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Carbon Dioxide Emissions

7. Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): If she will make a statement on the measures the Government are taking to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. [47599]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): In 2000, we published a climate change programme, which set out the approach to tackling climate change. It was updated in December 2004 through the consultation document produced for the programme review and 2005 saw some new initiatives, including the renewable transport fuels obligation and the climate change communications initiative. The pre-Budget report also gave more funding for energy efficiency, carbon abatement technology, carbon capture and storage and biofuels. Additional measures will be announced in the new climate change programme.

Mr. Jackson: The fact is that carbon emissions have not been reduced, but have increased by 9 per cent. over the past six years. Even the Government's chief scientific adviser stated that it is unlikely that they will meet the 2010 target. Clearly, party politics is not working, so is not it time for the Government to join the cross-party consensus, with the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and other Opposition Members? They should put party politics aside on such a vital issue of international and national importance.

Margaret Beckett: I have always thought that it was a peculiarly British trait to think that if something is really important it should be outside and above the political process. I am not quite sure what people think politics is about. Leaving that aside, I am delighted to welcome the cross-party consensus—all parties are signed up to the targets that the Government set, and were challenged for doing so, some time ago. That is a wholly welcome development. However, I am never one to sign a blank cheque, so until I see the policies that are backing up the consensus that targets are highly desirable, I shall be keeping a watching brief.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): The right hon. Lady had a letter.

Margaret Beckett: Yes, and I have read it carefully. It says, "Let's set up an agency", which is not quite what I am looking for.
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Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Although I congratulate my right hon. Friend on some of the tough decisions that she and the Government have made on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, may I urge her to look at some of the work that Urban Mines—an environmental charity that I chair—has been doing in trying to bring home to people the impact of their carbon footprint on our planet? It is important to explain what the individual, the family and the corporation can do to lessen their carbon footprints. At every level, the carbon footprint is vital to our future. That means taking tough decisions, not those that the President of the United States alluded to a couple of days ago, because the fix will come not from technology but from curbing and changing human behaviour.

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is right and I hope that he will know that, quite recently, the Government launched a new communications programme, with the strapline, "Tomorrow's Climate, Today's Challenge". The purpose of that campaign is to show that all our research evidence suggests that, to change people's behaviour, we must first increase their awareness of the problems and the contribution that they can make. We are very much geared to doing that and I hope that we will have the genuine, cross-party support of all hon. Members, because this is probably the greatest challenge facing humankind.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): About a quarter of emissions seep out of our own homes. Does the Secretary of State accept the widespread argument that, if we are to transform attitudes to energy efficiency in our own homes, we need more of the simple tax breaks pioneered by the Conservative council in Braintree? If so, does she understand the widespread frustration that the Chancellor appears to be doggedly deaf to the argument?

Margaret Beckett: I take the hon. Gentleman's basic point completely: we could do a great deal more, not least in this country, where, historically, we have neglected energy efficiency. I cannot immediately call to mind the initiative taken by Braintree council, but I am conscious of the fact that the energy efficiency commitment has driven a lot of this work and that is, of course, something that the Government instigated and resourced. With such measures and the Warm Front programme and so on, we are substantially stepping up what we do. He underestimates the figure—from memory, about 50 per cent. of our emissions come from our building stock—and it is important for all of us to address that, not least because it will cut people's fuel bills and making them warmer.

Edward Miliband (Doncaster, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the climate change levy will contribute a 3.5 million tonne reduction in carbon emissions by 2010? Does she agree that, if we will the ends of reduced carbon emissions, we also need to will the means, such as the climate change levy, and that to do otherwise is complete hypocrisy?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the climate change levy is, in fact, already making a
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bigger contribution than we had anticipated to reducing emissions, and we judge it to be a very successful policy. I take his point: we would like all parties in the House to sign up to that policy, but in fairness to other parties, people do not always have identical solutions. If it is still the case—I understand that it is—that the Conservative party is not willing to accept the viability of the climate change levy, it is incumbent on it to come up with equally successful alternatives.

