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Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), who showed where we can go with a bit of energy, imagination and political leadership in terms of driving forward the sustainable energy agenda. I enjoyed his speech.
I want to focus my remarks on the international effort and strategy on this global issue. The question seems to be: where do we invest the finite source of political energy available to tackle this most complex issue, riddled as it is with uncertainties? I detect a change in the wind. I detect it in the remarks of the Prime Minister, and in the initiatives taken by countries in Asia Pacific, Australia and America after the Gleneagles summit. This change reflects a growing realisation that we are on the wrong coursea course to failure.
The fruit of the past 15 years of political endeavour has been the Kyoto treaty. My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) said that it is an important milestone, but the closer we look at it, the more limited it appears. It will make a marginal impact on carbon concentration, and its value lies only in demonstrating international co-operation. It was holed below the waterline by the absence of the United States and the emerging giants. It creates no serious incentives for new technology. In the process of negotiation and implementation, the political machine has failed to carry the public with it. Under those circumstances, in the short term, focusing the political machine on trying to follow up that agreement with a new universal agreement on a bigger scale but on the same premise for a greener set of absolute CO 2 reductions seems highly questionable. It looks very hard to achieveI do not know what other colleagues felt, but the remarks of the Secretary of State left me with no confidence that an international agreement would be in place by 2012. Were we to pursue that course for another agreement to negotiate absolute CO 2 reductions, it would be of limited value. Those targets will necessarily be arbitrary, as there is still too much scientific uncertainty as to what a safe level of carbon concentration is, and if they are negotiated on the same basis as Kyoto 1, the targets would be effectively unenforceable.
Those who push for this course argue in the cause of taking out an insurance policy against catastrophic risk. It is an attractive theory, but ultimately, who buys an insurance policy that will not give certainty of covering the risk? That uncertainty is undermining the effectiveness of the political process. In terms of international strategy, I would prefer the political machine to focus on creating the conditions that will make universal agreement much more plausible. The priority must be to generate the momentum that has
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been lacking over the past 15 years in making a difference to the scenario of emissions, which are growing. The requirement to reduce the uncertainty of the science and economics of climate change has been absent from this debate. A huge amount has been done in the past 15 years, but ultimately what comes through to the layman is how little we know. Greater certainty is therefore an absolute priority.
The second priority must be to accelerate the deployment and development of low-carbon technology. The good news is that the technology exists that can make a difference, but it is too expensive today. Not only is it right to focus political energy on making this technology cheaper, but it is clearly in the interests of many countries, particularly Britain. As we become an energy importer, energy security becomes increasingly important to this country. A superb and massive commercial opportunity also exists for those countries, and companies in those countries, who can see the potential in renewable technology. President Clinton's comments in the much-discussed summit in New York were bang-on the money: we will only make a difference when people smell a buck. Those conditions are not sufficiently in place at the moment. The acceleration of low-carbon technology is clearly a win-win for Britain and must be at the heart of any new international initiative.
Talking of win-wins, surely it is time for Governments across the world to start picking the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency. It has been sitting on the branches for 20 years and every Government during that period have talked about it, yet none have delivered on it. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South mentioned the example of Woking's Conservative-led council becoming self-sufficient in energy. I encourage the Government to look at what is happening in Braintree, where another Conservative-led council has negotiated an agreement with British Gas, whereby it will offer council tax payers real money for taking on board an energy efficiency package. The early data suggest that the public are responding, and there are signs of a real breakthrough. Consumer apathy towards such a proposition is breaking down, and I hope that the Government will look closely at that example.
As my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey pointed out, the short-term priority is the industrialisation of China, Brazil and India. The carbon intensity of that process must be minimised. Doing so is in our interests not least because of the need to deal with carbon concentrations and to reduce CO 2 emissions. However, there is also a superb commercial opportunity for those companies that can seize that initiative in all our interests.
European Governments in particular should seize the opportunity to develop the emissions trading mechanism by giving it serious teeth. In looking at the first round of negotiations, most commentators see all the mechanism's failings. It is diluted and weak, has no teeth, does not deal with aviation and operates within very restricted sectors. There is an opportunity in Europe to develop an emissions trading scheme with teeth that can be pointed to as a global template. That is where political energy should be focused.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way during what is a very
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interesting and constructive speech. Does he agree that the European Union has a good record, in that it is among the leaders in trying to address climate change through specific, Europe-wide policies? Does he further agree that there is a lot of merit in the proposed mandatory Europe-wide renewable energy targets, which would encourage a Europe-wide growth of renewable energy?
Mr. Hurd: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and it is undoubtedly true that Europe's achievements in progressing environmental regulation are impressive. In fact, the linchpin for Europe in terms the challenge and the opportunity that it faces in redefining its relevance to the new generationthe generation who must pay for such thingsis greater co-operation on environmental policy. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman's comment about the need for greater co-operation in developing renewable energy policy across Europe. I have mentioned the need to accelerate technology, and Governments can help in that regard by increasing the size of the markets available to those developing such technology.
On the question of where political energy should be focused in the short term, there is an urgent need for one country to stand up, to promote itself as a role model and to show that emissions can be significantly reduced at an acceptable cost. Britain had that opportunity, and I say "had" because I believe that it is in danger of losing it. We can argue in an utterly useless way about the motivation behind the "dash for gas", but the reality is that it created the platform for a developed economy that is capable of reducing emissions at a very low economic cost. My charge against the Government is that they are in danger of failing that test. That is why I support the proposition of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) that at the heart of such failure is a lack of accountability and the distant nature of the targets. I therefore wholly endorse the introduction of an independent voice into this process, so that teeth can be given to such accountability.
