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Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): The long-term answer to global warming is solar energy, as that is the only infinitely renewable resource. Is it not extremely disappointing that our efforts, both internationally and domestically, over the decades to harness solar energy have been so incredibly feeble?

Mr. Brake: I agree with that helpful intervention, although I would add that wind power is also infinitely renewable. It is true that if we had solar photovoltaic roofs

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on every house in this country, we would do away with the need for power stations--indeed, an energy surplus would be generated.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion): All renewables except the tides are solar. That is not a correction but a helpful comment. The source of wind is solar. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the great problems in the expansion of renewables is the planning framework, which is leading time and again to objections and obstacles to their development. The Government will have to address this matter. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me.

Mr. Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I agree that there is an increasing incidence of wind farms coming up against planning objections. We need to sell much harder the environmental benefits of such projects, and compare them with, for example, the proliferation of electricity pylons across the country. More can be done and we need a Government commitment to renewable wind power, whether or not wind power is solar.

Dr. Leggett and other experts in renewables are extremely concerned about the distinct lack of joined-up government between the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Department of Trade and Industry. The DETR is actively promoting renewables and solar power, and the DTI is actively pouring cold water on them.

To assist the Minister in responding to the debate, I shall summarise my concerns in a series of brief questions of which he has had notice. I hope that he will give the House an informed and detailed response.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government intend keeping to their 20 per cent. CO 2 target? When will the Government be producing the climate change strategy document? Will it contain the measures necessary to hit not only the 12.5 per cent. Kyoto target but the 20 per cent. target? Does the Minister agree with me that the imposition of the climate change levy on electricity from renewables and CHP is completely nonsensical, and what will he do to address that problem?

Will the Minister make it absolutely clear to the Treasury that the climate change levy, in the absence of something like a carbon tax, is key to meeting the Government's CO 2 reduction target? Will the Minister confirm that the Government are committed, as part of their strategy, to reducing the overall level of traffic? Will he try to convince the Government and their partners within the EU to ratify the Kyoto protocol early, regardless of what the Americans decide to do? Will the Minister proactively provide technical advice and assistance to developing countries to help them reduce their CO 2 emissions? Will he be working with his EU partners to consider the possibility of implementing a Europewide carbon tax?

Finally, will the Minister and the Secretary of State be resigning if they fail to hit their 20 per cent. reduction target? I understand that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has offered to resign if his targets are not hit. I would expect nothing less from the Minister and his Secretary of State.

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Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): Not only the Secretary of State for Education and Employment but his entire ministerial team have promised to resign if they do not hit their targets. I feel that this is a good example.

Mr. Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am pleased that the whole team will have to resign so that there will be lots of vacancies on the Government Front Bench in a couple of years' time.

The Minister's response will confirm whether the Government are serious about tackling the global impact of climate change or whether they are content to rest on their rhetorical laurels while the earth burns.

11.24 am

Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) on initiating this debate. The topic is infinitely important. On the issue of whether the entire ministerial team should resign if the 20 per cent. target is not achieved, I would point out that the targets are set for 2010. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is confident about the return and re-return of this extremely environmentally sensitive and aware Labour Government.

I am a scientist by background and I was formerly a lecturer in environmental science. I have spent the past 20 years reviewing environmental problems. I am delighted that progress has been made in many areas, such as acid rain. I am delighted that nuclear power is being phased out. I am delighted also that on genetically modified foods the Government are steering slightly away from their earlier position. However, the problems of global warming are of a dimension that goes beyond those in other areas. It is the most intractable of all environmental problems. In developing countries and in our own pre-history, the use of timber has produced and continues to produce carbon dioxide. The use of timber leads to deforestation. Britain is the least-forested country in the world--only 5 per cent. of our land is covered by woodland.

The march of civilisation makes us increasingly energy intensive. All our energy has come from timber, coal, oil and gas, which all produce carbon dioxide. There is no sink for that carbon dioxide, and it just increases and increases. The amount of CO 2 in the atmosphere has increased measurably in the past century. From memory, it has increased from about 280 parts to 340 parts per million. If carbon dioxide was inert in the atmosphere, like nitrogen, perhaps there would be no problem. Unfortunately, it absorbs the infra-red or the radiation out into space from the earth. Increasing carbon dioxide levels therefore mean increased temperatures for the earth. That was a scientific theory in the 1960s and the 1970s, but it has become demonstrably the case in the past 10 or 20 years.

