Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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David Maclean: I will do a deal with the hon. Gentleman: I will not speak on clause 2 if he will vote to keep in clause 1. I am not being facetious. I will leave it to others who are infinitely more experienced on carbon emissions, trading and targets to argue whether the target should be 60 per cent. or 80 per cent. I approach this Bill from the point of view of someone who negotiated at Rio in 2002 for 18 hot, sticky days. I was pleased at the end that we made that start at the first Earth Summit. Getting an agreement on forests caused me the most problems and led to the most intense debate. We saw tremendous potential to make huge changes on world carbon emissions, if we could prevent deforestation.
This is not the place to get into technical details on that, but that is where I am coming from. I strongly believe that if we keep clause 1, it will make it easier for the Government to take action on forests and other areas, because the principal aim will be doing things to reduce the world temperature. That is not the sole reason for keeping clause 1, and we will not take the blame if the world temperature does not go down, but we should contribute.
In my opinion, other things, such as adaption and emissions trading, are not mentioned strongly enough in the Bill, and I hope to move amendments on those points in due course. I plead with the Minister that it will not destroy the structure of the Bill to leave in that principle, which would not make the Bill look idiotic and would not tie his hands in any way. I would love to see the Minister read out the “if pressed” bits in his notes, which usually include the most spurious arguments for desperate Ministers. The Minister should share his worries about the clause with us. I will return to forests when I move amendments on the subject, but I plead with him to leave clause 1 in the Bill, because it does no harm and a lot of good.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Cook. May I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister for the Environment and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford, on bringing forward the Bill? Given the generous spirit of the Minister for the Environment, I am sure that he would wish to pay tribute to my right hon. Friends the Members for Suffolk, Coastal and for Penrith and The Border for the contributions they have made, and to recognise that the UK climate change programme has been going on since 1994. The last Conservative Administration set the first targets.
I will restrict my remarks to amendments Nos. 43 and 44 and set out why we believe that they are necessary. I thank the hon. Member for Northavon for moving amendment No. 43 as eloquently as he did. I would like to draw attention not so much to what is in the Bill, as amended by the upper House, but what the Government have left out. The hon. Member for Northavon described the amendments as the route map towards our ultimate destination. The Government have always said—this has been said internationally—that the objective of avoiding dangerous climate change is what signatories to the UN framework convention on climate change, such as the UK, have committed themselves to do.
The Prime Minister, no less, said in November last year that the Government’s
“vision has one overriding aim; holding the rise in global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees centigrade”.
During the Bill’s passage through the upper House, Lord Rooker said:
“The UK remains committed to the European Union’s 2 degree target”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 December 2007; Vol. 697, c. 130.]
That target has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the European Union, most recently in the European Commission’s 2007 communication “Limiting Global Climate Change to 2 C: the way ahead for 2020 and beyond”.
The Minister will accept that that was at the heart of the previous Government’s climate strategy, before being the starting assumption for the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s report in 2000. This is not something that has plucked from some minor policy document pulled off the shelf. It has been central to the Government’s climate change policy for the entire lifetime of the Government, so why are Ministers so anxious about it appearing in their flagship Climate Change Bill? My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border set out in some detail—he quoted from the Stern review—the consequences of a 2 C rise in temperatures. The Stern review warns that such a rise could lead to, among other effects, a 20 to 30 per cent. decrease in water availability in vulnerable regions such as southern Africa and the Mediterranean, sharp declines in crop yield in tropical regions—5 to 10 per cent. in Africa—and a high risk of extinction for Arctic species. I do not know whether the Minister knows that the crown princes of three Scandinavian countries—Denmark, Norway and Sweden, I believe—are at this very moment looking at what damage is being caused in the Arctic region. I am sure that we would applaud such action.
With a rise of 3 C, we would see 150 million to 550 million more people at risk of hunger, with between 1 billion and 4 billion more people suffering water shortages. Stern finds that some models predict the collapse of the American rainforest. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border will return to this point at a later stage.
If we moved to a 4 C increase above average, we could see a 30 to 50 per cent. decrease in water availability in southern Africa and the Mediterranean, African crop yields falling by 15 to 35 per cent., and entire regions, such as Australia, coming out of food production. Up to 80 million more people in Africa could be exposed to malaria. With a 5 C increase, Stern predicts the end of large glaciers in the Himalayas, which would affect a quarter of China’s population.
