HC Deb 19 April 1995 vol 258 cc202-5
12. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what new proposals he has to combat global warming, following the Berlin conference. [17916]

Mr. Gummer

Britain set the pace at the Berlin conference by calling for others to join us in making reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the decade after 2000. This enabled us to take the lead role in producing the Berlin mandate which provides the engine that will make such reductions possible. We must work hard now to agree, and to get others to agree, real reductions in 1997.

Mr. Flynn

While the Minister is entitled to half a cheer for that complacent answer and for the fact that we are one of only three of the primary emitter countries likely to achieve our targets, does he not agree with the Alliance of Small Nations that the conference was a failure because it lacked any political will and the decisions were short sighted? Does he not know that many areas of this country, including many parts of my constituency, lie under the level of high tide and have to be protected by sea walls? Is it not true that the Government are failing, and the conference failed, to come up with new targets for a reduction in the emission of the gases that cause global warming? Is that not a failure to tackle the most serious problem facing our world civilisation?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right. It would be good if we occasionally heard from the hon. Gentleman something congratulatory about his own country—on this occasion, we are leading the world. We shall not only meet our obligations in 2000, but do better than that. We are the country that has taken the lead in the European Union. We have got the European Union to put forward the basis of the agreement for the Berlin mandate.

The facts that the hon. Gentleman quotes are false. The Berlin conference was not a conference to decide on the amounts of reduction, but one to decide on the means by which we would achieve them and to agree that there would be reductions. When we arrived, we found that the United States and many other countries had no intention of signing up to reductions. We managed to bring those countries on board. We have played a key role, and have been helped in that by the support of the Opposition. It is sad that the hon. Gentleman should try to drive a wedge between us. As for the hon. Gentleman's constituency, I have the honour to represent a constituency almost all of which will disappear under the sea unless I am successful.

Mr. Fabricant

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the moves that he made to produce the Berlin mandate. I also remind the House that it was Baroness Thatcher who initially proposed the Rio summit, the precursor of the Berlin conference. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should not get carried away with the single idea that it is greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Many scientists argue that the cause could be sun spots, and that changes in the earth's core could also have an effect on global warming. May I commend to my right hon. Friend an excellent article that was published in The Spectator a few months ago on that very subject?

Mr. Gummer

I agree with my hon. Friend that my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Thatcher was the person who most immediately raised the subject in the political debate, as is natural for a Conservative—concern for the next generation is part of our political creed. My hon. Friend would do better to follow my right hon. Friend Baroness Thatcher's example than that of the article in The Spectator. The truth is that the work that the Meteorological Office and the Hadley Centre have produced clearly shows that analysing historic evidence gives every indication of the link between the emission of greenhouse gases and global warming. At the very least, we have to say that the signs are so strong that it would be wrong and dangerous to ignore them.

Mr. Bennett

Before the Secretary of State gets too pleased with himself, will he confirm that the Energy Saving Trust originally intended to save 2.5 million tonnes in carbon dioxide emissions but that the Government have so far found no way of financing those savings and enabling the Energy Saving Trust to operate? What is the Secretary of State going to do about that?

Mr. Gummer

I will confirm that we thought originally that we might just reach our target in 2000, and it now looks as though we shall do better than that. Originally, we were not prepared to commit ourselves to reductions after 2000, but we are now committing ourselves to reductions of between 5 and 10 per cent., so long as we can encourage others to work with us, as we are responsible for only 3 per cent. of emissions. The hon. Gentleman underlines the fact that we have done better than we promised, and we shall continue to do so.

Mr. Dafis

Does the Secretary of State agree that the use of cost-benefit analysis in developing policies to combat climate change is, at best, questionable? Is he aware that, as part of the policy development process, economists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change currently propose to ascribe monetary values to American lives that are 10 times greater than those for third-world lives? Will the Secretary of State unequivocally reject that idea and ensure that it plays no part in any policy negotiation process on climate change?

Mr. Gummer

I think that I would want to distinguish between the two parts of the hon. Gentleman's question. I think that the cost-benefit analysis applied in those circumstances could be extremely helpful. I cannot think of anything else that would demonstrate so clearly the importance of taking the steps that we are taking and the very considerable damage that would be done to many countries around the world if the climate change that seems possible as a result of man's intervention in gas emission were to occur. It is true that any kind of change would prove very costly indeed, so the benefits of avoiding it are extremely worth while.

I cannot comment on the other matter raised by the hon. Gentleman, but it is quite clear to me that one life is as worthy as another, wherever it may be.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of the savings in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions have resulted from the increase in electricity production by the nuclear industry? Does he agree that we should promote the greater use of nuclear power within the United Kingdom and that we should support the spread of United Kingdom research overseas in order to establish nuclear power stations in other developed and developing nations?

Mr. Gummer

I am very proud of the nuclear industry, particularly Sizewell B in my constituency. There are many other ways in which we can ensure that we reduce gas emissions in power production. The fact is that we do not get aught for nowt, and there are disadvantages in all methods of power production. However, we must ensure that we produce power with as little damage to the environment as possible. That is the policy of the Government.

Ms Ruddock

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Association of Small Island States—the territories most at risk from the threat of global warming—are pressing the developed countries for a 20 per cent. reduction in CO2 emissions by 2005? Is he further aware that the energy technology support unit of the Department of Trade and Industry believes that a 20 per cent. reduction in energy consumption in Britain is possible with no-regrets policies?

As the Government have had it so easy to date and as the Secretary of State regards himself as a leader, will he now commit the Government and this country to a 20 per cent. reduction in CO, levels by 2005?

Mr. Gummer

I am interested to see that Labour party policy has changed on the issue and that the Labour party has evidently committed itself to a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2005.

Ms Ruddock

Answer the question.

Mr. Gummer

If the hon. Lady is asking me to answer the question, no doubt she has already committed her party to a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide levels by 2005. She has told the House that such a reduction would be easy and, if it is easy, she clearly wishes to achieve it. Therefore, unless she is prepared to deny in the House that the Labour party intends to go for a 20 per cent. reduction in energy use in this country by 2005, we will have to take that as Labour party policy until there is a public renunciation of her comment. According to the hon. Lady, the target is so easy that it should be accepted. Until I hear something different from her, that is what I shall be saying around the country.