Clause 23

Climate Change Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:49 pm on 1st July 2008.

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Targeted greenhouse gases

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 75, in clause 23, page 12, line 15, after ‘dioxide’, insert—

‘( ) methane (CH4),

( ) nitrous oxide (N2O),

( ) hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs),

( ) perfluorocarbons (PFCs),

( ) sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).’.

This is an important amendment and one that is, in its way, just as important on a similar set of principles as the inclusion of aviation and shipping that the Government have already conceded. It has been subject to a substantial campaign outside Parliament from people who are concerned that the plans and policies we adopt in this place are representative of a genuine and comprehensive effort to tackle climate change. It is pretty difficult to see how that can be done by legislating for only one greenhouse gas—carbon dioxide.

Various arguments have been put against the inclusion in the Bill of the other greenhouse gases that make up the Kyoto basket of greenhouse gases. It has been said that carbon dioxide is the most important gas and that, in any case, it represents 85 per cent. of greenhouse gas emissions. That is certainly true. It is obviously important that we focus a large part of our effort on carbon dioxide, but there are other potent greenhouse gases. The short-term impact of methane—CH4—is much more serious than that of carbon dioxide. It captures heat 20 times more efficiently than carbon dioxide, so, in its way, it is a much more potent gas, even though it is present in the atmosphere in a less persistent way.

In the same way in which aviation and shipping should not be allowed to escape the provisions of the Bill, we need to ensure that greenhouse gases such as methane are tackled. Otherwise, we could be in the ludicrous situation in which if the other greenhouse gases that only represent 15 per cent. of emissions now are allowed to proliferate and we make huge efforts to reduce carbon dioxide, the percentage of other greenhouse gases might rise on a much faster scale. We could end up with 20, 30 or 40 per cent. of our emissions coming from those remaining greenhouse gases, if they are allowed to increase.

In Committee in the other place, Lord Rooker argued:

“We have a good understanding of the costs and benefits of reducing CO2 emissions, whereas there is much less understanding about the cost-effective potential of reducing other greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the long-term.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 January 2008; Vol. 697, c. 841.]

In one sense, that is an argument against us participating in the Kyoto protocol, which, of course, demands that  we accurately measure and account for the whole basket of greenhouse gas emissions. If we were to include other greenhouse gases in the Bill, it would be a good incentive for developing better measurement systems for the other greenhouse gases. Perhaps we have been lax in developing a better understanding of those other greenhouse gases.

Our understanding is not quite as bad as Lord Rooker suggests. The National Audit Office’s report, “UK greenhouse gas emissions: measurement and reporting”, goes into some detail about the methodology used to look at the whole basket of greenhouse gases. It talks about the intergovernmental panel on climate change guidelines on greenhouse gases, which specify in detail what methodologies to use for calculating emissions, and how trade-offs between precision, accuracy and resources should be approached. The report states that emissions should be estimated

“using a bottom up approach. Using the economic activity data supplied by government departments, trade associations and businesses, AEA and sector specialists the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) model emissions of all known anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gases in the UK within the following five specific source sectors: energy, industrial processes, agriculture, land use, land use change and forestry, waste.”

It goes on to state:

“These broad areas are then broken down into activity types, subtypes, and activities. The emission-producing activities include the combustion of fuels such as coal in power stations, the use of petrol and diesel in road transport, industrial processes such as cement manufacture, agricultural sources such as enteric fermentation in cattle, and sources and sinks of CO2 caused from changes in the way land is used.”

In case hon. Members are in any doubt about the meaning of enteric fermentation, I can tell them, courtesy of Wikipedia, that it means fermentation within the digestive systems of ruminant cattle. I am trying to avoid using any unparliamentary language, but I was interested to discover that most of that fermentation is belched rather than emitted in any other way. Half of Australian methane emissions are created in that way, which has been a serious incentive to the Australian Government to support research into the vaccination of cattle to try to reduce flatulence[Laughter.] Although that is making hon. Members laugh and smile, that is a serious result of Australia measuring and recognising the seriousness of reducing methane emissions. I understand that other research on that is under way in Japan and Germany.

Finally, there is the possible excuse that the Government are following the recommendation of the joint scrutiny Committee, which was divided over the issue of other greenhouse gases and said:

“Expanding the Bill in this way might therefore jeopardise its coherence and the extent of support which it might command.”

Just in case the Government are inclined to quote that Committee in support of their position, I shall cite some of its other conclusions:

“We agree with the Government on balance that it is reasonable for the Bill to focus on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, and we therefore accept its overall architecture. However, this in no way relieves the Government of its responsibility to continue to reduce other greenhouse gases”.

