Previous Section Index Home Page

That is a significant distinction.

The treaty emphasises the importance of climate change, and makes it easier to adopt greener energy policies. It has left core provisions on environmental policy substantially unchanged, but greater emphasis has been placed on the struggle against climate change, which has been explicitly added to the objectives of EU environmental policy. Perhaps more significant, energy policy will become formally an area of shared competence between the EU and member states. The treaty also seeks to ensure security of energy supply, and to

27 Feb 2008 : Column 1143

The notion, or contention, that the Lisbon treaty is somehow irrelevant to the climate change debate is fundamentally flawed. Members need only read it to see that that is so.

A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to visit Greyfriars church in Reading, where churches had joined in a campaign to give up carbon for Lent—not chocolate, but carbon. It was an impressive initiative. Workshops from faith groups throughout my constituency and well beyond discussed climate change. There is a connection between such action and that of the big coalitions that launched the Drop the Debt and Jubilee 2000 campaigns: climate change is a moral issue, not just an environmental issue.

I mentioned Bangladesh earlier. Let me end by giving some figures. A total of 9.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide is emitted per person per year in the United Kingdom, compared to 0.24 tonnes in Bangladesh. It is ironic, is it not, that the people who have contributed least to climate change are those who will suffer most from its impact.

3.26 pm

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Today’s debate on the wording of the treaty seems to me a bit like the debate about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. As far as I can see, there is no great dispute between the parties. We all agree that we need to tackle climate change, and we all agree that we need to tackle it through international institutions, particularly the European Union. In this country we may debate whether we will reduce it by 60 per cent. or by 80 per cent., but at the end of the day those are both ambitious targets. Following any such reduction, the economy will look vastly different from the way it looks today.

We must all play a part in these efforts. The other week, DEFRA representatives demonstrated a CO2 calculator in Portcullis House. I went along and duly answered all the questions. My house and domestic appliances were fine—the emissions were below average—but when it came to travel the figure went through the roof, and that did not include business flights. Although I have not taken a holiday flight for many years, I represent a rural constituency, and I drive a fair bit.

I was interested by what the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) said about biofuels, but my view is slightly different from that of some other Members. I recognise the sustainability problem, but I caution against throwing out the baby with the bathwater. In the “green” debate we talk in a vacuum about reducing emissions by 60 per cent. or 80 per cent., but such issues have a real impact on people in the country. There is the danger that every time we come up with a solution to a problem, someone will say that it is worse than the problem was in the first place.

I have the impression that people are beginning to get a wee bit turned off. We must take the population with us. We may say that we want an 80 per cent. reduction, but unless the people are prepared to take the necessary steps to meet that target, it is utterly pointless. The EU has a role to play, however, in that it
27 Feb 2008 : Column 1144
has the ability to bring together 27 of the most industrialised nations in the world to reduce carbon emissions.

I am aware of the problems involved in the European emissions trading scheme, but when the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee travelled to Brussels last week—by Eurostar, I am glad to say; we did not fly—we had interesting discussions with members of the Commission about both energy and climate change. Big changes are coming in phase 3 of the EU emissions trading scheme. There will be an EU-wide cap on the number of emissions allowances instead of 27 national caps; I have difficulty in seeing how that will work, but it is an interesting idea. A much larger share of allowances will be auctioned off, instead of being allocated free of charge—the Chancellor should take a bigger interest in the fact that energy companies have made huge profits on the back of free allocation. There are to be harmonised rules governing free allocation, and:

That is vital because many of the new member states from the former Soviet bloc have polluting industries and they need to come on board and reach the standards we look for in western Europe.

A number of new industries are to be included in the ETS, as are other gases. That is important, because we often talk of reductions of 60 and 80 per cent. but we are talking only about carbon dioxide; many other greenhouse gases are not included in them, and they must be included if we are to make a difference.

I have a concern about aviation. There is an exception in the next stage of the ETS for those sectors that are vulnerable to competition from producers and countries without comparable carbon restraints. That puts a huge hole in the scheme, through which many industries will be allowed to pass, particularly aviation. European airlines flying to the United States or the far east, for example, will not be covered by the ETS. I understand what the Secretary of State says about that—that Europe can only do what it can do. That underlines the need for more international co-operation on such matters. We must tackle aviation. The EU should look at whether it needs to address flights taking off from the EU regardless of where they are going.

I have mentioned the danger of discussing this matter in a bubble. Under the Commission’s proposals on the ETS and renewable energy, the price of electricity is expected to increase by between 10 and 15 per cent. That is an important point at a time when fuel poverty in the UK is rising because of rising prices. We must balance addressing carbon reduction with the effect that measures have on the public and take action so that they do not pay high energy prices when companies are making massive profits. Many such balances have to be struck.

