Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Gummer: My hon. Friend is right, but he does not go far enough. I am never quite sure to whom the phrase “international community” refers, but the issue is one for the world as a whole. It applies to everybody. It is inconceivable that we should start such a mould-breaking Bill by removing the sentences that state what is in it, when those words say what we are all committed to.
I hope the Government will think again. If I were asked to vote on the clause, how would I explain to my children, let alone the world, that I do not think we should be trying to stop the temperature rising by more than 2°C? I have been bringing my children up to believe that for the past 20 years, when it was unfashionable to say that that is the most important physical thing we can do in life. How can I say that the UK should not take these actions because we are afraid that everybody else might not do it, when for all that time I, the Government, the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats have been saying that we should? How can I explain to them that I thought that it was in some way dangerous? It is not; it cannot be.
We are lucky to be living at a time when thought is changing faster than at any period since the renaissance. This is an exciting time to be living. We cannot meet the problems of today through the language or assumptions of yesterday. The fact that the Government have recognised that by introducing the Bill is crucial. I do not want them to fall below that level, even though politically it will be great fun. I shall have enormous pleasure going round the countryside saying, “This Government don’t really believe in all this, you know. They were forced to do it by an amalgamation between the Opposition, Friends of the Earth and others. Now they have done it, we put in a perfectly reasonable clause, and the House of Lords and the Government have now taken it out.” The party political temptations, at the beginning of what is supposed to be a consensus Bill, are enormous.
I want to consider the Bill with no party political temptations. I want to be able to say that it is a remarkable, consensual decision. I want to point that out to people who have not yet come on board. I hope the Government will not make it difficult for us, and that they will choose at this late date to accept that the House of Lords was wise. I do not think the Government will much like the clause to be subject to ping-pong between the two Houses. They would not enjoy receiving the Bill back from the Lords, and having to put the clause back, and conducting the argument on the Floor of the House with unbelieving young people, in particular, who will find it impossible to understand.
No doubt the Minister will make the best case possible, because he is a remarkably good Minister. However, in his heart, he knows that he is wrong. That will make it difficult in all those debates, because in his heart he knows that most of it is wrong. I hope very much that he will start off by showing his independence—his version of the great London Eye—and say, “‘Better not’ may be your view, but better do, because it is the better thing to do”. Without that, this will not be the better Bill that it could be.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): It is a pleasure, Mr. Cook, to serve under your chairmanship, especially as you have allowed us to remove our jackets, which was an appropriate first step for a Committee considering climate change.
I thank the Minister for his kind remarks about my rather less historic, but innovative, use of a laptop computer in Committee. My father might be proud of me, as he was one of those at Bletchley Park during the second world war responsible for building the very first programmable computer, Colossus. He might think it appropriate that I was helping to bring the House of Commons kicking and screaming into the 20th century, just as the rest of the country is moving on to the 21st. I should also acknowledge that another hon. Member is breaking new ground with me on the use of computers.
The Minister said that there was a strong consensus on the purposes of the Bill, so it seems strange—
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David Maclean (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I hate to carp on about the matter, but just to correct the record, Mr. Cook, my assistant sent a version of the Stern report to my laptop at 10.15 this morning, so I think that I set the record. I am sorry.
Martin Horwood: The right hon. Gentleman is doing rather better than me. I discovered that my laptop was not properly configured for the network, so I am unable to log on, an experience which is probably familiar throughout history.
The Minister started off by saying that there was strong consensus on the purposes of the Bill. It seems strange, therefore, to start the proceedings by trying to remove them. I happily support amendments Nos. 43 and 44, which were tabled by the hon. Member for Banbury and moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon. They rightly seek to improve and clarify the wording handed down to us by our noble Friends in another place.
Amendment No. 32 explicitly spells out that the UK contribution will, in part, be calculated with reference to data from around the rest of the world, but it does not pretend that the UK is responsible for it. We anticipate the Government’s objections to the clause. They will say that it is unworkable, because it seeks to take responsibility for wider global emissions. We hope that amendment No. 32 makes it explicit that that does not have to be the case. If the Government want to improve the wording, we would be prepared to consider the matter during the course of the Committee.
