Previous Section Index Home Page

On the 80 per cent. figure, I hope that the hon. Gentleman listened to what the Prime Minister had to say in his speech three weeks ago, in which he said that we recognise that the science is changing. That is why
18 Dec 2007 : Column 729
we will ask the committee on climate change, when it advises the Government on the first three five-year carbon budgets, should our target be stronger still—should it be up to 80 per cent.? That is the right process for answering the legitimate question that the hon. Gentleman and other Members ask—and, believe it or not, that the Government ask themselves, which is why the Prime Minister said what he said: do we need to do more?

I turn to the hon. Gentleman’s two specific questions. He asked when we would get agreement on binding targets, and the honest answer is, I do not know; it depends how the negotiations go and how individual countries respond. I think that he was encouraging me to involve myself in the political decision that the American people have to make about who their new President is going to be—and tempting though it is, I hope he will understand when I say that that is not a job for me. However, whoever the new President is, I look forward to him or her bringing the United States into the world community by recognising its responsibility to lead, as the largest emitter in the world, by taking on binding commitments to reduce its emissions.

Mr. Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend, my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and their team on the success that they had in very difficult negotiations in Bali. When Opposition Front Benchers attack the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, they should note the respect with which our people are regarded internationally for the role that they played—diplomatically, technically and politically. It is true that the United States was not prepared to accept binding targets. It is hosting the major emitters conference, and many people believe that that is an attempt to advocate a voluntary approach, rather than a mandatory one. May I ask my right hon. Friend to use his influence and that of the EU to make it clear that that is not going to deliver the kind of changes that we need?

Hilary Benn: I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work that he did in Bali and the work that he does through GLOBE—the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment—in talking to other parliamentarians about how we can work together on this task; it makes a hugely significant contribution. He refers to the major economies process, and my clear view is this. Every contribution to dealing with this problem should be welcomed, but my right hon. Friend is absolutely right: pledging and reviewing, and saying, “We’ll have a go. We’ll come back later and find out whether it was enough,” simply will not do. That is the truth and we know it, so eventually, all the rich countries will have to acknowledge that.

However, one of the other difficult things that we will have to address in the negotiations is this plain fact: even if, for the sake of argument, every rich developed country went zero-carbon in 10 or 20 years, we would still be left with the threat of dangerous climate change because of the rising emissions from developing countries, in particular China and India. That is the tough part, and we all know it—including China and India—because we all read the science and
18 Dec 2007 : Column 730
see the impact that dangerous climate change will have on our countries. The real task, which in the end will be the only means by which we can bring the richest country in the world and developing countries together, is to work out a fair mechanism—in the end, this is an issue of equity—for dividing up the contribution that each will make, according to their ability. That is the heart of the negotiation.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): To achieve an agreement involving 130 countries is quite remarkable, but having read the White House press release of 15 December, I have to say that I still harbour concerns about the United States’ position: it quite likes the menu, but it does not want the prices. What diplomatic effort is the United Kingdom going to make, particularly with the partners in the United States who take a more positive view about climate change issues, to whom he referred in his statement, to bring them as individual entities into the negotiation process, so that there can be true internal pressure from within the United States to enable its Government to sign up properly to something that really does have prices and menus at the end of the process?

Hilary Benn: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the nature of the task. One practical thing that we can do is to try to connect the initiatives being taken at state level within the United States of America with other trading schemes, in particular, including in Europe and elsewhere. That will allow us to begin to stitch together a global arrangement. Although the current Administration have one view about what they are prepared to sign up to, one should acknowledge the change in their position compared with the situation three years ago, when their view was that they did not accept the science, did not think that global warming was happening and wanted to be left out of any deal. They are not saying that any more, so we should acknowledge the change that has taken place, but it needs to go further.

