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House of Commons
Session 2008 - 09
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General Committee Debates
European Standing Committee Debates

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Mike Weir
Cash, Mr. William (Stone) (Con)
Challen, Colin (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Claire (Crosby) (Lab)
Dorries, Nadine (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye) (Lab)
Goodman, Helen (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)
Hendry, Charles (Wealden) (Con)
Horwood, Martin (Cheltenham) (LD)
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay (Chorley) (Lab)
Hughes, Simon (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD)
Ruddock, Joan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change)
Stuart, Ms Gisela (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab)
Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)
Liam Laurence Smyth, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

European Committee A

Tuesday 12 May 2009

[Mr. Mike Weir in the Chair]

Climate Change Agreement
[Relevant Document: European Union Document No. 14473/08, Commission Communication on addressing the challenges of deforestation and forest degradation to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss.]
4.30 pm
The Chairman: Does a member of the European Scrutiny Committee wish to make a brief explanatory statement about the decision to refer the relevant documents to the Committee?
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): It is good to see you, Mr. Weir. Thank you for inviting me to make a statement. I have no wish to do so, but I feel that we have to—and I want to put that on the record. It is not by desire, but by instruction that we are left with this—although, of course, this is an interesting subject to debate. It might be helpful to the Committee if I take a couple of minutes to explain the background to document 5892/09 and the reasons why the European Scrutiny Committee has recommended it for debate in the European Committee. Basically, I think that they like to ensure that we waste good time by debating it here. Games are being played, and that it why the document has been referred.
The Commission says that the successful conclusion of the international climate change negotiations at Copenhagen at the end of 2009 is the key Community priority and the document sets out concrete proposals for achieving that. The document says that if the Community’s aim of limiting the global temperature increase to less than 2C is to be met, it is imperative to secure an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen. It notes that both developed and developing countries are stepping up their action, with the Community itself having an independent target of reducing emissions by 20 per cent. by 2020, and it suggests a number of actions that should be taken. Those include emission reduction targets, the treatment of emissions from international aviation and maritime transport, the financing of low-carbon development and adaptations, and the raising of revenue on the global carbon market.
The document, which is broadly supported by the Government, to some extent deals with the ground covered in earlier communications. However, in other respects it goes considerably further, not least in relation to the areas I have just mentioned. It is therefore an important and timely document in view of the discussions in Copenhagen at the end of the year—hence, the European Scrutiny Committee’s view that it should be debated.
Document 14473/08 notes that forests deliver major environmental benefits, but that they are under threat. That threat must be reduced if the 2C target is to be achieved. The document therefore seeks to set out the main lines of a Community response to deforestation, as well as a series of initial actions to provide a viable global approach. The document also notes that deforestation has a central place in the Copenhagen negotiations and, for that reason, the European Scrutiny Committee recommended that it should be tagged to the debate on document 5892/09.
Of course, there are some other things that we should perhaps consider. As I said, the document is now covered and I would have thought that there are benefits in that. However, if we are serious about this, and maritime and aviation are part of what we are considering, why do Ministers prefer to ride around in cars that are built in Japan with absolutely no UK content or employment? Yet, they take the trouble of shipping them all around the world and saying, “Haven’t we done a good job.” In fact, it starts with a bigger global footprint than other areas—
The Chairman: Order. I think that that is more a matter for the debate than the opening statement. I call the Minister to make an opening statement.
4.34 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): I will not respond to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley about Ministers and cars at this stage. I regret rather his unwillingness to be at this Committee because this is a critical year in terms of the global effort required to tackled dangerous climate change.
Mr. Hoyle: I was referring to being a member of the European Scrutiny Committee. I offered to help the Government out for three weeks, but I am still there after three years. That was my point. That is why I did not wish to be on the European Scrutiny Committee, yet I still have to serve on it and attend this debate. It is not the debate that I am concerned about—it is important—but the way in which the Government put people on Committees from which they cannot be released.
Joan Ruddock: Let me assure my hon. Friend that I have no influence whatever on who does and does not sit on Committees. However, I am glad that he shares my concern about this important issue.
Climate change is already a reality for millions of people around the world, and avoiding further dangerous climate change is essential for global security and prosperity. The UK is actively working towards the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference of the parties in Copenhagen in December this year. The meeting will offer a genuine chance to build the next international agreement for avoiding dangerous climate change.
Achieving an ambitious deal at Copenhagen is a high priority for us, as it is for the EU. The 27 EU member states are working together to agree an ambitious approach for Copenhagen that will demonstrate leadership and encourage similar ambition from others.
In June 2008, the European Council invited the European Commission to present a comprehensive strategy for scaling up finance and investment flows for adaptation and mitigation. The communication, “Towards a comprehensive climate change agreement in Copenhagen”, which we are debating today, is the Commission’s response to that call.
The Government welcomed the communication as a good basis for discussions among member states. It includes all the building blocks for an agreement in Copenhagen: that we should have a shared vision, including a long-term goal; that there should be mitigation, and that part of that will involve forestry and international maritime and aviation emissions; that there needs to be adaptation; and that there needs to be technology and finance to support mitigation and adaptation. It is important that the communication is not viewed as the EU’s position for Copenhagen. That will be agreed through the EU Council process throughout the rest of the year.
The Government welcomed the progress made by the Environment Council and the spring European Council on 18 March. The Environment Council focused in particular on the mitigation side of the agenda. It stressed that developed countries need to show leadership and should make emission reductions of 30 per cent. compared with 1990 by 2020. It also said that developing countries that are at levels of development of the group of developed countries—notably OECD countries and candidates—should consider making similar commitments.
