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4.51 pm

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): I wish that we come back from Copenhagen with a significant agreement, but whatever enthusiasm, skill and energy our delegation demonstrates there-I will be there watching and cheering them on-they cannot do it on their own. That is the nub of the problem. That is not only why we need an international agreement if we are to achieve any success in combating climate change, but why it is extremely difficult to do so.

We have watched a sort of stately gavotte in climate change negotiations for years, going round and round in circles, producing very little. We have not even had a legally binding agreement up to now. Kyoto was not an effective, legally binding agreement, and there has been no question of compliance action for countries failing their Kyoto obligations. If we get a legally binding agreement out of Copenhagen, it will be a tremendous first for the planet.

However, we have already had to accept the fact that, for reasons totally beyond the control of the British Government, a binding legal agreement is completely unlikely. That can happen only with the enthusiastic endorsement of the US Administration, who have been the stumbling block of climate change negotiations for the past 10 years. Although the Bush Administration have moved on and been replaced by an enlightened Administration under Obama, he is leading a country in which the debate on climate change is 10 or 20 years behind that of the rest of the world.

The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) may pour scorn on public concern about climate change and support for action against climate change in the UK, but compared with America, that concern and support is pretty good.

Mr. Lilley: I am afraid the hon. Gentleman's point is wrong. There is a lower support for, or belief in, action to curb climate change in this country than in the United States of America.

Dr. Turner: Well, I find that extremely hard to believe. The resistance to climate change in the US is very strong. I remember the first real redneck I ever met was a senator from Wisconsin. He leaned back in his chair, put his feet on his desk and said, "If it impinges badly on the American economy, there is no way we're gonna ratify Kyoto." The US economy comes first, second, third and fourth as far as a large percentage of the American populace is concerned.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that the best outcome that we can achieve at Copenhagen is international agreement to aim for a 2° target. We must be careful about investing too much emotional capital in Copenhagen. First, we cannot afford to let it be the last chance, because if we do not get what we want from it, we cannot just go home and stop trying. Secondly, we have to consider what a 2° target means in practical terms. It does not mean that if all the world's Governments agree that we will limit global warming to 2°, we can all go home and sleep safe in our beds. The Committee's reports make it clear that that
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target means that we would have a 50 per cent. chance of restraining global warming to 2°. That means that there is also a 50 per cent. chance of exceeding 2° and a smaller chance of warming reaching 4°. I just hope that the world's luck is better than mine, because from my personal experience I tend to get the wrong end of a 50:50 chance. Is a 50 per cent. probability acceptable? It seems to be the best that science can offer and that even the most effective international agreement can deliver, but does it make us comfortable? No, it does not, but anything less does not bear thinking about.

What will happen if the US cannot come to the table with something a little more positive, in terms of numbers and determination? It looks as though that will not happen, because of the difficulties in its own backyard. Will that mean that other countries will fail to agree and walk away? I am somewhat optimistic on that point. For instance, I share the optimism of the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) about the position of the Chinese. I was also on the Environmental Audit Committee delegation that visited Beijing, and it was clear that the Chinese had just as sophisticated an appreciation of climate change science and what needs to be done as anybody else. They are also deploying renewable energy far more effectively and far faster than we are, but then of course they do not have to worry about Conservative local authorities refusing planning permission for wind farms. So they have certain advantages.

The Chinese are also concerned with alleviating poverty, hence their rush to industrialisation and their massive deployment of coal-fired power stations. The Chinese are conscious of the implications of that too. They are working on CCS far more quickly and effectively than we are, and I strongly suspect that if we do not get our act together, we will not be supplying CCS kits to retrofit Chinese power stations; we will be buying them from them. That would not be helpful.

What are we going to do? Are we going to wait until we have the whole deal in place at Copenhagen before we start to up our game on climate change and CO2 reduction, or do we start to take action anyway on the things that matter-things such as having a sensible carbon price to encourage investment in the right direction of low-carbon technologies? At the moment, carbon pricing is dependent on the emissions trading scheme, which has produced a very limp carbon price indeed. We are waiting for something to emerge from Copenhagen to provide the basis for a firm carbon price, although I am a little sceptical about the likelihood of that. We have to consider what we are to do if a sensible carbon price does not emerge as a result of Copenhagen. We will have to consider unilateral action, or action at an EU level or at the highest international level possible.

Another prime element to Copenhagen will be deforestation and the evolution of a reasonable reduced tropical deforestation regime to arrest deforestation in developing countries. That hangs in the balance, but deforestation accounts for more than 20 per cent. of current CO2 emissions in the world. Can we afford to wait? I suggest that we cannot. If we do not get from Copenhagen a binding agreement or a satisfactory political agreement, we will have to continue to work for it. If we do not get it from Copenhagen, we will have to go for it again in a few months. However, rather than waiting until we have every duck in line before we get a fully fledged legal agreement, action on aspects of climate
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change must be taken as soon as possible. That might mean groups of countries-led, I would hope, by the UK and the EU-acting together to start the process, even if they cannot get the consent and support of the whole world.

