HL Deb 20 May 1992 vol 537 cc609-76

3.14 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey rose to call attention to the importance, both to the United Kingdom and to the world as a whole, of a successful outcome from the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, to be held in Brazil in June; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion standing in my name perhaps I may say how much I welcome the fact that it has been possible to incorporate in the debate the Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and the consideration of the report of the European Communities Committee on the carbon/energy tax. I am not sure whether this is to be thought of as a precedent for the future—certainly as regards Opposition time—but I felt when the suggestion was made to me that it would greatly strengthen our debate if we considered the important matter of the report of the noble Lord's committee. I was pleased to agree to the suggestion that the two debates should be combined.

In some ways it would have been desirable if we could have also considered the report of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, which reported on the same day on a very much related subject. I am also pleased to see that the Minister is taking the debate seriously enough to speak both at the beginning and the end of the debate. I must express some mild disappointment, although not in the sense of us having the pleasure of hearing him twice. However, as so much of the importance of the Rio Summit concerns the issue of overseas development and overseas aid, it would have been very helpful if the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, had been available to take part in the debate. It would have corrected the danger of a misemphasis in the debate in that we may think too much that we are talking about domestic issues of the environment without thinking as much as we should do of the economic, overseas development and third world issues which will be very much to the forefront in the discussions at Rio. I say at once that from these Benches I shall be talking rather more about the environment issues, but my noble friend Lord Judd, in winding up, will pay particular attention to aid to the third world, an issue on which he is so expert.

It is difficult to overemphasise the importance of the Rio Summit and of the discussions that will take place there early next month. Your Lordships will recall that when Gro Harlem Brundtland presented her report in 1987 she defined the environment as where we all live and development as what we all do. That emphasises the indissolubility of the issues of environment and development. It is because those issues are indissoluble that we welcome the fact that the Rio conference specifically links the two issues and emphasises their indissolubility. This is a conference of the greatest importance. It is taking place at the express wish of the General Assembly of the United Nations. It has the official participation of 160 nations. Many of the heads of state of those nations will be present at Rio. At the same time a considerable range of alternative—what one might call fringe—activities will take place. Literally thousands of non-government organisations will be present in Rio and will undoubtedly make their presence felt.

It is possible—and reasonable—to take an apocalyptic view of the issues at this summit. The summit is described as the last chance for planet Earth. Many people would wish us to talk in apocalyptic terms about those issues. I want to emphasise the seriousness with which we take the issues not by talking in those terms but by referring to a significant book which is due to be published tomorrow. It is the update of the 1972 volume Limits of Growth by Meadows, Meadows and Randers. The new book to be published tomorrow is called Beyond the Limits. It brings up to date the analysis of great importance which was made in 1972.

At that time it was thought that the major issue for the world in environment and development was one of resource depletion. That issue has not gone away and will still be at the forefront of the debates at Rio; but what has been added to it is a new and keener understanding of the world problems raised by increasing pollution and in particular by the greenhouse effect.

The question which the authors of that book raise is whether at the end of the 20th century the world is on a collision course and whether we are not facing boom and bust, development followed by collapse. I have only read reviews of the book and not the book itself. It is not yet available but I understand that the authors have treated this question fairly calmly. They have carried out complex analyses of the environmental and economic issues involved. They have carried out more than 5,000 computer runs of their model. They come to the conclusion that nearly all the scenarios which one might draw about the world economy result in a boom and bust situation for the next century.

What we have been used to in the 20th century is a progression in most parts of the world, although by no means in all parts of the world, of increased life expectancy, of increased income per head and of improved environment in many ways. The authors are suggesting that by the first third or the middle of the next century most of the scenarios which can be painted will result in a reduction of life expectancy, a reduction in the quality of life and, generally speaking, a return to the bad experience of previous centuries. They suggest that the only scenario which even presents the possibility of stability in the future—and no one suggests that there is any possibility of continuation of the rate of development that we have had during the past two centuries—is that we should have a moderate economic growth, a world population restricted to, say, no more than 7.7 billion and the effective use of new technologies to increase land use and to reduce pollution.

It is possible that technology can do better than that; indeed, it usually does. However, it is also true that that scenario assumes that there are no wars, no armies, no military expenditure, no civil war, no floods or pestilence and no corruption in the distribution of resources—in other words, none of the things that we know very well to be features not just of the 20th century but also of human history. Malthus may have been proved wrong nearly two centuries ago. But the question that we now have to ask ourselves is: has the time come for him to be proved right? I do not know the answer. But I suggest that those who do not seek the answer nor seek to find the resources to tackle the problem may now be accused, as Malthus accused his contemporaries, of running away from the issues. I say that in the light of the knowledge that it is not just environmentalists who are saying so; for example, the Business Council for Sustainable Development is saying very much the same.

What are the major issues which will be faced at Rio? There are 23 speakers for today's debate. I have no doubt that many of them, all of whom are more expert than I am in the details, will cover the ground more effectively than I can. However, I should like to set an agenda for the debate and say that I think the major issue in environmental terms will be one of climate change. Of course that immediately brings forward the issue of development because climate change—that is, in so far as we understand it and in so far as the projections are correct—is in fact produced by rich countries and suffered by poor countries. If that continues, inevitably the bad effects of climate change will be suffered by all countries, not simply by poor countries. In order to overcome those problems, the South (the poorer countries, the third world or whatever one chooses to call it) will need the effective means for the transfer of clean technology in its development, an end to the exploitation by companies in the North (the richer world) which exports dirty technology when it is no longer acceptable in its own countries, which uses the third world countries as sources of cheap labour for products which are not so environmentally acceptable as they should be and which, generally, puts onto the third world all of the disadvantages which have led to the continued deterioration in our environment in the first world. Therefore, I suggest that in climate change, as in all other subjects, it is the issue between North and South —that is, between rich and poor—which is the essence of the Rio conference.

Again, there is the issue of forestry. With forests, and especially with tropical forests, it is common knowledge that in large parts of the less developed world the undisciplined exploitation of forests has led to enormous damage in local climates, in agriculture and in the ability of local people to survive because of the changes in rainfall and in the availability of agricultural land. I suggest that that again is partly a scientific problem; but, above all, it is an economic problem and one in which we are involved. I say that because we in the first world tend to own a very large part of the resources which are now being exploited.

There will also be issues of bio-diversity. Here I hope that it is true to say that the interests of the third world are very much the same as ours. All of us want to maintain the full range of all sorts of species on the planet, not just for aesthetic reasons but because our place as human beings on the planet depends upon a certain amount of humility in our respect for other species. Above all, as I said earlier when talking about climate change, I suggest that the issue will be one of technology transfer.

It is our duty to see to it that the development which must take place in the third world takes place in such a way that it can be controlled. There is nothing we are going to do to stop it; for example, we shall not be telling people who are close to starvation that they must abandon themselves to starvation—the old Malthusianism. That means that we shall have to contribute very substantially to it. The issues will then be: who takes the action required? How far is it global action; how far is it regional action, such as the European Community action which is the subject of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra; and how far will it be taken by national governments, or how far even by local authorities and local communities?

We should not underestimate the importance of the principle of subsidiarity when dealing with environmental problems: it is just as important as when dealing with many other community problems. Then the questions will be: what weapons do we use in the fight? How far can we rely on market forces? I believe that we have relied very heavily on market forces. Of course, there is still a place for market forces but the emphasis of global action must now be on the carrots and the sticks; for example, on the interaction of investment policy in energy conservation in particular —that again is the recommendation in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra—on legislation when that is required and on taxation. Without going into the carbon/energy tax in any detail, I suggest that our view on the matter is that carbon/energy taxes may well have a place, but they have a place only in conjunction with all the other kinds of measures which we have been discussing.

Above all, behind all of that lies the issue of population control. It is not as simple an issue as some people think. It is not simply a matter, as the Government say in their pamphlets, of giving families a choice about what population they want. It is possible that the choice that they want could itself be damaging for the countries in which they live and for the world as a whole.

What are the possible outcomes of the Rio summit? The intention is that there shall be a update of the Stockholm 1972 declaration, An Earth Charter, which will be the basis for new national and international law on the environment and development. So far so good. It is proposed that Agenda 21 should be implemented. That is a plan of action which will not be legally binding but which will enable governments and communities to be measured against the plans which they profess to support. But, above all, the outcome will depend on the issue of who pays. There are estimates of the cost of Agenda 21. I do not know that they are official, but I know that the secretariat of the summit has been involved in them. The estimates that I have seen indicate that the cost to the first world of the implementation of Agenda 21 would be of the order of 125 billion dollars per annum.

There are also targets. There are well-established United Nations targets for aid to the third world. For some time the standard target has been the not very dramatic one of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product from developed countries. To put that into context we should realise that the aid budget of the United Kingdom is now of the order of 0.28 per cent.—that is a very long way from the United Nations target. To put it again in context, if we look at the world budget for aid to the third world the expenditure is of the order of 55 billion dollars per annum, which compares with expenditure in the United Kingdom alone on the purchase and upkeep of motor vehicles of £40 billion in 1989. In other words, we have a long way to go before expenditure on aid to the third world is comparable to many of the other things on which we spend money. I shall give way to the noble Lord, but it is a timed debate. It would cause difficulty if we had too many interruptions, but I shall give way.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, a point I should make is that the figure of £125 billion which the noble Lord mentioned is not additional to the figure of £55 billion for ODA. It is the difference which the UNCED secretariat has estimated will be necessary in order to achieve Agenda 21.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. I did not intend to suggest that the £125 billion was additional to that which was already being given.

My fear is that the worst possible outcome of the Rio summit would be this. The North—the developed countries of the world—will say, "Yes, we will adhere to the environmental improvements and environmental targets which are on the agenda". I do not think that they would mean very much by that because the meeting which took place in New York last month significantly watered down the target, particularly on carbon dioxide. Instead of having a binding commitment to a return to 1990 levels by the year 2000, what the Government agreed to in order to get President Bush to Rio was that there should be an aim to get to that figure.

In any case, the response to all of these proposals —whether they be the European Commission proposal for a carbon/energy tax or the proposal for a deadline of the year 2000 for a return to 1990 levels, is "Yes, we will do it if everybody else does it". That is not a very powerful commitment on the part of the first world. Then what will happen is that the South —the poor countries of the world —will say, "We can't. We'll starve if we do it". I fear that what will happen then is that the South will be blamed for the breakdown of negotiations when in fact it is the fault of the developed countries.

We must bear in mind at all times in considering these issues that the cost of aid to the third world is going to be much greater for each and every country in the developed world and each and every individual in those countries than the cost of environmental self-control. If we put that equation into our thinking then we shall have made progress and there is a possibility that the Rio summit may make progress. I beg to move for Papers.

3.33 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, in speaking to my Motion that the House take note of the report of the European Communities Committee on the carbon/energy tax I should like to express appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for having agreed that the two Motions on the Order Paper could be debated together.

As the noble Lord said, it is appropriate that this should be so, and in particular it ensures that the views of the committee on the carbon/energy tax can be considered by your Lordships before the Rio conference takes place. I should add that Sub-Committee B, which conducted the inquiry into the tax, was required to work to a tight timetable to ensure that the report was published in time to meet the twin deadlines of the general election and the Council of Ministers meeting scheduled for 26th May. In its deliberations the sub-committee was ably assisted by members of Sub-Committees A and F, and I should like to express thanks not only to the members of Sub-Committee B but also to the noble Lords, Lord Aldington, Lord Bridges and Lord Murray of Epping Forest, who represented these other sub-committees. In addition, we are particularly indebted to our specialist adviser, Professor Nigel Lucas of Imperial College, who provided us with invaluable guidance, and to our clerk, Mr. Edward Wells, without whose excellent work we could not have met our deadline.

I shall start by stating that the committee fully supports the Commission's twin objectives in the energy field, namely, to improve energy efficiency and to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas. I quote from paragraph 93 of our report: The Committee recognise that climate change is an environmental threat which is global in character, irreversible and long-term. We therefore support the serious attention which the Commission is devoting to this problem". We also support the Commission's desire for the European Community to seek to persuade the international community to take action to tackle global warming. The EC member states are committed to stabilising emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. The UK Government's recent decision to adopt this target in place of the earlier target of the year 2005 is to be welcomed.

The committee accepts that if the targets for energy efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions are to be met, further action will be required. Such action could well include measures of a fiscal nature. However, the committee has serious reservations on the carbon/energy tax as originally proposed by the Commission. The first objection is that unless major competitor countries outside the Community followed suit Community industry would be put at a serious disadvantage by the additional costs. One witness said that this would be the equivalent of shooting ourselves in the foot. After our report had been completed, the Commission, at its meeting on 13th May, recommended that member states should levy the tax only if America and Japan did so as well. This is an important step forward in the Commission's thinking but it remains to be seen whether these two other countries would follow suit.

The other objection by the committee to the tax as proposed by the Commission is whether it would be effective. At the levels proposed the tax could not be guaranteed to work. This would be particularly so as the Commission's proposals include a recommendation that intensive energy users should be exempted. So far as road users, for example, are concerned the effect would be to put petrol prices up by only 6 per cent. by the year 2000 in a sector already conditioned to high and increasing levels of tax. Other doubts arise about the recommendation that the tax should be neutral in fiscal terms. It is not indicated how this would be achieved. In the United Kingdom, as an example, we are used to additional taxes being initially imposed for specific purposes and ending up as part of general taxation. The road fund and national insurance taxes are examples. It is therefore quite possible that the proposed energy tax could end up the same way. We noted that among the government departments we interviewed the Treasury seemed to be most in favour.

In its report the committee considers alternative measures. In the first instance it is concerned about the lack of drive behind the SAVE programme. This is a programme for energy efficiency promulgated by the Commission and was considered by the committee in its 13th report under the title of Energy and the Environment. We generally supported the proposals put forward by the Commission. Regrettably inadequate efforts have since been made to carry out these proposals which could go a long way to achieving the Community's energy saving objectives.

As an alternative measure of a fiscal nature, the committee was impressed by the Dutch experience of an energy levy. The proceeds of that levy which is included in the overall price for gas and electricity, are used for specific energy-saving purposes. We recently announced the establishment of an independent Energy Saving Trust involving British Gas and the regional electricity companies, which seems to be a move in a similar direction, and it would be helpful if the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, could provide more information about that.

The committee is in full agreement that the European Community, as the world's largest economy, should set an example to other nations in dealing with the global environment and should take a lead at the Rio conference next month, to which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred. Developed countries are at present the main contributors to the risk of global warming; but within a few decades, as the economies of the developing countries expand, their impact upon the global environment will become greater, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, drew attention to that fact. As indicated in paragraph 116 of the report: The Committee would support a programme to strengthen technology transfer in relevant areas as a mechanism and a motivation for the developing world to cooperate". It will be necessary to go further and to consider financial measures aimed directly at stimulating environmental safeguards in developing countries. I know that the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, will be saying something about that subject in connection with tradable permits.

In conclusion, the committee fully supports the Commission's objectives in relation to energy efficiency and carbon emissions. It agrees that the European Community should set an example in those matters, particularly with regard to developing countries. It considers that much more should be done to implement the energy-saving measures already proposed. It accepts that fiscal measures can play a role in stimulating energy efficiency and in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. However, it has serious reservations about the proposals originally put forward by the Commission. Those have subsequently been modified so far as their unilateral application is concerned. Further modifications will be necessary before such measures can be applied effectively.

3.43 p.m.

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

My Lords, it is rare for me to rise at this Dispatch Box and congratulate the Opposition. But that is what I should like to do today. I congratulate them on bringing forward these two debates at such an important time.

We are debating today two very important subjects—the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (the so-called Earth Summit), which opens in Rio de Janeiro in two weeks time, and the report of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, on a carbon/energy tax. May I take this opportunity of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, as chairman, and other noble Lords of the Subcommittee, on a thorough a timely report which we are considering carefully.

However, if I may I should like to turn, first, to the UNCED conference. Of the 100 or more world leaders expected to attend the conference, the Prime Minister was the first to commit himself to going, and last week we welcomed the announcement that President Bush too would go. It is a tribute to the Prime Minister that he was the first world leader to recognise the global importance of the Earth Summit.

The Earth Summit provides a unique opportunity to focus on the pressures facing our local, national and global environment, and their relationship to development. The United Kingdom is working hard to ensure that the Earth Summit produces effective results which will be implemented. Indeed, we have shown a significant commitment to the protection of the environment by taking a lead on many of the important issues being addressed at Rio. For example, we have developed an initiative to improve satellite monitoring of environmental change and use of the data. Details of that will be announced in Rio. Last December we hosted an international meeting on chemicals and, as a result, an intergovernmental forum will meet to tackle chemical risk assessment and management. Another international conference on risk assessment will be held in October to which representatives from Central and Eastern Europe will be invited. We are promoting an initiative at the Earth Summit on international principles for the safe management of biotechology. Some countries do not fully share the precautionary approach taken by the UK in that area. We believe that the path towards avoiding regulatory systems providing barriers to trade, is to obtain international agreement on regulatory regimes. We have already produced two highly regarded studies on technology transfer and expect to release tomorrow a booklet showing the many ways in which Britain is actively helping developing countries in the field of technology co-operation. We are encouraging all creditors in the Paris Club to implement promptly their December 1991 agreement on debt relief for the poorest, heavily indebted countries. That follows up the UK's Trinidad Terms initiative.

We recognise that the burden of debt carried by the poorest countries constrains their sustainable development, and we have therefore taken the lead in proposing enhanced debt relief for those poorest, most heavily indebted, countries undertaking economic reforms. We are also taking a leading role in encouraging the private sector to play its full part in helping the poorer countries, particularly in finding new ways to improve trading conditions and thus facilitate technology transfer.

