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That example, and the inclusion of climate change in the Lisbon treaty, demonstrate that the development of the EUs policy on the environment reflects our evolution of understanding as to why the environmentand now climate changematter so much. Why did this happen? Very simply, it did so because the countries of Europe realised pretty early on that what we could achieve by
working together would be much greater than what we could hope to achieve by going our separate ways. We know that environmental pollution does not respect national borders. It is a statement of the obvious, but there is no means by which we could say, Okay, well look after the UKs emissions and you can look after yours. By definition, this is a problem of interdependence. It is a global problem that requires action at international level, and the EU is giving the lead.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): In view of what my right hon. Friend has said about aviation, would he agree that an equal, if not stronger, case needs to be made for shipping? Everything has been concentrated on aviation, and it is now vital to press through the International Maritime Organisation for a proper carbon regime for shipping. That can best be done through the EU.
Hilary Benn: I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. As she will know, the challenge is even more complex in relation to shipping. It is not simply a question of divvying up the emissions according to which port a ship leaves and which one it arrives in. We need to address the question of fuel bunkering; if that happens in international waters, who is responsible for the emissions? We also need to deal with the question of flags of convenience, because if the trading were arranged on that basis, some countries might suddenly find that they had to take responsibility for a lot of emissions. This is a complex issue, and it needs to be dealt with on an international basis.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that people throughout the world, not just those who live in the EU, look to the EU to provide a lead on climate change? In November, the UK branch Commonwealth Parliamentary Association held a conference here in London that was attended by 85 parliamentarians from Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries. The conference called for a new international treaty, and for the promotion of the creation of durable carbon markets. The majority of the people there were from non-EU countries, and they look to the EU to provide a lead because our carbon emissions trading scheme is the best and strongest so far developed in the world, and because they see the EU as the most likely base on which to build an international agreement on these matters.
Hilary Benn: I agree with my hon. Friend completely. This is about providing leadership in the world. If we all wait for someone else to act, After you will do for all of us. That is the truth. I congratulate those who took the initiative to call that conference together. Parliamentarians are part of the process by which this change will take place, because we, too, represent the change in awareness and the growth in understanding. As I shall illustrate in relation to Bali, Europes leadership is hugely significant in this regard, and gives encouragement to others around the world.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD):
The Secretary of State has just mentioned the subject of my question. On the international situation, does he not agree that the impact of the Conservatives amendment would be to undermine the strategic direction that Europe took
in Bali, which was so vital to the success of those negotiations in bringing pressure to bear on countries such as the United States to come on board and join the international consensus?
Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point. In truth, people will look at that amendment and think, What? What is that all about? It makes no sense whatever. Let us debate the substance of what we need to do. To focus a lot of attention on saying, Can you please remove the words climate change from the EU treaty? would be greeted with a lot of perplexed looks and exasperation around the globe.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): The Secretary of State is being very generous in giving way and he is making his case most eloquently. He has repeatedly referred to what the EU will do, to the EUs actions and to what it is enabled to do. Will he tell us, simply, whether there is any new power in the treaty that was not provided for already?
Hilary Benn: No, there is not. The treaty does not change the shared competence and qualified majority voting applies. HoweverI hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept this, on reflectionit institutionalises the point that the EU, as it moves forward, recognises that tackling climate change will be an important part of what it will need to do.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Does that not underline how confusing the Opposition amendment is? Surely, if climate change is important, which we all accept, it should be institutionalised. The debate should be about shifting resources from agricultural subsidies to fighting climate change. To do that, the policy should be part of the institutions of the EU.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): I am sorry that Labour Members appear to be confused by the amendment, as it is very straightforward. I am also sorry that the Secretary of State says that the amendment would also remove reference to climate change from the Lisbon treaty. It would do nothing of the kind. The point made by the Oppositions amendment is that
the Governments priority on climate change in the European context should not be institutional change but the strengthening of measures to drive down greenhouse gas emissions
Hilary Benn: I have read those words very carefully. I have also read the amendment that will be debated later, which will be dealt with by my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, that indeed seeks to remove the words.
Hilary Benn: I think that those on the Opposition Front Bench have indicated that they will not. It would not make any sense. I do not understand why they are carping about the inclusion of those words which they say make no difference. My argument is that they do make a difference. Since the Opposition are not arguing in favour of the treaty they will, in the end, be understood by the position that they take.
