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I want to flag up the work of the Environmental Audit Committee. I am sure that everybody agrees that when it was set up 10 years ago our understanding of environmental degradation was nowhere near as wide
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as it is now. Our Select Committee has really tracked climate change and I pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), who now speaks for the Opposition, as former Chair of the Committee.

Our Committee’s reports on green government, on the pre-Budget reports, on education for sustainable development and on “Keeping the lights on” have helped us to focus on the targets and actions needed, as well as on the gulf between words and action. Through Parliament, the Committee has helped to maintain and to inform the debate. As we move on to the next, urgent stage in tackling climate change, we should be looking at what extra role this Parliament and Parliaments across the world can play to keep world leaders focused on tackling climate change.

The fact that the general public—our citizens—can now easily access the Committee’s reports and use them to inform themselves, their colleagues and neighbours, at work and at home, about the changes that we shall all have to adopt and to engineer means that there is a new way of bringing home to people a simple truth. We all have to find new ways of tackling the challenge of climate change—not only world leaders and national leaders but leaders in every community.

I am pleased that this debate coincides with the Committee’s decision to publish quickly, on Monday, the Government’s response to our most recent report; we felt that Parliament should have the benefit of the report this afternoon. Anybody reading the reams of detailed, wide-ranging, technical and, in places, passionate written and oral evidence received by the Committee will instantly be able to catch up with issues that often seem complex and with which the Government have to grapple within an extremely restricted time frame. As we have already heard, we have only a short time to meet the challenges of climate change. It is as though we are speaking at five minutes to midnight—or even later.

Our report acknowledges the unprecedented change in the energy policy landscape and the sharp rise in public interest in energy supply and energy security against the backdrop of rising prices, while climate change is the most pressing issue of our times. It is for Government to lead us through all the contradictions, but they can do so only if the public are aware of, and understand the bigger picture. A constant theme in all the Committee’s reports on the issue is the need for leadership, so I applaud our Government and our Prime Minister for the leadership that the UK has shown and continues to show nationally and internationally.

We are shaping the international framework. We have already heard about the follow-up to the G8 summits at Gleneagles in 2005 and St. Petersburg, and meetings have recently taken place in Mexico. Our Government are helping to create consensus among the big polluters, although I do not know whether we can achieve one across the Chamber. We have heard about the bilateral treaty that was signed with India. Today, Parliament must endorse all the international initiatives, and we must support Ministers as they approach the Nairobi meeting next month. I am also pleased that we may have representatives from the Environmental Audit Committee at that meeting as well, to support what is being done.

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Action on the world stage must be matched by leadership in our own country. It is important to have a foolproof way to deliver year-on-year commitments to reduce carbon emissions. We must turn our attention to what we can do, and how and when we can do it. I therefore want to add my support for the pleas to include a climate change Bill in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech. However, a climate change Act would not be the be-all and end-all—the single magic solution—to reducing carbon emissions. Quite simply, there is no single, simple solution.

As well as systematically preventing CO2 emissions, we must all make unprecedented changes to the traditional way of running our economy and living our lives—something that has been touched on in the opening speeches. The Government are right to promote energy efficiency seriously, to support new green technologies and to transform procurement policy. I should like to add my support for the procurement policy issue that was picked up by the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), because the Government could be doing far more about that.

We need to consider revised planning guidance. We want to make the comprehensive spending review an unapologetic driver of sustainable development. We need to do all those things at the same time and with urgency. But most of all, we need to have the backing of the British public in all those changes, and we need to do far more to find out how we can get them on board.

I shall quickly deal with the legislation on energy policy that is expected to be presented to the House in the coming months. It will provide an important opportunity for Parliament—both in the House, in the Chamber and in Committee, and in the other place—to debate how we can make the changes that we need. We have heard a lot of reference to how the UK met its Kyoto targets early, but we did so as much by chance as by design: we were very much able to take advantage of the dash for gas.

