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"the geopolitics of energy are not reassuring...That is why we need to be bold."-[ Official Report, 22 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 1461.]
But where is the boldness? If there had been boldness, we would be much further ahead on the new nuclear programme, we would see a much more balanced portfolio of renewables in the UK energy mix, with more wave and tidal power, and we would be much further ahead as regards gas storage.
For the past four years I have tabled written and oral questions, and I have had a Westminster Hall debate on gas storage to try to tease out where the Government's thinking was going and what a sufficient level of gas storage would be for any given level of import reliance. If we are to be 50 per cent. reliant on imported gas, what is a prudent level of gas storage? I have not been able to get clear answers. I have been trying to find out whether the Government believe that the extra storage that we need can be delivered through the marketplace and through normal price signals, or whether we need non-market intervention through a supply stocking obligation. We are no further forward on that.
If there had been boldness in the Government's approach to energy policy, we would be much further ahead on carbon capture and storage. I read the press release that the Department of Energy and Climate Change put out on the day of the Queen's Speech, stating that the Energy Bill would put the UK "at the forefront" of CCS development and that the UK would "lead the way". The Secretary of State said today that "already" funding had been allocated to the first project. It is actually European, not Westminster, funding.
Frankly, I rank those statements alongside those that we have had from the Chancellor of the Exchequer about Britain leading the world out of recession. They
are frankly delusional. We can look around the world and see what other countries have been doing on CCS technology. The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) mentioned Total's work in Pau in France and the work in China, and we could mention what Exxon is doing in Wyoming in the USA. The Government should be far more modest and say that we need to work in partnership with other countries to bring forward CCS technology and make it commercially viable. We are in no position to say that we will be leading the way, because we will need to work in close co-operation with other countries.
The very first parliamentary briefing note that I read after being elected in 2005 was one produced by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on CCS. It had been published in March that year, before I was elected. It stated that it had been the subject of many Government reports and would be included in the forthcoming DTI carbon abatement technology strategy. That was five years ago-it has taken that long to get the first piece of legislation on the matter. We should be much further forward.
I would have liked to speak about the future of the UK oil refining industry, but I have already written to your office, Mr. Speaker, to request time for a debate about that. I have severe concerns about some of the pressures on the nine remaining oil refineries in the UK, but we will leave that matter for another time.
Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): This has been a wide-ranging debate. We have heard from a number of hon. Members about the need for energy security, and we have heard differing views about how to drive towards the renewable generation of power. From the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), we heard memorably about the dangers of growing mushrooms and the loss of the world's tigers. I am still unclear about the link between those issues.
We heard the Energy and Climate Change Secretary throw down a considerable gauntlet to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families by setting out his own five tests, none of which I can remember, but which I feel sure he will repeat. In spite of his attempt to divide our respective parties, we heard from Members in all parts of the House about the importance of securing an agreement at Copenhagen, the considerable challenge of climate change and the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the years ahead.
Mitigating climate change is a colossal challenge for all nations, but as well as seeking to avert dangerous climate change we need to prepare for the changes in our climate that are already under way. Alongside reductions in emissions, one of the key issues at Copenhagen will be how to help developing countries adapt to climate change. I wish to focus on the three critical challenges that the reality of climate change brings, which the modest legislative programme set out in the Gracious Speech does not meet. The first is the need to adapt to a changing climate in the UK. The second is the impact that a changing climate is having and will continue to have on our natural environment, and the role of natural systems in helping us to adapt; and the third is the global resources challenge that arises from population growth and industrialisation combining with climate change.
First, we must face up to the need to adapt to climate change, because there is not a choice between mitigation and adaptation-we have to do both. The climate change projections that the Government published last June warn of the future dangers. By the 2080s, summer temperatures in the UK could be between 3° to 4° hotter and total rainfall is expected to decrease by up to 27 per cent. Extreme weather events such as storms and droughts will be more common. Higher sea levels will bring increased coastal erosion and flooding. Some 5 million properties in England-one in six-are at risk of flooding. Torrential downpours on the scale that we saw last week in Cumbria may be exceptional, but we will see more flash floods as a result of climate change in the decades ahead. That is why it is vital that people are given the tools that they need to defend their communities, and that the Government do all they can to ensure that effective measures are in place to prevent future incidents where possible.
Effective measures also mean passing the right legislation so that the law is clear and responsibilities for flood defence are properly demarcated. We therefore welcome the Flood and Water Management Bill, announced in the Gracious Speech. As I made clear yesterday, my party will back the necessary measures to implement the Pitt review recommendations for flood prevention so that they become law at the earliest opportunity. I join with those hon. Members who have called for a Second Reading for that Bill as soon as possible. We would welcome that.
