With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
‘a proportionate share of total global emissions of greenhouse gases compatible with’.
Amendment No. 32, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, at end add—
‘(3) The target for the UK contribution to limiting global average temperatures shall be calculated with reference to—
(a) historic levels of emissions of greenhouse gases by the UK;
(b) projected levels of emissions growth among other countries; and
(c) such other factors as the Secretary of State considers relevant.
(4) The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament within one year of the coming into force of this Act a report setting out the basis on which the target for the UK contribution has been calculated.’.
Clause stand part.
In the absence of the hon. Member for Banbury, I was keen to move amendment No. 43 in order to discuss the important matters that it raises, and I am grateful to you, Mr. Cook, for giving me the opportunity to do that.
Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 focus not simply on the destination point—2050— but also on the route map, because, as was discussed on Second Reading, we cannot simply chug along as we are and then suddenly cut emissions in 2049, which is clearly not what we want. My understanding of what the hon. Member for Banbury was driving at is that we need to give much more attention to the profile of our emissions over the next 42 years and not obsess solely on the destination point. Clearly, the more that we save in getting to that destination, the better it will be. Additionally, the earlier that we save, the better it will be in terms of the climate change impact of any given amount of emissions. It is therefore important to discuss the amendment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham and I tabled amendment No. 32 because we anticipated that the Government would want to take away clause 1. As ever, we wanted to be helpful. We tried to table an amendment that would give the Government what they want. I understand the points that the Minister is likely to make about how the UK cannot change global temperature by acting on its own. We can play our part, but we cannot achieve a specific outcome on our own. I understand that saying that the goal of the Bill is to achieve something for the planet when we are a small percentage of it raises issues.
The purpose of amendment No. 32 is to ask how we move from what we know about what the planet has to do to what we know about what the UK has to do. Amendment No. 32 is our probing attempt to put contraction and convergence, which are jargon, into the legislation. We want to know whether the Government accept that aggregate contraction and convergence on emissions per head should be central to our approach. If they accept that, when do they think that that should take place? The obvious point for that to happen, given the focus on 2050, would be 2050. If we had a formula and reporting obligation, as set out in subsection (4), we would know how the Government have gone from whatever science tells us about the global target to what the UK target should be.
It has been suggested that this Bill should not include a purpose clause, because we do not do that kind of thing in this country. That is essentially what people have said—to quote the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, “It is not British”.
I am sure that the Minister is familiar with the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, section 1(1) of which states:
“The principal aim of this Act is to promote the sustainability of local communities.”
At the time, which was only last year, the House felt it appropriate to include a purpose clause, so there is good precedent. Likewise, legislation in this country over the years has given principal aims to bodies. For example, the Environment Act 1995 sets out
“the principal aim of the Agency...in discharging its functions so to protect or enhance the environment.”
There is no inherent reason why UK legislation should not have a purpose clause. The advantage of including a purpose clause in this Bill, which is how the Government introduced it in the first place, is that without it we will just have a number. As the legislation stands, that number will be plucked from the atmosphere before the Climate Change Committee acts. It is not apparent from the Bill where that number will come from. Although there are mechanisms to update the number, the processes are not as transparent as they should be.
Amendment No. 32 addresses how we set the UK contribution to reducing global emissions. If the science tells us that a certain cut in global emissions is needed to avoid the temperature rise that will lead to dangerous climate change, then the UK should not merely achieve the global average but go further. We give two reasons in the amendment why it should. “We”—the United States and some other developed countries—are a big part of the problem, and a lot of the emissions in the system are from us. It is often stated that Britain is responsible for only 2 per cent. of emissions, but in a sense we have moved a lot of our emissions offshore. For example, a UK consumer who buys a consumer durable produced in the far east creates emissions elsewhere, so it is clearly an understatement to say we are only a tiny part of the issue. Not only are we a bigger part of current emissions than that figure suggests, but we are particularly responsible for historic emissions. As we caused a disproportionate part of the problem, we therefore have a responsibility to be a disproportionate part of the solution.
The second part of amendment No. 32 addresses the question whether we can say to the rest of the world, and particularly to rapidly developing countries, that we have had the fun, but they cannot have it? It is clearly morally unacceptable to say that we have had rapid growth and a high standard of living, but they cannot have those things. I have promised not to use the word “moral” too frequently over the next two and a half weeks, but the Bill is about not only science, but—.
Or think it either, hopefully.
Seriously, there is no right answer to British emissions, as the Bill stands. The Bill includes a general purpose clause and a figure, but it does not state how the British figure comes from what global science is telling us, which is the purpose of amendment No. 32. Science will evolve, and it gives us a figure for the required global cut in emissions. The British figure has to be higher than that for the reasons that I have stated, and as the science develops, we want the Government to be transparent about how the two are linked not least because the British number may need to change as the science develops. The next element is setting out how that linkage has been made in a report.
The whole Bill could fail if it does not include a purpose clause stating what the number in the Bill is designed to achieve. We will obviously have a substantive discussion about the right number when we discuss clause 2, so I will not stray into that save to say that without a purpose clause, the number could fail to achieve the objective that we all want for the Bill. We are trying to avoid dangerous climate change, but we know that the number in clause 2 is at best likely to fail to achieve the purpose of the Bill. That is why we think we need to be upfront about where the number comes from and to recognise our international duties.
Drawing those threads together, amendments Nos. 43 and 44 focus on the profile of the emissions, which is entirely right and proper, and I hope the Minister will have something to say about that. Amendment No. 32 tries to introduce the concept of contraction and convergence and deal with the Government’s perfectly reasonable points that the UK is not the world and that putting something in UK legislation about world targets creates problems. If we were to amend clause 1 to say how the UK contribution is calculated and linked to the world problem, however, we would move towards the same objective that the Minister’s rather more direct approach—removing the clause altogether—is designed to achieve. I hope that, rather than removing the clause, we can leave it in and amend it.
I support amendment No. 43 simply because it clarifies what most of us already understood, which leads me to why I am particularly keen to discuss clause stand part and why clause 1 is crucially important. Clause 1 is important for the same reason that the Government want to get rid of it—we either put Britain’s responsibilities in the context of the world or we do not understand what we are talking about. Such responsibilities are inevitable in the world context. Right from the beginning, we must accept that if the whole world goes down the route of “After you, Claude”—if I may use an old-fashioned phrase, which the hon. Member for Northavon thinks that I am keen on using—we will continue as we have done since Kyoto, and even before that, by actually not doing anything at all.
The nature of this Bill is in clause 1. The nature of this Bill—this is why the Government should be congratulated—is to say to the world that we, at least, are a country that takes the matter seriously and that we will act in a way that is incumbent not only on the Government but on the Opposition. It is interesting that the commentators have not noticed that the Bill has a real effect on the Opposition as well as on the Government, because it will not be possible for an Opposition of any kind merely to oppose things that the Government want to do in order to fulfil the purposes of the Bill without providing a practical and real alternative. That makes the Bill very valuable: for the next two years, it will have that effect on this Government and this Opposition, and when we change round in two years’ time, it will be very important when the situation is the other way round. It is crucial that we are all caught by the Bill. If that is the case, I want to be caught by the truth, and clause 1 is an important part of the truth, which is that we have to commit ourselves to act, whatever anybody else does. Unless we do, and thereby inspire others to do it as well, we will not achieve the necessary change sufficiently quickly.
I cannot say that I am overwhelmed by amendment No. 32, but some aspects of it are worth repeating. It refers to
“historic levels of emissions of greenhouse gases by the UK.”
It is an unfortunate fact that most of the greenhouse gas effects and climate change that we are experiencing today is the responsibility of European nations, and the biggest section of that is the responsibility of the British. It takes such a long time for such effects to work through, so our industrial revolution in particular is having an effect that we can see today. So those who say, “Oh, we only cause 2 per cent. of the emissions. We don’t need to worry. Others should do it first,” are wrong not only in a moral sense—I am not ashamed of using the world moral, because there is a lot of morality in this matter, which is needed in a practical sense—but because we caused the problem and should therefore clean it up.
Historic levels of emissions created our wealth. We are rich because we have polluted and therefore we have a responsibility, historically, to pay the price. Paying the price means that we must recognise that as we led the world into the industrial revolution, we must now lead the world into the low-carbon economy. I have absolutely no doubt about that, which is what we are here for. If I may use another word for which I shall no doubt be attacked, we have a vocation to do that. There is no doubt in my mind that that is what we have to do, which is why I appeal to the Minister not to get rid of clause 1. I do not think that he really wants to get rid of clause 1—I think that this case involves the things that civil servants do to Ministers. I was a Minister in similar circumstances, and I know what civil servants say. They have a two-word phrase, “Better not, Minister.” They cannot quite tell you what might go wrong, but “better not”. Charming though the civil servants no doubt are on this Bill, Ministers must never let themselves be led astray by “better not”, because “better not” is a defence against some untoward happening.
