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As the Minister will know, we support the Bill, welcome it and congratulate the Government on introducing it. It is fair to say that there was some initial reluctance to accept the need for a Bill to put greater rigour into our efforts to reduce emissions of climate change gases. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for
Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Leader of the Opposition, for campaigning personally for the Bill. I hope that the numerous non-governmental organisations that have themselves campaigned for it so vigorously and commendably will agree that his commitment played a substantial part in persuading a previously sceptical Government that this was the right thing to do. But this is not a moment for party politics
Nigel Griffiths: I take it that by a previous Government the hon. Gentleman means the previous Conservative Government. Does he accept that one of the biggest mistakes made by his party and by him personally was opposing the climate change levy, which has saved 28 million tonnes of carbon and 6 million tonnes every year? Why should he be right and all the environmental organisations wrong?
Mr. Ainsworth: I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, because he has made a silly and irrelevant point. We do not support the climate change levy because we do not believe that it does what it says on the tin; we think that it should be replaced with a carbon levy to address the problem of carbon. As for the previous Government, they of course set in motion the entire process of reducing climate change gases.
Mr. Gummer: Does my hon. Friend accept that merely labelling a tax with a polite name should not make it impossible for environmentalists to point out that some taxes work and some do not? We want a carbon tax that does the job properly, and is not a mere stealth tax that puts money into the Chancellors pocket.
Mr. Ainsworth: I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend, whose efforts in relation to climate change indeed date back to the previous Conservative Administration. He has made a compelling point. The last thing that anyone who cares for the environment needs or wants are stealth taxes dressed up as green taxes: that is a recipe for disaster. This Government have a habit of taking good words and prefixes and stuffing them into inappropriate contexts. I am reminded of the notion of eco-towns, which have very little ecological benefit.
I was speaking in a spirit of cross-party co-operation until the intervention of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths). I have said for some years that we must have cross-party consensus if we are to rise to the challenges and opportunities presented by the need to deal with climate change and our dependence on fossil fuels. I do not intend to break that spirit of consensus this afternoon, but I am acutely aware that worrying precedents in earlier legislation were introduced with cross-party agreement. It is essential for any legislation, however mutually acceptable in principle, to receive its due share of scrutiny by Parliament.
In this case, I believe that the Government have approached the issue with appropriate caution and commendable thoroughness. It was right to place the proposals in the Bill before a Committee of both Houses, and I join the Minister in paying tribute to all who were involved in the pre-legislative scrutiny. I believe that we owe a particular debt of gratitude to Lord Puttnam, who chaired the Joint Committee with such skill and sensitivity. The House will also be grateful to the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environmental Audit Committee, and to their respective Chairmen, my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), for their role in scrutinising the Bill.
I also believe that it was right to introduce the Bill in another place in the first instance. As ever, their lordships did an excellent job of scrutinising and improving legislation. At the risk of jeopardising my desire to be non-party-political, I especially commend the Conservative Front-Benchers, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, the Earl of Cathcart and the Duke of Montrosevirgins all, I believe, in the arcane procedures of scrutinising legislation in Parliamentfor their outstanding efforts. While I am about it, it would be wrong not to mention Lord Teverson who speaks for the Liberal Democrats and who, together with his colleagues, made a very helpful contribution to making the legislation better and more accountableeven if the occasional press release issued by Liberal Democrat headquarters smacked more of desperation than of responsibility. We believe that the changes made to the Bill in the other place represent a substantial improvement, and our approach to it in this House will be guided by a desire to retain, rather than to extend, its provisions.
Mr. Redwood: Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be foolish of this House to impose costs and obligations on businesses operating in Britain that are not matched by similar obligations elsewhere, as that would simply drive business overseas and not actually cut total carbon output?
Mr. Ainsworth: My right hon. Friend makes an important point that I will touch on later if he is patient and that will no doubt receive a lot of scrutiny in Committee. However, it is worth reiterating that we are not dealing here with trivial issues. The Climate Change Bill is a small but potentially important part of a global effort to reduce the impact that our generation of human beings is having on the ability of future generations to live in peace and prosperity.
I know that some people continue to doubt the scientific consensus that surrounds the United Nations approach towards measuring human responsibility for climate change. I am not a scientist, let alone a climate change scientist, but I suggest that it takes exceptional courage to disregard the view of 2,500 of the worlds leading specialist scientists.
