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Global Warming

Volume 177: debated on Monday 23 July 1990

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4.57 am

Even at this late—or early—hour of the morning, I am grateful for the opportunity to open a short debate on global warming, a subject which has received, or is receiving, a great deal of attention at the moment.

My debate is a bit of a change of topic after nearly three hours of fascinating discussion on foreign affairs topics. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) linked foreign affairs and the subject of my debate earlier when he referred to people in a space craft looking down on the earth and visualising the problems of the earth as a whole. I believe that there is a link between this debate and the subjects that we discussed earlier this evening.

I am also grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), for being present at some inconvenience to himself. I am grateful to him for being here to reply to the debate at this very early hour of the morning. I also welcome the presence of the Government Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor). I fear that he may not be able to intervene, but it is good to see him here.

It is often forgotten that the greenhouse effect is basically benign. As a physics teacher before I became a Member of Parliament, I regularly used to teach about its effects. I can assure the House that I do not intend to discuss the physics of the greenhouse effect, but without it the temperature of the earth's surface would be 33 deg C cooler than it is, which would wipe out human life. On the planet Venus, where the atmosphere is almost totally made up of carbon dioxide, it is very hot so hot that metals would melt. As a result of human activity, we have increased the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and also released new ones—for example, chlorofluorocarbons, which are not present in nature into the atmosphere. The result is increased global warming and forecasts of further global warming.

It is good to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson), who will refer to CFCs in particular and to the action that should be or is being taken to reduce CFC emissions into the atmosphere. I also welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord), who will talk about the European approach to this matter through his experience on the Council of Europe. It is good to see my hon. Friends present at this late hour.

Predictions about future global temperature rises require the use of complex mathematical models of the climate system. Along with several of my colleagues, I recently had the opportunity to visit the climatic research unit at the university of East Anglia, where the uncertainty associated with predictions was explained. It is interesting to note that predictions about warming caused by the release of excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere were actually made in the very first press release when the unit at the university of East Anglia was started back in 1970. The university of East Anglia has an international reputation which is second to none for the careful recording and compilation of temperature data and is working on the implications of the temperature changes currently being predicted.

Great emphasis has been placed in the local press and media, particularly in East Anglia, on sea level changes. The latest view from the team at the university, however, is that recurrent drought will be a more serious problem if global warming progresses as predicted. That point is certainly topical this week, when it is likely that new water restriction measures may come into force during the present possible drought. We may therefore soon need to design methods to move water from the western uplands of Wales and Scotland to the hotter and drier east of this country.

At a recent engineering assembly held at Surrey university, Sir John Mason, a former director-general of the Meteorological Office, said that changes to global and regional climates over the next half century will be small, slow to develop and difficult to detect among natural fluctuations in temperature and rainfall. Although Sir John counselled against drastic action, he agreed that

"it would be prudent to take practical and economically sensible measures to conserve energy, curb the rise in carbon dioxide and phase out the use of CFCs that both deplete the ozone layer and contribute to global warming."
The "best bet" forecast is that by the year 2030 the world will be about 1 to 2 deg C warmer than it is today. That leads to forecasts of sea level rises between 14 and 24 cm, coupled with increased frequency of flooding and inundation of low-lying lands such as East Anglia. Of course there are also accompanied predictions, the details of which I do not have time to discuss, of climate changes and effects on agriculture.

More detail can be found in the excellent brief that was prepared by the parliamentary office of science and technology, the acronym for which is POST. That unit was set up by the parliamentary scientific committee. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of that office. The briefs that it prepares for use by Members of Parliament are well put together. In preparation for this debate, I used its brief not only on global warming but on energy efficiency.

During any discussion on global warming, we should concentrate on how quickly or drastically we should adjust our behaviour and policies to respond to the facts and predictions that have been well documented, but on which I do not have time to go into great detail.

The approach taken by peoples, nations and Governments ranges from active to passive measures. The latter mean that we sit back and let society adapt to the changes as they occur. That is a dangerous approach, however, as the capacity of nations to adapt may he insufficient if the changes occur too quickly. We must be cautious in our approach to the problem and consider more active solutions to it. I agree with professor Keith Clayton of the university of East Anglia that we should, at the very least, tackle some of the easier changes now. We would then be better placed to deal with some of the more difficult issues later on.

The Prime Minister's recent speech at the opening of the Hadley centre for climate prediction and research acknowledged the reality of the threat. My right hon. Friend set down a commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by some 30 per cent. by 2005.

As always, there are those who are trying to urge us to move faster, but in the presence of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary I acknowledge the real efforts that the Government are making to tackle environmental issues and pollution. No previous Government have done so much to speak about the environment and to take sensible, practical measures to deal with it. I take this opportunity to put that on the record. It is easy to say that we should move faster, but we should pay tribute to what is already being done.

I agree with the Minister who said at the engineering assembly at Surrey that environmental problems were technical problems which could be solved only with technical solutions.

We cannot stop the world and say that we want to get off as it is all getting a bit dangerous. That is not the right approach, but some of the crazier members of the green movement tend to adopt such an approach. They believe that we can go backwards, but that is not possible. The technical problems that have arisen from man-made pollution must be tackled with technical solutions. I also agreed with the Minister when he said at that assembly that poverty is the greatest pollutant of all. One need only study the pollution record of eastern Europe and the destruction of the rain forests to understand that.

Engineers have a crucial role to play in dealing with all environmental problems, particularly global warming and its associated problems. As a founder member of the all-party group for engineering development, I shall continue to campaign whenever the opportunity arises—even in the middle of the night—for ways to encourage our professional engineers. Their status in society should be increased and we should recognise the contribution that they can make in dealing with environmental problems. That has been taken on board by the Engineering Council and others at recent conferences. In future, we must ensure that engineers increasingly think in environmental terms.

