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Carbon Emission Targets

Volume 454: debated on Thursday 14 December 2006

1. If he will set interim targets for carbon emission reductions towards the goal of a 60 per cent. reduction by 2050. (109014)

The climate change Bill will make the Government’s long-term goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050 a statutory target, and will establish milestones or trajectories towards that. We are currently considering the appropriate interim targets, and I aim to come back to Parliament with further details on those and other elements of the climate change Bill in the new year.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but will he commit himself to reporting annually on progress in the reduction of emissions, and will he bring forward monitoring and reporting proposals? In addition, will he continue to encourage our more recalcitrant friends in the US to enact similar legislation?

On the last part of my hon. Friend’s question, I believe that it is vital that the United States put itself at the heart of a global, long-term emissions reduction deal for the period after 2012. The other part of her question was about annual reporting, which is, of course, now part of the parliamentary process, thanks to the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz). As for annual targets, I do not believe that they are the right way to proceed, and the reasons for that were spelled out well by the recently retired former head of Friends of the Earth, Mr. Charles Secrett, who said:

“I don’t believe in annual targets. They would cause chaos in the way the parliamentary system works.”

We are right to consider interim measures and targets that make sense, but I do not think that annual targets can give the sort of approach that is necessary.

Does the Secretary of State believe that encouraging the growth in air travel will help to reduce carbon emissions?

The growth in air travel is now one of the fastest growing sources of carbon dioxide and other emissions. Obviously, aviation’s net impact on the environment is affected by a combination of things: the number of people who travel, or the number of flights; technological advances in the aviation industry; and the way in which airline movements are managed, because the aviation industry would say that an important part of the issue is air traffic control and other systems. The hon. Gentleman is right that it is vital that we recognise the full environmental and economic cost of aviation in developing plans for the future.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that climate change is not just about Government targets? It is about community targets, and people’s dedication to reducing their personal impact on our planet. Will he work much harder with the private sector than he has done so far, because many of us believe that it is the private sector, by developing new technologies, that will open the gates to meeting real targets?

My hon. Friend has a long-standing interest in the subject. He is absolutely right that the Government, business and individuals cannot crack the problem acting on their own. The Government have to take a lead, not least by getting their own house in order. Business must make a contribution, and there is now cross-party support for the fact that nearly half the country’s greenhouse gas emissions are covered by the European Union emissions trading scheme, which is a positive development. Individuals can play an important part, too, and that is why I have led the debate about personal carbon allowances and so-called carbon credit cards, which could help individuals to see how they can make a contribution that will help the environment and themselves.

I am sure that the Minister agrees that climate change will not be tackled without major political will. Does he remember a request being made by all the main Opposition parties to join with the Government to reach a consensus on the way forward? Will he tell the House what action has been taken to harness that good political will of the House to resolve that critical issue?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I hope that the climate change Bill that we will introduce in the new year will provide the basis for cross-party consensus. Certainly, the leaders, at least, of all the parties, not just the three main parties, have said that they are committed to the 60 per cent. long-term target for 2050. If we can build consensus on the measures, as well as on the targets, that will be beneficial, not just on the obvious point—

Order. I put it on the record that the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty), who asked the question, has left the Chamber, although we have not completed the questioning. That is a discourtesy, and I inform the Whip that that should be pointed out to the hon. Lady. She should wait at least until the next question. I call Mr. Peter Ainsworth.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is a shame that the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty) has left the Chamber, as she asked a rather good supplementary question, and I was disappointed by the Secretary of State’s reply. We want to be helpful to the Government in moving towards a low-carbon economy, and we want him to be ambitious. Perhaps I should clarify: we know that he is ambitious, but we want him to be ambitious about climate change. Why will he not reconsider his opposition to including annual targets for cutting carbon in the climate change Bill?

One very good reason for opposing annual targets can be seen in the alternative climate change Bill that Conservative spokesmen introduced only a month ago. Far from committing the Conservative party to annual targets, it said that they did not make sense and proposed targets for five years or longer. In that Bill, the Conservatives avoided a reference to annual targets. The hon. Gentleman says that he is a great advocate of annual targets. However, in various interviews, he has said that there should be not rigid annual targets but a rolling programme of targets, so he does not even believe it himself.

The right hon. Gentleman obviously does not understand, which is odd for a man who has acquired a reputation as a brainiac. Let me try to be helpful, and cite not the former director of Friends of the Earth but the present one:

“While there may be some years when cuts are larger, and others when cuts are smaller, it is essential that the Bill is clear what the cuts should be each year, to make it easy to assess Government performance.”

The right hon. Gentleman may not understand that, but the director of Friends of the Earth does, and so do Oxfam, Christian Aid, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the wildlife trusts, Unison, WWF, the Women’s Institute and 38 other organisations. I know that the Secretary of State is keen to play catch-up on the environment, and here is a fantastic opportunity to catch up with annual targets or be left behind and continue to be as ineffective as the Chancellor clearly wants him to be.

I do not think that I will compete on the level of understanding, but when the countries of the world looked at the issue of targets during negotiations on the Kyoto treaty in the late 1990s—

The hon. Gentleman might learn something if he listened. When the international community considered targets in the late 1990s, it specifically rejected annual targets on the grounds that five-year budgets were a far more effective way of recognising the differences that can arise year on year. I remind the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) that he had a good opportunity, when he presented his much trumpeted Bill in November, to include measures that favoured annual targets, but he refused to do so. As the Prime Minister showed during the Queen’s Speech debate, at that time there were four different Conservative positions on annual targets. Last week—

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is no technical impediment to the adjustment of data for gross domestic product to allow for the business cycle? The Government already adjust their own energy use figures for temperature and thus the weather, so will he reassure the House that, in the forthcoming Bill, he will not set NIMTO—not in my term of office—targets, but targets that allow the Government’s performance to be assessed? A five-year target would be a NIMTO target, as a Parliament usually lasts for four years. Will he allow the Government’s performance to be assessed on an ongoing basis during their term of office?

I am not sure whether it is better to be a “not in my term of office” individual or never to have a term of office, but let us not go into that. The hon. Gentleman has studied the issue carefully, and would agree that he is an expert on budgets, so I urge him to accept that budgets that last for several years are a far more effective way of achieving the balance of credibility and flexibility that is essential in this area. It is significant that the Kyoto protocol opted for five-year targets in carbon budgets, and the European emissions trading scheme, too, uses that measure. The attempt to create a division where there is none is not sensible. I was not able to finish my reply to the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea), but the consensus that he proposed can be achieved through a sensible approach that balances credibility and flexibility as I described.