Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Investing in infrastructure in this country creates jobs in this country, so there would be a win-win situation. I hope my noble friend will say that the subsidy to buy a new car and scrap an old one is just an aberration, and that the real policy will emerge in the coming months through investing in projects and policies which will improve the rather lamentable performance of the transport sector in going green. In the mean time, I support my noble friend’s introduction to these regulations.

Lord Leach of Fairford: My Lords, perhaps I may quickly answer those pertinent points. The big ice melting was about 12,000 years ago at the end of the last glaciation, which greatly increased sea levels. The more recent increases of about seven inches since the little ice age are thought by the experts to be due to thermal expansion, at which I think the noble Lord hinted. As the seas get a little warmer, they expand. At the moment, that is regarded to be the cause and not ice melting, because it has not melted.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord. Will he explain what is causing the sea to expand? Presumably, it is getting warmer.

Lord Leach of Fairford: Yes, my Lords, with the recovery from the little ice age that I referred to earlier, that is at about 0.6 degrees per century since about 1370.

5 pm

Lord Teverson: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt this fireside chat and move on to the order. From these Benches, we could get to at least six; that might be between the two noble Lords opposite. A more general point is that the work of the Committee on Climate Change has been excellent; it has been highly respected by those on all sides of the House. I thank it for its work and for the work that it will have to do in the future. Of course, a number of noble Lords from this House are involved there.

Before I go on to the order, I shall pick up on one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson. It particularly concerned me when he said that here in the northern hemisphere, anyway, or here in Britain, we are not going to be affected for at least another couple of decades, or a hundred years, or whatever. To me, that is to misunderstand utterly the problem of global warming, in that whether or not it is man-made, if it is happening then there is no way that northern communities will be isolated from migration flows from the inundation in developing nations, or from the changes in ecology and biodiversity that happen with rapid climate change, or from interruptions to trade routes and energy and food security. All of those areas

13 May 2009 : Column 1065

will disrupt global systems and flows which, whether they are of capital, commodities or people, will very quickly be affected. We will not be able to put up a wall and say, “We’re safe; sorry about the rest of you, but we’re enjoying global warming for the next 200 years and we’ll worry about it after that”. That is not an option; it is a very dangerous thought.

I welcome the fact that the order encompasses all of the greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide, which much broadens it out. I know that that came from the Committee on Climate Change; it is a major step forward. I welcome the fact that there are budgets and that they stick pretty well to targets that are, at least, challenging—although on these Benches we believe that we would need quickly to achieve and move toward the larger, intended targets.

A particular area that has interested me, and which was a topic of great debate on the Climate Change Bill, is that of international credits and how they are treated. While I again welcome the fact that the limit on those credits is to be zero, I regret that it is only for the first period—which now goes up only to 2012—and that, even now, we cannot extend that to the next two periods, as it is such an important area. Will the Minister clarify—I did not understand this from the order and it may be that I have not read or understood its meaning properly—whether he specifically said that the Government themselves would not purchase EU ETS units in order to offset?

The order says that it outlaws clean development mechanism units, but that since the EU ETS operates, those units should be counted. I disagree with that to some degree, but I shall come on to that in a minute. Will the Minister confirm that the Government themselves will not buy EU ETS units—or EUAs, as they are called—so as to close that carbon gap in terms of targets? First, it would be an abuse of how that system works and, secondly, it would be a way in which members of the EU ETS in other parts of Europe might purchase clean development mechanism units that enabled them to sell EUAs to us in Britain. That would effectively make it a carbon-credit laundering system, if one was not careful. I am sure that is not the Government’s intention, but I should be pleased to receive an assurance that the Government will not be counting EU ETS credits toward their own carbon budget.

As the Minister said, it will be interesting to see the Government’s report setting out exactly how these targets are to be met. I agree entirely with the noble Lord that we should include air travel and shipping as soon as possible. It is great to have a definition and I should like to hear from the Minister when he now believes these areas will be brought in. One of the main concerns about shipping was that of international definitions. Has progress been made on those, and similarly in terms of airlines? We know that aviation is going to be included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme in 2011, but surely there is still scope to include it in our target now.

