HC Deb 07 March 2002 vol 381 cc437-49 1.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the UK ratification of the Kyoto protocol.

Following agreement at the European Community Environment Council on Monday, I am very pleased to announce that the Government have today laid the Kyoto protocol before both Houses of Parliament. This significant step begins the formal process of UK ratification of what is a hugely important protocol.

This House is aware of the leading role that the Government have always played in the fight against climate change and, in particular, of the pivotal role played by my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment in the original negotiations on the protocol in Kyoto. We have maintained that lead in subsequent negotiations, and we are making strong progress with implementing a strategic and innovative programme of action to reduce the UK's greenhouse gas emissions. I firmly believe that the UK, as well as the rest of world, has much to gain from meeting the challenge of climate change head-on.

The deal that I helped to secure, first in Bonn and then in Marrakesh last year, was the latest in a series of major political achievements, and it paved the way for ratification. Since then, the EU has set an aim for the Kyoto protocol to enter into force in time for the world summit on sustainable development at the end of August. That summit marks the 10th anniversary of the Rio earth summit, which set up the UN framework convention on climate change in the first place. Although we do not expect or wish climate change, as such, to feature prominently on the summit's agenda, entry into force of the protocol before the summit takes place will demonstrate beyond doubt the world's commitment to taking its environmental responsibilities seriously.

The Environment Council's agreement on Monday to the Council decision on European Community ratification and to the EU "bubble" was a significant milestone. This needed to happen first, so that the reduction targets agreed politically by each member state in 1998 became legally fixed. I was delighted with the outcome of the Council meeting, which followed some detailed and, at times, sensitive negotiations. It means that all member states can now complete their own national ratification procedures, and that the EU and its member states will be the first of the key developed countries to ratify the protocol.

This Government are wasting no time in ensuring that the UK ratifies the protocol as soon as possible. Today's event marks the start of our process. The protocol will be before Parliament for the next 21 sitting days. At the end of that period, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will sign the UK's instrument of ratification. For legal and presentational reasons, the UK will deposit its instrument with the UN depository at the same time as the European Community and other member states. We aim to do that by June at the latest.

UK ratification of the Kyoto protocol sends an important message to the world that we are committed to tackling climate change. It reaffirms the Government's pledge to meet our environmental objectives, and it meets our manifesto commitment to provide leadership abroad and work for international agreement on climate change.

I hope very much that countries not yet committed to ratifying will follow the EU's lead. The House will know that the United States recently announced proposals for domestic action to tackle climate change. We welcome President Bush's acceptance that climate change is a serious problem and his increased support for climate science and climate-friendly innovation, but our analysis of his proposals suggests that US greenhouse gas emissions will be about 25 per cent. higher in 2010 than in 1990. That contrasts starkly with the 7 per cent. reduction to which the US had originally agreed under Kyoto.

We continue to believe that the Kyoto protocol represents the only workable option allowing the international community to proceed with serious action on climate change, and we hope that the US will re-engage with the process. It is of course extremely important that we maintain a constructive dialogue with the Americans on climate change, and we will seek to establish a process through which that can be achieved.

UK ratification will mean that we become legally bound by the target to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to 12.5 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012. Our climate change programme sets out a range of policies that could reduce emissions by 23 per cent. by 2010, which is well in excess of our Kyoto target and stands us in good stead for future reductions. The programme therefore also addresses the Government's ambitious domestic goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions to 20 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2010.

Our climate change programme is providing a strategic focus for action. It is stimulating positive action by UK businesses, local government and other organisations. It is encouraging longer-term changes and a move towards a low-carbon economy, and it is implementing a series of innovative and creative policies to ensure that the UK cuts its emissions in a flexible and cost-effective way.

Let me highlight the key policies. We have established the world's first economy-wide emissions trading scheme, backed by a Government incentive of £215 million over five years. The scheme is due to go live early next month, and is one of our major priorities. Emissions trading is a cost-effective way of making a low-carbon future a reality. In pioneering the scheme, we hope and intend that the City of London will become the world centre for emissions trading.

We have set a target to provide 10 per cent. of the UK's electricity from renewable sources of energy by 2010, backed by Government funding of at least £250 million over the next three years. We aim to double, at least, the UK capacity of combined heat and power by 2010. We will publish our draft CHP strategy shortly, along with a range of measures intended to achieve the target.