I have read the clause again and again, and I cannot see anything untoward. It says clearly that Britain recognises that our actions should be seen in the light of what the world ought to do, whether the world does it or not, unless there is a grossly disproportionate economic cost in doing that. I think that is rubbish. We gain by being ahead. We will alter the economics by taking forward the green revolution, as we need to do. I cannot see what the problem is, unless one still holds the Lawsonite view that that is damaging to the economy.
The proposition is the right thing to do, the right thing to do for Britain, irrespective of what other people do. If that is the case, the principal aim does not harm us. Instead, it enables us to pin a notice on the door stating clearly, “Here we stand, this is what we believe.” And the reason we are doing it, with the first such Bill in the world, is that we intend to stand here until we are joined by the rest of the world when it sees that its own future depends upon doing these things.
I am passionate about debating the clause because I do not want the Government not to live up to their highest aspirations. I have not always been polite to the Government about a range of things. I cannot say that I am entirely happy with their performance to date, but on this issue I do not want them to fall below the standards they have set themselves. This is the moment for the Government to come up to the bar. We are doing something groundbreaking, and we are doing it with the overwhelming support of the whole House of Commons.
I said overwhelming. I have no doubt that we could find five dissenters, and I bet there are one or two people skulking away in other parts of the House who did not happen to be there at the time. But the Bill is a remarkable achievement, and the Government must be given credit for it, as must the Opposition. That means that we must excel ourselves, and not suddenly draw back with an intake of breath and listen to the “better nots” of this world.
I remind the Committee of the wonderful London Eye on the other side of the river. When I gave temporary planning permission for that, every single official opposed it. I had more visits from the “better not” brigade than any previous Minister. I said there was no point in being Secretary of State if I could not occasionally back something I thought was right. Now the Eye is the most popular memory of the millennium, and nobody will ever take it down.
This is the moment for the Minister to do that on a much more important matter. It is not a moment for “better not”. It is the moment to say, “Yes, we are going to nail our colours to the mast, nail that notice to the door, as happened in Wittenberg. Here we stand”. If the Minister makes the change by the use of his majority, he will be belittling the Bill from the beginning. That would be a pity.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that if the Government are seen to be going out of their way to remove any reference in the Bill to an existing UK target and EU policy of 2°C, it sends the most damaging signal to the international community at an extraordinarily delicate time of international negotiation?
My hon. Friend is right, but he does not go far enough. I am never quite sure to whom the phrase “international community” refers, but the issue is one for the world as a whole. It applies to everybody. It is inconceivable that we should start such a mould-breaking Bill by removing the sentences that state what is in it, when those words say what we are all committed to.
I hope the Government will think again. If I were asked to vote on the clause, how would I explain to my children, let alone the world, that I do not think we should be trying to stop the temperature rising by more than 2°C? I have been bringing my children up to believe that for the past 20 years, when it was unfashionable to say that that is the most important physical thing we can do in life. How can I say that the UK should not take these actions because we are afraid that everybody else might not do it, when for all that time I, the Government, the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats have been saying that we should? How can I explain to them that I thought that it was in some way dangerous? It is not; it cannot be.
Either the Government have some miraculous understanding that is beyond the usual understanding of mankind—of course the Minister is one of the brightest Ministers on the Bench, and perhaps he will be able to tell us that—or we are back in “better not” land. I say very seriously to the Minister that when he is taking mould-breaking steps, he should be careful of the drag effect of those for whom the world is still as it was.
We are lucky to be living at a time when thought is changing faster than at any period since the renaissance. This is an exciting time to be living. We cannot meet the problems of today through the language or assumptions of yesterday. The fact that the Government have recognised that by introducing the Bill is crucial. I do not want them to fall below that level, even though politically it will be great fun. I shall have enormous pleasure going round the countryside saying, “This Government don’t really believe in all this, you know. They were forced to do it by an amalgamation between the Opposition, Friends of the Earth and others. Now they have done it, we put in a perfectly reasonable clause, and the House of Lords has now taken it out.” The party political temptations, at the beginning of what is supposed to be a consensus Bill, are enormous.
I want to consider the Bill with no party political temptations. I want to be able to say that it is a remarkable, consensual decision. I want to point that out to people who have not yet come on board. I hope the Government will not make it difficult for us, and that they will choose at this late date to accept that the House of Lords was wise. I do not think the Government will much like the clause to be subject to ping-pong between the two Houses. They would not enjoy receiving the Bill back from the Lords, and having to put the clause back, and conducting the argument on the Floor of the House with unbelieving young people, in particular, who will find it impossible to understand.
No doubt the Minister will make the best case possible, because he is a remarkably good Minister. However, in his heart, he knows that he is wrong. That will make it difficult in all those debates, because in his heart he knows that most of it is wrong. I hope very much that he will start off by showing his independence—his version of the great London Eye—and say, “‘Better not’ may be your view, but better do, because it is the better thing to do”. Without that, this will not be the better Bill that it could be.
It is a pleasure, Mr. Cook, to serve under your chairmanship, especially as you have allowed us to remove our jackets, which was an appropriate first step for a Committee considering climate change.
I thank the Minister for his kind remarks about my rather less historic, but innovative, use of a laptop computer in Committee. My father might be proud of me, as he was one of those at Bletchley Park during the second world war responsible for building the very first programmable computer, Colossus. He might think it appropriate that I was helping to bring the House of Commons kicking and screaming into the 20th century, just as the rest of the country is moving on to the 21st. I should also acknowledge that another hon. Member is breaking new ground with me on the use of computers.
The Minister said that there was a strong consensus on the purposes of the Bill, so it seems strange—
I hate to carp on about the matter, but just to correct the record, Mr. Cook, my assistant sent a version of the Stern report to my laptop at 10.15 this morning, so I think that I set the record. I am sorry.
The right hon. Gentleman is doing rather better than me. I discovered that my laptop was not properly configured for the network, so I am unable to log on, an experience which is probably familiar throughout history.
The Minister started off by saying that there was strong consensus on the purposes of the Bill. It seems strange, therefore, to start the proceedings by trying to remove them. I happily support amendments Nos. 43 and 44, which were tabled by the hon. Member for Banbury and moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon. They rightly seek to improve and clarify the wording handed down to us by our noble Friends in another place.
Amendment No. 32 explicitly spells out that the UK contribution will, in part, be calculated with reference to data from around the rest of the world, but it does not pretend that the UK is responsible for it. We anticipate the Government’s objections to the clause. They will say that it is unworkable, because it seeks to take responsibility for wider global emissions. We hope that amendment No. 32 makes it explicit that that does not have to be the case. If the Government want to improve the wording, we would be prepared to consider the matter during the course of the Committee.
On Second Reading, many of us argued that the targets on percentage reductions cannot simply be a matter of scientific debate and argument. We need to make a moral and political judgment about our fair share of overall reductions. Therefore, it is very important that amendment No. 32 introduces the concept of historic responsibility and the principle of contraction and convergence. It would be nice to hear explicitly from the Minister whether or not the British Government accept the principle of contraction and convergence and whether such a principle will be part of the remit given to the Committee on Climate Change when it works out the appropriate percentage reduction in carbon emissions, because that principle is relevant to the principal aim of the clause.
Oxfam made the important point in its submission on the amendment that the concept of cumulative impact is already built into the structure of the Bill. The whole nature of carbon budgets, as opposed to simple numerical targets, reflects the importance of calculating cumulative impact. We are trying to reflect that historic cumulative impact by keeping the clause in the Bill to make it explicit that we are taking our share of a global target. The global target of keeping global temperature to within 2° C of pre-industrial levels is crucial. I will not try to outdo the eloquence of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, but he is quite right to focus our attention on the impacts of going above 2° C.
Those impacts were spelled out very clearly by Sir Nicholas Stern in the Government’s own report. He pointed out that above 2° C, we are talking about
“significant changes in water availability...possible onset of collapse of part or all of the Amazonian rain forest,” many species facing extinction,
“rising intensity of storms, forest fires, droughts, flooding and heat waves...The risk of weakening of natural carbon absorption and possible increasing natural methane releases and weakening of the Atlantic THC”— thermohaline conveyor. The risks associated with rising above 2° C of global warming are extreme, and it is possible to argue that we are already getting a foretaste of possible impacts with food shortages, which are reflected in global food prices, and flooding, which is besetting various parts of the world including America and this country—in the future, it will affect many other areas. We are talking about a very serious objective. To remove the very clause that sets out the end goal, as opposed to the technical pathways that we use to get to that goal, would be a retrograde step.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when the Government argue the case for including an 80 per cent. target in the body of the Bill, it would be much easier if they had pinned their colours to the 2° C target at the beginning? In that case, it could properly be said that the matter should be left to the Climate Change Committee, because the parameters would be clear. If the Government remove those parameters, there will be concern that they are not as serious about the issue as they might appear to be.
