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Businesses must continue to take action to reduce their CO2 emissions, but as individuals we must also take action to reduce our carbon footprint. The Government have been working hard to help. A new CO2 calculator will soon be launched that will allow people to calculate their personal CO2 footprint and provide suggestions on how to reduce it. Guidance will also be available to help people make informed choices about the most effective carbon offsetting products on the market. Through the Warm Front scheme, we are helping people in fuel poverty to insulate their homes and to install boilers that are more energy efficient. Some 1.3 million households have benefited from that so far. Since 2001, households have benefited from £3 billion-worth of energy improvements through the obligation for energy companies to provide efficiency improvements for their customers, including low-energy light bulbs, insulation and high-efficiency
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appliances and boilers. The Energy Saving Trust has carried out 4.5 million home energy checks since 1993, including 450,000 in 2006 alone.

More activities are in the pipeline, but significant progress is being made. We have real achievements under our belt and we need to achieve more for the future.

Andrew Miller: It is a good idea to try to educate the public about the energy usage of household equipment. The idea of some sort of ready-reckoner is a great one, but we must not encourage people to start switching from things that are not yet at the end of their lives. We need to take into account in the equation the energy costs of manufacturing.

Ian Pearson: I agree. We should first try to avoid CO2 emissions, then reduce them and then consider recycling. Only as a last resort should we look at offsetting. It is right that reuse should be an important part of our package of proposals.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): We support many of the schemes that the Minister outlines in the fight against climate change, but does he accept that the progress that the Government seek to make on climate change is undermined by their refusal to accept annual legally binding targets on CO2 emission reductions? If we had yearly targets we could see exactly what progress was being made on that vital issue and not have to wait until the end of a Parliament, when a Government may be on their way out of office, to hold them to account.

Ian Pearson: I do not agree with the hon. Lady. Annual targets do not work for one simple reason. We have cold winters—for example, 1996 and 2001 were both relatively cold winters—when energy consumption and CO2 emissions go up by some 3 to 4 per cent. compared with other years. By picking a five-year period, we are acting consistently with Kyoto. When other Governments considered the issue in the run-up to the agreement at Kyoto, they thought that annual budgets would not work, and that is why they chose a five-year budget period. I stress that we will have annual reporting to Parliament and it will be clear whether we are on course to meet our budget requirements. The hon. Lady and others will no doubt want to hold us to account, just as we want to be held to account for our actions.

Chris Huhne: It is difficult to understand the Minister’s point about annual targets. The assessment will be made in retrospect, after the year in which the carbon emissions happened, so we will already know what the temperature was in the winter and what the GDP growth was. Both of those are easy adjustments to make in any benchmark, and the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England makes that sort of adjustment every month. I cannot therefore understand why Ministers persist in arguing that it is too difficult for the Committee that they propose to set up for the draft Climate Change Bill.

Ian Pearson: The hon. Gentleman is an economist, so he is used to dealing with many variables. The practice of having budgets that are set over a five-year period where the total amount of CO2 counts is a
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simple way of demonstrating what progress the Government are making. It will be clear to the public whether we are on target to meet our budget because we will report, as regularly as the information is available, on our performance against those targets and in accordance with the legislation that we hope to put before the House in due course.

I stress that more action is in the pipeline—for example, the phasing out of inefficient light bulbs and the removal of inefficient white goods from the market. We also need to continue our work to engage the public. An “Act on CO2” campaign has recently been launched to help make individuals more CO2 literate. Part of that will be an “Act on CO2” deal, which will set out how the Government and individuals can work together to reduce CO2 emissions. Everyone can make a difference, especially in their homes through improvements to insulation, the use of energy-efficient products, better energy management, increasing recycling and wasting less food.

The public sector also needs to play its part and give the necessary lead. It is important that we meet our commitment of making the Government office estate carbon neutral by 2012. I acknowledge that our performance to date has not been as good as it should have been, and the hon. Member for Eastleigh made a number of comments in that regard.

That is why the Government are taking a number of steps to improve our record and that of the wider public sector. We are working hard to make sure that buildings and products procured by the Government are energy efficient. Every secondary school in the country is being rebuilt and refurbished. As part of that, over the next three years £110 million will go into helping them reduce their CO2 emissions. Some schools will achieve carbon neutrality.

Many Government Departments have energy-efficient lighting and are phasing out the use of inefficient light bulbs. Government offices make increasing use of renewable energy, including biomass boilers, solar panels and wind turbines but, again, we need to do more. We are also reducing the environmental impact of Government travel. All official and ministerial air travel is captured under offsetting schemes, and we are committed to reducing CO2 emissions from road vehicles. We are also leading the way by reducing those emissions from the Government car fleet

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I thank the Minister for giving way. If individual citizens of this country are to play their full part in mitigating climate change, they need to know how much energy they use every day, rather than over three months. What are the Government doing to encourage smart metering in homes, so that people can change their behaviour?