Secondly, we will achieve such an arrangement by being straight about what we think needs to be done, as we have done throughout. We must understand that politics changes within countries, as has happened in this country, which is why we are introducing the Climate Change Bill. Five years ago, it would have been inconceivable that Parliament would be debating a Bill to put binding emission reductions on the statute book—people would not have known what we were talking about—yet that is happening now. In exactly the same way, this process of change and understanding will ultimately change the politics, and therefore the policy, of the United States of America. Such changes are taking place in many countries around the world, and I hope that the United States will be no exception.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): Demonising the United States is a great game, but the vast majority of the Kyoto protocol’s annexe 1 countries have failed miserably to meet their commitments under that 1997 agreement. There are one or two noble exceptions—sometimes that is the case more by accident than design—but the vast majority of countries fail to reach their targets. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, for the UK to pursue its leading role in this, a national dialogue initiated by the Government should take place over
18 Dec 2007 : Column 731
these two years so that we can properly address the questions that have been raised about our commitment, particularly on things such as aviation and new fossil-fuel power stations, and make an active contribution during the two-year process?

Hilary Benn: I hope that we have a constant dialogue in this House. As my hon. Friend will know, I am happy to talk to anybody at any time about this great task that faces us. He makes a fair point about the United States of America, which has been the focus of a number of questions in the Chamber today, but other countries also have reservations about changing their position. In the end, each country says, “We understand the dangers of climate change, but we are also concerned about the impact on our economic development of doing something about it.” That is true of America, Malawi, China and India, which is why we must demonstrate that it is possible to combine sustainable economic growth with measures to reduce emissions. A modest example of that is the United Kingdom; our economy has grown by a quarter in real terms in the past 10 years while our greenhouse gas emissions have reduced by 7 per cent.—we are on course not only to meet our Kyoto commitments, but probably to do double the amount required of us. My hon. Friend is right that not everyone is doing what they promised, which is why we must redouble our efforts in the task.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): How can we accept the Secretary of State’s commitments to reduce emissions when his own Government are advocating a third runway at Heathrow, which will lead to emissions equivalent to those being produced by Kenya?

Hilary Benn: What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that if aviation is included in the EU emissions trading scheme on the terms on which I hope it will, there will be a baseline. Any growth above that baseline will either have to be dealt with by aviation, as I said, or be offset by reductions elsewhere. The truth is that within the total amount of carbon dioxide that we state that the UK should be emitting in 2020 and 2050—the projection involves a very significant reduction in emissions—as a society, we will still have a choice about where we emit that carbon.

The hon. Gentleman focuses on one particular aspect of emissions, but he could focus on other areas of our society responsible for emitting carbon. The question is not whether we say, “This particular area should not have increases.” The question is whether we achieve the reduction overall, recognising that, as human beings, we will continue to have a choice. That is the argument for including aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme, because doing so would mean that aviation would no longer be exempted from having to make its contribution. The real challenge is ensuring that we make the reductions across the economy as a whole, including in aviation.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State give the country the most important of Christmas presents by buying us a rainforest? Is that not a real possibility, given the statement by the President of Guyana? Are not taxpayers’ funds being put aside—all £800 million of them—to achieve that objective? Does he accept that unless we change our
18 Dec 2007 : Column 732
attitude to the preservation of the rainforest, we will not be here much longer to hear him make statements such as the one that he has made today? While he is thinking of how to say yes to my question, may I congratulate him on the way in which he conducted himself during the negotiations?

Hilary Benn: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his kind words, although I am not sure that my Christmas budget will quite extend to taking up his kind offer. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment met representatives of Guyana when we were in Bali, and the President made an interesting proposal, which we will examine. The fundamental challenge that we have is to change the incentive structure, because countries may currently have an incentive to cut down the rainforest and to make money from doing so. The reason why the agreement on deforestation and the forest carbon partnership facility are so important is that they begin to put in place the structure that can turn that incentive on its head, so that countries realise that they can be paid and make money from protecting the rainforest and, indeed, other forms of carbon sink, in the interests of the planet as a whole. We are just finally beginning to wake up to the value of this resource. People have been campaigning for 20 or 25 years for agreement on deforestation, and we got the first breakthrough on that in Bali last week.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I welcome the steps taken by the Secretary of State and by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Further to the question raised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on aviation, the Government abandoned the idea of predict and provide in the case of road building, recognising that extra roads generate more journeys that would not otherwise be made, so why are they still committed to predict and provide for aviation?