We have introduced a climate change levy package that will help to fund measures to promote better energy efficiency in business; and we have established the Carbon Trust, which will recycle around £100 million of climate change levy receipts to boost the take-up of cost-effective low-carbon technologies. There are also a range of programmes and schemes to promote better energy efficiency in the domestic sector.

At European Union level, we have secured voluntary agreements with car manufacturers to improve fuel efficiency by at least 25 per cent., backed up by changes in vehicle excise duty and company car tax to encourage more fuel-efficient low-emission cars. Our 10-year plan for transport will address projected emissions growth in that key sector.

The programme takes account of what we might need to do to adapt to the effects of climate change in the UK. The Government are taking early action to identify adaptation priorities, and supporting the introduction of adaptation strategies on the ground through the UK climate impacts programme.

Our programme also begins to establish policies to reduce emissions in the longer term, beyond 2012. We know that Kyoto, while important in itself, is only a first step, and that much deeper cuts in emissions will be needed if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. The Government are determined to continue towards a low-carbon economy in a way that benefits both the environment and UK industry. This is one reason why we commissioned the recent performance and innovation unit energy report, which we are now considering and to which we will respond later this year.

I would like to finish by restating the Government's belief that meeting climate change targets will not only be good for the environment, but present new opportunities for businesses to improve energy efficiency, cut costs and get ahead of their international competitors by developing cleaner technologies and moving into new markets. It will present new job opportunities for people living and working in the UK, and will offer more choice for the consumer. We want to ensure that the UK makes the most that it possibly can of those opportunities, as well as making a strong and determined contribution to the global fight against climate change. Ratifying the Kyoto protocol is one of the most important steps on that road.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement, and for her courtesy in providing—on this occasion—timely notice of its content.

The Opposition welcome the EU's progress towards ratification of the Kyoto protocol. Whatever the uncertainties about the science of climate change, most of us share an instinctive feeling that we will come to no good by pushing billions of tonnes of chemicals into the atmosphere. One does not have to be a scientist to work that out. Reconciling the material needs of today with the quality of life that we pass on to our children and grandchildren is one of the greatest tasks facing this generation of politicians across the world. We hold the earth in trust, and we must not fail generations to come.

The Secretary of State rightly said that, although welcome, the Kyoto protocol is only an initial step. Is not its significance more symbolic than practical? Is it not an acknowledgement of the challenge that climate change presents rather than a blueprint for meeting it? Given that ratification will involve the Government's taking binding decisions that affect future policy, will she ensure that Parliament can have a full debate on the implications of ratification before taking further irrevocable steps towards binding commitments?

Can the Secretary of State confirm that the treaty will not acquire full legal status until countries that account for 55 per cent. of global emissions have signed up? In the light of the United States' regrettable decision to opt out of the process for the time being, what threat does its absence pose to the project's eventual success? Does she agree that it is essential to make greater efforts to persuade Governments in the developing world that signing up to Kyoto is in the interests of their people and their future? A better global environment will mean a more secure world.

None of that will happen without a cost. What estimate has the Secretary of State made of the possible cost to the United Kingdom economy of complying with the provisions of the protocol? Will she guarantee that the Government will not use the emissions trading arrangements to do a deal with a country such as Russia or Ukraine to avoid taking effective domestic action to reduce harmful emissions?

The Kyoto protocol builds on the success of the Rio earth summit in 1992, and I hope that the Secretary of State will pay tribute to the leading role played by John Major in laying the foundations of an international agreement to tackle climate change. I note with some amusement that she paid tribute to the role of the Deputy Prime Minister, but did he not nearly derail the entire process in The Hague in November 2000, causing the French Environment Minister to say—if I recall rightly—that he lost his nerve, lost his cool and was a male chauvinist pig?

Will the Secretary of State also acknowledge that Conservative energy policies of the 1990s have made the most substantial contribution to date to reducing UK greenhouse emissions? Is it not because of those policies that we have met, and even exceeded, early targets for reducing harmful emissions? Looking ahead, however, the picture is less rosy. Has she seen the report issued in January by Cambridge Econometrics that predicts that carbon emissions will fall by only 6.4 per cent. between 1990 and 2010—well short of the 20 per cent. target? Is she aware that, last month, the World Economic Forum branded the UK one of the dirtiest countries in the world?

