The amendment is straightforward and short, but that does not necessarily mean that the debate will be short. I thought it was the shortest amendment on the amendment paper, until I discovered that amendment No. 52 to clause 16 reads:
“leave out ‘1%’ and insert ‘0.5%’.”
That amendment is one digit shorter.
Of course. The history of the amendment—the debate about 60 per cent. and 80 per cent.—has been well rehearsed. It has been well argued in the Environmental Audit Committee, of which I am a member, and I imagine that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has also debated the matter at length. It was debated at enormous length in the Joint Committee on the Draft Climate Change Bill this time last year, and of course, it was given consideration in another place, so we do not need to go over the arguments in great detail. It is also not necessary to reinforce the urgent need for action and, in the context of the amendment, more stringent action on climate change, because of the damage that it is causing and is increasingly likely to cause. We are all familiar with those effects and predictions.
It is important, first, that as my hon. Friend the Minister said, the Government’s decision and the Bill reflect the scientific evidence, and secondly, that it has credibility. I shall come to the different kinds of credibility, if necessary, in due course.
In the debate on the previous clause, the Minister expressed concern that I would undermine his arguments. I am delighted that he was relieved that I did not. I want to reassure him that I do not intend to undermine his arguments in defence of the wording in the Bill. I want to strengthen the case that will underline some of his arguments and may get him to reconsider them, if not today, then before the Bill comes back on Report.
When the Government first expressed their intention to establish a 2050 target, it was framed in terms of 60 per cent.—the wording in the Bill is “at least 60%”—owing to the landmark 2000 report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. That report concentrated the minds of many policy experts and the Government, and helped to generate a wider debate on climate change. The important thing is that the report based its judgment on the scientific evidence presented in the second assessment report by the intergovernmental panel on climate change, which was published in 1995. We are now in 2008 and the scientific basis for the figure adopted by the Government is therefore 13 years old. It is time that we reviewed the state of the scientific evidence.
Two years ago, the intergovernmental panel on climate change published its fourth assessment report, in which it made it much clearer that the evidence base had changed and that the likely reduction in emissions needed to remain within the 2° had increased. To be precise, the report stated clearly that if annexe 1 countries wish to keep to the guideline carbon concentration of 400 ppm by volume, we need to aim for cuts in the range of 25 to 40 per cent. by 2020, and 80 to 90 per cent. by 2050. Even if we keep to those guidelines, there is no guarantee that the temperature increase will remain below 2°. However, they represent our best chance.
If the scientific evidence undermines the Bill’s content, we need to base our judgment on the fourth assessment report. The Government recognised that to some extent by replacing their original formulation of a 60 per cent. reduction by 2050 with a reduction of “at least” 60 per cent. That provides a certain flexibility, but of course it could include 61, 62, or 60.003 per cent., and according to the fourth report that would not be enough.
As I understand it, the Government’s position is slightly broader than that. Essentially, they are telling the Committee that the decision cannot be taken by MPs, but by the Committee on Climate Change. On Second Reading, the Minister was asked twice whether the Government would accept and implement the Committee’s recommendations. I was concerned, because on both occasions he replied no. Even if the Committee comes up with a recommendation of 80 per cent. or more, we have no guarantee that Ministers will accept it, unless we get a clear undertaking. Surely that raises another issue of credibility.
That is an important point, but the Bill provides opportunities elsewhere to debate the role and significance of the Committee on Climate Change’s advice. I know that that was discussed in another place.
If we are to have credibility, we must stick with the Government’s position, which is that the final judgment on the 2050 target should be based on the most up-to-date scientific evidence. I need to say at this stage—I think I said it on Second Reading, and perhaps this morning, as well—that we have to avoid the assumption that the science is precise. We have to avoid the danger of getting hung up on an absolutely precise percentage, because the world is not like that; the knowledge that we have is not yet sufficiently advanced and may never be so. We are always going to be looking at figures within a range. To set a minimum, when we know that the latest evidence clearly indicates that we need to go significantly beyond that minimum, is the very least we can do. I also do not accept that, if the Climate Change Committee came up with a specific percentage or if a fifth assessment report from the IPCC suggested another percentage of 82 per cent. or 85 per cent., that should be the only factor, because those figures are not absolutely precise; it is not possible to predict what circumstances will be in 2050.
Simply because of the competing interests in any large, industrialised democracy, how the issue can best be managed has to be a matter of political judgment. In one sense, that answers the intervention from the hon. Member for Banbury. It is important that the voice of those who are generating wealth in our economy are listened to. It is important that consumers are listened to and the impact on their standard of living and way of life is reflected. It is crucial that the survival of the planet is at the centre of our considerations. However, it is also important that we listen carefully to those who have the skills and the knowledge to develop the new low-carbon technologies that are going to get us out of this deep problem.
There has to be credibility. There has to be a balance of credibility within those four different competing interest groups, but there also has to be credibility at international level. Again, I shall try to reflect the essence of the argument put by the Opposition on clause 1. If the Government are going to retain international credibility, it would be a contradiction if, having established such a lead internationally and having been the first country in the world to introduce a Climate Change Bill with binding targets, one of those key targets fell well short of what was proposed by the latest scientific evidence. In order to maintain credibility domestically, and internationally, it is crucial that we stick with the science.
Of course, it is not just the IPCC report; the United Nations Development Programme has also been very clear that an 80 per cent. reduction by 2050 from annexe 1 countries is necessary. In addition, on 21 January this year, the Government received a letter from the chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and, I think, two former chairmen. It may be as well for me to read it into the record again just to reinforce its importance. The letter was addressed to party leaders from the former chairman, the former chief executive of the Met Office and the past president of the British Ecological Society and former chairman of the RCEP. The letter said very clearly that the
“UK Climate Change Bill targets are based on out-of-date science. In tackling the global challenge of climate change, governments must follow the latest science that clearly shows the need for the UK to reduce its C02 emissions by at least 80 per cent. by 2050. This will require much more substantial action by 2020 than the Government is currently considering. The UK Climate Change Bill proposes a reduction in C02 emissions of at least 60 per cent. by 2050. This target is based on a report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) from 2000. Since this time, developments in climate change science show that this target is insufficient to avoid the worst impacts of climate change for people, species and habitats.”
I want to argue the case for an increase in the target at this stage from at least 60 per cent. to at least 80 per cent. I also want to deal with some of the objections that the Government have raised when this point has been made previously.
It has been said, rightly, that the target in 2050 is not necessarily the determining factor in whether we avoid a rise in temperature of more than 2° C. The interim targets for 2020 are equally if not more important. The Minister said earlier that it would be possible significantly to increase the stringency of the targets by 2020 and suddenly to decrease the targets in 2050—highlighting the point that 2050 was perhaps a little bit arbitrary. In theory that is so, but in reality that would not happen. We need two sets of targets—interim and longer term—and if the interim target is sufficiently stringent, the technologies deployed to achieve that target will continue to generate emissions reductions as we move to 2050. I recognise that 2020 is crucial. In fact, the IPCC fourth assessment report argued clearly that, in the advanced countries, CO2 emissions need to peak by 2015 and then start on a downward trajectory, so there is no dispute about the urgency of the situation. Of course, that message was reinforced by the Stern report.
The Government have said that the at least 60 per cent. reductions formula is not necessarily the definitive one, because the Climate Change Committee is charged with the task of reviewing the existing science, considering the first carbon budgets and reporting by 1 December. That is true, but, returning to the question of credibility, it would seem contradictory if the Bill completed its progress through the House—perhaps not before the recess; it will probably come back in October on Report and Third Reading—with a target of at least 60 per cent. and the Climate Change Committee published its review four or six weeks later, suggesting a target of at least 70 per cent. or 75 per cent. It would be uniquely embarrassing if the target figure on which the Bill was based were immediately made obsolete by the Climate Change Committee’s report on 1 December.
The power to amend the targets cuts both ways. If the Climate Change Committee came up with a higher figure, it would be easy to amend the existing formula of at least 60 per cent., but if a formula of at least 80 per cent. was included in the Bill now and the Climate Change Committee on recommended a 70 per cent. target, it would be possible to amend the Bill downwards to mention 70 per cent. It is unlikely that the powers proposed under the Bill as it stands would enable us to do that.
A point of crucial significance has not yet received the debate it deserves—not in the Joint Committee on the draft Climate Change Bill last year, in the other place, or on Second Reading in this place. Let me quote briefly from the Prime Minister’s statement to the House yesterday, reporting from the European Council meeting in Brussels over the weekend, in which he reminded us that,
“This time last year the price of oil was about $65 a barrel. At the last European Council in March it stood at $107. At the June Council, the oil price had risen further still to more than $135 a barrel.”—[Official Report, 23 June 2008; Vol. 478, c. 23.]
The conclusion that we can draw from the relentless rise in the oil price in the past 12 months is that that may achieve as much if not more than any targets that any Government set, because the price of oil will drive a fundamental change in our use of fossil fuels, our lifestyles and our technologies.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the reference to the carbon budgets in the final impact assessment, where it specifically mentions rising oil and gas prices as a way that the Government can lengthen the time frame for meeting the reduction target, whether it is 60 per cent. or 80 per cent.?
