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Carbon Emissions

Volume 459: debated on Thursday 19 April 2007

5. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on progress in reducing carbon emissions from the Government estate. (132362)

I am very glad to see the hon. Gentleman in the Chamber.

I, like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers, have held recent discussions with many colleagues from other Departments on the subject of reducing carbon emissions from the Government estate as part of wider discussions on combating climate change.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer—I am grateful to be here as well.

In June 2006, the Government said that their target was for the whole Government estate to go carbon neutral by 2012 and for emissions to be reduced by 30 per cent. by 2020. What progress have they made on achieving that?

We are making progress, but I have to admit that we are not moving as quickly as we would like, or as quickly as we need to to achieve our targets. We will meet our commitment of making the Government estate carbon neutral by 2012. I believe that the revised sustainable operations targets for the Government estate that were launched in June 2006 are stretching. We are making progress on a whole range of areas, such as on schools, about which an announcement has been made this week. DEFRA, along with other Government Departments, is implementing carbon management programmes that will have a significant impact in future years.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is about not only the estate and buildings, but the people who work in those buildings? May we have a more vigorous education programme to raise the environmental knowledge and expectations of the people who work in those buildings? Will he especially consider the old Metropole building, which is just a stone’s throw from this building? That massive, old Ministry of Agriculture building, which has fantastic architecture, has been boarded up for many years. If it were turned into a centre for small campaigning groups and environmental groups, the building would be brought to life and would represent a great use of the Government estate.

My hon. Friend makes the good point that people’s use of energy in buildings is critical. That is one of the reasons why DEFRA is running a big switch campaign to encourage people to switch off lights and energy appliances when they are not being used, which can make a significant difference.

I hear what my hon. Friend says about the Metropole building and I will make inquiries into the situation. Over the past couple of years, DEFRA has been in a period of transition. We have moved into new buildings, refurbished buildings and vacated buildings that are still part of the DEFRA estate. That has not helped our carbon footprint, but we hope to make significant improvements in future years. I will examine the case to which my hon. Friend refers.

Does the Minister accept that it is sometimes better not to penalise people for doing what they have done for a long time, but to create energy that is less polluting? Why do the Government not direct more of their attention to the development of biofuels and clean-coal technology—that is, not to beating people, but to developing energy that is less polluting, and that therefore emits less carbon into the environment? I am sick to death of people being penalised, rather than being encouraged to do what is right through the Government’s development of new forms of energy.

It is perfectly right to say that we need to encourage people to adopt lower-carbon lifestyles. That is one of the reasons why Labour announced earlier this week that it would provide free real-time displays that people can decide to put into their homes, and which will show them, in real time, the amount of energy use in their home. That can make significant difference. Evidence shows that people who take advantage of the displays save anything up to 15 per cent. on their normal energy bills by becoming more energy-conscious. It is right that we should focus on campaigns to encourage people to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. That is one of the reasons why the Government launched our act on CO2 campaign. A great deal can be done to raise people’s awareness of their carbon footprint, and to encourage them to do more about it.

Further to the Minister’s answer, what discussions has he had with the House authorities? The issue is not just about the Government estate. When we look at the contribution that individuals can make, we should remember that there is a vast contribution that Members of the House, and particularly their staff, could make in their offices. I am delighted to say that there has been a major behaviour change on the part of staff in my office, and I would recommend such changes to others. I hope that the Minister will help to ensure that lights, and particularly PCs, are switched off, and that there are more and improved recycling facilities in the House.

My hon. Friend is right: there is a lot that we can all do. MPs and people in our offices, both in the constituency and on the parliamentary estate, can all do more to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had discussions and has raised the matter with the House authorities. There are clearly some difficulties with historic buildings that will never be massively energy-efficient, but there are things that can be done, including on the parliamentary estate, and people from right across Government need to consider them.

Combined heat and power is a technology with great potential to reduce the amount of waste in our energy system. Will the Minister update the House on the progress that the Government have made on their target to deploy that technology across the public sector?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of combined heat and power. We are seeing progress with CHP, but again, perhaps that progress is not as fast as we would like. That is one of the issues that we have discussed following the publication of the energy review, and in the lead-up to the publication of the energy White Paper. We believe that combined heat and power, which results in additional energy efficiencies, needs to be made more widespread, not just among those who use energy on a large, industrial scale, although there is significant potential in that regard, but when it comes to CHP district and community heating systems. Those are areas in which we are trying to encourage CHP, through the development of energy service companies, or ESCOs.