Norman Baker: In the week that we are told that we might reach the point of no return on climate change, is it not a dereliction of duty by the Government that we are still waiting for the climate change review, which was promised in June, then October, then December, then January and now before the Easter recess? When will the review be published? Are the Government still committed to the 20 per cent. cut in carbon emissions by 2010, or is that being abandoned? Will she confirm whether, having caved in to the dinosaurs at the Department of Trade and Industry over nuclear power, she will at least stand firm on the EU emissions trading scheme, given the £800 million windfall that the power sector has benefited from in phase 1?

Margaret Beckett: So much for the cross-party consensus. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that, unfortunately, we have not been able to produce the climate change programme review as early as we had hoped, in no small part because it revealed further analysis that we wanted to do to ensure that the programme is as effective as we can make it. I tell him, perhaps somewhat gently, that there is no need for Labour Members to feel apologetic about saying yes about the 20 per cent. target, because every one of the major parties was challenged to include the target of a 20 per cent. reduction by 2010, not in some special little environmental leaflet but in our mainstream manifestos. One did so: the Labour party.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend was quoted earlier this week as saying that the latest research emphasises that even the target to reduce emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050 might not be enough—again, only the Labour party will sign up to that target. Will she explain how she intends to pursue the matter at European level to try to ensure that we get the right targets and policies throughout Europe and thus provide leadership to the world, as we did at Montreal?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is right to say that there are now questions. The book that we published this week, which builds on the scientific contribution that was made at the Exeter conference, which was part of our G8 presidency, identifies a growing number of questions about whether the goals that the international community has set itself will be adequate, even though they are taxing and difficult to reach. Everyone is re-examining the evidence and the concerns. I assure him that we are continuing, and will continue, to pursue the issue in the European Union. We hope that we can set medium and long-term targets for the European Union, but there are all kinds of discussions about how we should then make progress towards them.
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May I use this opportunity to say something that I forgot to say in reply to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker)? Contrary to what he might have read recently in the media, every time that I am asked about nuclear power, I say exactly the same thing. It is clearly very boring because it is written up differently on every occasion.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): I think that we are beginning to get to the bottom of why the Government are reluctant to sign up to the cross-party agreement on climate change: they cannot even agree among themselves. Last week, the Department confirmed that UK CO 2 emissions had risen again. Earlier this week, the Prime Minister put his name to yet another pamphlet that said that the science on climate change was even worse and more threatening than we thought. Today, we learn that the Secretary of State's Department and the DTI cannot agree on the future levels of CO 2 with which they expect industry to deal, although industry needs that uncertainty like a hole in the head. We also learned today that the Treasury has been forced by Friends of the Earth to rethink its policies and position on environmental reporting. May I put it to the Secretary of State that although I do not think that it is her fault, there is a real danger that the Government's approach to this most important issue of all is becoming a complete shambles?

Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman is right that CO 2 emissions rose in the year for which we now have confirmed figures, but perhaps does not notice—he certainly has not mentioned it—that the rise was substantially less than the provisional estimates suggested. However, we still regret the fact that there was a rise.

I take the hon. Gentleman's point about industry completely. I hear constantly from industry how much it would like the Government to give the clearest possible guidance. That is one of the reasons, apart from the scientific evidence, why the Government set the long-term target of a reduction of at least 60 per cent. by 2050. However, he is in error because although the climate of discussion in the House tends to be to suggest that the Government are failing, all five of the major EU15 countries that reduced their greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 saw an increase in their emissions in the year in which this country's increased. In other words, even those that are most successful at getting their greenhouse gases down have experienced an increase in CO 2 emissions. The problem is widespread,rather than just in the UK.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Department is not falling out, or in dispute, with other Departments. We are engaged in a genuine and serious discussion about what is viable and what can be agreed. As for the progress of those discussions, it has never been my practice to conduct negotiations with colleagues through the pages of the news media, and I certainly do not intend to start that now.

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