Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Martin Horwood: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that important and well considered point, with which I have a lot of sympathy. We might need to look at stiffening the role of the Committee on Climate Change in other clauses, but clause 2 is about the standing target in the Bill. If he wants to reduce the wriggle room for Ministers and toughen the Bill, this is precisely where he has an opportunity to do so. I will try to avoid playing party politics. If I were doing that, I would have mentioned Henley as well as Witney and Banbury.
The question is not simply why we need the 80 per cent. figure in the Bill, which a lot of the Committee’s discussion has been about. The other question, which those who support the current wording have to answer, is, as the hon. Member for South Swindon started to point out, why we have the 60 per cent. figure in the Bill. The explanation is quite clear: it came from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which reported in 2000 and, as the hon. Member for South Swindon pointed out, based its science on the second assessment report of the IPCC in 1995. Given the lead times in the IPCC, the science itself is probably even older. Since then, we have gained a huge body of further scientific evidence and the third and fourth assessment reports of the IPCC itself, which have moved on the thinking of most scientists about this question.
Forgive me, Mr. Cook. I have just realised that I have locked myself out of some of the evidence that I was about to quote from my computer screen. We will need some kind of induction in this new technology.
In 2000, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution assumed that a concentration of 550 ppm was sufficient to defend us against climate change of more than 2 C above pre-industrial levels. A ClientEarth briefing states:
“A report to the UK Government by consultants Ecofys indicates that at average climate sensitivity, the EU must aim for a CO2 concentration below 450 ppmv CO2-equivalent. Even at this level, the report’s authors say we have a roughly 50/50 chance of staying within 2C. At 550 ppmv CO2-equivalent”—
in other words, at the level on which the 60 per cent. figure is based—
“we are unlikely to meet the 2C. Only at 450 ppmv CO2-equivalent (370ppmv CO2) are we likely to meet the 2C (with a 2 per cent. to 55 per cent. risk of stabilising above).”
The briefing goes on to say:
“For the UK, the Ecofys study shows that for a stabilisation target of 450 ppmv CO2-equivalent, the UK needs to be aiming for 80 per cent. to 90 per cent. cuts by 2050...Even at 550 ppmv CO2-equivalent, the UK’s contribution would require cuts of 70 per cent. to 90 per cent., more than the current 2050 target.”
It is quite clear that the science has simply moved on from the numbers that the Minister is talking about. The RCEP report assumed that 550 ppm would be sufficient, but it is clearly not sufficient.
Mr. Woolas: I understand both the point that the hon. Gentleman is making and the evidence. That was one reason why we announced a change in policy. Does he agree, however, that the long-term goal to which he refers must take into account the trajectory of the medium-term goals of carbon budgets in the meantime, because it is the cumulative amount of gases that counts? One could have tougher medium-term goals and a looser end target. Secondly, does he agree that all this is based on a contribution to an internationally agreed long-term goal that we do not yet know? In the context of those two arguments, is this not a very interesting debate, but an academic one?
Martin Horwood: The debate is far from academic. It is crucial because it determines exactly how we are to construct the trajectory and what it will be. If the targets are lower for both 2020 and 2050, the trajectory will be smoother. If we tolerate higher targets and allow decisions such as those on the Heathrow runway and Kingsnorth power station to go ahead, and then find ourselves in need of making more drastic cuts to meet the carbon budget, we will probably find that the realistic target by 2050 is closer to 100 per cent. The starting target is crucial.
The international contribution is interesting and goes to the heart of why the percentage matters. This is not simply a scientific question. It is not simply about the UK’s interpretation of the science, but about the share of the overall international contribution that the UK chooses to make. As we have said repeatedly, that decision is political and moral, as well as scientific.
In 2000, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution made assumptions in addition to saying that 550 ppm would be sufficient. It also assumed that all sectors would be included in that 60 per cent. target, so aviation and shipping must be added. The 60 per cent. target in the Bill does not include aviation and shipping, so clearly the reductions will have to be greater. What is more, the commission was talking in 2000, and there has clearly been an increase in CO2 emissions since then. The 60 per cent. that it was talking about must now, by definition, be greater, because CO2 emissions have risen in the meantime. The commission also clearly advocated that the target should be kept under review.
Where are we now? We are in a position where even members of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and numerous past chairs who have been cited are clear that the target, using the methodology from back in 2000, should now be 80 per cent. or greater. They said:
“UK Climate Change Bill targets are based on out-of-date science. In tackling the global challenge of climate change, governments must follow the latest science that clearly shows the need for the UK to reduce its CO2 emissions by at least 80 per cent. by 2050. This will require much more substantial action by 2020 than the Government is currently considering.”
If the authors of the original figure—60 per cent.—are not convincing enough for the Minister, perhaps he should listen to the UN Development Programme’s report on human development 2007-08, which says:
“Emission targets in the Climate Bill are not consistent with the objective of avoiding dangerous climate change. Our sustainable emissions pathway suggests that developed countries need to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 80 per cent. by 2050 against 1990 levels, not 60 per cent.”
