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Climate Change

Volume 457: debated on Thursday 8 March 2007

5. What progress he is making in involving (a) G8, (b) EU and (c) developing countries in talks on tackling climate change. (125909)

We are working closely with the German presidency of both the EU and the G8—the group of eight leading industrialised countries—to keep climate change high on the international agenda in the run-up to the next UN conference of the parties to the 1992 convention, which will be held in Indonesia this December. We regularly discuss the issues with developing countries, including India and China, to strengthen bilateral co-operation and help to frame future action.

Has the Secretary of State considered whether a policy of isolation and alienation from our European partners would be a good way to build global consensus on matters such as climate change? Does he think that a Tory-style dose of little Englandism is the way to build the consensus that will enable developing countries to break the link between economic growth and pollution growth, as this country has done, under Labour, for the first time since the industrial revolution?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We have considered whether we are more likely to achieve change in the European Union by making an alliance with France, Germany, Sweden, Italy and Spain, and we decided that on balance it is far better to have an alliance with those countries. We have great respect for the Czech Republic and our bilateral relations with it, but I have to tell hon. Members that an Anglo-Czech alliance on its own would more resemble the Brothers Grimm than an effective coalition for change.

As the Secretary of State will remember, on Tuesday he attended the Press Gallery writing competition and met one of my constituents, Andrew Mason, the Scottish regional finalist, whose work encapsulates the challenges and difficulties that China and India pose to the issue of climate change. Does my right hon. Friend think that the climate change Bill will be a tool that we can use not only domestically, but internationally, to work with developed and developing nations?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, because when my colleagues and I meet our Indian and Chinese counterparts, the first question they ask is whether, as we are asking them to make changes, they can be sure that we will make changes to the way in which we live and work. They can see that over the past 10 years our economy has grown by 28 per cent., while our greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 8 per cent. They can see that that is possible, but they want to know whether we will go further. It should be a huge encouragement to Members right across the House to know that we will introduce a climate change Bill, with, I hope, cross-party support, that will make this country the first in the world to set itself on a clear path to becoming a low-carbon economy by 2050. That is an important point, which, as it happens, was raised by my hon. Friend and his constituent when we met on Tuesday, and I applaud him for the work that he is doing.

Will the Secretary of State tell us precisely when the Bill will be introduced? We know that there will be pre-legislative scrutiny, which I welcome, but when will we see the Bill?

I know that the voice of the House was loud and clear yesterday, but we will not wait for the conclusion of House of Lords reform before publishing the climate change Bill. It will be published on Tuesday for pre-legislative scrutiny, which we planned to provide from the beginning. I applaud Conservative Front Benchers for recognising the maturity of an approach that considers pre-legislative scrutiny to be an essential part of building a national consensus on the issue. I hope that there will be real engagement with the Bill, not just in the House but in businesses and schools across the country. Accompanying the Bill, there will be a series of documents, which will be available for all Members of the House to use, with their constituents, to explain the issue, the choices that we face, and the way in which we can all make a difference, whether in government, in business, or as citizens, in helping to tackle the global problem of climate change.

Given the record levels of imports from China, does the Secretary of State agree that perhaps the best way to help stop climate change is to buy British? That would not only reduce the food miles and manufacturing miles that result from products coming in from China on ships and aircraft, but would be good for Britain and its manufacturing industry.

I am always happy to encourage people to buy British, but if underlying the hon. Gentleman’s question is the suggestion that if all global trade ceased, the environment would be better off, I will have to differ with him. It is possible to combine development with respect for the environment. The old choice was between development and the environment; the new choice is between whether development is high carbon or low carbon. It is essential that we take the right measures to reduce carbon emissions in our country and in the industrialised world, but we must also fulfil our responsibilities to ensure that developing countries—not just China and India but developing countries in Africa—can make that low-carbon choice. The hon. Gentleman suggests that switching off our lights is a good thing; so is changing to a renewable energy supplier, because if our electricity comes from wind we can have as many lights on as we like without fear of doing damage to the environment.

The Secretary of State has mentioned talks that he has had with other countries about the important issue of climate change, but has he had any words with other Government Departments, because ways to reduce energy include the use of smart metering and LED lighting? Should not such measures be brought into building regulations, particularly for new commercial and residential properties?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The era when the electricity meter was under the stairs and was looked at only once a quarter or once a month was an era that did not care about energy efficiency. The era when the smart meter or the real-time display is next to people’s light switch in the corner of the room and allows us to see not only how much energy we are using but the cost that we are incurring and the saving that we make through energy efficiency is the era of the future. Such matters will be at the heart of the energy White Paper that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will publish in the next few months.

