it is thought necessary to change course, the earlier one does so, the smaller the course correction can be. The later one leaves it, the greater the course correction, and if one leaves it too late, sometimes sufficient correction cannot be made. That is an apposite and useful example.
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of the Exeter meeting, may I ask her a question? She will know, because the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment wound up the meeting, that last Tuesday Professor Mitchell of the Met Office in Exeter, along with Sir David King, emphasised the difficulties that arise when rain falls instead of slow-melting snow, because it comes down much more quickly and there is thus less time for absorption. May I take it that that subject is a top research priority?
We are indeed examining that matter. I am mindful of the remarks from the end of the conference, and we are all conscious, whether owing to snow melt or other events such as those in Boscastle recently, of the way in which changes to the pattern of water flows can make a significant difference to previously expected circumstances.
The report of the science conference uses measured and careful words, but it gives a clear message to politicians. It underlines the urgency of action, and we must ensure that that message is widely heard in the G8, in the EU, at the UN and in our constituencies—wherever climate change is discussed. However, we will not achieve progress simply by reiterating the scale of the threat. We also need to demonstrate that the global community can meet the challenge successfully. As the Prime Minister said in Davos, if we put forward as a solution to climate change something that involves drastic cuts in growth or standards of living, it simply will not be accepted, not least by the poorest countries and societies for which survival itself requires development.
Fortunately, that need not be the case. The UK set out two years ago in the energy White Paper our commitment to cutting our emissions by 60 per cent. by about 2050. We believe that the target is achievable without sacrificing our economy, as our economic analysis suggests. Indeed, the impact of unchecked climate change would be far more damaging to our economy. We therefore hope that others will consider not only following that analysis, but setting similar long-term goals.
Perhaps because we have all been focused on the scale of the challenge, the international community has hitherto spent too little time discussing and co-operating on the strategic challenges of moving to a low-carbon economy. That is why next month, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I will host a round-table discussion for Energy and Environment Ministers from 20 countries that will focus on such issues. It will be a unique forum to bring together countries with significant and growing energy needs and cut across the usual divides between both developed and developing economies, and ministerial portfolios. The round-table discussion will examine the challenges of stimulating research, technology and investment to tackle climate change, and will try to identify some of the ways forward.
All countries need to be engaged in the effort to tackle climate change, including the world's largest economy and biggest greenhouse gas emitter, the United States. There is evidence, although I do not suggest that it has been evident in the Chamber today, that some may want to use this issue to engage in grand political gestures and to isolate the US for its regrettable refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol. There is evidence that some people hope that the US will somehow, through isolation, be drawn back into international dialogue or agreement. That is not a credible strategy. We have already seen from the Kyoto protocol the problems that can be stored up if we do not build the underlying political acceptance needed to deliver our objectives: acceptance is required for the exercise of political will. The Government will thus continue, bilaterally and with our EU partners, to engage the United States intensively in climate change discussions at all levels. We will, of course, do that through the G8, but not exclusively so.
There has been remarkable consensus in the Chamber today, but is it not the case that the programme advocated by Norman Baker is based around the isolation of the United States? Surely we must engage with the largest producer of carbon, hold sensible discussions and acknowledge the work that is being done there so that we can find an appropriate way forward in all our interests.
In fairness to the hon. Member for Lewes—perhaps I misunderstood him—I do not entirely share my hon. Friend's interpretation of his remarks. However, I assure my hon. Friend that we believe that we will stand our best chance of success through engagement.
Is not the reality that the Liberal Democrats are expressing frustration with the United States because its technology on, and capacity for, energy conservation would allow it to gain the most from, and give the most to, solving the problem? We must of course enlist its technology in addition to our own to solve the problem. Expressing frustration is not the same as not engaging.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. I am sure that everyone in the House shares his view on the need for such technological engagement. Indeed, we welcome the focus that the present American Administration have put on research and technology. We must avoid the trap of depicting policy frameworks and technology development as not only alternative, but mutually exclusive, ways of tackling climate change. We take the view that both are essential. In the absence of mandatory policies at federal level, we welcome the fact that several American states are increasingly putting their own innovative policies in place. We are co-operating with those who wish to learn from the UK and EU experience.
The Government have consistently sought to provide leadership on climate change. We have done that through our leading role in the negotiations at Kyoto, Bonn and Marrakech, through our ambitious national targets—our 12.5 per cent. Kyoto commitment, our 20 per cent. nationally set carbon dioxide goal for 2010, and our longer-term 60 per cent. objective for 2050—and through our ground-breaking programmes of national action to deliver them.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that plant diversity can play an important part in climate change? The World Conservation Monitoring Centre, which is based in Cambridge and funded by the United Nations Environment Programme, is a worthy institute that needs consistent and sustained funding to do its work properly. Will she give a commitment to try to find a stable source of funding for that greatly renowned institute?
I agree with my hon. Friend's general point about the importance of plant diversity, and I understand her anxieties. We are conscious not only of the consistent funding difficulties of the United Nations Environment Programme, but of the discussions that have been taking place about the centre. Although I cannot undertake to solve its problems, my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment continues to be engaged in discussions on the matter.
I referred to the programmes of action that the Government have put in place. They include the climate change levy, climate change agreements, the world's first economy-wide emissions trading scheme, the renewables obligation, our energy efficiency commitment and the work of the Carbon and Energy Saving Trusts. However, we recognise the need for further action to meet our commitments, which is why a review of our climate change strategy itself is under way.
Incredibly, it appears—I hope that we will flush out a denial during the debate—that although the official Opposition claim, I think, to share those common goals, they propose to sweep much of that away. The Conservatives' response to the biggest threat to our quality of life and our children's future has been to oppose some of the most important elements of our climate change programmes. The Conservatives opposed the climate change levy, which has effectively provided business with an incentive to cut emissions and financed new initiatives to do so, such as the Carbon Trust. All revenue from the levy is recycled to support businesses in cutting emissions, which casts doubt on any proposal for its abolition. The Conservatives have also opposed our proposals for the EU emissions trading scheme and, apparently, the Government's renewable energy programme. That is all too consistent with their wider environmental agenda, as the motion points out. Their proposals under the James review include slashing spending in some of the most important elements of our environmental protection and conservation work.
I am afraid that I am not carrying any Hansard references with me—[Interruption]—but that is certainly the impression that we have been given. If that is not the Conservative party's policy, I am delighted to hear it. Would the hon. Gentleman like to tell me from the Dispatch Box that the Conservatives do not propose to abolish the climate change levy? Perhaps he would like to confirm that, as we understand from the last time that the Opposition were asked about the issue, the Conservative party does not feel able yet to support our 60 per cent. target on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. I see that that, too, seems still to be Conservative policy—or rather lack of policy.
In attacking the Conservatives on the climate change levy, is the right hon. Lady not missing an important point about carbon trading, which I am glad that my hon. Friend Mr. Paice has confirmed we are supporting? With carbon trading, the climate change levy becomes ineffective. The climate is not changed; it is not a levy but a tax.
I do not share the hon. Gentleman's point of view, but I am grateful to him for intervening, because it gave my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment the opportunity to remind me of what led us to what I have been told is the erroneous conclusion that the Conservative party does not support the EU emissions trading scheme. We were led into that error by their praying against the regulations that introduced the scheme. It is clearly a mistake to think that that had anything to do with their policy. We were also led into the error by the continued criticism, which I am sure I recall hearing from the Opposition Benches, that the targets, including the initial national allocation plan which we have since sought to amend, were too harsh on British industry. A sinner who repents is always welcome.
The motion also mentions the Environment Agency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the agency does sterling work? For example, it helps to respond to increasing extremes of weather, such as flooding, and has driven up the quality of our drinking, bathing and river water to a superb level. Is that not because of consistent and substantial Government funding?
My hon. Friend is entirely right in drawing attention both to the value of much of the work of the Environment Agency and to Government funding and the dangers of the James review proposals. The Conservatives propose to take £47 million from the Environment Agency through 1,286 job cuts among those whom they dismiss as operational staff. They are the very people who clean up after disasters, whether in the circumstances that my hon. Friend has identified or those involving the Sea Empress, which caused a massive oil spill off the Welsh coast in 1996.
The Conservatives also gloss over the role of those whom they intend to sack in enforcing the rules on, for example, fly-tipping—abandoned cars, beds and other rubbish—which blights so many landscapes and brings great misery to many ordinary families and communities. Again, that is consistent at least with the voting pattern that the Tory Opposition have displayed. That is why they opposed the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill on Second Reading on
Let us consider the Tory approach to climate change. Claiming to recognise the dangers while rejecting potential solutions is not merely backward-looking but typically short-sighted. The motion correctly stresses that it is possible to grow our economy and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Between 1990 and 2003, our gross domestic product went up by 32 per cent., while our greenhouse gas emissions went down by about 14 per cent.
The right hon. Lady is right about the global figures, but surely she is concerned that emissions from transport have gone up and, as I said earlier, aviation emissions have risen significantly. Aviation is covered by international agreements, but we can do something about transport in this country. Does she accept that motoring overall has become cheaper and that the cost of public transport has significantly risen? If so, what will she and the Treasury do to ensure that we encourage motorists to take the cheapest and least environmentally damaging form of transport, saving on carbon emissions? Surely there must be a strategy for dealing with that aspect of emissions.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that transport emissions are a very important factor. He referred to the issue of aviation emissions and he is right that they can only be tackled internationally. I hope that he is aware that one of the Government's goals during our EU presidency is to move towards bringing aviation emissions into the second phase of the EU emissions trading scheme. There are many technical problems to solve before that can be done, but it would certainly be a worthwhile and constructive outcome.
The hon. Gentleman is unduly harsh on the Department for Transport and on the Government's overall record on transport emissions. First, the Department for Transport has joined my Department and the DTI in our climate change goals and public service agreements. Secondly, if he looks back at the structure of company car taxation that we inherited, he will see that substantial changes have been made to that, as well as the changes to the taxation structure that the Chancellor made to encourage the use of more environmentally friendly fuel. So it is not the case that steps have not been taken, but I accept that there is a great deal more to do on that, as on other fronts. That is part of the purpose of our climate change programme review.
The Secretary of State will be aware that among organisations engaged in education on sustainable development there is considerable anxiety about funding, the end of the landfill tax credit funding scheme and the transfer of responsibilities to the Department for Education and Skills. Does she accept that very much part of the solution to all the great difficulties that we face when dealing with climate change is better education? What reassurance can she offer those organisations that they will continue to receive such Government funding?
Obviously, I cannot give an assurance that every programme will be supported in quite the same way, but we looked very carefully at the programmes that were supported under previous schemes to try to achieve the maximum value for money, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman would be the first to seek and to applaud. Although I entirely share his view that it is through education that many of the problems can be tackled, I have little doubt that the Department for Education and Skills is as committed to that as my Department. The previous Secretary of State certainly took the issue very seriously and I have no cause whatever to doubt that his successor takes it no less seriously.
