Previous Section Index Home Page

5.22 pm

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): This has been an excellent debate. It is rather a shame that it had to end with some rather incoherent rambling and on a slightly sour note, but I do not think that we will let that spoil our enjoyment of the afternoon.

I was in Copenhagen for the GLOBE meeting two weekends ago and returned feeling rather more encouraged than I had expected. There has been a great deal of negative press coverage about the prospects for the Copenhagen summit, but when briefing the GLOBE conference, the Danish Prime Minister was much more upbeat than I had expected him to be, and his Conservative colleague, the Danish Environment Minister, was truly inspirational. I think we can be comfortable in the knowledge that the summit could not be in better hands than those of the Danish Government. They are doing all they can to make it the greatest success that it can be, given the size of the challenges that it has still to overcome.

As the city's hotels, shops and local media hold their breath for the invasion by world leaders-and it is to the Prime Minister's credit that he was among the first to declare that he would be going-along with, of course, the circus of international lobbyists, non-governmental organisations and global media, it is by
5 Nov 2009 : Column 1084
no means certain that, however well prepared the Danes are, there will be the successful outcome for which we hope. The world is holding its breath for a summit that will be seen through the eyes of history either as the great turning point described by many Members today-a point at which the nations of the world overcame their differences to tackle a huge challenge-or as a tragic step over a precipice of our own making.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) reminded us, it was 20 years ago this week that Margaret Thatcher first told the United Nations that we needed concerted global action to tackle climate change. While the science has become ever more compelling, the reality is that, particularly since Kyoto, global leaders have failed to rise to the challenge of decarbonising our economies. So when the international community meets in Copenhagen, we will need to be more realistic and much tougher about the need for real, short-term and immediate action and delivery plans, and not just end up with more loose commitments to targets. It really will be a summit about delivery, and I was encouraged by the Secretary of State's words about the need to include specific numbers in any agreement.

Private sector finance will be absolutely key to all those solutions. It forms a key part of the EU contribution, but given the trillions of dollars that need to flow into decarbonising the global economy, we will look for leadership at Copenhagen and for the international frameworks that will provide the business certainty that we need if we are to achieve those investment flows.

Mr. Stuart: When listening to contributions by some Labour Members, we could be forgiven for thinking that investment by companies can be taken as a given. However, we have Europe-wide and sometimes global companies, and there is limited money to invest-in fact, there is a competitive position. It is important that we get the investment in this country, so we must understand the incentives to get the private sector to invest. If we do not do that, we will have what we have now: confusion and a lack of investment, owing to the poor framework set up by the Government.

Gregory Barker: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we take Europe as an example of how the world might look and consider the different regulatory regimes and the various methods of incentivising renewable energy, we can see that great strides forward have been made in some parts of Europe, such as Germany and Spain, because they have the right framework and incentives in place and the well of money has been fed primarily by the private sector. However, as many hon. Members have said today, we in the UK, where we have tremendous natural assets, ought to be the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy.

We have huge potential in our coastline and the North sea. We have amazing expertise and research and development in our universities. We have the City of London, which it is fashionable to trash, but which is a hub for raising green capital, both debt and equity, which will be vital in future. Yet we still trail lamentably behind other countries in Europe because we have not had the right framework for the past 10 years and have not been able to give businesses the confidence that they need to invest. We need to learn those lessons in a very pragmatic way and we must ensure that, at Copenhagen, we start to build the global frameworks that let us learn
5 Nov 2009 : Column 1085
the lessons of the past decade or two and start to trigger the trillions of dollars that need to flow if we are to get anywhere close to our aims.

Frank Dobson: On international trade and opportunities for profit, surely the frameworks in Germany and Spain that the hon. Gentleman suggests are superior should be able to attract investment from British entrepreneurs and people in the City, who are apparently falling over themselves to fund green developments.

Gregory Barker: I do not quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's point. Substantial UK and international investment goes into those countries, but it does not come here. We want it here in the UK, but we need it to flow around the world.

Let me talk briefly about the many points that have been made in this excellent debate. The right hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) spoke about the opportunities for business, particularly the manufacturers in his constituency, and the carbon capture and storage infrastructure opportunities. He is right that there are real opportunities, not just in his constituency but throughout the UK. He also said that the rain forest needs a really important boost at Copenhagen: there cannot be a successful Copenhagen outcome if it does not include a significant boost for rain forests. Ecosystem protection across the board needs to be incorporated into any framework agreement, recognising the job that wetlands and mango groves do.

The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) was right to call for action now. I totally agree with him that now is the moment when we need to come together to act, for political, scientific and business reasons. If we do create that framework, hopefully investment will start to flow.