In the run-up to Rio we have been working closely with non-governmental organisations, local government and business. The Prime Minister wrote successfully to the UN Secretary-General in February urging him to open up the final preparatory committee to non-governmental organisations. Only last week, my department offered up to 1 million dollars to the organisers of the '92 Global Forum, so that that major event for NGOs during the Earth Summit did not collapse for lack of funds.

We have always taken the view that one of the key requirements for the success of UNCED would be a successful outcome to the negotiations on a framework convention on climate change. As noble Lords will know, following difficult and delicate negotiations, in which the UK played a leading role, on 9th May the United Nations' Inter-governmental Negotiating Committee adopted a convention on climate change.

The convention, which will be opened for signature during the conference, will commit all parties to devise and report on measures to combat climate change. Developed countries will be taking the lead by taking measures aimed at returning emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2000. That in itself is an important part of the fight against climate change, but we in the United Kingdom cannot go it alone. Western governments will also provide financial support, through the global environmental facility of the World Bank, to meet the agreed incremental costs of projects that developing countries undertake. I believe that the outcome of the negotiations represents a significant first step in the global response to climate change.

The convention is a first step only. It is a sensible precautionary response while we improve our understanding through research of climate change. Further commitments to limit emissions may be necessary in future in the light of improved scientific and technological information. That is why one of the most important aspects of the convention is the strong process it has established for review of countries' efforts and of the need for further actions. That will enable the world to decide what further steps need to be taken, particularly after the year 2000.

The Rio declaration sets out principles to guide future action in the area of environment and development. Among its 27 principles, the declaration includes a restatement of the precautionary approach, the polluter pays principle, the use of environmental impact assessment and the principle that environmental protection is an integral part of the development process.

The statement of forest principles, not yet finally agreed, will set out principles for the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forest. In Rio, we hope to reach agreement on these principles and on the need for a legally-binding instrument. We also hope that the convention on biological diversity—currently being negotiated in Nairobi—will be ready for signature in Rio.

We are working for realistic, achievable and measurable commitments in the Agenda 21 action programme—a vast exercise, which covers over 40 different areas, including social, economic and natural resource issues, and the financial, technological and other means for implementing Agenda 21.

If I may return briefly to the climate change convention, this is about commitments to limit greenhouse gas emissions. But today we are also debating the measures needed to meet those commitments. Energy efficiency measures must be the first priority. In many cases these will be cost-effective, bringing economic benefits as well as reductions in emissions. Other measures, such as increasing the amount of energy generated from renewable sources and actions specifically aimed at emissions from the transport sector, may also play a part. But such measures may not be enough. It is likely that there will also be a need for real increases in the price of energy as a means of encouraging its efficient and responsible use. Taxation-based measures of the kind proposed by the European Commission are one way of achieving this.

There is, of course, much debate about the merits of the kind of tax outlined by the Commission in its communication last year and in its recent statement. Some people, including some of our European partners, are keen to press ahead quickly. Others are more cautious. The noble Lords on the Select Committee on the European Communities have looked at this issue and said that they cannot support the proposed tax. The Government are still studying the report carefully. But I accept the Committee's view that it raises some difficult issues. There needs to be a thorough analysis of the possible effects and implications before any decision could be taken to introduce such a tax. Of course, if we are to adopt a tax it will be important that our major competitors also take measures to limit emissions. We are pleased that the Commission now agrees with this approach.

Some voices have argued that the Community must agree a tax before UNCED in order to demonstrate its commitment to tackle climate change. I do not accept that view. The UK and the Community have already demonstrated their willingness to take initial steps to limit emissions and to think hard about other measures such as a tax. And, most importantly, we are willing to accept the commitments in the climate change convention if other countries do likewise. That commitment, rather than the proposed tax, should be the key to the Community's position at UNCED.

The United Kingdom has worked hard to ensure a successful international conference in Rio but locally we can all make a difference to our environment. We can drive cars with catalytic converters or, even better, take the bus. We can ensure that we use ozone friendly household sprays and energy efficient lightbulbs; and we can now recycle much of our household waste. Individually, our contribution may be small but together we can all make a real change.

3.53 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

My Lords, despite my experience of your Lordships' unfailing courtesy, it is always with a certain fear and trepidation that I speak before the House. I am aware that if a bishop (or even an archbishop!) says something he is damned by one section of the media; if he says nothing, he is equally at fault with others. The media has inevitably concentrated on issues which sell papers and catch the public's immediate attention.

What has happened in the run-up to the summit in Rio may not necessarily catch the headlines, but it has, I believe, been a change of such significance that when history is written, it could prove to be the most important feature of this decade.

The agenda for Rio started by the West looking for solutions to environmental issues that we could all see happening in the third world: the loss of the rain forests, increasing industrialisation, with its pollution, and increased use of hydrocarbons. What we have had to face, however, are two related but subtly different issues. First, we cannot expect developing countries to co-operate in environmental matters while there are major issues of injustice in the distribution of wealth and resources to be sorted out. The plain fact is that they will just not co-operate fully until we address those issues. The exploitation of resources is an issue.

Secondly, we have found that if we try to tell others what to do about the environment, when we ourselves are not taking the issue seriously, we lay ourselves open to the charge of hypocrisy and can expect little support. It raises profound questions about how willing we are to put our own house in order and whether we are willing to restrain the demand for scarce resources of food or fuel, as we face up to the cost of minimising the harmful effects on our own environment. This affects individuals, as well as governments.

It is my theological conviction as well as my personal belief that we are all called to be stewards of God's world. We have it on loan, not as a right, and we are called to account for how we treat this earth. Salvation is not just about individual piety but how we use God's creation in a way that brings life and health rather than death and destruction. We are accountable to God for that and, if I may say so, we are accountable to each other. For God's world is our home and we cannot sit back and ignore the second great commandment—to love our neighbour as ourselves. This demands that we are to care for those who are disadvantaged, the starving and the destitute.

What has been overlooked in all the media hype of the past few days is the call, both by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and by Cardinal Hume, for us to work together to look at the issues of poverty, population and the environment. We cannot address these issues singly. As Cardinal Hume put it, Strategies for the future of the planet inevitably require a co-ordinated and constructive approach to all three issues of population, the environment and poverty—none should be tackled in isolation. This may well demand of the developed world sacrifices and restraint". The problems facing our planet are so enormous that no one group can claim to have all the answers. We in the affluent and developed countries have a responsibility not only for ourselves but also for others whose voice is less easily heard: the poor, the disadvantaged, the dispossessed. Equally, we need to listen to those whose voice we more usually ignore. They too have much to teach us about community, about the holistic approach to life and about a deep spirituality which is often lacking in the richer parts of the world.

We are not saying that we have all the answers. What the Church is saying—I hope humbly rather than arrogantly—to the nations of the world as they prepare for the Rio summit is that the only way forward is in partnership and co-operation, not in exploitation and alienation. We are far from perfect. It would be utter hypocrisy for us to claim that our way is best and that the third world countries should learn from us. We must learn from each other before it is too late. We must learn to challenge assumptions and dogmas which restrict the rights and responsibilities of men and women to live. In a world in which cause and effect become muddled and compromised, it must surely be part of the role of the Church to challenge those things in our society which prevent peoples everywhere from enjoying the basic needs of life.

There are no easy answers in this debate and the criticism of one person's views will not absolve us from the responsibility of looking to see in what ways we can exercise the sacred trust that has been given to us to care for God's world and God's creation. I quote again: What we call the environmental crisis is not merely a crisis in the natural environment of human beings. It is nothing less than a crisis in human beings themselves. It is a crisis of life on this planet, a crisis so comprehensive and so irreversible that it cannot unjustly be described as apocalyptic. It is not a temporary crisis. As far as we can judge, it is the beginning of a life and death struggle for creation on this earth". Those words were written by one of Europe's finest theologians. They are worth pondering for they invest the forthcoming Earth Summit with a certain degree of urgency.

As I conclude, I am reminded that we have just celebrated Christian Aid Week. The slogan for that week was, "We believe in life before death". Unless we all take that message to heart and play our part in enabling it to be true in our world, we shall have failed not only ourselves but our children and our children's children who depend on us to hand over to them a world in which it is fit to live.

4.2 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, it is with great hesitancy that I take part in this debate at all. I am naturally an optimist but if ever there was a subject about which I feel pessimistic it is the subject we are discussing today. A quantity of paper has been produced on this subject and great devotion has been demonstrated by those studying this matter. However, the absence of any point of certainty on this issue means we must study it harder and harder and for longer and longer.

The speeches today have been a great deal better than I had hoped. They revealed a degree of optimism and certainly a degree of humility. The speech of the right reverend Prelate was extremely apt. Do we really believe that we shall be able to face the problems we are discussing? Let us consider the problem of climate. We really know nothing about climate. We do not know what the climate was like 200 million years ago. We now know we are living in a period of ice ages. We are not in an ice age at the moment and according to the best estimates it will not return for another 4,000 years. However, all kinds of things are happening that are beyond our capacity to understand.

Thanks to the minute animals that produced oxygen we have a planet on which human life can exist. Will we be able to continue to exist? Will we maintain the right composition of atmosphere which will make it possible for mankind to live on this planet? When one stops to think one begins to wonder what future there is for mankind, especially as we are multiplying at the most appalling rate. If there is one subject that requires firm action by governments, it is that of population growth.

There are so many areas where scientific work must be carried out. I commend some of the studies that Sir Crispin Tickell and the Royal Geographical Society have undertaken. Those studies are thorough but are not too ambitious. They maintain a degree of consistency and a degree of scholarship. An enormous amount of information is being collected throughout the world but the systems of collecting it are all different. It is no use having satellites that yield large chunks of information if the results of that information are not available in a form that is intelligible to everyone who desires access to that information.

As regards research in the Antarctic, I am amazed at the amount of work that needs to be carried out there. If the west Antarctic ice sheet melted, it would undoubtedly sink —if one can use that expression—a large proportion of the world. Nevertheless we hesitate when it comes to continuing to finance studies in the Antarctic. A great deal of valuable work is being carried out there. If I did not intend to limit my speech to less than five minutes, I should be happy to give a lecture on the work carried out by the British Antarctic Survey. Money is being spent on those studies, and rightly so, but nevertheless I hear people questioning whether the work is worth doing. I maintain that it is worth doing as the Antarctic is one of those areas of the world where consistent studies are necessary. Those studies teach us what is happening in the world as what is happening in Antarctica affects the whole of the rest of the world.

The effect of chloroflurocarbons on the atmosphere and on the ozone layer is of dramatic importance. The members of the British Antarctic Survey discovered that phenomenon while carrying out ordinary routine work. The Government spokesman was kind enough to congratulate the Opposition and I wish to congratulate him. The House of Lords is at its best when debating these kinds of topics. I believe we are attempting too much in seeking to debate also the admirable report on the carbon/energy tax. Nevertheless, some good stuff will come out of that report and I hope people will read it. I hope they will read the views expressed in the report. I feel there is a degree of optimism in this House on this matter. I am sure some of the work that is currently being carried out will yield good results in the future. I do not wish to take up any more of your Lordships' time as there are others who wish to speak who are more expert on this subject than 1. I hope the example set in this debate will be followed in other countries.

4.7 p.m.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, I am many times less of an expert than the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, but I am happy to follow him in this debate. I am delighted that we are discussing this subject today. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to the time when interest first began to be shown in the human environment. The first signs of interest occurred in Stockholm 20 years ago. That was the first occasion when people started to identify the environmental questions that could be solved only by international agreement.

Since then the Brundtland Report entitled Our Common Future has been produced. The great achievement of that report was to highlight the interdependence between economic development and environmental issues. In 1989 the UN General Assembly decided to convene the conference we are now discussing, the Earth Summit, to be held in Rio in a few weeks' time. Some 160 nations will take part in the conference.

That conference is the third step-1 wish to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that it is not the first step—in achieving worldwide co-operation in the protection of our planet. The conference offers the opportunity to integrate the environment into the world economy and to recognise that market forces are not the answer to the problems posed by that integration. International action on a grand scale will be necessary. That means inevitably that the costs will fall most heavily on the rich nations of the world. What we really need is a global Marshall Plan if we are to solve the problems facing us. Those problems are enormous and they include the costs of cleaning up the North and providing investment in the South for clean development there. We must ask ourselves whether that vision will be achieved in Rio. I apologise for the fact that I may convey a feeling of slight disappointment in my remarks.

The first disappointment is the watered-down version of the proposed climate change convention. Originally that was intended to be a legally binding commitment by nations to stabilise emissions of carbon dioxide at 1990 levels by the year 2000. However, I understand that in order to persuade President Bush to attend the Rio conference the convention now refers to the return to 1990 levels as a guideline and that nations will report on progress at future conferences. At the same time the British Government and the European Community now state that they are ready to commit the UK and Europe to that convention, if other countries do the same.

The second disappointment is the failure of the rich nations to agree a meaningful contribution towards tackling the problems of poverty and environmental deterioration in the third world. Maurice Strong, the summit secretary general, has estimated, as has already been mentioned, that the sum of 125 billion dollars a year is essential to put the planet on a path of sustainable development. Yet the figure of 10 billion dollars was finally set at a meeting in London by the body which originally proposed the summit. Maurice Strong endorsed that commitment, but only as a credible first step towards the goals of the Earth Summit. As has also been mentioned by various noble Lords, in addition it will be necessary for the rich nations to write off most of the third world debts, the servicing of which is crippling the economies of third world countries.

The third disappointment, and one which strikes me forcibly, is the lack of emphasis in Agenda 21 on the problem of the growth in population. I realise that many of the chapters in Agenda 21 deal with problems relevant to population, such as protection and promotion of human health as well as education and training. Yet the question of population growth does not appear as a separate item, despite the obvious linkage between poverty, population growth and environmental degradation. The present forecast of the doubling of the world's population by the year 2010 from 5.5 billion now to 10 billion, taken together with the effect of global warming on the agricultural production of the poorest countries in the world, presents a frightening picture.

The demand for family planning in the underdeveloped world exists now and far outstrips the aid provided by governments, international agencies and NGOs. In order to achieve the goal of "children by choice" outlined in the Government's publication we require a doubling of the money at present provided by the international community. However, that would he far less than the cost of failure. Expenditure of 9 billion dollars a year by the end of the century would mean that the use of family planning would increase by at least 50 per cent.

The cost of providing education and health care must go hand in hand with family planning. It is estimated in a survey emanating from India that it has cost 7,000 dollars per child in India to provide health care and education. India claims that that has averted 106 million births. According to that calculation that has saved the country 742 billion dollars, quite apart from the improvements to the environment and development generally.

Unless we concentrate on those issues the experience of the famine in Ethiopia will be repeated all round the developing world. In Ethiopia half a million people died in the first famine, most of them children. Yet within six months of the end of that famine the numbers had been replaced. In my view that particular problem is the most urgent.

Whatever limited decisions are finally reached at the Earth Summit it is most important to ensure that whatever commitments are made will be carried through. The creation of the institutional arrangements to oversee the implementation of actions agreed will be necessary, otherwise the Earth Summit will have achieved nothing. Mr. Maurice Strong has proposed the creation of a non-governmental Earth Council made up of scientists and other experts to monitor the performance of the nations taking part and to act as a sort of Amnesty International for the environment, thereby removing the danger of nations accusing each other of non-compliance.

Inevitably the high consumption of the earth's resources by the developed world will be at the forefront of the discussions in Rio. For that discussion to be worthwhile and not unproductively one-sided the slowing down of population growth and consequential environmental damage should have an equally prominent place on the agenda at the Earth Summit. Environment and population are interdependent. We would be failing in our duty if we failed to tackle the link between world population growth and global environmental damage. It is hoped that the Government will bring that to the forefront of discussions and take a strong line on the issue.

4.16 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, the road to Rio is paved with a great many good intentions. I fear that there are also some unrealistic expectations. My hope is that the good intentions will find expression in the Earth Charter to which a number of speakers have referred. My fear is that when some of the expectations turn out not to be immediately realisable the world will damn the whole process as a failure. That would be a grave mistake.

Rio should be seen as the start of a new process of international co-operation, not just as an end in itself. An Earth Charter will no doubt look splendid framed and hung on the walls of chancelleries around the world; but what will really count, as the noble Baroness has just said, are the actions, the mechanisms, the funding and commitment necessary to give it reality.

Last month I was invited by the UNCED secretariat to attend a three day conference in Tokyo rather quaintly called an "eminent persons' meeting". We were summoned to address the question: How best to finance the measures needed for tackling the global environmental and related issues at the centre of the Rio process". There were 25 of us round the table, all there in a personal capacity, most of us former office holders. There were some very distinguished former presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, finance ministers and one not so distinguished former environment minister. There were the former presidents of the World Bank, former secretaries-general of the Commonwealth and the OECD, and others, including representatives of some of the regional banks. We came from industrialised countries and from the developing world and from NGOs. Representatives included Dr. Schmidheiny, whose views I am not sure I recognised in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. The conference was hosted by two former Japanese Prime Ministers—Mr. Takeshita and Mr. Kaifu—and the chairman of the Keidanren, Mr. Hiraiwa. UNCED provided the secretariat.

The second purpose, in addition to the financial purpose, was to appeal to Japan to adopt a leading role at Rio commensurate with her growing weight in the world economy. I think we achieved that, and I need say no more about it.

