Previous Section Index Home Page

About three weeks ago, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney, I journeyed to about 600 miles of the North pole to look at the real and direct impact of climate change on the environment. Nothing more
12 May 2006 : Column 659
vividly illustrated the dramatic impact of climate change than the vast tracts of open sea that, until last year, were formerly ice. I probably speak for the whole House when I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch that I really wish he would go to the North pole.

In Svarlbard, I saw for myself the effects of global warming on the Scott-Turner glacier. At the Ny-Alesund Arctic research centre, I saw three more glaciers, all of them retreating at an accelerated rate. As has already been pointed out, the best overall measure for assessing changes in a glacier is its yearly mass balance. Two of the glaciers closest to Ny-Alesund have been measured for their mass balance for longer than any others in the high Arctic and their results have shown consistently negative mass balance almost every year since 1967—the year after I was born. The last five years have been the most negative and this pattern is being repeated on a far bigger scale all over the Arctic. Temperatures have risen by 2° C already in the past 30 years. Over that period, the average amount of summer sea ice has decreased by 1.3 million sq km. Both winter and summer sea ice are at their lowest levels since all records began.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney asked one of the scientists at Ny-Alesund what was to the north of where we were, and the answer came, “The sea and then the ice of the North pole—this year.” My right hon. Friend asked, “Why do you say ‘this year’?”, and back came the answer, “Until now, it has only ever been ice.”

Some have argued that a series of warmings that took place in the 1930s show that the warming we are experiencing is nothing exceptional. I think that that is the argument that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch advanced. It is true that some parts of the planet got warmer in that period, but not all. In fact, a number of Arctic research stations reported a drop in average temperatures in that time, whereas there has been a consistent rise in temperatures right across the Arctic in the current period of warming. The change in temperature predicted over the next 100 years is not2° C or 3° C, but 4° C to 7° C.

The other thing that is lost in the arguments on climate change is that people focus just on the average temperature increase of a couple of degrees in coming years. However, there will be massive variations in different parts of the globe and, in some parts, the increase could be up to 14° C, and that would have quite cataclysmic effects. It is important that we do not get carried away and that we use measured scientific language but, by constantly focusing on the mean figure, we perhaps understate the scientific impact in the coming century.

Climate change does not just affect the Arctic. In the Antarctic peninsula in 2002, an area of ice shelf about the size of the English county of Cornwall or, to put it in an international context, the US state of Rhode Island, disintegrated in just 35 days. Glacial coverage in Peru has fallen by a quarter in the last 25 years, and the famous snows of Kilimanjaro are disappearing before our eyes. Measured right across the globe, the 10 hottest years since records began have all been since 1990.

Perhaps some of these facts, places and statistics seem a bit remote. However, I also refer to hurricane
12 May 2006 : Column 660
Katrina, water shortages in the UK leading to a hosepipe ban in April and the storm and flood losses in Britain that cost £6.2 billion between 1998 and 2003, double the amount of the previous five years. In London, the Thames barrier, which was designed just a couple of decades ago to be raised once every six years, is now being raised six times a year. The Government’s chief scientific adviser has said that if a single flood broke through the Thames barrier, the damage could cost London £30 billion. That is 2 per cent. of our current GDP.

We are witnessing not just gradual warming, but more and more unusual and unpredictable weather events. According to the international insurance firm Munich Re, before 1987 there was just one weather event worldwide that caused an insured loss of more than £1 billion. Since 1987, there have been 46.

Those who say that all this has nothing to do with mankind should check the facts. There is a clear correlation between increases in global temperatures and levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. For billions of years, the world benefited from a natural greenhouse effect, which kept global temperatures about 30(o )warmer than they would have otherwise been, but since the industrial revolution, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen from 280 parts per million to 380 parts per million and, in parallel, global temperatures have been rising fast.

Mr. Chope: Does my hon. Friend accept that the figures that he has just quoted, which originally emanated from the intergovernmental panel on climate change, were changed two years ago by the IPCC to 335 parts per million from 290 parts per million. Given that some 9,600 years ago, the figure was 348 parts per million, that means that there has not been the huge increase that is being claimed.

Gregory Barker: I am afraid that I have not seen those figures. Given the reliability of some of my hon. Friend’s other statistics, I think that I would like to look at them in a little more detail before giving a considered response. The real issue is not the particular figure. We can debate statistics, but this is not an issue about statistics; it is about the rate of change. Of course, over the millions of years of its very long history, the planet has cooled and—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman’s comments are very interesting, but they are more relevant to a Second Reading debate and we are on Third Reading.

Gregory Barker: I take your point entirely, Madam Deputy Speaker. The issue is the time scale and the fact that the events are being concentrated into decades or a few hundred years. That is the real reason why we are so alarmed—and rightly so—and that is why the Bill is so welcome.

