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Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Is my hon. Friend as convinced as I am that local authorities have a huge role to play? It is all very well looking at the international position, but local authorities and their planning decisions have, as in so much else, a huge role to play. Unfortunately, they are not yet playing it.
I partly agree with my hon. Friend. He will know that when it comes to recycling, the top authorities are Conservative-run. Some authorities are doing their best, but my hon. Friend is right that we could all do more. He will have heard the contributions from Labour Members, particularly on what people can do as individuals. Responsibility starts at home and can be spread through local authorities all the way to the Government and then on internationally. I agree with my hon. Friend on that.
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Despite progress made on reducing emissions of nitrous oxide and sulphur hexafluoride, our primary objective must be to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which are causing the most damage to our environment and may well lead us to miss our Kyoto targets. We obviously hope that that will not happen.
It is a shame and surprising to note that the average car emissions from new cars sold in the UK in 2004 were a worrying 31.4 g per kilometre above the EU target of 140 g per kilometre by 2008. Things are clearly not going the way we want. The failure to reach our own targets would serve as a damning indictment of our efforts to tackle climate change. It is essential that we reach and surpass those targets if we are to make a difference to our own environment and set an example to others across the world. How else can we expect other countries to heed our voice on the need to fight climate change? It should be our international duty to lead, not simply to follow.
On this side of the House, we do not doubt the honourable intentions of the Government to act against climate change, but we question the Government's ability to make much difference. Back in 2000, the Prime Minister announced that
However well intentioned those words, they mean nothing without action. Procrastination is the adversary of success. On climate change, it is the sworn enemy of our ability to safeguard the environment as the inheritance of future generations. My greatest concern is a doubt whether, despite all the words and promises, the Government's approach to finding real solutions will be felt in years in to come.
We have spoken before about consensus. On this side of the House, it has already been acknowledged that climate change is an issue on which we must all fight together. We want to work across party lines so that effective and agreeable solutions can be found and implemented. That is why I hope that we will not divide tonight.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jim Knight): The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment stated in his opening speech that climate change was the greatest environmental challenge that we face. There is no longer any significant doubt about the scientific basis for action, and I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) say the same. It has been recognised internationally, stimulating more action and discussion on the issue this year than ever before.
Impacts are felt all around us, as I can see in my role as the UK Minister responsible for biodiversity. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood
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(Mr. Hurd) for mentioning that in passing. Biodiversity is an excellent indicator of the effects of climate change. By the end of the century, climate change and its impacts may be the biggest cause of biodiversity loss and the change in ecosystems service globally. Over the past 50 years, humans have affected ecosystems more rapidly and more extensively than in any comparable period of human historylargely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel. That has resulted in a substantial loss to the diversity of life on earth.
Species such as the polar bear, the mountain gorilla and the river dolphin are all under real threat due to climate change. The loss of these great animals would be a tragedy in its own right, but that loss of biodiversity would also expose the human population to greater threats of disease, and to threats to our livelihoods. I commend to the House a document analysing the effect of climate change on migratory species, published last month by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It was much discussed at the conference of the parties to the convention on migratory species. Another such conference is taking place this weekend in Kenya.
The Prime Minister has demonstrated his commitment to tackling climate change by placing it at the top of the agenda for our G8 and EU presidencies this year. We are also committed to implementing our ambitious domestic programme. The current review of the UK climate change programme, which will be published at the turn of the year, will set out how we will achieve our targets for 2010, 2012 and 2050 across Government Departments. We have seen that the economic impact of cuts in greenhouse gas emissions need not be prohibitive, so long as Governments introduce sensible policies, combined with a wide range of low-carbon technologies.
I want to reiterate our position, as set out by the Prime Minister and my DEFRA colleagues, for the benefit of my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), among others. We do not believe that the Kyoto protocol is dead, and we do believe that any future international agreement should include binding targets. The Prime Minister said in his article in Saturday's edition of The Independent that
"we need an international framework and emissions targets which take us beyond Kyoto's 2012 commitments . . . I am showing the path we need to follow if we are going to agree internationally binding targets which all can sign up to . . . Too much of the debate over climate change has become polarised between those who advocate compulsory targets and those who advocate technology. For me this is a false choice. The technology is the means by which we will achieve those targets."
The UK wants a new global framework for action that goes beyond 2012, and which should include binding targets for developed countries. We do not believe that quantified binding targets should be a condition for the involvement of developing countries. We look forward to next week's conference in Montreal, which we hope will represent the next step in an important process. In the build-up to that conference, we can be proud that under this Government, we are leading Europe on achieving our Kyoto targets, and leading the world in achieving the international consensus that we need in order to take urgent action to manage and reverse climate change.
Mr. Ellwood: I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. I grew up not with the backdrop of the second world war or the cold war, but with the huge concern of global warming and climate change. I hope that everybody in this House can look in the mirror and ask themselves with confidence what they are doing individually on this issue. Does the Minister agree, however, that the public are looking at us and asking what we are doing internationally to contain global warming and climate change?
Jim Knight: As I sketched outI hope that the hon. Gentleman was listeningwe are taking a lead through our presidencies of the G8 and the EU. I have no time to take another intervention, but I challenge him on a future occasion to name any country in the world that is doing more on this agenda than we are.
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