I have talked about the way in which these issues are handled and how we seek to make 2005 a year of international leadership. We will use our EU presidency to encourage EU colleagues to meet their Kyoto targets; to set out a medium and long-term strategy for the EU beyond Kyoto, working towards the guideline of limiting global temperature increase to no more than 2o C, which is an existing EU guideline; and above all to engage the EU in a debate about further action with the wider international community.
I do not want to be diverted, but perhaps this is the point at which to say to the hon. Member for Lewes, who raised the story in The Observer, that there has been a genuine misunderstanding. We all understand that it is always a problem when journalists get hold of a document that they believe to be exclusive, as they often become rather more excited than the content justifies. The European Commission is undertaking on behalf of the whole Community exactly the analysis of the scientific and economic impact of measures that might be taken that we undertook before we drew up our energy White Paper and agreed to our 60 per cent. target. We expect the publication of that analysis this month. It will be considered in the March Council, which will discuss its implications for any medium and long-term targets or goals that the EU might set. The Environment Council was unanimous in resisting attempts to get member states to commit themselves to a number the month before the analysis was published, rather than wait until the month after. That never struck us as a good way to make policy, but I concede that there have been misunderstandings.
In the past few months, there have been some encouraging signals in the international dialogue. It was inevitably becalmed while people wondered whether the Kyoto protocol would come into force, or whether we needed to build on the consensus behind it by some alternative means, but Russia's welcome decision to ratify has been accompanied by two other recent developments. First, everyone has begun to focus more on how we can adapt to the climate changes already built in by human activity in the past century: focusing on adaptation, especially on supporting and assisting the most vulnerable, heightens awareness of the need to find ways to avert even greater dangers and to mitigate our impact on the environment. Secondly, recognition has grown of the fact that, especially in economies such as ours, with increased challenges come increased opportunities. The most obvious are the opportunities to save money while saving carbon—opportunities highlighted by the Carbon Trust and the Energy Saving Trust—but, while welcome, they are a small part of the potential economic benefits of tackling climate change. New jobs—even new industries—are growing up around us: four years ago, 170,000 people were employed in environmental industries, which had a turnover of some £16 billion; today, there are 400,000 such jobs and turnover has reached £25 billion.
Despite those real opportunities, which we must seize, as the world's top scientists recently reconfirmed, climate change remains a serious threat to our world—not in some far distant future, but in our own and our children's and grandchildren's lifetimes. It is a problem crying out for leadership. The Prime Minister has committed the Government to providing that leadership and I hope that the House will agree to support us in doing so by giving its support to the motion.
I warmly congratulate the Liberal Democrats on choosing the subject of today's debate, and I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. Although I am not sure who wrote her speech, I strongly advise her to sack them. I profoundly deplore the fact that, in relation to such an important subject on which there is so much consensus across the House, she has continued in this debate to display the bad habits that she recently displayed on Radio 4 by making assertions that have no basis in fact. I shall deal with her Radio 4 remarks later in my speech, but on the specific matter of emissions trading, let me point out that everyone knows that the Conservative party has always, without reservation, supported the principle. It is both ignorant and outrageous of her to suggest otherwise, and she does herself and the Government no good in the eyes of those who take an interest in the subject, including many distinguished non-governmental organisations, by making wholly unfounded allegations about the Conservative party, its record and its policy.
This is an unusual Opposition day. No Government amendment to the motion has been tabled, because the Liberal Democrats' motion does not criticise the Government at all but merely attacks the Conservatives. That might give a clue to the Liberal Democrats' intentions, but I have to say, in a spirit of co-operation, that given the last Conservative Government's excellent record on climate change, it is regrettable that the motion only attacks the Conservative party, especially as all the progress made by Britain in cutting carbon dioxide emissions was achieved when the Conservative Government were in power, and since Labour came to office no further progress has been made. I therefore find it rather extraordinary that the Liberal Democrats have included the section in question in their motion, although, to be fair to Norman Baker, he scarcely referred to it in his speech. Perhaps he realised that it did not fit well with the general tone of his speech, with much of which I agree.
Let me deal briefly with the rather silly attack on the Conservative party in the motion by making it clear that when the next Conservative Government have reached the happy stage of being able to abolish the climate change levy—a clumsy and crude tax, which has not achieved most of the benefits claimed for it and whose main purpose, as my hon. Friend Mr. Paice pointed out, is removed once an emissions trading scheme is operating effectively—we shall continue to fund the Carbon Trust, the national insurance contributions concessions, the enhanced capital allowances and the other measures that the levy has paid for out of general taxation.
In addition, we shall introduce other market instruments, including changes to the tax system, to ensure that businesses and individuals are encouraged to act in an environmentally friendly way.
Twelve years have passed since I was a Minister of State at the former Department of the Environment responsible for, among other things, climate change policy. I was convinced then that the evidence that the world's climate was changing was irrefutable, and it seemed to me that the likelihood of those changes being caused at least in part by human activity was very strong. Today, I believe the evidence is even stronger. Few people—apart from those with vested interests, some of whom were named by the hon. Member for Lewes—attempt to deny either the scale or the urgency of the challenge we face. The chief scientific adviser certainly does not: he has called climate change
"the most serious issue facing us this century."
In his view,
"Action is affordable. Inaction is not."
A basic duty of Government is to protect citizens against external threats. Defending the borders and policing the streets have long been accepted as part of that duty; another part should be protecting citizens against the consequences of climate change. Achieving the goal of climate stability is a prerequisite of economic prosperity in any part of the world. The present generation of political leaders will be judged not only by how they handle the threat of terrorism but by how they respond to the challenge of climate change.
Fifteen years ago, Britain's Government responded well. My noble Friend Baroness Thatcher was the first Head of Government of any major country to take climate change seriously. Her statesmanlike approach, coupled with the quality of Britain's scientists, gave us international leadership on this important issue. Later, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard played a key role in persuading the United States to sign the Rio treaty. When Labour came to power, hopes were high that Britain's distinguished contribution to confronting the challenge would continue, and the negotiation of the Kyoto treaty was a positive step. Mr. Meacher, who is sadly no longer a member of the Government, grappled intelligently and bravely with the issues, but regrettably his proved to be a lone voice inside the Government. Gradually, it has become clear that Labour's approach to climate change is all talk.
I welcome the emphasis the Prime Minister has put on the subject in recent weeks. It is good that climate change is at the centre of his agenda for the G8 chairmanship and the EU presidency, but much more than gestures are needed if Britain is to regain the influence it once had. Two things need to happen, and quickly. First, Britain must put its own house in order. Progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions was good before 1997, under the Conservative Government, but it has stalled. Earlier decreases in emissions have been replaced by a levelling out of the trend, and in some individual years since 1997 emissions have increased.
Sadly, the Secretary of State does not seem to understand those facts. On Radio 4's "Today" programme a few days ago, she misleadingly claimed that emissions of greenhouse gases were well down on what they were when Labour came to power in 1997. As Friends of the Earth immediately pointed out, carbon dioxide emissions have not fallen in the UK since Labour came to power.
I am sorry, but I am afraid that it is the hon. Gentleman who is misunderstanding the point I was making. I was not challenging the fact that, sadly, our carbon dioxide emissions have not gone down. I will not go into the issue of the Conservative record, except to point out that flattening the economy through two recessions means that it is rather easier to cut emissions. It is true that our carbon dioxide emissions have not fallen, just as it is true that they have risen across the whole northern hemisphere. Nevertheless, the basket of greenhouse gases that are part of our Kyoto target has fallen significantly, and we are reaching our Kyoto target several years ahead of time.
The Secretary of State rehearses the tired old argument that the cut in carbon dioxide emissions before 1997 was something to do with the performance of the economy. Let me remind her that we have recently been hearing boasts from the Government about 50 consecutive quarters of economic growth. Almost half those quarters occurred before 1997, under the Conservative Government. The reduction in carbon dioxide emissions under the Conservatives was achieved in a period covering five years of continuous economic growth. The last five years of that period were of continuous economic growth, but despite that, that Government's policies achieved a cut in carbon dioxide emissions that this Government have failed to achieve. They have failed to continue the progress. She misleadingly referred to greenhouse gases in the hope that people will think that they are carbon dioxide. I am glad to say that on the very day when she made her broadcast,—
"Carbon dioxide levels have not fallen since Labour came to power . . . UK emissions of carbon dioxide stand at only 7.5 per cent below the 1990 baseline—the same as when Labour came to power in 1997."
Perhaps the rises in carbon dioxide emissions that have occurred under Labour explain the attempts reportedly made in secret last year by Britain to water down the longer-term EU targets. Whether or not those reports are true—I have heard the exchanges between the hon. Member for Lewes and the Secretary of State—they certainly give rise to very justifiable concern. In any event, the Government have been forced to admit—at least, this is clear to everyone else—that they will be unable to achieve their own target for carbon dioxide emissions, which is a cut of 20 per cent. on 1990 levels by 2010, as set out in the 1997 Labour election manifesto. That target cannot now possibly be met.
That failure scarcely enables Britain to lecture other countries about the need for more progress. Britain's failure to have a national allocations plan ready and agreed in time for the start of trading in the EU emissions trading scheme further weakens the Government's international authority. Despite its flaws, the EU emissions trading scheme is, at least for the time being, the only game in town. It is the best mechanism available for encouraging the efficient use of resources in tackling climate change and cutting carbon dioxide emissions.
Last summer, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had a national allocations plan ready for submission to the EU, but the plan was apparently ripped up on the intervention of the Prime Minister himself. The result is that today, British companies are unable to take part in emissions trading.
That is not entirely accurate. Forward trading is taking place, and no spot trading is taking place at the moment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to explain this away, but I detect some inconsistency in the fact that the Conservatives prayed against the regulations that put in place the emissions trading scheme and have argued against our proposals for the national allocation plan, saying that they were too tough on British business. Having attacked us for being too tough on British business, when we went back to the Commission and said that we believed on the basis of further information that we should be allowed to amend our plan, as a great deal more information had come in since the provisional numbers—we said at the outset that they were provisional—were drawn up, he is now attacking us for wanting to make the change for which the Opposition called at the time.
It is perfectly consistent with strong support for the principle of emissions trading to force debates on the detail of any regulations or measures that are needed to give effect to that principle. We remain unequivocal in our support for the principle of emissions trading as the most effective way of allocating resources in pursuit of the aim of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. On the second point, my criticism is that the Government were not ready. We have known about the start date for emissions trading for years. It should not have been difficult for the Government to work out what our national allocations plan should set out in the interests of a proper balance between environmental gain and the needs of business. Indeed, I am interested that the Secretary of State seems to suggest that it was pressure from the Opposition that caused the Government to withdraw the original plan. Many of my hon. Friends will be flattered to think that the Government pay so much attention to our views. In fact, the Government, as they so often do, caved in to the demands of big business. Big business, not small business, goes round to Downing street and has a word with the Prime Minister, so the plan was ripped up.