We welcome the order generally, although we would like to see the credits brought down to zero for all three periods. But the core of the argument in terms of

13 May 2009 : Column 1066

targets and action towards combating climate change is that in themselves targets are fine, but what is needed is action to ensure that we have the sort of effect on carbon emissions that we require. At a time when the European trading scheme is to some extent floundering again in that we have a slow uptake of renewables and are very dependent on wind, that energy saving has not yet moved forward significantly, that there has been little practical progress on carbon capture and storage and a perhaps understandable hesitation about biofuels, the challenge lies not this order but in the Government’s programme and the programme across Europe to make sure that changes in energy use and how we conserve energy enable us to meet these targets.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee for drawing our attention to these important orders and regulations, and I thank the Minister for laying them out before us in such detail. I should like to ask a brief question on each of them and I will try not to turn my remarks into a Second Reading speech. We have heard some marvellous contributions to the debate, and no doubt the Minister will want to answer the questions put to him by my noble friends Lord Lawson, Lord Leach, Lord Marlesford, Lord Dixon-Smith, Lord Onslow and Lord Freeman, and those put by the noble Lords, Lord Lea and Lord Berkeley, before he gets around to responding to anything that I might contribute at this point.

The Climate Change Act 2008 (2020 Target, Credit Limit and Definitions) Order 2009 complies with the provisions of the 2008 Act in setting out the mechanisms for establishing the 2020 emissions target limiting the net amount of carbon units that may be attributed to the UK carbon account and further defines the terms set out in the Act. We cannot but agree with it, and my only question is this. The Conservatives have argued consistently that the expert opinion of the Committee on Climate Change should be the primary driver of climate change policy. Does the Minister support our belief that the majority of carbon reduction activity should be undertaken at home in the United Kingdom so as to offer the maximum competitive advantage to UK businesses rather than simply paying other countries to develop clean technology through the Clean Development Mechanism?

I turn now to the Carbon Budgets Order 2009. This order complies with the provisions of the 2008 Act in setting the next three budgetary periods: 2008-12, 2013-17 and 2018-20 before the deadline specified by the Act. The carbon budgets set a cap on the maximum level of the net UK carbon account for each five-year period.

I welcome the budgets. During the passage of the Climate Change Bill, we pushed hard to strengthen the Committee on Climate Change, and we urge the Government to heed its advice as far as possible. These carbon budgets provide a major opportunity to United Kingdom business owing to the long-term certainty that they offer. What steps are the Government taking to spur business on to take that leap towards investing in a low carbon future? The third statutory instrument—the Carbon Accounting Regulations 2009—

13 May 2009 : Column 1067

makes provision on carbon units and carbon accounting for the purposes of Part 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008. We are in general agreement with that as well.

I am certain that the Minister will agree that transparency and accountability will be vital to the smooth running of these budgets. Under the Climate Change Act the Secretary of State must ensure that carbon units are kept track of for establishing and maintaining accounts in which carbon units may be held. Provisions are in place to enable the Secretary of State to appoint a body to do this. Can the Minister outline today what progress has been made in appointing such a body? I look forward enormously to hearing him answer all the questions that were put to him by eight noble Lords, let alone from the Front Benches.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it has been an absolutely splendid debate, and how grateful I am to the business managers for ensuring that these statutory instruments were debated in prime time rather than in the dinner break when the debate was originally scheduled. I sense that it was a little like a Second Reading debate, and I suspect that some of the arguments this afternoon were deployed during the passage of the Climate Change Act. I was a very late entrant—I dealt with Commons amendments—and I realise that I missed a great deal of splendid debate, a flavour of which we had this afternoon.

These statutory instruments are important but they are consistent in the context of the Climate Change Act. I was intrigued by the intervention of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who said that the decisions that the House is being asked to make by approving the orders and regulations are committing the Government and the country to action a long time ahead. He referred to Lloyd George’s Budget of 1911, and I was struck by the thought that one of the by-products of that Budget was the first stage of reform of your Lordships’ House. I wonder whether they thought then that we would still be debating matters to do with reform.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. If noble Lords do not accept the consensus, scientific position on climate change, what we are doing would seem to be unnecessary and expensive. If you accept the general consensus and believe that climate change is very likely and that unless we mitigate and adapt there will be catastrophic impacts on the world, the measures before us this afternoon are entirely reasonable. I suspect that we will not agree on that substantive point.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, the Minister does not want to mislead the House. The consensus to which he refers is not a consensus but a majority. There is a wide range of opinions among climate scientists. The majority view, as encapsulated in the IPCC’s report, is that it is very likely that most—not all—of the warming in the last quarter of the 20th century was due to the increase in carbon dioxide emissions. However, there is absolutely no agreement among climate scientists about this being catastrophic. There is nothing in the IPCC’s report about it being catastrophic. Mr Mike Hulme, who founded the Tyndall Centre for