We cannot afford to wait. One country cannot be allowed effectively to block progress by the whole world-much too much is at stake. The one agreement at which we must not arrive at Copenhagen is one no more valuable than the piece of paper with which Mr. Chamberlain returned from Munich. In climate change, we are faced with something just as threatening as world war. It might take longer than a world war, but the effects and resulting casualties will be just as calamitous. We have to go for it at Copenhagen, and if we do not get everything that we want there, we must be prepared to start leading action on our own.

5.4 pm

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): This has been a wide-ranging debate. Surveying just the contributions from those on the Conservative Benches, we went from the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who proved that he is excited, as always, about tackling climate change and who prayed in aid the Pope and denounced creationism, to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), who gave us the benefit of his list. I am only sorry that he did not sing his list, as I am old enough to remember him doing in days gone by.

However, it is understandable why we ranged across such a variety of subjects, because the issue affects us, and needs to tackled, at all levels. As this is a debate in the run-up to Copenhagen, we have considered governmental and international challenges. Before making one or two points about that, however, I would like to start with some more parochial issues, which can be dealt with at the individual and local levels.

Let me start by praising the 10:10 campaign, which has been mentioned, which is an accessible way for individuals, local authorities and the Government to make a practical short-term difference. I have signed up, as I understand the Cabinet and Departments have. More importantly, the Government have promised an additional £20 million to ensure that targets to reduce emissions can be achieved.

I will come to that when I talk about what local government is or is not doing, but I am sorry that neither Conservative council in my constituency has signed up to 10:10. I know that all Labour councils have been urged to sign up, and I am sorry that many Conservative councils are not doing that. What is required is not just to urge people to sign up, but to facilitate them. The fact that the Government are making grants available for insulation and the fact that we now have feed-in tariffs mean that it is possible for people to take those steps.

One way in which I hope that I am making an effort locally is by joining the Airplot scheme, which, for those who are not familiar with it, is the purchase of a piece of land on the site of the proposed third runway at Heathrow. Many of my constituents have signed up as beneficial owners, with the support of local environmental organisations, as well as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Later this month we will plant
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some apple trees there, because it is on the site where Cox's apples were originally bred-is "bred" the right word? No, possibly not.

The scheme has received a lot of publicity, but it has a serious intention. Aviation, and particularly the third runway at Heathrow, is something of a blind spot for the Government. I recently read an editorial in The Economist that is exactly a year old, but which, perhaps not surprisingly, was reprinted last week. It concluded thus:

the Prime Minister

It is no surprise that that has come true, as it pretty obviously would. As soon as Gatwick was out of BAA's hands, the potential for expansion there was clear.

That does not mean that I am advocating a second runway at Gatwick, although that would obviously be much more sensible and environmentally friendly than having another one at Heathrow. However, what has happened shows the complete confusion in the various views on aviation that we hear, and that goes for both parties. For example, the Greenpeace website says:

whereas we had one Opposition Front Bencher saying only a couple of months ago that the plans for a third runway would be revisited if a Conservative Government were elected. At the same time, we had Boris Johnson initially saying that Heathrow would be closed and a new airport built in the Thames estuary, whereas he now says that that new airport will be in addition to a two-runway Heathrow, and that we will have an additional four runways in the south-east. This is a chaotic situation for aviation policy to be in, for all the parties.

Frank Dobson: Does my hon. Friend agree that the success of the high-speed link to the channel tunnel and the high-speed rail connections beyond it, along with the newly improved St. Pancras station in my constituency, demonstrate that the best way to deal with the demand on capacity at Heathrow is to ensure that people do not want to make short-haul flights to Europe? The sooner we build high-speed connections in the rest of Britain, the sooner we can eliminate most domestic flights as well.

Mr. Slaughter: I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. I am sure that a number of Ministers would agree, too, including the Secretary of State for Transport and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

I do not want to make a whole speech about Heathrow, but it is impossible to ignore issues of this kind if we are to have a coherent policy across the board on climate change. The Opposition's policy, despite their volte face at the Conservative party conference a year ago, is just as confused and disingenuous on this issue.

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Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman that there is nothing confused on our side. We are very clear that, if we win the next general election, there will be no third runway at Heathrow.

Mr. Slaughter: The hon. Gentleman says that, but we hear siren voices saying very different things. I also remind him that, three months before the instructions to the then shadow Transport Secretary at the Tory party conference, half the shadow Cabinet were lecturing my constituents on why it was in the country's economic interests to have a third runway. I do not think that many people, including most people in the environmental movement, believe what the Conservatives are saying for a moment.

As the hon. Gentleman has introduced that theme, I want to suggest that he read another interesting article on the Greenpeace website, entitled "Do the Tories get climate change?" It is based on the fact that the 10 leading Conservative bloggers on the subject-some very influential people-all happen to be climate change deniers.

Ms Buck: Is my hon. Friend also aware that a number of leading Conservative councils have chosen not to back the 10:10 campaign and not to give local leadership on climate change? In fact, on Wednesday night, Westminster city council refused to support a motion accepting 10:10.

Mr. Slaughter: Indeed, and I have just mentioned that both my Conservative councils take the same view. That is not surprising, because most London Conservative councils are off the scale when it comes to opposing environmental projects. My local authority is the only riparian borough that opposes the Thames tunnel or any relief scheme for sewage going into the Thames.

