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Climate Change (Public Awareness)

12. Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): What steps he is taking to increase the level of awareness among the public of the consequences of climate change. [285162]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): The Department takes steps to raise awareness of climate change through ministerial speeches, publications—such as the climate impact study and “The Road to Copenhagen”—the departmental website and the Act on C02 campaign.

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Phil Wilson: My constituency covers the Tees valley plain, which, according to an independent report, can cater for between only 20 and 25 wind turbines, but 62 are planned and proposed. Does my hon. Friend agree that, while we all know the importance of making people aware of climate change, it is equally important to take people with us in solving the problem, rather than swamping them with wind farms? County Durham has already passed its renewable threshold for wind farms and is on course to meet its 2020 target soon.

Joan Ruddock: I congratulate my hon. Friend’s area on its progress. Clearly, we must have developments that are sensitive to the landscape—that is a matter for the planning process. However, it is our responsibility as a Government to help people understand the real need for change in our production and use of energy, to protect the environment and to secure energy supplies. We all need to understand that climate change is the greatest threat to our wildlife and our countryside.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Would the Minister accept that, for many, especially those on low incomes and the elderly, the consequences of climate change have merely been higher energy prices than normal? Energy prices are so critical to the elderly and those on low incomes, so could she and the Government be a little more sensitive in introducing policies so that the most vulnerable are not the worst affected?

Joan Ruddock: The most vulnerable need our help. The help is there and we will continue to keep constantly under review the impact of our renewable energy programmes on bills. However, there is no way in which we can have lower energy prices and high fossil fuel use in the future. It is destroying the planet and we have to make a change. We will make the change and do it in a way that is fair.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I have spent the past three and a half years campaigning on adaptation to climate change. I am delighted to say that the string of Government announcements in the past six months shows that the Government have finally got it. By approximately what date will the adaptation sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change produce its first report?

Joan Ruddock: My hon. Friend, who has done so much on adaptation, has caught me out. I will have to write to him to tell him exactly when the report is expected. He knows that we have recently appointed the chair of the sub-committee, who will join the independent Committee on Climate Change. I am sure that they will get on with their work as quickly as possible and I will write to him with the details when I receive them.

Low-carbon Economy (Employment Opportunities)

13. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the opportunities for employment in a low-carbon economy; and if he will make a statement. [285163]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): I have frequent discussions with colleagues, including the First Secretary of State, about building a low-carbon economy. We will shortly make
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announcements about allocations from the £405 million that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made available in the Budget to help build our green manufacturing strength.

Tony Lloyd: My right hon. Friend has already made it clear in other answers how exciting the prospects are for the green revolution, which will create wealth and jobs. Given that public sector money will not be the most abundant resource available, what can be done to ensure that we mobilise those at the cutting edge of the industrial revolution, and not simply have a scattergun approach, which will lead to the sort of waste that we cannot afford?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend asks the right question. We must make the best use of the available money—I referred to the allocation that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made in the Budget. When we fund carbon capture and storage demonstration projects, it is important that our consultation documents reflect that, and that we build a network of CCS throughout the country to ensure that we have the clusters that will build the industries of the future. It is right to invest now—the Conservative party would not agree with that—because that will build the industries of the future.

Electricity Generation (Coal)

19. Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): What his policy is on the use of coal in electricity generation; and if he will make a statement. [285169]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): Coal power stations play a vital role in providing reliable and affordable electricity supplies. The Government believe that new coal power stations in the UK will be important in retaining the diversity and security of our energy supplies, but only if they can be built and operated in a way that is consistent with our climate change goals.

Mrs. James: In 2008, we were 31 per cent. dependent on coal for our electricity supplies in this country. It has been, and remains, a valuable source of fuel. I am pleased that the Secretary of State recognises that, but we must not underestimate the role that coal—particularly carbon-abated coal—has to play in the future mix of renewables, coal, gas and nuclear. Coal needs to play an important role.

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend speaks very knowledgably about this subject as a result of her background. It is important that we have coal as part of the energy mix. The problem in this debate arises when we try to pick and choose from the low-carbon technologies that are available; the truth is that we need all of them. We need clean coal, renewables and nuclear, as she has pointed out. All of them must play a part in overcoming the enormous challenge of tackling climate change.