The Prime Minister is given to delivering pious sermons on the importance of environmental protection to the developing world. Will the right hon. Lady remind him that the 2002 environmental sustainability index ranks the UK 98th out of 142 countries? Among EU countries, only Belgium fares worse. When it comes to waste and recycling, the UK has just about the worst record on the planet. People who live in greenhouses should not throw stones. The issue of climate change is bigger and more important than domestic party politics, but is it not time that the Government recognised that there is a glaring disparity between their lofty election promises and statements made at international conferences and their performance at home?

Is it not the case that while Switzerland, Germany and Austria have recycling rates of about 50 per cent., we achieve a mere 11 per cent., and that there is no realistic chance of most local authorities meeting the Government's target of 25 per cent. by 2005? Does the right hon. Lady accept that ill-targeted and bureaucratic taxes such as the climate change levy have, predictably, done nothing to reduce carbon emissions while piling costs on manufacturing?

Who are this Government to lecture the world about being green, when as we speak, as a direct result of their incompetence, fridges containing highly damaging chlorofluorocarbons litter pavements, municipal sites, open spaces and fields throughout the country? Why, when the Government talk so enthusiastically about energy conservation, did the Minister for the Environment table wrecking amendments to the Home Energy Conservation Bill and then suffer the humiliation of having them voted down in Committee?

The Secretary of State mentioned combined heat and power. Is she aware that the CHP industry is in crisis, that the Government's strategy is running four years late, that staff are being laid off because orders have dried up and that since the introduction of the new electricity trading arrangements last April, CHP output has dropped by 60 per cent.?

The Secretary of State referred to the PIU report on energy, which after much delay was produced earlier this year. Is she aware that the energy industry is fed up with dithering and uncertainty, and needs clarity and leadership from the Government? There is a real danger that a great opportunity to put Britain at the forefront of developing new clean renewable technologies will pass us by if the Government continue to sit on their hands, bringing them out only to wring them hopelessly over the future of nuclear power.

The right hon. Lady talked about the launch of the Government's emissions trading scheme due on 1 April. We support that in principle but are concerned by reports that only half the anticipated number of companies have signed up for it. How many companies have now committed themselves to participation? Can the Secretary of State confirm that the UK scheme is compatible with that being developed by the European Union?

As in so many areas, the Government promised so much on the environment but they have not delivered. Given their performance to date, it is hard to understand why the right hon. Lady's entire statement had a strong flavour of self-congratulation. There is a great deal left to achieve; indeed, the task of delivering a cleaner environment is only just beginning. The Government will be judged not by the protocols and treaties that they sign or by the rhetoric that they use but by what they achieve for us, our children and our grandchildren.

Margaret Beckett

The hon. Gentleman began with what sounded like a high-minded welcome for progress—although, as he rightly said, it is only a start—but he ended up, as he usually does, whingeing on irrelevantly and not altogether pleasantly. Much of what he said was not relevant to the Kyoto protocol. I accept that we ought to seek a debate on the subject. It is not for me to set the agenda for the House, but I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I hope that if we do have a debate, it will be a debate about the Kyoto protocol and not a general rant about all the things that the hon. Gentleman thought of to throw in, most of which were highly inaccurate. I shall try to pick up on at least some of the issues that he raised.

I am aware of the recent studies by Cambridge Econometrics. There is concern that there has been a slight increase in emissions in the last year, but we remain of the view that in the longer term we are on course to reach the targets that are being set.

Towards the end of his remarks the hon. Gentleman asked about the emissions trading scheme. I am not aware of any suggestion that there is a smaller number of potential companies wishing to participate than we had anticipated. In fact, we are rather encouraged by the number, which was of the order of 40 to 45 when I last checked. Certainly there is no truth in the suggestion that it is half the number that we had anticipated.

As for compatibility with the European Union scheme, I hope that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Commission has made some preliminary proposals for a trading scheme. It is different in scope from our own in that it is mandatory, not voluntary. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that our scheme was designed in consultation with the private sector precisely to identify what would be most attractive. The Commission's mandatory scheme does not deal with all greenhouse gases, treats energy suppliers differently from our proposals and is not for an economy-wide set of proposals. The Commission's proposals are at the most preliminary stage. It does not even suggest that its scheme would come into force before 2005.