One of the great advances stemming from the Kyoto summit in particular, and from the work that led up to it over the previous 10 or 15 years, is that there is now widespread recognition in all the advanced and developing countries that we have a major environmental problem with carbon dioxide that must be tackled. The only ignorant places are parts of the United States and the OPEC countries. Unfortunately, the solution is politically extremely difficult. It requires political will of a dimension that goes beyond any democracy because of

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the importance of the motor car, our central heating systems and our standard of living. Everything that we aspire to and ask people to vote us into Parliament for depends on carbon dioxide emissions. In tackling the problem, we are attacking the very foundation or style of our society.

The danger has been and still is that politicians say, "The problem is too difficult to solve. It will not give us any returns over a five-year Parliament or even over 10 or 20 years. The less we do about it, the better it is for us politically." However, the problem is with us, and the evidence accumulates. It is very difficult to say that this year the world climate has been warmer, but there is an accumulation of evidence. Almost every week we hear of horrible floods, a hurricane or forest fires. I read inThe Mirror last week about an iceberg that measures 40 miles across that is drifting towards Argentina. I dare say that icebergs have always drifted from the polar caps, but not icebergs of such a size and not with such frequency. Problems involving the north and south poles illustrate how challenging the overall problem is.

There has been no energy production at the poles--problems have been exported to the poles by the rest of the world. The great problem is that the ice cover is diminishing because huge chunks are being knocked off the ice caps and are melting, and the earth's temperature then rises for two reasons. The first is the amount of carbon dioxide that we put into the atmosphere, and the second is that if polar caps melt at a significant rate, the amount of sunlight that they reflect diminishes.

I remember reading in the 1970s about the runaway effect whereby a certain amount of CO 2 in the atmosphere causes global warming, which then begins to boil carbon dioxide out of the world's oceans. The amount of CO 2 in the oceans is 60 times that in the atmosphere, and as temperatures rise, that carbon dioxide drifts into the atmosphere. The runaway effect will eventually cause our planet to have an atmosphere somewhat like that of Venus, which is shrouded in cloud.

Any damage to the polar caps is even more serious than the weather that afflicts Britain or the United States. The article in The Mirror says:

I do not vouch for the accuracy of our tabloids, although The Mirror is one of the best, but a rise of 2.5 deg C at the polar caps in the past 50 years is deeply serious.

As I said earlier, the Kyoto summit is an important part of tackling the problem because it gives it worldwide recognition. Our Government, led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the summits leading up to Kyoto, and by my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment at Kyoto, worked towards achieving the first agreement to limit carbon dioxide emissions and cut them by 5.5 per cent. by 2010. That does not solve the problem, but it is an acceptance that there is a big problem, and if we can achieve that target, it will be the first, small step towards a solution. I am proud of the cuts that Britain has achieved. The dash for gas is largely responsible for those--the energy policy that has produced the cuts is not very clever, but we lead the world in limiting carbon dioxide emissions.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington pointed out that those are just the first steps and that we need cuts of 60 per cent. by the middle of the next

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century. If we want sustainable development--the key term used by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis)--we need carbon dioxide emissions to be in balance with the world's capacity to absorb them. That would require a tenfold cut in present emissions which, politically, we cannot imagine unless we move away from fossil fuels. During the next 50 to 100 years, we must almost completely stop using them, which is why solar energy is so important.

I return now to the present target of a 20 per cent. cut in emissions. The Government have a series of policies, several of which have already been implemented, that will help to tackle the problem. I shall review each of them briefly, but critically. We have made good progress on energy efficiency. An extra £150 million has been allocated to the home energy efficiency scheme, and young, unemployed people are being recruited to the environmental task force to work on the homes of the elderly and the poorest people. The scheme cares for the elderly and provides employment and it is good socialism--[Interruption.] Yes, I used the word "socialism". If hon. Members prefer, I will say that it is good social justice. I do not think that they would disagree with that, even if they puff at the term "socialism". I am delighted that we are allocating substantially higher sums to the scheme.

Our combined heat and power targets for 2010 are sensible and, I hope, achievable. We aim for CHP to provide 12 per cent. of our electricity by 2010.

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