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The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Government's approach to reducing the effects of climate change encompasses work both to reduce UK emissions and to encourage the development of adaptation strategies as set out in the UK climate change programme of 2000.
About a year ago, the Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) in a written answer that the Environment Agency was working on a plan to deal with the risk of flooding in
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London and the south-east, given that the projections show that whereas last year we had one Thames barrier closure for winter flooding, in 100 years' time we might need 325 closures. What progress has been made to protect the capital city from the risk of flooding as a result of climate change, and was yesterday's Budget a green Budget with lots of proposals to help this, or did I miss something?
Mr. Morley: The standard of defences for the City of London is very high. The hon. Gentleman is right about the increased use of the Thames barrier. That is partly to protect the city from tidal surge and partly to control flood water and prevent tidal log when it is coming down the river at high levels. In due course, there will have to be an upgrade and modernisation of both the Thames barrier and flood defences in the outer estuary. That is part of the Environment Agency's overall long-term strategy. Any future development will also have to take into account flood risk and flood risk management.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The question also mentions the effects of climate change abroad. I am sure we all want the poorer people in rural parts of China and India to share in the growth being experienced in their countries, but that has a cost in terms of the energy demand that will come from those countries. Would it not be a good idea if British and US companies with the technology to establish energy plants in those countries could do so, to mitigate the effects of fossil fuel pollution which we have experienced, and those countries are increasingly experiencing?
Mr. Morley: I agree. At a meeting held this week in London I had an opportunity to discuss such issues with Chinese and Indian Ministers. The hon. Gentleman might be pleased to know that we are working with both Governments on a range of projects. In China we are working on strategies for sustainable energy, and in India we are working on schemes for solar power, for example, and micro-generation in the Himalayas. There are opportunities for countries that are developing rapidly to introduce clean and green energy technology. There is no doubt that there is enthusiasm for it, and there are opportunities for British companies to participate. Through measures such as the clean development mechanism that was agreed at Kyoto, there are also opportunities for involvement by British companies in clean energy.
There is clearly a debate to be had about the role, functions, advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy. That will have to be part of the wider debate. My hon. Friend will be aware that nuclear energy is dealt with in the Government's White Paper. We have to weigh up the costs and benefits of all forms of energy generation, including nuclear.
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The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Department shares a public service agreement target with the Department of Trade and Industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide. There are regular discussions between both Departments at ministerial and senior official level to co-ordinate climate change policy.
Richard Ottaway: But the Minister is not making much progress. We can all agree that combating climate change is essential, but he has stewardship of the situation. After eight years in government, when will he come close to even matching the record of the last Conservative Government, and when will he stop the spin and cascade of failed targets that seem to be the hallmark of his policy?
Mr. Morley: It is not this Government's policy to reduce emissions by destroying the manufacturing base of UK industry, as the previous Government did. However, CO 2 levels are still lower than in 2001. There is not as much progress as we would like to make on CO 2 , but we have made good progress overall in relation to climate change emissions. We are way ahead of our Kyoto targets and we have one of the best records in the industrial world on that. Since 1997, economic growth has been in the region of 17 per cent. Despite that record economic growth, CO 2 levels have not risen as they have in other economies, and the energy intensity of CO 2 has fallen considerably in this country. We are currently carrying out a climate change review, which is designed to ensure that we meet the commitments that we made for CO 2 reduction.
Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) (Lab): My hon. Friend may be aware that on Monday this week there was an exhibition on the Terrace of the House of Commons by young scientists from King's college, who had a system of carbon capture. Once the carbon had been captured, it could be disposed of. Does the Department have talks or dealings with such colleges so that young scientists can help the climate through carbon capture?
Mr. Morley: We are fortunate to have in the UK such a range of established and new scientists, and such interest in a range of measures that could help us deal with climate change. Carbon sequestration should be considered. It is not likely, in my opinion, to be a long-term solution, but coal will be utilised by developing countries and there is a pressing need for clean coal technology. CO 2 sequestration may well be part of that approach.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Last July we published the Veterinary Laboratories Agency's risk assessment to assess the risk of foot and mouth disease and three pig diseases being brought into Great Britain in illegal imports. The risk of importing diseases can never be reduced to zero, which highlights the need for high standards of biosecurity inland as well.
Mr. Bradshaw: Bush meat constitutes a very small percentageabout 3 per cent.of the illegal imports that we are worried about. We are concerned about it, which is one of the reasons why we have increased by 100 the number of dedicated customs officers. [Interruption.] Yes, indeed; there are now nine more sniffer dogs at airports than under the previous Conservative Government, and there will soon be 10. As the hon. Gentleman may also be aware, we have had considerable success publicising the risks not only at airports, but among the communities that cause most concern and bring in most of the illegal bush meat.
The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): DEFRA has commissioned a number of research studies in order to estimate possible changes to agricultural production, but we cannot quantify the actual impacts on production until we see how farmers react. The whole point of decoupling subsidies from production is to encourage farmers to take business decisions based on the market demand for their products. Increasingly, they will focus on the highest profitability in food and other products grown on the land.
Andrew Selous: Is the Minister not concerned that, for the first time since the second world war, food production is falling in this country? What further consequences does he think the single farm payment will have for self-sufficiency in food production in this country?
The hon. Gentleman exaggerates the situation. In a normal year, the UK is about 74 per cent. self-sufficient in food that can be grown commercially in our climate and 63 per cent. self-sufficient in all food. In an increasingly globalised world, the pursuit of self-sufficiency for its own sake is no longer either necessary or desirable. What we need is to enable the food industry to be properly competitive, sustainable for the long term and successful. That is to be achieved by separating off from production-related subsidy, and by encouraging businesslike decisions by the industry and supporting it through the strategy for sustainable food and farming,
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which is a ground-breaking approach looking to the long term, rather than merely to short-term decisions by our producers.
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