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3.59 pm

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): It is a great pleasure to take part in the debate, and to follow the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), who made a passionate and well-informed speech about the need for the Government to do more about HFCs. I entirely agree with him, and he has cross-party support for his call for greater action and urgency than we have seen from the Government to date.

I intend to speak about China, Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment-GLOBE International-and climate change. In the context of climate change, China is often portrayed as a large, irresponsible polluter, as a country that will not come to the table, and, along with the United States, as the chief barrier to international progress on action on climate change. The question that logically follows that portrayal is, "If China-coupled with the United States-is
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unprepared to take real action, why should we, a country whose emissions amount to only 2 per cent. of the global total, need to take action ourselves?"

My engagement with Chinese legislators through GLOBE, an international cross-party group of parliamentarians from the major economies, has revealed that that perception of China is far from the truth. If anything, it is we who are in danger of being left behind in the race towards a more prosperous low-carbon future and the new jobs and industries that it will bring, to which many hon. Members referred.

Using some indicators, one could be forgiven for thinking that China is the developed country and the United Kingdom the developing country when it comes to tackling climate change. The Minister may smile. For many years she campaigned for greater action from the Government, and she now finds herself in the unenviable position of having to defend the indefensible from the Front Bench. However, I know that she and her colleagues -including, I hope and believe, the new Secretary of State-are bringing greater urgency to the necessity for Britain to take action at home as well as talking so ably abroad.

Let us look at the figures relating to renewable energy. In 2007, 8.5 per cent. of the total consumption of primary energy in China came from renewable sources. In the United States the figure was 7 per cent., and in the United Kingdom it was just 2 per cent. The figures for electricity production make similar reading: 15 per cent. in China, 8.5 per cent. in the United States, and just 4.9 per cent. in the United Kingdom. The source of those figures is the Department itself. For a country with some of the best renewable resources in Europe, including wind, tidal and wave, the United Kingdom's progress-to put it kindly-looks weak.

Let us now look at the amount invested in green technologies as part of the economic stimulus packages, which offer a real opportunity to ensure not only that money flows in the economy but that we prepare for a low-carbon future. In China, the figure devoted to green technologies, including clean energy, low-carbon infrastructure such as smart grids-who would have thought that China, a developing country, might be making more progress than us on smart grids?-electric vehicles, public transport networks and the like was 34 per cent. In the United States, it was 12 per cent. Those are the figures for the two "laggards", but the figure for the United Kingdom was just 7 per cent. That is not exactly something of which we can be proud.

Mr. Gummer: Is not the United States figure even higher? Many of the green issues are separate from the rest of the package. The total figure is actually close to 30 per cent. The real laggard is the United Kingdom.

Mr. Stuart: I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for correcting me. That helps to put in context the fact that, while in international climate negotiations and diplomacy Britain has taken a leading role of which it can be proud, when it comes to our domestic performance, again and again we lag behind the countries that are typically portrayed by many as the barriers to progress.

There is no point in just talking. We heard a reference to cobra-like speed on one hand and a sloth-like performance on the other. The reality is that we are a
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tiger when it comes to talking about climate change abroad, and a sloth when it comes to implementing changes at home.

Chinese cars have already reached the level of efficiency that the United States has set as its target for 2016 under President Obama's newly established fuel economy standards. Of course, if one were to take into account measures to control population-a significant factor in determining future emissions trajectories, notwithstanding the Secretary of State's rightful point that growth in incomes can be a contributing factor to controlling populations-the Chinese are estimated to have averted 300 million births since the 1970s, perhaps using methods that we would not universally support, thus saving an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of CO2, which is equivalent to the entire emissions of Japan.

When one considers the relative capacities to act on climate change-a factor that is quite rightly a central principle of the UN framework convention on climate change-the Chinese actions look even more impressive. China's GDP per capita is about $6,000. In the US and the UK, the figure is about $45,000. CO2 emissions per capita are under 5 tonnes, against almost 10 tonnes in the UK and 19 tonnes in the US. Moreover, since 1990, which we can perhaps mark as the date when the world finally accepted the problem of man-made climate change, the UK has emitted four times more CO2 per capita than China.

Clearly, China has a particular responsibility on climate change because it has a population of 1.3 billion-about a fifth of global population-but I firmly believe, having visited China with the Environmental Audit Committee, as well as meeting legislators, that China understands climate change better than most Governments around the world. It understands that it will suffer hard in an insecure climate, and it is doing all that it can to mitigate its impact on the climate within the constraints that it faces. As I mentioned in an intervention, 250 million people live on less than $1.50 a day in China. Those people are in abject poverty-nothing relative there-and China's focus is rightly on reducing poverty, but its efforts to date deserve praise, especially given the context in which it operates.

Dr. Whitehead: I am listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech with interest. I very much agree with a lot of what he says about the changing commitment in China and the progress that has been made. However, does he have any figures on the number of local authorities in China that have turned down renewable energy applications? Assuming that he does not conclude that such applications are widely turned down, does he think that perhaps command economy methods to introduce renewables should be adopted in the UK?

