Green Agenda — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 12th January 2012.

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Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative 2:30 pm, 12th January 2012

Flattery gets you everywhere. I wish to look at this issue of the Government's green agenda from a slightly different perspective and take a different line across country. I remind the House that we are talking about a great international problem, and there is no future in our finding a solution to our problems if the result is that other countries simply replace what we are doing and carry on in the way that we are at present. This is a problem that in the end every country will face. Third World countries living relatively simply today will have to look at measures such as those that we are examining.

The other point that is worth noting at this stage is that the two biggest carbon dioxide emissions countries in the world, the United States and China, are also the two biggest countries investing in green technologies. Perhaps there is something in that; it is a real and remarkable point. The fact is that every major economy in the world is concerned about this issue.

I am going to begin with an interesting fact. I have obtained some information from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at Oak Ridge in Tennessee, in the United States, where a group has plotted graphically the carbon emissions performance of almost all the countries in the world. In the instance of the United Kingdom, that goes back to about 1750. We can all make those comparisons, and it is worth looking at what has happened in the past.

For the purpose of today's discussion, I wish to tell the House that we have pledged an 80 per cent reduction in our 1990 emissions. That implies that we are going to reduce our emission to a point that we passed in 1850 when the population of this country was 22 million. That is the breadth and depth of the task that we have set ourselves, and it is a big one. We now have three times the population using five times the amount of energy, and modern society is energy-intensive and will continue to be so.

It is inevitable that our approach to begin with is based on what we can do immediately, because that must be the quick and easy way to start. We have the Climate Change Act and we have set targets. The Climate Change Committee actually reduced the targets -I am sorry; there is a question of whether it is a reduction or an increase-rather, it set a more severe target as soon as it was formed, giving us the 80 per cent figure that we have to go for. However, the question that tends to be asked is, "What do we have to stop in order to solve this problem?". My concern with that question is that the public at large see that as a negative question, and they do not like negative questions. Somehow we have to turn it around to a positive one: "What do we have to do in order to ensure that we can keep everything going?". That is a very different approach and one that would be much more acceptable to the general public who on the whole-I say as far as I am capable of experiencing the public's views-are rather bored by the entire subject and think that it does not really apply to them. At least if we get the long-term implications right, we should begin to make some progress.

The present problem is exacerbated by an approach that appears to treat all carbon dioxide emissions equally. I am not going to say that carbon dioxide emissions are ever beneficial, but some are much more essential to society than others. When we look at the severity of that 2050 target, I suggest to the House that we are simply looking at having emissions by that date that are essential for society-everything else has to be emission-free.

I am going to be a bit daring and suggest some possibilities that are essential. We cannot do much about emissions from agriculture, currently about 8 per cent of total emissions. The food business is an international problem. The emissions largely come from livestock-it is not really an arable sector problem. Food is both essential and the biggest single emitter of the categories that I am going to enunciate.

The smelting industries are essential to society; we cannot do without our metals. Cement manufacture is essential to society; we cannot do without construction. And finally-I nearly used a phrase that I used once before and which got me into trouble-international transport, both aviation and shipping, are now essential to all communities across the world, and we cannot cut those back. We may need to think about treating the emission from those sectors-other people may wish to add to that list-in a different way from how we treat the generality of emissions. Outside that field, everything has to become zero-emission.

That is a harsh analysis, but we need to be moving in that direction now. We need to start thinking about those distinctions so that we know where we are going, because they define the depth of the problem that we face in trying to make homes and all land-based business and transport zero-emission. We already have a basket of technologies that would make that possible. However, there is a problem: we do not know which of those technologies will in the end be successful in the international field. We are a country that lives by international trade and development going on across the globe. As I have already said, this is an international problem, so that factor is very important.

What particularly concerns me is that in the short term we can take decisions, partly as a result of this approach, that will actually make it more difficult for us to hit the long-term targets, partly because we shall be committing ourselves to technologies that are expensive and in fact will have to be written off because they do not prove to be internationally competitive. I regret to say that I see no solution to that risk-I wish that there were one-so it is one that we are going to have to take in our development. That means that we should not put too many eggs in one basket. It also means that we should not go too quickly at present. I do not care for the targets for 2020, 2025 or even 2030, unless and until we have totally considered the 2050 target and its implications for society at large. I am satisfied that that can be done. If you supply a house with nothing but emission-free energy, then by definition, Green Deal or no Green Deal, that house is zero-emission. The same applies to every business and, if we can do it, to transport; the technologies exist. We need to take a careful look at the long term, and use that to apply our policies today.