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Carbon Dioxide Reduction Target

Volume 461: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2007

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Steve McCabe.]

I am grateful for the opportunity to hold this Adjournment debate today, not least because it is my birthday. I thank Mr. Speaker for allowing me to hold the debate on such a momentous day. It is also the last day for submissions to the consultation on the draft Climate Change Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment will take on board my contribution—I will, of course, buy him a drink afterwards.

This is the first debate in the House on climate change since last week’s G8 summit, which made some important progress, albeit from a very low threshold. I want to make it plain at the start that I support the Government’s initiative to launch the draft Climate Change Bill. It is a world first and, for that reason, I hope that we get it right. I support the rationale behind the Bill, which states:

“The Climate Change Bill is necessary to provide a clear, credible and long term domestic framework for tackling climate change, whilst at the same time allowing the UK to demonstrate strong international leadership, which is key to helping achieve multilateral agreements.”

That is what I want to focus on—the quality of leadership.

I sought this debate not because I am a pedant obsessed with figures, although some might disagree with that assessment, but because I believe that if we are to tackle climate change effectively, we should do our best to be aware of what the figures provided by bodies such as the intergovernmental panel on climate change, and in our own 2005 climate change conference, actually mean. We could set any target we liked, but we should be honest and tell people the likely consequences of whatever target we choose. We could say, as some still do at the international level, that we do not want any targets at all. Of course, if we did that, we would be inviting mammoth damages to our economic prospects, and death and destruction on a massive scale, as Nick Stern indicated. We would not be able to insulate ourselves from the consequences.

That is the most irresponsible position imaginable, but there are a host of positions on dealing with the problem, on a sliding scale of enthusiasm. At the other end of the scale, we could don a painful hair shirt and make immediate heavy cuts in emissions—something that no Government appear willing to do, for understandable short-term reasons. We have chosen the target of a 60 per cent. cut in emissions by 2050—a reasonably high figure, by most other countries’ standards. That is the figure in the draft Climate Change Bill, although I realise that the Bill refers to a cut of “at least 60 per cent.” I can see why we would use the phrase “at least” in the Bill, but it has no legal meaning whatever. If I told you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you had to pay a fine of at least £60, well, £60 would do. Indeed, more often than not, the Bill’s target of at least 60 per cent. is referred to in official documentation as simply 60 per cent. In Downing street, at the Department of Trade and Industry, and in the Secretary of State’s speech to the United Nations last week, the prefix “at least” has been in the habit of disappearing.

That might appear a trite point, but it is actually very serious. To understand why, we should study how we alighted on the 60 per cent. figure. As the Government acknowledged, it originated in the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution report entitled “Energy—the Changing Climate”, published in 2000. The 60 per cent. figure was derived from a calculation that suggested that a CO2 concentration in the atmosphere of 550 parts per million may be an acceptable limit allowing us to contain global warming at a reasonable level, but no country can calculate its own target for greenhouse gas emission reductions from a greenhouse gas stabilisation level without factoring in the share that it must bear of global emission reductions. It would be worse than pointless to pretend that we could ignore the distribution of responsibility among countries. Of course, the United Nations framework convention on climate change recognises that fact.

As my hon. Friend the Minister knows only too well, the formula that our 60 per cent. calculation relies on is called contraction and convergence, and the RCEP report used that framework, coupled with an upper limit of 550 parts per million, to arrive at the 60 per cent. target. Sadly, as our understanding has progressed, and in light of more recent reports—notably Stern—we have realised that that target will, more likely than not, lead us into “a very dangerous place”, as Stern says. I therefore cannot see why we do not run the contraction and convergence formula that the RCEP used seven years ago again to get a more up-to-date figure.

There are things that we need to factor into the calculation that were not, to a great extent, factored in seven years ago—things such as positive feedbacks. Examples include permafrost melting and releasing methane; the albedo effect of the Arctic icecap being lost as that icecap melts, and the seas therefore absorbing more sunshine; and the possibility of the rain forest dying. We talk about sink failures; more recently, we have heard about the acidity levels of the southern ocean reaching dangerous levels, and its therefore not being able to absorb as much CO2 as we originally thought that it might.

I can imagine several political reasons why the Government fight shy of acknowledging the intellectual basis of the 60 per cent. target, but it simply cannot be concealed any longer. I say that because I want the Climate Change Bill to become the gold standard of climate change legislation, and I want it to be emulated by other countries. For that to happen, it is essential that we heed the response that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) at the Environmental Audit Committee last week. The Secretary of State said that we must not pluck figures out of thin air. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith wanted to pluck anything out of thin air, but he did want a scientific and logical justification for the 60 per cent. target.

When we are not prepared to admit that a figure is problematic, our explanations of it become problematic. That was amply demonstrated by the Government’s chief scientific adviser in evidence to the Joint Committee on the Draft Climate Change Bill the day after the Environmental Audit Committee met. He simply could not make things match up. Frankly, he tied himself up in knots. That approach is categorically not good enough. I have said recently that the reasoning behind the current figure lacks intellectual rigour, and I say so again. We have to decide whether we want to seek a safe and sustainable stabilisation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or not, and if the answer is “not” we should prepare accordingly, which means spending a lot more on adaptation, and we should make plain to people what we think the consequences will be. However, if we want to achieve that safe and sustainable level—and I know that the Government do—we should calculate what effort is required in the time scale available. From that figure we can backcast all the things that we need to do to achieve it; it does not work the other way round.