It is difficult to see how we are going to follow that instruction with no policy tools at our disposal that even look at those other greenhouse gases.

The amendment is, in its way, as important as the measures on reducing aviation and shipping emissions. The logic for the Government’s acceptance that we cannot exclude any large section of the economy from greenhouse gas measurement and reduction policies applies just as much to the other greenhouse gases.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 7:00 pm, 1st July 2008

I have much sympathy with the spirit of the amendment, about which the hon. Member for Cheltenham spoke fluently. It would be foolish to consider the science of heat-trapping gas emissions on a global scale without taking due consideration of the full basket of greenhouses gases. It is well known that, as the hon. Gentleman said, methane has 22 times the heat-trapping potency of carbon dioxide. It is less well known, although it causes considerably more concern to learn, that nitrous oxide is 310 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas. Any agreement that moves to deal with greenhouse gases globally must therefore include the full basket of the six major gases. However, we should remind ourselves that the Bill legislates for only the UK, as the Government were at great pains to remind us during the discussion over their principal aim.

The evidence presented in the DEFRA report on national statistics in relation to UK greenhouse gases shows that carbon dioxide, standing at 85 per cent. in 2006, accounts for the vast majority of UK emissions. Importantly, the remaining 15 per cent. of emissions, which comprise the more potent greenhouse gases, are, I am pleased to say, in steady decline in this country, whereas the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions have risen substantially since 1997. That is why the primary focus of the legislation should, at least for the time being, be on reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

To back up my argument with some figures, UK emissions in 1997 were 548.1 million tonnes CO2 and, in 2006, they were 554.5 million tonnes CO2. That is an increase of 6.4 million tonnes. DEFRA statistics show that UK CO2 emissions have risen in five of the past 10 years. The UK will meet its Kyoto reduction targets only because of the dash for gas under the last Conservative Administration, which resulted in a reduction of the UK’s CO2 emissions from more than 590 million tonnes in 1991 to a low of 540 million tonnes in 1999.

In March 2006, the Government dropped their manifesto commitment, which was repeated in three successive manifestos, to cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010. The 2010 target was set independently by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. It was replaced in 2006 by the climate change programme review, which pledged to cut emissions by 15 per cent. by 2010. Despite Labour’s three manifesto promises to slash emissions by 20 per cent., carbon emissions have clearly risen since 1997. In 2006, CO2 emissions fell by just 0.1 per cent. The Bill must focus on reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Allow me to contrast the figures on carbon with our national emissions of other greenhouse gases. According to DEFRA, in 2006, methane accounted for 7.5 per cent. of the UK’s emissions, but that was a reduction of 53 per cent. below 1990 levels. In 2006, the main source of methane emissions were landfill sites and agriculture, but emissions from landfill and agriculture have reduced by 61 per cent. and 13 per cent. respectively since 1990. Again, according to DEFRA, emissions of nitrous oxide, which is a particularly nasty gas, fell, thankfully,  by 40 per cent. between 1990 and 2006, with a year-on-year reduction from 2005-06 of 3.7 per cent. If only we could repeat that level of performance on carbon dioxide we would be in a far better position to meet our 2050 targets in good time.

Given the drop in emissions of the basket of greenhouse gases and, by contrast, our poor national record of reducing CO2, which constitutes 85 per cent. of our emissions, the focus of the Bill should remain on carbon dioxide only. We might find that emissions of other greenhouse gases rise in future. Fortunately, there is sufficient flexibility in the Bill to allow the Secretary of State to redefine the scope of the Bill when and if it is seen to be fit to include the other heat-trapping gases.

We should remain mindful of the challenges ahead in reducing our carbon dioxide emissions. The Government’s willingness to build a new and unabated coal-burning power station at Kingsnorth springs to mind. That power station alone would emit more than 7 million tonnes of CO2 into our atmosphere if the emissions were not captured and stored from some point in the future.

I note that the Government’s consultation on the definition of “carbon capture ready” was discreetly announced last night. We should bear in mind the implications of that definition as we debate that further in this Bill.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I was expecting a debate about science on this sensible amendment; I am now drawn into politics. My reaction to the comments by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle is “double shocking”.

A number of allegations have been made. Let me address the content of the amendment, rather than my party’s manifestos. There are very strong arguments indeed for including the other greenhouse gases in the Bill’s targets and budgets, particularly scientific arguments, which are, of course, the strongest. Also, including those gases would ensure consistency with the international approach. The European and international approach is for targets that cover all greenhouse gases rather than just CO2 and we recognise that our current targets are not consistent with that approach. Therefore, we said in the other place—I repeat it here—that we will include other greenhouse gases in our targets if that is what the committee advises; I suspect that it will do so.