The legislation must end the institutional confusion over responsibility for flood risk management, and the Environment Agency needs strategic overview of all types of flooding. We are keen to ensure that this does not mean that power is taken away from local communities, or that key decisions over coastal protection are taken away from Ministers accountable to Parliament. We must ensure that the current Bill truly reflects the importance of local decision making to effective flood prevention. We must also make sure that local communities have a strong voice in decisions over priorities for flood risk management and avoid top-down imposition.
However, it is also vital that we address water management issues as well as flooding, because in the decades ahead, resource efficiency, and in particular, the supply and availability of water will be a key concern. By 2050, climate change could reduce the amount of water available by 10 to 15 per cent., when 20 million more people could be living in England alone. Average summer river flows could be reduced by 50 to 80 per cent. by that time. With climate change having a significant impact on supply, we will need to prepare for long dry periods, such as those in the summers of 2005 and 2006, and for potential problems with abstraction as rising temperatures reduce river flows, possibly by as much as 80 per cent. in the summer. The World Wildlife Fund has warned of the impact that this will have, for example, on our chalk streams such as the River Itchen in Hampshire, which I visited recently and which is one of WWF's "rivers on the edge"-those that are already under serious threat from over-abstraction.
On those significant questions, the Bill is notable as much for what is not in it as for what is. The title "Flood and Water Management" implies a greater focus on the water industry than we have in the final Bill. Later this week, Ofwat will announce the final price limits for the
next five years, and we will be presented with an opportunity-a break in the regulatory cycle -to tackle some of the challenges that the industry is facing.
Climate change and population growth will put pressure on our water supplies and will increase concerns about affordability and environmental protection. The industry must do more to conserve water itself and help incentivise water efficiency. Changes need to be made now in order to ensure a strong industry and a sustainable supply of water in the future.
Only seven months ago, Ministers committed to bringing forward legislation to implement key measures from the Cave review of innovation in the water industry and we were also promised legislation to implement measures from the Walker review of charging and metering. The final report by the Walker review has not yet arrived, and those measures will not now happen.
Instead of tinkering around the edges, we need innovative reform in the water industry and water policy. Such reforms do not form part of this Bill, so it will fall to the next Government to draw together all the work that has been done on industry and regulatory change to promote the conservation of water and set out real proposals for change.
Climate change is already affecting the health and biodiversity of our natural environment, yet very little has been said about that part of the challenge today. Our biodiversity is in decline. Numbers of birds such as the cuckoo and swift have fallen significantly in recent years, while other species have been lost altogether. As the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has argued in its excellent "Nature Needs a Voice" report:
"Whilst the loss of species represents the loss of irreplaceable natural assets, declines in wildlife populations impoverish our lives well before species become biologically extinct."
Internationally, climate change is driving biodiversity loss on a massive scale. This year's assessment of the red list of threatened species shows that more than a third of the species on the list are at serious risk. As climate change takes hold, rising temperatures will lead to fragmented habitats that will affect species population and migration.
The Government's 2010 biodiversity targets are set to be missed, yet there is no plan for how to do better next time. Next year is a key year for international co-operation on biodiversity, with a major UN conference in Japan in October, but just setting targets will not be enough. We will need new leadership and new thinking. That means both promoting new mechanisms to value our environmental assets, if we are going to protect nature's capital, and starting to think in terms of habitat protection on a landscape scale-an approach that the National Trust is exploring.
We must start to identify and then develop wildlife corridors to aid migration, as the wildlife trusts have advocated, instead of relying on isolated reserves. We must also start investing in protecting our ecosystem services that sustain life. That means new incentives both to encourage people and businesses to support conservation and to help local communities to invest in biodiversity through mechanisms such as conservation credits, so that new habitats can be created on the back of development. We need that new thinking because of the scale of the challenge that we face and how precious
our natural environment is. As the Green Alliance rightly says, Britain's natural environment and countryside, perhaps more than those of many other nations, are an
"integral part of Britain's heritage and identity",
yet none of that new thinking forms part of the Gracious Speech or the proposals for legislation.
On top of the need to adapt to climate change and protect our natural environment, we have the extra pressure of a global resources crunch caused by population growth and climate change. Professor John Beddington, the Government's chief scientific adviser, has warned of a "perfect storm" in just two decades of food shortages, scarce water and insufficient energy resources, threatening to unleash public unrest, cross-border conflicts and mass migration, as people flee from the worst affected regions. The world's population is projected to rise from 6 billion to 9 billion by 2050, and the UN estimates that global food production will need to rise by 70 per cent. from today's levels.
For us to have a chance to meet that huge demand, the UK must play its part. That means that it should be a strategic priority of the Government to increase domestic food production and maintain our food security, just as we need to maintain our energy security, which hon. Members in all parts of the House have spoken about today. Until recently, however, the Government's formal position was that it did not matter where our food came from. Not surprisingly therefore, the UK's self-sufficiency in indigenous food has fallen significantly in the past 10 years. We need to reverse that trend and produce more of the food that we could and should be growing ourselves.
