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In tackling the global challenge of climate change, governments must follow the latest science that clearly shows the need for the UK to reduce its CO2 emissions by at least 80 per cent.
The Governments response throughout has been, Maybe. Well ask Adair Turner, if he has any spare time. The worry, however, is that even if Adair Turner and his friends come back with 80 per cent., the Government might not accept it.
Many Labour Members want 80 per cent., and I genuinely believe that there is support in all parts of the House. The hon. Member for Banbury supports early-day motion 736, which proposes an 80 per cent. target. But the Governments response to those who want the target has been to say, Well see what the Climate Change Committee says. If the Climate Change Committee proposes 80 per cent., we need to know that the Government will abide by it; otherwise, it is no reassurance at all.
That is my worry about what the Minister said. He was very clear and unequivocal, for which I thank him, but it alarmed me that his defence was, Well ask the committee. Even if the committee proposes 80 per cent., we might not get it, and that is not enough reassurance for me.
Barely can we open our newspapers without reading another report stressing the urgency of faster and deeper action than is in the Bill. Only last weekend, the Stockholm Network study said that on present policies we will miss our climate change goals in the United Kingdom and in the European Union. We need to go deeper, further and faster, but the worry is that we are relying on outdated science. If there were no number, there might be an argument. One might say, The number is constantly moving, but the Governmentquite rightly, in my viewdecided to include a number in the Bill. If we are going to have a number in the Bill, it ought to be the right one, not the wrong one that everyone accepts is wrong but hopes someone will put right later. That should not be the basis on which we legislate.
We have already heard from the shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about some of the problems that will occur if we do not address climate change: the massive environmental migration, the flooding in some areas and the droughts in others, the impact on biodiversity and the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world being hardest hit. Because of that, and because I believe that many Members from all parts of the House are committed to going deeper, further and faster, we have today launched a campaign called CanvassYourMP.com, which is the reverse of the normal model whereby we canvass our constituents. The website went live today. Last week, I got together a group ofI feel a song coming on10 green bloggers, sitting in a room here at Westminster, to ask,
How can we empower individuals who want climate change action but feel that they cannot get through? They are the individuals who send the postcard and receive the standard reply from the parties, but feel that the message is not getting through.
CanvassYourMP.com has been put together by volunteers, and it is even hosted on a wind-powered web server, which is a nice touch. Every Member is listed on the site, and every Members contacts details and surgery announcements are being posted. We would welcome to the site every Member from every party stating their position on the 80 per cent. issue. We want constituents to go in person, to talk to Members and to tell them about the issue. Many Members from all parts of the House support 80 per cent., and I would very happily put all their pledges on to the site. We want to get together a popular movement to convey to Ministers in particular the strength of public opinion.
Nigel Griffiths: I welcome the hon. Gentlemans contribution, but will he sign up to the campaign that I support, calling for wind generators both onshore and offshore? Will he repudiate all those Liberal Democrat Members and councils who get up a petition and oppose every single one of them?
Steve Webb: It is not accurate to say that Liberal Democrat councils oppose every single application. We have a process of local democracy, which is quite right and proper. I, like the hon. Gentleman, support an enhanced role for wind power, and I support his early-day motion 736. I congratulate him on tabling it. As of the end of today, with the exception of our party leader, who does not sign early-day motions, every single Liberal Democrat Member will have signed it. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman because the number of Labour Members who support its call for an 80 per cent. cut is 167; many of them are in the Chamber.
If all Members who have signed the motion vote for it, provided the Conservative party does what it did in the House of Lords on the 80 per cent. issue and abstains, we will win. That is an exciting prospect. If simply those Members who have signed the motion, plus ourselves, vote for it, and the Conservatives do not block the 80 per cent. targetI hope that the hon. Member for East Surrey will not try to do sowe can achieve it. It would be a fantastic achievement.
