Green Agenda — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 12th January 2012.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Chesterton Lord Hunt of Chesterton Labour 3:30 pm, 12th January 2012

My Lords, I am extremely pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. I used to be on the allotments committee of Cambridge City Council and tried to connect allotments with education, but without great success. Maybe, 20, 30 or 40 years on, this great development will occur. I welcome this debate also for the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Marland, who I know has put huge effort into his position as Minister, and some great benefits have come from that. But this is obviously the sweetener before a few critical remarks.

The broad aim of green policies is to preserve the natural environment for present and future generations, and to enable people to live safely and well in harmony with the environment. Most people now live in the very complex, unnatural and artificial environment of urban areas. As we have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that is an area, too, that we can be very creative about.

I declare an interest as a director of an environmental company and president of an environmental NGO, ACOPS.

In an open democracy, environmental policies should be not only acceptable but actively supported. All this requires that information and advice should be available to politicians, local government and the public. Although the climate change committee, which I am pleased to say survived the Government's culling of NGOs and bodies and agencies of that sort, will continue and is certainly proving its independence, I regret that there has been a considerable abolition of the bodies that have been important in providing environmental information. The Audit Commission had an important role for local government; the Health Protection Agency has been "secretised"; research councils have become partly "secretised". I heard recently that scientists in research councils have been told not to talk to politicians without permission from BIS. This is an extraordinary situation. It is a bit like Russia in the 1970s, when we used to have conversations with the taps running, or Washington, where I can talk to government scientists only by going to Starbucks. I hope that we have not reached that stage, but it is looking like it.

The UK has a history of bold and innovative environmentally oriented policies, even when these required people to change their lifestyle and pay more. They began with the banning of open coal fires in the 1950s, which was a massive cultural change in the UK-it was of course introduced by a Tory Government. Pedestrianisation, as I know from Cambridge, was a considerably controversial matter. In London the congestion charge has been a great success and has brought about a 20 per cent reduction in traffic, whereas, as we heard this morning in a meeting to do with green policies in local government, it seems to be politically impossible still for any other borough in this country to introduce something like it. The present Government are not campaigning on that issue, yet air pollution in London and all cities of Europe is exceeding health standards and is not significantly improving.

I am delighted that the present Government are continuing the Labour policy of investing in urban rail systems, which is an important part of reducing traffic pollution, but they are not campaigning or legislating to reduce motor vehicle traffic in towns. With 20,000 to 30,000 deaths per year caused by air pollution, this should be a central policy for a green Government. Indeed, this Government are now proposing to increase the speed of cars. I suppose that you might say that the only green thing about Mr Toad was the colour of his skin.

Regarding another environmental issue, 2012 will be a very important test for the Government and particularly for Defra. I am pleased that the people in the Box today can talk to their colleagues in Defra. Defra will be implementing the Marine Act, which was the really important environmental measure of the previous Government. In general, it was not a party political act. Importantly, this year there will be a number of marine protected areas around our coasts. It is of great concern to NGOs and many bodies that the Government will weaken and not resist certain fishing, extractive industries and leisure interests, so there will not be as many MPAs, strongly policed, as there needs to be.

One of the points made during the pre-legislative scrutiny of that act was that we had uncertain data from Defra but extremely clear data from the European Commission. A witness talked about the reduction of fish in the waters of northern Europe and of the urgent need for these Marine Protected Areas. New Zealand, of course, has shown emphatically that a rigorous programme of MPAs can lead to the preserving of fish stocks. We are in a critical situation. Any green Government should regard this as a very serious matter. It is also very important to negotiate with our EU partners because there are complications about applying marine protected areas when there is the European Fisheries Act.

Another crucial area which many of us have discussed today is the environmental policy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The present Government have certainly pushed with gusto-I think that is the word I would apply to the Minister-Labour's policies for international agreements plus a vigorous national programme for lower carbon energy systems. I am particularly delighted that, like many of our Lib Dem Members, Mr Hoon has changed his spots and now strongly supports nuclear energy. The Government have also pushed forward the large offshore wind and energy conservation programmes. The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, referred to the wind programme. The UK should certainly reach the target of 30 per cent or more of its energy coming from zero or low-carbon sources by 2030. It will perhaps even exceed that. However, we should not be too boastful because in France, which of course has the lowest carbon footprint of the developed world, the Left and the Right are debating whether nuclear sources will provide 80 per cent or 50 per cent of its electrical energy. We are a long way off that.

I hope the Minister is also thinking about our nuclear programme, in so far as we do not want to repeat the mistakes of the 1960s when the two famous great nuclear Lords, Lord Marshall and Lord Hinton, produced a variety of nuclear solutions which led to Britain never exporting a single nuclear power station except Latina in Italy. So we very much hope the new programme will be systematic, and that we will use this investment to develop a UK industry. However, we will not do this by having five different nuclear power stations.

As political parties advocate UK's contributions to reducing global emissions, they all have to acknowledge that there is a reduction in popular support for measures to deal with global warming. There is overwhelming scientific evidence for climatic events resulting from the effects of greenhouse gases, especially in developing countries and Arctic areas. Politicians in Durban and South Africa pointed this out at a meeting in Bangalore in the summer to discuss Asian climates. The consensus is emphatic.

Some of the popular understanding comes about because of the statistics of the measured trends. It is a fact that over the last 10 years the average of the temperature of both the land areas and sea areas has been static. However, over the land areas the temperature has risen significantly and over the sea areas, particularly in the eastern Pacific, it has fallen. There is a technical oceanographic phenomenon of cooler water coming up from this area. It is remarkable that an area of a couple of thousand square miles off South America can affect the global average surface temperature. In the deeper layers of the ocean, the temperature is getting warmer. This is why we are seeing strongly a steady rise in sea level.

At Durban, the director general of the World Meteorological Organisation presented the explanation that I have given today. I understand that an explanatory leaflet produced by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology-POST-will be in the Library in a few weeks. A consensus of modelling suggests that, with the emissions going on around the world, we should certainly see a rise of three or four degrees by 2100. These are extremely serious effects. It is why China has such a strong programme: it has already seen a rise of two degrees since the 1960s.

Finally, I should emphasise that the Government are continuing the programme of the previous Government, that green policies must also include the vital element of adaptation to climate change. We have a very strong sub-committee on adaptation chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. It is important to have precautions against extreme precipitation or flooding and, if possible, to do the kinds of things that they do in the Netherlands of having dykes with windmills on top so that we combine adaptation with mitigation.