Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Boris Johnson: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher: I will, although I hope that it will be a serious intervention compared with the speech that the hon. Gentleman has just made.

Mr. Johnson: I take it that the right hon. Gentleman does not therefore agree that planning permission should be revoked in the case of solar panels. Is he saying that that is a frivolous suggestion? On the point of air travel, I have had the pleasure of meeting him several times at airports—at Cagliari most recently. Is he seriously suggesting that people should give up their pleasure of holiday travel?

Mr. Meacher: No one is saying that. No one is suggesting that people should give up their car or air travel. I am simply saying that the rate of expansion is incompatible with the requirements that scientists say we must meet if we are to achieve the targets to reduce climate change. We must find a way of reconciling what people want with what is absolutely necessary to stop climate change. I cannot give the answer today, but that is exactly what we need to examine.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): One way in which we could meet those targets is through the increased use of biofuels. Allscott, the British Sugar factory in my constituency, certainly wants to produce sugar beet for biofuels. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that we need more discussion of biofuels and greater demand for them?

Mr. Meacher: The Government are looking seriously at the question of biofuels. Fuels containing 5.75 per cent. of biofuels are helpful to the workings of engines and are good for the environment, so I welcome the proposal.

We have been told that the only way in which we can reach our Kyoto targets is through the renewal of civil nuclear power. Whatever the opinion of Sir David King, the chief scientific adviser, that is patently untrue. Our
 
22 Nov 2005 : Column 1469
 
target is a reduction, as the Minister rightly said, of 12.5 per cent. by 2010. Even with recent slippages, largely because of the shift from gas back to coal, we are still on track to achieve at least a 14 per cent. reduction. However, we are not doing considerably better, as many of us would like, because of the reasons that I have spelled out and, importantly, because we have made glacial progress in promoting renewables. The Minister is nodding, and I am sure that he agrees with me.

We fall well short of the 10 per cent. target for 2010. On current trends, we will fall well short of the 10,000 MW target for combined heat and power by 2010, and we have not made any commitment to the EU goal of 20 per cent. renewables by 2020. It has even been proposed—I hope that the Minister will say that this is wrong—that the funding support for the burgeoning solar industry should be largely withdrawn. The Prime Minister appears to be gearing up to renege on the energy White Paper of February 2003, which was produced by his own Government and proposed no new nuclear build and a major switch to renewables. He is doing so despite the enormous downsides of nuclear, which is more expensive than wind power, coal and gas and which, over the past 50 years, has accumulated taxpayer liabilities of no less than £56 billion according to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. It generates colossal amounts of waste—10,000 tonnes at present, and 0.5 million tonnes according to the Department of Trade and Industry at the end of the century—which Governments have tried, genuinely but fruitlessly, to dispose of. Nuclear plants create a major terrorist risk. They are surrounded in every case, studies show, by cancer and leukaemia clusters. The risk, however small—I am sure that it is very small—of a catastrophic nuclear accident can never be ruled out entirely.

I am not seeking to knock nuclear, but simply wish to make the point that we do not need it. As an offshore island, we have enormous wind power capacity which we have not tapped. Experts, however, have calculated that it is sufficient to provide our entire electricity requirement four to six times over. We need to be much more determined in our pursuit of carbon reduction policies across the piece, and I shall end by suggesting a few.

We should demand—I am sure this is what we want to do—that air travel be brought within the Kyoto protocol, from which it was excluded under American pressure in 1997. We should extend UK participation in the EU emissions trading scheme. It would certainly seem, from the leak of the Government's climate change review, which I have seen, that they are minded to do that, which is good. We should tighten building standards significantly in new build in order to achieve a major boost in energy efficiency, and we should—I do not know why we have not done this—reintroduce the excellent idea of standard assessment procedure ratings for all home sales.

We should introduce innovative proposals to give people incentives for carbon reductions in transport. For example, there is the idea of a fee-bate, which entails giving people a rebate of, for example, £3,000 or £5,000 if they buy a car below, say, 1200 cc. The rebate would be paid for by a fee or charge of the same amount on the sale price if people buy a large gas guzzler. I shall stick my neck out as others have done in the debate,
 
22 Nov 2005 : Column 1470
 
including my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen), who has honourably pursued the issue. To sensitise people to the way their activities may generate greenhouse gas emissions, we should consider the gradual introduction of domestic trading quotas. Of course—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman has had his time.

9.16 pm

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), whose credibility and sincerity in the matter are well known.

The Government amendment asks us to congratulate them on the leadership that they have shown on climate change. It is ironic that in the same amendment they also   ask us to welcome the publication of a climate change programme review, which was set up in acknowledgement of the probability of failure—specifically, the failure to hit the 2010 carbon dioxide reduction target that is at the heart of that claim to effective leadership. The logic is tortuous. The more honest truth is that the global challenge of climate change faces a vacuum of credible leadership, not least with the imminent departure of the Prime Minister, at the very point when we reach a critical crossroad in the run-up to 2012 and the expiry of the Kyoto treaty.

The issue remains riddled with uncertainties, both in terms of risk and the cost/benefits of alternative approaches to managing that risk. It is clear that we are living a dangerous experiment with current levels of carbon concentration in our atmosphere. We are at 381 parts per million and growing, according to Sir David King, at 2 parts per million per annum. We do not know what a safe level is. The working scientific assumption is 550 parts per million, which is thought to be compatible with an increase of 2° this century. Even if we could stabilise concentrations at 550 parts per million—and it remains a huge "if"—we face, in the words of Sir David King, very severe impacts around the world, leaving aside the impact on biodiversity.

The scale and pace of these impacts are uncertain, but the message from the scientific community is that the risks are rising, not falling. The political response to the challenge to date has been the pursuit of international treaties to impose a top-down interventionist centralising solution. We should be honest and recognise that that has failed. Fifteen years of political effort went into producing the Rio agreement and the Kyoto treaty. They are milestones of a sort, but on a journey that has not taken us very far in controlling emissions or incentivising the technology breakthroughs that offer our best chance. They represent a vessel holed below the waterline by the absence of the big polluters—the USA and the emerging giants.

In the absence of a lead from the superpower, Britain—Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair—has tried to take a lead but has found the going tough. The Prime Minister acknowledges that he is rethinking his international strategy. Although he inherited a healthy platform for showing Britain as a role model for how to cut emissions without sacrificing growth, emissions have risen since 1997. It seems that everything, including
 
22 Nov 2005 : Column 1471
 
climate change policy and energy policy, is up for review again, and the non-governmental organisations are lining up to express their disappointment and frustration.

Where do we go from here? First, we must take stock of the priorities. As has been pointed out in numerous interventions from the Opposition Benches, the most urgent priority must be to minimise the carbon intensity of industrial development in China, India and Brazil. If we do not, we will find ourselves locked quickly into an even higher level of carbon concentrations. The solution, as the Prime Minister knows, lies in technology. That technology is increasingly available, whether it be micro-generation, solar, wind or new generation nuclear power, clean coal or hybrid cars, but it is relatively expensive.


Next Section IndexHome Page