The results of our deliberations appeared in the so-called Tokyo Declaration on Financing Global Environment and Development. Our first point, which is one which a number of speakers in the debate have already made, is that the "D" in UNCED is every bit as important as the "E". As we said in the declaration: The June Earth Summit in Rio offers a unique opportunity to forge a global partnership for sustainable development to eradicate poverty and to safeguard the environment upon which human life depends". The reality behind the Rio process, which I am not sure has always been understood, is that, in the continuing dialogue between the developed and the developing worlds, for the first time the developed world is the demandeur. We are concerned that mankind's profligate use of the earth's resources is leading to the destruction of the earth's ecological balance. The developing world attaches much less priority to that lofty global concern. Its problems are those of poverty, famine, disease and human degradation. As the right reverend Prelate said, the developing countries do not look kindly on the preachings of those with vastly higher standards of living which suggest that it is the developing world that needs to curb its population growth, reduce its atmospheric pollution, preserve its forests and so on. They want development, but it is only by developing their economies that all those evils will be tackled.

So the developing countries are coming to Rio to strike a bargain with the richer countries. As the right reverend Prelate said, they will say: "Demonstrate a new determination to help us to secure sustainable development and we will then be ready to work with you to achieve your global objectives". They also say with some justice that most of the earth's pollution is caused by the industrialised nations; so we must be seen to be putting our house in better order. Rio will indeed fail if we in the developed world do not properly address those concerns.

Agenda 21 is even more about development than about the environment. So the next point that we asserted at Tokyo was an appeal, to leaders of all governments to come to the Earth Summit at Rio prepared to commit themselves to the measures required to give effect to a new global partnership for sustainable development". We then went on to address the financial implications. The figures have already been mentioned. The UNCED secretariat tabled some very large figures indeed. The total cost of Agenda 21 comes to 600 billion dollars a year. Both the developing and developed countries' representatives agreed that: The main part of the expenditures in the developing countries to implement Agenda 21 … will come from developing countries themselves. Developing countries will require a supportive international and national economic environment to enable them to mobilize more internal resources". What is that supportive international environment? The section of the report setting out that point came from one of the distinguished representatives of the developing countries, Mr. Emil Salim, Minister of State for Population and the Environment in Indonesia. I ask noble Lords to note his priorities: Of primary importance to developing countries therefore is: First, increased access to the markets of industrialised countries. In this context, an immediate and meaningful conclusion of the Uruguay Round is absolutely essential; Second, increased inflow of private investment and technology transfer into developing countries; Third, durable solutions to the debt problems of developing countries, which will be a prerequisite for their transition to sustainable development; and Fourth, very substantial external support, which will be needed to complement these efforts". So trade, investment, technology transfer and debt relief are more important than ODA, though ODA is vital.

The point has recently been enforced by the World Bank. I have not read the report but perhaps I may quote from the Financial Times: Punishing poor countries through trade bans is unlikely to help protect the global environment, the World Bank concludes". The whole study lays emphasis on the importance of access to the markets of the world by the developing countries, not only to secure development but to secure an improved environment. There is now a new and unholy alliance between protectionists and environmentalists. In its report the World Bank refers to them as the "Baptists and bootleggers". Environmentalists believe that they can cure environment degradation by imposing curbs on trade. Again I quote the report of the World Bank from the Financial Times: Producers opposed [to free trade] increasingly find themselves on the defensive, intellectually and politically. They need to find new allies. Defending trade curbs on the grounds they are necessary to protect environmental quality fills both needs". The United Kingdom government have been a leading protagonist for freer trade. I believe that our Prime Minister will be well placed to use his platform at Rio to sound warning bells about the "bootleggers and Baptists".

ODA is important. The UNCED figure of 125 million dollars a year is 70 million dollars extra on top of the existing 55 million dollars, but it means more than doubling the flow. The figure is certainly not realistic in the short term but it gives new urgency to the aid budgets of the donor countries. Again, we need to recognise the mutuality in the bargaining process. I quote from our declaration: Financing for sustainable development should not be viewed as 'foreign aid' in traditional terms; it is an essential investment in global environmental security". That led to the third principle; namely, conditionality: At UNCED, traditional donors, as well as other countries in a position to shoulder a part of the burden, should each enter into a firm and monitorable commitment with regard to ODA in order to ensure a significant increase of resources for sustainable development; Equally, developing countries should commit to establishing open, participatory and monitorable implementation systems which give confidence that resources from all sources are well used for the purposes intended". So again there is the link in the bargain: aid and environment.

Finally, there are the channels and mechanisms. We said that you do not need any new organisation or a huge new bureaucracy. What you have is the Global Environment Facility, which is in existence and which now needs to be replenished. The United Kingdom was praised by the UNCED secretariat because we —1 understand that we are the only country to have done it—now include a separate line in our aid budget for global environment support. That was held out to the other participants as an example of what might be done. But there are also IDA replenishment, UNDP, UNEP, the United Nations University, and a number of others.

We touched on tax incentives. I read with interest the report of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. We believe that carbon taxes might have a role to play. We also looked at market mechanisms and tradable permits which are in their infancy but which too have a part to play.

I should like to end with a few words about population. I realise that I have overrun my time but we are a little ahead of the clock. I insisted that population concerns should appear in the Tokyo Declaration. I was greatly reassured by what my noble friend Lady Chalker said from the Dispatch Box at Question Time yesterday. But beware—not preaching, not condemning fecklessness. Indeed, one says that the biggest increases in population are coming in the poorest countries which can the least afford them. That is a message which those countries accept. They need to be helped. Their peoples want to be helped. The World Bank reinforced that message.

I have been invited to go to Rio but have declined the invitation because I cannot think that there is anything more useless in such a gathering than an eminent person emeritus. So I shall stay at home.

4.29 p.m.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, first I want to thank my noble friend Lord McIntosh for opening the debate. I shall follow him rather than the report referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. I was not invited to go to the Japan Conference and greatly welcome the summary given by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. I am not an eminent person or even an eminent person passé. I was not invited to go to Japan but I was invited to go to Rio and I accepted. I look forward very much to attending the conference. I only wish that the noble Lord, with all his wisdom, would be there as well. That might have been very useful. In Rio I shall be representing the United Nations Association and the World Federation of United Nations Associations. Our hope is to work closely with the UK Government—with whom we have had a great deal of consultation—and with many Commonwealth governments to minimise North/South conflict. It is a sad irony of history that at a time when the world is freed from East/West tension, typified by the cold war, we should now be moving toward the possibility of North/South divisions on so many of the issues to be discussed at Rio. Population, poverty, forestry, energy use, climate change, ozone depletion, additionality or debt relief are all issues on which there are dangers of conflict between North and South which we must seek to minimise. It was in that context that I greatly welcomed much of what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said in his intervention.

The noble Lord referred to debt. That was dealt with in the Pilger programme that some of your Lordships may have seen on television last night. We must note that the third world debt has forced many developing countries to exploit their own national resources often to the point of real environmental degradation in order to service their debt. It is sheer madness that the third world is contributing three times as much financially to the North through debt repayments than it receives through aid. That situation quite clearly has to be changed in the interests of third world countries, in particular when aid programmes are so modest compared with our commitment to the UN target of 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product. As my noble friend said, the present figure for the United Kingdom is 0.28 per cent. UNICEF calculates that the debt crisis directly results in the death of half a million children annually, innocent victims of a distorted global economy. Rio will mainly be a test of the commitment to the planet of the developed countries. That is another way of saying what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said.

I welcome the recent comments by His Royal Highness Prince Charles. He said: I would have thought tackling poverty, hunger, homelessness, illiteracy and environmental degradation, wherever it is found in the world, is a true test of a civilised society". I also welcome what was recently said by Sir Crispin Tickell, one of the most important initiators of the summit conference and our former ambassador to the United Nations. He stated recently: It is painful to attend numerous meetings where the rich countries think this is a Third World problem. It isn't. It is primarily a First World problem". We have to achieve co-operation between North and South in a variety of different ways. Pollution abatement and enhanced environmental performance must be achieved on the basis of co-operation not confrontation. We cannot expect other countries simply to leave their natural resources untouched. However, better co-operation could help them to identify environmental problems, devise new strategies and implement reforms. Many poor countries lack the expertise, resources or institutions to analyse environmental risks or to meet the costs of adapting their plans. We, the northern countries, must provide information, expertise and funds for technology to governments, voluntary organisations and academic institutions in poorer countries. We must make a presumption against pollution. We cannot continue to expect the environment to absorb and recover from the amount of pollution pumped into it. As has already been said, the main responsibility lies with the western countries. The United States produces 23 per cent. of all polluting gases.

I am delighted that the Prime Minister will attend. I am glad that President Bush will attend, although I fear that he is prepared only to sign an agreement that is not binding upon the member states. That is a sad commentary.

I wish to say a few words about the role of the non-governmental organisation, UNA, in this issue. Throughout we have sought to be constructive. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that some people will be disappointed by the Rio conference. However, as he said, none of us must assume that we can achieve everything. It is the beginning of a very important and, I believe, long process. We must ensure that it continues year after year. It will require some constancy.

The United Nations Association has sought to be constructive. We have not pulled our punches but we have not gone along with some of the more strident pressure groups. We must achieve all that we can. That implies co-operation with our Government. I welcome the many ways in which the Government are taking an important position. I also appreciate their willingness to co-operate with the non-governmental organisations in preparing for Rio.

Rio has dominated the work of the UNA for the past 12 months, along with the Gulf war and new prospects for UN peacekeeping. Abroad we piloted our own Agenda 21 through the meeting of the World Federation of United Nations Associations which brings together UN associations from 70 countries of the world. The British UNA's draft provides the basis of our representations to governments which will be continued in Rio. The draft was presented at our Barcelona conference in November.

In Rio we shall be organising three briefing sessions in conjunction with HM Government, and I welcome that. I refer to global warming and climate change, and the importance to indigenous people of all the issues at the Rio conference. That is an important point. There is a special conference at which it is hoped that about 300 or 400 people representing indigenous communities in different parts of the world will be able to participate. The third briefing will be on institutional development.

At home we have had a highly successful series of 25 regional conferences throughout the country attended by 4,000 representatives of nongovernmental organisations and from organisations such as Oxfam, the World Development Movement, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Those regional conferences put forward 104 proposals. I presented them to a conference that took place on the day that the election results came out—and I must admit to being a little tired. We had a big rally in Central Hall, Westminster. The conclusions reached by the conferences across the country will be made available. I shall ensure that all those taking part in the debate today will receive a copy of them because I have said that I shall seek to present those conclusions to Parliament. That is why I am glad that I have this opportunity to speak today.

I promised also to present the proposals in Rio, and that I shall do to the best of my ability. I shall also be involved with the conference of indigenous people, the earth parliament, and the global forum of politicians and religious personalities, to which reference has already been made. I shall also be present at the NGO conference. It is like a party conference in the sense that fringe meetings will take place. However, we shall have 40,000 present. I quite understand that some who have been invited may have decided not to go. To attend with 39,999 other people is a jamboree which perhaps one might like to miss; but I do not wish to miss it. It is an important challenge. It will be an historic international conference. I hope to make not only a small contribution but afterwards reflect on having been in on perhaps the most vital conference that will ever be held. I promised also that I would report back after the conference. I hope to do that, and perhaps we may have a debate in this House during which I shall be able to give my impressions of what I believe will be a most important summit.

4.40 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne

My Lords, in a timed debate on a subject as wide as this, I believe it is just as well to restrict oneself to one particular aspect. For that reason, and that reason alone, I wish to restrict myself to the issues of biodiversity, much as I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and others on such issues as the carbon tax.

I do that because I believe the biodiversity issues are not clearly understood in this country. It just so happens that it is one area in which we can all make some impact. It is an issue which has already been discussed at one of the preparatory meetings last week in Nairobi and it is very much on the agenda at Rio next month.

One should not even have to ask the question but perhaps it is necessary to do so: is there cause for concern? The Royal Society and the United States National Academy of Sciences, two organisations which your Lordships will agree are not known for overstatement, state in the remarks which they addressed to the Earth Summit that: The loss of biodiversity is one of the fastest moving aspects of global change, is irreversible and has serious consequences for the human prospect in the future". That certainly makes me sit up and think.

I have seen current estimates quoted but clearly the figures are imprecise because it is not known to a very wide margin how many species there are on this planet. However, it is thought that as many as half of the world's plant and animal species will be extinct by the year 2050 if we progress as we are doing at present. Of course, when one defines what is meant by biodiversity, one does not mean just the number of species among animals, plants, micro-organisms and so on. We are referring also to the genetic variability within a species. In other words, if there is a very small isolated population which is not able to interbreed, that clearly means a total loss of diversity in the long run. In agriculture, if you use an ever narrower range of seeds or livestock, as happens so often nowadays with artificial insemination and embryo transfer, the genetic pool could be disastrously reduced. Not far back in our history we remember the unhappy story of the potato famine in Ireland caused by an extremely narrow gene base for the varieties grown at that time.

Why does it matter if there is the dramatic loss of biodiversity which is already happening and which will continue to happen at an increasingly fast pace? The right reverend Prelate reminded us of perhaps the overriding reason, the moral case; that is, we are stewards of this planet and we are here representing future generations. Therefore, we have a duty before God and to ourselves to maintain it. If that is not sufficiently persuasive, there is the further argument; namely, expediency, the balance of nature. If we lose key species, whole ecosystems could collapse. Of course, at the end of most ecosystems there is human population. Therefore, for our own protection we must make quite clear that we do not allow desert to creep in and salinity to encroach and pollute water courses which are needed for the sustenance of life, not least human life.

Thirdly, and perhaps the most materialistic but by no means unworthy reason, there is the economic argument. We exploit genetic resource. We have done so since time began for our housing and clothing. After all, agriculture is based on the exploitation of genetic material. Industry does so; medicine does so and will continue to do so. If you limit genetic variety and diversity, clearly you may put your own future at risk.

How are we putting it at risk? It is fairly clear to us that dramatic changes in land use which are very familiar to us—the felling of tropical rain forests—by the destruction of habitats cause immediate loss of biodiversity. That has happened for many years in temperate agriculture and forestry. It may be that the simple number of species is not so dramatic but the effects can be as pervasive. That is why, as the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, reminded us, it is a problem for the North as much as for the South. We shall clearly lack credibility if we allow our own diversity to be unnecessarily eroded.

We have eroded it by degradation of soils and the destruction of habitats. We have allowed inappropriate species to be introduced from alien areas. The Nile perch is a particularly appropriate example. Pollution of marine and terrestrial areas has led to loss of diversity, as has climate change. The very reason that we are addressing the whole issue of greenhouse gases is the consequent effect on ecosystems and ultimately on biodiversity. As regards that aspect, it is clear that the convention for greenhouse gases, for global warming, is a long-term but essential way to address what can perhaps be described in part as the problem of loss of biodiversity.

To look closer to home at how we should prevent that further irreversible—as the Royal Society reminded us—erosion of habitats we must devise sustainable development schemes. I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Jenkin that the "D" in UNCED is just as important as the "E". If we think that we can somehow preserve rather than try to marry the competing claims of sustainable development with conservation, we are deluding ourselves and in fact we have missed the whole point of what UNCED and the Earth Summit is trying to do. It is trying to reconcile agriculture, forestry and the fishing industry with systems which allow the biodiversity to be not unduly diminished. We cannot talk about increasing biodiversity because the present trend is irreversible.

In Europe we have a credibility gap. We have done rather badly. For example, Sub-Committee D of the European Communities Select Committee is at present looking at the common fisheries policy. I do not wish to anticipate the findings of that committee except to point out that there is no environmental objective in the common fisheries policy. We have missed an opportunity to try to prevent the erosion of the sea bed and loss of marine ecosystems by use of totally inappropriate technology.

The same applies to the common agricultural policy. We are clearly aware that the very successful revolution in agriculture which has happened to the great advantage of Europe has been at the expense of environmental habitats and the loss of biodiversity. Now that people recognise that the priorities of the CAP are changing, we have a wonderful opportunity to put in place more suitable funding systems which will allow land owners to deliver environmental benefits through a redirection of the CAP.

The proposals suggested by MacSharry are not very exciting and are not necessarily very appropriate, particularly as regards the environment. They represent a small part of the redirection of those funds and a grave loss of opportunity. I should have thought that it would be all too simple to extend some very good initiatives which we have had in this country —for example, environmentally sensitive areas and the countryside stewardship scheme—to the whole farm. It is very important to designate specific areas as sites of special scientific interest or national nature reserves but the mass of biodiversity is on the rest of the land. That is where we still have an unresolved problem to address. I do not believe that we have yet begun to grapple with that problem in our own country.

I am proud to have played a small role in that as chairman of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. I pay tribute to organisations such as English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales, although I know that a later speaker will pick me up on that. Those bodies are doing extremely good work on species recovery and the protection of habitats, but so often because of lack of funding that must be restricted to small designated areas. Therefore, I make a plea. We need to have an increased degree of credibility and not just at Rio. We shall certainly have to follow Rio—in the same way as the Uruguay Round is a further round of GATT. Therefore, we are bound to have further rounds of UNCED in later years. Let us hope that when we go to the further rounds we shall have put in place schemes which have credibility for our own biodiversity.

4.50 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, the debate so far has been most encouraging. It is obvious that we are all on the same side, despite the diversity of the subjects covered by most speakers and the different expertise that they bring. It makes one hope that that same agreement can be reached at Rio.

In the 20 years since the Stockholm conference, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, referred, another 2 billion people have been added to the population of the world; that is in spite of the fact that every year millions of people die for want of pure water. During that time the loss of rain forest has continued. But since then we have come to accept that solutions to environmental problems must be international and there has been some progress in the matter of world organisations. For example, there is the Montreal Protocol, to which my noble friend Lord Shackleton referred, to phase out the manufacture and use of ozone-depleting chemicals such as CFCs, and the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species—CITES. Questions could be asked about the speed and efficiency of both those organisations but at least they exist and have raised world consciousness of their respective problems.