I have read the intergovernmental panel report, and it surprises me that it makes no reference at allnot even in order to dismissto an alternative model of climate change developed by Henrik Svensmark and others, which attributes it to variations in cloud cover that are influenced by the suns magnetic field. Regardless of whether that is right or wrong, it
surely should have been addressed in a scientific report, because if it is not, there is a danger that it is not a scientific report, but more of a political one.
Mr. Ainsworth: My right hon. Friend makes a familiar point, if I may say so. I can only repeat to him that it takes a great deal of courage to disregard the scientific consensus of the worlds leading climate change scientists. However, even if one wishes and has the courage to do that, there are many things that we ought to be doing in any case, such as making ourselves less dependent on fossil fuels and being more sparing in our use of natural resources. I will address some of those issues shortly.
Until recently, we have always thought that whatever progress humanity makes, our planet would stay much the same. That may no longer be true. The way we generate energy. The way we use land. The way industry uses natural resources and disposes of waste. The way our populations multiply. Those things taken together are new in the experience of the earth. They threaten to change the atmosphere above us and the sea around us. That is the scale of the global challenge.
It is no good squabbling over who is responsible and who should pay. Whole areas of our planet could be subject to drought and starvation if the pattern of rains and monsoons were to change as a result of the destruction of forests and the accumulation of greenhouse gasses.
Twenty years on, I suggest that it is not worth squabbling about the scientific evidence. Whether or not mankind or CO2 emissions are responsible, something is happening to the planet, to our ecology and to our economy that we cannot carry on ignoring.
Last year, the Artic summer ice reduction was 30 years ahead of the predicted melt rate forecast by NASA. If melting continues at this rate, the Arctic ice cap could completely disappear in the summer months before 2030. Average temperatures in Britain have risen by more than 1° C since the 1970salmost twice as fast as the global rate of warming over the same period. Since the late 1990s, droughts and unusually hot summers have contributed to a fall in world grain yields, during which time the number of extra mouths to feed in the world has risen by more than 600 million.
Let us take just last year alone. Africa suffered the biggest flood in three decades, which hit 23 countries from Senegal in the west to Somalia in the east, and affected more than 41 million people. Nepal, India and Bangladesh were hit by the worst flooding in living memory, and so it goes on. I do not imagine that anyone in this House fails to understand that the consequences of climate change are moral, social and economic, as well as environmental. The question is: what will this Bill do to address the problem?
My hon. Friend has not quite responded to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). Some of us in the House deserve a bit of attention today, because it is the 25th anniversary of the 1983 intake into the House of
Commons, so I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that there will be some indulgence for us this evening. My right hon. Friend was seeking to suggest that the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was politically motivated. Can my hon. Friend confirm that as far as the vast majority of us are concerned, these were scientists giving scientific advice? Indeed, Professor Spicer of the Open university, a constituent of mine, suggests that the IPCC underestimates the science. For example, he is concerned that
the most recent Working Group 1 report admits that it deliberately ignores the most
Mr. Ainsworth: That intervention, though lengthy, was getting more helpful as it went on, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is of course right: the intergovernmental panel and the scientists working on this issue work crab-wise and by consensus, so conservatism is built into the entire process by which they reach consensus. It is unfair to them and an unnecessary slur on their scientific integrity to accuse them of political bias.
Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): Is not the truth that, even if we take the arguments of those who believe that this problem is to do with solar cycles rather than carbon emissions, the reality is that the world faces precisely the same crises? That carbon can act as a surrogate for huge changes in the way we live that will not otherwise address the shortages of water, insecurities of energy and the turbulence of climate change that we will have to manage.
Of course I accept that there is no solution to the global climate challenge that is not itself globalthat is taken as readbut if Britain wants to have credibility on the international stage, we must put our house in order first, and this Bill goes some way towards doing that. However, we should be more honest about our own emissions and our own contribution to the global problem. That means, among other things, including the contribution made by international transport in the calculations, as proposed in clause 30. I was very pleased and interested to hear what the Minister had to say about that earlier.
