Previous Section Index Home Page

We have been committed environmentalists since our Liberal Democrat party was formed in 1988, and many of us were committed even before that. Indeed, I remember
21 Oct 2009 : Column 981
flagging up the urgency of climate change in a debate with Mrs. Virginia Bottomley, who was the Minister with responsibility for the matter, in 1988. We argue that the policies must always follow the science. We argue that to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions-this is what the intergovernmental panel on climate change has said-global emissions must peak and decline no later than 2015. We are clear-this was also the point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris)-that if we are going to have a sane world, the developed countries will have to give to the developing countries something in the order of £160 billion a year for adaptation and transition. We must continue to reduce our emissions rigorously over the next 10 years and then beyond. We will probably also have to phase out all fossil fuel by 2050.

All that has a fantastic cost-benefit, which is an issue that many people do not understand. Emission cuts are cost saving. The argument that money spent now will be money saved later is becoming increasingly influential. The environmental argument is thus also an economic argument, and in straitened times it seems to me to be a very persuasive argument indeed.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): Does my hon. Friend share my frustration that the Government have not sufficiently linked those very arguments about people struggling to pay fuel bills in the recession with the need to tackle climate change? It is particularly disappointing that the Government are moving the goalposts on their targets for fuel poverty and saying that the targets will be in place only as long as it is practicable, which makes a nonsense of them altogether.

Simon Hughes: My hon. Friend is right, which is why we have said that one of the most useful things that we can do is have a plan to make every home a warm home. There is a win all round-warmer homes, fewer people dying, lower fuel bills and the climate saved. It is absolutely a winner, and it must be made central to policy.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Simon Hughes: No. I really want to move to a conclusion now, as a huge number of colleagues want to contribute to the debate, which is as it should be. The Government spend £1.6 billion every year on energy. Lord Stern, probably the foremost climate economist in the world, has warned that if we do not take action, between 5 and 20 per cent. of global GDP will be lost due to the effects of climate change. To prevent that, we need to spend about 2 per cent. of global GDP. For every £2 spent now, we could save £5 to £20 in the future. The conclusions are obvious: we should take collective action together. What individuals and companies have done, Government and Parliament should now do too.

Many councils, of all parties and those with no overall control, have signed up to the campaign. Among Liberal Democrat-run councils, colleagues in Camden and Cambridge, Eastleigh and Islington, Richmond and Newcastle, and my borough of Southwark, have signed up. [ Interruption. ] My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) adds Stockport, and there may be others, including councils run by other parties. Sadly, at City hall in London the other day, the Tories walked out when the motion was put, not allowing the motion to be voted on.

21 Oct 2009 : Column 982

Many organisations have signed up. The Prime Minister has said:

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has said:

Nearly 30 per cent. of Labour Members, nearly 20 per cent. of Conservative Members, and half of Liberal Democrat Members have signed up personally.

If we pass the motion, we can achieve things now. I shall end with a short shopping list: we can ensure that travel arrangements are energy-efficient; we can improve energy awareness and introduce energy efficiency measures throughout the Government estate, so that everyone understands the implications of what they do; and we can reduce heating. As advised by the Sustainable Development Commission among others, if we use renewables to power Government stock, we can save 1.8 billion tonnes of CO2 each year. In this place, we can turn off annunciators, televisions, lights and computers when they are not needed, and people can use the stairs rather than the lifts. We could have tap water rather than bottled war; we could do a phenomenal amount.

In the past year, we have all probably made a little contribution. My orange taxi has stayed in its drive entirely, unmoved-I have cycled or used public transport. If individuals are willing to do that, I hope that Government will now do it, too. At the end of this debate, I hope that colleagues will send this message: low carbon is job creating, action now is cheaper than action later, and we can grasp the low-hanging fruit.

For the Liberal Democrats, "It's not possible," is not an answer. I remind Ministers of what the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change said to his party conference:

We are idealists and optimists, but we are also political realists. There is no bigger crisis than climate change, and I hope the House and the Government will sign up to action this year-not next year, some time or never.

4.38 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and add:

21 Oct 2009 : Column 983

In the past few months, I have met Environment Ministers, Finance Ministers and negotiators from about 40 different countries. Everywhere I go, people acknowledge and praise the UK's global leadership on climate change. So let no one be in any doubt: this Government are making a huge and concerted effort to bring about success in Copenhagen. I am grateful to the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for acknowledging that.

