Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Gregory Barker: The argument made by the hon. Member for Northavon has considerable merit. The substance of his argument, that early action is more effective and more cost-effective than delayed action is absolutely correct. That is the accepted wisdom—a point made crystal clear by Lord Stern and many others, and reinforced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal.
However, I also have considerable sympathy with the point made by the hon. Member for Bury, North that there is nothing magic about 2020. That is why in the past the Conservative party has expressed considerable support for the notion of rolling annual targets, because it is vital that each Parliament and every year we have a clear trajectory to follow. We should audit our progress regularly, so that we do not—for reasons of political expediency, bad luck or a change in economic circumstance, or for reasons entirely beyond the control of the Government of the day—find ourselves suddenly towards the end of the accounting period engaged in a desperate game of catch-up, when really there is no hope at all. Therefore, there is a risk that we do not meet that target, whether the 2020 target is a reduction of 26 per cent., or higher. To me, as a layman, there is considerable merit in having a higher target. I appreciate the arguments in favour of 35 per cent. Equally, I agree with the hon. Member for Bury, North that that is going to be a stretching target. However, it is one that we have to show real courage and vision in supporting, not only to do our part in the war against climate change, but to ensure that we are able to reap the opportunities that will come from the new low-carbon age.
We must ensure that UK plc is a real first mover and that we pioneer the new low-carbon economy. Our industry and commerce will be the first truly low-carbon economy in the world only if we move ambitiously on those markets. If we do that and seize the opportunities, we can turn this around. For all the problems that will necessarily arise as we try to wean ourselves off old-fashioned fossil fuels, there will be opportunities that will give rise to economic growth, new industries and new jobs. Look at the jobs created in Germany, which has a far more ambitious and effective policy of pursuing renewable energy. More than 200,000 new jobs have been created in the renewables industry there, and within the next couple of years that industry is set to overtake the German car manufacturing industry, which was one of the largest employers. It is important that we balance the opportunities and difficulties of meeting those stretching targets.
Although the Conservatives will support a yet more stretching target, and we will do everything we can to implement a more ambitious and dynamic policy to push forward industrial change to meet those near-term targets, we come back to our belief that those targets should be set by the Committee on Climate Change and that they should be testing. We should not underestimate the difficulty and complexity of working out the targets. It is therefore right that they should not be set on the say-so of politicians or as part of a bidding war between the parties about who is the greenest of them all. If we are going to carry the population with us, we have to show that the targets are based on sound scientific evidence. We have to show the working.
Although I would like the Climate Change Committee to be able to give its view on the targets before the Bill completes its passage through Parliament, I think it most important that the committee is the body that has the say-so on raising the figure. It is clear from clauses 7(1) and 6(1)(a) that there is a mechanism within the Bill to amend the 2020 figure, so that need not concern our Committee. Therefore, while not doubting for a moment that we need to be ambitious and to move early, I would oppose the amendment, as we believe that it should be the Climate Change Committee that informs any necessary move upwards.
2.45 pm
Mr. Woolas: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Northavon for tabling the amendment. When I saw the amendments, I thought that the debate on this one would be the most important, and as he rightly said, we have already debated its principles in Committee—thankfully.
I shall address the specific first and then the general. The specific point is contained in clause 7(1), and it is amplified in clause 8 in respect of the proposed duties on the Secretary of State and his relationship with the committee. This debate parallels the debate on the 60 per cent. and 80 per cent. long-term target, and the three points that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal made give us the reasons why. Greenhouse gases accumulate in the air, and some of them last for 100 years—CO2 being a case in point. Therefore, the second budgetary period must take into account the accumulated emissions of the previous period.
That situation is not like opening a window to let the gas drift away when the stove has been turned on but not lit; it does not work like that. It is more like a car engine running in a sealed garage: one has to turn the engine off quickly to have any hope of staying alive. That accumulation of gases is the point.
On the parallel with the level of debt, when a constituent is heavily in debt, it is in one sense easier than when they are less in debt. As the old adage goes, a £100 overdraft is my problem; a £1 million overdraft is the bank manager’s problem. Unfortunately, as the right hon. Gentleman said, there is no bankruptcy with greenhouse gas, so his point about rapidity and the point in the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Northavon are absolutely right. The rapidity of the measures will build on the existing European trading scheme and climate change agreements. There is also the carbon emissions reduction target scheme, as well as the carbon reduction commitment, which starts in 2010 and will have a profound effect on attitudes.
Those schemes herald the way for the Budget, and as the Chancellor has said, following the committee’s advice, the carbon budgets will be announced in spring next year. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I shall not go into the detail about why the Government do not like the 35 per cent. target at this stage. It was debated significantly during pre-legislative consultation and in the other place. Indeed, to try to satisfy that figure, the Government amended the clause in response to similar points made in the other place.
The hon. Gentleman, however, asked an important question about how the figure fits into the European and international contexts. We have picked the range before us to fit the European context. At least 26 per cent. is itself a stretching target for the country, but it is consistent with the European Union’s greenhouse gas target for 2020—whether the current 20 per cent. reduction, or a 30 per cent. reduction should the EU be able to offer it as an incentive to the rest of the world for an international agreement.
We have examined the trajectory to ensure that it works in both European scenarios, and indeed it will do so consistent with the long-term target. The hon. Gentleman will now ask me about the 80 per cent. figure, and he will have a fair point.
Steve Webb: I would be grateful if the Minister answered a question that I have not yet asked, but this is the question I was going to ask: if the EU goes to 30 per cent. because there is global co-operation and the UK contribution is 26 per cent., will we not underperform relative to the rest of the EU, or is he saying that we would then bump up our 26 per cent. target to 32 per cent. or whatever? Is that implicit in what he says?
Mr. Woolas: We would then have to look at the trajectory. I hope that that does not sound like wriggling. That is why we thought the point made in the other place was valid. The bigger consideration is that if we change from CO2 only to greenhouse gases it would affect current projections. A 26 per cent. reduction in CO2 emissions could reduce the UK’s emissions of the basket of greenhouse gases, including CO2, to around 32 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2020. That is a potential change that I believe would be beneficial.
To answer the question, we believe that that is consistent, but it would have to take into account three factors: the long-term goal, tightening the target by including all gases and the trajectory we would take in the first budget period. That in turn would have a consequence for the second budget. In short, we do not think that 35 per cent. is realistic, so we have said “at least 26 per cent.”, but we want the independent Climate Change Committee to look at it and advise us.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North made the point about the practicality of 35 per cent. He also made an important point about the length of the targets period. We are talking about 2020; that is one option we have committed to. The crucial decision to be taken, however, is on the period covered by the post-Kyoto agreement. In my view, there is a danger that that period is too long, and to get the early action that we have talked about we may need to look at a different trajectory. The point of all this is that the area under the curve, as the Americans describe it, is what matters.
The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle made a point about annual targets. We are coming on to that. In practice, once the five-year period is set, it would not take a journalist too much trouble—even our journalists can operate a calculator—to divide by five and work out what the annual measurement of progress would be. He said “measurement” as well as “progress”.
Steve Webb: I appreciate the Minister’s style and conciliatory approach. I was concerned when, towards the end of his comments, he said he thought 35 per cent. unrealistic. Given that he said this morning that 80 per cent. is the Department’s internal working assumption, it worries me that 35 per cent. is deemed unrealistic, as 35 per cent. is to 80 per cent. what 26 per cent. is to 60 per cent. Is he therefore end-loading it, as the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal suggested?
Is it the position of the Government that although we are not going to get to 35 per cent. by 2020, we are working under the assumption that we will need 80 per cent. by 2050? A huge amount of late effort would then be needed. How well does that sit with what we have all agreed is the need for early effort? That troubles me somewhat. There is no great point in repeating the same issues we have already discussed. Suffice it to say that it is good to get on the record the considered opinion around the Committee of the importance of early action.
I was interested in the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Bury, North that we also need to look at targets before then. I suppose they are implicit in the carbon budget process. Whether 26 per cent. or 35 per cent. bites any more than any other carbon budget number does—it is not obvious to me that it does—there is a duty to hit the carbon budget all the time once it is in place.
I am slightly troubled by what the Minister says, but I am not sure that a Division would achieve anything at this point. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7

