HC Deb 22 July 2004 vol 424 cc465-9
2. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab)

If she will make a statement on progress in arresting climate change. [185741]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett)

Deep cuts in global carbon dioxide emissions are needed to avoid dangerous climate change. Our energy White Paper shows the way and the degree of ambition that industrialised countries need to show. The Kyoto protocol will provide the incentive for others to start down the same path.

Mr. Allen

I know that my right hon. Friend is far too busy to watch much television, but the other evening she might have caught Jeremy Clarkson's programme about air travel in which he mentioned that when air traffic movements were suspended for three days following the 9/11; disaster, the temperature in the atmosphere fell by 1°, and it went back up by 1° when air traffic resumed. Will she do everything she can to ensure that aircraft emissions become part of the trading arrangements that are being negotiated at European level, and thus tackle a difficult and long-term problem?

Margaret Beckett

I sometimes watch Jeremy Clarkson's programmes, but I missed that one, so I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the information. I assure him that although aviation emissions are not currently included in any of the responsibilities that countries undertake, because there has been no opportunity to discuss how they could be allocated fairly, there is considerable discussion about how we in Europe might put aviation emissions into the emissions trading scheme, say, from 2008. Not only the UK but many European Union member states take a keen interest in such a proposal.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP)

Will the Secretary of State discuss with colleagues in the United States, India and China what they are doing to cut emissions that are greatly polluting the atmosphere?

Margaret Beckett

I have had discussions with people in all those countries. The hon. Gentleman might know that a great many interesting proposals have been made by some of the states of the United States that are major emitters. Several of America's states are among the world's top 10 emitters as individual states and they are considering trading schemes, which they wish to make compatible with the EU's. Like many people in other parts of the world, they are also looking at standards for vehicle emissions and so on.

Similar discussions are taking place in India and China. The hon. Gentleman might know that China has been quite successful in ensuring that its emissions increase at a much slower rate than its economy grows. Although in the long term China wants its economic capacity to quadruple, its goal is to ensure that its emissions only double during the same period. Of course emissions growth remains a concern, but that is an indication of the extent to which China understands the issues and is beginning to take responsibility for what happens in its own country.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab)

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how to realise the huge potential of tidal power in an island nation such as ours? Especially, will they discuss the DTI providing some funding for an exciting pilot scheme that could take place in Swansea bay in the very near future?

Margaret Beckett

Given the years of experience that we in this House share of proposals for Cardiff bay, I am a little nervous about suggestions for Swansea bay. However, I take my hon. Friend's point and assure him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I often discuss such issues. She shares my regret that the UK has not invested more in research into and exploitation of the potential of tidal power. The Government are looking closely at the matter.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con)

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has shown enthusiasm and commitment to a UK biofuels industry; sadly, however, the Treasury, the Department for Transport and the Department for Trade and Industry do not seem to share that enthusiasm and commitment. When will the Government get their act together, and when will we see the beginnings of a proper bioethanol and biodiesel industry in this country based on UK-produced crops?

Margaret Beckett

The right hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair to my Treasury and DTI colleagues: they take precisely the interest in biofuels and their potential that he wants them to. There has been a certain amount of dispute between the Treasury and the industry over how great an incentive is needed to stimulate UK production but not suck in imports. However, there is no dispute about the fact that the industry and the Treasury both want a domestic industry to be stimulated and to flourish and neither wants to suck in imports. The only dispute is about how, technically, to achieve that.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman noticed that, not so long ago, the Chancellor announced capital allocation programmes. Through fiscal and economic incentives my right hon. Friend has done quite a lot to stimulate the right behaviour in respect of fuels generally, and he takes the issues seriously.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement that she is to approach the European Commission for a hybrid solution to the implementation of the large combustion plants directive. On the question of carbon dioxide, will she say what she is doing, with the DTI, to press for more investment in clean coal technology? If we are to tackle CO2 emissions, especially in China and India, we need to be able to transfer new clean coal technology to those countries so that we can effect a reduction in CO2 emissions.

Margaret Beckett

The Government's approach to the Commission about the potential for a hybrid approach to the large combustion plants directive has been a joint one. There have been joint discussions and joint decisions by the DTI and ourselves because we both share the view that there should be a degree of beneficial flexibility. Although I entirely understand and take the point that my hon. Friend makes about clean coal technology, and not least the potential for that technology in China and India, where there are large resources of coal and a considerable need for energy supply, that is more specifically a matter for the DTI. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services share my hon. Friend's interest and concern in and for this subject.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that when the last Conservative Government left office in 1997, carbon dioxide emissions in Britain were falling, and that after seven years of a Labour Government these emissions are rising? Against that background, how long will it be before the Government have to abandon their target of reducing emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010?

Margaret Beckett

First, there is no question of the Government abandoning our domestic target. Secondly, we have already not just met but exceeded our Kyoto target. Unfortunately, we have seen some fluctuations in CO2 emissions, specifically over the past couple of years, as a result of continued economic growth as well as the implications of fluctuations in fuel prices. To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, he is right that there were some successes under the Conservative Government. Those successes resulted in their flattening the economy.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab)

I want to press my right hon. Friend, who has obviously been committed 100 per cent. to these issues for many years, on the issues facing countries such as India, Pakistan and China, to which she referred. Obviously, we want to see their economies grow, but it is essential that they do so in a way that is environmentally friendly and does not cancel out what we and other developed countries are doing. Will my right hon. Friend say more about how she sees progress in that direction?

Margaret Beckett

Anyone who studies this subject is extremely conscious of how much needs to be done at a global level to reduce emissions to mitigate the most potentially damaging effects of climate change. Equally, however, I think that everyone who is close to the subject is conscious that, quite rightly, the approach that the international community has adopted is, to use the jargon phrase, one of common but differentiated responsibility. In other words, the developed countries that are most responsible at present for increased emissions have the greatest capacity to tackle the increase in emissions and should be the first to demonstrate that emissions can be reduced. One of the things that we are engaged in with our European colleagues is a determination to ensure that developed countries show the way forward. For example, our economy has grown by about 36 or 37 per cent. while our emissions have fallen by about 15 per cent. We have shown that emissions can be cut without sacrificing growth in the economy. We and others need to demonstrate that so that we can show to some of the poorest countries in the world that they can have increased prosperity for their peoples without ruining the planet.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD)

Has the Secretary of State seen the official statistics that were released today after being suppressed in May showing that there has been a 47 per cent. increase in greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector since 1990, although there has been a 10 per cent. decrease overall? This week, her colleague, the Secretary of State for Transport, projected a further 10 per cent. increase in carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector by 2010. Is she content with that record, and is it not pointless her Department saying the right things and making the odd cut here and there if the Department for Transport is out of control? When will she put the brakes on that Department?

Margaret Beckett

I have not seen that report nor, indeed, am I aware of any report being suppressed.

The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley)

It is on the website.

Margaret Beckett

If that is the case, it is not a very good way to suppress something.

On the general point about the Department for Transport, the hon. Gentleman may not have noticed that it is now associated with the public spending targets that my Department and the Department of Trade and Industry share for the reduction in emissions.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab)

To get the historical facts right, would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that in the late 1980s and '90s the all-party group on coalfield communities considered the question of emissions and called for clean fuel technology. A pilot project was set up at Grimethorpe, and not only did the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) fail to tell the House that the Tories closed the pits but he did not reveal that they closed that clean fuel technology plant. No wonder the miners were brassed off.

Margaret Beckett

My hon. Friend is entirely right, and I well recall that at the time many people were concerned that the then Government were prepared to abandon a technology that clearly had considerable potential for the future.

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