Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Colin Challen: The hon. Gentleman and I both serve on the Environmental Audit Committee. Sir David King told us last week that the target for reductions by 2050 is closer to 80 per cent. than 60 per cent., which shows us that the task is urgent. Does he agree that the necessary technologies must be brought on stream now and not in 10 or 15 years' time?

Mr. Hurd: The hon. Gentleman has anticipated my second point, which is key: how can we accelerate the development and deployment of those technologies to make them more affordable? Why should we expect countries such as China to pay a premium for their basic infrastructure as they develop? The response of Governments must surely focus on this question: what can we do to accelerate the deployment, development and sharing of technology? That makes not only environmental sense, but commercial sense, because it is in our interests to grow those markets, which is a point that is not lost on the French. I did not hear anything in the Minister's remarks to suggest that the Government are any clearer on how to accelerate and share the technology.

As has been said, a further priority must be to establish a framework for an agreement post-2012, which is do-able and would bind the big polluters into a common objective. As most people know, the challenge lies in reconciling the objectives of countries at different stages of development, and there is no shortage of ideas on the table—for example, the ideas set out by the international climate change taskforce make good reading.

The Government are going to Montreal in two weeks' time to open negotiations, but this House knows nothing of what is in their mind. It would be so much more effective if Ministers went to that conference having established a consensus. At the moment, the situation is a complete mystery, possibly even to them.

My third point does not come up often enough in these debates. An urgent priority for Governments must be to support a sustained effort to reduce scientific uncertainty on the impacts and correlations between emissions growth and temperature increase. We desperately need the debate to be framed by more certainty, and an urgent role for Governments is to support that scientific process.
22 Nov 2005 : Column 1472

The fourth priority, which has been raised throughout the debate, is the urgent need to engage consumers and businesses, who will be agents of sustainable change. Arguably, that is the greatest political failure of the past 15 years. The key argument to win is that it is in the world interest to reduce the carbon intensity of our development. The chance of a stable climate with less pollution is not the only prize. Reduced dependence on the major producers of fossil fuels should mean greater energy security, which is a big issue for the United States and a growing issue for Britain. The law of supply and demand means that fossil fuels will become more expensive, and it is therefore in our economic interest to develop a cost-effective alternative.

Last but by no means least, the development of low-carbon technology will create a new global market that can help to drive more sustainable economic growth. The way forward surely lies in focusing minds on that win-win analysis, because the politics then becomes easy. At the famous summit in New York, which the Prime Minister attended, President Clinton discussed a clean energy future:

I believe that he was right.

What is Britain's role? We have an opportunity to show the world that it is possible to reduce carbon emissions without sacrificing growth, but we must put our house in order because emissions have risen since 1997, and we are undermining the argument. When one engages with non-governmental organisations or submissions to Committees, it is clear that we could do so much more. Sonning common cries out for solar panels.

Mr. Boris Johnson: I cannot think of anything more serious or more practical that this House could do tonight to alleviate the problems of climate change than to get rid of the ludicrous burden of the £135 charge, in addition to the cost of architectural drawings, that falls upon people who want to install solar panels.

Mr. Hurd: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; I could not agree more. I hope that the Minister responds on behalf of Sonning Common.

There is much more room for the Government to send clearer market signals to consumers, businesses and investors about policy direction in terms of what kind of energy mix we want and the desire to grow markets for cleaner cars and cleaner fuels. They should set a much better example in terms of the standards that we expect from manufacturers of cars, electrical appliances and new homes. The Environmental Audit Committee produced a report that showed the Government's deficiencies in setting standards for public procurement. They are spending £500 billion of our money—a serious amount.

The Government should be doing more to develop market instruments that will get them out of the business of picking winners. In the European Union emissions trading scheme, which was very diluted and weakened in its first phase, lies the key opportunity to set a real price for carbon that will change the framework of this debate.
22 Nov 2005 : Column 1473

All this is in our national interest and in the global interest. It is do-able with political will, and it would be helped by political consensus. I am therefore very disappointed by the Minister's reaction to our motion. The major breakthrough required is the inclusion of the United States of America and the giants, and the emergence of an American President who sees it as being in the interest of the United States to lead this debate, not follow it.

9.26 pm

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): I join other Members who have expressed a preference for the House not to divide on these issues tonight. I feel that it would put us all in a strange position if we were asked to choose between voting for the anodyne or the out-to-lunch. It is difficult to choose between those who advocate some good things or other good things without specifying what they are. We have to move this debate, which is the most important of our lives, on to a whole series of practicalities about how we not only address the challenges of climate change, but learn to live differently and better as a result of meeting them.

I will resist the temptation to go into the details of my new house, which I have turned from a derelict building into a place where we will be able to live and where we will ultimately generate 50 per cent. more energy than the house consumes. I am happy to talk later to the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) about how to do that. From my micro-experiences, I have learned a whole series of things about the macro issues that we have to address as a society.

Every stage of this issue is riddled with contradictions. For me, not the least of those is that, as a socialist, I have to acknowledge that perhaps the Prince of Wales has a greater understanding of how to meet the challenges of climate change than does this Parliament. In the next decade, we will face four interconnected crises relating to climate change—crises of food security, water management, energy security and insurability. To emphasise the scale of the latter crisis, it has been calculated that this summer's girls' night out between the hurricanes of Wilma, Rita and Katrina has resulted in higher insurable damage than America has ever known. There has been £56.8 billion-worth of insurable damage as a result of this year's catastrophes in the US.

The cost of that will be borne not only in the US but virtually everywhere. We will have our own experiences of that. When the flash floods hit Boscastle, Carlisle, the Vale of York, Oxford or the Medway towns, they are not going to make the same distinctions between rich and poor. They will sweep everything away and we will find ourselves in a society facing a different divide—that between the unemployable and the uninsurable. When that happens, the Government will be faced with very angry populations asking how we provide security in their lives. We do not have much time to change the way in which we think about meeting those challenges.

We must move on from old to new agendas. In other parts of the world, especially in other parts of Europe, there is a different agenda for markets that will provide sustainable water use and sustainable agricultural systems. However, those markets are post-globalisation in their presumptions. Their frameworks of production and distribution are regionalised. They reduce product
22 Nov 2005 : Column 1474
miles, urban congestion, the distance of accountability between the producer and the consumer, and they set up fresh lines of sustainable, local accountability as well as sustainable, localised production.

The same will be true of energy. Some hon. Members have criticised the Government's chief scientist, Sir David King, for being a Government spin merchant, but it is much more appropriate to criticise him for trying to sell lousy science. I want to tackle that head on. Those who try to pretend that the only solution to a secure energy future is to go backwards with a new generation of nuclear power will be proved in the next five years to be conducting a Maginot line debate between sad old men trying to work out how to win the last war.

An American environmental entrepreneur called Amory B. Lovins has tried to set out how we construct different markets around sustainability. He began by doing that in his Rocky Mountains institute, where he reduced the energy requirements to less than the cost of one 100W light bulb. It uses existing technologies to minimise waste and to generate and recycle heat that we are already using. He points out that if one takes the energy inputs from a power station, for every 100 inputs into the energy system, the end user has access to less than 10 per cent. One can stand in front of any power station in this country and see 60 per cent. of energy inputs going up in steam into the atmosphere. That is a colossal waste. We could run the country on the energy that we throw away. That is the biggest challenge but our mentality stands in the way of change.

I found that in my house I could get into net metering. I can have a system that puts more energy back into the grid than I take out of it, but I get paid a pittance in the process. We can change that if we get out of a rigged energy market that tells the energy system, "You have a one price in and a one price out process."

Next Section IndexHome Page