In Committee, when I was proposing greater powers for local authorities to take action, particularly in relation to planning, I visited a major new commercial development that was constructed by Gazeley Properties, one of Europe’s largest commercial property developers, in Bedford. I saw how business
12 May 2006 : Column 661
best practice is now way ahead of the Government in responding to the challenges of incorporating new technology and design into new builds in order to reduce CO2 and increase energy efficiency. I was incredibly impressed with what I saw.

Many of the concerns and worries that we heard from the Government in Committee, in relation to why it was wrong to act, seemed totally misplaced. If one talks to progressive businesses, they want to see a higher standard and a more level playing field. John Duggan, the chief executive officer of Gazeley, was recently asked whether he felt that the Government, as a partner to UK business, were providing organisations such as Gazeley with the necessary regulatory and fiscal frameworks or the appropriate advice, support, direction and advocacy, or whether he felt that the corporate sector was being left to fill the leadership void itself. He responded—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, at this stage, we are discussing what is included in the Bill, not what is not included in it.

Gregory Barker: I stand corrected. John Duggan believed that the Government were not filling that void. I am glad to say that the Bill goes some way towards helping to address that balance, but there is a lot more that we need to do. We must not get carried away with the successes that we have today. The measure is very welcome, as is the direction of travel, but we have a lot further to go. It is also important that, in promoting and making the arguments for the Bill, we wrest back the arguments for carbon reduction in the face of climate change from the pessimists, and, in a spirit of hope and optimism, look for real changes that we can make that will benefit our economy. My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath made exactly that point. If properly done, climate protection will reduce costs on business, not raise them. Using energy more efficiently offers a possible economic bonanza, not because of the benefits of stopping global warming, but because saving fossil fuel is a lot cheaper than buying it.

The world abounds with proven ways of using energy more productively. Over the past decade, for example, in contrast with the Government’s record on their estate, DuPont has boosted production by 30 per cent., but cut energy use by 7 per cent. and reduced greenhouse gases by a staggering 72 per cent. Companies such as British Telecom, IBM, Alcan, NorskeCanada and Bayer have collectively saved at least $2 billion since the late 1990s by reducing carbon emissions by more than 60 per cent. British BP has cut its CO2 emissions by 10 per cent. on its 1990 levels and saved $650 million in the process.

Although the Bill is not the whole answer, I must not negate the fact that there are many good measures in it. It focuses on national targets for microgeneration to be dealt with in two years. It allows for a review of permitted development with the purpose of making the installation of microgeneration easier. It makes access to renewable energy certificates for microgeneration easier, but we have a lot more to do on that if we are really to empower the consumer. The Bill gives a duty
12 May 2006 : Column 662
to promote community energy and renewable heat. It also gives the Government a duty to promote dynamic demand.

I particularly thank the Minister for agreeing to two new clauses for which I campaigned. The first gives all parish councils the power to set up new energy schemes, which has been mentioned during the debate. Localism is a key element of any successful promotion of microgeneration. The other new clause puts a duty on all local authorities to consider microgeneration and energy efficiency when discharging all their functions. I thank Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart—now Lord Bruce-Lockhart—for the important support that the Local Government Association gave to the new clause, which it achieved despite fierce opposition from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Talking of the ODPM’s opposition, let me raise several of my disappointments. I tried to table a new clause that would have required all planning authorities—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that on Third Reading we are discussing the contents of the Bill, not what was unsuccessful?

Gregory Barker: I stand corrected, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will not mention the trials and tribulations of Cambridge city council.

Although we were able to improve the Bill in Committee, all the way along we found it extremely difficult to deal with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister—or the office of derisory planning measures. I have to say good riddance to the Department in that incarnation. In its new shape and form, I hope that it will be rather more progressive and enlightened about microgeneration and energy efficiency and that it will buy into the climate change agenda properly. However, let us be glad for this important first step and look forward to further measures to promote decentralised energy.

I thank everyone who has been involved with the Bill. The Minister was helpful and constructive in Committee. If I may, although I know that I might be told off by you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would especially like to thank Rachel Crisp, one of the Minister’s civil servants. I am told that she engaged with the non-governmental organisations in an unprecedentedly extensive and constructive way—I can see her blushing in the Box.

I also thank the Micropower Council, the team of which has advised me throughout the Bill’s passage. I especially pay tribute to that doughty old campaigner, Ron Bailey, who has many fans and supporters throughout the House. The council has represented the interests of the new industry with determination and skill. If and when the industry really takes off, it will be, to a great extent, because of the efforts of its members. Anyone in the industry would be well served by joining the Micropower Council.

Let me return to the question of cross-party consensus. It is important that we agree whenever possible, but that must not mean that we have a cosy
12 May 2006 : Column 663
love-in and fail to work with rigour or challenge new ideas. We must urge each other to go further if we are really to find answers to the great challenge of climate change.

1.45 pm

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): To give other hon. Members a chance to participate in the debate, and in the interests of energy efficiency, I shall make a brief speech.

