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9 Jun 2008 : Column 74

David Maclean: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course we must aim for a lower carbon economy in this country; of course we must reduce our own carbon use. However, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, that it is not enough for Britain to meet its target when we produce just 2 per cent. of the world’s carbon dioxide. Unless we do something for China, India and the developing countries, they are not going to sign up to lower carbon emissions. It is a long time since I negotiated with Environment Ministers from those countries and perhaps the mood has changed, but I suspect that many of them still regard the climate change debate as a western plot to hold them back. They are certainly not going to meet the targets that we are imposing on ourselves, but that is not to say that we in Britain should not accept those targets. Of course we should show leadership, but let us be in no doubt that many of the largest polluters—not even to mention the United States—are not going to accept the targets set out in the Bill. We must have a valid carbon trading credit mechanism and it is crucial for it to be sustainable. There is so much more that we can do to help the developing world by carbon trading so that we can keep the essential biodiversity that we need.

I am not going to enter into arguments with my hon. Friends about whether the Amundsen sea embayment is retreating at 1 m or 0.7 m a year. Clearly, there is a serious depletion of ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps. I will leave others to argue whether it is temporary and whether it is caused by sunspots or by CO2 emissions. What concerns me is that we are clearly losing our rain forests; we are losing the lungs of the earth, and we should be doing much more to ensure that we keep them. I would be perfectly happy if, in order to keep those rain forests, we needed to help by forcing our big companies to cut back on some of their carbon emissions—and if they cannot cut back more than a certain level, there should be a carbon trading credit scheme so that money is given directly to the parts of the world with the rain forests.

I had no idea how serious was the loss of rain forest in Papua New Guinea. Why does it matter if that country loses its rain forests? Could it not plant date palms instead? Well, Papua New Guinea has between 6 and 8 per cent. of the world’s biodiversity. Yes, we can show emotive pictures of polar bears struggling to find icebergs to sit on, but my key worry is not so much for the polar bears as for the bumble bees. If we were to lose some of the less cuddly species such as insects that pollinate, one day, the world would actually starve.

We are heading for world food shortages and goodness knows how that is going to pan out. I had the privilege of meeting the Secretary of State to discuss this matter recently; he was kindly meeting many colleagues from all political parties. I was impressed with how he was switched on to this item. I hope that he makes a speedy recovery.

In addition to building measures on climate change into the Bill, we have a golden opportunity to tackle the problems of loss of biodiversity and to make for a more sustainable agriculture throughout the world. These are not matters that I can deal with in a Second Reading speech today, but the Bill does not preclude them. I would like to explore further with the Government,
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perhaps on Report, what other matters they intend to take into account in clauses 11 and 13. The proposals and policies must, taken as a whole, be such as to contribute to sustainable development—and I understand that to mean sustainable development throughout the world, not just in the UK. I hope that we are able to explore the Government’s intentions further at that stage. Yes, it is vital to do all the things that the Bill provides for, but we must also keep an eye on the rest of the world.

In the 30 seconds left to me, let me say that this Bill is too important to allow it to be polluted by policies on waste reduction and recycling that are to be implemented by five target councils in the country. Too many of my constituents and I are getting a bit cynical about the policies of recycling. We do not mind doing the council’s dirty work for it—I do not mind recycling by putting my plastic in one box and my glass in another—but I do not expect to pay the same community charge without getting a better service. I am happy to recycle everything, including polystyrene, but if we are to go down that route, local authorities must not charge us for things that they cannot do themselves.

6.38 pm

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): I, too, welcome the Bill, which shows genuine leadership on climate change. Indeed, that leadership has brought about a degree of consensus in the House. I welcome the Bill because it imposes a legal duty on the Government to continue to work on the mitigation of climate change, even when in future we may encounter more political pressure for adaptation: the two should not, of course, be juxtaposed. We all know, however, that if we told constituents that we were going to solve their flooding problems by putting up a wind farm, they would laugh in our faces and demand immediate action—on the grounds of adaptation—to address their particular concern.

I welcome most, if not all, of the amendments made in the other place. They have strengthened the Bill, but it needs further strengthening. In saying that, I refer Members to the words of Dr. James Hansen who, as many will know, works for NASA at the Goddard space research centre. He said:

At the moment, the Bill is predicated on business assumptions that will take us well over 550 parts per million and possibly into the region of 700 parts per million CO2 equivalent in the atmosphere.

Many Members have referred to budgeting to deal with this most serious problem. Bearing in mind such extremely serious figures, I also refer Members to work done by the Tyndall Centre, which has contributed a wealth of information to us, including to the Environmental Audit Committee. It has calculated that if we wanted a pathway that stood even a 30 per cent. chance of not exceeding the 2° C threshold, the UK would have to cut its total carbon emissions by 70 per cent. by 2030 and by about 90 per cent. by 2050. That illustrates the seriousness of the issue of cumulative concentrations of
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CO2 in the atmosphere. If we cannot grip the problem early, we will lose out in the long term. Although I support much tougher long-term targets, from which we can back-cast and figure out where we need to be eventually, early targeting and cuts must bite into the cumulative target-setting process.

