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Climate Change: Cancun

Volume 723: debated on Monday 13 December 2010


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the outcome of the United Nations climate change conference in Cancun. The Statement is as follows.

“The House will remember the disappointment of last year’s conference in Copenhagen, and in particular 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 itself was on trial. Our objectives, therefore, were modest. We aimed to demonstrate that the United Nations process was back on track. We also hoped to put in place some of the building blocks for an eventual global statement 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 both 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 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 degrees Celsius. 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 at Kyoto and has remained problematic ever since.

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 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 endorsed the commitment made by developed countries at Copenhagen to mobilise at least $100 billion per 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 significant step forward, particularly given that it seemed possible, even as late as 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 Espinosa and her team were 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 which 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 negotiations, 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 want to thank my predecessor for his work in helping to achieve this. I was also pleased to be able to include in the UK delegation representatives of the Scottish and Welsh Assembly Governments.

In conclusion, 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 UK and EU, providing employment, exports and energy security and reducing emissions. The Energy Bill published last week and the consultation paper on electricity market reform later this week are key components. So, too, 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 per cent reduction 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 this momentum at 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 NGO 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. I am sure the whole House will join me in welcoming that”.

My Lords, we on this side welcome today’s Oral Statement on the outcome of the climate change conference in Cancun. Although I understand that there was some interest in having a Written Statement, we agree that it is appropriate to have an Oral Statement on such a critical issue, and for your Lordships' House to have the opportunity to comment and ask questions. So, on this point, I am grateful to the Minister and his ministerial colleagues for bringing this before the House today.

There is, as the Minister rightly said, a lot of cynicism about the likely outcome of the Cancun conference, but the talks did not break down, as many had feared, and we should welcome the progress that has been made. We join the Minister in congratulating the Mexican Government on creating an environment conducive to discussion and agreement which enabled the Governments of the world to come together to try to agree a common statement.

So, what has been announced as an achievement at Cancun? Leaders of the international community have now agreed to a form of words which the Minister has outlined—a commitment to deep cuts in global greenhouse emissions and to hold any increase in the global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius. There is a long-term plan for reducing emissions by 2050. The establishment of a green climate fund to assist developing nations, although still lacking in some detail, is to be welcomed. It recognises the different starting points and challenges faced by developing nations, and the ways that we can act responsibly to support them to tackle climate change.

We also note the Government's commitments, made in an international arena, to act on deforestation. This clearly overrides the Secretary of State's earlier announcement that the Government intend to sell 15 per cent of our forest estate over the spending review period—to be made easier through the Government's proposals in the Public Bodies Bill, which will remove the protections for forestry land sales. I take comfort from the Government's international commitments which mean that they will now be amenable to amendments on this part of the Bill, or that we may perhaps have the benefit of seeing the Government table their own amendments in the new year.

We all support progress made at international level to mitigate the impacts of climate change. We hope that the statement of intent made in Cancun will build on the provisions made in Copenhagen last year, but we also have to recognise that we have to do so much more to ensure that it paves the way for more ambitious aims in South Africa next year. At some stage we have to fully realise our ambitions. Your Lordships will know the importance that we place on this issue, and the commitment shown by the last Government and the last Prime Minister, as the Minister has acknowledged. I congratulate those who have managed to ensure that there is meaning to this agreement, but I also share the disappointment of many that it does not go nearly far enough. This is an area where the Government need to step up and take a lead internationally.

I have three questions for the Minister. First, the Secretary of State has already suggested that the European emissions reduction targets should be increased to 30 per cent by 2020. He recently issued a statement with Germany and France pressing for this change. The Committee on Climate Change reported just last week in support of this aim. Can the Minister tell the House if this is the extent of EU support and what steps he and the Government are taking in Europe on this issue? The climate fund to assist developing nations is a welcome step, but we need to have assurances that funding will be in place. Can the Minister give us further details on how finance will be secured and how it will be allocated? I know the Minister is aware of my concern that we have agreed a framework but have yet to fill in the details. What action will the Government take, leading into the South African conference, to ensure that we have those details and can reach agreement?

