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Climate Change and the Environment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:17 pm on 8th February 2005.

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Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:17 pm, 8th February 2005

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.