Finally, I am conscious in focusing the political machine away from Kyoto 2 that it would be better if all such activity took place within the framework of a set of targets. The imperative here is for Governments to send long-term signals to the market, but we have to face the fact that pushing this global meeting towards agreement on absolute CO 2 reductions will be extremely hard. As an alternative to "contract and converge" and the various other scenarios that, in essence, still push the debate down that channel, I suggest that we investigate the feasibility and attractiveness of viewing carbon intensity as a proportion of GDP. That might be a more acceptable benchmark for the United States and the emerging giants. Many who are pressing for absolute CO 2 reductions will view that as a cop-out, but I would argue that the priority is to get some momentum behind the process of lowering the carbon intensity of economic development. In that context, focusing all our energy on pressing for absolute CO 2 reductions and for replications of Kyoto seem to me to carry huge opportunity costs.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op):
I begin by declaring an interest, in the support that I have received from the sustainable energy
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partnership in connection with the promotion and development of the private Member's Bill to which hon. Members have already given favourable mention. I hope that they will support both my Bill and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) on 11 November.
The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) said that he had put climate change at the centre of his election address, but had received no positive response from the public. I also made climate change central, but had a more positive response from the public than he did. Over the last few months, I have become aware of the extent to which members of the public are concerned about the issue. Interest in it has clearly increased and been encouraged by events such as Hurricane Katrina. As politicians, we should recognise that the public are now demanding action from us. The notion that we are ahead of the public is no longer true. On the contrary, the public are overtaking many of us in their demand for action and their recognition of the need for action. That is why I welcome today's debate.
I agree with the attempts to build some sort of consensus on a way forward. I certainly recognise the sincerity of the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) in calling for such a consensus, but I would chide him mildly. As I am not always the most consensual of people, I should point out that he said roughly the same thing today as he did in the debate of four months ago. We are entitled to expect some more positive proposals when he next speaks on the issue, and I am sure that he will introduce some specific proposals then. Whatever the reasons for trying to develop a consensus, it is clear that we must do so because many of the necessary decisions will be difficult to take if the Government do not have broad support from within Parliament and among the public at large.
One of my fears is that it might be too easy to reach a consensus. Although it is wrong to suggest that every measure required to tackle climate change is necessarily difficult, it is equally the case that difficult choices must be made and we do not want to end up achieving a consensus at too low a level. As well as reaching consensus here, it is important to develop a movement outside Parliament.
Other hon. Members as well as me will welcome the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, which has brought together development, climate and environmental non-governmental organisations in a campaign to develop the sort of public pressure on climate change that was so effective in the run-up to the G8. The coalition is important because it allows the possibility of bringing international pressure on Governments across the world. If we saw such an international coalition developing, we might be surprised at what could be achieved at an international level. We should certainly set the highest possible targets for international agreement on action to tackle climate change.
I want to make three specific points about the sort of steps that we can take here and now in the UK in order to play our part both in bringing about an international response and in responding to public demand for action on these issues.
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First, the immense programme of house building resulting from Government policy and market demand presents opportunities in the near future. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) that we must use that programme to ensure that new properties have the highest standards of energy efficiency. We must also enable them to generate energy, rather than just consume it; otherwise, we will miss an opportunity to kick-start the market for renewable energy, and particularly for those micro-renewables that have such major potential to contribute to this country's energy mix.
I hope that we will take that opportunity, which may be unique. It makes sense to do so, regardless of what international agreements may be achieved. People who take advantage of these technologies can save money, as long as the market is grown and bulk demand secured. For people on low income in particular, it makes economic sense to have energy-efficient properties which, where possible, generate their own energy rather than just consume it.
Secondly, when the climate change programme review results are known, we must ensure that decisions are taken that set a long-term agenda. Industry and consumers need to have confidence that renewable opportunities both locally and nationally will find a response in Government policy. That must happen, whatever we feel about nuclear power.
There is a danger that the current debate could cause uncertainty about the prospects for renewable energy and energy conservation. It is a field with great potential, and we must make sure that clear targets are set for micro-generation, and for the use of renewables at the UK level more generally. In that way, the market and consumers can have confidence that renewable energy production will remain important in the future, and that its role will not diminish. The UK has immense potential when it comes to renewables: we have made a good start, but a lot more needs to be done.
My final point is relevant to the Government, to Back-Bench Members of all parties, and to the general public, and it is that we must be consistent. There is no point in having the best policies in the world to encourage renewables, energy conservation, recycling, and a more efficient use of energy by business and consumers if they are undermined by policies in other areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South spoke about aviation, and it is clear that the Government must reconsider their policy on airports. However, hon. Members of all parties, as well as local authorities around the country, are always calling for more airports, flights and air travel. That is not consistent with a policy that tries to address the problems of climate change.
There is a similar problem with road travel. Today, the call is for policies to tackle climate change and control carbon emissions. Yesterday, there was a call from some Conservative Membersalthough it could just as easily have come from hon. Members of other partiesfor more roads to be built in their particular localities. We must accept that we cannot allow ourselves to be accused of double-talk: we cannot call for tough measures to tackle climate change and carbon emissions and at the same time promote policies in our own areas that offer short-term political advantage,
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when in our heart of hearts we know that such policies will have an opposite effect on carbon emissions and climate change.
As politicians, it is our duty to act and speak consistently on this matter. I am not making a party-political point, but as I said at the start of my contribution, the public expect more of us now. They will not accept a failure on our part to follow through on our commitments on these issues. It is time for us to take practical action on specific policies and respond to growing public demand. I therefore hope that we can secure consensus on the need for appropriate policies, and on action as well.
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