HC Deb 16 December 1997 vol 303 cc129-44 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the outcome of the United Nations conference on climate change, which I attended last week in Kyoto, Japan, along with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment.

Man-made climate change is the greatest environmental threat facing the world today. In the United Kingdom, we have suffered record drought for the past two and a half years. This year, the world experienced the highest average temperatures that have ever been recorded. Terrible floods have engulfed central Europe, and droughts and storms have followed this year's El Nino. Forest fires have caused deadly pollution in south-east Asia and Australia. Our polar ice caps are melting, and only this weekend Mexico was hit by freak snowstorms.

Already, our sea levels are rising as ocean temperatures increase and the waters expand. If that continues, some island communities will disappear into the sea. A third of the world's population lives within 40 miles of the coast. Whole swathes of Britain's east coast could fall victim to rising sea levels.

The human race risks playing havoc with the world's weather systems. Unless we act now, we shall be condemning our children to a world of drought and crop failures, rising seas, mass migration and spreading disease. Nature is no respecter of boundaries. This is a global problem demanding a global solution, and the very justification for the Kyoto conference.

The main purpose of the Kyoto conference was for the developed countries to set legally binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2010. Success was by no means certain. Consensus had to be achieved among 160 different nations, and the conference started with the major players poles apart. The European Union proposed a 15 per cent. cut; Japan a 2.5 per cent. cut; and the United States proposal was for a zero cut.

After long and gruelling negotiations, the protocol was agreed on Thursday morning, and will be open for signature in March. For the first time, developed countries, which account for over half the world's greenhouse gas emissions, will commit themselves to legally binding targets. The agreement will produce a cut of more than 5 per cent. in their emissions below 1990 levels by 2010.

I said before negotiations began that political will would be needed to deliver a successful agreement. The outcome of hard negotiations was that America moved from zero to a cut of 7 per cent.; Japan moved from a cut of 2.5 per cent. to 6 per cent.; and the European Union set the top standard with a cut of 8 per cent., a standard which was adopted by a total of 26 countries. The outcome demonstrated beyond doubt that genuine political will did exist in all those countries, and a political breakthrough was achieved. I have placed in the Library a full copy of the Kyoto protocol, which lists the figures for each country.

In four to five years' time, there will be a chance to review and, if possible, to improve the targets. The targets will cover the six main greenhouse gases, not only carbon dioxide. The protocol also provides a number of measures that will help countries to achieve their targets. The measures include the possibility of trading in permits for greenhouse gas emissions; limited allowances for absorption of carbon dioxide by forests, which act as so-called "carbon sinks"; and provision for developed countries to gain credit by helping developing countries curb their emissions.

Fears—genuine fears—were expressed that those provisions might amount to loopholes in the agreement. That is why we, the United Kingdom, proposed the concept of a "window of credibility" for countries to demonstrate their firm commitment to the agreement; and it is why the European Union insisted that clear rules for all the provisions must be developed over the next two years or so.

The conference fully recognised that the developed world must take the lead in curbing global warming. It is now necessary to discuss how developing countries can become more involved in the commitment to that process. That is necessary for long-term success in tackling global warming.

The United Kingdom played a major role in ensuring that Kyoto was successful. I pay tribute to my predecessor as Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), for the part that he played in agreeing the Berlin mandate in 1995, which set the parameters for Kyoto. He was, indeed, a member of the United Kingdom delegation.

The Government have demonstrated at the highest levels their commitment to environmental issues. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister highlighted climate change at the G8 summit in Denver, at the Earth summit in New York, and at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has put the environment at the heart of his foreign policy and worked for the successful conclusion at Kyoto. At the request of the Japanese hosts, I myself chaired the meeting of the developed countries that was held last month in Tokyo. In the run-up to Kyoto, I met the leaders of a number of developed and developing countries.

I should like to praise the efforts of the Prime Minister himself, who was in telephone contact with other world leaders to secure the final agreement. I should like also to thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, who played a key role with our European partners. Finally, the agreement would not have been achieved without the sheer professionalism and commitment of British civil servants. It was a really strong British team effort within a powerful European contribution.

We must turn our minds now to implementation. The United Kingdom will assume the European Union presidency at a crucial stage. Over the next six months, we need to agree how the European target of an 8 per cent. reduction will be shared out among member states; policies and measures at a European level to help achieve those targets; and the European position on rules for the various issues that I mentioned. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment is today discussing those very matters at the Environment Council in Brussels.

