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Cancun Climate Change Conference

Volume 520: debated on Monday 13 December 2010

I wish to make a statement on the outcome of the United Nations climate conference in Cancun. The House will remember the disappointment of last year’s conference in Copenhagen, particularly its failure to agree a comprehensive and legally binding global treaty to supplement or replace the Kyoto protocol. Expectations for the Cancun conference were not high. After Copenhagen, it seemed as if the very principle of multilateralism was on trial. Our objectives, therefore, were modest. We aimed to demonstrate that the UN process was back on track. We also hoped to put in place some of the building blocks for an eventual global agreement and to rebuild momentum.

I am delighted to say that our expectations were not just met, but exceeded. The conference agreed a series of linked decisions under both its tracks: the Kyoto protocol and the framework for reaching a new and more comprehensive agreement. Emissions reduction pledges made under the Copenhagen accord by developed and developing countries provided a valuable starting point and have been brought into the UN climate convention framework. We can now assess the overall policy pledges against the requirements of the science.

These decisions provide a solid foundation for further work. For the first time, there is an international commitment to

“deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions”

to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2° C. This includes processes for adopting targets for peaking emissions as soon as possible and substantially reducing them by 2050.

The conference also adopted decisions to develop systems for measuring, reporting and verifying emission reductions and actions in line with countries’ commitments. This is essential to confidence in each other’s actions. Developing countries will get access to low-carbon technology and help with adaptation to climate change. Market-based mechanisms will be considered to deliver effective reductions in emissions at least cost.

Forestry was a key area. The conference agreed the framework for REDD plus—reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation—through which developing countries will be paid for keeping trees standing rather than logging them. The conference also made progress on rules for accounting for land use, land use change and forestry under the Kyoto protocol—an issue that was too difficult to be settled last year or at Kyoto and it has remained problematic ever since Kyoto.

The conference also agreed the establishment of a green climate fund to support policies and activities in developing countries. The fund will be governed by a board with equal representation from developed and developing countries, and its finances will be managed in the first instance by the World Bank. A transitional committee will be established to design the institutions and operations of the fund, and we aim to see that make rapid progress. The conference also endorsed the commitment made by developed countries at Copenhagen to mobilise at least $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.

The conference did not settle the future of the Kyoto protocol, nor did it adopt a new and more comprehensive treaty incorporating all countries. Neither outcome was realistically possible this year. Nevertheless, the agreements reached at Cancun represent a very significant step forward, particularly given that it seemed possible, even as late as last Thursday, that the conference would break up over precisely that issue. In the end, every country represented there, with the exception of Bolivia, felt able to support the outcomes.

There remains much to do in the run-up to the 2011 climate conference in Durban. Given the outcome of Cancun, however, we can be far more confident than seemed possible just a few weeks ago. I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating the Government of Mexico, who were responsible for hosting and chairing the conference. The diplomatic skill, political courage and dogged determination of Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa and her team was responsible in very large part for its success. I was happy to be able to support her in co-chairing some of the negotiating groups that addressed the key issues.

I also wish to pay tribute to the British team of negotiators. Even though our delegation was one of the smallest of those of the G8 countries, its members played a key role in many of the detailed negotiating groups, often leading for the EU. The climate diplomacy carried out by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the year leading up to the conference clearly helped to lay the groundwork for a successful conclusion.

Tackling climate change should transcend party politics. Britain has built a strong reputation internationally as a forward-looking country, and I thank my predecessor for his work in helping to achieve that. I was also pleased to be able to include in the UK delegation representatives of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly Government; it was the first time that that had happened.

The coalition Government are determined to tackle the accelerating threat of climate change. We intend to demonstrate how a successful and prosperous low-carbon economy can be developed in the United Kingdom and the European Union, providing employment, exports and energy security and reducing emissions. The Energy Bill published last week and the consultation paper on electricity reform to be published later this week are key components of that, as is the adoption of a more ambitious target for reducing EU carbon emissions, and in that context I welcome the Spanish Government’s recent declaration of support for a 30% reduction in EU emissions by 2020. We are pressing for an ambitious package of measures to be agreed by EU leaders in February next year to create the infrastructure and incentives for a faster move to a low-carbon economy within Europe.

On the international front, we will build on the momentum achieved in Cancun. There is much still to be achieved, but we can now look forward with renewed optimism to the Durban conference next year. As the representative of one non-governmental organisation said,

“Cancun may have saved the process but it did not yet save the climate”.

That is true, but in saving the process it represents a triumph for the spirit of international co-operation in tackling an international threat, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in welcoming that.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and for early sight of it.