We have agreements, but we need to make sure that those promised actions are taken or those agreements will not be a foundation for change. Developing countries need this life-saving finance, because their citizens cannot wait. Finally, we need to see leadership from Britain and Europe over the next 12 months before the countries meet again in South Africa. The Government have our full support in seeking meaningful international agreements.

I thank the noble Baroness for her charitable remarks. It is gratifying to see such harmony among our Benches on this subject. She is quite right that we have an awful lot to do. This is the starting block. As I said earlier, there was not great expectation that Cancun would achieve anything. It has achieved broad agreement from 193 countries, which is no mean feat. I pay my own compliments to the Secretary of State, Christopher Huhne, and to Gregory Barker, the Minister for Climate Change, both of whom played a very active role in getting agreement. The Secretary of State was asked by the Mexican Government to lead on brokering compromises, and it was no mean achievement.

As for the noble Baroness’s specific questions, the 30 per cent target is absolutely right. The Secretary of State made a statement on that matter. As I said earlier in the Statement, the Spanish have now agreed to support that and there is widespread agreement building within Europe to support that very ambitious target.

As for the green climate fund, it is early days. The advisory group on finance met and set up a range of options on where the money could come from. It can come from government budgets, an emissions auction process or from the private sector. The combination of those three will be very beneficial to creating this fund. There is clearly a lot more detailed work to put into that, but there is a commitment to work on it in the run-up to Durban.

I hope that that answers the noble Baroness’s questions. I thank her for her generous statements. I do not intend to answer on the subject of the Forestry Commission, as it is not within my remit, but I thank her for the question anyway.

My Lords, I think that the contrast between this year and last year has been absolutely excellent, and I am sure most of the House would echo that, but may I press the Minister on one or two areas? I should like to have a little more detail on verification, which many of us believe is one of the most important areas that was discussed. Has China in particular now agreed that verification procedures are not just permissible but something that it will encourage, and that they will be part of any future regime and will no longer be resisted?

On REDD and deforestation in general, we are all aware of the still huge rate of deforestation. It might not be quite as great as it was in the past few years, but it is still there. Will the Minister indicate when this regime will come in and when deforestation will start to decelerate in a very major way, given that these forests will not be replaced? Once they are gone, they are gone.

Lastly, I always understood that these UN agreements had to be unanimous for them to work. Will the Minister explain why Bolivia stood against this agreement, and how that leads the agreement? The great lesson to me is to keep one’s expectations low and then maybe enlightenment will come somehow and things will be delivered. Whether this will happen for Durban next year is, of course, the next question, but I add my congratulations to the ministerial team and to the Mexican Government on the excellent outcome.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. I have always kept my expectations low throughout my life; it is a very good starting point for anything. Look where I am now—noble Lords might ask where.

My noble friend quite rightly asked three very valuable questions. I will, if I may, deal with forestry and deforestation first. The agreement was to map out the extent of forestry at the moment so that we had a baseline from which to start discussions in Durban and the period running up to it. It set a formula and a place to start from.

Secondly, even though I was not there, I understand that Bolivia did not agree to the target because its commitments and targets are much more aggressive. I understand that it is looking for no more than a 1 degree-Celsius increase in emissions, and I think it felt that it had a more aggressive timetable.

Thirdly, the verification system is a commitment from all 193 countries that subscribed to verification—so China is included in this—to set a framework and a platform over the four-year period and be transparent about the standards that they are setting in their own countries. The plan is to be able to verify every four years.

My Lords, will the Minister accept congratulations on the Government’s input into this conference and on the way in which both the previous Government and this Government have refused to be discouraged by the outcome at Copenhagen? I think that that was admirable.

On verification, does the Minister not agree that if there is to be a legally binding agreement, which is, I think, the objective of many, it will be sustainable only if there is a proper international verification process? Will he say whether the European Union could take a lead in the months ahead in shaping up the sort of international verification process that will be necessary if business and the electorates are to have any confidence in this?

Secondly, will the Minister comment on the fact that the UN now seems to have broken out of the tyranny of consensus that enabled a very small number of spoilers very nearly to wreck the proceedings at Copenhagen, and that that lesson needs to be learnt and carried forward so that in future we do not allow a very small number of countries with possibly quite different interests to block the interests of the large majority?

