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8.58 pm

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which I have the honour of chairing, welcomed the Bill. In its report, it indicated ways in which the Bill could be improved and strengthened, and some of those suggestions have been acted on by the House of Lords. If for no other reason than it provides some domestic self-discipline in our attitudes towards emissions reduction, the Bill has merit. To date, in spite of the Government’s endeavours, we are effectively running behind the trajectory that the Bill establishes, and that we have already established as a target for our emissions reduction.

Effectively, the Bill puts the rigour of law behind the setting of targets. Targets are what they are—they are where we would like ideally to be. Through the establishment of the Climate Change Committee, the Bill attempts to provide advice to the Government about how to achieve those targets. The way in which the committee provides its advice will, in my view, be crucial to the domestic effectiveness of the legislation. We currently have no clear plan for achieving emissions reductions in, for example, heat production and transport: our proposals in those areas lack the detail that we tend to include when becoming excited by discussion of electricity generation.

Some have described this as an isolationist approach. I would describe it as different, but if it does one thing it is to add to the credibility of the voice of the United Kingdom in the international forums that will be so vital if the world is to get to grips with the whole question of climate change. Whatever the science says, whatever the numbers say, making the best possible use of our scarce resources—in this instance, carbon—is essential at this time.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the food and agriculture world summit in Rome, which discussed food supply. I can tell anyone who wants to know where international consensus can be found that there is such consensus on the effects of global warming on the supply of food to the billions of people who live on our planet. Any of us who may want to play fast and loose with the responsibility of feeding the planet should bear it in mind that they ignore the rise in global temperatures at their peril.

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Even if it is for no other reason than the precautionary principle, it makes plain common sense to ask—nationally, within Europe and at a world level—what we can do to address that risk. If we do not ask that question we should be reminded, in the nicest possible way, that most of us will not be around in 2052, when the Bill tells us that, if we miss the target, the hapless Secretary of State of the day will have to come to the House and present a report explaining why we missed it.

If the worst-case scenarios of the scientists are realised we will be in deep trouble, and optimising the use of our resources in the meantime is, again, plain common sense. The carbon committee’s role will be vital, not just from the United Kingdom’s standpoint. It will provide advice on dealing with all the carbon trading activities that will take place in the European Union, and on input to the successor to the Kyoto treaty.

At the meeting in Rome last week, I listened to what was said by delegates from the United States. One speaker told us that the United States took climate change seriously, that it was in the lead with all kinds of mitigation policies, and that it had reduced its emissions in relation to the growth of its economy. I must admit that I blinked and wondered whether I could believe what I was hearing, but in about six months that could be the reality. A new American Administration could change things dramatically. I want to make certain that the United Kingdom is at the top table, with a credible position and able to influence that new Administration. Unless the United States is engaged in the climate change agenda, we shall not be able to make the necessary progress with the successor to Kyoto and deal with the difficult issues of Chinese and Indian emissions.

When it comes to the setting of our domestic budgets, we must bear in mind the fact that we are allowed a certain quantity of carbon emissions until 2050. The carbon committee’s decision on whether we should have a “ski slope trajectory” or a “cliff edge” solution will be vital to how we reduce our domestic emissions, and it is important for the committee to make clear at an early stage how it will tackle that aspect.

I should like the Bill to specify the involvement of Parliament in discussions of the Secretary of State’s reports. As the Bill stands, the Secretary of State will report on the achievement or non-achievement of the targets in response to the Climate Change Committee’s report, with Parliament effectively sidelined. The only sanction on Parliament is the need for it to make certain that our carbon budgets are balanced. I should like a mandatory requirement for a climate change debate, allowing the court of opinion to be represented through the expression of views in the House of Commons.

Finally, I ask the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make certain once and for all that we in this country can see who within Government is in charge of the climate change debate. I would like there to be a Cabinet Minister for climate change—somebody who can bring together all the elements of this subject to ensure that there is genuine coherence of policy as we pass this Bill.