We should beware of a false sense of security because emissions are on an upward trend, as we have heard. That could jeopardise the medium-term target of 60 per cent. cuts by 2050. Of course, as we heard in the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen), the more science and understanding that we have, the more we know the scale of the problem and the quicker we may need to go, perhaps even more quickly than the 60 per cent. cuts. We can only do that if we all understand the bigger picture. Once we start a journey, the more distance we cover, step by step, the more we can see just exactly where we need to be.

I should like very briefly to dwell on the role of nuclear energy. I do not feel that the Minister for Energy, who is based at the Department of Trade and Industry, has set out how the new nuclear build needed to replace the generation of reactors that is being phased out can be in place by 2010. The Sustainable Development Commission, which is the Government’s own adviser, noted that nuclear power will make little contribution towards reducing carbon emissions before 2020.

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The then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who appeared before our Committee, acknowledged in his evidence and supplementary memorandum that it was likely to be 2018, at the very earliest, before nuclear capacity in a new form could be in place. The issue for the Government is that, as things stand, there is no institutional framework to guarantee investors secure returns over the long term, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will look at that in the coming months.

Turning away from energy policy at the DTI to other Departments, I am pleased to see the lead that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is taking in ensuring that other departmental policies are consistent with our climate change policy, but the problem is that such things never happen quickly enough. I should like to ask whether the Government can do more to resolve the issues that have been flagged up by the Companies Bill, which the House will debate next week, and to find out what they can do to respond to the requests for environmental reporting, which we need if we are to keep tabs on what is happening.

Looking at the framework for sustainable development in respect of the Government estate, which was introduced in 2002-03 and flagged up in earlier Environmental Audit Committee reports, we can be really proud of the aspirational target that the Government have set to become carbon-neutral by 2012. That is going to make a big difference. I would like the Minister to put his energies into seeing what can be done to extend that further, so that rather than excluding the NHS and the education estate, it could extend beyond Government offices. I would like the greening government targets for operational management of Departments to apply right across the board. The Lyons review is looking at ways to relocate Departments from London and the south-east. There are huge opportunities to integrate all that.

I want to flag up the issue of private finance initiatives and how they are being used. I am pleased that the Minister of Sport and the Government have pledged that the 2012 Olympics are going to be the greenest ever. We should take a leaf out of that book in respect of PFI and the design, construction and maintenance of each and every new building around the country. It is clear that we are embarking on a major programme of house building, as well. High standards will be needed. As we have already heard, we could go so much further. We could look at Treasury rules in respect of whole-life costing so that financial appraisals take account of the full costs—capital and revenue—and the extra investment that is needed now will not be ruled out because there is not the maintenance and the revenue money to pay for it.

There are also the issues raised by the built environment professions. I want to flag up the Royal Institute of British Architects and its “Manifesto for Architecture”, which was recently published. I share its hopes for the Government’s code for sustainable homes, which I acknowledge has been strengthened. The issue is that the code remains voluntary, apart from houses built by English Partnerships or the Housing Corporation. Pressure needs to be placed on the commercial housing sector to raise building performance standards even more.

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Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Does the hon. Lady therefore support the Liberal Democrat policy to make the code for sustainable buildings compulsory and to include microgeneration in every new-build home?

Joan Walley: Irrespective of who is putting that forward, I certainly support progress on microgeneration in every home, and I take the point that we need to strengthen the code. I accept what the Minister for Housing and Planning has said about the need to bring business on board, but that goes back to the issue of regulation. Businesses need certainty. They need to know what distance they are going to have to cover in the medium and long terms. In that sense, codes for sustainable homes can play a key role in letting everybody know where they have got to be and what they have got to do to reach that target.

Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that planning regulations are key to delivering high-energy conservation buildings and that the local development frameworks that are being put together by local councils are important and need to do more to produce environmentally friendly buildings?