The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) spoke with great knowledge and passion about the immense climate challenges facing Bangladesh. He truly informed the debate about that country's particular challenges. My hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells will visit there in the near future. Conservative Members are certainly very aware of the country, but the right hon. Gentleman has enlightened me on the subject today.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) is to be congratulated on the Green Energy (Definition and Promotion) Bill, which he championed and took through the House of Commons and which passed through the House of Lords today. He is also to be congratulated on the work he does as a trustee of Plantlife. He introduced an interesting dynamic to the debate by saying it is not really about the preservation of a planet, but about the preservation of human civilisation and the culture, values and history that we hold dear. He is absolutely right. He may have sounded depressed at times, but I think he helped to instil a high degree of urgency through his call for a robust global framework, and in particular a global price for carbon.

The hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) spoke about the need to focus on carbon technologies. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) struck a slightly discordant note, but he is always articulate and very well informed.

5 Nov 2009 : Column 1086

Mr. Lilley: And usually right.

Gregory Barker: I am afraid I do not necessarily agree with my right hon. Friend. He described himself today as, I think, putting forward a lukewarm case for what I guess we would call climate scepticism.

Mr. Lilley: It was a case for lukewarmism.

Gregory Barker: I stand corrected. Let me make a serious point, however. I know that my right hon. Friend is very genuine in his beliefs, but if we were talking about the probability of our children or grandchildren suffering not from climate change, but from cancer, would he indulge in the same rhetoric about probabilities and ratios? If we were talking about a 60 per cent. probability of our kids contracting cancer in the 2020s or 2030s, or a 50 per cent. probability of our grandchildren contracting cancer in the 2050s, would he engage in that same academic rhetoric? I think not, but as sure as eggs is eggs, for so many people around the world climate change, if it goes unchecked, will result in death and destruction as surely as cancer would. That may be an inappropriate comparison, but for a lot of people, particularly in the developing world, checking climate change will be a matter of life or death, and we must remember that.

Mr. Lilley: My hon. Friend asks a question. May I respond in the form of a question? Does he not realise that most medical research is conducted on precisely that sort of statistical basis, in that a product that has only a small chance of causing cancer goes into the public domain, whereas we legislate against products that have a large chance of doing so? I think that global warming is likely to cause lukewarming, not serious problems. My hon. Friend asks whether I would raise concerns about cancer on a statistical basis in other spheres. Indeed, I have done so: I argued in favour of the legalisation of cannabis, because the chance of getting cancer from cannabis is negligible, while the chance of getting the disease from tobacco is very great.

Gregory Barker: I appreciate the points my right hon. Friend makes, but even if we are at the lukewarm end of the range of probabilities, that is still a very substantial problem. If I thought there was any chance of actions taken by myself or a Government of whom I was a member leading to a 10, 20 or 30 per cent.-let alone a 60 or 70 per cent., or, as the IPCC believes, a 93 per cent.-probability of such an outcome, I would strain every sinew and not begrudge spending any money that I thought was necessary to avert that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) informed me that he would not be here now because he has another engagement to attend, but I should mention that he spoke with his usual passion and informed the debate with his particular expertise. The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) spoke about hydrofluorocarbons, and I agreed with a great deal of what he said on that subject. He only has to wait for a Conservative Government to see robust action on regulating HFCs out of the system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart), who does a huge amount of work on this agenda in his role as the international vice-president of
5 Nov 2009 : Column 1087
GLOBE International and as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, spoke at length about China. He is one of the more knowledgeable China-watchers in the House-

Edward Miliband: Sinologists.

Gregory Barker: Indeed. My hon. Friend discussed a lot of the developments in China that people do not appreciate-for example, the fact that it is ahead of us in the amount of renewable energy that it generates and that, sadly, it is increasingly ahead of us in the deployment of CCS technology. If we are not careful, we could be patting ourselves on the back for agreeing to stretching, long-term targets, while in the meantime the Chinese are taking practical action in the near-term that will be more meaningful in fighting man-made climate change.

The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) spoke about deforestation and made some excellent points on micro-hydropower with which I fully agree. The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) mentioned that there remains a job of work to do to educate and inspire the public, and I must agree with him. Ultimately, that comes down to political leadership: nobody can dodge the fact that if we do not inspire, motivate and educate from this place, we cannot blame or push that off on to anybody else. All of us in this place have some responsibility for that.

The hon. Member for Eltham was making some good points until he stumbled into an incoherent ramble about the EU and the role of the Conservative party. So much nonsense is talked about that. This Government claim to have a very good working relationship with most of the Governments in Europe, including those of the French, the Germans, the Italians and the Spanish. Those countries all have centre-right Governments of parties with whom members of our governing party do not sit in the European Parliament; they sit in opposing political alliances, but that does not stop our Government forming very good working relationships, and we would look to build on that. Trying to see the whole European climate change agenda through the prism of the seating arrangements at the Strasbourg Parliament is absolute nonsense.

