Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): I thank the Secretary of State for her statement, and for her courtesy in providing—on this occasion—timely notice of its content.

The Opposition welcome the EU's progress towards ratification of the Kyoto protocol. Whatever the uncertainties about the science of climate change, most of us share an instinctive feeling that we will come to no good by pushing billions of tonnes of chemicals into the atmosphere. One does not have to be a scientist to work that out. Reconciling the material needs of today with the quality of life that we pass on to our children and grandchildren is one of the greatest tasks facing this generation of politicians across the world. We hold the earth in trust, and we must not fail generations to come.

The Secretary of State rightly said that, although welcome, the Kyoto protocol is only an initial step. Is not its significance more symbolic than practical? Is it not an acknowledgement of the challenge that climate change presents rather than a blueprint for meeting it? Given that ratification will involve the Government's taking binding decisions that affect future policy, will she ensure that Parliament can have a full debate on the implications of ratification before taking further irrevocable steps towards binding commitments?

Can the Secretary of State confirm that the treaty will not acquire full legal status until countries that account for 55 per cent. of global emissions have signed up? In the light of the United States' regrettable decision to opt out of the process for the time being, what threat does its

7 Mar 2002 : Column 440

absence pose to the project's eventual success? Does she agree that it is essential to make greater efforts to persuade Governments in the developing world that signing up to Kyoto is in the interests of their people and their future? A better global environment will mean a more secure world.

None of that will happen without a cost. What estimate has the Secretary of State made of the possible cost to the United Kingdom economy of complying with the provisions of the protocol? Will she guarantee that the Government will not use the emissions trading arrangements to do a deal with a country such as Russia or Ukraine to avoid taking effective domestic action to reduce harmful emissions?

The Kyoto protocol builds on the success of the Rio earth summit in 1992, and I hope that the Secretary of State will pay tribute to the leading role played by John Major in laying the foundations of an international agreement to tackle climate change. I note with some amusement that she paid tribute to the role of the Deputy Prime Minister, but did he not nearly derail the entire process in The Hague in November 2000, causing the French Environment Minister to say—if I recall rightly—that he lost his nerve, lost his cool and was a male chauvinist pig?

Will the Secretary of State also acknowledge that Conservative energy policies of the 1990s have made the most substantial contribution to date to reducing UK greenhouse emissions? Is it not because of those policies that we have met, and even exceeded, early targets for reducing harmful emissions? Looking ahead, however, the picture is less rosy. Has she seen the report issued in January by Cambridge Econometrics that predicts that carbon emissions will fall by only 6.4 per cent. between 1990 and 2010—well short of the 20 per cent. target? Is she aware that, last month, the World Economic Forum branded the UK one of the dirtiest countries in the world?

The Prime Minister is given to delivering pious sermons on the importance of environmental protection to the developing world. Will the right hon. Lady remind him that the 2002 environmental sustainability index ranks the UK 98th out of 142 countries? Among EU countries, only Belgium fares worse. When it comes to waste and recycling, the UK has just about the worst record on the planet. People who live in greenhouses should not throw stones. The issue of climate change is bigger and more important than domestic party politics, but is it not time that the Government recognised that there is a glaring disparity between their lofty election promises and statements made at international conferences and their performance at home?

Is it not the case that while Switzerland, Germany and Austria have recycling rates of about 50 per cent., we achieve a mere 11 per cent., and that there is no realistic chance of most local authorities meeting the Government's target of 25 per cent. by 2005? Does the right hon. Lady accept that ill-targeted and bureaucratic taxes such as the climate change levy have, predictably, done nothing to reduce carbon emissions while piling costs on manufacturing?

Who are this Government to lecture the world about being green, when as we speak, as a direct result of their incompetence, fridges containing highly damaging chlorofluorocarbons litter pavements, municipal sites, open spaces and fields throughout the country? Why,

7 Mar 2002 : Column 441

when the Government talk so enthusiastically about energy conservation, did the Minister for the Environment table wrecking amendments to the Home Energy Conservation Bill and then suffer the humiliation of having them voted down in Committee?

The Secretary of State mentioned combined heat and power. Is she aware that the CHP industry is in crisis, that the Government's strategy is running four years late, that staff are being laid off because orders have dried up and that since the introduction of the new electricity trading arrangements last April, CHP output has dropped by 60 per cent.?

