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Climate Change and the Environment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:04 pm on 8th February 2005.

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Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South 3:04 pm, 8th February 2005

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 20 January, I was told that

"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.