Previously, the European Union had agreed proposals to achieve an average 10 per cent. cut in emissions. There were different contributions from different member states.

Germany, for example, agreed a minus 25 per cent. target, whereas Portugal agreed a 40 per cent. increase. We need to renegotiate those figures in the light of the outcome of Kyoto. We shall not be certain of the legal target applying to the United Kingdom until that share-out has been determined. We shall, of course, accept our legal obligation as our first priority, but shall still work for our aim of 20 per cent., as set out in our manifesto.

We are already working on plans to achieve our targets, taking into account the outcome of Kyoto. Next year, we shall publish a consultation document. In setting out our programme, we shall consult widely—particularly industry, local authorities and environmental groups, which will all have key roles to play in delivering the reductions. I reassure industry—as the Prime Minister did at our business summit—that we shall not take any unilateral measures that will unduly damage UK competitiveness.

Tackling climate change is about opportunity and gain, not pain. It goes hand in hand with building a better, more modern and affluent Britain. It is about improving transport systems in a way that will give us a better quality of life and cleaner cities; improving the housing stock, which will give us warmer, more comfortable homes and tackle fuel poverty; using less energy in a way that will make our industries more efficient; and ensuring that the UK is at the forefront of the world environmental technology market so that we can create new jobs and business opportunities. It is good for the environment, good for the economy, good for people and good for jobs.

I believe that Kyoto will be remembered as the place where the world, in a United Nations forum, faced a crucial decision and made the right choice. Failure, which many had predicted, would have condemned future generations to untold misery and disaster. We have taken the first, but only the first, crucial step to curbing climate change. There is still much to be done, but I am certainly proud of the role that the United Kingdom has played in this achievement.

We do not own this world; we hold it in trust, to hand on to our children's children. We owe it to them to build on the Kyoto agreement to safeguard their future.

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I welcome the fact that there was an agreement in Kyoto last week because, surely, that reflects a growing acceptance by national Governments that international action is needed to tackle the problem of climate change. I endorse what the Secretary of State said about my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and his contribution.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will recognise that the agreement is a long way short of the objectives stated by the Government and the European Union, and that that has led to disappointment being expressed by bodies such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature. Against that background may I ask the right hon. Gentleman some short questions?

The right hon. Gentleman has confirmed that the Government still intend to aim for a 20 per cent. reduction in emissions by 2010. Will he say more about the exact policies by which that target will be reached? How will he ensure that industry, for example, is not disadvantaged because Britain is aiming for a more stringent target than other developed countries? Will he confirm that any increase in green taxes will be compensated for by tax reductions elsewhere and that green taxes will not be seen simply and exclusively as a general revenue raiser?

On emissions trading, what safeguards and checks are there to ensure that countries taking credit for emission reductions have actually achieved those reductions rather than their having been brought about because of temporary industrial depression in a particular economy? If we are to cut carbon dioxide emissions, that will involve planning policies aimed at preventing as many people as possible from having to make long commuting journeys into work. Is not that another reason why we should do all we can to preserve the green belt in this country and put energy and resources into developing the brown-field sites in our towns and cities?

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House—he touched on this—how Britain intends to use its presidency of the European Union and exactly what policies and measures he intends to propose for the detailed implementation of the Kyoto agreement? [Interruption.] I hope that the Minister for London and Construction realises that we are seeking to be constructive.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that on both sides of the House, with the exception of the Minister for London and Construction, the importance of making urgent progress is recognised and fully shared?

Mr. Prescott

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the agreement. I think that both sides of the House will endorse that. It was important to get an agreement on legal targets, and establishing that legal framework was probably the main contribution of the conference. Most of the environmental non-governmental organisations have made that sound point. It is a first step and no more, but it is an important first step. It is right to call it historic.

The right hon. Gentleman asked how we intend to achieve our aim of a 20 per cent. reduction. I made it clear in my statement that that is a target which we set for ourselves and that it was not dependent on Kyoto. We have already embarked on the policy changes necessary to achieve that. Indeed, the Government's scientific advisers have told us that it is possible and we have already produced the first paper for the Cabinet Committee, to show how that can be done. Methods include improving renewables and an integrated transport system—all of which will involve Government statements and a new planning framework.

I am pleased that planning is no longer an ideological issue of dispute between the two parties. Planning is essential if there are to be positive targets for industry to achieve. That point was made by representatives of business when they met my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister; they wanted practical targets, and we agree. We hope to produce a statement on that subject as a beginning, next year. We shall consider what happens in the negotiations that take place in Europe, based on the legal targets and Europe's legal commitments.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear that he will make more statements about the taxation framework in the Budget—he also made that clear in the recently published Green Paper. Taxes will play a part in the process, just as fuel duties did under the previous Administration.