A number of immediate, achievable steps could be taken to deal with global warming, reductions in carbon dioxide and other emissions. It is imperative that we reopen the debate on nuclear power, which has somehow faded from view as a result of electricity privatisation and other changes. We must start to talk about nuclear power again, as I do not need to remind the House about the dangers of emissions from fossil fuels. In 1987 Britain produced 2·8 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person, compared with 1·7 tonnes produced in France. The difference is due to the fact that France relies on nuclear power for almost all her electricity. The electric trains of France are one way in which the emission of greenhouse gases is reduced as they are run on electricity generated by nuclear power.

I hope that the Government will also do all that they can to encourage alternative sources of energy such as solar, tidal and wind energy. I see no reason to slacken our efforts in those directions.

Thirdly, we must consider combined heat and power, which I have always supported. It is interesting to note that today my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mr. Rost) asked the Secretary of State for Energy
"what are the latest estimates from the Energy Technology Support Unit of the potential kilowatts that could be contributed from combined heat and power; by how much such potential would raise the overall thermal efficiency of electricity generation; and what percentage contribution this could make to a reduction in greenhouse … emissions."
The Minister replied:
"The latest estimate is that a potential of 25 billion kilowatt-hours annual generation from small-scale CHP, operating at an efficiency of around 80 per cent., could reduce United Kingdom carbon dioxide emissions by 4 per cent. This level of output equates to about 10 per cent. of present United Kingdom electricity demand or the output of about four large power stations."
My hon. Friend has informed me that the reply refers only to small-scale combined heat and power projects—at hotels, leisure centres, hospitals, and so on. If we took into account all the combined heat and power potential—in industries, large cities, and so on—we could increase the 4 per cent. to some 10 per cent. The potential is there, through the use of combined heat and power and through greater efficiency in the use of energy, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10 per cent. I make no apology for dwelling on that.

Fourthly, we must consider energy efficiency. That is one of the easy steps which can be taken without drastic changes and the Government should be examining it more seriously. It must be right to encourage further energy conservation measures. I have seen it stated more than once that the newly privatised electricity companies may well find that they can earn more and become more profitable by encouraging people to use less electricity rather than by building massive new power stations. I have seen that argument advanced seriously in various articles and learned journals. In his discussions with his colleagues in the Department of Energy, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State should do all that he can to persuade them to reopen the debate about energy efficiency and conservation. A year or so ago we had a strong energy efficiency campaign. That should be continued and not allowed just to fall away.

It can be seen that a great deal can be done now, without waiting for more drastic changes—perhaps in our transport habits—which may have to follow. If time permits, some of my hon. Friends may wish to refer in more detail to the way in which we can reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases through changes in the way in which we use the motor car and so on. Time prevents me from examining such matters in my opening speech, but that does not mean that I do not regard them as important—they are very important. It is also important to realise that the United Kingdom accounts for only 3 per cent. of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide. It is clearly vital that international agreement and action are achieved. Otherwise, anything that we may do to reduce pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases will be of no use. I stress the importance of international co-operation, which I am sure will be taken up by my hon. Friends and by the hon. Member for Stoke-in-Trent, North (Ms. Walley), who is to speak from the Opposition Front Bench.

My hon. Friend rightly stresses the importance of international agreement. In view of what he said about the pollution caused by industry in eastern Europe, does he agree that any aid that we give to eastern Europe should be tied to eastern Europe's improving all its various forms of plant, which at present emit so much pollution?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that thought, with which I wholly agree.

I hope that the Minister will accept my good words for what the Government are doing and have done on the environment. I also hope that he will accept that in many areas much more can be achieved now, possibly in small ways. I hope that he will recognise that with a suitable lead from him and his colleagues in the Government we can make progress.

The consensus among scientists and experts is that global warming is a reality and will lead to difficulties for future generations. We must adopt an active, not a passive approach. I hope that the Minister will discuss all this with his colleagues and reflect on the points that I have made. I am grateful to him for being here to answer the debate.

5.15 am

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this extremely important debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), who outlined a number of problems, and a number of solutions, and stressed that the Government pay great heed to these problems and have an excellent record of finding answers. I am sure that they will continue to find them into the coming decade.

I want to discuss three subjects: first, chlorofluorocarbons; secondly, one of the causes of global warming—the internal combustion engine; and, thirdly, the effect of global warming on the water crisis.

CFCs not only destroy the ozone layer; they are greenhouse gases. The first activity is responsible for the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. I welcome the Montreal protocol and its review in London last month, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I also welcome the measures taken at the conference. But the fact remains that chlorine already present in the atmosphere will continue to destroy ozone for more than 100 years to come.

There are further threats from HFCs and HCFCs. What further measures are needed to combat them? I could do worse than quote the report commissioned by the DTI from Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte:
"We believe that Government could ease the process and cost of compliance with a tougher regime by a combination of:
  • awareness programmes aimed at improving understanding of the Protocol and its likely impact;
  • education and training initiatives to encourage the use of best practice (eg good housekeeping);
  • guidelines on labelling of products containing or made with CFCs and halons to facilitate informed consumer choice;
  • public purchasing guidelines and standards with regard to products and services using CFCs and halons.
The costs of compliance could be further reduced and emissions from the 'bank' of CFCs and halons could be controlled by Government encouragement of recovery, recycling and destruction. We have considered the variety of forms such encouragement could take and have concluded that, within a more stringent Protocol regime, the main options which Government should examine most closely are:
awareness and demonstration programmes focused on applications where the recovery and recycling economics look potentially favourable, ie solvents, industrial and retail refrigeration and fire extinguishers; labelling guidelines and standards with the option.for mandatory labelling at a later date;
public purchasing requirements and standards; and means for reducing the costs of destruction which could take the form of R&D support or operating subsidies."
I hope that the Government will bear those recommendations in mind. The importance of the ozone layer and its preservation cannot be over-emphasised. As I said, there is already enough chlorine in the atmosphere to go on destroying ozone for more than 100 years.