The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) has thanked many people in a courteous manner and has acknowledged the contributions that have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. I thank him for that. He thanked so many people that I thought he had received the microgeneration Oscar, such was the fulsomeness of his tributes. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), and the House has offered him its sympathy at this difficult time. He was dedicated to getting the Bill to this stage in its consideration, and it has been a great pleasure working with him. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) has also played a major role.

I pay tribute to those who served in Committee and to the Opposition spokesmen for the constructive engagement that has characterised the debates. I believe that together we have turned a good and well-intentioned Bill into an important measure. We have had a good debate today. It stands in contrast to the slightly foolish filibustering that we experienced on two Fridays, which does the reputation of the House no favours.

Perhaps I mentioned this in Committee, but I should declare an interest. Currently I have a planning application for a micro wind turbine for my own home before my local council.

By supporting the Bill, the Government have shown our continuing commitment to tackling climate change. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said on many occasions, climate change is without doubt the major long-term threat facing our planet. We have heard about melting ice caps and violent weather extremes. These are no longer possible future events; they are happening now. Every week, authoritative scientific studies warn that without urgent action we may be having a taste for the future. In terms of rhetoric, it is difficult to exaggerate the issue.

The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) asked, “What do you do when you are standing on the edge of a cliff?” I am glad that at that stage he resisted the temptation to urge our nation to take a giant step forward.

Combating climate change is one of the UK’stop priorities. It has been so during our recentpresidencies of both the G8 and the European Union. It is why we continue to work with the international community to take real action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy has a key role to play in reducing emissions. Big renewables, large-scale wind developments and tidal wave power are growing parts of our energy mix. However, the Bill is about microgeneration, which as a group of technologies has
12 May 2006 : Column 664
the feeling of a sector that is on the verge of becoming part of the mainstream. All it needs is help.

We have supported these technologies through a variety of measures, not least the £53 million in capital grants since the year 2000, to be followed by a further £80 million over the next three years for a variety of projects, but with some emphasis on getting microgeneration into our schools. That is not only for the energy supply that it can bring to schools, but because of the educational value.

The publication of our microgeneration strategy at the end of March clearly demonstrates our view that these technologies have the potential to play a significant role in the energy future.

At times this has been a wide-ranging debate, encompassing nuclear energy and many other things. It has been so wide-ranging from time to time that the Bill itself was even mentioned. The debate was that wide in scope. We know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister launched the energy review at the end of last year, and ministerially he asked to lead it. Contrary to what many have read in the press, the outcome is not yet settled. I can assure the House that we have an open mind on many of the big issues. There is no one question facing our energy strategy. There is certainly no one answer or silver or uranium bullet.

Achieving our energy objectives requires action at all levels. We all have a responsibility for safeguarding our planet. The action that we take as individuals can make a real difference. That is why the Bill is important. Some important duties are given to Government in reporting terms. More significantly, the Bill opens doors for action at individual and community level. By enabling microgenerators to access more easily the rewards that they deserve for generating their electricity, by giving parish councils an important improvement to the Bill, by giving powers to promote microgeneration and energy efficiency, and by giving Government the duty to promote renewable heat and community energy schemes, we are setting out the sort of measures that can make a real difference.

At the end of a good and important debate, I commend the Bill to the House.

1.50 pm

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): May I join the many hon. Members who have spoken in the debate in expressing my condolences to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on his family loss? It is unfortunate that he is absent from the Chamber today as a result, and that he has not been present to see the Bill through to its Third Reading. I congratulate him on his tenacity in pushing it through to this point, and it now falls to me to speak to it in his place, which I do with great pleasure.

The Bill has probably been scrutinised more closely than any other private Member’s Bill in recent years—

David Howarth: And many Government ones.

Dr. Whitehead: Indeed.

The number of provisions in the Bill has expanded, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith for accepting a numberof clauses from my private Member’s Bill, the Management of Energy in Buildings Bill, which
12 May 2006 : Column 665
unfortunately did not reach this stage. We now have a Bill that is comprehensive, wide-ranging and far-sighted in its proposals for the development of microgeneration and for the role that microgeneration might play in our domestic and commercial energy supply, and in the vital task of combating climate change while ensuring that the lights stay on.

There is an alternative way of expressing the statistic in the Energy Saving Trust report, which the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) regrettably underplayed. The report says that 40 per cent. of the UK’s energy supplies could be provided by microgeneration within 40 years, which is an enormous amount to contemplate. I hope that the Bill will pave the way to that kind of development, through targets, community developments, changes in planning regulations and a variety of other devices.

A large number of important contributions have been made to this Third Reading debate and, importantly, most right hon. and hon. Members across the Chamber have agreed on the direction and content of the Bill. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is, unfortunately, also unable to be here today. In his brief contribution to the beginning of the debate on 17 March, he said, with what I might call an air of foreboding, that there was

Next Section Index Home Page