International progress on climate change is of the utmost importance to us all. I am pleased that the Secretary of State has been able to attend the House in person today, so that we have a chance to question the Government on progress. We must acknowledge that the agreements made in Cancun are an important step in the right direction, and, on behalf of the Opposition, I join the right hon. Gentleman in congratulating the Mexican Government on creating an environment in which the nations of the world could agree a common statement. The statement of intent that has come out of Cancun builds on provisions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) in Copenhagen last year, and we all hope that it will pave the way for more ambitious aims in South Africa next year.

We welcome the establishment of a climate fund to help developing nations and commitments to take action on deforestation. We also welcome the acknowledgement of the gap between the promised emission cuts and the cuts that the science tell us are necessary. Does the Secretary of State believe that holding to an increase of below 2º is enough, given that scientists now say that an increase of between 2º and 4º is more likely?

We have a long way to go, and, as the Secretary of State said, it is essential that the Government take a lead internationally. The right hon. Gentleman has already suggested that the European emission reduction target should be 30% by 2020, and he recently issued a statement with Germany and France pressing for such a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Last week, the Committee on Climate Change reported in support of that aim. We are delighted that Spain is now on board. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether that is the extent of European Union support? He talks of pressing for measures in the EU, but will he say what practical steps he and the Government are taking in Europe? It might be said that the Government whom he represents are not of one mind when it comes to European relations, and we and the country need to know which point of view dominates the agenda. Will there really be progress by February?

The Secretary of State was involved in discussions and conversations on Kyoto. Is he able to give the House a better sense of how those negotiations went, although they were not an outright success?

The climate fund to assist developing nations is a welcome step, but we need assurances that funds will be in place. I welcome the Secretary of State’s aim to see rapid progress on the part of the transitional committee. Can he give us a timetable for that progress? We have agreements, but we need to make sure that actions are taken or else the agreements will not be a foundation for change. Will the Secretary of State also give us further details on how finance will be secured, because the developing countries need this life-saving finance and they and their citizens cannot wait?

Finally, we need to see leadership from Britain and Europe over the next 12 months, before countries meet again in South Africa. The Government must demonstrate leadership at home—here in the UK—and in Europe. We need the Government to commit to low-carbon growth and to show they can deliver before the opportunity has passed. Although we have had welcome announcements from the Government about implementing the green deal for householders, we do not know whether it will include a carbon reduction target. The right hon. Gentleman has also announced that he will go ahead with the green investment bank, but we do not know whether there will be enough money for it to do its job.

We lack detail, therefore, yet we hear from businesses of the need for certainty, and households in fuel poverty need support and certainty too. We need flesh on the bones, and we need action between now and the next conference in South Africa.

I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks, and I am delighted that there is, I think, a broad measure of political support from all three main parties in the House—and also from the nationalist parties, although none of their representatives is in the Chamber.

The hon. Lady was absolutely right to mention the continuing gap between what the science tells us is necessary to reduce carbon emissions and the pledges that were made in the Copenhagen accord and that are now incorporated in the United Nations framework convention on climate change process. The gap will be assessed as part of the work that will be set in train as a result of the agreements in Cancun, and the UN environment programme report was a useful first step in pointing that out.

I make no bones about the fact that we argued for, and would have liked, a clear commitment to a peaking of global emissions by 2020. The reality is that time is running out, and we need to be as precise as possible. We were not successful in achieving that clear and specific target, but we did have a clear commitment on peaking global emissions as early as possible and, obviously, we will move as quickly as we can towards achieving certainty.

Yes, it was welcome that Spain joined us. We have been working quite hard on the 30% commitment, including through some meetings in Cancun. The Minister with responsibility for climate change, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), had meetings with the incoming presidency, and I had meetings with the Spanish Minister and other colleagues. Apart from Spain, France and Germany, we also now have a commitment from Denmark, and I am confident we will shortly have a commitment from Sweden as well, with all of them broadly in the same place. We must recognise that there are difficulties, especially for some of the economies still in transition, particularly Poland, which rely very much on lignite and hard coal, and we can try to deal with that. The process is under way and it will be important to address that in the new year.

The negotiations on legal form were always going to be exceptionally difficult, and we knew we could not reach an outcome. For the UK, the key negotiating strategy was to make sure that we embodied in the agreement at Cancun a substantial amount of substance that we can then show at Durban next year. Hopefully, that will provide a real incentive to the progressive countries that want to do a deal and to some of the more reluctant countries, by showing that there is enough on the table to make them be a little more flexible than they have been thus far on, for example, whether there is a commitment in the Kyoto protocol or whether it is in the convention track—and, indeed, whether there is a legal commitment in the convention track, which I very much hope, so that we can, effectively, have two parallel sides.