Many developed countries, as we have heard, now accept the concept of sustainable development as an aim. Agenda 21 at Rio must conclude with a programme of practical steps to achieve that aim and ensure that those steps are identified. A number of noble Lords made that point. It is essential that realistic targets for achievement should be discussed. Most of the necessary practical steps are known already. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, outlined a fair number of them. As he said, they include economy in the use of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources and positive action to replace their use, where possible, with renewable resources. That means, among other issues, a worldwide commitment to a forestry policy.

There must be strong action to protect the world's biodiversity—as the noble Earl said—without which many current and potential benefits could be lost. Where economic aid is needed for that purpose in less developed countries we must provide it. The developed world has a responsibility in that area. In the long term it will be in our own best interests.

There should be an acceptance worldwide of the precautionary principle, to which again the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said we are committed. I wonder whether we are. The problem I find with many remarks made by the noble Lord is that there is a difference between what the Government are saying and what they are actually doing, particularly in this country. We must accept the precautionary principle. We must use extreme caution with all new and untried processes until it is proved that throughout their operation — right through to the waste disposal operation—they are not environmentally harmful. We must work on the assumption that the theories about the contribution of man's activities to global warming are correct; that is, until there is more scientific evidence to the contrary. We cannot defer to the arguments of "not proven" presently being advanced for the economic convenience of some countries. The threat of disaster is too great to be risked.

Within the framework which we hope will be agreed at Rio it will be the task of each participating country to put its own house in order. Many countries are already taking action. I welcome the UK Government commitment to a faster reduction of CO2 emissions and I hope that it will be pursued without the qualifications we have so far heard. I am encouraged that we show signs of a more positive approach to forestry policy. But what of CFCs? Although use in the United Kingdom has diminished, is it not the case that production levels in the UK have not fallen? It is a world problem and I ask the Minister to give information on the production levels of United Kingdom companies when he winds up.

We need a more positive approach to a cleaner transport system. Building bigger roads is not the best or only answer. If road building costs included a proper assessment of the environmental costs of new roads, the sums would look quite different. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, stressed the need for environmental impact assessments. But in practice—this is one of the occasions when I can point to an area where the Government do not practise what they preach—on road development those assessments are not forthcoming or, if they are, they are of such a skimpy nature that most NGOs feel they are quite useless. Investment in public transport and cycleways can have benefits for the environment, but neither is fashionable.

I was interested to read in the AECC newsletter that in March this year Greece introduced a package of air quality measures, some of which contain lessons for us. There are a great many but I shall pick out one or two. The newsletter states, Most important of the proposed measures is requiring a new auto emissions card, issued once a year after a vehicle passes a pollution test. Random street checks by traffic police will be used to enforce the requirement". Fines will be imposed for failure to comply. The newsletter continues with a further interesting suggestion, Taxi drivers will be exempt from sales tax for most fuels, except oil (80 per cent. decrease), if they trade in their old taxis for new, less polluting models". That is the kind of exercise in which this country could well indulge, not only on taxis but also other forms of transport—for example, lorries.

That is an example of the right measures countries other than the United Kingdom are attempting to introduce. If adopted by enough countries, such measures could make a real contribution to reducing greenhouse gases as well as improving the quality of life for urban dwellers. They would also be popular in this country with our own beleaguered car industry. It would help the sale of new cars, about which we are all anxious.

Even in a five-hour debate there is only time to scratch the surface of the pile of topics that could be examined. Rio may be the turning point. We may decide to behave like intelligent beings and take charge of our own destiny, or we may gallop on like lemmings, urged on by greed and selfishness until we find ourselves over the cliff edge. At that point there will be no turning back. I hope that from now on we take a close look at what is happening before it is too late.

4.58 p.m.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, I had the real privilege of being a Member of the Sub-committee of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, which inquired into the EC's proposal for a carbon/energy tax. The noble Lord was a redoubtable chairman and your Lordships owe him a considerable debt. I confess—if that is the correct verb —that my views on the tax changed markedly over the two months of our inquiry. Your Lordships may take that as a recommendation of the in-depth approach made by Committees of this House.

While fully supporting the European Community's objective to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, it is important that the problem should be put in context. The EC as a whole accounts for only 13 per cent. of global emissions and the UK for only 2.5 per cent. The EC countries' rate of growth of CO2 emissions is already low. During the period 1986–89 Germany and France experienced no growth and in the UK there was actually a decrease in emissions of 3.75 per cent. I absolutely accept that there is scope for further reduction but I do not now believe that the EC's proposed carbon/energy tax is the right answer.

One must consider who would actually be paying the additional taxes. It is unlikely in the extreme that the OPEC oil producers will bear a significant proportion. In addition, it is proposed that energy-intensive industries should be largely exempt. Indeed, if such industries are not exempt they will become uncompetitive in world markets. That could actually increase CO2 emissions as customers transfer to non-taxed countries whose existing practices are less conscientious.

That then leaves the private consumer and small businesses carrying the can, thereby creating a serious problem in that it will most affect low-income groups. The Institute of Fiscal Studies concluded that: a carbon tax would have a regressive impact on the distribution of income in the UK, in the sense that the additional tax would be a greater percentage of the spending of poorer households than of richer households". We must also turn our attention, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, reminded us, to the question of whether it would have any effect on demand, particularly in the transport sector on which the burden of this tax would be largely shifted as it has so often in the past. Demand in that transport sector would almost certainly not drop. That is partly because to a large extent consumers have no choice—the infrastructure is geared to road transport and makes it a necessity—and partly because transport fuels are already, as again the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, reminded us, so highly taxed that a carbon/energy tax at the proposed rate of 10 dollars a barrel would only increase prices by around 6 per cent. We are getting almost immune to increases and indeed decreases of that level.

An energy tax in the EC alone would be most unlikely to produce a significant reduction in global CO2 emissions. Japan, the United States of America and former Soviet republics—the latter, together with Eastern Europe, account for 25 per cent. of the world's CO2 emissions—have offered no firm indication that they will follow suit. EC policy should be part of a global policy. I am relieved that the Commission has at least partially recognised that fact. A unilateral energy/carbon tax will in all probability have an adverse effect on EC industry while securing no benefit in terms of global CO2 levels.

Surely if the Commission cannot guarantee that other major industrialised nations will impose similar taxes, it should not expend time and political capital pursuing a unilateral energy/carbon tax. Instead the Community should be looking for alternative means to achieve its ambitious CO2 emissions target for the year 2000.

In a recent well-reasoned paper British Petroleum instance 17 non-tax alternatives which could—I emphasise "could" —result in a total potential reduction of 536 million metric tonnes per annum in CO2 emissions by the year 2000. The figure of 536 million metric tonnes is interesting. It compares with the EC target of 294 million metric tonnes per annum —that is to say, 11 per cent., by the same year. Included in that 536 million are 88 million metric tonnes per annum from energy conservation and particularly from the SAVE programme, and 50 million from tightening domestic appliance efficiency standards.

I find it difficult to understand why the Commission has not further—one must emphasise the word "further"—explored all alternatives but rather has recommended a carbon/energy tax which I believe would be uneconomic, anti-competitive and unilaterally ineffective. I strongly support the committee's succinct conclusion in not supporting a carbon/energy tax, even as now proposed by the Commission, and rather I recommend greater effort towards energy efficiency as the key policy to tackle global warming.

5.5 p.m.

Baroness White

My Lords, no doubt there are still a few Members of your Lordships' House, who, like myself, were concerned with the first United Nations conference on the human environment which was held in Stockholm in 1972. I have not seen the updated version to Limits of Growth which was referred to by my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey, but I look forward very much to reading it. However, after 20 years of increasingly difficult environmental problems we face the meeting at Rio. We all hope for a constructive outcome. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has produced an impressive list of proposed actions on behalf of Her Majesty's Government.

However, experience suggests that with so many participants, each with significant differences in their individual political, technological and social conditions, one is likely to be left with high-sounding statements of intent but a low common denominator of realisable action. That was put succinctly in a London lecture by Dr. Martin Holdgate, whom some of us knew as a distinguished public servant in this country and who is now internationally engaged. He expressed the position succinctly by saying: Words are cheap and action plans are easy to put on paper. Agreement to them gives the cosy, inexpensive illusion of a problem solved. As such they are dangerous". I believe that there is a growing sense that we are approaching one of the most serious crises in human experience with world demand outrunning resources, despite the most rapid expansion of knowledge and technology which the world has ever seen. The word "sustainability" as a precondition for tolerable survival, appears frequently, but its meaning and application depend very much on the particular concern or requirement of the user.

The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, referred to the recent joint statement by the Royal Society of London and the United States National Academy of Sciences. In addition to their emphasis on biodiversity, which he emphasised too, their statement concentrates strongly on the difficulties of world population growth and world resource consumption. I believe that, advisedly, their emphasis is strongly on the inter-relationship of these conditions and the serious danger of treating particular problems in isolation without adequate concern for their effect on other conditions.

The two presidents of these respected organisations propose themselves to organise a scientific conference early in 1993, presumably to try to pick up the pieces after Rio. It will be held once more in Sweden. One can only wish it well. Meanwhile we have to analyse as honestly as we can our own situation, with particular attention to the aspirations and attitudes of the younger generation in our society. They will have to face in the next millennium the consequences of our success or failure in the next few years.

The most obvious problem surely is the sharp division between the countries which have been termed the ecological imperialists, such as the United States of America, Europe and Japan, contrasted with the poorer countries which for the most part also suffer from dramatically serious over-population. Criticism is not confined to governments. Only recently I came across the term "gringo". I do not know how many of your Lordships know what that means. It means the green, rich, international NGOs; that is, the sophisticated, non-governmental organisations whose interests do not adequately deal with the basic needs of the third world. To my mind one of the greatest problems is this: how can one bridge the intervening gulf?

Last week's edition of New Scientist carried a most perceptive article by Fred Pearce on the hidden cost of technology transfer. One does not have the time to quote as one would wish in a debate such as this, but I recommend that article to your Lordships for reference.

Genuine progress on environmental control in the developed world can undoubtedly be extended if we are willing to pay the price. The same is hardly true of the third world. I am concerned about what genuine advances for the well-being of the third world will emerge from Rio. Complaints have been made in the United Kingdom press that the discussions will be dominated so much by global biology and eco-systems that the human factor will be left out but, without it, we can make very little progress.

I believe that we in this country are indulging ourselves in standards of living that make use of non-renewable materials —or of materials that could be recycled, but which are not —at ever-increasing speed. I was startled to hear in a recent radio programme on the United Kingdom's manufacturing output that one of the few promising prospects in an otherwise rather depressed scene was the packaging industry. I must confess that I use convenience foods fairly often, but I am horrified at the ever-increasing stacks of residual plastics that result.

What has been done by Government or other public bodies to encourage adequate recycling? Is it all being blithely left to market forces? On a wider scale, are we justified in putting tremendous effort and costly resources into space research and other extremely expensive activities just "because they are there" when so large a proportion of the world's population is on or beyond the edge of starvation? Can it be that our priorities may be wrong?

There are signs that the younger generation is turning to environmental issues as a moral rather than scientific challenge. It is not too far-fetched to suggest that, for some, the worship of mother earth is becoming a form of religion, which can carry with it the well known risks of fundamentalism as in other faiths. A recent article by Warren Newman in a scientific periodical points out that such developments can go much further than, for example, Professor James Lovelock's Gaia philosophy, and can take highly undesirable forms. In their more supportable forms, I have had letters from youth groups which clearly indicate that their environmental awareness and "earth education" is intended, in their own words: to foster a peace-centred and co-operative attitude towards the natural environment and to each other. That is a very interesting comment on social developments in this country.

A successful outcome at Rio, with genuine intentions to foster sustainable progress at all levels, will encourage the growing generation in this as in other countries to take a rational view of environmental challenges, but it will require a degree of corporate self-discipline on our part which, as I hope that the Government will acknowledge, cannot rest on market forces alone.

5.13 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh of Haringey and Lord Ezra, for raising these two very important subjects. I want in the main to explore the problems of the Rio conference but, with the two debates now combined, I should like first to make three brief observations on the carbon/energy tax issue.

The first concerns a widely stated belief which to the best of my knowledge is erroneous. On being asked what specific steps the Government are taking to limit carbon dioxide emissions, various noble friends on the Government Front Bench invariably include catalytic converters and lead-free petrol in their replies. This is misleading. Neither reduces carbon dioxide emissions, and catalytic converters actually increase them. Catalytic converters and lead-free petrol are usefully employed against other emissions but not against carbon dioxide, which is the world's most serious greenhouse gas.

My second point is that in one form or another I believe a carbon tax to be inevitable and the sooner it is implemented the sooner its benefits will be felt. However, I welcome the caution over detail that the committee, the Government and the Commission have recommended. We have seen the chaos that can ensue from a hastily installed tax where the principles are better thought through than the practical repercussions. Therefore, we must think this through first and assess such consequences as the cost and benefit of unilateral action. Delay is not outrageous if it is devoted to achieving a more effective and more widespread implementation, but simply playing for time is; because ultimately the longer that we wait, the worse will be the environmental damage that we shall have to treat and the more drastic and painful the medicine if it is to succeed.

The third point on which I wish to touch is whether, as with catalytic converters and lead-free petrol, we are placing too much faith in and therefore becoming too distracted by a single initiative and are missing the superior benefits of a more fundamental approach. European carbon dioxide emissions are predicted to rise by 14 per cent. over the 1990s unless counter-measures are taken. It is estimated that a carbon tax might reduce the 14 per cent. to 11 per cent. Thus, such a tax would be useful and we need it but it is a long way from being the whole answer or even most of the answer. Research shows that a rigorous but cost-effective commitment to energy conservation could produce a stabilisation, if not an actual reduction, in CO2 emissions by the year 2000. I therefore welcome my noble friend's indication that energy efficiency will be the main priority of government policy.

The Government already have some machinery to encourage energy conservation, such as the SAVE programme and a complementary renewables programme. But I am unclear as to whether they are generating sufficient impact. The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, certainly had his doubts. I would be interested to hear the views of my noble friend the Minister on that, especially as he is also the Minister responsible for energy efficiency. He might even be able to forecast an improvement in the status, funding and powers of such programmes. I would also welcome hearing details of the new Energy Savings Trust.

Turning to the crucial United Nations conference, I am aware that Rio is not only highlighting opportunities but problems also. The specific agenda for this great gathering is of undeniable importance and has been expertly covered by other noble Lords. On every one of the issues the bottom line requirement is identical, namely, the urgent need for a commitment to progress that is widespread, realistic and long term.

What I question is whether in today's world arena such high profile and loudly publicised international summits are the most efficient or the most clever means of achieving this commitment. There are certainly some unfortunate side-effects that world platforms unwittingly generate.

The most conspicuous problem is entirely political. Gatherings of such a high profile heave with conflicting expectations, intense lobbying, special interest politics, irreconcilable grievances and all the other cross-currents that an international spotlight attracts. As a result, consensus on an original agenda becomes a hostage to compromise across a wider agenda and clear-sighted discussion on the original objectives, not to mention actual decision-making, becomes appallingly difficult. The loud message going out from such a summit can too easily degenerate into a catalogue of what has not been achieved. The Rio conference is not even underway but is already beset by disappointment, anger and recrimination.

When at the very forefront of the world stage a powerful gathering of leaders, backed by the United Nations and other international organisations, cannot get its corporate act together, the exercise can become demoralising and counter-productive. Individual countries which are already facing up to the challenge of improving their own environmental practices are tempted to question the extent and the cost of their unilateral efforts. For those countries which have no urge to clean up their practices there is a convenient excuse for further delay. Poor progress on the international stage can both prompt inertia and lend it a certain legitimacy.

This negative repercussion worsens when one of the world's most powerful players, both in terms of resources, influence and pollution, is in two minds about participating at all. America's initial reluctance to join a Rio environmental initiative and its continued reluctance to take a lead is deeply disappointing both in itself and in the example that it sets for other wavering countries. Indeed, the position of the United States has presented an awkward dilemma for Rio; and as an aside I would just comment on the short-sighted and misjudged remarks that have erupted on the role of this Government in resolving that dilemma.

Rio is looking for effective and realistic progress. For serious advocates of the Rio format, agreements resulting there will be effective only if they are seen to be backed by a convincing world quorum. If for the sake of a more binding agreement up-front Rio had gone ahead without the United States, would the quorum have been sufficient? Before the United States agreed to participate, I and other noble Lords attended an inter-parliamentary conference where the environment and Rio was the lead item on the agenda. Virtually every one of the 89 countries represented, in discussing Rio, was distracted by one common preoccupation; and that was the threatened nonattendance of the United States. It was too clear, especially among the developing nations, that Rio without the United States was not a credible basis for concerted action.

For the Earth Summit to achieve anything, the United States had to be there. I therefore congratulate my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment on the notable part they have played in bringing America to the table. Their efforts have shown a more far-sighted understanding of the political complexities of the Rio and post-Rio agendas than have the words of their critics.

This episode, however, does serve to illustrate a serious and underlying concern about the political cross-currents that are running through and undermining the issues at Rio. They point to a major problem which we shall continue to face if progress on the environment is reliant on high profile, high expectation and high publicity global summits. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in his excellent opening remarks, stated that it was impossible to overestimate the importance of Rio. I disagree in fact. I think that it is all too easy to overestimate the importance of Rio and it is that which has worked against some of Rio's best interests. If such floodlit showmanship is wanted, then it should be employed merely to endorse better decisions taken in less controversial settings.

