Previous Section Index Home Page

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I am sure that most hon. Members have, like me, received dozens of letters, e-mails, surgery visits and phone calls on the subject of climate change and, most recently, on the
12 Oct 2006 : Column 530
importance of having a climate change Bill in the Queen’s speech in November. I welcome the opportunity to add my voice and the voices of the residents of East Dunbartonshire to the calls for such a Bill. I hope that Ministers will take the interest in this debate and the fact that 380 Members have signed the early-day motion calling for such a Bill as a clear sign that it must be a priority. I hope that such a Bill will be taken forward in November because we must have annual targets on reducing carbon dioxide emissions so that we can see in the House what progress is being made every single year and so that hon. Members can hold the Government to account. A long-term target on its own will not help us to tackle the problem.

In among lots of constituency work during the parliamentary recess—it is not a long holiday, as some in the media would have us believe—I took time out to go to the cinema to watch “An Inconvenient Truth”. I am sure that many hon. Members will have seen the film and I wholeheartedly recommend it to those who have not. Perhaps the film should be essential viewing because it puts in the starkest possible terms the scale of the problem that we face. However, the film is not depressing because it does not say that there is nothing that we can do about the problem. On the contrary, it encourages every single citizen who sees it to play their part, take their responsibilities serious and lobby their representatives. I especially liked the bit at the end of the film when a list of actions that people can take is shown as the credits roll. Obviously, there is a slight American bias, because people are encouraged to contact their member of Congress and senator. The film suggests that if the representatives do not take the viewers seriously, they should run for Congress themselves. I thought that that was good advice, and we should all be aware that we will have constituents who will expect us to take the problem incredibly seriously.

Many hon. Members who have spoken have rightly highlighted the international and European dimensions of how we will tackle the problem. However, it is also hugely important to focus on what individuals can do. We know about the little energy-saving measures that could lead to massive cuts in the release of carbon dioxide if lots of people carried them out. Such measures include changing to energy-saving light bulbs and using public transport rather than a car, especially for shorter journeys, or perhaps leaving the car at home and walking. They also include increasing recycling, turning the thermostat down a few degrees and turning appliances off, instead of on to stand-by. One would think that all those little things would not make a huge difference, but they can be important.

Obviously, we all consume energy and are thus responsible for a certain amount of carbon emissions. I encourage people to make themselves aware of the ways in which they can offset their carbon emissions. Organisations such as Climate Care and give lots of information about how that can be done. By planting trees or investing in renewable energies, it is possible to offset the carbon tonnes that one emits. I recently logged on to do the calculations so that I could pay for my carbon offset and I encourage other hon. Members to do the same, especially because our job requires a huge amount of travelling, so we are perhaps responsible for higher than average carbon emissions.

12 Oct 2006 : Column 531

I have an issue that I would like to raise with the Leader of the House, so perhaps the Ministers present can communicate it to him. Something that will need to change is our beloved institution, the House of Commons, as it starts to address climate change issues. Heating has been mentioned, and we have recently seen better recycling facilities introduced, although others may agree that it is a bit strange that we had to wait until 2005 for that. I hope that the House authorities will take on board the fact that we need to lead by example.

There are so many aspects of climate change that it is impossible to cover them all, so I should like to focus on waste and recycling, which are very important. Carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas that we are most concerned about, but the second most important is methane. Landfill waste produces most of the UK’s methane at the moment. Some 648 kilotonnes of methane were released from landfill in 2005. I welcome moves to reduce the amount of our waste being sent to landfill annually; indeed, many councils are currently grappling with how to deal with the impact of the landfill tax, which increases year on year, and the fines that will be imposed if we do not get to grips with how much we send to landfill and how much we recycle.

East Dunbartonshire council has recently moved to fortnightly refuse collections for residual waste but at the same time is investing hugely in recycling facilities, with doorstep recycling happening weekly. Garden waste, glass, plastics, cans, paper and cardboard are collected, and the council hopes to increase the amount of materials collected. That was not an easy step to take, and it is fair to say that the local reaction has not been unanimously in support of the change. I am sure that in other areas where that has happened there has been a similar reaction. However, this bold environmental step is necessary. It is regrettable that in my area Labour and the Conservatives opposed the move, and I suspect that in other parts of the country they themselves have had to implement similar schemes. It is an example of the changes that individuals will increasingly have to make to their behaviour that are difficult at first but in the long term will help us to tackle the problem.

It is important that the Government and business play a role. Looking at the UK plastics industry, we see that our recovery figures—the energy that we get back from plastics—are awful compared with those of our European counterparts. Less than a quarter of our plastic is recovered in some way for energy, and a tiny proportion is recycled. Our European neighbours are far better at that than us. Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland manage to recover or recycle over 75 per cent.