On mitigation action by developing countries, the Council said that they should commit to developing low-carbon strategies in which they describe their national mitigation actions and the support that they consider necessary. The most advanced developing countries were invited to propose their strategies before Copenhagen, building on national mitigation plans that they already have. China, Brazil and others are good examples of countries that already have such plans, but we would like to see ambitious updates of them.
In terms of ambition, the Council referred to recent analysis which indicated that developing countries as a group should move to a deviation of the order of 15 to 30 per cent. below business as usual by 2020. As that is for the group as a whole, some will undoubtedly have to do more, and the least developed would obviously have to do the least, if anything at all.
The spring Council focused on finance. It stressed that the European Union will take on its fair share of financing such actions in developing countries, and that significant domestic and external sources of finance, both private and public, will be required for financing mitigation and adaptation actions, particularly in the most vulnerable developing countries. The Council also identified a shortlist of credible sources for generating finance.
I hope that the Committee will bear in mind that we are in the midst of complex and sensitive negotiations. Therefore, my responses today will balance the need for transparency with the need to protect our negotiating position.
The Chairman: We now have until half-past 5 for questions to the Minister. I remind Members that these should be brief. It is open to Members, at my discretion, to ask supplementary questions, and I will allow that within reason.
Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): Let me say at the outset that I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Weir.
The Minister will be aware that the rather hefty tome before us was published in January and February, when the global economy faced a rather different set of circumstances, but things have got significantly worse since then. The documents contain significant commitments to fund different aspects of the policy before us. From the discussions that she has had with her European colleagues, is the Minister convinced that those commitments remain affordable, and has money been allocated to ensure that they can be implemented?
Joan Ruddock: It is, of course, also a pleasure for me to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Weir.
The Government have not the slightest doubt that we need to make the proposed investment. It is a fact that what we hope will be a short-term economic crisis is upon us, but climate change is with us for ever, and we cannot afford to hesitate in addressing that fundamental challenge. Of course, there was a lot of discussion about the issue in the EU as the recession began to bite. Some member states wanted to go back on the 2020 package, which had been negotiated with complete support, but we stood absolutely firm. We did that because the economic analysis provided by Lord Stern indicates that if we do not make the necessary investment now, the cost to us all—to our societies and our economies—will be very much greater in the future.
Charles Hendry: May I press the Minister a little further on a specific aspect of what she said? The documentation talks about doubling energy research by 2012, and 2012 is obviously approaching very quickly. Have the Government’s spending plans specifically taken account of that and committed us to doubling energy research? Will this doubling be done globally or will each country be expected to double its own energy research activity?
Joan Ruddock: If I may generalise, all EU commitments are made on the basis of the EU as a whole, and we must work out how the burden is shared between member states. Clearly, some countries are in a much better position than others. We have already made perhaps one of the most significant contributions in the world through institutions such as the Hadley centre, which have done amazing climate research. When we make a commitment, we will have to meet our share of the relevant agreement. Given what I said earlier, we are committed to doing what is necessary. We engage in all the discussions, and when an agreement is struck, we abide by it.
Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): I had hoped to ask four questions, and I do not know whether we get another chance after we have asked our first one, but I will start with this question. I have scoured the documents for the underpinning science for the admirable 2 ambition, but what concentration of CO2 do the Government believe underpins the containment of a temperature increase to 2?
Joan Ruddock: My hon. Friend knows that—[Interruption.]
Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): Inspiration is behind you.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): There’s the answer.
Joan Ruddock: I do know the answer, but I was about to preface it by saying that my hon. Friend believes that we are talking about a shifting scene and that the science is changing so rapidly that adjustments have to be made. However, the position on which the 2 was based, and which underpins what the EU and the UK have accepted, is 450 parts per million.
Colin Challen: In that case, would it be possible for the Government to investigate the proposals of James Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who is one of the world’s leading climatologists? He says that 350 parts per million ought to be our goal. Even though we have gone past that, it suggests a different course of action that might lead to all sorts of things, such as geo-engineering solutions. At the least, we should start to think about whether the level ought to be lower.
Joan Ruddock: I think that has been explored in a background paper. I have read so much in the last few days that I cannot recall where, but buried somewhere is a mention of the level being put that low. Government and external scientists are constantly appraising each new debate.
The hon. Gentleman must accept that in trying to get an agreement in Copenhagen, there must be a basis on which countries can move forward together. We have to accept some baselines and these are the baselines. The EU is in the vanguard in saying that we must endeavour to get an agreement under which we could stay at no more than a 2 C increase. As he knows, many countries do not accept that we should continue to make the effort to stay within those limits. We are at the forefront of this debate. It would not be sensible to leap over the basis on which we are negotiating at this stage. Let me assure him that we always have the greatest regard to the science.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I am equally delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Weir.
The documents refer a lot to the financing of the various potential agreements. In particular, they refer to the financing of necessary moves towards a low-carbon economy in developing countries and to mechanisms such as the reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries programme. Friends of the Earth suggested that the establishment of the global fund would cost something in the order of $200 billion. Do the Government think that that is too high, too low or about right? If it is about right, do they have any ambitions on the UK’s share of such a fund?
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