HC Deb 01 May 2001 vol 367 cc737-40
4. Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

What role his Department is playing in negotiations with the United States in relation to the Kyoto protocol. [158610]

6. Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

What discussions he has had with his US counterparts on implementing the Kyoto protocol. [158613]

10. Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)

What recent representations he has made to the President of the United States about his position on the Kyoto agreement on climate change; and if he will make a statement. [158617]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. John Battle)

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is playing a full role in Government discussions with the United States on the Kyoto protocol. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has discussed the issue on several occasions with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The Government are committed to tackling climate change through constructive engagement with the international community and, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spelt out, we continue to believe that the Kyoto protocol provides the best framework for that. We will continue to discuss with the Americans their participation in international efforts to tackle climate change during their review of climate policy in Washington, and in the run-up to the resumed international negotiations in Bonn in July.

Mr. Davies

In 1998, the cost of weather-related insurance claims in the United States was $89 billion—more than the entire cost in the 1980s. Does my hon. Friend agree that the impact of climate change on the United States economy—tornadoes, floods, droughts and desert expansion—clearly illustrates that the Kyoto protocol is as much about economic sustainability as environmental sustainability? Will he impress upon the new United States Administration that saving the planet and world prosperity are two sides of the same coin?

Mr. Battle

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point in stressing that sustainability, economic and environmental, is key in the long term. Doing nothing and leaving things as they are would have a negative impact. I like to be more positive. Cleaning up the environment and tackling pollution will develop new environmental industries that will design out pollution and generate new jobs. Tackling the challenges of the environment will produce new jobs. It is a good, positive, win-win story.

Mr. Griffiths

Can this and other European Governments be so powerless that George Bush, who bought the presidency and now wants to sell the world, can get away with murdering the environment? After Trieste, when Bush went along with Kyoto—he now repudiates it—can this Government, or any Government, trust anything that the American Administration say on any international subject?

Mr. Battle

My hon. Friend has highlighted the challenges that we face in ensuring that the Kyoto protocol is signed up to. On his campaign website, I noticed some scientific references to the latest international panel on climate change, spelling out the impact of climate change. There is more or less consensus among the world's best scientists that human activity has an impact and is causing global warming. It does not say on his website that that intergovernmental panel has been endorsed by the American Government. That gives us something to work with, but we should continue the conversation with the Americans to encourage them to accept that although they are part of the problem, producing 25 per cent. of CO2 emissions in the world, they can also be a major part of the solution.

Mrs. Gilroy

Does my hon. Friend agree that, whatever the "W" in George W. Bush may stand for, he would do well to visit the WWW—the worldwide web? Will he urge him to look at the site www.kyoto-cola.org, where he would perhaps find that the only key that the world has to tackle climate change is the Kyoto protocol?

Mr. Battle

I cannot restate often enough that we believe that the Kyoto protocol will provide the best framework. We want and intend to work with it. It is important to add that we are prepared to ratify the Kyoto protocol without the United States if necessary, and will continue to work towards its entry into force in 2002, assuming that we can get an acceptable outcome at the resumed international negotiations in Bonn in July. Pulling all the countries of the world together is an international challenge, but it is important that the developed world provides the lead by example. I am glad to say that, under this Government, the United Kingdom has been doing that. We have exceeded the target commitments that we signed up to.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

What will be the implications of United States policy for our stance in future trade negotiations at the World Trade Organisation and with America, given that, in the short term at least, American policy of ignoring the Kyoto protocol will mean that USA industry has a competitive advantage over our own?

Mr. Battle

Again, I would prefer to take things from where we are. The key point is to continue to engage and negotiate constructively with the Americans, saying that there is a consensus on the science and that we must find ways in which to bring about reductions in CO2 emissions internationally. We are playing our part in Britain, we are pressing others in Europe to do so and I think that we can go further than has been suggested recently by the Americans.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

I hope that the Labour party will not use Kyoto as an excuse to knock President Bush or the United States of America. We all wish to see progress in reducing carbon emissions, but we must be realistic about the fact that President Bush says that he is not about to do anything, particularly with the downturn in the US economy, that will damage jobs or industry in the United States. Will the Minister therefore use the summit in Germany this summer as an opportunity to look at fresh ways of ensuring that the whole world plays its part in reducing pollution, including India and China?

Mr. Battle

The hon. Gentleman was a member of the previous Government who, I seem to recall, did not do much to introduce programmes for renewable energies or ideas for emissions trading as new and imaginative ways of hitting the target. We have not used the previous Government's argument that we can do nothing until we get the economy right—we have got the economy right and we are delivering on the environment as well. We will continue to campaign for that internationally.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

While we all share concerns over the American decision to abandon the Kyoto protocol on climate change, does the Minister consider the Deputy Prime Minister the right man to carry out sensitive discussions with the United States when the right hon. Gentleman was described at The Hague climate talks by the French Environment Minister, Dominique Voynet, as a male chauvinist pig who had lost his nerve and lost his cool? Before visiting the United States last month, the Deputy Prime Minister talked up a storm. He promised bilateral talks and even told GMTV that he would be arguing the case on Kyoto.

While my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) met the Vice President and other senior figures last month, did the Deputy Prime Minister meet anyone in the new Administration? Is it not the case that the right hon. Gentleman lost his nerve again and that in the United States, on Kyoto, he achieved nothing and influenced no one? After all, is that not what happens when we send a male chauvinist pig to do a diplomat's job?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I require temperate language in this House.

Mr. Battle

I was a little disappointed that the hon. Lady should reduce this discussion to petty personal remarks. We are talking about probably the greatest challenge of the 21st century. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister championed Kyoto and is widely respected for doing so. He was at the meeting in New York, where he strongly supported the Kyoto protocol, and he found support for Kyoto from all the other parties there. He met 35 colleagues, including representatives of the United States of America. He is widely respected for his campaigning on this matter. There was a notable absence of such campaigning when the previous Government were running the country.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

Has my hon. Friend had the opportunity to discuss these matters with his counterparts in the Australian Government, who I understand have stated in the past few days that Kyoto is dead because of President Bush's decision? Does my hon. Friend accept that it is a question not simply of persuading the American Government to see sense, but of persuading all the countries that constitute the American bloc in the climate change conference? Although it is possible to ratify Kyoto without the support of the United States, it may not be possible to do so without the support of all the other countries in the American negotiating bloc.

Mr. Battle

I do not accept that Kyoto is dead, which is the term that has been used. The Kyoto protocol is the culmination of 10 years of international environmental diplomacy. It is the best framework available for taking action to tackle climate change, and I do not believe that we can back out now. There is strong international support for Kyoto, as was evident at the informal ministerial meeting in New York attended by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. Japan and Canada were negotiating with America, and they strongly support Kyoto.

All the key players are coming out in support of the agreement, and Britain and the EU remain committed to its ratification by 2002. There is some time to go, and there is hard work to be done to persuade those countries that have signed up to Kyoto that it is the realistic framework and option for taking action. I am confident that we can make progress, and we are campaigning at every level to achieve that. That contrasts with the way in which Opposition Members occasionally reduce the matter to petty personal comments.

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