The right hon. Gentleman is exactly right. Removing from the Bill the final outcome, which we are all aiming for, certainly makes the 80 per cent. target and other targets seem more like a matter of tactical and political negotiation, rather than a focus on what we really want to achieve, which is containing global warming. It seems strange when we have consensus in the Room and across the House of Commons as a whole about the objectives to begin by trying to remove them.
A lot of praise has been heaped on the Minister, which I am sure is richly deserved. I know him of old, from the National Union of Students, where one of his principal attributes was his mastery of the grubby arts of political tactics.
Absolutely, in the Minister’s case—he is a master tactician. I think that the Government would be well advised to mount a tactical retreat.
It is a pleasure to serve on the Committee under your chairmanship, Mr. Cook. It was also a pleasure to hear the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal, although one can never match his tremendous oratory. Last Saturday I opened the Wigton hospital fÃªte, where I managed to acquire 10 volumes, at a cost of £2 for the complete set, of “Great Speeches from the Beginning of Time to the Present Day”. I have a feeling that after this Committee there will have to be an 11th volume dedicated to my right hon. Friend.
I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal on his work on the London Eye. I hope that I am not revealing any Cabinet Sub-Committee secrets, but I think that my right hon. Friend argued passionately that, rather than having a large plastic tent, we should create a huge new pedestrian boulevard from the National Theatre right down to Chelsea, including small shops, theatres and a new bridge across the Thames. That would be a tremendous advance for our environment, but it is not in the Bill, Mr. Cook.
I cannot match the eloquence of my right hon. Friend, but I want to add my little voice to those who are trying to persuade the Government to let clause 1 stand part of the Bill. I also want to touch briefly on aspects of amendment No. 32, which is relevant. Reading the Bill, one might be tempted to think that it is merely a technical measure. We could get bogged down in the committees, reporting procedures and the setting and transferring of budgets. Once the Bill is on the statute book, we might forget why we enacted it. What is the purpose of passing this important measure? The purpose is not to create reporting committees or to set up a wonderful Committee on Climate Change to advise the Government. The purpose, as it says in clause 1, is to try to do things that contribute to reducing world temperature. The clause does not put an obligation on the Government to succeed unilaterally in the United Kingdom in reducing world temperatures by 2° C. However, it says that the efforts that we make in the Bill, and everything else we do, should be part of that aim of reducing world temperature, because that is what it is all about.
I am fortunate because my technology worked instantly—I do not use PICT. I plugged in my computer, the 3G card fired up at once and I was sent a summary of the Stern report, which I shall quote:
“If no action is taken to reduce emissions, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could reach double its pre-industrial level as early as 2035, virtually committing us to a global average temperature rise of over 2° C.”
Stern refers to that crucial figure of 2° C, which was not plucked out of thin air in another place. We are not arguing for that figure for any reason other than Stern himself identified it. He goes on:
“In the longer term, there would be more than a 50% chance that the temperature rise would exceed 5° C. This rise would be very dangerous indeed; it is equivalent to the change in average temperatures from the last ice age to today. Such a radical change in the physical geography of the world must lead to major changes in the human geography—where people live and how they live their lives.”
The Government rightly signed up to the Stern review and so have the Opposition parties. Nicholas Stern continues to advise the Government in a high role and key capacity. If Nicholas Stern picks out the figure of 2° C as one of the key yardsticks, symbols or totems for the amount by which we must try to reduce global temperatures, I see no harm in putting that figure in the Bill, and my right hon. Friend is right that that would not totally tie the Government’s hands.
Possibly, parliamentary draftsmen have highlighted the issue to the Minister. I used to find during my days in the Department for the Environment and the Home Office that parliamentary draftsmen and wonderful civil servants always worried about things being added to their precious Bill. Worries came from two quarters: such provisions might force the Government to do things that they did not want to do, or they might tie them to doing things that they might wish to do in future. I suggest that leaving the reference to 2° C in the Bill would not tie the Government’s hands, force them to do things that they do not wish to do or make them solely and individually responsible for meeting the world reduction of 2° C.
I am concerned, as suggested by some of the amendments that I have tabled for later in the Bill, with trying to flag up more overtly some of the key things that Stern says that we must do if we are to succeed in our aim. Stern goes on to say:
“Key elements of future international frameworks should include...emissions trading”— well, we have a mention of that in the Bill.
“Expanding and linking the growing number of emissions trading schemes around the world is a powerful way to promote cost-effective reductions in emissions and to bring forward action in developing countries: strong targets in rich countries could drive flows amounting to tens of billions of dollars each year to support the transition to low-carbon development paths.”
I am content that the Bill addresses that point, and I hope that we can strengthen it slightly.
Stern also states:
“Technology co-operation: Informal co-ordination as well as formal agreements can boost the effectiveness of investments in innovation around the world. Globally, support for energy R&D should at least double, and support for the deployment of new low-carbon technologies should increase up to five-fold.”
On action to reduce deforestation—I find this point absolutely critical—he states:
“The loss of natural forests around the world contributes more to global emissions each year than the transport sector.”
We will no doubt be having some intense discussions on the contribution of transport, shipping and aviation to carbon emissions. If the Chair agrees with the way in which I have drafted my amendments, hopefully I will be able to mention deforestation and try to insert provisions in the Bill on that, because I am disappointed that it is not mentioned specifically.
Another of my worries is that if we remove clause 1 we will not have a locus to make stronger arguments about the potential loss of deforestation. I would find it easier to argue that we should do more to prevent deforestation around the world if we were to keep in mind that principal aim. I know that that does not provide an exact legal locus, but it would make matters easier from the point of view of our argument.
I appreciate that a great deal of the discussion this morning concerns positioning relating to the Bill, but does the right hon. Gentleman accept that Bills should be logical in their construction in addition to making statements about how the world is or should be? In terms of a position concerning 2° C, I wholeheartedly agree with him as regards the overall goal that we should all be aiming for on global warming. Does he agree, however, that if one simply stands by that, it is difficult to talk subsequently about figures for the emissions of one particular country because they have not been finally negotiated through international agreements? If he sticks by his comments this morning, will he voluntarily abjure any participation in the debate on clause 2, which is about numbers and percentages? It seems to me that it is difficult logically to speak authoritatively about both propositions at the same time, and not reflect on the possibility that there may be a contradiction between the two.
I will do a deal with the hon. Gentleman: I will not speak on clause 2 if he will vote to keep in clause 1. I am not being facetious. I will leave it to others who are infinitely more experienced on carbon emissions, trading and targets to argue whether the target should be 60 per cent. or 80 per cent. I approach this Bill from the point of view of someone who negotiated at Rio in 2002 for 18 hot, sticky days. I was pleased at the end that we made that start at the first Earth Summit. Getting an agreement on forests caused me the most problems and led to the most intense debate. We saw tremendous potential to make huge changes on world carbon emissions, if we could prevent deforestation.
This is not the place to get into technical details on that, but that is where I am coming from. I strongly believe that if we keep clause 1, it will make it easier for the Government to take action on forests and other areas, because the principal aim will be doing things to reduce the world temperature. That is not the sole reason for keeping clause 1, and we will not take the blame if the world temperature does not go down, but we should contribute.
In my opinion, other things, such as adaption and emissions trading, are not mentioned strongly enough in the Bill, and I hope to move amendments on those points in due course. I plead with the Minister that it will not destroy the structure of the Bill to leave in that principle, which would not make the Bill look idiotic and would not tie his hands in any way. I would love to see the Minister read out the “if pressed” bits in his notes, which usually include the most spurious arguments for desperate Ministers. The Minister should share his worries about the clause with us. I will return to forests when I move amendments on the subject, but I plead with him to leave clause 1 in the Bill, because it does no harm and a lot of good.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Cook. May I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister for the Environment and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford, on bringing forward the Bill? Given the generous spirit of the Minister for the Environment, I am sure that he would wish to pay tribute to my right hon. Friends the Members for Suffolk, Coastal and for Penrith and The Border for the contributions they have made, and to recognise that the UK climate change programme has been going on since 1994. The last Conservative Administration set the first targets.
I will restrict my remarks to amendments Nos. 43 and 44 and set out why we believe that they are necessary. I thank the hon. Member for Northavon for moving amendment No. 43 as eloquently as he did. I would like to draw attention not so much to what is in the Bill, as amended by the upper House, but what the Government have left out. The hon. Member for Northavon described the amendments as the route map towards our ultimate destination. The Government have always said—this has been said internationally—that the objective of avoiding dangerous climate change is what signatories to the UN framework convention on climate change, such as the UK, have committed themselves to do.