A legally binding agreement is very difficult to achieve, as we have seen from Copenhagen and Cancun. Do we, in reality, need a legally binding agreement? Are we not better just having an agreement under which we transparently announce the requirements for verification and for reporting, and for all those sorts of issues? If they are transparent, people can see what progress is being made. Of course, we would all like a legally binding agreement, but it is rather a big ask among the 193 countries, with their different laws.

One of the very valuable things about Cancun was how well team Europe did at the table, as opposed to at Copenhagen where it was viewed to have been marginalised. The European team’s endeavour was much greater at Cancun. As I said earlier, our own Secretary of State and officials who now lead team Europe were very much at the forefront of negotiations, and I know that they are determined to press for a tight strategy for these processes to come to fruition rather than just for general talking.

My Lords, I join my noble friend in his satisfaction with an outcome that binds no country to anything at all. In that event, however, does he not agree that the position of the United Kingdom, which, alone in the world, has bound itself legally to a massive decarbonisation agreement at huge cost and by a specific date, is utterly incomprehensible, not to say quixotic?

As I think the noble Baroness said, there are a few cynics in the House, although they might claim to be realists. I believe that the fundamental Conservative principle is that we put the taxpayer first, as the noble Lord so excellently did when I worshipped him as the great reforming Chancellor. However, he also knows that Britain is a great country because it has shown leadership, and this is what we are doing; we are putting Britain at the forefront of this by showing leadership.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement and the outcome at Cancun, but I particularly welcome the Government’s approach to engaging properly with the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government in advance of, and during, the summit. That is the right way for the Government of the United Kingdom to handle these matters. However, I have two questions for the Minister. First, given the way in which the major developed countries of the world have withdrawn from the commitments made at Gleneagles—another summit, on global poverty—how will it be possible to ensure that those who need to make a contribution to the global fund will carry through that commitment and ensure that those resources are available?

Secondly, will the Government of the United Kingdom ensure that their international development funding and policies work coherently with the approach that was agreed last week and the way in which that will be implemented following Durban next year?

I, too, pay tribute to the input from the National Assemblies for the great work that they have done in getting to this point and in helping with these negotiations.

On the green fund, it is clear that countries must honour their commitments. It is fundamental that, in the build-up to establishing this fund, feet are held to the fire as to the exact contribution that countries will make. However, 193 out of 194 countries signing up to something and the transparent way in which it will be done will be a very good starting point.

Our own Government have committed £1.5 billion as fast-track funding between 2010 and 2012. Our ongoing commitment is part of a £2.9 billion commitment over a five-year period—we will certainly not go back on that commitment—of which £300 million will be allocated to the deforestation issue.

My Lords, the Statement acknowledges that levels of emissions of carbon dioxide continue to rise, despite all the conferences, meetings and decisions to date. When do the Government realistically expect the rate in the rise of carbon dioxide to begin to decrease?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for that. Unfortunately, I do not have my charts in front of me, but I would be happy to provide him with some of the analysis to answer that question. I thank the Church of England for the example that it has set through step change in driving the church towards nil carbon emissions in the near future. Again, that is leading by example.

I attended the Kyoto conference and those at Cancun and Copenhagen. The atmosphere and organisation was fundamentally different, for which we offer our congratulations to the Mexican Government. However, the Minister may recall that in a debate in this House on climate change I put forward my concerns that the Prime Minister had said that he wanted a legal agreement at Cancun. I did not think that that was possible and announced the five or six principles that I thought were important to finding agreement based on a voluntary agreement and not the legal framework. I must say that the Government have achieved that and, perhaps for the first time in my life, I offer a little congratulation to the Government and the Secretary of State, Mr Huhne, to whom I explained my plan on the aeroplane.