The short answer is no, because I have not yet looked at the final impact assessment, but the hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The argument here is the same one that has previously been deployed against the diminishing group of professional climate change deniers. Even if one does not accept the science of climate change, which a majority of the world’s scientists do accept, it makes good sense to increase our fuel efficiency in order to conserve what everybody understands is a finite resource.
Even though the Government may have difficulty at this stage in accepting the figure of at least 80 per cent., and even though I know that they genuinely want to see the report of the Climate Change Committee, it makes good sense to adopt the most stringent targets for 2050 now, because nobody believes we are going to go back to the era of cheap oil. That fact is going to drive change of a sort that we have not seen for 150 years, since the beginning of the oil era and the end of the age of steam. The sooner the Government, the Opposition and we as a society start to understand and adjust to that, the less painful the transition will be. It makes good sense to adopt a higher target now for 2050 and, of course, for 2020—though that will be debated later—in order to preserve and conserve our finite supplies of fossil fuels.
The Minister’s defence is that the figure should be determined by an outside expert body, rather than plucked out of the air. I hope that he does not think I am plucking it out of the air, but that I have demonstrated that it is a conclusion drawn from the latest science. I would be completely persuaded by his defence—I see the value of that point of view—but it is slightly undermined by the fact that there is already a figure in the Bill. If the argument that we have to delegate the decision to an external body of experts is sound, there should be no figure in the Bill. If there is to be a figure in the Bill, it has to be based on the latest scientific evidence.
I pay tribute to the very knowledgeable speech made by the hon. Member for Bury, North, with whom I had the pleasure of serving for some years on the Environmental Audit Committee. I know he is a great expert on these issues. I find no fault with any of his analysis of the problem, nor do I doubt for a moment his sincerity in wanting to tackle it urgently. I share his ambition to get on and start doing, rather than just talking and providing a framework. However, I find that the tables have been turned rather strangely.
In the last debate, his colleagues did not argue against the principal objective of clause 1, but said instead that it was not consistent with the rest of the Bill. I am afraid that, in this case, that is my view and the view of the official Opposition, and I suspect it is also the view of the Government. We do not disagree with any of the hon. Gentleman’s analysis, but we believe it is not consistent with the spirit of the Bill, which, most importantly, establishes the independent Climate Change Committee.
There is one very important difference between the view of the official Opposition and the one espoused by the Minister in the Chamber on Second Reading. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) will give me an undertaking that when in due course he becomes Secretary of State for the Environment, the Conservative Government will implement, and not ignore, the report of the Climate Change Committee.
My hon. Friend has made an important distinction. We attach the highest importance to the full implementation of the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations. We have always stated our belief in the primacy of science over politics in the debate.
Will my hon. Friend not go even further than that? Surely the key feature of the Bill is that Governments will have to carry out the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee. That is the point of its independence. We would be happy for the Climate Change Committee to make recommendations to the Government and for the Government to accept them, rather than beginning a debate.
Indeed. The only thing that stands between the Climate Change Committee and its conclusions becoming law is the democratic seal of approval of its conclusions through the parliamentary process. As my right hon. Friend says, the intention is not to start a debate, to consider, to ruminate upon, to deliberate or to take other soundings. That is certainly not the intention or the modus operandi of the next Conservative Government.
That is why we have consistently argued for a strong, independent committee on Climate Change, which is empowered to make recommendations on the basis of science, not politics. That is why we successfully argued in the House of Lords for the independent committee to have the power to review the 2050 commitment, and report to the Secretary of State in advance when the first five-year carbon budget is set. That is why the official Opposition in this place have tabled further amendments to enhance Government accountability and transparency in their dealings with and heeding of the independent Committee.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal, I was disappointed to read at the weekend of the Ipsos MORI opinion poll in The Observer, which showed that there was considerable public reservation in the UK about taking action on climate change.
I am trying to follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman’s position. I understand the argument that the Bill should not contain a target. Through the Bill, we create a committee, the committee advises and politicians decide. But why have a target in the Bill at all? If we are to have one, why not have the right target?
I shall come to that, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me. We should recognise that there is still widespread scepticism about the causes of climate change, and there is still a big education job to be done. One of the reasons for the reluctance shown in the opinion poll was the considerable public cynicism about the Government using the veneer of green objectives to impose further regulation or, particularly, further taxation. There is a good deal of public scepticism out there about the imposition of green taxes. We must be clear when we make the case.
In order to win back that trust, and to ask the British people to join together to meet the challenge of climate change, we must make it clear that we are being led not by the demands of some political lines in the sand, but by the demands of science. If we are to raise our 2050 reduction target from 60 to 80 per cent., we must be sure that we are taking people with us. There is a broad consensus around the 60 per cent. figure. I do not doubt for a moment that we will need to move much higher, and 80 per cent. is probably the right figure, but we cannot take it for granted that everyone will fall in behind us.
When that figure is raised to 80 per cent., we must be able to say that we are not underestimating the challenges and difficulties that that may impose. As alive as we are to the opportunities that a low-carbon economy will bring, we must be able to turn to the country at large and say why it is being called upon to make that additional effort. It is not because the Prime Minister wants to look greener than my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), or vice versa, or because we are trying to outdo the Lib Dems. It is because the clear, independent, scientific and expert opinion is for 80 per cent.—although I do not know why 80 per cent. should be such a magical number, rather than 79, 81, 85 or 90 per cent. It is because the scientific committee has come out with a clear recommendation that that is what we must do in our struggle to contain dangerous climate change. Public cynicism is our greatest enemy.
No. I can hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal, who has experience in Government. That power needs to be held in reserve. However, I can give the clear assurance that the next Conservative Government have a huge ambition to lead the country into a low-carbon economy and make the fight against global climate change a No. 1 priority.
Surely my hon. Friend would agree that we need a mechanism in the Bill for the Government to accept the recommendation of the Climate Change Committee and to enact it. That is why the power is there. Without that, the Government could say, “Of course we will”, but they would have no mechanism for doing that. There ought to be no argument over that.
I am grateful for that first-rate clarification.
In preparation for today’s discussion, I thought that it would be insightful to see how many climate scientists sit on the committee. To the best of my knowledge, there are none. I, for example, am not a climate scientist. I have a degree in history and politics. The Minister, able as he is, has a degree in philosophy, and the hon. Member for Northavon, I believe, read politics, philosophy and economics—[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford has a science qualification. Later in the debate, our treat will no doubt be to hear what that is.
The serious point is that we politicians should not be the ones to decide on the 2050 target, having gone to such lengths to set up the groundbreaking, unprecedented and globally authoritative body that is the Climate Change Committee. It will include such international luminaries and authorities on climate change as Sir Brian Hoskins, from the Grantham institute at Imperial college, and Professor Lord Robert May, from Oxford university. Having brought together such a distinguished collection of experts, it is crucial that we respect their opinion. Our first act under the Bill ought not to undermine the very reason for which they were brought together or prejudge their most important decision. I therefore do not support the amendment, although I understand the motivation, impatience and ambition of the hon. Member for Northavon in tabling it.
I conclude by addressing some remarks to the Minister. Can he assure us that the Government will not ride roughshod over the evidence of the expert panel? On Second Reading there were those of us who detected a glimmer of hedging—just a hint.
My hon. Friend is spot on. I was trying to be consensual and not too partisan—most out of character for me—but he is right. That leads to obvious concerns. I can assure him that a future Conservative Administration would have no such reluctance or hesitation. That will reassure many people about the future.
This is not an ephemeral issue of the day. Politicians should not trump the primacy of science. There is an overarching necessity to respect it over politics. If we do not listen to the experts, if we undermine them before their first sitting, if we prejudge what they will say, if we inform them that we know better than they do, we will—
I am sorry for interrupting my hon. Friend’s peroration. One can easily find sceptics who will debate the exact rise in global temperature, and people who will argue for years about what it may reach by 2050, but we know for certain, almost to the hectare, the millions of acres of world forests that are being destroyed and lost, never to be recovered. We know exactly the amount of diversity that is being lost, all of which has an immediate impact on climate change and world health. The World Health Organisation makes that clear. So, yes, the sceptics and scientists may argue, but there is already a huge body of fact.
That is a sound point, but it does not detract from my party’s essential tenet. We believe that the Climate Change Committee is an important innovation—it is, perhaps, the most important tangible part of the Bill—and that all support should be given to it. Therefore, we urge the Government to allow it to produce its preliminary recommendation as soon as possible. I have no doubt that it will advise a significant raising of the target, but we believe that the target would have more impact, importance and authority if it were set by that committee rather than by politicians in this Committee.
