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10.26 am

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) on securing this debate.

Kyoto was an important success. Now the problems follow: first on ratification and then on working out emission levels, trading conditions and so forth. It is important to recognise that the cuts envisaged at Kyoto are insufficient.

It is probably impossible to prevent some damaging climate change. That will happen in any case, but we must be determined to prevent it from becoming too serious. We must consider how we can deliver international agreements for substantial cuts in CO 2 emissions beyond the 8 per cent. agreed at Kyoto.

We know what the obstacle is: the United States will not agree to significant cuts, and may not even ratify Kyoto, unless developing countries are brought on board and agree to make their own reductions, or at least stabilise. Developing countries, on the other hand, say that they will not agree to fetter themselves by denying themselves development of the kind that the developed world has enjoyed as a result of its ability to burn fossil fuels.

We have to find a formula that satisfies both parties. We shall not get an agreement unless equity is built in. That brings us to the idea of contraction and convergence, which is proposed by Aubrey Meyer of the Global Commons Institute and has been adopted by the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment, or GLOBE International, of which GLOBE UK is a part.

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The idea of contraction and convergence is to bring together sustainability and equity in a programme for reducing emissions by a target year on the basis of per capita rights, which become tradeable. It is compatible with the idea that came from Kyoto, but unless we set the target year for sustainability and agree the principle of equity, nothing will happen. I must re-emphasise what the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) said about the opportunities for the United Kingdom Government to take up that agenda and to use it as their platform at the G8 conference in Birmingham. It would be a great service indeed--a new, additional service--if they did that.

We all hope that the Government intend to keep to their own target of a 20 per cent. reduction by 2010. Confirmation of that this morning would be useful, as we have heard rumours that that is not the case. To deliver such a reduction and, indeed, the sort that will have to follow after that, we need action in three areas: efficiency, renewables and cutting demand.

We know what energy efficiency measures can be taken. The question is what the mechanism is that can ensure that they are. The fundamental change must be to the way in which the energy supply companies operate. They have to be persuaded to see their function not simply in terms of selling units of energy and making their profits on the basis of how much they sell, but of selling energy services. How that can be done is the question--how can their function be changed? It comes down to regulation and the function of the regulator, and the Minister has already spoken encouragingly about that.

A recent Institute for Public Policy Research study put it like this: the question is how to ensure that firms compete on total bill, rather than unit price. That same, useful study considers how regulation could achieve such a change.

We all now understand the enormous potential in renewables, and it is terribly important that we take it seriously. The organisations looking into that issue are convinced that we can achieve significant gains. Greenpeace is arguing for fossil fuel phase-out in 30 or 40 years. Whether that is realistic, I am not competent to judge, but we can certainly have major advances.

We want to hear what the Minister has to say about the European Union White Paper on renewables. The EU argues that the share of renewables in total energy demand can be increased from 6 to 12 per cent. by 2010, which would involve significant public investment, but would generate a significant number of jobs--between 500,000 and 900,000 in that period. We are, therefore, talking about an important market opportunity as well as an environmental imperative.

As has been said, the United Kingdom is at the bottom of the league in terms of the share of energy produced from renewables. The position is improving, but not as much as it should. The Government have set a 10 per cent. target of electricity from renewables by 2010, which is good news, but it is not enough. Furthermore, we need to set longer-term targets. The EU framework provides an opportunity to do so.

The Minister for Science, Energy and Industry has been described--I hope inaccurately--as not being particularly enthusiastic about EU targets. I hope that he will take this opportunity to correct any misapprehension that may exist.

Mr. Battle: If the hon. Gentleman had been able to attend the whole of the Committee in question, he would

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have found that the following day, The Times published a letter saying exactly the opposite and that I was probably too enthusiastic about renewables. The original report was inaccurate.

Mr. Dafis: It is useful to have such a statement on the Floor of the House and in Hansard, and I am delighted to hear it.

I am looking forward to a serious expansion of renewables, partly because I live in Wales which is an energy-rich country, where there are important opportunities for jobs in rural areas and agricultural diversification as part of the renewables programme.

I shall conclude, as other hon. Members want to speak. The Government have said that the environment is at the heart of their policy and that they are committed to sustainable development. Getting energy policy right in the wake of Kyoto is the most important element; of that there is no doubt. The IPPR publication states in its introduction:

I would go so far as to say that energy is the central political issue and that everyone has to bend their energies to ensuring that we get energy policy right.

10.33 am

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) for allowing me a few minutes of the remaining time.

I wish to compare the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) with mine. I know his constituency well as I lived in north London some years ago, and I recognise the importance of the needs of his constituents and the huge benefits that could emerge from energy efficiency investment--the better use of public transport, and integrating work and the telecommunications system more closely. Huge advances can be made, and the hon. Member for Ceredigion made some important points about Wales.

I represent Ellesmere Port and Neston which is at the other end of the spectrum. It produces some of the products that all our constituents demand as of right--petroleum, obviously, and vehicles--and there is a nuclear enrichment plant in Capenhurst just next door. I therefore look at the equation from a slightly different perspective from my hon. Friend's. I agree that the carbon dioxide targets to which he referred must be taken extremely seriously and that we must bend over backwards to achieve them. However, I think that he would agree that many of the nations in the developing world have a right to expect the use of energy. We cannot impose some colonial will and say that they will not have access to energy. That is where the arithmetic of the whole debate becomes extremely complicated.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion referred to the possibility of a 12 per cent. increase in renewables not being enough. What of a nation such as China, which has some 1.2 billion people--50 times the population of our nation--and uses per capita one twelfth of the amount of energy that we use? China has an enormous amount of brown coal, and if it achieved a quarter of our energy usage by utilising it, Kyoto would be a useless exercise several times over.

That is the crude arithmetic of the situation that the world faces. I am not saying that we should turn our backs on the problem, as we have to take it extremely seriously,

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on the one hand, recognising the right of emergent nations to have access to the benefits that energy gives them and on the other, recognising the need to improve the climate for our children and grandchildren.

The only point on which I potentially disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North is the unilateral writing out of nuclear power from the equation. In his opening remarks, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) pointed out that nuclear power had its place. Of course, we have continuing problems with the safe disposal of waste material. My hon. Friend the Minister is, I suppose, the principal shareholder in British Nuclear Fuels so I am perhaps patting him on the back when I say that it has a world-class business in the transport and safe storage of such material, but we should not be complacent. We should continue to invest in the science that will enable us to reduce the potential risks and the time frames to which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North referred.

This is a wide debate, and I ask hon. Members to consider the point that there is no such thing as a clean energy source. Even renewables need investment in metals, buildings and so forth, which are of themselves energy consumers. I think that all hon. Members would argue that the dash for gas may not have been the best use of a valuable resource in the long term. We all know the problems inherent in coal, nuclear power and other sources.

We must have a balanced debate, and I urge hon. Members to address the matter in such a way. We must look not only at the targets that this nation can achieve--we must stand up for that--but to the achievement of objectives beyond the minor steps taken by the United States in particular. We must do far better than that. I am not arguing in favour of one or another energy source, but we must never forget that the global equation is so enormous and the arithmetic so complicated that no particular source should be excluded from the debate.

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