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8 May 2007 : Column 74

The truth is that there is too much complacency in government. As Sir Nicholas Stern makes clear, the Government’s repeated claim to be meeting their Kyoto target on overall greenhouse gases is a bit of a myth. Page 204 of the Stern report attributes the historic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the UK to the dash for gas. The real trend now is rather more worrying. An examination of CO2 emissions, rather than of the basket of greenhouse gases, shows that the Government’s record since taking office is an increase of 2.4 per cent. If we compare the provisional figures for 2006 with those for 2002, the trend since 2002 is an increase in CO2 emissions of 3.3 per cent., and an increase of 0.6 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions as a whole. We have to accept that the figures on which the Government are working are inadequate, and that in continuing to claim that they are on course to meet the Kyoto targets, they are displaying worrying complacency. In a sense, they are fiddling while Rome burns—along with, potentially, the rest of us.

There were some interesting initiatives. I hope that the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment will make available to his own Department the carbon calculator that he referred to. A recent report by the National Audit Office on the Government estate states:

It is therefore no wonder that, as other Members have pointed out, DEFRA’s own record for its own estate shows an increase in carbon emissions and an 11 per cent. reduction in energy efficiency. The Minister said that that is because it is in a transitional stage—aren’t we all?—but the transition that the Government must make is from carbon complacency to urgent action. That attitude is typified in the briefing given to the Joint Committee on the Climate Change Bill. I should say at this point that we Liberal Democrats would not have bothered with that stage; the more urgent need is to get a Bill before this House. However, the Government suggested that the Joint Committee address the briefing, which asked what the main aims and purposes of the Bill should be and why it is needed. I thought that we had got beyond the stage of worrying about why the Bill is needed; surely we all know the answer to that by now. We need to inject a much greater degree of urgency.

The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) praised both the Prime Minister and Mrs. Thatcher, obviously two of his political role models. Mrs. Thatcher is a warning from history. Twenty years ago, she called the Conservatives the real friends of the earth and raised, in her own way, green issues high up the agenda, just as the right hon. Member for Witney is doing at the moment. However, in the subsequent 20 years, Governments of both colours have presided over spiralling emissions, a poverty of investment in renewable energy, increasing car use and increased aviation.

Gregory Barker: For the record, can the hon. Gentleman tell us what happened to carbon emissions under the last Conservative Government from 1992 to 1997?

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Martin Horwood: The problem is the same as the Government have had with the Kyoto targets, because other factors are at play. In that case, it was the Conservative Government’s mismanagement of the economy and the recession. Russia has achieved one of the best carbon reductions of any European country, for similar reasons. The hon. Gentleman lamented the lack of cross-party agreement and specifically mentioned transport and the quality of life commission that is working on the issue. I tried to look up the Conservatives’ quality of life commission’s policies on transport before the debate. They have obviously spent a lot of time on the website, which is very beautiful with pictures of green grass. One can find the introduction and the terms of reference, but the policy is a little thin. There are three paragraphs—

Gregory Barker: That could possibly be because we do not report until the summer.

Martin Horwood: So there are no actual policies. It is difficult to maintain a cross-party consensus on policy because the Conservative party does not actually have any. The hon. Gentleman also accused us of begrudging people expensive cars. We do not, but we begrudge them the most polluting cars and will reward those who have the least polluting cars. We have specifically agreed a policy of raising green taxes to change behaviour and to give tax breaks to the least well off with the proceeds.

I have great respect for the right hon. Member for Scunthorpe, and I agree with some of his remarks about Government and local government procurement and the idea of feed-in tariffs as a more useful policy tool. However, he strangely defended five-year targets on the basis that they give more flexibility to Government, but that is the fundamental problem with them. They give far too much flexibility and apply too little pressure. How are we to judge the performance of the Government at the next general election when the five-year target will be on the other side of it? If voters cannot judge that performance, how can we expect human politicians to take the actions necessary?

The right hon. Gentleman also raised another important issue, which is the need to address those nations that do not take part in the Kyoto, or even the post-Kyoto, process. That point was also raised by Sir Nicholas Stern. It is interesting to note the remarks by Nicolas Sarkozy, who has just been elected President of France. He may be a soul mate for the new Labour leadership. He said of the US:

That is the kind of constructive but critical approach that allies need to take. I fear that this Government have sometimes taken too relaxed an approach to the White House and its attitude to global warming.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) combined green idealism with a practical grasp of the problems associated with the low carbon buildings programme, which he rightly described as a fiasco and which is still suspended. He paid tribute to
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the pioneering work of Stockport Liberal Democrat council and its record on recycling, which I happily applaud.

The hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) called for a ban on incandescent light bulbs and I would be happy to support that in due course. She appeared to think that green mortgages were likely to prove an arbitrary cost to consumers, but the whole point of the warm homes package that we propose is that it will save consumers money. It would not work otherwise on a voluntary basis.

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) spoke from great experience about biofuels, and the virtues of miscanthus and other biofuels that are actually energy efficient and lead to a substantial reduction in global warming if used. That underlines the need for the Government to get on with a proper certification scheme, so that we can tell the difference between those biofuels that are making a contribution to fighting global warming and those that are not.

The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) talked about security of supply. It is true that green generation is also often secure. It is much more difficult to bomb a tidal array or 1,000 microgeneration sites than it is to bomb a nuclear power station. He also criticised China, as he appeared to believe that it is outside the Kyoto framework, but it is not. In some ways, the Chinese Government have made radical moves towards carbon neutrality in the community at Dongtan.

The Liberal Democrats have set out a radical and coherent plan. We want to see powerful, long-term incentives for renewable energy; a green tax switch; annual targets for CO2 reduction; a tax on flights, not people; no new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted in order to constrain the supply of aviation; smaller, more efficient cars paying much less in excise duty than urban 4x4s; green mortgages; greener homes sooner; more community heat and power; and more pressure on the White House. We want clear green policies, not blue sky waffle or Brown fudge.

6.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Barry Gardiner): In the global battle to combat climate change, no Government have done more than this Labour Government, both domestically and internationally, to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases or raise the level of international consensus that is required if we are to hold anthropogenic climate change below 2°C. I say that not as a complacent boast, but as a warning to the world. If we who are acknowledged to lead internationally have still so much more to do to change our domestic consumption of energy—and we have—those nations which have so far failed to address climate change may find that the distance they have to travel cannot be covered in the time that the planet is prepared to allow them.

Such a mistake is more than bad timing, it is injustice—injustice between the generations and a shameful disregard for the security and future well-being of our children. It is injustice too in that it is we
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in the developed world who have contributed most to the current 430 ppm concentration of CO2 equivalent in the atmosphere, but it is those living in the developing world who stand to lose most should those concentrations rise to push temperatures up by more than 2°. The poorest people in the world will suffer most, as Africa loses 4 per cent. of its GDP for every 1° rise in temperature; as India loses 17 per cent. of its wheat yield in tropical areas for the 2°( )rise in temperature predicted above 450 ppm; and as the populations of China, India and south-east Asia experience drought because the seven great river systems originating in the glacial plateau of the Himalayas run dry. Within the next half century, 40 per cent. of the world’s population could face the loss of half of all their drinking water.

It is because of the injustice of that greater threat to the livelihood of the poor that we have developed the notion of common but differentiated responsibilities for all countries. Developed nations, who bear greater responsibility for the problem, must bear a greater share of the costs of tackling it. Let us all hope that that is a principle to which the planet’s richest country will soon subscribe.

It used to be thought that there was an environment agenda and a development agenda, both good but separate. Climate change has taught us above all that that is a lie. The environment and the development agenda are one, indivisible. Climate change has taught us that the proper name for development without sustainability is extinction.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Barry Gardiner: I would like to do so, but I cannot, given the plethora of responses that I need to make to points raised in the debate. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman was here for the entirety of it.

The Environmental Audit Committee did this House a great service when it produced its report on the millennium ecosystems assessment. It highlighted the degradation of whole ecosystems. Throughout the entire history of life on our planet, species extinction has occurred at the rate of one every 1,000 years. That was until now. During the past few hundred years, the rate has accelerated to the extent that we lose one species each and every year. Fluctuations in climate that evolution could accommodate when they happened over millennia now happen so fast that species cannot adapt. The result is the loss of biodiversity and habitat that provide the very ecosystem services on which we as a species depend.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the Budget earlier this year a new fund worth £800 million over three years to support development and poverty reduction through environmental protection, and to help developing countries respond to climate change. The fund will be governed jointly by my Department and the Department for International Development. The first £50 million of the environmental transformation has been earmarked for a multilateral fund to reduce unsustainable deforestation in the Congo basin.

The fund will not divert money away from our existing spending on overseas development. It is additional to
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current aid and will be used to fund development activities with local as well as global benefits.

The proposed title of this debate was “Action on Climate Change begins at Home”. Some Opposition Members have tried to present a false dichotomy between domestic policy and international action, but they have lacked either understanding or vision, or both. Some have made narrow party attacks, as cheap as they were wrong. In truth, we have but one, fragile home—this planet. The Government must act to ensure that four things are done domestically to tackle emissions. We must reduce demand for energy, improve efficiency, use lower-carbon technologies, and tackle non-energy emissions from waste, agriculture and land use.