The Prime Minister, no less, said in November last year that the Government’s
“vision has one overriding aim; holding the rise in global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees centigrade”.
During the Bill’s passage through the upper House, Lord Rooker said:
That target has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the European Union, most recently in the European Commission’s 2007 communication “Limiting Global Climate Change to 2° C: the way ahead for 2020 and beyond”.
The Minister will accept that that was at the heart of the previous Government’s climate strategy, before being the starting assumption for the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s report in 2000. This is not something that has plucked from some minor policy document pulled off the shelf. It has been central to the Government’s climate change policy for the entire lifetime of the Government, so why are Ministers so anxious about it appearing in their flagship Climate Change Bill? My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border set out in some detail—he quoted from the Stern review—the consequences of a 2° C rise in temperatures. The Stern review warns that such a rise could lead to, among other effects, a 20 to 30 per cent. decrease in water availability in vulnerable regions such as southern Africa and the Mediterranean, sharp declines in crop yield in tropical regions—5 to 10 per cent. in Africa—and a high risk of extinction for Arctic species. I do not know whether the Minister knows that the crown princes of three Scandinavian countries—Denmark, Norway and Sweden, I believe—are at this very moment looking at what damage is being caused in the Arctic region. I am sure that we would applaud such action.
With a rise of 3° C, we would see 150 million to 550 million more people at risk of hunger, with between 1 billion and 4 billion more people suffering water shortages. Stern finds that some models predict the collapse of the American rainforest. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border will return to this point at a later stage.
If we moved to a 4° C increase above average, we could see a 30 to 50 per cent. decrease in water availability in southern Africa and the Mediterranean, African crop yields falling by 15 to 35 per cent., and entire regions, such as Australia, coming out of food production. Up to 80 million more people in Africa could be exposed to malaria. With a 5° C increase, Stern predicts the end of large glaciers in the Himalayas, which would affect a quarter of China’s population.
I, like other Committee members, have enormous sympathy with the principle of what the hon. Lady says, but this debate is about not whether we should be achieving the 2° C, but the extent to which the Bill and the targets that it sets are dependent on what the UK can achieve itself and how much is dependent on international negotiation, and thus driven by our aspirations, but not the Bill’s legal framework.
I have never wriggled on this. The Government are not wriggling on the 2° C target, but objecting to a clause that they argue is meaningless.
I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention, but the Government, through the Prime Minister and all the preparatory documents, did mention the target on 2° C above average temperatures. I wonder whether it was irregular to suggest that the Minister was wriggling, because he is very robust and does not shift from his position.
Now that the figure is in this clause, does not my hon. Friend agree that removing it would certainly give grounds for doubt and that that would be a mistake? Would she also say to the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North, who interrupted her so helpfully, that nothing in this clause says that Britain would not be negotiating, helping, and seeking to get others to come along? It merely says that we are pinning our colours to the mast, because people will not come along with us if we do not do this ourselves first.
It is important that Britain plays its role. As my right hon. Friend so eloquently says—I paraphrase him—we want to be in the vanguard of the environmental revolution, just as Britain was in the vanguard of the industrial revolution.
We want to strengthen the Government’s arm, particularly when we come to negotiations in Copenhagen next year. Following our debate on the amendments, I hope the Minister will recognise that it is crucial that we keep the 2° C limit in the Bill.
The hon. Lady appears to be suggesting that there is some dispute or discussion about the 2° C target, as if having the Bill without that figure would somehow remove a commitment to the target. It would be great to put in the Bill that we would like to save polar bears, and to stop plankton from rising to the surface of the oceans and exuding excessive amounts of methane. Does she accept that the target is actually about what happens as a result of international negotiation? If negotiations go a particular way, the UK’s performance on emissions will be in one category. If they go another way, that will be in another category. If Barack Obama gets elected, that will make a difference to those negotiations. Does she not accept that if one puts something in legislation that does not do—
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is very knowledgeable on these issues. I have tried very carefully to follow his argument.
It was the Government who pitched this. Their own report—the Stern review—set the 2° C target. For the purposes of international negotiations, the 2° C aim has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the European Union. We want to be part of the European Union’s emissions trading scheme. We want to follow the science. We are asking why the Government appear to be perhaps not wriggling, but backtracking, from their original commitment.
I know that we are on track to meet our Kyoto targets, but we also know that that is in large part due to reduction in emissions during the early 1990s as electricity generation moved from coal to gas. In 1997, the incoming Government made much of the fact that they committed Britain to a much tougher target in Kyoto—a 20 per cent. cut in carbon emissions by 2010. That target soon became downgraded to a domestic aim. I am sure that the Minister accepts that this could be seen as a subtle shift in language to help to make the target an aspiration rather than a promise. With the passing of time, the gap has widened between the cuts needed to reach the target and the actual emissions. I commend the graphs in the House of Commons Library document that set out this point very clearly. Ministers have been forced to admit that the target would be hard to meet but, strangely, the Government tried to assure people that they were still committed to the target, but not expecting to meet it. Now it is widely accepted that this target will be met.
Let us consider another target: the 20 per cent. renewable energy target. The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, signed up to that just before leaving office. After making the commitment, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform suggested that the target was hard to meet and that Ministers should explore statistical interpretations that made it easier to meet. Perhaps if they stopped changing the names of Departments, this would be easier to follow.
In a sense, the Bill is the Government’s mea culpa and a sign that they accept these criticisms. Ministers have often said that industry is given confidence to invest in solutions if targets are known and set in law, rather than just being targets in Government policy. That is why the most important of all climate change targets cannot be left as just a policy.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. In principle we do. We follow the science. I am clear on that. We want the Committee to propose binding targets. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle will come to that in a moment.
I am disappointed that amendments Nos. 43 and 44 should be moved from the Opposition Benches. Ministers have a formidable civil service team and access to parliamentary counsel to find the best wording to deal with these concerns. We will happily withdraw the amendments if Ministers assure us that this is the approach that they will take, and that they will revert—
Two degrees above. The science is there. It is all in the Stern report. If the Minister can assure us of that, we would be happy to withdraw the amendments. Instead, Ministers appear to have decided to scrap not just the amendments and what is enshrined in them, but the clause. That leads us to suspect that the objections being raised are not the real reasons that Ministers oppose the amendments, but a smokescreen. The real reason may be that the Government are not committed to a 2° C aim, but are using it as a slogan. I am sure the Minister would wish to reassure me.
While no one believes that the targets in the Bill are tough enough to be compatible with the 2° C aim, and while the Government continue to battle with their own Back Benchers to avoid toughening the targets, the only reassurance we have that the 2° C aim will not be dropped like the 20 per cent target, or statistically reinterpreted like the renewables target, is to protect it by including it in the Bill. I commend amendments Nos. 43 and 44 to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Cook, and it is a pleasure to be debating again with the Minister, with whom I have done business before on the Sustainable Communities Act 2007. I know that he is a Minister who is prepared to listen to the arguments and stand up to the frogs’ chorus of “Better not, Minister” or, in that case, “Not invented here, Minister,” and I hope he will take the same robust approach to this important Bill.
I speak as that rare beast in the Westminster jungle, a speaking Whip, to support clause 1. This morning’s debate is a valuable opportunity to focus on the purpose of the Bill. To me, this important Bill has only one core value, which is as a robust framework Bill that delivers exactly what the market says it needs—a clear and credible sense of direction in terms of targets and eventually underlying policy, that will allow the private sector to make the investment that is needed and that will make the difference. It is not Government but businesses and their customers—the private sector—that will make the difference, and they need a clearer, more robust and more credible framework.
The key word is “credible”. The background to the Bill is a history of missed targets and a lack of faith and belief out there that the Government are serious about tackling climate change. Therefore, arguably, the key value in the Bill is not the targets themselves, but the process of accountability—the process of keeping the feet of the Government of the day to the fire.
The Bill is, to some degree, the start of a journey, a road map, as it has been described this morning. The destination is important. The Government seem to be happy for that destination to be framed simply in the language of unilateral UK reductions of greenhouse gases. As we have argued from the Liberal Democrat Benches in the Committee, that is not enough.
We need to explain why we are reducing emissions. We are not doing it for fun. We are doing it because we feel an urgent need to control temperature increases in order to mitigate the risk of dangerous climate instability. We have a UK target in relation to temperature. The Prime Minister himself stated it again in a speech to the WWF on 19 November 2007. He said:
“Our vision has one overriding aim: holding the rise in global average temperature to no more than 2 degrees centigrade.”
That is the existing UK target. It is embedded in the framework of an EU policy driving towards exactly the same goal. There are good reasons for that, which have been powerfully articulated in Committee.