My hon. Friend mentioned labelling. Some of the most difficult problems are caused by substances that enter the environmental chain. We must know how they get there and how we can get them out. Crucial to that is the way that the housewife selects what she will use because some materials will enter the environmental chain while others will not. Labelling is therefore crucial.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. One or two unscrupulous manufacturers label their products with such words as "ozone friendly" when they are not ozone friendly at all. Consumer pressure is needed to ensure that labelling on things such as aerosol cans is accurate. My hon. Friend raises an important issue.

My second point is about pollution in our towns and cities. In the recent hot weather the exhaust emissions from internal combustion engines have caused smog. Measures must be taken to deal with that. It is amazing that we share our streets with that most noisesome invention. When cars were first produced not many people had them, but nowadays most people do. We should not have to share our air with cars.

People who work in London know that when they go into the street they do not breathe God's free, pure air. We breathe a mixture of air and all sorts of exhaust gases from petrol and diesel engines which are extremely bad for us. I hope that one day the internal combustion engine will be banned from our streets. The situation is distressing for asthmatics. I am asthmatic and I know what it is like in this hot weather to have to breathe polluted air. Pollution has greatly increased chest infections and people are sickening because of it.

If we had good public transport in our towns and cities people might not feel so inclined to use their motor cars. I am talking about public transport and not publicly owned transport. Trams and trolley buses must be considered, not diesel-engined buses. We should encourage the use of bicycles by the provision of bicycle lanes. Our towns and cities would be more pleasant if people used small electric cars which are much quieter than internal combustion engines. There would be no roar at traffic lights as people tried to gain 100 yards on the car next to them.

I had to cycle round Trafalgar square the other day and passed at least half a dozen tourist buses parked at the side of the road. They all had their engines running and there was no one in any of them, not even the driver. The buses included those from the official London Transport tour, the London tourist tour or whatever it is called, and Evan Evans Tours. The whole lot were sitting there with their engines running. That is disgraceful. A leaflet was sent to me recently by the AA, of which I happen to be a member. I do not know whether that is why it sent it to me. It lays down several good ideas for reducing smog and exhaust emissions. It says:
"Keep your car in good order."
It sounds so simple, but it means bringing the car in for service at regular intervals. It also says, "Plan long journeys properly" and tells people to take the train if they can. That is remarkable coming from the AA. It says:
"Try to use the car less."
It tells us to switch off if we are caught in traffic jams and calls for:
"Better roads for all. Better public transport, too."
That is all good stuff.

I also commend the latest initiative from the Department of Transport. I have here a publication called "Traffic in London". It is a further development of the "Traffic in London" initiative. It is fine as far as it goes. I just wonder whether it goes far enough because, although I have only glanced through it, it does not seem to say anything about reducing the number of vehicles in Greater London.

My last point is about the water crisis. I believe that the crisis is an effect of global warming. I am sure that we all remember being told as children—perhaps we were reluctant to have a wash—"There is plenty of water in the tap." Not so long ago, there was plenty of water in the tap. But, of course, water has to come from somewhere. Today it comes from not only reservoirs and lakes but aquifers in the chalk, rivers and boreholes. Water is abstracted from all sources.

I am a fisherman. I know that spring-fed rivers such as the Test and Avon in Hampshire are suffering serious problems because the level of ground water has been lowered by abstraction and pumping. That water is being used in our towns and cities, which are the main centres of use of water. Many urban inhabitants simply do not seem to realise that the water that comes out of their tap has come from somewhere and that the fact that it comes out of their tap means that it is no longer available to run down a river 100 miles away.

Most people nowadays have washing machines. A washing machine uses about 24 gallons of water at a time. There was an article in yesterday's Evening Standard about a sprinkler used in Kensington gardens to water a patch of lawn. A sprinkler will use in a couple of hours more water than an entire family will use in two days. There is a serious problem with water. The hotter the weather becomes, the more water is used. We need a campaign to educate the public that water is an extremely precious natural resource which is not to be wasted. The public should not wash their teeth while leaving the tap running. People need to be told about those things.

Metering of water is important. If we do not have metering the public will not be aware of how precious water is and all the problems that I mentioned—of rivers literally drying up in various parts of the country—will continue.

My hon. Friend mentioned metering of water. We have seen many reports about the cost of installing meters and the difficulties that individuals face. Does he agree that it would be in everyone's interest if installation of a meter were made as simple and cheap as possible. Does he also agree that, whatever the cost in the short term, it will be more than repaid in the long term both in cost and in water conservation, as he said?

I agree with my hon. Friend. If the average consumer were told that he was obliged to have a meter installed at a cost of £100 or £200, he would kick and be rather unhappy with the idea. However, if the meter were to be installed at a nominal cost, with the balance spread over his water bill, the consumer would probably be much happier.

5.29 am

:I,too, am grateful for the opportunity to participate in a debate on an important topic which concerns many people. Great credit must go to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) for introducing this topic. Like him, I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Minister in his place, because I know of his great interest in environmental matters.

Two aspects of crucial importance to global warming and to many other environmental issues are the criteria used to judge when we should act and the best organisations to use in getting things done.

What criteria should be applied, and how much evidence should we have before we act? Whether we are dealing with global warming, acid rain, the ozone layer or even sewage dumping, in the past there was a temptation to wait until all the scientific evidence proved beyond doubt the need to act. We have tended to want everything accurate to three decimal places before being prepared to act decisively. I believe that that approach is wrong, and it is increasingly being questioned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North said that I am a member of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe. I serve on its scientific and technology committee, which recently held in Ottawa its seventh parliamentary and scientific conference, at which we discussed global warming. That conference was attended by experts from all over the world having the highest possible qualifications. Not least among them was a professor from the university of East Anglia, Professor Tim O'Riordan, who made a valuable contribution to our debates.

