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Climate Change and the Environment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:52 pm on 8th February 2005.

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Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:52 pm, 8th February 2005

There is nothing new in this—it is all on the record. Perhaps the Minister is trying to apologise for the outrageous assertions made by the Secretary of State, for which there was no basis in fact.

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.