As the hon. Gentleman went on with his remarks, I became more and more concerned. He is trying to argue against the formulation of “at least 80%” by saying that it would be based on a political judgment, not on scientific evidence. My argument is that it is based on the latest evidence from the most authoritative international body of climate scientists. Why does he not accept it? Is it simply that he prefers a British committee to an international one? That is rather like the point earlier that the guillotine is not particularly British. A guillotine is a guillotine, regardless of the nation in which it is used. Why does the hon. Gentleman not accept the clear, overwhelming, substantial consensus that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expressed in its latest report, which was its fourth assessment report?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but, having brought the new committee into being, having invested it with such authority and having asked it to make important decisions, we should, on this most important of decisions, defer to it. That would involve only a matter of months and would not materially affect our ability to hit the long-term 2050 target. Allowing the committee to make the judgment call on what the target should be would, I hope, have a significant effect on public opinion and the authority and credibility of the target—far more so, I am afraid, than if the decision is made simply by politicians, on whatever basis we make our judgment.
I do not doubt the science that informs the hon. Gentleman’s argument. All I am saying is that to win the support of the public, whose good will we must win if we are to be successful in the battle against climate change, it is vital that the higher target, which will be stretching and incredibly ambitious, enjoys the utmost authority. We would invest it with greater authority if we were to allow the experts, not politicians in this Room, to come forward in the next few months with a recommendation.
It is a great pleasure to serve on this Committee, to have the opportunity to influence what will be Government policy for many years to come, and to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Cook. I am sure that you will keep us in order and ensure that we make the best possible contribution to the Bill today. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in favour of amendment No. 2 in a probing way. It was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North, who has served for many years on the Environmental Audit Committee, as has the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle.
I shall speak briefly, because it is important to give the Minister the best possible ammunition so that when he is dealing with civil servants, Governments and his Cabinet colleagues, he knows the strength of feeling among my hon. Friends who have signed the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), who spoke in the Chamber earlier.
It is most important to get this right. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said that it is important to leave the matter to the Committee on Climate Change and scientific evidence. My perspective is that our starting point should be the scientific evidence, which initially led to 60 per cent. and then to “at least” 60 per cent. as being so importantly the starting point for this Bill, and being put in the Bill.
If the Bill, when it has completed all its stages, is to be up to date with the latest science, it will not be about leaving it to the scientists, but about the marriage of politics and science, and ensuring that we have informed legislation that is fit for purpose and that will stand the test of time. We all know that time is running out for dealing with the matter, so it is all the more urgent to get the starting point right.
It seems to me that 60 per cent., or “at least” 60 per cent., is not enough. There may be worries that if we do not go further we will send the wrong message and dilute the Government’s credibility, which they deserve for having introduced such an innovative Bill. I wonder whether some of the opposition from the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, who speaks for the Conservative party, is on account of not wanting the Labour Government to have the credit for introducing the best possible Bill. He said that we should leave it to the scientists, but we already have that here.
May I say on behalf of Opposition Members that we want the Government to get on as quickly as possible with all these measures? We are not in the business that the hon. Lady suggests. It is a tough enough time, and we are wholly supportive of the Government if they are prepared to do what they say. To suggest otherwise is not only untrue, but not in the Labour’s party political interest. Please will she not say that to the Committee?
I am heartened to hear that, and I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman says. He has a long-standing record on the environment.
My perspective is that we need the strongest possible targets in the Bill. The Stern report makes clear the difference between a 2o C temperature rise and an even higher rise. If we do not get our targets right at the start of the Bill, we could experience all sorts of unwanted consequences that we could have prevented simply by having the strongest possible targets at this stage.
Later this week, I shall chair a meeting on public health to consider the international threat of malaria and other public health issues. All such public health problems will be exacerbated if we do not set the right target.
My hon. Friend the Minister takes a close interest in the work of the Environmental Audit Committee. In the past couple of years, we have concentrated our work on the issue of climate change. In an earlier report, the Committee highlighted the incoherence of the 2° C aim and the 60 per cent. target. We feel that there is a real gap between the two.
For the record, may I remind the Committee of the previous recommendations of the Environmental Audit Committee? The majority of evidence that we considered suggested strongly that the 60 per cent. target was inadequate. The target was based on a recommendation made by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in 2000. The royal commission’s overarching aim in making the recommendation was that global warming should be limited to a rise of no more than 2° C, according to the science at the time. That was adjudged to require stabilisation of the global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide at 550 parts per million by mid-century.
All the evidence that we have received points to the fact that, on scientific evidence alone, we now know—in June 2008—irrespective of what the Committee on Climate Change may come up with later, that our starting point should be at least 80 per cent. rather than the more conservative 60 per cent that we have in front of us today.
In Victorian times, a colliery in my constituency was the first to produce more than 1 million tonnes of coal a year. We have a huge debt of honour to deal with that legacy of carbon that our industrialised nation has produced. We cannot waste any more time in starting off with 80 per cent. I know that the Minister cannot say to the Committee today that that is what he will now accept, but many of my colleagues genuinely believe that, in signing this amendment, they wish the Government to get the best possible credit for the best possible target.
With regard to business and the business community, it is important that we establish from the outset the certainty with which we expect industry to meet our objectives. The sooner that we have included in the Bill targets that are consistent with scientific knowledge but realistic enough for us to meet, the sooner we will be able to make progress towards getting to where we want to be. That will mean that all of us—not just us in the UK but over the planet as a whole—will not feel the worst effects of failure that were outlined in the Stern report. I ask that the Minister take into account the genuine desire and the responses that many of my colleagues have given to the non-governmental bodies that have fought so strongly on this campaign. We do not want to achieve the impossible, but we want to ensure that what we do is right. If at least 80 per cent. is right, we should be working towards that now.
We have heard two well-informed, thoughtful and persuasive contributions. The debate has been unusual in that we have the hon. Members for Bury, North and for Stoke-on-Trent, North arguing against the Government’s position and the Conservative party supporting it. I slightly wonder which way I am leaning. It is striking that, printed on the amendment paper today, we have the names of more than 80 Labour Members who have endorsed the 80 per cent. cut.
As you will be well aware, Mr. Cook, the parliamentary arithmetic is such that, with 80 Labour Members, every single Liberal Democrat MP and all the nationalists, who I believe support the 80 per cent. target—I do not know what the Democratic Unionists think—that coalition alone, plus the Conservative Party, would guarantee 80 per cent., so the only thing that stands between this country having a scientifically up-to-date 80 per cent. target is the Conservative Party. That is a statement of fact. [Interruption.] I say that because the Government’s reluctance to endorse the 80 per cent. target would not matter if the Conservatives were to back it, because there are enough on their own side to carry it anyway. It is therefore the position of the Conservatives that is pivotal, so, in a moment, I want to focus on the logic, to the extent that there is any, of the arguments used by the Conservatives.
The starting point must be science and the 60 per cent. figure was not a political number but a scientific one. It is just an old scientific number and the people who came up with the old number now think that using the same sequence of logic that gave us a figure of 60 per cent. would now give us a figure of 80 per cent.
As the hon. Member for Angus points out, the Bill still gives the Government the power to vary the figure up or down, so the figure is not definitive but indicative. That is the point. There is a perfectly legitimate argument for saying, “Let’s not have a number in the Bill at all.” The Government could have introduced a Bill to create a committee that was given a remit and told to come back with a number that would then be considered, but that was not the avenue that the Government went down.
I refer again to the infamous long title of the Bill. The first handful of words are:
“A Bill to Set a target”.
Tempting though it is to argue that another strategy could have been adopted, given that the wording of the Bill starts with:
“A Bill to Set a target”,
we cannot fail to have a target.
The next question is, do we have what seems to us the right target, or a number that we all think is the wrong target? I find it incredible that the one person who has spoken for retaining the wrong number himself accepts that it is the wrong number. I fully accept that we do not know definitively that 80 per cent. is the right number, but the latest scientific evidence is that, indicatively, 80 per cent. is closer to the right number than 60 per cent.
I was not arguing against the number. All I was saying, with the greatest respect, is that the international experts on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change would have rather more locus on public opinion than even the hon. Gentleman.
Okay, we have started. However, what about 60 per cent.? We have all just accepted that 60 per cent. has an origin. The hon. Gentleman is backing 60 per cent., I suppose in small ‘c’ conservative fashion, because, like Everest, it is there. However, 60 per cent. had a logical basis and that logical basis now lends itself to a different number but he is not prepared to follow through the logic of how the 60 per cent. figure came about.
Surely it is perfectly reasonable to say that the Government produced the Bill at a time when the 60 per cent. figure was sensible. When it became clear that there was a real reason for change—I am committed to 80-plus, I make no argument about that—the Government took two steps that seem perfectly reasonable. I am loth to fall out with the Government when I do not need to. There were two steps: one was to say “at least”, which made sure that we knew in which direction the target was going; the second was to turn to the committee of experts that the Government were setting up to say, “What should the figure be?” It seems to me that that is a perfectly reasonable way to proceed. One could go down a way that says, “We will put it up to 80”, but having asked the committee of experts to come up with a figure, to choose another one would be to undermine the committee itself. Therefore, although the hon. Gentleman can say that it is a pity that we do not all agree, it is not reasonable to say that those who take the view that the committee of experts should fix the figure are somehow unreasonable.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a number of points, none of which I agree with, but I will address them in turn.