Clause 3 refers to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution report, “Energy—the Changing Climate”, published in 2000, which is seen as a base point for our thinking on climate change. Adoption of the contraction and convergence model was implicit in that report. Some Members might think that I sound a bit like a cracked record, but it is worth stating—the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) touched on the matter briefly—that one cannot arrive at a figure, whether 50, 60 or 80 per cent., without a distribution of the responsibility for tackling climate change. We cannot simply say that the science tells us that the globe must have an average cut of, say, 50 per cent. by 2050, and that that just happens to be our share. We should ask how we arrive at our share. The RCEP report in 2000 considered the various options, calculations and methodologies, and concluded that contraction and convergence were the most elegant and most likely to succeed.

“Contraction and convergence” is not a phrase that the Government like to use much. I suspect that the reason for that is that one does not necessarily want to set out one’s entire stall before going into an international negotiation. Just as we are showing leadership with this Bill, and taking action before any other Parliament in the world, we should go to Poznan later this year, and Copenhagen next year, and back the implicit principle that underpins our Bill. If people ask us what the report says, and we scratch our heads thinking, “We can’t mention contraction and convergence, which underpins our whole thinking, as that might reveal our hand,” we will not follow through the leadership that the Bill represents.

Thankfully, many more people than perhaps even a year or two ago are coming round to such a way of thinking. Tony Blair now talks about per capita emissions rights being equalised, possibly at 2 tonnes per person globally, although it depends on the rise in global population. Nick Stern, who said in his report that he could not quite get his head around contraction and convergence, now talks about a pragmatic right to the equalisation on a per capita basis of emissions. In January this year, the Prime Minister went to India for the UK-India summit and agreed with the Indian Government that the principle of convergence is very important and deserves serious attention. In Australia, Professor Ross Garnaut, who produced his interim report on climate change on behalf of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, also strongly supports the contraction and convergence principle, arguing in favour of per capita rights to greenhouse gas emissions around the planet.

It is time that we urged the Government to consider the principle once again, and to make clear in a new clause in the Bill their methodology for arriving at a figure. Until they produce their methodology, they will always be open to the accusation that they are plucking figures out of thin air. If they do not do so, the independent Climate Change Committee, if it is to be asked to bring forward figures, should be under a duty to produce its methodology.

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The Bill provides for a duty, but how will we know that it is being taken seriously? The Bill does not provide the means for delivery. A new clause should also be introduced that requires the Treasury to report annually on the effort of UK plc to deliver on the targets under the Bill. As we know, Nick Stern said that it will cost less to avoid the problem if we spend a bit now. In his report, the actual figures—working on the basis of up to 550 parts per million—are that spending 1 per cent. of GDP now might avoid 5 to 20 per cent. of damage to GDP down the line. As I said, that 1 per cent. is predicated on a possible 550 parts per million concentration in the atmosphere. If we are talking about a 2° C limit on the increase, many people now know that 550 parts per million is totally over the top. A 4° C or even 5° C increase is more likely. The Government were presented with that science in Exeter, before the Gleneagles conference.

Clearly, we should be considering a greater spend. According to Nick Stern, if we wanted to aim for between 450 and 500 parts per million, the cost would be 3 per cent. of GDP. In 2006, when his report was published, that would have been nearly £40 billion—obviously, 1 per cent. is about £13 billion. Have we spent anything like £13 billion, year on year, on tackling the problem? No, obviously not; not even half that, I suspect, although working out what we spend is extremely complex—is it a gross or net figure?

The Treasury, not the piddling Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—not my words, but those of the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb); I do not necessarily agree with his assessment, but it is certainly not an assessment that one could make of the Treasury, the least piddling Government Department—should have a duty under the Bill to report annually on the effort of UK plc to deliver on its targets. I hope that other Members will join me in supporting that principle on Report.

With that couple of small caveats, I very much welcome the Bill and hope that it will proceed with all-party support.

6.47 pm

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I refer the House to my declaration of interest.

This is one of the most exciting times to be living, simply because there is a bigger change in the way that human beings look at themselves and the rest of the world than has occurred perhaps since the renaissance. First, we cannot treat the world, even in thought, as if we were an imperialist nation, which is what we have always done, ever since people lived in a fort on a lake-village or in the next-door lake-village. Today, we know perfectly well that we must answer a global problem with a global answer. Secondly, this is the first time in history that social justice has become a practical necessity, and not merely a philosophical concept, if we are to achieve our ends.

The United Kingdom therefore has a special responsibility. We caused much of the climate change happening now. We might only produce 2 per cent. of the emissions now, but the current climate change is derived from our contribution when we were the leading industrial nation. Also, throughout the world, our companies produce between 12 and 16 per cent. of current emissions.

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Mr. Peter Ainsworth: My right hon. Friend has just made the point that I was going to ask him about. Has he seen the research by Dieter Helm and others about the impact of CO2 produced by other countries who make things for our domestic market?

Mr. Gummer: Indeed. That is another aspect of our being one world in a practical sense, rather than just in theory.

