Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Weir: I agree with much of what has been said by the hon. Members for Cheltenham and for Bury, North and I will support the new clause if it is pressed to a Division. Much has been made in Committee about the 60 per cent. target and the views of the Royal Commission for Environmental Pollution, which is the argument for why the target should be included in the Bill. It is worth remembering, however, that that target assumed the inclusion of both aviation and shipping, and that if they are not to be included, the target should be higher. It is the question of the target that really concerns me.
The inclusion of aviation and shipping is, of course, contentious. We are told that the proportion of emissions is relatively small at 7.6 per cent, but it is rising rapidly and, as has already been said, no account is taken of the fact that aircraft release emissions at high altitude. I draw hon. Members’ attention to the Government’s final impact assessment, which states at paragraph 3.2.41:
“Emissions of greenhouse gases from international aviation and shipping represent an increasing proportion of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions from aviation in particular are increasing at a faster rate than emissions from other sectors.”
The point that concerns me, however, is the passage in paragraph 3.2.42 that states:
“If these emissions were to be included, the Government may wish to revisit the level of the targets to ensure they remain both ambitious and achievable, balancing the need to reduce emissions with the need to avoid excessive economic or social cost, and consistent with international progress.”
I would not necessarily argue with that, but it brings me back to a point that I made when speaking to several other clauses: we are in danger of constantly revising the target, whether it be 60 per cent. or 80 per cent. On the basis of that statement, if the Government get more information and decide to include aviation and shipping, they may alter the target.
5.15 pm
As I have made clear, my concern is that we are setting a target that is supposed to be for 2050, which is a long way away. It will be the guiding light to where we need to go. I have referred to the need to vary carbon budgets within that period—that is perfectly sensible—but I am concerned that in several places in the Bill there is provision for the long-term target to be altered. We have it again in this clause.
It would seem much more sensible to set a target now that includes aviation and shipping, and that will not need to be altered in the future. If we start to alter the target, we risk alienating the public, who will become cynical if politicians continually change it. The public will think that they are changing it to suit their own ends rather than as a serious attempt to tackle climate change.
I appreciate what the Minister says about the complexities of including aviation and shipping. There is the further complexity of where the ships come from and where they are flagged, which may be another consideration. I do not think that there is any chance in the near future of reaching an international agreement that would be much more preferable. Rather than the UK being seen as pressing ahead and trying to impose something on the international community, I suggest that including aviation and shipping would, in fact, show leadership in pushing forward the issue.
There is a real chance of drift. In four or five years, the Government, whoever they may be, might come back and say, “We cannot quite manage it,” and the target will drift for another few years. It could take a long time for things to come to any sort of fruition, and, again, there is the danger of the overall target being reduced.
I would argue most strongly that we need to deal with the matter quickly and to include aviation and shipping in the target that we set. The hon. Member for Bury, North suggested that we have a report from the Climate Change Committee before Third Reading. I suggest that it be asked to consider this point.
I notice that in the briefs prepared for this Committee, and even in the Government’s final impact assessment, that there are various suggestions on how to calculate the target. I was struck by the fact that the assessment quoted a Department for Transport report that identified the need to increase the 60 per cent. target by 4 per cent. on the assumption that aviation was included in the European Union emission trading scheme. That should be taken into account and, at the very least, added to the initial target.
I echo the point made by the hon. Member for Cheltenham that industry needs a level playing field. Many industries will find it hard to meet the reduction targets that we will ask them to meet. I shall not repeat what I said about the ETS in an intervention, but there is a real danger of slippage if we allow one or two industries not to be included in the long-term, overall target that is an important part of the Bill.
Mr. Gummer: I shall be brief. First, I declare an interest. My business helps a company that is bringing forward the latest advances in modern ships to operate in an effective and environmental way.
May I suggest that there is a good reason, which has not so far been mentioned, for the content of the new clause? For precisely the reasons that the Minister gave, it would be of huge help if the Government sought to find what would be the best way for them out of the problems that this complex matter creates. In other words, part of the reason why we find it so difficult to get an agreement is because everybody uses precisely the arguments that the Minister used. I use them myself. They are good arguments because they are true—it is not that we are inventing things. This is a complicated matter.
There would thus be a huge advantage if the British set an example by saying what they would do along those lines. Far from embarrassing our colleagues, that would begin to make people able to discuss the real issue, which is not whether, but how. Unless there is a “how” on the table, we shall go on discussing the matter vaguely and saying, “Oh yes, of course we should do this, but it is very difficult.” If we at least create a matrix that gives some basis for discussion about such issues, we will have moved on significantly, and rather than making the problem more difficult, we will have made it easier.
I agree with the amendment, because it puts the Government in the right position and sets an example. If the Minister finds it impossible to accept the amendment and, for reasons that I cannot imagine, the hon. Member for Bury, North does not press the new clause to a Division—that has occasionally happened before, so I must take it into account—it would help the Committee hugely if the Minister committed himself to that preparation and said that even if the Government did not bring it forward, they would bring the facts forward, show the ways in which such a thing might be done, illustrate and present it publicly, and start now so that when they get to the date on which they are forced to do something, at least Britain will have gone down all the alleyways and byways and shown what might be done to bring that together. That would bring us significantly forward from where we are at the moment.
