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29 Jun 2005 : Column 1359

Climate Change (G8 Summit)

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I have to announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.8 pm

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I beg to move,

I am very pleased that we are able to have this opportune debate, initiated by the Liberal Democrats, on climate change in the run-up to the G8 summit. It is only a pity that, yet again, we have to rely on our Opposition day time for these major debates, rather than having Government time allocated. For the record, in the past four years there have been four Liberal Democrat debates on climate change in our limited Opposition time, only one Government debate on climate change and none at all from the Conservatives. I hope that the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) will attempt to rectify that—provided that he is on the Front Bench long enough, given the quick succession of spokesmen representing the environmental interest for the Conservatives.

The right hon. Member for West Dorset made an interesting contribution on beauty, sunlight and daffodils, to which I listened with great interest. It was the sort of debate that I would have been delighted to take part in, perhaps in a study overlooking an Oxford quadrangle. I hope that he will be able to move on to climate change and other more serious issues before very long—which is not to say that beauty is not important, but climate change is perhaps more important still.

The priorities that the Prime Minister has set for the G8 are, as we know, Africa and climate change. Liberal Democrat Members certainly very much welcome those two priorities. They are completely correct, and the Prime Minister is right to consider what he can do through his presidencies of the G8 and the European Union to take those matters forward.

Although Africa is not the prime subject of the motion, my colleagues feel that significant progress has been made there. The Commission for Africa is a welcome development—a good first step—and we very much welcome the obvious progress that has been made on debt and aid, but I am afraid that the same cannot be
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said for climate change. It may be no coincidence that the Prime Minister has been rather more keen to talk about Africa and aid, where progress has been made, than about climate change, where it has not.

It a common view among hon. Members on both sides of the House that climate change is the greatest threat facing the planet, especially Africa. In January 2004, Sir David King, the Government's chief scientist, said:

Yet, shortly afterwards, the Prime Minister said:

He appears to be at odds with his chief scientist about the urgency of the matter.

I make it very clear that the Liberal Democrats regard climate change as a problem today, not one for the long term. It is a problem that requires action now, both internationally and domestically. Everyone knows that climate change is kicking in. I do not need to rehearse the science—it is all very well documented—and people need only look at the weather in this country to see how it has changed in the past 20 years to know that climate change is here and is having an increasing effect on our country and the planet.

We believe that combating climate change and helping Africa are two inextricably linked goals. Indeed, we go so far as to say that we could sort out Africa's debt problems if only we could sort out the aid problems and even the trade problems. Unless we deal with climate change, the good work on the Africa agenda will be significantly undermined because Africa is in the front line when facing problems from climate change, desertification, extra flooding and changes to crop harvests.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said:

Andrew Simms, the New Economics Foundation policy director, said:

If the Prime Minister wants to make progress on Africa, that is good, but he must make progress on climate change as well, otherwise he undermines his own case.

I commend to the House and the Minister the recent report, "Africa: Up in Smoke", which looked at some of those issues in detail. The report made it plain for us all to see that the G8 nations have failed to join the dots between climate change and Africa. It made it clear that unless global warming is checked, development gains will disappear. Fourteen African countries are already subject to water stress or water scarcity, and they will be joined by a further 11 in the next 25 years. Rainfall is predicted to decline in the Horn of Africa and some parts of the south by as much as 10 per cent. by 2050. The land in Africa may warm by as much as 1.6°C, which can affect crop harvests for hundreds of millions of people. Aid policy for Africa needs to be recast to take account of climate change. Greater resources need to be given to adaptation, so that Africa is capable of withstanding some of the effects that are coming down the track towards it very quickly.
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Sadly, most G8 nations, including the United Kingdom, are dragging their feet in paying aid to the third world for climate change. The UK has pledged £10 million to a special climate change fund, but so far has paid nothing. Japan, the United States and Russia, which ostensibly signed up to some degree to the aid agenda, have refused to offer any cash at all. Germany has so far paid nothing to the special fund.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): I am pleased to say that the hon. Gentleman was one of the Members who came to the launch today of the parliamentary all-party group on climate change. Many Members from both sides were present. The hon. Gentleman referred to the contribution of other countries. Does he think that during our presidency of the G8, those countries will take the Prime Minister's view that climate change is as important as it is?

Norman Baker: I will come to the other G8 members and climate change shortly, but the quick answer is that there is a commonality of view among many countries on the need to act. Unfortunately, that view is not shared by the United States Administration, and we need to overcome that problem if we are to make progress. The hon. Gentleman leads me on to the strategy for the G8 presidency but, first, may I congratulate him on his efforts this morning to set up the all-party group? I hope that it will do good work.

The Government's diplomatic strategy has been sensible. As far as I can tell, it has been based on four prongs. The first is to persuade President Bush and his acolytes of the scientific case for action on climate change; the second is to tie down the rhetoric on new technologies so that something actually materialises, rather than simply talking in a vacuum about what might be done; the third is to aim towards a communiqué that signs up everyone to a successor regime for Kyoto in some shape or form; and the fourth is to find a way realistically and fairly to bring China, India and other such countries on board. Those are sensible diplomatic objectives for the arrangements that the Prime Minister is entering into.

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