Previous Section Index Home Page

David Miliband: We certainly should protect our sea defences, but many people will ask why the right hon. Gentleman has voted against increasing the flood defence budget over the past 10 years, which has happened under this Government. Secondly, his point that our emissions represent only 2 per cent. of the world’s
12 Oct 2006 : Column 486
greenhouse gas emissions should never be an excuse for us not to take the action that is necessary as our contribution to addressing this global problem. However, I do want to address the international issues.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): On flood defences, although we all agree that there is a serious problem, has the Secretary of State’s Department not just cut the budget for such defences?

David Miliband: The capital budget in respect of flooding has been protected, despite the difficulties that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has in respect of that budget, and I make no apologies for protecting that capital budget. It is true that some of the annual recurrent expenditure for the Environment Agency has had to be cut, and I make no apology for saying that DEFRA will live within its means: when accountancy changes or avian flu or difficulties with the Rural Payments Agency arise, we will live within our means and we will not duck the difficult choices. However, we have protected the capital element of the floods budget and it was right to do so.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): Will the Secretary of State give way?

David Miliband: I will not take any interventions from Liberal Democrats, who have just wasted at least 15 minutes, and possibly 30 minutes, on fruitless votes that have got us absolutely nowhere.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): This Conservative recognises the importance of saving the global environment for everyone, but I am also concerned about our river and stream environments, which have been under huge stress over the past 20 years and under successive Governments. Every year, hundreds of miles of rivers and streams dry out. Can we act locally, as well, and try to encourage water companies and the Environment Agency to get together to ensure that these environments are preserved? If we cannot do that locally, how on earth can we reduce greenhouse gases globally? It will be an impossibility.

David Miliband: We should certainly do what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am surprised that he did not point out that we have the cleanest rivers and streams since the industrial revolution, thanks to the efforts made by some of the agencies that he mentioned. But he is absolutely right to say that this is an important issue.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware that some 40 million to 50 million litres of untreated sewage goes into the Thames every year? Indeed, I have just received an answer to a parliamentary written question on that very issue. Does he agree that keeping our core rivers clean is incredibly important, and that Thames Water’s tideway proposal would solve a lot of these problems?

David Miliband: The hon. Lady is of course right to say that raw sewage coming into the Thames is a very serious issue. Actually, the Thames is also cleaner than it has been since the industrial revolution, which is a
12 Oct 2006 : Column 487
good thing. The Greater London authority, the Mayor, the Government, the relevant environmental agencies and others are looking very carefully at the tideway proposal, and we hope to conclude the relevant studies by the early part of next year.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: On the protection of waterways, will the Secretary of State confirm that, owing to cuts in the DEFRA budget, British Waterways is in the process of making 180 people redundant?

David Miliband: I noticed that the Press Association referred to the figure of 180—I assume that that is where the hon. Gentleman has taken it from—although I have not been able to confirm it. British Waterways’ budget, which has gone up to £190 million during this year, has, I think, risen three or fourfold in the past seven or eight years. It has had to bear some of the brunt of the difficulties with DEFRA’s finances and I make no apology for that.

Chris Huhne rose—

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab) rose—

David Miliband: I really must try to make some progress. I said that I wanted to deal with the science and to look at the international and domestic agendas—

Colin Challen rose—

David Miliband: I am very tempted to give way to my hon. Friend, who is known as a long-standing campaigner on international issues. Since I mentioned the international agenda, I think it right that I let him intervene.

Colin Challen: I am very grateful for that little bit of praise; I hope that it is deserved. I was hoping to get us back on to climate change because, although it is very good that politicians keep their noses to the ground, this subject is rather bigger than British Waterways. Is my right hon. Friend going to review our 2050 target of a 60 per cent. cut in emissions in the light of the Exeter conference and of the most recent report by the Tyndall centre, which shows that, if our current transport appetite continues, we will have to reduce emissions by 70 per cent. by 2030 and by 90 per cent. by 2050?

David Miliband: I will deal with these issues, but I always say that we must try to achieve at least a 60 per cent. reduction in our carbon dioxide emissions, compared with 1990 levels, by 2050. There is always a danger in changing an ambitious target that has a widespread degree of buy-in and consensus. The CBI, voluntary organisations and, I think, the Opposition parties recognise the power of that 60 per cent. target, so I am slightly loth to start changing it too soon. But I recognise the value of the point that my hon. Friend makes.

