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House of Commons

Thursday 8 January 2004

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Global Warming

1. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the impact of global warming on the UK. [146366]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): Scenarios of climate change published by my Department in 2002 suggest that average annual temperatures may increase by between 2° and 3.5° C by the end of the century. As a result, the United Kingdom is likely to experience warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers. Such changes will have far-reaching effects on the UK, putting pressure on water resources and wildlife and increasing the risks of flooding and damage to health.

Mr. Allen : Twenty years ago, a generation grew up in the shadow of the bomb and fear of nuclear explosions. Now colleagues in the House who go to local schools realise that schoolchildren fear environmental catastrophe in the shape of global warming. Will my right hon. Friend tell us what she is doing to tackle those concerns, so that young people in my constituency of Nottingham, North and elsewhere can be reassured that the Government are taking the problem seriously?

Margaret Beckett: I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. As he suggests, awareness of the impact of environmental change is growing. Broadly speaking, the Government are pursuing two courses of action. On the one hand, in the shorter term, there is a whole range of measures to encourage people to adapt to the potential impact of climate change. This is something that we are encouraging in the private sector and in Government Departments partly through the climate impact programme—which encourages organisations to make an assessment of the impact—and partly through measures to tackle it.

Alongside that, and for the longer term, there is a programme of mitigation. My hon. Friend will be familiar with many of the proposals within that programme. They include the climate change levy, the

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work of the Carbon Trust to promote low-carbon technologies, the promotion of energy efficiency and so on. We are trying a two-pronged approach to the problem by dealing with the actual impact and by trying to ensure that the impact does not become worse over the years.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): The Secretary of State will have seen The Guardian and The Independent this morning and the numbing news that one in 10 species, including species found only in the UK, may be extinct by 2050. I am sure that she will agree that it is vital to take all possible action to avert that prospect so far as possible, but does she agree that, although her Department may be sound on the issue, that soundness is not mirrored by other Departments within government? In particular, will she recognise that the aviation White Paper projects a doubling of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, so that they will become 25 per cent. of total UK emissions? Will she also confirm or deny that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. May I suggest that we have a more compact question and not an extended statement?

Norman Baker: Will the Secretary of State confirm or deny that the Trade Secretary wants to reduce the Government's target of 20 per cent. reductions in CO2 emissions to 15 per cent. by 2010?

Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right in what he says about the reports in this morning's news media about the potential extinction of many species. The study that has been published today indicates that between 15 per cent. and 37 per cent. of land species in the area that was studied could face extinction by 2050. However, it is important for the House to understand that the impact of the highest predictions of global warming would have an even more disastrous effect. So it is not an exaggerated report that assumes catastrophe; it refers to the expected impact of climate change.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong, however, in suggesting that the problem is not understood across the Government. He cited the aviation White Paper in particular, but the Government made it very clear in the White Paper that we would push for EU air services to be included in the forthcoming emissions trading scheme and that we would encourage all those involved with aviation to adopt working practices that minimise impacts. We are also talking to aerospace manufactures and others and encouraging voluntary action. We recognise the impact of aviation, and we also recognise that the problem has to be tackled at an international level. Through our involvement in the EU, we are striving to get that point recognised and dealt with across the world and not just in the EU.

Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend realise that, given the amount of money that President Bush has raised from the gas guzzlers for his re-election, it will be extremely difficult to get international talks back on track to limit CO2

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emissions? Is it not time that the British Government made as much effort on CO2 emissions as we are doing on terrorism?

Margaret Beckett: Let me assure my hon. Friend that the British Government continually engage in dialogue with our counterparts in the United States about these issues, their importance and their likely impact on the world. It has long seemed to me that one of the influences on security is, indeed, environmental degradation and the impact that it has on poverty, the movement of peoples and so on. The issues are linked, but he may have overlooked the fact that the United States continues to be involved in the climate change convention and to agree with and promote the aims of that convention in reducing emissions.


2. Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): What assessment she has made of whether the UK will meet its recycling targets by 2005. [146369]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): National targets for England are to recycle and compost 17 per cent. of household waste in 2003–04 and 25 per cent. in 2005–06. Our current assessment of local authority performance is that we expect to meet the 2003–04 target and that, although challenging, the 2005–06 target is achievable.

Mr. Baron : I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Challenging is one way of putting it, but given that the Environmental Audit Committee has stated that the UK will not come even close to meeting any of its recycling targets because of a lack of funding, will she stop making false promises and start outlining to the House the concrete action that the Government will take to improve their poor record on recycling, given that failure could result in large EU fines, and incinerators being forced on local communities?

Margaret Beckett: I understand and recognise the concern that we must do as much as we can to meet the targets, but it is not the case that the Government are not on track to meet the targets for this year. I note that the hon. Gentleman called for more funds, so I hope he is aware that the Government have already substantially increased the funds available for the disposal and recycling of waste, both through the general grant that goes to local authorities and specific grants that we have given to deal with waste. I note yet again that although Conservative Members continually complain that the Government spend too much, they call for us to spend more on specific issues.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend recognise that we might achieve our recycling objectives better if the authorities responsible for the collection of waste were the same as those responsible for the disposal of that waste?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend makes a fair point. We are examining the way in which waste collection and waste disposal authorities work together. I hope that he knows that the Government recently put in place

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measures that mean that such authorities will have to draw up joint management plans. We have done that precisely because we understand that there can otherwise be different interests and incentives for one authority to leave to another the burden of dealing with these issues.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Will the right hon. Lady explain how she hopes to meet the 25 per cent. target given that local authorities have demonstrated only a 1 per cent. increase in recycling year on year under her Government? Will she also address the producer responsibility obligations regulations? Although the new scheme comes into effect on 31 January this year, the regulations have still not been published. How does she expect the companies that will comply with the proposed waste scheme to prepare for that when they do not know what they are being asked to do?

Margaret Beckett: I do not recognise the figure that the hon. Lady cited—perhaps it is out of date or reflects a broad picture that is not relevant on the ground. She makes a point about the availability of regulations. I am mindful of the fact that the detail of regulations that are approved often does not become available until much later in the day and that that creates difficulties. That concerns the Department and we continually work to rectify the situation. However, the solution is not always in our hands. If we have to wait for legal texts, for example, it can be difficult to get regulations out as speedily as we should. However, we continue to work at that.

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