All the analysis that we have to date from Stern and the IPCC makes it clear that the risks and costs of growing climate instability rise substantially above 2° C. That has been adequately brought out by the Stern report. It is perhaps worth pointing out that Stern also noted that an increase above 2° C will
“accelerate future warming by reducing natural absorption and releasing stores of carbon dioxide and methane.”
The further we move above 2° C, the higher the risk of tipping points and of accelerated global warming, which is arguably the real threat we have to counter.
It is also clear from the Stern report that the costs of dealing with climate change rise significantly above 2° C. According to the analysis,
“if the temperature rises from 2° C to 3° C, the mean damage estimate increases from 0.6 per cent. to 1.4 per cent. of gross world product; but the ‘worst case’—the 95th percentile of the probability distribution—goes from 4 per cent. to 9.1 per cent.”
Given that the risks and costs fall disproportionately on the poor, we have a moral duty. I congratulate the hon. Member for Northavon on emphasising that word, rather to the scorn of Government Members. “Moral” is exactly the right word to use in this context.
The 2° C target is therefore a line in the sand. It should be our explicit guiding star. The importance of this debate, rather undermined by Government Members, is that that target is under threat because of the global concentrations of carbon dioxide. All the analysis suggests that it will be hard to keep temperatures below that critical threshold. This is an extremely important time to restate commitments to that goal. Surely it is too early to give up on it. That is why it is so disappointing, not just that the Government are so reticent on the matter, but that they are going out of their way to remove from the Bill a clause that makes a link between UK targets and their overarching goal.
That is disappointing because the Government take pride in their leadership on climate change. To be generous, some of that pride is justified. The very fact that we are debating the Bill is a symbol of leadership. It will be scrutinised by Governments across the world who are struggling with issues such as how to set targets, how to make them meaningful, how to revise them, and how to build in processes of accountability.
When those Governments look at the Bill, will they not also look at the Committee stage, and say, “Why the blazes are the Government bringing forward the Bill, and then taking out this very clause?”? Let us not kid ourselves. This is not a private activity that will not be recognised elsewhere. If they have not already done so, many non-governmental organisations will make sure that they notice the change that the Government have made.
The hon. Gentleman made a very important point a moment before taking the last intervention. It was about targets and accountability. Is it not at the heart of the argument that one cannot write into UK legislation a commitment to a target for which one does not have sole responsibility and sole accountability?
That is what we are debating. I take a different view, for reasons that I shall explain. First, there is tremendous value in having the 2° C target as a guiding star, a general duty for the legislation. Critically, the UK target must be linked to something. It cannot just stand as an absolute number.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the basis of the Stern report was to derive UK domestic targets from a perception and an analysis of the global stabilisation targets?
Indeed. That is the key piece that is missing. The original 2050 target of 50 per cent. was a rather arbitrary number, and there has been no analysis linking it to any collective international goal at all. The Bill is an opportunity to make a link between a global collective goal, and our individual contribution.
As far as I can see, the Government’s arguments are about the difficulty of legislating to control global tensions. We know that, and we know that there may be underlying concerns about the vulnerability of Ministers to judicial review. However, it is clear, as Lord Taylor said in the Lords, that
“a general duty not intended to provide a test for individual decisions”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 February 2008; Vol. 699, c. 451.]
is a general duty that can be evaluated, that reinforces the direction of travel at a crucial time, and that puts the targets in some context.
I close with a quote from Lord Rooker in Committee. He stated:
“The UK remains committed to the European Union 2º target, but there is no simple relationship between that target and the UK’s 2050 target, which is why we oppose the amendments.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 December 2007; Vol. 697, c. 130.]
That is wrong. Of course, there is no simple relationship, but we need to understand it. We must make it transparent. We need to make that link, which is why I strongly believe that clause 1 must remain in he Bill.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Cook. I want briefly to discuss the three amendments in the group. I can see the arguments for including the original clause, for withdrawing it and for trying to amend it.
I do not disagree with the general sentiments expressed by all the Opposition Members who have spoken. However, they have perhaps undermined and weakened their argument by exaggerating their case by claiming that the Government have somehow abandoned their sense of the moral significance of climate change as a political issue, suggesting that the Government are not interested in the way in which British efforts relate to international efforts and saying that the Government no longer support the 2º objective.
The central point here is that the 2º objective is a statement of the self-evident. There is no dispute about the importance of 2º in maintaining the volume of emissions in the atmosphere to less than 450 parts per million. In fact, the 2º objective may not succeed in restraining emissions to 450 parts per million as the Stern report and the intergovernmental panel on climate change have made clear.
The real issue is not whether we should be reiterating the importance of the 2º objective and the reason for it, but whether it needs to be in clause 1 of the Bill. There are good reasons for it not to be included in clause 1, because Ministers, including the Prime Minister in a major speech in November last year, and all the scientific advice from the United Kingdom, the European Union and through the whole post-Kyoto process have reiterated the significance of 2º. If a reference to 2º is needed, it should be in the long title of the Bill, which would be a more appropriate place specifically to refer to keeping emissions globally within 2º. However, we are not here to amend the long title, unfortunately.
As drafted, clause 1 contains a serious limitation. It states:
“The principal aim... is to ensure that UK emissions of greenhouse gases do not exceed the level necessary to contribute to limiting the global average temperature”.
What on earth does “contribute” mean? Again, it is absolutely self-evident that whatever the United Kingdom does is going to contribute, which prompts the question of what the level of that contribution should be.
Does the hon. Gentleman support amendment No. 44? It would remove the words around “contribute” and replace them with,
“a proportionate share of total global emissions of greenhouse gases compatible with”,
which is much clearer.
I will come to amendment No. 44 in a moment, although my comments about “contribute” apply equally to “proportionate”, which is why I do not support amendment No. 44.
There are problems with the wording, because it prompts the question of the nature of the contribution. The difficulty is that, by maintaining the clause as it stands, we are confusing the political and ethical purpose of Government policy with the precise legislative detail designed to implement that policy. For example, in the Counter-Terrorism Bill, which was a matter of great controversy just a few days ago, was there a purpose provision setting out clearly the objectives of 42-day detention? I would have thought that the objective of extending the current period of detention to 42 days is obvious. The objective was not in the Bill, because it was not necessary, absolutely self-evident, well understood by everyone and reiterated by Ministers on numerous occasions.
I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument carefully, but what is the precise disadvantage of having the provision in the Bill? What would happen that should not happen because it is in the Bill? We would need to know that in order to overcome the obvious disadvantage of removing the statement from the Bill, which would give a signal to the rest of the world. What is the precise disadvantage?
The obvious disadvantage of removing the statement is, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, that the world at large will not know the significance of the Bill. I think that it was included in the Bill so that it could be taken out, which will allow the Opposition parties an opportunity to campaign. Frankly, if the right hon. Gentleman or his colleagues wish to come to my constituency and campaign on the issue that clause 1, with its reference to 2°, has been taken out of the Bill and that is a major flaw in Government policy, he is welcome to do so. Most of my Conservative opponents in my constituency are still in denial about climate change, so it would help my cause.
That was a rather flippant answer to a serious question. What is the precise disadvantage to the Bill of the clause being there? Leaving aside the party political point scoring, what is the precise disadvantage to the Bill?
I was coming to that point, had the hon. Gentleman not intervened. The disadvantage is that the clause prompts the question of the level and nature of the contribution. The precise disadvantage would be for a future Government in a future Parliament with a future climate change (amendment) Bill, when hundreds and thousands of hours would be spent by hon. and right hon. Members, civil servants, lawyers, the public at large, the media and non-governmental organisations in trying to define what “contribute” means
Can the hon. Gentleman conceive of circumstances in which people would not discuss the contribution? How will the clause make it more likely that we will discuss it? We will always discuss it, so I find it difficult to see a disadvantage. We will discuss that whether in this House or elsewhere, but taking out that commitment would make a clear statement.
That is not the case, because the provision was not in the Bill in the first place—it was inserted for the purpose that I described earlier. The precise disadvantage is that there is no advantage in making the wording of the legislation less precise than it needs to be.
If clause 1 were to stay in the Bill, amendment No. 43 would be helpful because it would improve the wording and make it more precise. Amendment No. 44 would weaken the clause, because it introduces the issue of “proportionate share”, which prompts the question of what that is.
A similar objection applies to amendment No. 32, which refers to “historic levels of emissions”. I am not sure whether there is, has ever been or is ever likely to be exact methodology for calculating historic levels of emissions. Therefore, there is no point in referring in legislation to something that cannot be calculated. The same argument applies to
“projected levels of emissions growth among other countries.”
What on earth does that mean? How many other countries project such levels and over what period of time? The key objection to amendment No. 32 is the imprecision of the language and the fact that it introduces concepts that are subject to vastly different interpretations and, in many respects, do not have a solid statistical base.