One thing that strongly impressed at that conference was the need for a new approach to the way in which we define the scientific need to act. That decision must be based on scientific evidence, but it must also have a large injection of common sense and some sympathy with the natural environment. If we wait until we have all the evidence, we shall be too late. Conversely, we must not act impetuously or precipitately.

That approach is more common among individuals, who find it easier to combine scientific facts with the need to act. We must now persuade Governments to take those feelings on board. Perhaps I may give a personal illustration of the attitude that I have in mind.

If someone spent some time camping beside a nice river, and discovered when it was time to leave that he had half a gallon of paraffin left over that he did not want to carry home, he might be tempted to get rid of it by chucking it in the river. If one asked a scientist whether such an action would do the river any lasting harm, he would probably reply, "No; lost in the size of the river, such a small quantity of paraffin could not do any damage." Nevertheless, I venture to suggest that none of us would do such a thing, because something inside would tell us that it was wrong, and that—despite what the scientist said—some harm would be done. Somewhere in the chain, down the river, that half a gallon will have a detrimental effect, especially if many other campers have the same thing in mind. That is a simple example, but I do not know whether hon. Members understand what I am trying to say scientific evidence says one thing, but one's basic natural instincts say another. What is needed now is a combination of the two.

Out of the Council of Europe's scientific conference in Ottawa came a feeling that we need to act on all the scientific evidence, but we need to make a science out of not waiting until we have had all the evidence, because if we do it will be too late.

A good example—although it is not exactly on the subject that we are debating—is the question of hormones in beef. Farmers used hormones to increase the speed at which beef cattle grew. All the evidence suggested that it did no harm, yet a ban was introduced, is in force now and the practice was stopped. I think that everyone—even those people who believed that it was scientifically shown that it did no harm—is happier now that those hormones are banned.

We must err on the safe and natural side—not without scientific evidence, but without waiting till we have all the evidence, to three decimal places, because by that time it will be too late for many of these issues.

Acid rain is another example and one with which I am more familiar than global warming, although they are not entirely unrelated. The link between acid rain and the emissions from various power stations cannot be proved, yet trees are dying and we know the problems that we face. We also know of the pollutants that emerge from our industrial installations. It must make sense to tackle those pollutants, even though we cannot in every specific case prove the link between pollution and the damage that occurs. Those are my thoughts on the criteria that we should use, and the way that we should approach the actions that we take and the time when we should act.

Trees and tree planting are appropriate to tonight's debate. The Minister will know of my interest in this. At the moment, the tropical rain forests are being destroyed, great problems are caused by tree destruction in the world, and there is a huge demand for more trees to be planted. Trees are often called our "green lung", which is not strictly correct because our lungs need oxygen and give out carbon dioxide. Trees—bless their hearts—have been designed in such a wonderful way that they take in what we do not want—our waste carbon dioxide—and give us back the oxygen that we so desperately need. They are not lungs in the technical sense, but the term "green lungs" describes the great natural effect that they have in invigorating the world.

Does my hon. Friend agree on a point that has not really come out in the debate—that one way to deal with the greenhouse effect and to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to plant more trees? That is a positive action which we can take in this country or internationally.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I need no prompting—although I am grateful to him for prompting me—as tree planting is a pet subject of mine. He may know that, for my sins, I have the honour to be the president of the Arboricultural Association. I am keen to get more trees planted.

Clearly the main place to plant trees is in forests and wide open places, and it is also crucial that we stop the cutting down of trees and desertification in the third world, so I want more trees to be planted worldwide, including in this country. I hope that we can use much more imagination to get trees planted in inner cities and in places where we would not normally think of planting them.

I often think that we should plant more trees on our motorways. I know that there are problems if trees grow too tall, or if the leaves drop on the motorway, but there is much scope for planting alongside, for example of dwarf and ornamental species. I venture to suggest that it is possible that our motorways might become long arboreta, snaking across the nation so that they would be a joy to drive along. The monotony would be broken up. We would not need crash barriers in the middle because there would be not oak trees, as they get too large, but a whole variety of other trees. Like the Minister, I have a great deal of interest in that issue and it is more than an idle suggestion that we might use motorways for such purposes.

Certainly in inner cities and in many areas where it is not possible to rebuild housing, tree planting would be an ideal solution to improve the atmosphere in the way that we are discussing, and to improve the look of the city and general amenities.

I have referred principally to the criteria that we should use before we act. I intend to refer briefly to the organisation that would best deliver those changes. I believe that a continental bloc would be the best organisation to do that. The continent of Europe would be an important vehicle, particularly as represented by the Council of Europe.

Individual countries can do a great deal. My hon. Friend has already referred to the Government's record in tackling pollution. Great improvements have been made. To continue to call the United Kingdom the dirty man of Europe is grossly unfair, after all the action that we have taken. It is very much a misnomer. This country's record now is pretty good.

It is interesting to reflect on the power of individual nations. In the past a nation's power depended on the might of its army or industrial wealth. Many people refer to this country as having lost its empire and not exerting the influence that it once had. However, military might is no longer so important. The world's industrial power is now multinational. Therefore, a nation's moral power and leadership will become much more important. Consequently, our country has a great deal to give to the world, purely in terms of its leadership and experience of these issues. We can give a lead and persuade. It is crucial for us to set an example by cleaning up our own environment. Then we can take the lead in the international debate.

