Climate Change Bill [Lords]


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Martin Horwood: I warmly congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his extraordinarily eloquent speech and on his amendments and new clause. He repeatedly apologised for potentially boring the Committee, but I was not bored—I was inspired by his brilliant contribution.
My only small quibble is that the references to the rise in global temperature in the amendments would be accommodated in almost any review of the scientific evidence on climate change. It is difficult to see how such reviews could otherwise be conducted.
The right hon. Gentleman’s references to biodiversity and world forests were spot on. He has revealed a rather strange aberration in the Bill. Clause 11 states that carbon budgets will overwhelmingly be set on economic and social criteria. We all love the Stern report, which is an important document that changed the terms of the debate on climate change in this country and that has been influential worldwide. After the Stern report, it has become almost axiomatic that the cost of doing nothing about climate change will be economically greater than the cost of doing something about it, especially if we act quickly.
As the right hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, the economic justification is not the only justification for acting on climate change. Even if there were no dramatic economic costs, it is important to protect the biodiversity of the planet from the impact of climate change. The figures on biodiversity are truly alarming. The right hon. Gentleman gave many of them, and he went into great detail. The UN millennium ecosystem assessment reported in 2005 that approximately 60 per cent. of the ecosystem services that it examined are being degraded or used unsustainably. Those include
“fresh water, capture fisheries, air and water purification, and the regulation of regional and local climate, natural hazards and pests.”
The latest red list of threatened species in 2007 shows that one in four of the world’s mammals, one in eight of its birds, one third of all amphibians and 70 per cent. of the world’s assessed plants are in jeopardy. The UK biodiversity action plan, for which the Government should take due credit, has identified 1,149 species and 65 habitats as priorities for conservation in the UK alone.
On forests, it has been estimated that about half of the mature tropical forests that once covered the planet have been felled. That is between 750 million and 800 million hectares out of the original 1.5 billion to 1.6 billion hectares that once covered the planet. Deforestation probably contributes to 20 per cent. of world carbon emissions. The situation is extremely grim. The most obvious and simple impact is on the beauty and diversity of life on Earth, and there is a moral and a spiritual reason for trying to protect our biodiversity on that basis. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, there are massive impacts in terms of the potential for science to discover new medicines, treatments and painkillers.
Most importantly, there is an enormous impact on the ability of the world to feed itself. The right hon. Gentleman light-heartedly mentioned the price of fish. I assure him that the price of fish will be massively impacted. In February, the United Nations environment programme report pointed out that all the major world fisheries are at some risk of complete collapse within decades if the combination of overfishing, climate change and pollution is allowed to proceed unchecked. It pointed to the fact that 2.6 billion people derive most of their protein from fish. The impacts of such a loss of biodiversity are almost incalculable.
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As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, if the ecosystems start to collapse, that is a feedback mechanism that will in turn make climate change even worse. The threat to the Amazonian rainforest, as highlighted in the Stern report, is such that it would enter irreversible collapse if we allow the global temperature to rise by only 2 C above pre-industrial levels. That should focus our attention. It is right that biodiversity should be a prominent concern in the Bill, and the amendments deserve our warm support. It is a matter of some embarrassment to me that we did not spot that enormous omission before and were not responsible for tabling the amendments. I warmly congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on doing so.
Miss McIntosh: I, too, congratulate and pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his amendments, research, the passion and eloquence with which he spoke and for spotting an omission from the Bill. May I also establish my eco-warrior and environmental claims, which go back to about the age of nine, 10 or 15?
The Committee may recall that Professor David Bellamy made his name as a lecturer in botany at Durham university. One of the great campaigns that he supported at that time, but which, regrettably, was not successful, was the drive to protect the blue gentian, an alpine flower that grows in this country in only one part of the north of England. This is not a private Committee meeting, but I do not mind sharing this story with the Committee. I was brought up in that place, known as Upper Teesdale, which remains relatively unspoiled, compared to the Lake district.
At that time, it was proposed that part of Upper Teesdale should be flooded to create a reservoir to help people further downstream on the River Tees, and that plan went ahead. Professor Bellamy and those who supported him failed to protect the blue gentian. Outside Austria and Switzerland, that flower grows only in Upper Teesdale, so there are few left. The tragedy is that the water that was damned by the reservoir was never needed further downstream. I hope we can all learn from that.
