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6.59 pm

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): Along with everyone else, I strongly welcome the Bill. I also welcomed the patient and skilful manner in which it was introduced by my hon. Friend the Minister.

The latest figures show that greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by about 18 per cent. since 1990, although carbon dioxide emissions have marginally increased in several years during the last decade. There are two important caveats: first, that—as many people have said, and as the Prime Minister acknowledged in a speech on 19 November last year—the reduction required by 2050 must be at least 80 per cent. rather than 60 per cent. if there is to be headroom for developing countries to expand their economies while keeping within the overall global 2° C increase limit, which scientists say should not be exceeded without risk to the planet. On that basis, I draw the sobering conclusion that an 80 per cent. reduction by 2050 requires an annual reduction in emissions of at least almost twice the rate of the past two decades.

The second caveat is that—as, again, many have said—the Bill ignores the UK’s share of international aviation emissions, which Department of Trade and Industry figures show already account for 12.5 per cent., or one eighth, of the total UK impact on global warming. Indeed, I regret to have to say that because the Government are proposing to triple airport capacity, the Environmental Audit Committee calculates that by 2050 UK aviation emissions—let alone UK shipping emissions—might amount to almost half of all UK emissions. In introducing the Bill, my hon. Friend the Minister questioned the practicalities of including that data. I say to him that it would be entirely practical to include international aviation emissions in the Bill: the UK already reports on them regularly under the Kyoto protocol, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has figures dating back to 1970 on how much fuel has been taken on board at UK airports.

However—and this is where I disagree with some Members’ contributions—even if aviation emissions are included in the Bill, another loophole still needs to be closed. At present, the Bill allows 100 per cent. of
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emission reduction targets to be met by buying carbon credits from abroad rather than by reducing emissions in the UK. I am in no way against using genuine carbon credits that have been earned abroad promoting clean development in other countries, but this is a question of balance, and there are two relevant arguments. One is that, unfortunately, the purchase of carbon credits overseas is sometimes open to highly dubious manipulation over the vexed issues of additionality and baselines; they are complex and can easily be manipulated, and there is clear evidence of considerable abuse. The second argument, which is the clincher, is that we will succeed in stopping climate change, or the worst effects of it, given the stage we have now reached, only if we in the west, who are primarily responsible for it as a result of our industrialisation over the past two centuries, can persuade developing countries—largely China and India, which alone have two fifths of the world’s population—that we are serious about tackling climate change. Buying all our credits from abroad simply will not persuade those countries that we are serious if at the same time we are taking an unsustainable path in our own country. That will produce only cynicism and resistance.

The fact is that the rich countries, with approximately 18 per cent. of the world’s population, are responsible for 54 per cent. of global emissions—three times our due share. Until that is dealt with, we will simply not get international co-operation, without which the entire climate change problem cannot be solved. We are 1 per cent. of the world population and account for 2 per cent. of global emissions. Even with Europe, we are a small part of the picture. This has to be global, and we have to persuade the rest of the world that we are deadly serious about tackling the problem.

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the ways of convincing the newly emerging industrial countries that we are deadly serious is by sharing our new technology—by not holding it close to our chest, and by not holding on to patents, but by sharing them?

Mr. Meacher: I entirely agree, and I think that we could do a great deal more. There is a lot of talk about China starting two new coal-fired power stations every week. The best way of dealing with that is through the technology of carbon capture and storage. The problem is that there is probably no prototype anywhere in the world, and we need to do a great deal more than simply talk about this. I agree in principle, however.

Mr. Gummer: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we could start by not building a coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth without that technology? We might set a bit of an example, while we are about it.

Mr. Meacher: I entirely agree—and, as so often, the right hon. Gentleman anticipates something I was going to say a little later.

We should in this Bill impose a reasonable limiting cap on the buying of carbon credits abroad to meet UK emission targets. Indeed, that was precisely one of the caveats that led a United Nations human development report issued in the last year to say:

That is a very sobering reminder. This is a good Bill, but it is certainly not ambitious enough.

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That sober conclusion is given additional force by the fact that the Climate Change Bill is only a part, and probably a small part, of the UK’s overall strategy to combat climate change, and the rest of the strategy needs to be reviewed to see whether it is fit for purpose. I thought that some of it was now being brought into line. I thought that the Government accepted the amendment in another place providing powers for the Government to introduce mandatory reporting standards for carbon emissions by business. The need for that is overwhelming, as is shown by the carbon disclosure survey, which found last year that fewer than half of the FTSE 350 companies provided quantitative emissions data. Support for mandatory carbon reporting now comes from the CBI, the Aldersgate Group and a wide range of leading blue-chip companies and leading investors. Following my hon. Friend the Minister’s rather equivocal comments on this at the end of his speech, I ask the Government to look again at the matter, and to endorse clause 80 and not to seek in any way to water it down, but in time to extend it.

Further improvement is urgently needed in other aspects of the armoury of instruments to combat climate change. The Government must wean themselves off their continuing obsession with fossil fuels. It sometimes seems to me that the left hand in DEFRA does not know what the right hand in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is doing—or at any rate cannot stop it. It is extraordinary to respond to soaring oil and gas prices by—as we have seen in the past few weeks—trying to increase the supply of oil from the North sea where the prospects, in a state of continuing decline, must be virtually nugatory, and by making an increased commitment to nuclear, which is highly controversial in this House, and which, whatever one thinks about it, is not relevant as, quite apart from the other problems, it takes 10 to 15 years to build a nuclear reactor, rather than by taking the obvious long-term sustainable route: the fastest feasible expansion of renewables in this country. It is almost incredible that although we probably have more renewable capacity in this country than in any other in Europe, we are at the bottom of the league in electricity regeneration from renewables—just 4 per cent. compared with 10 to 25 per cent. in Germany, France and Italy and 30 to 50 per cent. in Scandinavia.

