HL Deb 17 June 1992 vol 538 cc179-82

Lord Hatch of Lusby asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their present policy towards curbing carbon dioxide emissions in Britain.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, our policy is set out in the report on the United Kingdom National Programme for Limiting Carbon Dioxide Emissions, published last month. Copies have been placed in the Library.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, this is the third time that I have asked various Ministers for a straight Answer to the Question. Each time that the Government have published their policy they have made it conditional upon other countries following suit. Following the Rio Conference and the clear assertion by the United States that it will not observe targets, will the noble Lord now tell the House whether Her Majesty's Government still intend to proceed with their promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in this country to their 1990 level by the year 2000?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an extraordinary assertion in saying that he has not had a straight Answer. Having directed him towards the report, I thought that that was a very straight Answer.

As the noble Lord knows, we have signed the Climate Change Convention at Rio. I can also tell the House that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has written to the President of the Council of Ministers at the European Community and to the President of the G7 countries suggesting that we go forward together to ratify the Climate Change Convention.

Lord Renton

My Lords, in this as in some other great matters, is it not better that we should set an example to other countries rather than feel that we should keep in step with those who may not have done so well?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, of course we should set an example. That is why the Prime Minister was the first world leader to announce his intention to be present at Rio. However, we believe that firm action to reduce CO2 emissions has to be taken in step with the remainder of our competitors and the developing world because that is the best way to tackle what is undoubtedly a global problem.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I happen to be in the business of promoting energy efficiency which I believe to be in the public interest as well as, I hope, in the commercial interests of my company. We should be much helped if we knew that the Government's policy on emissions was absolutely firm, irrespective of what any other nation might do. Does the Minister accept that we ought to set an example in this area as other questioners have pointed out?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, whatever other countries do regarding their targets on CO2 emissions, we hope that they will ratify the convention with us. We are firm supporters of moves towards greater energy efficiency, as the noble Lord knows with his experience in that field.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, will the Minister state what progress has been made in the installation of desulphurisation equipment in British coal-fired stations?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Lord's question has nothing to do with carbon dioxide emissions. However, I understand that substantial progress has been made.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, has the Minister read the proceedings at the Rio Conference which emphasised the importance of forestry in observing carbon dioxide emissions? In those circumstances does he support an increase of the afforestation programme in the United Kingdom as well as expressing concern for forestry in other parts of the world?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, as a former chairman of the Forestry Commission, the noble Lord knows that the Government have an outstanding commitment to forestry. The programme is changing emphasis, with afforestation coming downhill and on to better land. Such a programme will help all our environmental needs.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the general belief is that the Rio Conference was particularly weak on the issue of emissions? I understand that the Bush Administration notes that, nothing in any of the language [of the treaty]…constitutes a commitment to a special level of emissions at any time". Does the Minister believe that, as well as setting an example, the British Government could have pushed the Bush Administration a little harder in order to make the conference more successful?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the Government cannot be held responsible for what other world leaders and other countries decide is in their interests. However, it is our firm intention to ratify the convention with other countries and to provide leadership. The noble Lord will know that the United States signed the Climate Change Convention. The United States' support of the process is to the benefit of the whole world.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

My Lords, how much of the total amount of carbon dioxide which goes up into space is the result of man's activities and how much is the result of natural activities such as volcanos?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I do not have that figure readily available. However, perhaps I can be helpful by telling my noble friend that this country is responsible for some 3 per cent. of the world's CO2 emissions.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, does the Minister accept that for every cubic foot of carbon dioxide which is put out as a result of burning hydrocarbons a cubic foot of water vapour is generated, which is just as effective a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I understand, and it has been readily accepted, that there is no clear scientific agreement on global warming. There are certain warning signals of which we would be wise to take note.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the Minister appeared to he pleased that the American Administration had signed the treaty. I was earlier trying to make the point, perhaps clumsily, that the Americans in their administrative comments on the treaty said that nothing in its language constituted a commitment to a specific level of emissions at any time. Therefore, they were not signing any great agreement. Does the Minister believe that our Government should both set an example and press the American Administration more strongly?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Lord has never asked a question clumsily and he did not do so when asking the previous question. I believe that the agreement which we signed in the Climate Change Convention is challenging but achievable. For that reason we have said that we shall ratify the convention and we should like all other countries to do so too.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that unless our policy is conditional upon other countries following suit industries will be driven into areas where the conditions are less robust with the effect that carbon dioxide emissions will increase?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, my noble friend is correct. This is a global problem and it needs a global solution.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, will the Government follow the example of other countries and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by supporting a greater use of the railways and by intelligent funding of the same?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, there is a variety of ways and means of achieving our targets and we shall look at them all.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he believed in Britain taking a lead, particularly as other members of the EC have promised targets far in excess of those promised by Her Majesty's Government. I ask the Minister to give the House a straight answer. Will the Government now say that, irrespective of what the Americans do or what anyone else does, the British Government are firmly committed to reducing our carbon dioxide emissions to the 1990 level by the year 2000?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, clearly the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, has not listened to anything that I have said during the past nine minutes. I have said that it is a global problem which needs a global solution. Acting unilaterally will help nobody and will cause substantial harm to our industries.

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