An individual nation can do only so much. It can clean up its own pollution and give a lead abroad. I do not have a great deal of faith in the UN. Its history suggests that it is too large, too loosely jointed and insufficiently dynamic to do the job that needs to be done. I hope that I am not being unduly pessimistic, but I do not have a great deal of faith that the UN would be able to implement the kind of dynamic policies that must be implemented. Therefore, I return to the idea of a continental bloc. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North referred to the fact that the United Kingdom's carbon dioxide emissions amount to only 3 per cent. of the world's emissions. That shows the extent of the problem in this country, but it points even more to the need to involve all the other nations of the world if we are to improve matters. The continental bloc might be the ideal vehicle for solving some of these problems.

Geographically, Europe is significant. Its size is important. Rivers and clouds pay no respect to boundaries, and one nation alone cannot tackle the problems. Because of its size, Europe could play a useful role. Financial and political co-operation would be needed. Europe is sufficiently large to make great improvements and get things moving. If we could reduce pollution fairly rapidly in an area the size of Europe, it would be a major step forward. Therefore, I recommend to the Minister the Council of Europe. He is, I know, familiar with it already, but I remind the House that it covers the whole of Europe. Every democracy in Europe is a member of the Council of Europe. Russia, Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia are all guest members of the Council of Europe, and Hungary and Poland are applying for full membership. Therefore, the Council of Europe contains not only the democracies of Europe, but countries from eastern Europe where there are tremendous pollution problems.

If the Minister looks at some of the Council of Europe's projects and reports in recent years, he will see that a massive amount of valuable work has been done on the sort of issues that we are discussing. The Council of Europe meets regularly, has an established framework and is there, ready to be used. The European bloc is the ideal geographical size to tackle pollution problems, and the Council of Europe is the vehicle to do so.

I shall finish by giving an end-of-term report on the Government's progress. If I were a headmaster—I am conscious that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North has much more experience than I do—I would say to the Government that I had seen much improvement, and there was room for congratulation, but there was still an awful lot to be done, and time was not on their side.

I leave the Minister with the following thought: do not wait for conclusive proof on every issue before acting. We need only sufficient proof to know that we should act, so we should use our common sense. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North talked about the best-bet forecast. I know what he meant, but on such issues we cannot afford to use best bets or to gamble. We must act on the evidence we have, using our common sense, before we reach that stage. If the Minister wants a vehicle for progress in Europe, I recommend that he uses the Council of Europe.

5.47 am

We have just heard a plea for presumptive action against pollution, which is most important. This debate in the early hours has demonstrated that global warming is a reality which we ignore at our peril.

The concerns that the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) have expressed at various times are understandable, particularly during this morning's debate. East Anglia is an area where there is great concern about the effect and the impact of global warming. It is regrettable that an early report on global warming, which looked at the impact of global warming on sea defences and generally, was shelved. When the Minister winds up, I should like him to say why. I mention that report to repeat the point that has just been made so well—that we cannot wait for action, but must take presumptive action against pollution and act now.

Two factors contribute to our changing atmosphere. First, we are producing gases that make the atmosphere a better heat trap. Secondly, we are cutting down forests, particularly tropical rain forests, which have the ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. The earlier comments about trees underlined the importance of tree planting. I should certainly be far happier if the Government's contribution to the tropical rain forest action programme were based more on environmental considerations.

The relative contributions of the gases to global warming have been calculated as follows: carbon dioxide, 50 per cent.; methane 18 per cent.; CFCs 14 per cent.; nitrous oxide and ozone 18 per cent. Sooner or later, global warming will catch up with us, and we ignore it now at our peril.

Although there is no scientific consensus on the speed and scope of the changes, there is wide agreement that global warming is with us now. A recent Department of the Environment study suggested a temperature increase of 3 deg C and a rise in sea levels of 80 cm. Despite that —this is the important point—the United Kingdom has not produced a clear and detailed policy on greenhouse gas reduction. The work on the subject by the university of East Anglia is welcome and I hope that it will be allowed to contribute to the ongoing debate, which must proceed much faster. In the absence of specific policies and initiatives, the business-as-usual approach best characterises Government thinking on global warming. I agree with the head teacher's end of term report that we have just heard on the Government.

The Government admit that the problem exists but prefer to await the results of international discussions and further research—some of which will take several years to finish—before committing themselves to action. In contrast, Labour Members insist that we must take on board the principle of presumption against pollution and act now before it is too late.

The Prime Minister's eloquent speech to the UN General Assembly on 8 November 1989 makes the Government's record of inaction even more serious. Indeed, her latest speech to mark the opening of the Hadley centre for climate prediction and research referred to the international panel on climate change. In calling for a target of 30 per cent. by the year 2005, she showed that she had accepted stabilisation of emissions and that she had abdicated any responsibility that she could claim for upholding environmental protection.

The report produced by the 300 scientists of working group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was chaired by the United Kingdom Meteorological Office, leaves no doubt that global warming is a major threat to the future of the planet and that action to counter it cannot be postponed. There must be a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, no CFC gases and a 30 per cent. reduction in methane and other gases. We accept that that cannot be done overnight, but we must control those gases.

The debate is timely, not least because of the reports at the weekend in The Sunday Correspondent. It has been reported that the IPCC scientists' next key report has been drastically watered down due to political pressure from the super-powers. The policy response group for working group 3 of the IPCC was meant to advise on the practicalities and costs for each country, and on concerns outlined by scientists, but it seems that there will be no indication of the targets or the costs involved in tackling global warming. Conservative Members will wish to raise these matters with the Under-Secretary of State, and I should like him to confirm whether those proposals have been watered down and recommendations, such as the greater use of energy efficiency technologies by western European countries, dropped from the latest report. If that is so, does it explain the extraordinary behaviour of the Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State for the Environment in the Committee on the Environmental Protection Bill, when they voted against one of our amendments to include energy efficiency as an important part of integrated pollution control? The Government have been saying for a long time that they are waiting for the IPCC report, which is due for discussion at the second world environment conference this autumn, but that is not good enough. We cannot depend on a watered-down document for important and urgent policy decisions.

