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Mr. Yeo: There is nothing new in thisit is all on the record. Perhaps the Minister is trying to apologise for the outrageous assertions made by the Secretary of State, for which there was no basis in fact.
Twelve years have passed since I was a Minister of State at the former Department of the Environment responsible for, among other things, climate change policy. I was convinced then that the evidence that the world's climate was changing was irrefutable, and it seemed to me that the likelihood of those changes being caused at least in part by human activity was very strong. Today, I believe the evidence is even stronger. Few peopleapart from those with vested interests, some of whom were named by the hon. Member for Lewesattempt to deny either the scale or the urgency of the challenge we face. The chief scientific adviser certainly does not: he has called climate change
A basic duty of Government is to protect citizens against external threats. Defending the borders and policing the streets have long been accepted as part of that duty; another part should be protecting citizens against the consequences of climate change. Achieving the goal of climate stability is a prerequisite of economic prosperity in any part of the world. The present generation of political leaders will be judged not only by how they handle the threat of terrorism but by how they respond to the challenge of climate change.
Fifteen years ago, Britain's Government responded well. My noble Friend Baroness Thatcher was the first Head of Government of any major country to take climate change seriously. Her statesmanlike approach, coupled with the quality of Britain's scientists, gave us international leadership on this important issue. Later, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) played a key role in persuading the United States to sign the Rio treaty. When Labour came to power, hopes were high that Britain's distinguished contribution to confronting the
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challenge would continue, and the negotiation of the Kyoto treaty was a positive step. The right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), who is sadly no longer a member of the Government, grappled intelligently and bravely with the issues, but regrettably his proved to be a lone voice inside the Government. Gradually, it has become clear that Labour's approach to climate change is all talk.
I welcome the emphasis the Prime Minister has put on the subject in recent weeks. It is good that climate change is at the centre of his agenda for the G8 chairmanship and the EU presidency, but much more than gestures are needed if Britain is to regain the influence it once had. Two things need to happen, and quickly. First, Britain must put its own house in order. Progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions was good before 1997, under the Conservative Government, but it has stalled. Earlier decreases in emissions have been replaced by a levelling out of the trend, and in some individual years since 1997 emissions have increased.
Sadly, the Secretary of State does not seem to understand those facts. On Radio 4's "Today" programme a few days ago, she misleadingly claimed that emissions of greenhouse gases were well down on what they were when Labour came to power in 1997. As Friends of the Earth immediately pointed out, carbon dioxide emissions have not fallen in the UK since Labour came to power.
Margaret Beckett: I am sorry, but I am afraid that it is the hon. Gentleman who is misunderstanding the point I was making. I was not challenging the fact that, sadly, our carbon dioxide emissions have not gone down. I will not go into the issue of the Conservative record, except to point out that flattening the economy through two recessions means that it is rather easier to cut emissions. It is true that our carbon dioxide emissions have not fallen, just as it is true that they have risen across the whole northern hemisphere. Nevertheless, the basket of greenhouse gases that are part of our Kyoto target has fallen significantly, and we are reaching our Kyoto target several years ahead of time.
Mr. Yeo: The Secretary of State rehearses the tired old argument that the cut in carbon dioxide emissions before 1997 was something to do with the performance of the economy. Let me remind her that we have recently been hearing boasts from the Government about 50 consecutive quarters of economic growth. Almost half those quarters occurred before 1997, under the Conservative Government. The reduction in carbon dioxide emissions under the Conservatives was achieved in a period covering five years of continuous economic growth. The last five years of that period were of continuous economic growth, but despite that, that Government's policies achieved a cut in carbon dioxide emissions that this Government have failed to achieve. They have failed to continue the progress. She misleadingly referred to greenhouse gases in the hope that people will think that they are carbon dioxide. I am glad to say that on the very day when she made her broadcast,2 February, a week ago tomorrowa Friends of the Earth press release made it clear within hours that
"Carbon dioxide levels have not fallen since Labour came to power . . . UK emissions of carbon dioxide stand at only 7.5 per cent below the 1990 baselinethe same as when Labour came to power in 1997."
Perhaps the rises in carbon dioxide emissions that have occurred under Labour explain the attempts reportedly made in secret last year by Britain to water down the longer-term EU targets. Whether or not those reports are trueI have heard the exchanges between the hon. Member for Lewes and the Secretary of Statethey certainly give rise to very justifiable concern. In any event, the Government have been forced to admitat least, this is clear to everyone elsethat they will be unable to achieve their own target for carbon dioxide emissions, which is a cut of 20 per cent. on 1990 levels by 2010, as set out in the 1997 Labour election manifesto. That target cannot now possibly be met.
That failure scarcely enables Britain to lecture other countries about the need for more progress. Britain's failure to have a national allocations plan ready and agreed in time for the start of trading in the EU emissions trading scheme further weakens the Government's international authority. Despite its flaws, the EU emissions trading scheme is, at least for the time being, the only game in town. It is the best mechanism available for encouraging the efficient use of resources in tackling climate change and cutting carbon dioxide emissions.
Last summer, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had a national allocations plan ready for submission to the EU, but the plan was apparently ripped up on the intervention of the Prime Minister himself. The result is that today, British companies are unable to take part in emissions trading.
Margaret Beckett: That is not entirely accurate. Forward trading is taking place, and no spot trading is taking place at the moment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to explain this away, but I detect some inconsistency in the fact that the Conservatives prayed against the regulations that put in place the emissions trading scheme and have argued against our proposals for the national allocation plan, saying that they were too tough on British business. Having attacked us for being too tough on British business, when we went back to the Commission and said that we believed on the basis of further information that we should be allowed to amend our plan, as a great deal more information had come in since the provisional numberswe said at the outset that they were provisionalwere drawn up, he is now attacking us for wanting to make the change for which the Opposition called at the time.
It is perfectly consistent with strong support for the principle of emissions trading to force debates on the detail of any regulations or measures that are needed to give effect to that principle. We remain unequivocal in our support for the principle of emissions trading as the most effective way of allocating resources in pursuit of the aim of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. On the second point, my criticism is that the Government were not ready. We have known about the start date for emissions trading for years. It should not have been difficult for the Government to work out what our national allocations plan should set out in the interests of a proper balance between environmental gain and the needs of business. Indeed, I am interested that the
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Secretary of State seems to suggest that it was pressure from the Opposition that caused the Government to withdraw the original plan. Many of my hon. Friends will be flattered to think that the Government pay so much attention to our views. In fact, the Government, as they so often do, caved in to the demands of big business. Big business, not small business, goes round to Downing street and has a word with the Prime Minister, so the plan was ripped up.
It is the result of that chaos that I particularly criticise. It is not the detail of plan A or B, but the fact that, after several years in which to prepare, we have reached the starting date and Britain has joined the Czech Republic, Poland, Greece and Italy as the only countries in the EU that have been unable to get their act together. I think that that shows how inadequate the Government's approach to this very important international issue so often is.
On this issue, it appears that, while the Prime Minister is on the surface all talk, behind the scenes his Government are working in precisely the opposite direction from that which is needed if his fine words are to be put into practice. As Bryony Worthington of Friends of the Earth put it:
"The trading scheme is potentially a huge step forward in the race to tackle climate change, but it has been undermined by the lack of ambition countries have shown in bringing it into action. The UK has provided a classic example of how not to do it."
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