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Climate Change (G8)

1 pm

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): I am grateful for this opportunity to raise some of my concerns about the possible outcomes of the G8 summit in relation to climate change. First, I must welcome my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) to his new appointment as Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I hope that he will bring fresh impetus and wisdom to our thinking on the subject. I am sure that he will. I must also ask him to do his best to ensure that the whole House has a chance to debate this crucial subject at the earliest opportunity in Government time.

I will start with my conclusion. The Government should commit themselves to conducting a serious and impartial study of the climate change model known as contraction and convergence—C and C. In its barest outline, C and C proposes that we should reduce our carbon emissions. That bit is relatively uncontroversial, at least outside the White House. C and C, rather more controversially, says that, over the next 45 years, we should reduce our emissions to the point at which they are not only sustainable, but at which no humans may accumulate for themselves more carbon emitting rights than any other. It is a simple concept, but it is supported by serious analysis. Much detailed work has been carried out on it by the Global Commons Institute.

It appears that, in Government circles, there is much scepticism and confusion about C and C, even though there is also some support. The Government have rightly done what they could to dispel the myth that there remain any credible doubts in the scientific community about human-originated climate change. We now have a better understanding of the processes involved and the likely outcomes if we do nothing to change our ways. There is almost total unanimity on that. But remember how long it took to get to that position. If we allow ourselves the same time to develop a solution as we took to grasp that there was a problem, the solution will come too late.

C and C is a full-term solution, and is the only one on the table that addresses the whole time scale to 2050. C and C and the discrete measures that we are already adopting, such as cap and trade schemes, renewables or environmental taxation, are not mutually exclusive. But C and C provides the benchmark against which those policies can be tested. We know from recent figures that our policies are not delivering the desired net reductions in carbon emissions. We need to be more scientific in our approach, and far more determined. We need an overarching framework in which to operate, not only so that we can test our policies against it, but because it will provide long-term certainty to all those who are required to invest in future systems—be they in carbon trading or technology.

Only last week two dozen leading British industrialists called for a 30-year period of certainty in policy. We are not offering them that at the present. These industrialists are known as the G8 climate change round table, which was convened only a week or so ago by the World Economic Forum. They said:

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That is what we need. Our policies at the moment—that patchwork quilt—are not giving off the right signals about our long-term policies on climate change. At a recent conference in Bonn, called to prepare for the United Nations conference of the parties meeting later this year, a senior civil servant at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was quoted as saying that

I find that rather incredible. If true, it would certainly be a significant shift in policy.

Many who are investing in renewable technologies are anxiously waiting to see whether the Government will go down the nuclear route. As in the past, such a move would inevitably soak up huge amounts of public funds. As we saw in the general election, climate change was not an issue, hardly being raised by the Government, let alone by the Opposition. Indeed, our climate change manifesto was launched as part of the rural manifesto launch. This is a sad commentary, especially when the Prime Minister has done so much to make this issue one of his top priorities at the G8.

There are times when it feels like the whole G8 agenda is too big, even with only two items on it. It has become clear that climate change is being shunted to one side because of a lack of clarity in our response to the science. I also recognise the obstacle represented by the United States President, but he is increasingly isolated, even in his own country, despite his dissembling friends in ExxonMobil. I commend the initiatives that are now taking place all over the United States, from the Chicago climate exchange to the mayor of Seattle's climate protection agreement, which has been signed by scores of city mayors across the United States, representing perhaps 130 million people.

Those involved do not feel that they have to wait for President Bush, and nor should we. Indeed, if we had, we would not have Kyoto. We must not enter the post-Kyoto negotiations seeking to appease Bush. I realise that without him, no agreement would be as effective as it should be, but if we please him, we will have an agreement that is of little value to anyone.

C and C has acquired much support, and the Secretary of State understated the case in telling Aubrey Meyer, the director of the Global Commons Institute, that C and C was merely "currently fashionable". In 2003, the secretariat of the UN climate change convention said:

In 2000, our own royal commission on environmental pollution said that it supported C and C. In 1997, at Kyoto, the Africa group tabled a C and C amendment. Even the American delegation said that C and C

Indeed, the Byrd-Hagel resolution of the United States Senate, which is often cited as an example of American hostility to climate change agreements per se, actually opposes only climate change treaties that exclude
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developing countries. Of course, the American Administration have changed since Kyoto, but they will change again, and we must not wait to make progress on these ideas.

I fear that the Government's approach to renewables technology—saying, "We do not choose winners. Let the markets decide"—also applies to overall climate change policy and that they want to wait and see what consensus emerges. Of course, it would be highly desirable to obtain consensus, but all markets have leaders, and the good start that we made in setting the G8 agenda is in danger of being frittered away.

