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21 Oct 2009 : Column 1011

Gregory Barker: What I actually said was that the Chinese Government set much more store by short-term action than by long-term targets, and that although I thought that it was not a case of either/or, I could certainly see their point.

Barry Gardiner: Hansard will show what the hon. Gentleman said.

I want to turn to the real point, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). It concerns gigatonnes. This weekend, I will be going to Copenhagen as part of the GLOBE delegation and we will present to the Danish Prime Minister, ahead of the negotiations in December, the proposals from a group of legislators across the globe on the issue. The key point is gigatonnes, as 17 gigatonnes of annual emissions reductions need to take place by 2020. The reduction of only 5 gigatonnes can take place in the developed countries at less than €60 per tonne. That means that although the problem has been created, as my right hon. Friend said, by the developed countries, they are not capable within their own boundaries of producing the gigatonnes of solutions that are required to mitigate this problem. The funding for that extra 12 gigatonnes of abatement must come from the developed countries and be put through to the developing nations so that they can sustain equitable growth and standards of living and so that they can rise out of poverty on a low-carbon trajectory. That is the critical issue.

At Copenhagen, although we must sign under a post-2012 protocol, the developed countries must sign up to lower emissions and commit ourselves to those emissions reductions. We must also, on top of that, bear down on the caps so that we can generate through offsets the amount of money that is needed to bring people out of poverty in the developing world.

6.19 pm

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): In supporting the motion, I shall restrict my comments exclusively to the Government's failure to demonstrate leadership over climate change when it comes to our food market and reducing food miles.

The world's population is set to increase by 50 per cent. over the next 40 years. Demand for food is set to double in that time, yet the Government have presided over a criminal reduction in this country's food production capacity. That matters, because the Government's target of an 80 per cent. reduction in carbon emissions-to which we all agreed-looks ludicrous when set against the ever-expanding emissions caused by the transportation of rapidly increasing amounts of food from overseas to our tables.

According to the Government's own figures, since 1997 the proportion of imported meat has increased by two thirds, the proportion of eggs that we have imported has tripled, and the proportion of vegetables that we import has risen by one third. In the last two years alone, the proportion of liquid milk that we import has increased by almost 60 per cent. If we are going to tackle climate change, we must ensure that we produce as much as possible of the food that we eat as close to home as we can.

To do that, we have to ensure that we produce more food, not less, with the help of a farming industry that is confident and not fearful about its future. That means
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that, if we are to reduce carbon emissions, we have to expand our capacity to produce food in the UK. It is one of the easiest things that the Government could do to tackle climate change, and there are thousands of innovative farmers around the country itching to take the lead.

The reduction in capacity is happening because the Government will not tackle seriously the power of supermarkets, which place no environmental standards on their procurement policies and will not act to ensure fair trade for our farmers so that they stay in business. As we have heard, the public sector spends about £2 billion a year on food procurement for Government Departments, schools, prisons and hospitals. The NHS is the largest food purchaser in the country, spending nearly a quarter of the total public sector food budget, yet 75 per cent. of the meat and fish used in our hospitals is imported from abroad.

Another dreadful consequence of the importation of meat products is the destruction of the rain forest. Every 10 minutes, an area the size of 200 football pitches is chopped down in the Amazon rain forest, all to provide pasture land for cattle or to make way for soy plantations to provide feed for them. We could-and should-produce both in this country, slashing food miles and ensuring the preservation of the crucial carbon sink that is the rain forest.

Lynne Jones: Is the hon. Gentleman going to mention the increased emissions as a result of our huge food waste? That is far more significant than food miles for our CO2 emissions.

Tim Farron: The hon. Lady has read my mind, as I was about to mention that. About one in three of the bags of food that we purchase at the supermarket or wherever is effectively dumped. We wasted £10 billion worth of food in the last year, which is the equivalent of throwing away every third bag. The contribution to harmful emissions from landfill and emissions associated with wasted production is immense. There has been no leadership on tackling that from the Government: they have not attempted to address the wasteful, buy-one-get-one-free culture or, for example, the unbelievably fussy and excessive guidance on sell-by dates. Cutting out that waste would reduce greenhouse gases, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) suggests, by the equivalent of taking one in every five cars off the road.

The Government have also failed dismally when it comes to making sustainable use of food waste. Why are we not transforming organic waste into green energy? In Germany, there are 25,000 anaerobic digesters, but there are only 38 in the UK. I hope that the 39th digester will be opened soon in Casterton in my constituency, but that will be the result of work done by the local community, and despite the Government.

In conclusion, nearly everyone-apart from one or two of the Tories' mates-now accepts that climate change is real and the result of human activity. However, if that is the case, it can be reversed by human activity as well, with "activity" being the important word. It is important that the Government act. They need to do the simple things as well as the difficult things, because these are what will make the difference in this crucial fight. The good news is that some of the simplest things that the Government could do to tackle climate change are to be found in the food market.