It is the result of that chaos that I particularly criticise. It is not the detail of plan A or B, but the fact that, after several years in which to prepare, we have reached the starting date and Britain has joined the Czech Republic, Poland, Greece and Italy as the only countries in the EU that have been unable to get their act together. I think that that shows how inadequate the Government's approach to this very important international issue so often is.
It is hard to see quite how the Prime Minister can reconcile the actions of his Government in that respect with his speech on
"the world's greatest environmental challenge" and that
"our efforts to stabilise the climate will need, over time, to become far more ambitious than the Kyoto Protocol."
On this issue, it appears that, while the Prime Minister is on the surface all talk, behind the scenes his Government are working in precisely the opposite direction from that which is needed if his fine words are to be put into practice. As Bryony Worthington of Friends of the Earth put it:
"The trading scheme is potentially a huge step forward in the race to tackle climate change, but it has been undermined by the lack of ambition countries have shown in bringing it into action. The UK has provided a classic example of how not to do it."
In terms of speeches that said substantial things but did not presage as much as those substantial things might have suggested, does the hon. Gentleman recall that he set out Conservative action for a greener Britain in a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies on
"nominate 100 stations for urgent upgrade funded by commercial investors"?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on reading out the Whips' brief, but if he thinks that that causes the remotest embarrassment on the Opposition Benches, he will have to think again. I will set out well before the election some specific measures. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but in view of the collaboration that we have seen between the Liberal Democrats and the Government in the terms of the motion, perhaps the Liberal Democrats also have some inside information on the date of the election. Will the Government cut and run before Easter after all?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that I set out in a broad way a number of measures that I believe the next Conservative Government should take. I will put flesh on the bones of those measures in the next few weeks. I shall return to the point about railway stations in a moment, but I am surprised that Labour Members should think that it is a bad idea to draw extra capital into modernising Britain's railway stations. The only specific quotation that he could produce from my speech to the Centre for Policy Studies was one in which I set out our passionate commitment to getting public transport the extra investment that it plainly needs and is not receiving under a Labour Government.
I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend has to say when he sets out his stall in due course. He will know that huge commercial opportunities are available in tackling climate change, and many businesses are making good business out of taking those opportunities. Does he not agree, however, that science, technologies and business opportunities may not be enough, and that there is indeed a role for fiscal instruments and perhaps the bolder use of such instruments than we have yet seen in this country, as well as regulations, which themselves can create new markets?
I pay warm tribute to my hon. Friend's chairmanship of the Environmental Audit Committee, which has produced many constructive and thoughtful reports on the subjects that we are debating today. He is right that no inherent conflict exists between economic growth, business opportunities and commercial prosperity, and the measures that are needed to tackle climate change—indeed, the two go hand in hand.
Fiscal instruments have an important role to play. I am determined that the next Conservative Government will make greater use of fiscal instruments than the present Government. Unexploited opportunities exist to use our tax system to encourage people to make greener choices.
The starting date for emissions trading,
Although participation in the scheme, when it eventually happens, will be helpful, it is not the whole answer to getting Britain's CO 2 emissions back on a firmly downward trend, which will require policy changes in four areas. First, energy efficiency may be unglamorous, but as a former Conservative Secretary of State for Energy put it, it is
"the cheapest, swiftest and most publicly acceptable way to combat global warming."
Even those sceptics who question the science of climate change can scarcely attack measures designed to save households and businesses money. For domestic energy efficiency, the Government rely on the energy efficiency commitment to incentivise consumers. A scheme that does not rely exclusively on promotion by electricity suppliers might excite a wider consumer market. We are studying changes to the energy efficiency commitment to allow more businesses to benefit from promoting domestic energy efficiency, a model that could be applied to business customers as well as households.
The second policy change concerns transport. I recognise that progress has been made in moving towards greener cars, and I am sure that that progress will continue, but transport still accounts for one quarter of CO 2 emissions. As is the case with energy efficiency, we must engage the public and help them to make more environmentally friendly choices. We should not use regulations or force people out of their cars, which is the Deputy Prime Minister's policy, because cars have enhanced the lives of millions of people. A car is the instrument that allows almost everyone today to enjoy freedoms that were confined to the rich 100 years ago.
One way in which to encourage greener choices by car users is to go much further than the Government in introducing variable rates of vehicle excise duty, which is the direction suggested by my hon. Friend Mr. Ainsworth. That would be more effective than the colour-coded labels recently suggested by the Secretary of State for Transport. I am not against colour-coded labels, which sound suspiciously like a watered-down version of the colour-coded tax discs that I advocated last year as a way to make the impact that a vehicle has on the environment clear to the public.
An incentive to buying a greener car even bigger than the colour of the label in the showroom would be a wider range of vehicle excise duty rates. Even if such changes applied to new purchases only, they would influence the choice of new vehicles, and everyone would be helped to continue to enjoy driving while reducing the impact of motoring on the public. The Government's approach is far too timid: the difference in vehicle excise duty between a Ferrari and a Smart car is only £50.
Transport involves more than cars. Aviation, which has already been referred to, is the fastest growing source of CO 2 emissions in the transport sector, and I hope that it will soon fall within the EU emissions trading scheme. A possible tax on aviation fuel also seems to be back in the news. It could make a big contribution to capturing the environmental cost of aviation, but it will work only if it is introduced on an entirely international basis. If international agreement on aviation fuel taxing is eventually reached, some of the other taxes on aviation could be removed.
More immediately, I am concerned about how little understanding the public have of the link between climate change and aviation. In a survey conducted by the Department for Transport a couple of years ago, only one person in eight made the connection between climate change and flying. We would educate the public about the impact of aviation on the environment if we were, for example, to encourage airlines to show emissions per passenger on travel documents, which would remind people that in environmental terms short-haul flights do not compare well with alternative modes of transport. The more information people are given, the more likely they are to choose the environmentally friendly option.
The third area of policy change concerns renewable energy. The Government are in a muddle: their obsession with onshore wind farms, one of the least reliable and most unpopular forms of renewable energy, will ensure that they miss their own target for producing 10 per cent. of electricity from renewable sources by 2010. With only five years to go, it would be much better if they admitted that they will miss that target. We should develop a more coherent approach to renewable energy to exploit Britain's natural advantages as an island by using offshore technologies, including tidal power and wave power. In that context, I regret the Government's failure to introduce a marine conservation Bill to facilitate the establishment of offshore areas where marine-based renewable energy projects could flourish.
Back in the '80s, Lady Thatcher introduced the non-fossil fuel obligation, the bulk of which was paid to the nuclear industry. We would be able to make greater progress towards our targets now if Conservative Governments had bothered to invest in renewable energy.
I am startled that the hon. Gentleman has singled out Baroness Thatcher as someone to attack on climate change. Anyone who has ever heard of the issue recognises that without her the world would be years behind in responding to the issue.
The hon. Gentleman has attacked nuclear power. The present Government are doing their best to prop up the existing nuclear power stations to get a bit more life out of them, so his Front Benchers do not support him. Nuclear power has an extremely positive effect on climate change because it is by far the largest producer of energy without CO 2 emissions.
Conservative party policy is to develop energy on the most economic basis. If the nuclear power industry shows that it can compete economically with other forms of power, and if it satisfies the proper and legitimate concerns expressed by some people about the disposal of waste, there is no reason why we should not build nuclear power stations.
Will my hon. Friend accept that the nuclear industry has managed to compete in the past only with huge dollops of taxpayers' money, and that it is unlikely to be able to solve those problems any time soon?
I am open-minded about nuclear power. [Laughter.] Liberal Democrat Members express great mirth at the idea that one should be open-minded. If a particular type of energy that happens to score well on CO 2 emissions shows that it can compete economically, it seems extraordinary that others—notably the Liberal Democrats, who claim to be so concerned—should want to rule it out. The Liberal Democrat approach is extraordinary, and characteristically inconsistent. As I have said before in this House, we will wait and see whether the industry can meet the challenge that I have laid down.
If the hon. Gentleman is right about the Liberal Democrats and their attitude to nuclear energy, why is he prepared to rule out wind energy? In Wales, the Conservative party has opposed all wind farms, both offshore and onshore. We have the greatest wind resources in western Europe, and the technology is ready to go. Why is his party ruling out wind energy?
We are not, as it happens. We are saying that the Government's policy is extraordinarily distorted in that the help that they provide for renewable energy sources is directed heavily towards onshore wind farms. Local communities should have more say on whether an onshore wind farm is built in their area, and any strong local objections should be recognised. Ultimately, there should be a mix of renewables, including wind, wave and tidal power, and a whole variety of other sources.
I was gratified to hear the hon. Gentleman talk about the opportunities that we have on this island for marine renewable technologies. It grieves me to remind him that research into wave energy was killed off in the early stages of the Thatcher Administration. That was not a very good contribution, because had the work continued, that source would almost certainly be commercially available today.
If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about the effect of Government policy on research, why does he support the present Government's policy, which has effectively choked off nearly all the resources available for research into anything other than wind power? He appears reluctant to call the Government to account for failing to learn the lessons that he says should have been learned by the Conservative Government.
No—I am sorry.
The fourth area of policy that needs to be changed concerns the planning system, which should be used to avoid making the consequences of climate change worse. For example, planning policy guidance must be strengthened to make it easier for councils to refuse consent for building on flood plains or on sites where development would make flooding more likely because of run-off problems. We must bear it in mind that one of the characteristics of climate change is that rainfall is becoming more violent and we more often experience high winds. I sympathise with the concerns of the Environment Agency about wrongly located development continuing to make the risks of flooding greater. The harm that such development inflicts is not confined to new buildings but can cause problems for existing properties, and in the end it may be the taxpayer who picks up the tab.
Planning guidance can also contribute positively to cutting carbon dioxide emissions by encouraging development at or near railway stations—a point that I made in a speech just before Christmas. It is a scandal that we have failed, under public and private ownership models, to make better use of the huge brownfield development opportunities that exist around many stations. Starter homes or commercial and retail development on those sites would be beneficial environmentally and in other ways. Planning agreements should ensure that such developments provide funds to improve stations in order to bring them into the 21st century and increase the capacity of the railways at a time of record demand. Those gains could be obtained without taxpayers or travellers having to contribute a penny. Development around stations would offer people more chances to choose environmentally friendly transport options. The Government's role is not to coerce people out of their cars but to facilitate those choices.
My hon. Friend raises a serious point. Some innovative planning is taking place whereby affordable housing is being built on top of supermarkets, and there is no reason why we should not use our stations more imaginatively by doing the same thing. That would be a sustainable way of going forward, because people's housing would be near to the transport that they were going to use.
My hon. Friend is right. The situation is nothing short of scandalous. Those of us who regularly travel by train are aware of how many opportunities there are around the country to use stations and the land immediately around them for development purposes.
