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This Bill is very important, and it should help to maintain Britain’s international leadership of the climate change debate. That leadership was of course established originally by Baroness Thatcher in her famous speech almost two decades ago. She was the first Head of Government of any serious country in the world to address the issue of climate change. That leadership role has been maintained under successive Governments of both parties. What has changed since 1993 is our understanding of climate change. It has been transformed. The science now makes it clear, in a compelling way, that the threat is far bigger and more urgent not to the
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planet, which will certainly survive, but to the survival of a recently arrived species on the planet—human beings.

The economics are also better understood. I pay warm tribute to Lord Stern, whose report has helped to maintain Britain’s influence on the subject internationally. His report shows that action today would be far cheaper and more cost-effective than action taken in five or 10 years’ time. I welcome the Bill, and I shall comment on one or two of its detailed provisions in a moment. First, it is important to remember—in the spirit of cross-party consensus, I think that the Liberal Democrat spokesman made this point—that in passing the Bill we must not ignore some other rather uncomfortable facts, one of which is that Britain, in common with every other country in the world, is not even remotely near achieving the sort of pathway towards the extent of greenhouse gas cuts necessary if we are to get anywhere near meeting the targets in the Bill, let alone those that may be decided necessary in future. In energy, transport and the built environment, low-carbon technology is available but not used. We clearly need more low-carbon electricity generation, but it looks as though Britain will build a new coal-fired power station before a new nuclear power station. That is extraordinary. We need more incentives to encourage distributed generation, such as micro-combined heat and power and so on. Huge opportunities are still being ignored.

On surface transport, low-emission cars and trucks are available today, but the incentives to switch to them remain grossly inadequate. While other countries, such as France and Spain, have or are rolling out high-speed rail networks, Britain builds new airports and does not invest in the sort of high-speed rail links that would transform our domestic transport industry.

Colin Challen: I, too, am a member of the hon. Gentleman’s Committee. I am pleased to serve under his leadership, as I was pleased to serve under that of his predecessor. However, he is wrong to say that we are not offering incentives for low-carbon transport. I drive a Smart car, which is taxed at £35 per annum—£100 less than I used to pay for a larger vehicle. Is not that an incentive? Does he believe that his party should be a bit clearer and more focused, and support our changes to vehicle excise duty?

Mr. Yeo: I am delighted to respond to the hon. Gentleman, who is a close and highly valued colleague on my Committee. I strongly support—and have consistently supported—a switch to much higher VED rates for new cars. That is a direct incentive when people replace their vehicle for them to switch to a low-carbon alternative. I believe that my Front-Bench colleagues share that position. We believe that the changes that the Chancellor announced this year for new vehicles are fully justified and will provide a strong incentive. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman drives a Smart car. I am happy to say that I have a liquefied petroleum gas taxi parked in the Members’ car park. It is not only cheap to run but free of the congestion charge.

Energy efficiency standards for the built environment are being tightened only slowly. Incentives to decarbonise the existing housing stock and, indeed, other existing buildings, are notable by their almost complete absence. Again, the technology is available.

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The three sectors—electricity generation, transport and the built environment—account for a huge proportion of emissions. We could take steps today, with no disruption to people’s lifestyles and little cost to the overall economy, even in the short term, and some benefit in the long term, to increase greatly the change to a low-carbon economy, but we are not doing that.

I am delighted that the Minister shares my view of the importance of the interim target. What we do between now and 2020 is far more important than arguing about whether the 2050 target should be 60 per cent., 80 per cent. or even 95 per cent. The next decade or so will define whether we limit the global temperature rise to an average of 2° C. If we do not make progress soon, the action needed will be far more expensive, disruptive and uncomfortable for people in all parts of the world. I will seek to toughen the 26 per cent. target for 2020 in clause 6.

I want to endorse the concerns about the continued exclusion of aviation and shipping from greenhouse gas calculations. That makes no sense. The arguments have been well rehearsed. I know the answer on aviation—it will come into the EU emissions trading scheme in due course—but we have no idea about whether the date that the Minister has in mind will be achieved or the terms on which aviation will be included. It is all pie in the sky at this stage. We should make a commitment in Britain to take a lead and say that aviation and shipping should be included.

A great deal of faith has been placed in the wisdom of the Committee on Climate Change and I hope that it lives up to it. I was dismayed when I read of Lord Turner’s appointment to the Financial Services Authority. In conversation last week, he told me that he does not expect to stay on as chairman of the committee beyond next February. That is a pity, although he may remain a member. I hope that the Government will give their urgent attention to finding a replacement who commands the same respect in business and politics. In a spirit of bipartisanship, perhaps the Government should consult the Opposition about the appointment of a successor. Indeed, my Committee would be happy to make some suggestions, too.