When the Prime Minister launched the British presidency of the G8 last year and put climate change, along with Africa, at the top of the agenda, he set out a three-stage process: getting agreement on the science, promoting a debate about stabilisation, and developing agreement on a long-term international framework. Let me address stabilisation, which is an important issue.

12 Oct 2006 : Column 488

The 1992 UN framework convention on climate change was signed not just by those Kyoto countries that are signatories to the protocol, but by 189 countries, including the United States, Australia and Canada. The convention urges its signatories to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.

The latest science shows that atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased by more than a third since about 1750—from about 280 to 380 parts per million. The level of greenhouse gases, in CO2 equivalent concentration, is about 430 parts per million. Atmospheric CO2 levels, or equivalent, are rising at more than 2 parts per million per year. Without further action, CO2 emissions in 2050 are predicted to rise by 50 per cent. More immediately, within 10 years we will reach the 450 parts per million figure that many scientists believe would represent a shift from the balance of probability being against dangerous climate change toward its being in its favour.

In other words, the window of opportunity for staying within a 450 to 550 parts per million range is closing. The costs of mitigation rise sharply for stabilisation below this range, and for adaptation the costs rise sharply beyond the upper limit of that range. I have not read today’s report from Shell, but it speaks to this issue. The Stern review, which will be concluded in the next few weeks, represents the most comprehensive work ever undertaken in the field of climate change economics. Preliminary findings were presented in Mexico last week to the second meeting of the Gleneagles dialogue, which I attended along with the Minister for Energy, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

The evidence is clear: the cost of tackling climate change will be far less than the cost of dealing with the consequences. We have the technology to meet the challenge. Picking up on the point made earlier by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), we must find ways of getting investment across the globe in moving to a low carbon economy. That means working to develop an international framework that can secure global co-operation, plus effective domestic and European action.

The 1992 UN convention used the language of “common but differentiated responsibilities” for all 189 signatories. Let me dwell on this for a moment. “Common” responsibilities means that all countries have to play a part. “Differentiated” responsibilities means that the greatest burden must be borne by those with the greatest ability to lead. The danger is that developing countries say that they will not play their part because the industrialised world is not promising to play its part; meanwhile, developed economies refuse to move because they suspect that developing countries will not take the action necessary.

The Government’s strategy to break this logjam is as follows. First, in Mexico last week we presented compelling new evidence on the economics, and I think that Ministers from all the 17 countries that attended left Mexico realising that “business as usual” is not an option. Secondly, we pursue bilateral agreements with key countries to deliver change on the ground now. On Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his Indian counterpart signed a memorandum of understanding to add to work with China, Brazil,
12 Oct 2006 : Column 489
South Africa and—famously—California, in order to take action in the immediate future to mitigate future climate change.

Thirdly, we are proud to see the European Union as a big part of the answer to the climate change problem. I say in all seriousness to the Conservative party that the battle against climate change requires a strong European Union; it is not possible to be an environmentalist and a Europhobe at the same time. This problem crosses borders and requires international action.

Chris Huhne rose—

David Miliband: Given that the hon. Gentleman was a Member of the European Parliament, and since I have mentioned Europe, I should probably break my vow and allow him to intervene.

Chris Huhne: I am grateful to the Secretary of State. Does he agree that the Kyoto agreement, imperfect though it is, would not have happened without the pressure of the European Union, and that the Conservative party should take that into account in formulating its climate change policy?

David Miliband: I do not want to intrude on the private grief that has caused a divorce between the two main Opposition parties and broken the consensus that we were told would exist between them; they have now sundered all co-operation. But I am happy to be an intermediary for messages from the hon. Gentleman to the Conservatives, and to relay to them his concern that they should wake up, smell the coffee and realise that the European Union is part of the solution, not the problem.

As I was saying, the climate change problem crosses borders and requires international action. The Government will continue to press for a strong and integrated European response to climate change. I can report to the House that the European Commission action plan on energy efficiency will be launched next week. The sustainability pillar of the Lisbon competitiveness strategy needs to be strengthened, and the British Government will argue for that. Common agricultural policy reform must continue to emphasise the need to improve the net environmental benefits of farming. The extension of the EU emissions trading scheme needs to be taken forward later this year, and of course, the EU needs to continue to negotiate at international level for us, starting in Nairobi next month.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): I want to latch on to the phrase that my right hon. Friend used about energy efficiency. I also raised this matter in business questions this morning. I am sure that he will have noticed how warm it is in the Palace of Westminster this week. Will he have urgent discussions with the House authorities on this? We should practise what we preach and do our bit here in the House of Commons.