The four changes in domestic policy that I mentioned would add up to a coherent programme to get Britain back on track. With evidence of Britain's determination to tackle climate change at home, we would once more be able to resume our leadership on the issue abroad. Internationally, we should have three aims. First, and most obviously, the Prime Minister should press President Bush much harder, not only on Kyoto but on climate change generally. It is painfully clear that the Prime Minister will not say boo to a goose when it comes to President Bush. What on earth has Britain got in return for its unquestioning support of the United States in the past three years? It does not appear that our influence has been exercised over any important policy area.
Secondly, as the hon. Member for Lewes said, Britain should be more active in reaching out to those elements in the United States who do take climate change seriously. Some states, industries and companies are clear-sighted enough to see that climate change cannot be ignored. They realise that whether or not the United States ratifies Kyoto, there are advantages to America in taking part in emissions trading, in helping to shape the post-Kyoto framework, and in developing the technologies that will lead to the win-win situation of continued economic growth and steadily falling emissions.
Thirdly, although it is crucial to engage the United States in the process, it is equally crucial to bring China and India on board. One way in which Britain could put pressure on the United States is to start negotiating international standards with China and India. I am pleased that the Government's chief scientist has recently been in Bangalore. The growth of those giant economies inevitably means that more energy will be consumed, and in particular coal power. The challenge is to accelerate progress towards minimising the environmental impact of that consumption.
The post-Kyoto framework should have the positive aim of promoting climate stability. The achievement of that aim will not harm business or slow down economic growth, nor will it impede the progress that developing countries make towards greater prosperity. Indeed, climate change is the very background against which developing countries will grow sustainably, and the only background against which that growth will be secure.
I regret that the Liberal Democrats chose to insert a point-scoring phrase into their motion, because without it I would have been able to give the motion my support. However, I can and do confirm that the Conservative party is wholly committed to the actions needed at home and abroad to achieve climate stability. When we were last in government, we took those actions. While we are in opposition, we will support the Government when they propose policies to promote climate stability, and a future Conservative Government will have those policies right at the top of their agenda.
I am glad that Norman Baker initiated the debate. It started off happily and I was pleased that a consensus was developing across the Chamber, but it has unfortunately gone a little sour since Mr. Yeo entered the fray.
Climate change is a bigger challenge than the fate or fortunes of any political party and must be tackled through consensus. We cannot simply switch policies if we are to be effective. Lest—perish the thought— the Government change, we must ensure that we have policies that will be consistently supported and developed. In this context, politicians need to grow up in a way that they never have before.
An international consensus is also required and if we can achieve a solid cross-party consensus in this place, we can provide some international leadership. This country has much of the expertise and many of the technologies necessary to begin to tackle the problem. We are fortunate in our climatologists, who are among the world leaders, if not the world leaders. Thanks to them, we have virtually reached a scientific consensus on climate change, although not necessarily on its scale or timing, because that involves so many variables that it is impossible to be totally precise about whether a given level of carbon dioxide concentration will produce an elevation in temperature of 2° or as high as 11°. It is simply too multifactorial, but it is abundantly clear that further changes will occur. We would prefer to avoid any scenario because it would have serious consequences with which we would have to deal.
Our climatologists have been responsible because, although the range of scenarios that they have presented to us so far has been scary enough, they have carefully avoided invoking the apocalyptic. We must remember that an apocalyptic event happened at least once in geological history. The seas boiled and the methane hydrates on the floor of the oceans were released. The temperatures rocketed and approximately 90 per cent. of the species on earth died. That could still happen, for example, if we lost the Amazonian rain forest altogether, perhaps through fire, which is possible, and the methane hydrates were released again. In that case, a future for the whole human race, let alone any other species, would be almost impossible. Although that is an apocalyptic scenario, it is possible and we should never forget it.
We cannot assume that temperature will increase gradually and that the sea level will creep up by a centimetre every decade. Perhaps we could cope with that, but frightening step changes along the way, with which we could not cope, could also occur. Indeed, if we do not take sufficient action now, and if we retain the business-as-usual model, some of the mildest climate change scenarios would lead to the exposure of thousands of millions of people to danger through flood, famine and disease.
The question is therefore not whether we should act but how soon and how radically we can act. We must be radical about the matter. Descending into petty party political bickering about who did what is therefore pathetic and we should not do it.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those who are most likely to be the victims of climate change are least likely to have influence over gas emissions, and that that is why it is essential to play our part in international discussions about future emissions with emerging industrial nations such as China and India?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, with which I agree. We cannot say, "We've had all the fun with fossil fuels but we're going to stop using them now and you mustn't use them. You're going to have to stay poor and undeveloped." That will not wash. As part of our international aid programme, we should put funds into developing and distributing simple, low-cost and low-carbon technologies that are usable in the developing world. I am happy that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office initiated such a programme, which is now an international programme, about two years ago. It is under way but it needs to be developed a great deal more. Our country is fortunate in having technologies that can be applied in that work.
I am happy that the Government are reviewing their climate change policies. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would not claim that our policies were currently absolutely right. They need to be overhauled, partly because they were developed when it was a battle to convince people that climate change was real. Now the battle is tackling it and we need a step change in the effectiveness of our policies. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment can tell us more about the review. I hope that more hon. Members will contribute to the review in a cross-party and collaborative manner. I would even embrace ideas from the hon. Member for South Suffolk.
The Government must review their policies and reach some consensus. They should also examine the coherence of policies. It is not ideal for DEFRA to have responsibilities for climate change, while responsibility for energy, which is one of the key elements in tackling climate change, is split between DEFRA and the Department of Trade and Industry, the keeper of the key fiscal instruments—the Treasury—is a separate Department, and the Department for Transport is also involved. At least four major Departments need to work together cohesively to make a future strategy stick. That might mean a change of culture. I do not mean that in a political sense because politicians can speak to each other happily, but we all know that civil servants have a less good record of cross-departmental collaboration. I therefore suggest to my hon. Friend that we also need to consider our civil service structures for underpinning, delivering and developing climate change policy, because we could do much more on that.
I am attracted by the idea that my parliamentary next-door neighbour presents. Is he drawn to our proposal, as he should logically be, for a merged department of environment, energy and transport, precisely to deal with the problems that he identifies?
I do not want to comment one way or the other on any specific structure. I simply say that we should examine the structures and ensure that, whatever they are, they have an overarching brief to work together. There must be a clear Cabinet responsibility at the top to ensure that co-ordination of climate change policy happens on the ground.
It is good that the Government have adopted the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's 60 per cent. target by 2050, but I agree with David King that that is not sufficient to deal with the position that confronts us. We must remember that CO 2 is not the only greenhouse gas. It has been established that atmospheric CO 2 emissions were no higher than today's when the climate change event in the Eocene occurred. The levels of nitrous oxide and methane did the damage. Other greenhouse gases can be just as threatening as CO 2 . We therefore need to examine the spread of greenhouse gases and control the emissions of them all.
We need vigorous action now. We cannot afford to wait 20 years. The insurance industry would endorse that because claims against damage through exceptional weather events have rocketed. There is a clear pattern—logarithmic growth—in those claims. There is plenty of evidence that we cannot afford not to take action. If we do not, the consequences will be expensive to the economy. We need to invest more, but we do not have to adopt a hair-shirt economic policy to do so. I see no intrinsic reason why renewable energy should be any more expensive than current generation technologies, once it has got over the initial development hump and is fully developed. Likewise, energy conservation investment will pay for itself.
We have the technical potential to reduce CO 2 emissions by 80 per cent. quite easily, and by rather more as far as domestic and industrial energy, land transport and electricity generation are concerned. Air transport remains a problem. People remember the Hindenburg disaster and we would probably have difficulty getting people on to a hydrogen-fuelled plane. Hydrogen is so light that, even in liquid form, the amount required for a transatlantic flight would fill the entire fuselage, leaving no room for the passengers. Anyone with any good ideas on how to make hydrogen storage much more compact should go to the DTI and ask for a development grant, because cracking that problem would be one of the greatest services that they could provide. The path to a non-carbon future—or a virtually non-carbon future, at any rate—would then become possible.
In this fairly consensual debate, we have heard that onshore wind farms present a problem. I agree with my hon. Friend that we can probably meet a great deal of our energy needs through renewables, but how would he address the growing resistance to onshore wind farms? Does he agree that one way would be to address their ownership structures? We could, for example, have community wind farms and micro-generation. In that way, people would have a vested interest in going down that route.
My hon. Friend is right, but I would also point out that onshore wind farms are a stop-gap. Offshore wind farms are much more publicly acceptable than their onshore counterparts and have better wind opportunities. We will get more electricity out of the offshore wind turbines than out of those on land. But wind power is only a stop-gap. We can only go so far with it, partly because of its unpredictability. We cannot rely on it for baseline load. It is also intrinsically expensive because its load factor is so poor, at 30 per cent. or less. We have, however, the most magnificent energy resources round our coasts in the form of wave and tide power, which has the raw energy potential to provide double the amount of electricity that we currently generate in a year.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the flaw in the Conservatives' argument is that tidal and wave resources are, by their very nature, in the more remote, peripheral communities that do not have proper grid connections and that they would get that connection only if they were allowed to develop the intermediate technology, namely wind power?
I do not disagree with that. I would not for a moment wish to inhibit the development of wind power. The Government have agreed that the grid has to be rewired and we intend to do that. Yes, that is where the resources are, and we should use them. The Government are already putting resources into wave and tidal technology, through the DTI. I want to see more resources going into it, and I think that they inevitably will.
I agree with Opposition Members' comments about the importance of fiscal measures. We have heard some chat about that today. We need to look carefully at fiscal measures because, in a market economy such as the one that we have to work in, they are the key to driving behaviour and making things work. We have an opportunity, as part of the climate change review, to overhaul those fiscal measures.
The hon. Member for Lewes mentioned the carbon tax. I have long been an advocate of carbon taxation, not simply as a tax being used to take money, but as part of a continuum involving a carbon credit that could be invested in the development of renewables. That has been expanded on by the most recent report from the Science and Technology Committee, which I recommend to hon. Members. Ministers have already read it and I hope that they will look at it again as part of the climate change review.
The main message is that there are many things that we can and absolutely must do. We must do them together because we cannot afford to waste time squabbling unnecessarily. We must agree that, for the sake of the future of the human race, we have to act quickly and with determination. Even if it costs a bit now, the payback in the years to come will be well worth it.
I want to look at a number of issues relating to the need for a co-ordinated approach to mitigating the effects of climate change. The first is the security implications of climate change. During the past 12 months, we have been developing a greater understanding of the impact of climate change on the security of countries across the globe, and of the potential for climate change to increase the inequalities between the haves and the have-nots, with the consequential insecurity that that would bring.
I have taken quite an interest in this matter, and it worries me that we still need greater Government co-ordination in this regard. The Minister will recall that, in March 2004, I asked the Secretary of State what assessment she had made of the national security implications of climate change. The Minister responded on her behalf, saying that the Government were
"carrying out internal assessments to identify how policy and operational responsibilities in all Departments could be affected by climate change. This process is currently reporting, and has included both the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office . . . Some of the potential linkages between climate change and security include pressure on food and water resources and energy supplies, which in turn . . . may contribute to the causes of migration . . . and conflict."—[Hansard, 10 March 2004; Vol. 418, c. 1534W.]