3.33 pm

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): It is a statement of the blindingly obvious, but we in Europe have to work together on climate change. It is also self-evident that carbon knows no boundaries, so we must work together to make an impact on climate
27 Feb 2008 : Column 1145
change not only in Europe but in the world. It must therefore have required a great deal of mental gymnastics for the Opposition to come up with their amendment and to distinguish the six words in the Lisbon treaty from all the other necessary actions on climate change—and, indeed, from all the other provisions in the Lisbon treaty that contribute towards those actions, which we know must be taken.

There are no such verbal gymnastics in amendment No. 151, which we shall discuss later; its distinguished tablers simply wish to remove the phrase “climate change” from the treaty. I am pleased that Opposition Front Benchers say that they will not support the amendment, although the main amendment in the upcoming Committee stage appears to be 151-lite in its attempt to distinguish between institutionalisation and action. They are not opposed to each other. They are partners; they go together. That is the central point that we need to be clear about this afternoon.

We can see that relationship between institutionalisation and action in certain examples of things that have already happened that are related to climate change, but not necessarily obviously so. The waste framework directive, and the landfill directive within it, led to the UK introducing the landfill levy and later, through the Waste and Emissions Trading Act 2003, the landfill allowance trading scheme—LATS—arrangements on municipal waste. Interestingly, at the time the targets were widely criticised as being impossible to achieve because we were so addicted to putting waste in land, and it was said that the trading system would never work and the system’s target would never be achieved. However, it was introduced and it does work, and landfill is decreasing substantially. That has echoes in current actions at EU level in other areas, such as the 2007 spring Council agreement on targets on renewable energy and greenhouse gas emission reductions.

It has been widely suggested that the UK renewable energy target of 15 per cent. is not achievable, but I think that, as a result of the combination of the institutionalisation, the agreement in the framework and the action, we will ensure that it is achieved through the various devices available to us, including those available through other relevant EU directives. It is, therefore, potentially very important to have the dual function of institutionalisation and action.

One of the main problems with phase 1 of the EU ETS was the self-certification of allocations by member states. Significant change came about only at the point in phase 2 when the Commission rejected all but three of the allocations that had come forward for that phase and said, through the framework of the EU, “No, these are not good enough, and the allocations have to be based on an EU-wide understanding of what those allocations consist of and how the system will work.” It is essential, therefore, that we work together within the EU, in different ways and with different devices in our different countries, to bring forward the joint action that makes a real difference on climate change. It is a reflection on the confused policy of the Opposition that its Members are incapable of coming up with a statement on that process that distinguishes between taking action and words—and, indeed, the simple anti-EU position of amendment No. 151.

The Lisbon treaty is important, and we must continue to work together through the framework of
27 Feb 2008 : Column 1146
the EU and member states to ensure that the climate change targets that we have set are reached by the EU collectively and by member states individually.

3.40 pm

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): In earlier interventions I expressed frustration at the way in which the six words on climate change have been used to take over a day’s debate. The debate has, however, been useful. We have heard a series of interesting and informed speeches on UK and EU climate change policy. Some contributions—including that of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), which is surprising, given his environmental expertise—have criticised the Conservatives for suggesting that tokenism could be involved in the way in which today’s debate has been dealt with. That criticism is entirely unfounded. The Conservative position is quite clear: we absolutely see the EU as having a fundamental role on climate change. We embrace the EU in regard to its competence on an area such as this, and to its making a contribution on climate change. What has united all of those, regardless of party, who moved away from the constitutional points of the debate towards the wider environmental issues is the sense of frustration at the failure to turn what my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) called rhetoric into reality. That is what has united all of us today.

Of course, if those six words in the treaty will help the EU to put climate change further up its list of priorities, and if they will lead to policies and frameworks that start to provide the results on climate change that we all want in Europe, their inclusion will have been worth while. However, we have not seen any evidence to suggest that that would be the case.

I joined the Environmental Audit Committee a couple of years ago, probably as a bit of a climate change sceptic. I certainly did not like the zealous, almost evangelical tone used by the many people who had “got” climate change and rather divisively felt that others had been inadequate in failing to do so. I have wrestled with the subject since, although I have not spoken or written about it a great deal. Having assessed the science and heard the evidence, my position now is that there is a serious likelihood that man-made emissions could have a devastating effect on this earth and that rises in temperature caused by that could have calamitous effects in certain places, whether they would be as apocalyptic as the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) suggested or not. That means that anyone with any common sense and who is used to assessing probabilities would want to take action.

I agree with Members who have mentioned the Stern report. Hard numbers have now been put on some of those probabilities. That is why, in many parts of the world, including the sole superpower, it is those in the business community—the hard-headed business people who are interested in looking after their shareholders and returning profits, and not those who are given to hand-wringing environmentalism—who have started to lead the debate. They are used to assessing probabilities.