Trading emissions are a matter of concern. It became clear to me, as I toured various parts of the world and talked to leaders, that each country had conditions relating to how it would achieve the target. New Zealand's conditions involve forests; Australia's involve land clearance; America's involve trading emissions and the new funding arrangements for using credits. In those circumstances, it was clear that no agreement could be achieved on that subject within the negotiating period at Kyoto.

The Americans had also made it clear that Congress would not endorse the target unless the developing countries signed up, which meant that there had to be a further period within which the rules could be worked out. It was important that the measures should not be seen as loopholes—the agreement's credibility very much depends on that. I do not believe that the American Congress will endorse the agreement unless the rules are worked out. There will be an opportunity for people to sign up in March and agree a period for ratification—some three or four years from now, after the presidential elections, when we can work out all the details.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) is right to say that the agreement's credibility is very much linked to flexibility. That is why we shall use our European presidency, which begins in January, and our leadership of the G8 countries, which meet here in the next six months, to place on the agenda—as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been doing—environmental issues and how we sort out the rules, what the rules are and whether we can bring the experts together quickly. We are rightly considering those issues as a matter of priority. I hope that our policy enjoys the full support of the House, as it is necessary, and I welcome the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield's words of support.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I congratulate my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment on all their hard work during the negotiations. When will the treaty begin to work? What are the prospects of the United States ratifying it? What mechanism is there for the process to be reviewed, particularly if the evidence of climate change gets worse and public opinion around the world demands faster action than was originally agreed?

Mr. Prescott

Those are essential questions and I thank my hon. Friend for his words of support, particularly as he is the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, which will have an opportunity to question us further in future. We have placed the protocol in the Library. The conference is likely to be called within four years, but within 12 months I believe that a conference will be called—I am afraid that the country's name has slipped out of my mind.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

It will be in Buenos Aires.

Mr. Prescott

Buenos Aires—I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That conference will be called within 12 months, and we can begin to assess how far the agreements have gone, what we have done about the details and the rules that will apply—that is equally as important as the legal targets that were achieved at Kyoto.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell)

I am sure that the Deputy Prime Minister will agree that there was a risk of the process collapsing, and I join others in welcoming the agreement that was secured in those circumstances. Nevertheless, the net outcome of the figures agreed is that global warming will continue to worsen and the agreement will not reverse the position. Further action therefore needs to be taken to secure a tighter international agreement.

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government will stick by their manifesto commitment to a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, although the agreement is about a basket of gases? Will he explain what he means by saying that the priority will be the legal obligation rather than the UK Government's target of a 20 per cent. cut? It is not clear how that figure will be met if the concentration is on a much lower figure.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister work with the Prime Minister to use the EU presidency to ensure that the EU sticks, at the minimum, to its current 10 per cent. reduction policy—and ideally, with the 15 per cent. cut that it offered—rather than simply reverting to the legal obligation of 8 per cent., which would be a step back for the European Union as a whole?

Mr. Prescott

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his words of support. He is right to say that the legal obligation is neither as ambitious an achievement as many of us would have wanted nor as ambitious as the European target of a 10 per cent. cut or the hoped-for 15 per cent. cut. The conference was, however, about getting 160 nations to agree. The hon. Gentleman may know that the conference could not settle its differences by voting; everything had to be done by consensus, which made matters far more difficult.

The real point is the net reduction of greenhouse gases. The reduction in greenhouse gases by developed countries—only the developed countries have agreed to such a reduction—is more than 5 per cent. That is a considerable achievement; most people predicted a far lower figure. The hon. Gentleman is, however, right to point out that greenhouse gas emissions also come from developing countries. They were not prepared—indeed, this was part of the Berlin mandate—to sign up to reductions. They made it clear that they wanted the major polluters to sign an agreement and that they would then make their decision. The ball is now in their court. If we want a real global solution, we have to get everyone in it, not just the developed countries, and that will make a real contribution.

People will begin to see that many opportunities can come from the changes involved in meeting the targets. That will encourage them to go further and to set even more stringent targets. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the first set of targets under the Montreal protocol was easily achieved, and that the countries involved met again and set further targets. That is a useful example to us; we must get on with the job.