Ian Pearson: The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that we announced a few weeks ago that we are to introduce free real-time displays over the next couple of years. They will be available to all households that want them, and they will give clear and easily digestible information about a home’s energy impact. People will be able to see what effect switching appliances on and off has, and that will make a difference. In addition, the web-based CO2 calculator will give a range of information to help people to reduce carbon footprints.
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Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): We are trying to educate the public about how they can play their part in tackling climate change, but does my hon. Friend agree that schools have a very important role? They are educating the adults of the future, so what work is he doing with the Department for Education and Skills to encourage schools to participate more? The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website has some useful information for schools.

Ian Pearson: I agree entirely. As I mentioned, a sum of money has been allocated to help improve the greenness of our schools. I have visited a number of schools that already have wind turbines and solar panels fitted as standard. As we roll out our building schools for the future programme, we need to make sure that the new buildings are low or zero-carbon emitters, if at all possible. In addition, they must be well adapted for the climate change that, to a certain degree, we are bound to face in the future.

Lynne Jones: A number of schools will be refurbished under the building schools for the future programme. Will there be as great an emphasis on the standard of energy efficiency in refurbished schools as in new ones?

Ian Pearson: Yes. The Government want the refurbishment of existing schools to receive as much attention as efforts to ensure that new schools are low or zero emitters of carbon in the future.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh talked about the existing building stock. It is clearly responsible for a large proportion of carbon emissions, but I do not want to downplay the importance that the Government place on minimising emissions from new development as, by 2050, a substantial proportion of total development will have been built after 2007. That is why it is important to recognise the Government’s commitment that all new homes should be zero carbon by 2016, with a phased introduction of higher standards in the interim. The hon. Gentleman is encouraging us to do some of the things that we are already doing to raise house building standards. We may not have started from the same place as Sweden and other Scandinavian countries that have focused on thermal efficiency for well over 70 years, but we are ratcheting up building standards and making a real difference. The Government are making a real commitment to do far more for the future.

Over the next few months, we shall be saying something more about the sustainability of existing buildings, both domestic and non-domestic. There are already programmes to upgrade energy efficiency in homes—

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Ian Pearson: Let me give the hon. Gentleman the figures first.

Preliminary data suggest that household emissions have dropped by about 5 per cent. over the past two years. There is much more to be done but the early signs are encouraging, and that reduction is a welcome step forward.

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Mr. Ainsworth: It is indeed welcome, but can the Minister explain why emissions from the Government estate have been rising, including those from his Department?

Ian Pearson: As I have explained to the hon. Gentleman before, the DEFRA office estate is going through a transition phase—moving from some buildings to others—and all the buildings are covered in our carbon footprint. As I said at the outset, our performance across the Government estate has not been as good as I would like it to be and we need to make real improvements, which is why we are giving it increasing attention at ministerial and senior official level.

Sustainability in homes and buildings is not just about construction but about how we heat and power them. We want more heat and power generated locally through renewable and low-carbon processes such as microgeneration and combined heat and power. The new planning policy statement on climate change will require a significant proportion of energy supply for substantial new development to be gained renewably or from a decentralised, renewable or low-carbon, energy supply.

That is real progress, but it is by no means the last word. We need to do more and we are committed to do so. As a Government, we shall continue to give a lead in tackling climate change both at home and internationally. The UK is the first country in the world to propose a strong legal framework for tackling climate change to meet our goal of becoming a low-carbon economy. As I said, the Climate Change Bill will put into statute our targets for reducing CO2 emissions by at least 60 per cent. by 2050 and by 26 to 32 per cent. by 2020. We are talking about CO2 equivalent figures, too, which take into account the greenhouse impact of other gases.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): At the opening of his speech, the Minister said that the Government were ready to make a range of reductions of between 60 and 70 per cent. Why is not the higher figure of 70 per cent. the target in the Bill?

Ian Pearson: I said that our target was a reduction of at least 60 per cent. in CO2 emissions by 2050 from 1990 levels. I stressed that the figure was for CO2 only. The figures in the Commission document at the spring Heads of State summit referred to a 60 to 80 per cent. reduction in CO2 equivalents by developed countries, so if the impact of non-CO2 emissions is included, our approach is broadly consistent with that of the Commission.

Mark Lazarowicz: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Ian Pearson: For the last time, and then I must really make some progress—and a flight.