I followed that up by asking when we were going to see the report, and the Minister replied that it would be "later in 2004", and that copies would be placed in both Libraries. I asked a member of the Library staff about this yesterday, and, having consulted DEFRA, they told me that the information would not be available until April or May this year. I believe that the Minister and the Secretary of State are concentrating on climate change, and I certainly would not suggest that they and their Department are not putting an enormous amount of effort into the matter. We know, however, that climate change is not only the responsibility of the Department that deals with the environment. It is a shared responsibility right across the Cabinet.
When I asked how many people in the Ministry of Defence were working on identifying the national security implications of climate change, I was told:
"Staff working on this do so as part of their wider duties and consequently it is not possible to quantify the numbers of staff involved."—[Hansard, 19 April 2002; Vol. 420, c. 10W.]
Is anyone working on it? Are enough people working on it? In times of instability, this is becoming an increasingly important issue. It will perform a key function in supporting the Prime Minister's leadership role on climate change. In the war against terrorism, climate change cannot be ignored. I hope that that information will be provided so that when he and the Secretary of State are negotiating with the United States—as we know they are doing—we are able to give them more information to push that point.
We must understand that we need adaptation strategies in the face of climate change, and I hope that those strategies will not include increased spending on defence, but will focus on dealing with climate change. We have a choice to make about how much we spend on defence because we have failed to deal with climate change. Other areas of defence are outside the scope of this debate and I will not comment on those.
Is it not an interesting fact that at the heart of the conflict between Palestine and Israel the single biggest issue to be resolved is who controls the water supply? It is predicted that the main wars of this century are likely to be fought over water because of the pressures of climate change.
I thank my hon. Friend for that very helpful contribution. Only this week, we heard about the potential for conflict over the Nile waters and the sources of that river.
We are aware that Sagarmatha national park in the Himalayas is at risk. Glacial lakes are melting, which has an impact on local communities because the water flows down on to the low-lying flood plains. Communities there rely partially on tourism and partially on their normal way of life, which includes the glaciers and the natural beauty of the Himalayas that so many people go to see. That impact threatens their whole way of life and there is a real fear in lakeside communities that those lakes will burst. That would be a catastrophe.
Major changes to the Arctic and the way of life of the Inuit people have been reported by the WWF, and the British Antarctic Survey has commented on the thinning of the icecaps and its implication for sea levels. The WWF website has a very useful half-minute summary: global temperatures have risen by 2oC in the past 150 years; 228 million people are now at risk from malaria; starvation affects 12 million people; 2 million people are short of fresh water; millions are forced to move inland due to coastal flooding; and thousands of species have become extinct in the past 50 years and we know that many more will do so in the next 50. This is not a criticism of current Ministers at all, but the website comments on the fact that Ministers did not take action 50 years ago. I do not know the source for that information.
We are experiencing extreme weather conditions: since Christmas there have been floods in Carlisle and in Scotland. There were hurricanes in Florida last year, which do not just damage properties and cause loss of life, but have a huge financial cost that must be recognised. Insurance claims after the hurricanes in Florida could reach $20 billion. That is a huge sum, and an example of the sums we mean when we talk about investing to save.
Closer to home there is more that we could do. On housing, we agree that we need more homes for people to live in. There are massive increases in the house building programme in the south-east, but we could improve the environmental quality of that programme. Members of Parliament in many parts of the south-east disagree with the Government's calculations on the number of homes needed, their location and how the cake will be divided up. Local authorities have to deal with that problem here and now, and they are already defining guidelines for development that must be sustainable and have Government support, because there are huge opportunities to make sustainable improvements through the housing that we are planning and designing for the future.
If we are talking about sustainable communities, we must ask what that means. It is very curious that we are unable to find out how the Government define sustainable communities. Everyone in the Chamber today would agree about definitions of sustainability and environmental sustainability, but we do not see the word "environment" flowing through into the definition of sustainable communities. Those house-building programmes bring huge beneficial opportunities such as district heating schemes and combined heat and power. However, after Christmas, the Environmental Audit Committee pointed out in its review of housing:
"We regret that in the case of housing the Department (DEFRA) seems to have been sidelined."
There are opportunities, however. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has a draft planning policy statement, PPS1, but it does not recognise the need to ensure that development occurs within environmental limits, as well as other sustainability measures. It does not recognise the need for the precautionary principle for environmental sustainability. Does that matter? Of course it does, because emissions from the housing sector are significant: current levels of such emissions are about 40 megatons of carbon a year. Current plans could reduce that to 30 megatons a year, which is an improvement, but when one looks at Government emission reduction targets for the UK as a whole—from 153.2 megatons of carbon a year in 2000 to 65 megatons in 2050—one sees that a reduction of 10 megatons will not be enough.
The houses we are planning to build now will be in place in 2050. It is important to note that housing does not go away. The foundations that we lay now, and their environmental impact, will be with us in 2050. That makes it sound as though we have a lot of time to get our act together, but melting icecaps and glaciers show that that problem is here now. We think of 2050 as the end of the line, but we have to seize the opportunity now. Considering what we could be facing, poor environmental performance in buildings will be a major contributor to carbon emissions in 2050, and the sector, as the Environmental Audit Committee report pointed out, could contribute more than 55 per cent. of UK carbon emissions—nearly double the current contribution.
In combination with aviation, that will substantially undermine the Government's ability to meet their reduction targets. We need to ensure that we stay on target, and set tougher targets, if we are to make the difference that will call a halt to climate change, which is desperately important.
Some areas that the Government are working on, and their change of heart on aviation emissions, are very welcome, but the "predict and provide" approach must be managed alongside what we can do about aviation emissions. Combined with the effects of building, they will cause a major difficulty. We need to conduct an urgent review now of sustainable construction methods to make an impact on not only the finished buildings and their carbon emissions, but the pollution that will arise as part of the building process.
I touched on flooding earlier. To return to the macro aspect, there are plans to build across the south-east. A village in my constituency has a road with a number of bungalows; it is on a wide flood plain. There is no big river, but we know that each of those properties is being expanded into a house, and such things as conservatories are being built. As the water runs down the hills into the village, instead of it being soaked up by the clay, people sometimes find 2 in of water lying on their lawn. In fact, people are giving up lawns in this village and growing vegetables because of the impact of the water. That is a very small example, but it shows how we are not getting to grips with this increased and sudden rainfall that we are experiencing so often.
How much worse will the impact be on the Thames gateway as we build on it and there is a displacement of water? We have no plan; we have no clarity about what is the purpose of Thames gateway development. On the one side, we are told that it is providing housing for a regenerated community, but Sir John Egan said to the Environmental Audit Committee that the development is intended to house people commuting into London. Are we therefore building a development with no clear idea about how people will commute into London? Will the railway infrastructure be in place or will they get into their cars? Although the Conservatives are saying that cleaner cars are good—we all agree with that, and cars have their place, but not every place—stationary cars in a traffic jam are no solution to climate change problems. We must do much more. It is sad that the Conservatives, who presided over the undermining of the railways, are now trying to claim the moral high ground. I wish that they had done something about it at the time.
When we examine the potential for flooding in the Thames gateway, on which many people have commented, we must ask who will insure the properties. For how long will the Association of British Insurers bail people out when things go wrong, or do the Government plan to be the insurer of last resort? I know that that is not currently part of their plans.
I get surprised sometimes about the focus that people put on flood risk in relation to the Thames gateway development. I do not dispute that it is an issue, but the defences in that area are at one in 100 standard, which is extremely high. The Thames gateway design includes green space, for example, which can also be used as sustainable urban drainage, and the plans include the extension of the rail network so that there are public transport links to the new development. A major new development always provides an opportunity to build in sustainable features from the very beginning, and that is certainly the intention with the Thames gateway.
I am grateful to the Minister for his intervention, but other commentators do not share his confidence about flooding. Only recently, I was at a seminar with developers who expressed severe concern. At least the Thames gateway has infrastructure planned. What about other places, such as Milton Keynes, where not so much infrastructure will be provided, and places such as Guildford, which is subjected to infill? Displaced water will also be a consequence of such developments, and I would expect to see even more flooding as a result.
We support the proposal of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister that the Environment Agency should be a statutory consultee on planning applications. The Conservatives, however, would cut the Environment Agency. When will they comment on those proposals and understand their environmental implications?
Dr. Turner mentioned methane. This is a subject close to the Minister's heart and mine, and I urge him to ramp up efforts to reduce the amount of biodegradable waste going into landfill. Please can we make sure, with urgency, that councils have the tools that they need to assess levels of home composting and so on, and to make plans to encourage it? Such small steps will make a significant difference to methane emissions.
Leadership on climate change is needed. We had a peace dividend as the old Soviet empire crumbled—we now want a climate dividend. That opportunity is available, but only if we get our own house in order and exercise real leadership with allies such as the United States, as well as European allies. As polluters, we must recognise that not only do our people suffer as climate change takes hold but others do, too. It is strange, but on a mild day such as today, instead of people saying, "What a lovely day"—it is mild in Guildford, where the flowers are coming out in my garden—perhaps they should say a little more often, "Why is it so mild at the beginning of February?" We must recognise that the problem is here and now, and act on it here and now.
I shall try to be as brisk as possible, partly to allow other Members into the debate, but also because I want to make several points that I hope will upset the apple-cart in relation to the consensus of free trade assumptions on tackling climate change problems—the consensus that trade liberalisation and a free-for-all are somehow compatible with realising many of the goals that Members have identified today.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has just returned from a Brussels visit, on which we met a large number of Commissioners who were as passionate as any Member who has spoken today about climate change. Those Commissioners were brilliant—until we talked to other Commissioners with interests in trade, who were clearly running with a completely different agenda. When push came to shove, the environment got the shove. That is the crisis that we must face. It is a crisis of political leadership as much as a crisis of climate change.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the same contradiction is at the heart of domestic energy policy? On the one hand, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Trade and Industry say that they want to promote renewables development, while on the other, the mad monks at the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets say that we can do that only within the framework of a competition-driven structure that excludes renewables development.
I accept that that contradiction exists in government, but I want to widen the picture—I believe that the contradiction exists in every party represented in Parliament today. We need to examine the contradictions in each of our own houses. I would love us to fight a general election on climate change. I would love us to say that the biggest issue that will affect the whole of our lives, and the entirety of our children's lives, is climate change, and that we want to be in dispute with each other about which of us can tackle it most seriously and rapidly. We will not do that, however. The general election will be fought on which leader is the most ugly, which party's set of policies are the most contradictory, who are the biggest bunch of scoundrels, and who can be toughest on immigrants. That will miss the big challenges.
Bob Dylan once wrote in a song:
"You don't need a weather man To know which way the wind blows".