Many other member states have some reservations and prefer some of the features of our scheme, so we have every hope that through constructive discussion we can reach a degree of compatibility. Certainly, we are extremely keen both that the whole European Union has experience in this important field, which has potential advantages for the future, and to ensure that there is enough flexibility in what is ultimately proposed for everyone to be able to participate.

The hon. Gentleman asked about costs. I do not recall ever having seen a monetary figure. It has consistently been suggested that the cost of complying with the Kyoto protocol is somewhere between 0.1 and 1 per cent. of gross domestic product anticipated in developed countries over the commitment period, at a time when it is anticipated that growth will be of the order of 25 per cent. There is no suggestion, therefore, that the figure should be particularly difficult to meet.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the agreement was more symbolic than practical. No, there is huge symbolism and huge importance in having got a legally binding agreement with 177 countries participating. We are all sorry that the United States is not one of them. Even without its participation the reductions in emissions will be between 2 and 9 per cent., depending on one's assessment. That is certainly a worthwhile first step, particularly considering that we are talking about a legally binding first step.

The hon. Gentleman was uncharitable—characteristically, I fear—about my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister who, indeed, made a considerable contribution to the agreement. I am happy to accept that the former Member for Huntingdon and the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who is with us today, made a contribution. It is admirable that Members from all parties have been instrumental in moving the debate and agreement forward.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the developing world. The Kyoto protocol encourages states in the developing world to take their own actions and to report what action they are taking. I share the view that that is necessary and desirable. I am also strongly of the view that there is justice in the argument that many of these problems have originated in the developed world and that it is for us to show that we are taking steps and then to encourage others to join us in doing the same.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

May I strongly support my right hon. Friends in their hard and sustained work on addressing these difficult problems? Could something more be said about the Carbon Trust and the recycling of £100 million of climate change levy receipts? Does my right hon. Friend have any sympathy with the view that targets will not be met without Sizewell C, Hunterston C and possibly Hinkley C?

Margaret Beckett

First, the Carbon Trust is doing interesting work with the business community. My hon. Friend may be aware that it believes that increased energy efficiency can make a massive contribution to meeting our targets, even without totally new technological developments of a kind that we cannot yet foresee. Indeed, it believes that we can meet our targets without further substantial change, although we all hope that innovation and new technology will come. There may he a misunderstanding. Although the performance and innovation unit energy review indicated that we should not close our minds to the future use of nuclear power, we do not require the fresh use and development of nuclear power to meet by 2012 the targets to which we signed up in the Kyoto protocol.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

I thank the Secretary of State for her courtesy in giving me early sight of her statement. The Liberal Democrats welcome the decision to ratify the Kyoto protocol. It is, in association with our European Union partners, an important symbolic step across the world that shows our determination to tackle climate change.

I was also very pleased by the positive way in which the Secretary of State set out her statement, and by her acknowledgment of the work done on both sides of the House over a long period. She seems to accept that Kyoto can only be a first and comparatively small step in a long-term operation to slow down and stop global climate change. Liberal Democrats share that view. Will she agree that behind the words and the bold statement there are some gaps and fudges? I want to press her on some of those points.

The reality is that the United Kingdom's Kyoto targets will be met more or less by accident, or willy-nilly. It was interesting to hear the shadow Secretary of State claim the credit for putting in place the policies that would achieve Kyoto. In fact, those policies were not put in place to achieve Kyoto but for entirely different reasons, and without regard for carbon dioxide emissions at the time. Does the Secretary of State agree that setting longer-term targets beyond Kyoto will be the test of United Kingdom policy for the future? Little progress has been made by the Government in setting those longer-term targets.

Later today, the House will be asked to approve the renewables obligation that was debated in Committee yesterday. As the Secretary of State will agree, that obligation is for only 10 per cent. of the energy available to the electricity sector, even in 2027. Therefore, although it sets targets for 2010, it does not advance them beyond that. What targets and policies do the Government have to achieve energy saving and energy conservation? Her statement is short on that, as, I would submit, is Government policy.

I am sure that the Secretary of State is only too well aware that the development of a carbon-free economy provides many opportunities for exports and growth in jobs in the United Kingdom. Will she confirm that those exports and jobs must be based on a strong home market? How will the United Kingdom develop that strong market?

The Secretary of State's report referred to the energy review, and the Minister for the Environment said at Question Time that the Government were neither for nor against nuclear power. When will she give the House a clear commitment to move forward with renewable energy and abandon the nuclear option?