9.5 pm

Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), who has echoed some of the very sensible remarks of
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his party colleague, the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo). It is interesting that we can have such intelligent cross-party debate on this issue in the Chamber, while at the same time there is an undercurrent theme from the Opposition Benches which is utterly antediluvian—as represented by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley). I just pray that the right hon. Member for Fylde and the hon. Member for South Suffolk represent the true position and authentic voice of the Tory party on the issue.

Climate change is real. It is caused by human action, and it is already affecting the lives of millions of people throughout the world. If climate change is a fact, it is also important that we outline two others. Economic growth can, will and should continue. Often when I speak with the environmentalists, they seem to regard economic growth as the enemy; it is not, and let me explain why. Over the past two centuries, Europe and north America have managed through economic growth to raise almost one third of the population of this world out of a life of hunger, hardship and disease. In the past two decades, another third of the world’s population, mostly in Asia, has found that escape route, and they, too, are transforming their lives through economic growth. In the coming years, the final third will be looking to make their escape as well, and no environmentalist, and certainly no politician, will be able to stop them, and in the interests of justice no one should try. I echo the remarks of the right hon. Member for Fylde when he spoke about the world food summit. For every 1 per cent. rise in food prices, 16 million extra people go to bed hungry every night. That demonstrates the seriousness of the challenge.

The second inescapable fact is that there comes a point when the continued emission of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere will so fundamentally affect ecosystem services that human life becomes unsustainable—or to put that into the language of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we must drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to stabilise the world climate.

Let me explain why I prefer to talk in the language of ecosystem services rather than of climate change. In and of itself, change in climate would not matter. What matters is that the pace of change is so fast that biodiversity cannot keep up with it. As biodiversity declines, ecosystem services fail, and it is the ecosystem services that matter and the biodiversity upon which they are based. I guarantee that tomorrow some “intelligent” member of the press corps will quote the UK Prime Minister’s special envoy for forestry as saying that climate change does not matter, but I hope that, in this Chamber, I will have conveyed the truth.

Those two inescapable facts lead us to one imperative for action: we must raise the level of carbon productivity—the amount of wealth generated per tonne of CO2 emitted. In order to maintain the current global economic growth rate of 3.1 per cent. per annum while reducing emissions to about 20 gigatonnes by 2050 and 10 gigatonnes per year thereafter—that is consistent with a 450 to 500 parts per million stabilisation scenario—carbon productivity must increase by a range of between eightfold and fifteenfold by 2050. Without that major increase in productivity, maintaining ecosystem services will become impossible, for let the rich world take note that there will be no sharing of the environmental space if there is
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no sharing of the development space—there will be no sharing of the environmental resources unless there is a sharing of the development commitment, and in particular of the adaptation commitment.

Achieving an eightfold to fifteenfold increase in carbon productivity will require radical and wholesale changes in the world economy at both macro and micro-economic levels. I would like to go into some of those, but time does not permit that, as colleagues wish to contribute. There are five clear areas of work, however: energy efficiency; decarbonising energy sources; accelerating the development and deployment of new technologies; changing the attitudes and behaviour of managers and consumers; and preserving the world’s carbon sinks.

Let me end by describing that world in 2050 as it will be when I die, aged 93. Estimated global population projection: 10 billion people. To maintain ecosystem services: emissions limited to 20 gigatonnes by 2050, declining to 10 gigatonnes thereafter to achieve that stabilisation goal. That means an average of 2 tonnes per person per year, declining to 1 tonne—so low that there is no scope for any large group to depart significantly above or below it. Current emissions are about 11 tonnes per capita in the EU, 25 tonnes in the US and already 5 tonnes in China.

That gives us three options for the future. The first is to accept injustice, with some developed countries continuing to demand more than an equal share of the world’s finite resources, which is possible but—I hope that we all think—unacceptable. The second is to increase carbon productivity still further beyond the fifteenfold increase already discussed. The third is to reduce population—something that politicians in developed countries are very reluctant to discuss, but which Governments in developing countries have already taken on board.