However, I am a little concerned about the Statement when it talks about ambition and cuts of 30 per cent et cetera in carbon. Ambition can be the defeat of the good. I worry about the Durban conference and that we may make the mistake that we made at Copenhagen; namely, that we get far too ambitious in our demands. Therefore, for the South African conference, I fear that 12 months will not be sufficient to deal with all these detailed negotiations that took four years after Kyoto. Will the Minister consider and express within the European Union the view that we are thinking of stopping the clock on the 2012 date set for Kyoto in order that South Africa and Durban does not appear to be a failure as occurred at Copenhagen?

No one has done more for these conferences than the noble Lord, Lord Prescott. In fact, the Secretary of State has told me of the pleasant fireside chat that he had with the noble Lord in Cancun. I do not think that “fireside” is the right word—perhaps it should be “poolside”. The noble Lord is absolutely right to send a note of caution. He has been at the forefront of negotiations for a long time. He has understood that this has to be slowly, slowly, despite the fact that we want to go quickly. However, I go back to what I said. We must set high standards for ourselves if others are to follow. I do not think that he would disagree with that.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend and the Government on their Statement. As someone who had the honour of representing the Government at the first earth summit in Rio in 1992, I well recollect how difficult these conferences can be. Now that the momentum lost at Copenhagen has to some extent been resumed as a result of the efforts which my noble friend has described, will he tell us a little more about what our Government, together with our partners in the European Union, intend to do between now and the Durban conference in order to maintain that momentum?

Again, I should like to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Howard who was instrumental in persuading the Americans to come on board in Rio in 1992 and has great experience of these matters. As he rightly knows—he would have learnt this at Rio—and as we have heard since, it is our determination, working with the EU, to show real leadership in this and to press hard to turn what is a loose but generally agreeable statement into something practical. We should not set high expectations for ourselves to be ratified in legal language by Durban, but ensure that the transparency issues, which are critical to this agreement, the production and announcement of the transparency and how the targets being set by each country are established, are held up to public attention.

My Lords, in view of the critical importance of rain forests in the general effort to achieve the objectives that the Governments have set themselves, will my noble friend say a little more about REDD-plus? Given all these good intentions and a widespread understanding about the importance of rain forests, their destruction still continues at a considerable rate. Little effort seems to be made to slow down the production of soya beans, palm oil and cattle ranching. When will we get effective, tangible action on the ground?

It is absolutely fundamental that the Brazilians and the Congo Government associated themselves with this agreement. Those two countries have a massive forest issue. It is not possible for me to give fixed dates, but, for once, we have an agreement that something will be done. We are going to establish a map to show where the forests lie, which we hope will form the boundaries for no-go areas for deforestation.

My Lords, although this is a moment on which we can congratulate the Government and the other Governments concerned with this, I would—

My Lords, we have plenty of time. I suggest that we hear the noble Lord, Lord Soley, followed by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon.

I am very grateful. I rarely insist, but I was right this time. Although it is right that we congratulate Governments at this time, it is important to remember why we are more optimistic now about our ability to deal with this problem than we were 10 or 20 years ago. It is because not just Governments, but industries, public and private organisations, as well as individuals, are now much more seized of the seriousness of this. All are playing a major part in trying to drive down emissions. We should encourage that and perhaps give more credit to those industries, organisations and individuals who are making a big effort now in a way that was not happening before.

I totally agree with the noble Lord. The encouraging thing about Cancun is that it reverses the trend and brings real momentum back into the process and the understanding that we have to reduce our emissions as a result of climate change.

I should like to raise two matters. First, there are varying estimates as to the number of people who attended the conference. As far as I can see, there were between 10,000 and 25,000. It would be useful if the Minister could give us the number. Secondly, I thought I heard him say that the cost of the operation of helping underdeveloped countries would be $100 billion. If that is correct, what proportion of that figure will be met by the United Kingdom?

I cannot respond to the question of how many people were in Cancun. I am afraid that I am not the arbiter. All I can tell the noble Lord is that in order to reflect the current economic circumstances, our department sent 70 people to Copenhagen and 46 to Cancun. The noble Lord is right about the $100 billion fund. That ambitious target has been set for the green climate fund. As yet the apportionment of that, or the contributions to it, has not been ratified. As I said earlier, the Advisory Group on Finance has met and has developed a pathway of where that figure can be resolved.