The hon. Gentleman made an interesting point about countries having targets different from the legal ones. It is our responsibility to observe our legal targets before the voluntary ones. We have not, however, waited for the legal target. We are setting a target of 20 per cent., as we promised, and we are already implementing the programme to achieve that. We are advised by Government scientists that that target is possible, and that is why we made our commitment.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, in Europe we have to negotiate changes internally in what is known as the European bubble. Reductions in greenhouse gases—six rather than three are considered under the new protocol—will affect countries such as Germany, which will want to renegotiate its position. We shall have to consider the differential targets within that framework. That will be a consideration for us to bear in mind, but at the moment, as is our commitment, we are working on the 20 per cent. target as well as recognising our legal target. If other European countries are prepared to join us in having not only the legal target of 8 per cent. but a higher one, they will, once again, be joining Britain, which has set the lead. We hope to encourage Europe to come that one step further with us.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he is engaged in an almost insoluble problem? Most countries do not operate on an interventionist basis. In fact, most of the problems of global warming and all the rest of it have come about simply as a result of the use of market forces and businesses' freedom to do as they like.

I believe that the problem can be solved only be intervention, red tape and regulation, which is totally contrary to the views of Conservative Members and, indeed, those of Liberal Democrat Members. I wish my right hon. Friend well, but I believe that he knows as well as I do that without proper intervention by every country and without every country acknowledging the need to do something as opposed to uttering abstract statements, the Kyoto conference will be like Rio and many before it.

Mr. Prescott

I certainly hope that that is not the case and that it is in our hands to do something about it. The more united we are in achieving those objectives, the better.

Like my hon. Friend, I welcome the fact that planning, intervention and targets are part of an intelligent and rational approach to the problem, but I also have to recognise that, as the Americans would be quick to point out, trading emissions is an area in which there can be an element of market trading without the involvement of massive bureaucracy. I am quite prepared to consider that, given that I know that it worked quite well in America in respect of sulphur emissions. It may be a possibility—I do not know. We shall have to look at the rules, but I am prepared to keep an open mind on those matters, as long as we achieve the reduction in greenhouse gases that we all want. If we do not achieve that, we shall continue toward the disasters predicted by our scientists, which will result from the climate change brought about by ever increasing amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and congratulate him on his success. Does he agree that we ought to congratulate the officials, who became very important to the whole European Community, on the work that they have done?

Can the right hon. Gentleman help me on two matters? First, would he be willing, over the next year and with the developing countries, to seek a means of creating a system of convergence that recognises that, if in the end we have to share out the emissions that are possible, we shall have to share them out on a fair basis at some point in the next century? We need to start working on that before Buenos Aires. Secondly, would he be willing to bring into his office representatives of American-owned companies in this country, such as Vauxhall or Esso, to see whether we can exert some pressure on the mother companies in the United States, which have taken so strong a view against doing something about global warming? British companies operating in the United States, such as Shell, might well play a part in that effort, if the right hon. Gentleman were willing to take that as one of the issues on which we could get some progress.

Mr. Prescott

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his words of support. Just before he entered the Chamber, I had paid proper tribute to the civil servants, who were absolutely brilliant in assisting in our bringing about the agreement, but one cannot say too much. Both the right hon. Gentleman and I would agree on our tremendous admiration for the ambassador who chaired the conference, who actually achieved the agreement. He was quite remarkable and, in my view, the agreement would not have been achieved without his ability to get 160 nations to come together on an issue on which there were very difficult differences between countries. I certainly want to make it clear that his contribution was very considerable indeed.

I agree with my right hon. Member—with the hon. Friend; forgive me, the niceties of the House are lost on me from time to time. As long as you understand the point, Madam Speaker, and I am sure my hon. Member—[Laughter.] Yes, why do I not say it? He was a right hon. Friend over there—he joined in a British cause to do something about the environment and, as I said, his record shows his commitment to that cause.

We have to move on from here and ask how to achieve the settlement. The British presidency gives us a great opportunity, as does leadership within the G8. There was some small criticism of Russia's contribution, but there is a chance for Russia to reconsider its position. It was hoped that Russia would have had a reduction, but it did not achieve that. If it had settled for the minus 5 per cent. recommended by the conference, we would have had an even more substantial contribution. It is now time for us to talk to all parties and ask, "Do you think that you can make a better contribution than you do at the moment?" I am sure that the G8 gives us an opportunity to open up that debate. We shall now start those discussions, to make sure that we can do even better than we do at the moment.