The Secretary of State referred to the PIU report on energy, which after much delay was produced earlier this year. Is she aware that the energy industry is fed up with dithering and uncertainty, and needs clarity and leadership from the Government? There is a real danger that a great opportunity to put Britain at the forefront of developing new clean renewable technologies will pass us by if the Government continue to sit on their hands, bringing them out only to wring them hopelessly over the future of nuclear power.

The right hon. Lady talked about the launch of the Government's emissions trading scheme due on 1 April. We support that in principle but are concerned by reports that only half the anticipated number of companies have signed up for it. How many companies have now committed themselves to participation? Can the Secretary of State confirm that the UK scheme is compatible with that being developed by the European Union?

As in so many areas, the Government promised so much on the environment but they have not delivered. Given their performance to date, it is hard to understand why the right hon. Lady's entire statement had a strong flavour of self-congratulation. There is a great deal left to achieve; indeed, the task of delivering a cleaner environment is only just beginning. The Government will be judged not by the protocols and treaties that they sign or by the rhetoric that they use but by what they achieve for us, our children and our grandchildren.

Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman began with what sounded like a high-minded welcome for progress—although, as he rightly said, it is only a start—but he ended up, as he usually does, whingeing on irrelevantly and not altogether pleasantly. Much of what he said was not relevant to the Kyoto protocol. I accept that we ought to seek a debate on the subject. It is not for me to set the agenda for the House, but I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I hope that if we do have a debate, it will be a debate about the Kyoto protocol and not a general rant about all the things that the hon. Gentleman thought of to throw in, most of which were highly inaccurate. I shall try to pick up on at least some of the issues that he raised.

I am aware of the recent studies by Cambridge Econometrics. There is concern that there has been a slight increase in emissions in the last year, but we remain of the view that in the longer term we are on course to reach the targets that are being set.

Towards the end of his remarks the hon. Gentleman asked about the emissions trading scheme. I am not aware

7 Mar 2002 : Column 442

of any suggestion that there is a smaller number of potential companies wishing to participate than we had anticipated. In fact, we are rather encouraged by the number, which was of the order of 40 to 45 when I last checked. Certainly there is no truth in the suggestion that it is half the number that we had anticipated.

As for compatibility with the European Union scheme, I hope that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Commission has made some preliminary proposals for a trading scheme. It is different in scope from our own in that it is mandatory, not voluntary. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that our scheme was designed in consultation with the private sector precisely to identify what would be most attractive. The Commission's mandatory scheme does not deal with all greenhouse gases, treats energy suppliers differently from our proposals and is not for an economy-wide set of proposals. The Commission's proposals are at the most preliminary stage. It does not even suggest that its scheme would come into force before 2005.

Many other member states have some reservations and prefer some of the features of our scheme, so we have every hope that through constructive discussion we can reach a degree of compatibility. Certainly, we are extremely keen both that the whole European Union has experience in this important field, which has potential advantages for the future, and to ensure that there is enough flexibility in what is ultimately proposed for everyone to be able to participate.

The hon. Gentleman asked about costs. I do not recall ever having seen a monetary figure. It has consistently been suggested that the cost of complying with the Kyoto protocol is somewhere between 0.1 and 1 per cent. of gross domestic product anticipated in developed countries over the commitment period, at a time when it is anticipated that growth will be of the order of 25 per cent. There is no suggestion, therefore, that the figure should be particularly difficult to meet.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the agreement was more symbolic than practical. No, there is huge symbolism and huge importance in having got a legally binding agreement with 177 countries participating. We are all sorry that the United States is not one of them. Even without its participation the reductions in emissions will be between 2 and 9 per cent., depending on one's assessment. That is certainly a worthwhile first step, particularly considering that we are talking about a legally binding first step.

The hon. Gentleman was uncharitable—characteristically, I fear—about my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister who, indeed, made a considerable contribution to the agreement. I am happy to accept that the former Member for Huntingdon and the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who is with us today, made a contribution. It is admirable that Members from all parties have been instrumental in moving the debate and agreement forward.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the developing world. The Kyoto protocol encourages states in the developing world to take their own actions and to report what action they are taking. I share the view that that is necessary and desirable. I am also strongly of the view that there is justice in the argument that many of these problems have

7 Mar 2002 : Column 443

originated in the developed world and that it is for us to show that we are taking steps and then to encourage others to join us in doing the same.

Next Section

IndexHome Page