Hilary Benn: The answer is simply that without a European-wide and ultimately a global agreement to deal with the contribution that aviation emissions make to the problem of global warming, progress will not be made. The second point to make is that individuals have a choice. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government are not saying to people, “Come on, we have a target to meet. Please do not get on that plane.” Such matters are the result of the choices that individuals make.

Thirdly, we must consider the question: what is the right way to try to deal with aviation emissions? Such emissions constitute 7 per cent. of the UK’s emissions—that is about the same as those from agriculture, although I accept that those emissions are likely to rise in future. We must get aviation into the emissions trading scheme, and it must then play its part. Any further growth has to be offset within the total emissions reduction that Europe is committed to achieving. I make the point again that one can, if one wants, focus on particular types of carbon-emitting activity and say that they are especially bad and that we should do something about them, but we could also recognise that what matters is whether we achieve the reduction overall and whether we recognise that within that reduced total, we still have a choice about where to emit the carbon. That is an important point to understand as we try to make progress.

18 Dec 2007 : Column 733

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Government on the leadership that they have shown on this important issue? I hear what he and others have said about the position of the United States, but does he agree that that country is such an important economy in the world that unless it engages fully with this issue, others are unlikely to do so and that that can only diminish the success of negotiations that are achieved in summits such as that in Bali? Does he also agree that although we can have an impact on our 2 per cent. of emissions, one of the biggest impacts that we can have is in exporting technology to developing economies such as China and India? Would he care to say what negotiations he has had on that, and how he thinks we can make a big contribution in that regard?

Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend is right about the importance of technology. It is becoming increasingly clear that the truth is that the issue is not about intellectual property rights per se, because our globalised economy shows that technology will move around the globe; the issue is whether it can be afforded and whether there is the right climate for investment, which will encourage the technology to be introduced.

Let us consider a practical example. The technology that India uses to manufacture cement is world leading in terms of energy efficiency, and that shows what is possible. There is no doubt that developing countries are looking for such technology at an affordable price. Carbon capture and storage, which was mentioned in a previous question, is a good example of that. The Indian Energy Minister sees that 45 per cent. of his population have no access to electricity and he wants to get the power to them as quickly as possible but he is concerned about the additional cost of adding carbon capture and storage to the power stations that are being built. Demonstrating that the technology works, bringing down its cost and supporting developing countries to fit it are the practical things that we can do. That is why the clean energy investment framework, through the World Bank, makes a practical contribution to that process.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Given that 25 countries are responsible for some 90 per cent. of emissions, and just four industrial sectors are responsible for some 70 per cent., is it not time to consider a more pragmatic approach than the COP circus and recognise that a deal can be done only with a smaller group of nations and with the private sector much more visible at the negotiating table than it was in Bali?

Hilary Benn: Well, I share some of the frustration that the hon. Gentleman expresses about the process, because it can be messy at times. Certainly the drama that we saw in the last 24 hours in Bali was proof of that, but in the end the world came through. I would not underestimate the huge importance of a global deal that represents all the nations of the world. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point when he says that a smaller number of countries will make or break the deal, and that we need the private sector to make this happen. As he will recognise, one of the most striking things is how attitudes in the business community are changing here in the UK, in parts of the US, in China
18 Dec 2007 : Column 734
and in India, which I visited three weeks ago and met representatives of the confederation of business organisations.

The more that the voice of business is heard saying that they recognise what Nick Stern says—that it will be much more expensive to do nothing than to deal with it and that there is a business opportunity to be had in grasping a low-carbon future—the easier it will be to unlock the worry felt in many industry Ministries around the world about the consequences of dealing with climate change for their industrial competitiveness and economic future. The louder the voice of business can be heard, the faster progress we can make.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Well, here we go again. We talk about climate change and, with the exception of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the spokesperson for the official Opposition, all the questions are about causes of climate change with nothing about effects. So I welcome in particular the recognition in Bali of the current and pressing necessity to adapt to climate change, which is already happening and will inevitably worsen. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the UK will itself pay much more attention to the need to adapt to the effects of climate change and put more comprehensive measures in the Climate Change Bill?