In the same way, we do not need a panel of scientists to tell us about climate change. Let us ask Munich Re, the biggest reinsurance company on the planet, which says that, on current trends, the global economy could be bankrupt by 2050 because of the sheer cost of making good the damage done as a result of climate change. That is the warning bell about which each of us needs to think hard. What is required is a paradigm shift. We need to change how we think about the way we live in the world and how we think about economics.
In scientific terms, we are told that we must limit temperature rise to 2°C higher than it was in pre-industrial times. The terminology that scientists use is that we cannot go above 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—we are now at about 380 parts per million. In layperson's terms, the most important fact is that, on current trends, we would exceed the 400 parts per million figure by about 2015. When Professor Sir David King came to talk to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, he was clear about the time scale and said that climate change was a much bigger threat than terrorism. As for the 2015 timetable, that is not when the world will end but when, scientists tell us, we will be locked into irreversible change. This is the period in which we can do something.
Of course this issue concerns more than ourselves. The consequences of climate change will hit the developing world worst and we shall see a huge increase in drought, disease, environmental devastation and mass migration. Some of those problems will come to our shores second-hand, but others will come to us first-hand. At the recent conference in Exeter, the Hadley centre was quick to point out that one of the contradictions of global warming is that we will also experience global cooling. The prospect of the north Atlantic drift ceasing has now reached 50:50. It is not an immediate prospect, but we know that the north Atlantic drift has been weakening over the decades and the consequences are inevitable cooling. The Hadley centre said that on the north Atlantic coast, there may be winter cooling of 5° C, which means temperatures lower than those in the "little ice age" in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Thames froze over. We are not well equipped to deal with that change.
In addition, sea levels will be affected by the melting of the Greenland and west Antarctica icecaps—something we once did not believe possible—and may rise by up to 18ft. Some coastal constituencies will be affected by that more imminently than my constituency, but the prospect of representing Nottingham sur mer is not entirely ludicrous.
I am afraid I will not accept any more interventions, as Members are queuing up to make speeches.
The erratic weather patterns that we have to deal with are a consequence of climate change. Professor King pointed out to the Committee that we must think about how we manage the prospect of flooding and drought in the same month. We are the beneficiaries of an enormously generous piece of over-engineering—the Victorian sewerage system. No one would build drains of that capacity now, yet most of our cities cannot deal with flash flooding. We therefore need a huge rethink on our engineering programme. At the recent Exeter conference, it was said that even a five-year delay could have a critical impact on our ability to tackle the problem.
I have five suggestions about what we should do. The good news is that a fantastic array of sustainable technologies are coming on to the market. I am incorporating many of them in a derelict place in the middle of Nottingham that will eventually generate 50 per cent. more energy than it consumes. Such developments are exciting, but in 2001, the Prime Minister set aside £5 million so that renewable energy pilot schemes could be targeted on the poorest housing in the country. Sadly, however, since then, the Department of Trade and Industry has not been able to get a single pilot off the ground. There are 2 million households living in fuel poverty. I asked the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister how many properties in the UK's housing stock would meet SAP 65, the minimum standard for establishing a framework to address fuel poverty. On
"16 per cent. of the housing stock meets or exceeds SAP 65."—[Hansard, 20 January 2005; Vol. 429, c. 1044W.]
That shows how behind we are in tackling things.
How can we establish a programme that develops the resources and policy changes to address that problem? First, we need a windfall tax on oil and gas producers. Early-day motion 504 explains that they have enjoyed at least £5 billion in excess profits upstream as a result of increased prices, and I am told that it may be as much as £9 billion. The public and the Government should take a scoop of those profits and put them into renewables. Secondly, as some people believe in market solutions, we must change the market rules. I have recently had a number of rows with developers in my own city, as not one of them has put up buildings that self-generate energy or recycle their own water. They are not required to do so, so if we want such initiatives we must change the concept of building in our society. We should set market rules under which people have obligations so that, for example, they cannot put up a building on a flood plain unless they build in a reservoir capacity. There are cities on the planet that are already doing so, and in some countries developers are required to incorporate self-generation in the design of buildings. We do not have such requirements, because we let people build on the cheap. We steal today from the prospects of tomorrow.
Thirdly, we have an absurd approach to energy markets. Not a single energy company in the land will talk about its business plan for selling less. There is a simple way of tackling that: we change the rules to allow companies to sell conservation rather than consumption. They could sell packages of home warmth in long-term supply packages, to stimulate the consumption of less.
Fourthly, on international commitments, the time has come to scrap the World Trade Organisation and replace it with a world environment organisation. The criteria for assessment would be produced by sustainability audits in which we looked at the patterns of global trade. We must ask ourselves how much of today's trade consists of water sequestration by the north from the south. How many food miles result in carbon dumping on the planet? To what extent are long-term food contracts built on assumptions about the intensification of agriculture, whereas we should be looking at localisation and sustainability.
A number of Members have said that we must focus on the USA, but I agree with Mr. Barrett that it is more important to look at China. The Chinese Government have guaranteed their population that within the next 10 years every family with one child will have one car, shifting car ownership from 33 per 1,000 to 333 per 1,000. The earth would suffocate under that programme, which is not an unreasonable one. The trouble is that we do not ask what sort of vehicles are being made available in developing world markets.
Finally, to address the problem we need to consider a gift relationship in future, rather than one of exploitation. The history of the last century is one in which we dumped on the developing world the products and practices that we banned in our own land, calling it aid or development. We need a gift relationship—Titmuss talked about it in terms of blood transfusion or the blood donor service in the UK—that is writ large on a global scale and scripted out in environmental terms. If we act selflessly in gifting the technology to others and ourselves, we have a chance of creating an environment fit for our children to live and breathe in. If we do not, the free trade follies that constantly push the environmental agenda to the sidelines of policy will destroy the planet. We will not achieve sustainable economics, and instead will have a world that is driven by no economics at all.
As I said, I would love political parties to fight the next election on the issue of who has the best environmental record and programme. The real question is whether any of the parties in the House have the courage to occupy a platform on which our children's lives depend.
I am grateful for being called to speak immediately after that invitation from Alan Simpson, as there is one political party that will make climate change a priority at the election. I agreed with almost everything that he said, and I can assure him that he will sympathise with many things in our manifesto. I am afraid, however, that people will not have a chance to vote for us in England.
I am very pleased indeed that the Liberal Democrats have called for this Opposition day debate. I acknowledge that they have used such debates to introduce such matters in the House, whereas the Government have been rather remiss in providing debates on climate change. The usual suspects are in the Chamber. [Interruption.] Indeed, people can see for themselves where there are gaps on the Benches. We have reached consensus on the science of climate change, but we do not have consensus on the political tasks needed to deal with the problem. I shall get the political bit over before I address more consensual matters. If any party, MP or member of a party thinks that we can achieve a carbon-free future without using wind energy they are shutting the door on a solution to climate change. Anyone who thinks that that is a realistic prospect will let down severely the people of this country, the environment and future generations.
The Conservative party has said no to any wind farms whatever in Wales. That is totally unsustainable and I simply cannot accept it as a policy with which to tackle climate change. It is possible to discuss the right mix and the need to invest in wave, solar and other forms of renewable technology, but it is impossible to talk seriously about achieving the 20 per cent. renewable target without including both onshore and offshore wind power.
I also have to say that there have been no significant wind farm proposals for Wales that the Liberal Democrats—whether a parliamentary candidate in my own constituency, a Member of Parliament or an Assembly Member—have failed to oppose. Indeed, Liberal Democrats of some significance and seniority have opposed all those plans. Norman Baker is not in his place now, but I acknowledge the important work that he has done on these matters. I hope that he can lead his party in securing a more proactive acceptance of the need to use wind on our journey towards the carbon-free future. The wonder of wind energy is that, if we do not need it in 20 or 30 years' time, we can take the structures down and leave the environment as it was—virtually, though not completely, unchanged. That aspect is so different from other forms of energy generation that we need to swallow the pill. I am prepared, and have long been prepared, to swallow it in my own constituency in Wales, and I hope that other parties will, too.
Let us consider what is happening with the environment at present. The public at large, newspapers and the media tend to talk about climate change as if it is something that is going to happen, but it is important to emphasise that it is happening now. We are already very close to the tipping points—the points at which climate change becomes disastrous. A UK voluntary network is run by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and it observes changes throughout the calendar year. It is easy to see from that research over the past 30 years that spring is definitely arriving earlier. I had roses in my garden at Christmas, and a fig tree that is starting to shoot.
We all know what is happening, but it is good to have confirmation. Swallows are arriving a week earlier than they did 30 years ago, and butterflies are also appearing much earlier. One consequence is that species, particularly bird species, are hatching after the glut of caterpillars has gone. The birds are unable to capitalise on the caterpillars, as it were, that have already been and gone in the early spring. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has provided figures, and it puts in context the occasional bird strike against the wind farms. That happens occasionally, and there are sometimes bird strikes against my house. At least one bird a year dies flying into my windows—more than died in the wind farm recently in Ceredigion. The occasional bird strike has to be placed in the context of mass bird extinction under climate change.
Within Wales during the past 14 months, the valley of Conwy alone has had three serious breaches of its flood defences. The villages in the valley had three occurrences during the last 14 months that should happen only once every 20 years. Furthermore, the key statistics for Wales, published only a fortnight ago, clearly show a 1°C rise in average temperatures over the past three years compared with the 1960–1990 period. That is important.
The latest report on climate change has come from the international climate change taskforce, chaired by the former Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, and I was pleased to hear him repudiate—on Radio 4 when he launched the report—many of his transport decisions. Let us hope that the current Department for Transport will follow suit. The report states:
"Above the 2 degree C level, the risks of abrupt, accelerated, or runaway climate change also increase. The possibilities include reaching climatic tipping points leading, for example, to the loss of the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets".
The hon. Member for Nottingham, South made a similar point. The report goes on to refer to
"the transformation of the planet's forests and soils from a net sink of carbon to a net source of carbon", recommending that at least 25 per cent. of our electricity should be generated from renewables.
Just a week after the publication of that report came the report from the British Antarctic Survey, showing that the west Antarctic ice sheet is indeed in danger of collapse. If an international taskforce argues that 2° is the tipping point, and if the figures for Wales show that we are already 1° higher, we are already very close indeed to some disastrous changes taking place within the United Kingdom. That demonstrates why political parties should be placing these issues on top of the agenda, irrespective of whether the press want to talk about that in the context of posters, images or dirty campaigning. This issue should, in 2005, be the focus of all our political campaigning. We must do what we can in our constituencies, but hon. Members will know how difficult it sometimes is to get these essential messages across.
