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Climate Change Bill

Volume 465: debated on Thursday 25 October 2007

The Government’s response to pre-legislative scrutiny and public consultation on the draft Climate Change Bill will be laid in Parliament shortly, ahead of its introduction in the forthcoming parliamentary Session.

As climate change is one of the most important issues of our age, it is essential to set up a climate change committee that is independent of the Government. If the Government appoint the chairman and members of the committee, what criteria will be used? Will the Secretary of State guarantee that the committee will be independent?

I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance because the committee on climate change will be an important body, which will comprise people with the right expertise and skills. As he knows from the draft Climate Change Bill, it will have to take a range of considerations into account in advising the Government on the budgets and undertaking their other duties. If he will bear with us a little longer, he will see what happens. A genuine consultation has taken place—that is why I was strongly in favour of publishing the Bill in draft. The purpose of a consultation is to listen and respond to the arguments. I intend to do exactly that.

Some people are asking the Government to embrace a target of an 80 per cent. cut in CO2 instead of the ambitious and laudable target of 60 per cent. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will resist the requests for 80 per cent., which could be perceived as posturing by today’s politicians, who will not be active in 2050, and concentrate more than hitherto on tackling the effects of climate change? Will he strengthen that aspect of the Bill to ensure that the Government put in place further measures quickly to adapt to the climate change that we are already experiencing, such as the flooding that we have discussed? We have the crazy example of Wessex Water in 2000 asking Ofwat to install bigger pipes but not being allowed to do so.

The truth is that we have to do both. It is not a competition between mitigation and adaptation, because we are going to have to learn to live with the change in our climate that has already taken place, while we work as hard as we can to ensure that we avoid catastrophic further change, so I very much take the point about adaptation.

As for the figure for the reduction in carbon emissions that we need in the UK, the draft Bill talks about at least 60 per cent. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last month that we will ask the committee on climate change—the independent experts who will advise the Government—whether that target is strong enough in the light of the changing science. I am clear that that is absolutely the right thing to do, because as circumstances change and we have a greater understanding of what is happening, it is right to ask whether we need to change the policy and the approach that we take in response. That is a much better way of answering the question than plucking a figure out of the air.

How can the Secretary of State speak so freely about climate change when by any standard or test the Government are consistently failing their own targets?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not agree. First, if we take the commitment that we entered into in signing up to the Kyoto protocol—

Well, the UK signed up to it. Not only are we going to meet the commitments that we entered into but we are likely to meet nearly double those commitments. The UK is one of the few industrial countries in the world to do so. Can the hon. Gentleman name another country in the world that is about to put legislation before its Parliament that will put on the statute book a statutory commitment to reduce emissions in the way that we propose to do? Can he name another country in the world that has done more to argue the case for an international agreement as a successor to the Kyoto protocol? The answer is that he cannot do so. That is an indication of the seriousness with which the Government take the need to deal with climate change.

The committee on climate change is an important part of the draft Climate Change Bill. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs gave evidence to the Joint Committee on the draft Climate Change Bill earlier this year, he indicated that the committee on climate change would be set up at an early date and that a shadow committee might even be set up in advance of the full legislation coming into force, so as to start work at an early stage. If the idea of setting up a shadow committee soon is not already in the Government’s response to the Joint Committee’s report, will the Secretary of State slip it into that response quickly and try to get the shadow committee set up soon?

Well, with a little patience my hon. Friend will see the answer, but of course we are determined to make that happen as quickly as possible.

I received a rather alarming answer to a question that I put to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in which I asked whether the Climate Change Bill would require a lower level of emissions in the period 2008 to 2012 than in the preceding five years and whether the level for every future budget period would be set lower than that. The answer was extremely non-committal and simply said that the committee on climate change would advise the Government on the pathway. Can the Secretary of State seriously imagine circumstances in which the carbon emissions budget for 2008 to 2012 would actually be higher than the carbon emissions for the previous five years? Can he not also give a firm commitment that the committee on climate change will be asked to advise him on reductions in carbon emissions?

I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that commitment. Of course the committee on climate change will advise on reductions in carbon emissions, because how else would we have any prospect of reaching a reduction of at least 60 per cent. by 2050? If he had listened to what I said in response to the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett), he would know that the committee on climate change will be independent. He is asking us to do the committee’s job for it, but I do not propose to do that. We are setting the framework. We are setting a clear target that we must achieve to reduce carbon emissions, but it is right and proper that the committee on climate change, in giving us advice on the first three five-year budgets, should be the body that advises us on what the pathways should be, and that is exactly what it will do.

On that very theme, my right hon. Friend will know that one of the key messages in the Stern review is that we must take strong early action to tackle climate change. As others have pointed out, because carbon dioxide lasts for about 100 or so years in the atmosphere, we must take early action to stop its accumulation, not just aim for a lower emission target in the future. Does my right hon. Friend agree and does he see the Bill as helping to address that through five-year carbon budgets?

I agree completely with my hon. Friend, which is why we are about to bring forward such a Bill and, indeed, to be the first country in the world to do so.

I am sure that the whole House will be intrigued to find out exactly what the Climate Change Bill contains when we finally get to see it. Recent reports that the Government are planning to abandon their commitment to the 2020 European target for renewable energy have again raised serious doubts over whether this Prime Minister takes climate change seriously at all. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity categorically to state that the Government will not renege on their support for the European renewable energy target or are we looking yet again at a broken promise and another dumped target?

I simply ask the hon. Gentleman whether he listened to the Prime Minister’s words in the House of Commons yesterday, where he expressed the Government’s commitment to the target that we signed up to in the summer. The hon. Gentleman has heard it directly from the Prime Minister himself.