As for the criteria that will be used to monitor emissions, they clearly need to be fair. If they are not, we shall lose credibility; if there appear to be loopholes, people will feel that the whole possibility of agreement has been undermined by failure to secure fair means and rules, not only for emissions trading, but for carbon sinks and all the other flexible areas in the agreement. We shall do our utmost to ensure that they live up to the standards that we set at Kyoto.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on all his work, but do I take it from what he has said that the mechanism for policing the buying and selling of emissions is not likely to be put in place until the meeting in Argentina next year?

Mr. Prescott

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I hope that, through our presidency and other means available to us—we must not underestimate the contribution by the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which suggested that more could be done between developed and developing countries—we shall work on that formula. We shall not wait until that conference; indeed, I hope that, in the 12 months before then, we shall work out the principles and details needed to make a start on getting a fair agreement, especially in respect of the rules affecting emissions.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister's statement, and the fact that he is pressing ahead towards a 20 per cent. reduction. Did the 15 per cent. represent an original bargaining position on the part of the European Union, so that Europe could pride itself on the 8 per cent., which went beyond what the other countries wanted? Had the average of 10 per cent. already been worked out? Is there not a place for moral leadership by Europe in this matter? As it is alleged that the United Kingdom's emission reductions have coincided with the decline of our coal industry, is the right hon. Gentleman confident that we can reach the targets that we are setting ourselves?

Mr. Prescott

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I believe that the 8 per cent. does represent moral leadership; indeed, we tried to press the others to go for a higher figure. Bearing in mind the fact that the Americans had to travel from zero to 7 per cent., that represented quite an effort. There was never any question of the Americans agreeing to Europe's 15 per cent. That figure was a target to aim at. The European Union had gone for 10 per cent., as many of the negotiators were well aware. They were also well aware of Europe's bubble principle, allowing for distinctions to be made within the bubble. That gave rise to a number of difficult arguments during the negotiations.

Europe still has the chance to hold the moral high ground. We started from the position that there should be parity between Japan, America and ourselves, but it was clear that Japan would go no further than 6 per cent., while the Americans were prepared to go to 7 per cent. We went one step further, to 8 per cent. If we had gone any lower, quite a number of countries would have been prepared to go down to our level, and any agreement on net emissions would have been a failure.

We can continue to argue with other countries. There is no reason why we cannot set a target higher than the legal one, and use that as a means of pushing and shoving some of these other countries to agreeing to increase their targets beyond the legal targets as well. Europe must lead the way. As the measurement is given in terms of the proportion of the targets that is reached, one can assume that Europe has already given a greater lead than America—although we still welcome the overall agreement.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that this country would be greatly assisted in meeting its targets if, in addition to consulting local authorities and environmental groups, he were to consult in due course the proposed regional development agencies and regional chambers, so that their contribution could be considered in matters such as the integration of public transport and the production and manufacture of environmentally beneficial technology for industry?

Mr. Prescott

Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The regional development agencies will play their part in the greening of the United Kingdom and in encouraging companies to take advantage of the technology that will arise in response to the environmental changes necessary to meet the targets. This is about gain, not pain. As other countries have done, we should recognise the advantages of the process—we have yet to grasp the full potential of the changes.

We shall talk to the local authorities and environmental groups. The regional development agencies will play their part in setting regional priorities for integrated transport systems, and in the regional planning framework—deciding where industry and housing are to be located, for instance. Determining how people move from A to B can make a significant contribution to controlling greenhouse gases.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that in our zeal to improve the environment, we should not imperil our domestic industries in favour of those of other countries that will not share his degree of commitment? Does he further agree that, far from being perverse, our American allies are seriously considering alternative views on global warming, including views based on research produced by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and correlated in the American media by the American Global Climate Commission, which has considerable influence on the American Government?

Mr. Prescott

Not much influence, I suspect, judging by the fact that the Americans reached an agreement. There is no serious argument about the research any more; most people are fully aware of its implications. A great deal of work has been done, although of course people must make up their own minds. Certainly, most countries agree on the subject, and the conclusions of the research pushed those countries to reach an agreement more ambitious than the one that had been predicted. I certainly would not want us to pursue a policy that disadvantaged our industries against their competitors. However, there are many advantages to be gained from having more efficient industries, a better transport system and people living a better quality of life.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On the far from simple question of the carbon sink, does my right hon. Friend know that while he was pursuing his task with commendable energy, the President of Brazil and his entourage were in Britain and that some of us had the good fortune to talk in depth to Senor Dr. Martins, who is the head of Ibama? He said that if the world was so concerned about the rain forest as its lungs, the rest of the world had certain obligations to look after its lungs. Were those obligations in terms of international debt raised in Kyoto, and what, realistically, can we hope to do to look after the planet's lungs?