Every one of us has an interest in a healthy and natural environment. We all recognise the improvements that have been made as a result of the efforts of the EU. Pollution control is a good example. Air quality legislation has been in place since the 1980s and has been responsible for dramatic improvements in air quality across Europe. Sulphur dioxide emissions, which are one thing about which we should be concerned, are down by 68 per cent. compared with 2004. Nitrogen oxides are down 32 per cent. Volatile organic compounds are down 43 per cent. and ammonia is down 22 per cent. That is one example of European action making a difference.
A second example is the quality of bathing water. In 1976, EU legislation protected bathers from health risks. What has that meant for people in the UK? Significant improvements have been made to the quality of our bathing waters. As a result, nearly all coastal bathing sites consistently meet the European standard. Seven in 10 waters now achieve the tougher guideline standards. Those are two examples of Europe acting to improve our environment. They both represent real progress.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Some of us heard an interesting speaker from Surfers Against Sewage last night, not far from this House. The speaker pointed out that if it had not been for European regulation, Surfers Against Sewage would never have achieved what it has as a successful pressure group that has changed the quality of sea water around our country. Does the Secretary of State agree that every environmental group that I talk to believes that nothing would have happened in this country without leadership from Europe?
Hilary Benn: That is entirely the case. Europe has been a force for good in improving the quality of our environment. That is the truth. Those who carp at the EU and do not wish it to have those responsibilities and powers must then accept the consequence of the lack of action that would have happened if Europe had not taken the lead. That is precisely the reason that we need Europe to act on climate change. I would describe the Lisbon treaty as a further step in the journey in protecting the environment for us all.
gives us and 26 other countries the unique opportunity to work together on economic, environmental and security challenges.
We all know that dangerous climate change is all three of those challenges and more. One has only to think for a moment about the possible consequences of reduced water availability in the world. What will we do when human beings start to fight each other about water?
How will we cope with the consequences for crop yields of increased temperature? What will we do as a world when large numbers of people begin to move around the globe in pursuit of a safe place to live, because they cannot live where they lived previously as dangerous climate change has rendered their homes uninhabitable? I and other hon. Members have seen with our own eyes people who are experiencing that precise situation in the developing world.
The truth is that the world has come a long way since 1988, when the World Meteorological Organisation and the UN Environment Programme established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. At that point, few people were aware of what was going on, and in the years since things have changed dramatically. The science is no longer in doubt. Climate change is happening, and it is happening fast. Time is short and the world must act now.
The UK Government have played an important part in leading that debate in the EU and internationally. After all, in 1998 the UK Government, during our presidency, led the EU in pushing for the historic Kyoto agreement. The EU emissions trading scheme is based on the UKs domestic scheme, which started three years earlier. We were the first country in the world to do that. The EU picked it up and, as has been said, it is now the bedrock of the EUs efforts to reduce emissions by putting a price on carbon. The emissions trading scheme is the largest scheme of its kind in the world and covers the largest emitters, who produce almost half the EUs CO2 emissions. We want other sectors to be included in the scheme, which is precisely why we pressed for aviation to be included. That was agreed at the Environment Council in December.
and in particular combating climate change.
Of all the strands in the comprehensive treaty, which covers so many areas of law and activity in the EU, that must be the slightest reference to any subject. Today is being spent trying to deflect attention away from the failure to provide the people of this country with a say on the Lisbon treaty by dressing it up as an important step in climate change. I put it to the Secretary of State, who is known for his honesty in this House, that that is nothing more than a charade. It is not giving a genuine impression.
Hilary Benn: I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, but in preparing for the debate and standing at the Dispatch Box today I am not taking part in a charade, whatever he is doing. I do not accept the argument. However, maybe he is arguing that there should be a bigger reference to climate change in the Lisbon treaty. Is he?
I would have thought that as we are devoting a day to considering the Lisbon treaty as it relates to climate change, it would deserve a much bigger entry if it was felt to be important. We have already said that we do not think that it needs such an
entry. Why are the Government spending this time on discussing six words? The EU has the powers. The point that we Conservatives will be making today is that it is action that counts. Our frustration and annoyance is caused by the lack of action and the Governments desire to play politics by using climate change as a cover.
