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Climate Change: Copenhagen Conference

Volume 713: debated on Thursday 22 October 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have for the institutional follow up to, and implementation of, any commitments agreed at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen.

My Lords, the United Kingdom negotiates as part of the European Union in the international climate negotiations. The European Union has stated that it will increase its emissions reduction target from 20 per cent to 30 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 in the context of a sufficiently ambitious Copenhagen agreement. Subject to reaching a successful agreement, the European Commission must within three months prepare a report for member states on the implementation of commitments entered into at Copenhagen for agreement by member states.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response, which is not in fact the answer to the Question that I posed. That is a trifle disappointing, since I told him last week what the object of my Question was. My Question is: what is the institutional follow-up to a package at Copenhagen by the collective international community? The point of the Question is made sharper by reports in today’s newspapers that the head of the UK Statistics Authority has criticised the Government for the way in which they present their carbon emissions reductions. That shows the chaos that we will live in if we agree a package at Copenhagen and there is no international body charged with the follow-up and surveillance of the commitments entered into. Will the noble Lord have a second shot at this now?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for his patience. In July this year, the Government published The Road to Copenhagen. It is the first time that we have published our position on the global climate talks. We accept the point behind the noble Lord’s Question, that the road from Copenhagen will be as important as the road to Copenhagen. We accept also that it is important that we move more quickly than we did after the Kyoto Protocol.

The importance of Copenhagen is, first, that we need to achieve an agreement that will limit global temperature increases to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, because, beyond that, the risks of dangerous climate change become much greater. We want also to reach agreement on actions to help developing countries to adapt to climate change. We will conduct these discussions through the international organisations and the European Union and we expect that they will start immediately after the Copenhagen summit has concluded.

My Lords, will Her Majesty’s Government work with the United Nations technical agencies that are responsible for many of these tasks, because the UK and not the EU is a member of those? I refer particularly to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which will now push forward on nuclear energy as part of our response, and also to the new agency for renewable energies. How will this be part of our follow-up to the Copenhagen agreement?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right that the discussions will be conducted with United Nations agencies as well as through the European Union. We must have a global deal that takes account of national and global emissions, and we need to make sure that countries are on track to meet their targets. We recognise the special action that needs to be taken by developing countries and the assistance that we have to give to ensure that that happens.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for reminding the House that the European Union agreement was changed to make it explicitly conditional on a satisfactory agreement in Copenhagen. Is he not aware, however, that that is not the case with the UK’s unilateral Climate Change Act? According to the Government’s impact assessment, this will cost the economy up to £18 billion every year from now until 2050, and there is no possible benefit unless everybody else follows suit. Since this is not going to happen at Copenhagen, will the Minister give an undertaking that, like the European Union agreement, the UK’s Climate Change Act will be amended to make it conditional on a satisfactory agreement coming out of Copenhagen?

My Lords, the United Kingdom supports the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and regards that as providing the most authoritative perspective on climate change science. Its fourth assessment report was the result of six years’ work by more than 1,200 scientists from more than 130 countries, including many authors.

My Lords, our planet is getting warmer and there is overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is the primary force driving climate change. Of course we will review all legislation in the light of developments and in the context of the agreement that we hope will come out of Copenhagen.

My Lords, as the Minister knows, there are increasing doubts about whether there is enough time or commitment to get a strong deal out of Copenhagen. Does the Minister agree that a postponed but strong deal would be preferable to a weak consensus that does not meet the challenges of global warming?

No, my Lords, I do not agree with that. As the Prime Minister has made clear on a number of occasions, there is no plan B if Copenhagen fails. It is vital that an agreement is reached at Copenhagen, which is why such efforts are being made by all Ministers in the Department of Energy and Climate Change and by other Cabinet Ministers to ensure that we secure as much international agreement as possible. We are hopeful that that agreement will be forthcoming, and the discussions being held with the United States Administration are particularly promising at the moment.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the Prime Minister is going to lead the United Kingdom delegation to Copenhagen? Is this not the kind of firm and decisive leadership that is needed—

My Lords, it is about time that the people opposite listened. This is the kind of firm and decisive leadership that is needed to get not just a satisfactory outcome but a satisfactory follow-up, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, rightly said. Will my noble friend encourage others Heads of Government to follow our Prime Minister’s example?

My Lords, my noble friend is of course absolutely right, and right in one very important respect. The most important part of the initiative that the Prime Minister has been taking in recent days is the climate finance initiative. Unless the world puts in place the finance needed to tackle climate change, it will not be possible to reach an agreement and to achieve the outcome of the Copenhagen agreement. A working figure of £100 billion a year by 2020 has been put forward by the Prime Minister, because it is vital that we give financial support to the world’s poor to help them to respond to the challenges of climate change. The initiative taken by the Prime Minister this week has been welcomed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, by Kofi Annan and by developing countries. It is of fundamental importance that the initiative that is under way is carried through and that the Copenhagen agreement is successful.