Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. I hope I have not unintentionally snatched something that somebody else was going to talk about. There is a process of audit and precise science here which is going to need to be agreed across the world, otherwise what we will get is a huge amount of haggling and argument, with people producing their own scientists saying, "this is what our position is", and we end up sending it to UN inspectors to examine it.  (Mr Meacher) As I say, first of all, there are real uncertainties about trees, because young trees do absorb carbon, older trees do not. Also, they may fall into the ground in the normal carbon cycle or they are burned and, of course, you then get the worst result, they are no longer saving carbon, they are generating it. The question of methodology is a very difficult one and the intergovernmental panel has got its own scientists trying to get agreement internationally about how these things are counted. Perhaps Sarah Hendry might like to say a word about methodology.  (Ms Hendry) All I was going to add was that even beyond the detailed rules that we will be negotiating on different mechanisms in Marrakesh there will then be detailed methodologies that will have to be worked out by the different enforcement branches, for example the CDM Executive Board, which give advice to the Convention. All that still remains to be done and to be tied down.

  41. That sounds like the "all that remains to be done" is huge?  (Mr Meacher) It is.  (Ms Hendry) There is a lot.

  42. If we do not have total consensus to whether the climate change is taking place in the way we understand it, to get some degree of consensus on measurement methodologies is going to be an incredibly long process. What progress has been made so far?  (Mr Meacher) I think there has been further work. There have been recent statements by scientific bodies which have tried to refine this question but a great deal of further work does need to be done. The point I really want to make is we are talking about the first commitment period, that is 2008 to 2012, so we do have a period of time in which that work can be done, and I think it can.  (Ms Hendry) I agree there is a lot of work to be done. Some preparatory work is being done, some thinking on what you call baselines, which are about determining the additionality of projects under the various mechanisms, has already been done, but I agree there is still a lot to be done


  43. My thinking of the virtue of planting trees was dissipated by the fact that I burn logs, I wonder whether I ought to be doing trade with myself, how many trees do I need to plant to justify the logs I burn?  (Mr Meacher) You should not be generating doubt more than you strictly need to, Chairman. Log burning, that is another issue.

Mr Mitchell

  44. You have just depressed me, as somebody who has reached the tree age of stopping absorbing. If you succeed in all that, because it is a large, difficult argument of the hypothetical. I just want to move on to a clean development mechanism, that seems to me to promise a line of development. In view of the claim in Science magazine, that the developing countries would be spending $1.7 trillion in the next 15 years on new electricity generating capacity I wonder if the provision, which is not financed yet, it is going to be small-scale in any case, is going to be totally inadequate? Are these countries going to end up with fossil-burning power stations?  (Mr Meacher) We are doing our level best to try and prevent that. As you say, the industrialisation of the developing countries is going on fast, I do not think any of us want to slow it down, because that is their route to prosperity and the quality of life that we have and I presume we all want them to have it, but we want them to take a different route from the one that we took. The purpose, as you say, of a clean development mechanism is to find an alternative way of providing energy for those economies which minimises fossil fuels and encourages enormous expansion of the clean development mechanism. The significance of it is shown by the fact that in 20 years, approximately plus or minus, the emissions of the developing countries will actually exceed those of the developed countries. It is exceedingly important that they are brought into the system, that they accept, not just voluntarily make reductions, the disciplines we are imposing on ourselves in making this shift away from fossil fuels to renewables. There are, of course, immense benefits in doing this. The point about renewables, unlike fossil fuel, is that once a system is in place it carries on forever. Solar power, which is the ultimate, which is not going to become commercially tappable probably for 15 or 20 years, is literally infinite in the energy which it can provide. We do need to encourage and incentivise them to go down that route as much as possible. China has enormous coal reserves, either to get China to use alternative fuel sources or to develop a clean coal technology, which, again, some companies want to develop. RJ Budge in this country certainly want to develop it, they want to have a pilot plant, and if that could be made commercially viable that is again a way of tapping those enormous coal reserves without over damaging the environment. The clean development mechanism is very important, it could be seen as a major new driver for a different world economic order over this next century. I would not put it less than that.

  45. I agree. Our own role in setting things up is inadequate, to say the least, look at what happened to the wind power, look what has happened to tidal power and look what has happened with solar panels. We need to make a bigger contribution and effort in our own backyard before we can encourage this in developing countries.  (Mr Meacher) That is absolutely true. The Government has set a 10 per cent renewable target by 2010, in other words at least 10 per cent of the generation of electricity by 2010 in the United Kingdom must come from renewable sources. We are still a long way off from achieving that, I think we are about 2.8 per cent at the present time, something of that order. We are also trying to develop good quality combined heat and power, that is CHP, and, again we have a 10,000 megawatt target for 2010. We are, I think, slightly below half that at the present time. We do need to do a lot more and we can do a lot more, particularly in onshore and offshore wind farms and bio-mass as well as the other elements we have not mentioned where there is considerable potential. The development of bio-diesel and bio-ethanol is good for agriculture and good for the environment.