Mark Lazarowicz: The Liberal Democrats appear to suggest that 70 per cent. is the right figure to go for, but does my hon. Friend agree that it would be perfectly possible to propose a higher figure in the Bill—perhaps 80 per cent.—if the science supports such a target?

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Ian Pearson: I said at the start of my speech that a clause in the Bill allows us to change the targets, in the light of scientific and other international developments. That remains the case.

I must apologise for having to leave the House before the end of the debate, but I am representing the Government at the Commission on Sustainable Development meeting in New York. Regrettably, it is one of those occasions when things cannot be done by means of a video conference; we need to be there in person. We will certainly offset the carbon cost of my flight and the carbon costs incurred by the officials who are attending the meeting.

Five-year carbon budgets will require the Government to set binding limits on aggregate CO2 emissions over the budget period. We will set three successive carbon budgets, covering 15 years, in legislation. They will limit the total amount of carbon dioxide so that every tonne of carbon dioxide that is emitted will count. As I was saying earlier, we think that that is a much more sensible approach than annual targets. That more sophisticated system of carbon budgeting will be very clear to UK businesses. It will give them certainty in terms of their future planning and investment while ensuring that the Government are accountable to Parliament and to society for their actions.

A committee on climate change will advise us on the pathway to the 2050 target, on the level of the carbon budgets and the reduction effort needed across the economy, and on the optimum balance between domestic action and international trading in carbon allowances. The power and responsibility to create a low-carbon economy rests with us all and everyone will have to contribute—from businesses to Government, the public sector, consumers and civil society. What is required is action at all levels—within the UK, through the EU, and through international agreement.

The Climate Change Bill will create a more coherent approach to managing and responding to climate change in the UK. It will involve ambitious targets, powers to help achieve them, a strengthened institutional framework, and clear and regular accountability to Parliament. Together with the proposals that will emanate from the energy review and that will be set out shortly in the energy White Paper, the Bill will equip the UK for a successful transition to a low-carbon economy and enable us to act as a beacon for others internationally.

We need to see action at an international level. Without a new global deal on climate change, emissions of greenhouse gases will continue to increase. The spring European Council agreement was a landmark decision. What it had to say on emissions targets, renewable energy and energy efficiency leads the way internationally. The window of opportunity to reverse the rise in global emissions is narrowing. The science and the economics suggest that to avoid catastrophic climate change global carbon emissions must peak in the next 10 to 15 years. But climate change is not an insoluble challenge. The technologies to reduce energy demand, increase efficiency and develop low-carbon electricity, heat and transport are within grasp. As has been well demonstrated by Stern, the earlier we act across all countries and all sectors, the better it will be for us all.

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We do, however, need to adapt to climate change, as advised in the working group II report from the intergovernmental panel on climate change in April. We need to plan adaptation for the future, but also for today. The impacts are already beginning to be felt. The 2003 heatwave caused 35,000 deaths across Europe and there were £6 billion worth of insurance claims for flood and storm damage between 1998 and 2003 in the UK alone. The Government take adaptation seriously, but I recognise that sometimes it is not talked about enough in the House.

We are putting the framework in place to allow Departments, local authorities, businesses and individuals to play a role. That is being done through the development of an adaptation policy framework for Government, which we will publish this year and which will be extended to other sectors next year, through the inclusion of a clause on adaptation in the Climate Change Bill, through funding for the development of groundbreaking probabilistic climate change scenarios for the UK, which will be published next year, and through continued investment in areas such as flood defence, which is an old chestnut that the hon. Member for Eastleigh keeps recycling in his speeches. However, the simple fact of the matter is that we are spending 30 per cent. more on flood defence in real terms than we were in 1997.

The Government have shown consistent leadership in the field of climate change by setting bold targets and pursuing ambitious policies. We are determined to continue to show international leadership and that drive is strengthened by our domestic programme. We can take some comfort from the fact that greenhouse gas emissions are already between 15 and 19 per cent. below 1990 levels, depending on whether emissions trading is included, and that we will double our Kyoto commitments. However, there can be absolutely no room for complacency. We need to go further domestically and at the same time work to ensure that we agree a comprehensive post-2012 framework internationally that will stabilise greenhouse gas emissions fairly and effectively. That is the task that lies ahead and we will devote all our energies towards it.

5.20 pm

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Any opportunity to debate action on climate change is welcome and there is a great deal in the motion in the name of the leader of the Liberal Democrats with which the official Opposition can agree. However, the Minister is also right: when it comes to global warming, the truth is that there is more that unites the parties at Westminster than separates us. There is nothing between all three major parties in our analysis of the seriousness of the challenge, even if the Government are somewhat tardy and muddled in their linking of the latest science to their policy projections. The general direction of policy is not hotly disputed—the battleground is how fast and how far.

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