We have discussed the Bills provisions on aviation and shipping. Hon. Members may have been reassured by what the Minister said, but if they look at the transcript they will see that it was not reassuring at all. One of the provisions on aviation and shipping is that the Government can come back in five years time and tell us that they could not do it, as stated in clause 35(1)(b). Saying that they want to include aviation and shipping but might come back in five years time and say that it could not be done is not terribly reassuring. Aviation is the most rapidly growing source of emissionson some projections it could be the whole of what is left by 2050 if we get 80 per cent. cutsyet the Government have that opt-out. That is profoundly worrying.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government would be much more credible in this area if we saw them leading a real argument in the
European Union by, for example, insisting that EU ports were able to insist on improved use of low-emission sea fuel, and that we should be leading the fight in the EU not to build new airports but to make better use of the old ones?
Steve Webb: The right hon. Gentleman is spot on; I absolutely agree. The Department for Transports policy on airport expansion and our failure to give a lead in Europe are riding roughshod over Government policy in DEFRA.
We have talked about how much of the effort has to be made domestically. The Government have said how great it is that we have had all this parliamentary scrutiny, but most of the big changes are going to be taken out again. That is not my understanding of the meaning of scrutiny. The Government want to get through the whole Committee stage in less than two and a half weeks. We are told that this is the biggest issue facing the future of the planet, but two and a half weeks is supposed to be long enough to kick it around. This Bill needs serious scrutiny.
Members in the other place were right to come up with the limit on the extent to which we can buy in. We need an overwhelmingly domestic effort on cutting carbon emissions. As the Conservative spokesman said, quoting Scottish and Southern, there is a strong case for our taking the lead in this respect. In a different section of its briefing, it said:
Emissions trading is a cost effective way of reducing emissions for countries who have difficulties in delivering their own emissions reductions, but the UK is blessed with the greatest potential resource of renewable energy in Europe.
In other words, there may be countries that cannot make the transition quickly enough and need to buy in from elsewhere, but we are not one of them. We have huge potential to do the job ourselves, to take a lead, and to be a great green-collar-job economy, but we are missing it. I understand that the Danish economy now gets more money from the sale of renewable energy and renewables than it does from selling baconunless the Danes are telling porkies, that is. There is huge potential in this area. The worry about buying in carbon reductions is that it means that money flows out of the UK, sometimes to schemes such as the clean development mechanism where there are concerns about their certification. We could be investing and locking ourselves into a low-carbon economy, yet we are putting off the evil day and potentially saying yes to new high-carbon technologies such as new coal-fired power stations. That must be the wrong route. The UK could be a leader instead of trying to buy its way out of trouble.
Mr. Woolas: I am listening to the hon. Gentlemans argument very carefully. I agree with his point, but the other side of the equation is how we ensure that carbon markets can transfer money and technologies to the developing countries to ensure that they can have prosperity and clean energy. What is his policy on that?
That is an unnecessary either/or. We can establish the UK as a low-carbon economy, and over and above that, as part of our international development effort, invest around the world in certified renewable
schemesbut not as a cop-out for not doing it ourselves. That is the difference between our position and that of the Government.
The Government want to water down other aspects of the Bill, including the reporting clause inserted by my noble Friend Baroness Miller. We will merely have Government guidelines and, no doubt, more consultation, when what is needed is urgent action. The Government are going to remove the clause on the Bills stated purpose inserted by Conservative Members in another place and leave in a target that everyone accepts is out of date, and then think that the job has been well done. That is not our view of a job well done.
Adaptation has rightly been raised. It is welcome that changes made in another place on that issue will at last be accepted. We need to think much harder about the fact that climate change is happening and will happen. There is already a lot in the system; we need to respond to that and there needs to be proper resourcing for doing so, which all too often there is not.