One important issue that has not been mentioned—we have mainly talked about political and public responsibility—is business and corporate responsibility. It is crucial to understand that we all have to pull together in tackling climate change. We have already heard a little about Shell and BP and their massive profits—bigger, together, than the entire budget for Wales in a year. Let us consider Shell—described by the hon. Member for Lewes as one of the better companies on the grounds that it had accepted the science of climate change. The company posted massive profits, yet is still asking for UK Export Credits Guarantee Department and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development support to help it develop oil and gas pipelines in Sakhalin in Russia. Shell is still involved in gas flaring in Nigeria, which produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the rest of sub-Saharan Africa put together. These "goodies", then, have accepted the science of climate change, but continue to exploit developing countries by using technology that we would not allow in this country, producing greenhouse gas emissions that offset any savings that the companies are making in this country.
To be honest, I am not certain that a windfall tax is the answer, but something has to be done to bring these companies to book and to ensure that their corporate social responsibility is dedicated to tackling climate change. They should use much of their massive profits to invest in other technologies. That is, after all, to the good of their shareholders in the long run.
The Government have made some progress in respect of the overall basket of greenhouse gases, but as we have already heard, they are seriously short of the targets on CO2 reduction. Indeed, if current trends continue, the projection for 2010 suggests a reduction of 7.7 per cent., as compared with the Kyoto obligation of 12.5 per cent., the manifesto commitment of 20 per cent., and indeed the Prime Minister's own commitment given to the House in December of 14 per cent. That was the commitment that he gave to the leader of the Liberal Democrat party.
It is also important to remember that the UK figures do not include aviation. It has been mentioned a couple of times in the debate, but needs to be emphasised. Aviation is not included in the national greenhouse gas inventories. If aviation were included, we would be talking about figures about 5 per cent. higher. I hope that the Minister will deal with the problem in his winding-up speech. I understand why international agreements mean that we cannot go ahead now and tax aviation fuel, but I also understand that it is possible to tax emissions. What are the Government doing in respect of emission taxation, which would help to drive better technology within the aviation industry without necessarily hugely increasing costs? The costs of the aviation industry need to be put on record. Research shows that the richer people in society are the ones who benefit from cheap flights, often to their second homes in Bayonne or the Navarre valley or wherever. Less well-off people do not benefit much from cheap flights.
Climate change is a huge challenge for political parties and the political consensus in this country, but there are also huge opportunities. This island is the part of Europe with the greatest renewable energy resources. Our solar energy may not be so good, but the wind, wave and tidal energy available to us is very great. We could power the whole of western Europe with energy from wind. The installations would not look very nice, but we have that potential, and we need to start finding creative ways to benefit our communities in that way.
For example, we could allow people to put small turbines on their homes. That would accommodate those who oppose wind farms. If we chose to do that, we should not make people fill out a 19-page form from Ofgem so that they could sell energy back to the network. Another possibility is to give council tax rebates to people who install renewable energy equipment in their homes. We should try to incentivise people in a different way. It is too complicated to convince people to go for the Clear Skies initiative. That is too remote: if we want people to choose renewable energy in their daily lives, we have to make it much easier for them.
Time is short so I shall end with a myth—the myth of Cantre'r Gwaelod. This Welsh folk tale harks back to a time when there was no sea between Wales and Ireland, and it is true that at one time the two countries were not separated by water. The relevant area was flooded as a result of the neglect of a politician, whose name has come down over the centuries. He was not called Blair or Howard, but Seithennen. If we politicians do not want future generations to think of us as the ones who neglected our environment, and if we do not want those future generations to live in caves remembering a time when a civilisation existed before the flood came, we need to be aware of the myths and stories of the past.
Climate change is no myth. What is happening to our environment is no folk tale. We should work to ensure that our reputation in history is a good one and we are recalled with approbation. To do that, we must tackle climate change now.
I shall make my contribution as brief as possible. I want to speak about the costs to business of environmental regulations. That is an especially important matter in the context of this debate.
Sir Digby Jones gave evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee. What he said was very revealing. It is clear that he accepts that climate change is taking place. He supports contraction and convergence, even though the Confederation of British Industry is restless in the face of the costs that appear to be imposed on it by the Government. That complaint is reflected in the rather fallacious arguments of the Copenhagen consensus, whose members say that other problems should be dealt with first, as climate change is too expensive to deal with.
The report entitled "Cry Wolf" has been referred to already this afternoon. Prepared by the International Chemical Secretariat on behalf of WWF, it shows how business lobby groups consistently have predicted excessive costs in relation to environmental regulation. For example, the directive from the former EEC on vehicle emission standards introduced the catalytic converter in the early 1990s, and industry experts said that fitting that equipment would cost an extra £600 per car. As it turned out, the extra cost was more in the region of £60.
The report states:
"It led to smaller, cheaper cars being equipped with more sophisticated engines and fuel management technologies which in turn led to improved fuel efficiency in spite of the supposed fuel consumption penalty of the catalyst."
It goes on to detail the new technology's indirect benefits. Some 12 years on from the introduction of catalytic converters, researchers this year calculated that the health benefits alone amounted to some £2 billion.
Another example of the predictions made by business can be found in the introduction to amendments made to the US Clean Air Act 1990. The industry predicted that "unbearable" costs would be attached to those amendments. The maximum figure for those costs was $91 billion, although the real extra costs amounted to $26 billion. I admit that that is still a lot of money, but a White House study found that the changes had produced benefits worth $192 billion.
There are so many other examples of the sort of predictions that business can come up with that I am very concerned at the impact that industrial lobby groups can have in getting regulations watered down. It is regrettable that our national allocation plan—part of the EU's emissions trading scheme—seems to have fallen victim to that process and as a result has become a bit more generous. Once again, industry seems to have been rewarded for crying wolf. It is time for those of us who take climate change seriously to cry foul.
Under the UK's emissions trading scheme, industry received a windfall of around £200 million of taxpayers' money. I recommend that everyone read the slim Public Accounts Committee report on its inquiry into how the UK scheme operated, because it provides an insight into how the Government handled that innovation. There were teething problems and, as expected, money was thrown at it to get it going. Business benefited to the tune of £200 million, but it still cried foul when we tried to introduce more regulations and the climate change levy, which is business-neutral and should be kept and improved, if possible.
Another issue that concerns me is grandfathering. Grandfathers are known as kindly, old gentlemen—there may be one or two in the Chamber—who are blessed with wisdom, authority and far-sightedness. However, in the world of pollution controls and environmental regulation, grandfathering means that industry can claim that its old plant should be exempt from many controls. That is how George W. Bush approached the problem of oil industry pollution when he was governor of Texas: he gutted the Clean Air Act 1990, which had been amended by his father. Now, we want to grandfather future emissions based on industry growth expectations or predictions so that emissions from the growth can be accommodated without breaking the rules. Even if we have an effective emissions, trading scheme, it may allow for growth and emissions and I am sure that many people will find that odd. We should be looking for absolute reductions in emissions and I hope that we will strengthen the European scheme, include aviation, and introduce lower baselines than industry expects. We need to take a much tougher line.
I welcome the report of the international climate change task force which was co-chaired by my right hon. Friend, Mr. Byers. Interestingly, the other co-chair was a Republican Senator, Olympia Snowe, which shows that some members of Mr. Bush's party are concerned enough to engage with the science, even if he is not. The report calls for immediate action, such as a twofold increase in research, development and demonstration of renewable energy technologies. It also calls for removal of barriers to the development of such industries and for the abolition of fossil fuel subsidies. I forget how many sisters we have left among the oil companies, but it is amazing that they are reporting such massive profits and still sharing in the $80 billion of subsidy.
Another recommendation in the report is to build on the global climate change framework of both the United Nations framework convention on climate change and Kyoto. It refers to a new basis of equity and common, but differentiated, responsibilities. As someone who supports contraction and convergence, that is the meaning that I want to read into it, but I understand why its authors would not want to say that explicitly. However, the notion of equity is not ambivalent in the report. There is no equitable distribution of carbon emissions at present. The earth's capacity to absorb carbon is put at 3 billion tonnes, but our current emissions amount to around 6 billion tonnes, or 1 tonne for every member of the human race. In this country, we emit around 24 tonnes per household per annum and the figure is higher in the United States.
Those statistics demonstrate the inequitable distribution of carbon emissions and pollution more generally. We need environmental equity as well as carbon emissions trading and so on. We need a cap and trade programme, and contraction and convergence is the name that we must give to it. We must link that battle with the battle against poverty. I hope to hear about that link more often in the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, because we are making the poor poorer with policies that do not tackle carbon emissions. Marginal agricultural land will become unusable, and drought, the failure of the Indian monsoon and so on will make the task of tackling poverty much more difficult. We must make that link.
This has been a good and lively debate. Indeed, we could have had a full-day debate on the subject and I urge the Government to consider that. After all, the Prime Minister has made it clear that he wants to make climate change central to our presidency of both the EU and the G8. This is the third debate initiated by the Liberal Democrats in this Parliament to ensure that we debate the environment, and the House should appreciate that we have done that in the limited time available to us for such debates. There is clearly plenty of scope for debate and many people want to contribute. It would help to inform the Government's approach if they gave us such opportunities, and I hope that the Minister will feed that back.
I am sorry, I do not have time. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene but I have only 10 minutes for my speech, and even so it will be impossible to summarise the whole debate.
What has been interesting about the debate is that a variety of speeches have stressed that the science is incontrovertible, that time presses urgently and that we need radical measures that we should co-operate to support. The problem is that the Conservative party has not been fully part of that. We have heard only one speech from the Conservative Benches during the entire debate. Conservative Back Benchers have made some constructive interventions, but they were less than supportive of their Front-Bench policy, and they are no longer in the Chamber. That is a challenge, because we shall be unable to address the radical climate change policies that are needed if the Conservative party is not fully on board working with us.
The Conservatives have suggested that they want to get rid of the climate change levy and would cut the Environment Agency's budget. They are going round the country campaigning energetically against wind energy while acting as a front for a nuclear power industry that has no economic case to make. Although I will accept some strictures from Mr. Thomas on the activity of certain people, we should be clear that not every wind farm is ideally located and that planning issues are legitimate.
As a party, the Liberal Democrats are clear that wind energy is crucial in the short term to meet the renewable energy targets that we have undertaken under Kyoto. As a Scottish Member, I can say that both our Ministers in the partnership Government in Edinburgh are up front in promoting and encouraging wind energy developments. Last week, I walked over a wind farm site in my constituency that will be generating electricity this summer. I have also supported a fairly controversial application that is going through the process. People who oppose wind energy in principle, or who in practice oppose every development, are actually setting themselves against addressing the climate change agenda. It is as simple as that. One cannot be in favour of dealing with that issue and oppose wind energy either in principle or in practice.
I know how long the hon. Gentleman has been waiting so I will give way, but I would be grateful if he could be quick.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. What he says about people being consistent must also apply to transport. As he knows, his party in Edinburgh is campaigning against the congestion charge, which is supported by environmental organisations, in that city. That is why Friends of the Earth said today:
"The Liberal Democrats in Edinburgh campaigning against a Yes vote are besmirching the national party's much-vaunted green credentials for the sake of short-term political opportunism."