The hon. Lady asked about the finance. Fast-start finance is under way, and I am very pleased to be able to say that the Government have already disbursed the fast-start commitments we made for this financial year, and they have also been identified for the next financial year. Therefore, that money, which was agreed at Copenhagen, is being paid out. On the broader objective of $100 billion a year, we had an agreement to take note of the work that the advisory group on finance had done. That means that a lot of the work—for example, on bunker fuels and the potential for raising finance from aviation—can be taken into account and will go forward to Durban. I am cautiously optimistic that this advance will be crucial in getting the developing countries to sign up next year. This agreement, by the way, is the first time ever we have had an agreement by the developing countries to reduce their emissions compared with business as usual. That is quite a step forward, although it would obviously be nice to make it legally binding.

I can assure the hon. Lady that there is no division in the Government on leadership in Europe. I know she is sceptical, but we have worked very closely with all parts of Government, particularly the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which has done an outstanding job. The team in Mexico City and the FCO more widely have done an outstanding job in helping us to prepare for these talks. It is an agreed part of our strategy as a Government that we recognise that our power as a nation to achieve our national objectives in the area of climate change is immeasurably greater the greater the extent to which we work through our European partners and manage to get them on board. That has been a key part of our approach to this issue.

May I echo my right hon. Friend’s words about Patricia Espinosa, the chair of the summit, and indeed echo her words to me in Cancun, which commended my right hon. Friend personally for the positive role that he played? May I ask him to elaborate a little further on the issue that he was asked to tackle by her, namely the risk that in 2012 we may still see the planet unprotected by any continuing international agreement?

We would obviously like, as my hon. Friend knows, to have a legally binding global agreement. That is our objective and I know that it is shared by those on both sides of the House. It is also shared by our European partners. We must not underestimate, however, the fact that although the convention track is not yet legally binding and does not have a commitment to a legal outcome—although a process was set up at Cancun whereby the convention track can discuss options for a legal outcome—the political commitment that it represents of incorporating the Copenhagen accord pledges within the UN framework and of having an agreement about the monitoring, reporting and verification of those pledges on the Kyoto side and international consultations, analysis and separate wording on the convention side is a significant step forward. We can have a lot of trust, and so can businesses, in the fact that that will underpin many of the investments that are being made.

Let me add one other point that gives me cautious optimism. Some of the countries that have been regarded as difficult and sceptical about making international commitments were much better as regards our objectives at Cancun. I hesitate to single out any one in particular, but it is striking that China is making commitments through its latest five-year plan that, were they incorporated into an international agreement, would reach a long way towards where we would like China to be. The Indian Government—in particular, I pay tribute to Minister Ramesh—played an outstanding role in ensuring that we could get a verification system that will stand the test of time.

This is a very significant agreement. We do not have a legally binding agreement yet. We would like that, but the political commitment and the substance of many of the decisions that have been taken are substantial.

Order. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State gave slightly shorter answers from now on. We have other important business and I am trying to ensure that every Member gets to put their one brief question to him.

I recognise and welcome the Secretary of State’s and the Government’s commitment in this area, but given that the $100 billion a year by 2020 was announced last year and the money did not come and given that the $30 billion a year fast-start funding was announced last year and did not come, why should any developing nation believe that Mexico will be different and not only that the money will come but that it will be new money that will be evenly balanced, as it was supposed to be, between mitigation and adaptation?

The fast-start finance is being paid. [Interruption.] No, actually, a very substantial amount is coming through. If one looks at our European partners and the Dutch Government’s website, which lists all the commitments that have already been made, including those outside Europe where countries have been stepping up to the plate, one sees there is a substantial measure of commitment. Things are not perfect and we are not all the way there but there is real money going through, and that can underpin real action early on to help developing countries in their efforts.

On the $100 billion, there is much more flesh on the bones than there was a year ago. We have the report of the advisory group on climate change financing, which has done a lot of good technical work, and it has been taken note of here. We will make progress through the rest of the year.

Obviously, we all welcome the progress that was made at Cancun and it is extremely good news that we are talking about processes being re-established. How does the Secretary of State think that China and India could be encouraged to co-operate more fully with the targets on carbon dioxide reduction?

I have already mentioned the very positive efforts that Minister Ramesh and the Indian Government have made, as well as the way in which China is incorporating real targets into its domestic legislation, including ensuring that more than a fifth of the Chinese population is covered by low-carbon pilot areas. China is now in a serious, leading position in a number of low-carbon technologies. It is the world’s largest producer of solar photovoltaics and I have had expressions of interest from Chinese firms about investing in the UK in offshore wind manufacturing facilities. Frankly, there is an enormous and very impressive level of commitment within China to serious investment in low-carbon products. I believe that will come forward in terms of an international commitment for the simple reason that those businesses need certainty about the international framework in exactly the same way as our businesses do, so we will get that change—indeed, we are getting it—in the Chinese Government’s position.

