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Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Volume 486: debated on Thursday 22 January 2009

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on his Department's policies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from housing. (249984)

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change met the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on 17 December last year. Discussions included the Department for Communities and Local Government’s contribution to reducing carbon dioxide emissions from housing.

But does my hon. Friend agree that homes are really at the heart of cutting carbon emissions and that although we want more houses, we also want them to be more sustainable? There are rumours that the Homes and Communities Agency is being pushed to concentrate on numbers and not to take so much notice of sustainability.

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of homes, because 27 per cent. of our emissions come from our homes. The Homes and Communities Agency was set up and began operations only in December last year, but I can assure my hon. Friend that it is leading the way on making the zero-carbon homes agenda, which is our target for 2016, a reality. It is also leading with exemplar programmes like the carbon challenge and the Thames Gateway eco region. Over the years, the decent homes programme has brought a million homes up to decent standard, with the result that higher energy-efficiency standards exist in the public sector than in the private sector. Over the next three years, the Homes and Communities Agency will manage £2.4 billion worth of programmes to ensure that 350,000 homes are brought up to the decent home standard. I can assure my hon. Friend that the agency is committed, and that contact between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Communities and Local Government is ongoing and specifically directed at reducing carbon emissions.

The Government are going to ban the use of incandescent light bulbs before they are required to do so. Is the Minister aware that the alternative bulbs are not only more expensive, but hazardous because they contain mercury, are unsuitable for certain applications—either because they come on too slowly or give out too little light, which can again be dangerous—and totally unsuitable for things like picture lights in galleries and so forth? Will she rethink her policy of gold-plating the EU requirement and rethink banning the use of those bulbs before that is necessary?

I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, but I would be very surprised if his Front-Bench team did not support the use of energy-efficient bulbs in place of the inefficient ones in use today. If every household in the country changed, 5 million tonnes of carbon would be saved, so it is extremely important that we make that change. The right hon. Gentleman says that they are dangerous, but there is only a tiny amount of mercury in those bulbs and disposal facilities are available in every local authority to get rid of them safely: people can just throw them away and if they have an accident, it is simple to deal with it. These bulbs are not hazardous. A few people with particular medical conditions may be sensitive to such bulbs. We are looking into that carefully and working on it with the Department of Health, and we have made the facts known to the European Commission.

It is great that the Government have set the goal of all new homes being zero-carbon by the middle of the next decade, but is it not important for house builders and consumers to understand what is involved in a property’s being zero-carbon? Can my hon. Friend assure us that she is working across Government to set standards so that we all know what we are aiming for?

It is a very good question. The Government are working on this. Both our Department and the Department for Communities and Local Government are very much engaged in the definitions, and a consultation is in hand.

While our European competitors such as Germany are rolling out far larger energy-efficiency programmes, progress here is still too slow. Indeed, the Government have now cancelled the launch of their heat and energy-saving consultation for the second time. Given the sad failure to transform the energy-efficiency of our housing stock over the last decade, may I invite the Secretary of State to borrow yet another ambitious Conservative policy and offer all home-owners a £6,500 entitlement to energy retrofit their homes, thus creating real efficiency, real savings and real green jobs?

Let me respond immediately to the hon. Gentleman’s final point. He says that every home owner would be entitled to such a package, but when we made inquiries of the shadow Front-Bench team we were told that 1 per cent. of the population would receive it. If the hon. Gentleman has now resiled from that, may I ask him how the Conservatives will find the £150 billion that the programme would cost, given that they intend to cut the Department of Energy and Climate Change budget?

Our heat and energy savings consultation will indeed be delivered. It has certainly not been cancelled.

4. What recent assessment he has made of progress towards meeting the Government's target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010; and if he will make a statement. (249985)

Carbon dioxide emissions are expected to be reduced to 15 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2010. That will help to make Britain one of the few countries to exceed our Kyoto target, although it is short of the more challenging unilateral 20 per cent. goal. So progress has been made, but we need to do more. Later this year I shall set out a carbon budget for the coming years to enable us to make our contribution to a successful global deal at Copenhagen this December.

Let me thank the Secretary of State for his courtesy in choosing to reply as well as for the content of his reply, and then move quickly on.

Will the Government be building the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change into the consultation on carbon capture and storage, and would he or his colleagues and officials be willing to meet me—along with, perhaps, the non-governmental organisations—for discussions at some stage between now and July, when my private Member’s Bill will be up for debate, to establish what further progress can be made?

I shall meet the right hon. Gentleman with pleasure to discuss his private Member’s Bill.