Let us take a closer look at where the Americans are coming from. Bush wants to reduce the carbon intensity of the American economy, but that could easily be explained as much by a fear of weakening security of energy supplies as by a fear of climate change; indeed, it is probably the former. As such, the policy does not guarantee a net reduction in carbon emissions. That is identical to our own experience over recent years. We may have seen a reduction in carbon intensity—in transport, for example—but the growth in the economy has outweighed it. That is not a good result, no matter how much the Department for Transport would like us to think otherwise.

Such a policy is also dangerous because it encourages some industries—aviation is the worst—to believe that Governments should accept that improvements in their energy efficiency must lead to the grandfathering of emissions rights into the foreseeable future. They want future growth to be built into negotiations, not negotiated away. If they succeed, we might as well stop discussing doing something about climate change in our homes and offices. There are not enough energy-saving light bulbs in the world to compensate for the extra flights Ryanair alone would like us to take in one month.

George Bush is at least putting some money where his mouth is, and the US is committed to spending a lot on new technologies. In the UK, the Council for Science and Technology, which was appointed by the Prime Minister and co-chaired by the Government's chief scientific adviser, published a little-noticed report entitled "An Electricity Supply Strategy for the UK", illustrating the parlous state of our investment in energy technologies. It shows that Government investment in energy research, development and demonstration—RD and D—has dropped to just 5 per cent. of what it was in 1974, down from the equivalent of $1 billion annually then to just over $50 million annually now. According to the report, we spend about 10 per cent. of what France spends and 20 per cent. of what Germany spends.

Our privatised industries' performance is equally poor: measured as a percentage of sales, spending on RD and D is half that of American companies. In its report, the council says that Government spending on RD and D is highly fragmented. That is not a rosy picture, and it urgently needs addressing, because without a strong RD and D base, the optimism surrounding new technologies such as hydrogen will be misplaced. The report also shows that we have no choice but to make reductions in energy use a more radical feature of policy than it is. There is no alternative, and the promise of business as usual on the back of technological innovation is wishful thinking. However, that does not lead me to one of the council report's conclusions, which was that nuclear power offers a way
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out. The dangers of nuclear power have not gone away, but the real danger of hitching up again with that hugely expensive beast is that it will drain resources away from other technologies that offer a cleaner long-term future.

Back in 1974, when we spent so much on research and development, more than three quarters of it went on nuclear power. If we had spent similar sums on renewables, we would be in a far better position. Are we condemned to make the same mistake again? A very powerful lobby would wish that on us, and points to nuclear power's "renaissance" in China, Finland and elsewhere. Although it uses the word "renaissance", I think that "proliferation" is more appropriate, as it implies a more significant meaning.

I recognise that the Government are in a bind. It would take a courageous or, some might say, suicidal politician to tell his or her electorate that their lifestyle was unsustainable. However, we are moving swiftly towards that unpalatable truth and people are beginning to understand why the future cannot be an ever-expanding balloon of economic growth without consequences. I have deep reservations about the Department for Transport's predict-and-provide approach to aviation, but nevertheless its radical thinking on tackling congestion is emerging, although that is not yet about climate change. If it were, the question would not be about whether we should have to pay more for driving our cars at certain times of the day, but about how we could use our cars less.

In the run-up to the G8 summit, we are sending out too many mixed signals. We do not have a single, straight, honest and powerful message that is both practical and conceptually coherent. Unless we adopt a firmer approach, we shall find ourselves firefighting on more and more fronts, to be engulfed—forgive the mixed metaphor—not by fire, but by the sea.

I repeat my conclusion. C and C provides the framework necessary to construct our climate change policies; it provides the discipline that we lack. It is not only environmentally indispensable, but socially just. Nobody on this earth has a greater right to pollute than anyone else. No rich nation has the right to purloin the atmosphere of the poorest nations and then, as is exemplified by our approach to tackling poverty, tell them that we will give them our charity or release them from their debt to us.

Let the Archbishop of Canterbury have the final word. He said that contraction and convergence

1.12 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jim Knight) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) on securing this debate on climate change and the G8. Like me, he was elected in 2001; since then, he has established an excellent reputation as a passionate campaigner on such issues. His work on the Environmental Audit Committee and elsewhere in Parliament adds real value to our debates. I thank him for his leadership on such vital matters. Similarly, the UK's leadership on international climate change is respected and welcomed all over the world by those committed to tackling that issue; no country has
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done more in recent years to make it an issue for Heads of State, and we shall continue to do so during our EU presidency and presidency of the G8.