13 May 2009 : Column 1068

Climate Change Research, has consistently said that people who talk about catastrophic climate change are going far beyond the evidence. I hope that the Minister will wholeheartedly withdraw that part of his statement.

5.15 pm

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not think I will. It is essential that we as a country, jointly with other countries, do all that we can to mitigate and adapt to climate change. I suspect that it is not going to be fruitful to debate the science today—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does the Minister recall that exactly 40 years ago—after all, we are projecting ahead 40 years to 2050—the very same sort of scientists who are now predicting global warming and climate change were predicting that there would be a new ice age in the ensuing 40 years? That has not actually happened. The Government should take that into account and perhaps make contingency plans in case, instead of global warming, we have global cooling.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not think I can be held responsible for those events. All I can say is that the IPCC’s recent report was written by 690 named scientists and reviewed by another 622. In total, the IPCC’s latest assessment was written by more than 1,250 authors from more than 130 countries and reviewed by an additional 2,500 experts over six years. Objectivity is ensured by the broad and open review process.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the Minister said something very important there: the word “objectivity”. If—this is just as big an “if” as his “ifs”—the world temperature does not increase for another five, 10 or 15 years, when do people start looking at it again? After three years? Five? Ten? Fifteen? How many years have to go by of global non-warming for people to look at whether they were right or wrong?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am not going to walk into that one. The research and analysis continue, we think that the IPCC process is robust. and we will be guided by the best available science. In the mean time, we believe that we should prepare on the basis of the science available to us now.

I enjoyed the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Leach, although I do not necessarily agree with it. He asked me if we had studied Professor Carter’s evidence. My understanding is that we have closely analysed and estimated the cost of emission trading, and we see that as set out in the impact assessment that was published alongside the carbon budget levels announcement on 22 April, to which noble Lords have referred.

The second point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, was also made by the noble Lord, Lord Leach: the cost of dealing with climate change, introducing carbon budgets and some of the other changes that have to be made as a result. Of course these figures look very high. A number of noble Lords referred to the noble Lord, Lord Stern, and wished that he were present in our debate—I certainly do—but your Lordships might observe that he has an Oral Question tomorrow

13 May 2009 : Column 1069

on the whole issue of climate change to which I have the privilege of responding, which will give us all an opportunity to understand where he is coming from. We believe that the noble Lord has done extremely valuable work. He, in his review of the economics of climate change, said that the benefits of strong, early action on climate change outweigh the cost. Also, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, was absolutely right to say, of course, that a lot of the costs and investment—if we think of energy policy in particular, given the rundown of many of our existing power stations—would have to take place in any case.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, first asked me whether we will continue to listen very closely to the advice of the Committee on Climate Change. Yes, the orders reflect that we have taken the advice very seriously. She then made the important point that we want to ensure that the majority of carbon reduction takes place in the UK, rather than the UK having to buy in credits abroad. Also, is UK business in a good place to take advantage of a low-carbon economy? That is a very important point indeed.

I will come in a moment to the lead-up to the negotiations in Copenhagen but, unlike some noble Lords who have spoken, I am optimistic about the outcome of those discussions. I believe it is absolutely clear that the world is on a path towards a low-carbon economy. The question for this country is: are we going to take advantage of that? Are we going to be a country that is at the forefront of technology innovation? Is it going to be British companies which take advantage of the technology lead that we have in many sectors? In the past, we have had the technological lead but have then lost the advantage to other countries; can we ensure that that does not happen again? The noble Baroness has asked one of the most important questions that ought to be before us this afternoon. Clearly, the Budget announcements, and some of the stimulus that has been given towards agreeing a low-carbon economy, are very important in helping British business ensure that we are at the forefront of leading towards a low-carbon economy.