Although I acknowledge that Britain must decarbonise its economy, the overriding need in the next decade is to cut emissions globally. The benefit to the planet is equal from any cut in emissions, regardless of where it is achieved. I am therefore much more relaxed than some of my colleagues in this House and the other place about letting developed countries buy, in the short term, carbon credits to meet the targets abroad. That may be the fastest and most cost-effective way to cut emissions.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey was measured about personal carbon trading when it was raised in an intervention. He knows that I support the concept and that my Committee has just published a report about it. I was dismayed that the Government appear to have dropped their interest in the subject. The previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband), was positive and engaged in the debate about it. I regret that the Government have put it on the backburner. At the very least, it is surely worth examining in more detail. It is complicated and has some difficulties, but it could be the single most powerful incentive for individuals to make low-carbon choices in a range of daily decisions.

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I strongly support the Bill because it is good for Britain and the world. Countries at the forefront of tackling climate change do the right thing not only environmentally but economically. Decarbonising our economy, especially our transport infrastructure, will give Britain a huge competitive advantage. It is not some terrible burden that we have to bear, but something that will give us a head start economically. It is right to encourage and incentivise businesses to offer their customers low-carbon alternative products and services. As long as the regulations involved recognise the industry’s investment, even forcing them to make that switch could be beneficial for business.

I will not only support the Bill but try to strengthen it, though I wish to make it clear to the Whips that I do not want to do that as a member of the Public Bill Committee—I will reserve my strength for Report. I warmly commend the Bill to the House.

6.17 pm

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Bill, especially the contribution made to it by hon. Members through the Joint Committee on the draft Bill and the reports of the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. I also welcome the contribution of the many non-governmental organisations and of the scientists who have informed the debate so far. It is right that scientists are at the forefront of the evidence base for what we are setting out to achieve.

Instincts also go a long way, and I especially thank the local climate change panel that advised me and helped me to contribute what I hope were informed comments to some of the early consultation stages that led to the Bill. The panel includes scientists and someone who works for the South West Observatory, which is based at Plymouth university. It is helping to prepare our public organisations and services to do what they will have to do to help us meet the targets that the Bill introduces.

At a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association seminar, I heard Jonathon Porritt, who has given good service on our regional development agency, put the case with the greatest clarity. He talked about canaries in the mine. For me personally, the urgency of the position hit home when he made that speech. He spoke about the melting of the permafrost in Siberia, the Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice cap; the CO2 absorption rates in the oceans and ocean acidification; and the drying up of the Amazon rain forest. There are many more examples that one could list. People understand and want to learn what to do, and the Bill will, I hope, set the framework for encouraging them to take action constructively and change behaviour in a way that will make a difference.

Plymouth is well blessed with scientists in both the health and marine sectors. I am particularly grateful to the Royal Society for the opportunity to link up with a Royal Society fellow, Dr. Richard Kirby, and learn about his work on the long-term plankton data set, which is held by the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science. That also helped me to get my head round the important role that the oceans play. We talk about climate change, but 71 per cent. of the earth’s surface is oceans. The complexity of the feedback systems,
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which are discussed in many arenas, is infinitely greater in the world’s oceans and give increasing cause for concern.

There are still some who say that the increasing scientific consensus is a conspiracy, but in my experience scientists are cautious and like everything to be peer reviewed. Increasing numbers of the scientists whom I know locally have come up to me over the past year and quietly said, “Linda, we really are worried about what is happening. Urgent action needs to be taken.”

The Bill will prove to be just in time, but it is important to get it right. We are, of course, not the first to legislate on such matters, but the comprehensive nature of what is set out in the Bill is unmatched and is set to provide a framework that others will come to use. It is therefore important that the Bill is workable. Never, perhaps, has it been more important that legislation should be of the highest quality.

The path to where we are today has shown how difficult the challenge for everyone is. Our delivery of emissions reductions has been challenged by the growth in our economy and our prosperity over the past decade. Growth in countries such as India and China will make it difficult to arrive at a post-Kyoto settlement, and our challenges will probably pale into insignificance. The Bali conference and beyond means that we need to succeed in establishing something that works and that engages across all sectors. Hon. Members have already talked about the need to tackle the issue across the piece, from the energy used in business and the home to transport, including shipping and aviation.

Bald targets do not always do that, however. Ones that have been carefully crafted and fully examined, and take the realities of implementation into account are far more likely to deliver. A lot has been said about 60 versus 80 per cent. I would be surprised if the Committee on Climate Change did not recommend tightening the reduction, for the reasons that my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) outlined. Indeed, he quoted Adair Turner himself saying as much to the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The debate about annual targets has moved on, recognising their limitations. The provisions in the Bill dealing with annual reporting to Parliament and the consequences of any slippage are very important in that context and should rightly engage hon. Members considering the Bill in Committee.

