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Climate Change

Volume 447: debated on Thursday 22 June 2006

4. What progress has been made against the Government's carbon reduction targets; and if he will make a statement. (79345)

In March the Government announced a climate change programme setting out measures that will affect all major sectors and sources of UK emissions. The review predicts that the measures will reduce the UK's carbon dioxide emissions to 15 to18 per cent. below 1990 levels and the emission of greenhouse gases to 23 to 25 per cent. below 1990 levels, which is double the Kyoto target. Progress will be monitored and assessed regularly and frequently by an inter-departmental board, and there will be an annual report to Parliament every year, starting next year.

I hope that the Minister agrees that if any target is to be meaningful, it must include aviation, which, as he will know, presents a major threat. If that continues at the same rate, it will cancel out all the gains made in other sectors. Does the Minister accept that while emissions trading is a useful tool which represents a step forward, it is not enough in itself to halt the inexorable growth of aviation? Does he accept that when one of my constituents goes to Spain and back by air solely to buy fags and beer cheaply, the price of aviation must increase?

The hon. Gentleman may be confusing the question of whether we have an emissions trading scheme with the question of what the scheme includes. At present aviation is not included, but the Government are committed to ensuring that it is. If there are rising levels of air travel, they must be offset elsewhere. That strikes me as a more sensible way of putting a cap on emissions and tackling the problems. If the hon. Gentleman wants to tell his constituents that they are not allowed to fly he can do so, but I think it is better to say that if more people are flying, emissions must be offset and reduced elsewhere.

According to 2004 figures, 30 per cent. of total UK energy use comes from the domestic sector, as do 27 per cent. of total carbon emissions. What more can the Government do to convince people that individual action in aggregate accounts for a massive percentage of the overall problem?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Let me say two things to him. First, by 2050 30 per cent. of houses will have been built since the introduction of the new building regulations, which represents a 40 per cent. improvement in energy efficiency in new housing. Secondly, I believe that there should be cross-party support for the home information packs that will be introduced next year. They will include an energy rating of every household, which has never been available before. They will also tell householders how they can cut energy emissions, and how they can save themselves money. [Interruption.] If the Conservative party opposes a measure that is both green and economic, it needs to re-examine its policies.

Given that the Government have now admitted that they are missing their own targets for cutting carbon dioxide emissions, and given that transport is one of the largest sources—and an increasing source—of carbon dioxide, why are the incentives for motorists to drive low-emission cars so utterly feeble? Will the Secretary of State undertake, as one of his first acts, to press the Chancellor of the Exchequer to widen substantially the differentials relating to vehicle excise duty, so that those who choose to drive low-emission cars receive a proper financial reward for doing so?

The hon. Gentleman spent three productive hours debating these issues in Committee with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

I feel that, as a relatively new Secretary of State, I should congratulate the Chancellor on introducing different levels of car tax for different fuels. The hon. Gentleman has made an important point, however, and I am sure that, along with other representations, it will be taken into account when the Chancellor considers how to implement his proposals.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing the reduction in carbon emissions and control of the carbon footprint in Government offices, but will he now go further? Will he launch a campaign for every child in every school to know its carbon footprint on our planet, and for every institution in the country—every school and every business, small and large—to know its carbon footprint and have a target to reduce it?

That, too, is an important point. I think that I am right in saying that more or less every citizen is responsible for an average emission of about 3 tonnes of carbon a year. If we are to meet our 2050 targets, we will have to reduce that to 1 tonne, which means thinking about our own footprint. I have the impression, from my constituency and elsewhere, that the younger generation—those at school—are ahead of the game when it comes to thinking about their carbon footprint, but we must do as much as we can nevertheless, and I will certainly explore my hon. Friend’s ideas.

Six months ago, the Government launched a climate change communication fund with about £12 million of funding. Having heard what Al Gore said yesterday afternoon, does the Secretary of State think that that funding is adequate? How much of the money has been spent?

I am pleased to confirm to the House that that programme of £12 million is being allocated to organisations such as the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, which was mentioned earlier, and the Scout Association. We think that it is better for organisations such as that to spread the message about climate change than it is for the Government to spend money on Government advertising showing the Government wagging their fingers at people. What I took away from the vice-president’s speech and presentation—

In fact, he retains his title, but let us not get into that. Vice-President Gore’s argument is that there are major challenges, for all industrialised countries and for the developing world, in meeting the problems of climate change. As he said, this country should be proud of the progress that has been made and of the fact that we are one of only three countries meeting our Kyoto commitments. However, we must go further, and I am committed to doing so.

