Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Morley: The Government have set up a taskforce, chaired by Sir Ben Gill, to look at biofuels. His report will be coming out very soon. The hon. Gentleman might also like to know that we recently set up a rural climate change forum, the first meeting of which took place this week. It is examining the entire range of rural issues, including the very one that the hon. Gentleman raised: the contribution that agriculture can make in dealing with climate change. I am glad that we are fortunate enough to have prominent people on that forum, who can give us the benefit of their experience.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Will that taskforce also look at using biomass as a renewable heat substitute, and can a
29 Jun 2005 : Column 1377
renewable heat obligation finally be introduced, in order to allow our rural areas to make their contribution to reducing carbon emissions?

Mr. Morley: I have not seen the report of Sir Ben Gill's working group. I know that it is looking at biomass, but I am not sure how that fits in with the heat obligation. I am well aware of these arguments and I have some sympathy with them. It is perfectly reasonable that we look at them in the context of the climate change review.

The Prime Minister gave a keynote speech to the World Economic Forum annual conference at Davros. He asked 25 international businesses, including Swiss Re, BP, Hewlett Packard, E.ON and Ford, to look into the issue of climate change and to produce a message that he could take to the other G8 leaders at Gleneagles. It brings us back to the point that some people internationally still believe that taking action on the climate will damage their economies, but that is not necessarily the case, so we must emphasise the opportunities. The message from those companies proved to be a strong one: they said that we must take action now and that Governments must send a strong policy signal to the markets to take into account the long periods over which investments in infrastructure are made. They highlighted the need for rapid commercialisation of new technologies, many of which are already developed; they dismissed the notion that climate change causes harm; and they pointed out the economic benefits, on which we should all focus.

We must also ensure that we feed in from the G8 into the forthcoming Montreal conference. I am pleased to say that a seminar of Government experts held in Bonn this year saw very constructive discussions on the future action of the COP—conference of the parties—that went beyond the original remit of that seminar and exceeded expectations in the positive nature of its tone. There would have been no meeting of Government experts in Bonn had it not been for the work of the EU group at the conference at Buenos Aires—the last COP. I pay tribute to the Dutch presidency and the Dutch Minister Peter van Geel and his team. We also played an active role in respect of bilateral negotiations with the US and others, bringing about agreement to have the seminar, which paves the way for looking at future commitments post-2012. Without the EU, there would have been no agreement at all in Buenos Aires.

John Hemming: Will the Minister explain what might happen at the G8 in respect of international flights? My understanding is that Kyoto ignores international flights. The UK emits perhaps 1 million tonnes of carbon a year that is domestic and 8 million tonnes that is international. Is it possible at Montreal, in the climate change review, or at the G8 summit to bring international flights into the calculations?

Mr. Morley: The G8 is not the forum for that because international agreement is required. The appropriate forum would be the United Nations framework convention on climate change. I believe that we should take action on global aviation and we have raised the issue. In all honesty, I would have to say that, at the
29 Jun 2005 : Column 1378
moment, a majority of the international community is against taking global action. I greatly regret that, but that is where we are. That does not mean, however, that we cannot take action on aviation in the EU. Indeed, as mentioned in the debate, one of our objectives for the UK presidency is to bring forward proposals on how best to include EU aviation within the EU carbon trading scheme. I am optimistic that we will be able to do that, but we will not be able to complete the negotiation process under our presidency, because the time scale is longer than six months. We can get it on the table, start the process and build support for our approach, which is very important.

I conclude by returning to the point that Gleneagles, the G8 presidency and the process are all important, but that Gleneagles is but one part of the process. There are some key new summits scheduled for the autumn—the EU-India summit, the EU-China summit and the EU-Russia summit, for which the UK will be in the chair as president. We have already discussed with those countries, in connection with the ministerial round table discussions, the issue of climatic change and we expect it to be a feature of those summits. That will represent an important step forward.

On 5 and 6 October, we will host an international business conference on climatic change. The purpose is again to stress the point that taking action on climatic change is not necessarily bad for the economy and that there can be advantages in it. Furthermore, on 10 and 11 November we will host a joint EU-G8 conference on environmentally friendly vehicles, which will be held in Birmingham. Those are all steps towards building consensus, raising the issues, getting support internationally and moving forward to the crucial next COP in Montreal of the United Nations framework convention on climate change. That is where we have to aim to achieve global agreement. At Montreal, we will press for the conference to agree to start negotiations on the framework beyond 2012, which we hope will produce a regime capable of tackling this most pressing challenge.