We welcome the Secretary of State's words about engaging the United States in the fight against climate change. Clearly, its participation is vital to the long-term project. Will she assure the House that the Government will remain robust in their dialogue with the United States to try to persuade the world's largest contributor to man-made global climate change to mend its ways?

Finally, I assure the Secretary of State that Liberal Democrats are strongly in favour of the Kyoto protocol being brought into effect across the world. We look forward eagerly to the steps beyond Kyoto, and we will encourage the Government to take those steps.

Margaret Beckett

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome of the statement. I accept fully that signing the Kyoto protocol is very much the first step.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether there were gaps in the scheme and whether it had been met by accident. I note that the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), claimed credit for the reductions that resulted from the devastation of the coal mining industry. However, he did not mention the fact that that did not occur cost free. Indeed, Conservative Members have been critical of the Government's handling of the coal industry since 1997. However, it is our estimate that the "dash for gas" will be responsible for only about 30 per cent. of the reductions that we anticipate will take place by 2010. Although that is not an insignificant contribution, it certainly does not mean, in the phrase of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), that we have met our targets by accident. The course of action that the Government have pursued will lead us to meet the targets.

The hon. Gentleman pressed me on setting longer-term targets, but it is a little premature to do that. Certainly, work is beginning on the next Kyoto period and on what are practical and sensible targets for people to aim for in making a contribution to tackling global warming. The targets will have to be assessed against the new information that is becoming available over a steady period from the scientific work on the impact of climate change. It is a little bit of a moving feast in that respect. However, we shall come forward—perhaps in response to the PIU energy review and certainly over time—with further proposals and longer-term targets.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me specifically about the renewables obligation and about whether we should set a more demanding target for that. It is important that we have the right balance between setting demanding targets and setting targets that we have practical means of meeting. One of the things that I found most encouraging from my exchange with the Father of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), is the degree to which we can meet the targets that we are currently setting without there being a giant expectation of a leap in the dark or of undiscovered science that has not yet been foreseen. It is important that we encourage and support innovation and that we set challenging targets while ensuring that they are not just pie in the sky. We must have practical means of achieving them.

Mr. David Miliband (South Shields)

I am delighted to welcome my right hon. Friend's strong efforts to take forward this important agenda. Kyoto is the key test for those of us who think that an interdependent world requires multilateral engagement.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the technical and political work that is being done inside her Department on the so-called contraction and conversion approach to global pollution reduction? Many people believe that it is an innovative and equitable approach to tackling global climate change, and I would very much welcome her thoughts on its potential contribution.

Margaret Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. There is no question but that the contraction and convergence model is a serious proposal. My Department is considering it along with a range of other models. There is a strong case to be made for such a proposal, and it has a certain appealing, simple logic. However, it has serious implications for what is required of different nations so, in that sense, it must be weighed against the wish to get everyone moving in the same direction.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)

I congratulate the Secretary of State on the achievement of a process that has gone on for a long time under both Governments. Both sides of the House should emphasise the commonality of interest in achieving these ends.

Does the Secretary of State not agree that one of the highlights of the process was the agreement, under the previous Government, and its support, under this Government, of the European bubble and the European bubble principle in which those nations most able to do more achieve more so that the least-able nations do not have to reach the targets that would otherwise be set for them? Does that not set an admirable example to the rest of the world and, particularly, in respect of the future incorporation of developing countries? Should we not say that the European Union has proved its worth enormously on this issue as on so many others?

Margaret Beckett

I am happy to pay tribute to the decision to establish the EU "bubble". The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct; it was key to agreement within the EU. He is also right to say that the role that the EU played as a united group in the negotiations was absolutely key. There is no question about that.

The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) accused me earlier of self-praise, but this is not self-praise. Other Ministers who participated in the negotiations in Bonn and Marrakesh have said forcefully that the united role that the EU played enabled us to act as broker to agreement, first, politically in Bonn and then to the legal text in Marrakesh. That was crucial.

