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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

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.