Clive Efford: I was just about to agree with the hon. Gentleman because France does have a centre-right Government. That makes the criticism of his party all the more potent, given that it comes from one of the main centre-right countries of the EU. That underlines my point about how his party has isolated itself from the mainstream of Europe- [Interruption.]

Gregory Barker: As my hon. Friends point out, that was certainly no criticism of the climate change agenda. As we have repeatedly pointed out, Europe is ideally suited to deal with climate change. We want to work closely with our European partners on climate change and not on other issues.

The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) held the House spellbound-at least, there was not a great deal of movement while he was speaking-with his own distinctive form of enthusiasm. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) made a typically well informed contribution. He is our leading expert in the House on the orang-utan and he
5 Nov 2009 : Column 1088
spoke with real passion about his visit and his first-hand experience, and about the destruction of the great ape's natural habitat. He also highlighted how we are lagging behind our competitors in developing new technologies and green jobs.

There is no clear divide between our position on the Copenhagen talks and the Government's. There are different areas of emphasis, but I do not want to finish by being churlish or criticising the Government for their lack of progress over the past 10 years. I look across the Chamber at the DECC team and I know that they are personally very committed to securing the best possible agreement. I do not underestimate the challenges that they will face, but I hope that they realise that they will go to Copenhagen with the full support of Her Majesty's Opposition. If we can help to convince the world that Britain is sincere, determined and ambitious to seek the most robust and far-reaching agreement, the Secretary of State only has to ask.

5.40 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock): This has been an excellent debate and I want to comment on the various things that people have said, to try to answer the questions and then to make some remarks of my own.

The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) said at the beginning of the debate that he wanted a clear message to come from it that there should be a complete unity of purpose, and that has just been echoed by his deputy. We take that to heart and appreciate what has been said. The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells invited me to apprise the House of the construction of the €100 billion, and I am happy to do that. We believe-and what the EU has proposed-is that the €100 billion should be made up of revenue raised through the international carbon market, countries' efforts and international public finance. Public finance is also needed to support early action and the EU estimates that the total international public finance needed is between €22 billion and €50 billion. That is what we are talking about from 2020, but we acknowledge that there needs to be early action. That requires public money, which we will have to find a means of raising, and the EU and we in the UK have said that we will do our bit.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the vast potential of the new low-carbon market, and said that the UK was well placed. We agree entirely on that point and see it as a means of bringing ourselves out of recession and of creating many more jobs. He also spoke of the need for additionality in support for developing countries and that is why we proposed the figure of 10 per cent. We see that as a means of limiting the amount of money that can be said to meet both poverty and climate needs.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) welcomed the EU agreement on finance and expressed concern for developing countries which would need that for adaptation. That is very much the line that we have taken. He said that we needed to make our numbers add up in a way that was guided by science, and that is entirely the point that the Government have made. He spoke about the new Stern analysis, which is calculated in gigatonnes, and the gaps that exist. He referred to the work of legislators and we encourage and appreciate the work that is done by
5 Nov 2009 : Column 1089
GLOBE. My right hon. Friend spoke of deforestation and the need to ensure that in any deal there needs to be protection of forest people. That is something, again, that the UK Government have pressed for strongly at all times during the negotiations.

The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said that he hoped that we would be encouraged by the debate. I can assure him that we have been. He said that this is one agreement that could compare with Bretton Woods or peace treaties after the war, but I believe that it is the most important negotiation that the world will ever see. If it fails, we will have catastrophic global climate change and it will be irreversible. It cannot fail.

He asked about the nature of the agreement. Let me make it very clear that we believe that at this meeting in Copenhagen we need a politically binding agreement: what people say there has to bind them in the name of their countries. There can be no doubt about that. The legal agreement will take time and effort afterwards, and the timetable needs to be announced at Copenhagen. Yvo de Boer has said that he believes that it will have to be concluded by the end of 2010. The hon. Gentleman said that it is important that we reach a politically binding agreement with numbers, and I can confirm that numbers have to be on the table. We are very clear about that.

The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey asked us to go further than 34 per cent., and we have said that the UK will raise its contribution if we get a global deal in line with the EU promise. He asked where the money would come from, and I think that I have explained that already. He spoke about the institutions involved and said that they should not include the World Bank. Although no decisions have been taken, we believe that some new architecture is needed, as well as improvements in the existing institutions.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether there would be new sources of finance, and we are very clear that they will be necessary. He spoke about levies on aviation and shipping: I can tell him that they are under discussion, although our preference in the long term is that those sectors should be treated as part of the carbon trading scheme.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) spoke passionately about Bangladesh and the problems that it faces that go beyond its Government and peoples. He said that they are down to all of us, and we agree completely, as the voices of such countries are critical in this debate. We very much support the adaptation efforts that are already under way in Bangladesh.

Next Section Index Home Page