The right hon. Gentleman has heard me say this on a public platform recently, but I freely say again, as someone who campaigned against our remaining in the European Community as it was in 1975, that the behaviour of the EU as a group in the negotiations has been a model of everything everyone ever hoped for from that agreement.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

I add to the congratulations to my right hon. Friend and her colleagues on reaching the accord and on the work that supports it. Given the significant potential job opportunities in renewable technologies, in manufacturing and in rural economies that might result from support of the Kyoto accord, does she not think that, with the benefit of hindsight, the decision of the Conservative party to cut various renewable energy funding streams appears short-sighted? By contrast, will she tell the House what further support she is lobbying the Treasury to provide under the comprehensive spending review for renewable energy technologies?

Margaret Beckett

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the implications of some of the mistakes that were made earlier in cutting funding for renewables. He is also right to draw attention to the considerable job and trading opportunities that the agreement creates. Indeed, one of the schemes that the Government are pursuing—the home energy efficiency scheme—was delayed because there were insufficient people with the right skills and training to carry it out. That is another aspect of achieving agreement to practical and deliverable steps.

My hon. Friend is right to say that there are huge opportunities for Britain and for the EU in the agreement. We hope to take advantage of them.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

On behalf of the Plaid Cymru-SNP group, I welcome the Government's action in ratifying the Kyoto protocol. Although there is cross-party agreement on the issue, may I invite the Secretary of State to condemn certain political parties who mouth pious words in the House about renewables but who oppose all exciting wind farm projects, such as that in my constituency?

On the opportunities provided for renewables in the domestic agenda, does the Secretary of State agree that, if we were to double the target from 10 to 20 per cent.—that is completely feasible—we would produce 80 TWh a year from renewables, which equates very closely to the 88 TWh produced from nuclear power at the moment? Not only do we not need nuclear to meet the present Kyoto protocol, but we do not need it to meet the forthcoming 2050 targets. We can meet them with a combination of renewables and low-carbon technology.

Finally, will the Secretary of State tell us what the Prime Minister did on his recent visit to Australia? Did he discuss these matters with the Australian Prime Minister, because it is important to get Australia, which is a key Asiatic economy, on board as well?

Margaret Beckett

Yes, indeed. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did discuss these issues with the Australian Government, as he does assiduously at all his international talks. He is very interested and engaged in that area of policy.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and for his support. I note what he said about what I take to be the Liberal Democrats, and I do of course share the concern of those who say that it is important not only to be in favour of the principle of some of these issues but to be prepared to take and to back some of the practical decisions, even though they are not always easy.

The hon. Gentleman will know, I hope, that the PIU report did recommend that we double our target for renewables to 20 per cent. The Government obviously take that recommendation very seriously. It is one of the issues that we must consider and discuss when we contemplate our response to that report. I would only say to the hon. Gentleman that although it is desirable to increase renewables, it is also important, as I told my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey), that we ensure that the targets that we set are practical and that we believe that we can achieve them, although the hon. Gentleman is certainly right to say that we can have a much more substantial contribution from renewables than we have had hitherto.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

The Secretary of State will recall that at the Rio summit 10 years ago there was a very clear requirement on all signatory nations to establish local sustainability groups. In this country, many hundreds of such groups have been established and have often worked with great effort and vigour towards sustainable transport plans, a sustainable built environment and sustainable employment practices locally.

What will be done to ensure that the work is better co-ordinated; that those groups are better empowered to have influence on local planning and other decisions, and above all that those people, who are putting enormous effort into this area, feel that their views are being listened to and feel that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is able to take on board many of their suggestions so that, when we reach Rio plus 10, there will be some recognition of the great work that has been done locally? At the end of the day, only local pressure will ensure that sustainable development plans actually bear fruit.

Margaret Beckett

My hon. Friend is correct. As he said, a great deal is happening in local communities, with local community plans and development. Certainly it is part of the focus of my Department, as we work towards the world summit in September, to encourage schoolchildren in particular to become involved in working through plans for their area and focusing on what can be done locally. I share my hon. Friend's view that this is a very important contribution. I am also mindful of the fact that, on some issues where there are difficult choices to be made, such as waste management, it is where local communities have become engaged and have had those discussions that there is the greatest agreement and support for practical proposals to solve those issues. I therefore share his view that such participation is important and we shall continue to try to work with such local groups.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton)

In the answer that the right hon. Lady gave to the important question asked by the Father of the House, she was very careful to limit her answer to periods up to 2012. What will happen to British CO2 emissions after 2012, assuming that the decommissioned Magnox power stations are not replaced by new nuclear build?