The right hon. Gentleman raises the issue of the standing of the committee of experts and that is clearly important. The first thing to say is that that committee has got a socking great amount of work to do. It is not just advising on the 80 per cent. Figure, but has a long list of things that it has to do and on which its opinions are vital. Aviation and shipping is one, but there are many others. It has got a huge programme of work on which its views will be taken incredibly seriously.
Even if we were not asking the committee to look at the 80 per cent.——in fact, we are still asking it to look at the 80 per cent., that is the important point—it would have a huge amount of work to do. I understand that it has a part-time chairman, which I find worrying, but we will come back to that point. The committee has a critical role to play, a very short time in which to do its work and I do not see anything in what we are saying that would undermine its standing. Everyone knows that it has a very important part to play, but we are still asking it to look at the question of having an 80 or 60 per cent. 2050 target.
Nobody is suggesting that we tell the committee that we have made its mind up for it. We are simply saying that when it is asked to think of a number, there will be a number in the Bill. The question is whether the number in the Bill should be our best guess, based on what we know, which is where the 60 per cent. came from. That is the only question on these amendments. The committee will still be asked for its advice, and so, for example, if it comes back with 83 or 77 per cent., I would expect the Government to take that seriously. There is nothing, in arguing for moving from 60 to 80 per cent. that undermines the standing, status or validity of the committee.
There is, however, a reason for putting 80 in the Bill——one of timing. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, who is no longer in his place, said, “It’s only a few weeks, what is a few weeks among friends? The Bill comes back in October, gets ping-ponged, Royal Assent in November, four weeks later, they say 80, Bob’s your uncle, we have got 80 per cent.” We have not though, because, as the hon. Member for Banbury says, the Government have not said they will accept 80—or anything—if the committee comes up with it. If the Minister were to tell us that if the committee says 80, the Government will accept it, that would take much the steam out of this, because it would then be a matter of weeks.
Quite honestly, and with no disrespect, when I intervened on the Minister on Second Reading, I expected a lot more wriggling and we did not get it. It was absolutely clear that the Government do not guarantee up front to commit to 80 per cent., even if that is what the committee says. A general election could be two years away. If we allow 60 to remain, even if the committee, which I respect, came up with 80, the Government are not bound to accept it, so 60 could run for another two years. We are talking about 2050, but the interim targets are also critical and losing two years is a huge risk. It matters enormously what number goes in the Bill. This is not a matter of weeks or of gestural whatever, but of fundamental importance.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the insertion of the words “at least” is progress. It would be progress if the Bill prohibited downward revisions, but as I read it, it does not. It can be “at least 60”, but the 60 can be changed to a lower number. As far as I can see, there is nothing to prevent the Government from changing it to “at least 50”, or “at least 40”. There is nothing in the “at least” that binds them to go upwards, so the words “at least”, rather as the words “better not”, do not reassure me at all.
Why is this so important? The latest evidence that DEFRA itself has been given is that to achieve the 450 ppm that is being talked about, 80 per cent. is not fine but actually the bottom end of the range. The range given by the Ecofis report to DEFRA in May 2007, just a year ago, is 80 to 95. There are many who think, and I am one of them, that 80 per cent. is not enough. I would love to be proved wrong on that, but my reading of the science is that 80 per cent. is probably not enough either. If we are going to have a number in the Bill, it needs to be our best estimate of the right number, especially as that number might hold for two years.
The key question is how do we convince the Conservative Opposition to back 80 per cent., since that is what it will take to get this number through. I am not sure whether feeling their pain and saying that we understand that it is all very difficult is the best way of doing it or whether it would better to slag them off and say “You say, vote blue and get green, but actually that is not so.” I would quite like to take any old Conservative Member outside for a quiet drink and get them to explain Conservative thinking to me. My working assumption is that the reason the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle does not support 80 is because his hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), who speaks for the Conservatives on these matters, wrote to all his colleagues saying, “We think the Bill is tough enough. Do not worry, do not frighten the horses, do not frighten business. We will not beef it up.”
This is important, because we are talking about targets that will have to be implemented by Governments of all parties. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said that he would take very seriously what the committee said, but I do not think he pledged himself to implement what it said. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal says that he did, but the hon. Gentleman is not in his place to confirm either way.
The hon. Gentleman will see that my hon. Friend said that a future Conservative Government would accept the figure as proposed by the committee. The question is, will this Government accept it? The argument is not—could not—be that the Conservative party is in some way resiling from this. It is a question of whether one thinks it more likely to gain the support of the public if presented by a committee made up of experts or if presented by politicians who are not at the top of the tree of popularity at this moment.
Again, the right hon. Gentleman makes a distinction that is not there. Even if we amend the Bill to say 80 per cent., that would not stop us asking the committee, as we should, for a number and taking very seriously what it says. He is creating a false antithesis between making the Bill as accurate as we can and asking the committee for advice. We can do both. There is no problem with doing both. That would be the point. I am happy to accept his assurance that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said that the Conservatives would implement 80 per cent. I thought he said that they attach the highest importance to it. Perhaps that is my misunderstanding. I am very pleased to hear that they would do so.
To return to the evidence, we heard that the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution argued for 60 per cent. eight years ago but that the key figures on that commission, then and now, have argued that 80 per cent. is the up-to-date best figure. There are two avenues. There is an argument that says there should be no targets and we should let the committee do it, but the Government have chosen not to go down that route, so that avenue is closed. We have a Bill that sets a target. I cannot see why we should want to have a target that we all agreed was the wrong number. We ought to have our best estimate, recognising that we are politicians who read what scientists say, not scientists. Surely, we ought to take, for example, what the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution said, what advice to DEFRA said, what the IPCC has said. That is enough to be going on with to give us the right ballpark figure. Surely, we want the right one not the wrong one.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Cook, and to have been selected to serve on the Committee.
It is already evident that everyone is motivated to make this Bill workable. I want to explain why I have not signed the early-day motion that this amendment reflects. As I understand it, there is a more stringent baseline target which is the subject of the amendment. It would demand more aggressive policies. These policies need a great deal more technical detail to know whether they are deliverable. The body of fact on science, which is important, is not yet matched by the body of technical detail necessary to ensure that the more stringent budget that this amendment seeks is achievable.
It is vital that we do not set ourselves up to fail in the early years in the first carbon budget cycle that is set. That would be the worst, most irresponsible thing that we could do and would undermine the credibility of the framework that this legislation seeks to set up. It would be very bad for the work that the Minister for the Environment will have to do in international negotiations to bring others around to using a similar framework.
It is for those reasons that I have not signed the early-day motion and stood firm in explaining that position to my constituents, some of whom are members of my climate change panel and many of whom are among the 1,600 students who study marine and environmental science at Plymouth University and the 450 marine scientists who are very knowledgeable about climate change and keep me on my toes in the position that I have been taking and will continue to take.
That last speech led me to be very worrying indeed. If we are proposing that the targets we set should be affected by our ability to meet them rather than by the danger posed to the future of the world, we may as well pack up and go home. The target has to be set on the basis of what we need to do if we are to protect the climate for our children and grandchildren. There ought to be no argument in the Committee as far as that is concerned. We can argue about where to put the target and how to reach it, but the Committee must be united on the basis that the target is unconnected with our ability to deliver it, because it is forced on us by the effects of climate change. To say otherwise would be like saying we will fight a war when we know we have enough guns, but in the meantime, if we are overrun, we cannot fight the war.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to clarify my point. It was rooted in his earlier observation that the credibility of politicians is low, while the credibility of those on the Committee on Climate Change is much higher. The people who need to be persuaded to take action will therefore be much more likely to sign up to doing so if target setting can be accompanied by a delivery plan.
That is all right as long as the hon. Lady agrees with me that the two things are separate and that we need to have an accredited body give us the figure at which we have to aim seriously—rather than aim with the thought that we might not get there—and which would deliver our real purpose. We already have such figures, and most of us think it will be something in the region of 90 per cent., though it might be more than that. Our real purpose, which we have had a long discussion about, and which we have agreed on, is to keep the temperature rise below 2° C. We recognise that the UK has to give more than its fair share, for all kinds of historic and moral reasons. The question is how we deliver that target. I am instinctively an enthusiast for getting down to it, pushing up the number and telling people exactly what we are going to do. That is the way I work.
I am very concerned, however, about the nature of this committee. If the Government had not done what they have done, I would have been wholly happy with putting in a new target. But they have put us in a very difficult position by saying that they think the committee ought to fix the target, showing that they recognise that the target is likely to require upward revision by putting these changes into the Bill, and giving the committee as its first task the need to review the target in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Northavon said clearly that, even if we were to agree with him, the Committee on Climate Change would still have to look at the target figures, so I do not think that any argument about the committee being very busy holds up. It will have to do that anyway. If I were chairing a committee of that sort, the very first thing I would want to do would be to review the terms under which we were working and see that we were on all fours. Otherwise, we might find that we were halfway through some serious discussion and discover fundamental flaws in the understanding of this very eminent committee as to where it started from and where it was aiming. I do not think we can avoid that discussion, and as we are all agreed that it is going to take place, we ought not to give the committee any more to do.
