[Relevant document: A memorandum from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry containing the Government response to the Sixth Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2005-06, Keeping the lights on: Nuclear, Renewables and Climate Change, HC 584.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Heppell.]
I am delighted to have the opportunity to open this debate. Climate change is not just an environmental issue, but an economic issue, a social issue, and a security issue. It is local, national and international, and it will affect all of us, as well as all of our children, so it is right that it is now high on the agenda of all three main political parties.
In setting the scene for the debate, I shall review the science, the international position, and Britain’s response. The polls show that 93 per cent. of people are now aware of climate change. I am sure that many people think that it is a funny old world when Al Gore is making movies and Arnold Schwarzenegger is making policy, but both men are now making a major contribution to a worldwide awakening on this issue.
The facts are more alarming, and the need for action more urgent, than previously thought. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are now higher than at any time for at least the last 740,000 years. That is resulting in an unprecedented rise in temperature at the earth’s surface: globally, 10 of the warmest years since 1850 have occurred since 1990, and in the UK, spring is now arriving on average 10 days earlier than it was 30 years ago. [Interruption.] Yes, under a Labour Government; I know that the weather is always better under Labour, but that was not the point I was seeking to make.
The rise in temperature could push many of the great ecosystems of the world into irreversible decline, with massive economic and social costs. Two thirds of the world’s population live within 80 km of the coast, and up to 80 million people’s homes could be flooded each year in coastal regions by the end of the century. As the latest issue of Scientific American puts it, the debate on global warming is over. Preventing the transformation of the earth’s atmosphere from temperate greenhouse to unconstrained hothouse represents arguably the most imposing scientific and technical challenge that humanity has ever faced.
Even if Britain is miraculously good at controlling its carbon emissions, the fact is that we are not going to control the world’s carbon emissions. As that is the reality, should we not turn our prime attention to how we protect our coastal and low-lying areas with sea defences?
We certainly should protect our sea defences, but many people will ask why the right hon. Gentleman has voted against increasing the flood defence budget over the past 10 years, which has happened under this Government. Secondly, his point that our emissions represent only 2 per cent. of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions should never be an excuse for us not to take the action that is necessary as our contribution to addressing this global problem. However, I do want to address the international issues.
On flood defences, although we all agree that there is a serious problem, has the Secretary of State’s Department not just cut the budget for such defences?
The capital budget in respect of flooding has been protected, despite the difficulties that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has in respect of that budget, and I make no apologies for protecting that capital budget. It is true that some of the annual recurrent expenditure for the Environment Agency has had to be cut, and I make no apology for saying that DEFRA will live within its means: when accountancy changes or avian flu or difficulties with the Rural Payments Agency arise, we will live within our means and we will not duck the difficult choices. However, we have protected the capital element of the floods budget and it was right to do so.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I will not take any interventions from Liberal Democrats, who have just wasted at least 15 minutes, and possibly 30 minutes, on fruitless votes that have got us absolutely nowhere.
This Conservative recognises the importance of saving the global environment for everyone, but I am also concerned about our river and stream environments, which have been under huge stress over the past 20 years and under successive Governments. Every year, hundreds of miles of rivers and streams dry out. Can we act locally, as well, and try to encourage water companies and the Environment Agency to get together to ensure that these environments are preserved? If we cannot do that locally, how on earth can we reduce greenhouse gases globally? It will be an impossibility.
We should certainly do what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am surprised that he did not point out that we have the cleanest rivers and streams since the industrial revolution, thanks to the efforts made by some of the agencies that he mentioned. But he is absolutely right to say that this is an important issue.
Is the Secretary of State aware that some 40 million to 50 million litres of untreated sewage goes into the Thames every year? Indeed, I have just received an answer to a parliamentary written question on that very issue. Does he agree that keeping our core rivers clean is incredibly important, and that Thames Water’s tideway proposal would solve a lot of these problems?
The hon. Lady is of course right to say that raw sewage coming into the Thames is a very serious issue. Actually, the Thames is also cleaner than it has been since the industrial revolution, which is a good thing. The Greater London authority, the Mayor, the Government, the relevant environmental agencies and others are looking very carefully at the tideway proposal, and we hope to conclude the relevant studies by the early part of next year.
On the protection of waterways, will the Secretary of State confirm that, owing to cuts in the DEFRA budget, British Waterways is in the process of making 180 people redundant?
I noticed that the Press Association referred to the figure of 180—I assume that that is where the hon. Gentleman has taken it from—although I have not been able to confirm it. British Waterways’ budget, which has gone up to £190 million during this year, has, I think, risen three or fourfold in the past seven or eight years. It has had to bear some of the brunt of the difficulties with DEFRA’s finances and I make no apology for that.
I really must try to make some progress. I said that I wanted to deal with the science and to look at the international and domestic agendas—
I am very tempted to give way to my hon. Friend, who is known as a long-standing campaigner on international issues. Since I mentioned the international agenda, I think it right that I let him intervene.
I am very grateful for that little bit of praise; I hope that it is deserved. I was hoping to get us back on to climate change because, although it is very good that politicians keep their noses to the ground, this subject is rather bigger than British Waterways. Is my right hon. Friend going to review our 2050 target of a 60 per cent. cut in emissions in the light of the Exeter conference and of the most recent report by the Tyndall centre, which shows that, if our current transport appetite continues, we will have to reduce emissions by 70 per cent. by 2030 and by 90 per cent. by 2050?
I will deal with these issues, but I always say that we must try to achieve at least a 60 per cent. reduction in our carbon dioxide emissions, compared with 1990 levels, by 2050. There is always a danger in changing an ambitious target that has a widespread degree of buy-in and consensus. The CBI, voluntary organisations and, I think, the Opposition parties recognise the power of that 60 per cent. target, so I am slightly loth to start changing it too soon. But I recognise the value of the point that my hon. Friend makes.
When the Prime Minister launched the British presidency of the G8 last year and put climate change, along with Africa, at the top of the agenda, he set out a three-stage process: getting agreement on the science, promoting a debate about stabilisation, and developing agreement on a long-term international framework. Let me address stabilisation, which is an important issue.
The 1992 UN framework convention on climate change was signed not just by those Kyoto countries that are signatories to the protocol, but by 189 countries, including the United States, Australia and Canada. The convention urges its signatories to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.
The latest science shows that atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased by more than a third since about 1750—from about 280 to 380 parts per million. The level of greenhouse gases, in CO2 equivalent concentration, is about 430 parts per million. Atmospheric CO2 levels, or equivalent, are rising at more than 2 parts per million per year. Without further action, CO2 emissions in 2050 are predicted to rise by 50 per cent. More immediately, within 10 years we will reach the 450 parts per million figure that many scientists believe would represent a shift from the balance of probability being against dangerous climate change toward its being in its favour.
In other words, the window of opportunity for staying within a 450 to 550 parts per million range is closing. The costs of mitigation rise sharply for stabilisation below this range, and for adaptation the costs rise sharply beyond the upper limit of that range. I have not read today’s report from Shell, but it speaks to this issue. The Stern review, which will be concluded in the next few weeks, represents the most comprehensive work ever undertaken in the field of climate change economics. Preliminary findings were presented in Mexico last week to the second meeting of the Gleneagles dialogue, which I attended along with the Minister for Energy, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
The evidence is clear: the cost of tackling climate change will be far less than the cost of dealing with the consequences. We have the technology to meet the challenge. Picking up on the point made earlier by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), we must find ways of getting investment across the globe in moving to a low carbon economy. That means working to develop an international framework that can secure global co-operation, plus effective domestic and European action.
The 1992 UN convention used the language of “common but differentiated responsibilities” for all 189 signatories. Let me dwell on this for a moment. “Common” responsibilities means that all countries have to play a part. “Differentiated” responsibilities means that the greatest burden must be borne by those with the greatest ability to lead. The danger is that developing countries say that they will not play their part because the industrialised world is not promising to play its part; meanwhile, developed economies refuse to move because they suspect that developing countries will not take the action necessary.
The Government’s strategy to break this logjam is as follows. First, in Mexico last week we presented compelling new evidence on the economics, and I think that Ministers from all the 17 countries that attended left Mexico realising that “business as usual” is not an option. Secondly, we pursue bilateral agreements with key countries to deliver change on the ground now. On Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his Indian counterpart signed a memorandum of understanding to add to work with China, Brazil, South Africa and—famously—California, in order to take action in the immediate future to mitigate future climate change.
Thirdly, we are proud to see the European Union as a big part of the answer to the climate change problem. I say in all seriousness to the Conservative party that the battle against climate change requires a strong European Union; it is not possible to be an environmentalist and a Europhobe at the same time. This problem crosses borders and requires international action.
Given that the hon. Gentleman was a Member of the European Parliament, and since I have mentioned Europe, I should probably break my vow and allow him to intervene.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State. Does he agree that the Kyoto agreement, imperfect though it is, would not have happened without the pressure of the European Union, and that the Conservative party should take that into account in formulating its climate change policy?
I do not want to intrude on the private grief that has caused a divorce between the two main Opposition parties and broken the consensus that we were told would exist between them; they have now sundered all co-operation. But I am happy to be an intermediary for messages from the hon. Gentleman to the Conservatives, and to relay to them his concern that they should wake up, smell the coffee and realise that the European Union is part of the solution, not the problem.
As I was saying, the climate change problem crosses borders and requires international action. The Government will continue to press for a strong and integrated European response to climate change. I can report to the House that the European Commission action plan on energy efficiency will be launched next week. The sustainability pillar of the Lisbon competitiveness strategy needs to be strengthened, and the British Government will argue for that. Common agricultural policy reform must continue to emphasise the need to improve the net environmental benefits of farming. The extension of the EU emissions trading scheme needs to be taken forward later this year, and of course, the EU needs to continue to negotiate at international level for us, starting in Nairobi next month.
I want to latch on to the phrase that my right hon. Friend used about energy efficiency. I also raised this matter in business questions this morning. I am sure that he will have noticed how warm it is in the Palace of Westminster this week. Will he have urgent discussions with the House authorities on this? We should practise what we preach and do our bit here in the House of Commons.
I am sympathetic to my hon. Friend’s point, and I will certainly take up the matter with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and with the appropriate authorities thereafter. I shall not make any jokes about hot air.
On practising what we preach, I would like to point out to colleagues that, yesterday and today, I have turned off about 10 lights in the Lady Members’ Room downstairs.
Order. I am not sure where this is going. The debate is probably intended to be looking at the bigger picture.
Wherever the debate is going, I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall not be going to check on what she is doing.
I was setting out the strategy that the Government are pursuing to ensure that the international agenda is followed. The fourth point is that we must take a lead in developing the clear and tangible targets from all developed countries that are necessary to kick-start the drive towards a global agreement on climate change. For countries such as the United Kingdom, that means achieving at least the 60 per cent. target to which we are committed. For the European Union, it means exploring with other parties reduction pathways in the order of 15 to 30 per cent. by 2020, and 60 to 80 per cent. by 2050.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I hope that my hon. Friend will bear with me. I am conscious that about 15 Members want to participate in the debate, and I am worried that I have already gone on for 15 minutes. Let me try to move on.
As well as those four measures, we need a fifth, which I believe will receive common support across the House. We must support the most vulnerable developing countries in adapting to the unavoidable effects of climate change now. As the UN meeting in Nairobi sets out on the task of developing a new global framework on climate change, we must help developing countries, especially in Africa, to cope with climate change today. I take heart from the comments that were made on this issue in Mexico last week. I also commend the White Paper of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, which has sustainability as a theme running right through it, rather than simply a chapter on the subject.
Climate change is a global problem that requires global leadership, but our strength internationally relies on our commitment at home. We are one of the few countries on course to achieve its Kyoto protocol target. Our greenhouse gas emissions could fall to around 23 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2010, which represents nearly double our target of a 12.5 per cent. reduction. But we need to go further, not least in respect of carbon dioxide itself.
This year, we have taken significant steps towards strengthening our domestic programme on climate change. First, the measures set out in our climate change programme review are projected to deliver 12 million tonnes of carbon savings within the next four years. This includes savings from the second phase of the European Union emissions trading scheme. That might sound like a technical matter, but it accounts for nearly half of all carbon emissions in this country. This summer, we submitted our proposals for the second phase of the EU emissions trading scheme. It will be expanded to cover additional activities at 160 installations, responsible for nearly 10 million tonnes of carbon.
Alongside this, we are pressing for reforms to the EU emissions trading scheme to extend its coverage and secure its long-term future. Representatives of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development came to Mexico last week. They said that what they needed above all else was long-term certainty on the commitments of the developed countries to the carbon market. That is what we believe that the reform and extension of the EU emissions trading scheme should do. The scheme should also include aviation, which would enable the industry to meet its environmental costs through a mixture of emissions reductions within the sector and purchase of reductions that can be produced more cheaply by other sectors.
The Budget presented by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out a raft of important measures on car taxation, biofuels, microgeneration and, significantly, energy efficiency.
I will give way in a second.
Those measures included an extra 250,000 subsidised installations of home insulation over the next two years. This builds on the £320 million of investment this year through the Warm Front programme, which is helping constituencies right across the country, and the energy efficiency commitment, which has delivered net benefits to households in excess of £3 billion over the last three years.
My right hon. Friend mentioned biofuels and microgeneration. What is his view on the extent to which we should give a competitive advantage to renewable sources of energy, and on how we should achieve that? There seems to be a difference of opinion between the parties on whether we should give specific additional help in the marketplace to those sources of green energy.
I think that my hon. Friend is referring to the renewables obligation, which is a significant piece of subsidy for the renewables industry. I will say a bit more about that later. The significance of the renewables obligation is that it ensures that those renewable technologies—tidal power or offshore wind power, for example—that are not yet close to market are given the research and development and other investment that is essential.
I was disappointed that the Conservatives’ energy review stated that they wanted a level playing field between nuclear and renewable fuels. For the avoidance of doubt, the Government’s position is that nuclear has a role to play, but in an unsubsidised form. The public subsidy should go towards the non-nuclear renewable technologies that are so important. I hope that the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) will address that point later.
We have done an enormous amount of good work on renewable energy, but the one area that we have neglected is the potential renewable energy that is locked into the ground. We are considerably behind certain other countries in developing ground source heat pumps and geothermal techniques, for example. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to examine the potential for providing heat for our homes from this renewable source?
I can address my hon. Friend’s point directly. The third strand of work that I have taken over in the past few months is the energy review, which promised a fourfold increase in the commitment to renewable energy through a strengthening of the renewables obligation. It also promised higher levels of support for newer technologies—I think that that is relevant to my hon. Friend’s point. That is in addition to existing measures to incentivise renewables, including £500 million of funding—separate from the renewables obligation—for a range of support programmes for emerging technologies.
When the Minister looks at renewable technology, will he also consider other sources of carbon emissions, such as landfill? In my constituency, a company called Inetec is using food waste and packaging to create energy that is often utilised for combined heat and power units. That process diverts food waste and packaging from landfill sites and provides a good source of heat and energy of the kind that we could utilise even in this building. Would my right hon. Friend consider visiting my constituency to see the work of that company?
That is a very tempting offer from my hon. Friend. I think that I shall be in Wales on 9 November, so I shall look at my programme to see whether I shall be in her part of the country. She makes an important point about anaerobic digestion, and I know that the process has also been considered in relation to the waste strategy review. Many comments have been made about it, and we hope to introduce some arresting proposals on it.
I want to correct the Secretary of State on a point that he made a few moments ago about the Conservative party’s position on nuclear power. It is not the case that we are proposing to subsidise the construction of new nuclear capacity. We have said that we want a level playing field across all technologies, and that nuclear should be a last resort.
As it happens, I have a copy of a speech by the Leader of the Opposition, and I should like to quote from it to elucidate this point. It states:
“There must be a level playing field for renewable and decentralised energy to compete on equal terms with nuclear power.”
That is not the position of the Government. We believe that the £1 billion subsidy that will be going to non-nuclear renewables by 2008 is an important part of a balanced energy mix. We do not believe that that subsidy should go towards the nuclear industry. The Leader of the Opposition says that he wants competition on equal terms but, in our view, that is not the right position. The playing field should be slanted towards the non-nuclear renewables when it comes to public money.
The Leader of the Opposition also clearly and unequivocally said that nuclear power should be the last resort. Is that the Government’s position?
The Leader of the Opposition is facing in a number of different directions at once, but—
Answer the question.
I have no fear of answering the question, perhaps unlike some Conservative Members. That is not the Government’s position. We do not believe that nuclear power is a last resort. We believe that if we wait 15 years to find out whether we need a nuclear capacity to help to balance the energy mix and pull down carbon emissions, it will be too late.
We believe that the first job is to cut energy demand, the second is to promote energy efficiency and the third is to promote renewables. Then, if there is still a gap, and we have a choice between oil, gas and nuclear, I say, standing here as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that as we all agree that climate change is the biggest problem, there is no answer other than to say that nuclear will have to play a role in tackling this international problem.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Just to press the point, is it not clear from what the Opposition Front-Bench spokespeople have said that they are committed to removing the marketplace advantages that Labour has given to renewables? That removal would be disastrous for the future of renewable energy in this country.
My right hon. Friend is an extremely distinguished former Chief Secretary and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and he has zeroed in exactly on the point. There is a subsidy, which is £600 million to £700 million, and it is going to non-nuclear renewables. [Interruption] The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) says it is not working. The only reason it is not working is because planning permissions are being opposed by his own Front Benchers. I will come to that, but the subsidy for onshore wind power has been a fantastic boon to the renewables industry. We have 4 per cent. of our electricity mix from renewables because of the subsidy.
Let us dwell on the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith). We on this side of the House are determined to ensure that, if there is to be new investment in nuclear energy, it should pay its own way. It should not be subsidised from the public purse or by the consumer. The renewables obligation is designed to do precisely the opposite.
We say that those renewable technologies, especially those that are not close to market, deserve special subsidy. That is the point of the renewables obligation. That is what the Conservative party, in its own words, has said that it wants to take away. If that is not its intention, I suggest that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle explain it. He will have more time to do so in his speech. If he needs more time to look at the policy and realise the contradictions, fair enough as well, but the policy as stated—the level playing field, on equal terms, between nuclear and non-nuclear renewables—means the end of the subsidy for non-nuclear renewables.
If the hon. Gentleman will let me, I should now finish. His Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle, has time to make his own speech, whereas I have overextended mine. The hon. Gentleman has already had one go, and I am sure that he will make the winding-up speech, so he will have his own shot at this.
Let me conclude on the energy review. [Interruption.] The Government are happy to talk about policy; unlike the Conservatives, we have some coherence in ours. The energy review also set out a revolutionary change in the basis of energy supply regulation, so that companies are incentivised to conserve energy rather than supply more of it. It set out a scheme to target the emissions of the 5,000 public and private organisations, such as Tesco and the BBC, that are medium-level emitters. That is worth 1.2 million tonnes of carbon, and it has also set out an increase in the renewable transport fuel obligation to more than 5 per cent. after 2011.
