Climate Change — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:33 pm on 29th January 2009.

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Photo of Baroness Wilcox Baroness Wilcox Shadow Minister, Energy and Climate Change 1:33 pm, 29th January 2009

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Madingley, for initiating this timely debate on the political aspects of addressing climate change. I have witnessed something of a masterclass here today. When I think that in your Lordships' House we have some of the greatest scientists and engineers in the world, I sometimes wonder what the press are worrying about.

I shall confine myself to five questions, which I hope the Minister will be able to answer either today or, if time is short, in writing. The questions capture what I want to say.

I am sure we would agree that the international community must act with real urgency to reach agreement on a successor treaty to Kyoto in order to reduce global emissions, keep global temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius and avoid catastrophic climate change. Therefore, my first question is: what action has the Minister's department taken to engage with countries such as the United States and China to ensure that they are on board at the next round of discussions on the post-Kyoto framework in Copenhagen?

Today, we have heard that at home the Government have already conceded that they will miss their target to cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2010 against the 1990 baseline. Does the Minister agree that the Government must achieve more in tackling climate change at home in order to lead by example on the world stage?

In March 2008, the Sustainable Development Commission found that,

"government as a whole needs to take radical action to put its own house in order if it is to be in a position to lead by example".

More than half of all government departments have increased carbon emissions since 1999-2000 and nearly two-thirds of departments are not on track to meet their carbon reduction targets. So my next question is: what steps is the Minister's department taking to tackle this issue head-on and reduce emissions from the civil estate as an example to us all?

I am with the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Redesdale, in not joining the Government in their approval of a third runway at Heathrow, regardless of the fact that the additional greenhouse gas emissions from the expansion will compromise the Government's legal obligation to achieve an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050 under the Climate Change Act. Does the Minister agree that his Government are saying one thing while doing another on climate change policy and that, unless there is joined-up policy right across Whitehall, it will not be possible to achieve the legal obligations of the Climate Change Act?

I come to my last question. The new United States Administration under President Barack Obama is showing very promising signs not only on domestic action on clean energy technologies but also on a determination to re-engage with the international community in securing a post-Kyoto deal. However, at this key moment of hope, we see that the European Union, which until now has been recognised as a global leader on climate action, is weakening that position due to lobbying from some of its member states. The Word Wildlife Fund stated that the European Union played its "worst role ever" at the Poznan climate summit last month. Can the Minister assure the House that his Government will do all that they can to ensure that action on climate change remains a top priority at European Union level and that our collective voice will not be watered down at this vital time, when the United States is finally to re-engage on this issue?

The noble Lord, Lord Browne, said in his very fine speech that climate change must be a vision for the future, at the heart of society. He said that we cannot go forward in isolation. On this, I think we all agree. However, in order to win hearts, all people will need to understand the language that we are speaking. In this country, we need plain English so that we can all join in the debate, take ownership of it, see the opportunity for jobs and training and the potential to save money, and see that for us it will be a better life.

Finally, moving forward in the ways that we have heard today will cost the earth. Therefore, the political aspect of climate change is one that Governments all over the world will have to face, and that is to win the hearts and minds of the voters.