The second fundamental problem generated not only by Rio but by all world platforms and international organisations is the disorienting effect that the global context can have on local energies and local initiative. While most acknowledge that progress on environmental problems will only be made through a genuinely widespread commitment to the solutions, few appreciate the realities or extent of a widespread commitment. It is not just a matter of having horizontal agreements between governments. It must reach vertically, permeating every level of every nation. It is at ground level, within each house and within each enterprise, that the commitment is most needed, for it is at ground level that the potential for success is at its greatest. Whether world organisations and their global edicts are the best method of motivating local commitment is debatable. I also question whether the obsessive categorisation of so many environmental problems into a world context is as productive or as clever as those hard working and committed international groups think.

Cast a local environmental problem into a global context and evidence suggests that people whom the problem immediately afflicts at the local level look not to themselves for a solution but to the international community. It is, after all, much easier if someone else can sort it all out. This lazy optimism is blind to the realities but it is unwittingly encouraged by environmental organisations on the world stage.

These thoughts are not based on idle cynicism but stem from research for the international conference to which I referred earlier. Both in the developed world and in the developing world there are some fascinating parallel cases of a particular environmental problem occurring simultaneously in different communities but prompting widely contrasting responses. Some of those affected throw up their hands, wail loudly and wait for national or international assistance on the basis that their local problem is not strictly their responsibility as it is merely a small part of a much larger malaise. Others facing exactly the same problem have demonstrated considerable levels of simple initiative and responsibility. In some cases a determined local response has perhaps needed a start-up grant or a single item of technology; but the one very clear and positive message is the extent to which a genuine commitment at a local level to a particular problem can motivate solutions. They are invariably not only very successful but also highly cost-effective and subject to comparatively little time wasting and bureaucracy. It is also encouraging that many of these community prompted user-friendly solutions have a much wider application. Sadly, I do not have time to go into some of the specific examples.

In conclusion, international groups and global gatherings, for all their excellent intentions and tireless work, must not unwittingly replace or neuter initiatives at other levels. Most of all, they must not let their preoccupation with a world perspective distract the sense of responsibility and commitment that can occur at a community level. Where the latter emerges, it can do so with extraordinary efficiency and provide a level of inspiration that is difficult to impose through global edict. There are very good environmental reasons for hoping that Rio is successful. There are also very good environmental reasons for believing that in future the sum of the energies that Rio has inspired would be more effective if devoted to low profile dialogue at a world level and a high profile commitment at ground level.

5.24 p.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, many noble Lords taking part in this debate have specialist knowledge about aspects of the environment or the Government's agenda for the Earth Summit in Rio. My theme, however, is not a specialist one. It is more general and concerns the problems faced by democratically elected governments who have to deal with the impending catastrophe. I have no doubt that the Earth is facing a catastrophe and I have few hopes of the Rio summit because its outcome will be dependent on action by national governments.

The world is pumping greenhouse gases into the upper atmosphere at ever-increasing rates and that is without the further contributions which will be made by currently under-developed countries as their energy needs increase. As other noble Lords have said, in Europe we are only aiming to reduce the level of emissions by the year 2000 to those they were at two years ago, taking eight years to return our level of emissions to where they were a mere two years ago. That scarcely seems like progress.

Last week in another place the Prime Minister claimed: The political will is there, not just in this country but in countries around the world".—[Official Report, Commons, 12/5/92; col. 492.] That is surely over-optimistic. The United States, the worst offender, producing 25 per cent. of the total greenhouse gases, has clearly no such political will to do anything about this problem. The projected crisis may be upon us now. Catastrophe theory suggests that natural disasters, such as earthquakes, typhoons, droughts and so on, do not occur slowly and incrementally but quite suddenly and are often due to some other small but interacting variable. The Earth, with its atmosphere and ecology, is an extremely complex and dynamic organism and is full of interacting systems and feed-back loops which are not really understood but which we know we are destabilising at an increasing rate.

It is easy to paint a scenario that suggests that mankind has, directly or indirectly, already wreaked irreversible damage on this system and that in a sense doomsday is already upon us. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has already described what is happening to the world's species. Half of them may well be extinct in 60 years' time. We know that the rain forest loss is exacerbating the greenhouse effect. If we look more domestically at this country, half of our ancient woodlands have been lost since the Second World War. Forty of our rivers are now mere stony furrows in our fields. Other of our rivers are heavily polluted. In a 20-mile stretch of the River Rother near Sheffield there is nothing but a few bacteria. We are also, of course, continually polluting the air that we breathe. We talk blithely of the number of cars on our roads doubling in 20 years' time and yet we already broadcast air quality data as though the pollution were a natural phenomenon like other aspects of the weather forecast.

The other inexorable pressure upon the world environment, as has already been described by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, is the increase in human population, which mysteriously has been excluded as a topic from the discussions in Rio. The number of people in the world is likely to double during the next 20 to 30 years with the inevitable consequence of further pollution, desertification, deforestation and soil erosion, all while crop production will need to double during the same short period of time. It is very easy to point the finger at the third world, but over-population is not a problem for the third world alone as we who live in this over-populated island should know. It is calculated that a sustainable population for these islands would be about 30 million—not much more than half the current population. In 1900 our population was 32 million. It is partly the reason why the Edwardian decade was seen as a golden era. It behoves our Government to think seriously about ways in which we can begin progressively to decrease our own population despite the demographic consequences.

Nothing that I have said will be unfamiliar since it is regularly the subject of newspaper articles and television programmes. These consequences of mankind's behaviour must also be apparent to the governments of all the world's democracies and yet their reaction is muted and confused. Rio can only be successful if it leads to action by individual national governments, but they talk only of "aiming" to do something if other major players take action first. Thus Europe will act only if America and Japan join in. That, for leading world countries, is not the example which we should be setting to the third world. We make no firm commitments and set no targets; we produce words in the air in relation to the environment. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has described several welcome government initiatives on energy conservation. But they are clearly quite insufficient. Moreover, the Prime Minister's declaration of political will is meaningless unless translated into really strong action.

The paralysis of action which seems to be a characteristic of democratic governments is, I think, a consequence of their need to be populist if they are to gain re-election. If they are to do anything to avert the coming catastrophe, governments will have to pursue long-term, expensive and unpopular policies which would in the short term damage their chances of re-election. For example, few politicians would advocate restrictions on the use of motor cars. We all know that we have too many cars in this country, yet we continue to build roads, encourage the car industry and welcome the doubling of car ownership. Even the European Community, which has produced some welcome environmental measures, is failing to curb the menace. In fact, it is encouraging us to reduce the price of our cars to the level that applies in the rest of Europe. Moreover, I see with astonishment that the EC is also proposing to impose VAT on public transport services.

The general malaise in the democratic systems of the world has also been starkly demonstrated by the evident and public reluctance of President Bush to attend the Earth Summit because it is a presidential election year and he does not wish to be associated with restrictions on energy consumption. All politicians want to be able to promise a never-never land of sunny, fertile uplands and increasing personal wealth. Unfortunately the earth has neither sufficient fertile uplands nor the wealth to make those promises other than idle fantasies.

The problem for politicians is further exacerbated by an electorate indoctrinated by what Professor Galbraith has recently described as "a culture of contentment" in which the economically and socially fortunate resist any attempt to intrude upon their material well-being by the Government on behalf of the less fortunate. All Western governments now have to grapple with that dominant culture. It is perhaps a specific example in this country of that self-centred materialism which produced the recent election result.

In the 1930s the writer Gerald Heard suggested that the only hope for the future of the human species would be for us to undergo a further evolutionary development and to have a genetic predisposition to altruism. Unfortunately, it seems more likely that it is those who are predisposed to be strong, selfish and short-sighted who will survive the coming struggle for survival.

So, given the current restraints, what is there that elected governments can do? First, they can set an example and give a lead to the rest of the world. But I believe that it is also the duty of any government to inform its electorate of the reality of the situation so that it becomes increasingly hard for us all to act like ostriches, the Gadarene swine or the Emperor Nero. Ultimately, the far-sighted politicians should reap the reward for their prescience. That is, of course, a particularly hard road for the present Government of this country to follow—with their commitment to unrestricted competition, the profit motive and the ethics of the marketplace.

There is also an educational and Cassandra-like role for those of us who are not dependent for our survival upon the whims of the electorate. Similarly, there are many young people who are deeply concerned about those issues. It may be that there is a groundswell of informed public opinion which will eventually allow governments to pursue policies of sustainable development. However, I am not immediately optimistic about the outcome of the conference at Rio in the short term. I fear that it is only when we are past the point of no return, when the catastrophe is upon us and people's dreams of perpetual growth are shattered, that the electorates of all the democracies will start to blame the politicians for their failure to act now.

5.34 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, a week next Monday, on the day that we return after the Recess, there will be scores of world leaders, many hangers-on and members of various organisations descending upon the town of Rio in Brazil. They will be driven along the new motorway—the red route—where they will be picked up by helicopters and transported to the coast. On their journeys they will undoubtedly not see the hordes of people living in the shanty towns alongside that red route; nor will they witness the actions of the Brazilian security forces in removing the street children from Rio itself. It is reported that many of them have simply been shot. They are the orphans and the outcasts who inhabit the gutters of Rio. That is not a very propitious picture for the start of the Rio conference.

However, I believe that there has been a universal acceptance this afternoon of the paramount importance at the Rio conference of the third-world issue. I am glad that so many speakers have made that point strongly. It is a conference of environment and development—and development, I suggest, is the paramount issue at the conference. But, what kind of development? The phrase "sustainable development" best embraces the only kind of creative, positive development which can serve the needs of the present time. What then is sustainable development? It was defined in the Brundtland Report as, development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". I believe that to be a very good definition. That is what we should be concentrating on when seeking a move forward at the Rio conference.

However, the conference starts with misunderstanding. That misunderstanding has already been evidenced in the discussions that have taken place over the past two years. The northern industrialised countries are looking upon the Rio conference as primarily a means to attack the menace of global warming, plus the increasing practice by third world countries of the burning of fossil fuels. From the point of view of the South—that is, the developing countries —global warming has been caused by the North. To a large extent that is the case. The paramount issues to third world countries and their leaders are food, water, sanitation, shelter and employment.

Those of us who have been discussing the prospects of Rio with third world leaders, third world scientists and many third world environmental specialists and ministers know that they see that issue as a principal challenge to their position in public life. Surely those of us—indeed, there are many of us here—who have been accustomed to going through the slums of Calcutta, Bangkok, Mexico City, Kinshasa, Johannesburg, Manila or Rio itself cannot escape the fact that that is bound to be the primary issue before the representatives of third-world peoples.

But, if the situation is to change, the third world has been taught that the only way in which it can be changed is through some means of industrialisation. What is the global prospect for the industrialisation of more than half of the world's population? It is not just an issue of overseas aid, important though that is. Overseas aid is perhaps a symbol of the commitment of different countries and different governments to equalisation and social justice on our planet. However, only a few weeks ago in Strasbourg—and I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate will meet this point—the Dutch proposed that the EC countries should pledge themselves to attain the 0.7 per cent. target by the year 2000. That was opposed by Her Majesty's Government. This was proposed by the Dutch, who already have a figure of 0.93 per cent. If the Dutch, why not the British? And why do the British, along with the Irish, oppose the measure? That hardly suggests a commitment to the issues which have to be discussed at Rio.

It seems to me that the principal fact that we have to face here is that the Western economic system has become dominant in the world. It is that system which has caused the threats to the environment which we are now facing. I am glad to see that the most reverend Primate is with us. His words on the immorality of economic activity simply to accumulate money seem to me to apply to the international situation today. It is the Western financial structure, declared by its leaders as inviolate, that has led to this prolific debt —the 1.3 trillion dollars, the interest on which is preventing the developing world from ever attaining even a sustainable life. The interest payments on this debt frequently amount to a half of the export earnings of third world countries. In the meantime the debt goes on increasing; and it is binding third world countries into debt payment which then goes to sustain the standard of living in this and other developed countries. Surely that can only be immoral.

Unfortunately, within this structure the major international organisations, the IMF and the World Bank, particularly through their structural adjustment are playing the same game. They are an essential part of the movement of resources from the poor countries to the rich through their insistence on devaluation, on cuts in public expenditure, on increase in the production of cash crops for export, in the destruction of forests through logging, in the mechanisation of agriculture, in the increasing of mining and minerals and in the deregulation of financial institutions, allowing the multinationals to proliferate throughout the third world. It is for these reasons that the third world is very suspicious of the operation of the global environmental facility—because that facility is being operated and controlled by the IMF and the World Bank. It was put under their control when it was created. All these measures are increasing poverty, starvation and disease and greatly multiplying deaths; and all the way through this system, as in our own country, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

The second issue in addition to overseas aid is surely the question of commodity prices, which I was glad the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, raised. Trade is as important as aid, and trade has to be of a character which will enable the traders to invest their resources in their own countries. As has happened over the past 10, 15 or 20 years, the collapse of commodity prices, plus debt, has strangled the attempts of third world countries to develop to such a point that they cannot even sustain life among their own peoples.

It is market forces which have created this environmental crisis and which are intensifying it. We cannot expect market forces to meet the challenge that is laid down at Rio. In my view Rio has already failed. It has failed because the Americans have shown that they are not prepared to set targets and to keep to those targets.

The only way in which we can meet this challenge is through strong governmental intervention. When the noble Lord comes to reply I hope that he will tell us how his Government propose to finance Agenda 21, which has already been mentioned, the price of which Maurice Strong has said will be 125 billion dollars.

How do Her Majesty's Government see the global situation and how do they visualise it in the future? I am afraid that of those third world leaders with whom I have discussed this issue almost all of them have already, sadly, decided that Rio has failed them. They are looking to getting together after Rio—as they have been getting together through a variety of conferences over the past two years—to discuss the situation and how their joint efforts can be used in the future. We in Europe have to decide whether we are going to associate ourselves with that effort or continue to be dominated by the commercial interests which at the moment are paramount in the United States of America.

5.46 p.m.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I, too, speak as a member of that sub-committee of the European Communities Committee, so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that has just reported on the carbon tax. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, as I am to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for allowing us to have a debate within a debate, as it were, so that this important problem can be aired before the Rio summit.

Your Lordships will know both from the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and from my noble friend Lord Geddes that our sub-committee greeted the proposed carbon tax with modified rapture, to put it mildly. For this reason, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has forecast, I should like to tell your Lordships about a system that would either supplement the tax or replace it; that is the system of the tradeable permit.

It works roughly like this. Each country, company, factory or person is given a ration of carbon dioxide that may be emitted free of charge. Should less than the ration be emitted there would be spare credit that could be sold to someone who wished to emit more than his ration.

The idea was put to our committee by Dr. Michael Grubb of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. When I first heard it I must confess that I thought that Dr. Grubb was somewhat in Cloud-cuckoo-land; but the more he explained it the better his scheme appeared. There are already tradeable permit schemes up and running in the United States. One was used in the phasing-out of lead in petrol, another will be used in the control of sulphur dioxide. I think that it is worth sketching out how that system will work, because the legislation there is in place and it could serve as a blue-print for a similar carbon dioxide scheme.

Sulphur dioxide emissions in the United States are going to be reduced to 8.9 million tons by the year 2000. This is what is called a national cap. Thus we have 8.9 million sulphur dioxide allowances which will be distributed free to existing manufacturers. One allowance is the right to emit one ton of sulphur dioxide per year.

Allowances are tradeable within the system. Allowances good in one year can be banked in future years, but allowances good in future years cannot be used earlier—that is, one cannot borrow; there is no overdraft facility. There is already a guesstimate that on the open market these allowances will be traded for between 400 dollars and 700 dollars each. However, should a company exceed its permit without buying allowances it will be fined at the rate of 2,000 dollars per allowance. I mentioned that last point, because it raises the big problem of enforcement. I have described a national scheme. That is easy to enforce. An international scheme would be much harder to enforce. What, for instance, if China just refused to pay the 2,000 dollar per unit fine? Or, what, as is more likely, if China did not declare how many units it had emitted? What is even more likely: what if China did not know how many units it had emitted?

The problem is not confined to tradeable permits. It applies also to the proposed carbon tax. What if China refused to pay the tax? It could with reason, as many noble Lords pointed out, say that we are the main culprits for increasing global pollution, and that our consumption per head is 20 times theirs. That is indeed true; but the position in China is nevertheless worrying because of its increased energy consumption. At present, each Chinese family has one fire of rather dirty coal, burning at about 10 per cent. efficiency. The trouble is that each year there are more families with more fires. The annual increase in Chinese coal production is equal to the total United Kingdom coal production.

Thus any scheme will have grave enforcement problems. It is extremely difficult to persuade the 200 countries in the world to agree to anything. There are no sanctions if they refuse. There will be some countries at Rio which will refuse to accept the carbon tax, but I suspect that there will be just as many which will sign on the dotted line and then do nothing about it.

The tradeable permit scheme would be easier than a tax to enforce because we can structure it to favour the third world. We can do that by basing the allocation of permits on population: every person in the world would have the same CO2 allocation. Dr. Grubb favours an allowance for everyone over the age of 21, for the simple reason that if we give carbon permits to infants we should be encouraging the population explosion, which is the very last thing we want to do.

With a personalised carbon dioxide emission allowance it is apparent that the third world would benefit at the expense of the developed world. China and India, with their billions of people, would have colossal carbon dioxide allowances. They could sell their surpluses to us, America and Germany. They would be paid in hard currencies: dollars, deutschmarks and sterling. With that money it is hoped that they would be able to build cleaner power stations. They would be able to spend more on education, including birth control methods because, as has been said, the basic cause of global warming is too many people.