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): I, like other Committee members, have enormous sympathy with the principle of what the hon. Lady says, but this debate is about not whether we should be achieving the 2 C, but the extent to which the Bill and the targets that it sets are dependent on what the UK can achieve itself and how much is dependent on international negotiation, and thus driven by our aspirations, but not the Bill’s legal framework.
Miss McIntosh: I am hoping that, in speaking to the amendments, the Minster will say why the Government are wriggling on the 2 C target.
Mr. Woolas: I have never wriggled on this. The Government are not wriggling on the 2 C target, but objecting to a clause that they argue is meaningless.
Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention, but the Government, through the Prime Minister and all the preparatory documents, did mention the target on 2 C above average temperatures. I wonder whether it was irregular to suggest that the Minister was wriggling, because he is very robust and does not shift from his position.
Mr. Gummer: Now that the figure is in this clause, does not my hon. Friend agree that removing it would certainly give grounds for doubt and that that would be a mistake? Would she also say to the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North, who interrupted her so helpfully, that nothing in this clause says that Britain would not be negotiating, helping, and seeking to get others to come along? It merely says that we are pinning our colours to the mast, because people will not come along with us if we do not do this ourselves first.
Miss McIntosh: It is important that Britain plays its role. As my right hon. Friend so eloquently says—I paraphrase him—we want to be in the vanguard of the environmental revolution, just as Britain was in the vanguard of the industrial revolution.
We want to strengthen the Government’s arm, particularly when we come to negotiations in Copenhagen next year. Following our debate on the amendments, I hope the Minister will recognise that it is crucial that we keep the 2 C limit in the Bill.
Dr. Whitehead: The hon. Lady appears to be suggesting that there is some dispute or discussion about the 2 C target, as if having the Bill without that figure would somehow remove a commitment to the target. It would be great to put in the Bill that we would like to save polar bears, and to stop plankton from rising to the surface of the oceans and exuding excessive amounts of methane. Does she accept that the target is actually about what happens as a result of international negotiation? If negotiations go a particular way, the UK’s performance on emissions will be in one category. If they go another way, that will be in another category. If Barack Obama gets elected, that will make a difference to those negotiations. Does she not accept that if one puts something in legislation that does not do—
The Chairman: Order. Interventions are interventions, not speeches. Please keep them brief.
Miss McIntosh: Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is very knowledgeable on these issues. I have tried very carefully to follow his argument.
It was the Government who pitched this. Their own report—the Stern review—set the 2 C target. For the purposes of international negotiations, the 2 C aim has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the European Union. We want to be part of the European Union’s emissions trading scheme. We want to follow the science. We are asking why the Government appear to be perhaps not wriggling, but backtracking, from their original commitment.
I know that we are on track to meet our Kyoto targets, but we also know that that is in large part due to reduction in emissions during the early 1990s as electricity generation moved from coal to gas. In 1997, the incoming Government made much of the fact that they committed Britain to a much tougher target in Kyoto—a 20 per cent. cut in carbon emissions by 2010. That target soon became downgraded to a domestic aim. I am sure that the Minister accepts that this could be seen as a subtle shift in language to help to make the target an aspiration rather than a promise. With the passing of time, the gap has widened between the cuts needed to reach the target and the actual emissions. I commend the graphs in the House of Commons Library document that set out this point very clearly. Ministers have been forced to admit that the target would be hard to meet but, strangely, the Government tried to assure people that they were still committed to the target, but not expecting to meet it. Now it is widely accepted that this target will be met.
Let us consider another target: the 20 per cent. renewable energy target. The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, signed up to that just before leaving office. After making the commitment, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform suggested that the target was hard to meet and that Ministers should explore statistical interpretations that made it easier to meet. Perhaps if they stopped changing the names of Departments, this would be easier to follow.
In a sense, the Bill is the Government’s mea culpa and a sign that they accept these criticisms. Ministers have often said that industry is given confidence to invest in solutions if targets are known and set in law, rather than just being targets in Government policy. That is why the most important of all climate change targets cannot be left as just a policy.
11.45 am
Martin Horwood: The hon. Lady has given an elegant reprise of many of the arguments that we put in the many climate change debates in the House. May I ask her the same question as I asked the Minister—whether she endorses the principle of contraction and convergence, as set out by the Global Commons Institute?
Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. In principle we do. We follow the science. I am clear on that. We want the Committee to propose binding targets. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle will come to that in a moment.