Action must be taken in conjunction with our international partners, but if the UK is to influence others successfully, we must first demonstrate that we have taken action at home. Since 1997, we have established the target of 10 per cent. renewable energy by 2010; placed an obligation on energy suppliers to supply an increasing proportion of energy from renewables; introduced the climate change levy; established the Carbon Trust to work with businesses on reducing energy use; and established the first greenhouse gas trading scheme in the world and one of the toughest trading caps in the new European Union regime.

We have also overturned the whole basis of company car fleet taxation, shifting it towards low-carbon emissions, and lowered vehicle excise duty for low-carbon vehicles. I can tell my hon. Friend that we are pushing for aviation to be included in future in the EU emissions trading scheme and that, just today, the Department of Trade and Industry launched a carbon abatement technology strategy, which I am sure he will find interesting.

The UK has shown that tackling climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved without damaging economic competitiveness or living standards. The UK has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent. since 1990; during the same period the UK economy has grown by more than 36 per cent. We are one of only two EU countries on track to meet the target of cutting 1990 greenhouse emissions by 8 per cent. before 2010. As has been mentioned, we have more work to do to meet the domestic target of a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide because CO 2 reductions are less than greenhouse gas reductions as a whole and because 20 per cent. is a tougher target.

The climate change programme review will report later this year. We will make some announcements on that shortly and advise on those measures required for the UK to achieve the 2010 target. We cannot tackle climate change unilaterally. As the Minister with responsibility for biodiversity, I noted with concern the report today from the Royal Horticultural Society conference—it has taken a lead by organising the event—on the effect of climate change on trees and forests in this country. Clearly, we cannot do anything on our own to tackle that loss to the enjoyment that we all take from our gardens, recreation areas and rural areas.

As we know, the Prime Minister has made tackling climate change a central theme of the UK's G8 presidency this year. The Government's primary objective is to raise the profile of climate change as a matter deserving the urgent attention of Heads of Government in the G8 and outside, so as to promote an international consensus on the need for further action to control emissions.

We have also set ourselves more detailed but no less ambitious objectives. The first is to set out a clear direction of travel to deal with climate change, based on the science. The second is to agree a package of practical measures focusing on technologies that have significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions than traditional technologies. The third is to work in
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partnership with the major emerging economies to reach a new consensus on how we deal with the challenge in the future.

Our detailed proposals have been developed during the year. On science, they have been developed to reflect the outcome of a science conference hosted by the UK in February. Scientists from more than 30 different countries considered how to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions. They considered what level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would be self-evidently too much and what options we have to avoid such levels. They concluded that there was greater clarity and less uncertainty about the impacts of climate change across a wide range of systems, sectors and societies. In many cases, the risks identified were also more serious than previously thought. We are making progress in understanding the science.

On 7 June, the science academies of all the G8 nations plus those of Brazil, China and India signed a joint statement. It states:

When independent scientists speak with such clarity, it behoves politicians to listen. The science academies called on G8 nations to

To further our aim of developing a package of practical measures, we are working on a possible technology package to be agreed at Gleneagles. Specific proposals are being prepared in collaboration with our G8 partners on cleaning up fossil fuels and improving energy performance. The G8 has already agreed, under the Evian action plan on science and technology for sustainable development, to accelerate the research, development and diffusion of energy technologies. We are hopeful that the G8 can agree on turning the political agreement that we already have from the Evian summit into concrete action.

To address our third aim of working in partnership with emerging economies, we are engaging with a number of developing countries on mitigation and adaptation. The share of global greenhouse gas emissions from developing countries is set to rise significantly. As countries develop, it will be important that they are able to meet their growing energy needs sustainably. There is a role for G8 countries and international financial institutions to work with those economies to enable them to achieve a low-carbon future. Greater clean coal technology, energy efficiency, and renewable energy within the emerging economies should be supported through a combination of capacity building, technical assistance and additional finance. Therefore, we have invited the Heads of Government of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa to the summit in Gleneagles, where they will have extensive discussions with their G8 counterparts on climate change issues.
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It is also important that the G8 and the major emerging economies discuss the impacts of climate change per se. It is widely accepted that some degree of climate change is now unavoidable, due to historic and current emissions. Those effects will disproportionately affect developing countries—the countries that have contributed least to the problem. I know that in many ways that is philosophically what is behind the contraction and conversion ideas about which my hon. Friend has such strong feelings. Developing countries also lack the necessary financial means to cope with the widespread effects of climate change. We need to work with vulnerable developing countries to help them respond to the challenge.