If one had an allocation system which contained any significant population element, there would be a long time before China had to import permits. China would export, thus endorsing the World Bank report which states: Some of the costs of environmental protection policies in the poorer countries would be borne by the richer ones. Industrial countries have a crucial role to play in improving the environment of developing nations". The report and that point has been endorsed by many noble Lords including my noble friend Lord Jenkin, the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh and Lord Ennals, and the noble Baroness, Lady Robson.

I forecast two things. The first is bleak. It is that the world will warm up and that there will be widespread flooding and famine. The second is that a carbon tax alone will not work. Even before Rio, there is whingeing about level playing fields, and sauce for the goose being sauce for the gander. I do not believe that the Rio summit will produce any sort of carbon tax with teeth, let alone with target dates. It is for that reason that I ask noble Lords to take seriously Dr. Grubb's tradeable permits.

We are here on important business. We are here to do something drastic to prevent global warming. Perhaps I might commend to my noble friend on the Front Bench a simple notice that he can pin above his desk, which reads: Don't tell me why you cannot do it. Tell me how you can". Then, in one form or another, good will come from Rio.

5.55 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, in 1980, the United Nations environment programme, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and the World Wildlife Fund published The World Conservation Strategy. In 1983, the Council for Environmental Conservation, the Royal Society of Arts and the World Wildlife Fund (UK) together with the three statutory countryside agencies (the NCC and the two Countryside Commissions) jointly published The Conservation and Development Programme for the UK. That last publication is a comprehensive multi-volume report which examined how the theme of the world conservation strategy might be developed within seven broad areas of national policy.

One of those seven areas was environmental education. I was lucky enough to chair the committee which produced a report on that topic. Since then I have taken an interest in the progress and well-being of EE, as I shall call it. That is the subject upon which I intend to concentrate. Noble Lords who took part in the debates on the Education Reform Bill 1988 will remember the efforts that were made to include a number of subjects that were to be studied compulsorily as part of the national curriculum, and EE was one of them.

The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, then chairman of the All-Party Conservation Group, with others, urged that proposal. He was not successful. However, the National Curriculum Council has made EE one of the five cross-curricula themes. There is some anxiety that teachers are finding it difficult to incorporate them in their full teaching programme.

HMI has produced a pamphlet in its Curriculum Matters series: EE from 5 to 16. We can feel some satisfaction that a start has been made. No doubt partly because of that, public awareness of all the issues has increased enormously in the past few years. In May 1988, the Council of Education Ministers of the EC agreed on the need to take concrete steps for the promotion of EE in all sectors of education throughout the Community. So we hope that it will be established firmly throughout Europe, not just within the EC but in eastern and central Europe where countries face massive environmental problems.

I was dismayed to read just a few days ago that the Roman Catholic Church in Malta still opposes EE: disagreement on the theory of the evolution being just one stumbling block. I suspect that the shooting of birds is another. Will the Minister please tell us about the state of EE in developing countries?

I said that public awareness had increased. We should not underestimate the effect children can have on their parents' way of thinking. They are probably more moral and less selfish than their parents. We can but hope that they will not too soon become fully paid up members of the consumer society. My noble friends Lady White and Lady Hilton mentioned the influence of the young. Not only can children learn about their environment and the threats to it, they can be useful in helping to monitor what is happening, by the observation of traffic, water quality and so on. They helped with the ozone project, the most detailed survey into ground-level ozone ever carried out in the United Kingdom. That was finished last summer. All that seems to me to be good.

Of course some odd things may happen. Many of your Lordships may have read the article in The Times a fortnight ago, headed "Green Faith and Ecofanaticism". The author described how, when filling his car with petrol, he was threatened by a small boy with a replica Kalashnikov rifle firing only water.

When his mother reprimanded him, the boy screamed out, "He is using red. He is using red." The author was indeed filling up with leaded petrol, and, according to infant justice, deserved to die. I do not take eco-fanaticism too seriously.

Returning to public awareness, I was recently told by a lecturer in geography at Cambridge that students were coming up much better prepared and much more knowledgeable on environmental matters than years ago. What were once radical ideas now seem normal.

There has been an effect on business and industry. Middle management is much better informed; fixed ideas become eroded. I was told of a firm which made household chemicals having an environmental audit. When the managers were asked why, they said that they were fed up with the kids at home asking why their factory was producing such dangerous items. That is another example of children influencing parents.

It is not only schools that are important. Our universities and research councils too must be in a position to conduct research in both the natural and the social sciences. It is needed to enlarge our understanding and knowledge of environmental problems, climate change and so on. There is a real danger that shortage of cash for this and for postgraduate students could inhibit this vital research. The point was strongly urged by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, and his Science and Technology Committee in their report on the greenhouse effect.

What about Rio? What will be achieved in the way of EE there? One of the 30 chapters of Agenda 21 is, "Education, Training and Public Awareness". I only managed to obtain a copy last night. It proposes four objectives. One is to ensure universal access to basic education for at least 80 per cent. of boys and girls of primary school age through formal schooling or non-formal education and to reduce the adult illiteracy rate to at least half its 1990 level, redressing the lack of basic education among women. Another objective is to strive to achieve the accessibility of environmental and development education, linked to social education from primary school age right through to adulthood and to all groups of people.

A UK non-governmental organisation document, Education, Training and Awareness for a Sustainable Future, has been prepared for submission to the conference. This is excellent. A popular version called Good Earthkeeping will shortly be published. I hope that note will be taken of it at Rio. I ask the Minister in his reply to comment on the Government's reaction to these two papers. In the appendix to the NGO document, "From Theory to Practice", there are case studies showing practical approaches to education and training. These are helpful and I quote one approach: The Television Trust for the Environment was established in 1984 to help ensure the public should have access to accurate information, in order to encourage responsible decision-making. Its work programme includes working with developing world film makers to produce … quality films on environment and development issues. These films are then distributed free of charge to developing … countries' TV stations. TVE also negotiates distribution rights for films produced in industrialised countries, and networks them to developing countries, often with blank soundtrack to allow translation and an own soundtrack to be made. TVE estimates its television programmes and media projects have had an impact in some 90 countries around the world". Incidentally, I hope very much that we can count on the media and TV in particular to be active in promoting EE in all manner of ways. I hope that the fears we had at the time when the Broadcasting Bill was going through this House that the terms on which the new licences would be granted would prevent such programmes being made will not be realised.

A final word on the earth charter—charters now seem to be all the rage. It sets out the 27 principles on general rights and obligations which are intended to go beyond the Stockholm declaration by incorporating the notion of sustainable development. It has a section on women which is vital. Their education generally, and particularly in health and the environment, has been proved to make a great difference to their attitudes to childbearing and population control. There is no need to stress the importance of those matters.

I hope that Rio can still be an opportunity. I hope that the fears that it may achieve far less than originally hoped will not be realised and that the Government will encourage positive commitments to be made. That it is happening and that the concerns are global, and the recognition that we are one world are all good, as is the fact that we are now working with the developing countries and not just for them, as happened in the past.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Kirkhill

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, will forgive me if I concentrate my few remarks on the section of the debate which does not refer to the 8th Report. In truth, in my usual incompetent manner, I had not noticed that we would have a debate within a debate until 20 minutes before I came into the Chamber.

I believe that I state the obvious if I say that only the industrialised countries have the technical and financial resources to institute means of protecting the environment so as to halt global warming, ozone layer depletion, deforestation, soil erosion and air and water pollution. The necessary efforts to arrest what may ultimately be a rather catastrophic situation must therefore be made for the benefit of all the people of the world.

To begin with, it is necessary to introduce and implement anti-pollution regulations—I believe that firmly—so as to keep emissions of toxic substances to a minimum. This action can be carried out at two levels, in my view: either at the level of the production itself or at the level of the finished product, by using, for example, biodegradable packaging.

These measures must be accompanied by standards defining the acceptable level of a given substance in the air, the soil or the water. However, it is not enough merely to regulate emissions of toxic substances. The use of polluting forms of non-renewable energy should be limited. That implies in part the promotion of alternative forms of energy which are cleaner. The first form that comes to mind is solar energy, particularly suitable for the climates of the more southerly countries. However, in my view, again we should not forget wind energy and hydro-power. I realise that at this stage these processes are not sufficiently developed to meet and match the needs of the modern world. But we must at least attempt to increase our energy production from those sources.

In addition, it is necessary, indeed essential, in the immediate future to encourage energy saving among households, but more especially among industrial consumers. In that regard, it might be worth considering taxing energy. The revenues could be used to protect the environment in both industrialised and in particular in developing countries.

I consider that if the world wants to halt global warming and all the other environmental ills that come with pollution, then it would be well advised to introduce a CO2 tax. That is, a fee levied on the carbon content of fuels. That should be done at international level.

It is clear that such a tax must be fairly high to be effective, and that it should be higher for richer countries than for poorer countries. Generally, taxes on or fees for environmental abuses should be introduced in all countries, especially in the industrialised world. It is here, among those who can best afford it and whose technology can be expected to yield the first positive changes, that the battle for an environment friendly production must start.

Another interesting proposal outlined by the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, and detailed carefully by him is worthy of consideration by your Lordships. I believe that I need hardly develop the point because he has made it so clearly. Since the less developed countries pollute less—that is, they use up less of their allocated quotas—they could sell part of these to industrialised countries and use the funds received to invest in their own environmental protection. I say no more on that point.

I touched upon the question of regulation. If we are to establish regulations, they should be set in the context of United Nations agreements or the GATT so that they are respected by everyone. The GATT machinery must be used fully to create international trade conducive to a healthy environment. If that is not done, there is a considerable danger that measures taken unilaterally will serve a purpose other than their intended one. The risk is that either they will act as non-tariff barriers, thus creating a form of indirect protectionism, or they will be introduced only in those countries prepared to accept them, giving the others a competitive advantage.

Moreover, such measures may well come up against economic interests with short-term designs. That is particularly true in third world countries where development often pays scant attention to environmental concerns. Unfortunately, however, it is also true of various industrialised countries which refuse to apply certain essential measures pleading their own national disadvantage.

The greatest danger is that the Rio conference will amount to nothing more than the adoption of a few proposals and recommendations that will then be ignored. It is therefore essential that we forgo narrow, short-term economic interests in favour of a common interest whose goal is the long-term preservation of life on our planet. That is why the Rio conference must make a definite step forward in the creation of genuine, worldwide environmental legislation and an international nature conservation machinery. Concrete agreements must be concluded and put into effect.

The proposed Earth charter should have the same status as the UN convention on human rights and should contain provisions stating the inalienable right of people to development and to a healthy environment, and the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities should be fully enshrined. The charter should include an ecological security clause and the richer countries should bear the main responsibility for ensuring the financial resources necessary for its realisation.

The conclusion of an Earth charter should be considered as an even more important task than the GATT Uruguay Round. Whatever the latter will contain should in my view be regarded as subordinate to the provisions of the Earth charter. Only in this way can world trade be fashioned so as to respect the higher goal of saving the world's environment for future generations.

6.13 p.m.

The Earl of Bradford

My Lords, "The Road to Rio" was a film with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby which produced a lot of laughs, a little action and contained nothing of consequence. Let us hope that the United Nations conference is the opposite. It may produce the odd laugh but let us hope that it produces a lot of action and contains much of consequence.

We are a selfish society composed of essentially selfish people. We live for today and we tend not to think about tomorrow. We must change. We may save money today by the practices we adopt but that will cost tomorrow. At the moment landfill is a cheap disposal method but eventually land will run out and landfill will no longer be possible. Recycling initiatives have started and many courageous local councils have created recycling projects. That has usually been at a cost to themselves because, unfortunately, those projects tend to be uneconomic and, sadly, at the moment they tend to be unco-ordinated. There is much waste involved in recycling projects. Waste paper prices have dropped. There is dumping from North America. That means that piles of paper are collected and then, sadly, are buried in landfill sites. The recession has reduced metal and oil prices and that makes recycling less attractive. It also makes recycling appear to be less necessary. However, when world economic activity picks up we shall start to realise the mistakes we are making at this moment.

We in this country are fortunate. The vast majority of people in this country are well housed, have jobs and are well fed. One only has to look round the shelves of the major supermarket chains to see evidence of our affluence. One can see how well stocked our supermarkets are and one can see the range of prepared and convenience foods. How difficult it is then for us to tell people in Bangladesh, in Africa and in South America that it is wrong for them to cut down trees when all they are looking for is income and fuel to see them through. They do not desire a standard of living like ours as that is beyond their dreams, but what they wish for we take for granted.

It is therefore important that the developed countries set an example for the rest of the world to follow. At this time the developing countries provide the vast majority of the natural resources that are then utilised by the developed countries. Sadly, they are utilised wastefully. That cannot give us the moral authority to tell the developing countries how to behave. However, we must not just change our practices. We must assist other countries to change theirs. Forestry is a prime example. Some strange attitudes seem to exist as regards trees. Some people think trees survive for ever and that they have an infinite life. Unfortunately that is not the case. They grow and they die. They are, however, a renewable resource which needs to be managed properly.

It is obviously wrong to chop down rain forests, as we all know. However, the correct practice would be to thin selectively and then allow natural regeneration to occur. We in this country have the expertise and the experience of managing forests. Surely we can apply this knowledge and help other countries. I was interested to read that the Japanese are seeking to develop a super tree that will be extremely fast growing and will absorb even more CO2 than other trees. However, if trees grow fast unfortunately they tend to have little structural strength and the likelihood is that if the Japanese succeed in producing such a tree it would eventually be utilised as fuel and burnt. Sadly, the CO2 would then be returned to the atmosphere yet again.

We cannot delay any longer in tackling these matters as the world cannot afford a delay. The Rio conference must succeed. We must change and the world must change. For the sake of our children and grandchildren let us improve our practices now to ensure there is a world with sufficient resources to give them a future.

6.19 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, like the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, I was recently fortunate enough to be invited to be a delegate at the inter-parliamentary conference in Yaounde in Cameroon. After the conference I spent a week in the "anglophone" part of that country. At the conference, and afterwards, I discovered a lively interest being shown in the environment. Some of that interest has been communicated to us by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay.

However, the point of view of the South—that point of view predominated incidentally—could be summarised in the following words: "Yes. We appreciate your recent [I underline the word "recent"] concern about the environment. We also love and depend on our forests, rivers and clean air but we also want jobs, cars, better houses, food, education, medical care and a fair share of the consumer goods which will give us a better life, just as you have them".

Just now, as my noble friend Lord Hatch pointed out, the cards are stacked very much against them. Developing countries need hard cash to pay the debt which has accumulated during the 1970s and 1980s. The only way most of them can obtain that hard cash is to export primary products. The price of those, apart possibly from tropical hardwoods, is at an historical low. Therefore, they have to export more —up to four times as much, as they did 10 to 15 years ago—to import the same amount of industrial or technical goods from the North.

The twin pressures of rapid population increase and the need for exportable cash crops lead people to exploit more and more marginal land and to clear forests, often on unsuitable hilly territory, in order to increase agriculture so that they can survive.

To illustrate that point I should like to describe briefly my visit to Oku in a beautiful mountain area of North West Cameroon where that problem was being addressed by a small NGO-backed scheme—the Kilum Mountain Forest Project. In that area the unique montane rain forest has been reduced in size by 50 per cent. over the past 20 years. That is because local people have not only needed more agricultural land but also are increasingly in need of cash crops for themselves as the economy moves from a subsistence to a cash basis. Because of the Cameroon Government's difficulties in balancing the economy due to debt and poor terms of trade, what was once a virtually free health and education service in Cameroon now has to be paid for by its users. That is due at least partially to the structural adjustment programme which has been agreed with the IMF. Therefore, in addition to feeding their families farmers have to grow extra coffee, potatoes, beans and corn to sell for cash.

However, as a result of cutting and burning the forest the soil has been exposed to the torrential rain which occurs in the rainy season and erosion has become a major problem. In the dry season the water supply has begun to dry up because some of the water-retaining function of the forest has been lost.

The hopeful part of the story is that, led by the small non-governmental organisation—backed, interestingly enough, by the International Council for Bird Preservation because in that forest lives Bannerman's touraco, which is a very rare and beautiful bird which is only found there—the whole population has benefited through forest conservation and agricultural improvement.

I have spent a few minutes describing the project because I was so impressed by seeing what local people, with a little technical assistance, can accomplish at very low cost if the conditions are right. However, I was made acutely aware of the effect that economics and a rapidly increasing population can have on the environment. That example is a microcosm of some of the problems which are occurring worldwide and it may hint at some solutions.

Returning to my original theme of the wish, and moral right, of the people of the South to enjoy good living standards, we know that if all nations consume the earth's resources at the same level per capita as we do, and follow the same pathway to affluence as we have done, an ecological disaster will occur. Yet we in the North consistently speak of the need for growth. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, in a debate on European Community regional development plans last week, stated in respect of Europe, though his words could have applied to the whole world, that, as far as possible, the rate of growth should be faster in the backward areas than in the richer areas without slowing the rate of growth in those richer areas". Improvements in our infrastructure, social and health services and education all seem to depend on a growing economy, which at present uses up resources and pollutes the atmosphere.

That may seem a dilemma, but there is a solution. We should go for growth, certainly—but growth in quality not quantity, growth in value but not in the production and consumption of products which deplete the earth or pollute it. That implies a policy of maximising the efficient use of our resources, in particular fossil fuels, the recycling of waste and increasing technical investment and sophistication in all areas of manufacture.