It continues:
“If the rest of the developed world followed the pathway envisaged in the United Kingdom’s Climate Change Bill, dangerous climate change would be inevitable. It would lead to approximate atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases in excess of 660 ppm CO2e, and possibly 750 ppm CO2 e.”
One point that UNDP is making is that this is not simple science, but a political judgment. It is about the share that developed countries, including the United Kingdom, take of the successful trajectory to reduce carbon emissions. That is not a scientific judgment, but a political one.
Mr. Woolas: Why does the hon. Gentleman argue for 2 C? The scenario that he paints would make it worse.
Martin Horwood: The Minister might have to clarify that for me.
Mr. Woolas: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked the question, because what he is arguing does not make arithmetic sense. If he is arguing that a 60 per cent. contribution from the UK, if it were copied by all countries in the world, would not be enough, he cannot argue that 2 C is satisfactory.
Martin Horwood: The UNDP report on human development from which I am quoting says that if everyone followed our example and put 60 per cent. in their legislation, that
“would correspond to a rise in average global temperatures of 4—5C, well beyond the dangerous climate change threshold.”
It is perfectly consistent to argue for a higher percentage of carbon emissions reductions and for 2 C, which would mandate a similarly high percentage for reductions.
The other person I want to quote, briefly, is Sir Nicholas Stern. Subsequent to the vote in the House of Lords, when he may have been sympathetic to the Government’s position, it has become clear from what he has written that he has reflected and changed his position. In The Guardian on 30 November 2007 he explicitly supported an 80 per cent. target for richer countries. He said:
“For a 50% reduction in global emissions by 2050, the world average per capita must drop from seven tonnes to two or three.”—
The Chairman: Order. A Division has been called in the House—
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): I beg to move, That debate be now adjourned.
The Chairman: Order. It is impossible to accept that in the middle of a speech. I am afraid that I must suspend the sitting for 15 minutes if there is one Division, and for 25 minutes in the unlikely event that there are two.
7.1 pm
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
7.19 pm
On resuming—
The Chairman: I took the decision to suspend the sitting for 15 minutes for one Division or 25 minutes for two Divisions. We were informed during the first Division that there would be a second one, but we were told later that we had been misinformed, so we are starting three minutes late. We reconvene on amendment No. 2., and we are in mid-stream with Mr. Martin Horwood.
Martin Horwood: Thank you, Mr. Cook. I was quoting Sir Nicholas Stern’s new point of view that a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon emissions is no longer sufficient and that we need something in the Bill committing us to a reduction of at least 80 per cent. from pre-industrial levels. For the benefit of the Committee, I shall restart the quotation.
Writing in The Guardian on 30 November last year, Sir Nicholas stated:
“For a 50% reduction in global emissions by 2050, the world average per capita must drop from seven tonnes to two or three. Within these global targets, even a minimal view of equity demands that the rich countries’ reductions should be at least 80%”.
The crucial phrase is the one about equity, because, again, the judgment is not simply scientific. Sir Nicholas himself now accepts that a political and moral judgment based on equity must be made. Others talk about burden-sharing and international co-operation, but those are political judgments that need to be reflected in the target that we put in the Bill.
Once the target is in the Bill, it will set the framework—the methodology—in stone. It would be the equivalent of taking the methodology of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and setting it in the Bill. The framework could then be varied by the Committee on Climate Change, which could say that the science had moved this way or that way and adjust the target accordingly, but the parameters have been set in the Bill.
The overall picture is simply one of our taking as our critical baseline figure the one in the Bill, which we all know to be wrong, which simply cannot be a sensible way to proceed. It prompts the question why on earth the Government are so keen to preserve a figure that is universally regarded as incorrect. It raises the suspicion, which has been set out by the hon. Member for Banbury, that it is intended to allow the Government, rather than Parliament or the Committee on Climate Change, some wriggle room to allow the Treasury, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the rest of the go-slow brigade the room to counter the arguments of the Committee on Climate Change. The Government could say on a particular occasion that there was some overwhelmingly important political, economic or other consideration, and, despite what is in the Stern report, they would like on that one occasion to moderate the target and the ambition. The figure allows the wriggle room for the Government collectively to do exactly what the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal has described, which is to make the Bill much less effective than it should be.
The Chairman: I must point out to the hon. Member that he is being relentlessly repetitive on points that have been made not only by other Members but by him. I ask him to move his statement on.
Martin Horwood: Thank you for that guidance, Mr. Cook. I am drawing my remarks to a close in any case.
The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal at great length and with great eloquence asked us, in effect, to trust the current Labour Government. The Minister and, indeed, Conservative Front Benchers are asking us to trust both the Labour Government and a hypothetical Conservative Government. I hope that the Committee will forgive those of us who support the 80 per cent. target if we think that the safest option is to have it in the Bill for future reference.
Debate adjourned.—[Siobhain McDonagh.]
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past Seven o’clock till Thursday 26 June at Nine o’clock.
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