I should like to see us all learn to use the language of risk. We should not do as the Government have sometimes done—in their papers preparing for the Climate Change Bill, for example—and state that there
27 Feb 2008 : Column 1147
is no longer any debate on climate change. Of course there is; there are many uncertainties. However, the likelihood that man-made emissions are affecting our planet is growing all the time. The fact that so many of the world’s leading scientists feel that way means that we need to take the issue seriously. It is right and proper to take prudent action to become more energy efficient, along with other steps.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who is now back in his place, made an important speech on biofuels and the role of agriculture in tackling climate change. With respect to the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir), I think that it is important, if we are to carry people with us when we take action, that we take rational and sensible action. It is quite clear that the biofuels policy of HM Government and of the EU is not rational. I should like to quote from evidence given to the Environmental Audit Committee by a senior scientific adviser who sits on the scientific advisory committee to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It was his view that

Mr. Weir: I should like to clarify that I did not mention the renewable transport fuel obligation; I was talking about the whole issue of biofuels. There is an important difference.

Mr. Stuart: I entirely agree. Perhaps I read into the hon. Gentleman’s contribution some sense that criticism should not be made of measures such as biofuels because they might do good later. If first-generation biofuels without proper sustainability guidelines—such guidelines do not exist—do more harm than good, it is not right for us to pursue them, regardless of the case for second-generation biofuels. Doing something that is wrong now because there might be something good to do later does not make any sense. I see no reason to believe—we have received no evidence to this effect—that the renewable transport fuel obligation, other EU measures and targets, such as the 10 per cent. biofuel content target set by the French, and the unsustainable activity that is being driven now will engender more sustainable activity later.

With biofuels, we have a combination of the worst forms of French protectionism and a desire for energy security. The EU and the United States are pushing for targets. In the US, that is primarily driven by energy security. The US has set a 20 per cent. target for biofuels and, by every measure, the biofuels used are bad for the environment. Set against many measures, they create more emissions in their life cycle than pulling fossil fuels out of the ground and burning them would create. That is a calamitous situation, which we should not encourage.

In the EU, on the other hand, where energy security is also an issue, the primary driver is the desire to subsidise rural development. That should not be the top priority. The top priority should be climate change. I hope that we will have a rational policy base and that the EU and the UK Government will reverse their current policies on biofuels and ensure that we have a sustainable framework in place before we promote such technology.

27 Feb 2008 : Column 1148
3.46 pm

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Today’s debate has been far more rational, outward-looking and forward-thinking than some of the previous debates on the European treaty. That is a measure of some of the individuals who have spoken from the Opposition Front Benches. I want to encourage an outward-looking, forward-thinking approach to the EU. A big challenge is facing the Conservative party if it is to formulate a sensible policy on climate change and the role of the European Union.

In the brief time available, I want to concentrate on the wording of the Opposition amendment. Two things concern me, and the amendment is rather disappointing in view of the generally positive approach to the EU that has been expressed today. First, the Opposition dismiss the role of the treaty of Lisbon as “effectively irrelevant” in advancing the cause of climate change policy. That bears no relation to reality. It is an important step forward from the constitutional treaty to have the specific reference to climate change. Of course, it is also a major step forward to have a specific competence on energy policy. The specific references to the importance of energy efficiency, renewables, energy security and the mutual interdependence of the member states in ensuring energy security for each individual state are extremely important.

On the question of the organisational changes, the amendment quotes the Foreign Secretary, who said that climate change agreements already reached by the EU

I think that we would all agree with that remark. Nobody is in favour of institutional tinkering; that is self-evident. However, that does not mean that we cannot envisage institutional improvements.

That seems to be the central weakness in the Opposition amendment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) said, it must have required a huge amount of ingenuity to come up with that form of words. If the Opposition seriously do not believe that there can be any improvement to the EU’s organisational arrangements after the expansion of the Union to 27 member states, they will have to put up a strong defence of how the current arrangements can continue to advance the cause of climate change.

Many hon. Members have described the achievements of the EU to date in improving air and water quality, in taking noxious chemicals out of the air and in improving standards for vehicles and electrical equipment, but surely no one can believe that that is the end of the matter. In fact, when it comes to improving standards and the quality of the environment, we are only beginning a long journey that will go to 2050 and beyond. It is thus almost beyond belief to dismiss as completely irrelevant the very idea of any change to the EU’s organisation, which is largely what the treaty is about. I ask forward-thinking Conservative Members to consider that carefully.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con) rose—

Mr. Chaytor: I cannot give way in view of the time.

Next Section Index Home Page