Green Agenda — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:48 pm on 12th January 2012.

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Photo of Lord Prescott Lord Prescott Labour 2:48 pm, 12th January 2012

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on getting this debate on climate change, particularly as we did not get a Statement after the Durban negotiations. I understand the reasons and cast no blame, but it is important that we continue to debate this. Funnily enough, there may be more public consensus on this big issue than on the economy. The Government are basically carrying through policies that we implemented. Therefore, I congratulate them on bringing forward their statements on green schemes and policies. They are statements at this stage and we need to see how far we progress with them. Whatever we decide on the matter of climate and negotiations, to achieve green policies there are number of areas in which we have to operate. It is not sufficient to get good agreement on a global scale; we must have policies and implementation at a lower level, where it really makes a difference.

Three phases are essential to implementing such a policy. One is the global one. I have to say that what the Government achieved-particularly the Secretary of State for Energy and the Environment-at the Durban conference that I attended, has continued the principles we established at Kyoto in 1997. They fell a bit at Copenhagen, and in debates in this House I have constantly said: "You will have to extend the period beyond the Kyoto date of 2012. You will have to make sure that you have the money and you cannot have the legal framework at this stage, although hopefully it will come".

In a debate in this House in November I asked the Government if they would adopt the "stop the clock" policy that I developed as a rapporteur at the Council of Europe. I am glad to say that that is exactly what happened. They have now extended the period. They have not got rid of the Kyoto deal but have extended it to 2016. That means that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. When they meet next time at Rio this year they will have to flesh out the bones of the framework that was established at Durban. Thank goodness this brought us back from the disastrous conference at Copenhagen. We are on the right track but we certainly have not solved the problem. We need now to make sure that we have green policies at national, local and regional levels. The green schemes that we talk about are the nitty-gritty. If we do not get it right in these policy areas we will not readily be able to achieve the targets that we accepted in international negotiations.

I come to the second strand. We are on the right path with global negotiations but we must put flesh on the bones that were agreed at Durban and must have policies ready by 2016. We are already behind time in achieving what we thought we would through the Kyoto agreement. Perhaps we have not made a big step for mankind but we have made a small one, and that is important; we are going in the right direction. However, I wonder sometimes whether the sledge and the huskies are going in one direction while the driver is getting himself into a quandary about whether food will be provided for the dogs to allow them to achieve their target-I am flogging that metaphor to death. Basically, it is important that the national policies are right.

Of course there are things that we could do more or less of with national policies, but there is not a great deal of disagreement on the general policies on energy, on the statements that we made and certainly on the statutory requirements that set our targets. No other country has done that. It started under the previous Government and has continued under this one. They have toughened up the requirements and we are going in the right direction; there is major consensus on that. As other speakers have mentioned, that is an important step forward in keeping the show on the road to achieve those targets.

I am a little doubtful about the 80 per cent target; that is a bit of climate rhetoric. I said to the Energy Minister: "You'll be dead by then so you won't know whether you're right or wrong". We should try to avoid that rhetoric because it will give my former Permanent Secretary a chance to get up and say that it is not realistic. No doubt he will say that again today. We did not say that in government, but I understand that this House is a different place. The national policies have achieved a great deal of what we wanted to secure to keep to the targets that we agreed.

The third strand is how policy develops from national to regional and local levels. I will make specific points about that and look at the demands for low carbon. The move to renewables means major changes in this kind of industrialisation. It is a new form of industrialisation. There will be major changes in the economy, in attitudes and in culture. We want people in the communities to play their part. At the moment they are sitting, observing and thinking that it is just a global problem. That is not the case. I will use my own area of Hull as a good example of regional policies. The Humber estuary is one of the few areas in which there are developments on both sides of the river. Perhaps we built the Humber bridge to remind ourselves of this. The Humber played a major part in the first industrialisation. The port did manufacturing, importing and exporting. Coal was brought in and exported. Industrialisation was located in coal, steel and iron-all in that area. Those industries are now very much on the sidelines, although I think that there is still a role for coal. I understand all the carbon arguments, but sequestration may help us towards a balanced energy policy that includes coal. Those debates will come.

Yorkshire, with its steel and coal, was almost the centre of the development of energy, wealth and manufacturing. That was the substance of the first industrialisation. The second industrialisation will be built on renewables. Investment in the assets of the estuary is already turning it into a major part of the new, low-carbon industrial development. The Humber has assets on its banks that are associated with that kind of development. It will play a major part in this change. We see that in many ways as we try to get a reduction in carbon. The Humber is almost the highway of the new industrialisation that will take place along its banks. Some of the old assets are being converted to a new, low-carbon development. Right at the bottom of the estuary one finds Drax with biofuel. It is a very important development that we seem not to treat as fairly as we do the wind industry. That argument will continue. There is a mix of coal and bio, with the deep water necessary for the estuary and the promise of building more biofuel plants.

I say to the Minister that there is a tendency to look at energy distribution and pricing in terms of the lowest price that the world market has decided, but one has to have a mix of energy. That is why we had nuclear power to begin with. We need to recognise contributions to achieve carbon reduction targets. It may be a little more expensive to use one fuel than another but we have often lived with that. We now have to put into the price analysis how it reduces carbon production. That is the target we have set ourselves. We need mixed energy. It is no good concentrating simply on what is cheap internationally. We already have gas coming from certain parts of the world that we are not very happy with. I think we are all agreed that we need a balanced energy policy, although there will still be arguments about the mix.

When we contrast investment in biomass with that in the wind industry, we find that we do not give generously to the biomass industry. Those arguments will continue and I will contribute to them. We are also developing tidal power on the estuary. That is very important. It is difficult but it is certainly part of the development that is already going on now. The maritime port of Hull now calls itself a green port because it is the area in which Siemens is investing. Billions of pounds will be invested in wind turbines. Whatever the arguments about that, it is under way. We are a major centre for production, too. Coal sequestration was referred to. We have the infrastructure that brought gas in. With sequestration we can take it out of the coal industry and put it into the empty holes in the North Sea from which we originally took gas. That, too, is important infrastructure for lowering carbon emissions.

Best of all, we have wind, wind, wind. We no longer have just fishing and ports. Wind is our biggest asset at the moment. I know that it is controversial, but there is a lot of it up there. A lot of our people in east Yorkshire are not very happy about it; they do not like the high towers. They do not mind lighthouses or electric pylons but they do not want these things, which spoil their picture-book view. However, I am concerned about prosperity. My final point is that the local council, led by Steve Brady, is very much involved in the green city of Hull.

I will finish with one quick point. The community must do something. I managed to get my community to work on one idea. We are an energy poverty area; lots of people are in energy poverty. We got E.ON to agree to put smart meters in people's houses. Archbishop Sentanu's academy works to get children to take the meters home. If you want to influence parents, get the kids on your side. They will soon say: "Why are you using energy in this way? Can you cut the cost of energy? Can we reduce carbon?". Cutting the cost of energy means that they improve the quality of their life. That is a better way to put the point across.

For all these things-in culture, technology and the regions-I invite the Minister and the Government to come and look at the estuarial development of low carbon, a new river of prosperity. It is good for the region and good for the country, and I hope with their green investment funds and other bodies they will take that into account and look at perhaps prioritising investment on a regional basis in the Humber, in Hull, and in the areas surrounding Humberside.