On Second Reading, many of us argued that the targets on percentage reductions cannot simply be a matter of scientific debate and argument. We need to make a moral and political judgment about our fair share of overall reductions. Therefore, it is very important that amendment No. 32 introduces the concept of historic responsibility and the principle of contraction and convergence. It would be nice to hear explicitly from the Minister whether or not the British Government accept the principle of contraction and convergence and whether such a principle will be part of the remit given to the Committee on Climate Change when it works out the appropriate percentage reduction in carbon emissions, because that principle is relevant to the principal aim of the clause.
Oxfam made the important point in its submission on the amendment that the concept of cumulative impact is already built into the structure of the Bill. The whole nature of carbon budgets, as opposed to simple numerical targets, reflects the importance of calculating cumulative impact. We are trying to reflect that historic cumulative impact by keeping the clause in the Bill to make it explicit that we are taking our share of a global target. The global target of keeping global temperature to within 2° C of pre-industrial levels is crucial. I will not try to outdo the eloquence of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, but he is quite right to focus our attention on the impacts of going above 2° C.
Those impacts were spelled out very clearly by Sir Nicholas Stern in the Government’s own report. He pointed out that above 2° C, we are talking about
“significant changes in water availability...possible onset of collapse of part or all of the Amazonian rain forest,”
many species facing extinction,
“rising intensity of storms, forest fires, droughts, flooding and heat waves...The risk of weakening of natural carbon absorption and possible increasing natural methane releases and weakening of the Atlantic THC”—
thermohaline conveyor. The risks associated with rising above 2° C of global warming are extreme, and it is possible to argue that we are already getting a foretaste of possible impacts with food shortages, which are reflected in global food prices, and flooding, which is besetting various parts of the world including America and this country—in the future, it will affect many other areas. We are talking about a very serious objective. To remove the very clause that sets out the end goal, as opposed to the technical pathways that we use to get to that goal, would be a retrograde step.
Mr. Gummer: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when the Government argue the case for including an 80 per cent. target in the body of the Bill, it would be much easier if they had pinned their colours to the 2° C target at the beginning? In that case, it could properly be said that the matter should be left to the Climate Change Committee, because the parameters would be clear. If the Government remove those parameters, there will be concern that they are not as serious about the issue as they might appear to be.
Martin Horwood: The right hon. Gentleman is exactly right. Removing from the Bill the final outcome, which we are all aiming for, certainly makes the 80 per cent. target and other targets seem more like a matter of tactical and political negotiation, rather than a focus on what we really want to achieve, which is containing global warming. It seems strange when we have consensus in the Room and across the House of Commons as a whole about the objectives to begin by trying to remove them.
A lot of praise has been heaped on the Minister, which I am sure is richly deserved. I know him of old, from the National Union of Students, where one of his principal attributes was his mastery of the grubby arts of political tactics.
Mr. Woolas: Is that a compliment?
Martin Horwood: Absolutely, in the Minister’s case—he is a master tactician. I think that the Government would be well advised to mount a tactical retreat.
David Maclean: It is a pleasure to serve on the Committee under your chairmanship, Mr. Cook. It was also a pleasure to hear the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal, although one can never match his tremendous oratory. Last Saturday I opened the Wigton hospital fĂȘte, where I managed to acquire 10 volumes, at a cost of £2 for the complete set, of “Great Speeches from the Beginning of Time to the Present Day”. I have a feeling that after this Committee there will have to be an 11th volume dedicated to my right hon. Friend.
I cannot match the eloquence of my right hon. Friend, but I want to add my little voice to those who are trying to persuade the Government to let clause 1 stand part of the Bill. I also want to touch briefly on aspects of amendment No. 32, which is relevant. Reading the Bill, one might be tempted to think that it is merely a technical measure. We could get bogged down in the committees, reporting procedures and the setting and transferring of budgets. Once the Bill is on the statute book, we might forget why we enacted it. What is the purpose of passing this important measure? The purpose is not to create reporting committees or to set up a wonderful Committee on Climate Change to advise the Government. The purpose, as it says in clause 1, is to try to do things that contribute to reducing world temperature. The clause does not put an obligation on the Government to succeed unilaterally in the United Kingdom in reducing world temperatures by 2° C. However, it says that the efforts that we make in the Bill, and everything else we do, should be part of that aim of reducing world temperature, because that is what it is all about.