Our embassies around the world are engaged in outreach on the issue. Our experts are helping in many countries. Our officials are at every negotiating table. The Prime Minister and Cabinet colleagues are actively contributing to the process, and the Prime Minister has indicated that if it is necessary to secure agreement, he will go in person to achieve it. We have actively pursued ambition within the EU, arguing for a 30 per cent. conditional offer when others thought the recession an excuse for lowering targets. We have held fast to the science, arguing that any deal must put the world on track to keep global average temperature rises within 2° C. We have intervened with proposals to unblock the inevitable logjams that occur in a process that takes two years.

Mr. Graham Stuart: Britain has indeed taken a leading role in international negotiations, and I know that our embassies are involved in that, but may I put it to the Minister that our performance at home is woeful in comparison with our efforts on the international stage? How is it possible for us to show any form of global leadership given our own record on energy efficiency and our failure to implement carbon capture and storage? There are so many low-hanging fruit in which I know the Minister has been personally interested in past years. Why have the Government failed to deliver at home while talking so loudly abroad?

Joan Ruddock: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is referring to Tory councils. I will come to the Government's record, which I assure him stands up very well when we are abroad.

Let me explain what we are aiming for at Copenhagen. We want a deal that is ambitious, effective and fair. We need action by all countries, and if we are to help developing countries move from the high-carbon path to low-carbon and climate-resilient growth, we shall need action in a number of areas including finance, technology, deforestation, adaptation and institutional reform. On 26 June this year, the Prime Minister set out the United Kingdom's position on global climate finance: the aim is to raise around $100 billion each year by 2020. The Prime Minister was the first world leader to do so, and it has paid dividends.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): The Minister has failed to answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart). While dealing with the issue of energy efficiency, will she tell us what is the energy efficiency rating of her Department's headquarters?

Joan Ruddock: I am happy to answer the hon. Gentleman's specific question. I shall deal with the general issues that he raised later in my speech. The rating of our Department-we inherited the listed building-is
21 Oct 2009 : Column 984
the lowest possible, but we are taking considerable measures to change that. I assure the hon. Gentleman that our expectation is that the next time we are given an energy efficiency rating, it will not be G.

Let me tell the House about the finance initiative, which is an essential part of the Copenhagen discussions. As I have said, it has paid dividends. Climate finance is now being properly discussed in the new negotiations forums such as the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate-for instance, in London earlier this week-and the G8 and the G20, and they are using the broad framework that the Prime Minister set out in his speech.

We are continuing to push for ambition within the European Union so that we can take a strong position at Copenhagen. We have taken a leading role in the way in which we identify sources of finance needed to support a deal and the institutional architecture needed to deliver it, thinking creatively about how we can best facilitate the rapid deployment and development of low-carbon technology, and leading work to agree on a new international framework to tackle deforestation. We are also continuing to push our objectives with other Governments, with the Secretary of State visiting China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa and the United States in pursuit of a deal.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Does the Minister accept that not all sustainable technologies are equal? Does she agree that when we come to subsidise and support various forms of technology, we need to be discriminating if we are to maximise our impact? In particular, will she look again at onshore wind, which is causing a lot of grief to many of our constituents? Offshore wind, which has far more of a proven track record, is more likely to make a real contribution to our commitments.

Joan Ruddock: I intend to deal with those aspects of the Government's policy in due course. I wanted to put the House in the picture on Copenhagen first, because that is our absolute priority at present.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I have no problem with what the Government are doing. It is focused and it is delivering, and the 10:10 campaign is excellent. However, will my hon. Friend acknowledge that one of the major contributors to carbon dioxide emission is the growth of animal feed? Will she also acknowledge that using the renewable transport fuel obligation methodology generates a carbon saving of 70 per cent. in comparison with use of fossil fuel? That rises to more than 100 per cent.-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I did say to the House that a lot of interventions would do terrible damage to the number of people who could be called in the debate. Interventions must be very short. I honestly think that the Minister has got the point that her hon. Friend has been trying to make.

Joan Ruddock: Let me assure my hon. Friend that, in looking across the whole of the economy, we are also of course looking to agriculture to make its contribution. We will take on board the points she has made.

Rob Marris: Will my hon. Friend give way?

21 Oct 2009 : Column 985

Joan Ruddock: Yes, but I will have to respond to Mr. Deputy Speaker's comments shortly.

