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Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Volume 473: debated on Thursday 13 March 2008

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will answer this question together with question 7. UK greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 16.4 per cent. since 1990. We remain on course to nearly double our Kyoto protocol target over the 2008-12 period. The 2006 UK climate change programme and the 2007 energy White Paper set out the policies and measures for reducing emissions and support the UK’s transition to a low-carbon economy. The Climate Change Bill, the first of its kind in any country, introduces legally binding carbon budgets to ensure that progress will continue.

Order. We ought to do things properly. Has the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) been informed of the grouping of the questions? If not, it would be unfair to him to deal with question 7 now, given that he may come into the Chamber later.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s answer, and the Chancellor’s reaffirmation yesterday that the Committee on Climate Change will consider increasing the target for greenhouse gas reduction from 60 per cent. to 80 per cent., but will my hon. Friend look again at the position of aircraft and shipping? Given that they now account for some 10 per cent. of greenhouse gas emissions, they need to be covered by a proper scheme. I know that there is a proposal to include aircraft in the European Union emissions trading scheme, but shipping must be brought into a framework of strict controls if we are to ensure that it too plays its role in reducing carbon emissions.

Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Speaker.

I, too, welcomed the measures announced in yesterday’s Budget statement. As my hon. Friend knows, as a result of the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the European Environment Council, aviation is to be included in the emissions trading scheme. That is an important development. As for shipping, we are hopeful that the International Maritime Organisation will achieve its inclusion, but if not we shall have to act, as the United Kingdom Government.

I am sure that the Minister applauds the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday that he would impose higher taxes on gas-guzzling cars that are big polluters. But what consideration has his Department given to the fact that one of the categories involved covers people-carriers, which tend to be used by larger families? If such families were discouraged from owning people-carriers, they might well use two cars instead.

The hon. Lady has obviously been thinking about this overnight. She makes an important point, which is blindingly obvious. It is true that people wish to contribute to the reduction in emissions, and getting the bandings right in the way proposed by the Chancellor is an important part of that. I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the goal of 100 g per km travelled for efficient engines, bearing in mind that the United Kingdom is among the largest manufacturers of engines in the world.

I am sure my hon. Friend accepts that reducing greenhouse gases requires a massive investment in renewable energy, but a recent European Union table shows that Britain is the third worst country in the EU for producing renewable energy. Germany has 360 times more installed solar capacity and 10 times more wind capacity, and it has achieved that by intervening in the energy markets rather than leaving things to market forces. When will my hon. Friend take investment in renewable energy seriously?

My hon. Friend’s statistics are accurate. That is why a huge amount of attention is being given to ensuring that the United Kingdom can make its contribution. As my hon. Friend will know, a number of major projects and policy changes are in place. I remind him that yesterday’s Budget statement confirmed the intention to examine the issue of feed-in tariffs for microgeneration.

It is not unreasonable to expect the economies of countries such as China and India to grow by about 3 per cent. over the next decade. Those countries are increasingly using coal-fired power stations: in China, a new one seems to come into play practically every week. It is also not unreasonable for developing countries to want to catch up with developed countries. In setting our targets, what account are we taking of that, and of the fact that such countries are likely to produce considerably more carbon emissions over the coming decades?

The hon. Gentleman has asked an important question, which will be discussed at the informal G8 meeting in Japan at the weekend. The United Kingdom Government lead the world in policy on carbon capture and clean coal energy, and also in putting our money where our mouth is.

The hon. Gentleman also asked how we can balance the growth in countries such as China and India—which is, of course, perfectly proper and welcome—with the transformation that will lead to a clean energy world. That is at the heart of the discussions and negotiations that are taking place as part of the Bali process, to which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the United Kingdom is contributing positively.

My hon. Friend will realise that one way to reduce greenhouse gases is to reduce the demand. While I welcome the Chancellor’s moves on, and the projects for, home insulation, is it not time that we seriously recognised the role that energy suppliers play before they couple up to a type of accommodation? The type of construction of accommodation is what causes loss of heat, not the occupant of that accommodation. Is it not time that we approached this matter from that position, rather than have the current system under which people have to be over 70 years of age, disabled or have a serious need before they get free home insulation?

I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. He is right that in all these strategies energy efficiency is the biggest win, and is what saves the consumer money. Warm Front is not the only scheme available; the CERT—carbon emissions reduction target—scheme is a £1.5 billion strategy that places an obligation on the energy companies in respect of people across the country who are not dependent on benefits, so that addresses my hon. Friend’s point. I might add that we in DEFRA were punching the air with delight at the announcement in yesterday’s Budget on the zero-carbon commitment for non-domestic buildings, and particularly public sector buildings.

On Tuesday night at the Chemistry Club I listened to the Secretary of State speak with genuine passion about the enormity of the climate change threat and the need for urgent action. Yet yesterday we heard the Chancellor deliver the most unambitious and piecemeal of responses to the global warming crisis in his “bad news” Budget. It is becoming clearer by the day that the current DEFRA team is being completely sidelined by the new Prime Minister. Can the Minister think of any other reason why his party colleague, a former Home Secretary, told The Guardian last week that the Prime Minister’s efforts on climate change were “absolutely pathetic” and “embarrassing”?

I can think of many reasons why the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) might wish to say things like that, but none of them is related to the fact that this Prime Minister—[Interruption.] Think about it. None of them is related to the fact that this Prime Minister is leading, both domestically and internationally, the change to a low-carbon economy. The various measures announced in the Budget to build on that—one of which I have just mentioned, for zero-carbon non-domestic buildings—will bring about in this country the changes that the hon. Gentleman requests, and which were debated at the Chemistry Club this week.

I congratulate the Government on the policies on climate change in yesterday’s Budget, particularly those on taxation of the most polluting vehicles. The shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), was of course a distinguished member of the Environmental Audit Committee, and I wonder whether my hon. Friend has thought about whether we might need an environmental audit of the climate change policies of each Member of this House. It would be extremely interesting to audit Conservative Members’ preferences in domestic fuel consumption and their choice of vehicle, as we could then see whether they are consistent in their approach to climate change.

I have no tabbed reply for that question; it is a matter for the House. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State points out that the “Act on CO2 carbon footprint calculator is available online. All of us can play our part, and I believe that it is important for Members of this House to set an example to the country, because the public will judge us on what we do, not on what we say.

The Minister will be aware that a third of CO2 emissions come from power generation, and I hope that he shares my concern that a new generation of coal-fired power stations with unremitted carbon emissions would be catastrophic. Can he therefore confirm that DEFRA is banging some heads together in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and telling it not to give the go-ahead to new stations such as Kingsnorth unless and until they can be guaranteed to operate with carbon capture, not just the promise of that in some distant future?

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks—DEFRA and DBERR work in tandem on these issues. The proposals for the new power station have yet to be decided; planning consent locally has been given. The importance of carbon capture and clean coal energy, domestically and internationally, cannot be overstated; it is about 50 per cent. of the issue. We wish to be in a position where our companies and our technology can help the world to provide for carbon capture of coal. Of course, it would be unwise of me to comment on the particular site, but we do want to move to more efficiency in coal energy. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we cease to produce coal-driven energy, but it is important that the new technologies can be put in place.