The problem for me is this: we know that the 60 per cent. figure is in the Bill because all those years back, when the Bill was first read, that was the most sensible figure to put in according to science. We could have given no figure at all. The hon. Member for Northavon is right about that. Most of us would have been unhappy with that, because it would have introduced a degree of vagueness. I would not have liked it much, but we could have done that. However, we did not.
The Bill has been discussed throughout with the figure of 60 per cent. in it. As the Minister said, it has gone through the full parliamentary procedure on that basis, and here we are now. The question is how we think the target should be revised in future, given that we all agree that revision upwards is necessary. We now have provision for a committee, which we did not two years ago when the Bill was first drafted. By some sleight of hand—I do not know what, and I shall not criticise it because I am very pleased about it—it appears that the chairman has already been selected, even though we have not got the Bill through yet. Nevertheless, that seems perfectly reasonable because we all agree that we want it.
We have the committee and it can get on with its job. As its first task, it could produce a clear figure for the target. There would be great advantages to that, and they were presented well by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle. Now that we have a committee, it is sensible for it to be the body that fixes the target. If we did not have a committee, we would have to do something else. In the past, because there was nobody else, politicians did their best. Now that we have a committee, I am happy with the Government’s proposal for it.
I am less happy—indeed, dismayed—that that there is not a natural, full part of that proposal that states, “When the committee that we have had the confidence to appoint decides what the target ought to be, we, the Government, guarantee that we will implement it.” That seems to me a clear distinction between the position that I hold and the Minister’s position. I want him to understand how serious the situation is. There are those who want to put the 80 per cent. target in the Bill, and many of us would normally be happy to do that. We are held back from feeling that way because the Government have instituted what could be a perfectly proper procedure that we would like to follow. This will be not be the only time when the figures need to be revised. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton, is right that we should have a system that people recognise as a proper one for such revisions.
The hon. Member for Angus pointed out the problem that, if the Government are to be able to make changes as we go along, it is conceivable, although unlikely, that they could make changes downwards, against the science. The best protection against that—on this point I disagree strongly with the hon. Member for Northavon—is to have a very clear process whereby the Government ask the committee to set the target and then agree to make the order for a target change to take place.
I am sympathetic to the argument that the right hon. Gentleman, who is very experienced, is making. We have been arguing that the setting of the initial baseline target is not a simple scientific judgment but a moral and political matter, especially in the light of our voting to remove the broader 2° outcome target from the Bill. Surely it is vital that an appropriate and fair initial percentage reduction target is set by the Government, not the committee.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman on that point and I shall explain why, because there is an important distinction to be made. We have a real problem in this country understanding and supporting the battle against climate change. Those of us who believe that this is the most important physical threat to civilisation—I think that every Committee member does—are clear that, once we have taken that view, we are bound to do something about it, not just for scientific reasons and not even just for personal reasons and to save our families, but for moral reasons. If this threat exists, we have to do our bit to defend the future against it.
In setting targets, we are giving people the best indication of the scientific demand. The morality arises in respect of the need to take the measures that are necessary to meet that best indication. In other words, the figure has to be fixed on the best science that is available, because we have to be able to tell the doubters, who are not in any particular party. One of the most vociferous believers in what I shall call, for the sake of shortness, the Lawsonian thesis, is a Liberal Democrat.
I will not name that person, because it would embarrass both him and me.
The figures will have much more power if they are clearly the result of the scientific assessment of the situation. We are the people who will then say, “If that is what the science says, we as politicians will make it the political figure.” I hope that we, as moral politicians, believe that we have a moral imperative to ensure that the measures that will ensure that we meet those figures are passed and carried through and acted on by business and individuals. If the figure is to have the proper effect on the public as a whole, its establishment must be regarded as untainted, if I may use a biased word, either by politics or some moral order. The figures should be as scientifically clear as possible, although we are dealing with a complex science.
I share the right hon. Gentleman’s view that the Government should listen to and follow the expert committee, but he said that we are afraid that they may not do so. In the event that they do not listen, does he accept that the number in the Bill is our only insurance policy? He said himself that the number should be based on the latest science.
I am trying hard to create the best circumstances to ensure the success of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman tempts me to become cynical, but I will not be cynical because I have been impressed by the fact that the Government have moved further than I thought they would on a number of issues, although there are many things on which they have not done enough. I shall not talk about hydrofluorocarbons and a range of other things that I could list, because I know that almost every Labour Committee member agrees that those things should have been done. We draw a line under that. However, we accept that a range of things have been done, including this Bill.
The Committee has a duty to try to make this as good a Bill as possible and to enable the Government to give as much as they can to it. I have done the job that the Minister is doing, in effect, and I know that it is not always easy to win even one’s immediate friends over on some of the essential issues. I accept the Minister’s argument, which is that the Government have already shown that they have tailored the Bill to use the committee to proper extent and that they are asking it to set a new target and to indicate that a new target is likely to be necessary. The one thing that remains is an assurance that, when that is done, the Government will accept that target.
Is not the difficulty with the right hon. Gentleman’s argument simply that he puts enormous emphasis on the importance of following the most expert scientific advice but that the most expert scientific advice actually comes from the IPCC? The Committee on Climate Change is not made up entirely of scientists. In fact, as his colleague pointed out, the chairman is a part-time chairman who was previously a director of the Confederation of British Industry. The committee is made up of some scientists, some economists and others with whose specialisms I am unfamiliar. If he really believes that the target must be based on the best available science, it must be based on the advice of the IPCC. It really is not good enough to say that because it is an international committee of experts, it is somehow less important than a British committee of people who are not entirely experts on climate science.
I will not go too far down that road, but it seems that what we have is an argument about the nature of the committee. As I understand it, we have set up a committee that has a strong scientific membership, a strong economic membership and a strong membership who can look at such things in the round. Some of the things that it will be asked to do will not primarily involve science but the interpretation of science within the economic sphere, so the committee has to have a balance of people. When the committee comes to make decisions on the science, it will, of course, draw properly and entirely on the best available science. The fact that Lord May is one of the members makes that absolutely clear. It will then make its considered judgment.
It will be difficult for the public to argue in any sense that the judgment is a political one. It will be difficult to make the argument that some newspapers will try to run that it is a decision of the Government, or of enthusiasts. It will be seen as being as good a statement of the science as can be made, not just by scientists but by those who are looking at the science from an economist’s point of view. That is actually rather important, because some people attacked the IPCC for saying that the science was very good but the economists were very bad. That is one reason why Nick Stern was asked to do the job. He upset the sceptics because they thought that he would say the opposite of what he said. As a result, what he said was stronger.
The Government proceeded in a sensible way but I seriously say to the Minister that they have now put themselves in a difficult position. Having presented a sensible proposal that commended itself to the only other party likely to form a Government—let me put this most delicately—and gaining the agreement of all parties likely to form a Government, they have now suggested that there is a possibility that the committee’s decision would not be accepted.
I find it difficult to believe in that possibility. Imagine this: the Government ask the official committee, which they set up, to produce something, and then they say, “We are frightfully sorry, but we will not accept it.” Do the Government really think that that is a political possibility? It is a further step down the slippery slide that they have been going down. I cannot believe that they really mean to suggest that they want to hold in reserve the ability to say to the Committee on Climate Change, “We asked you to give us a target. We have accepted that the target in the Bill is wrong, but we will not accept your target.” That appears to be what the Minister said.
For me, the key issue is that that approach has put the Opposition, and, I believe, Labour Members, in a difficult position. There are Labour Members who would be perfectly prepared to go along with this arrangement—many would have some sympathy with what I have advanced as the philosophical basis for what is being done. They are going to have to come to terms with the Minister explaining to them that, despite all that, the Minister will still retain the choice. That would not even be a theoretical choice. He has not said, “We cannot conceive of occasions in which we would not.” Such a phrase is possible, but he has not said that. He said no. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury said, that was not a glimmer, but a spotlight—no.
As much as I am pleased that the Minister’s reply was not a wriggle—he does not wriggle and said he cannot, which fascinates me physiologically—I must say that he now has an untenable position. I do not think it possible to say to the Committee, “I want the independent committee to make that judgment, because it is better made there than by politicians. I have asked it to do that, and I have amended the Bill so that its making that judgment would be a natural consequence of adding ‘not less than’, but I am not necessarily going to accept it.”
The right hon. Gentleman makes a strong case for Labour members of the Committee feeling uncomfortable with the scenario that he has described, but a lot of Labour Members do not support that scenario. They say that we should have a tougher target of 80 per cent. in the Bill Surely the Members who are in a difficult position are those in the Conservative party who are tempting Liberal Democrats and others to say that the Labour Government are being rescued by the Conservative party.