This afternoon, by coincidence, it is Foreign Office questions. A characteristic of those questions is that hon. and right hon. Members turn up to ask the Foreign Secretary and his Ministers questions about what Britain is going to do in countries such as Burma, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan in the full knowledge that the Government’s capacity to influence events in many of those countries is far less than most of us would wish. The same applies to this morning’s debate about 2° C and the development of an international climate change policy. We must recognise that the Government are limited in their capacity to influence international events and the trajectory of global emissions over the next 50 years.
Our Government have one key way in which to influence the situation, which is by putting forward legislation that is precise, workable, and backed up by policy that is designed to give effect to the objectives described in the legislation and that provides a model for other countries to follow. It is far more important that we get a piece of legislation that is precise and workable, that Parliament supports the policies that are necessary to implement it, that we achieve the emissions reductions so that we provide a model for other countries to adopt, if they choose to do so, and that we engage enthusiastically in international negotiations to try to persuade other countries to adopt that model rather than resorting to what can only be described as gesture politics by trying to make a reference to 2° in clause 1 the be all and end all of the Bill.
I do not for a second doubt the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to tackling climate change. This afternoon, he will move an amendment to put an 80 per cent. target in the Bill. If the Bill is not amended and retains the reference to 60 per cent, we will have a target that does not achieve the goal that he and I share and we will have no statement of purpose. We will emerge with a Bill that does not achieve the goal that we share and does not say what the Bill is for. Surely that cannot be acceptable.
We must remember that the phrase “at least 60 per cent.” could include 80 per cent. or even 95 per cent. I do not think that that is a fundamental point of importance. The “at least 60 per cent.” target will be revised by the Climate Change Committee when it produces its report on 1 December. However, when we get to clause 2, I may put a slightly different argument.
Finally, a reference has been made to contraction and convergence. The Liberal Democrats attempted to challenge the Government on whether they support the principle of contraction and convergence as the basis for international negotiations. I support the principle, but not because it absolutely relies on specifying 2° C, or 450 ppm, as the ultimate objective; I support it because that is what is happening now. The consequence of the Kyoto protocol gave targets to annexe 1 countries and not to non-annexe 1 countries. It is the general objective of even the most recalcitrant countries, such as the United States and, until quite recently, Australia. So, my response to the Liberal Democrat challenge on contraction and convergence is that frankly, there is no alternative. That is what is happening now, and what will happen over the next 50 years and perhaps beyond. That does not mean that the precise model of contraction and convergence put forward by the Global Commons Institute is going to be followed to the letter—I suspect that it will not be—but the general drift to the richer countries contracting their emissions and the developing countries increasing their emissions, and therefore securing convergence, will obviously happen.
The hon. Gentleman is making a thoughtful speech, but he has mentioned 450 ppm as an agreed target on two occasions. He knows that the Government, whom he supports, has a target range for stabilisation of greenhouse gas emissions, which is 450 to 550 ppm. Will he join me in urging his Government to drop their outlying rider of 550 ppm, because analysis has shown it to be increasingly incompatible with the 2° target?
I have not said at any point that 450 parts per million is the target. I referred to the fact that the scientific advice suggests that above 450 ppm the likelihood of dangerous climate change increasing is even greater. We need to set the matter in context.
For the reasons that I have outlined, there is a solid argument for withdrawing clause 1, when we come to the Question on clause stand part, but even though the Opposition have made important points on the underlying principles, because of the lack of precision in clause 1 and the nature of the Opposition amendments, I am not convinced that they have successfully made their case.
Opposition Members have made a number of important points this morning, but there has also been quite a lot of mealy-mouthed talk, which augers badly for the progress of the Bill in Committee on the basis of consensus. I am concerned about the insertion of the principal aim clause in the other place, because it may have been designed not so much to emphasise the principal aim as to beat the Government around the head on the grounds that they are not really committed to that principal aim because they will not put it in the Bill.
As I said in an earlier intervention, it is possible to put all sorts of things in such clauses. We could have a whole list of things that we are committed not to do and on which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North has said, we have no traction. I really do not want to see polar bears disappearing from the north pole, but I would not be prepared to stand in this House and place in legislation that the UK Government have a duty to ensure that polar bears do not disappear in the Arctic.
An important question on the overall mechanisms in this Bill, which it is very important that we get right and which will be the subject of our debate this afternoon, is what will the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State or whoever it is be faced with in 2051 when they come before the House of Commons to say what they have done. Let us say that that person stands up in the House and says, “Great news! According to our carbon budgets, we have reduced our emissions by 80 per cent., and therefore we have succeeded in what this Bill set out to do all those many years ago.” Somebody else could say, “No, sorry, you have not actually kept below 2° C, and therefore you have failed.” One approach involves what we can do as far as the UK is concerned; the other involves what we might do if many other countries were to enter the process of making sure that there are international commitments that enable both reductions in emissions to be undertaken in particular countries and an overall reduction in emissions across the globe as a result of those commitments. Then the global targets on parts per million and temperature can be achieved.
That, of course, depends on crucial upcoming negotiations and discussions. If, for example, the United States continues on a path of not wishing to address seriously the sort of emissions that are envisaged by the Bill, or if other countries do the same, the percentage that the UK will have to undertake if we are to succeed will be different. However, if the United States and other countries take a different path—as I hope that they will—achieving something getting on for 80 per cent. would represent a move very solidly towards the idea of keeping the world within a 2° C temperature rise and restraining the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to around 450 ppm.
To suggest that everything hinges on this clause, and that if we do not go for the clause, we are not serious about all the rest of this, is not just overblown but, frankly, a little insulting to those people who are trying to draft legislation that will get those mechanisms right for this country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North said, the Bill will demonstrate to several countries that are looking very seriously at our climate change legislation that devices can be introduced in legislation that enable a country to play its proper role in reducing emissions. If we fall at the very first hurdle—before we have even started looking at how to put this together—frankly, to paraphrase the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, our grandchildren will say “What were they doing? Why were they not constructing serious legislation on what the country could properly do as far as carbon emissions are concerned? Why were they posturing and deciding what should or should not go in declaratory parts of the Bill at the expense of making the Bill work?”
The Committee is seriously concerned with making the Bill work. My modest suggestion, and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North, would be that if we were to make any changes, we should place the principal aim of the Bill in the long title. I appreciate that we cannot put all clause 1 in because the long title has to reflect what is in the Bill. Yet, surely the whole Bill is for this purpose, and placing something like that in the long title would mean that those who have made serious comments this morning about how to ensure that business proceeds properly could be satisfied about the intentions of the Bill. That would also make sure that the Bill worked not just to satisfy the ambitions of our country on addressing climate change, but to ensure that other countries follow our lead with similar legislation.
This has been a most instructive and interesting sitting. I disagree profoundly with the hon. Member for Southampton, Test because our proceedings augur very well for the debates and discussions that we will be having in Committee over the next few days. The debate has been by no means a diversion. Our discussion goes to the very heart of what we are trying to achieve, and I do not think that the debate has detracted in any way from the meat of the Bill, or from the frameworks, mechanisms and committees that it will establish.
If I may respond to the hon. Gentleman directly, his suggestion that the debate has taken place at the whim of Opposition parties—either Conservative or Liberal Democrat—was beneath him. He knows that non-governmental organisations such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace—I am sure that he and, certainly, the Ministers hold those organisations in esteem—have given vociferous support for the principal aim. I propose to address my remarks to that aim, as my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York spoke extremely eloquently about amendments Nos. 43 and 44.
At the outset of the debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal really set the benchmark for this Bill by making a wonderful and inspiring speech that I hope his children and many other children will read. It reflected the ambition that we all have for this Bill and reminds Members on both sides of the Committee why we came into politics, why we get out of bed in the morning, why we are proud to be Members of Parliament, and why we campaign: because there is a higher purpose. It is very easy to lose that higher purpose in the tit for tat trading of brickbats across the Committee. My right hon. Friend really rose above the party political divide, and he reminded us how profoundly important the Bill is and what we are all about.
In the spirit of bipartisanship, and given that we are all highly committed to the overall end, will the hon. Gentleman recognise that we are discussing not a principal aim, but a process: the extent to which the Bill give us the right framework? There may be a disagreement about that, but it does not go to the heart of the question of the aim. Will he take this opportunity to put on record that he does not believe that any disagreement about process reflects a fundamental wavering by the Government or the Minister on achieving a 2° C reduction?
I certainly agree. I am not here to question the Government’s commitment to 2° C, although at the tail end of an Administration, it is not this Government who should greatly concern us, but the commitment of future Governments, whether they are formed by my party, the Labour party or any other. We are talking about a process that will run for decades and decades. When people look back at the measures and technicalities to which the meat of this Bill addresses itself, it will be important that its overall aim is clear in their minds. We are beginning our discussions with the first page of the Bill, and it is important that the aim is there, clearly and squarely.