I praise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for attending yesterday’s presentation by Vice-President Gore. I am sure that he will recall that the vice-president made it clear that we must persuade his own Government to do much more on climate change. What is my right hon. Friend doing to answer that call? Achieving more American effort in this regard would reflect great credit on him as Secretary of State.

In fact, the vice-president painted quite an optimistic picture of the changes in American politics—or at least of the ones that may take place after 2008. My hon. Friend raises an important point. A year and a half ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister launched the drive for the presidencies of the G8 and the EU that the UK held. I think that the debate about the scientific evidence is now conclusively over. Vice-President Gore referred to 928 articles that showed absolute consensus about climate change and its causes. We need to move on to a debate about the level at which we should stabilise emissions, and how we can do so. I believe that the continuing G8 commitment and the UN process for after 2012 mean that we can get the Americans involved for the first time.

The latest environmental accounts from the Office for National Statistics show that there has been an increase in carbon emissions since the Government came to power in 1997, and a corresponding reduction in fossil fuel and other green taxes. Overall, green taxes fell again last year to 2.9 per cent. of GDP—the lowest level since 1990. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that green taxes are the only area in which the Labour Government should follow the Conservative policy of reducing taxation as a share of GDP. Does the Secretary of State agree?

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Like me, he fought last year’s election on a manifesto that promised to ensure that taxation is based on the needs of the economy, the environment and families. That is what we are committed to doing.

There are two sides to the climate change equation—causes and effects. In today’s answers to questions, all sorts of positive statements have been made about the causes, and the Government have an excellent record in respect of emissions controls. Yet again, however, nothing has been said about the effects of climate change or about what the Government are doing, by means of sea defences or new building designs, for example, to deal with rising sea levels or to control river flooding. Will my right hon. Friend say what on earth the Government are doing to deal with the inevitable effects of climate change?

I should be very happy to do that, and could give my hon. Friend a voluminous list of Government actions in that regard. However, he mentioned flooding, and it is important that I pick up on that. The Environment Agency now has a budget of £500 million a year for flood defences. That is a significant improvement: I stand to be corrected, but I think that it represents a tripling of the investment in flood defences. I am happy to engage with him and the rest of the House at great length on many other things that the Government are doing, but I fear that I may trespass on Mr. Speaker’s patience if I go too far.

Does the Secretary of State consider it acceptable that bickering between his Department and the Department of Trade and Industry has left the Government unable to make up their mind about the amount of carbon that we need to cut under phase two of the EU emissions trading scheme? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that such dithering helps the UK to be a credible provider of leadership in the international fight against climate change, or that it helps responsible industry to make the necessary investment to ensure a clean, green future?

One thing that certainly would undermine our leadership is opposition to the climate change levy, which has cut 7 million tonnes of carbon every year. In respect of the emissions trading scheme, I look forward to debating the Government’s conclusions with the hon. Gentleman and I can assure him that there will be one Government conclusion about the level of the phase 2 cap under the scheme. I can also assure him that it will make a significant contribution to the progress that we, along with the rest of Europe, need to make. Our Government was one of only three in Europe that set the emissions trading cap below the level of emissions. I am working very hard with my European partners and also with the European Commission to ensure that every country in Europe sets a cap at the right level so that we drive down the level of emissions right across Europe.

In the foreword to the energy White Paper 2003, the Government set out the four pillars: the environment, energy security, affordable energy for the poorest and competitive markets for industry, business and households. In pursuing the nuclear energy route in such a pell-mell fashion, do we not risk abandoning all four pillars and having the whole structure crumbling in on us?

I can say that there is nothing pell-mell about the way in which the energy review has been conducted and that we are absolutely committed to the four pillars of our energy policy, which my hon. Friend has rightly mentioned. The test for any policies considered under the review—whether it be for nuclear, renewables, micro-generation or energy efficiency and energy reduction—will be how they contribute to the strengthening of those four policy pillars. I look forward to seeing what I believe will be a strong package that meets all four tests when the energy review is published.