No. Being frank with the hon. Gentleman, I am keen to make sure that our commitments are clear, because we will have to carry them through. To be blunt, it is all right for the hon. Gentleman, because he will not have to carry them through, but we will. We are committed to carry through what the Climate Change Committee asks of us, and we have made that absolutely clear. Therefore, it is of considerable importance that we put the Government in the same position. It does not matter, frankly, what the Liberal Democrats or other people think about it. What matters is whether the succession of Governments commit themselves to do what the body that they have set up asks, or are we going to treat it as a kind of advisory council? If the Government mean that the committee is not the one that we all fought for, that goes way beyond the goal of 80 per cent. and to the very heart of the Bill. That is the real issue for all of us.
If the Climate Change Committee is merely an advisory committee with no other strengths, the Bill is not the one that I fought for, that Friends of the Earth drew up and that the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and other parties stood behind. The Minister is putting forward a solution that ought to be a joint solution—a solution of the consensus. Frankly, if he were to say that the Government agree to implement the committee’s decision at once, some of his hon. Friends would not be too unhappy, even though they would like to change the wording in the Bill, and the Minister would find that any revolt would at least be reduced. However, if he repeats that he is not prepared to implement a committee decision, it seems to me that it is extremely difficult—not for the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrats or the Labour party, but for the Bill—because that would mean that the committee we believe in would not be the committee that the Government think that they are setting up.
I know that the Minister thinks that we are buttering him up in the hope that we will get a bit more out of him, but that is not the case. He has shown himself to be one of the good Ministers. When people ask who the good Ministers in government are, we put his name on the list. I know that that is embarrassing for him, and it will probably stop any possible promotion, but there is no doubt that that is what we say. We say it because he has always been as good as his word. That is what worries me, because his word in this case is pretty frightening. I am not keen on this at all. It seems to me that he has given us reason to doubt something that is much more fundamental than the 70, 80 or 90 per cent. What we are doubting here is that the Government have the same view of the Committee on Climate Change as the rest of us. We therefore need a reply from the Minister not only to this debate, but to that deep concern.
Even those Labour Members who want to vote with the Minister—the case was beautifully presented by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton, who is just returning to her place—will ask themselves, “What has happened to the Climate Change Committee?” When the hon. Lady talks to all those students, they will say, “This Government are not going to listen to the Climate Change Committee.”
The Government have now said that the committee is merely advisory. If that is the case, the members of the committee will wonder why they are members. Why do we have such a good committee? Like us, its members thought that the committee was going to be, in a real sense, the setter of the course for this country to give a lead in the world on how to deal with climate change. That does not mean to say that the Government would have to sign up to every jot and tittle, but they would have to sign up to the target. If the committee cannot even set the target, what is the Bill about?
The Opposition parties, along with Friends of the Earth and others, agreed that we needed to set a target when we compiled the “Quality of Life” report, which I had the honour to chair—my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood was a member of the central committee, if that is not too socialist a phrase. We saw the target as the driving force in our battle against climate change.
I came to this Committee believing that the Government had the right answer. I was willing to support the Government, because I believed that they were offering us the right way forward. I hoped that this Committee would provide another example of the consensus that I am trying to build. However, I am afraid that my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury has caused the trouble. His accurate memory of what the Minister said means that the Minister has either got to change what he said and re-establish our belief in his belief in the primacy of the Committee on Climate Change, or we will have to consider very carefully not only this part of the Bill but every other part. Unless the Government are bound into the consensus that caused the Bill to be created, we are in a really difficult position.
It is a pleasure to serve under you again, Mr. Cook. I apologise to the rest of the Committee for not being able to be present for the whole of the sitting, because I had an unavoidable constituency commitment. I have signed the amendment, and I believe that the solution to the difficulties described by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal is in amending the Bill to make the target 80 per cent. rather than 60 per cent.
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the Ipsos MORI poll in The Observer at the weekend, which apparently showed that a large number of people are sceptical about climate change. I have looked up the results of the poll, which asked people to agree or disagree with the statement that many scientific experts still question whether humans contribute to climate change. Six out of 10 people who were asked that question agreed with the statement. Rather confusingly, however, later in the poll three quarters of people who were asked professed to being concerned about climate change, and we can take comfort from that finding. I must also say, Mr. Cook, that I am grateful to my portable computer for that information.
As I have said, I take comfort from that finding, and I also take comfort from the fact that the 80 per cent. coalition includes not only well-respected NGOs such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and WWF, but the women’s institute and indeed Eurostar, from which I received a briefing. The combined membership and influence of the vast number of NGOs that have come together in that coalition will help to drive understanding in this country on the importance of climate change. I believe that there has been a sea change since the election of 2005, which has put the environment and climate change right at the top of our agenda. That is another reason why, as a Government, we must show our understanding and commitment to upping the climate target to 80 per cent., because the people and groups in that coalition will be looking to us for a very strong signal that we take this issue seriously.
A number of Committee members have discussed the basis for the 60 per cent. figure, which is a 2000 report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. That report is already eight years old, and it was based on IPCC evidence from 1995, which has been updated twice since then. It is 13 years since the scientific evidence was published, and we know that the scientific data and our understanding of them have vastly improved since then. Rightly, the Government have said that the 60 per cent., 80 per cent. or whatever target must be based on good science, but I wonder whether basing a target on evidence from 13 years ago is good science. We need to re-examine that issue. If we are going to put our faith in the Climate Change Committee, which I thoroughly support, we should set it stiff targets, because the scientific evidence exists.
So, the upper limit must be changed. I do not want to speak too long on this issue, Mr. Cook, because many Opposition Committee members have been waiting patiently to speak, and I have jumped in ahead of them. I believe that the science is there, and our constituents up and down the country, as well as the NGOs, expect us, as a Government, to back the higher target. Also, 82 hon. Members, many of whom are Labour colleagues, have signed the amendment, and more than 400 hon. Members signed a previous amendment and early-day motions. The will in this House is there to make the target stiffer. Like Opposition Members, I know that this is a good Minister who listens and takes action. I hope that he will listen to the arguments about upping the climate change target to 80 per cent. and take appropriate action.
It is a pleasure, Mr. Cook, to serve under your chairmanship on this Committee.
Climate change is obviously an issue that has huge resonance with the public, and I have probably had more letters and e-mails on it than on any other subject over the past two years. Many organisations, including Friends of the Earth, Christian Aid and Oxfam, have encouraged their members to lobby on this issue. It was fairly apparent from the cards that I received that some of my regular writers are members of numerous organisations, and they sent me cards from them all.
The Bill states that the target is “at least 60 per cent.” I acknowledge that that gives scope for setting a higher limit after the report from the Climate Change Committee is received, but why the delay in agreeing the inevitable, which is that 60 per cent. will not be sufficient? It is also worth noting that the Bill places no obligation on the Government to accept that recommendation, although I accept that politically it would be very difficult for them not to do so.
There is an inherent contradiction in the Conservative party’s position, which was ably put by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal. The argument seems to be that a scientific committee will carry more weight than politicians and that people will accept it more readily. The Ipsos MORI poll has been mentioned, but on many other occasions—we could all come up with our own examples—the public have remained utterly unconvinced of an argument, despite the weight of scientific evidence. It is a fallacy to assume that a scientific committee will carry much more weight than this committee or Parliament would. As I understand it, the Committee on Climate Change has been asked to recommend a target, but responsibility for formulating and implementing policy to meet that target remains with us. I suspect that putting the matter to a scientific committee will not necessarily get around the problem.
There is a further inherent contradiction: we might put in the Bill the committee’s recommendation for 80 per cent., or whatever it comes up with but, as has rightly been noted in interventions, the Bill provides the Secretary of State with the power to amend that target by order. I should perhaps ask the John Bercow question: will that be subject to the affirmative or negative procedure? In any event, however, there is no guarantee that the committee’s recommendation, if accepted, would remain unchanged. Furthermore, the final impact assessment makes it quite clear that economic factors could be brought into play when deciding whether to amend the target.
The Bill also makes it clear that economic and social factors can be taken into account when deciding upon the target. Under the Bill, therefore, the decision will not be based purely on scientific evidence. That is where the argument seems to fall down. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said that the Conservatives would accept the recommendation, but I suspected that he was slightly hedging his bets even on that, because of the provision allowing it to be amended. There is no guarantee that it will not be amended. Everyone seems to be hedging their bits.
I believe that we have to opt for the 80 per cent. target. Much has been said about the report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which is eight years old. Its chairman, and two former chairmen, have written to the Government saying that they support the 80 per cent. target. Friends of the Earth has also pointed out that although the commission’s target included all sectors, the Government’s proposal excludes aviation and shipping, which accounts for between 7 and 10 per cent. of current emissions. If that is correct, the target eight years ago would have been higher, if those emissions had been included. However, we will come to that later.
The WWF pointed out in its briefing that the IPCC concluded that to keep increases below 2° C, worldwide emissions must be reduced by 50 per cent. by 2050, and a study by Ecofys concluded that the UK needed to achieve a reduction of between 80 and 95 per cent. If that is correct, even if we accept 80 per cent., we will be at the very bottom of the recommended range, so we might have to go higher. Even the Minister would probably accept that 60 per cent. is unlikely to be enough. I wonder if, like the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, the Minister is waiting for someone outside the political process to say, “This is the target that you need to go for.”