Lord Turner’s recommendations in his report published in December represent an important step forward in the ways in which we can drive carbon capture and storage into any new coal-fired power stations. We are examining those recommendations carefully, and will say more about them in the next few weeks.

As my right hon. Friend knows, energy generation is one of the biggest producers of carbon dioxide, and if any major and worthwhile reductions are to be made, our means of power generation will have to be addressed. Will my right hon. Friend speed up our moves towards carbon capture and storage, given that people are now protesting against any form of coal burning, and will he also look at what Newcastle university is doing in connection with underground coal gasification?

My hon. Friend has made a good point. One of the important aspects of the climate and energy package that was agreed in the European Union last December was the €9 billion of investment in carbon capture and storage. That will make a huge difference to carbon capture and storage across Europe, and will build on the demonstration plant that Britain is seeking to build. I believe that we will be in a strong position to secure at least one of the European demonstration projects in addition to our own.

My hon. Friend is also right to suggest that we need to encourage the whole range of technologies and draw on the work of the academic community, including Newcastle university.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the Government’s success in wrecking the national economy will result in lower CO2 emissions?

Obviously, I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s description of our programme. What has happened to CO2 emissions in the last decade is interesting: we have, for the first time, decoupled economic growth, which has been at about 38 per cent. in that period, from carbon emissions, which have fallen. That is a major step forward, and it is an indication of what we need to do in the future.

As the Government focus on the carbon reduction targets, will my right hon. Friend redouble his efforts to ensure that green jobs and a green new deal remain at the heart of the Government’s programme to stimulate the economy during the global downturn?

My right hon. Friend speaks as a former Business Secretary who made great strides on energy, and she is absolutely right that, as we think about the future of our economy, we have to think about the low-carbon sectors where jobs are available, such as renewables, nuclear—in my view—and carbon capture and storage. Britain has unique assets in this area, not only in terms of renewables, but also in relation to carbon capture and storage. We need to turn those unique assets into employment for people in this country.

Given its effect on emissions, does the Secretary of State personally approve of the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow?

It was the right decision, and let me explain to the hon. Gentleman why. Some may argue that people should stop flying, but that is not my opinion. I believe that we should have constrained expansion of aviation, and that is why we have been very clear in the Heathrow decision about the fact that only 50 per cent. of the slots have been granted and any future expansion beyond that will be conditional on the target we have set—we are the first Government in the world to have set it—according to which aviation emissions in 2050, at which time we have set our target to achieve an 80 per cent. cut in carbon emissions, must be back to 2005 emission levels. We have taken the right decision: constrained expansion of aviation.

The Secretary of State is an intelligent man. He knows that these mock concessions fool no one. Indeed, it is telling that the Prime Minister’s old tactic of briefing against his predecessor and claiming victory for spurious concessions is now being employed by his protégé against him. On emissions, will the Secretary of State confirm that one quarter of the progress claimed by the Government on emissions is bought in from other European countries?

Of course credits play a role, but I am surprised at what the hon. Gentleman says about aviation because he wrote a pamphlet in 2003 called “Free to Travel” and in it—I here refer Members to the position that there should be no more flying—he said:

“More people should be able to travel by air in future.”

He also said:

“We will not necessarily set our face against any or all expansion of the UK’s airports capacity”.

So once again we see that the hon. Gentleman has not thought his policy through.

The Secretary of State has mentioned support for carbon capture and storage, but is he aware that people in the industry are concerned about the slow progress that is being made and also that the demonstration projects might not be extensive enough? Is he prepared to meet me and representatives of the industry to try to resolve this?

I will definitely meet my hon. Friend. He is right that we need to make progress in this area. There is a huge amount of expertise and talent around the country, and research that we need to draw on, and I look forward to discussing those issues with him and his colleagues.

Following changes that Germany secured in the next stage of the EU emissions trading scheme, some commentators have calculated that up to 96 per cent. of processing firms could receive free credits. Has the Secretary of State identified which sectors of the UK economy will receive free credits and what impact that will have on future emissions targets?

The hon. Gentleman asks an important question. We will judge who gets free credits by a rigorous analysis of which sectors are really exposed to so-called carbon leakage—the UK argued very strongly for that in relation to the directive. What there must not be is simply a blanket exemption for everyone in relation to free allowances. This process will take place during this year, and we will then come up with the sectors that are affected. I think the import of the hon. Gentleman’s question is that we must be rigorous and we must make this as demanding an EU ETS as possible, and I share that view.