There is a very important point that I ask the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle to consider. In including the other greenhouse gases, one must, of course, have strategies for reducing them. While we concentrate on the CO2 element, on which there are strategies and policies in place and there is expectation of progress in the future, that is not necessarily the case for all the other greenhouse gases. That is not a reason for not including them, though.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Surely the Minister will accept that a reduction in CO2-equivalent emissions of methane or one of the other greenhouse gases has exactly the same impact in terms of global warming as a reduction in CO2? Therefore, the priority must surely be to develop those reduction strategies.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Indeed. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that point is important and is often missed from the debate. We tend to interchange “CO2” with “greenhouse gases” in the public debate, as if they were the same thing.

We genuinely seek advice from the committee on the scope to reduce the other greenhouse gas emissions. The hon. Member for Cheltenham used some examples of emissions from agriculture. However, it is not obvious what the scope to reduce them is.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

When I listed the other greenhouse gases that could fall within the definition, I understood the Minister to be saying that he was minded to introduce them at a later stage and that the Government had not excluded their introduction, but were not doing so at this stage. Is that correct?

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We are minded to include them, we want to include them, and we want the advice of the committee as to what the scope for reducing them is. We want to include them for two reasons. The first is the science, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham has said, and the second is international compatibility. It is important that we do include them for those reasons.

I want to challenge the arguments about the figures made by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle. He claimed that the United Kingdom’s progress against its Kyoto target was a result “entirely”—if he did not say “entirely”, at least “substantially”—of the dash to gas. That is not fair. There have been a huge number of energy-efficient measures in the country that have contributed towards a decline in the emissions: the climate change levy; the climate change agreements, and the Carbon Trust in the business sector and the energy efficiency commitment in the household sector, which are independently audited, as are the measurements of emissions. In the energy supply sector, the introduction of competitive markets in production and supply has driven a large reduction in the UK greenhouse gas emissions since the early 1990s. Further savings in CO2 per unit of energy have come from the renewables obligation from higher diesel penetration in the transport fleet and from the European emissions trading scheme.

If the Government were cynical, we would simply accept the amendment on the basis that we could show that the total basket of non-CO2 gases has fallen by 38 per cent. since 1997. That would be a “stick it in your pipe and smoke it” piece of propaganda on behalf of the Government, but because we have integrity, we will not fall into that trap, although it would be easy for me to do so. The figures on the reduction in emissions show that the UK has made significant progress against the 1990 and 1997 baselines.

Since 1990, UK emissions of all greenhouse gases were 18 per cent. below the baseline year. For CO2 only, UK emissions were 8 per cent. below the baseline year. Therefore, the provisional UK emission figures for 2007 were 1 per cent. lower than in 1997 for CO2, and 9 per cent. lower for all greenhouse gases. Taking emissions trading into account, the most recent figures were 5 per cent. lower and 12 per cent. lower for all greenhouse gases. That shows that economic growth can be decoupled from a growth in emissions. That is far from the picture that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle mischievously tried to piggyback on to the back of the genuine and improving amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Cheltenham. I ask for the amendment to be withdrawn.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 7:15 pm, 1st July 2008

I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. He made some serious criticisms of the amendment, including the one that we should not attempt to introduce too many policy measures relating to greenhouse gases for which there is limited or uncertain scope for reduction. Sadly, if that is true, we are all in trouble. If reductions to 15 per cent. of our greenhouse gas emissions are not going to be attempted or are going to be outside the scope of policy, we are in deep trouble, especially as that percentage is set to rise dramatically if carbon reductions are achieved. If I tell the Minister that significant efforts are being made in other countries to reduce such emissions, he might take the matter more seriously. I mentioned Japan in my opening remarks. According to the team from Obihiro university of agriculture and veterinary medicine, a few simple food additives costing about 50p each day per cow might be able to remove virtually all methane from a herd’s daily output of greenhouse-gas enriched belches. Given that there are something like 1.5 billion cows on the planet, that would provide significant scope for reduction in methane emissions. In the same way that renewable energy can be stimulated by feed-in tariffs and other policy measures, energy efficiency can be stimulated by policy measures, and carbon trading stimulates business and industry to reduce its carbon footprint. There is political business potential to reduce methane and other greenhouse gas emissions, but we need the policy tools. We need the policy framework in place to achieve that, and that is why we support this amendment. However, I acknowledge that if we do not have the support that I had hoped for from Conservative Members, it is unlikely that the amendment will be agreed to. On those grounds, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.