Mr. Stuart: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being true to the Maoist or Stalinist past that he doubtless has-the attraction to the left in this country of the command economy of communism in full flight is enormous. I do not know the numbers on local authorities turning down such things. The Chinese have introduced incentives for those who run provincial areas not only on economic growth, but on decarbonising their GDP growth.

The hon. Gentleman, like so many people from his political tradition, regards any resistance from people as best overcome by further diktat from the centre,
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further driving things down. As ever, they want to characterise anyone who does not like the impact of their centralising measures on their local area as necessarily dinosaur opponents who must be ridden roughshod over. That is why he doubtless supports setting up the new quango to dismiss local people's views. That is typical of the left. I fundamentally believe that he and the Government are wrong to believe that central diktat will lead to more wind farms.

As one Labour Member rightly said, we need greater community control and ownership of assets. We need to let communities feel that they are empowered to decide where wind farms are built. We need to consider the incentives that local communities have to allow wind farms to be built. If we use incentives, listen to people and treat them with humility and respect, instead of having arrogant centralising power, we will find that we have more wind turbines, both on and offshore, than under the current procedure, which leads to the increasing alienation certainly of my constituents, who feel that their words are not listened to because people above them think that they know so much better. That is not the way to get more wind turbines, and the people will eventually slow things down. My point is that we achieve more with honey than with a stick, if I may mix my metaphors.

Dr. Whitehead: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he might well have missed a hint of irony in my previous intervention.

Mr. Stuart: I must ask for the hon. Gentleman's forgiveness; I apologise for failing to pick that up, but it is so rare that I pick up irony from any Member of his political tradition. [ Interruption. ] My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) says that what we need is bribery. Bribery is, perhaps, not the right word, but if we want renewable energy we do need to look very hard at incentives. Renewable energy can have negative impacts; a lot of people do not like wind turbines, for instance, and they are perfectly free to hold that opinion. If we want people to have things they do not necessarily like, we need to ensure that incentives are in place-or bribes, if that term is preferred-so that they then want them and compete for them because they recognise the benefits to their area and judge that, on balance, they should have them. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend mentions the French system. He applauds it, of course, but I am less sure about its dirigiste nature. However, the French may be dirigiste, but they buy people off as well, so I will take that as a good point.

I was about to mention China's engagement in GLOBE International forums. Its engagement has been led by Congressman Wang Guangtao, chairman of the environment and resources protection committee in the National People's Congress. He previously served as construction Minister and the deputy mayor of Beijing. I believe he was also formerly close to the Deputy Prime Minister of our country, which is, as far as I can see, the only blemish on his record. Wang was the architect of China's climate change legislation and drafted the recent resolution on climate change that was passed by the NPC's standing committee in late August. It received very little attention, but it is a very bold document and states how central climate change is to Chinese development.

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Under the auspices of the GLOBE International commission on climate and energy security, Congressman Wang, together with US Congressman Ed Markey, drafted a set of legislative principles on climate change. Those principles were adopted by consensus at the recent GLOBE Copenhagen forum, which took place in the Danish Parliament, the Folketing, on 24 and 25 October.

More than 100 legislators from 16 Parliaments of the major economies-Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, the European Parliament, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the UK and the United States-endorsed a report that showed that legislators do not need to wait for a post-2012 framework to take action in their respective countries and to set us on the path to a low-carbon economy. The report showed that up to 70 per cent. of the emissions reductions needed under a scenario that would give us a reasonable chance of limiting the global average temperature rise to 2° C can be achieved through five policy levers that legislators have access to now: renewable energy, industrial energy efficiency, buildings and appliance standards, fuel efficiency and fuel standards, and forestry.

Congressmen Wang and Markey have led the way by passing climate change legislation consistent with those principles in the Chinese NPC and the US House of Representatives-regardless of the challenges that remain to getting such legislation through the Senate-and all other delegations at the GLOBE forum gave a commitment to advance the legislative principles in their domestic Parliaments, as I am partially seeking to do today.

I raised the legislative principles with the Prime Minister directly at Prime Minister's questions last week, and I am grateful to him for agreeing to meet a cross-party delegation, as has the Secretary of State today. The Brazilian delegation is meeting President Lula on 11 November. The Danish delegation has already met the Danish Prime Minister.

This House was the first legislature in the world to pass climate change legislation including quantified emissions reduction targets, but so far the actions of legislators in the major emitting economies have not been joined up. If legislators were to move forward using a common set of principles, our actions would be magnified, competitive distortions would be minimised, and we would give Governments and leaders the confidence to go further and faster in the final negotiations at the UN, the latest round of which will take place in Copenhagen in December.

The role of legislators is crucial in tackling climate change; after all, it was legislators in the US Congress who stopped any chance of the Kyoto agreement being passed. If Governments do not carry their legislators with them, they will not be able to carry forward change. Although it is important that we do not just talk to each other, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) said in a useful and interesting contribution for which the House should be grateful, we do need to carry the people whom we represent with us, and we should not assume that they necessarily agree with the consensus in this place.