There is no serious, scientific study that tells us that the chance of containing a temperature increase to 2° C on the basis of a 60 per cent. cut in emissions by 2050 is more than evens. I know it, the Government know it, and anyone who takes climate change seriously knows it, so why do we persist with the 60 per cent. figure, even if the phrase “at least” 60 per cent. is used? Clearly, the politics is having difficulty keeping up with the science. The spectacle of George Bush apparently agreeing to a 50 per cent. target last week tells us what is going on—not frightening the horses is what is going on. I do not believe for one moment that Bush has any intention of honouring his alleged pledge, not least because he will not be President when the time comes to sign on the dotted line. That shows how difficult it is to get any movement at all at the top level, and to get others to follow us, but does that mean that we have to gut the science and make it bend to our notion of realpolitik? Do the experiences of King Canute not teach us something about that?

The question is where we go from here. We should state firmly and categorically what we intend to do with our Bill. It is being introduced because we want to make our contribution to achieving a safe and sustainable level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We should state explicitly and firmly how we have formulated our targets—in other words, we should demonstrate that we have not plucked them from thin air—and we should firmly and explicitly state that the formula that we have used is considered to be fair and reasonable; surely we would not have used it if it was not.

To do those things is not to bind ourselves to an international agreement based on contraction and convergence. We should always be open to the possibility that somebody out there has devised something better, and is willing to have that idea examined and tested. It seems to me an absurdity for the Government to obfuscate the origins of our national target, as if by some freak of fate nobody could discover what those origins were. We are begging to be found out, and if we are, what will that do for our credibility? It is a strategy that invites the proposing of weaker and more fragmented frameworks. I recognise that there are many critics of contraction and convergence, and mostly those criticisms are levelled not at the need to achieve a safe and sustainable concentration level, but at the means of achieving it. As Stern found, there are great difficulties in determining what constitutes equity, and for many, the idea of a per capita share allocation is a step too far.

I find it frustrating that although these criticisms are happily thrown at contraction and convergence, rarely is an alternative proposal put forward. Instead, we hear much about fairness and justice, with abundant references to the fact that the poorest, who did least to create the problem, will be the ones to suffer most from it, but these words remain frozen in air, never to be given substance or converted into hard, practical solutions.

It is ironic that Ministers are reluctant to talk openly about contraction and convergence. We have a de facto contraction and convergence Bill, whose antecedents are easily traceable, and at the same time we are not proposing any other framework, at least as far as I know. The Prime Minister has single-mindedly driven the twin agendas of climate change and Africa to the top of the international agenda, but we shy away from acknowledging a widely accepted framework that is supported in many places precisely for its coherence in addressing these twin issues. It is time to see such coherence coming from the Government, too. They must propose a coherent link between these issues.

What is the alternative? The G8 agreed that we should have a Kyoto replacement ready by 2009, which would allow time for its ratification by 2012. We have two years for something concrete to emerge, which is inclusive of all, seeks to solve the problem faster than we are creating it, and is coherent and fair—two concepts which, I admit, are not always found in international treaties.

I assume that in the coming months and years, we will be telling others about our Climate Change Bill. We will want to display our initiative as a model, just as last week the Secretary of State told the United Nations about it. True, some people may find our proposals too difficult for them, especially if vested interests appear to be threatened, but are we then necessarily obliged to start from a lower base and hope that somehow we can make up lost ground later?

That, in truth, has always been our hope—that if we do the right things, the result may be greater than the sum of its parts. The trouble is that we face a challenge that has no precedent in history, and our old way of stitching things together is hopelessly inadequate. The effort needed is immense, even if Nick Stern’s quoted cost of 1 per cent. of GDP seems so slight. Let us remember that almost 40 years ago the UN set a target for developed countries of giving 0.7 per cent. of GDP in aid, and so far only three countries have managed it. We can break the psychology that has made for failed commitments in the past by adopting a rigorous and coherent framework now.

The World Resources Institute in its 2005 report “Navigating the Numbers” stated that

“international agreements predicated on equal per capita emission entitlements are unlikely to garner consensus”,

on the grounds that countries would not accept similar obligations if they felt they would be

“significantly burdened”

with responsibility. The report nevertheless concluded:

“Considering that over the long term net emissions must fall to zero, convergence is a corollary of climate protection.”

If that is so, we must ask ourselves whether it is merely an accidental corollary or something we should plan for. If it is not something we should plan for, perhaps we could convince the developing world to shout “Accidental equity is our right” and see how quickly it signs up to some climate change framework involving equity by osmosis.

I hope I have convinced my hon. Friend the Minister that I take the Bill very seriously. I very much welcome it, and I recognise that the Government want to go beyond the 60 per cent. target emission rate that they set in statute. So that I am not misinterpreted, I conclude by saying that the challenge is not just for the Government. It is for all parties in the House. There is no escape clause from the necessity of achieving a solution that solves the problem faster than we are creating it. The evidence is abundant that that is beyond 60 per cent. I believe the Government agree. I hope the Opposition parties also agree and do not try to make party capital out of the 60 per cent. figure. If they do try that, they are binding themselves to a higher figure, and they will have to say what that figure is and what the framework is that supports it. I look forward to my hon. Friend’s response.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) on securing the debate. I am surprised at the early closure of business, which gives me the opportunity to deliver a few hastily prepared words—as will no doubt become apparent in the course of my speech.