Margaret Beckett

I limited my remarks to the period up to 2012 because that is the Kyoto commitment period, as the hon. Gentleman clearly understands. There is a danger that after 2012, unless we take further action, there will be an increase in emissions, and it is for all of us to consider how best we can tackle that. The PIU report suggested that we should keep open the option of nuclear energy for that reason, but there are others who argue, as the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) did a minute ago, that we can meet that challenge by using renewables or other means. It is an issue that we must all consider and address, but the hon. Gentleman probably knows that at present any new proposals for any development or continuation of nuclear power would have to come from the industry, and at the moment there are no such proposals.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and everyone else responsible for today's immensely important statement. Will my right hon. Friend consider how we can involve individuals in this process? It is the actions of individuals as well as those of Government that will bring about real change with respect to Kyoto. Will she consider how her Department could inform the British public and others about what the Kyoto climate change movement means, and what action they can take as individuals to bring about that worthwhile change? It is my view that as a country, as a world, as a planet, we are sleepwalking to disaster if we cannot bring about very real change in our individual behaviour as well as the behaviour of Governments.

Margaret Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an important and powerful point and he will know that the Government already have various programmes in place. Through the Energy Saving Trust, for example, we offer people advice about what they can do personally to increase energy efficiency, which both lowers their costs and is beneficial from the point of view of climate change. My hon. Friend knows that at present a PIU review study is taking place on the handling of waste, and there is little doubt in my mind that when that report is published it will have something to say about how we minimise our creation of waste as well as how we deal with it. My hon. Friend is quite right that, in all these areas, there are actions that individuals as well as communities not only can take but will need to take if we are to tackle these problems. My Department will be taking forward that work and publishing further research in the developing science of the impact of climate change.

Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle)

May I join others in welcoming the announcement and the Secretary of State's commitment to meeting the challenge of climate change head-on? However, I share the unease of my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) that the fine rhetoric does not match the Secretary of State's record. Is she aware of the submission that the Sustainable Development Commission—a commission set up by the Prime Minister in October 2000—made last week to the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, which stated: Looking beyond 2010, the public policy levers which would be needed to ratchet down production of greenhouse gas emissions have not been put into place. The UK's current performance on renewables is poor, and the current target that 10 per cent. of electricity should be supplied by renewables will not be met unless institutional barriers like the new electricity trading arrangements are addressed"?

Margaret Beckett

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that we are discussing how those barriers can be overcome, and that we have said several times that we have every intention of overcoming them. We anticipate publishing the new combined heat and power strategy in the near future. As for the commitment to renewables, a substantial programme of investment is planned, as there is in a range of energy efficiency and other programmes. While none of us would argue that enough is being done, a substantial amount is being done, and rather more than was being done when the party that the hon. Gentleman supports was last in power.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

In congratulating my right hon. Friend, may I urge her to pay more attention to a neglected form of power that is almost eternally renewable, is British and can offer a huge source of power—the tidal range in the Severn estuary, where there is the highest rise and fall of tide in the world, very near to centres of population? Should we not regard that as a clean, environmentally friendly source of power that can eliminate altogether more development in the unpopular and expensive nuclear industry?

Margaret Beckett

Indeed, I share, as I believe do many in the House, my hon. Friend's concern that we do more to exploit the natural advantages of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend knows that there is a substantial programme of investment in research into such subjects and the Government will continue to support and advance it.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell)

In congratulating the Front-Bench team on getting us to this marvellous announcement today, and especially congratulating the Deputy Prime Minister on almost singlehandedly saving the Kyoto process a few years ago, may I ask my right hon. Friend to pay special regard to the potential cost to this nation of now ratifying the treaty? Sometimes treaties of this nature can have a competitive cost to a country, placing it at a disadvantage to those countries that are not prepared to sign up to these proposals. In that regard, will we robustly argue with the United States that it must sign up, and that if it does not, we will robustly defend our competitive position?

Margaret Beckett

First, I rather suspect that one of the things that will ultimately have an effect in the United States is that it will realise that it is missing out on employment and trading opportunities as a result of not being engaged in the process. My hon. Friend is right to say that there are obviously costs and implications, as well as those opportunities, but I am confident that the overall balance is to the United Kingdom's advantage and will continue to be so. I simply remind him of the simple, but evocative phrase that companies saving carbon are companies saving money.