I am disappointed that amendments Nos. 43 and 44 should be moved from the Opposition Benches. Ministers have a formidable civil service team and access to parliamentary counsel to find the best wording to deal with these concerns. We will happily withdraw the amendments if Ministers assure us that this is the approach that they will take, and that they will revert—
Mr. Woolas: Two degrees
While no one believes that the targets in the Bill are tough enough to be compatible with the 2 C aim, and while the Government continue to battle with their own Back Benchers to avoid toughening the targets, the only reassurance we have that the 2 C aim will not be dropped like the 20 per cent target, or statistically reinterpreted like the renewables target, is to protect it by including it in the Bill. I commend amendments Nos. 43 and 44 to the Committee.
Mr. Hurd: It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Cook, and it is a pleasure to be debating again with the Minister, with whom I have done business before on the Sustainable Communities Act 2007. I know that he is a Minister who is prepared to listen to the arguments and stand up to the frogs’ chorus of “Better not, Minister” or, in that case, “Not invented here, Minister,” and I hope he will take the same robust approach to this important Bill.
I speak as that rare beast in the Westminster jungle, a speaking Whip, to support clause 1. This morning’s debate is a valuable opportunity to focus on the purpose of the Bill. To me, this important Bill has only one core value, which is as a robust framework Bill that delivers exactly what the market says it needs—a clear and credible sense of direction in terms of targets and eventually underlying policy, that will allow the private sector to make the investment that is needed and that will make the difference. It is not Government but businesses and their customers—the private sector—that will make the difference, and they need a clearer, more robust and more credible framework.
The key word is “credible”. The background to the Bill is a history of missed targets and a lack of faith and belief out there that the Government are serious about tackling climate change. Therefore, arguably, the key value in the Bill is not the targets themselves, but the process of accountability—the process of keeping the feet of the Government of the day to the fire.
The Bill is, to some degree, the start of a journey, a road map, as it has been described this morning. The destination is important. The Government seem to be happy for that destination to be framed simply in the language of unilateral UK reductions of greenhouse gases. As we have argued from the Liberal Democrat Benches in the Committee, that is not enough.
We need to explain why we are reducing emissions. We are not doing it for fun. We are doing it because we feel an urgent need to control temperature increases in order to mitigate the risk of dangerous climate instability. We have a UK target in relation to temperature. The Prime Minister himself stated it again in a speech to the WWF on 19 November 2007. He said:
“Our vision has one overriding aim: holding the rise in global average temperature to no more than 2 degrees centigrade.”
That is the existing UK target. It is embedded in the framework of an EU policy driving towards exactly the same goal. There are good reasons for that, which have been powerfully articulated in Committee.
All the analysis that we have to date from Stern and the IPCC makes it clear that the risks and costs of growing climate instability rise substantially above 2 C. That has been adequately brought out by the Stern report. It is perhaps worth pointing out that Stern also noted that an increase above 2 C will
“accelerate future warming by reducing natural absorption and releasing stores of carbon dioxide and methane.”
The further we move above 2 C, the higher the risk of tipping points and of accelerated global warming, which is arguably the real threat we have to counter.
It is also clear from the Stern report that the costs of dealing with climate change rise significantly above 2 C. According to the analysis,
“if the temperature rises from 2 C to 3 C, the mean damage estimate increases from 0.6 per cent. to 1.4 per cent. of gross world product; but the ‘worst case’—the 95th percentile of the probability distribution—goes from 4 per cent. to 9.1 per cent.”
Given that the risks and costs fall disproportionately on the poor, we have a moral duty. I congratulate the hon. Member for Northavon on emphasising that word, rather to the scorn of Government Members. “Moral” is exactly the right word to use in this context.
The 2 C target is therefore a line in the sand. It should be our explicit guiding star. The importance of this debate, rather undermined by Government Members, is that that target is under threat because of the global concentrations of carbon dioxide. All the analysis suggests that it will be hard to keep temperatures below that critical threshold. This is an extremely important time to restate commitments to that goal. Surely it is too early to give up on it. That is why it is so disappointing, not just that the Government are so reticent on the matter, but that they are going out of their way to remove from the Bill a clause that makes a link between UK targets and their overarching goal.
That is disappointing because the Government take pride in their leadership on climate change. To be generous, some of that pride is justified. The very fact that we are debating the Bill is a symbol of leadership. It will be scrutinised by Governments across the world who are struggling with issues such as how to set targets, how to make them meaningful, how to revise them, and how to build in processes of accountability.
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