Hilary Benn: I am not trying to use climate change as a cover for anything at all. I was in the middle of pointing out that the EU is already getting on with it, hence why argue with the words in the treaty? We were the first country to put climate change at the heart of a G8 presidency and to argue that there should be a debate on climate change in the Security Council. We were the first country in the world, as a member of the European Union, to put together a Climate Change Bill. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Climate Change Bill, which is being considered in the other place, is an historic piece of legislation that will make us the first country in the world to provide for a legally binding, long-term framework to cut CO2 emissions. That UK commitment reflects Europes commitment. EU member states, as well as other countries throughout the world, are watching what we are doing in the United Kingdom with great interest.
Mr. Gummer: Given that the Climate Change Bill was the product of Opposition pressure and Government willingness, and is thus a commonly supported Bill, does the Secretary of State agree that we are setting an important example throughout the world and that that ought to be the way in which we proceed on all these matters?
Hilary Benn: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman absolutely. All our thinking has evolved. That is reflected in the politics of all the parties of which we are proud to be members and the campaigns of non-governmental organisationsFriends of the Earth has worked particularly hard. The truth is that whoever is in government in any country in the world, they will have to deal with this threat, so we all have a shared interest in ensuring that we have the right framework, the right politics and, above all, the right action to get emissions down.
all men shall be free
underpinned the anti-slavery movement, which shows that even five words can achieve a great deal. To return to the substance of the debate, another phrase is commerce always outbids conservation, and it bothers me that aviation is being grandfathered. All other sectors in the ETS have a baseline of 1990, so why should aviation have 14 years growth grandfathered? Surely all other sectors in the ETS should be unhappy with that decision.
The straight answer to my hon. Friends point is that that was what the Council of Ministers was able to reach agreement on in the end. However, I am not sure that I agree that commerce will always trump conservation. In the development of our understanding of dangerous climate change, it is striking that the business community gets it, too. Even in the relatively short time that I have been in this job, I
have seen the CBI taskforce report and listened to business people from around the world, especially from the UK and Europe. I pay tribute to Nick Stern, because if one was to put a finger on one bit of work that has done more than any other to change attitudes in the business community and broader society, it would be his fantastic report. He said very simply, If you dont get the moral case and youre not wholly persuaded by the science, just have a look at the numbers. People who understand numbers for a living can see that a case is being made when someone says, Given a choice between a low cost and a much higher one, which do you fancy pursuing?
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State agree that Conservative Members would be able to make a more valid contribution if they focused on other aspects of the treaty relating to climate change more than on the six words that have presumably been crayoned on to their briefing notes for them? The Lisbon treaty clearly talks about the sustainable development of Europe, energy efficiency and new agreements on renewable forms of energy. Are they not crucial factors in tackling climate change?
It therefore deserves and demands to be seen as one of the new cornerstones of the EUs raison dêtre.
I could not agree more, and that is what the treaty will achieve. That is reflected by the fact that, last spring, the European Council agreed an ambitious set of targets on carbon emissions, renewable energy and biofuels to push forwards the transition. Germany, as G8 president, played a role in getting agreement at Heiligendamm on the need for cuts in emissions, which was an example of European leadership.
In December, Europes united front in support of an agreement at the climate change negotiations in Bali played an important part in achieving a breakthrough. Something was achieved at Bali that had not seemed possible before, namely that all countries in the worldfrom the United States of America to developing countriesrecognised the science and the need to make deep cuts in emissions, and agreed that we needed to negotiate a new climate deal over the next two years. On 23 January, the European Commission published legislative proposals in the climate and energy package that will put the emissions trading scheme at the heart of EU policy. An EU-wide central cap is being established for the first time precisely because Europe is learning from the experience of phase 1 of the ETS that if the cap is not right, progress will not be made.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Given that, according to the House of Commons Library, per capita CO2 emissions in the United Kingdom have increased this century, will my right hon. Friend say a little more about what articles 191 and 192 will do to assist us to adapt to climate change, on which Stern was particularly strong? There is a need not only to deal with the causes, important though that isit has been a major focus of my right hon. Friends speechbut to say something about the inevitable consequences that he realises are already happening and that will get worse in the future.
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