The amendments and new clause tabled by my right hon. Friend propose that the Secretary of State should take into account such matters when making decisions about carbon budgets and the duty to report on them. My right hon. Friend seeks to amend clause 11 so that rises in global temperature, the impact of climate change on world biodiversity and loss of world forest, with particular reference to rain forests, would be added to the list of matters to be taken into account. He wishes to put a duty on the Secretary of State to lay an annual report before Parliament on the impact of biodiversity loss on the UK and on meeting our carbon budgets and for the theme to be included in the title of the Bill.
The amendments relate to clauses 11 and 14 and the title of the Bill. It is interesting that the much-flaunted theme of sustainable development is often described as a three-legged stool, the legs being a sustainable environment, a sustainable society and a sustainable economy. It is claimed that, without one of the legs, the stool would fall over. The Minister might want to comment on why no reference is made to the impact on the environment in clauses 11 and 14 and in the title.
The case for amending the clauses and the title in order to consider the loss of the world’s forests and the impact of climate change on biodiversity is a noble one, and my right hon. Friend is right to express his concern about those vital issues. I share his mother’s concern for the wee beasties, and was moved by his reference to the cone snail, of which I confess I was not aware. I hope that it can be protected and can continue to be used for the purposes he described.
The World Bank estimates that approximately two thirds of tropical forest is under moderate to high pressure from agricultural expansion and timber industry expansion. My right hon. Friend spoke at some length about the impact on the rain forest, but I am sure he would wish to draw attention to previous incidents at Carlisle in Cumbria and at Boscastle in Devon, and incidents during last summer’s floods which, although they caused devastation elsewhere, were particularly acutely felt across Yorkshire and the Humber and the north Lincolnshire regions. Agricultural land was lost for part of the summer, as were many crops. It is important to see the issue in terms of UK losses as well.
The Minister is aware that prime agricultural land is increasingly encroached upon by the Government’s ambitious plans to build 3 million houses by 2020 and by their separate proposal for eco-towns. In considering the amendments, it is important to look at the impact that those Government plans will have on our own biodiversity.
A recent report for McKinsey estimates that the world could avoid 3.3 gigatons of CO2 equivalent in annual emissions from tropical deforestation by 2030 if we were able to price the carbon stored in these rain forests at less than €40 per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions. Such an analysis must make us seriously consider the benefits of avoiding rain forest destruction not purely as the morally correct thing to do, as my right hon. Friend argued, but because the value of the ecosystem services that those forests provide is immeasurable. If, in the years ahead, we continue to lose the rain forests at the current rate, we can almost certainly give up hope of keeping warming under 2C.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s aspiration for biodiversity and deforestation issues to be brought to the heart of our carbon reporting procedure, which is as an eminently sensible idea, and especially for them to be taken into account in setting the carbon budgets in the annual report and in the long title of the Bill. I look forward with great interest to hearing from the Minister why she believes that there was no place for the environment in the original drafting of the Bill.
Mr. Gummer: I shall be brief. We were all moved by the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border in introducing the amendment. I hope very much that the Minister will not say that those matters are implicit in the Bill, but will understand why a specific reference is so important. The reason is that it is extremely easy for these things to be forgotten because they do not happen to be the fashion of the time. I remember when the rain forests were at the centre of attention, and gradually they declined and other topics came up. It is very important that we should not miss them out. I have three more quick points.
First, we should remind ourselves that the importance of biodiversity has an additional dimension to the one to which my right hon. Friend referred. The retention of biodiversity is vital for the poor. The fish example is very strong. Rich countries steal the food of the poor. That is what happens. Local material becomes less and less available, so people look further and further abroad, and because they are rich enough they can grab a higher proportion of what is there. That is the injustice of the world, and it is crucial to those of us who recognise that social justice is at the heart of any policy to deal with climate change. We cannot deal with climate change without dealing with social justice, both nationally and internationally. Biodiversity is a key issue for social justice.
That leads to the second point, which is that we must have a degree of imagination and a willingness to extend the issues that are covered in the Bill more widely than is sometimes thought. I shall give an example. I am lucky enough to do business in Brazil and I recently returned from a conference there. One of the interesting issues raised was the work done by non-governmental organisations to provide jobs and opportunities for the indigenous people who would otherwise cut down the rain forests. It is all very well talking about cutting down rain forests, but it is often not wicked outsiders but poor people who do it, as part of the means to getting some sort of livelihood for themselves.