Climate variability and climate change put some $10 billion to $20 billion of net overseas development aid at risk each year, threatening the achievement of the UN millennium development goals. As an important first step, we need to ensure that developing countries have adequate regional and national data and the capacity to interpret them, so that they will be able to assess their degree of vulnerability and plan effective responses for the future. We, as donors, should climate-proof our development spending through better screening and management of climate risk. As biodiversity Minister, I attended the launch of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which has shown the clear link between the loss of biodiversity and the problem of achieving poverty eradication and, as I have already stated, the clear link between biodiversity loss and climate change.

Our aims are challenging, but we are confident that they are achievable. We are not at Gleneagles yet—there is still a lot of work to be done—but momentum is moving in our direction. The Prime Minister recently visited Rome, Moscow, Berlin and Washington, and he is in Paris today. He will also be holding a video conference with his Japanese and Canadian counterparts. The Prime Minister and President Bush had constructive discussions on climate change, and I hear my hon. Friend's cynicism about the President. The differences between Europe and the US on the scientific evidence surrounding climate change are well known, but we agree on the fundamental points that climate change is a serious issue and that we need to act in response. President Bush has said he is looking forward to a discussion on climate change at Gleneagles, and so are we. He and the Prime Minister have regular discussions on the subject.

We should not forget that the summit is not about creating a new Kyoto or any other international agreement, and nor is it about setting new targets—the UN framework convention on climate change is the right place for that. Instead, we want to find ways of reaching a new level of dialogue between the leading economies, private sector and technology leaders and the major emerging economics—dialogue that will lead to practical action, involving promoting new clean technologies and supporting sustainable economic growth. We will achieve that through both the measures that we agree at the summit and working together beyond Gleneagles. In many ways, Gleneagles will be about creating a will and momentum that can be then taken forward through the UN process. The package of measures on the table at Gleneagles will complement
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the   UN framework convention process by providing the   means through which the necessary emissions reductions can be more easily achieved.

The UK remains open to any new international framework as long as it is realistic so that it is relevant to countries with different national circumstances, robust so that it is can be adjusted in the light of experience, and durable so that the system does not become irrelevant in a few years' time.

My hon. Friend has been very patient, and I will come to his specific points on contraction and convergence. He has been an articulate and passionate champion for the framework. His points are well argued and will be compelling to many listening to the debate. Certain aspects of contraction and convergence are appealing, including the identification of a fixed level for stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations, and comprehensive global participation. It is a long-term framework and has advantages of clear equity—all things that we support.

One key element, however, of any future regime must be workability. One particular concern with contraction and convergence is the question of how globally acceptable and, in consequence, how workable that would prove to be. The debate on further action is at an early stage and to support any one framework over any other at the moment would be premature.

Colin Challen : What are the other frameworks? That is the question. I am not aware that anything else is seriously on the table. What is described is an overarching framework.

Jim Knight : The argument that I am putting to my hon. Friend is that if we went with this particular framework, given that there is nothing approaching uniform support at the moment, we would be setting out our stall too early. We are very early in negotiations about how the framework can go forward at the UN convention in Montreal at the end of the year.

It is important that all existing suggestions remain on the table at present and that full consideration is given both to the possible solutions and to the elements within them that could be used to form part of a workable solution. As I said, the outcome will be decided by negotiations under the UN framework convention on climate change.
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My hon. Friend asked if we could commission an independent expert study. I am told that there are already a large number of independent expert studies, which suggest a number of possible future frameworks, including contraction and convergence.

As well as the official G8 political process, we have been engaging with international business to hear its views. When the Prime Minister attended the World Economic Forum this year, he asked 25 leading multinational companies, including BP, Deutsche Bank, EDF, Ford and Toyota, to look at the issue of climate change. We are particularly pleased with their statement, issued on 9 June. Their message was strong—that we must take action now and Governments must send a strong policy signal to markets, taking into account the long periods over which investments in infrastructure are considered. They highlighted the need for the rapid commercialisation of new technologies, which are in many cases already developed. They also dismissed the idea that action to tackle climate change causes economic harm. They pointed out that there are likely to be economic benefits, particularly if initial costs are compared to the costs of inaction. The Government will take their message to the Gleneagles summit and beyond.

With limited membership and participation, the G8 alone cannot and should not produce a new international framework. What the UK's G8 presidency will produce is the momentum that the international community needs to develop a future framework. We hope that that dialogue continues through the United Nations framework convention on climate change, specifically at the next conference of the parties meeting in Montreal this year. We will be pressing for the conference to agree to start negotiations on the framework for beyond 2012, which we hope will produce a regime capable of tackling the huge challenge that we face. I trust that we will continue to debate such a crucial issue.

At the beginning of his remarks, my hon. Friend asked for a debate on the Floor of the House. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will have noted what he said. Debating the issue is important. As we move through Gleneagles to Montreal, I hope that we continue to hear from my hon. Friend as the debate continues.
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