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9 Jun 2008 : Column 37

Orders of the Day

Climate Change Bill [Lords]

[Relevant documents: The Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Climate Change Bill, Session 2006-07, HC 542-I, and the Government response contained in Taking Forward the UK Climate Change Bill: The Government Response to Pre-Legislative Scrutiny and Public Consultation, Cm 7225 ; The Fifth Report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Session 2006-07, on the Draft Climate Change Bill, HC 534, and the Government response contained in Cm 7225 ; The Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly have each passed a Legislative Consent Resolution in respect of this Bill. Copies of the Resolutions are available in the Vote Office.]

Order for Second Reading read.

4.18 pm

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Phil Woolas): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker, I understand that you and the spokesmen for the Opposition parties have been informed that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sends his sincere apologies for his absence. He is unwell, but it is temporary and he will be back at work very soon. He has asked me to stand in for him.

Every Member of this House knows of the urgent need to prevent dangerous climate change. The science is clear and is now widely accepted and understood. Last autumn, the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told us unequivocally that the world’s climate is warming, that human activity is by far the principal cause, and that without global action to reduce emissions, we face an increase in average temperatures of up to 4°C by the end of the century. What would that mean? It would mean too much water, not enough water, conflict over water and food, people moving across the earth looking for somewhere to live, economic disruption and a real risk of reaching the point at which abrupt or irreversible climate change happens.

The effects are already being felt. The World Health Organisation tells us that 150,000 people are already dying each year from climate change. The United Nations estimates that all but one of its emergency appeals in 2007 were to do with the climate—in Darfur, for example, where shifts in rainfall have made the conflict worse as people compete for grazing land.

As Nick Stern said in his hugely influential report on the economics of climate change:

The benefits include not only avoiding devastating economic and human cost—the equivalent of world war one, world war two and the great depression put together—but enormous economic opportunities for those companies and countries that adapt and innovate in leading the new industrial revolution, the low-carbon revolution.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that many great companies are ahead of Governments in making their decisions to
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combat climate change, that the insurance companies were among the first to recognise its reality, and that there are few people in business now who have studied it who do not see it as something of a business opportunity, rather than a burden?

Mr. Woolas: The right hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I would add one caveat: they are not ahead of this Government, but in my experience chief executives and chairs of major corporations are ahead of the game in understanding the realities of climate change and the business opportunities that that presents, and in understanding that business as usual is not an option for them. Indeed, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development is at the table at the UN talks, and it is a point that it often makes. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman.

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): The fact is, though, that whereas domestically the UK produces about 2 per cent. of the world’s carbon emissions, large corporations based in the UK produce 16 per cent. of the world’s carbon emissions. The early-day motion in my name and that of 70-odd other hon. Members calls for more openness from corporations in reporting the impact in carbon trading. The Government announced in the Lords that they would take on board the ideas in the early-day motion. Has the Minister anything to say on the matter?

Mr. Woolas: My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I shall come to. The debate tends to concentrate on the emissions for which we are directly responsible within our shorelines, but our economic activity, including the corporations, as well as the carbon footprint resulting from consumer activity in this country, is responsible for about 15 per cent. of global emissions, as a result of the fact that we are the fifth wealthiest country in the world. I will cover the implications of that later in my remarks.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con) rose—

Mr. Woolas: I shall give way once more on this point, then move on.

Mr. Lilley: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He has just said that there is general agreement that the benefits exceed the costs. How come his own final impact assessment of the measures that the House is considering concludes that at best the benefits could exceed the costs by £52 billion, but at worst the costs of what he is proposing to the House today could exceed the benefits by £95 billion?

Mr. Woolas: I am sure the cost-benefit analysis, which I hope we will debate today, will be subject to scrutiny in Committee if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading. It is probably best that I do not go into detail, but suffice to say that— [Interruption.] I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to disagree with Second Reading. He makes an important point and we will be able to debate it. It is not a fundamental principle.

