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Norman Baker: Indeed. Those states and countries are moving forward on emissions trading and tackling climate change. American business, too, increasingly recognises the opportunities in the world from tackling climate change. That is what is happening from the grassroots up in the US, but it has not yet reached the White House.
We need to encourage those elements. What we must not do, in any circumstances, is to try to find a halfway house that brings the Americans on board but would involve abandoning key targets to get them to sign a piece of paper that the Prime Minister can wave Chamberlain-style saying, "Climate change agreement in our time." We must avoid that at all costs.
I am worried. Although I believe that the Prime Minister is well intentioned, I am not convinced that he has the diplomatic skills to get the right result in his negotiations with President Bush. A whole range of issues, whether the International Criminal Court, Iraq or even the Chancellor's laudable attempts to secure debt relief, are being stopped, stymied, blocked or opposed by the United States. It is difficult to think of anything that the US has done recently that is helpful to the UK. Our special relationship with the United States is peculiar; it is all give on one side and all take on the other. That seems a peculiar arrangement. I wonder whether it is seriously worth pursuing the idea that we can secure any agreement from the Americans. That is not to say that we should not talk to them. We can agree on matters such as technology and investment in technology and we can agree to share science and so on, but we must not in any circumstances allow the US to be a brake on the post-Kyoto arrangements. We must ensure that those arrangements are put in place with the countries that are willing to agree to them. We must also ensure that they include targets.
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The Secretary of State will be aware of a report in The Observer that suggested that in the December Council the British Government made an attempt to abandon the 2050 target for a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. We were told subsequently that that was a tactic by the British Government and that in March the policy would come back in.
Norman Baker: I am sure that The Observer will have seen that and will reply at length on Sunday. Sadly, none of us has the opportunity to do so in that particular format. However, I have seen the minutes so I take the Secretary of State's comment with a pinch of salt. It looked to me, from reading the minutes, as though The Observer was accurate, but never mind, we will take the matter at face value.
I have not concentrated on domestic policy because it is important to get the international scene right. With due respect to the Government, however, if they are to achieve credibility abroad they must deliver real progress at home. Grandiose speeches abroad are no substitute for action at home. I do not pretend that it is easy or that all the problems can be solved overnight, but there are significant shortcomings in the Government's performance that must be addressed. One is Government structure. The Government, sadly in my view, abandoned the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which for the first time brought transport and the environment together in a sensible way. We now have DEFRA, which, with due respect to the Secretary of State, does not carry the same weight in the Government as the Treasury or the Department of Trade and Industry.
Norman Baker: I should be very surprised if that were so. I can give the Minister chapter and verse, whether on the national allocation plan, abandoned cars or a range of other issues, to show how DEFRA has lost out to the DTI time and time again recently.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con):
As well as the desperate need significantly to reduce carbon emissions, we are making a double whammy of the crisis. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned that fact. It has been calculated that over the past 25 years we have chopped down 5 million sq km of rain forestthe one instrument, so to speak, that can actually mop up carbon dioxide emissions. That 5 million sq km is equivalent to 20 times the size of the land mass of the United Kingdom.
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Norman Baker: That is a good point, which demonstrates how impossible it is to cover the whole range of issues in a speech such as this, especially as I do not want to take any more time from the other Members who want to speak.
The Government must make more progress on transport, where there has been a big increase in emissions which is out of control. Road traffic will grow by about 25 per cent. over this decade alone. Public transport fares are rocketing. The cost of travelling by rail has gone up by 84 per cent. since 1974 and is about to increase again; the cost of travelling by bus has grown by 71 per cent., while the cost of motoring has gone down. We have the aviation problems to which the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) rightly referred earlier and they, too, need to be tackled. Stephen Tindale of Greenpeace has said that the Government have failed and that they seem to have given up on controlling emissions from transport. That is a big problem and the Government must sort it out. They must also ensure that their energy White Paper, which contains many good ideas, is brought to fruition.
The motion sets out the absolute importance of the need to take urgent action on the serious threat facing the planet from climate change. It recognises the need to engage the US and developing countries, and calls on the Government to ensure that that is a key priority. I hope very much that the House will support the motion.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I find myself in a rather unusual position for a Minister taking part in an Opposition day debate. Although, inevitably, I do not agree with everything that the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) has just said, I am in agreement with the sentiments expressed in the motion. As the opening words of the motion draw attention to the overwhelming importance and gravity of the threat of climate change, it is welcome and not altogether surprising that there should be common ground and agreement on both sides of the House, or at least in most parts of the House.
Climate change is a global problemprobably, as the motion says, the most urgent challenge facing the global community. It requires not only political leadership but ultimately a global solution. The Prime Minister, as is acknowledged across the world, is doing his utmost to provide that leadership and is leading international efforts to tackle climate change. It was his decision to make climate change a top priority for both our G8 and our EU presidencies. I welcome the recognition of that fact in the Liberal Democrat motion.
I begin by reiterating, as did the hon. Member for Lewes in his opening speech, the sheer breadth of consensus on the science of climate changea degree of consensus, which, as he said, is not always reflected in the way in which scientific discussion is reported. Over about 18 years, the intergovernmental panel on climate change has brought together more than 1,000 international scientific experts on climate change.
The IPCC's third assessment report in 2001 concluded that there was strong evidence that climate change owing to human emissions of greenhouse gases was already
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occurring and that future emissions of greenhouse gases were likely to raise global temperatures by between 1.4 and 5.8° C during this century. I am always conscious of the fact that that does not sound very much, but I am equally conscious of the fact that the scientific evidence suggests that such a rise in temperature would have a wide range of impacts both on the natural world and, in consequence, on human society.
Nevertheless, some are still questioning whether we should worry about climate change. The most vociferous challenges that we hear nearly all come from self-proclaimed experts with little real expertise, whose arguments nevertheless receive attention that is out of all proportion to either their numbers or their relevance. That is not unprecedented, of course. The hon. Member for Lewes gave the example of those who query the link between lung cancer and smoking, and there are still more who still query the link between HIV and AIDS. So that phenomenon is not uncommon, but it is dangerous.
I will not reiterate the examples that the hon. Gentleman gave, but I will make an observation about one of those whom he quoted. As he rightly says, Professor Lomborg talks instead about diverting resources that could be used to help to tackle the problems of climate change to tackle those of development. Indeed, we all accept that development needs to be addressed, but the real danger of his argument is that if we follow the route that he prescribesthe hon. Gentleman used the example of pouring water into a colanderwe would certainly be in danger of running to stand still, because of trying to tackle impacts that we were not seeking to mitigate. Such people must not be allowed to divert us from the real question, which is not whether climate change is happening, but what we could and should do about it.
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