Given the importance of achieving some progress, however small, at Cancun, does the Secretary of State think that UN procedures are fit for purpose? In terms of the improvements that are needed, what role can Parliament take, given that the previous Government’s Climate Change Act 2008 gives us an opportunity to take a leading role across the planet?

I am very grateful for the hon. Lady’s question—I say that with some feeling—because she has hit the nail on the head. The agreements that we reached at Cancun were, in my view, reached despite the process and procedures rather than because of them. Frankly, I have never been involved in any international or national set of procedures with so little in the way of standing orders and rules of procedure designed to guide the participants towards a result. As a member of the National Union of Journalists, I think that any union chapel would despair at the lack of procedures and the lack of ability to push things through. Reform of the UN is above my pay grade, but having participated in this process I strongly hope we can move on and get to a better process, because this is a serious issue that needs it.

I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend. What proportion of the funds going into the green climate fund and of the $100 billion by 2020 in funding for developing countries will be sourced from existing budgets that are currently available to the Department for International Development?

I can answer for the UK Government, but not for others. Some £2.9 billion will be drawn from the UK’s aid budget and that figure will rise to 0.7% of gross national income by 2013, so it will be additional to existing spending. We are also maintaining the previous Government’s commitment that the £2.9 billion will continue to account for less than 10% of overseas development assistance in every year of the spending period.

The Secretary of State has spoken very grandly about his aspirations and what he wants from the UN and for the globe. On a much more mundane level, if he gets all his aspirations on carbon targets and renewables, how much extra will my constituents have to pay in their energy bills in each of the next 10 years?

Every year, in the annual energy statement, we set out the impact on consumers. The last time we made that calculation, in the annual energy statement in the summer, we calculated that, assuming an oil price of $80 a barrel, which is rather less than the current price, the total increase in household bills, taking into account our other policy measures, including energy saving, would be 1%. The higher oil and gas prices are, the greater the savings. The break-even point comes at $100 a barrel, beyond which our consumers will gain from the move to a low-carbon economy and away from the fossil-fuel economy.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on seeing the negotiations through to the very end last week; it was certainly worth it. Now that the green climate fund has been agreed, how does he intend to broker international consensus on which of the options for climate finance may be taken forward to fill it?

This is going to be a pretty difficult issue—we know that from the proceedings in the advisory group on climate change financing. There are a lot of options on the table, the technical work has largely been done and we have to hope that we can make further progress over the next year. Now that we have identified a clear political will to find that finance, we have to hope that the technical means to provide it will be there, but the technical options on bunker fuels, aviation and so on are set out in the group’s report.

I particularly welcome the progress on the REDD agreement that the Secretary of State has announced, especially given that deforestation accounts for up to a fifth of all annual global CO2 emissions. Will he be in a position, by the Durban summit, to update the House on the sources of funding for the programme, particularly on the contribution that will be made by businesses and Governments in the UK and the EU?

I hope that we can update the hon. Gentleman even before then because there was a commitment in Cancun to use fast-start finance to get this going. Sadly, I can answer only for the UK Government and not for the 192 or so other Governments who were represented at Cancun. However, I very much hope, and will keep my fingers crossed, that we will make even more progress on this.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on the role that he and his team played at Cancun and on continuing the Labour party’s policies in that respect. Does he agree that individual European countries could afford to take a second Kyoto commitment period and that the EU could raise its emissions reduction target to 30% at very little extra cost given that, in the light of the recession, emissions have dropped?

I entirely agree with the right hon. Lady and I have repeatedly made exactly that point to my European Union colleagues. That argument is making real progress—for example, Spain is the latest country to commit to the 30% target—so we are gradually getting there, but there are problems for some member states. Rome was not built in a day, and neither was the European Union.

Bill Presented

Localism Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Secretary Pickles presented a Bill to make provision about the functions and procedures of local and certain other authorities; to make provision about the functions of the Local Commission for Administration in England; to enable the recovery of financial sanctions imposed by the Court of Justice of the European Union on the United Kingdom from local and public authorities; to make provision about local government finance; to make provision about town and country planning, the Community Infrastructure Levy and the authorisation of nationally significant infrastructure projects; to make provision about social and other housing; to make provision about regeneration in London; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 126) with explanatory notes (Bill 126-EN)