I greatly welcome what my hon. Friend the Minister said about a stronger commitment in the Bill on aviation and shipping emissions. I take that as representing the Government’s confidence that the work that we have been doing to bring about an EU emissions trading scheme as soon as possible, hopefully to be followed by an international trading scheme, is going well.

Finally, I want to touch on the media. The hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) said that one has only to read the papers to find stories setting out the alarming situation that we all face. However, Maxwell Boykoff and Maria Mansfield of the environmental change institute at Oxford university have conducted some interesting research on the reporting of the human contribution to climate change in the UK tabloid press. They have examined the coverage between 2000 and
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2006, and shown that it diverged from the scientific consensus. Although the scientific consensus on the challenges that we face became stronger over the period discussed, the tabloid papers did not reflect that; indeed, reporting diverged from that consensus. From interviews conducted as part of that research, Maxwell Boykoff and Maria Mansfield suggest that inaccurate reporting may be linked to the lack of specialist journalists.

I am not sure how the provisions in the Bill could help to change that situation, but change it should. I hope that the further consideration of the Bill in Committee will at least encourage a better understanding, but that will happen only if the debate from here on is responsible and does not run away from the political leadership that is necessary to avoid people being put off by the unnecessary fog of political game-playing. I am referring specifically to the labelling of difficult decisions, which will be unpopular but necessary, as stealth taxes. That also applies to becoming too distracted by the argument about setting the target at either 60 or 80 per cent.

The Copenhagen conference in 18 months’ time will be stronger, better informed and more likely to arrive at realistic and effective decisions that are in our interests and those of the world in which we live if we get this Bill right.

6.26 pm

David Maclean (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I rise to support the Bill. I want to concentrate my remarks largely on clause 11, paying particular attention to the international matters that the Secretary of State must take into account when setting carbon targets; and on clause 13, which states that any proposals and policies prepared to meet our carbon budget should “contribute to sustainable development”. If I have time, I shall also say a little about waste reduction. I mention that to ensure that I remain in order when I mention the passionate subject of rain forests, which are part of the overall sustainable development plan and play a key role in dealing with climate change.

It is almost 16 years to the day since I last addressed this subject. I quote from The New York Times of 7 June 1992:

I quote that because I want to emphasise to the Government that concern about climate change did not start in 1997. With the nicest will in the world, the Government tend to think that all history began in 1997. However, in 1992 I had the privilege of leading for the Government at Rio, doing most of the negotiations until, as usual, the Prime Minister arrived in the last few days to sign up to all the things that we had agreed.

A few weeks later, I had the privilege of speaking on behalf of the European Community at the plenary session of the United Nations General Assembly, where I said:

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I went on to describe


Again, those matters were all set up before we had the Kyoto protocol. Of course we support what was achieved at Kyoto, but I remind the House once again that the previous Government were there; we got the T-shirt about cutting carbon emissions long before many people realise.

When I reported to the UN, I was very keen that we adopt the schedule on forest principles that was devised at Rio. I hope that we are successful in meeting our targets. I will not enter into the debate—I may not be fortunate enough to serve on the Committee—about whether the target should be 60 per cent., 80 per cent. or even 100 per cent. What came across strongly to me at the meetings I held at Rio as a new Minister in the then Department of the Environment was that the G77, incorporating our Commonwealth links, and the G7, including our American friends, depended on Britain as the key player to help persuade others. Britain played a key role. We still have the lead and are internationally respected on these matters, and we must not lose it. What came across to me loud and clear was that many of the principal nations of the G77—China, India, the tiger economies—believed that climate change was an excuse for the developed world to hold them back. They said, “You only want us to sign up to these binding targets so that you, the western world, can maintain your primacy in development and we, the third world, will not be allowed to catch up.” Many of them made it very clear that they would sign up to climate change measures only if we, the developed world, would give them something in return. It struck me then that we had to do more on carbon sinks, afforestation and reafforestation.

I understand that part of the mechanisms in the Bill will provide for carbon credits and the marketing of carbon sinks. Some of the argument for carbon sinks has fallen into disrepute, perhaps because some of the carbon sinks traded as credits are not genuine or viable. There is nothing moral or right about cutting down millions of hectares of Brazilian rain forest, Papua New Guinea forest or forests in Malaysia and Indonesia to plant millions of acres of palm oil in order to produce biofuels. Those are not genuine carbon sinks. I totally support the trading of carbon credits for pristine, virgin rain forests, as I am desperately concerned that we are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate. That is also part of the Bill’s aims, although it is not specifically mentioned. Sustainable development is, I suppose, as close as we come to maintaining biodiversity.

Mr. Gummer: Does my right hon. Friend agree that trading is the mechanism by which the rich countries can ensure that the poorer countries can grow in a more environmentally friendly way? It is a debt that we owe them because we caused the problem in the first place; we have grown rich on the pollution that we caused.

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