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We have heard already, in particular from the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), about the threat to global biodiversity and natural things. When I had the pleasure of hosting an event the other day in this place for the organisation
Plantlife, of which I am a trustee-it published a new book called "The Ghost Orchid Declaration" about the plight of wild plants in our country-I was vividly reminded that one in five of our wild plants is currently threatened with extinction. Each county in our country is losing, on average, two of its wild plants every year.
Obviously, the causes of that are complex. It is to do with unsustainable farming practices, a planning system that does not understand the needs of wild things, poor management, and in some cases climate change. Above all, it is to do with neglect. There is always something more important, a more pressing agenda, or someone making a row about something other than the plight of wild plants. I mention that only because I think something rather similar has affected the debate about climate change for very many years. It is 17 years since the Rio conference, and today we are having a discussion in the Chamber almost as if it never happened.
Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): It is also to do with the issue of invasive plants-Plantlife has done some excellent work in that field-which are particularly prevalent in the UK. The Government introduced a horticultural code of practice in 2005 that was intended to get on top of the problem, but this country's indigenous species, particularly flora, are very severely threatened in many areas by invasive species, which need to be dealt with.
Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Of course, people in his part of the world suffer from invasive species every summer on a grand scale-they are usually towing caravans! He is absolutely right, and Plantlife has done important work in drawing attention to the problem of invasive species.
Mr. Gummer: Does my hon. Friend agree that the example he uses is another pointer to the fact that we cannot think of climate change on its own? Climate change is merely a symptom of the fact that we, as human beings, are living in a way that is absolutely unsustainable. We have to deal with that, even if it is nothing to do with climate change.
Mr. Ainsworth: I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. The fundamental point is that we need to learn again to live within the limits that nature has given us. If we continue to pretend that nature is limitless, which it clearly is not, particularly bearing in mind global population growth, which has been mentioned, we will continue to put our future and the future of everything else that lives on this planet at risk.
I drew attention to the plight of wild plants in our country to make a broader point on what has affected the global negotiations on climate change. I must say that I looked with a degree of despair at the consequences and outcome of the tortuous negotiations that took place within the European Union last week, and at the communiqué that came out of them, which did not fill me with enormous hope.
It is commonly said that sorting out climate change is about saving the planet, but as I have said before, it is not about that, because the planet is perfectly capable of looking after itself. What we are really talking about-this has been mentioned by right hon. and hon. Members-is saving human lives, civilisation, culture and the values
that we human beings have tended to try to hold dear over very many centuries. Watching this slow process grinding towards some sort of fudge at Copenhagen fills me with a certain amount of despair, as I said.
It may well be that today's generation of politicians is not up to this task, but unfortunately, only today's generation of politicians is being asked to undertake it. After all, in the end, they are politicians and not saints. In democracies in particular, we know how easy it is for agendas to be tugged away, and for more pressing, immediate issues to dominate. All I can say to that is-we know this from Stern and other commentators-unless we take action at Copenhagen or very soon after this coming December, the difficulties that we will collectively face in dealing with the problem will only get worse and more expensive, and I suspect that they will involve a degree of coercion that many people might find unpalatable. There is a need to take action now.
"Science has been moved aside and the space has been filled up with political myopia with every country...trying to protect its own...short-term interests."
Like other hon. Members, I was delighted with the Secretary of State's speech-he was indeed honest and said that negotiations were not going well. It is not within his power to make them go well, or indeed within the power of anyone in the Chamber, but it is essential that they do so.
Even within the European Union, we have seen divisions, arguments and disputes, and the inability to come up with clear numbers because certain member countries are not really signed up-I name Poland in particular. If countries within the developed European Union cannot come up with robust numbers and instead must come up with a fudgy expression such as "paying our fair share", how on earth can we expect the developing world to look upon us seriously? How are we going to bridge the gap between €100 billion-a figure that has been put around-for adaptation and mitigation, and €400 billion, which is the rough figure that the developing world came up with earlier this year? We are a very long way from reaching an accommodation on that.
I do not blame the Government for that. Indeed, I commend them on the way in which they have handled the approach to Copenhagen and the international context of climate change. It is the domestic arena that has seen some significant failures, prevarications, contradictions and delays. On the international agenda, the Government have done as good a job as could be expected.
"Europe is leading the way, making these bold proposals".
"The major decision to come out of this is we're leading the way on climate change negotiations".
Those words do not fill me with enormous enthusiasm. "Leading the way" is not a decision in any case, although it may be a fact. Depressingly, it may be true that Europe is leading the way, but-as I have tried to
suggest-we are not doing a good job of persuading even our own people that there is a task in hand for the world leaders to consider in just a few weeks.