The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal made a very thoughtful and interesting speech, but he threatened that if clause 1 were withdrawn from the Bill, he would travel around the country and launch a campaign against the Government for doing precisely that. I am inclined to invite him to my constituency because that could be very helpful to my cause—I might issue him with a personal invitation—but how can the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle reconcile that threat with his assertion that the right hon. Gentleman was able to rise above the party political divide?
I think that I follow that advice, Mr. Cook.
I think that my right hon. Friend was trying—no doubt he will correct me if I am wrong—to challenge Labour Members, whom I know in their heart of hearts most emphatically endorse the aim, to have the courage of their convictions, to be bold and not to listen to the siren calls of the civil service chiming in from behind Ministers—
Did my hon. Friend notice that the hon. Member for Bury, North made a partial comment about what I said? I said that I did not want the Government to put themselves in a position in which one would be tempted to behave in such a way. I was trying hard to get the Government to recognise that the more they enable people to keep the Bill consensual, the better. Perhaps I have been misinterpreted. If I was so opaque as to make it possible to believe such a thing, I apologise. However, if I remember rightly, the hon. Member for Bury, North was, perfectly reasonably, making the kind of mischief that is perfectly reasonable across the Floor. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle that it is my intention to keep the Government on the straight and narrow.
Indeed. That is what we are all endeavouring to do.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border, who was the Minister who represented the UK to great effect at the Rio conference, drew out a very important point that answers many of the points that were raised quite validly by Labour Members. This Bill is infinitely more than the sum of its parts. It is more than just a collection of technical measures. It is more than a series of sensible measures to bring to life committees, reporting mechanisms, budgets and commitments to report further and to make public appointments. It is so much more than that.
We will be doing a disservice to the public, to the layman, to students, to children and to interested parties who have heard so much about the Climate Change Bill in the press if, when they pick up the Act that the Bill becomes, they are immediately confronted with quite technical gobbledegook that is meaningless in the overall battle to keep down the rise in temperature. Putting a clear aim in the Bill is not just totemic, but common sense.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood reminded us of the costs and catastrophes that would befall the world if we did not keep the rise below 2° C. He also reminded us of the excellent report by Lord Stern commissioned by the Government.
I could not quite follow all the argument outlined by of the hon. Member for Bury, North because while he clearly set his face against supporting the clause, he said that he would be in favour of including its wording in the Bill’s long title. He seemed to accept the principle but then, because his own side is against the practice, he did not support such wording in the clause. I am advised—I will stand corrected if I have wrongly interpreted the advice—that it is not possible to revise the long title of the Bill, and nor is it possible for the Committee to insert a preamble into the Bill, although I believe that the Government could do so. I will come back to that in my closing remarks. Perhaps a chink of light is being shed on our proceedings.
Order. Perhaps I may help from the Chair. The title can be changed as long as the changed title does not impinge on the content of the Bill. The title must still reflect the content of the Bill.
Indeed, Mr. Cook. The problem that we would encounter in changing the long title of the Bill is that that which we sought to put in the long title would not be in the Bill if we removed it from clause 1. Is that correct, Mr. Cook?
Indeed. I do not profess to have a monopoly on wisdom, but it would be difficult to incorporate something into the long title if there was no mention of it in the Bill. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test is making wonderful gestures. He would find it difficult to interpret in the long title something that was not stated specifically in the text of the Bill.
The long title reflects what is in the whole Bill. If the Bill is about climate change and temperature rise, which is a concomitant of climate change, it is perfectly reasonable for that to be reflected in the long title, whether or not there is a specific mention within the Bill of the precise description that is in the long title, provided that it does not stray outside the subject matter of the Bill. That was the basis of my suggestion.
That is very interesting, but while the hon. Gentleman was making his speech I sought informal advice, and I am given to understand that what he suggests would be difficult to accomplish. I understand the point that he makes, but technically speaking, it would be difficult to incorporate that reference into the long title at the end of the Committee, for the reasons that I mentioned.
My right hon. Friend has robbed me of my coup de thÃ(c)âtre at the end of my speech, for which I thank him, although I had been warned by colleagues about his ability and talent for so doing.
I am sorry that my remarks earlier were not entirely clear. I was trying to draw a distinction between the validity of the reiteration of the objective of securing as a global limit a 2° C temperature increase, and its relevance—whether it should be in the text of the Bill at this point. My reference to the long title was not intended to trigger a serious debate as to whether the long title could be amended. I was certainly not suggesting an amendment to the long title, but perhaps the Minister would give that some consideration and report back later.
A consensus is starting to emerge, which can only be a good thing. That is the result of a rather robust conversation this morning. It is an example of the robust scrutiny that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal mentioned earlier during discussion of the programme motion.
I shall summarise the primary arguments in favour of the clause and our criticism of the Government’s argument. The Government’s opposition to this important clause is based on three arguments: that the principal aim is unworkable and unenforceable, that Britain alone has no control over keeping global warming under 2° C, and that the Government have stated in the past that the principal aim is without precedent. We believe that none of those three arguments holds up under scrutiny.
First, we all understand that the UK cannot be held responsible for all the world’s emissions, but that is not what the clause says, or what it aspires to. There is nothing in the principal aim that places an obligation on the United Kingdom to deliver single-handedly the ambition to keep global warming under 2° C. We understand that even if global emissions stopped today, there is no guarantee that we would not exceed the 2° C target.
The principal aim set out in the Bill does not offer such a guarantee. It states that the United Kingdom should be committed to doing its fair share to prevent a dangerous outcome and should show international leadership. The aspiration to limit the global average temperature increase to not more than 2º C above pre-industrial levels is not some obscure aspiration dreamed up by those on the Conservative Front Bench to bait the Government with, or plucked from the sky. The Prime Minister said last November:
“Our vision has one overriding aim; holding the rise in global temperatures to no more than two degrees centigrade.”
The 2º threshold is the agreed policy of this country and, in writing, the stated aim of the entire European Union. If the Government are truly committed to this “overriding aim”, why are they so timid and cautious about saying so in a landmark Bill? Why have they committed to a target with the EU that they will not put in this unprecedented domestic legislation?
Neither the Minister nor any of his successors should fear being hauled off to jail should temperature rises exceed 2º. Even if that dangerous 2º scenario is reached, the UK Government would still have fulfilled the terms of the principal aim as long as they had made emissions cuts which, had they been replicated across the developed world, might have prevented such a rise.
What of the argument that the principal aim is inappropriate, or “unprecedented” in UK legislation? Evidence suggests otherwise, and I thank Friends of the Earth for looking into the matter so carefully. There is a sizeable list of laws on the statute book which set out the broad aims of Acts and the purposes of the bodies that they set up. For example, in the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, section 1 states:
“The principal aim of this Act is to promote the sustainability of local communities.”
For that, I pay handsome tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood.
Does the hon. Gentleman remember any discussions during the passage of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 that required the UK Government to promote sustainable communities in America, Africa, Asia, Australasia and indeed across the world? That is the point—the Sustainable Communities Act applied to what lies within the powers of the British Government.
Nevertheless, the Minister, or subsequent Ministers, will not be hauled off to jail if they fail to deliver sustainable communities in the UK.
The hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North has shot her own fox. The difference is this: the Government’s purpose is to make sure that other nations follow us. If the Government do not bother to do that, by their own admission they will be letting down not only this nation, but future generations throughout the world. It is exactly as the clause outlines.
My right hon. Friend is correct. Surely the Bill, which was devised and introduced by the Government, is not a timid piece of domestic legislation. It is legislation of which we can be rightly proud, I hope, and which will be an example around the world. It is about asserting international leadership. Surely setting out the principal aim of a Bill at the start makes that clear.
I give another example. Many Acts give principal aims to public bodies. For example, the Environment Act 1995 states:
“It shall be the principal aim of the Agency...in discharging its functions so to protect or enhance the environment,”
It is no more specific than that. Other broad aims appear in the Food Standards Act 1999, the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales Act 2001, the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 and the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.
Beyond the national precedent, there is international precedent for including a purpose clause in the Bill. Although the UK was the first in the world to commit to introducing a Climate Change Bill, progress has not been as speedy as we would have liked. During the period of procrastination in bringing the Bill through Parliament, it appears that the Canadian Parliament may have got there before us. Interestingly, the Climate Change Accountability Act in Canada includes a purpose clause which was recently passed by the Canadian House of Commons, and it reads thus:
“The purpose of this Act is to ensure that Canada contributes fully to the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”
So the clause is not without precedent, at home or abroad. It is not a subtle attempt to legislate for the rest of the world. It does not place any obligation on the UK to deliver the principal aim single-handedly, nor does it leave any Minister—particularly any future Minister—liable, should the global effort fail.
