Previous Section Index Home Page

Mr. Meacher: We should not underestimate President Sarkozy’s commitment in respect of climate change. In fact, he has suggested the extraordinarily radical policy that tariff constraints should be used against countries—most notably the US, of course—that refuse to admit
27 Feb 2008 : Column 1136
the need to tackle climate change. As far as I know, that policy is far more radical than anything adopted by any other country around the world.

Mr. Chaytor: My right hon. Friend is making exactly my point: regardless of what we think of President Sarkozy’s social policies, or of some of his economic policies, there is no doubt that he has been very up front indeed about his commitment to climate change policy. Given his recent personal difficulties, his opinion poll ratings of 38 per cent. are a record low for a French president. That means that he has to do something very quickly, and being positive on climate change could help in that respect.

Mr. Meacher: I agree, but let us get back to the UK. The Government have admitted that they are allowing for—and indeed expecting—two thirds of the headline carbon emissions that they have announced as resulting from phase 2 in 2008-12 to occur outside the UK, and outside the EU as well. Worse, other member states have set even higher import quotas than we have, which means that they will be able to import more than enough to meet their requirements and then to sell the rest on to the UK, no doubt at a nice profit. The effect is that phase 2 of the ETS may well not lead to any reductions in emissions in the UK at all. I think I am right in saying that the Government agree with that forecast.

The ETS is the linchpin of the EU’s anti-climate change policy. For all its good intentions, I fear that it has been distorted into something of a massive scam. In phase 1, it is believed that the power generators made more than £2 billion in windfall profits in the UK alone. They achieved that by passing on the notional cost of carbon to consumers, even though they had been given permits for free.

In phase 2, it is quite likely that the Kyoto mechanisms will be swamped by a huge oversupply of permits that will lead again to very low carbon prices. The real secret is to ensure that the carbon price is set at a level that seriously affects industrial and individual action, but there is a real chance that that still will not happen in phase 2.

There is a great deal of talk in this country about whether our target for 2050 should be a reduction in carbon emissions not of 60 per cent. but of 80 per cent. I entirely agree with that proposition, although I believe that it partly misses the point. The real question is not whether we cut emissions by 60 or 80 per cent. way down the track in 2050, but whether we are going in the right direction now, and on a significant scale. Sadly, I believe that we are still going in the wrong direction.

Mr. Graham Stuart: The intergovernmental panel on climate change’s fourth assessment report said that global emissions would have to peak in 2015 if we are to restrict the rise in temperature to the 2° C limit. Does the right hon. Gentleman know of anything in EU policy making that reassures him that Europe is committed to ensuring that that is achieved?

Mr. Meacher: I am certainly one of those who feel that time is exceedingly short. The report from Nicholas Stern made it clear that even opting for the more moderate target of keeping the concentration of carbon
27 Feb 2008 : Column 1137
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to 550 parts per million, as opposed to 450 ppm, could still lead to a likelihood of between 50 and 90 per cent. that climate change could run out of control. The situation is exceedingly dangerous, but I do not believe that any country in the world has really begun to take on the sort of drastic policies that are necessary to avert disaster.

However, I want to pay a tribute to DEFRA, and in particular to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is sitting on the Front Bench. His Department has made valiant efforts, but the real problem in Whitehall is that other Departments are pursuing policies that encourage climate change. The tripling of airport capacity and the huge expansion of Heathrow are two examples, but I could also cite the virtual absence of any controls in this country over vehicle emissions and the dropping of the requirement on the UK’s biggest companies to report annually on their plans to cut carbon emissions.

We have talked about giving a lead on climate change to the wider population by introducing household carbon allowances, but we have failed to do anything about it. We have a depressingly weak policy on promoting renewables, but perhaps the most extraordinary and perverse of all our failures is our continuing and relentless attempt to corner the remaining repositories of oil around the world, even in those areas where conditions are the most extreme. I am referring to Britain’s apparent attempt to annex one third of a million square miles of the sea bed off Antarctica, where mineral and oil deposits are expected to be found. Moreover, our attempt to exploit Canada’s Athabascan tar sands will produce a massive increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The Climate Change Bill is fine, but it must be followed up by action in all other Departments that is consistent with its goals.

I am all in favour of our lecturing other countries at international gatherings about their need to reduce their carbon emissions, but why do we allow the Drax power station in Yorkshire to emit from a single chimney more CO2 than is emitted by 100 smaller countries around the world? Why are the Government
27 Feb 2008 : Column 1138
poised to begin a new round of coal-fired power generation—the most polluting form of energy? The Kingsnorth plant in Kent was originally justified on the grounds that it would be a breakthrough demonstration of carbon capture and storage. I was prepared to support it, so why are the press reporting—I hope the reports are wrong—that the Government seem to be moving away from it?