The US has been mentioned, and it is in danger of getting seriously bogged down in its domestic political agenda. The Bill there has stalled because of problems in the Senate. If the US comes to Copenhagen without a clear agenda, what message will that send to the developing world and, more particularly, to China? China has been making much more positive noises, and that is greatly to be welcomed, but if the Americans do not step up to the plate with some robust proposals, what incentive will China have to go the extra mile? While all this haggling is going on, the developing world is looking on with scepticism, and that is also a matter for concern.
"It is physically impossible to complete every detail of the treaty at Copenhagen".
So we are haggling over money-and the numbers do matter-but I come back to the question of priorities. Earlier this week, the taxpayer, courtesy of the Government, wrote a cheque for £35 billion to the Royal Bank of Scotland-in a single day, we wrote a cheque for the same amount as we are likely to spend in 2020 to deal with climate change in the whole year. That illustrates a strange sense of proportion. Important though RBS is, it is not as important in the long run as saving human values, culture and civilisation or all the other opportunities provided by climate change, such as promoting green energy, jobs, energy security and so on. Let us get the situation into perspective. When I heard about the latest RBS bail-out I was reminded of an American commentator who wrote:
"Mother Nature doesn't do bail outs."
If I sound a little depressed about the prospects for Copenhagen, it is because it is a depressing outlook. Copenhagen offers the best chance of a binding, clear and just agreement, but it is not quite the last chance. I wholly agree with the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey, who made the point-I think that the Secretary of State agreed-that it would be much better not to have a deal at Copenhagen if it is a bad deal. Instead, it would be preferable to have an agreement that took us seriously and quickly towards a proper deal at a later date if that is what needs to happen. At least the negotiations in the run-up to Copenhagen, and the summit itself, may remind world leaders of the science-the Secretary of State was right to remind the House of the science-and the urgency of addressing this matter.
In all of the haggling over detail, let us not forget the overarching objective. The one thing that can move the world forward to a better and safer place is the establishment of a robust global price for carbon. The European emissions trading scheme, with all its flaws, weaknesses and failure thus far to deliver, is none the less a model that can be adapted, changed and made to work, not only in Europe but around the world. If we put a price on carbon, every decision we take can be taken within a
logical and rational context. We could make choices about whether we wanted expensive options that involve fossil fuels and high-carbon activities, or alternatives-which already exist in many cases, technologically-that are cheaper because they do not involve the carbon pollution of old-fashioned technologies. Such a scheme could raise many billions of pounds, dollars or euros-whichever currency one chooses-and would certainly play a key role in dealing with the problem of the rainforests, which has rightly been touched on today.
A global tax is advocated by some. Tax may well have a role to play within national Governments, but there is no global structure for taxation and that is therefore not an option. In the end, the markets will have to become a power for good. I know that that is a paradox, in that it is unbridled market activity that, over many years, has got us into the mess in the first place. But with the right framework in place-and it is politicians who need to put it there-the markets can deliver. The politicians' only job in this debate is to get the framework right. If we get the framework right, the market, human choice and rationality will do the rest. Put like that, it all sounds rather simple.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): It is appropriate that I should follow the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) in two respects. First, although his speech was rightly pessimistic, it highlighted the challenge that the world faces at Copenhagen and in negotiations to follow. Those negotiations clearly will not reach the outcome that we desired, and therefore it is right to be realistic about where we are, but also right to consider how we can move forward over the next few months.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman highlighted the importance of market mechanisms in, for example, putting a price on carbon and, as he may know, I have been doing some work with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Prime Minister on how we move towards a global carbon market. I know no one who suggests that a carbon market would provide the entire solution, but I have come to the view that putting a price on carbon through a system of tight caps on emissions by developed countries is an essential part of the package. It would also help to provide the resources that the hon. Gentleman said need to flow to developing countries.
The hon. Gentleman was right to be if not pessimistic, then realistic about the challenges that face us. I share the recognition across the House of the lead that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues have taken internationally in working towards an agreement at Copenhagen. If one speaks to parliamentary colleagues from other countries, there is no doubt that they recognise that the work that the British Government have done in trying to achieve international agreement has kept up momentum and led to recognition of the need to achieve a strong agreement at Copenhagen or thereafter.
I also welcome the cross-party consensus here today and in the debate running up to Copenhagen. There is no doubt that the position of the Government internationally is strengthened when other countries know that they speak for a broad consensus within the British political system.
