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Climate Change and the Environment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:42 pm on 8th February 2005.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes 12:42 pm, 8th February 2005

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.