Joan Walley: I could not agree more. That is a key issue for us. Even if the Government are making progress with new technologies and the local planning frameworks, if professionals on the ground—experts with specialist knowledge—are not linked into the local planning frameworks, we are likely to miss out on a whole generation of new buildings being built with innovative practices embedded in the planning procedure. There is also a huge amount more that could be done to commercial buildings and public buildings, such as schools and hospitals, to take on board all those issues. I hope that the Cabinet Office can help with extending the new building regulations. As we have heard, it is not just building regulations that need to be improved. We can have all the building regulations in the world, but if they are not properly enforced and construction workers are not applying the standards, the energy will be going out through the walls. All that urgently needs to be tackled.

Much of this often seems to be technical, rather than necessarily appearing to be relevant to people in their everyday lives. Hon. Members thus have a moral duty to take the debate out into their constituencies because real change needs to happen from not only the top down, but the ground up. Attitudes must change at a local level, and hopefully we will be able to encourage and support everyone in their endeavours to go green, whether they are people involved in local strategic projects, local planning and local area agreements, or those who simply wish to extend their homes or to move to new homes.

A meeting that I organised in my constituency showed that we in Stoke-on-Trent could learn a great deal from best practice. We heard that places such as Nottingham and London have been transformational through the climate change strategies that they have put in place. I would like areas throughout the country to be equally transformational.

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Chatterley Whitfield, a former colliery, is at the gateway to my constituency. In 1937, it became the first ever colliery to raise 1 million tonnes of coal in a year. The emissions that were produced by burning that coal, along with all the other carbon emissions produced throughout the country, are coming back to haunt us. However, I hope that we in Stoke-on-Trent can rise to the energy challenge and address how we can improve public awareness, deal with heat loss from buildings and fuel poverty and work with industry through the emissions trading scheme; work is being done in Europe to get agreement.

We have a real opportunity to bring about the changes that are needed in towns and cities throughout the country. I hope that the time spent in the Chamber today will be used to help to bring about the changes that are desperately needed.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. Several hon. Members are hoping to catch my eye. Although Mr. Speaker has not imposed a time limit on speeches, I hope that hon. Members will exercise some self-discipline when making their contributions and thus enable more to catch my eye.

3.2 pm

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I congratulate the Secretary of State on finding Government time, albeit perhaps abridged, to discuss this absolutely crucial matter. I am delighted that it is clear that there is consensus across the House—including even the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who has left the Chamber—that climate change is accepted science. Forty-eight Nobel prize winners writing to the Bush Administration cannot be wrong. Indeed, the editor of Science was recently quoted as saying that rarely in science is a consensus as strong as it is around the view that there has been man-made global warming. Of course, the intergovernmental panel on climate change has done exceptional work and we look forward to seeing the fourth assessment report soon.

As I have examined the matter over the past year, I have been struck, as I know that the Secretary of State has, given several of his remarks, by renewed evidence that the problems created by global warming are accelerating, such as the movement of glaciers. For example, the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland is moving by 113 feet, whereas previously it moved by only inches in a year. In Antarctica we have seen the destruction of a substantial ice shelf the size of Turkey—or the size of Texas, as they prefer to put it in the United States.

At home, we can see that the situation is worsening by considering something as relatively mundane as the Thames barrier. The barrier has been raised 55 times in the past five years, but was raised only 12 times in the previous five. We know about the situation affecting the railway line from Dawlish to Newton Abbott in the west country, on which I travelled recently when visiting one of my hon. Friends’ constituencies—and my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) might become the first person in the history of the House to lose his constituency, or a very substantial part of it, to the encroaching sea. We have
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drought in the Thames Water area. We experience flooding, and rapid downpours lead to water running off concrete and baked soil. Insurance claims are mounting rapidly, which is an increasing source of concern to the Association of British Insurers.