Finally, it is clear that we need a fundamentally new set of policies to promote the use of renewables in this country if we are going to get anywhere near the EU target of having 15 per cent. of all forms of energy produced from renewables by 2020. The target means that the amount of electricity generated from renewables will have to rise from the present 4 per cent.—one of the lowest levels in Europe—to 35 or 40 per cent.—or one of the highest levels—within 12 years.

How are the Government going to be able to achieve that? There needs to be a massive change in our attitudes towards microgeneration. In addition, the low-carbon buildings programme must be given enough money to ensure that it does not run out in a matter of hours. We will also have to abandon and replace the renewables obligations, and in that I agree with the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal. The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform may like them, because they help the big operators, but we need to give renewables the same boost that they have been given in Germany and Spain. If we did that, we would achieve some real progress.

deferred Division

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I now have to announce the result of the Division deferred from the previous day.

On the draft Cheshire (Structural Changes) Order 2008, the Ayes were 278, the Noes were 151, so the motion was agreed to.

[The Division Lists are published at the end of today’s debates.]

27 Feb 2008 : Column 1139

Treaty of Lisbon (No. 8)

Question again proposed.

3.10 pm

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): The Secretary of State has made it clear that the Lisbon treaty does not significantly change the powers of the EU to show leadership on climate change, so we do not have much substance to debate. However, this afternoon presents a welcome opportunity to scrutinise and debate the EU’s actions in our name, and that is crucial.

As a Conservative, I have no hesitation in saying that we must work through the EU on climate change. There is clearly no national solution to the problem and we must therefore maximise our leverage in international negotiations, which means working through the EU and embracing the simple fact that it is, perhaps timidly, cast in a leadership role on the crucial issue of our age in the shameful absence of the superpower from the negotiating table. We are in the lead.

Again, speaking as a Conservative I find it easy to reconcile that positive message with traditional Euroscepticism about single currencies and federalism. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, kindly quoted from my maiden speech, in which I simply said that I felt the climate change agenda presented an opportunity for the EU to redefine its relevance to the new generation who will pay for it. The evolution of that agenda is similar in importance and scale to the development of the single market. That shows the extent of the opportunities for the EU, and I would like it to embrace them.

Mr. Chaytor: To revert briefly to the single currency, does the hon. Gentleman think it would be possible to operate an emissions trading scheme on the basis of 27 different currencies in the European Union?

Mr. Hurd: The future viability of the emissions trading scheme depends on the cap that is set and whether the cap-and-trade scheme is as good as the cap. The overwhelming variability is the reason for the failure up to now and is much more important than currencies.

The right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) said that the EU’s work on, for example, water directives, producer responsibility directives and landfill directives provides a solid platform on which to build. However, as we look forward, it is clear that we must tackle key issues if the EU is to continue to be a credible voice on climate change.

The problem is not ambition or rhetoric. The Montreal protocol or the Kyoto protocol would not have happened without the EU’s leadership. We have a set of unilateral targets that do not lack ambition. We have action plans for energy efficiency and we have developed key market mechanisms. The challenge is effective delivery, and honesty about the backdrop of collective failure to reduce emissions, not least in this country. Important issues relating to delivery need to be tackled if the voice of the EU is to continue to be heard in the United States, China, India and Brazil—key players in the debate.

I want to identify three paramount issues. The first is the future of emissions trading. As a Conservative, I
27 Feb 2008 : Column 1140
strongly believe that the market will deliver the most effective solutions, but I strongly agree with Stern that the market failure to put an effective price on carbon needs to be corrected—that is a necessary condition of any global solution to the problem. Emissions trading is the policy tool of choice to deliver that price and we are at a pivotal moment in developing it. Other countries are considering the EU scheme, and the harsh fact is that it may have been successful in proving some mechanics but it has failed comprehensively in its core mission of reducing emissions. Clearly, reform is needed.

There is growing consensus in this country about the core elements of that reform. We set out some ideas in the quality of life report and the Government have presented their ideas. There is growing consensus on the need to reinforce the principle that the polluter should pay. That means ratcheting down free allowances and ratcheting up auctions. There is consensus about the need to reduce the political risk that is attached to the process and I believe that that means developing a consistent and transparent methodology for determining caps and any allowances that are not auctioned. It means expanding the market carefully. The key priority is to include aviation on terms that bite.

Secondly, I would like more urgency from the EU and the British Government in levering the single market to drive up product standards. There is an enormously important opportunity to engage developing countries because we effectively import many emissions, which are embedded in the products that we buy from countries such as China and Japan. There is a great opportunity to build on the success in labelling and efficiency standards for refrigeration and extend it to other matters. We should consider what is happening in Japan and Germany on taking a new approach to product design and standards, setting minimum rolling standards. Rolling standards mean a dynamic process whereby today’s best standards become the minimum in future, in an agreed time. There is therefore a constantly dynamic process of improvement. That is good for Government because it does not involve any public money, good for industry because it creates a competitive environment in which it can get ahead and make itself more efficient, and good for consumers because it will give us a wider range of efficient products. That is a logical extension of what the EU should be doing—levering the single market.