We believe that the Bill, as amended in the Lords, is in pretty good shape. As I have said, we do not want to extend its scope beyond what has already been determined, but in particular we hope that the Government will not seek to weaken it and make it less effective as a means of ensuring British leadership in the global debate and in developing the technologies that we need to de-carbonise our economy.
Conservatives see the challenge of climate change as an opportunity, rather than as a threat. We in Britain are in danger of falling prey to the threat, rather than rising to the opportunity. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who intervened earlier, was absolutely rightdressing up stealth taxes as green taxes is a sure-fire way of alienating public opinion and should be avoided.
We are all too well aware of the rising costs of dependence on fossil fuels. Last week, the price of oil reached an all-time high. The consequences for consumers everywhere are enormous and bad. The rises in fuel and food prices are of course related. The prospect of an economic downturn only reinforces the need to become more energy-efficient, more fuel-efficient, more aware of the limits set by nature, more sparing of our use of natural resources, and more self-sufficient in energy and food. The need to be both greener and safer has never been more apparent, so this Bill is extremely timely.
As I have said, we do not want to extend the Bills scope beyond the existing parameters, but we believe it important to retain what it comprises. In particular, we believe that it is important to retain clause 1, which establishes a principal aim
to ensure that UK emissions of greenhouse gases do not exceed the level necessary to contribute to limiting the global average temperature increase to not more than 2° C above pre-industrial levels.
We also believe it right for the Prime Minister to be accountable for progress towards the targets set out in the Bill. I think that the Liberal Democrat spokesman recently said, when we shared a platform at a meeting on climate changethat is an occupational hazardthat the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was a piddling little Department. I know what he meant, because it is racked by funding crises, unpopular with the Treasury and disrespected by other Departments; DEFRA certainly has its problems. It is our ambition that the Department should do better. It holds a key position in the great debates of our time, on not only climate changeas if that were not enoughbut food security, energy security, water supply and pricing, flooding, coastal erosion and the depletion of natural resources. DEFRA should be at the heart of the Government; it should not be marginalised, weak and ineffectual.
The Bills provisions involve the whole of Government and the whole economy, not just one Department. It is therefore right for the Prime Minister to assume responsibility for progress towards meeting the targets to reduce climate change emissions. To anyone who says that this is unprecedented, the answer must be that we are dealing with an unprecedented challenge and an unprecedented opportunity for our country, and it is therefore right that the Prime Minister should have responsibility for reporting on progress as set out in clause 4.
We also believe it important to retain the provisions that aim to ensure that a majority of emissions reductions come from domestic sources, as opposed to being bought, like indulgences, in the often unreliable international credit market. Thus, I was sorry to hear what the Minister had to say about that earlier. We support these
measures, not because we believe in wearing a hair shirt, but because we believe in opportunityI am referring to clause 25.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): I am sure that it was a slip of the tongue and that the hon. Gentleman meant to say international carbon market, rather than the international credit market. Does he agree that London could assume an important role as an international trading centre, particularly if the Bill goes through and ours is the first country to achieve a law of this kind?
Mr. Ainsworth: I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman; indeed, London is already the global centre for the international trade in carbon. I meant to say carbon creditsboth carbon and credits. By no means all the projects supported under that scheme are unreliable, but some of them are. The point is that we need to ensure that we are driving our domestic effort, as well as helping others around the world to contribute to their efforts. That is what is set out in clause 25. Ministers and other hon. Members may be aware of the joint statement put out on that very issue by WWF-UK and Scottish and Southern Energy in support of the clause. They state:
A fundamental part of the ambition and purpose of the Bill is to provide a strong framework to guide a sustained decarbonisation of the UK economy.
Relying significantly on emission reductions which take place overseas could influence long-term investment decisions here in the UK, particularly in the power sectorlocking the UK into a high carbon economy for years to come.
The approach adopted by Scottish and Southern Energy underscores the vital commercial case for setting a framework in the Bill that will give investors the confidence that they need to take the bold decisions that will be needed to drive a dynamic, low-carbon economy, creating green growth and prosperity, and enabling the United Kingdom to take an international lead.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): There can be no clearer way for individual households to play their part than by their agreeing to personal carbon allowances. What is the Oppositions view of them?
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the potential impact of this Bill on the costs of ordinary households? Paragraph 2.1.7 of the final impact assessment states:
Higher fuel prices would decrease the costs of reducing emissions.
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