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6.24 pm

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): The Liberal Democrat motion deals with climate change leadership, but I think that by any standards the Government's record in this area is pretty good. The UK is the first country in the world to set up rolling carbon budgets, and to have set a carbon emission reduction target of 80 per cent. by 2050. The Government are the first to have set up a prestigious and independent Climate Change Committee to advise them, and they also included aviation and shipping in the Climate Change Act 2008 and introduced feed-in tariffs. So far, so good.

Of course there are still problems, as there are in every country in the world. We should acknowledge those problems. Yes, we have not done anything like enough in carbon emissions reductions to meet the 60 per cent. target, let alone an 80 per cent. target. We have committed ourselves to trebling airport capacity by 2050, which would have the opposite effect. It would neutralise most, if not all, of the carbon reductions in virtually every other sector.

The commitment to building the first coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent is not very wise, when carbon capture and storage is highly unlikely to be available commercially for at least 15 years. On this island with enormous renewables capacity, we have a great deal more to do, as we still generate only 4 per cent. of electricity from renewables, compared to 10 to 25 per cent. in the other big European countries and 30 to 50 per cent. in Scandinavia.

I shall mention briefly three other areas for the forthcoming Copenhagen summit, where I believe it is necessary to make significant further advance and, above all, to get the developing countries on side. Without that, we will make no progress at all. First, substantially slowing the rate of deforestation worldwide, which is causing something like 20 per cent. of global emissions, should be a major objective of the Copenhagen negotiations-not by giving enormous sums of money to the major countries involved, because all that money would certainly be filtered off into the pockets of corrupt officials, but by tough international action against illegal logging corporations, which should be held to account and prosecuted in the courts of the metropolitan countries.

Secondly, we should champion a drive towards a worldwide carbon tax and show that we mean it by looking to introduce it ourselves, to be fiscally neutral by corresponding offsetting on VAT. That could do more than any other single measure to green the international economy and to arrest the spread of climate catastrophe.

Thirdly, we should reverse the current policy on carbon offsetting, which is allowing 50 per cent. and perhaps as much as 70 per cent. of carbon credits to be purchased from abroad, which is a sort of "get out of jail free" card and removes the pressure for major qualitative change within the UK. It is flawed by the additionality problem, but more particularly, the big countries-China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and Mexico-will co-operate only if they see that we who, in their view, caused the problem are taking sufficient action. If they think we are simply buying our way out abroad while doing too little at home, they will not co-operate. Then the global problem will be insoluble.

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The Government's record on combating climate change is not perfect, but it is arguably the best of any country in the world. I am pleased and proud to support them in the Lobby tonight.

6.27 pm

Chloe Smith (Norwich, North) (Con): I thank the Deputy Speaker for giving me the chance to speak, and I thank the Liberal Democrats for initiating the debate. I echo the sentiments of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell): everybody wants to tackle climate change. The question is how we do that. I shall limit my comments to that being a matter of trust-the plans that the Government have for being trusted to deliver a response.

I applaud voluntary action and fully support the 10:10 campaign. I am proud to have been able to answer many of my constituents already by saying that I fully support their campaign to have us support that. But we know that Government action is also necessary. Combating climate change is not something that individuals can do on their own. I welcome the bipartisan and tripartisan approach in the House today, and the commitment of so many Members to action on climate change, and I welcome the previous achievements of the House in passing the Climate Change Act 2008 to contribute towards what we all know we need to do.

The Government's current plan lasts for 10 years and requires buy-in. That is what we must ensure by contributing a little towards that today in the debate. We may require a general election for a full mandate for such a plan, but before that moment comes next year, which I am sure we will all welcome, we must take the opportunity for international action. Many hon. Members around the House have commented on what must be achieved at Copenhagen later this year.

I come back to the domestic aspect. I shall speak about it as a matter of trust, and about what people look to us in the House to do. I hope I am not being too cheeky in suggesting that as the most recent Member to enter the House, I may bring with me a view from outside. That is to say that any Government action will require clear measurement, and the Government will have to go through a whole sequence: understanding the problem; diagnosing action that is possible; selecting the tools that we can use to go about those actions; setting targets; empowering people to meet those targets; and grasping the incentives available to help people to do that. I return to the value of the 10:10 campaign as a voluntary tool; it enables people to say, "We can do this, we want to do this, we want to be held to account, and we want the Government to join us."

The Government plan must then be trackable and measurable. I welcome the recent publication of the Turner report, saying that the Government must be held to account for their actions. It says, too, that in the coming months measurement will be harder, because of distortions due to the level of economic activity, or lack thereof. Against that backdrop, we must make doubly sure that the Government-of any colour-can be trusted to do what we all want them to do.