Our scientists and engineers are the best lateral thinkers in the world in devising innovations and ingenious solutions to problems. There are numerous examples. Two which come to mind concern houses and an alternative to CFCs. The Independent last Sunday, under the heading, The house to beat global warming", described a house designed by the architects Robert and Brenda Vale costing no more than an equivalent four-bedroom house. It included extremely effective insulation, a low energy refrigerator, solar panels, the maximum use of solar radiation, a wind turbine and the use of run-off water for WC flushing. It even included 20 trees to lock in an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide to that used up in building the house.

Another example comes from ICI, which has perfected and patented a method of making hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which have no ozone depleting effects and one-tenth the greenhouse effect of CHCs. That should prove a major money earner for Britain—and ICI—as well as benefiting the environment.

I cite those two examples to support the argument that international agreements to cut harmful emissions need not necessarily be an economic disadvantage. They can result in the saving of money or in exports, thus improving our balance of payments. A further example would be renewable energy, in which this country has a strong lead. That technology also could be exported.

As many other speakers have pointed out, we must find the means of transferring that type of technology to the developing world if we wish to avoid those countries using fossil fuels as we did while raising our own living standards. That, as other noble Lords have pointed out, will cost money, but it will be a vitally important investment for the future.

As part of that programme we should be more generous in providing fellowships to able students from developing countries so that on return to their countries they will be able to install, maintain and further develop appropriate versions of environmentally friendly technologies. Quite advanced principles can sometimes be applied to simple locally made machines; for example, the Pelton wheel which can drive small hydroelectric installations extremely efficiently.

We have to ask—and have been asking—how that technology transfer can be paid for. If the world continues to reduce its military expenditure from 1990 to the year 2000 at the same rate as it did from 1986 to 1990, 1.2 trillion dollars will be saved, according to the human development report for the United Nations Development Programme. Just over half of that would cover the additional cost of 70 million dollars per annum which UNCED calculates is necessary to provide the technical assistance to the developing world to prevent ecological decline. The rest of the savings from military expenditure, I suggest, should go to abolishing third world debt, whose harmful effects have been pointed out so effectively by my noble friend.

As military spending comes down there is obviously a temptation to cut taxes. I suggest that it is at least as imperative to spend the resources released by the peace dividend on assisting developing countries in the ways I have suggested as it was to be prepared for a Soviet attack. We can be quite certain that world poverty will increase and eventually an ecological disaster will occur which will boomerang upon us if we do not provide that assistance; whereas the Soviet attack, to which our military expenditure was devoted, never materialised.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, first I must apologise to your Lordships for not having been present when my noble friend Lord McIntosh opened the debate. Unfortunately I also missed the presentations of the noble Lords, Lord Ezra, and Lord Strathclyde. I hope that I shall not repeat some of the points made by other noble Lords. One advantage of coming towards the end of the List of Speakers is that one can eliminate from one's speech all the unnecessary items.

I believe that Rio is important because it has happened. It may fail or succeed, but the very fact that such a conference is taking place is in itself a significant step. It is a further stage in the evolution of our awareness of the global problem which started some years ago and was furthered by the Brundtland Commission's report. It is also remarkable that there is much greater agreement on the ozone layer. The earlier scepticism that existed has been abolished and we are doing something about the problem on an intergovernmental basis, as shown by the agreement on CFCs. Therefore there is hope.

Currently there is a reluctance to admit that the problem of global warming is equally serious. People say that perhaps we do not know whether it will happen and that science has not delivered a precise answer. It is in the nature of science not to deliver precise answers but to put limits on our ignorance. Such limits that we have on our ignorance tell us that the problem will not go away just because we have not found the precise answer. In the worst case scenario, if all the positive feedback adds up to global warming and the negative feedback does not work, we shall have a much more catastrophic outcome much sooner than would otherwise be the case. I do not believe that one should rely on scepticism about the outcome of scientific models. It should be recognised that indeed in many cases we do not know the full nature of the ecological equilibrium. We do not understand the dynamics. It is difficult to forecast such complex systems. But that is not an excuse to postpone action.

By the same token, I believe that instead of being dogmatic about reliance on market forces or regulation, it is quite legitimate and indeed desirable to use a combination of regulations, tax incentives or tax punishments as well as market forces. I do not believe that even in theory and in a simple model there is an ideal solution one way or another for our problems.

However, as a famous economist once said: altruism is a scarce commodity and we should economise on it. We should not presume that people will act out of the goodness of their hearts or from a feeling for the poor in the third world or for future generations. Any policy package that comes out of Rio or, if not Rio, subsequently in the long process which will go on, has to work with the grain of self-interest without necessarily playing up to the greed of humankind.

There are one or two very important issues here. It is a fallacy to make a simple connection between economic growth and pollution, just as it is a fallacy to make a simple connection between population growth and pollution. If we were to have a gigantic depression and our incomes were to decline at 5 per cent. per annum, pollution would not reduce. It will even increase. Growth is not the cause of pollution. One must consider the details of industrial processes and products. It is only by research and development, as well as investment and growth, that we shall discover processes and products which will satisfy our consumption needs but reduce the pollution outcome of our consumption patterns.

I do not believe it is possible to say to the third world, "Don't do what we do; do what we say. Wait a while and do not have all those lovely things that we enjoy so much." We have to say, "Yes, let us get together and investigate the way in which the sort of things that we have, enjoy and will not give up can be transmitted. We will change our product mix and the products that you will be able to enjoy will eventually have a lower pollution content."

There is one issue on which we should all agree and on which our Government especially should take a lead. It should be made quite clear that there is a lot of effort to be put into research of industrial processes as well as into basic research which will tell us that there are solutions. Neither science nor progress is the enemy. Science and progress must be harnessed to solve problems. Lack of progress and ignorance of science will not solve them at all. The Greens rely as much as the anti-Greens on science. They look at different bits of science. I believe that the way forward lies that way.

Let me add to the illustrations given by my noble friend Lord Rea, in the context of the speech from the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey. Let us take the example of the Chinese families who are burning coal. The noble Viscount made a very interesting comment. I do not happen to be technically knowledgeable about these matters but I understood that the Chinese families burn coal at only 10 per cent. efficiency. One answer would be to encourage them to increase the efficiency with which they burn coal. By itself that would be a contribution which would not interfere too much in life patterns and would not be seen as insisting too much that they should do what we say.

The key is so far as possible to work with the grain of self-interest, utilising science and basic research to try to find ways to minimise the adverse outcome of our consumption patterns. It would be very desirable to say that we should all reduce consumption patterns and find suddenly that everybody would do so; but that is not very likely. Moreover, while matters are urgent, they are not urgent in the sense that they have to he dealt with before next year or the next election. We have between 25 and 40 years to solve the problem. It will not be solved unless we tackle the poverty of the third world.

The third world faces not only the problem of pollution, as we do; they also face the problem of shortage of natural resources and short life as well as the other problems of poverty. The problems of poverty must be tackled. We have to deal with the issues of' population not in the negative sense of once again telling those countries not to have children, but in a positive way. We should not be alarmist. If we enhance women's education and think of populations not in aggregate or in national terms but as a matter of individual choice about the number and timing of children and women having the right to contraception, I believe that we shall make much more progress in this matter.

Lastly, I come to the brief point of a level playing field. It is easy to say that we shall not do anything unless everybody does the same. As an economist I know that when English economists first argued the virtues of free trade they always argued that those virtues were there even if a country declared unilaterally in favour of free trade. Even if no one else were to declare for free trade, any country which declared free trade would benefit itself. I believe that an anti-pollution policy should be adopted by us, not because our competitors do so but because those who do not adopt such a policy will pay for it in the long run.

6.40 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the world economic organizations—the World Bank, the IMF, GATT, OECD and so on—were all up and running long before the environment broke as a major international concern. No one then knew that the world economy is a subset of the world environment. Those organisations, just like our own Treasury, have been run by people who had not learned to work out the capital value of natural or human resources. The UN tried to put that right by founding UNEP; and that was something. But the big old organisations still dragged. OECD was the first to get the idea; and now at last, after 20 years of cosmetic statements and appointments, the World Bank has got the idea too.

The Government's publication This Common Inheritance is in many ways excellent, in particular the admirable chart of Government commitments at Annexe A. However, there are no proposals for upgrading the environmental awareness and expertise of the international organisations, nor, for that matter, the Treasury's, which still thinks in terms of value for money without knowing too much what value consists of.

The Rio scene is dominated by the difference between the United States and the rest of the world, both poor and rich. Our Government are for once in line with the remainder of the EC. Although the position that they have managed to squeeze out of President Bush and his industrial backers is not a good one, at least European ranks have not been broken. We have to understand that the United States Administration is basing its policy on best-case analysis. Most governments on most issues wisely base their policies on some degree of worst case analysis. The US conspicuously did so in the Cold War. They assumed that they were in danger from the Soviet Union and took the measures that they thought best. So did the rest of the world. However, now the United States assumes that it is not in danger from global warming and the ozone hole, and neglects the measures that it would take if it assumed that it was.

In the matter of the global warming convention, the EC has therefore had to fall into line and accept a declaration without commitment. The whole world will in due course pay the cost of the damage that that lack of commitment may cause. That means a subsidy from future generations to the industry of today. The greatest beneficiary of that subsidy will be the United States because it has 6 per cent. of the world population and emits 25 per cent. of the greenhouse gases. It is already sucking that subsidy in all the time.

The position of GATT is crucial. I very much welcome the remarks by my noble friend Lord Kirkhill. It is crucial because energy consumption is like dumping. So in a way is pollution. I do not refer to the physical dumping of unwanted matter in other countries, but to the distortion of costs and prices. Pollution, and cleaning it up, impose costs on people in other places and at other times. Those costs are hard but not impossible to measure. It is a subject for GATT. Discussion of that distortion of trade ought even now to be fitted into the Uruguay Round.

At the initiative of its recently retired head, Barber Conable, the World Bank has now produced good work on the importance for development of the education and well-being of women and children. It has recently been published. However, the World Bank's new head, an American retired banker and presumably a Bush man, has already attacked that publication, so the signs are not too hopeful.

On the other hand, last summer GATT decided that no country may use import restrictions to enforce its health and environment laws "beyond its own territory", and that therefore the United States might not exclude Mexican-caught tuna on the ground that the fishery concerned casually killed dolphins in the Pacific in a way that American fishermen are prohibited from doing. GATT thus decided that free trade requires Americans to eat tuna regardless of their own laws despite the obvious fact that for the US to accept lower environmental standards for Mexican tuna fishermen would distort its own internal market. In that scenario the US was right and the relevant international organisation was wrong. It is therefore quite interesting.

I note that OECD is to study the matter of subsidies for industry. We must ensure that they examine the extent to which neglect of the polluter-pays principle by industry amounts to a de facto subsidy. Industries successfully externalising costs on to others' accounts, and permitted by governments to do so, are effectively being subsidised by those others. One can tell that they are being subsidised by the way in which they protest when it is proposed that they should desist and pay the costs themselves.

Those topics have been around since the 1960s. The Rio conference is the more likely to make its mark if we remember that it is not a bright, new wheeze, but marks 20 years since the first UN conference on these subjects at Stockholm. The proposals that will be taken up in Rio have been worked on continuously for 30 years in countless forums. In the early 1970s there was a quite interesting series of International Parliamentary Conferences on the Environment of which I happened to be chairman. Those eventually became redundant when the Inter-Parliamentary Union became aware of the environment. Other noble Lords have chaired other such events.

Perhaps I may end with a general proposition. We are now paying to clean up the mess of pollution left us by our forefathers. We know what that feels like. We know that we have no right to inflict a much worse position on our descendants. That is what we risk doing. But we are not sure how much suffering our present actions will inflict. In some cases we are not sure whether they will inflict any. Let us imagine ourselves looking back from 50 years ahead. We may feel that we did too little to preserve the environment; we may feel that we did about the right amount; or we may feel that we did more than we need have done. My proposition is this. If we believed that we had done more than we needed, we should be glad that it was not less. We should not blame our forefathers for having erred on the right side. If that is the position, our right course of acton at Rio and beyond is clear.

6.48 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, it is appropriate that the Earth Summit is taking place in Rio. The city symbolises so many of the global problems to which the summit relates. The periodic smog illustrates the environmental degradation which is afflicting the globe now. The contrast between the luxury tourist developments and the disease ridden shanty cities show the widening global poverty gap. I wish good luck to those among the 40,000 who will attend. They may not see those shanty cities. My experience of such conferences is that those factors tend to be rather hidden away.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, succinctly described the Bush problem. The real challenge to Mr. Bush, to the Prime Minister and to other world leaders, is not just to attend Rio to agree the least demanding, commonly-accepted statement of principle, but to sign tough, mandatory agreements while they are there—in other words, action.

With our earth in crisis, the summit can begin the process of replacing doom and gloom with hope and opportunity—a window of opportunity for the globe and not just a photo opportunity for politicians. The summit will be the culmination of a large number of preparatory diplomatic negotiations. It is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, said, the end of our efforts. It should be seen as the start of the process.

Creating sustainable development will mean substantial changes in lifestyle, and it may mean an improved quality of life. The Earth Summit should not just be about bringing nations down to the lowest common denominator. We need a pattern of economic growth, on which we agree, which does not deplete our rich resources. We need a political will, and I share the disappointment expressed by my noble friend Lady Robson at what has happened so far.

The Prime Minister has shown that he can be an effective international negotiator, and it is clear from the debate this afternoon that your Lordships would give him every support to win the case for environmental action. I hope that the non-appearance of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Queen's Speech is not a sign that there will not be action.

The debate this afternoon has been thoughtful and wide-ranging. There have been many references, including that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, to the holistic approach, the interdependence of population, environment and poverty. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, reminded us, there is no direct simplistic correlation between those.

We have been reminded also that we must set a good example. Indeed, it has been commented upon by a number of your Lordships that children often set the best example. I suspect that had there been children taking part in this debate, they might have asked why the lights are so bright. I asked one of my colleagues and I was told that that may well be because of the requirements of television and that is why we have no light monitor in the House.

There is a danger that debating the subject leaves us with a rosy glow of feeling that somehow we have accomplished something. I believe that the cautious note sounded by many of your Lordships is correct. The noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, mentioned the fact that catalytic converters are not the panacea which we have been persuaded they may be over the past few years. I have something of the same worry about recycling. The Minister mentioned that we can each make significant individual contributions to the problems of global warming; and, indeed, that is the case. However, perhaps I can say a few words about recycling in the context of waste management which may echo a good deal of what has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Bradford.

We are encouraged that acting locally will help the globe. That in itself may create a complacency. I am sure that I am not alone in finding myself constitutionally incapable of throwing away a piece of paper or a jam jar without examining my actions. But am I saving the planet by taking those items to the local recycling centre? Market forces will not deal with recycling. Here there is a role for the Government which I do not believe, so far, has been fully explored. If we do not follow a broad strategy in dealing with our waste, we shall be overwhelmed by it.

There is an accepted waste management hierarchy, and in the time available this afternoon it is not possible to deal with it in detail; but, first, we must minimise waste. References have been made by, among others, the noble Baroness, Lady White, to excessive packaging. That is often quoted as a starting point; but a wide range of products are designed to be disposable. Is that correct in the 1990s? The principle should be that the polluter pays. Should the Government encourage all producers and users of products which are designed to be disposable to make a contribution to the environmental costs of disposing of the product, because the true cost is hidden from the consumer?

We must also aim to re-use all that can be re-used. Products should be designed with that in mind. Perhaps there should be a levy on non-returnable containers. Re-use is a direct form of waste avoidance; and the subject of milk bottles is one which I am sure we shall debate in this House fairly shortly, given that that is a matter for European anxiety.

However, as regards recycling, we lack the industry infrastructure which would make recycling work properly in this country. Many local authorities have ambitious and very well thought out programmes of recycling. In my authority, luckily, we have a five-year contract with a waste paper contractor. I say "luckily" because that means that we can still continue to collect waste paper, although we now receive no money for it.

The cost of setting up recycling schemes is significant. At present the full costs fall on local authorities which may not be able to get a scheme off the ground because of lack of finance. If recycling is to he an effective part of an integrated waste management strategy, I believe the Government need to intervene. The glass industry has shown the way, and there are lessons to be learnt from that. But I do not believe it can be left entirely to industry and the market to achieve what we desire—that is, the national target of recovering 25 per cent. of household waste.

There are other ways of dealing with waste. For example, converting waste to energy but ensuring at the same time that that form of energy is produced without harming the environment. Modern incinerators require a very high level of capital investment. The Government's current non-fossil fuel obligation programme, which gives encouragement to investment, ends in 1998. I ask that the Government look at reviewing that policy to enable waste that cannot be recycled to make a positive contribution to the environment through a continuation of that programme. There is no time for me to speak about organic waste recycling.

As regards the carbon tax, which is also an issue in this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, said that carbon taxes are not the answer. In his speech, he said that the Select Committee considered that there would be no drop in demand for petrol and other fuels. He said that was partly because of a lack of infrastructure. We are very dependent on road transport. That seems to me to answer the point precisely. We need to look at the infrastructure so that we can make ourselves less dependent upon road transport as part of a total programme.

We should be more ambitious. We need an effective carbon tax and effective tradeable emission licences. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to the carrot and the stick approach, and I believe that that is the right approach. We should couple carbon taxes with reductions in other taxes and we should protect those who would suffer through the imposition of a carbon tax, including those living in rural communities and disabled people. Also, we should invest in public transport.