I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s points, which reflect the thought he has given to the subject. Thankfully, right hon. and hon. Members to whom I have spoken have a thoughtful and scientifically based perspective on the matter. Sadly, the media all too often try to grab the headlines. The recent Channel 4 so-called documentary—it should perhaps have been classed as fiction—which snatched one scientist who disagreed with the vast majority of the rest and tried to make his opinion appear mainstream does not help the debate out in the country. We need a cross-party approach.

The hon. Gentleman touched on the subject of mitigation. Politicians in many countries are pinning their hopes on achieving the targets, reducing CO2 in the atmosphere and turning back the clock to overcome the problems that will be visited on this and future generations. I was interested to meet the Danish scientist, Bjørn Lomborg, who says that although he understands that global warming is happening and, linked to that, CO2 is rising in the atmosphere, we should do more to try to reduce the threat that rising sea levels and other associated climatic problems would have on our economy—for example, by not building on flood plains, by making sure that important strategic developments are not sited in areas that could be under threat, and by studying the migration that may well result from changes in climate.

In Warminster last month I spoke to Ministry of Defence long-term planners, who were considering problems associated with vast numbers of people migrating from north Africa to southern Europe because of climate change and the effects of that on agriculture. Climate change would have beneficial effects on our agriculture and that of the Russian Federation, for example, as the climate warms up.

The UK has a good story to tell, as I am sure the Minister will say. We are on track to meet our Kyoto targets, not least because of the dash for gas. Our old, dirty coal-fired stations were phased out as the gas stations came in. Germany has met its obligations because of the closure of large sections of heavy industry in east Germany. For the same reason, much of the former Soviet Union is also meeting its obligations, so it is puzzling why the Russian Federation did not sign up sooner to the Kyoto agreement.

The UK has grasped the nettle of nuclear build, for which I praise the Government: it was a decision that had to be made. Notwithstanding the alternatives, the renewables and all the steps that we can take to reduce the amount of fuel that we burn by making our homes more fuel efficient, driving smaller cars and so on, we must get on with building nuclear power stations, which not only contribute to reductions in CO2, but will improve the United Kingdom’s energy security.

I am sure we all share the goals and objectives of the Climate Change Bill. Targets of a 26 to 32 per cent. reduction in emissions by 2020, and the 60 per cent. target by 2050 to which the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell referred, are indeed ambitious. Although the Bill will aim to address that, will the Minister address the concerns that have been raised with me by people who say that this is not justiciable—that the Government cannot control it? The reductions in CO2 are being achieved not by the Government but by heavy industry, consumers, motorists and the rest. Those concerns have been raised during the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. Many people think that it will not get off the ground. What would happen if we failed to meet our targets and legal action was taken by Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth? Could it be made to stick in court, given that the emissions are not directly within the Government’s control? Yes, the Government can put structures in place and participate in the European emissions trading scheme, but can they be held to account in that respect?

In a previous life I was a Member of the European Parliament and deputy co-ordinator for the EPP-ED group in the Environment Committee, where we took the European emissions trading scheme issue very seriously. What would happen if, for example, the UK succeeded in developing new clean technologies in the aluminium industry or other metallurgical industries such as steel smelting and the rest? What if we were so successful that such industries were developed here and closed down in other parts of the European Union? Who knows, by 2050 the large complexes in the Donetsk region of Ukraine could be closing because we could do it more efficiently here. UK emissions would therefore increase in terms of our participation in the trading scheme. In other words, we would miss our target but the global situation would improve. That occurred to me immediately. If the UK were to go it alone, would we then be precluded from trading in emissions within Europe, which would increase UK emissions but reduce total EU emissions?

What would happen when we went to the table for the next stage of EU negotiations in terms of our emissions trading or in a wider international context? The other states would say, “We can’t negotiate with you—you’re already locked into this.” We could not make a trade-off with them that we would be more ambitious if they did not want to go along with us. Are we likely to be in a weaker position in EU and international negotiations?

I apologise for missing the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen).

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) is right to point out the weaknesses of the emissions trading scheme, but it surely behoves individual states to recognise that it is their prime responsibility to ensure that they do not damage the living opportunities of the following generation. That is why it is vital that we have a strong Bill and therefore rely less on ideas such as emissions trading.

I can see the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make. However, my concern is that in recent years heavy industry has gone east to countries where emissions standards are not so tight, or not so tightly policed, and where labour is cheaper. We need to claw those industries back to western Europe, where we have clean technologies. The European emissions trading scheme is a good mechanism for that, but if we set ourselves a target that would be jeopardised by such trading, that could be counterproductive.

The UK needs to take some tough decisions. We all subscribe to the wish to reduce emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050—or to reduce emissions as much as we can, because we know that in other parts of the world similar ambitions are not held with the same strength. Many developing countries feel that they should catch up with us before they make any cuts at all. Perhaps the Government should try to focus on things that they can do—for example, on the tax tools that they hold. In recent years, under this Government, the total tax take from environmental taxes has been falling. Perhaps they should address that. Constituents sometimes write to me saying, “We hear there’s a marvellous Government scheme to insulate our houses.”. However, they then find that the money has all gone because no sooner is it announced than it is snapped up by housing associations, among others, who are geared up and ready to go for those subsidies, but not by individual householders, who may be a little slow off the mark. Perhaps more money should go into research and development, which will result in better technologies. And what a shame that the plug has been pulled on the carbon sequestration scheme that was due to go ahead in Scotland. There are areas that the Government need to be considering. They should not just think that because they can set these targets in stone the rest of us will have to comply and that they will be held to account if we do not.