The international dimension in tackling climate change is crucial. I have heard the Secretary of State tell us that it is crucial to have moral authority and standing in what we are doing at home. In the light of that, what does he make of yesterday’s Sustainable Development Commission report showing that his own Department increased carbon emissions by 10.2 per cent. between 1999-2000 and 2005-06, which according to my calculations is more than three times as much as the country as a whole? Does he not believe that it is time for his Department to start practising what it preaches?

First, let me say that I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not use this occasion to apologise to the House for his absurd denunciation of the idea of pre-legislative scrutiny in his press release of a couple of weeks ago. For someone who bleats on about respect for Parliament to then denounce pre-legislative scrutiny is an example of precisely the double standards that one expects from the Liberal party.

In respect of the hon. Gentleman’ perfectly legitimate question, the obvious answer to the Sustainable Development Commission is that the Government must do better, and that is what we are determined to do.

Will my right hon. Friend add the Commonwealth to the list of international organisations that he has talks with on climate change? He might be aware that of all African Commonwealth countries, only South Africa has benefited under Kyoto with about six projects being approved under the clean development mechanism. None of the other poor Commonwealth countries in Africa has benefited at all. If we are to address the issue of equity as defined in the United Nations framework convention on climate change, surely my right hon. Friend will support initiatives to develop talks on climate change in the Commonwealth.

I am delighted to be able to say to my hon. Friend that I have agreed to speak at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting on climate change in London in November precisely to pick up the point that he makes. He will know from his work with GLOBE—the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment—that it is important not only to have Government to Government contacts and business to business contacts, but that parliamentarians around the world have a crucial role to play on this issue. His reference to the Commonwealth is well placed, and when one is thinking about how the Commonwealth can make itself increasingly relevant in the 21st century, this is a key issue.

I know that I am referring to comments of a couple of weeks ago, but may I congratulate the Secretary of State on his remarkably astute remarks about the likely unpopularity of the Chancellor once he becomes Prime Minister? May I also say that the Secretary of State is right to be cagey about taking on that job himself, not least on the basis of the hash he is making of his current responsibilities at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs?

To have any credibility on climate change with the G8, the European Union or the developing world, it is vital that we lead by example. Setting aside the target for CO2 cuts under the Kyoto treaty, which we are likely to meet because of actions taken under the previous Conservative Government, can the Secretary of State name a single climate change-related target set by this Government in the last 10 years that we are going to meet?

As the representative of the party that opposed the climate change levy and its associated agreements, which have taken 28 million tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere, it might be fitting if the hon. Gentleman showed a bit of modesty.

The Secretary of State is keen to talk about one-planet living, but given that answer, people will start asking what planet he is living on. The international community can look, as we can, at the Government’s record on meeting their own targets: CO2 emissions—failed; switch to green taxation—failed; energy efficiency targets—failed; renewable energy targets—failed. This week we hear from the Sustainable Development Commission that his own Department has increased energy consumption and waste, and that a drastic change in approach is needed. What right has he, his Department or the Government to lecture anyone internationally or in the United Kingdom about climate change?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has been taking lessons in opposition from his colleague on the Liberal Front Bench, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne). He knows a lot about the topic and he could make a constructive contribution. As we are the only country in the world that is on track to more than double its Kyoto commitments, as this country has been leading the way on the economics of climate change through the Stern review, and as Al Gore, who most people would accept is an authentic figure in the campaign against climate change, says that this country should be proud of the leadership that it has offered over the past 10 years both domestically and internationally, the hon. Gentleman would be far better off thinking how he will fill the void in his own policies before he starts denouncing ours.

My right hon. Friend is aware that the UK takes over the presidency of the UN Security Council in April this year. He will agree, I am sure, that global warming is a matter of international security. Will he therefore repeat the leadership role that we played when we held the presidency of the EU and G8 in 2005, and ensure that climate change becomes an agenda item for the UN Security Council for the first time in its history, which will demonstrate the urgency that the issue deserves?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. The Foreign Secretary and I had dinner with the new Secretary-General of the UN in December, before he took up his post. It was extremely encouraging to hear the new UN Secretary-General pick up the mantle from Kofi Annan. One of the last things that Kofi Annan said as Secretary-General of the UN was that one of his biggest regrets was that in his 10 years in office, he had not put the main UN machinery at the heart of the battle against climate change. The suggestion that my hon. Friend makes is important. It is only through the UN and United Nations framework convention that we can have legally binding treaty obligations. All the work that is being done through the European Union, the Group of Eight and the Gleneagles dialogue is vital preparatory work, but in the end it must be in the UN forum that we make progress. My hon. Friend’s call is an important one.