I am pleased to confirm to the House the continuing progress in the battle against waste and for recycling. Many hon. Members will have been struck by the extension of kerbside collection—90 per cent. of the country now has kerbside collection of recycling, which is unique in the European Union.
The latest provisional figures, published today, show that households in England recycled 27 per cent. of their waste last year, which is more than four times as much as under the previous Government. The target was 25 per cent. and the figure, although unaudited, is 27 per cent. That target has been met and exceeded.
To pick up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams), the Government need to show a lead in their own operations. We have already introduced carbon offsetting for central Government, ministerial and official air travel. Earlier this year, I announced a pledge that the Government office estate will go carbon-neutral by 2012, which is the equivalent of taking 150,000 cars off the road.
Recently, I also announced the partnership for renewables, which will mobilise up to £500 million of investment to catalyse the expansion of the public sector renewables, producing up to 500 MW of renewable electricity. The Leader of the Opposition has called wind turbines “giant bird blenders”. We call them a major spur to renewable energy, and we support them.
I know that many hon. Members are interested in the question of legislation on climate change. I understand that and welcome the debate. The Government have said in the climate change programme review and, more recently, in the energy review that we are looking carefully at the merits of introducing a carbon budget as a means of helping to deliver our goals. The only issue for the Government is whether the legislation would help in the battle against climate change, support the efforts to join individual activity with business and Government leadership, and link domestic and international action.
I caution that legislating for targets is not the same as legislating the means to achieve them, and it is the means to achieve them on which we will all be judged. Consensus on goals is important, but without effective policy there is no effective response. However, I want to underline the fact that we are looking carefully at the idea of legislation. The issue for us is not whether to legislate, but what form legislation should take and how it could be organised.
Climate change requires change right across society—from Government, individuals and business. I am proud that this should be the first Government to set a long-term goal for carbon reduction consistent with the science of climate change; legislate for a climate change levy; meet and tighten the caps under the European emissions trading scheme; establish insulation and energy efficiency programmes, delivering more than £700 million of investment into homes each year; and be recognised as a world leader on climate change.
All those changes have met with scepticism, and some with opposition, but they were right. Now we need to go further—in some areas, much further. We will do so, and I look forward to receiving support from across the House.
I begin by congratulating the Secretary of State on securing this important debate on our return this autumn. It is good to have a debate on climate change in Government time, and I am sure all Members appreciate it.
I also thank the Secretary of State for, in the most part, introducing the debate thoughtfully and consensually. He outlined the international dynamics very clearly indeed, and also outlined the scientific knowledge and the risk involved. I do not think that there is any serious doubt in the House on those issues, nor on the need to start to address those matters with a degree of urgency.
The starting point for any sensible debate on climate change is that it is for real and that it is happening, and the consequences will be with us for some considerable time because of the inertia effect on the earth’s atmosphere. There are still some people who say that there is not a problem or that mankind is not contributing to it, but I find those arguments irritating, not least because people who express those views set themselves up against well-established, internationally recognised scientific opinion, which is either courageous or foolhardy, depending on one’s point of view.
The problem is that every time such arguments appear, they muddy the waters of public opinion and make it harder for Governments here and around the world to take action of the sort that we in the House know will be needed. In any case, CO2, which is the chief problem we are dealing with, is a pollutant. It cannot be good, under any circumstance, whatever beliefs people have about its contribution to climate change, to go on pumping billions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.
I am afraid that I have no time for climate change deniers. Nor do I have time for those, and there are some, who say it is all too late and that, in the words of Private Frazer, “We’re all doomed!” There is a moral duty on politicians, of all persuasions, to work together, with urgency, to tackle this most serious threat that we face. It is the biggest challenge—I have said this many times over many years—facing this generation of politicians.
We still have time, just, to rise to that challenge. But we need to be realistic too about the fact that we are starting from a pretty bad place. UK climate change emissions have been rising, and it is argued that if the UK’s share of international aviation is included, our climate change figures are higher than they were in 1990.
As we pick our way through the wreckage of failed and discontinued initiatives, half-hearted incentives, broken pledges and missed targets, we must, surely, confront the fact that a different order of effort is now needed.
I do not want to be critical of the hon. Gentleman, who has a good record. He has just called for consensus, but if he looks back at the last paragraph of his speech he will see that he is not following his own rules.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, but we need to be realistic about where we are starting from. Whatever the politics of the matter, successive Governments have not achieved the progress that we all would like to have been made. I could have made the cheap point—which I am now going to make—that carbon emissions were falling under the Conservative Government and have risen under Labour. That is not really the point, however. The point is that we are not starting from a good place, and we all need to be realistic about that.
Incidentally, I agree with the Secretary of State about the nature of the challenge. It is not just some other environmental problem but a major social problem and a huge threat to international security and the economic well-being of the world. Of course, the poorest people in the world are likely to be hit hardest and first. The United Nations has said that 150 million people in the world are already climate change refugees. If we do not tackle the issue globally, I fear that all the well-intentioned efforts behind the millennium commitments and the attempts to make poverty history may prove to be in vain.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s view of the threat that we face. If we are serious about how we deal with it, however, surely there must be some call for direct controls on what we all do, particularly on how much we use the car. Would he be in favour of that? I know that we can talk about new technology and alternative ways of using the car, but surely we must recognise that we must use the car less, if at all.
I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman’s point, but to say that we cannot use the car at all is not to engage with the real world. We are all aware of the need to take the public with us, step by step, on a journey towards a low-carbon economy. The sort of radical measures that he suggests are not deliverable within the time frame that we must consider. In any case, the car is capable of reform through the application of new technologies to help to reduce the problem of carbon emissions. Aviation is another issue on which I might comment later.
Is it Conservative party policy that we use the car less, or that we use a different type of car? Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of putting different types of cars on the road, or should we simply encourage the public to use cars less?
Ideally, I am in favour of both approaches. An awful lot of car journeys are unnecessary and cover very short distances, and we support the extension of differentiated rates of vehicle excise duty to send a clear signal to consumers. We are also in favour of the provision of information to enable consumers to make rational choices to reduce the impact of road transport on the environment.
The House holds in high regard the hon. Gentleman’s reputation and track record on environmental issues. However, many people have doubts about the policies of his party, not least because when renewable energy developments are proposed in particular localities, Conservative politicians who represent those areas tend to be the first to jump into the breach against such proposals. How can we treat seriously his commitments from the Conservative Front Bench? If we are not careful, the best symbol for his party might be a disconnected wind turbine, to show that what is on offer is just empty spin.
First, the hon. Gentleman will know that individual Members of Parliament have a duty to represent their constituents’ interests where they are affected by infrastructure projects of any kind. Conservative Members are perfectly at liberty to take a view about proposals in their own constituencies, but that does not affect Conservative party policy. Secondly, Liberal Democrat Members also have a slight problem in this regard, and the reason that we and the Liberal Democrats may be more affected is that wind turbines tend to be sited in large rural areas with hills, which, on the whole, tend to be represented by our parties rather than by the Labour party. It is essential that the wind energy industry is sensitive to landscape and does not propose developments in places where there will be a clear impact on landscape, biodiversity or any other environmental consideration. One of our arguments with the current support for renewables is that it has tended to put money into large onshore wind farms, which are naturally controversial in those areas where they are proposed. In the long run, that is not helpful to securing renewable energy in this country.
Is my hon. Friend as frustrated as I am that so many questions about Conservative policy are being asked when the Secretary of State’s speech included nothing of substance about the precise measures that the Government propose to ensure that we reach our Kyoto targets, in an environment in which our CO2 emissions are increasing?
I thank my hon. Friend. Of course, I am always happy to answer questions about Conservative policy.
Bearing in mind the hon. Gentleman’s earlier comments about taking people step by step, I was astonished by his comment, as I interpreted it, that Conservative Members are entitled to oppose their party’s policy on energy conservation in their constituencies. Does he agree that that is a strange way of taking people step by step?
I do not really see the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but perhaps our liberal Conservative party has a less overbearing whipping system than the hon. Gentleman enjoys in the Labour party—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State says from a sedentary position that it is Stalinist. Let us leave that on the table.
The question is: what do we need to do? First, we need to change the mindset. We need to change the way that the Government think about climate change. Incidentally, I welcome the establishment of the Office of Climate Change. I query, however, whether just one office with 15 people in it will be resourced sufficiently and, more importantly, will have the clout across Government to make the sort of changes that we need, although I guess that it is a step in the right direction. Famously, the Prime Minister said that he wanted the environment to be at the heart of policy making. We must do that. It is not just about making policy, however, but about the way in which the Government do business. As the Sustainable Development Commission pointed out last year, carbon emissions from the Government estate have increased by 8 per cent. since 1999.
Were the Government to divert a small proportion of their massive procurement budget towards encouraging sustainable technologies and products, it would make a huge difference to creating critical mass in such emerging markets. I urge the Secretary of State to take that message away and make even more effort than I know that he is making to use the mighty arm of Government spending to lever in real improvement. I note that just one Department—it is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—has, for example, allocated any money from its building budget to micro-power generation.
On greening government, on which, under my hon. Friend’s stewardship, the Environmental Audit Committee has been strong for several years, will he confirm my understanding that the latest contract from Government, the gigantic DHL outsourcing contract, does absolutely nothing to green government any further?
I am afraid that I can confirm that. I hope that the Secretary of State or the Minister who winds up will clarify that that is exactly the sort of issue in which the new Office of Climate Change will be involved—making sure that when other Departments issue contracts they take sustainability and the environment into account.
The need to change the mindset in Government is one of the reasons why we are supporting a new climate change Bill in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech—a Bill that would set statutory interim targets to ensure progress towards at least the 60 per cent. target for 2050 on which we all agree. It would also establish an independent body to monitor the science of climate change and make recommendations in much the same way that the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England does. [Interruption] Indeed, as the Secretary of State notes from a sedentary position, we need a decision-making body, not just one capable of recommendations—not decisions over policy but over the trajectory and the direction of travel and what we need to do to meet the threat. Policy should be left to politicians.
In a climate change Bill, we would also wish to see an annual report to Parliament so that Ministers are truly accountable for their actions in that regard. I was very interested to hear what the Secretary of State had to say about that and it sounds as if he is giving thought to making encouraging proposals along those lines. I hope that he will do so, when he does, in a spirit of co-operation and open dialogue, because it will be important to reach cross-party agreement on the way forward.
I add my praise for the hon. Gentleman in his role as Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee and for being a good parliamentarian on these issues. I make the same point to him as I made to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, which is that the science and the analysis are pointing in the worst direction possible and we will have to go beyond the 60 per cent. target by 2050. If we are to have new legislation, surely it should be framed in such a way that we are not necessarily bound to a figure that is then overtaken at a later date, as the science improves. Will he commit his party to that approach so that we can move with the times, instead of presenting to the public as an established solution something that will not actually solve the problem—
Order. May I point out to the hon. Gentleman and the House that long interventions are not helpful, especially when the Member making them is seeking to catch my eye a little later?
As we are in praise mode, let me add to the heap of praise showered on the hon. Gentleman by the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman has a distinguished record on this issue and he makes a fair point. It would be the purpose of the independent body that I have mentioned to assess and evaluate the science consider the shifting evidence and make authoritative pronouncements about what we need to achieve as a society to reduce the risk of climate change.
A climate change Bill, if and when the Government get round to introducing one, would also show that they are taking a lead. It would help the public to make the changes that they will need to make if they can see that the Government are taking the matter seriously and legislating to discipline their own activity. We look forward to a forthcoming announcement on the subject.
There is so much more that we could be doing. We have already heard mention of energy efficiency, which is the no-brainer option in this debate, but we are still building homes that fail to live up to decent standards of energy efficiency. We need much tougher ecological building standards. Some 43 per cent. of houses tested by the Building Research Establishment in a recent trial failed to meet existing building standards despite having an energy performance certificate.
We need to do much more to make people aware of what they can do to reduce energy use and save money at the same time. Some 8 per cent. of all electricity consumed in our houses is for things that we are not actually using at the time. If every conventional light bulb in our homes were replaced by an energy efficient light bulb, the total demand for electricity would fall by 3.5 per cent. So there is much more that we can do.
We can also do more to promote decentralised and community-led solutions. We need to rework the tax system so that it forms part of our armoury in the fight against climate change. On that front, the Government started well. The statement of intent on environmental taxation in 1997 committed the Government to shifting the burden of tax from goods to bads and implementing the polluter pays principle. Figures from the Office for National Statistics, released today, show that the shift has gone the other way. Environmental taxes, as a percentage of total tax and social contributions, have fallen from 8.3 per cent. in 2004 to 7.7 per cent. in 2005. The percentage was lower still in 1997. We need to get back on track with the tax system as part of our armoury.
In the context of environmental taxation, does the hon. Gentleman accept that capping and trading carbon emissions is a development from taxation, in which the market undertakes the work that taxation might otherwise do? Would he include in his analysis what is happening to European emissions trading and will he be active in ensuring that the emissions trading system 2008 to 2012 really works?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who also has a distinguished track record on these issues. He makes a good point and I am coming to that subject in a moment, if he will bear with me.
In the spirit of consensus, does my hon. Friend share my concern that the climate change levy, of which the Government have been so proud, is actually a tax on energy use rather than a direct tax on carbon emissions, and may not be having the effect that it could if it were otherwise framed?
I am grateful for the opportunity to comment on that point and I agree with my hon. Friend. The climate change levy has been a moderately useful instrument, but it does not do what it says on the label and we propose replacing it with a carbon levy that would reduce carbon emissions rather than being solely a tax on industry’s use of energy.
Tax is not the only solution, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) points out. We also need carefully targeted regulation. I know that it is not conventional for Conservatives to talk positively about regulation, but I do so in the sure knowledge that progressive industry is crying out for clarity and new regulations that can unlock markets—
Watch out behind you!
I am well aware of who is behind me. I am merely repeating what I have been told by senior representatives of UK industry. They are looking for clarity in the regulations. We probably have too many regulations. They also lack clarity and can be conflicting. Properly targeted regulations can unlock markets, provide the certainty for investors that industry seeks and drive new, clean technology. Technology is also part of the solution, but it cannot do it on its own. It needs politicians to provide a positive framework in which it can flourish.
I hope to move my hon. Friend on from the slightly difficult passage he has reached in his speech. [Laughter.] Does he agree that one of the reasons we have too many transport emissions in this country is the complete absence of adequate network capacity? We have planes stacked for up to half an hour flying over London burning fuel when they should be able to land. Planes on the ground, waiting to get on a runway to take off or to find a place to park, may spend 15 or 30 minutes with main engines running. Would not it help if we had adequate road and airport capacity so that we did not burn fuel unnecessarily?
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is aware of the work that is being done to encourage the continuous descent procedure for aircraft, which could dramatically reduce noise and climate changing emissions—
The right hon. Gentleman knows about continuous dissent.
It is good to see the Secretary of State in such a jolly mood.
In the past, much of the green movement has had it in for capitalism and it is a fair cop, in that it is as a result of unbridled capitalistic activities over 200 years that we have ended up in the mess that we are today. Capitalism is the most powerful force for change on the planet. It is essential that we harness industry’s imagination, creativity and investment power, as well as its abilities in design and technology, to help us get us out of the mess that we are in.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I cannot, as I must make progress.
In that context, I turn now to emissions trading which, as the hon. Member for Southampton Test (Dr. Whitehead) said, certainly has a part to play. It is unfortunate that the EU’s scheme has gone awry—mainly because of how it was structured in the first place—but that does not undermine the principle of using emissions trading to drive down carbon emissions. I welcomed what the Secretary of State had to say about what he was doing in that regard. We very much support more auctioning of permits to pollute, and want to get away from the type of back-door negotiations that have resulted in a system that is not working. We want more transparency in these matters.
As for the EU, I confirm that, although the Opposition can disagree about the euro, the constitution or some of the regulations that the EU produces, we have no doubt that it has a crucial role to play in climate change. It is the biggest market in the world, its buying power has an enormous capacity for good, and it is also a major voice in world affairs. Of course, therefore, we must work closely with our EU neighbours on climate change.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman’s flow, and I am delighted by what he is saying. Does he therefore believe that the European Commission should be given the power to set national caps for the EU emissions trading scheme? Is that the sort of integration that he has in mind?
That is a good question. The matter is being actively considered in my party’s policy review process, although it has not yet been resolved.
We must redouble our efforts to forge a genuine international agreement to succeed the Kyoto process. I believe that that agreement should be based on an international trading system that is fair, equitable and effective, and able to meet the needs of the developing world, the rapidly developing world and the developed world. That is a big ask, but I am glad that the Government are on the case and I was interested to hear the Secretary of State’s report from Mexico.
No speech on climate change would be complete without reference to aviation—
Before the hon. Gentleman skates over the question of regulation, will he give way?
I thought that I had dwelt on regulation rather extensively, but I give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Does the hon. Gentleman admit that the antipathy that many of his colleagues exhibit towards Europe means that they oppose any European regulation? The example that I would give is the landfill tax: does he agree that we would have got nowhere with that without European standards and regulation? Is he using his Front-Bench position to say that he now embraces that sort of regulation?
For a start, the landfill tax is rather a bad example, as it was introduced by a Conservative Government. Secondly, Conservatives have always been prepared to regulate. As far back as in Disraeli’s time, the public health Acts cleaned up the River Thames, and I have no doubt that men in stovepipe hats told the then Prime Minister that that legislation would be a terrible burden on business. Similarly, a Conservative Government introduced the clean air legislation in the 1950s—[Interruption.] I do not see any stovepipe hats in the Chamber this afternoon. We are not at all afraid of regulation that is targeted, carefully structured and able to create opportunity. The hon. Gentleman might be interested to learn that, only earlier this week, Conservative Members of the European Parliament voted to toughen the regulation relating to the substitution principles in the REACH directive. That gives a clear signal about our strong commitment to use regulation to improve the environment and the health of everyone.
I had just begun to speak about aviation—in my view, the hardest nut to crack in the whole issue of climate change. There is no technological quick fix and it is, by nature, international, but that is not an excuse for ignoring it in the official statistics on climate change. We must recognise and face up to its impact, so of course we must include it in the EU emissions trading scheme and in the existing emission reductions target. In addition, we should look at restructuring air passenger duties, for example, and bear down on emissions rather than passengers.
Climate change is the greatest challenge facing this generation of politicians, worldwide. If we are to rise to the challenge, we must put aside politics as usual, and work together. Our door remains open, to the Secretary of State and to the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, if either of them wishes to come and talk openly about climate change and about how we can meet the challenge together. We will not succeed, nor will we earn the public’s respect, if we continue to bicker among ourselves. We should start by recognising that this beautiful, fragile earth has natural limits, to which we are all subject whether we like it or not, and we have a frighteningly short space of time to start living within them.