Secondly, I hope that the Minister might be prepared to say that it is important for us to stop treating aviation and shipping as if they were two industries that have a God-given right to be treated separately. The hon. Member for Angus has done the Committee a valuable service by making that key point. I am tired of the aviation industry suggesting that it must somehow be treated separately because the public will not accept the same treatment for aviation as they accept elsewhere. That is not on. We must treat everything from the point of view of climate change and what makes a difference. If aviation is, as it seems, not only increasing but particularly damaging, I am afraid that it must be treated alongside the rest of industry. If, after deciding that, the Government conclude that for a temporary period particular arrangements must pertain, at least they would do so within a proper comparable context. If they never get to the point of considering that, those industries are left out and begin to believe that they will go on being able to defend their being left out.
Thirdly, and briefly, there is a huge amount of movement in the shipping industry. Some of the best shippers want to make the best of a very good case and are thinking seriously about better engines, better fuel, and setting higher standards. The Government could encourage that by showing that they were serious about rewarding people, which is what will happen if shipping is brought within the system. That would help a great deal, and I hope that it would, importantly, enable us to bring forward something else, which I shall set out.
I have always been suspicious about the measurement of steaming time. I know that in Southampton and elsewhere many shipowners talk about the cost of carrying goods further round the coast. It is always cheaper to unload them and carry them by road. If we concentrate on carbon emissions, reduce them and start to charge for them properly, we may find that the old figures change and that it may be more sensible to have two stops because of the reality of the impact of the carbon emissions of sea-going craft. I do not know that, but until the Government do the work, none of us will know.
I commend the new clause to the Committee. I would love it to be put to the Committee because, were it to be pressed by those who proposed it, it would be accepted. If it is not pressed, it will not be accepted, and I hope that, as a secondary course, the Government might be prepared to go down the route that I have suggested.
Mr. Woolas: This has been an important debate. I pick up a strong feeling from the Committee that backs up a strong feeling from the other place and, I suspect, the Second Reading debate, about the desirability of including aviation and shipping within the emissions.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): I remind my hon. Friend that there was a very strong recommendation from the Environmental Audit Committee on this subject. I hope that he will take that into account.
Mr. Woolas: My hon. Friend is a member of that Committee and she is right to remind me about it. Let me bring us more down to earth. We are debating how we can account for aviation and shipping emissions and I will run through the answers to the questions.
First, I will clarify the point made about reporting emissions under UN guidance. The UK, along with all other signatories to the UNFCCC, is required to report on emissions from sales of aviation and shipping bunker fuels—crudely put, that means fuels that are sold or purchased in the UK. On a global level, it does not matter where the fuels are sold. We get a figure of what the global emissions are and that is what matters. Suffice to say, the data are not completely robust. I point no fingers at any particular country, but hon. Members will understand what I mean.
The UNFCCC permits a range of methodologies for calculating those sales on a sliding scale of provision. However, that method of allocating emissions is not totally reliable, as planes and ships routinely tanker fuel from countries with lower fuel prices. That is particularly a problem with respect to shipping. Ships on international routes have a significant degree of choice about where they take on fuel. They will generally do so where the fuel can be obtained for the best price, and that includes tankers that are moored in international waters. Therefore, any attempt to calculate the UK’s shipping emissions on the basis of UK bunker fuel sales will significantly underestimate our contribution and overestimate that of other countries. My point is that I am trying to capture more than I would have to if I took the purest stance.
Similarly, with aviation, it is not apparent how such measures would work alongside the already inclusive nature of aviation in the European Union ETS. It is not clear how two systems could be operated alongside each other, with one system allocating emissions to countries on the basis of fuel sold, and the other allocating emissions and carbon units to airlines on the basis of which country they were based in. There are obvious risks of double counting or a system that is over-complex and burdensome. That is why, when the European Union ETS rules are finalised, we will ask the Committee on Climate Change for its advice on methodology.
The first question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North was about why we cannot publish the figures for aviation and shipping emissions alongside the carbon budgets. He makes a good point. We already report those figures to Parliament, and they are published each year, as is required under the Kyoto agreement.
A number of questions were asked by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, who made the valid point that industry needs certainty that emissions will be included within five years. I agree with his premise, but I say that committing now to including emissions as suggested would not provide certainty, but quite the reverse. There would be no certainty about how we would define the UK’s share of emissions or what the implications would be. There would be no certainty about the effect on aviation. Let me repeat that the Bill is not about measures to address emissions, but how we account for them.
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Martin Horwood: I am puzzled by the Minister’s remarks. As both Select Committees pointed out, there is already a methodology for accounting for international emissions from aviation and shipping. Both Select Committees suggested simply taking the total and using it as the interim measure. The National Audit Office also has a methodology for calculating exact emissions from aircraft on the domestic front that is based on the nature of the aircraft and the pattern of the flight, rather than on trying to work out where every ounce of fuel came from. Is not the Minister making a bit of a meal of it?
Mr. Woolas: I am not making a meal of it. I am simply pointing out that of course there are methodologies.
Martin Horwood: You are using them already.
Mr. Woolas: Yes, but the hon. Gentleman must accept that in the fight to cap global emissions, one has to have a global agreement. Entering into a methodology now would have significant impact on our carbon budgeting, and UK decisions in policy would not be part of an international agreement. We could end up not only cutting off our nose to spite our face, but—if I can extend the metaphor—cutting off the nose of global emissions, to spite that. That is my simple point. I am not trying to wriggle out of this. The hon. Gentleman made that point on Second Reading, from both a standing and a sedentary position. With respect, the UN simply provides a method, not an agreed method. That method is hotly contested by countries around the world.
Martin Horwood rose—
Mr. Woolas: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, because he wishes to push that important point.
Martin Horwood: The last time that I looked, the Kyoto protocol was an international agreement. Will the Minister tell the Committee whether the methodology that we used to calculate our memo item on Kyoto is significantly different from that of any other country?
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