An excellent NGO is trying to help indigenous people to farm in a sustainable way. In doing so, they have found what is thought to be the original place where the cocoa bean comes from and are beginning to farm those original cocoa bean plantations in a way that will have a remarkably sustainable mechanism. They run into two kinds of problems. One is getting it started and teaching people; the other is being able to sell the high quality cocoa bean outside the area in which it exists, because the international organisers of such commodities do not like making the distinction between that special product and the generality of cocoa beans.
In order to meet the demands of my right hon. Friend’s proposals, we will have to look further. The matter should be talked through with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. It is the kind of issue that we should be thinking through when we deal with our overseas aid. It is a Foreign Office matter, as well as something that we do at home. I emphasise that a failure to look further might undermine the broad way in which the Bill should be applied.
Martin Horwood: I agree with almost everything that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal said, in a valuable contribution. As chair of the all-party group for tribal peoples, I should say that although I am sure the organisation that he mentioned is doing valuable work, traditional tribal peoples in the rain forest live on a sustainable basis, do not damage the rain forest and are widely recognised as the best stewards of the forest. Protecting their land rights is an important contribution to the battle to protect biodiversity.
Mr. Gummer: I agree. The traditional mechanisms of groups living in the rain forest are some of the things that we have done much to damage and have ignored and treated badly. I am merely saying that much of the damage done to rain forests is done by people who are poor and who do so because they have no other way to ensure that they and their family’s livelihoods are protected. Remembering our responsibility in that respect is important.
I know that the Minister will have been advised that all that is included in the Bill and that reference to biodiversity may well suggest that other things are less important, may upset the balance and so on. I think I know what has been written beautifully for her. I hope I am wrong, and if so I apologise. If I am right, I suggest to her that this is an opportunity for the Government to remind the nation that combating climate change is a much bigger business than merely the mathematics of targets, budgets and the like. It requires us to try to understand our world in a wholly different way.
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My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border has reminded us that we have been unbelievably cavalier with the riches that we have inherited. The willingness to destroy without thought is a serious statement about humankind at this moment and over many centuries. Climate change is about reminding us that the human attitude to itself and its planet has to change radically. That was why I said during the previous sitting that this is the most exciting time for us to be living, because it is a time in which we have to become different about ourselves and each other in a way that we have not had to since the huge changes of the enlightenment and the renaissance.
I hope that the Minister will set aside any temporary, narrow or less than excellent proposals that she has from her civil servants and instead say that she will rise to this, because it is necessary to remind the nation and the world that biodiversity is so important as part of the fight against climate change because it represents the area in which we can see most dramatically where humankind has behaved at its worst and where the biggest changes have to take place.
Joan Ruddock: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Atkinson. First, I join in the general congratulations to the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border on how he presented his case. The inspiration of Rio lives in him. He has given us a huge opportunity to remind everyone who hears the debate about the extraordinary importance of the world’s biodiversity. He did that not only because its intrinsic value and moral status, but for our self-interest. I think that if climate change affected only human beings, it would not be so dangerous. It is the fact that it affects the totality of the natural world that makes it such a terrible threat.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the contribution of ecosystems and, especially, the contribution that the new natural world has made, through human discovery, to our medicines and thus our well-being. I join him in underlining that value. I will dwell a little on the threat for a few moments.
The Stern report revealed that an increase of just 1 C could lead to at least 10 per cent. of land species facing extinction, with 80 per cent. bleaching of the coral reefs, including the great barrier reef. Within the 2 C increase, which we have all pledged not to exceed, the extinction figure rises dramatically to between 15 and 40 per cent. We also know the enormous value of biodiversity in mitigating climate change. For example, the amount of terrestrial carbon stored in peat lands is equivalent to 75 per cent. of all atmospheric carbon and about 100 years of emissions from fossil fuels.
We recognise the link between biodiversity and climate change. We make a link in our efforts to tackle climate change and our efforts to tackle biodiversity loss. In a previous intervention, the right hon. Gentleman referred to “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity”, which is an extremely important report, supported by the UK Government. We are also chairing a group of experts on biodiversity and climate change for the convention on biological diversity. At home we have established a climate change adaptation work stream, as part of the English biodiversity strategy, to promote adaptation of relevant policies and programmes in all relevant sectors, which include agriculture, forestry, water management and land-use planning.
The right hon. Gentleman’s amendments focus on the loss of the world’s forests, particularly rain forests. Again, I support his passion to see that sufficient attention is given to these terrible threats. Let me give him the further assurance that that goes for the whole Government.