We now have an EU mandatory target to provide 15 per cent. of all our energy from renewables by 2020, which is bound to mean that we have to produce at least 40 per cent. of it from electricity generation, yet it seems to me that DBERR spends its time not trying to meet the target but dreaming up ways to get round it in Brussels. What we need from the Government—from all the Government—is a precise strategy on exactly how they are going to meet that 15 per cent. target.

Mr. Chaytor: Does my right hon. Friend agree that, had the Government taken a decision shortly after 1997 to have a single Department responsible for power generation, energy efficiency and the response to climate change, we would now be much further down the road?

Mr. Meacher: My hon. Friend raises some very interesting issues with which historically I confess I had something to do. I will talk to him afterwards, rather than using the very limited time that I have available, but he has a very good point.

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I come to another DBERR failing, and to Kingsnorth and carbon capture and storage. No new coal-burning station should be licensed without carbon capture and storage. To be fair, the Government hinted at this, but as a result of lobbying that was supported in the media, they appear—I am not sure about this—to be backtracking. I have to point out to my hon. Friend the Minister that it is not enough to say that the plant will be CCS capable, because that simply postpones it indefinitely. Will he confirm that the Government will not license Kingsnorth without a requirement that CCS be installed and operated from the start?

There are several other issues. Building eco-houses is fine, but what about the other 99 per cent. of the stock? What about replacing renewables obligation certificates with feed-in tariffs? This is an excellent Bill but it needs to be improved.

7.11 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The speech of the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) demonstrates that this debate cannot be just about targets; it also has to be about ensuring that this and other Governments have a coherent energy policy.

None of us chooses when we are born, so none of us chooses the challenges that face us during our lifetime. However, the challenge of climate change is probably the most serious that faces us as decision-takers, legislators and politicians. This Bill is therefore probably going to be the most important in this Parliament, and as one of a number of us who today mark having been in the House for 25 years, having been elected on this day in 1983, I can think of few Bills that have had an equal potential to contribute to the common wealth and the common good.

As I said in an earlier intervention, if anything the published science may well underestimate the urgency of the problem. Professor Spicer, a constituent of mine, of the centre for research at the Open university, says that


This is an important Bill not because, as is clear from the science and the IPCC, these matters are extremely urgent but because we have a moral duty to take action. In the last Parliament, the International Development Select Committee, of which I, the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) and others were members, undertook a lengthy inquiry into climate change and sustainable development. Our conclusions, which were
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unanimous, were not earth shattering but some of them are worth reminding the House about:

We concluded:

It is crucial that, as with this Bill, we do take the lead. Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, observed only recently that, as a newspaper report put it,

Whether we like it or not, it is we who will have to take the lead. Rajendra Pachauri said:

He said that there were “reasons for dismay” regarding the failure of rich countries to cut carbon emissions, and that:

rich countries—

I am vice-chairman of the all-party group on China, about which we have not heard very much today. A new coal-fired power station is coming on stream in China every couple of weeks. China is still classified as a developing country, and if we cannot convince it that we are genuine and for real about cutting our carbon emissions, there is absolutely no way we will get it—at Copenhagen or anywhere else—to sign up to binding targets that reduce its carbon emissions between now and 2050, or any other date.

Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about China, but the other issue is that it is building new carbon-free eco-cities and using technology developed in, and expertise from, this country. Does that not give him some hope?

Tony Baldry: As I think was said earlier, this whole area of climate change provides the UK with considerable opportunities to export our green, clean technology. As
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my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, said in his very good contribution, if British business gets there first, it does give us a competitive advantage, and that goes with the grain of being good.

A number of reports have demonstrated that the impact of climate change is happening now, and I shall mention two of them briefly. A United Nations Environment Programme report of 2007 made clear the impact of climate change on Darfur, reiterating the linkages between the environmental degradation caused by global warming, resource scarcity and violent conflict among ethnic groups. The report argued that environmental issues have been, and continue to contribute to, causes of conflict. Sudan has the largest population of displaced persons in the world today, and it suffers from desertification, devastating droughts and land degradation. Some of those are seen as the result of regional climate change and the southward shift of the boundary between semi-desert and desert. Those of us who have been to Darfur can recognise what is actually happening there: in many ways, there is a competition between various groups for dwindling resources. That picture will be seen increasingly across the world if we do not take care.

Interestingly, a new US military report, commissioned by the US Government and financed by the Centre for Naval Analyses, lays out strong support for a link between climate change and terrorism. Admiral Joseph Lopez, a former commander-in-chief of US naval forces in Europe and of allied forces in southern Europe, has said:

The report describes climate change as

which will—

These are grim and serious issues, and I say to the Whips that because this is such a serious Bill, I shall gladly volunteer to serve on the Public Bill Committee. We should all make a contribution to this Bill.

The final point that I wish to make relates to targets. Again, I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk said about all the targets in this matter, not just the 2050 target; we are all workaday politicians and we recognise that because most of us will be dead by 2050, it is a lot easier for us to opine about a target for 2050 rather than making reference to a target for this Parliament or the next one. However, the targets do have—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has used up his time allocation.

7.23 pm

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