I do not want to embarrass the hon. Gentleman too much, but will he give a lead to his party in Edinburgh and tell it to stop opposing the congestion charge in that city?
It was a serious mistake to allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene. The fact is that our party in Edinburgh is critical of the scheme, not the principle, as he knows perfectly well. At the end of the day, with some debate and argument, we might come up with a scheme that we can both support. That is what debate is about.
We have had our differences with the Government on some of the central issues on the climate change agenda. Sometimes we do not think that the Government are radical enough or that their schemes will work, but our debates are about how to come up with mechanisms that will deliver results. There are many aspects of what the Government are doing—their commitment and the mechanisms—that we can and do support, but we need more mechanisms to bring on some of the alternative schemes that are not delivering at present. That is not a criticism of what the Government are doing, but a recognition that if there are too many schemes, things become too complicated and people do not respond.
I urge the Minister to consider other aspects of renewables, such as timber. Our forestry industry could make a substantial contribution, yet it is being frustrated because a time horizon on co-firing could lead to a sudden drop in the market unless there is a recognition that we need both coppicing and off-cuts to become a long-term part of that process. Schemes that involve not electricity generation but space heating using renewable energy and more efficient systems must be encouraged.
The Minister will be familiar with the fact that, with the right mechanisms to increase the promotion of energy efficiency, we could also produce a mechanism that could deliver the expansion of combined heat and power that we all want yet are failing to achieve. In fact, combined heat and power can do more than anything else to help us to meet our 2010 targets, yet its development has come to a complete halt. I urge the Government to think about such mechanisms.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State spoke and engaged with us very seriously on this matter. It is important to make it clear that criticisms of the United States Administration's policies, particularly their hostility to the Kyoto protocol, should not blind anyone to the fact that the US has an enormous contribution to make towards solving the problem, both by changing its own behaviour and by providing the technology that it has the capacity to contribute. One of the encouraging things about the US is that it will make a substantial contribution to that technology regardless of the US Administration's policy.
Alan Simpson rightly highlighted the problems of countries such as China and India and the need for us to balance their development with the contribution that we can make. That is another reason why I believe strongly that we must recognise the fact that nuclear power is not the solution. Anyone who tries to reactivate nuclear power is blocking the solution, as our past experience shows. The best way that I can describe the nuclear power industry is as a cuckoo in the nest: it sucks all the resources from every other aspect of energy to the point where no other innovation takes place.
We have an overhang of nuclear waste clean-up costs estimated at £50 billion or more. We also have an overhang in that producing electricity with nuclear power costs us more than most other forms of electricity production. Those people who complain that the introduction of renewable energy costs a little more should recognise that the sums involved are a fraction of the extra costs that we have already paid for the nuclear industry, which never delivered any of its early promise. It is a question not of being anti-nuclear, but of acknowledging that the resources that nuclear power devours displace everything else. We simply cannot afford to be taken down that track.
The Secretary of State also rightly made a plea—another challenge to the Conservative party to come on board in this respect—to stop talking about the science, about which we all agree, and to agree about the radical measures that we need to take together to deal with the fundamental problem. All political parties have had difficulties with high fuel costs—a policy intended to discourage car use, or at least to try to connect the car with its environmental impact. That has caused considerable tensions—the blockades embarrassed us all—but we have sustained that policy.
The solution depends on all the major parties being prepared to stand together. The Conservative party's answer to congestion charging is to build more roads, but it exploits the difficulties of making such decisions. The reality is that strong cross-party support is required, particularly in the earlier stages. As Dr. Turner put it, the problem is so serious and severe that those radical measures, which may not appear popular, are so important that we should all be prepared to stand together to defend and justify them because bigger issues are at stake. So long as a significant political party is playing party politics in that scenario, it will undermine what we can achieve and—as the hon. Member for Nottingham, South says—we may have passed the point of no return by 2015. In 10 years' time, there may not be the capacity to introduce policies that can turn the tide.
This is an important debate. I challenge the Government to recognise the fact that if they are serious—we believe that they are—about their priorities for the G8 and the EU, they must have regular debates during the presidency to report back and give the House an opportunity to inform them and, indeed, perhaps back them up in their negotiations in those important forums. If things really are as serious as the Government say, they should take Parliament with them and not act simply as an Executive. Plenty of hon. Members are willing to support the Government in those difficult decisions, and they should give us the chance to tell them so.
We have had a good debate in which hon. Members have made excellent contributions. I agreed with a great deal of what was said, and the Government will support the motion because its thrust is exactly right.
Norman Baker made a good case and highlighted the political aspects of climate change that we must all address. I also accept the points made by Malcolm Bruce. It would not be unreasonable for the Government to offer an opportunity to debate the G8 process and the Prime Minister's priorities, so I shall certainly discuss that with the business managers.
The hon. Member for Gordon also made a good critique of the situation and raised important points about such matters as co-firing. Co-firing has excellent potential in relation to biomass and the timber industry, so we are keen to encourage it. Indeed, we are keen to encourage all forms of renewables and technologies, which include combined heat and power. The Government are examining the barriers to the development of CHP to find out how we can assist the situation. I accept the points that he made about nuclear power. The costs are enormous, so perhaps money could be better spent on other renewables at this stage of energy development. However, some of the problems with nuclear energy might be resolved down the line, which could lead to a different argument and changed priorities. We keep an open mind on the pros and cons of all technologies.
My hon. Friend Dr. Turner made several excellent points about climate change and talked about the importance of fiscal measures. I accept his point and shall return to it. Sue Doughty mentioned housing standards, which are important. We plan to raise housing standards and to apply and develop the new code that was produced by the sustainable buildings task group. I understand her point about the report on adaptation and apologise for its having slipped. That is partly due to the work that must be done across government, but it will be available in May.
My hon. Friend Alan Simpson talked powerfully about the international dimensions of the situation and mentioned building regulations. I am interested in the concept of white certificates when considering energy efficiency. We have a successful system of carbon trading and I look forward to the EU scheme. Of course, that is the trade in what are known as black certificates, because carbon is being sold. There is a suggestion that bodies that meet standards of energy efficiency and carbon reduction could receive white certificates, and I think that such a scheme would address the points that my hon. Friend made.
Mr. Thomas was right to talk about the realities of wind because wind is crucial if we are serious about meeting renewable targets. Given market preferences and the establishment of necessary technology, it is thought that wind will make up about 70 per cent. of renewables. If we turn our back on wind, we are turning our back on renewable targets. I do not know whether the Conservative party is turning its back on renewable targets, but that is the end result of rejecting wind.
My hon. Friend Mr. Challen said that industry predictions are often exaggerated—we know of examples of that. He also talked about contraction and convergence. Such concepts have a considerable following, so we must examine them carefully, even though, like all such matters, they have pros and cons.
There was, however, some misinformation in the debate. I am genuinely interested in some of the Conservative party's positions, but find them a little confusing. Since 1997, CO 2 has risen overall by about 0.4 per cent. It has gone up and down over the years. Other greenhouse gases, such as methane, nitrogen oxide, sulphur hexaflouride, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons, have all decreased by about 6 per cent. since 1997. The UK and Denmark are the only two countries in the EU that are meeting their Kyoto targets. We have a good record on Kyoto, but if I were asked whether that was good enough, I would say no of course it is not, and that we have to do more to reduce greenhouse gases and CO 2 That is the whole point of the ongoing climate change review.
On our commitment to a 20 per cent. reduction in CO 2 by 2010, the modelling is predicting that we will achieve a 14 per cent. drop—first an increase and then a falling away. However, that does not take into account the impact of the European emissions trading scheme, which will be significant, or other measures that we may bring forward as a result of the climate change review. I think that we can get on track to achieve a 20 per cent. reduction by 2010, and it is our intention to do so.
I am genuinely confused by some of the points that have been made in the debate, such as the Conservative proposal to abolish the climate change levy. The levy is revenue-neutral in the sector, because companies that are part of the scheme receive a reduction in employer's national insurance, and money goes to the Carbon Trust. Mr. Yeo gave an assurance that a future Conservative Administration would maintain the funding that goes into the Carbon Trust, which currently comes from the climate change levy. On that logic, the Conservatives are suggesting moving away from making the polluters pay to putting the burden on the taxpayer. That does not strike me as a good sensible green fiscal tax.
I do not know why the Minister is expressing such surprise, because it has always been our position that once emissions trading is fully under way, the principal reason for a climate change levy is removed.
The hon. Gentleman is ignoring the fact that the climate change levy is a revenue-neutral tax: it goes back to the sector to improve energy efficiency. It is a green fiscal measure. I support what he said about the scope for extending green fiscal measures, and there is further debate to be had, but such comments are undermined by his point on the climate change levy. It does not make any sense; it is a contradiction.
Let us take the Conservatives' position on wind power, which is an important renewable. It is a myth that wind power is the Government's only policy. We are spending £50 million on marine energy—£42 million on tide and wave—£60 million on biomass, which does not include the reduction in duty, £31 million on photovoltaics, £171 million on offshore wind—there is no spending on the development of onshore wind, because that is well established—and £12.5 million on community and household schemes. So let us not hear the myth that the Government's one approach is through wind power and that we are not supporting other forms of renewable energy.
I am sorry, but I have only a couple of minutes left.
The hon. Member for South Suffolk seems to be suggesting that he would give local communities a right of veto over every wind farm development. I make it clear that I am not against planning procedures properly taking into account people's representations, but the proposal would mean no onshore wind development in this country. If there is no onshore wind development, there is not the slightest chance of meeting the renewables targets, because all independent analysts predict that 70 per cent. of renewable energy will come from wind power. That is a resource that we in this country should exploit.
Although I welcome the consensus shown by this debate and the thoughtful and considered contributions that were made to it, there is a contradiction at the heart of Conservative policy. If the Conservatives oppose renewable energy, abandon targets and give up any pretence of sharing the commitments that we have made to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they should be honest and admit that they have caved in to industry pressure and given up the green agenda.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House endorses the comments of Sir David King that climate change is the most serious threat facing the planet and congratulates him on his work in this area; welcomes the Prime Minister's commitment to make the tackling of climate change a top priority for the United Kingdom's presidencies of the EU and G8 this year; reiterates the UK commitment to a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon emissions by 2050; strongly welcomes the coming into force of the Kyoto agreement on 16th February and the strong role the European Union has played in achieving this; believes that it is vital that, post-Kyoto, the international community works to reach agreement on the action needed to tackle climate change, which should engage the United States but which should also recognise the importance of the energy choices which face many of the major developing countries; calls on the global community to work with them in addressing those choices; rejects the notion that tackling climate change will of necessity damage the economy and indeed suggests that it is failure to do so that will lead to that result; believes that all parties in this House should by their own actions help convince the public of the need to take environmental matters seriously; and therefore condemns Conservative plans severely to weaken the Environment Agency through the massive and debilitating cuts proposed for the Agency by that party, and its damaging plans to abolish the climate change levy.