Rob Marris: I am grateful for what the Government have done, but I am bitterly disappointed, although unsurprised, that their amendment says nothing about adaptation. Can my hon. Friend explain why until the recent world recession CO2 emissions per capita in the United Kingdom had increased during this century?

Joan Ruddock: I will go on to explain that our emissions have reduced in terms of the economy as a whole. That is what is critical in these talks. My hon. Friend knows very well both about my commitment to adaptation in this country and overseas and the fact that the Government have got a framework for adapting to climate change for this country, which is very comprehensive and on which work is continuously done.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD) rose-

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD) rose-

Joan Ruddock: I will not give way now, as I wish to make some progress.

When we go abroad and urge other nations to be more ambitious and to do more, we do so in confidence because we know this country has already stepped up to the mark. The UK commitment to unilateral cuts of 34 per cent. in our greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and raising the target in the event of an agreement at Copenhagen meets the level of ambition required of developed countries by the United Nations framework convention on climate change. I remind the House that our Climate Change Act 2008 has made us the first country in the world to introduce legally binding targets to limit our greenhouse gas emissions and we are the only country to have a whole economy subject to carbon constraints through carbon budgets. In producing those budgets, we have taken the advice of the independent Committee on Climate Change.

Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and may I add to the praise that has already been heaped on her for her personal contribution in this field? However, many of us are surprised that she has allowed her name to appear on this amendment, in view of what she has just said. Can she explain why the amendment praises everybody else for signing up to the 10:10 campaign, and yet it refuses to allow this House to join in with it?

Joan Ruddock: If the hon. Gentleman is a little patient, I shall come to that.

No country has done more. I remind the House again that we will meet our Kyoto commitment by almost twice the amount required. Since 1990, greenhouse gas emissions in the UK have reduced by 18 per cent., or 21 per cent. if we add in the reductions made through the European Union emissions trading scheme, but we are in no way complacent. We know that action is required at all levels, which is why we applaud the efforts of the 10:10 campaign and encourage greater ambition and getting ordinary people involved. We also agree with 10:10 that the public sector must lead, and have put in place a raft of mechanisms to make that happen. The Liberal Democrat motion calls for all the public sector to reduce its emissions by 10 per cent. in 2010 and for the Government to produce a delivery plan by the end of this year. I regret to say that that is
21 Oct 2009 : Column 986
typical Liberal Democrat posturing. Only a party that never expects to be in government could propose a motion for a totally uncosted, unthought-through programme for a single year cut, as opposed to the sustained actions already under way to meet our carbon budgets-carbon budgets that are designed to deliver three times as much, and that were proposed by us in Committee on 18 May and agreed by the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I have never been slow to support the Government when they have done the right things, but surely the Minister must accept that on every single count the Government fail in these areas. Let me give her just one example. The building schools programme has no rules that enforce green building. Indeed, local councils have to choose between building either a school that is big enough or green enough. How on earth does she defend the policy?

Joan Ruddock: I shared some of the right hon. Gentleman's criticisms of that programme in the past, but it has been changed. There is now much more concentration on the greening of schools, and many schools have taken on renewable technologies.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I slightly regret the tone of the statements that the Minister has just made, because she is casting doubt on the Government's ability to sign up to the 10:10 campaign. Given that her Department, the Department for International Development and some British embassies have signed up to it, precisely what excuses are being given to her by other Departments for not doing so?

Joan Ruddock: I intend to explain things, and I just ask all hon. Members to be patient until I get through the next points that I wish to make.

I have referred to the carbon budgets. I suggest also that perhaps the Liberal Democrats are not really aware that the public sector reduced its emissions by one third between 1990 and 2007. Within government we take our responsibilities seriously and we are taking steps to put in place a strong internal mechanism to manage carbon budgets across Whitehall. In the transition plan to a low-carbon economy, we announced individual carbon budgets for all major Departments, representing their share of responsibility. All Departments will publish a carbon-reduction delivery plan by next April, which will include the indicators and milestones to monitor progress. All Departments will be committed to a long-term reduction in carbon emissions-that is a reduction not just in 2009 or in 2010, but through to 2022 and beyond. The Government are already on track to meet and exceed their carbon emissions target-I ask hon. Members to listen to this-of 12.5 per cent. reductions across their estate by 2010-11. We have already put that in place and we are already on track.

Several hon. Members rose -

Joan Ruddock: I give way to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson).

Next Section Index Home Page