The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, asked me about negotiations, and he is rather more pessimistic than I am about the possibility of a deal. To clear up any confusion, I should say that in the orders we are debating interim budgets. Those are being set before a global deal is reached. If we are successful with a global deal, we will then ask the advice of the Committee on Climate Change about tightening the targets—the budgets—that have been set. Clearly, we very much hope that there will be a deal, that the advice of the Committee on Climate Change is indeed to tighten the budgets, and that I will have the honour of bringing further orders before your Lordships’ House to put that into practice. How confident are we about a deal in Copenhagen? Well, progress is being made. It is clear that the US Administration have signalled positive moves in helping towards a deal. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State was recently in China in discussion with the Chinese Government, and it would be fair to say that he feels a sense of confidence about our ability to come to international agreement. Of

13 May 2009 : Column 1070

course, a lot of water has to flow under the bridge before we come to Copenhagen, but the preparatory work gives us optimism about successful conclusions.

The international architecture is an important issue. I do not know the details of the DfID report, but I will certainly ensure that I study it closely. The noble Lord would expect me to say that we work closely across government, and of course we do. I can tell him that the international architecture is vital; it is important to ensure the integrity of any dealings in relation to international credits. Part of the agreement in Copenhagen will be about the actions that developed countries have to take, but it will also be about the actions that emerging countries have to take. However, we hope also that the vulnerable, poorer countries will commit to a low-carbon world. The international architecture that follows from that to ensure the integrity of the system as a whole will be vital.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, asked me about the definition of nuclear energy. In his not uncritical speech about the Government’s record, I detected at least some acknowledgement of the Government’s go-ahead for new nuclear energy in this country. He knows that the definition is quite straightforward. It is not defined as renewable in international definition terms, but the carbon emissions surrounding nuclear development are very low indeed. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, on that point. It seems to me to be a rather theological issue, but there is no doubt that nuclear energy will have a very important role to play in the future.

The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, referred to the announcement made only yesterday about major investment in wind farms in the London Array wind park, and he implied criticism. In any number of questions I have answered about renewable energy, noble Lords have complained that companies were not prepared to invest in renewables. We should rejoice that the announcement from E.ON came yesterday. Of course, it is an energy that is intermittent, and that is why you need back-up from other sources of energy. But in any case, noble Lords have consistently argued that we need a diversity of supply alongside—I was going to say “the dash for renewables”; it certainly will be a dash if we are to meet the 2020 targets. That is why we are glad to see the development of new nuclear energy and are delighted about the package of announcements around coal and CCS.

I well understand the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, in saying that as regards the announcement to be made in the summer, he hopes that “summer” will be defined as being before the Summer Recess and that a Statement will be made in your Lordships' House. He will know that I cannot absolutely commit myself to that, but as I hope I implied in committee, I take his point—although perhaps I did not imply that as I was rather cautious about defining the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s “summer”. I certainly hope we achieve that.

As regards coal and CCS, I am not ducking the questions that the noble Lord asked me but we are working on many of those matters. We will make further detailed announcements in the summer on how we are to take CCS forward. Given that coal is

13 May 2009 : Column 1071

responsible for some 40 per cent of electricity generation globally, those of us who believe that we have to take climate change seriously consider that carbon capture and storage is absolutely essential to achieve the targets that we have set. It also offers huge possibilities for the UK. With the announcement of up to four pilot programmes, we have a wonderful opportunity to develop UK technology and export it to many parts of the world. I am delighted that we made the relevant announcement two weeks ago.

Of course, this comes with a cost; there is no point in running away from that. I well understand the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Lea that these measures might have an undue impact on poorer people. I agree with him that it is absolutely essential that we consider the impacts of different measures to help meet carbon budgets, including their distribution across society. Of course, we wish to build social equity into all our policy-making. The impact assessment of the proposed budget levels assessed the impact of fuel bills on individuals and businesses. When we publish details of our proposals and policies for meeting the budget in the summer, we will consider these impacts in greater detail, including their effects on different groups in society. I believe that the creation of the new Department of Energy and Climate Change has allowed us to think carefully about needs in terms of creating a fairer society. This very much comes to the fore in relation to energy and climate change policy.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page