We should give more consideration to biofuels. As a farmer, I declare an interest. Ten per cent. of the land in this country is not doing anything at all. At the moment, the real emphasis on biofuels is in the developing world in places such as Brazil, where biodiesel—some call it deforestation diesel—is being produced. Let us try to bring that closer to home and encourage farmers in this country to produce biodiesel. Funnily enough, I am producing biodiesel on my farm, but through an offset scheme with German farmers who are accessing subsidies in Germany. It seems bizarre that because the system in Germany is geared up for farmers to take advantage of biofuels schemes, UK farmers are having, in effect, to participate in a German scheme to follow that through.

Is not the hon. Gentleman concerned about some of the international evidence on biofuels—for example, that they are beginning to displace land used for food crops? For example, in the US there has been a rise in the price of corn from about $2 to $4 a bushel, and one of the side effects has been riots about the price of tortillas in Mexico.

My former colleague in the European Parliament is absolutely right. In recent years, we have been fortunate in that when there is famine somewhere in the world there are stocks of food to send. What would be the reaction in this country if, faced with famine in Africa, we were told, “Sorry, we don’t have any wheat to send because we’ve turned it all into ethanol and we’re burning it in our cars”? We have seen this around the world—not only in Brazil but in the far east where the habitat of the orang-utan is under threat because of oil production to go into biodiesel. Perhaps we should look closer to home for better incentives for biodiesel production. Farmers are crying out for new crops to grow, and that would be a good initiative to catch up with what is going on in other EU countries.

Once again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell on putting this subject on the agenda so that we can kick it around a little bit. I just hope that the Government will not find themselves kicked around when the Climate Change Bill is introduced. Many of us, not only people on the environmental side but lawyers, are seriously concerned about whether it will be made to work. Can the Government legislate on something that is not directly within their control? If it fails and the Government are taken to court and fined, who will pay the fine? Presumably the Government will have to pay the fine to the Treasury, which will then put the money back into the system again. It seems somewhat flawed—or that is the point that has been made to me, anyway.

I look forward to the Minister’s winding-up speech and hope that he will allay my concerns about whether the Bill will fly. If he is worried that it is going to be an absolute minefield, then perhaps the Government should push the marine Bill a little further up the agenda and we could do that first. The marine Bill is very close to my heart, and there is strong support for it on both sides of the House. It does not have the legal and other problems that have been raised by those who, while having the objectives of the Climate Change Bill very much to heart, are concerned about whether it is the right mechanism and whether it will work.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) on securing the debate on such a critical issue and assure him that he has much sympathy and support from Liberal Democrat Members on the subject.

As the hon. Gentleman said, it is vital that the UK show leadership at this time, which is a critical moment in the history of the world. There is some uncertainty at international level about what will follow the Kyoto agreement when it expires in 2012. Sadly, the United States has thrown the position into some confusion. It is vital that the UK be among the nations that press for a secure Kyoto-based process when 2012 arrives.

As the hon. Gentleman also pointed out, there is increasing uncertainty in some of the science as well—not about whether man-made emissions contribute to climate change; I hope that that is now beyond scientific debate, but about the seriousness of some of feedback mechanisms and the other processes. That may land us in an even more serious predicament than we have so far imagined.

The Climate Change Bill will be considered in Parliament. To give the Government due credit, that measure is welcome. Indeed, it is welcome that we are to debate such a Bill—it was not a foregone conclusion and the Government should be congratulated on introducing it and responding to the campaign by Friends of the Earth and many others to secure it.

The Government have a history of setting themselves carbon reduction targets. The first was set in the 1997 Labour party manifesto under the optimistic title of “A new environmental internationalism”—a sentiment with which we would agree. It states:

“We will lead the fight against global warming, through our target of a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2010.”

My researchers could not find a reference to the target in the 2001 manifesto, but in 2005, the Labour party manifesto again bravely stated:

“We remain committed to achieving a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions on 1990 levels by 2010, and our review of progress this summer will show us how to get back on track. A 60 per cent. reduction by 2050 remains necessary and achievable.”

Sadly, in a year, the Government had to concede that the 20 per cent. reduction target by 2010 was not achievable.

The history of carbon emissions in the past 10 years has sadly been one of rank complacency. That is not necessarily the Government’s fault—they have been subject to sleight of hand by their spin doctors through the oft-recited piece of self-congratulation that the Government were on course to meet their Kyoto targets for the overall basket of greenhouse gases.

The time for self-congratulation is past. Many sources have categorically stated the reasons for initially meeting the target. The most authoritative is probably page 204 of the Stern report, which lists several historical reductions in national emissions. The UK’s dash for gas was second only to the collapse of the Soviet economy in achieving carbon reductions, but Sir Nicholas Stern clearly sets out his explanation for our achieving the Kyoto target so long ago—as far back as 1999. It happened purely because of the switch in energy generation to gas from coal-fired power stations.

The story since then is different. Since 1997, overall carbon emissions have increased by 2.4 per cent. That is the record under the Labour Government. Since 2002, the trend not only in CO2 but in greenhouse gases generally has been upwards. The increase in CO2 is 3.3 per cent. and that in greenhouse gases as a whole is 0.6 per cent. The trend for domestic carbon dioxide emissions and the overall basket of greenhouse gas emissions is upward.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the reasons for the increase in CO2 emissions is that, since 2000, we have shut approximately six ageing nuclear power stations in this country? That has led to an additional 5 million tonnes of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere.