The United Kingdom must seize the initiative and push OECD countries for an early initial agreement to stabilise gas emissions and look to make cuts over 12 months. The least that must be done is an agreement on stabilisation within the EC by the year 2000, but, again, what are the Government doing? Will the Under-Secretary confirm that they opposed such a proposal in June and once more set themselves against a European agreement? If only we had a Government who played a full role in what is happening in western Europe on these most important issues. The Prime Minister's pledge to cut projected emissions of carbon dioxide by 30 per cent. by the year 2005 is no more than a pledge to freeze current emissions by the year 2005—a full five years behind other EC Governments.

Much of the carbon dioxide emission comes from the burning of fossil fuels. I said earlier that, like many other hon. Members, I believed that we should reopen the debate on nuclear power, perhaps giving greater emphasis to it as a means of dealing with these greenhouse gases. Does the hon. Lady agree?

No, I do not agree. I shall come to the important steps that we can take to provide the energy that we need, hearing in mind the important principles—under which we shall operate—of energy efficiency and of using alternative energy sources. That is the basis of our energy programme.

The EC Environment Commissioner, Carlo Ripa di Meana, rightly attacked the British position, as it will
"cause problems since the date proposed by the UK conflicts with the stricter date which the Commission has already put forward."
Contrary to the prospect of this country playing a leading role in Europe, our problems with carbon dioxide emissions will be similar to the ones that we face with water because of dirty beaches and low standards of drinking water.

The Opposition support the EC target of freezing emissions at current levels by the year 2000. We recognise that this will not go far enough and that we shall need significant cuts by the early years of the next century. Meanwhile, the Government claim that each country has different energy needs and capabilities in the EC. They now claim to be the "honest broker" in negotiations, but that is a falsehood. Within the EC, Germany, Italy, France and the United Kingdom can reduce emissions, leaving room for Spain and Portugal to make small increases—leaving overall stabilisation.

The Government must not shirk their responsibilities at the October meeting of EC Environment Ministers and possibly also Energy Ministers. Action on an EC agreement will provide the stimulus for an international agreement by 1992, overriding the political fudging by the United States and Japan under the IPCC.

I should like to underline the point that I made earlier about the Council of Europe. The European Community, however much it may try to do, consists of only 12 nations in Europe. All these environmental issues are geographical rather than political. It is, therefore, important to have a body covering the whole of Europe, not just the 12 nations in the Community. Does the hon. Lady agree?

Because no one country can act on its own, it is important that we take the initiative and show leadership in whatever groups or blocs in which that is natural. Eventually, we shall work on a global stage and seek the international co-operation so important to the future of our planet.

The Opposition believe that the political leadership must come at the outset from this country and western Europe, so that developed countries such as Japan are persuaded to come on board. It would be unthinkable for us to make important contributions without their taking part. We have heard from the Minister for the Environment and Countryside, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), about the pain and anguish of stabilisation, as though he would have us believe that even stabilisation is beyond the realms of possibility. That has no intellectual standing. Two independent reports in the past month have shown that the costs of a stabilisation policy are not high and that such action is practicable. The science policy research unit analysis forecasts zero cost stabilisation and a cost of only 0·3 per cent. of gross national product for a 20 per cent. cut in emissions by the year 2005. A report by the Stockholm Environment Institute predicts net savings in reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 12 per cent. Six energy efficiency measures implemented over the next 15 years could cost up to £20 billion, but would save £118 billion for the economy. Where is the pain and anguish in that? Where is the high cost? If the Government are so intent on claiming the green mantle, why are they not prepared to make a real contribution to combat global warming, as was stated at the Berger conference?

We believe that the Government's stance is pure political manipulation. The Department of Energy's projections, which the Prime Minister has pledged to cut, have been deliberately exaggerated to make the Prime Minister's pledge seem far more radical than it is. Even the study produced by the energy technology support unit for the Downing street seminar on global warming—held last year—is significantly below the Department's projections.

Will the Under-Secretary tell us whether the report to which the Prime Minister referred, and on which I questioned her at Prime Minister's Question Time early in June, bears the test of peer review? Surely one of the first rules of science is that the results of studies must be opened up to peer review. If that cannot happen, the report has failed on the first principle. In fact, leaked documents from the CBI confirm that the Department puts little trust in its projections, seeing them purely as bargaining tools to be used with both the IPCC and the Department of the Environment. The CBI's internal assessment of the Government's study says that

"the report's projections of CO2 emissions appear to be excessively high".
To put the Government's energy projection in perspective, it assumes that demand for energy over the next three decades will be greater than the growth of demand in the 1960s, a decade of heavy growth in both industry and the domestic sector. To reach those levels of consumption it will be necessary, as the CBI notes, to reverse the trends of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is inconceivable that Britain will regain all the heavy industries that it lost during the devastation of the 1980s.

The Department of Energy's projections also assume a major growth of between 18 and 26 per cent. in the consumption of energy in the domestic sector by 2005; yet models based on data collected by the Government's own Building Research Establishment estimate, at worst, zero growth in energy demand in the domestic sector. That is because growth in the domestic sector is roughly balanced by existing trends towards increased insulation and more effective central heating boilers. Such trends could so easily be developed by Government action, further increasing energy efficiency—the most effective policy approach to combat global warming.

According to Government research, the industrial and commercial energy survey scheme identified £35 worth of energy savings to be made for every £1 spent. Despite its success and its potential for energy saving, it was abolished in 1988. Government neglect of energy efficiency measures is deep rooted. Privatisation is the first priority at the Department of Energy, and I do not think that the statement that we heard earlier today has made any difference to that.