People are very keen to accuse China, as we have heard in this debate, over their coal-fired power stations. Such people fail to commend the political initiative that has seen 400 million people not being born to create a carbon footprint in the first place. We need to take the issue of population seriously. It is the third element of the triangle, and it should be incorporated in this Bill.

9.11 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I am depressed by the re-emergence of such forceful Conservative climate change scepticism during this debate, but impressed by the emerging consensus among all three major parties regarding support not only for this Bill but for a stronger version of it.

I stand here to honour a pledge to my constituents to fight for binding targets for greenhouse gas reduction. I stand in the tradition of a party and, more importantly, a green movement that I have counted myself a member of for nearly 30 years, and that tried for decades to draw the attention of Governments to the seriousness of the crisis that we faced. I stand here finally as a parent, so that I can look my children in the eye when they are older and tell them that I played my part in the attempt to stop the catastrophe when there was still time.

The omens, however, are not good. The Bill contains the 60 per cent. target, which was based on the royal commission report from 2000. It based that, in turn, on the assumption that stabilisation at 550 parts per million
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was sufficient to contain global warming within 2° C above pre-industrial levels. However, by the time the Stern report was published, those numbers were already out of date. The Hadley centre, which was mentioned earlier by a Conservative Member, is quoted in the Stern report as saying that at 550 parts per million, the probability of exceeding 2° C is 99 per cent. Even at 450 parts per million, the probability of exceeding 2° C is 78 per cent. The more conservative IPCC figures put the figure at 38 per cent. That is a risk that I would happily bet on if I was betting on a horse at the Cheltenham races; it is not one I would bet on for the future of the planet.

Let us remind ourselves what exceeding 2° C of global warming actually means. Contrary to what some Conservative speakers have said today, there was a scientific review in Stern and it pointed out what the impacts of exceeding 2° C would be. It said:

In the non-physical—in the political—realm, we can predict political and social conflict worldwide, and inevitably millions of deaths.

The truth is that the IPCC science is relatively conservative. It is based on consensus and old science, and the new science is if anything more worrying. Let me give just one example, as there is little time. A meta-study published in Nature last month examined 28,800 datasets that might reveal climate impacts on animals and plants worldwide. Some 90 per cent. revealed alterations in the direction expected as a response to warming. Some 95 per cent. of the datasets, which were linked to physical changes such as retreating glaciers, painted the same picture.

Those massive changes may induce physical feedback mechanisms to make the situation rapidly and unpredictably worse. Such mechanisms include changes in carbon absorption patterns in our oceans and soils, reduced reflectivity as white Arctic ice is more rapidly replaced by dark ocean, ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica accelerating their own melting much faster than we had first predicted, and a loss of biodiversity. The recent report by Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution for Science noted the added threat of deep reserves of greenhouse gases—carbon and methane—running into trillions of tonnes in the deep ocean floor and in the permafrost contributing to those feedback mechanisms. As a result, organisation after organisation is making it crystal clear that the 60 per cent. target is not enough.

I was going to cite many organisations, but as many have already been mentioned, I shall refer to just one. WWF, which knows a little about biodiversity, has cited a recent analytical study by Ecofys for DEFRA, concluding:

If that is not enough, Sir Nicholas Stern says:

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He is right to talk about equity, and other quotes that I could have cited mention burden sharing. This is not just a scientific decision; as some hon. Members have said, it is a moral and political decision. It is about what share of responsibility the United Kingdom and the other developed countries are prepared to take for their share of emissions.

I am pessimistic enough about this Government’s ability to take action and conscious enough of the need for a clear target for industry and the private sector to be in favour of a 100 per cent. reduction target. However, I am prepared to compromise at 80 per cent. for this Bill—I believe that that is the consensus in many parts of this Chamber. I am disappointed that the Government and the Conservative Front-Bench team are still stuck at 60 per cent., and I hope that we can change their minds, not least because the UK has huge geophysical resources for renewable energy, and enormous talent and entrepreneurial potential. We should be a world leader in the fight against climate change, not a laggard.