Obviously, some plastics are easier to recycle than others, and we can only take things to be recycled if there is a market for the recycled plastic. It is important that the Government encourage business through best practice not only to create things out of materials that can be recycled, but to use recycled materials to help to create that market. If encouragement and the sharing of best practice cannot succeed in changing behaviour, regulation will be required.

A related issue on which we need to take urgent action is the excess packaging that we see every day
12 Oct 2006 : Column 532
when we go to the supermarket. One goes to buy a few apples, which one would previously have put in a bag and taken to the checkout, but now they come in a foam tray, they have a bit of card around them and the whole thing is shrink-wrapped in plastic. Crucially, a lot of that material cannot be recycled, and it is consumers, our constituents, who have to pay for it—not once but three times. They pay for the excess packaging at the checkout; they pay the landfill tax through their council tax bills for getting rid of rubbish; and there is the environmental cost. Business must take this more seriously, and if it does not, the Government must make it do so.

That is just one of the many issues raised in the debate that are important to solving the problem of climate change. I hope that Ministers will address those concerns and take them seriously. Climate change is happening, and it is happening quickly. Action is needed now, and if we are not successful the worst of the consequences will not be faced by today’s Ministers or even most of the MPs in this House. It is my generation, and our children and children’s children, who will face the brunt of climate change and inherit this dreadful legacy. Everyone in the UK has a responsibility to tackle this problem, and we as legislators must take a lead. A climate change Bill in the Queen’s Speech is a vital first step, but only the first step on a long and challenging journey.

4.34 pm

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I declare an interest: I think that I am a member of Friends of the Earth, and I joined Greenpeace in 1975, before some hon. Members were born, and I am still a member. Hon. Members who were in the Chamber when I spoke on Second Reading of the Finance Bill will have some idea of which issues I shall address.

It is absolutely shocking that, as we would find if we went through Hansard and added it up, in some three and a half hours of debate, about three minutes have been spent on the effects of climate change. There is lovey-dovey consensus on the need to cut emissions and so on, which is terribly important. The Government have a good record on the issue, but I will not go into it, as everyone in the Chamber knows about it. We have been discussing the need to cut emissions, the need to achieve the 60 per cent. target by 2050, many other good measures, and the Government’s—and, to some extent, the Conservative Government’s—good track record in cutting emissions. On the causes of climate change, the country and the Government have a great record, nationally and internationally. However, we never talk about coping with the effects of climate change in the Chamber—at least, not that I have heard, and I am here a great deal, as hon. Members will know. For our constituents, there is a crucial difference between the cause and the effect of climate change.

The United Kingdom is responsible for 2 per cent. of emissions. If we cut that to nil tomorrow, there would still be international climate change, and we would still experience its effects in the United Kingdom. That is not a counsel of despair, and it is not to say that we should give up on all those measures. The president of the Royal Society, Frances Cairncross, made a good speech on the subject on 4 September, in which she said:

12 Oct 2006 : Column 533

We can actually do something, in the United Kingdom, about the effects of climate change. I listened carefully to the thoughtful and consensual speech of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth). He can correct me if I am wrong, but he did not say a word, in any real sense, about the effects of climate change.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as I know that time is short. If he looks back over several years, he will find that the effects of climate change have been well demonstrated and discussed in the Chamber. I merely “parked” the issue for this debate to advance a discussion of what we all need to do to counter those effects.

Rob Marris: With the greatest respect, what we all need to do is deal with the effects of climate change, as well as the causes. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), who opened for the Liberal Democrats, devoted one or two sentences to flood damage, which, for a Hampshire MP, is understandable. He mentioned the research undertaken by the Natural Environment Research Council into animal habitats and extinction—that was another sentence, I think. He mentioned the Department for International Development and the effects of climate change in the sub-Saharan region, which include mass population movements, conflict and so on. However, those subjects took up about a minute and a half in a speech of some 25 minutes.

Chris Huhne: I merely point out that I also talked about the west coast main line, the Thames barrier and what we need to do to improve flood defences. I think that he will find that there was quite a lot in my speech about dealing with adaptations. The hon. Gentleman’s point is well taken, and certainly we Liberal Democrat Members intend to tackle those problems.

Rob Marris: I thought that I had adverted to the fact that the hon. Gentleman mentioned flood defences. He is right about the Thames barrier, the construction of which was very far-sighted. However, it has been in existence for 20 years or more.

It is even more shocking and depressing that the Government—I shall come on to their overall record later—have a good record on adaptation internationally. Adaptation is the technical word for work to deal with the effects of climate change. Earlier this year, an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report cited the United Kingdom as one of the top five OECD members—there are 30, and they are of course the advanced industrial countries—moving towards the implementation adaptation. The other four were the United States of America, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands. The situation in this country is, however, unacceptable, as the Government have not adequately addressed the effects of climate change. The Opposition, too, have barely talked about the effects, yet we are one of the top five countries in terms of adaptation. I find that particularly depressing.

