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Kyoto Conference

Volume 301: debated on Tuesday 25 November 1997

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What communications he has had with the United States Secretary of State about the forthcoming Kyoto conference. [15989]

I spoke to Mrs. Albright at the end of last week about climate change and the Kyoto negotiations. I also had an extensive bilateral on those topics with Mrs. Albright in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister recently visited Washington to discuss the Kyoto conference. We shall continue to be in close contact with the United States Government in the run-up to Kyoto to help ensure a successful outcome.

I am glad that the Government are in close touch with the United States Secretary of State. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is compelling scientific evidence of the dangers of global warming and that quality of life—and, for some people in future generations, life itself—will be threatened if we do not take action? Does he further agree that there is a special obligation on industrialised countries such as the United Kingdom—and especially the United States, as the world's biggest producer of greenhouse gases—to enter into a binding agreement to reduce the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend on the severity and gravity of the problem. If the present trend of global warming continues, the world will face extremely unpredictable weather changes and a reduction in food-producing areas. For those reasons, it is vital for everyone that, at Kyoto, we achieve legally binding targets for reductions in CO2 emissions. I am proud to say that the British Government are playing an important part in working for a successful outcome at Kyoto. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has completed a visit to India. He spent the weekend in New Zealand and is currently in Australia working with those countries and taking the lead to achieve the environmental agreement that we need.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the United Kingdom's exemplary record has afforded him a platform from which he can encourage other countries to meet their targets and that that record is largely a result of Conservative policy?

I am proud to say that one of the Government's first actions was to ditch the Conservative target of a 10 per cent. reduction and replace it with a target of a 20 per cent. reduction. That shows that our policies are twice as good as theirs.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that decisions about whether to invest in energy systems that burn fossil fuels and pump CO2 into the atmosphere or systems that promote energy efficiency and reliance on renewable sources of energy are essentially matters for elected Governments? When he meets Mrs. Albright, will he stress the point that next April the Government will not sign up to any multilateral agreements on investment that would take decisions away from elected Governments and hand them to transnational corporations?

I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that subsidiarity will certainly apply to those matters. However, Kyoto will be different from Rio in that we will be agreeing to a mandatory target that will then be obligatory on all parties that sign up to it. Although there are different ways in which that can be realised, it is important that Britain and other industrialised countries match their commitment to achieve that mandatory target if we are to have any hope of persuading developing countries to do likewise.