To anyone who might be tempted, in current global economic circumstances, to argue that we should put aside action on climate change because of more pressing
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matters, I would simply say that that would be the most profound mistake. The resource crunch, shown most clearly by the rising cost of oil and of our gas and electricity bills, is a reason not to defer action but to redouble our efforts to prevent dangerous climate change. Now, indeed, is the time to act. That is why the Government have introduced the Bill. It provides a clear framework for the UK’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): The time to act is now, but is the Minister aware that in the transport sector there are increasing emissions from road transport, and particularly from aviation, the emissions of which were 9 per cent. up last year? When I put that point to the Secretary of State for Transport, her answer was that the transport sector is allowed to grow and the cuts will have to come from elsewhere. Is that the Minister’s Department’s view—that transport emissions should be allowed to grow while the others make up the difference?

Mr. Woolas: As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport often explains, measures are being taken in the transport sector to ensure efficiencies and new technologies. We have debated the motor car, and we will come on to debate the inclusion of aviation in the Bill, which has been one of its controversial topics. On aviation, my right hon. Friend’s point is that after the efficiencies in organisation and technologies have been best achieved, emissions will be offset when they are deemed unavoidable. I do question the hon. Gentleman’s 90 per cent. figure—

Norman Baker: Nine per cent.

Mr. Woolas: Nine per cent., for the record; I take that point.

The Bill establishes legally binding long-term targets and medium-term budgets to provide greater clarity for UK industry, and that will enable businesses to plan effectively and invest in the technology that is required to move towards a low-carbon economy and to reap the potential economic benefits that are on offer. It will ensure that we adapt to unavoidable climate change as well.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con) rose—

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con) rose—

Mr. Woolas: I shall give way first to the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry).

Tony Baldry: The Minister is pushing at an open door in persuading not all, but the overwhelming majority of the House, I suspect, about the urgent need for the Bill, but will he help us with the question of targets? In the other place, Lord Rooker made it clear, saying:

Lord Stern now says that there should be an 80 per cent. target by 2050. Is it not a cop-out simply to try to pass that on to a committee? Should not this House and
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Parliament take the political decision to set the target and accord with what people such as Lord Stern now advise?

Mr. Woolas: On the provisions in the Bill as it stands, there are two points. First, the target should be at least 60 per cent., with a request to the Committee on Climate Change to consider whether it should be even higher than that. To reassure the hon. Gentleman, I should say that Ministers and Parliament will take those decisions after the expert advice has been sought. I hope that his point will come out in the debate—and if I can move on, we are more likely to get to that debate.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Woolas: I indicated that I would give way to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). I shall then move on, because the targets issue is in the substance of the debate.

Mr. Redwood: I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way; he is being very patient. I find targets much more convincing and plausible if they relate to the next year or two, rather than to a 40-year period, and if they relate to things that the Government themselves can manage and are responsible for. Will the Minister propose targets for the next one year and two years to cut the carbon footprint of the Government? We would find that very welcome.

Mr. Woolas: On the latter point, the Government’s carbon footprint is clearly a priority. As the Sustainable Development Commission reported, we have made some progress, but we are the first to say that we must do a lot more. The important point about the Bill is that greenhouse gas emissions are cumulative, and therefore whatever one’s end target after a period of years, it is the cumulative gathering of gases that is important. To my mind, therefore, the interim targets are much more important than the end targets. That is why at the heart of the Bill is the idea of five-year carbon budgets—another way of saying targets—with the built-in idea that annual, indicative ranges should fall within them. That, I think, meets the right hon. Gentleman’s point about immediacy. The Government as an organisation will be covered by the carbon reduction commitment, and I expect that that will accelerate change as well.

The Bill breaks new ground, and there is enormous interest around the world in what we are doing in this House. It is the first Bill of its kind. At the meeting of G8 Environment Ministers in Japan last month, someone gave me a copy that has been translated into Japanese—I do not suppose that that often happens with our Bills. That demonstrates our commitment, as seen by others, to do our part as we press for a new global climate deal in Copenhagen next year.

Before turning to the detailed provisions of the Bill, I want to pay tribute to all those whose efforts and leadership have enabled it to be brought before Parliament today. The Prime Minister and his predecessor have led this debate. I thank my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband); Friends of the Earth for its Big Ask campaign; and the joint parliamentary Committee under the able chairmanship of my noble Friend Lord Puttnam. I am grateful for the
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scrutiny and ideas of the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) and the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) respectively, and for the examination by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of the other place.