We are doing all that in statute, in the most detailed and comprehensive way ever attempted by any Government. The Climate Change Bill provides the framework, and is the start, rather than the end, of this Government’s ambitions. We will modify and improve the targets and methods as the science and the economics change.

Internationally, we are working towards the Bali conference at the end of this year, at which the UN framework convention on climate change needs to begin negotiating the elements of a long-term framework after 2012. We are acutely aware that we must reach agreement by 2009, at the latest, if we are to avoid a gap between the first Kyoto period and the second.

It was action by this Government in 2005 placing climate change at the centre of the G8 agenda at Gleneagles that broke through the stalemate that had developed around Kyoto. The G8 summit at Heiligendamm in June will continue the Gleneagles initiative by trying to secure a package of measures that could be used to achieve consensus at Bali.

In Paris earlier this year, the intergovernmental panel on climate change established the scientific argument for anthropogenic climate change beyond doubt. Last week in Thailand scientists went further than ever before in quantifying the effects, and last year’s Stern report commissioned by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out the economic basis for action. At Bali, the UK would wish the UNFCCC to agree long-term stabilisation goals. In our view, that means securing a CO2 equivalent of no greater than 550 parts per million, and an average global temperature rise no greater than 2°.

I turn now to some of the issues raised in the debate. The energy standards for new homes in England and Wales have been raised steadily, by about 40 per cent. from pre-2002 levels and by 70 per cent. from pre-1990 levels. A new home now uses about a quarter of the average energy for space heating. In December, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced the Government’s proposal for further improvements in 2010 and 2013, with the aim of reaching zero carbon by 2016. The new buildings will be energy efficient and highly insulated, drawing their energy from zero or low-carbon technologies and therefore producing no net carbon emissions from all energy use over the course of a year. The buildings will help to reduce carbon emissions as well as lowering fuel bills for households.

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That is a very ambitious goal, and the Government have taken several steps to help the industry prepare to deliver the transition. We have published the code for sustainable homes, which will assess new homes against a six-level star rating, giving homeowners better information about the sustainability of their homes. From April 2008, we are minded that all new homes should be required to have the mandatory code rating, indicating whether they have been assessed and their home’s performance against the code. In this year’s Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced that from October this year all new homes that reach the zero carbon level will be exempt from stamp duty up to a maximum of £15,000.

The Government have set up a zero carbon 2016 taskforce and are also working with English Partnerships to deliver a carbon challenge, to encourage developers to raise design and construction standards to deliver high-quality zero and near-zero carbon communities that are both affordable and sustainable.

We recognise that tackling new homes is only part of the picture. The Government also have an ambitious programme to improve the energy performance of existing homes. Building regulations apply to replacement boilers and windows. Around 70 per cent. of a home’s energy use is for heating and hot water, so the requirement for all replacement boilers to be the most efficient condensing type will have a huge impact as the stock is replaced.

Under the energy efficiency commitment, energy suppliers are making substantial investment in consumers’ homes. We think that the current phase of the EEC will deliver more than £1 billion of investment, which will more than double under the EEC’s third phase that starts next year. The Warm Front programme targets the fuel poor, with more than £800 million being invested in the current spending period. The decent homes programme is also delivering real improvements in the energy standards of social housing. Energy companies will be required to give customers real-time energy displays on demand from January 2008, enabling consumers to have better information about their home’s electricity consumption.

I want to pay tribute to the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley). His contribution was as informed and imaginative as we would expect, and it proposed real solutions to the problems that we face. Like him, I do not want the carbon tax on imports to ensure no free riders, but we are working to ensure the international consensus that we both desire and which will mean that such a tax would be unnecessary after 2012. However, it was characteristic of my right hon. Friend to raise such an interesting, imaginative and technical point.

My right hon. Friend also talked about feed-in tariffs. He may know that energy suppliers are developing a scheme to reward household microgeneration better. The Government have said that they will impose such a scheme if they are not satisfied with the outcome of the development by suppliers. Feed-in tariffs are a recognised form of renewable support, but they represent an approach that is fundamentally different from the UK’s market-based renewables obligation.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) alluded to her early-day motion about outlawing incandescent light bulbs. I congratulate her on the success of her campaign, and even more I welcome her realism in warning about the effects of tackling climate change on some of the poorest people in our society, and about the disproportionate amount of their resources that goes to heating and basic insulation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) rightly talked about climate change as a security issue. There will be significant impacts as a result of climate change, even if we take urgent action to mitigate the effects. That is why the Government are taking the lead in adaptation. The welfare, economic and environmental outcomes between now and the middle of the century will depend on our ability to adapt to the impact of climate change, as my hon. Friend suggested.

The most significant phrase in the motion is

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