Does the Minister agree that the issue is not just the Government’s buildings, but their car service? As I cycle in and out of the Palace of Westminster, I have ample opportunity to observe the ministerial cars. I am delighted that everyone on the Government Front Bench this morning is leading by example with their hybrid cars, but there are still some Cabinet-level Jaguars around the place. As a Coventry-born woman, I am reluctant to encourage people to get rid of their Jaguars, but there is a point at which politicians have to lead by example. Will the Minister encourage his Cabinet colleagues to take up hybrid cars?

I think that my hon. Friend will probably find that the whole DEFRA team walked here this morning, rather than getting in our cars. That is the right thing to do, because we always say that we should avoid CO2 emissions first, then try to reduce them. Hybrid vehicles are certainly a way of reducing CO2 emissions. I do not think that the data are particularly reliable, but there has been a significant 10 per cent. fall in emissions from the Government’s road transport activities since 2002-03. As I said, the data are not as robust as we would like, and we need to do more to check them. We need to do more, too, on the procurement of new low-carbon vehicles. That is exactly what we are doing, as well as converting some Jaguars and other vehicles so that they can use biofuel.

It is obviously crucial that DEFRA and the Government should set an example, and it is rather worrying that the figures from the Sustainable Development Commission suggest that DEFRA’s own emissions have increased three times as rapidly as the overall national average. However, the quantification of the Government’s impact is crucial, too. As I challenged the Secretary of State in the Budget debate, can the Minister give an estimate of the impact on carbon emissions of the country as a whole of the new measures announced in the Budget?

First, on the DEFRA office estate, if the hon. Gentleman was listening a few moments ago, he would have heard me say that DEFRA has undergone a period of transition, moving into new buildings, refurbishing some buildings, and vacating others that are still part of the Government office estate. That means that our carbon dioxide impact has not made as much progress as we would have liked. In fact, as he rightly said, it has gone in the wrong direction. However, if we look at Nobel house, out of which the ministerial team operates, in 2001-02, 573 kg of carbon per member of staff was emitted, but that has gone down to 446 kg of carbon per member of staff. That shows the sort of improvement that can be made through refurbished offices and more efficient use of office space. Regarding the question that the hon. Gentleman posed about the Budget and the way in which it addresses carbon targets, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, as he knows, has promised to write to him on the matter, and I am sure that that letter will provide all the clarification that he needs.

I find it astonishing that the Secretary of State could claim in the Budget debate that the Budget

“took important steps forward on curbing domestic emissions and contributing to international emissions reduction.”—[Official Report, 26 March 2007; Vol. 458, c. 1180.]

I await his letter, as we still have no estimate from him of the impact of the Budget. How on earth can he make those claims if he has no idea what the impact of the Budget is? Clearly, given his failure to respond so far he still has no idea of the impact of the Budget. Well, I will tell him—it is 0.15 per cent. of carbon emissions or 330,000 tonnes, which is negligible.

I do not think that we need to hear perorations or lectures from the Liberal Democrats on such issues, as they voted against air passenger duty increases, which will have the benefit of reducing carbon dioxide by 300,000 to 500,000 tonnes. We have a climate change programme that is on course to achieve our 2020 targets. The draft Climate Change Bill, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, will make us the first country in the world to legislate to put in place a legal framework for reducing carbon emissions. We will set up a committee on climate change, which will advise us on trajectories. I do not believe that any other major industrialised country has done more than we have done to tackle climate change, but we need to do more, and we are committed to do so. A range of policy initiatives in the energy White Paper and other measures in due course will show how we will continue to make progress on some stretching targets.

The Minister’s reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) was extremely worrying. We know that Labour Ministers are failing miserably to deliver their manifesto pledge of 10 GW of combined heat and power generating capacity by 2010, and a year of “Brains” at the helm has not made a jot of difference. Will the Minister tell us specifically how the Government are getting on with meeting their own target for CHP installation in their buildings? They were supposed to have 15 per cent. by 2010; will they achieve that figure? This matter is entirely under the DEFRA team’s personal control. Can we have a personal assurance that the target will be met?

We are committed to our CHP target. The hon. Gentleman should look at the detail of our action, for example, on the phase 2 national allocation plans for the EU emissions trading scheme, where we have provided greater incentives to the emergence of CHP. In the Government office estate, DEFRA has been examining the potential not only for CHP but for the further development of renewable technologies. We think that there are significant opportunities for biomass, in which a number of hon. Members are especially interested, and we have just started construction of a new building in Alnwick that will use a range of renewable technologies. Approximately two thirds of the DEFRA estate’s energy needs are met by renewable energy sources. The target for the Government office estate as a whole is 10 per cent., but we have achieved 63 per cent., which shows the progress that DEFRA is making. We are leading by example in renewable energy.