It would be nice to be able to welcome the Bill unequivocally, but the problem is that we may lull ourselves into a false sense of security. We may think, Weve passed a Climate Change Bill; weve ticked that box, when in fact the battle is only beginning. That battle must be across Governmentthis must come from the topand must involve bold, ambitious targets that are not just for 2050; the interim targets need to be raised proportionately as well. We need regular annual reporting, not merely the not in my term of office targets that can all too easily slip.
During the Bills very short Committee stage, we will fight the Governments attempt to reverse the sensible changes made in another place, and when we return to debate it in this House we will certainly seek to increase the target to 80 per cent. I hope that every hon. Member who is approached by a constituent is able to see them to talk it through, and that the CanvassYourMP.com campaign will mobilise people across the country to ensure that we get what the majority of the British public wanta Climate Change Bill with real teeth that can really deliver.
Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): Surely no challenge facing the world today is more urgent than that of climate change. About 20 years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up. I think that the IPCC reflects the scientific position in the world today, notwithstanding some of the comments that we have heard during the debate. The excellent assessment report that it published last year concluded that warming of the climate system is unequivocal, with many natural systems now affected. It reported that there is now greater than 90 per cent. certainty that most of the increase in global average temperature since the mid-20th century was caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. The panel states that, with varying degrees of likelihood, human influence has contributed to a range of changes, including sea level rises, changes in wind patterns, a greater risk of heat waves, an increased area affected by drought and a higher frequency of heavy precipitation events.
The human, ecological and economic cost of doing nothing would be enormous. The Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, of which I am a
member, recently took evidence from Lord Adair Turner, who is still chair of the shadow Committee on Climate Change, whatever the future may hold. He put up a most impressive performance in front of my Committee, and it would be a great pity if he moves away from that position. He stated succinctly that a temperature rise of 3° C would be really worrying and that one of 4° C would be very scary indeed. We can look to the IPCC report to see the outcomes that such temperature increases would bring. Many parts of the world would see coastal and flash flooding, while many would suffer from drought. Agricultural production would be severely compromised in many areas, especially in Africa, and species would face extinction. Of course, the poorest countries will be hit earliest and hardest by climate change, though they have done little to cause the problem.
The most important recent UK publication on climate change has undoubtedly been the Stern report. Lord Stern concluded that the economic damage done by failing to tackle climate change could, as the Minister said, rival the great depression and the world wars and would be difficult or impossible to reverse. The great achievement of Nicholas Sterns report was to show us that the benefits of strong, early action considerably outweigh the costs, and that if the investments are made wisely those costs will be manageable. Lord Stern found that the annual cost of stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations at 500 to 550 parts per million of CO2 equivalent would be around 1 per cent. of gross domestic product by 2050an economic price that is significant but manageable, and small relative to the costs and risks of the climate change that need to be avoided. As the science moves forward, we must consider whether it is enough for the world to seek to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at 500 to 550 parts per million of CO2 equivalent, or whether we must aim lower still. The long-term objective must be to drive greenhouse gas emissions down to the level that the Earth can absorb. Lord Stern advised that that would mean a cut of more than 80 per cent. in the absolute level of current annual emissions. The UK has made progress against its targets, and the Government should take credit for our being on track to meet the Kyoto target.
We must also look at current trends and where they will take us. UK greenhouse gas emissions are no longer declining; our emissions have been on a plateau for the last few years, largely due to ever-increasing emissions from transport. If the UK is to do what is necessary to play our part in preventing catastrophic climate change, we have to take stronger action. There is a sense in the House today that we will have to go down that roadthere has been an impressive consensus and the Minister showed great flexibility in opening the debate. He made it clear that the Government are prepared to listen, and the Opposition are also part of that consensus.