In the couple of minutes remaining to me, I wish to comment on a couple of other points. There is no pathway to the position that we all want to see in 2050 without using carbon capture and storage, because of the nature of the coal industry in China, India, the United States and the UK. I put it to the Minister that
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progress in this country has been painfully slow. In 2003, the Government said that action on CCS was urgent, yet we now find ourselves with a programme to have demonstration projects for CCS without being certain about the numbers-they have yet to be clarified. The idea is that the first project will be up in 2014, but that looks increasingly unlikely because of Government delay. I hope that she will look to move further and faster on CCS.

CCS offers not just an interim technology to deal with coal before we come up with cheaper, clean alternatives, but it is one of the few realisable technologies to reverse some of the emissions into the atmosphere. The combination of biomass and a CCS-enabled plant would provide the opportunity to reverse emissions from some of our electricity-and, possibly, heat-generation. Thus, CCS offers a real opportunity. Given that Britain has some of the biggest oil companies in the world, has the experience of working in the North sea-and has that sea just sitting there-and has some of the largest engineering consultancies in the world, it has a special opportunity to lead on CCS. I am afraid that we are giving that lead away because of inaction from the Government. If this Government do not act, I hope that an incoming Conservative Government next year-if that is what we have-will take quicker and more urgent action.

Like other speakers, I wish the Secretary of State and the Ministers in the team that goes to Copenhagen the best of luck in finding an agreement that is both realistic and binding-if not in December, at least shortly thereafter. We need something strong to send a signal and get the investment that we need to clean up our emissions path.

4.17 pm

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): I have been both encouraged and dismayed by this debate. I was dismayed when the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) repeated, yet again, the canard that because not all scientists agree with everything about all aspects of climate change, the debate is uncertain, undecided and open. A consensus does not mean that everyone has to agree. As we can see in this Chamber, there is a very encouraging consensus about the need for action on climate change. There is a consensus of strong support and good wishes for the actions that our Government will be taking to ensure that the best agreement that can be reached at Copenhagen is reached. Of course, not everyone in this Chamber has absolutely to agree for there to be a consensus-we have heard that that is the case this afternoon.

One of the more encouraging aspects of this debate came when the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), speaking on behalf of the Opposition, emphasised the importance of the Copenhagen agreement as a key moving point in world action on tackling climate change. He likened it in some ways to the Bretton Woods agreement immediately after the second world war, and quoted what John Maynard Keynes said before that conference. I remind the House and the hon. Gentleman that John Maynard Keynes was, among other things, a strong advocate of investment in public spending and the economy in general during recovery from a recession and a strong opponent of closing services down and
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stopping things happening during that period of recovery. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has not in any way damaged his career as a result of his advocacy of Keynes today.

Keynes said a number of other things; among them, he emphasised the object of skilled investment. He said:

Although he was not talking about climate change, that seems to me to describe very accurately the skilled investment that is needed to ensure that the Copenhagen agreement works as strongly as we hope it will. In that respect, the recent discussions at the EU summit resulted in agreement on a substantial level of investment from the EU as part of the Copenhagen agreement. That will ensure that the less developed and developing countries can come to the table in Copenhagen much more secure in the knowledge that there will be genuine assistance for their economies and their development as part of the deal. That was described as a breakthrough, and it really was. A great deal of credit must go to the Prime Minister and the British Government. Although that is by no means a done deal in terms of exact figures, it is nevertheless a great step forward in how Copenhagen can now be cast.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State underlined the sort of clean development mechanisms that the investment will underpin. Such investment is of use and interest to all of us in ensuring that the development of such countries skips the experience that the developed world went through with its development of electricity and other utilities by exceptionally dirty means. Among other things, it means that the era of using mineral fuel as the prime engine for the economy of developed and developing economies is over and that the clear consequence of that-the carbon that has been placed in the atmosphere-is over. If that era is to be engineered into place across the world by means of these investment devices, that will be a good and skilled investment for us all-for this country as well as others.

The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden made an important point on the extent to which the population of this country, according to recent polling, does not appear to be fully behind the idea that action on climate change is urgent. Although there is some dispute about the figures and about the number of people who believe that nothing can be done, that does not imply that such people are not interested in or concerned or worried about climate change. It seems to me that those in that particular section of popular opinion must have underlined to them the fact that something can be done, that we can take action and that we can stabilise the world's climate and the increase in temperature, which can follow a downward trajectory before, eventually, it stabilises. That is very important to what we are trying to achieve at Copenhagen in action on climate change.

In that context, it is very important that a message is sent out about how jobs in the new low-carbon economy will greatly benefit the people of this country. However, as the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) mentioned, we must also recognise that the investment figure proposed at the European summit will probably not be nearly enough to ensure that longer-term development arrangements for the developing world are secured.

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