I do not entirely accept that. There are plenty of scenarios in which we can maintain our intention of phasing out nuclear power and achieve up to a 94 per cent. reduction in carbon emissions from energy from electricity generation over the requisite time scales.

The dash for gas, not active Government policy, is responsible for the reduction that we have achieved in greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, the position has been getting worse. We are 18 per cent. over the domestic carbon reduction target. Do such short-term targets matter? Of course they do, because they are markers for how well we are progressing towards achieving the longer-term targets. The way in which we fulfil them is critical. If we make slow reductions at the outset and expect to make a steep rush at the end, that is different from sharp reductions early on, as Sir Nicholas Stern recommended, because the total volume of CO2 emitted in that period is much greater.

Is the hon. Gentleman honestly trying to say that if we do not reduce the number of nuclear power stations, we will not take a massive 20 per cent. step back in emissions from electricity generation? Surely he cannot genuinely maintain his party’s position on replacing nuclear capacity and try to make out that reductions will occur? Without more nuclear capacity, there will be increases, not reductions.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, but I fear that we are veering into a slightly different debate. We have set out a clear pathway for achieving—

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is an Adjournment debate, which is an opportunity for Back Benchers to make individual contributions. I am conscious that the hon. Gentleman is a Liberal Democrat spokesmen for the affairs that we are discussing, but this evening he must confine his remarks to an individual contribution.

I am grateful for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My personal view is that the Liberal Democrat policy document on the subject is convincing, and I shall happily send a copy to the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill).

It is crucial that we meet the short-term markers because that is indicative of our ability to fulfil the longer-term targets. If we do that in the wrong way, with the wrong rate of reduction, we risk increasing the overall volume of CO2 contributed to the atmosphere even if we meet the percentage reduction target in the long term.

The signs are not good on other fronts. I was privileged to serve on the EU Standing Committee on 30 April, when we debated whether the EU target for 2020 should be 20 per cent. if the EU were acting alone, or 30 per cent. with what was described as “broad participation.” That is an upside-down approach. Surely if other countries are not playing their part—or cannot contribute as much, perhaps because, as in the case of China, we have exported our manufacturing industry there and some of our carbon emissions are actually being emitted in China—we become the equivalent of the man standing on a sinking ship who refuses to bale out faster because someone else is not playing their part. In practice, if other nations are not achieving those carbon reductions, we need to bale out faster.

The hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell rightly highlighted the Climate Change Bill and the target of 60 per cent. It is difficult to connect the consequences of global warming with the domestic target. However, Sir Nicholas Stern provides us with a pathway. It begins with the degree increase in global warming that we are prepared to tolerate. He makes it clear that some of the consequences are extremely serious at more than 2°. They include:

“Falling crop yields in many developing regions… Rising number of people at risk from hunger… Significant changes in water availability… Possible onset of collapse of part or all of Amazonian rainforest… Many species face extinction… Rising intensity of storms, forest fires, droughts, flooding and heat waves… Onset of irreversible melting of the Greenland ice sheet”.

Let us remember that 2° is the target that the G8 plus 5 has failed explicitly to endorse in its communiqué, thanks to the influence of the Bush Administration.

How does that translate into targets in terms of parts per million? Again, Sir Nicholas helpfully sets out a clear table, in which he takes a range of risk analyses, from the intergovernmental panel on climate change at one end of the scale to the Hadley centre at the other. The risk of exceeding 2° C, relative to pre-industrial levels, is for 450 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, or 38 per cent. according to the IPCC. The Hadley centre says that at 450 parts per million, the risk is as high as 78 per cent. At 550 ppm, even the IPCC says that the risk is 77 per cent.—far more than likely—and the Hadley centre estimates the risk at 99 per cent.—in other words, virtually certain. Even the lowest of those percentages, at 38 per cent., is not a risk that I would like to take crossing the road, let alone risking the future of the planet. It is very clear from the figures in the Stern report that 450 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere is actually the minimum level that we should aim for either at the international level or in terms of UK domestic carbon emissions.

The Stern report does not make a very clear association between that target and the percentage reduction of CO2 emissions that we need in the Bill. Luckily, however, others have done so. In its response to the publication of the Climate Change Bill, the Tyndall centre said:

“Tyndall calculated a national carbon budget for 2000-2050 based on an atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of 450 parts per million by volume…Given actual UK emissions between 2000 and 2006, Tyndall proceeded to describe an emission pathway out to 2050 that stayed within the national carbon budget. The pathway demonstrated that even a 30 per cent. chance of not exceeding the 2° degree threshold required the UK to cut its total carbon emissions by 70 per cent. by 2030 and in the region of 90 per cent. by 2050.”

The Tyndall centre is not alone, as many other commentators have talked about percentages of 80, 85 or 90. That clearly demonstrates that the 60 per cent. target contained in the Bill is utterly inadequate. Indeed, on a previous occasion, I believe that the Minister told the House that the Government were ready to contemplate 70 per cent. If that were true, why could we not have a target at least that high built directly into the Bill?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s view that we should go further, but with that in mind, would he support controls on individual households in order to secure a reduction there? Everybody talks about business, the Government and communities, but what about individual households?