Topical Questions

T1. [285176] Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): My Department has responsibility for international negotiations on climate change. Last month, we published our manifesto for the Copenhagen climate talks, which are due to conclude in December. Yesterday’s decision by the G8 leaders to unite around the scientific consensus that we must avoid temperature increases of more than 2° was a welcome step towards shaping an ambitious Copenhagen deal. We hope that that will be reflected in an agreement today by the developed and the developing countries.

Sir Robert Smith: Earlier, the Secretary of State referred to trials being undertaken by his Department to tackle fuel poverty for those not on the gas grid. Given the Prime Minister’s warning this week that we are again facing rising oil prices, what reassurance can the Secretary of State give to my constituents and to those in the rest of the country that they will be able to heat their homes effectively this winter if they rely on oil?

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue. The volatility of the oil price is a problem for consumers in Britain and for our economy. It is hard to take steps to stabilise it, but there are regulatory and other measures that we need to look at. I would say to his constituents and to others who are off the gas grid that, first, we need to ensure that they get the best deal on electricity prices, and I am pleased that the regulator has taken action on that. Secondly, we need to help them to connect to the gas grid when they can. Finally, we also need to offer them alternative technologies, and that is the kind of action that we are piloting.

T2. [285177] Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend give the House an update on the progress made yesterday and overnight at L’Aquila on climate change?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear about the G8 communiqué. This is the first time that the world has signed up to a 2° objective. The key issue for today, which is most important, is to get unity between the developed and the developing countries around that 2° objective. Why is that important? It is important because it will drive the action that countries need to take. Frankly, we need more ambition in the run-up to Copenhagen, but a 2° agreement will drive that action.

T3. [285178] Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): There are 7,000 zero-carbon dwellings across Europe that meet the passive house standard, yet only one of them is in the UK. Does not that show that the Government’s policy on carbon reduction is just empty rhetoric?

Edward Miliband: No, because we have rightly said that we are going to have zero-carbon homes here from 2016. It is right to set that standard—we are one of the few countries to have done so—and it will apply to every new house. We are also taking action to trial the new technologies to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and we will have more to say about that in the coming months.

T4. [285179] Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): Will the Minister please give me an update on the community energy saving programme, particularly in constituencies such as my own in Wales?

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The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): CESP places an obligation on the energy suppliers and the energy generators. It will provide for about £350 million of energy-saving measures specifically directed at low-income areas. There are 284 eligible areas in Wales, a substantial number of which are in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I am concerned that we should have a proper balance encompassing the rural areas and I hope that there will be projects in Wales. This will be a new type of programme, whereby we will go house to house and take whole-house measures, amounting to a real step forward in terms of a proper community-based energy efficiency programme.

Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): Considering that the carbon capture competition has already slipped by one year, what guarantees can the Secretary of State give that there will be no further delays in the process, especially considering that only one bidder is capable of getting to the 2020 deadline? Will he guarantee that the deadline will be met by next year—before the general election?

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman is not right to say that only one bidder is capable of meeting the 2020 deadline. Three consortiums are involved—ENR, RWE and Scottish Power, I believe—and all can meet the timetable. It is right that we need to get on with it, which is why we announced the new conditions and why we announced the levy mechanism for which we intend to legislate. I am confident that speedy progress can be made.

T5. [285180] Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): Liquefied petroleum gas is a vital heating source in parts of my constituency, but in some ways it is a forgotten fuel in terms of regulation. While acknowledging the changes to regulations on estate infrastructure for distribution, which will come into force later this year, what more can be done better to regulate this market so that my constituents get a more competitive deal?

Joan Ruddock: My hon. Friend has put his finger on a really difficult problem. We have looked very carefully at this market, and the truth is that it is made up of a very significant number of small companies and competition is a matter for the market itself. I agree the issue is crucial for people who are utterly dependent on LPG and we will continue to keep it under review. It may be, however, that we have to introduce new technology to these homes through our fuel poverty programmes so that in due course they are no longer dependent on that fuel, particularly if we cannot find a means of reducing its cost to the householder, which I acknowledge is significant.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): I was delighted that the Secretary of State visited Green lane in Cookridge in my constituency in connection with the British Gas green streets competition. Will he join me in publicly congratulating the street’s residents who won the competition by decreasing their usage by 35 per cent. What lessons can the Government learn from that excellent initiative in order to roll out something that will benefit all households up and down the country?