As other Members have said, it is most important that Parliament is debating climate change—and on only the fourth day back. Our debate has mobilised the local radio station in my constituency, BBC Radio Stoke, to cover energy issues on its morning programme during the whole of next week. I hope that our proceedings today will encourage such debates all around the country. I particularly look forward to the Secretary of State’s contribution to those radio programmes next week.
Our debate today is an opportunity for us to congratulate everybody who is doing so much to put climate change at the top of the agenda. Only if we all act together can we respond to the challenge of climate change. If we ignore that challenge, we will leave our grandchildren, and even our children, to suffer the consequences.
I want to flag up the work of the Environmental Audit Committee. I am sure that everybody agrees that when it was set up 10 years ago our understanding of environmental degradation was nowhere near as wide as it is now. Our Select Committee has really tracked climate change and I pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), who now speaks for the Opposition, as former Chair of the Committee.
Our Committee’s reports on green government, on the pre-Budget reports, on education for sustainable development and on “Keeping the lights on” have helped us to focus on the targets and actions needed, as well as on the gulf between words and action. Through Parliament, the Committee has helped to maintain and to inform the debate. As we move on to the next, urgent stage in tackling climate change, we should be looking at what extra role this Parliament and Parliaments across the world can play to keep world leaders focused on tackling climate change.
The fact that the general public—our citizens—can now easily access the Committee’s reports and use them to inform themselves, their colleagues and neighbours, at work and at home, about the changes that we shall all have to adopt and to engineer means that there is a new way of bringing home to people a simple truth. We all have to find new ways of tackling the challenge of climate change—not only world leaders and national leaders but leaders in every community.
I am pleased that this debate coincides with the Committee’s decision to publish quickly, on Monday, the Government’s response to our most recent report; we felt that Parliament should have the benefit of the report this afternoon. Anybody reading the reams of detailed, wide-ranging, technical and, in places, passionate written and oral evidence received by the Committee will instantly be able to catch up with issues that often seem complex and with which the Government have to grapple within an extremely restricted time frame. As we have already heard, we have only a short time to meet the challenges of climate change. It is as though we are speaking at five minutes to midnight—or even later.
Our report acknowledges the unprecedented change in the energy policy landscape and the sharp rise in public interest in energy supply and energy security against the backdrop of rising prices, while climate change is the most pressing issue of our times. It is for Government to lead us through all the contradictions, but they can do so only if the public are aware of, and understand the bigger picture. A constant theme in all the Committee’s reports on the issue is the need for leadership, so I applaud our Government and our Prime Minister for the leadership that the UK has shown and continues to show nationally and internationally.
We are shaping the international framework. We have already heard about the follow-up to the G8 summits at Gleneagles in 2005 and St. Petersburg, and meetings have recently taken place in Mexico. Our Government are helping to create consensus among the big polluters, although I do not know whether we can achieve one across the Chamber. We have heard about the bilateral treaty that was signed with India. Today, Parliament must endorse all the international initiatives, and we must support Ministers as they approach the Nairobi meeting next month. I am also pleased that we may have representatives from the Environmental Audit Committee at that meeting as well, to support what is being done.
Action on the world stage must be matched by leadership in our own country. It is important to have a foolproof way to deliver year-on-year commitments to reduce carbon emissions. We must turn our attention to what we can do, and how and when we can do it. I therefore want to add my support for the pleas to include a climate change Bill in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech. However, a climate change Act would not be the be-all and end-all—the single magic solution—to reducing carbon emissions. Quite simply, there is no single, simple solution.
As well as systematically preventing CO2 emissions, we must all make unprecedented changes to the traditional way of running our economy and living our lives—something that has been touched on in the opening speeches. The Government are right to promote energy efficiency seriously, to support new green technologies and to transform procurement policy. I should like to add my support for the procurement policy issue that was picked up by the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), because the Government could be doing far more about that.
We need to consider revised planning guidance. We want to make the comprehensive spending review an unapologetic driver of sustainable development. We need to do all those things at the same time and with urgency. But most of all, we need to have the backing of the British public in all those changes, and we need to do far more to find out how we can get them on board.
I shall quickly deal with the legislation on energy policy that is expected to be presented to the House in the coming months. It will provide an important opportunity for Parliament—both in the House, in the Chamber and in Committee, and in the other place—to debate how we can make the changes that we need. We have heard a lot of reference to how the UK met its Kyoto targets early, but we did so as much by chance as by design: we were very much able to take advantage of the dash for gas.
We should beware of a false sense of security because emissions are on an upward trend, as we have heard. That could jeopardise the medium-term target of 60 per cent. cuts by 2050. Of course, as we heard in the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen), the more science and understanding that we have, the more we know the scale of the problem and the quicker we may need to go, perhaps even more quickly than the 60 per cent. cuts. We can only do that if we all understand the bigger picture. Once we start a journey, the more distance we cover, step by step, the more we can see just exactly where we need to be.
I should like very briefly to dwell on the role of nuclear energy. I do not feel that the Minister for Energy, who is based at the Department of Trade and Industry, has set out how the new nuclear build needed to replace the generation of reactors that is being phased out can be in place by 2010. The Sustainable Development Commission, which is the Government’s own adviser, noted that nuclear power will make little contribution towards reducing carbon emissions before 2020.
The then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who appeared before our Committee, acknowledged in his evidence and supplementary memorandum that it was likely to be 2018, at the very earliest, before nuclear capacity in a new form could be in place. The issue for the Government is that, as things stand, there is no institutional framework to guarantee investors secure returns over the long term, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will look at that in the coming months.
Turning away from energy policy at the DTI to other Departments, I am pleased to see the lead that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is taking in ensuring that other departmental policies are consistent with our climate change policy, but the problem is that such things never happen quickly enough. I should like to ask whether the Government can do more to resolve the issues that have been flagged up by the Companies Bill, which the House will debate next week, and to find out what they can do to respond to the requests for environmental reporting, which we need if we are to keep tabs on what is happening.
Looking at the framework for sustainable development in respect of the Government estate, which was introduced in 2002-03 and flagged up in earlier Environmental Audit Committee reports, we can be really proud of the aspirational target that the Government have set to become carbon-neutral by 2012. That is going to make a big difference. I would like the Minister to put his energies into seeing what can be done to extend that further, so that rather than excluding the NHS and the education estate, it could extend beyond Government offices. I would like the greening government targets for operational management of Departments to apply right across the board. The Lyons review is looking at ways to relocate Departments from London and the south-east. There are huge opportunities to integrate all that.
I want to flag up the issue of private finance initiatives and how they are being used. I am pleased that the Minister of Sport and the Government have pledged that the 2012 Olympics are going to be the greenest ever. We should take a leaf out of that book in respect of PFI and the design, construction and maintenance of each and every new building around the country. It is clear that we are embarking on a major programme of house building, as well. High standards will be needed. As we have already heard, we could go so much further. We could look at Treasury rules in respect of whole-life costing so that financial appraisals take account of the full costs—capital and revenue—and the extra investment that is needed now will not be ruled out because there is not the maintenance and the revenue money to pay for it.
There are also the issues raised by the built environment professions. I want to flag up the Royal Institute of British Architects and its “Manifesto for Architecture”, which was recently published. I share its hopes for the Government’s code for sustainable homes, which I acknowledge has been strengthened. The issue is that the code remains voluntary, apart from houses built by English Partnerships or the Housing Corporation. Pressure needs to be placed on the commercial housing sector to raise building performance standards even more.
Does the hon. Lady therefore support the Liberal Democrat policy to make the code for sustainable buildings compulsory and to include microgeneration in every new-build home?
Irrespective of who is putting that forward, I certainly support progress on microgeneration in every home, and I take the point that we need to strengthen the code. I accept what the Minister for Housing and Planning has said about the need to bring business on board, but that goes back to the issue of regulation. Businesses need certainty. They need to know what distance they are going to have to cover in the medium and long terms. In that sense, codes for sustainable homes can play a key role in letting everybody know where they have got to be and what they have got to do to reach that target.
Does my hon. Friend accept that planning regulations are key to delivering high-energy conservation buildings and that the local development frameworks that are being put together by local councils are important and need to do more to produce environmentally friendly buildings?
I could not agree more. That is a key issue for us. Even if the Government are making progress with new technologies and the local planning frameworks, if professionals on the ground—experts with specialist knowledge—are not linked into the local planning frameworks, we are likely to miss out on a whole generation of new buildings being built with innovative practices embedded in the planning procedure. There is also a huge amount more that could be done to commercial buildings and public buildings, such as schools and hospitals, to take on board all those issues. I hope that the Cabinet Office can help with extending the new building regulations. As we have heard, it is not just building regulations that need to be improved. We can have all the building regulations in the world, but if they are not properly enforced and construction workers are not applying the standards, the energy will be going out through the walls. All that urgently needs to be tackled.
Much of this often seems to be technical, rather than necessarily appearing to be relevant to people in their everyday lives. Hon. Members thus have a moral duty to take the debate out into their constituencies because real change needs to happen from not only the top down, but the ground up. Attitudes must change at a local level, and hopefully we will be able to encourage and support everyone in their endeavours to go green, whether they are people involved in local strategic projects, local planning and local area agreements, or those who simply wish to extend their homes or to move to new homes.
A meeting that I organised in my constituency showed that we in Stoke-on-Trent could learn a great deal from best practice. We heard that places such as Nottingham and London have been transformational through the climate change strategies that they have put in place. I would like areas throughout the country to be equally transformational.
Chatterley Whitfield, a former colliery, is at the gateway to my constituency. In 1937, it became the first ever colliery to raise 1 million tonnes of coal in a year. The emissions that were produced by burning that coal, along with all the other carbon emissions produced throughout the country, are coming back to haunt us. However, I hope that we in Stoke-on-Trent can rise to the energy challenge and address how we can improve public awareness, deal with heat loss from buildings and fuel poverty and work with industry through the emissions trading scheme; work is being done in Europe to get agreement.
We have a real opportunity to bring about the changes that are needed in towns and cities throughout the country. I hope that the time spent in the Chamber today will be used to help to bring about the changes that are desperately needed.
Order. Several hon. Members are hoping to catch my eye. Although Mr. Speaker has not imposed a time limit on speeches, I hope that hon. Members will exercise some self-discipline when making their contributions and thus enable more to catch my eye.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on finding Government time, albeit perhaps abridged, to discuss this absolutely crucial matter. I am delighted that it is clear that there is consensus across the House—including even the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who has left the Chamber—that climate change is accepted science. Forty-eight Nobel prize winners writing to the Bush Administration cannot be wrong. Indeed, the editor of Science was recently quoted as saying that rarely in science is a consensus as strong as it is around the view that there has been man-made global warming. Of course, the intergovernmental panel on climate change has done exceptional work and we look forward to seeing the fourth assessment report soon.
As I have examined the matter over the past year, I have been struck, as I know that the Secretary of State has, given several of his remarks, by renewed evidence that the problems created by global warming are accelerating, such as the movement of glaciers. For example, the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland is moving by 113 feet, whereas previously it moved by only inches in a year. In Antarctica we have seen the destruction of a substantial ice shelf the size of Turkey—or the size of Texas, as they prefer to put it in the United States.
At home, we can see that the situation is worsening by considering something as relatively mundane as the Thames barrier. The barrier has been raised 55 times in the past five years, but was raised only 12 times in the previous five. We know about the situation affecting the railway line from Dawlish to Newton Abbott in the west country, on which I travelled recently when visiting one of my hon. Friends’ constituencies—and my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) might become the first person in the history of the House to lose his constituency, or a very substantial part of it, to the encroaching sea. We have drought in the Thames Water area. We experience flooding, and rapid downpours lead to water running off concrete and baked soil. Insurance claims are mounting rapidly, which is an increasing source of concern to the Association of British Insurers.
On that point, I ask the Secretary of State to consider what to do about the remaining climate change deniers, who include multinational corporations. Although ExxonMobil, for example, no longer denies global warming outright, it funds institutions and websites that do. Judged by its actions, not its words, it is a climate change-denying organisation, and it has been treating some reputable bodies pretty badly. I said recently that the Royal Society had pointed out that ExxonMobil was still funding climate change-denying organisations such as the International Policy Network and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The IPN is the organisation whose executive director, Mr. Morris, popped up so long ago with a poisonous and personal attack on Sir David King, the chief scientific adviser, as having no status in the debate because he was not a climate scientist. I do not know how much ExxonMobil thought that nasty bit of attempted character assassination was worth, but Mr. Morris ludicrously described Sir David as
“an embarrassment to himself and an embarrassment to his country”,
and the Royal Society calculates that overall ExxonMobil spent $2.9 million on such outfits last year alone.
The Royal Society’s letter says that
“ExxonMobil last year provided more than $2.9 million to organisations in the United States which misinformed the public about climate change through their websites.”
Exxon’s director of corporate affairs, Mr. Nick Thomas, rang me and said that the author of the letter to ExxonMobil had left the Royal Society. I asked whether he had been sacked, and Mr. Thomas said that he could not possibly comment, but it was clearly significant. The implication was left hanging in the air. When I checked, I found that Bob Ward, the senior manager at the Royal Society, had been promoted into another job. The Royal Society is standing by every word that he wrote, as it made clear in a subsequent press release attempting to deal with internet rumours.
I ask the House: should we be buying fuel from people such as ExxonMobil? I do not want even indirectly to be helping to fund bodies such as the International Policy Network and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. I do not think that the Government should do so either, if only as a tribute to the sterling work of Sir David King, so I hope that Government procurement of fuel oil no longer uses Esso or Exxon. ExxonMobil is surely the irresponsible and unacceptable face of capitalism, to borrow a phrase. Perhaps Ministers could tell us what they propose to do, if only to protect the reputations of their own distinguished employees.
The climate change Bill, which has been mentioned by a number of Members, has been championed by Friends of the Earth, and we are very pleased to give our support to the Bill and to the commitment to annual emissions reductions. We have to watch the average figures and make sure that weather events are not going to blow us off course. I agree with the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) that we may well need to be more ambitious than the 60 per cent. cut currently pencilled in for 2050. I agree also with what the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) said about the need for independent monitoring, not, I hope, as a way of deciding policy, but certainly as a way of informing it and making sure there can be no doubt, among Members and policy makers, of the impartial assessment of the scientific community.
We must remember always that targets are only the first step to a solution. They have to be credible. Frankly, if targets were the way to better government, this country would be the best governed in the world because one thing with which this Government cannot be reproached is failing to multiply the number of new targets. We need also to talk about practical policies.
At an international level I would like to hear more from the Secretary of State and his colleagues about how we will press on with the agenda that they were outlining at Monterrey. For example, was it not disappointing that, as I understand from press reports, the Russians were not present? What can we do as a European Union to make sure that the Russians are on board? Nevertheless, like the Secretary of State, I firmly believe that we can tackle the issue, if only because a mere 20 countries out of nearly 200 in the United Nations are responsible for 80 per cent. of carbon emissions. We can gather the key people around the table, and we can ensure that they address the problem.
There is a serious difficulty with the developing world, because of the nature of the problem. Contraction and convergence, to which our party is committed, deals with the flow of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, but not with the stock already there. Of course, the stock is the key factor, as CO2 has a life of 100 years once it has been emitted into the atmosphere. The developing world can legitimately turn round and say that 70 per cent. of all the man-made CO2 currently in the atmosphere originates from the developed world. What proposals do the Government have for dealing justly and equitably with that issue? There is much merit in Jagdish Bhagwati’s proposal for a super-fund, which could help to fund a technological generation jump in the third world and is worth considering.
Closer to home, the Government like to talk the talk, but they are far from being effective and joined-up in their own policy actions. I shall give five examples of how disjointed and dysfunctional the Government have become. First, it is universally recognised that green taxes—taxes on fossil fuels and the machines that use fossil fuels—are part of the solution to global warming. The emissions trading scheme is crucial, but it covers only a little under half of all emissions from the UK. Even if we extend it to aviation, as we should—I agree with the Secretary of State, and I would like to know whether the Government are in favour of extending it to shipping and road freight, too—substantial parts of the economy would be left outwith the emissions trading scheme.
That is why taxation is the way to bring incentives to bear on people’s behaviour. A Nordic Council report, which I recommend to anyone who needs a little help getting to sleep at night, is excellent on the subject of economic instruments. Under this Government, we have been going backwards since 1999 on green taxes, which have fallen from 3.6 per cent. of gross domestic product to 2.9 per cent. last year—I prefer to use that figure.
Surely the point of green taxes is to change behaviour, but the revenues from a successful green tax will decrease. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the congestion charge is an example of a successful tax from which income has fallen, because fewer people are driving into central London? Why is the Liberal party’s central economic policy based on such peculiar economics?
I can assure the hon. Lady that it is not peculiar economics at all. The reality is that often an ongoing tax, with an ongoing change in price, is needed to bring about an ongoing change in behaviour. We find that with traditional sin taxes, such as tobacco tax, and indeed with the congestion charge. There is no real conflict of the sort that she suggests; one can, for example, calculate what the behaviour of car buyers will be in response to what happens on vehicle excise duty. The Energy Saving Trust—and, I believe, the Department for Transport, but the Secretary of State will correct me if I am wrong—commissioned work from MORI that suggests that our proposals, which we introduced during the Finance Bill, and for which we voted for recently at the Liberal Democrat conference, would help two thirds of new car buyers to achieve lower emissions. Clearly, that would still leave a substantial amount of revenue, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for pointing that out, as it means that we can direct that revenue towards lifting the low-paid out of income tax altogether and cutting the income tax burden.
Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that cap and trade taxes are used not only in Europe but, in other circumstances, in the UK? Examples include the landfill allowance trading scheme and packaging regulations. To some extent, renewables obligations are a version of that tax, too. If he is making claims and calculating figures about taxes, surely he should include the quasi-tax represented by buy-outs from those arrangements, as against the trading that reduces any buy-out obligation. Does he accept that the principle of cap and trade, along with taxation, is a good domestic mechanism for ensuring a reduction in climate change as well as an international one?
I strongly agree that cap and trade schemes are superior to straightforward taxation. They provide an ongoing incentive to companies to continue and deepen their saving of carbon emissions, for example, in the case of climate change. If we can develop those schemes, that is clearly a preferable option to straightforward taxes. However, despite the Secretary of State’s dalliance with the idea of personal carbon allowances, it is recognised across the House that we must deal with these issues extremely urgently, and the current state of technology does not allow us to move to personal carbon budgets or to introduce cap and trade schemes outside the areas where such schemes operate at present. The hon. Gentleman is right in principle, but in practice there are difficulties.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) spoke about the evidence supporting the purpose and effectiveness of green taxation. If a constituent of mine can fly to Malaga for a weekend for £30, how much additional tax is required to change that behaviour?
The hon. Gentleman knows that at the margin one can calculate elasticities on the basis of performance. When that is done, there will be an effect at the margin. In English, that means that some people’s behaviour will not change, but enough people’s behaviour will change to take off the growth. On aviation, one of the key issues that we must face is that if the sort of growth that we are discussing takes place, in a short time we will not be able to indulge in any form of activity that emits carbon other than aviation. There is clear evidence that if the price of goods or services is increased, demand is reduced.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman’s elasticity will enable him to express an answer in pounds and pence, which is what my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) was looking for.