I am not quite sure which controls the hon. Gentleman has in mind. If he is talking about personal carbon allowances, I think that there are real practical problems with introducing a comprehensive system of such allowances, but there are methods that work at household level. For instance, we have suggested a green mortgage financing scheme that would enable people to invest in energy efficiency in their houses for a guaranteed reduction in their household energy bills. There are certainly policy mechanisms that we can bring forward at national level that will work for people at the household level—a very important level for these things to work at.

However, the real purpose of this debate is to talk about targets, which is what the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell has raised. It is also about leadership, and indeed about having the moral authority to be able to talk to countries such as the US and say what will happen if, when it comes to an international process after 2012, certain countries will not play ball. What is plan B? The Stern report raises the issue of a carbon border tax; Sir Nicholas Stern goes on to reject that option, but he has raised it at least as an issue for debate. We must be tough in conducting international negotiations and it is sad that in the end the G8 summit thought it more important to have a communiqué that included the US than one that included the 2° target. That is not a hopeful sign.

Given that only two years ago the US Administration actually denied the reality of climate change as a phenomenon, would the hon. Gentleman concede that the admission of that Administration is a significant step forward?

I am not sure that I would concede that. The US Administration is under enormous domestic pressure. Having lost domestic legislative elections, having been subject to Al Gore’s campaign to raise awareness in the US, and with states like California and north-east states ploughing on with emissions reduction campaigns on their own, George Bush has been looking more and more isolated and unrealistic. It was clear that he would have to make some concessions in this direction, and he has done so only under great pressure. His suggestion that the Kyoto process, under the auspices of the UN, should be abandoned for some kind of side-deal with a group of high-emitting nations is profoundly unhelpful and threatens to undermine the Kyoto process.

In practice, Kyoto is the only game in town and we do not have time to reinvent the wheel. We have an international framework in place there. In the sense that the American Administration are accepting that carbon emissions need to be reduced, I guess that that is a positive step, but in terms of targets, we really need to be tougher with the US and tougher with ourselves in respect of the Climate Change Bill. The signs from the G8 were not very promising, but that involved the outgoing Prime Minister representing the UK. I simply hope that the new Prime Minister will take a more robust stance.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) on securing this Adjournment debate. As is customary, I will respond primarily to him, but I shall take on board and address the comments made by the other hon. Members who have participated.

This has been another opportunity to highlight the risks from dangerous climate change and the urgency with which we need to tackle it. As we have acknowledged before, climate change is the greatest long-term challenge facing the human race and it is a top priority for this Government. That is why we have consulted on and published our draft Climate Change Bill, and I welcome the commitment of my hon. Friend to its principles and the wide support that it has received in the House and in the country at large.

We recognise that tackling a global problem effectively requires a global agreement. We therefore very much welcome the significant progress made by the G8 last week. The G8 recognised that a global emissions reduction goal must be agreed, involving all major emitters and taking account of the European goal to halve emissions by 2050. This is the first time that the G8 has announced the need for a goal against which global efforts should now be measured. At the United Nations framework convention on climate change meeting in Bali later this year, we need to launch talks immediately on a post-2012 climate change framework in order to conclude it by 2009. Also, for the first time the US has seriously committed to engaging in discussions on a post-2012 international climate change framework under the UNFCCC, and demonstrated its increased engagement by pledging to host a meeting of major energy consuming and greenhouse gas emitting countries, which will support and add momentum to the UNFCCC process.

The G8 leaders also discussed the rapidly growing movement towards the global establishment of emission trading schemes—our preferred way of creating a price for carbon—at national and sub-national level, and the importance of sharing experience on emissions trading as a precursor to the future linking of these schemes. As the Stern review highlighted, establishing a carbon price signal across countries and sectors will ensure that emissions reductions are delivered in the most cost-effective way.

So despite what some might say, the G8 summit was an important step forward. Without global action or a global commitment to reductions of greenhouse gases, we will have no chance of limiting the global mean temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels—the level considered necessary to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change. That is why this Government have sought to play—and are playing—a key leadership role internationally through our involvement in the UNFCCC and the G8 process, and in particular through the Gleneagles dialogue.

The Minister mentioned the emissions trading scheme. Have the Government been advised on what an appropriate price per tonne to aim for would be if we are to achieve the kind of reductions necessary in the European Union? A company called Vattenfall has estimated €40 per tonne, and the recent price for 2008 permits was about €23. Do the Government’s advisers or the Minister have a view on this matter?

It would not be appropriate for the Government to specify a figure in the carbon market. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that phase 1 of the carbon emissions trading scheme has been a learning-by-doing phase, and we in the UK have certainly not pretended that it has been perfect—far from it. We have learned lessons, however, and we believe that the Commission has learned lessons, which is why phase 2 will represent a significant improvement and why the carbon price for phase 2 under shadow trading for 2008 contracts is significantly higher. We want to see a strong carbon price signal and it is important that the EU carbon trading scheme should receive popular support. It is the cornerstone of what could be an emerging world carbon market and we need to ensure that it is a robust scheme that ensures scarcity in the marketplace, which we did not see in phase 1.

That is precisely the point that I was going to raise. Does the Minister accept that it was the over-generous allocation of carbon credits to countries such as Spain that undermined the market in carbon and resulted in the low prices in the first tranche of the scheme? Does he agree that we need to tighten that up if the scheme is to be made to work?