  46. Can I ask about nuclear power as well, the EU stood firm on refusing to allow nuclear power plants to be constructed in the developing countries, these are a way of avoiding fossil fuel problems, which you are primarily concerned with, for what scientific reason was nuclear power precluded?  (Mr Meacher) It is not a scientific reason, it is perfectly true that the generation of nuclear power stations whilst it is not devoid of CO2, because of input, it is obviously at a very low level indeed. The reason for rejecting it was that it was not regarded as a long-term sustainable technology. This is very, very controversial. There are strong views, Canada, for example, are extremely keen to see credit generated from nuclear facilities included and the great majority of the EU, 13 out of the 15 countries, are absolutely adamantly opposed. The United Kingdom and France took, I shall put it more eloquently, a more balanced view, but the overwhelming view—

  Chairman: That is how you would describe it, a more balanced view.

Mr Todd

  47. Sat on the fence.  (Mr Meacher) There are two sides to this argument. The overwhelming political view, it is not scientific, it is a political view, is that nuclear should be out. That, after a lot of discussion, was in the end agreed.

Mr Lepper

  48. Can I take up a point Austin Mitchell has made. Our own energy policy has important bearings on reaching our own targets and contributing overall to global targets and yet within government, as I understand it, it is the DTI which has the overall responsibility for that policy. Do you see any problems between that split of responsibility, here you are on the global platform arguing a case and negotiating, from the point of view of your department, and yet the very area of internal domestic policy, which has an important bearing on what we are contributing, rests with another department?  (Mr Meacher) I think David Lepper is giving me an opportunity to make a bid for other territory which, presumably, includes not only the energy industry but also transport, because transport is the largest single source of rising CO2 emissions. I do not think there is a problem. I think there is a strong argument for saying the division is right, for this reason, I think that the split between sponsorship by a ministry and regulation should be observed in terms of different departments, there are a number of examples in Whitehall where that is not so. In principle I think it is right that a department which sponsors a particular industry should not be the same one that regulates it. It is not a firm or universal rule and Chinese walls can operate but on balance I think the DEFRA's, or as it was the DETR, responsibility for energy efficiency, which is basically a regulatory mechanism to improve the use of energy, should be separate from the department that sponsors electricity and gas.

Mr Jack

  49. You mentioned in glowing terms the question of combined heat and power, can you explain to me why in the context of the consideration by the House of the last Finance Bill, for example, I continue to receive representations from companies like British Sugar telling me they were unable, because of the operation of the Climate Change Levy, to justify further investment in what appeared to be quite a substantial development in the field of combined heat and power. There appears to be a conflict between the environmental tax and your desire to see CHP expanded.  (Mr Meacher) I do understand that. We are anxious to see a development of CHP, it has a major contribution to make. There are certain institutional barriers at the present time which are making that more difficult. We have given a derogation from the Climate Change Levy.

  50. Is that shorthand for the Treasury institutional barrier?  (Mr Meacher) On this occasion it is not. I will explain what those barriers are, the Treasury are not responsible for this. We have given exemption for the Climate Change Levy for good quality CHP, the definition is a technical one. We are aware that that does not apply in the case of exports of CHP to other industrial users, and I think that is what British Sugar are concerned about. We are proposing, shortly, to bring forward a new CHP strategy, which we will publish. All I can say to you at this point is that we are intending to address some of those barriers. We are looking precisely at the issue you have raised.

Mr Todd

  51. The relationship with developing countries. We explored opportunities for trading, another approach would be to say that the main reason we have this problem is that the developed world indulgently used fossil fuels at a time it was industrialising and that the correct approach is to provide straightforward aid to developing countries, not to trade emissions, to provide for appropriate projects which would protect our environment. What is the balance between those two mechanisms or is there a balance or does it only provide one way traffic on that?  (Mr Meacher) Both are important. There are four issues which were basically raised at Bonn, as I say, there was the question of a flexible mechanism, the question of sinks compliance and the last one is aid and support for developing countries, we do recognise that as an important area with regard to the whole Kyoto system.

  52. That aid is not necessarily linked to some saving that the developed world may achieve through that?  (Mr Meacher) No, it is not.

  53. It is not a traded aid?  (Mr Meacher) No, it is not. It is in the form of money for technological transfer, for capacity building and adaptation. Those are the three headings. The amount and, again, this is arbitrary, can be less, which perhaps some developed countries would like, or more, which the G77 want. The amount that we agreed at Bonn, and a political declaration was made by the EU and a number of other major countries, excluding United States, Japan and Australia, of $410 million being made available for these powers. As to whether that is adequate or sufficient is an open question.

  54. Over what time scale?  (Mr Meacher) With regard to the first commitment period.

  55. Was that broken down by nation state or trading block. Do we own part of that $410 million.  (Mr Meacher) We are certainly contributors, according to a formula agreed within the EU.

  56. What figure of that is ours?  (Mr Meacher) I am trying to recall. I cannot recall. Rather than just make a stab at the figure, it is roughly what you would expect relative to that total. I would prefer to drop you a short note to say what it is.


  57. I am sure somebody behind you could make a phone call and jog your memory before the session is finished.  (Mr Meacher) We will get the information by courier pigeon before the end of the session.

Mr Todd

  58. What mechanism is in place to ensure that we meet that? Is it a longish time scale, where one could be talking about not paying that out for some seven or eight years.  (Mr Meacher) All of this is geared to the first commitment period, that is the target frame. Developing countries could certainly expect that money to begin to be delivered at an earlier stage.

  59. An earlier stage meaning?  (Mr Meacher) As soon as may be. No doubt this subject will come up again at Marrakesh and they will be saying, "you agreed $410 million, when are we going to start seeing it?"  (Ms Hendry) The parties to the agreement are meeting in December hopefully in Washington.

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