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My purpose in launching the debate is to engage in an inquiry. I want to try to understand what I genuinely do not fully understandwhether there is the basis for cross-party consensus. That depends on the answer to the question: what is it that the Prime Minister and other Ministers have been saying over the past few months, and what is the position that they take? I say that in a spirit of genuine inquiry, as I think will become evident in the remainder of my remarks.
There are three questions that need to be examined. The first is the relationship between carbon reduction and economic growth; the second is the relationship between targets and technology; and the third is the relationship between UK actions and global actions. Everybody in the Chamber todaylooking around me, I see many who have concentrated on these matters for many yearswill recognise that around those three sets of issues revolves much of the answer to how we approach climate change.
It is in relation to the three issues that the recent statements by the Prime Minister and other Ministers cause the inquiring mind to ask where exactly the Government are headed. Are they headed in a direction that can create the basis for the cross-party consensus that we seek?
I shall start with a pessimistic interpretation of those remarks and move on to an optimistic interpretation. I hope that that will set the scene for the Minister to cast light on where we are as a country and as a group of people engaged in a seminal political discussion. The pessimistic interpretation has been offered by some of the lobby groups and it is this: that the meaning behind, and perhaps to some extent in, the Prime Minister's recent statements is that the Kyoto process is dead, that domestic targets will largely be abandoned hereafter, that it is impossible to combine economic growth and serious and binding international and national targets, and that we should therefore do what we can to promote technological solutions that help to alleviate the amount of carbon being produced, engage in activities such as emissions trading, express aspirations and hope for the best. I think that I have given a more or less accurate summary of what the pessimists assert is the meaning of the Government's actions.
I am loth to come to the conclusion that those are the meanings behind what has been said, and much that has been said does not fit with that interpretation. There is a basis for hoping that that is not what the Government mean. Yes, I have read various articles and it is difficult to know which means what. I shall now put the optimistic interpretation, and if the Minister in his response can give us a clear idea where the Government stand, that will be an enormous step forward.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con):
My right hon. Friend mentions that the Kyoto process is dead
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and looks to technology to provide a solution. Does he agree that one of the reasons why Kyoto is dead is because of the United States, yet it is the United States that probably has the most to offer in providing technological expertise and investment, which will help us in the long term to achieve the sort of consensus that he seeks?
Mr. Letwin: My hon. Friend has mistaken my meaning. I am not saying that the Kyoto process is dead; I do not believe that the Kyoto process is dead; and I am not even sure whether the Prime Minister thinks that the Kyoto process is dead. I was trying to say that on a pessimistic interpretation of what the Prime Minister said, one might have thoughtsome of the green lobby have concluded that this is what he thinksthat the Kyoto process is dead.
Bringing the United States, China and India into the process is critical, and technology is an enormously important component in doing so, and it is also true that the United States is a significant contributor to bringing technology into the process. This is my question: does the Prime Minister believe that Kyoto and binding targets are dead, because they are not consistent with economic growth and hence cannot bring in China and Indiaand, while we are at it, Brazil and Russia? The pessimistic interpretation is that is what he believes.
Turning to the optimistic interpretation, I hope that the Prime Minister and the Government recognise that a combination of growth, energy security and carbon reduction is neededI am fairly confident that the Government believe that; I certainly believe that; and I expect that the hon. Member for Lewes believes that. We have got over the idea that there is a choicein my view, it is a false choiceand I think that the Government have, too, between growth and energy security on the one side and carbon reduction on the other.
If it is true that the Government have got over that false dichotomy, this is the next question: do they also agree that we must recognise that neither the UK alone nor even the EU can make a significant difference to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and hence to prospects for climate change? I am fairly certain that the Government accept that proposition because it is, after all, a matter of fact. Returning to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway), I think and hope that the Prime Minister's remarks should be interpreted as meaning that the way to bring China, India and the US to the table is to identify technologies that will enable those countries to combine economic progress and growth with the reduction of carbon.
John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman has been speaking for eight minutes, and I cannot see the consensus. [Hon. Members: "Eighteen minutes."] That long, eh? If he wants to create a consensus, he should put forward some ideas that we can discuss. So far, he has put forward no ideas. Is he relying on his new hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), to do that for him?
If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that when it comes to building a consensus, it matters how the various parties view the fundamental
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questions that we are dealing with, then he is not as acute as I had hoped. It is important to understand where the Government are coming from and whether it is the same place as Opposition Members are coming from, because if we are coming from the same place, there is a real chance of obtaining agreement, and if there are fundamentally divergent views, there is not a real chance of obtaining agreement. The proposition is perfectly clear.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend advise me on an area in which growth is evident and in which a response to climate change issues would mean a great deal? Given the new building and development that is taking place around the country, does he believe that a certain percentage of new building in this country should include sustainable energy facilities, such as solar panels and domestic wind turbines? If we were to reduce domestic energy usage across the country, it would make a profound difference to how people see energy and carbon reduction.
Mr. Letwin: As my hon. Friend has implied, there is no doubt that if we are to achieve anything like the 60 per cent. reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, which we need to achieve to play our part in getting to the international target of 550 parts per million, we must take considerable further steps on building regulations, energy efficiency in the home and micro-generation, because the Government's own figures, perfectly sensibly, rely heavily on energy efficiency as the major componentit constitutes almost half of the totalof how they hope to achieve those targets. We are nowhere near those targets yet, because building regulations have not been sufficiently organised.
Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the pessimists are offering a false dichotomy between technology, new ways of working and targets? When we consider the post-Kyoto situation in 2012, does he believe that we should use both leverstechnology and targets? Is that the way to find the consensus that he seeks?
Oh yes, abundantly. I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman and I agree, because I have often heard him speak on the subject, and I more or less agree with everything that I have heard him say. As a result of his intervention, I shall advance my argument by one stage: I hope that the meaning behind the Prime Minister's remarks is that the Prime Minister recognises that we must build from the bottom upfrom an understanding of the technology to an understanding of how the technology can allow countries such as China, India and the United States, consistent with their own competitive positions, to engage in economic growth while reducing carbon emissions. I hope that he hopes that it will be possible to build on top of that a second round of binding international targets, which would show that Kyoto is not deadincidentally, such targets should be vastly more effective and ambitious than those
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in the first Kyoto treaty and broadly encompass the whole world of carbon producers. That is what I hope that the Prime Minister believes; that is what I think that the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) believes; and that is certainly what Opposition Members are now largely unified in believing. My argument is that if we all believe that, it is an extraordinarily strong basis for consensus.
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