I do not want to single out individual countries, but we need to recognise the success of the EU emissions trading scheme in getting a scheme that covers 45 per cent. of Europe’s CO2 up and running. One of the key lessons to be learned is that we need to ensure scarcity overall if we are to have a carbon price that sends out the right signals to encourage long-term investment in low-carbon technologies. I am sure that we have all learned that lesson and taken it on board as part of phase 2 of the programme. As part of our review of the directive, we are reflecting also on how we can further improve that post-2012.

The UK has sought to underpin its international leadership by taking action domestically to tackle climate change. I was a bit surprised by some of what the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) said. He does not want to recognise the fact that the Government have taken action on tackling climate change. Let me tell him some of the actions that we have taken. The 2000 climate change programme, which was reviewed and revised in 2006, and the 2003 and 2007 energy White Papers, included a suite of measures for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and emissions of other greenhouse gases. It is simply not true to say that our performance on reducing greenhouse gas emissions—and the UK has an impressive record as being one of the few countries that will double its Kyoto commitment—is down to the dash for gas. That is plain wrong.

The hon. Gentleman knows that. If he wants to explain the impact of the Government’s proposals, I shall give way to him.

I was saying that it was clear that we met the Kyoto target because of the dash for gas. That caused the steep reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions, which brought us below the target as long ago as 1999. Emissions have been going up since then, although they are perhaps not as high as they would have been without other measures.

We have not met the Kyoto target yet because it is over the period of 2008 to 2012. The effect of the dash for gas might account for at most a third of our reductions in greenhouse gas emissions overall. Our other reductions in greenhouse emissions are a direct result of the Government’s actions on encouraging energy efficiency measures that have been taken by industry and the increase in the deployment of nuclear power during the 1990s. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman cannot have it all ways. It simply is not true that all our performance on the Kyoto targets is down to the dash for gas. Nuclear has had a role to play, as has the Government’s climate change programme.

We are forecasting that the UK will reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions by more than 23 per cent. in the period 2008-12 and carbon dioxide emissions by more than 16 per cent. by 2012. I admit that at the moment we are not on course to meet our target for 2010. It is a matter of regret, but we should not ignore the fact that making a 16.2 per cent. reduction, which is the latest projection, by 2012 is a significant commitment and achievement.

Looking further afield, the measures announced by the Government, including those recently set out in the energy White Paper, should help us to cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than a quarter by 2020, relative to 1990, even though the economy will have doubled in size. We are demonstrating that we can have green growth—that carbon can be taken out of the economy—and at the same time have high and stable levels of employment.

The debate has focused on the Government’s long-term 2050 target for reducing emissions. I want to address that in particular because it is the gravamen of the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell. It is worth reminding the House that the Government have for some time recognised the need for a long-term target. That is why they committed themselves in the 2003 energy White Paper to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050, a target recommended by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. There is no obfuscation on where the at least 60 per cent. reduction set out in the Climate Change Bill comes from; it comes directly from the work done at that time.

Some—including my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell—suggest that that target is out of date, that the science has moved on, that the scale of the problem demands a greater response and that, consequently, the target for 2050 needs to be increased. Let me start by considering the response that is currently being recommended as part of the Climate Change Bill. As everyone knows, the European Commission has adopted the 2ºC limit as its stabilisation goal. It has said that for that to be met, the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases must remain well below 550 parts per million volume carbon dioxide equivalent. The European Union has said that that will require global greenhouse gas emissions to fall by between 15 and 50 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2050, with reductions in developed countries of between 60 and 80 per cent.

As has been mentioned this evening, last year’s Stern review of the economics of climate change recommended a long-term stabilisation goal of 450 to 550 parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent, and showed that, globally, emissions need to peak in the next 10 years or so and then fall by 25 to 70 per cent. below 2005 levels—equal to a 10 to 65 per cent. cut below 1990 levels—by 2050. That means that industrialised countries such as the United Kingdom must reduce their greenhouse emissions by at least 60 per cent. by 2050. The Stern review also set out a strong case for urgent action to reduce emissions. The longer the world waits, the more costly and difficult it will be to make the reductions that are necessary to stabilise at 450 to 550 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent.

The latest assessment report from the intergovernmental panel on climate change, published earlier this year, suggests that even more stringent reductions may be necessary. The panel’s best estimate is that to stabilise the global mean temperature at between 2ºC and 2.4ºC above pre-industrial levels, concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere should be stabilised at between 445 and 490 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent, and that that would require global emissions cuts of between 50 and 85 per cent. by 2050.

I will in a moment.

No one should be in any doubt about the challenge that lies ahead. Atmospheric greenhouse gas levels are already at 430 parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent, and are rising at more than two parts per million per year. They will reach 450 parts per million in less than 10 years. However, the Government’s target of at least a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is consistent with what is being recommended, albeit at the lower end, and the Government have proposed legislation that would make that target legally binding.

As the House will know, the draft Climate Change Bill gives the Secretary of State a duty to ensure that the United Kingdom’s contribution to global carbon dioxide emissions in 2050 is at least 60 per cent. lower than the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions were in 1990. We also propose that there should be an interim target of a 26 to 32 per cent. reduction by 2020, and that an independent committee on climate change should give the Government advice on setting three five-year carbon budgets that will provide a pathway towards the 2050 target. They will be important in giving business the confidence it requires that we are moving towards a low-carbon economy, just as the 2050 target sends the important signal that the Government are serious about the need for action and that investment decisions are influenced as a result.

