HC Deb 22 April 2004 vol 420 cc427-30
7. Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con)

If she will make a statement on the recently released figures on carbon dioxide emissions. [167009]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley)

Carbon dioxide emissions for 2003 are provisionally estimated at about 152.5 million tonnes of carbon, about 7 per cent. lower than in 1990. Emissions increased by 1.5 per cent. between 2002 and 2003. The increase was due largely to the greater use of coal for electricity generation and a decrease in net imports of electricity from the continent.

Mr. Burns

I am very grateful to the Minister for that reply, although he has not given the full picture. Does he accept that in two of the last three years emissions have increased and are now only 7 per cent. below 1990 levels? Bearing in mind that the Government signed up to the Kyoto commitment of a 12.5 per cent. reduction and that they even went beyond that, off their own bat, to set a 20 per cent. reduction by 2010, do they not fear that defeat is staring them in the face?

Mr. Morley

No, I do not. The hon. Gentleman has mixed up two figures. The Kyoto agreement is on greenhouses gasses, but he is talking about CO2. The 2003 figures on greenhouse gases show that we were 14 per cent. below the 1990 level. The Kyoto target is 12.5 per cent. We are not complacent about the stabilisation on CO2, but our figures are one of the best results of any country, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge that.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)

My hon. Friend will be interested to know that on 20 May there will be a demonstration in Parliament of a hydrogen-powered car. It will be a few years before the technology is realisable, but in the meantime will he encourage Departments to look carefully at the Environment Agency research that shows that a British-built Vauxhall powered by LPG is among the cleanest vehicles on the road? Should not the Government take a lead by buying such vehicles?

Mr. Morley

My hon. Friend is aware that the Government car fleet has a number of LPG-powered vehicles, which offer certain advantages. Indeed, their great strength is their effect on air quality. To reduce greenhouse gases we must look at new technologies, including hydrogen fuel cells and clean technologies. We need international co-operation, which is why we have been talking to Japan and, on research and development, to the United States. We recently set up REEEP—the renewable energy and energy efficiency partnership—at the instigation of the UK, although the secretariat is now based in Austria. The idea is to bring together best practice, new technologies and ideas on an international basis so that we can share them and establish the use of new technologies, along with caps on greenhouse emissions, to reduce CO2 and greenhouse gases generally.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD)

Does the Minister accept that he has no chance of meeting his CO2 emission reduction targets unless the Government get a grip on the transport sector, which is in free fall? We now have the highest level of carbon dioxide emissions from road transport since 1970; there is a projected 25 per cent. increase in road traffic between now and 2010, according to the Department for Transport; and there is a projected doubling of emissions from aircraft between 1990 and 2010. What is the Government's policy on demand management of transport, or is it simply hand wringing?

Mr. Morley

The hon. Gentleman's view is too negative. I do not underestimate the challenge posed by the growth in car ownership and use and, indeed, the growth in air transport. We must address those serious issues and we must tackle air transport internationally. I am optimistic that we can make progress in the European Union on carbon trading by bringing air transport within the EU emissions trading scheme, and we will press the Commission for such an inclusion. As for road transport, we need continued investment in public transport, the policy on which has been outlined in the transport White Paper. Cars are becoming cleaner, emissions are going down and CO2 has fallen in the past few years. I repeat that I do not want to be complacent and we need to make further progress, particularly on CO2. There are various ways of doing so—there is not a single solution—and we must explore all the options.

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

It is clear that the Government are doing an enormous amount, particularly as they have chosen global warming as the theme for their presidency of the G8 next year. In the light of a report issued today by the Office of Science and Technology on the extent of flooding problems and their effects on our Victorian sewerage system, it is not time that my hon. Friend had urgent talks with the Environment Agency and environmental health officers to see what investment needs to be made now to deal with the effects of global warming?

Mr. Morley

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We have been talking about progress on the reduction of greenhouse gases, and she has demonstrated that global warming has consequences. The foresight report on flooding, which was launched today by Professor Sir David King, the chief scientist, looks at a number of scenarios linked to different rates of economic growth. It examines enormous implications such as rising sea levels, river flooding and sewerage flooding after downpours. There are cost implications, so we have increased spending on coastal defence to £500 million a year and in the past three years we have funded 385 different coast and river protection schemes. It is likely that there will be implications for further spending as a result of such reports. The report demonstrates that there is no cost-free option for dealing with climate change. To try to ignore the consequences of climate change would have enormous consequences for our economy and our country, and internationally. That is the message that we must get across.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)

Does the Minister share our disappointment that carbon dioxide emissions have increased, not decreased? In the transport sector since 1990, they have increased by as much as 4.5 per cent.—before the Government embark on their airport expansion plan. Why have the Government decided to exclude aviation from their emissions trading plan? Why do they now accept that the errors in their national allocation plan were so grave that they have had to delay it? Do they also share the deep concerns expressed by the Sustainable Development Commission that they are not on course to meet their own reduction targets by 2010?

Mr. Morley

The hon. Lady cannot have it both ways. When we debated the national allocation plan, she was at pains to point out the worries about the effects on industry. Now she criticises us for the progress that we are making on reducing CO2, emissions. We must be consistent, because these are serious issues. The reason why the national allocation plan has been delayed, which is true, is that it was a draft plan and we are trying to take into account the concerns of industry. We are trying to get our modelling right. We are determined not just to meet our Kyoto target, which we have met, but to go beyond that and achieve our commitment to a 20 per cent. reduction in greenhouse gases by 2010 and ultimately 60 per cent. by 2050. That is setting the pace globally and internationally, which is important for our country. I am not complacent about the challenges that that brings or the measures that we must take. I have already said that we must make a start on aviation by bringing it into EU emissions trading and controls, because the current exemption cannot go on.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con)

Following the recent debate in the House on biodiesel after the Select Committee's report, the Minister will be aware of the contribution that that fuel can make to carbon dioxide reduction. He will also be aware that a cost-free way of trying to encourage a UK biodiesel industry was proposed in that debate and in the Energy Bill debate in another place. Whet do the Government intend to do to get a UK oil seed rape-based biodiesel industry off the ground?

Mr. Morley

The right hon. Gentleman knows that, apart from the 20p per litre subsidy on biofuels, there is a range of other subsidies, such as that for growing biofuels on set-aside land under the common agricultural policy regime. I agree that there is a role for biofuels, both bioethanol and biodiesel. We are reviewing the effects that the measures have had. They have certainly had a great effect on the reuse of vegetable oils and their conversion into biodiesel. That is helpful, and I should like to see it developed further. We shall keep the matter under review.

Forward to