To dwell too long on the Department's abysmal record would, however, be to neglect the outrageous failures of the Government's transport policies. I was interested by what the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) had to say about transport. Road transport is a significant contributor to pollution and the associated problems of global warming. In the United Kingdom, according to 1987 figures, it is responsible for the emission of just under 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, 4.5 million tonnes of carbon monoxide and more that 1 million tonnes of nitrogen oxides. A continuing increase in traffic can only worsen those problems, yet the Government are working on the basis of an increase of between 83 and 142 per cent. by the year 2025. Run-down public transport can only add to the pressure on the roads, but building more roads will not solve the problem.

An increase in carbon dioxide emissions in the transport sector of between 47 and 55 per cent. by the year 2005 assumes an increase of between 25 and 30 per cent. in the number of vehicles in urban areas. Road developments to accommodate that are assessed on a cost-benefit basis, but public transport investment is required to show a substantial financial return. The Government's approach rejects any objective means of determining what is best for the community, and any real prospect of objectively measuring environmental impact assessments. We need to encourage the use of an integrated public transport system, more efficient engines in cars and more sensible use of private cars.

In the absence of targets and objectives for air pollution and other environmental effects, the opportunities for rational assessment of new road proposals, traffic management measures and other regulations are reduced. There are no national policies or limits for atmospheric pollution or environmental disbenefits which could set a framework within which the development of the transport infrastructure could be assessed.

The hype and euphoria at last year's Conservative party conference led to lavish praise for the Secretary of State for the Environment and talk of a promised White Paper on the environment as radical as the Beveridge report in setting up the national health service. Twelve months on, the environment is still in poor health and, according to our end of term report, it is getting worse, but the political bravado is missing. Ministers have desperately been talking down the impact of the forthcoming White Paper. The Government's bluff has been called and the Government have been found lacking.

Last July, National Opinion Polls was commissioned to establish whether people believed that the Government were doing enough to assist energy conservation. Only one in 10 endorsed that view and no fewer than 79 per cent. said that the Government were not doing enough. The failure to incorporate new initiatives on energy conservation into the Environmental Protection Bill, did nothing to improve the public perception of lackadaisical neglect, and the imminent humiliating climb-down on the White Paper will provide further cause for concern.

The report last week by the Institution of Civil Engineers, "Pollution and its Containment", put the case simply. It said:
"Government intervention is crucial since pollution of the environment is a classic example of market failure, and action by individuals or groups smaller than governments is likely to be ineffective."
As has already been said, engineers have an important role to play in combating global warming, and I welcome that report.

The Opposition are committed to an independent, national regulatory body and environmental protection executive. That is long overdue. It is necessary to make effective the development and enforcement of policy by Government. We cannot leave it to the consumer to demand proper labelling of goods. We need access to information as of right. International agreements will be brought effectively into domestic policy and environmental protection will be at the heart of our policies.

That is a level of commitment which the Government have never approached. Their hot air rhetoric on global warming lacks substance and their inaction on—and, in some cases, opposition to—international initiatives is inexcusable.

The hon. Lady is being slightly ungracious. She has not once mentioned the retro-fitting of flue gas desulphurisation at Drax power station, the largest power station in Europe. I remind the hon. Lady that that power station was commissioned by the Labour Government in the 1970s. They were offered the opportunity of fitting FGD when it was built but turned it down. It has been left to this Government, at a cost of nearly £1 billion, to retro-fit Drax power station.

Retro-fitting at power stations is crucial. I wait with interest to see to what extent the programme will go forward from strength to strength in the new form that the industry is to take.

Time is running out. Whether I say it graciously or ungraciously, the Government's inaction and opposition to international initiatives is inexcusable. Global warming needs positive action. The Government have every opportunity to lead the way towards international agreements. It is a responsibility from which, for all our sakes, they must not escape.

6.8 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
(Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) on choosing this subject for debate and on the thoughtful and persuasive way in which he set out his arguments. He managed effectively to place constituency and regional concerns in a global context. That was entirely appropriate, because climate change is a global problem or it is nothing. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was the first world statesman to draw attention to global warming, in a major speech to the Royal Society nearly two years ago.

In his introductory remarks, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North rightly said that global warming is a natural phenomenon and that the greenhouse effect is essential to support life. We must act on the build-up of greenhouse gases which is occurring at ever-increasing rates and is threatening to upset the balance of the climate in potentially damaging ways. That concern led the international community to establish the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was charged with the task of looking at the science of climate change and the impacts and possible response to that change.

Working group 1 of the IPCC is chaired by Dr. Houghton, the chief executive of the Meteorological Office, and it has issued its report. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North referred to the report's main findings, which are that global temperatures will, on a business-as-usual scenario, rise by about 0·3 deg C per decade. That is faster than anything that we have seen for the past 10,000 years or so. If unchecked, and I emphasise that the predictions are based on the assumption that nothing is done to check emissions, there would be serious consequences. Those consequences include the sea level rising beyond the somewhat modest rises that will occur anyway as a result of the global warming to which we are already committed. My hon. Friend referred to the threat of droughts which are a particular danger to his region. We can also envisage threats to fresh water supplies and damaging impacts on agricultural production and the threat of the loss of bio-diversity.

Our response to all that must be based on a sound understanding of the underlying factors. I agree with the need for technical solutions to what is, at least in part, a technical problem. To that end, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister established the new Hadley centre for climate prediction and research, which will cost £6 million a year and will be open to participation by scientists from all countries.