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Edward Miliband: I was very pleased that the street won the competition after my visit—although I should say that I cannot claim cause and effect. The competition was very informative in showing what communities can do together to save energy and there was huge enthusiasm in that street for the initiative and what it had been able to achieve. I agree that we need to roll out that sort of project more widely. That is what CESP is all about: a street-by-street, house-by-house approach to bring communities together to tackle carbon emissions.

T7. [285183] Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware of the tremendous opportunities to exploit the coal reserves on the north-east coast, particularly by using the underground gasification method. Will he support the moves and request by the north-east to set up a strategic environmental assessment as a matter of urgency?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend’s question follows up on an interesting visit I made to his constituency to meet the wide range of representatives that he gathered to discuss underground coal gasification technology. We want to move forward on that, so we will obviously come back to his group in order to do so.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The Secretary of State rightly congratulated the G8 on its 2° target as a limit on global warming, although to do otherwise would be to invite inevitable catastrophe, but will he tell us what that translates into in terms of the more important measure of the atmospheric concentration of CO2 in parts per million—or was that question too tricky for the leaders of the world?

Edward Miliband: It translates into the target aim of 450 parts per million. I was talking about this to John Holdren, the chief scientist of the US, yesterday. Now that we have this 2° target, the key task for developed and developing countries from here on up to Copenhagen is to say what the pathway is—including the mid-term targets we need for 2020—towards meeting that challenge. Now that the leaders have agreed to the objective, at least at the G8, we now need a 2° deal out of Copenhagen.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): Yesterday the Energy and Climate Change Committee was told that a 500 kW tidal turbine would shortly come on-stream at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney as a result of co-operation between a small innovative company in Bristol, Tidal Generation Ltd, and Rolls-Royce in my neighbouring area. What can the Government do to encourage such co-operation, and to help small innovative companies involved in marine energy to bring their ideas to market and overcome the financial difficulties that they experience in trying to obtain support?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend is right to congratulate the parties concerned on their initiative. The marine deployment fund is intended to encourage precisely that form of technology. I believe that marine energy has great potential for Britain. Government must play a strategic role—I have mentioned the low-carbon industrial fund—to encourage the kind of co-operation that my hon. Friend has described.

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Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): If the Prime Minister is right and oil prices are going to rise dramatically again in the immediate future, what action will the Secretary of State take to prevent British industry from becoming less competitive, and to prevent the most vulnerable from having to bear additional costs that they cannot afford?

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue. We need to ensure that all the necessary mechanisms are in place to prevent speculation on the oil price, so that changes are based on the fundamentals rather than on speculation. That is why we are examining the regulatory systems—for instance, through the International Organisation of Securities Commissions, which is the international regulator.

One of the arguments for the transition to low carbon is that it will make us less dependent on fluctuations in the fossil fuel price. We need the right regulatory systems, and we also need to undertake that low-carbon transition.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): Yesterday saw the publication of Oil and Gas UK’s annual economic report, which showed that oil and gas would play an important part in the energy sector for the foreseeable future. Key to that are enhanced recovery and lengthening the time for which reserves will be developed. How can the Government help to ensure that the industry does not shut up shop and go elsewhere, but continues to develop the North sea? Will my right hon. Friend arrange to visit Aberdeen to observe the showcase of the offshore oil and gas industry, and also—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that that will do.

Edward Miliband: My noble Friend Lord Hunt greatly enjoyed his visit to Aberdeen. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s championing of the oil and gas industry. The initiative taken by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the Budget in relation to the new field allowance was designed to bring about investment in the North sea, but—through the PILOT group, with which my hon. Friend is importantly involved—we also want to continue our discussions with the industry about how we can best help it in future.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): May I stress to my right hon. Friend the need to regulate the use of fluorine-based gases, or F gases, in supermarket refrigeration units? They are up to 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming. The industry itself is asking the Government to regulate to create a level playing field. May I urge the Secretary of State to discuss such action with his opposite numbers, so that it can be expedited as soon as possible?

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