I have spelled out the Government's proposals in some detail and what we are doing both nationally and globally. I have also set out what we have done to tackle climate change and what we are doing for the future review. I do not believe that any other major industrial nation has a record that can rival the UK's.

5.15 pm

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con): I begin with an observation about the character of the debate that the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) may find surprising. More than is the case with any other matter, we are all in this together. There is not a scintilla of difference between the three main parties—and I suspect that the same is true for the minority parties, too—about our objectives.

For that reason, we all ought to make a solemn and binding agreement that we will not introduce into the debate any unnecessary crypto-partisanship. On the whole, I absolve the two main speakers, and I do not propose to make remarks about the contents of the Liberal Democrat election manifesto. That party has been seriously committed to trying to do something about climate change for as long as I can remember. That is clearly the Liberal Democrat position, and it is
29 Jun 2005 : Column 1379
also the Government's as the Minister has been committed to the same goal, also for as long as I can remember.

Of course, there are shades of opinion and commitment within the Government, as there are in the Conservative party. The Minister is aided and abetted by quite a powerful Minister—the Prime Minister—and we should do the Government the credit of recognising that they aim to do the right thing.

The Conservative party is also committed, and that has been the case for a very long time. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition persuaded the US to join the framework convention by means of a piece of shuttle diplomacy that is one of the most important elements in the evolution of this debate. Therefore, this is not one of those issues that divide the three main parties. However, I happen to agree with the motion and I shall ask Opposition Members to vote with the Liberal Democrats this evening.

The real problem is not about intention, but delivery. It has two dimensions, both of which the hon. Member for Lewes explained clearly. I agree with his observations about one of those dimensions, but my slant on the other is rather different.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the Government's delivery on the domestic agenda. The Minister made a typically mellifluous, comprehensive and knowledgeable contribution, in which he sketched many of the steps that the Government have taken. Although the Government have taken a great many such steps, various hon. Members pointed out that they have not proved sufficient to achieve a persistent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Indeed, I stood at this Dispatch Box recently and said that there had been a serendipitous fall in the nitrous oxide emitted as a result of the use of adipic acid in nylon production, and that farmers had done very well in reducing methane emissions and the use of nitrous oxide in fertilisers. Without those factors, the Government would not merely be in danger of not meeting their Kyoto targets but, as the hon. Member for Lewes correctly pointed out, nowhere near fulfilling them. There is therefore an underlying problem.

Leaving aside the fact that Ministers must always present a good front, I am sure that this Minister is perfectly aware of the difficulties facing the Government in meeting the Kyoto objectives. That is not unique to this Administration: all British Governments face the same problems, as this is a very difficult matter. The nation—and Government Departments—must be led to adopt policies that consciously reduce national income. We have to admit to ourselves that a cost is involved. Most of the things that the Government—like most Governments before them—wish to do are aimed at increasing national income. Therefore, having a set of policies that are consciously designed to reduce national income—in some respects—is a difficult proposition and it is no surprise that the Government have encountered some difficulties. However, it is also unhelpful if Ministers pretend to themselves, perhaps through fear of political partisanship from the Opposition, that they can continue to persuade the public that we are going to make progress on—not present policy, because I accept the Minister's point that the review is imminent—what is likely to be policy.
29 Jun 2005 : Column 1380

All parties will have to admit that not only for the next four or five years, but for the next 40 or 50 years, the nation will need a framework for the approach to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and thus the prevention of rapid global warming, or at least our contribution to it, that is parallel to the process that the Chancellor successfully achieved through the transfer of monetary policy to the Bank of England and the establishment of fiscal rules. The Chancellor created an external discipline. It is not perfect and, in previous roles, I have proposed amendments to it, but it has been on the whole successful in creating fiscal discipline that would otherwise be lacking. We do not, as yet, have an analogous external discipline on the behaviour of this and future Governments in relation to climate change. Until we have such a framework, I am convinced that no   Government—not this one nor, as I hope, a Conservative Government in due course—will be able to resist the pressure from many quarters to diminish the speed with which we address the problem, because of the economic costs. I hope that we will reach the point when we agree about that.

Next Section IndexHome Page