Throughout the debate we have been driven by a belief that we cannot wait for conclusive scientific proof before acting. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord), who intervened effectively in the debate, about the need for the precautionary principle to be given effect. We must give the environment the benefit of the doubt particularly as much of the action that we take can be justified on other grounds. For example, energy efficiency is an entirely valid aim to pursue even in the absence of evidence of global warming.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) drew attention to the part played by CFCs. He will know that damage to the ozone layer is commonly confused with global warming. They are separate phenomena, but he was right to draw attention to the fact that there is a common link in that CFCs not only damage the ozone layer, but are potent greenhouse gases.

In the Montreal protocol of 1987, many nations committed themselves to reducing their use of CFCs by 50 per cent. by the year 2000. Just a few weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment chaired a meeting of the protocol at which we were able to agree much stronger controls. The countries present committed themselves to a phase-out of CFCs and halons by the year 2000 and to implement tighter controls over two other ozone-depleting substances, methyl chloroform and carbon tetrachloride. We were also able to agree a financial mechanism to enable developing countries to meet their obligations under the protocol. That, in turn, meant that India and China were able to say that they hope to join the protocol.

The agreement is a significant watershed in environmental protection, but many countries, including this one, would like to go further on CFCs, and we are now pressing the European Community to phase out the use of CFCs in the Community, apart from certain essential uses, by the year 1997.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow drew attention to the Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte report. I am glad that it has his support. It was sponsored by my Department and the Department of Trade and Industry. It stresses the importance of finding substitutes and of recycling CFC gases. I was interested recently to open a CFC reclycing scheme in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. The county council and the district councils had got together to fund a mobile CFC recycling unit which will extract those gases from domestic refrigerators.

Hon. Members have understandably and rightly drawn attention to the central role of energy efficiency. Nuclear power was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North. If the economics allow it, nuclear power has a part to play in future. As my hon. Friend knows, the generation of electricity by such means is done almost without gaseous emissions. He was right also to stress the potential role of combined heat and power. My Department certainly believes that, if the right applications can be found, there is a role for future CHP schemes. We are taking active steps to try to find appropriate applications.

We have already successfully promoted improvements in energy efficiency. Since 1979, we have produced 25 per cent. more gross domestic product with no increase in energy use.

I referred to the report that is due from working group 3 of the IPCC and suggested that it had been watered down. In view of what the Minister said about energy efficiency, can he give an assurance that that report has not and will not be watered down and that there will be specific recommendations on energy efficiency?

We have not received the report from working group 3, so I cannot anticipate its outcome. However, if the hon. Lady is alleging that the Government have played any part in watering down that working group's research or possible conclusions, she is entirely wrong.

Last April, building regulations were altered to improve the heating efficiency of new homes by 20 per cent. The Electricity Act 1989 is also important in that the non-fossil fuel obligation has already given a tremendous boost to the commercial development of renewable energy. It is a sad fact that the Electricity Act was opposed at every stage by the official Opposition. I know that because I served on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill.

As we are discussing non-fossil fuels and nuclear power, was my hon. Friend surprised that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) did not develop her thoughts on nuclear power? The Opposition are in some difficulty on this matter.

It is fair for my hon. Friend to make that comment. The Opposition have opposed nuclear power on principle far too often and they have overlooked the fact that, although all energy production systems have their disadvantages, nuclear power is a benign form of electricity generation in terms of the greenhouse effect and global warming.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow stressed the role of transport and he is right that vehicles are heavy producers of carbon dioxide. The three-way catalytic converter which will be compulsory on new vehicles from 1992 does nothing to limit the emisson of carbon dioxide. That is why we have been urging the European Commission to take further steps to introduce specific proposals to limit the emission of that gas. We have also urged discussions with motor manufacturers on how to ensure that we sustain previous improvements in vehicle efficiency. I hope that the European Commission will take heed of our promptings, as it is a cause of some concern that the fitting of three-way catalytic converters appears, at least in the short term, to rule out the development of lean-burn engines which hold out the prospect of limiting the emissions of other pollutant gases, while also reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

As I expected, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central spoke about the role of trees. He said that trees are an efficient and attractive way in which to fix carbon dioxide in solid form. My hon. Friend waxed lyrical and talked about converting motorways into long, snaking arboretums. I shall certainly draw that proposal to the attention of the new Minister for Roads and Traffic, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope). My hon. Friend is right that we must find ways not only to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, but to get it back into solid form.

I am answering this debate leaning on a Dispatch Box that is partly made of wood. It rests on a solid wood table that is chiefly of carbon. Tree growth is a good way to reverse the overproduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Throughout the debate emphasis has been laid on international action, which I endorse. I agree that one of the strengths of the Council of Europe is that it includes eastern European countries which have a role in cleaning up the European environment. It is clear that 40 years of communism have also given us 40 years of environmental dereliction behind the iron curtain. For the continent to try to reverse that remains a giant task.

The United Kingdom has not been an obstacle to a European Community agreement, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) was dangerously near alleging. At the most recent discussion at the Environment Council on 7 June, this country pressed for an agreement that all member states should prepare national strategies setting out real measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We pressed that member states should be prepared to present those strategies at the next meeting of the Environment Council in October. Sadly, we were unable to reach agreement on that, but the fault does not lie with the Government. The plain fact is that some member states are not ready to take that step.

That applies to too many countries outside the developed world. Rather than squabbling about whether we should stabilise in 2000 or 2005, we should be trying to convince that part of the world—three quarters—that has not yet taken any action that it has a duty to join us in a concerted effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is even more important.

There is no cause for complacency about global warming. It behoves all countries to participate, because it is a global problem requiring a global solution. Our duty is to increase our knowledge about the climate and about ways in which we can respond and to take necessary action in advance of conclusive proof.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having chosen global warming as the subject for this debate. His speech and those of other hon. Members have helped to illuminate the subject, which is complex at times. The obligation to join other countries in reducing emissions could be one of our most important international obligations and our debate this morning has contributed to the necessary understanding of the subject.