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Session 2007 - 08
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General Committee Debates
Climate Change

Climate Change Bill [Lords]

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Peter Atkinson, Frank Cook
Baldry, Tony (Banbury) (Con)
Banks, Gordon (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab)
Barker, Gregory (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
Brown, Mr. Russell (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab)
Buck, Ms Karen (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab)
Chaytor, Mr. David (Bury, North) (Lab)
Gilroy, Linda (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op)
Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
Gummer, Mr. John (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con)
Horwood, Martin (Cheltenham) (LD)
Hurd, Mr. Nick (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)
Maclean, David (Penrith and The Border) (Con)
McIntosh, Miss Anne (Vale of York) (Con)
McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
Ruddock, Joan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
Snelgrove, Anne (South Swindon) (Lab)
Walley, Joan (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab)
Webb, Steve (Northavon) (LD)
Weir, Mr. Mike (Angus) (SNP)
Whitehead, Dr. Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
Woolas, Mr. Phil (Minister for the Environment)
John Benger, Sara Howe, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 26 June 2008


[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair]

Climate Change Bill [Lords]

Clause 2

The target for 2050
Amendment proposed: No. 2, in clause 2, page 2, line 4, leave out ‘60%’ and insert ‘80%’.—[Mr. Chaytor.]
1 pm
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I will try to resume where I left off before we adjourned for lunch.
The precise targets and dates are not issues on which we should pin all our ambitions. We need to think about the direction of travel, for which we need a start point and an end point. We need to think in periods of time. There is nothing God-given about 2020—2015 is arguably a better date for the interim target, but it could equally well be 2045 or 2055.
The Minister has said that the 2050 80 per cent. target is becoming symbolic. It is more than symbolic; it is indicative. I have stressed the point that we are talking about “at least 80 per cent.”, and we should not be too hung up on a precise figure.
What interested me about the debate—I am conscious of time and do not wish to detain the Committee for too long, as I know we are behind schedule—was the way in which some Opposition Members decided to debate not the relative merits of 80 per cent. or 60 per cent. but a topic that relates to our consideration of part 2 of the Bill, namely the status of the Climate Change Committee. That is interesting, because it suggests that they do not want to debate the relative merits of 80 per cent. or 60 per cent., which might cause them some difficulty. It may be that the extent of climate change denial within the official Opposition is far greater than we were led to believe by the three Members who voted against the Bill on Second Reading. That is not an issue to pursue at the moment, but it is a point that I have to make.
I was impressed by many of the speeches on this amendment. In particular, I was impressed by the Opposition’s adherence to the importance of building targets on the basis of science, although I would have been more impressed had they shown at any point in this Parliament or previous ones that they form their political judgment on the basis of scientific advice. Perhaps this is not the moment to remind everyone of the intricate debate over the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, but that did not strike me as a classic example of a political party forming judgments on the basis of science.
Moving on to the Climate Change Committee, the Minister pointed out the contradiction between what the official Opposition are arguing today and what they were arguing yesterday on the independent planning commission. It is possible to reconcile the principle of establishing Government policy on the basis of the best scientific evidence with the need for political judgment and an element of economic judgment to be brought into play, which is why the Climate Change Committee is not an entirely scientific body.
We are talking about the interplay between science, politics and economics, largely because those issues—the overall issue of climate change and keeping to the recommended 2 target—are not just matters for the UK. We have to form our own policy in the context of what will be most valuable in future international negotiations.
I reiterate my point about the critical importance of the finite nature of fossil fuels. In opening the debate, I referred to the Prime Minister’s speech to the European Council last weekend. In responding to the debate, I want to refer to the Prime Minister’s comment at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, when he said—this is perhaps the first time that this has been said—that the underlying cause of the dramatic increase in the oil price in the past two years, and particularly in the past six months, is the mismatch between supply and demand.
For the first time in history, demand is outstripping supply. That involves more than speculation or the unwillingness of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries to co-operate. It is an inevitable consequence of economic growth in other parts of the world. Now many hundreds of millions of people in China, India and other parts of Asia are demanding, absolutely rightly, the same kind of lifestyle and privileges from which we in the west have benefited for a century or more. That is the key fact that underlines this debate, and it is one of the most powerful arguments for setting a more stringent target at this stage.
Sir Nicholas Stern has been incredibly helpful not only because of the publication of his original report two years ago, but because of his speech to the Carbon Rating Agency yesterday, when he said that he is now convinced that climate change is happening more quickly than had previously been thought. He said that it is happening faster than he thought even two years ago, and therefore emissions need to be reduced even more sharply. He went on to say:
“I now think the appropriate thing would be in the middle”
of the range of 450 to 550 parts per million. He also said:
“To get below 500 ppm ... would cost around 2 per cent. of GDP.”
The significance of this is twofold—first, it illustrates how fast the reality of climate change is coming on us, and, secondly, it illustrates that we are discussing not only scientific judgments but economic judgments. All Governments will have to consider the impact on their GDP of the cost not only of mitigating climate change, but of adapting to it. Sir Nicholas’s speech yesterday further serves to justify the importance of a more stringent target in the long term as well as for 2020.
In conclusion, if we want the Climate Change Committee to be the final arbiter, that undermines any case for having a figure in the Bill at all. We all understand the need for a figure, and of course it can be amended in the light of the Climate Change Committee’s advice. As the Minister has said, it is difficult to think of circumstances in which any Government would not accept that advice, but at the end of the day, we need a balance of science, economics and politics if we are to secure international agreement. We need a higher target if we are to send the right signals about the urgency of making the transition to a low-carbon economy not only to our own people, but to the nations of the developing world. There is no realistic possibility of the developing world coming on board and seriously addressing reductions in their rate of growth in emissions if the rich countries are not prepared to set high targets, too.
I ask the Minister to consider a point that has not been mentioned yet. The current position is that the interim Climate Change Committee is charged with producing its first report on 1 December. Report stage for this Committee is unlikely to take place before the recess, so the Bill will be on Report in October or November. In one sense, that highlights the absurdity of having a target in the Bill that could become obsolete within a matter of weeks or even days. The Minister should think seriously about the timing not only of Report but of the Climate Change Committee’s first report. I know the chair of the committee has a lot to consider at the moment, but it would not be unreasonable to bring forward the date of the first report from 1 December to 1 November, or at the very least to request an interim report from the Climate Change Committee for publication before Report. In view of the fact that that perhaps provides the basis for a way forward and a consensus, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Hon. Members: No.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 10.
Division No. 2]
Baldry, Tony
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Horwood, Martin
Maclean, rh David
Webb, Steve
Weir, Mr. Mike
Brown, Mr. Russell
Buck, Ms Karen
Chaytor, Mr. David
Gilroy, Linda
Griffith, Nia
McDonagh, Siobhain
Ruddock, Joan
Snelgrove, Anne
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Question accordingly negatived.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Amendment of 2050 target or baseline year
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
David Maclean (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I want to make a few comments, and ask the Minister a couple of questions. I will not attempt surreptitiously to move the clever amendment in my name, which you wisely did not select for debate today, Mr. Atkinson. However, I would like the Minister, in responding to the clause stand part debate, to give me firm reassurances about subsection (2).
If the Secretary of State is going to consider scientific knowledge about climate change, biodiversity loss will be among the many things that he will consider. According to Dr. Rodolfo Dirzo, who is a world expert on biodiversity at Stanford university, the most critical global environmental change is biological extinction. For one thing, biological extinction is the only irreversible global environmental change. Climate change, given enough time and if we do the right things over a period of time, can be reversed, but if we lose certain species, it will be impossible to recover them. Environmental damage and biodiversity loss in forest ecosystems cost between $2.1 trillion to $4.8 trillion per year—I think that was the figure given at the conference in Bonn, which the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs attended last week or last month.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Joan Ruddock): Last month.
David Maclean: Even if the $4.8 trillion figure is an exaggeration, the lowest figure is $2.1 trillion per annum according to a report to the UN convention on biological diversity in Bonn. The report, entitled “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity”, was commissioned by the European Union and the German Government. For the first time, I believe, the report attaches a monetary value to the services provided by species and ecosystems. The report says that those systems are often undervalued by humanity. That is an important new piece of scientific knowledge relating to climate change that none of us knew about and which scientists have generally not taken into account in the past.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): My right hon. Friend is right to point to those figures. I hope that he also agrees that, even if the figures were not so overwhelming, we have a fundamental moral duty to hand on the planet in a better state than we received it. If we handed on to our children, with every year less rather than more, then we are doing something fundamentally immoral. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Bury, North has said, some of us based our decisions about the science on very strong moral arguments, which is why we took a different view from him—it has nothing to do with our scientific judgment. We simply put morality first.
1.15 pm
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Prepared 27 June 2008