The proposal that we have advanced is to change the air passenger duty. When the Conservative Government introduced air passenger duty, they made no estimates of its likely impact on the growth of passenger numbers, but clearly there was some. We are suggesting that we abolish the air passenger duty and restructure it so that it is a duty on the emissions of flights. We proposed a package of £8 billion extra in green taxes overall. I am happy to deal with that in more detail later.
The first area that shows the lack of joined-up government is the Treasury. The Government have been going backward on green taxes. That is a crucial part of the explanation for the rise in carbon emissions since 1997. The second area in which policy is dysfunctional is public spending. The DEFRA budget overruns in farming are one-offs, but the Treasury is still insisting on cuts in DEFRA’s budget—for example, in flood defences and the maintenance budget for flood defences, as the Secretary of State admitted earlier. When we know that one of the effects of climate change is rising sea levels and more extreme storms and weather events, that seems little short of irresponsible madness. There is clearly an appropriate degree of concern from the Association of British Insurers about that, given the understanding that the ABI reached with the Secretary of State’s predecessor about covering households that were to benefit from the introduction of flood defences, but may now be deprived even of the proper maintenance of those that already exist.
The third area that demonstrates a lack of joined-up government is public expenditure within the Department of Trade and Industry. The fact that the Government, through the Natural Environment Research Council, are closing the centres for ecology and hydrology—in particular, the centre at Wool in Dorset, which I recently visited—is extraordinary given the importance of that centre’s work in understanding the impact of climate change on biodiversity in the United Kingdom.
A recent article by Chris Thomas and his colleagues in one of the leading scientific journals projected that 18 per cent. of all species sampled would be, as the article somewhat euphemistically put it, “committed to extinction” on currently projected levels of global warming. There is a clear need for the Government to address that issue, because we need to maintain the expertise that has been built up at centres such as Wool, and the long data sets of natural phenomena, if we are to understand the impact of climate change.
My fourth example concerns the Department for Communities and Local Government, which—I hope that this is contrary to the advice of the Secretary of State—is planning no fewer than 108,000 new homes on flood plains. That is a crazy policy, given the likely impact of climate change.
The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) has mentioned procurement, so I will not labour the point. However, I will mention the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s extremely high-handed abandonment of the operating and financial reviews in the current Companies Bill.
There is no evidence that there is an effective Cabinet Committee, let alone an effective Cabinet, on global warming or climate change. Does such a Committee meet? Who chairs it? Should the chair be the Deputy Prime Minister? How will it be made far more effective in linking the efforts of the Government on climate change? And is there anybody other than the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who is committed to the agenda?
May I give my hon. Friend a small example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing in government? As he knows, I am enthusiastic about microgeneration for small-scale hydroelectric plants in old water mills. No abstraction licence for water is required at the point of generation, which is good, but somebody has decided that an abstraction licence is required for water to enter the mill race from the stream, despite the fact that the water returns to the stream further down its length, which has resulted in a huge extra charge for microgeneration plants. Does that make sense to my hon. Friend?
It certainly does not. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. Perhaps Ministers will look into the matter and remonstrate with the Environment Agency to sort out the problem.
Given the situation, it is not surprising that the Government have been missing their climate change targets and meeting others only by accident. As I have said, carbon emissions are up, but the only reason why we are still just meeting our Kyoto targets is the accident of the dash for gas, which was not Government policy. Because we generated electricity from natural gas rather than coal, greenhouse gas emissions from the generating sector fell by one quarter.
If we are to take the challenge of climate change seriously, which we must, the lurching, lolloping policy must stop. Instead, we need a systematic policy framework for all the areas of Government that affect climate change: on transport, we need green taxes such as vehicle excise duty; on aviation, we need to change air passenger duty into an emissions charge; and on households, we need ambitious new building regulations, which is the responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government.
We need a household energy efficiency scheme that works better than DEFRA’s Warm Front. Warm Front has done a few more than 1 million homes, and the pace is so slow that it would take 125 years to reach all the UK’s current homes, which belies the urgency of reducing carbon emissions from the residential sector. In terms of businesses, we have already heard from other hon. Members about commercial property.
It is crucial that we become much more ambitious in moving forward. I have mentioned in particular electricity generation through renewables. Nuclear power cannot fill the gap or stop us becoming more dependent on natural gas on a 10 or 15-year view, so for heaven’s sake let us not pretend that it can. Let us invest in the renewables that will ensure that we are not writing an open cheque to investors in nuclear power plants.
Since the Secretary of State asked from a sedentary position whether I agree with him rather than with the Conservatives, I have to say that Liberal Democrats agree with neither. We do not believe that nuclear has a part to play in the energy generation future of this country. Anyone who thinks that that is an implausible prospect need only look at what is happening in Germany and Sweden. I would particularly commend to the Secretary of State Sweden’s objective of not just a non-nuclear but a non-fossil fuel future. It is time for the Government to raise their sights and ambitions a little in tackling what they say, rhetorically, is the most important policy challenge of our time.
As for joined-up Government, the aid budget at the Department for International Development needs to be reshaped. Adaptation is urgent, particularly as regards sub-Saharan Africa, in some of the poorest countries in the world. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office needs to regard that as its top priority, as a world interest that is also a British interest. If we can exercise any influence on the Administration of George Bush—which will, after all, be there for another two years—please let us do so, but first and foremost the Government need to get their own act together. All the evidence is that we suffer from a lack of joined-up government in this respect, and that is a measure of the Government’s failure on climate change.
I hope that today we will see the end of a long retreat from Rio. That sounds a bit like a Bob Hope film, but in this case the tears will not be of laughter but only of pain. We should remind ourselves of what was said at Rio in 1992. In articles 2 and 3 of the United Nations framework convention on climate change, it was agreed that we
“must achieve a stabilisation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.
It called for a system that would benefit
“present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity”
and said that
“the developed country Parties must take the lead in combating climate change”
“the share of global emissions originating in the developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.”
Almost every country in the world—about 180, including the United States—signed up to that. It is a matter of great regret that we seem to have lost sight of some of those original principles.
Let me introduce a note of cross-party consensus by saying that it is a greater matter of regret given what our Prime Minister of the day, Margaret Thatcher, said three years before Rio. I will not make a habit of quoting from her, and I know that Conservative Front Benchers cannot do so nowadays because they have been told that they are not allowed to use her name in any speech. She said:
“The environmental challenge that confronts the whole world demands an equivalent response from the whole world. Every country will be affected and no one can opt out.”
Those words were true then and they are true today.
As I said, we have experienced a long retreat from Rio. We have engaged in a great many displacement activities. After the conference in Monterrey in Mexico, we still talk of a lack of consensus on how to tackle climate change. Human beings often engage in displacement activities when they cannot deal with the big problem that faces them. Some Members present may have involved themselves in tidying up the house and hoovering the carpet rather than dealing with the great issue that confronts them in their lives. To a certain extent, that is what we have been doing these past 15 years in terms of climate change.
We should not be so uncritical when we consider some of the activities in which we have been engaging. When we consider the role of markets in tackling climate change, we should ask ourselves a few questions about their effectiveness. I believe that they will be effective, but only if we have a framework-based set of markets, not a market-based set of frameworks.
I commend an excellent report, “Carbon Trading”, by the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, which was recently published on the internet. It provides a detailed analysis of markets and their role in tackling climate change. It states:
“According to Vincent de Rivaz, Chief Executive of EDF Energy in the UK, ‘the long-term price of tradable emissions allowances is too uncertain to be a driver of systematic technological change in an industry whose generating capacity investments must be planned over 30-year periods.’”
We are not even considering such time scales. The European Union emissions trading scheme operates over five years and the first review of it started only one year after it began.
Some of the prices in other markets have swung enormously. The report states:
“The price of the right to emit one pound of nitrogen oxide zoomed from USD 0.13 in 1999 to USD 37 in July 2001”.
Are we going to try to create a stable framework to tackle climate change on that basis? We should study markets carefully before fully embracing and uncritically accepting them as being capable of dealing with the problem on their own.
Given that my hon. Friend is the undoubted expert on climate change in this place, apart from Front Benchers, I listen to him carefully. We have had the debate in private and in public. There must be alternatives to markets, which can achieve only so much. I would always argue that we must have direct intervention, and only the state can do that. The state must be open and transparent about what it expects from its citizens, businesses and communities. Why cannot we be open about that? Why cannot we demand of people that this generation should not fetter the next? That has never previously happened in the history of mankind.
I am grateful for that intervention. The simple answer is that we are afraid of being booted out and replaced by a Government who are not prepared to confront that issue. We must have framework-based markets. I agree with the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) that capitalism is the most powerful force for change in the world. Whether that should be the case is another matter—I shall not go down that route. We must tell capitalism how to respond and not simply try to replace it, because we do not have the capacity to do that.
Some of the issues must be tackled through a global framework. Contraction and convergence has already been mentioned and I want to dwell on that for a little because I introduced a Bill on it last December. Contraction and convergence form the framework in the articles of the United Nations framework convention on climate change—UNFCCC—that I mentioned earlier. There are many objections to a single global framework for tackling climate change.
A recent Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs report, which responded to the continuing Environmental Audit Committee inquiry into the post-Kyoto frameworks, stated that we could not have a single framework and that it was impossible to achieve. There are one or two samples of attempts to understand the reason for that sort of psychology. The Prime Minister said at a G8 climate change conference in November last year:
“It is because people fear some external force imposes an internal target that is going to restrict your economic growth.”
That could be an objection to some sort of global framework on which we all agree. Some people, perhaps especially in the United States, believed that it would be a straitjacket on the development of their economies.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the expertise and leadership that he has shown on the matter. What is his view of the problem, which we face in constructing that global framework, of western developed countries now effectively exporting their manufacturing capacity to countries such as China, thereby imposing a greater carbon emission burden on them?
It is one of the sad realities of the world that, when the Doha development round collapsed and pushed back any hope of achieving the millennium development goals or a fair trading system, it showed the great disconnect between the liberalisation and globalisation agenda and that of climate change. There is no connection whatever between those two parallel tracks. There was no connection between Hong Kong last year and Montreal—no discussion, no cross-fertilisation of ideas. The EAC conducted an inquiry into that subject, and what we have discovered so far is rather depressing. In the WTO, the environment is sidetracked, outflanked all the time and is treated as almost an unpleasant little add-on that will prevent the WTO from achieving its objectives. However, the two issues must be addressed hand in hand. That would deal with some of the issues raised.
There is another kind of objection to contraction and convergence. A World Resources Institute report, “Navigating the numbers: greenhouse gas data and international climate policy”, states:
“International agreements predicated on equal per capita emission entitlements are unlikely to garner consensus.”
It goes on partially to explain why, but ends by stating:
“However, it is important to note that the implementation of virtually any national or international climate change policies is likely to have the effect of promoting a convergence in per capita emission levels over time. Considering that over the long term net emissions must fall to zero, convergence is a corollary of climate protection.”
That is a statement of the bleeding obvious. It is logical and rational. Why have we been running away from that logical, rational position for the past 15 years? We as politicians ought to address that, and—in the light of an earlier intervention about how to face up to the electorate—we should take on board the radical thinking that is now perhaps beginning to be taken up as the mainstream thinking, and welcome proposals such as the personal carbon allowances scheme or domestic tradable quotas, which was the subject of a Bill that I presented two years ago. We should look into such matters very seriously.
We should look into matters such as the new carbon-reducing scheme for individuals of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and into the carbon rationing schemes that people throughout the country are voluntarily starting. I recently visited such a scheme in Oxford. Such schemes are gathering pace. People are not waiting for us to do things; they are doing things themselves.
In terms of the markets, we are putting too many eggs into one basket. If that basket were called contraction and convergence, I for one would be very much more confident that it would achieve some success. I am a strong supporter of the contraction and convergence framework, and I hope that the Bill that I presented last December will eventually be taken up by DEFRA, in the same way that I feel that, to a certain extent, the Secretary of State has taken up the issue of personal carbon allowances.
If we were to have personal carbon allowances—a radical policy—some people would say that we were telling the electorate that they have to make a great many sacrifices. As those Members who have already signed up the “25/5 challenge” of the all-party group on climate change to reduce carbon emissions by 25 per cent. in five years will know, the sacrifices do not hurt very much—in fact, people do not even notice some of them. We could go down that route, but it would need support. That relates to my final point: the need for a cross-party consensus.
This year, I visited all three party conferences—I might not make a habit of doing so. I escaped as quickly as I could from the Tory and Liberal Democrat conferences at Bournemouth and Brighton to get back to the warmth of Manchester. However, if we are to tackle this issue seriously, we need a cross-party consensus. I have a copy of the report that the cross-party group produced. Three very distinguished but totally independent people wrote it, and a great deal of evidence was submitted. If we do not have a consensus, I do not see how we can put in place the policies that will tackle the problem. As I have said, that problem is now being described in much starker and harsher terms than even the talk of 60 per cent. by 2050.
A Tyndall centre for climate change research report was commissioned by the Co-operative Bank and Friends of the Earth. It talks about figures in respect of carbon emissions: 3 per cent. per annum is a big ask, but even if that is compounded it is insufficient to tackle the problem that we face. It also talks about between 6 per cent. and 9 per cent. per annum, and that is predicated on our doing the biggest part of the job early—instead of waiting until 31 December 2050 and then having a big shutdown in carbon emissions. That means that the policies required go far beyond a bit of taxation, a bit of regulation and a bit of market intervention. It means that we will have to do things that some of our voters will not thank us for. I hope that we will progress with talks on a consensus, and build a bridge before we drive the policies across. We should proceed on that basis.
I welcome this debate and my contribution will focus on three aspects of this extremely broad and complex issue. The first is Britain’s role, about which we need to be clear. Secondly, I want to press the Government, and clarify their position, on a specific element of the international dialogue that appears to have been neglected: the response to the fact that approximately 20 per cent. of global emissions result from the human activity of destroying trees. Thirdly, I want to return to the issue of cross-party consensus. Greater minds than mine have worked on this issue, which seems to be extremely important, notwithstanding the current healthy competitive tension between the parties as they attempt to “out-green” each other.
On Britain’s role, Mrs. Thatcher was right—there, I have said it—to say that there is no national solution to climate change. The fundamental challenge is how to build consensus around a stabilisation target that is credible and supported by robust science, and how to engage the global community in getting on the road map to achieving that target. Since the superpower of today and the superpower of tomorrow are in a temporary stand-off on this issue, the leadership function falls, in a very timid way, to the European Union.
My personal view is that it is entirely right for Britain to seek a leadership role. It is important to establish that point, because one hears voices—I hear them in my constituency—saying, “Why are you banging on about this subject? It is all about the United States and China.” It is not, and not least because of the point made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne). We are not 2 per cent. of the problem. Given that carbon molecules stay in the atmosphere for 100 years, we are significantly more than 2 per cent. of the problem. There is a strong moral case to be made for British leadership on this issue. Our society has prospered on the back of easy access to cheap fossil fuels, and the price is being picked up by the poor countries. That is the reality—if one believes in the theory of human impact on climate change—and the moral case for British leadership on this issue.
The second argument for British leadership is that we are very well placed to lead because of our diplomatic relationships and skills base, and because of the credibility of the climate science rooted in this country. Thirdly, such leadership would be to our advantage. We will doubtless witness in our lifetimes a step in the transition toward a low carbon economy. The winners will be those at the vanguard of that movement, and Britain has the opportunity to be there. It is in our economic interest to be a leader in this process.
The Prime Minister gets this and has taken a lead on the issue. Such leadership has been defined to date by rhetoric. To say that is not to disparage him, because words are important in moving this issue up the global agenda. The other element that defines his leadership is the 60 per cent. target, which is ambitious. The problem with it is that no one believes that we are going to hit it, so the credibility of our leadership is being really tested, and we need to re-examine the key pillars of that leadership.
As a developed economy and one of the leading economies in the world, we have the opportunity to prove the principle of green growth, by which I mean the principle that one can significantly reduce emissions without sacrificing economic growth. We were well teed up to do this because of the dash for gas—whatever the motivation for that—but the awkward fact is that carbon emissions have risen since 1997, as people are noticing. We are in danger of squandering our opportunity. Energy efficiency and conservation are at the heart of our response and carry with them significant economic opportunities for this country, such as the ability to enhance our competitiveness in an age in which fossil fuels are likely to get more expensive, rather than less.
If we can prove that point, we have the opportunity to transform the international debate, which is proceeding at the pace of the least willing. We have to prove the principle of green growth and shift the debate from one that focuses exclusively on risk to one that also entertains the possibility of opportunity. That could be invaluable in triggering the gear change that, as previous speakers have said, is needed.
The second element must involve broadening the coalition of the willing and changing the frame of the debate. Until now, climate change has been spoken of in isolation. It has sat in a kind of silo of thinking, but the more we look at it, the more we see that it is absolutely interlocked with the biggest geopolitical issues of our age. It is absolutely interlocked with energy security, with access to water and food, and with growing concerns for security linked to the migration of peoples fleeing the impacts of climate change. It is also interlocked with issues of poverty alleviation and the treatment of chronic health inequalities around the world. The more we can stitch concerns about climate change into these issues, the greater will be our chance of broadening the coalition of the willing to deal with it. The British Government have a crucial opportunity in that regard.
The third pillar is one on which the Secretary of State tried to make mischief—the leadership role in Europe. I take a Eurosceptic position on the value of the euro to this country and on the process of ever-closer political union, but I can reconcile that position very comfortably in my mind with a strong desire to see Europe becoming much more effective in doing what it says on the tin in relation to promoting more effective action on issues that cross borders.
The reality in Europe is that, although some economies are much more advanced than ours in promoting renewable energy—I believe that the Minister has more experience of this matter than I do—we must recognise that opinions on the European emissions trading scheme vary enormously. That extremely important initiative, which was a result of Kyoto, is none the less fragile, and the British Government, as a leader in Europe, must be at the forefront of the drive to build on the initiative and not to sacrifice it. We must take our partners with us on that. The development of market instruments such as the emissions trading scheme and the clean development mechanism is likely to be at the heart of the solution, not least in regard to correcting a market failure—the inability to price carbon effectively. The lack of an effective price for carbon underlies the apparent failure of the first phase of the emissions trading scheme to drive innovation and change.
The second opportunity for Europe will be to ensure that the single market grows the market for new technologies and raises product standards. The more we do that, the cheaper those technologies will become as they are deployed. Europe has an enormous opportunity to do that and to reach bilateral agreements with significant players in the global warming debate and to encourage them to engage with climate change. I very much welcome the initiatives that the Government are taking through agreements with places such as China. We need to see the details, and the results, of those agreements, but the initiative is the right one. However, the European Union has much greater weight than we do as an individual nation in helping to bring the big polluters to the table. From my perspective as a Eurosceptic, that is what I believe Europe should be about, and I want to encourage the Government to be at the forefront of that process.
