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Climate Change

Volume 461: debated on Thursday 21 June 2007

7. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the climate change agreement between G8 countries reached at the recent summit. (144190)

Before I answer the question, Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will permit me to thank you and the House for allowing me to be a few minutes late for today’s Question Time. I was detained by the extraordinary nature of the Cabinet meeting that took place earlier. I am sure that the House’s tolerance is related to the fact that it understands that it takes a very long time indeed to enumerate all the achievements of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, and still more time to cross the floods of tears now trailing down Downing street. However, I am grateful for the House’s tolerance over my lateness.

The G8 made unprecedented progress on climate change. It provided a vital signal to the United Nations framework convention process on the importance of early progress towards a global framework for emissions reductions beyond 2012—a process that I know has support right across the House.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. The G8 agreement was welcome not so much for its detail as for the fact that the USA was party to it. With Australia making similar noises, perhaps we can focus on the developing world, and in particular countries such as Brazil, India and China. What steps are being taken to bring those countries on board, and what assistance can the USA provide in its proposed role as a bridge between the developed and the developing worlds?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. An important step was taken when the US accepted the science and the need for large global cuts. We now need to move on to the detailed and urgent discussion about the nature of the emissions reduction commitments that countries such as the US and Australia—which my hon. Friend also mentioned—need to make. There are, I think, 12 Bills currently before the US Congress, but it is worth pointing out that even the most ambitious of them would mean only that, come 2020, US emissions would still be at 1990 levels. Major issues therefore remain for the biggest industrialised countries, but he is right that we are more likely to get stronger action from the US and Australia if we can get some action from China, India and other developing countries.

I was in Sweden last week for a meeting of 28 countries brought together by the Swedish Government. Countries such as South Africa and Brazil are playing a pivotal role in helping to forge the basis of an agreement under which developing countries would take action appropriate to their level of development, consistent with the 1992 agreement. That agreement talked of common but differentiated responsibilities, with the richest countries doing the most but with the developing countries also playing a clear role.

I welcome the Secretary of State from his Cabinet meeting—I hope that it went well for him.

The right hon. Gentleman is confident that the Americans have accepted the science behind climate change, but is he aware that not long after the G8 summit George Bush commented:

“I told Tony that we’re deadly earnest…the fundamental question is how best to send proper signals to create the technologies necessary to deal with this issue.”?

Nicolas Sarkozy said:

“We could have done better.”

The Chinese science and technology Minister said that the G8 summit was not specific enough—

Order. Question Time is not an opportunity for Front-Bench spokesmen to make a speech. I am sure that the Secretary of State can manage to answer.

I said last week that the G8 agreement deserved one and a half to two cheers, so the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) is right to suggest that we have further detailed work to do. But the signals the President of the United States was talking about were not the smoke signals referred to by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack); they were the signals that come from tight caps in developed countries to create a carbon price that drives technological innovation.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that everyone should be congratulated on the G8 agreement on climate change? I have just taken my Select Committee to China, so will he take it from me that many senior people in China are keen for partnership over climate change? They are concerned about their environment and they want to be engaged. They have huge research potential, so will he not undervalue—

Order. I remind hon. Members that I need to get through the Order Paper to help Members who have tabled questions.

I have only one thing to add to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), but it is an important point: nothing is more calculated to annoy Chinese and Indian colleagues than saying that we think they should start to take action. They are insistent that they are already taking significant action on energy efficiency and renewable energy, so with that caveat I strongly support my hon. Friend’s remarks.