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Climate Change and the Environment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:49 pm on 8th February 2005.

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Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:49 pm, 8th February 2005

We have had a good debate in which hon. Members have made excellent contributions. I agreed with a great deal of what was said, and the Government will support the motion because its thrust is exactly right.

Norman Baker made a good case and highlighted the political aspects of climate change that we must all address. I also accept the points made by Malcolm Bruce. It would not be unreasonable for the Government to offer an opportunity to debate the G8 process and the Prime Minister's priorities, so I shall certainly discuss that with the business managers.

The hon. Member for Gordon also made a good critique of the situation and raised important points about such matters as co-firing. Co-firing has excellent potential in relation to biomass and the timber industry, so we are keen to encourage it. Indeed, we are keen to encourage all forms of renewables and technologies, which include combined heat and power. The Government are examining the barriers to the development of CHP to find out how we can assist the situation. I accept the points that he made about nuclear power. The costs are enormous, so perhaps money could be better spent on other renewables at this stage of energy development. However, some of the problems with nuclear energy might be resolved down the line, which could lead to a different argument and changed priorities. We keep an open mind on the pros and cons of all technologies.

My hon. Friend Dr. Turner made several excellent points about climate change and talked about the importance of fiscal measures. I accept his point and shall return to it. Sue Doughty mentioned housing standards, which are important. We plan to raise housing standards and to apply and develop the new code that was produced by the sustainable buildings task group. I understand her point about the report on adaptation and apologise for its having slipped. That is partly due to the work that must be done across government, but it will be available in May.

My hon. Friend Alan Simpson talked powerfully about the international dimensions of the situation and mentioned building regulations. I am interested in the concept of white certificates when considering energy efficiency. We have a successful system of carbon trading and I look forward to the EU scheme. Of course, that is the trade in what are known as black certificates, because carbon is being sold. There is a suggestion that bodies that meet standards of energy efficiency and carbon reduction could receive white certificates, and I think that such a scheme would address the points that my hon. Friend made.

Mr. Thomas was right to talk about the realities of wind because wind is crucial if we are serious about meeting renewable targets. Given market preferences and the establishment of necessary technology, it is thought that wind will make up about 70 per cent. of renewables. If we turn our back on wind, we are turning our back on renewable targets. I do not know whether the Conservative party is turning its back on renewable targets, but that is the end result of rejecting wind.

My hon. Friend Mr. Challen said that industry predictions are often exaggerated—we know of examples of that. He also talked about contraction and convergence. Such concepts have a considerable following, so we must examine them carefully, even though, like all such matters, they have pros and cons.

There was, however, some misinformation in the debate. I am genuinely interested in some of the Conservative party's positions, but find them a little confusing. Since 1997, CO 2 has risen overall by about 0.4 per cent. It has gone up and down over the years. Other greenhouse gases, such as methane, nitrogen oxide, sulphur hexaflouride, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons, have all decreased by about 6 per cent. since 1997. The UK and Denmark are the only two countries in the EU that are meeting their Kyoto targets. We have a good record on Kyoto, but if I were asked whether that was good enough, I would say no of course it is not, and that we have to do more to reduce greenhouse gases and CO 2 That is the whole point of the ongoing climate change review.

On our commitment to a 20 per cent. reduction in CO 2 by 2010, the modelling is predicting that we will achieve a 14 per cent. drop—first an increase and then a falling away. However, that does not take into account the impact of the European emissions trading scheme, which will be significant, or other measures that we may bring forward as a result of the climate change review. I think that we can get on track to achieve a 20 per cent. reduction by 2010, and it is our intention to do so.

I am genuinely confused by some of the points that have been made in the debate, such as the Conservative proposal to abolish the climate change levy. The levy is revenue-neutral in the sector, because companies that are part of the scheme receive a reduction in employer's national insurance, and money goes to the Carbon Trust. Mr. Yeo gave an assurance that a future Conservative Administration would maintain the funding that goes into the Carbon Trust, which currently comes from the climate change levy. On that logic, the Conservatives are suggesting moving away from making the polluters pay to putting the burden on the taxpayer. That does not strike me as a good sensible green fiscal tax.