I am fortunate because my technology worked instantly—I do not use PICT. I plugged in my computer, the 3G card fired up at once and I was sent a summary of the Stern report, which I shall quote:
“If no action is taken to reduce emissions, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could reach double its pre-industrial level as early as 2035, virtually committing us to a global average temperature rise of over 2° C.”
Stern refers to that crucial figure of 2° C, which was not plucked out of thin air in another place. We are not arguing for that figure for any reason other than Stern himself identified it. He goes on:
“In the longer term, there would be more than a 50% chance that the temperature rise would exceed 5° C. This rise would be very dangerous indeed; it is equivalent to the change in average temperatures from the last ice age to today. Such a radical change in the physical geography of the world must lead to major changes in the human geography—where people live and how they live their lives.”
The Government rightly signed up to the Stern review and so have the Opposition parties. Nicholas Stern continues to advise the Government in a high role and key capacity. If Nicholas Stern picks out the figure of 2° C as one of the key yardsticks, symbols or totems for the amount by which we must try to reduce global temperatures, I see no harm in putting that figure in the Bill, and my right hon. Friend is right that that would not totally tie the Government’s hands.
Possibly, parliamentary draftsmen have highlighted the issue to the Minister. I used to find during my days in the Department for the Environment and the Home Office that parliamentary draftsmen and wonderful civil servants always worried about things being added to their precious Bill. Worries came from two quarters: such provisions might force the Government to do things that they did not want to do, or they might tie them to doing things that they might wish to do in future. I suggest that leaving the reference to 2° C in the Bill would not tie the Government’s hands, force them to do things that they do not wish to do or make them solely and individually responsible for meeting the world reduction of 2° C.
I am concerned, as suggested by some of the amendments that I have tabled for later in the Bill, with trying to flag up more overtly some of the key things that Stern says that we must do if we are to succeed in our aim. Stern goes on to say:
“Key elements of future international frameworks should include...emissions trading”—
well, we have a mention of that in the Bill.
“Expanding and linking the growing number of emissions trading schemes around the world is a powerful way to promote cost-effective reductions in emissions and to bring forward action in developing countries: strong targets in rich countries could drive flows amounting to tens of billions of dollars each year to support the transition to low-carbon development paths.”
I am content that the Bill addresses that point, and I hope that we can strengthen it slightly.
Stern also states:
“Technology co-operation: Informal co-ordination as well as formal agreements can boost the effectiveness of investments in innovation around the world. Globally, support for energy R&D should at least double, and support for the deployment of new low-carbon technologies should increase up to five-fold.”
On action to reduce deforestation—I find this point absolutely critical—he states:
“The loss of natural forests around the world contributes more to global emissions each year than the transport sector.”
We will no doubt be having some intense discussions on the contribution of transport, shipping and aviation to carbon emissions. If the Chair agrees with the way in which I have drafted my amendments, hopefully I will be able to mention deforestation and try to insert provisions in the Bill on that, because I am disappointed that it is not mentioned specifically.
Another of my worries is that if we remove clause 1 we will not have a locus to make stronger arguments about the potential loss of deforestation. I would find it easier to argue that we should do more to prevent deforestation around the world if we were to keep in mind that principal aim. I know that that does not provide an exact legal locus, but it would make matters easier from the point of view of our argument.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): I appreciate that a great deal of the discussion this morning concerns positioning relating to the Bill, but does the right hon. Gentleman accept that Bills should be logical in their construction in addition to making statements about how the world is or should be? In terms of a position concerning 2° C, I wholeheartedly agree with him as regards the overall goal that we should all be aiming for on global warming. Does he agree, however, that if one simply stands by that, it is difficult to talk subsequently about figures for the emissions of one particular country because they have not been finally negotiated through international agreements? If he sticks by his comments this morning, will he voluntarily abjure any participation in the debate on clause 2, which is about numbers and percentages? It seems to me that it is difficult logically to speak authoritatively about both propositions at the same time, and not reflect on the possibility that there may be a contradiction between the two.
11.30 am
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