What we must do about climate change is very much in line with what we must do anyway in a world that is living beyond its resources. When there are more middle-class people in India than there are in Europe, as is the case today, demands on resources are such that we must find a way of living more leanly. We must also be honest about the need to follow the best science. Conservative Members and others will argue that this or that scientist does not agree with what is being said, but such an approach is rather like trying to judge Christianity by what the Jehovah’s Witnesses say. It is not a sensible approach if our aim is to make a real assessment of the views of those who actually represent the best science.

We should see this as an opportunity, not as a threat. The Minister may have heard me say earlier that I was prepared to support the Government’s proposals for public transport in Manchester, and I hope she will not think it unfair when I say now that there are many instances in which the Government have not led, in factual terms, the life that their theory leads us to believe they ought to lead. For instance, this is a Government who clung to the dark ages in fighting to retain hydrofluorocarbons against the wishes of other members of the European Union. This is a Government who have still not introduced smart metering. This is a Government who had no energy policy at all for 10 years, which is why we are so late in producing nuclear power. I look forward to having Sizewell C, but I would have liked it 10 years ago, and I would have liked a planning system that enabled my constituents at least to express their views about a new road, if we are to have one.

It is hard to take the Government’s green credentials seriously when they want another runway at Stansted, and do not recognise that one in five flights from London are to places which, in terms of time, are equally well served by trains. That is not a sensible way to deal with aviation.

This is also the Government who introduced eco-towns, which are neither “eco” nor proper towns. They have no proper credibility in terms of sustainability, because they do not accord with any modern concept of a sustainable town. Again, the Government have used a phrase that makes it difficult for us to oppose what they are doing. I know exactly what they will say: they will say “He cannot be very environmental, because he is against eco-towns.” I would be in favour of eco-towns if “eco” and “town” meant what they seem to mean, just as I would be in favour of a climate change levy if it had anything to do with climate change.

The independent Committee on Climate Change will have to bring home to the Government the fact that we cannot undermine our environmental reputation by introducing taxes that we pretend are green when in fact they are not. No taxation can be called green unless it either replaces some other taxation, or has a direct effect that will lead to more green activity. There must be a justification for taxes: if we do not have that, we
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shall undermine everything in which we believe, which is why the independent committee is so important.

I hope the Government have noted that the independent committee will have just as strong an effect on the Opposition as on the Government. If the Opposition wish to tell the Government that some rather uncomfortable decision must not be made, they must provide an alternative. They cannot simply attack the Government; they must reveal what they would do. That will be true of the next Opposition as it will be true of the next Government. When we change sides, we shall both be caught by the committee, and it is right for that to happen.

I hope that the committee will recognise the importance of thinking in terms of rewards rather than penalties. I do not think the Government are right to believe that the way to encourage people is to punish them. The way to encourage people is to give them the information that they need, which is why I think that smart metering is vital. If someone has to climb under the stairs to find the meter and it then says something in kilowatt hours that they do not understand, it will not affect the way that they behave. The Government must acknowledge that smart metering is a crucial part of providing what we need to provide—information—and also that it is important to encourage people.

The Government must show people in this country that encouragement is continuous and not short-term. The Treasury must specify the long-term parameters by which British industry can meet the demands of climate change, and provide British industry with the leadership that will put us in an economically favourable position. That cannot be done by a Government who are not prepared to introduce long-term tax breaks.

There are two more ways in which the Bill can help us. Many of my colleagues have mentioned the need for action to be taken quickly and urgently. The more we do now, the better it will be. The cost of now is considerably less than the cost of tomorrow. We need annual targets, because that is more important at this end than long-term targets rising from 60 to 80 per cent. I am an 80 per cent. man—I have no problems about voting for that, and the Government should not think that Tories will not vote for it—but it is not the most important thing. The most important thing is what the Government do between now and the election, and what the next Government do between that election and the one after that. If we constantly establish targets that are beyond the period of a Parliament, Governments will put things off. I am cynical enough to believe that that is an all-party comment.

This needs to be a world issue, and we need to show leadership. I speak not in a spirit of party political argument, but simply in a spirit of trying to get things done. We cannot take seriously any Government who do not use the European Union, and lead it to take the steps for shipping and aircraft that the Government should have taken but have left for far too long. We cannot take seriously a Government who are not seen to be on the front foot in every international negotiation, rather than looking as though they are being dragged into everything.

I have considerable respect for the Minister for the Environment, but it is a great pity that he did not begin his litany with the information that this is an all-party
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operation. It was begun by Mrs. Thatcher, and subsequently my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) fought for a climate change Bill when the Government were saying that they did not want one. The Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and Friends of the Earth had to launch a joint battle to persuade the Government to change their position. Now that they have changed it, can we all stand shoulder to shoulder and make it work?

If we are to make it work, we need two key things. First, we need targets that are immediate, and that is why I think that annual targets are important. Secondly, we need a system of trading that enables the rich countries to help the poor ones to play their part. We cannot say that this is putting off our duty, for it is the only mechanism whereby we can meet the need for social justice, without which there will be no ability to beat climate change. Climate change makes us one world: it gives rise to a global demand for a global solution. The people of Britain and all the rich countries will have to recognise at long last that social justice alone will deliver.

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