We can be confident about that long-term target because it has been the subject of detailed analysis and has been accepted by a variety of stakeholders. A more stringent target would require a great deal of further analysis, rationalisation, discussion and agreement with stakeholders. The fact is that there is a consensus on the need for at least a 60 per cent. reduction, but currently no consensus on any other long-term target.

Order. May I remind the House gently that this debate has been initiated by the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell and is not a general debate in the accepted sense?

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wanted to respond directly to my hon. Friend because I appreciate the points that he made this evening.

It is important to recognise that we are involved in a dynamic process where science will continue to move on, where we will have a further international agreement, where other countries will recognize the need to play their parts and where technology will develop. However, we cannot predict with any certainty the evolution of all this at this moment, so we have set a target that is challenging but achievable.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell said, in giving evidence last week to the ad-hoc Joint Committee scrutinising the draft Climate Change Bill, Sir David King, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, stressed the importance of the long-term target being achievable and recognised that 60 per cent. is the correct target now. Interestingly, in its response to the draft Climate Change Bill consultation, which closed today, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution also thought that the 60 per cent. target was the right one for now.

We will continue to debate the science and we cannot predict with any certainty how it will evolve. There may be a need to amend the long-term target in the future, which is why it will be kept under review. The Climate Change Bill includes a provision to allow the target to be amended in the light of significant developments in scientific knowledge about climate change science, or international law or policy. That can be done by order, using the affirmative resolution procedure, to ensure that Parliament is guaranteed a debate and vote on the issue.

As a Government, we are not saying that we have closed our mind on this; we are not saying that this is the last word. We are saying that a more stringent target will require further advice, evidence, discussion and agreement. There is not a consensus on any of the targets at the moment, other than the 60 per cent. target contained in the draft Bill.

The Minister’s quote from the fourth assessment report of the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change shows that if we do aim for the sort of cuts he is talking about, we will not hold global warming to within 2oC of pre-industrial levels. The science has moved on. Surely it is time for the Government to recognise that and to move with and be guided by the science, and not attempt to ignore it for reasons of political convenience.

The Government are certainly not ignoring the science; we have looked carefully at the fourth assessment report and I have tried to explain the Government’s view in the light of our assessment of its findings. I have tried to say that the Government have an open mind and recognise that there is a dynamic process involved, which is why there is flexibility in the draft Climate Change Bill to be able to amend the target by order in the future if that is required.

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) suggested that climate change emissions might be beyond the control of the Government, and he also referred to justiciability. That is not the spirit of Kyoto or what is required for the future. We took on legally binding commitments at Kyoto and we hope that we will take on legally binding commitments in a post-2012 regime. It is not, as he suggests, a question of the UK going it alone. He will be aware of the spring European Council decision on a 20 per cent cut unilaterally across the European Union, and we want it to be more than that—30 per cent. by 2020. We hope to see international agreement on that.

We do have tools: the EU emissions trading scheme; proposals on zero-carbon homes; the energy efficiency commitment, which is being doubled and renamed; the climate change levy; climate change agreements; the work of the Carbon Trust; and the Energy Saving Trust. There is a range of Government programmes that the hon. Member for Cheltenham wants to ignore at every possible occasion, but which are helping the UK in our drive to become a low-carbon economy.

The hon. Gentleman does at least welcome the Climate Change Bill. His speech was long on criticism but wrong in most respects where it gave credit for action to tackle climate change. He needs to address the nuclear issue—and the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby might want to convince the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) of the benefits of nuclear.

My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell discussed contraction and convergence. The Government are not hiding from that. We are looking for the best possible framework through which to address the global problem of climate change. As part of our international deliberations, we are considering contraction and convergence in detail, along with three or four other potential models, in terms of the emissions reductions that can be delivered and the economic costs. As I have said to him before, there is no international consensus about what is the right approach to adopt, but I understand the importance of contraction and convergence as a potential model.

I had an Adjournment debate on this subject shortly after the last election, when a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister said exactly the same thing. I would like to know when the considerations on the framework will be concluded. What will be our position when we go to Bali? Will we put a formula on the table and say, “We understand that there is no consensus but we want to get a consensus around this formula, because this formula is the one that we have used to achieve our target in our legislation”? It would be reasonable to propose that.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. In Bali, we want to reach an agreement on a comprehensive framework for negotiations. We have talked about the need for a clear stabilisation goal, the need to recognise the important role that carbon markets can play, the importance of technology and of addressing deforestation, the need to adapt to climate change, and the need for common but differentiated treatment to run through all the negotiations. As part of that common but differentiated treatment we need to look at the whole issue of equity, which is at the foundation of the contraction and convergence model. We cannot ignore the international context of a model. I have sympathy with the approach that my hon. Friend suggests, but we need to find the best way through to an agreement on a comprehensive framework that will work and that will avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change. The Government are committed to doing that.

I hope that the House will continue to welcome the Bill, which provides a new focus for the UK’s efforts to tackle climate change. It provides a coherent, long-term legal framework for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Many of the points made in the debate have also been raised in the consultation on the Bill, which closed today, and in the pre-legislative scrutiny process. We will reflect further on all the comments made tonight and those made by stakeholders as we bring forward the legislation for consideration by Parliament this autumn.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to Nine o’clock.