The Bill will enshrine our longer-term greenhouse gas emission targets into law, including the commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050. But the science has changed, and the IPCC report did not go into some of the risks that could mean that the situation is more serious than the percentages indicatewhat have been described as feedback loops and tipping points. We could get to a point where things begin to accelerate and to get out of control. An example of a feedback loop given by scientists is the melting of the polar ice caps. At the moment, solar radiation and heat
bounce off the ice and are not absorbed, but with the melting of the ice, the suns heat will be absorbed by the darker water of the ocean. That adds to the problem by creating temperature rises, and more ice melts as a consequence. Such feedback loops mean that there is a worry that things could get less predictable than the IPCCs report suggests.
The maximum level of greenhouse gas concentration possible before the world is at significant risk of catastrophic temperature rise is lower than we previously thought. I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members believe that we should commit to reducing emissions from 1990 levels by 80 per cent. by 2050. Reference has already been made to the fact that international aviation and shipping are excluded and I will not dwell on that. There is a will in the House that we must address the issue. It is complicated, but that is not a justification for not seeking to incorporate such emissions in our target. It will leave a huge hole in our approach if we do not do that, which is particularly the case in aviation. Shipping is also obviously a serious matter, but aviation emissions are growing rapidly.
As electricity generation is the UKs largest single producer of carbon dioxide emissions, I am sure that the House will want to consider the means of making our electricity production less environmentally damaging. In that context, we should welcome the statement by the Crown Estate last week that 11 areas of the sea bed around the UK are being designated for offshore wind turbines. There is a growing momentum behind the development of wind power, but we must not concentrate just on that. Other important renewable sources offer tremendous potential for producing energy, such as tidal power, sea barriers, solar and geothermal energy, which will all have to be exploited. We have to be prepared to encourage investment and to invest directly in the securing of more of our electricity from those sources.
The global use of fossil fuels is still expanding. Given the rapid growth in the number of power stations, especially coal-fired stations, in countries such as China, we need to have carbon capture and storage up and running urgently or we will have little or no chance of keeping temperature rises within tolerable levels. That point was made by Lord Adair Turner in his evidence to the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Here in the UK, coal is still the source of about a third of our electricity, and new plant is planned. It was a pity that the co-operation with BP on the carbon capture and storage facility at Peterhead did not develop, but it is important that Britain takes the opportunity to develop the expertise needed, which will be economically beneficial to us in the medium to long term. While the Governments competition for a full-scale demonstration plant for CCS is welcome, the winning plant will not be built until 2014, and even then the CCS element need not be fully operational. The response to the potential of CCS should be on a larger scale and of greater urgency. Given the associated higher costs, CCS will need ongoing support.
In conclusion, this is one of those pleasant days in the House of Commons when there is a consensus. We know that the Government have taken an important initiative, and people have acknowledged that, in a sense, they are a world leader. That is not to say that the Bill cannot be improved. There is a will in all parties to
improve it even more. As has been pointed out, very fairly, targets are important and we want to get them right, but at the end of the day, the crunch will come when we decide how to rise to the challenge of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), whose work on the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is well known. I congratulate the Minister on his speech and on the way in which he handled a large number of interventions. He did so with the same courtesy and reasonable directness of response that he showed in his appearances before the Environmental Audit Committee, which I Chair. I congratulate the Government on introducing this measure, but the Opposition also deserve congratulations. Undoubtedly, they have helped to pave the way through the very strong support that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has given on this issue. I warmly congratulate the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), with whom I have done a sort of job swap during the past three years. I must say that I am very happy with the one I now haveI have more staff and better pay.
The worst job in the whole of politics right now must be to be Chancellor of the Exchequer to the current Prime Minister. In 1993, I was the Minister of State dealing with climate changeI am glad to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) here today, who was Secretary of State at that timeand it was almost the worst job, because climate change was not a mainstream subject then. If someone raised it at a dinner party, people thought that they were some sort of freak. Apart from scientists or paid-up green campaigners, no one had actually heard of it.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I have respect for the hon. Gentleman as the Chair of the Committee of which I am a Member, but he may like to know that the Liberal Democrats already had policies on binding targets for reducing carbon emissions in those days.
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