It does not seem to make any sense to put the figure of 60 per cent. in the Bill when we all realise that the true figure must be much higher. Whatever the figure in the Bill, it must be regarded as a floor to be exceeded. I would argue that we need a realistic figure for that floor to make a real attempt at tackling climate change.
As has already been said, we need to send out a clear signal that we are serious about tackling climate change. The Government are rightly proud of the fact that this is the first Climate Change Bill with targets and that the UK is showing leadership on the issue, but that will be true only if we show clearly that we are aiming for targets that truly tackle the problem. If we incorporate into law a target that is clearly inadequate, we will be seen to have shied away from tackling climate change head on, which would be disastrous. We should recall that one of the reasons why countries such as China and India would not sign up to Kyoto was that they took the view that, given that the industrialised nations of the west had created the problem, they should not have to pay the price. We must show that we are prepared to pay the price of tackling climate change and encourage those countries to do more to tackle it.
Although this may be the first Bill to have a target in it, others are committing to targets for their own economies of at least 80 per cent. Norway, an oil and gas-producing nation like Scotland, had proposed a commitment of 100 per cent. Germany has proposed 80 per cent. and France 75 per cent. The Scottish Government are to introduce a climate change Bill with an 80 per cent. target, and even several US states, despite the Americans’ status as the bogey man of climate change, have set an 80 per cent. target. Whoever is the next President of the United States is likely to be much more amenable to setting targets for the whole of the United States than the present one, and I understand that Barack Obama has committed himself to an 80 per cent. target.
If we do not set this 80 per cent. target, we might find that rather than leading, we are at the back of the pack. Whatever target we set, however, we have to accept that measures will have to be introduced to meet that target, and we face the real challenge of persuading business and our constituents to take the actions necessary to achieve it. I suspect that, in the long run, that will be much more difficult than agreeing on what the target should be in the first place.
It is good to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Cook and I know that you will show your usual tolerance. I am not a climate change scientist, but I am a lawyer and I have spent the last 35 years of my professional life construing Bills. This Bill has been very cleverly drafted to make it almost certainly judicial review-proof. Whoever drafted it provided the fewest possible opportunities for anyone to seek judicial review against the Government for not delivering on the terms of the Bill. Interestingly, the bits of the Bill from the Lords that the Government want to take out are the measures that would actually provide some opportunities for judicial review.
It is quite clear that the Government are seriously concerned that there should be nothing in the Bill that would ever provide opportunities for judicial review. It is a process Bill; a Bill that is about a target and a committee. That committee has to have credibility. Ministers say that so far as the targets are concerned, the Government will simply take the advice of the Climate Change Committee, but they will not. All of us have been Members long enough to understand the concept of the line to take. On Second Reading, the Minister was asked whether he would accept the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal said, there was absolutely no dissembling, and the Minister was perfectly clear that the line is to take was, “No, there is no undertaking.” If there is no undertaking, we are pushed back to the question of the extent to which we trust Ministers. As my right hon. Friend also indicated, we have to be concerned about credibility, but I shall come on to that in a second.
The longer I am in this place, the more I become crabby, liverish and bad tempered. I find that Ministers want more and more wriggle room. Let me give the Committee a very simple example of that, based on my experience today. I apologise that I was not here this morning. The reason—it is relevant to trusting Ministers—was that I was visiting a site of special scientific interest in my constituency on which the Government wish to build an eco-town. I was there with the shadow Minister for Housing and representatives of the local wildlife trust.
The Minister for Housing had told Members of Parliament that none of these eco-towns were to be built on green belt, but 25 per cent. of this proposed eco-town is on green belt, so I have been chuntering to her a fair amount. Earlier this week, she wrote to me to say:
“I have previously stated that no homes will be built on green-belt land as part of these eco-town proposals.”
The shadow Minister for Housing thus said to the developers this morning, “I understand you are not going to be building any houses on the green belt.” They said, “We are not going to be building any houses, but we are going to be building commercial development on the green belt.” The line to take was totally accurate—there will be no building of houses on the green belt—but there will be commercial buildings on the green belt, so is it any wonder that I am becoming increasingly liverish, crabby and distrusting of Ministers? In the just over a quarter of a century that I have been in the House, I have learned that one needs to tie Ministers down to the line to take so that there is no wriggle room whatsoever.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend remembers the definition of truth that Cardinal Newman put forward: truth is measured by what the audience hears, not the words that the individual utters. In other words, it is what something means to the person who hears it. That Minister meant my hon. Friend to believe that there was to be no building on the green belt. I want to know from this Minister that the Climate Change Committee will be able to recommend what it thinks right and that this Government will accept it.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. I think that the Minister has probably been doing some maths during this debate. Between now and Thursday, when the Committee next sits, I hope that he will reflect that it might be sensible to review his line to take on this, because this addresses the whole integrity of the Climate Change Committee.
I want to echo the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal made: the whole thrust of this Bill relates to targets and the work of the Climate Change Committee. This is a process Bill. If Ministers are effectively going to say, “We are only going to treat the Climate Change Committee as an advisory committee—no more and no less,” what is actually left in the Bill? If the Climate Change Committee is simply going to be some advisory committee, the recommendations of which Ministers may or may not follow, it seems to me that this is a pretty hollow Bill.
All members of the Public Bill Committee can quote endlessly from the organisations that have said that the target should be over 80 per cent. Practically every moment, we see something from yet another organisation on our e-mail systems. Let me give one example, chosen totally randomly from the papers that I picked up this morning. The Royal Institute of British Architects, the UK body for architecture, which has 40,000 members, states:
“The evidence does suggest our greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by 80 per cent. We strongly believe that it is essential for the UK to achieve an 80 per cent. reduction by 2050.”
I suspect that not a single member of the Committee believes that we will not need a reduction in emissions of at least 80 per cent. by 2050. There is no dispute about the target; the debate is simply about the mechanics. Unless Ministers are prepared to give an undertaking that they will implement the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change, I cannot see how this Public Bill Committee, or the House as a whole, can put trust in them. We will have only a process Bill that allows Ministers maximum wriggle room to wriggle out of making any difficult decisions. We should not have such confidence in Ministers—this is too important for that. Unless the Minister for the Environment is prepared to change the line that he takes on the respect that he will give the Committee on Climate Change, the House and this Committee will have to reflect on that when deciding how to vote.
I apologise for being absent from the Committee for part of the sitting. I was attending an event involving older constituents who had travelled all the way from Gloucestershire. I thank you for being tolerant of that, Mr. Cook.
Some difficult arguments are being made. The hon. Member for Banbury has just made a strong case for the need to remove wriggle room. I was disappointed by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, who normally makes a very strong case for the toughest green measures possible, with which I agree fully. I believe that he is co-author of the Conservative quality of life commission report, which stated:
“In our view, the existing 60 per cent. goal is likely to prove inadequate. Therefore our policy work will be guided by the premise that UK emissions will have to be reduced by at least 80 per cent by 2050.”
Mr. Gummerindicated assent.
The right hon. Gentleman is nodding. If that is still what he believes, I find it amazing that he has essentially argued that we should have in the Bill a target that he knows to be wrong. The hard-won progress in the opinion polls made by the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) for the Conservative party has been based at least partly on the proposition that voting blue means going green. That proposition could die in this Committee Room if this critical test of our commitment to combating climate change is failed by the majority of Conservative members of the Committee.
I am sorry to say this, but the hon. Gentleman will search for every means of trying to make party politics out of things. I know that he will, because I have heard it before. I am not prepared to do that, but I am prepared to say to him that the Government have revealed a far more important issue: the nature of the Bill. It does not matter what figure we put in the Bill. We will need a reduction of about 80 per cent, and that is what the committee will say, so the issue is marginal.
The fundamental issue is whether the committee will be merely advisory, or whether its decisions on key issues will be taken as a clear fiat that the Government will implement. Unless the Government tell us that they will treat the committee properly, two things will happen. First, they will find it difficult to get support from Conservative Members on many other issues on which we might otherwise be prepared to support them. Secondly, and in a sense more importantly, I do not think that they will have a Climate Change Committee. Its members will not sit on it if they think that when they make decisions in the areas that are supposed to be their competence, those decisions will be ignored by the Government. That is much more important than anything else.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that important and well considered point, with which I have a lot of sympathy. We might need to look at stiffening the role of the Committee on Climate Change in other clauses, but clause 2 is about the standing target in the Bill. If he wants to reduce the wriggle room for Ministers and toughen the Bill, this is precisely where he has an opportunity to do so. I will try to avoid playing party politics. If I were doing that, I would have mentioned Henley as well as Witney and Banbury.
The question is not simply why we need the 80 per cent. figure in the Bill, which a lot of the Committee’s discussion has been about. The other question, which those who support the current wording have to answer, is, as the hon. Member for South Swindon started to point out, why we have the 60 per cent. figure in the Bill. The explanation is quite clear: it came from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which reported in 2000 and, as the hon. Member for South Swindon pointed out, based its science on the second assessment report of the IPCC in 1995. Given the lead times in the IPCC, the science itself is probably even older. Since then, we have gained a huge body of further scientific evidence and the third and fourth assessment reports of the IPCC itself, which have moved on the thinking of most scientists about this question.