It is not surprising to find these views wherever we look across the Conservative party. For example, the shadow Business Secretary had some interesting views on wind farms, but the wind changed direction and he changed his mind overnight, and the shadow Chancellor did not mention climate change once in his speech to the Conservative party conference, perhaps because he thinks that there is no economic aspect to climate change. As the Secretary of State pointed out, the Conservative party refuses to clarify whether the aid budget would suffer in order to spend money on climate change, and my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) mentioned that the Conservatives' closest ally in Europe is Václav Klaus, who is a notorious-possibly one of the world's leading-climate change deniers.

I shall read a few sentences from President Klaus's interesting book, "Blue Planet in Green Shackles. What is Endangered: Climate or Freedom?" The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden might be interested in this, because it sounds very like part of his earlier speech. The book claims that climate change is a "false myth". It states:

These are the sort of people who are the Conservative party's natural allies. It might be said that while the Conservatives are safely in opposition, it does not really matter, but it does. Unfortunately, given the way the political cycle goes, a large number of town halls around
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the country are now controlled by the Conservative party, yet the role of local government in taking practical measures to resist climate change is very important.

Let us take recycling, for example. This morning, when I went down to get my post, now hopefully restored, I found what I first thought was a personal letter, but it had in fact gone out to every household in the borough. There is perhaps some irony in sending out in envelopes so many letters about recycling. It was from my local council and it said, "Recycling: it's a duty, not a choice", telling off the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham for not doing enough to recycle. I was quite surprised to receive it, as it is the first thing that I have ever had in four years from the Conservative council on the subject of recycling. For a moment, I thought that I was perhaps not doing enough, but then I thought that one of the main reasons was that my Conservative council provides virtually no recycling service whatever.

When the council was Labour-controlled, it provided a garden waste collection service, but that was subsequently charged for and then abolished, so that over the last two years for which figures are available, composting went down from 4.5 to 3.5 per cent. The council refuses to provide any food recycling service. When one of my constituents asked about it, the council said that it was illegal, which is strange because Ealing council next door provides such a food recycling service and I am not aware that it is illegal.

The current council has continued a recycling service that was started by the previous Labour council, whereby one puts mixed recycling into an orange sack. A scheme has been introduced where that is now collected at the same time as general refuse. It might be said that there is nothing wrong with that, except that I have often sat behind the refuse vehicles and watched the recycling sacks being put in with the general refuse and mixed up with it. It is perhaps not surprising that the net result is that a London borough with a population that is educated and aware as far as recycling is concerned-frankly, it does not need to be told, at great public expense and waste, that it is a duty to recycle-is now recycling only 26 per cent. of its waste, which is about half of what the best councils are achieving. Before Conservative Members start lecturing the Government, as I have heard them doing this afternoon and on many other occasions, perhaps they should take the beam from their own eyes and look at what their own local authorities are doing around the country, which is on the whole, I am afraid, very little.

Let me start to conclude-I have only a few minutes left-by dealing with one or two other subjects that have been raised, which I would like to put as questions to Ministers. The first is the issue of green jobs. The Government have said, it is true, that 1.2 million people will be in green jobs by 2015. That is surely one of the key issues both for energy and the manufacturing sector. It seems to me that this is a win-win-win situation. First, investment in renewables and green manufacturing will help the country out of recession. Secondly, it will improve our security, as the ability to generate energy domestically is a far better alternative than relying on uncertain, unreliable and expensive sources of fossil fuels from overseas. Principally, however, if we are going to tackle climate change, it is a clear and absolute requirement massively to increase the percentage generation
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of power through renewable sources. I am pleased to say that the target of 40 per cent. from low-carbon sources by 2020 is there and clearly stated.

I do not agree with everything that the environmental groups have to say. I do not agree with them about carbon capture and storage or, indeed, about nuclear power, because those methods will clearly be necessary. In the short term, however, the Government should make the investment in green jobs-whether they involve wind turbines, electric vehicles, hydroelectric schemes or nuclear projects-a priority. It is clearly not a priority for Opposition parties. Currently, 60 per cent. of applications for wind farms are turned down by Conservative councils. I do not think that the Government need to be lectured, but I do think that they need to do more in that regard.

Finally, let me refer my hon. Friend the Minister to the briefing for Copenhagen from Friends of the Earth. It makes two points. One relates to the need for developed countries to help the developing world to make strides. The Minister may not need to be told that, because the Prime Minister's statement on the European Council meeting earlier this week showed that once again he is leading the field in ensuring that money is made available to that end. The other issue, which is perhaps more contentious, is offsetting, which Friends of the Earth thinks should not be part of the climate change agenda. I might not go that far, but I would say that the developed world has an obligation not simply to offset-not simply to rid itself of its burden through deforestation programmes or other means-but actually to cut emissions. The Government need to address that at Copenhagen.

I believe-I think that this has been acknowledged on all sides-that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have been doing a fantastic job so far in leading the international agenda, but it is clearly necessary to go further. The developed world must take more of a lead in ensuring that climate change is tackled.

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