Moving on from the role of Britain, I should like to press the Government on an issue that I mentioned earlier. It is striking that almost 20 per cent. of our carbon emissions come from deforestation—a broadly similar proportion to that in the United States. In theory, we can control the practice, as humans are responsible for it. In theory, too, that should be cheaper than restructuring the way in which we produce, distribute and consume energy, although I think that we shall have to do that as well. However, the global community is slow to grasp that opportunity, even though it ought to be pretty close to the top of the list of cost-effective actions that we could take.
I am aware that the rain forest nations have put together a proposal for conservation credits. The implementation of such a proposal would be fraught with difficulty, but it is an attractive theory that is entirely consistent with the EU principle of paying farmers to maintain the environment. I have some experience of this matter, having lived in Brazil for five years. The harsh reality is that deforestation of the Amazon is being driven by a very hard dollar for soya and for beef, which are exported principally to Europe. However, there is no equivalent hard dollar for conservation out there in the marketplace. That opportunity must be thought through carefully as we try to get to grips with the global challenge. Will the Government support and actively promote the creation of conservation credits in Nairobi? I look to the ministerial response on that in the winding-up speech.
Turning to the domestic agenda, it is clearly desirable that a cross-party consensus is achieved that includes the world of business, on which we will rely for many of the solutions to the challenge. People have in their in-trays documents on long-term investment decisions that will shape our ability to meet the 2050 target to reduce the carbon intensity of our economy, and they want some vision of what will happen after 2012. They want some vision of the political will to grasp the issue and take action, because that will shape their investment decisions.
My understanding is that there is cross-party consensus on the target, although the language is shifting to suggest that it is a minimum rather than a maximum. Conservative Members at least believe that the 2050 target needs to be broken down. I put it to the Government that the evidence I have heard from business is that the 2050 target is simply not biting on today’s decision makers, whether they sit in Whitehall, the civic centre or the boardroom. I have not heard a plausible or robust argument against breaking down that target into more pressing milestones. I look forward to the ministerial response on that.
The issue between us seems to be about tax, which I regret for two reasons. First, I detect that there is increasingly common ground, at least among Conservative Members, about the need to re-examine the tax system. The shadow Chancellor spoke about green taxes in Tokyo, and there is clearly a mood to shift taxation from goods towards bads.
Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the shadow Chancellor’s formulation on green taxes allows for the possibility of a decline in green tax pressure? He talks about green taxes rising as a share of taxes. If taxes overall were falling, that would be perfectly consistent with green taxes falling. That is why we have been careful to express this as turning around green taxes as a share of national income.
That is a point to take up with the shadow Chancellor. The point that I want to make about tax is that there seems to be increasingly common ground among Conservative Members about the need to re-examine the system.
Although taxes are important levers, they are not the only one. I want to pick up on a point that was made from our Front Bench. It seems to me that there ought to be common ground where there is silence in terms of the cross-party debate—that is, the attitude to constructive regulation and standards that we will expect from the key products that drive our energy consumption, such as the car, the home, the office and the light bulb.
We can take people with us on a journey to revolutionise the standards of the products that are causing the problem, so I urge the people engaged in that cross-party consensus perhaps to focus on that in the short term as an opportunity to send a signal that will be heard by the manufacturers of those products and those who consume them.
My next point to reinforce the opportunity for cross-party consensus relates to procurement in the public sector. About £500 billion is being spent, and that is an enormous lever with things attached to it. The evidence given to the Environmental Audit Committee over many years suggests that, although the Government are making progress and making the right noises, they are very inconsistent.
In my intervention, I gave the example of the DHL contract—the largest Government contract in recent times. My understanding—the Minister might deny this—is that it does nothing to reduce the Government’s carbon footprint. That opportunity has been missed, but I hope that the opportunity that the massive investment in the school building programme represents will not be missed. That carries with it a great opportunity to demonstrate the technologies that will make a difference and to connect young people in this country with the issue. Those are levers that we can pull and they provide opportunities to build credibility and prove to people sitting in Ruislip or Shanghai that we can do something to manage the risk of climate instability, which has the power to inflict huge financial and human costs on our society.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) because he makes two points—one on Britain’s leadership in the world and the other on carbon pricing—that I want to reinforce and reiterate.
The Government have achieved a great deal, but there will be big challenges in the future, not just for Government but for all of us. Let me list some of the achievements: the introduction of fiscal measures; the renewables obligation; the climate change levy; and the stepping up of duty on motor vehicle taxation. Those are important, and as other Members on both sides of the House have said, we need more. We have worked for many years to introduce a renewable transport fuel obligation, and it is almost within our grasp.
If I understood the hon. Gentleman correctly, he mentioned that there had been a rise in fuel and car taxation. He may not be aware of this, but in fact the vehicle excise duty proposals announced in the Budget involve a fall, even in cash terms, of £10 million in overall revenue. Once again, fuel duty is declining in real terms. Therefore, he is not correct.
I watched with interest the Liberal party conference and the proposals that came out of it. My simple point, however, is that it is important to step up the differential rates between cars of different capacity. As the hon. Gentleman draws me into that area, I wish that the Chancellor had done more, and I hope that we will continue to go in that direction. The hon. Gentleman also minimised the Warm Front scheme. I do not belittle the achievement of better insulation for 1.1 million people. Nor do I belittle the £800 million available between 2005 and 2008 for increasing and taking forward the Warm Front scheme. Those are important initiatives. If people want to build consensus, it is important to recognise what the Government have done.
We need to recognise the challenges before us. A 20 per cent. reduction in carbon emissions by 2010 is a big step, which we will have to work hard to achieve. The Government’s aspiration for 20 per cent. renewables by 2020 is regarded by many in the industry as impossible. Achieving our medium-term target of a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 would be an amazingly hard step, not just for Government and domestically, but internationally, too.
The Government have been extremely strong in raising climate change on the domestic agenda. Looking back to Kyoto, the role of the European Union was important, but so was that of our Deputy Prime Minister. Who would have thought that climate change would be one of the top two agenda issues at Gleneagles? That would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Keeping the discussion going to St. Petersburg in Russia was also an important step forward, as was the Gleneagles dialogue, a sophisticated diplomatic approach outside the United Nations framework, which, because of its size, will prove difficult. I was excited by what was achieved in Mexico last week, and I was disappointed at what remains to be done. I guess that all of us look forward to Nairobi next month. Again, it will be hard for us to make progress through the United Nations process. But it is important that the British Government continue to show leadership.
The big challenge is post-Kyoto in 2012, which is only six years away. We need to use international discussions now to make our arguments for what comes next. I am not entirely clear about what should come next, but I do know that there is a false dichotomy between those who argue for targets and those who argue for technology. The real gain will be made by introducing targets that encourage new technologies, so that we have a target-led approach that produces market-led solutions through technology.
The big challenge is carbon pricing, as the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) rightly said. If we are serious about making change, we have to secure a high, stable price for carbon that can be maintained for a long period. The buzz phrase in the industry—I hear it from British electricity generators—is carbon pricing that is long, loud and legal. As a catchphrase, that has much substance. The way to achieve that new, higher price for carbon is to build on what we have.
I accept that phase 1 of the European emissions trading scheme is in its infancy, but there have already been difficulties. I suspect that phase 2, which we are working towards, will be much more robust. It is important that it is transparent, open and honest, and does not lead to anti-competitive behaviour across Europe. We must move towards a fair auctioning system, rather than the calculations that have been part of phase 1, in which vested interests and a “business as usual” approach have been prevalent.
The real prize will be phase 3 of the European emissions trading scheme. The discussions of that phase have to be linked to the post-Kyoto discussions. We have to extend the European emissions trading scheme to aviation and other transport and industries that hon. Members have mentioned, and we must also extend it from Europe internationally. That is an amazing challenge.
Unless we can achieve a firm, stable and high price for carbon, the new investment—in new plant and equipment—that we need alongside the change in behaviour, will not happen. Let us rally the consensus around carbon pricing. It will have real effects on the aviation industry. Members on both sides of the House have talked strongly about the threat of aviation, but a true trading system could help us to make progress on that.
I am keen to achieve consensus, but let me strike a discordant note. It is easy to have a consensus about not very much. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have a consensus on climate change, but it is on the headline and the principle. When it comes to the mechanics of the necessary policies, it is hard to build consensus. For example, where does the Conservative party stand on wind farms? Are they giant bird blenders? Does the Conservative party want a moratorium? It should make its position clear.
The Conservatives should also make their position clear on the renewables obligation. We have had some discussion of that this afternoon and it has been a useful mechanism for encouraging new technologies. We do need a more sophisticated system, and the energy review acknowledges that. The consultation on the issue has just started. I think that there is a place for nuclear, and a strong argument to support replacing nuclear with nuclear. However, if we argue that nuclear is the last resort, it is clear that that replacement will never happen.
It is never easy to build consensus, but the climate change Bill that many hon. Members have mentioned in the debate would serve as a vehicle for a discussion and give us an opportunity to talk about consensus. There are merits in introducing year-on-year reductions, and the discussion about the Bill has, at the very least, raised the profile of the argument. Even so, difficulties remain, as any such Bill would involve domestic rather than international targets. It would introduce year-on-year changes, rather than the lengthy planning period— 15 years at least, or perhaps even longer—needed for the introduction of a trading scheme. To that extent, it would deal in aspirations rather than mechanisms.
I listened very carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about carbon budgeting. I hope that the Government will introduce relevant measures in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech. Even if a Bill on carbon budgeting is not announced then, I hope that the possibility of introducing an overarching scheme to that end will be discussed further.
When the Labour party renews itself—hopefully next spring—I hope that a policy initiative will be produced that will make a break with the Labour party of the past, and drive us on to becoming a new Labour party that is environmentally sensitive and in touch with people’s aspirations for the future.
My final point is more parochial. I come from a coal mining area, and coal has been facing a difficult time. Many people have said that we met our Kyoto targets because of the dash for gas, although I think that our success in that regard is due to the coal industry’s decline. However, I was pleased that the energy review spoke strongly about coal having a place in the future.
Real problems exist at the moment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) noted, UK Coal, our biggest producer, is arguing about price with generators such as EDF. We can sort out difficulties like that, but the challenge for coal has to do with the environment rather than economics.
The question of how we burn coal—whether we use supercritical boilers or go down the gasification route—is immaterial, as the market will decide that. More important just now is the fact that people like Richard Budge and his company called Powerfuel, together with Powergen and RWE, are looking to bring new, cleaner coal plants on stream. The problem that they face is that the carbon allowance offered to new entrants to the market is only 40 per cent. of the benchmark level for a new gas plant. Therefore, people who want to bring in cleaner coal technology are left at a competitive disadvantage. It cannot be sensible policy to prohibit or restrict new entrants to the market who will be cleaner producers of energy from coal when the comparators for them are plants that are more polluting. The Government must look at that problem, as a matter of urgency.
In addition, we must move away from the notion of carbon capture and sequestration, even though the concept is a good one and I am pleased that experiments are taking place, such as at the new Powergen plant on the north Norfolk coast and at the proposed RWE plant on the Thames. Carbon capture has plenty of potential, and it could be used to enhance our oilfields, but it is not a silver bullet. The technology is at a rudimentary stage. One of the things that I want from the Stern review, which will be published shortly, is an acknowledgement that carbon capture and storage will be good for the UK and that investing money now will save money in the long run.
We want new coal plant in the UK, but that is as nothing compared with the demand for coal in India and China. In this country and in Europe, we must demonstrate that we can burn coal more cleanly and deal with the consequences of carbon emissions. Saving a tonne of carbon in India or China has equal consequences for us in the west; we live in a global world.
My message to our Government is that although they have achieved a lot, they must continue to hit their targets. Unless they do so, we will lose the moral high ground—the leadership that could take us to a greener, cleaner environment in the future.
Order. Many Members still want to make a contribution to this important debate. Time is limited so I ask them to put some limitation on their contributions.
I shall try to keep my comments as brief as possible, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. I should like a more substantial debate in the future, based on a Bill similar to the one proposed by Friends of the Earth.
I am proud to be a member of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has been conducting a timely inquiry into various elements of climate change. Last month, we reported on renewable energy and biofuels. We are currently taking evidence about what individual citizens can do, and we will shortly be looking at the longer-term policy agenda.
We recently visited China, which was incredibly insightful. We went to a car factory, where we were told of the rather worrying aspiration to give every Chinese family a car. Several politicians spoke to us frankly about climate change; they shared their distrust of capitalism and what the west is saying. One of them summarised their views well when he said, “Look, you’ve had your industrial revolution, you’ve had your chance to develop. Now it’s our turn.” But if they develop as we have done, it will kill off the planet.
It is essential that the international community works together, but the impact of China and India does not mean that we should not act as individual citizens. That Chinese politician said, “We want to see you suffer as well”, and asked why we did not all have photovoltaic cells and solar power. If we expect the Chinese to change, we need to change even more.
We must take climate change even more seriously than we do already. At Cabinet level there is already a precedent for cross-cutting Ministers. There should be a Minister solely responsible for climate change, not with a full Department but with a team that cuts across Departments. It is not enough just to have a climate change office, although it is a step in the right direction.
Flooding and housing are significant issues in my constituency and, more generally, in the adaptation and mitigation debates. In my constituency, the Environment Agency is consulting about flood defences in the Great Wakering area, where there is an enormous risk of flooding, as there is throughout south Essex. This morning, I met Charles Beardall, the very good manager of the Environment Agency’s eastern region. He told me an astonishing fact—I had to make him repeat it three times because I thought he had got it wrong: a house built this year with only a one in 1,000 chance of flooding every year will have a one in eight chance by 2080. I have a newborn son, and those houses could flood within his lifetime. Building in the Thames Gateway—let alone in a number of other areas—makes no sense to me when we are subject to those risks. In fact, we are considering building more than 120,000 houses in the Thames Gateway by 2016. That makes no sense to me whatsoever.
We must do more about the standard of the houses that are built. It is quite criminal that we let houses be built to such a low standard. I am not one of those people who say that we should compel companies to include solar panels, photovoltaic cells, water butts or insulation. We need to set overall standards, and companies can innovate as a result of them. For example, we could say that half the water consumed by the house must be collected locally, or that the house must produce half the energy that it consumes, and it does not matter whether a wind farm or photovoltaic heating is used to do so. If we are prescriptive, we will stifle innovation, and it is important that we do not do that.
Action on new housing will also pump-prime the marketplace. The Chinese were very entrepreneurial in many ways. They were saying, “We want you to have photovoltaic cells. In fact, we can produce them very cheaply if you buy in volume.” Joking apart, such things will be beneficial, and high-profile environmental activities help to educate people. Certainly, when the Select Committee went to Leicester to see eco-houses and wind farms in schools, we could see that that was helping to educate children.
We have done an awful lot to date, but there is so much more to do. We need a climate change Bill. I hope that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs misread his speech earlier on, because I was diametrically opposed to what he seemed to say. I think that he said that he believed that we would be judged not by results, but by how we get there. I think that he probably got that the wrong way around—we will be judged by results—and the Friends of the Earth Bill would put down a base point that all future Governments could aim for and achieve. That would overcome some of the electoral resistance to some of the very difficult and tough decisions that we must take.
I speak as a sponsor of the Climate Change Bill, and I urge the Government to consider incorporating such a Bill into the Queen’s Speech. I have listened with great interest to what the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said about carbon budgets, and I hope that there will be some creative discussion in the short time between now and the Queen’s Speech. It may well be that, in the end, some of the aspirations of those who support the Climate Change Bill can be covered by a proposed carbon budget.
I came into politics, as I am sure everyone else did, to change the world, not necessarily to save it, but we must begin by saving it. We have a responsibility, to our children and to our children’s children, to ensure that we properly look after the world, which we are only given on trust, so that we can pass it on to our children in a fit state. We are failing to do that at the moment, and we must take that seriously. Of course the biggest challenge is climate change, and the question is what on earth do we do.
What on earth do we do, particularly when we as a country are responsible only for 2 per cent. of emissions? Although people are persuaded that we need to do something, they are not persuaded about what they can do to make a real difference. The context in the UK is that about a third of end-user carbon emissions comes from industry, about a third comes from households and about a third from transport. So what individual people do in Britain is important, and it is really important that we change people’s behaviour, but the question is how.
Everyone has been talking about the importance of consensus. Of course, I am entirely in favour of that in principle, but what I really think is that we can only tackle something like climate change if we stick to fundamental Labour values. We have to stick to the values of internationalism, radicalism and collectivism. I hear what the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) says about the beauty of regulation and I agree with him, but I am not entirely sure that some of the people sitting behind him—the colour drained from their faces as he spoke—necessarily do so. Nevertheless, if we talk in terms of those fundamental values, we can get somewhere.
Obviously, we have to begin with a real commitment to internationalism and an understanding that Britain can play a leading role. It has done so in the development of Kyoto and the European emissions trading scheme. That is fantastic, but we can continue to play a leading role only if we have the moral authority of being able to show that we, as a country—as the first industrialised country—can tackle this issue head on and continue to grow our industries and be all right, and be carbon neutral. We have to be able to show a lead on that. In turn, we can get all sorts of benefits. However, unfortunately, we are not leading in any of the 10 main green industries. Why not? As a country, we are potentially the Saudi Arabia of wind energy. Why do we not have a flourishing wind industry? Of course, I could make all sorts of cheap points about the Liberal Democrats and their planning controls and stranglehold on wind energy in Scotland, but I will not do that because we are talking about consensus.
Does the hon. Lady not accept that, in fact, the Liberal Democrats in Scotland who hold the positions of the Minister for Environment and Rural Development and the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, my colleagues Ross Finnie and Nicol Stephen, have put Scotland at the leading edge of renewable energy—certainly far ahead of England and Wales, where Labour is governing on its own?
As a Government, the most important thing that we have to take on board is that people know that they must do something, but they do not know what. Enlightened self-interest is not sufficient. Putting a wind turbine up on a roof is not by itself sufficient. Nor is it by itself sufficient for people to change their cars. We have to do that as part of a structure. I would deign to suggest that, as a Government, it is our responsibility to show that there is a structure. We have to say, “Internationally, we are doing a certain thing. Nationally, the Government are doing a certain thing. We are expecting industry and business to do certain things, and, if they do not, we will force them to do so through fiscal measures, regulation and other means. Individually, your responsibility is to do a certain thing.” We have to have a clear structure, so that people know that, when they play a role, they are doing so within a wider structure. We have to be centralist and regulatory.
We should not be afraid to govern, to lead and to be radical, because, in the end, the people who will suffer most from climate change are the poor. Two thirds of Bangladesh will disappear. What will happen to the families of many of my constituents? Sub-Saharan Africa will not be sub-Saharan any more. The Sahara will simply expand. Will we look into the eyes of Africans and tell them that they cannot come here, even though the rest of their family may have died and they may not have an agriculture any more? How can we do that? We will not be able to. Poor constituents will not be able to afford the ramped up costs of fuel. We have been able to tackle fuel poverty effectively in many ways so far, but what will happen in the future, when fuel prices go up?