Mr. Prescott

My hon. Friend reminds me, by using the word "lungs" with regard to forests, of a lecture that I heard by the famous Jacques Cousteau—I have an interest in diving—when he said that the oceans were the lungs of the world. Anybody who looks at climate change and at what is happening to the forests, the weather and the oceans cannot but be impressed by the tremendously sophisticated system that produces our climate.

While we need to be concerned about the rain forests and the oceans, those matters were discussed at the UN Earth summit in June. We could not reach an agreement on forests because a number of countries opposed it, but we reached an agreement on oceans, and next year is designated the Year of the Oceans.

While I was in Australia, I took the opportunity—I confess that it was on a day off—to dive on the barrier reef. It was quite an experience to see all the fish and living coral; it was nature at its greatest. When I dived in the Mediterranean, I saw no fish, just a Coke bottle and a plastic cup. That is the reality. Many of our oceans are dying and our rain forests are under threat, which is why people no longer doubt the seriousness of the scientific projections on climate change. I am proud that this Government are to the fore in making the changes.

Mr. David Prior (North Norfolk)

In view of the massive predicted increase in the burning of coal for coal-fired power generation, particularly in India and China, will the right hon. Gentleman put his considerable weight behind efforts to beef up clean coal technology in the UK?

Mr. Prescott

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. All Governments have failed to give the support to clean coal technology that was desperately needed. That subject is part of an on-going review of energy policies. The hon. Gentleman reminds me that China, with its tremendous coal resources, did a deal with America to build 150 nuclear plants. I presume that that represents the influence and pressures that there will be between trading nations. Such deals will be influenced by environmental considerations, which is one of the points that was made with regard to trading emissions. We must be careful to ensure that the rules are absolutely clear, because if we leave loopholes, they will undermine the credibility of any change and damage our achievements in Kyoto.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I appreciate all the work that my right hon. Friend has done. It is clearly teamwork, and we can be as proud as if we had brought the World cup home because, in the end, any achievements will be there for all the people of the world. Has my right hon. Friend considered how Parliament could be used to take the issue further forward? If we need the consent of the whole world to go forward with the proposals, Parliaments around the world have a part to play. We desperately need education, so that all the nations of the world can back up their Governments in making urgent progress.

Mr. Prescott

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I welcome the agreement, and we should all be thrilled by it. It is an important step forward. I do not know whether it can be equated with the World cup, but that reminds me that I was a member of the House of Commons team that beat the German parliamentary team by two goals to one, so at least we held our end up politically.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Changes are necessary in attitude and approach, and Parliament will be at the centre of such changes. How we manage change and meet the challenge is crucial. The Environmental Audit Committee will play an important part. We have also established a Cabinet Committee to make sure that all Government Departments are aware of the changes that will take place.

Our initiative in establishing the Environmental Audit Committee emphasises the fact that we shall have a Committee snapping at our heels to ensure that we live up to our fine promises in carrying out the detail of our policy. The House will play a major part in persuading the nation that it is right to go along that road. Frankly, I think that the nation is ahead of us. People know that changes are needed, and we shall bring them about.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I pay tribute to the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman who, I believe, cares greatly about these matters. Must not the detailed policy take account of two issues, which were raised with me this morning? First, the Energy Saving Trust is scheduled to take a cut of about 50 per cent. in its funding. The right hon. Gentleman may say that that decision was made by the previous Government, but will he now take action to reverse it, especially as he spoke about using less energy, which is what the Energy Saving Trust is about?

The second point concerns the suspension of planning permission for new power stations. That is holding up 700 MW of capacity for combined heat and power. If that 700 MW of CHP came on stream, 700,000 tonnes of carbon emissions would be saved each year. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider that carefully and further encourage CHP?

Mr. Prescott

Those matters must be taken into account. The fine phrases and the targets to be set are all very well, but what will count is the detail of those policies. Whether there is a change in the funding of the Energy Saving Trust, and who introduced it, is not the point. We must reconsider much of our expenditure and our priorities. We have now accepted an agreement from Kyoto that sets legal targets. All our policies will have to be judged by their contribution to that, because we intend to enter seriously into our legal target, and into the target of 20 per cent. that we set for ourselves.