There was also the contribution of some 17,000 organisations and members of the public who responded to our consultation—and, may I say, don’t I know it! The other place has already given the Bill its full consideration in a constructive and non-partisan process, and the Bill before us reflects the changes made as a result. Overall, this has been a model of how proper pre-legislative and parliamentary scrutiny can help to make a good draft Bill a better, stronger and more transparent Bill.

I am also grateful for the Opposition parties’ support for the Bill. The truth is that whoever of us is in government over the next 40 years, this will be the most pressing matter that we have to deal with, and the Bill will help us in that task.

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): We certainly support the principle of the Bill. However, will the Minister give us a categorical assurance that if the Committee on Climate Change concludes in its study that 80 per cent. is the right answer, the Government will accept that advice and be bound by it—or will they just think about it?

Mr. Woolas: No, I cannot give that categorical assurance at this stage. The figure may be more than 80 per cent. The issue is linked to what happens in the UN talks. This is a contribution to a worldwide effort, and as yet we do not know what the worldwide effort is. The hon. Gentleman presses me on a point that the other place pressed us on. I have made the position clear. However, I give him the reassurance that I gave to the right hon. Member for Wokingham: it will be up to the usual parliamentary procedures when we get to that point in the cycle.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): In respect of the support of the Opposition parties, does my hon. Friend agree that those calling for an increase in the targets must match that with support for the policies that would help the Government to meet those targets? Does he find it curious that in the past hour the official Opposition have opposed road pricing in Greater Manchester and in the past week they have opposed variable emission-related road tax—two of the policies that would be most effective in ensuring that we deal with the fact that road transport generates 21.6 per cent. of our total emissions?

Mr. Woolas: I think that my hon. Friend is asking me whether I am surprised. I can give a clear answer to that question, as I always attempt to: not at all.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): What would happen if the independent Committee on Climate Change—we always seem to refer to it as independent—comes back with a target that is higher? We are faced with a number of choices in the near future, not least the possibility that if a global framework is agreed the
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EU will increase its own interim targets to 30 per cent. Do the Government have a plan B to deal with those potential changes?

Mr. Woolas: My hon. Friend makes an important point, as he always does on these and other matters. How one reaches the target is more important than the target itself. I do not diminish the importance of the target as a framework for action, but it is the interim budgets that set us on that track. The work of the independent Climate Change Committee will give advice not just on the interim five-year budgets, but on policies to achieve them, and we must take decisions in the light of that. Plan B is a combination of the international situation—including what we do if there is not an international agreement at Copenhagen—the interim budgets and the potential international agreement to mid-term targets as well as long-term goals.

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): On the subject of an emerging international consensus, does my hon. Friend agree that it is good news that Barack Obama also agrees that there should be a target of an 80 per cent. reduction by 2050?

Mr. Woolas: It is extremely good news for all of us that the policies that have been adopted by the presidential candidates and the debates in the Senate and House of Representatives demonstrate that we have introduced the prevailing policy around the world. The idea of cap and trade with legally binding commitments is being adopted, and we are closely following the developments in the United States of America. Our policy has been to lobby on a non-partisan basis, and I am pleased to see that candidates across the spectrum have listened to the wise advice of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Woolas: I did say that I would move on—

Mr. Tyrie: On that specific point?

Mr. Woolas: I would like to move on, because I have a long, detailed speech to make. There is a limit on Back-Bench time already, and the Opposition have to have their say as well, quite rightly. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall move on.

The Bill makes statutory our commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 26 per cent. by 2020 and by at least 60 per cent. by 2050. The level of the 2050 target has been a matter of much debate and I want to add a bit more detail. It is clear that the science has moved on since the target was originally set. We believe that the best way to respond is, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced in November, to ask the Committee on Climate Change whether the target should be tightened up to 80 per cent. The committee, with its scientific and economic expertise, is best placed to analyse the facts and provide authoritative advice on the appropriate target. It is a better and more credible way of deciding on the matter—and decide we must—than plucking a new target figure out of the air, as it were.

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