There are times when the Labour Government do such good things and we do not even realise what we have done and how what we have done comes out of Labour values. For example, there was talk earlier about households and the importance of changing things within them, such as insulation. Certain sneery comments were made about the Warm Front scheme. We should remember the decent homes standard. Half my constituents live in social housing and they are all having their houses done up at the moment. As far as the constituents—the punters—are concerned, they are getting new kitchens and bathrooms. That is great and that is what they celebrate—thanks to a Labour Government. However, they are also getting new boilers and insulation. When fuel prices go up, as they will, half my constituents will be literally insulated from those prices, because we have put our traditional values into a modern setting and are not only looking after our constituents, but tackling climate change with radical action. We should do more of that. That is what the Labour party is about and what our Labour Government should be about.
Is the hon. Lady worried that those same Labour values that are leading to hospitals being closed will mean that people will have to drive further to go to hospital? Would she support that reflection of her Government’s achievements?
The fact that the majority of people have their health conditions dealt with in the community is important. Keeping people in hospitals for less time is an important part of tackling climate change, as is making sure that Labour values are put into action. There are many ways in which we have to move ahead for policy reasons, but, as a Labour MP, I would say that we always have to keep an eye on traditional Labour values and the importance of tackling the radical problem of climate change. We should take heart, because although we might be coming to this at the eleventh hour, we have a Labour Government. I am confident that we will tackle the problem properly with the new leadership at the Department. We must not be afraid and we have to be radical.
I am sure that most hon. Members have, like me, received dozens of letters, e-mails, surgery visits and phone calls on the subject of climate change and, most recently, on the importance of having a climate change Bill in the Queen’s speech in November. I welcome the opportunity to add my voice and the voices of the residents of East Dunbartonshire to the calls for such a Bill. I hope that Ministers will take the interest in this debate and the fact that 380 Members have signed the early-day motion calling for such a Bill as a clear sign that it must be a priority. I hope that such a Bill will be taken forward in November because we must have annual targets on reducing carbon dioxide emissions so that we can see in the House what progress is being made every single year and so that hon. Members can hold the Government to account. A long-term target on its own will not help us to tackle the problem.
In among lots of constituency work during the parliamentary recess—it is not a long holiday, as some in the media would have us believe—I took time out to go to the cinema to watch “An Inconvenient Truth”. I am sure that many hon. Members will have seen the film and I wholeheartedly recommend it to those who have not. Perhaps the film should be essential viewing because it puts in the starkest possible terms the scale of the problem that we face. However, the film is not depressing because it does not say that there is nothing that we can do about the problem. On the contrary, it encourages every single citizen who sees it to play their part, take their responsibilities serious and lobby their representatives. I especially liked the bit at the end of the film when a list of actions that people can take is shown as the credits roll. Obviously, there is a slight American bias, because people are encouraged to contact their member of Congress and senator. The film suggests that if the representatives do not take the viewers seriously, they should run for Congress themselves. I thought that that was good advice, and we should all be aware that we will have constituents who will expect us to take the problem incredibly seriously.
Many hon. Members who have spoken have rightly highlighted the international and European dimensions of how we will tackle the problem. However, it is also hugely important to focus on what individuals can do. We know about the little energy-saving measures that could lead to massive cuts in the release of carbon dioxide if lots of people carried them out. Such measures include changing to energy-saving light bulbs and using public transport rather than a car, especially for shorter journeys, or perhaps leaving the car at home and walking. They also include increasing recycling, turning the thermostat down a few degrees and turning appliances off, instead of on to stand-by. One would think that all those little things would not make a huge difference, but they can be important.
Obviously, we all consume energy and are thus responsible for a certain amount of carbon emissions. I encourage people to make themselves aware of the ways in which they can offset their carbon emissions. Organisations such as Climate Care and carbonneutral.com give lots of information about how that can be done. By planting trees or investing in renewable energies, it is possible to offset the carbon tonnes that one emits. I recently logged on to do the calculations so that I could pay for my carbon offset and I encourage other hon. Members to do the same, especially because our job requires a huge amount of travelling, so we are perhaps responsible for higher than average carbon emissions.
I have an issue that I would like to raise with the Leader of the House, so perhaps the Ministers present can communicate it to him. Something that will need to change is our beloved institution, the House of Commons, as it starts to address climate change issues. Heating has been mentioned, and we have recently seen better recycling facilities introduced, although others may agree that it is a bit strange that we had to wait until 2005 for that. I hope that the House authorities will take on board the fact that we need to lead by example.
There are so many aspects of climate change that it is impossible to cover them all, so I should like to focus on waste and recycling, which are very important. Carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas that we are most concerned about, but the second most important is methane. Landfill waste produces most of the UK’s methane at the moment. Some 648 kilotonnes of methane were released from landfill in 2005. I welcome moves to reduce the amount of our waste being sent to landfill annually; indeed, many councils are currently grappling with how to deal with the impact of the landfill tax, which increases year on year, and the fines that will be imposed if we do not get to grips with how much we send to landfill and how much we recycle.
East Dunbartonshire council has recently moved to fortnightly refuse collections for residual waste but at the same time is investing hugely in recycling facilities, with doorstep recycling happening weekly. Garden waste, glass, plastics, cans, paper and cardboard are collected, and the council hopes to increase the amount of materials collected. That was not an easy step to take, and it is fair to say that the local reaction has not been unanimously in support of the change. I am sure that in other areas where that has happened there has been a similar reaction. However, this bold environmental step is necessary. It is regrettable that in my area Labour and the Conservatives opposed the move, and I suspect that in other parts of the country they themselves have had to implement similar schemes. It is an example of the changes that individuals will increasingly have to make to their behaviour that are difficult at first but in the long term will help us to tackle the problem.
It is important that the Government and business play a role. Looking at the UK plastics industry, we see that our recovery figures—the energy that we get back from plastics—are awful compared with those of our European counterparts. Less than a quarter of our plastic is recovered in some way for energy, and a tiny proportion is recycled. Our European neighbours are far better at that than us. Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland manage to recover or recycle over 75 per cent.
Obviously, some plastics are easier to recycle than others, and we can only take things to be recycled if there is a market for the recycled plastic. It is important that the Government encourage business through best practice not only to create things out of materials that can be recycled, but to use recycled materials to help to create that market. If encouragement and the sharing of best practice cannot succeed in changing behaviour, regulation will be required.
A related issue on which we need to take urgent action is the excess packaging that we see every day when we go to the supermarket. One goes to buy a few apples, which one would previously have put in a bag and taken to the checkout, but now they come in a foam tray, they have a bit of card around them and the whole thing is shrink-wrapped in plastic. Crucially, a lot of that material cannot be recycled, and it is consumers, our constituents, who have to pay for it—not once but three times. They pay for the excess packaging at the checkout; they pay the landfill tax through their council tax bills for getting rid of rubbish; and there is the environmental cost. Business must take this more seriously, and if it does not, the Government must make it do so.
That is just one of the many issues raised in the debate that are important to solving the problem of climate change. I hope that Ministers will address those concerns and take them seriously. Climate change is happening, and it is happening quickly. Action is needed now, and if we are not successful the worst of the consequences will not be faced by today’s Ministers or even most of the MPs in this House. It is my generation, and our children and children’s children, who will face the brunt of climate change and inherit this dreadful legacy. Everyone in the UK has a responsibility to tackle this problem, and we as legislators must take a lead. A climate change Bill in the Queen’s Speech is a vital first step, but only the first step on a long and challenging journey.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I declare an interest: I think that I am a member of Friends of the Earth, and I joined Greenpeace in 1975, before some hon. Members were born, and I am still a member. Hon. Members who were in the Chamber when I spoke on Second Reading of the Finance Bill will have some idea of which issues I shall address.
It is absolutely shocking that, as we would find if we went through Hansard and added it up, in some three and a half hours of debate, about three minutes have been spent on the effects of climate change. There is lovey-dovey consensus on the need to cut emissions and so on, which is terribly important. The Government have a good record on the issue, but I will not go into it, as everyone in the Chamber knows about it. We have been discussing the need to cut emissions, the need to achieve the 60 per cent. target by 2050, many other good measures, and the Government’s—and, to some extent, the Conservative Government’s—good track record in cutting emissions. On the causes of climate change, the country and the Government have a great record, nationally and internationally. However, we never talk about coping with the effects of climate change in the Chamber—at least, not that I have heard, and I am here a great deal, as hon. Members will know. For our constituents, there is a crucial difference between the cause and the effect of climate change.
The United Kingdom is responsible for 2 per cent. of emissions. If we cut that to nil tomorrow, there would still be international climate change, and we would still experience its effects in the United Kingdom. That is not a counsel of despair, and it is not to say that we should give up on all those measures. The president of the Royal Society, Frances Cairncross, made a good speech on the subject on 4 September, in which she said:
“Adaptation policies have big advantages. They can be pursued at a national—indeed, at a local level—and so will involve far less complex international negotiation.”
We can actually do something, in the United Kingdom, about the effects of climate change. I listened carefully to the thoughtful and consensual speech of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth). He can correct me if I am wrong, but he did not say a word, in any real sense, about the effects of climate change.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as I know that time is short. If he looks back over several years, he will find that the effects of climate change have been well demonstrated and discussed in the Chamber. I merely “parked” the issue for this debate to advance a discussion of what we all need to do to counter those effects.
With the greatest respect, what we all need to do is deal with the effects of climate change, as well as the causes. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), who opened for the Liberal Democrats, devoted one or two sentences to flood damage, which, for a Hampshire MP, is understandable. He mentioned the research undertaken by the Natural Environment Research Council into animal habitats and extinction—that was another sentence, I think. He mentioned the Department for International Development and the effects of climate change in the sub-Saharan region, which include mass population movements, conflict and so on. However, those subjects took up about a minute and a half in a speech of some 25 minutes.
I merely point out that I also talked about the west coast main line, the Thames barrier and what we need to do to improve flood defences. I think that he will find that there was quite a lot in my speech about dealing with adaptations. The hon. Gentleman’s point is well taken, and certainly we Liberal Democrat Members intend to tackle those problems.
I thought that I had adverted to the fact that the hon. Gentleman mentioned flood defences. He is right about the Thames barrier, the construction of which was very far-sighted. However, it has been in existence for 20 years or more.
It is even more shocking and depressing that the Government—I shall come on to their overall record later—have a good record on adaptation internationally. Adaptation is the technical word for work to deal with the effects of climate change. Earlier this year, an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report cited the United Kingdom as one of the top five OECD members—there are 30, and they are of course the advanced industrial countries—moving towards the implementation adaptation. The other four were the United States of America, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands. The situation in this country is, however, unacceptable, as the Government have not adequately addressed the effects of climate change. The Opposition, too, have barely talked about the effects, yet we are one of the top five countries in terms of adaptation. I find that particularly depressing.
On what the Government—my Labour Government—are doing—
I do not want to delay the hon. Gentleman, but he knows that the greatest champion of adaptation and engineering and technological solutions to the challenge of global warming is the Bush Administration in Washington. At this crucial stage, should we not focus all our national efforts in the next 10 years on averting climate change, rather than encouraging people to think there are ways in which we can avoid it through engineering and technological solutions alone?
I profoundly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. We must do both. Climate change has already started. We have heard some of the statistics today and I could reel off a load more, but time is short. Climate change has already started, whether, from the point of view of the flat-earthers, human activity is a contributing factor or not. I and probably all hon. Members present think it is, but let us leave that on one side.
The statistics for the past 200 years show that climate change has already happened and is already having adverse effects around the world, including here in the United Kingdom. Yes, we need the technology in order to adapt to climate change. The Thames flood barrier has been mentioned—a magnificent piece of technology which has been used more frequently in recent years, as the hon. Member for Eastleigh indeed said. That is a technological solution to dealing with the effects of rising sea waters—dealing with the effects of climate change. It does not mean that we say, “We’ll just build lots of those around the country” and do nothing about the causes of climate change. As a society we need to get a grip and address the effects of climate change, which has already started.
On what the Government have already done, we have the UK climate impacts programme, about which some hon. Members know. It is a team of 15 people in Oxford who act as a link between policy makers and the public, producing research and so on. We have the Government’s adaptation policy framework. In November 2005 they published the consultation on phase 1. The publication of the consultation on phase 2 is due some time this autumn.
That is a consultation on an adaptation policy framework to deal with an issue that I personally know has been around for over 30 years, because I was taught about the greenhouse effect in university over 30 years ago. That is one of the reasons why even before all the furore about CFCs and so on, I never bought aerosol cans. I am probably one of the few people in their 50s in the UK who has bought fewer than a dozen aerosol cans in their whole life, because of climate change. Although I laud the Government on setting up the adaptation policy framework and holding consultations on it, that should have started—it was mentioned before—under Margaret Thatcher, if not before. The problem and the effects on the planet have been known about for at least 30 years.
A third step that the Government are taking is the UK environment facility to assist developing countries in adapting to climate change. As has been said in the Chamber, those who will be hit hardest are the poorest in the poorest countries, including sub-Saharan Africa, where 182 million people will be affected. There will be wars over water resources, which will drive conflict in the middle east for the next 50 years. Wars over water resources and the problems associated with water resources will get more acute as global warming heats up many parts of the planet and therefore evaporation continues and so on. Those are the effects of climate change with which we need to grapple. One of the effects will be war or the huge potential for war. We have an international role and the Government, with their immense leadership on the issue around the world, ought to be taking a leading role, and I hope they are.
On the Government’s position, I shall read out an answer to a written parliamentary question. The answer was from the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, who is in his place, on 12 May this year. The written question that I asked was:
“To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps he has taken to address the effects on the UK of global warming; and what further steps he plans to take in the next five years.”
I received a written reply of about eight lines from the Minister. The first six lines referred to causes of climate change. That is very important, but nothing to do with the question that I asked, which was to do with the effects.
The written answer stated:
“The recently published climate change programme”—
it was published in March 2006—
“contains commitments to adapt to that climate change which is already unavoidable.”—[Official Report, 12 May 2006; Vol. 446, c. 581W.]
That was it.
The written answer referred to a document, which concerns adaptation, changes and dealing with effects. The Minister is a friend of mine—I have known him for more than 20 years, before either of us were Members of this esteemed place—but on a rough calculation, 6 per cent. of the document, which is entitled “Climate Change: The UK Programme 2006”, addresses adaptation, which involves a 12-page section in a 193-page document plus one or two passing references. About half of those 12 pages refers to research into adaptation, which is very important but should not be all that we are doing. We are far too late, and we need to step up our response.
Half of a document such as “Climate Change: The UK Programme 2006” should be devoted to dealing with the effects of climate change, because we know that the effects are coming, regardless of how successful we are in international negotiations. The effects have already started, and there is an accelerative effect in the early years in terms of changes produced in the environment by the stuff that is already in there and the stuff that, realistically, we know is going to be put in there in the next 20 years, even if everybody around the world halves their output. The effects are only going to get worse, and a lot more of the document should have been devoted to addressing them.
I am sorry to take up so much time, but the issue of UK climate change has hardly been addressed this afternoon, so I will be somewhat indulgent. Paragraph 5 on page 130 of the document states:
“Chapter 1 set out the way in which the UK’s climate has changed in the past, and is predicted to change further in the future.”
If one examines chapter 1, however, that is not strictly true. Page 13 of the document discusses a point that our constituents, who have a Malaga-to-Margate view of climate change—the subconscious attitude is “We can all eat olives in the west midlands, and won’t that be wonderful?”—do not often discuss:
“reduction in the strength of the North Atlantic ocean currents…could cause significant cooling in the North Atlantic and Europe region”.
Conversely, page 11 states:
“by the middle of this century such a summer”—
the reference is to the summer of 2003, when there were record high temperatures, such as the 38.5° C recorded at Faversham, Kent on 10 August 2003—
“may occur every two or three years.”
Perhaps understandably, the document does not even set out what it states that it sets out, which is where the United Kingdom climate is going in the next century, because we do not know the answer. When people talk about dealing with the effects of climate change, the discussion is often predicated—this is true of some of the adaptation plans in the document—on longer, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters in most of the United Kingdom. That might not happen, however, because we could end up with a Newfoundland climate. Those of us who have spent time in Canada—I have never been to Newfoundland, but I lived in Canada for many years—know that the climate is not nice, and the latitude is similar to that of the UK.
We should do a lot more on storm damage, subsidence, health advice and research on plants, including an each way bet—will we get olives in the west midlands, or will we get tundra plants, such as those grown in northern Canada, because we have got a Newfoundland climate? We should consider the built environment in terms of not only insulation, but bigger gutters and drain pipes, because the rain will become more torrential—it has already become more torrential in parts of the UK in recent years.
Landslides because of heavy rain are also an issue. Imagine if an event such as that at Boscastle were to happen in, for example, London—disaster! What are we doing about disaster planning in looking to avoid landslides and so on by taking prophylactic action?
On immigration control and ID cards, Opposition Members will not like it, but we have to be realistic. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) rightly referred to the poorest in the world being hit the hardest. They will understandably want to move to the UK. What are we going to do about water supply? What are we going to do about disease control when we have different diseases here? What are we going to do about coastal erosion? What are we going to do about polderising Norfolk to stop the flooding? What are we going to do about the likely increased incidence of forest fires up in Scotland with lightning strikes on dry timber, which I used to deal with for a living?
Those effects of climate change are all happening in the UK. I urge the Government seriously to address those effects as well as the wonderful work that they have done on the causes—emissions. I urge hon. Members to wake up to the effects that we know are coming and not to continue to have the kind of debate that we have had today, which, though important, is almost one-sided.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), because I want to echo what he says about the dangers of cosy consensus. We have had a lot of consensus in the Chamber this afternoon, but that is easy to achieve when we talk only about what the problem is and much harder if we take the difficult step of talking about what the solutions might be.
I do not want to break the spirit of consensus, because it is important that parties work together on this issue. I pay tribute to the Government for moving it up the agenda, particularly at the Gleneagles summit last year, but they have given us precious little detail as to how we are going to meet the 60 per cent. reduction by 2050. That is a matter of great concern to me. I come from a constituency that includes the town of Godalming, which was the first town in the world to have a public supply of electricity back in 1881. Interestingly, at that time public transport used biomass as its fuel; now, 125 years later, we are coming round to seeing that that might not have been such a bad thing.
We have consensus in two areas but not in a third. We have consensus about the scale of the climate change that is happening. The Secretary of State said that there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than there has been for 750,000 years. I have heard scientists say that it is more like 40 million years. Whichever it is, there is a huge amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, on a scale as never before. NASA scientists say that the earth is warmer than it has been for 1,000 years and within 1° of being warmer than it has been for 1 million years. That results in several of the effects that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West talked about, such as desertification in Africa, the melting of the ice caps and of permafrost, and global dimming.