The Secretary of State and his colleagues have been right to emphasise the importance of trying to seek a legally binding agreement in Copenhagen. That is certainly what we need. The emphasis appears to be moving from a legally binding agreement to what is described as a political agreement with numbers-in other words, a political agreement with specific commitments from developed countries and, more importantly, developing countries to emissions reductions. Nevertheless, we should not lose sight of the fact that we need to achieve a legally binding agreement or treaty.
In one respect, it could be argued that a comprehensive political agreement to which countries are genuinely signed up would perhaps be better than a legally binding agreement that we do not intend to implement-that was obviously part of the experience of Kyoto. In that sense, a political agreement at Copenhagen with clear commitments would be a major step forward. We should not lose sight of the fact, however, that in my view and that of most in the Chamber, I am sure, it has to be followed up with a legally binding agreement, with a compliance mechanism to ensure that countries fulfil those objectives.
I would be interested to hear from the Minister the Government's view on the process that they envisage being put in place to ensure that, whatever agreement is reached at Copenhagen-lets us hope that it is a substantial one-negotiation work will continue with haste and determination thereafter. I have heard people talking about a conference reconvening in three or six months, or perhaps not until the next annual conference in Mexico towards the end of 2010. It is important that momentum continues beyond Copenhagen, whatever the outcome of the negotiations.
I am sure that all in the Chamber know that an agreement is vital. There is a number of essential elements to any agreement: a recognition of the science; a commitment to a rise in temperatures of no more than 2° C; a recognition of equity for developing countries; the provision of the finance necessary for developing countries; a clear indication of numbers for the emission reductions expected from developed and major developing countries, as I mentioned; and of course an agreement to establish it on a legal framework at an early date.
It is important, when we have such discussions, to balance the correct appreciation of the seriousness of our position, which the hon. Member for East Surrey rightly emphasised, with the need not to become so pessimistic that people are driven into thinking that action is not worth taking. The Secretary of State, in his opening remarks, was right to emphasise the positive aspects of moving to a low-carbon economy. Mention was made by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) of the opportunities, particularly along the coast of east Scotland. I represent a constituency there and I know that hundreds of people are already working there in renewable industries of various sorts. They are already involved in many initiatives showing how moving to a low-carbon economy can be good for the economy and the future.
We need to emphasise to the public that changing to a low-carbon economy undoubtedly means substantial changes in the way we live, but that it does not necessarily mean moving to a hair-shirt existence. It is a question of changing our lifestyles and in some respects, one could
argue, improving our lifestyles, if we change our lives to reflect the needs of a low-carbon society.
Having said that it is important to be positive, we must also recognise that public concern about the matter is driven by an understandable fear of what climate change will mean. The public are right to be frightened about what runaway climate change will mean-all of us in the Chamber, I am sure, are frightened about it too. That is another point that needs to be borne in mind when we think about what will happen after Copenhagen if there is not a substantial agreement, and if the leaders leave with no agreement or-this would be worse-a sham agreement.
I am sure that all hon. Members have been contacted over the past few months and years by hundreds, if not thousands, of people in their constituencies concerned about climate change. As we all know, there is a strong movement in society of people concerned about it. They want our leaders, political community and world leaders to ensure that we get the right type of agreement at Copenhagen. If we do not come up with a strong agreement in Copenhagen, and if we do not build the mechanisms to ensure that the agreement is followed through-with detailed agreements thereafter-we run the risk of creating immense disillusion among hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in this country and other countries who are relying on world leaders finally to face up to the challenges that must be faced if we are to tackle climate change.
If we fail to come up with an agreement at Copenhagen, we will be doing a great disservice to the political process. The disillusionment that people have, for other reasons, with the political process will spread to those who expect us to come up with solutions at Copenhagen. It is important for so many reasons that we come up with a strong agreement and that we indicate that a broader political agreement can be followed up with a specific lead agreement thereafter.
The fact that there is a strong civil society, not just in our country but internationally, that is so concerned about the issue is a source of encouragement as well. I have seen develop over the past year or so a genuine world community interested in such matters. There are movements in different countries that listen to, rely upon and work with political and environmental movements in other countries.
That political movement is a force that will have its influence felt at Copenhagen, not just through the thousands of people from non-governmental organisations who will be lobbying leaders at Copenhagen, but because they reflect the concerns of hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The leaders of the world community do not-
Mark Lazarowicz: In a second. If the leaders of the world community do not reflect those concerns at Copenhagen, they will have to answer to their electorates and constituents. Equally, the pressure from those constituents and communities will be a powerful force to concentrate the minds of world leaders in trying to get something decent out of Copenhagen.
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