On that point, I ask the Secretary of State to consider what to do about the remaining climate change deniers, who include multinational corporations. Although ExxonMobil, for example, no longer denies global warming outright, it funds institutions and websites that do. Judged by its actions, not its words, it is a climate change-denying organisation, and it has been treating some reputable bodies pretty badly. I said recently that the Royal Society had pointed out that ExxonMobil was still funding climate change-denying organisations such as the International Policy Network and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The IPN is the organisation whose executive director, Mr. Morris, popped up so long ago with a poisonous and personal attack on Sir David King, the chief scientific adviser, as having no status in the debate because he was not a climate scientist. I do not know how much ExxonMobil thought that nasty bit of attempted character assassination was worth, but Mr. Morris ludicrously described Sir David as

and the Royal Society calculates that overall ExxonMobil spent $2.9 million on such outfits last year alone.

The Royal Society’s letter says that

Exxon’s director of corporate affairs, Mr. Nick Thomas, rang me and said that the author of the letter to ExxonMobil had left the Royal Society. I asked whether he had been sacked, and Mr. Thomas said that he could not possibly comment, but it was clearly significant. The implication was left hanging in the air. When I checked, I found that Bob Ward, the senior manager at the Royal Society, had been promoted into another job. The Royal Society is standing by every word that he wrote, as it made clear in a subsequent press release attempting to deal with internet rumours.

I ask the House: should we be buying fuel from people such as ExxonMobil? I do not want even indirectly to be helping to fund bodies such as the International Policy Network and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. I do not think that the Government should do so either, if only as a tribute to the sterling work of Sir David King, so I hope that Government procurement of fuel oil no longer uses Esso or Exxon. ExxonMobil is surely the irresponsible and unacceptable face of capitalism, to borrow a phrase. Perhaps Ministers could tell us what they propose to do, if only to protect the reputations of their own distinguished employees.

The climate change Bill, which has been mentioned by a number of Members, has been championed by Friends of the Earth, and we are very pleased to give our support to the Bill and to the commitment to annual emissions reductions. We have to watch the average figures and make sure that weather events are not going to blow us off course. I agree with the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) that we may well need to be more ambitious than the 60 per
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cent. cut currently pencilled in for 2050. I agree also with what the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) said about the need for independent monitoring, not, I hope, as a way of deciding policy, but certainly as a way of informing it and making sure there can be no doubt, among Members and policy makers, of the impartial assessment of the scientific community.

We must remember always that targets are only the first step to a solution. They have to be credible. Frankly, if targets were the way to better government, this country would be the best governed in the world because one thing with which this Government cannot be reproached is failing to multiply the number of new targets. We need also to talk about practical policies.

At an international level I would like to hear more from the Secretary of State and his colleagues about how we will press on with the agenda that they were outlining at Monterrey. For example, was it not disappointing that, as I understand from press reports, the Russians were not present? What can we do as a European Union to make sure that the Russians are on board? Nevertheless, like the Secretary of State, I firmly believe that we can tackle the issue, if only because a mere 20 countries out of nearly 200 in the United Nations are responsible for 80 per cent. of carbon emissions. We can gather the key people around the table, and we can ensure that they address the problem.

There is a serious difficulty with the developing world, because of the nature of the problem. Contraction and convergence, to which our party is committed, deals with the flow of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, but not with the stock already there. Of course, the stock is the key factor, as CO2 has a life of 100 years once it has been emitted into the atmosphere. The developing world can legitimately turn round and say that 70 per cent. of all the man-made CO2 currently in the atmosphere originates from the developed world. What proposals do the Government have for dealing justly and equitably with that issue? There is much merit in Jagdish Bhagwati’s proposal for a super-fund, which could help to fund a technological generation jump in the third world and is worth considering.

Closer to home, the Government like to talk the talk, but they are far from being effective and joined-up in their own policy actions. I shall give five examples of how disjointed and dysfunctional the Government have become. First, it is universally recognised that green taxes—taxes on fossil fuels and the machines that use fossil fuels—are part of the solution to global warming. The emissions trading scheme is crucial, but it covers only a little under half of all emissions from the UK. Even if we extend it to aviation, as we should—I agree with the Secretary of State, and I would like to know whether the Government are in favour of extending it to shipping and road freight, too—substantial parts of the economy would be left outwith the emissions trading scheme.

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