Green Agenda — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:40 pm on 12th January 2012.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 3:40 pm, 12th January 2012

My Lords, as a former director of Oxfam, I start by paying tribute to the quality of the work, research, analysis and advocacy on the issues we are debating contributed by NGOs such as Friends of the Earth, Oxfam, Tearfund, Save the Children, Christian Aid, CAFOD, ActionAid and others. I am sure that my noble friend, whose debate is so timely, would agree that their thousands of dedicated supporters across the country deserve our warm appreciation for making possible our input to these deliberations. The briefs are impressive and helpful. I just hope that I can do justice to those for today in what I want to say.

Notwithstanding the gravity and scale of the economic challenges facing the nation, Europe and the international community as a whole, by far the greatest challenge remains climate change. The Prime Minister on taking office seemed to have grasped this with his "greenest Government ever" prediction. However, George Osborne's contribution to the last Conservative Party conference was an explicit break with the broad consensus that has emerged in recent years that tackling climate change and protecting the environment are essential to and not in contradiction with a modern, successful economy. Indeed, the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses recognise that. Why has the Prime Minister failed to challenge the Chancellor and reassert his own commitment? Economic discipline requires that we get the climate change priorities convincingly in place. If we do not, the economic catastrophe that will face us all will dwarf our current preoccupations.

The feed-in tariffs have been a resounding success, creating 30,000 new jobs delivering community ownership of energy, reducing energy bills significantly, including some for the poorest people in social housing, creating green energy and transforming how people think about energy. Yet I am afraid that the Treasury-imposed cap and the way that the Department of Energy and Climate Change handled the reduction in tariffs needed in line with falling solar panel costs is jeopardising the jobs created and the future of solar in the United Kingdom.

Instead of appealing against the High Court's decision in favour of the challenge brought by Friends of the Earth, Solarcentury and HomeSun on the handling of the case, why have the Government not ended the damaging uncertainty over the tariff level and established a system which enables feed-in tariffs to fall from mid-February, in line with the falling costs of solar technology, thereby supporting the continued growth of the industry and the employment opportunities? Why have they not increased the overall budget for the feed-in tariffs, using tax revenues generated by the jobs created, thus enabling more households to benefit from solar power? Why on earth have they not excluded housing associations, schools, council and other community projects from the damaging proposal to give multibuilding projects ever lower financial support? As things stand, if one thing is certain it is that they are making foolhardy, short-term economies at the price of aggravating the long-term economic costs and dangers to the nation. The noble Lord, Lord Stern, has estimated that in the long term, climate change could cost 5 per cent to 20 per cent of gross domestic product. He argued that this projection must be factored into the current discussion about the UK economy. Here at least the Government deserve commendation for having adopted the recommendations of the climate change committee in setting their most recent carbon budget: a 60 per cent reduction on 1990 levels by 2030.

As the key NGOs with front-line experience keep reminding us, it is the poorest countries, like Ethiopia, Sudan, Malawi and Bangladesh, which are most exposed and vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. The World Bank lists the main existing impacts and the accelerating future threats to such countries as droughts, famine, floods, sea-level rises and adverse impacts on agricultural production. The Humanitarian Response Review, led by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, underlined that climate change was likely to increase the frequency of disasters and that from 2015, such disasters might affect 375 million people every year. Tearfund, for example, describes as "imperative"-they use that word-the prioritising by Government of international climate change issues and of identifying and securing long-term additional finance to meet the challenges of mitigation in the reduction of emissions and of adaptation.

Tearfund, Oxfam and others, with their invaluable experience, firmly welcome the role played by DECC in international negotiations. Nevertheless, while recognising that the agreements recently reached in Durban are positive in laying the foundation for a comprehensive framework from 2020, they, like many of us in this House, are dismayed at the lack of short-term targets for reducing global emissions. Surely the Government should continue to press for a European target of a 30 per cent reduction by 2020 and to champion climate finance and the redirection of fossil fuel subsidies as the way of driving low-carbon development.

The UK has arguably made a good start by delivering on its fast start climate finance commitment of £1.5 billion and establishing the international climate fund at DfID. The emphasis on using the available finance for adaptation is sensible, but deep concern remains that this money comes from our overseas development budget. The World Bank has estimated that adaptation alone will require between $75 billion and $100 billion a year in addition to existing essential aid commitments. As the current annual global aid flows are between $129 billion and $150 billion, it is obvious that we cannot continue to raid aid budgets in order adequately to finance climate action on a necessary scale.

Under the previous Government, some of us argued hard for a financial transactions tax. This was a cross-party drive; some of those who argued most hard are sitting on the coalition Benches. I can see one prominent player with us today. Some are even on the Front Bench. Why do the Government remain so obdurate and so firmly against this tax? A minute rate of tax could make a huge contribution towards meeting the challenges of climate change and securing a more positive prospect for the global economy and global well-being. Virtually all the relevant experienced and authoritative organisations call for this. In 2011, Bill Gates's report to the G20 argued its virtues, saying that,

"the IMF and World Bank proposals to tax shipping and aviation fuels can help countries start making the necessary adjustments ... If a modest portion of these revenues were devoted to helping poor countries adapt to climate change, it would protect the livelihoods of millions of very poor people".

Angela Merkel herself told the German Bundestag's Development Committee on 30 November last year that she was open to some of the proceeds of the European FTT, which she so strongly favours, going to finance the costs of dealing with climate change and overseas development. For the record, she said that one could talk about the use of part of the revenue from the FTT for development and climate adjustment.

Rio next June will be a make-or-break occasion. If it fails, the future costs and consequences for humanity will be incalculable and catastrophic. We must all get behind the Government in ensuring that the UK is second to none in striving for its success. This will necessitate disaggregated, specific, formal and legally enshrined commitments by Governments, but it will also involve, as my noble friend Lord Prescott so powerfully argued today, disaggregated and specific requirements for local authorities and those with regional responsibility. We are talking about no less than the survival of the human species as we know it. On climate change, we are literally all in it together. There is no corner of the world where people will be sheltered from the consequences of failure-certainly not the people of the British Isles.