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Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): I wish that the Opposition had chosen a title for the debate that basically said, "Look, we're all in a terrible mess, and we haven't a clue how we got into it and how we get out of it, but we'd welcome a cross-party approach to the discussion." Instead, there is an unambiguous side-swipe in the wording of the motion that pulls the rug from under many of the good comments that were made by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). We have to be more forthright in what we say to ourselves about our starting point.

I was saddened to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that we should not attribute every one of the natural disasters that are happening around us to climate change. If he had listened to the advice that Professor Sir Dave King gave the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs only a year ago, he would realise that Professor King said that we are currently in the middle of a revolution of small changes. Climate change is not a future scenario; we are in it now. We must consider urgently what we do about short-term, traumatic upheavals in what we used to perceive as our seasons and our climate. Those changes can result in flash flooding and drought in the same month, and we have never been politically or constitutionally prepared for this. We are experiencing the consequences today of climate change, which, I fear, will become worse by the year for the rest of our lives. We must tackle that.

We also know from our scientists that the challenge that we face for the first 50 years of the century is reducing our ecological footprint on the planet by two thirds. That is a non-negotiable point for them about our contribution to the planet's survival. Today, the United Nations said that, by the end of the decade, there will be 50 million environmental refugees as a result of climate change. We need a new heading under which we acknowledge the displacement of people as a result of a set of economic assumptions—largely, the framework of economic thinking that prevailed in the second half of the 20th century—that have driven us to our current position. We all face that crisis.
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I believe that the crisis will be worse than Parliament has been willing to acknowledge so far. That will become apparent persistently in the next 10 years through crises in food security, water management and energy security. I want to make several propositions on a cross-party basis and I hope that my comments are deemed to be either equally offensive or encouraging to Members of all parties. However, they need to be made in a debate that should have space for a few heretics.

Globalisation makes the crisis worse. The global dash for cash has resulted in a helter-skelter economy, where goods move huge distances in ever greater pursuit of lower costs and lower environmental responsibilities. That simply accelerates the crisis. We will be forced to address that, whether we like it or not.

Norman Baker: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that could be tackled, first, if World Trade Organisation rules were altered to take account of the environment and secondly, if the proper environmental costs of transport were incorporated?

Alan Simpson: Yes, it could be done if the WTO became a world sustainable environment organisation but I see no prospect of that. The tragedy is that global institutions are intellectually out to lunch. They are hostages to corporate greed and those who write the history of our time will probably describe it as an era of economic cannibalism in which society set about trying to consume itself. The prospect of change driven by global institutions is remote.

Despite all that, the Labour Government have made some landmark decisions nationally. Sadly, they have often been undermined or compromised by economic short-termism. It is worth putting on record that only a Labour Government made the commitment in law to eradicate all fuel poverty in Britain by 2016. DEFRA has consistently tried to push that programme despite the fact that its budget has been cut and that it has been undermined by contradictory decisions by other Departments. For example, the decision to build a range of £60,000 houses that will be exempt from thermal insulation standards is nonsense. We might have avoided that if it had been up to DEFRA rather than the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Sadly, at the same time as making a terrific set of commitments on fuel poverty, Parliament has promoted a growth in aviation, the carbon consequences of which wipe out all other gains. We also have economic policies that actively promote a huge growth in global product miles, without making any attempt to consider the carbon content of those product miles or the environmental impact on areas in the south that are pushed into supplying for the north long before they can feed themselves.

In this current Parliament, two laudable private Members' Bills on sustainable energy and on micro-generation might well be spiked or talked out—sadly, I fear, by opposition from those on my own Benches—because while their ideas are desirable, the resources involved are uncertain. So those Bills might well not reach the statute book.

Against that background, we must engage, with urgency and excitement, with the changes that need to be made. Many of those changes are already happening,
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some outside Parliament and outside this country. I have spoken on other occasions about the work that is being carried out internationally on food security. Over the past 10 years or more, there have been phenomenal achievements, particularly by the European Slow Food movement, on internationalising the case for reinvesting in local and sustainable food systems, strengthening food accountability, shortening food miles, reducing the congestion and pollution that result from the long-distance trans-shipment of goods, and reconnecting with the sustainability of the land itself.

Having registered that point, I want to focus on energy and housing. I have been doing quite a lot to address the questions of how we can recycle water and generate energy for ourselves in our own living situations. However, the more work that I have done on this, the more I have discovered that other people are already way ahead of me. In Berlin, for instance, 75 per cent. of all new buildings have solar panels built into their design. Toronto is dealing with the problems of summer heat by removing the air conditioning systems from buildings and replacing them with water cooling systems using water drawn from Lake Ontario. There are some fantastically imaginative schemes building renewable and sustainable energy systems into the way in which people think about how they live.

This country has two grounds for claiming to be a global leader. One—perversely for me, as a northerner—is to be found in Woking. Over the past 13 years, Woking has moved quietly towards being energy self-sufficient. It now produces 135 per cent. of its own energy needs, entirely—I think—from sustainable and renewable sources. Within the next couple of years, it is going out of the national grid because it found that every £1 worth of energy that it was putting into the grid was costing £7 to £10 to claim back out. To understand why that was happening, we have only to look at the national system of energy production. There we discover that 70 per cent. of the energy inputs into our energy industry go up in smoke. If we look at any power station, we can see this happening. The national grid transmission system leaks like a sieve. That is not the model that we need for the 21st century.

In Denmark, 40 per cent. of energy supply already comes from local energy systems, and in the Netherlands, the figure is 50 per cent. However, world leadership in this regard is to be found here in merry old London, where the Labour loyalist, Ken Livingstone, has pinched the borough engineer from Woking and appointed him as his new climate change adviser, and accepted the challenge to make London energy self-sufficient within a decade. Production will probably come from biodigesters or bioreactors, rather than incinerators, but it will not require a jot of nuclear power. Not one jot. That is because local energy systems can already cope with the energy gap that we fear. We could power this country on the energy that we throw away.

I want to finish by making four propositions. First, I modestly proposed an Energy Markets Bill in the last Session, and I urge the Government to accept its provisions. Secondly, we should consider imposing a carbon miles quota on all airports. Thirdly, we should
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follow London's example in promoting local energy networks and support its global cities initiative. Fourthly, we should make building constructors and developers responsible for 50 per cent. of the energy of the buildings that they throw up. I proposed that to a conference of the building supply industry a week ago, and everyone looked at me in horror. However, I pointed out that they were probably smart enough to realise that, if they put in their own energy systems, they could probably meet the whole supply, charge more, and earn more as a result.

6.10 pm

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