On what the Government—my Labour Government—are doing—

Gregory Barker: I do not want to delay the hon. Gentleman, but he knows that the greatest champion of
12 Oct 2006 : Column 534
adaptation and engineering and technological solutions to the challenge of global warming is the Bush Administration in Washington. At this crucial stage, should we not focus all our national efforts in the next 10 years on averting climate change, rather than encouraging people to think there are ways in which we can avoid it through engineering and technological solutions alone?

Rob Marris: I profoundly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. We must do both. Climate change has already started. We have heard some of the statistics today and I could reel off a load more, but time is short. Climate change has already started, whether, from the point of view of the flat-earthers, human activity is a contributing factor or not. I and probably all hon. Members present think it is, but let us leave that on one side.

The statistics for the past 200 years show that climate change has already happened and is already having adverse effects around the world, including here in the United Kingdom. Yes, we need the technology in order to adapt to climate change. The Thames flood barrier has been mentioned—a magnificent piece of technology which has been used more frequently in recent years, as the hon. Member for Eastleigh indeed said. That is a technological solution to dealing with the effects of rising sea waters—dealing with the effects of climate change. It does not mean that we say, “We’ll just build lots of those around the country” and do nothing about the causes of climate change. As a society we need to get a grip and address the effects of climate change, which has already started.

On what the Government have already done, we have the UK climate impacts programme, about which some hon. Members know. It is a team of 15 people in Oxford who act as a link between policy makers and the public, producing research and so on. We have the Government’s adaptation policy framework. In November 2005 they published the consultation on phase 1. The publication of the consultation on phase 2 is due some time this autumn.

That is a consultation on an adaptation policy framework to deal with an issue that I personally know has been around for over 30 years, because I was taught about the greenhouse effect in university over 30 years ago. That is one of the reasons why even before all the furore about CFCs and so on, I never bought aerosol cans. I am probably one of the few people in their 50s in the UK who has bought fewer than a dozen aerosol cans in their whole life, because of climate change. Although I laud the Government on setting up the adaptation policy framework and holding consultations on it, that should have started—it was mentioned before—under Margaret Thatcher, if not before. The problem and the effects on the planet have been known about for at least 30 years.

A third step that the Government are taking is the UK environment facility to assist developing countries in adapting to climate change. As has been said in the Chamber, those who will be hit hardest are the poorest in the poorest countries, including sub-Saharan Africa, where 182 million people will be affected. There will be wars over water resources, which will drive conflict in the middle east for the next 50 years. Wars over water resources and the problems associated with water resources will get more acute as global warming heats up many
12 Oct 2006 : Column 535
parts of the planet and therefore evaporation continues and so on. Those are the effects of climate change with which we need to grapple. One of the effects will be war or the huge potential for war. We have an international role and the Government, with their immense leadership on the issue around the world, ought to be taking a leading role, and I hope they are.

On the Government’s position, I shall read out an answer to a written parliamentary question. The answer was from the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, who is in his place, on 12 May this year. The written question that I asked was:

I received a written reply of about eight lines from the Minister. The first six lines referred to causes of climate change. That is very important, but nothing to do with the question that I asked, which was to do with the effects.

The written answer stated:

it was published in March 2006—

That was it.

The written answer referred to a document, which concerns adaptation, changes and dealing with effects. The Minister is a friend of mine—I have known him for more than 20 years, before either of us were Members of this esteemed place—but on a rough calculation, 6 per cent. of the document, which is entitled “Climate Change: The UK Programme 2006”, addresses adaptation, which involves a 12-page section in a 193-page document plus one or two passing references. About half of those 12 pages refers to research into adaptation, which is very important but should not be all that we are doing. We are far too late, and we need to step up our response.

Half of a document such as “Climate Change: The UK Programme 2006” should be devoted to dealing with the effects of climate change, because we know that the effects are coming, regardless of how successful we are in international negotiations. The effects have already started, and there is an accelerative effect in the early years in terms of changes produced in the environment by the stuff that is already in there and the stuff that, realistically, we know is going to be put in there in the next 20 years, even if everybody around the world halves their output. The effects are only going to get worse, and a lot more of the document should have been devoted to addressing them.

I am sorry to take up so much time, but the issue of UK climate change has hardly been addressed this afternoon, so I will be somewhat indulgent. Paragraph 5 on page 130 of the document states:

If one examines chapter 1, however, that is not strictly true. Page 13 of the document discusses a point that our constituents, who have a Malaga-to-Margate view of
12 Oct 2006 : Column 536
climate change—the subconscious attitude is “We can all eat olives in the west midlands, and won’t that be wonderful?”—do not often discuss:

Conversely, page 11 states:

the reference is to the summer of 2003, when there were record high temperatures, such as the 38.5° C recorded at Faversham, Kent on 10 August 2003—

Next Section Index Home Page