It is worth noting that the legislation is called the Climate Change Bill. It is not the Carbon Emissions Reduction Bill. It is the Climate Change Bill—the global Climate Change Bill. [Interruption.]
Order. I am trying to preserve a fairly free and easy exchange of opinions here and to that extent, I am happy for everyone who needs to do so to make an intervention on anyone who is holding the floor. What I cannot stand—partly because of my partial deafness—is the amount of chuntering that is going on. It is unnecessary. It is unparliamentary, so please take my advice and chunter not.
Thank you, Mr. Cook. It is worth noting that the legislation is called the Climate Change Bill, not the Carbon Emissions Reduction Bill. It has a global leadership purpose and we should be proud and celebrate that fact. The principal aim clause anchors what is otherwise just a framework of targets to a central ambition and purpose that we all share: for Britain to do our part in the battle against dangerous climate change.
The principal clause lifts the Bill from simply being a series of technical and administrative reforms and innovations. It gives the legislation a clear statement of our national shared intent, our national purpose and the ambition that I believe all members of the Committee have, in their heart of hearts, for the Bill. As another member said, let us pin our colours to the mast and put at the very start of the Bill a clause of which we can proud.
We had intended to vote against the Government on this most important clause. However, I am advised that, although the Committee cannot do so, it is possible for the Government to insert a preamble to the Bill. I am advised that it would be difficult to insert an effective form of wording into the long title. The idea has merit, but technically that would not be feasible. However, the Government could bring forth a preamble. I invite the Government to consider that proposition, in the spirit of consensus and in the spirit in which all members, on both sides of the Committee, wish to work in scrutinising the Bill. Let us see whether, between us, we can come up with a form of words, as a preamble to the Bill, that would be acceptable to all members of the Committee.
Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Cook, and for allowing us to have an extremely useful and wide-ranging debate. I want to use this opportunity not only to answer questions, but to explain why the Government do not want the clause in the Bill. Opposition Members are motivated by the fear that the Government are trying not to commit to 2° C as a target. They are trying to strengthen that target, and I do not challenge their motive.
I will try to put the matter in an international context. Within the United Nations negotiations and talks, the European Union—of which we are a leading member in those talks—is committed to the 2° C bloc. We are seen by the world as the leaders. There is a group of countries that does not support 2° C: the Pacific island states. For them, 2° C is too much, because that means that they disappear. Other countries are not prepared to commit to a long-term goal of a 50 per cent. reduction in emissions by 2050, which is how the 2° C limit is expressed in terms of emissions. The poorer countries are not prepared to commit to that at this point because they fear that doing so, without legally binding commitments from the richer countries, would put too much of a burden on them. So, there is not a consensus around 2° C from those countries. Some members of the G8, particularly the United States of America, but also Russia and Japan, are also not prepared to commit at this point to 2° C. The consequence of that situation is that if we were to legislate for something outside our control, we would be passing legislation that, in our view, would be meaningless, thus damaging the credibility of the Bill.
The hon. Lady is right. Her argument fails to understand—I would ask Opposition Members to ask themselves this question—why the European Union has not legislated for 2° C. It has not done so because, as in my argument, that would be a meaningless act. Legislating for a global goal of 2° C, and whether or not we are committed to that, are separate questions. That explains both our stance and that of the European Union.
“principal aim of this Act is to ensure that” our
“emissions...do not exceed the level necessary”— in effect, to make up our contribution—
“to limiting the global average temperature increase to...2°C”.
It says nothing about us legislating for other people; it says that about us.
Subsection (2) says that the
“functions under this Act must be exercised with” that objective. I cannot see the “better not” in saying that.
When I reach the end of my argument, the right hon. Gentleman will see the logic of my point of view. He is one of the most experienced Ministers in the history of our country. I think that I am right in saying that only four other people in history served a longer period in the UK Cabinet, so he is an extremely experienced legislator. He knows that when one gets advice that says “better not”, “resist” or “resist if pushed”, one has to take a decision. He also knows that the advice that is given to Ministers from parliamentary counsel and officials is often to resist on the grounds of legislative incoherence. The strongest thing for a Minister to do is to put aside party political objective. It would be easy for me and the Government to say, “We accept it, and it is our policy.” We are basing all of our efforts on getting 2° C, so why do I not just put it in the Bill? The answer to that is rather than saying “better not”, such a decision would render the Bill meaningless
Let me explain to the right hon. Gentleman why that is the case. I have not had a chance to check Hansard,but I bet that during consideration of the Environment Act 1995, there was advice that said, “Do not accept a purpose clause.” Incidentally, the clause to which the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle referred was the primary purpose of the Environment Agency, not the Bill.
Let me explain my argument. I refer the Committee to clause 2 because it directly relates to this question. It is the other side of the coin of why the Government do not want clause 1. I beg the Committee’s indulgence, but I will keep my remarks very brief.
Clause 2(1) does two profoundly important things—let me take the second first. It considers the target of “at least 60 per cent.” on the 1990 baseline by 2050. Where does that figure come from? It has been subject of national debate, and of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of communications. That figure comes from a royal commission report that recommended the cut in emissions that would be required in the United Kingdom as a contribution to the world effort to do the same thing, assuming that the world signed up to that and that the science did not change. Since then, the science has changed, which is why the Government have changed the original royal commission recommendation of 60 per cent. to “at least 60 per cent.”
Let me answer the question of whether or not the target should be higher. First, the year 2050 and the figure of 2° C are based on the royal commission’s recommendation, and that is our policy. Secondly, and this is the crucial point, in the first part of subsection (1), the Bill goes far beyond other legislation—far beyond what the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 and the Environment Act 1995 did. The Bill puts a legal duty on the Secretary of State—the Government—to ensure that they act to achieve the objective of “at least 60 per cent.” cuts in emissions in the UK, or more depending on what the committee advises. If there were an additional clause, for example existing clause 1, that rendered it impossible for the future Secretary of State to act legally because of the actions of other countries, we would be undermining the ability of future Governments to implement the Bill. We would also put other people or organisations, such as local authorities that have duties under the functions of this Bill, in a position in which they would be acting illegally and in impossible circumstances. We would take away the very certainty that the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood sought for businesses and third parties and render impossible the very basis of cap and trade and the top-down approach of the European Union and this country, as against the bottom-up pledge and review approach of other Governments. It would be easy for me to say that I accept the clause, but I do not, precisely because I am committed to the working of the Bill.
The Minister is trying to make the case that there is a fundamental incompatibility between the target of 60 per cent. in clause 2 and the target of 2° C in clause 1. He suggests that that introduces some legal uncertainty. In fact, the target of 60 per cent. is explicitly based on the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s report in 2000, which was itself explicitly based on the IPCC second assessment report, which was in turn based on a stabilisation target for the number of degrees of global warming. There cannot be inconsistency between those two targets. I do not see where the legal uncertainty he talks about arises.
“to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 6 per cent. lower than the 1990 baseline.”
That is within his power, and if he fails to achieve that, he can be subjected to legal action. Future Governments, of whatever persuasion, will have to be accountable in that way. However, clause 1 puts a duty on the Secretary of State to do something—control the temperature—that is based on the actions of the rest of the world. That he cannot do.
The Minister is introducing inconsistency when there simply is none. Clause 1 does not oblige a Minister to do anything outside his power. It simply defines the aim, and the aim is precisely the same as that explicitly adopted by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution when it came up with a 60 per cent. target. There cannot be an inconsistency in aim.
The hon. Gentleman is missing the purpose of legislation. If, in 10 or 20 years, the rest of the world has not acted in accordance with the demands of the United Nations framework convention on climate change; if deforestation has not been stopped, as urged by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal; and if global temperatures have increased in such a way that it is not possible for the target in clause 1 to be met—
Listen to the argument, please. In such circumstances, future Secretaries of State would be obliged by law to take actions and decisions to reach a temperature goal that they could not possibly reach. That would undermine the ability of the Government of the day to implement the requirement in clause 2 for a 60 per cent. reduction in emissions. Global temperatures are already at 0.7° C above pre-industrial revolution levels. If, in 10, 15 or 20 years, they are 2° C above, and the law requires the Secretary of State to act in a certain way that is thus not possible, what would the hon. Member for Cheltenham advise?
The Minister is making the argument of somebody sitting in a sinking boat who stops baling out because the other people baling out do not seem to have made as much effort as he expected. Clearly, the whole purpose of the Bill is to contribute to a global effort and that is explicitly what the subsequent measures—including the 60 per cent. target on carbon emissions—are designed to achieve. That was what the Minister said, based on the Royal Commission on Environmental Protection and, through that, on the IPCC.
The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the purpose of the Bill. One of its purposes is to commit us to that contribution, but its other purpose is to make it law that the Government of the day have to act towards a target.