The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) rightly said that we needed strong, early action. I am reminded of the note written by Churchill during world war two when he was presented with evidence that radical investment in code breaking could significantly shorten the war. It simply said, “Action this day.” We now face an even greater, even more serious and even more global crisis than world war two. We need to move on to a war footing against climate change. We need action, and not only by setting targets in this Bill. The rest of the Government need to act on international trade, energy, transport, housing and taxation, and they need to refuse applications such as those for a third runway at Heathrow or for a new power station at Kingsnorth without carbon capture. We need action this day.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Winding-up speeches are due to commence at 9.30 pm. If hon. Members can be concise, all may still be successful in catching my eye.

9.18 pm

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): This, internationally, is a groundbreaking Bill, which if we give it teeth, could also be an Earth-changing one. I am pleased that tonight’s debate has not turned into a parliamentary love-in to welcome the Bill, because the purpose of Second Reading must be for us to set out the basis on which to have serious arguments among ourselves about the deficiencies of the Bill. Those arguments may then be rehearsed in Committee, but ultimately they will be tested back in this Chamber on Report. We need to be honest about a determination on the part of the House to make this a Bill with teeth.

The context in which the debate is taking place is a world spinning into a multiplicity of crises. We face not only the climate crunch, but a credit crunch, a food security crunch, a water supply crunch and an oil crunch. We are told by the International Energy Agency that oil prices are expected to exceed $150 a barrel within a month. We have been warned by OPEC of the likelihood that oil prices will exceed $200 a barrel by the end of the
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year. That will have a huge and unavoidable impact on food prices, food supply, energy and production. Those are non-negotiable changes which we are trying to address in this Bill. The real danger globally is that we may face a series of meltdowns in global systems. If that is the case, we will be forced into a fundamental rethink about how a world that can support human life can work.

The scientific consensus is that there tends to be a 30-year delay in the environmental impact of the damage that we do now. So for the next 30 years, we cannot undo the damage that is in the pipeline: we are stuck with it. Whether the changes are driven by human impacts or solar cycles, the rate of environmental damage is accelerating. The challenge is what we do to address that. We should not be arguing about the 2050 targets, but about the 2015 or 2020 targets. That is what the scientists told us in Bali. Fundamentally, the whole shape of this century will be determined by what we do within the next five years, or 10 at the most. A figure of 26 per cent. carbon savings by 2020 is 10 per cent. short of what we need, so we need to raise the short-term targets.

The lesson that the Government have to learn is that when we have been shy about setting tough year-on-year achievement targets, we miss the milestones that we set for ourselves—on child poverty and fuel poverty eradication for the most vulnerable by 2010. Unless we take the hard decisions now, we may not be in a position to take any meaningful decisions by 2020.

We have to address new realities about the nature of the crunch. One is that everything that is non-renewable and depleting will spiral in price from now on. If there is anything that stands a chance of saving the poor it is a fundamental shift towards the sustainable and the renewable.

I must disagree with several parts of the Bill. The first is mandatory reporting standards. We cannot have an objective shift on the scale that we need if everyone is making up the standards as they go along. If even the CBI says that it supports that, so must we. The second is targets and how we meet them. The targets have to be domestic. We have to move away from the presumption that we can pay someone else to meet them. If a Member of Parliament were stopped by the police and found to be driving three times over the alcohol limit, they could not give the excuse that although they might be blind drunk at the wheel, they had sponsored a man in Botswana to stay at home sober. That would not get them off the rack. We have to be held to account for the dangers that we present in how we drive our economy, as we are when we drive our cars. We are the danger on the road to survival and we have to change our behaviour ourselves.

The third area is aviation and shipping, which have to be added to the Bill, even if we simply factor in their carbon impact. If the Government insist that those two sectors have to have their impact covered by other people, at least their impact has to be added to the equation, as the royal commission required in 2000.

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