The UK is working actively in the EU and with our international negotiating partners to reduce deforestation in developing countries by achieving a successful outcome to the UN climate negotiations. We have also recently allocated £50 million from the new £800 million environmental transformation fund to help to slow the rate of deforestation of the Congo basin. Let me make it absolutely clear that our overall aim is to reach international agreement on the use of the carbon market for the second commitment period under the Kyoto protocol to give positive incentives to reduce emissions from deforestation in developing countries.
So, why will I proceed in the way in which I am about to proceed? Let me say to the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal that officials may indeed provide me with information and even speaking notes, but I speak for myself. I have given great attention to the amendments and great thought to the vision that he and others have presented here this afternoon. However, there are two issues that we need to look at very carefully. I am the Minister who is dealing with both the biodiversity and the garbage, and I hope that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border will not find me among the garbage at the end of what I am about to say.
There are two issues. First, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border seeks to add to clause 11(2)(a), which states:
“scientific knowledge about climate change”.
No one could possibly argue that
“scientific knowledge about climate change”
did not include knowledge of both the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and the way in which biodiversity might mitigate climate change. That is absolutely taken for granted; it is in every discussion and in every document. Therefore, I think that it is absolutely clear that that provision covers the issues that he has raised.
I must also say to the right hon. Gentleman, for the sake of accuracy—of course, this is all boring, technical stuff—that there are many causes of the loss of biodiversity that are not due to climate change. We could think, of course, of change in land use patterns, overgrazing, the introduction of alien species—that is a major factor that we agree might be exacerbated by climate change—and the over-abstraction of water.
Secondly, the amendments attempt to draw a direct line between the UK’s carbon budgets and the impacts of climate change on global biodiversity and forests. I am genuinely sorry to have to tell the right hon. Gentleman this, but I do not believe that that is sensible or even possible. As we have already discussed, the impacts of climate change will be driven by global emissions, not just emissions from the United Kingdom.
I hope that it will give the right hon. Gentleman some comfort if I say that there is undoubtedly a case for linking any future global climate change agreement to international biodiversity. That is why all the points that he has made are absolutely clear and valid. Indeed, at the conference looking at the convention on biological diversity that I attended last month, we decided to make closer linkages between that convention and the United Nations framework convention on climate change. Specifically, the conference agreed to highlight the role of biodiversity in mitigating climate change; to highlight the threats to global biodiversity from climate change; and to look for ways to minimise climate change. We also agreed to set up an expert group that would provide biodiversity-relevant information to the UNFCC.
Let me turn specifically to amendment No. 38. Clause 11 sets out matters that the Committee on Climate Change must take into account when providing advice on the level of carbon budgets, including economic, social and scientific factors. That will be a complex task that will require thorough analysis, advice and political judgement. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is not possible to take account of the effect of rising global temperatures on world biodiversity and forests when considering specific UK carbon budgets if that assessment is to be made in any meaningful way. That, of course, should not diminish the right hon. Gentleman’s vision, and it does not diminish the fact that it is precisely because of the potentially devastating effects on global biodiversity that we want to make our contribution to avoiding dangerous climate change and to limit the increase in average temperatures to no more than 2 C more than pre-industrial levels.
To the extent that there could be any linkage between the Committee on Climate Change and such work, hon. Members should be aware that, under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, all decisions that the Government take must have regard to the purpose of conserving biodiversity in the exercise of those functions.
Amendment No. 40 builds on amendment No. 38 by requiring an explanation of how proposals and policies to meet a budget will affect global temperature, the loss of world biodiversity and the loss of world forests. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that just as we cannot assess what effect the particular level of UK carbon budgeting would have on these issues, it is equally not possible to say what effect our particular choices of policies would have. We need to remember that all our proposals for emissions reductions have to be implemented within existing law. The right hon. Gentleman will know the extent of existing law covering biodiversity in this country.
While we cannot directly determine, or expect a link with, what happens overseas, we can expect that when we choose our new policies in the UK, they will have to respect the habitats and birds directives and the requirements for environmental impact assessments, where they apply. Clause 13 requires that proposals and policies contribute overall to sustainable development, which includes taking environmental impacts into account.
The hon. Member for Vale of York asked about the sustainable development definitions. The whole Government have adopted a definition for the sustainable development strategy, which says that a policy is sustainable when it is in line with all five of the sustainable development principles, one of which is the key to the hon. Lady’s question: “Living within environmental limits”. That is absolutely clear and the strategy says we must have policies in line with all five of those principles.
 
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