There is, too, a relative degree of scientific consensus about what will happen if we carry on as we are: the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will increase from 380 parts per million towards 1,000 parts per million as a result of the industrialisation of China, India and so on. There is a danger that 50 million to 100 million people could be displaced, mainly in the poor parts of the world, following the disappearance of islands and countries.
The difficult question is what we should do about it. Today, Shell published a projection that it would cost £4 billion a year to deal with the effects of climate change in a way that would meet our 2050 target of reducing emissions by 20 per cent. That is a lot of money, but it is less than a third of 1 per cent. of our gross domestic product. That is a tiny price to pay for dealing with the sheer unpredictability of messing around with our natural environment on the current scale. We have to be brave and accept that there will be costs to pay.
Another significant change in this debate concerns my party. Under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Conservative party has made climate change and the environment one of the issues that is right at the top of our agenda. I like to think of it not as Saul having a conversion on the road to Damascus but as a reaffirmation of our traditional beliefs in conservation of the environment, and in not only a green and pleasant land but a green and pleasant planet. That is important because the Conservative party has traditionally understood the importance of wealth creation as an engine of change in society and fought against over-regulation of business.
If ever there was a “Nixon goes to China” moment in the environment debate, it is now. It means that there is now no excuse for the Government not to introduce a climate change Bill. We need to see details of how we will meet the 2050 target. The Government are good at long-term targets. We had the 2050 target for reduction in CO2 emissions, a 2025 target for equality of respect for disabled people and the 2015 millennium goals, to which we are all signed up. They are important, but they could be described as NIMTO—not in my term of office—goals. If we are to make progress, we need targets that apply to all our terms of office. There is no excuse for not introducing a climate change Bill and starting the national debate about what we are going to do. I urge the Government, for the sake of all our futures, to take that opportunity.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on giving us such an excellent exposé and clearly making the case for concerted action to combat climate change.
We can argue for ever and a day about the role of climate change Bills and targets, but the important thing is to devise solutions and implement them. Some solutions will be short term, some will be medium term and others will be long term. Some will involve more Government intervention and others will mean more individual responsibility, and we need to get the balance right.
I was lucky enough last week to have the opportunity to see a tidal turbine, courtesy of Marine Current Turbines. It is an exciting project. We watched the tide come in—it is totally predictable—and produce enough energy for 800 homes. A few of those could obviously fuel a town, and we all know how many towns are close to the coast. There are therefore many opportunities, and I believe that the company is hoping to sort something out in Northern Ireland after Christmas. It will be its first commercial project there.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) for raising the subject of clean coal technology, which it is crucial to examine. Thirty-five per cent. of our electricity is generated by coal in our existing power stations, and that rose to 50 per cent. in the cold spell last winter. Clearly, we will depend on that for a considerable time. We should do everything possible to create a level playing field for clean coal technology. We should also consider using more of our indigenous coal. The scales have tipped and we are paying more for imported coal because of world coal markets than we are giving our producers at home. That has serious implications not only for security of supply and balance of payments but for the local economy and transport. Why do we waste fuel transporting coal around the world when we have it here? We need clean coal technology and carbon capture technology. If we can get ahead of the game, we can not only use it here but export it to countries such as China and India, which will clearly use coal for a long time.
I want to consider not only the big solutions—the expert solutions, such as developing renewables and clean coal technology—but what we can do in the immediate future. We must convey the message that we cannot wait 10, 15 or 20 years, and that we have to act now. I shall make some suggestions that may be unpopular, but I should like to open the debate on them, and I hope that hon. Members will genuinely consider what we can do.
We should seriously consider speed limits. We all want our cars and the freedom to go to places and be flexible, and the individual opportunity that those of us who own cars enjoy. But why could we not simply decide to have a much reduced speed limit? There are advanced countries where 50 mph is the norm. There is a psychological effect: when someone who is driving at 50 mph sees that everybody else is travelling at 70 mph or 80 mph, they feel that they are going very slowly. A psychological change could easily lead to a change in behaviour. There would be cost consequences: people would immediately save money on fuel and in other ways. Few people realise how much of an economy they can make just by travelling more slowly, but they cannot do that at the moment, because unless everybody else does so, they will feel that they are slowing everybody down. So I suggest a national speed limit of 50 mph, which would have the obvious added effect of making our roads safer. Speed is frequently a factor in fatal and serious accidents.
We could also look at our urban speed limits. Speed is an extremely important factor in serious urban road accidents, and many road safety campaigns are highlighting the need for 20 mph limits in certain urban areas. Many Members will have had constituents coming to them who are desperate to get drivers to slow down as they pass their front doors. But those who complain about that can the next moment be driving a modern car themselves, not realising that they are going at a considerable speed. We have the ability to drive at speed, but we cannot change our human reaction speed. It would be nice if we could achieve a sea change in mentality, so that slowing down could truly be considered.
I now turn to the really controversial bit. In order to make this a cheap change, I suggest that we interpret all our current speed signs not as miles per hour, but as kilometres per hour. If we do that, we will not need to change any of the national speed limit signs—50 mph would be 80 kph—because we do not have 70 mph signs; instead, because we have a national speed limit, we have “end of speed limit” signs. So 30 mph signs in towns would actually mean 30 kph, which is approximately 20 mph, and 40 mph signs would mean 40 kph, which is about 25 mph. That would also deal with the many requests that we receive for improved traffic-calming measures and the introduction of speed cameras.
That solution would cost very little, and it has the nice advantage that it could easily be copied by many other countries. As has been mentioned many times today, these issues affect not just our own country but our fellow European Union member states and the rest of the world. If we can do something, that would be a good example to others.
Car sharing is an old idea that has been mentioned many times before, but we must promote it in partnership with our local government colleagues, because it is something that we really can do. I know that people are terrified of the idea of being tied to somebody else’s routine for five days a week, so let us introduce the idea in a more user-friendly way. If we were to car-share three days a week, people would still have two days when they could pop off to the shops, or whatever. The benefits in terms of congestion in towns, for example, would be enormous. We see so many queues of cars waiting to go through traffic lights with one person in each car, but if there were three or four people per car, the traffic would move three or four times more quickly.
There would also be benefits in terms of pressure on parking. In many town centres, people coming in to work clog up parking spaces, and as a result nobody can come in to shop or to visit the town. That has a detrimental effect on local traders and persuades people to use the big out-of-town shopping centres. There would also be an impact on air quality in towns, because fewer cars would lead to less pollution; and the impact on climate change goes without saying. There would also be economic savings for commuters. The implementation costs—education, advertising and promotion—would be extremely modest, and implementation could be achieved very quickly.
So there is hope. As we have seen with the ozone layer, it is possible to reverse trends, and we should grasp that hope as we address climate change. We must make the necessary decisions, although I accept that they are very difficult to make because they extend much further than simply the issue of the ozone layer. It is easy to give up using spray cans—like my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), I have long since given up using aerosols—but it is important that we grasp the nettle and act immediately to begin to halt, and then to reverse, the effects of climate change.
I am delighted to be able to contribute to this debate, and it has been extremely interesting to listen to the speeches that have been made so far. I would guess that this is the first time—and it will probably be the last—that the hon. Members for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) have been in agreement on anything. The word “consensus” has been used a great deal, and it is important to recognise that there is a belief—not only here in the House but more widely—that the moment has come for serious action to be taken on climate change.
I want to pay a compliment—perhaps unusually, coming from these Benches—to the Deputy Prime Minister. The House ought to recognise that it was he who represented Britain’s position at the Kyoto summit and played an active part in securing an agreement. At that point, many of us thought that there was an opportunity for Britain to show continuing international leadership as well as national leadership. Perhaps it is part of the cycle of hope and disappointment that is inevitable in politics that that has not really been followed through.
At that time, I took on the energy portfolio for the Liberal Democrats—a post that I held for a number of years. I was therefore one of our representatives on the Standing Committee on the Energy Bill in 2000. Great efforts were made by hon. Members on both sides of the House—although regrettably, not from either the Government or the Conservative Front Bench—to strengthen the Bill and to put into it some positive, hard-edged proposals that would have implemented the kind of policies that we need in this country if we are to change our behaviour and modify the way in which we use energy.
This is not all about taxation policy, although that is important. Nor is it all about regulation, although that is important, too. A lot is about changing the culture involved in our acting out our lives. I should like to give a parallel illustration. Long before I arrived in the House, legislation was introduced to make it compulsory for motorists to wear seat belts. It was not terribly popular, and for a long time it was not particularly well observed. It is now very well observed, however, and people believe that wearing seat belts simply goes with being in the car.
Another parallel example that I have cited many times before is that of smoking on the London underground. Smoking on the London underground was always illegal, but it stopped when the King’s Cross fire took place. Not even the yobs smoke on the underground nowadays, because that has become part of our culture. We need to ensure that the changes that we introduce not only run with the grain of popular culture but encourage it to go in the right direction.
I was disappointed when many of the measures proposed by hon. Members on both sides of the House for inclusion in the Energy Bill in 2000 were not adopted. I shall give a small practical example. At that stage, it would have been possible to introduce a regulatory requirement that when electricity meters were replaced, they should be replaced by intelligent two-way meters. An attempt was made to introduce that provision, but it was unsuccessful.
In 2004 I was fortunate enough to come first in the ballot for private Members’ Bills. I chose to introduce the Bill that became the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004, which amends the building regulations set out in the Building Act 1984 and gives the Government the opportunity to introduce building regulations relating to sustainability, not only for new buildings but for existing ones. In that way, we can begin to catch the 99 per cent. of buildings that have already been built, and bring them up to an acceptable standard.
It was interesting to hear what the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) said about traffic—she is obviously absolutely right—but we need to recognise that our houses produce twice as much carbon each year as our cars. We ought therefore to expend our political energy on doing something about our building stock, and particularly about our homes.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my disappointment that in the plans for the Thames Gateway and elsewhere, the Government have not insisted on all housing being built to the “excellent” eco-standard—which is, after all, only the beginning? It is now possible for us to produce houses that use only 40 per cent. of the energy that housing uses today.
The right hon. Gentleman has a distinguished record, which I am happy to acknowledge, and he is absolutely right. If I had time for a longer speech, I would quickly expand on that area.
It is true that opportunities are being missed all the time. My Bill specifically included a provision that now allows the Government to make regulations on the introduction of intelligent metering. Between 2000 and 2004, my Bill received Royal Assent, I am delighted to say, but between those dates 2 million electricity meters were installed to the old standards. My Bill came into force in September 2004. Between then and now, another 2 million electricity meters have been installed to the old standards, because the provisions of my Bill have not been implemented by the Government.
I simply say that, although I was delighted by what the Secretary of State had to say—he was very encouraging—it is a pity that he has only just discovered what the Deputy Prime Minister knew in 1998, which is that this is an urgent problem that needs immediate action. The Secretary of State said that he was proud of this, that and the other, and proud of something else. I am pleased about that as well, but—and this is the big “but”—carbon dioxide emissions are still going up.
To take a very small example, it costs about £5 to install an intelligent meter, as opposed to the stupid meters we are installing at present. Installing 4 million—which have been put in since 2000, when the first legislative opportunity was missed—would have cost an extra £20 million, but that would have meant a significant fraction of UK households having the capacity to install renewable generation plant without even having to blink, and removed one of the important barriers to installation.
What I want to hear from the Secretary of State, and from the Minister when he makes the winding-up speech, is exactly what they are planning to do. The importance of having a Bill in the Queen’s Speech lies not in the Bill itself, or in precisely what that Bill says, but in giving a timetable for performance that can be checked year by year.
I want to say something to the Minister, and I really would like to hear the answer. My Bill—now my Act—contains a requirement for the Government to report to the House every two years what progress they have made. It came into force in September 2004; it is now October 2006. The two years are up and the report has not been issued, and it looks as though when it does come, it will be pretty thin.
Yes, let us have another Act, and let it be Government legislation. The Government supported my Bill, as did, I am delighted to report, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), who was one of my sponsors. It was also supported by the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell and by Members all over the House. The support was apparently unanimous, yet the Bill has not been implemented. Having a Bill in the Queen’s Speech is important, as is having the right things in it, but let us hear from the Minister exactly what he is going to do, and how he is going to tell us about it.
I suggest that the first thing the Minister should do is talk to the Department for Communities and Local Government. It holds my Bill in trust—and it is not delivering. Talk to the Department of Trade and Industry, too, because it is responsible for generation and renewables, as well as the creation of new energy sources. Talk to the Department for Transport, because transport is an important sector, which has to be tackled. Talk to the Treasury, because taxation is also a significant element of this.
The most important thing is for the Secretary of State to be clear in his own mind that while we can produce press releases, and perhaps burn up political capital on statements, declarations and conferences, as well as playing about over what we do with our cars, what will make a difference in this country is whether we tackle the built environment, in which 50 per cent. of the energy we use is wasted, even though we already have on the statute book the legislation that can deal with it.
Will the Minister agree to take action where he does not need to do anything special? All he needs to do is sign a couple of orders, get a few things going and cut the energy waste of the built environment by 50 per cent. That, surely, is an offer he cannot refuse.
When I became an MP, I approached this issue in relation to a concern about peak oil, our reliance on fossil fuels and how we would provide the energy to make our lives comfortable. However, having met former Vice-President Al Gore at this summer’s Hay-on-Wye literary festival, and having seen extracts of his slide show, the urgency of the global challenge was brought home to me in a way that it had not been previously. I am especially pleased that this debate is taking place in Government time.
Much has been said about the effects of global warming, illustrated by statistics, but we have not touched on its impact on the acidification of the oceans. According to the Royal Society, 50 per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions have been absorbed by the world’s oceans. The impact of that on fish stocks alone is hard to predict. Joan Kleypas, a scientist from the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, has said that
“unfortunately, this is not an environmental problem that we’ve had to deal with in the past, and so we really don’t have a very good grasp of what this means for ocean biology.”
As we speak, however, fish stocks in the south Pacific are under threat. It is hard to predict the impact of that, over time, on our ability to feed ourselves, but it is likely to be adverse.
I am pleased that my neighbour, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), is back in his place, as I want to mention two effects in the local area where we both live. Olive groves are not being planted in Shropshire, but vineyards have been planted in the past decade that are starting to bear fruit more rapidly than had been predicted—so there are some upsides. Activity to ameliorate the impact of flooding has also occurred. As has been intimated, Shrewsbury, which has suffered flooding in recent years, will have what I hope will prove to be an effective flood barrier defence system. There are ways of addressing some such problems locally. The problem of the constituency of the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) falling into the sea, which was mentioned earlier, is not one that I am particularly keen to see addressed, but I am sure that others are. It sounds like a rather more expensive challenge than keeping Shrewsbury dry, but no doubt there is a challenge.
What will we do to answer those challenges? I do not have lots of natural solutions, but I want to pick up on two or three. Clearly, this is a global problem, and Members on both sides of the House must acknowledge the work of the Government in seeking to lead international debate on the issue, and I give credit to them, from the Prime Minister downwards. However, the Government’s thinking needs to be more joined up. In a recent embarrassing example, only two Sundays ago, a Sunday newspaper reported that the Secretary of State was in favour of a scheme to privatise the rain forest. Within four days, he had issued a denial saying that he was not in favour of privatising the rain forest and that he had been misunderstood. It transpires that that was because he had not bothered to discuss the matter with the Brazilian Government, who took rather a dim view of the rain forest being privatised.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) referred appropriately to the challenge of deforestation and its contribution to greenhouse gases. I hope that the Minister will pick up on his idea of conservation credits.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a blatant example of the Government’s double standards in international affairs was that they joined the dirty countries in Europe to vote against Austria and Denmark’s proposal that we should put a date on the banning of HFCs? At this moment, the Government are having four HFC chillers installed in their refurbished former Home Office building—chillers that use a gas that is 2,000 times as bad for global warming as CO2.
That is a remarkably insightful intervention. I intended to refer to a point that I came across yesterday when we were talking about food procurement in the Public Accounts Committee. Other hon. Members have mentioned the DHL contract, but out of the Department of Health, the Department for Education and Skills and the Ministry of Defence, only the last is seriously considering the sustainability of its food procurement and bothering to visit other countries to ensure that livestock is reared in accordance with UK welfare standards. The other Departments have made no progress on that issue, save some lip service paid to local procurement.
There is a place for regulation. Other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), referred to a climate change Bill and I am proud to have signed up to the “big ask”, mainly because it will impose on the Government an obligation to report back to this House, and to be seen to introduce measures that will start to help to meet the targets. I am instinctively not someone who seeks to impose undue regulation on business, but in this case the issue is so significant that it requires a stimulus—and this stimulus is right.
There is also a place for taxation. There has been some discussion of party conferences recently, and I enjoyed a debate at our party conference with members of the Liberal Democrats, in which we discussed the question, “Who are the tax cutters now?” The issue of green taxation is therefore something that I have considered in some detail. The Liberal Democrats’ proposals have some gaping holes, because the behavioural changes that the taxation is designed to introduce will reduce the revenues on which they hope to rely, should their policies ever come into force.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the behavioural changes, as far as we can estimate them from the MORI research commissioned by the Government on the effects of the vehicle excise duty changes, have been taken into account in the revenue projections.
Luckily, we will never have to see those policies put into practice.
There is broad consensus on the polluter pays principle across the Chamber, but the difficulty is that energy costs are a higher proportion of the income of lower income households, whether in transport, heating or other usages. Therefore, most such taxes are highly regressive. That is why much thought needs to go into green taxation. It should not be dreamed up on the back of an envelope. I urge the Government to consider carefully, as our Front Bench team is doing, what green taxation we should consider, especially as it impinges on individual households, to ensure that it is introduced as sensitively as possible.
The hon. Gentleman is making a direct criticism of our proposals, but we specifically did not propose any green taxes on households for the reasons that he gives. Our proposals were for two transport taxes—aviation and vehicle excise duty. If he reads the recent study done for the Nordic Council, he will see that those taxes are not regressive as they have been applied in the Nordic countries. Some 28 per cent. of British households have no access to a car, so they will not be affected by a tax on new cars, and the average income of a person flying out of UK airports is little short of £50,000, which is double the national average. The hon. Gentleman is misinformed on the progressive or regressive effects of green taxes.
I do not want to turn this into a slanging match between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats on their respective proposals for green taxation. I will just say that the impact on aviation use of the significant fuel price increases of the past five years has been negligible. How a tax on air tickets would have an impact has yet to be explained.
Finally, I shall deal briefly with the role that the Government have to play in technical innovation, leadership and pump-priming for technological solutions. There are various examples of Government putting their toe in the water and trying to introduce market solutions by means of pump-priming, but the results have been disappointing. The clear skies initiative came to an end earlier this year, and has been replaced by a scheme that provides less funding for households to convert their energy sources to renewables such as solar. That is very disappointing, given all the rhetoric about what the Government are doing to encourage just that.