Hilary Benn: I pay tribute to the application with which my hon. Friend ensures that we continue to discuss adaptation alongside conversations about mitigation. The breakthrough on the adaptation front, which I hope he will recognise, is an international step forward. A good example of the Government doing exactly what he invites us to do is Sir Michael Pitt’s interim report, which was published yesterday and which made precisely the point about the need to adapt to a changing climate, its impact on changing our weather and, therefore, the effect on flooding. It is a lesson that the world is learning. When we debate the Climate Change Bill, my hon. Friend will see what is in it to respond to that important point.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Does the Secretary of State not see the irony of 10,000 people flying halfway round the world to discuss reducing CO2 emissions while generating thousands of tonnes of CO2? Does he accept that one of the reasons why no binding targets were agreed at Bali was that even the most enthusiastic participants know that to achieve them will require massive structural change in their own economies, will influence economic growth and will hurt most the economies of developing countries?

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): How do you get here every week?

Hilary Benn: I missed that— [ Interruption. ] Yes, well, that illustrates the point that I made a moment ago. I grant the hon. Gentleman that there is a certain irony in it, but the only way to get the deal was to get everybody in the same place and Indonesia was hosting the negotiations. Wherever it was, people would have had to come from other parts of the world. It was a price worth paying for the deal that we got.

18 Dec 2007 : Column 735

Secondly, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that as countries are able to demonstrate that it is possible for their economies to continue to grow, but sustainably, that will begin to undermine his argument. As I said, our own modest example in the UK over the last decade has demonstrated that we can begin to decouple the two. When that can be demonstrated, the way in which developing countries look at what they need to do will change, because they will realise that it is possible to get the economic growth that they want—to get their kids into school, to provide the electricity and to improve health care—and, at the same time, to make a contribution to ensuring that dangerous climate change does not in the end overwhelm them. India, for example, will have another 500 million to 600 million citizens in the next 40 years. They will have to be fed, but climate change could reduce crop yields, and there will be a shortage of water. That is not a very appealing prospect for any Government.

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that peat is more important than forestry as a carbon sink for this country. He will also be aware that stopping the draining of peat bogs and moors can reduce flood levels and improve biodiversity. It also reduces the risk of fire, because fire, peat cutting and dehydration are the three major threats to peat in this country. Will he therefore ensure that we have a proper strategy to give peat a high priority in the battle against climate change in High Peak, the rest of this country and around the world?

Hilary Benn: I know that my hon. Friend represents a lot of high peat in his constituency. He makes an important point, and one of the conversations that I had in Bali was with a representative of Wetlands International who made precisely that point. It is a good example of our understanding of how the interrelationship between different types of human activity affects us. If we drain the peat for different economic use of the land, we release a lot of carbon, which is bad for global warming. We also accelerate the rate at which water drains off that land, which may add to the problem of flooding, as I mentioned a moment ago in relation to Sir Michael Pitt’s review of what happened in the summer. As we make the connections, we can see that if we do the right thing, we can maximise the potential of peat to sequester carbon, reduce the water run-off that might otherwise flood the homes of the constituents we represent, and make a significant contribution. When I talk about deforestation, I refer both to the cutting down of forests and the drying out of peat, because we need to protect both if we are to do this.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, I welcome the agreement reached in Bali, although I recognise its limitations. The Secretary of State mentioned technology transfer and said that a group will examine ways and means of speeding up technology development, transfer and funding. Clearly that is important, especially in carbon capture and storage, but can he give us some idea of the amount of funding required and the time scale for agreement? Are we likely to reach agreement fairly quickly or are we realistically looking at Copenhagen in two years’ time?

Next Section Index Home Page