We cannot drop any part of the cycle that I have just outlined. People must be able to trust that the Government's plan will do all those things, and observe the Government doing all those things, so that individuals know that
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they are getting what they have signed up to-what they have put their necks on the line for, and said they will do.

Only last Friday, I had the pleasure of visiting in my constituency a school-not a Building Schools for the Future school, but a local academy-with a wonderful new building that serves as a teaching tool for the children on energy efficiency. That is the kind of measure that we need to help people to trust that things can be done and to learn how things can be done.

Finally, I draw the House's attention to the question of how this Government will gain the mandate for their 10-year plan. If they do not, we must seriously question the measure.

6.31 pm

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): I fully endorse the 10:10 campaign and proposals, and I hope that the House will fully endorse them and sign up to them tonight. The Government are right that we need more than a one-year strategy, because we have to have a strategy that takes us through to 2020, but the most important part of the imperative in signing up to the campaign has not come from any argument in this House; it came in September from Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He gave us all the starkest warning-the shot across the bows-when he said that it would not be enough for the world to aim to restrict carbon emissions to 450 ppm.

If we wish to keep climate change to within a 2° C rise this century, the practical limit will have to be 350 ppm. We are already at 385 ppm and the question is: how do we row back from that? The starting point is now. Rajendra Pachauri urged on us the point that what we do in the next three years will determine the shape of so much that follows. I am therefore happy to sign up to the belief that we need to set a 10 per cent. target for the coming year, and probably for the year after and the year after that-for at least the five years that follow. It is not a question of what the political will acquiesies to; it is an acknowledgement that the world will not wait. The two most important parts of the motion before us, on which I shall focus, are first, the significance of the built environment, and secondly, the mechanisms that will drive us into a renewable energy future.

The point has already been made that the built environment contributes 60 per cent. of our carbon emissions. If we were to set the targets that would meet our legally binding obligation to eradicate fuel poverty in Britain by 2016, we would have to set a standard assessment procedure rating for housing of 81, and establish a building renewal programme of about £4 billion a year between now and 2016. It is a lot of money, but we could save that amount in respect of many speculative schemes that cost the Government, the taxpayer and the bill payer far more.

If we were to do that, what we would achieve? The figures that have been provided to the House are staggering. If we were to set up that programme, we would take 81 per cent. of the fuel poor out of poverty by 2015. In doing so, we would reduce the terawatt hours of energy consumption by 48.1 TWh. That would mean a percentage reduction in energy consumption of 56 per cent. and a reduction in carbon emissions of 59 per cent. People
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talk about the 10 per cent. commitment at a personal level; this is 10 per cent. at a collective level. At the same time as saving carbon and saving the planet, it would take the poor out of fuel poverty-an adaptation measure that saved lives.

Lynne Jones: Given that huge numbers of the public use public buildings and that behavioural change could take place, does my hon. Friend agree that if it is not practicable for the Government to achieve a 10 per cent. reduction in the next year or so, it is not practicable to achieve our other targets?

Alan Simpson: I do not believe that it is impossible for the Government to achieve that 10 per cent. reduction. One of the ways in which they could deliver on it is by not only accelerating the introduction of the feed-in tariff regime that they propose, but changing the framework from one that works back from a minimalist, fairly measly assumption that we can deliver only 2 per cent. of our energy by 2020 from renewable tariffs to one with a target of 10 per cent., 15 per cent. or even almost 20 per cent.

For those who say that that is too much, let me refer to a conversation that I had with colleagues in Germany this morning about their proposals for delivering 100 per cent. of renewable energy for their economy by 2050. I said, "Look, isn't that a bit ambitious?" One of them said, "Well it might be, but let me ask if you are aware that last weekend 90 per cent. of Germany's energy came from wind and solar?" It presented a bit of a problem on Monday when the rest of the energy-generating systems had to kick back in, but that is an interfacing issue about a transformation into a very different future.

The difficulty for the UK is that we have set a threshold of ambition that will deliver the failure that it is designed to deliver. What we lack is the ambition to drive the transformation. We can start to achieve it by signing up to the 10:10 commitment and raising the level of feed-in tariffs to make a meaningful difference. Then we can save the generations who follow us.

6.37 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): It is a delight to hear the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) talk about fuel poverty in such impassioned terms. That is precisely the issue that I tried to address through the Fuel Poverty Bill which I presented to Parliament and which, shamefully, this Government and this Minister finally killed off last Friday.

As I walk around the parts of my constituency that are below sea level and see the houses that are flooded each year, and as I look at the one-in-25-year and one-in-50-year events that are now happening regularly, the scientist in me says, "You cannot extrapolate from the particular to the general," but my heart tells me that something is going badly wrong. That is what is causing so many people in this country to recognise at long last that there is an urgency to this-that it is something that we cannot wait any longer to deal with.

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