Thirdly, I want to consider the opportunity for the EU and the member states to do more together. It is clear from the development of technology that much goes on in small silos, including carbon capture and storage, concentration of solar power and long-distance ultra-high voltage power lines. Those technologies are enormously important matters on which member states should work together if we are not to lose the commercial market opportunity to the United States and other countries.

I am not referring only to technology. European buildings are three times more energy efficient than those in China. If one considers that China will move 400 million people from the country to the city in the next 30 years and that, in that process, it will build more than half the new buildings in the world, one realises the importance of our exporting expertise in architecture and design to China to ensure that those buildings are as energy-efficient as possible. I never hear the Government talk about that.

27 Feb 2008 : Column 1141

Other opportunities include common approaches to phasing out subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and to procurement. The Government spend £150 billion a year of taxpayers’ money through direct and indirect procurement and that presents a massive opportunity, which is not being taken, to drive market change. All that is in the interests of building on the single market and helping us to shape a new age when we can no longer rely on fossil fuels.

As a Conservative, I want Britain to express a positive voice in pressing Europe to take the opportunities because that is in our collective and national interest. We should act in the name of anyone who is under 40 because I firmly believe that there is no greater threat to the security, prosperity and well-being of those under 40 than an increasingly unstable and dangerous climate.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. There is a limited amount of time left for contributions from Back Benchers. If hon. Members could restrict their remarks, more may be successful in catching my eye.

3.19 pm

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): It is regrettable that the time available is so limited. If Front Benchers had exercised a little more self-discipline, more Back Benchers would have able to speak in this time-limited debate. However, I will restrict my remarks.

I have been looking forward to the debate for some time. If ever there was a issue that illustrates the futility of the isolationist politics of yesterday—which have been spewing forth in Members’ correspondence files, and from the mouths of the more extreme Eurosceptics on the Conservative Benches and elsewhere in the country—it is that of climate change. It represents possibly the greatest threat to human life on our planet, and, as others have said today, it requires urgent action, not just national but international, intercontinental and indeed global, if we are to make any progress at all.

As my hon. Friend the Minister made plain, we are already well down the track in terms of the climate change impact with which our planet will have to deal. The Stern report lives up to its name: it is stern, and the figures that it contains are stark. At worst, 200 million refugees could be on the move owing to floods or drought, up to 40 per cent. of all known species could face extinction, the cost of climate change alone could be £3.68 trillion, and one in six of the world’s population could be without ready access to drinking water. The scenario is apocalyptic: disaster on an unimaginable scale, global panic, mass movements of people, and the breakdown of civil society. It is a safe bet that if the next world war is not about oil, religion or a clash of cultures, it will be about access to drinkable water and habitable land.

We live in scary times, and our response to the challenges will shape our politics in the first half of the 21st century. Climate change is a zero sum game. We are already at a point at which its effects cannot be reversed, and we shall be lucky if we manage to restrict the rise in global temperature to 2°. A rise of 3° would result in decreasing crop yields in developed countries, including the United Kingdom, in decreasing world
27 Feb 2008 : Column 1142
supplies, and in the collapse of whole ecosystems, including the Amazonian ecosystem. A rise of 4° is frankly unimaginable. The melting of the west Antarctic ice sheet would gradually increase sea levels by 5 to 6 m, putting vast tracts of land under water. In the United Kingdom alone, the number of communities at risk from coastal flooding would double to 1.8 million, while in Bangladesh, where half the population live in areas less than 5 m above sea level, permanent flooding and a shortage of drinking water could cause between 30 million and 40 million people to be displaced from their homes.

Now is not the time for isolationism. Now is the time to step up to the mark and recognise the contribution that this Parliament, this country and this Government can make by working within the institutions of the European Union, rather than claiming that everything that comes out of Brussels is fundamentally flawed and has no place in our future politics of decision making.

I have been disappointed by the quality of some of the speeches made by Opposition Members today, although some have been of a very high standard. We are not talking about six words; we are talking about whether this EU reform treaty is relevant in the context of climate change and environmental policy. Environmental policy is one of the success stories of the EU. At the time of its founding in 1957, the EU had no environmental dimension; today it has some of the most progressive environmental policies in the world. EU legislation has played a vital role in habitat and species protection, river management, and dramatic improvements in air, water and beach quality. The water framework directive of 2015, in which I know my hon. Friend the Minister is particularly interested, will be the driving force that will raise not just standards of drinking water, but the quality of water and habitat in rivers the length and breadth of the country. It is a vital piece of European legislation.

Nevertheless, there is an immense amount to be done both to meet existing EU targets and aspirations, and to agree on new targets and actions that will improve the environment and quality of life in Europe. Climate change is the most urgent of those challenges, and we must tackle it effectively if we are to sustain growing prosperity and security.

The reform treaty contains new commitments on sustainable development in its article on the Union’s objective. That article is more detailed than the current text, and offers some improvement. It provides that the EU

while the current text speaks only of

Next Section Index Home Page