HL Deb 12 May 1992 vol 537 cc227-9

Lord Hatch of Lusby asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many states have to agree to limit their carbon dioxide emissions before they will apply the deadline of the year 2000 to Britain.

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

My Lords, we are willing to return our carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000 if other countries take similar action. We are already taking steps to limit emissions but it would be pointless to impose costs on the UK economy if global action on climate change was not assured. The climate change convention agreed in New York last Saturday requires 50 ratifications to come into force.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord two questions because he did not answer the Question on the Order Paper. When the British Government decided that they would fall in line with other EC governments and reduce emissions o the 1990 level by the year 2000 instead of 2005 they added the proviso that other countries do so. How many countries have to take such action before we are willing to do so? Secondly, the draft convention now agreed in New York merely sets out the aim but is not in any way a binding agreement. Has that in any way varied the stance of Her Majesty's Government?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, to answer the first part of the noble Lord's question, we are not interested in a numbers game but in status. Therefore, we are looking for agreement by our major trading competitors and the major developing countries. As to the second part of the noble Lord's question, this is a draft convention and we are still awaiting the final text from the United Nations.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, now that the European Commission's original proposals for a carbon tax have been somewhat watered down, will my noble friend say what role the Government see for such a tax in fulfilling our obligations by the year 2000?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, there could be a role for a carbon tax. We are not opposed in principle, but the proposal raises complex issues needing careful consideration before a decision could be taken to introduce such a tax.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, will the noble Lord tell the House what are the steps to which he referred which the Government are taking?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, for instance, we have encouraged the use of unleaded petrol; we arc introducing catalytic converters on new cars from next year; and we have also introduced the use of sulphur scrubbers at power stations.

The Lord Bishop of Chester

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many people in the environmental and church agencies are thankful for the moral lead which has been given in this matter by the Government? Apart from agreements in writing, will the Government continue to exercise that same moral influence upon the other nations to hasten the time when that comes about?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his words. He has recognised the tremendous leadership which has been given by this Government and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, will the Minister explain how the Government expect to achieve those targets, given the chronic understaffing which has existed in the environmental health departments for so long and given that the Director of HMIP is at present unhappy about the progress that is being made in various areas? I use as an illustration heavy plant emissions even though I am told from my Back-Benchers that that is the wrong gas. If those targets cannot be reached due to understaffing and lack of control, how do the Government propose to achieve them?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, when the commitment is made, the resources will be brought into play. We do not anticipate there being any understaffing in any of the organisations which the noble Baroness mentioned.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, in view of Britain's decision to try to achieve that target by the year 2000 rather than 2005, will the noble Lord indicate whether all Community countries are now at one with that objective? If so, does he envisage that in that situation the Community will play a major role in the forthcoming world conference?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I understand that all Community countries have adopted the text agreed last weekend in New York. It is hopeful that the treaty will be signed when we get to Rio later in June. Perhaps I may emphasise that the signing of the treaty is only the first step. What happens after it has been signed will really count.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I come back to the proviso that we shall only do that provided other countries do the same, and the noble Lord has now added to that proviso our major competitors. Let me ask him a straight question about what he must know is a distinct possibility. If the EC countries agree, as we know they will, to that limitation by the year 2000, but the United States do not agree, as we know they will not, what will be the position of the British Government? Will they go ahead in conjunction with our European partners or will they use the proviso to get out of the commitment because the United States refuses to follow suit?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an entirely hypothetical suggestion. We shall have to see how the situation develops over the course of the next few weeks.

Back to