Amendment of target percentages
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Woolas: The clause mirrors the requirements of clause 3, about which I spoke earlier, in setting out the circumstances in which 2020 targets and any post-2050 target may be amended. As before, the application of the clause is limited to specific circumstances to ensure that the legislation provides as much certainty as possible while retaining the flexibility to respond to the latest developments, such as changes in scientific knowledge and the international context, which affect the basis of our reduction target. With that in mind, we consider that allowing changes to the 2020 target or the future post-2050 target to be made through secondary legislation provides that for that process.
The potential inclusion of other greenhouse gases or emissions from international aviation or international shipping also needs to be taken into account, as either of those could significantly affect the achievability of the targets. It is therefore right that, in those circumstances, we should have that flexibility.
Miss McIntosh: I have a comment to make to the Minister. I notice that the Government intend to introduce such changes through debate under the affirmative resolution procedure in both Houses. There is a little concern that throughout the Bill—clause 7 reflects this—there is a general enabling power. Of course, the devil will be in the detail.
I alert the Minister to the fact that there is a general concern out there; perhaps more detail could have been included. We do not wish to detract from the flexibility of any future Government considering this, but we put down a marker that perhaps there is too much dependence on Orders in Council, albeit preceded by debate under the affirmative resolution procedure. Perhaps more could have been included in the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8

Consultation on order setting or amending target percentages
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Woolas: The clause requires the Secretary of State to meet certain requirements before either setting a post-2050 target, as provided for in clause 6, or amending the 2020 target or a post-2050 target under clause 7. It mirrors the consultation requirements set out in clause 4 relating to changes to the 2050 target.
Miss McIntosh: On a point of clarification, under what procedure will such orders be put before the House? I do not see the Bill specifically saying that they will be introduced under the affirmative resolution procedure in both Houses. Is that in the Bill or am I just not seeing it?
Mr. Woolas: The hon. Lady is not wrong, but her point is covered by clause 7. It is the same procedure.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 9 and 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11

Matters to be taken into account in connection with carbon budgets
David Maclean: I beg to move amendment No. 38, in clause 11, page 6, line 19, at end insert—
‘( ) rises in global temperature,
( ) the impact of climate change on world biodiversity,
( ) loss of world forests (with particular reference to rain forests),’.
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