We are considering the moratorium on the power stations in the context of our energy policy. It is an essential part of any agreement on the environment. We shall make a statement at the appropriate time.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I share the concerns that he expressed in his opening remarks, when he suggested that if action is not taken, humanity will destroy our world. It is therefore important that we take note of the points made in his statement.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that certain communities, such as the mining community, have made substantial contributions to reducing pollution of the atmosphere? Will he take the lead, as he is doing in many other respects, in ensuring that clean coal technology is developed in the United Kingdom, for use throughout the world?

Mr. Prescott

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which we are taking into account. I am concerned about the consequences of change resulting from environmental policies. When I visited mining areas in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), I was struck by the consequences of living in communities that have been denied their main source of employment. We have set up the coalfield community task force to look at how we might help to provide the jobs necessary to reverse the decline that we witness in those areas. We have an obligation to help the parts of our communities that might well be affected, and to see whether the opportunities arising from the agreements could be directed to those areas. We are examining all those aspects.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

We welcome the fact that there has been an agreement and that the momentum is being maintained. We share some of the views expressed by the Deputy Prime Minister about the progress that remains to be made. We are delighted with the enthusiasm that he has shown in the House today for going further, and we shall encourage him at each step of the way.

I shall press the right hon. Gentleman on one or two points. He referred to the difference between the legal target of 8 per cent. and the voluntary manifesto target of 20 per cent. I put it to him that in achieving the 20 per cent., we shall easily achieve our legal requirements. Therefore, is not that the target on which to focus British policy and the target which we should take into our discussions with the European Union?

I refer to one or two specific points. The Energy Saving Trust has been mentioned.

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor), the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, made quite a long contribution earlier, to which he received a considerable reply from the Deputy Prime Minister. Hon. Members should ask one question each—that is what this process is all about. Mr. Prescott, will you respond?

Mr. Prescott

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) for his remarks—although he is having difficulty keeping up with the pace that we have set. We shall do our best to achieve the targets.

The hon. Gentleman made a serious point. The legal target in Europe will be achieved in a certain way, and we have an obligation to achieve it in that manner also. That will have some implications for the 20 per cent. target, but it should not prevent us from continuing with our programme—which we are spelling out at present. We have an obligation to the legal target, but that will not deter us from achieving a higher target, which we shall set for ourselves and which we are currently working out. I shall make a statement about that to the House at the appropriate time.

Mrs. Helen Brinton (Peterborough)

I join hon. Members in warmly welcoming the Deputy Prime Minister's statement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that local energy advice centres, which are funded by the Energy Saving Trust, play a significant role in combating global warming? Does he further agree that, under the previous Conservative Administration, those centres—including my local centre in Peterborough, which has been highly praised nationally—had a very insecure funding future? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the importance of those centres when he takes his imminent decision about the funding of the Energy Saving Trust?

Mr. Prescott

I thank my hon. Friend for her kind remarks. The Energy Saving Trust and the local centres will be very important in achieving our targets. Many decisions that have been taken must be reassessed in view of the targets that were set in Kyoto. It is true that all communities must make an effort to achieve the targets that we have set for ourselves, and we shall bear that in mind during the review.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister on helping to secure any agreement at all in Kyoto. I also congratulate him on advocating a higher level of cuts around the world and on ensuring that the words "contraction" and "convergence" were included in the agreement in the final hour of negotiations. They will prove to be the cornerstone of any workable progress in this area in the century ahead.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that two points are raised during the United Kingdom's presidency of the European Union and in discussions with the G8? First, the targets cannot be met acceptably by transnational companies simply relocating to the developing world and being allowed to get away with production methods that increase, rather than decrease, pollution. Secondly, in approaching tradeable permits, we must examine not the exchange of cash with the developing world but a gift relationship in sustainable technologies. That will allow development in the southern hemisphere according to the best standards for the next century rather than the worst standards of this century.

Mr. Prescott

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. The agenda of the EU presidency, and particularly discussions in the G8, will be decided by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. My hon. Friend may be assured that I shall push to ensure that issues relevant to Kyoto are discussed. That is essential if we are to achieve the desired framework for the timetable in which the groups will work out the rules for trading emissions. It would be a wasted opportunity if such discussions did not occur. My hon. Friend will be aware that the agendas are decided by the Prime Minister and by other Prime Ministers and Presidents involved in the process. Nevertheless, those matters will play an important part.