Forgive me, Mr. Cook. I have just realised that I have locked myself out of some of the evidence that I was about to quote from my computer screen. We will need some kind of induction in this new technology.
In 2000, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution assumed that a concentration of 550 ppm was sufficient to defend us against climate change of more than 2° C above pre-industrial levels. A ClientEarth briefing states:
“A report to the UK Government by consultants Ecofys indicates that at average climate sensitivity, the EU must aim for a CO2 concentration below 450 ppmv CO2-equivalent. Even at this level, the report’s authors say we have a roughly 50/50 chance of staying within 2°C. At 550 ppmv CO2-equivalent”— in other words, at the level on which the 60 per cent. figure is based—
“we are unlikely to meet the 2°C. Only at 450 ppmv CO2-equivalent (370ppmv CO2) are we likely to meet the 2°C (with a 2 per cent. to 55 per cent. risk of stabilising above).”
The briefing goes on to say:
“For the UK, the Ecofys study shows that for a stabilisation target of 450 ppmv CO2-equivalent, the UK needs to be aiming for 80 per cent. to 90 per cent. cuts by 2050...Even at 550 ppmv CO2-equivalent, the UK’s contribution would require cuts of 70 per cent. to 90 per cent., more than the current 2050 target.”
It is quite clear that the science has simply moved on from the numbers that the Minister is talking about. The RCEP report assumed that 550 ppm would be sufficient, but it is clearly not sufficient.
I understand both the point that the hon. Gentleman is making and the evidence. That was one reason why we announced a change in policy. Does he agree, however, that the long-term goal to which he refers must take into account the trajectory of the medium-term goals of carbon budgets in the meantime, because it is the cumulative amount of gases that counts? One could have tougher medium-term goals and a looser end target. Secondly, does he agree that all this is based on a contribution to an internationally agreed long-term goal that we do not yet know? In the context of those two arguments, is this not a very interesting debate, but an academic one?
The debate is far from academic. It is crucial because it determines exactly how we are to construct the trajectory and what it will be. If the targets are lower for both 2020 and 2050, the trajectory will be smoother. If we tolerate higher targets and allow decisions such as those on the Heathrow runway and Kingsnorth power station to go ahead, and then find ourselves in need of making more drastic cuts to meet the carbon budget, we will probably find that the realistic target by 2050 is closer to 100 per cent. The starting target is crucial.
The international contribution is interesting and goes to the heart of why the percentage matters. This is not simply a scientific question. It is not simply about the UK’s interpretation of the science, but about the share of the overall international contribution that the UK chooses to make. As we have said repeatedly, that decision is political and moral, as well as scientific.
In 2000, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution made assumptions in addition to saying that 550 ppm would be sufficient. It also assumed that all sectors would be included in that 60 per cent. target, so aviation and shipping must be added. The 60 per cent. target in the Bill does not include aviation and shipping, so clearly the reductions will have to be greater. What is more, the commission was talking in 2000, and there has clearly been an increase in CO2 emissions since then. The 60 per cent. that it was talking about must now, by definition, be greater, because CO2 emissions have risen in the meantime. The commission also clearly advocated that the target should be kept under review.
Where are we now? We are in a position where even members of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and numerous past chairs who have been cited are clear that the target, using the methodology from back in 2000, should now be 80 per cent. or greater. They said:
“UK Climate Change Bill targets are based on out-of-date science. In tackling the global challenge of climate change, governments must follow the latest science that clearly shows the need for the UK to reduce its CO2emissionsby at least 80 per cent. by 2050. This will require much more substantial action by 2020 than the Government is currently considering.”
If the authors of the original figure—60 per cent.—are not convincing enough for the Minister, perhaps he should listen to the UN Development Programme’s report on human development 2007-08, which says:
“Emission targets in the Climate Bill are not consistent with the objective of avoiding dangerous climate change. Our sustainable emissions pathway suggests that developed countries need to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 80 per cent. by 2050 against 1990 levels, not 60 per cent.”
“If the rest of the developed world followed the pathway envisaged in the United Kingdom’s Climate Change Bill, dangerous climate change would be inevitable. It would lead to approximate atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases in excess of 660 ppm CO2e, and possibly 750ppm CO2 e.”
One point that UNDP is making is that this is not simple science, but a political judgment. It is about the share that developed countries, including the United Kingdom, take of the successful trajectory to reduce carbon emissions. That is not a scientific judgment, but a political one.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked the question, because what he is arguing does not make arithmetic sense. If he is arguing that a 60 per cent. contribution from the UK, if it were copied by all countries in the world, would not be enough, he cannot argue that 2° C is satisfactory.
The UNDP report on human development from which I am quoting says that if everyone followed our example and put 60 per cent. in their legislation, that
“would correspond to a rise in average global temperatures of 4—5°C, well beyond the dangerous climate change threshold.”
It is perfectly consistent to argue for a higher percentage of carbon emissions reductions and for 2° C, which would mandate a similarly high percentage for reductions.
The other person I want to quote, briefly, is Sir Nicholas Stern. Subsequent to the vote in the House of Lords, when he may have been sympathetic to the Government’s position, it has become clear from what he has written that he has reflected and changed his position. In The Guardian on 30 November 2007 he explicitly supported an 80 per cent. target for richer countries. He said:
“For a 50% reduction in global emissions by 2050, the world average per capita must drop from seven tonnes to two or three.”—
I took the decision to suspend the sitting for 15 minutes for one Division or 25 minutes for two Divisions. We were informed during the first Division that there would be a second one, but we were told later that we had been misinformed, so we are starting three minutes late. We reconvene on amendment No. 2., and we are in mid-stream with Mr. Martin Horwood.
Thank you, Mr. Cook. I was quoting Sir Nicholas Stern’s new point of view that a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon emissions is no longer sufficient and that we need something in the Bill committing us to a reduction of at least 80 per cent. from pre-industrial levels. For the benefit of the Committee, I shall restart the quotation.
Writing in The Guardian on 30 November last year, Sir Nicholas stated:
“For a 50% reduction in global emissions by 2050, the world average per capita must drop from seven tonnes to two or three. Within these global targets, even a minimal view of equity demands that the rich countries’ reductions should be at least 80%”.
The crucial phrase is the one about equity, because, again, the judgment is not simply scientific. Sir Nicholas himself now accepts that a political and moral judgment based on equity must be made. Others talk about burden-sharing and international co-operation, but those are political judgments that need to be reflected in the target that we put in the Bill.
Once the target is in the Bill, it will set the framework—the methodology—in stone. It would be the equivalent of taking the methodology of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and setting it in the Bill. The framework could then be varied by the Committee on Climate Change, which could say that the science had moved this way or that way and adjust the target accordingly, but the parameters have been set in the Bill.
We have to decide in this clause what a fair baseline figure is, based on the most appropriate science and the previous methodology. We have to choose a figure that sends the right signals to business, to NGOs such as Friends of the Earth, which has campaigned so hard to get us to this point in legislation, and to other countries. We must send a signal to them, because it is clear that they are beginning to send a signal to us. France is setting a target of 75 per cent. by 2050. Germany is setting one of 40 per cent. by 2020 and 80 per cent. by 2050. We have heard that Scotland is about to commit to 80 per cent. California has committed to 80 per cent. by 2050, and Norway has committed to 100 per cent. by 2050. [Interruption.] I think that the Minister is saying from a sedentary position that those countries are using a slightly different baseline date, but nevertheless their clear ambition is to reduce emissions by far more than the 60 per cent. in the Bill.
The overall picture is simply one of our taking as our critical baseline figure the one in the Bill, which we all know to be wrong, which simply cannot be a sensible way to proceed. It prompts the question why on earth the Government are so keen to preserve a figure that is universally regarded as incorrect. It raises the suspicion, which has been set out by the hon. Member for Banbury, that it is intended to allow the Government, rather than Parliament or the Committee on Climate Change, some wriggle room to allow the Treasury, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the rest of the go-slow brigade the room to counter the arguments of the Committee on Climate Change. The Government could say on a particular occasion that there was some overwhelmingly important political, economic or other consideration, and, despite what is in the Stern report, they would like on that one occasion to moderate the target and the ambition. The figure allows the wriggle room for the Government collectively to do exactly what the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal has described, which is to make the Bill much less effective than it should be.
I must point out to the hon. Member that he is being relentlessly repetitive on points that have been made not only by other Members but by him. I ask him to move his statement on.
Thank you for that guidance, Mr. Cook. I am drawing my remarks to a close in any case.
The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal at great length and with great eloquence asked us, in effect, to trust the current Labour Government. The Minister and, indeed, Conservative Front Benchers are asking us to trust both the Labour Government and a hypothetical Conservative Government. I hope that the Committee will forgive those of us who support the 80 per cent. target if we think that the safest option is to have it in the Bill for future reference.
Debate adjourned.—[Siobhain McDonagh.]