However, we need to do that in a sustainable way. Meeting the resources challenge in the decades ahead will mean relying on modern, productive agriculture to provide global food security. However, we cannot permit more agricultural emissions in future just because we need to grow more food. That means that we have to prioritise research and development now, in order to improve our management of soil, increase yields and cut emissions without cutting production. We should be sharing best practice and pooling expertise with other countries so that we can find solutions quickly. That is why I said last week that Britain should join the global alliance pioneered by New Zealand to focus on reducing emissions from agriculture.
The challenges arising from climate change are serious, and none of the solutions is easy. However, if we have learned one thing from the past few years, it is that no one can live beyond their means. We cannot live beyond our economic means, but neither can we live beyond our environmental means. The resources of this planet are no more infinite than the Treasury's reserves. We must learn to use them sustainably. It is often said that the first duty of Government is to ensure the security of the people. Adapting to climate change and protecting our natural systems are the prerequisites of ensuring our environmental security. That will mean climate-proofing our policies, creating communities that are resilient to extreme weather, respecting nature's capital and investing in conservation to help wildlife to adapt. It will also mean living more sustainably by reducing waste, sourcing more food locally, generating more renewable energy and using resources efficiently.
Although we must pursue sustainable growth in the years ahead, we must not reject the idea of growth itself. Government policies, business practices and, yes, individual lifestyles will have to change, but the planet that we want to save is surely a world of prosperous, free people where wealth can be shared and opportunity is available to all. So we must be ready to promote the good that will come from making these changes, and talk less about the cost of environmental compliance and more about the opportunities of green jobs and growth. This is what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has called the "good future", in which we will all enjoy and truly value the fruits of a cleaner, quieter and more beautiful environment.
The changes that we will need to make in order to ensure our environmental security and that good future are far more profound than the few measures set out in the Gracious Speech. We have an important but limited Flood and Water Management Bill, limited energy measures and limited time. As this Government's life ebbs away, it is clear that only an election and a change of Government will bring the ambition to drive a new green agenda and secure the environmental security that is necessary.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): We have had a very interesting and, at times, lively debate. It was opened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, whom the whole House will wish to thank for his outstanding leadership, together with the Prime Minister, in trying to get that deal in Copenhagen. He was followed by the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who was not so much disgusted as implausible in what he had to say. On renewables, he said that we had barely scratched the surface. Listening to him, one would never know that this country produced more electricity from offshore wind than any other nation on the planet. Listening to what he said about nuclear, one would have thought that that was the Conservatives' first resort, whereas we know that it was, in the words of the Leader of the Opposition, their last resort, until we led and they had to follow.
On carbon capture and storage, the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells was unable to say whether he supported the levy to fund the programme that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has set out. We now have a policy for no new coal without CCS. On smart meters, 48 million will be a lot to roll out by 2020; that is a huge programme. Despite prompting from many quarters, however, including from the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells was unable to tell the House where people would get their £6,500, given that there will apparently be no public support available for that proposal.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) gave us a tour de force, drawing on all his experience in climate negotiations. There is a lot to recommend his suggestion that the world's leaders be locked in a room until they agree on a deal. I agree with what the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey said about Copenhagen, and he is right that we will need a legal treaty as soon as possible after a comprehensive agreement has been reached.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks) gave a very thoughtful speech that was much enjoyed across the House. I thank him for the work that he has done on energy security and for his report. I am advised that a copy of it is now available on the Department of Energy and Climate Change website.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) both raised the question of carbon capture and storage. I can tell them that we are working with other countries and trying very hard to take that forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) talked about marine science, on which she is of course an expert.
Linda Gilroy: Will my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that the Walker report on metering and charging will materialise soon, preferably before Christmas?
Hilary Benn: The plan is indeed that it should be available before Christmas. We have already had the interim report, but we await with interest Anna Walker's final report.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) spoke movingly about the impact of the flooding in his constituency. His expression of sympathy for PC Barker's family will be widely supported. He knows only too well that predicting river flooding is one thing but that surface water flooding is much more difficult to predict, because we need to know the precise topography, exactly how much rain is going to fall on it, and the drainage capacity of the area. That is precisely why-I shall come back to this-the Flood and Water Management Bill will give local authorities the lead responsibility.
Hilary Benn: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, time is very short and I want to respond to the debate.
The hon. Members for Westmorland and Lonsdale and for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) have, sadly, both had direct experience of flooding and they spoke movingly about the spirit and resilience of the constituencies and the constituents whom they represent. I know that that is the best quality their communities have to carry them through these difficult times. Let me assure the hon. Member for Tewkesbury that we will, of course, continue to talk to the insurance industry about how it can help.
My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), in common with other Members, raised the question of building on floodplains. The latest information we have, as a result of PPS25, is that 98 per cent. of planning decisions are going in line with the advice of the Environment Agency, which is exactly why we changed PPS25 to make sure that flood risk was taken into account.
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