My hon. Friend referred to transnational companies, their contributions and the tradeable permits that will be involved in exchanges with different countries. Those matters go to the credibility of the rules. Those rules are important, and about 40 developing countries were prepared to make a voluntary commitment on trading in Kyoto. However, that matter was not included in the agreement. It is a sign, however, that they see it as a possible way forward for themselves.

My hon. Friend was fair-minded when he talked about industrial processes in the third world. We must recognise that third-world countries will produce more CO, gases as part of the industrialised process. It would be wrong for developed countries to say, "We have come through this process the dirty way. We know that it is a dirty way from which to come, so you cannot have the benefits that come from the industrialised process."

We must achieve a proper balance and recognise the differential contributions that must be made by both developed and developing countries. In effect, the Kyoto agreement states that the developed countries can say, "We have made our commitment and we want you to make yours." In that process, the developed countries will have great opportunities to work with the developing countries, provided that there is an agreement that that should happen and that it is done voluntarily. It must be recognised as part of the procedure of improving the prosperity of the peoples of the developing countries in the process of industrialisation. I am talking of the gains that come from these processes, and they must be brought home to the public.

Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes)

I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister's efforts, which have been substantial. It is good to see Britain losing its "dirty man" image. I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman regards national targets as important, and at the same time we know that vehicle emissions make a significant contribution to greenhouse gases. Against that background, will the Government be supporting the Road Traffic Reduction (United Kingdom Targets) Bill?

Mr. Prescott

It is important that the owners of vehicles can make one of the largest contributions to the reduction of CO2 emissions, and that is a problem which we must consider. The White Paper will take up the problem and the Government will make our predictions within an integrated transport policy and establish what we think is the appropriate balance. Within such a policy, it is necessary to balance everything that it is hoped to achieve over a period. We welcome the debate that continues to take place, and we are not making recommendations one way or the other. Right hon. and hon. Members can make up their minds about the private Member's Bill. The Government will set out their view in the White Paper on an integrated transport policy, which will be put forward in May.

Mr. Hugh Bayley (City of York)

I thank my right hon. Friend for answering the question that I put to him at Question Time, by giving a commitment that Labour will continue to back the 20 per cent. reduction.

Since the Kyoto agreement becomes legally binding when countries ratify the treaty, what authority will deal with the countries that break their legally binding obligations, and what penalties will be imposed? Could consideration be given to penalties that will help to repair the damage that is done to developing countries, such as the flooding of coastal areas, crop failures and the spreading of diseases, to which my right hon. Friend drew the attention of the House?

Mr. Prescott

I thank my hon. Friend for his words of support. The protocol is in the Library, along with the details of how we approached it. As for sanctions, we begin with the hope that the countries involved will set out to achieve the targets to which they are legally bound. If they fail to do so, there are means by which they can be pursued within their own courts. That applies especially to America. One of the Americans' arguments was that if they signed up to legal targets, they could be sued much more effectively within their own courts than within the European courts. To some extent, they were right.

The sanctions that are envisaged in the international treaty apply to trading. There was talk of fines, the proceeds from which could be used to assist third-world countries. There was talk also of the denial of votes in future decisions. Those may not seem to be powerful enough sanctions, and perhaps they will be reviewed. An important step forward has been taken in achieving a legal agreement. Where we find that it is not sufficient, there will be continuity of assessment. Insufficiency can be examined if we find that there is a failure in achieving the targets that have been agreed.

We set the overall target for 2010, but a review conference will review the progress that countries have made. That means that we shall not have to wait until 2010 to ascertain whether there has been failure. We shall know what progress has been made well before then.

Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that since the deregulation of buses in 1986, there has been a considerable increase in the number of buses that cause pollution on our roads? Indeed, about 15 per cent. of buses now cause about 50 per cent. of pollution. What plans does my right hon. Friend have to take some of these polluting monsters off the road as part of our contribution to the Kyoto agreement?

Mr. Prescott

That is one of the measures that we are considering in our White Paper. It is quite true—the evidence is clear—that deregulation has meant that there are more buses, but fewer people per bus, and fewer services, which forces more and more people to use their cars instead of public transport. We very much need to address that.

We hope that travel by bus will become more reliable, and that buses will be better and, in many cases, newer than the ones that we currently have, with an engine that meets environmental requirements. We are also talking about the fiscal framework with regard to vehicle excise duty. All those points are being considered in the White Paper. The bus has a major part to play in providing not only a better transport system but a better environment, which would arise from an integrated system. It is very much at the heart of the White Paper that we shall produce in May.