The Minister is due to visit Church Stretton in my constituency next month to address a climate change symposium organised by the Methodists. I should like to invite him to come to see a scheme, funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that involves the first operating anaerobic digester in the country, by means of which putrescible household and green waste is turned into electricity
The scheme has been set up by South Shropshire district council, with full cross-party support from Liberal Democrat, Conservative and independent councillors. I am afraid that the council does not contain any Labour councillors, but I should like to show the Minister the facility in action. The Department has a pot of money to fund such projects that amounts to £30 million, and £2 million has been made available to support the initiative in my constituency. However, the disappointing thing is that it is the only one that is up and running, and my impression is that most of the money devoted to other initiatives across the country has been absorbed by legal fees, research and feasibility studies. I am sure that the Minister will be keen to see the project, given that there is very little else to show for all the work that has been done.
Science has a big part to play in these matters. British companies are innovative and keen to take advantage of whatever pump-priming the Government are prepared to put in place. They are willing to meet the regulatory burdens placed on them in the search for alternative solutions, and that is why I was impressed to hear that my party is proposing a prize for innovation in the commercial development of wave technology. That is an example of the imagination needed to get such enterprises going.
For example, we had a drought this summer. Why did no one suggest undertaking the commercial exploitation of desalination? The world needs more water, and I am not aware of a single commercial desalination plant that does not rely on subsidy. It is exactly the sort of project on which leading British universities can bring their expertise to bear in finding a practical solution.
I have received some 800 cards from members of Friends of the Earth in relation to the “big ask”, and I am sure that other hon. Members will have received a similar number. I want to add the voice of Hornsey and Wood Green to the call for a climate change Bill. If one does not ask, one does not get—so I am asking.
People around the country want to take responsibility in these matters. As we have heard today, that sense of personal responsibility goes hand in hand with the global need to address the threat to our world. Everyone in this Chamber is a committed environmentalist to some degree, and the question that we have to answer has to do with how we get that message across.
Education and the dissemination of information are very important, and I am sure that the House will agree that Al Gore’s film about climate change bridges the gap between what this House knows and what the man in the street is ready to take into his soul. Therefore, I hope that the Government will consider arranging for the film to be shown in secondary schools, as that would be intensely useful. Members will be delighted to know that I have tabled an early-day motion urging them all to support seeing the film. I even tried to word the motion so that Members could sign it only if they had seen the film, but unfortunately the rules of the House did not allow me to do so. It was a name-and-shame plot that did not work.
Climate change issues are important at every level. Housing and energy are critical and my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) made a good case for the implementation of his measure, the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004, sooner rather than later.
I am worried about transport issues and very much liked the suggestion about speed limits made by the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith). It is a good idea and would be cheap to implement. The ease with which ordinary people can do things and the cheapness of proposals is important.
I want briefly to speak about travel planning, which involves a lifestyle survey of an area to find out who could give up their car and what public transport is available. There is no chance of change for 30 per cent. of people, but others can make changes if they are given the right information and support. In Perth, in southern Australia, travel planning reduced congestion by 15 per cent., which is about the same reduction as under the congestion charge, but without even a penny of investment in infrastructure.
Many people will not get on a bus because they do not know where it goes or where to change buses. Travel planning is a good thing, because it shows people what they can do. I championed it when I was chair of transport at the London assembly. Indeed, Transport for London has just sent me a travel planning survey form, so it has now arrived in Hornsey and Wood Green. We are okay in London, but many areas of the country could never undertake travel planning because they do not have the public transport infrastructure to develop it. There is a woeful need for investment in public transport.
Even in London, where I have used public transport for six years, I was forced back into my car by the collapse of the Northern line last November and its ongoing problems thereafter. As I had to use my car I decided not to use planes, so I made some strange, but enjoyable, train journeys around Europe this summer. However, I had to catch a plane to go to Prague.
Ordinary people have ordinary lives, and my experience shows that, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) said, we can carbon-offset our consciences if we have to use aeroplanes. We should think about disseminating those means and mechanisms to the ordinary folk. We must all do our bit. We do not have to wear hair shirts and never use our cars, but each of us needs to do a little and there are many ways to do it.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) was right in the structural point she made. If we are to have car sharing or car clubs, or when people have to charge an electrical car in the street, local authorities need to make things feasible and easy through planning regulations. They should not stand in the way of such innovations, as often seems to be the case.
For all those reasons I am grateful to have had the opportunity to speak in the debate and I call on the Government to introduce a climate change Bill in the Queen’s Speech.
Rather unexpectedly the name of Margaret Thatcher has been widely invoked across the Chamber during the debate.
Not by me.
But at least twice on the Labour Benches.
It is nearly 18 years since Margaret Thatcher alerted the world to the dangers of climate change, in a landmark address to the Royal Society. Since that groundbreaking speech, which called for action against global warming, and was reinforced by subsequent speeches to the United Nations, Britain has continued to play an international leadership role.
I start by paying tribute to the current Prime Minister and successive Labour Environment Ministers for keeping the issue of climate change on the international agenda. Indeed, the appointment of the new Foreign Secretary, who has a record of commitment to tackling carbon dioxide emissions and a sound understanding of the issues, has undoubtedly further reinforced Britain’s international reputation in the field. The new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—wherever he is at the moment—clearly has a very real personal commitment.
We may not have a written agreement, sadly, but there is a consensus in British politics about the need to tackle the causes of climate change. This afternoon’s debate has demonstrated the breadth of concern right across the Chamber. Barely a week goes by now without yet more scientific studies reporting that climate change is not only happening, but increasing at a faster rate than previously anticipated and that the effects are being felt more widely and more acutely with every passing year.
Since Margaret Thatcher made that famous speech at the end of the 1980s, we have witnessed a succession of the hottest years on record. In the past decade, we have seen not just a rise in global temperatures, but a catastrophic increase in extreme weather across the globe—whether shown by Hurricane Katrina in the northern hemisphere, the onset of previously unheard of hurricanes in the southern hemisphere, flooding in south-east Asia or the relentless onward march of drought and desertification across Africa. At the north and south poles, the icecaps continue to shrink at an alarming rate.
We have gone beyond the point at which it is sufficient simply to alert the world to the dangers of climate change. We are now entering a crucial stage in the battle against global warming. We are now entering what leading scientific opinion calls the tipping point. In the most sensible part of the Secretary of State’s opening speech, he quite rightly referred to the window of opportunity that we now have to stabilise carbon in the atmosphere at 450 to 550 parts per million, but that window will close.
As several hon. Members have so clearly articulated this afternoon, unless we, the developed world, act decisively in the next few years significantly to reduce our carbon emissions, any future reduction may well be in vain because the carbon in the atmosphere will be sufficient to ensure the onset of the most extreme aspects of climate change. That is why this afternoon’s debate is so important and why it is so vital that the Government turn more of their words into action.
I do not doubt that the DEFRA Ministers are in earnest in their desire to tackle our nation’s carbon emissions, but the fact is that we in the UK are still emitting more carbon in 2006 than we were in 1997. I applaud the Government’s efforts to take a global leadership position on climate change, but that rings a little hollow when it is not matched by successful action at home. Taken in the round, and being honest, Labour’s record on climate change has been good, but in the face of such an enormous challenge, it is simply not good enough. We must see far greater urgency and a willingness to take decisions now.
The Conservative party, sadly, has the enforced luxury of opposition. Despite the turbulence on the Government Benches, sadly, we are not anticipating a general election anytime soon. So we Conservatives are taking time to study the problem carefully, to consult widely and to draw in Britain’s greatest experts, as well as to look abroad for inspiration, so that we are prepared and ready to hit the ground running when we take over the reins of government. However, Ministers are the Government; they have a very real responsibility to act now. Already too much time has been wasted on endless iterative consultations and short-term initiatives, some of which have merit; but in total, they have failed to produce sufficient cuts in carbon emissions, which we so desperately need to achieve. Such a commitment must be shared right across the Government, not just in DEFRA.
Personally, while speaking in the Committee that considered the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006, I frequently saw a willingness to be progressive and ambitious in DEFRA or in the DTI, but I constantly saw that undermined by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister or the Treasury. Perhaps there would be less resistance right across Whitehall if Ministers heeded the remarks of the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen), not just his praise for Mrs. Thatcher, but his plea for a renewed effort for a genuine cross-party consensus on climate change.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has said, tackling climate change is our social responsibility to the next generation; but, in politics, it is much easier to take the steps that will be painful if political parties work together, instead of just playing things for partisan advantage—and I am looking particularly at the Liberal Benches when I make those remarks. Therefore, although Conservative Members continue to hold the Government to account for their actions, or lack of action, with increasing vigour, we recognise that, with the politics of climate change, business as usual, as we understand it at Westminster, is not appropriate. Just as this House came together in the face of global terrorism, we need to come together with an equal degree of purpose to fight the greatest long-term challenge human kind faces this century.
There have been a host of thoughtful, well-judged and provocative contributions from both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Joan Walley) contributed to the debate at the outset, demonstrating her knowledge and immense personal expertise. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) made a thoughtful and well- informed contribution that demonstrated his expertise. He clearly stated that one does not have to be a fan of the euro, or want to sign up to a federal constitution, to see the need for an effective EU collective voice on the environment. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge), who is a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, spoke with great expertise about the impact of climate change on his constituency. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) was quite right to say that we can all take individual actions to make a difference.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) spoke passionately about the importance of adaptation. Of course we can and must do more in that respect, but we must not lose our single most important focus on taking action now to avert the need to take adaptation measures later. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt), in a short, but pithy speech, was quite right to say that there is no excuse for the Government not to bring in a climate change Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne), in a speech in which he demonstrated great vision and ambition for further innovation, again impressed on the House the need for cross-party consensus. The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) came up with the excellent idea of showing Al Gore’s film in every secondary school in the UK. I wholeheartedly agree.
If this debate shows anything, it is not that the Government are moving in the wrong direction—there is much in the Government’s programme that we support—but simply that they are not moving fast enough or with sufficient urgency. Where are the big actions to back the big thinking? They were certainly not mentioned in the energy review, which turned out to be a rather timid and unambitious document. Where are the steps to make decentralised energy a reality? Where are the steps to turn energy efficiency from a small-scale incremental programme into an urgent and demanding national roll-out? Where are the measures to reform the remit of Ofgem to focus more directly on carbon emissions and not just price? Where are the measures to reform the renewables obligation, to move the share of funding for renewables beyond just onshore wind and landfill methane gas to the whole universe of exciting emerging technologies?
Where are the measures to deal responsibly with aviation? Where are the measures to allow progressive local councils, which can play a key role in reducing the carbon footprint of new UK housing and new-build commercial and industrial premises, to go faster and further in raising eco-standards than the Government are prepared to do nationally? Where are the measures to unleash in a truly meaningful way the green growth that we require to halt the brain drain of British talent and expertise in renewable technology—measures to underpin progressive business and stimulate new demand for sustainable technology? Where are the changes to stimulate green business opportunities and the measures to ensure that we are at the forefront of solutions to climate change, and do not just follow in the wake of our European partners?
This debate has covered a great deal of ground and given the Minister a great deal to respond to, but at its heart is one clear message, which comes from Members on the Benches all around him and which comes loud and clear from the Conservatives: we need a climate change Bill in the Queen’s Speech. We need a climate change Bill that will require Ministers to draw up plans to deliver the year-on-year cuts in CO2 emissions needed to prevent dangerous climate change; a climate change Bill that will require an annual report to Parliament on progress in meeting those targets; a climate change Bill that will keep emissions on track by requiring any Government falling behind the targets to improve policies and create new powers to monitor Ministers’ progress; and a climate change Bill that would also be an opportunity to make any regulatory changes required to begin reducing carbon emissions. If the Government are prepared to bring forth such a measure in November, they will not buy our silence, but they will gain our active and genuine support.
It is vital that we all face up to the threat of global warming with a sense of common purpose. However, we should continue to challenge each other across the Floor of the House to go further, faster and deeper in finding solutions to global warming. We are at the tipping point. Time is running out, but Conservative Members are optimistic that if we can find the will, time still remains to face down the challenge of climate change together.
This has been an important debate and it has been evident from the speeches made that there is a lot of common ground. The Government certainly want to go further, faster and deeper.
The scientific evidence of climate change is overwhelming. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the debate about global warming is over. The only real questions as far as I am concerned are how quickly it is happening and what are we going to do about it.
The 10 warmest years in our history since records began have all occurred since 1990. In July, most parts of the UK experienced the hottest month that they had ever seen. Just last month was the warmest September in Birmingham since the 18th century. In 2003, the heat wave across Europe cost about 30,000 lives. The general consensus of scientific opinion is that if we do not tackle climate change, those temperatures will be the norm by 2050, and it might be the case that it will never get that cold during the summer by 2080.
The latest assessment of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, which is in the process of being revised, predicts that the average rise in temperature from 1990 levels will be between 1.4 and 5.8° C by the end of this century. Even at the bottom of that range—round about 2° C—it is likely that 95 per cent. of the great barrier reef will disappear and that millions of people will suffer flooding, most of whom will be in the developing world. It is clear that there is an urgent need to tackle climate change.
I welcome Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members’ acknowledgement of the role of the Prime Minister and the Government in trying to lead international opinion on developing a post-Kyoto consensus on climate change. I accept that we have a moral responsibility to lead on the matter and we are doing just that. Last week in Monterrey, Mexico, we helped to take the debate forward. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a major contribution there that followed on from our decision to put climate change at the top of our agenda during our presidencies of the G8 and the European Union. Key discussions took place at Monterrey.
The Stern review, which will be published shortly, will clearly show that the costs of dealing with climate change will be far less than those of dealing with its consequences. The International Energy Agency, with its international energy perspectives, shows that the technologies exist and can be developed for the future. The World Bank is showing through its plans for an energy investment framework that, if we have the political will globally, we can provide funding to ensure that low-carbon technologies are adopted throughout the developing world, which will be crucial if we are to move towards a low-carbon world.
As lower-carbon technologies are available to deal with refrigeration and air conditioning, will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Government have allowed hydrofluorocarbon chillers to be put in the old Home Office and why they voted against the banning of HFCs in the European Union?
The right hon. Gentleman is very experienced in the ways of the House, and I am sure that he will find a way to ask that question directly of the Home Office. In July, we published new sustainable operational targets for the Government estate. We have said that we want the estate to be carbon-neutral by 2012—a major commitment—and we will press on with measures, including responding to the sustainable procurement taskforce, so that we lead the way in ensuring that public buildings become more carbon-neutral.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I was just about to refer to my hon. Friend as I returned to the subject of international climate change. My hon. Friend made a strong speech in which he emphasised the importance of the contraction and convergence model. The Government, too, are interested in that model. As he knows, there are a number of others around. What is clear is that, whatever model is chosen, we need to secure international agreement on a post-Kyoto international framework, so that other countries can make commitments and we have a long-term framework that is durable and fair to the developing world.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am afraid not. If I do, I will not have time to respond to the many other comments made during the debate.
This Government are one of the few currently on course to meet our Kyoto targets. In fact, we will almost double the reductions that we set through the Kyoto process. We have, with the climate change programme and the energy review, a range of policy measures that are setting us on a path towards reducing CO2 emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050. We need to do more, and I want to respond directly to a number of specific points made in the debate.
First, on the question of a Bill, I am sure that the House will not expect me to divulge what is or is not in the Queen’s Speech, but I can say that we are examining carefully the case for a statutory framework. We are having discussions about that and we are well aware of the strength of feeling of hon. Members and many of their constituents who have written to them on these issues.
The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) referred to the climate change levy and agreements. I know that he and his party are not in favour of the levy, but by the end of last year that measure had saved 16.5 million tonnes of carbon and it will go on to save approximately 3.5 million tonnes a year. It is an important part of tackling emissions.
In an important contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) mentioned clean coal and the importance of carbon capture and storage as a future technology. The International Energy Agency has highlighted that, and I think that it is key to the future. It will be vital for countries such as China and the United States, which will continue to burn fossil fuels. Making sure that they do that in a carbon-neutral way is crucial.
The shadow junior environment Minister said from a sedentary position that he thought the renewables obligation a waste of money. That is emphatically not the case. It has enabled us to take a great leap forward in renewable electricity generation, which has almost trebled since it was introduced. There are 16 GW of applications in process, with a further 11,500 MW in the planning system. If we reach our targets, that will equate to about 2.5 million tonnes of carbon a year. That is another example of the Government being serious and introducing policy initiatives that will make a difference in reducing our CO2 emissions.
We have not said that the renewables obligation is a complete failure, but we are strongly critical of the fact that the largest beneficiary of the RO, which is paid for out of every single electricity user’s bill, is not some innovative new technology, but landfill methane gas. The second largest beneficiary is onshore wind—a technology that, in Germany, is managed without any subsidy at all. A host of other technologies in their early stages are being starved of funding.
I am concerned about that intervention, because it does not show a commitment to the renewables obligation, or even a reformed version. In fact, it questions its basic existence, and that is not an acceptable or responsible policy position.
Adaptation was the subject of a typically powerful contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris). I often discuss adaptation. In fact, I went to Kew gardens to speak about it, and about the fact that the English lawn is under threat as a result of climate change. He mentioned the UK climate impacts programme, which is an important initiative, and the adaptation policy framework that the Government are developing. We must adapt that framework more quickly. I agree that we need to do more research, although we are doing a great deal of research into the impacts of climate change and how we can adapt to it.
The role of local government in helping to reduce our carbon footprint has not been mentioned at all today. As some hon. Members will be aware, more than 150 local authorities have signed the Nottingham declaration, and are taking action on both mitigation and adaptation. My hon. Friend might like to look at the website, which includes a range of measures that can be undertaken on adaptation. That is an important contribution, but we need to do more.
Flood defence, as well as sustainable urban drainage, which has not been mentioned today, are important. Sustainable drainage and more effective land management are part of the innovative solutions that we need to develop as part of an adaptation framework. I accept that flood defence and flood risk management are vital for the future. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we have not cut the capital budget in the floods programme. I stress that we are spending 35 per cent. more in real terms on flood risk management than we were in 1996-97, and I have no doubt that that we will need to spend more in future. However, it is important to recognise the progress that we have made.
The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) mentioned deforestation. I agree that that is an important subject, albeit complex and difficult. There are some methodological problems, but the Government think that a market-based approach such as conservation credits is more likely to deliver. Turning to the built environment, may I remind the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) that we improved part L of the building regulations in 2002, 2005 and 2006? Homes are now 40 per cent. more energy efficient than they were just four years ago, but we have to do more, and we must progressively tighten up the regulations. The new planning policy statement on climate change that we want to introduce will be important in ensuring that we do more on the subject of the built environment.
Lastly, on recycling, we announced today that our annual targets had been met. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) mentioned recycling, which has nearly quadrupled since 1997. However, we need to double that rate—again, that is another area in which we need to do more.
Tomorrow’s climate is today’s challenge for Governments, the business community and each of us as individuals, because we are all in it together. We must work across boundaries—geographical, social and political—to secure an international agreement on a future framework to stabilise CO2 emissions which is robust and fair to developing countries.
It being Six o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.