12 Oct 2006 : Column 490

David Miliband: I am sympathetic to my hon. Friend’s point, and I will certainly take up the matter with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and with the appropriate authorities thereafter. I shall not make any jokes about hot air.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): On practising what we preach, I would like to point out to colleagues that, yesterday and today, I have turned off about 10 lights in the Lady Members’ Room downstairs.

David Miliband rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am not sure where this is going. The debate is probably intended to be looking at the bigger picture.

David Miliband: Wherever the debate is going, I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall not be going to check on what she is doing.

I was setting out the strategy that the Government are pursuing to ensure that the international agenda is followed. The fourth point is that we must take a lead in developing the clear and tangible targets from all developed countries that are necessary to kick-start the drive towards a global agreement on climate change. For countries such as the United Kingdom, that means achieving at least the 60 per cent. target to which we are committed. For the European Union, it means exploring with other parties reduction pathways in the order of 15 to 30 per cent. by 2020, and 60 to 80 per cent. by 2050.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

David Miliband: I hope that my hon. Friend will bear with me. I am conscious that about 15 Members want to participate in the debate, and I am worried that I have already gone on for 15 minutes. Let me try to move on.

As well as those four measures, we need a fifth, which I believe will receive common support across the House. We must support the most vulnerable developing countries in adapting to the unavoidable effects of climate change now. As the UN meeting in Nairobi sets out on the task of developing a new global framework on climate change, we must help developing countries, especially in Africa, to cope with climate change today. I take heart from the comments that were made on this issue in Mexico last week. I also commend the White Paper of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, which has sustainability as a theme running right through it, rather than simply a chapter on the subject.

Climate change is a global problem that requires global leadership, but our strength internationally relies on our commitment at home. We are one of the few countries on course to achieve its Kyoto protocol target. Our greenhouse gas emissions could fall to around 23 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2010, which represents nearly double our target of a 12.5 per cent. reduction. But we need to go further, not least in respect of carbon dioxide itself.

12 Oct 2006 : Column 491

This year, we have taken significant steps towards strengthening our domestic programme on climate change. First, the measures set out in our climate change programme review are projected to deliver 12 million tonnes of carbon savings within the next four years. This includes savings from the second phase of the European Union emissions trading scheme. That might sound like a technical matter, but it accounts for nearly half of all carbon emissions in this country. This summer, we submitted our proposals for the second phase of the EU emissions trading scheme. It will be expanded to cover additional activities at 160 installations, responsible for nearly 10 million tonnes of carbon.

Alongside this, we are pressing for reforms to the EU emissions trading scheme to extend its coverage and secure its long-term future. Representatives of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development came to Mexico last week. They said that what they needed above all else was long-term certainty on the commitments of the developed countries to the carbon market. That is what we believe that the reform and extension of the EU emissions trading scheme should do. The scheme should also include aviation, which would enable the industry to meet its environmental costs through a mixture of emissions reductions within the sector and purchase of reductions that can be produced more cheaply by other sectors.

The Budget presented by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out a raft of important measures on car taxation, biofuels, microgeneration and, significantly, energy efficiency.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

David Miliband: I will give way in a second.

Those measures included an extra 250,000 subsidised installations of home insulation over the next two years. This builds on the £320 million of investment this year through the Warm Front programme, which is helping constituencies right across the country, and the energy efficiency commitment, which has delivered net benefits to households in excess of £3 billion over the last three years.

Judy Mallaber: My right hon. Friend mentioned biofuels and microgeneration. What is his view on the extent to which we should give a competitive advantage to renewable sources of energy, and on how we should achieve that? There seems to be a difference of opinion between the parties on whether we should give specific additional help in the marketplace to those sources of green energy.

David Miliband: I think that my hon. Friend is referring to the renewables obligation, which is a significant piece of subsidy for the renewables industry. I will say a bit more about that later. The significance of the renewables obligation is that it ensures that those renewable technologies—tidal power or offshore wind power, for example—that are not yet close to market are given the research and development and other investment that is essential.

Next Section Index Home Page