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EU: Climate Change

Volume 693: debated on Wednesday 11 July 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What further discussions they propose to hold on climate change matters at the next meeting of the European Union Council of Environment Ministers.

My Lords, the Council agenda is set by the presidency. However, we understand that at the next meeting of the EU Council of Environment Ministers on 30 October, climate change discussions are likely to focus on agreeing the EU’s mandate for negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties in Bali in December.

My Lords, admittedly, the Portuguese President is armed, usefully, with the name Socrates, but is the Minister really confident that there has not already been some slippage in the formulation of the initial plans for the Union’s programme on climate change control? Is the Minister aware, for example, that there is a serious worry about slippage on the 20 per cent renewables target? Is he confident that at the October meeting, Her Majesty’s Government and other Governments led by the Portuguese presidency will make significant proposals to take this programme forward in an energetic way?

My Lords, the short answer is yes. The EU is giving a lead on this. It is a 27-strong group that has large negotiating clout, and if we operate as a group, we can be successful. What was decided at the spring Council of Ministers and by heads of government was broadly welcomed by the framework convention. Therefore, we are showing the necessary leadership; so I can answer yes, broadly, to the question.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that insufficient attention is being given to this very important subject at an international level? Would he agree that while it is important for the European Union to consider this matter, it should also be considered by the United Nations, at the Government’s initiative? Does he not agree that, on climate change, we should prepare for the worst? If we are wrong about that, is it not right that we lose comparatively little in addressing the issue?

My Lords, we are heading towards the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties. It meets four times a year and will meet in Bali in December. The 30 October meeting of the EU is a preparation for that. My noble friend says that insufficient attention is being paid by the UN, but, frankly, the facts do not bear that out. This a world issue; the EU is playing a leading role in this, but is guided by the United Nations, because we have to get a joint agreement as far as possible between developed and developing countries.

My Lords, when will the Government have the wisdom to recognise that Europe is isolated on this issue, and that the United States, India, China and Japan—to name only major nations—have made it clear that they will have no part in fixed targets for carbon dioxide emissions? Therefore, for the United Kingdom to bind itself to the most restrictive targets in the whole of Europe, which is out on a limb, will merely condemn this country’s economy and do great damage for no purpose whatever.

My Lords, I do not think the facts bear that out. I understand the noble Lord’s position. It is true that we have to have wider involvement; it is important to get movement from the United States, Australia, Japan and, indeed, China, which is on the move. This is being done not just within the EU with us promulgating what is happening, but within the United Nations framework convention. The whole point is to get agreement that encompasses movement from developing countries as well as the developed countries. There has to be movement from the developed countries, and it will be no good if the United States and others stay outside. All the signs are that they are coming inside.

My Lords, the Minister is right to mention China. Back in 2005, there was an EU and China Partnership on Climate Change. What concrete results have come out of that partnership, and what leverage does the European Council wish to make on China in its future plans on climate change and energy?

My Lords, in the past few months there has been evidence that climate change has risen up the agenda for the Chinese Government. In January this year, they established a national advisory panel on climate change, providing scientific evidence to formulate strategies and guidelines on policies and regulations. They are seeing some of the damage that is being done to their own environment and economy and to the health of the Chinese population. It is not a question of them remaining isolated. Nevertheless, they will move at a different pace. It is right for developed countries to show a lead in this matter.

My Lords, will the Government be relating these big issues of climate change to people’s communities? The role of local government, which regrettably is not mentioned in the draft Bill on climate change, is a vital part of the whole campaign for climate change. In Europe, we have the excellent system of twinning cities, so surely the cities and communities across Europe should be helping and learning from each other, which would be an inspiring move at the European meeting.

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right, but there has to be individual effort as well as local authority, government and industry effort. As from this week, noble Lords can check their own carbon footprint by going to the Defra website and reading the carbon calculator. As long as people see a connection between what they do in their own behaviour along with what the food and energy industries and national and international Governments do, we can make progress collectively. If people do not see a connection between their own daily activities and climate change, action will not be successful.

My Lords, defining what substantial reductions in carbon will mean in practice will need some robust negotiation. What plans do the Government have to progress that as soon as possible?

My Lords, I have no targets to give the noble Lord. Everybody knows our targets. We are giving a lead; in fact, we are ahead of what we agreed to do at Kyoto. It is important that we seek to give a lead and to take a united front in Europe. Twenty-seven countries are involved. It is true that the original 15 took a higher target than the others at Kyoto, and that is being developed. The UK and Sweden are already on track. Germany, France and Luxembourg are very close to it, so collectively good action is being taken across Europe. We will be tested against what we do by our actions, not just our words.