I understand that the committee is not opposed root and branch to fiscal measures, but it regards the specific proposals that have come from the Commission as flawed. I hope that we can find a way of working towards the Commission giving a lead to the world in an acceptable form of carbon tax. I hope that the Prime Minister can continue the good work that he has done with the Americans by trying to persuade them that a carbon tax should work, and that it is something they also need to make work.

6.59 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, a tribute is due to all those who have participated in this thoughtful debate and to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and all members of the Select Committee which considered the carbon/energy tax because its report has provided us with interesting food for thought. As the observations of my noble friend Lady David brought home, a tribute is due also to the many people outside this House who care deeply about the issues. The quality of their research, commitment and briefing is impressive. Development and environment education programmes are certainly vital.

The right reverend Prelate made a powerful intervention. I believe that history will judge Rio and the United Kingdom's part within it severely, for it is not the immediate material self-interest of the British which is at stake but our deeper values as tested by the cry for justice from the poor today and by the cry for justice from the yet unborn.

As my noble friends Lord Shackleton and Lady Nicol and the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, stressed, the world population explosion is formidable; 5.3 billion today, set to increase to 9 billion by the 2030s, with 90 per cent. of that increase in the so-called South. The implications must be faced. But impersonal, technical approaches when tried in the past have failed. Effective action must be integrated in wider social policy—relevant, functional literacy for men and women; better secondary education opportunities for women; the means for women to secure the family planning techniques that they need; enhanced primary health care and living standards in general, with better survival prospects for the children who are born.

As we approach the 21st century, 1 billion people—one-fifth of humanity—miserably exist in absolute poverty; and that grim statistic is likely to increase by 50 per cent. by the year 2000—in only eight years' time. By contrast, as my noble friends Lady White and Lord Hatch stressed, together with their timely strictures on the limitations of market economics, the rich industrialised countries, with only 25 per cent. of the global population, still take 80 per cent. of the total of the world resources consumed each year. At the same time, 20 per cent. of the world's population in the North generates 80 per cent. of the world's atmospheric pollution.

My noble friend Lord Rea spoke of his recent visit to Cameroon. Most poor people in the third world, especially in rural areas, have been traditionally dependent for their survival on the freely available resources of the natural environment. But those people are now frequently pushed by economic, commercial and political forces beyond their control —not least warfare—into marginal lands where environmental degradation compounds the problems which they face. Those who are already poor are forced into a downward spiral of increasing poverty by being driven to over-exploit natural resources which previously in their history they have managed in sustainable ways.

As my noble friends Lord Ennals and Lord Desai, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, suggested, it is not realistic to expect poor people, desperately struggling for survival, to conserve resources for the future. It is insensitive for the high-consuming, high-polluting countries of the North to expect people and governments in the South to protect the resource base of the world unless the North shows the political will to tackle the poverty of the South and at the same time the North's own record of environmental destruction. Every time we speak of sustainable development, the issues of equity, justice and access become still more acute.

As my noble friends Lady Nicol and Lady Hilton emphasised, evidence of the global crisis is accumulating, not least in the United Kingdom. The ozone layer in the northern hemisphere is thinning twice as fast as until recently was believed; 35 per cent. of the earth's land surface is in danger of becoming desert; 7.5 million hectares of tropical forest and 3.8 million hectares of open dry forest are disappearing each year, with a further 4.3 million degraded. The number of food insecure people in Africa alone is now 100 million. The poor of places like low-lying Bangladesh, Egypt and the Nigerian river states are already faced with the threat of rising seas caused by global warming. It is small wonder that eminent American and British scientists argue that there is little more than 30 years in which to get a grip on the management of the environment before the deteriorating condition becomes terminal.

On Agenda 21, I am sure that the House welcomes the words of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in regard to commitment. In that context I am sure that we are glad that the Minister was able to join us at least for the final stages of the debate. We badly need to know where the Government stand on the estimate that 625 billion dollars per annum are required in total to combat the environmental crisis, and that 125 billion dollars of that each year will need to be transferred from North to South. As several noble Lords wondered, what are the prospects for that when all the member countries of the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD together provided only 54 billion dollars of such transfers in 1990? What extra are the British Government prepared to contribute?

In the book which the noble Lord tells us will be published tomorrow, how far will the Government really go in their commitment to improve transfers of environmentally friendly technology and experience from North to South? How are the welcome Trinidad terms on debt relief to be convincingly applied and extended? How is commercial debt to be included in debt relief strategy? As my noble friend Lord Kirkhill rightly asked, what is being done to ensure that GATT and other international trade agreements—not least the so far wickedly destructive common agricultural policy—recognise the imperative of fairness for the third world if environment policies are to be more than rhetorical aspirations?

What is to be done to ensure that the rules for trade and conduct by the trans-national corporations are made demonstrably relevant to the environment? How soon are the measures—already accepted by the Business Council for Sustainable Development—to move to cost accounting, which fully embraces environmental and social costs, to be made mandatory? Will the United Nations, the IMF and the World Bank give a lead in that? What is being done to strengthen the global environmental facility to make it a real partnership with recipient countries within the context of a far-reaching global drive towards integrated and more purposeful global economic and social policy—policy which brings international financial institutions into a more socially and environmentally accountable position within a revamped UN system?

On the draft conventions on climate and biodiversity, my noble friend Lord Kennet was right to ask why the Government have capitulated, playing to the lowest common denominator in order to bring President Bush to Washington? Surely we should be throwing our weight behind a dynamic for sanity and thereby bringing all the pressure we can to bear on the White House and the trade lords of Tokyo. What makes this dismal regression on climate worse is its grave knock-on effects on the prospects of a forest convention. The statement on forest principles is, frankly, hardly worth the paper on which it is written. It has even been described as the "chainsaw charter". Whatever the recent tactical bilateral successes with Malaysia, it is one of the most disastrous areas of North/South stand-off. To generate a greater willingness to move on forests in the South it is essential to demonstrate convincing action by the North on CO2 emissions.

With regard to biodiversity, so well highlighted by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, I hope that the reports are not accurate that the draft for this convention as well is to be watered down to platitudes; indeed that negotiations are so delayed that a draft text might not be ready in time for Rio at all.

As my noble friend Lord Ennals and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, argued, Rio cannot and will not provide all the answers. It would be naive to suppose that it could. But there is still time to determine that it will mark the turning point—the moment at which we begin rapidly to come to terms with our interdependence and with the imminent threat which overhangs us all. At the very least, Rio must establish clear-cut objectives against which progress can be measured at all levels, from primary environmental care to hard-nosed arrangements for effective global governance. Failure convincingly to accept the supreme challenge of Rio would mean a betrayal of the high calling of democracy. We would all stand condemned of fiddling while the world hurtled towards the Apocalypse. Rio must prove a watershed. It is there that we shall all come face to face with the harsh realities of the third millennium.

7.10 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, it was the right reverend Prelate who said that this Rio conference was possibly one of the most important features of the decade. He went on to say that the issues of poverty, population and the environment must not be ignored and appealed to nations to move forward in partnership and co-operation. I too believe that that is the spirit of this conference which we are going to have.

Today we are setting the scene and laying the foundations for Rio. We are also setting the foundations for what I believe will be many more debates over the course of the next few years on this subject. No doubt we shall refer back to today's discussions which have been most useful. Not least it is an example of how complicated issues can be dealt with effectively and surprisingly briefly; in fact so briefly that I am now left with an enormous amount of time to wind up. But I shall not try the patience of the House.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, made some valuable comments on the Commission's proposals for a carbon tax. He said that fiscal measures should only be taken alongside other measures. He urged more action on energy efficiency in Britain and the Community. That was echoed by my noble friend Lord Lindsay. I agree that we need to look at the full range of options for limiting CO2 emissions. Energy efficiency measures must be the first priority. We are already taking steps to achieve savings by that means.

The budget of the Energy Efficiency Office has been increased to £59 million this year. Its transfer to the Department of the Environment will ensure that energy efficiency policy is fully integrated with environmental objectives. Among the measures that we are taking I cite, first, publicity campaigns to encourage householders, managers of industry and commerce to save energy. We are conducting a review of the energy conservation requirements of the building regulations; the adoption of a 15 per cent. savings target for the Government's own energy use, which is a target that has also been adopted by local government; a new energy management assistance scheme to help smaller companies, with advice on energy management; and promotion of combined heat and power with a target of doubling the combined heat and power capacity in this country. The new energy savings trust announced by my right honourable friend last week will make a substantial contribution. I shall come to that in a moment or two.

We continue to support the objectives of the SAVE programme for Community-wide action, on energy efficiency. We have recently sent a report to the Commission setting out all those measures in more detail and the savings in CO, emissions that they are expected to achieve. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, said that we should make more use of renewable energy. I can tell him that we are taking steps to provide greater use of renewable energy through the non-fossil fuels obligation. We are currently working towards a target of 1,000 megawatts of new renewable generating capacity by the year 2000. On that subject perhaps I can answer a question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. She asked about the non-fossil fuel obligation. We are exploring with the European Commission the possibility of extending the non-fossil fuel obligation beyond 1998.

My noble friend Lord Geddes suggested that a carbon/energy tax of the kind proposed by the Commission would have harmful impacts on our industry, small businesses and lower income households with little effect on CO2 emissions. That was echoed by a number of speakers. There are indeed many questions on which we would need to be satisfied before we could decide to introduce a tax of this kind. We would need to look at ways of protecting those on low incomes and we would need to safeguard our industry's competitiveness.

That is why we have said that the EC should not act in the absence of commitments to action from other countries. My noble friend Lord Mersey was also supported by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill. It was suggested that perhaps a solution should be a system of tradeable permits and that that would be better than a carbon tax and one which would cover all countries. I agree that tradeable permits are a very interesting idea. Indeed we have suggested to our Community partners that we should enforce improved vehicle efficiency standards through a tradeable permit system derived from the US model. However, I have to say that I also see formidable practical difficulties in agreeing a worldwide system of permits for CO2 emissions at the moment, but maybe that is an idea which will progress with time.

My noble friend Lord Lindsay and the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, asked for information on the energy savings trust. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced only last week that the Government, British Gas, Ofgas and 11 of the regional electricity companies in England and Wales have agreed to establish an independent energy savings trust in the course of the year. The trust will develop, propose and manage programmes to promote the efficient use of energy. Three pilot programmes aimed at promoting the efficient use of gas will involve assistance for low income households, more efficient heating systems and small-scale or residential combined heat and power schemes.

Perhaps I may now move on to the climatic convention. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, asked why the UK will only sign the climate convention if other countries do so. I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said it, but he thought it churlish that the UK was not unilateral in that respect. We have always said that the threat of climate change is a global problem which needs a global response. The United Kingdom itself is responsible for only 3 per cent. of emissions, so we continue to place great importance on the willingness of other countries, including our major competitors, to accept the commitments set out in the convention. We expect to be able to ratify the convention alongside other countries in good time to take all the necessary measures.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, went on to make an accusation that the commitment for developed countries on climatic change was weak and that the aim was not a binding commitment and one which had been watered down. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, blamed it all on the United States. I cannot agree that the text agreed by the intergovernmental negotiating committee in New York would represent a weak commitment for developed countries. Developed countries which ratify the convention will be committed not just to aiming to return their emissions of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the year 2000, but to report to the conference of the parties with a detailed description of the measures which they are taking and to demonstrate how they will meet that commitment. The mechanisms established by the convention will thus ensure that the commitments which it contains are not empty but result in real actions.

Perhaps I may now turn to the subject of population which was raised by so many noble Lords during the course of the debate. I refer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, first. She said that population is not on the UNCED agenda. Population is very much on that agenda. There is a specific chapter on demographic pressures within the Agenda 21 document. The UNCED secretariat's guide to Agenda 21 clearly states that a major priority is to address the links between population dynamics and global environmental change. Population dynamics must be incorporated in the global analysis and research of the environment and development issues.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said that there was not so much an omission as a lack of emphasis on population in Agenda 21—that point was also taken up by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson—and that the link between population and global environment must take priority in the Government's objectives for UNCED. As I have just said, the issue of population planning will feature significantly at UNCED. There are important references to the need for more urgent support for reproductive health and family planning programmes in the draft Agenda 21 action plan.

The United Kingdom has taken, and will continue to take, a leading role in that. After Rio the United Kingdom will be fully involved in the preparations for the forthcoming United Nations conference on population in 1994. The United Kingdom spending on family planning at £26 million in 1990–91 and associated health care in the developing world, has increased more than fourfold since 1981. As my noble friend Baroness Chalker of Wallasey told the House yesterday, this Government will continue to support bilateral family planning programmes, as well as the many multi-national programmes.

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, criticised the Government's record on the aid target. As the noble Lord probably knows, the United Kingdom has had an average expenditure on development aid of 0.3 per cent. of GNP over the last five financial years. As was stated in our manifesto, the Government accept the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. aid volume. However, it would not be sensible to set a timetable to reach those targets. We should be proud that the United Kingdom is already the sixth largest Western aid donor. The Government are committed to maintaining a substantial aid programme, which is growing in real terms. Furthermore, it is not just a question of money, but of how it is used. By common consent, the British aid programme is the best targeted and the best delivered. We intend to improve on that performance.

The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, asked why the United Kingdom resisted Dutch moves to set an EC timetable for reaching the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent. by the year 2000. There are extremely complex negotiations on the UNCED financing aspects, which are still not finished. It is important to distinguish between help for the global environment—we and other donors regard the global environmental facility as the multilateral mechanism—and action to be taken at national level for national environmental benefits, which should be funded from domestic resources, supported by official development assistance. We have said that we are ready to provide new and additional resources to replenish the global environmental facility, provided that other donors also help developing countries to meet their commitments with measures to protect their global environment under the global conventions on bio-diversity and climate change.

Our aid budget is growing in real terms under the public expenditure provisions that have already been announced and we shall review it, along with every other public expenditure programme. On that subject, perhaps I may say that the costs of implementing Agenda 21 are indicative estimates, prepared by the UNCED secretariat. Additional financial help from developed countries will be needed, but the costs will depend on the circumstances of individual countries and on how they decide to implement the activities of Agenda 21. The United Kingdom has argued that the resources for Agenda 21 must come from resetting national spending priorities and from mainstream aid.

In an impassioned speech the noble Lord, Lord Judd, started by talking about education in developing countries, the role of women and so on. The noble Baroness, Lady David, picked up on the point about environmental education. Our feeling is that many developing countries can usefully increase the amount of environmental education. The involvement of local communities is a key factor for success and the United Kingdom is strongly supporting a primary environmental care approach which does that. Our aid programmes can also help to improve environmental education. Indeed, many of our programmes are aimed at that. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of what I said at the beginning of this debate—that my department has contributed 1 million dollars to the global forum NGO conference in Brazil, which will include a major seminar on environmental education.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked for a comment on the Agenda 21 chapter on education and training. We fully support the Agenda 21 document, Education, Training and Public Awareness. My department contributed to the financing of the NGO document "Good Earth Keeping", which is an excellent document and will, I am sure, inform and influence debate on this important question.

Turning to bio-diversity, my noble friend Lord Selborne questioned our record on this subject. The Government are playing a most positive role in the current negotiations on the global convention on the conservation of biological diversity. The Overseas Development Administration already provides assistance to developing countries for bio-diversity projects. The national implications of the convention will, of course, have to be studied carefully, We shall need to consider how the convention relates to our existing national commitments. We are working hard to convince developing countries that the technologies which assist the conservation of bio-diversity are mostly soft, such as training and basic equipment, rather than high technology. That is the conclusion of the report that we commissioned from Touche Ross on technological transfer and bio-diversity, which has been well received by the UNCED preparatory committee.

I was not expecting it, but I was glad to hear so many noble Lords refer to recycling. My noble friend Lord Bradford was among them. Having made his maiden speech, my noble friend has decided that he wants to make a habit of speaking in this House and he is most welcome to do so. The noble Baroness, Lady White, also discussed recycling, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who has local authority experience. The Government have a target of recycling half of the potentially reclaimable waste within the next 10 years—that is, to recycle 25 per cent. We have placed a new duty on districts to prepare recycling plans. Those drafts will be submitted to the Secretary of State by 1st August this year. We have given an extra £15 million in supplementary credit approvals to local authorities for 1992–93 for investment in recycling schemes. We have also made a conditional offer of £20 million assistance for exceptional projects grant to SCA, the newsprint mill using waste paper at Aylesford in Kent. We have done so because there was an appreciation that the market in recycling paper was not operating satisfactorily.

Our policies have led to an increase in recycling facilities. There are now 500 Save-A-Can banks, compared with 200 in 1990. The industry's target is to have 1,000 such banks by 1994. The number of glass banks has also increased from 4,000 in 1989 to over 7,000 and the industry is aiming for 10,000 banks by 1995. There are now 1,200 aluminium recycling centres and the industry has committed itself to recycling 50 per cent. of its output by 1995. That in itself is not a bad record, but I accept that we can do a lot more—and we will.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, spoke about the problem of the depletion of the ozone layer and asked about the production of ozone-depleting substances in this country. I can assure the noble Baroness that not only did the United Kingdom cut chlorofluorocarbon consumption by 50 per cent. between 1985 and 1989—which, incidentally, is a better performance than that achieved by the United States or other Community countries—but we also have legislation to control the production and supply of CFCs. Both United States and United Kingdom CFC producers will stop producing ozone-depleting substances by the end of 1995 at the very latest.

The Government's commitment to a successful Earth Summit is absolutely firm. The Prime Minister's personal commitment to this will he amply demonstrated by his presence in Rio. The summit will help to identify the actions that need to be taken to achieve sustainable development, but we should not raise our expectations unrealistically high. It is an important conference, yes, but Rio is only a beginning. It will not solve the world's environmental problems. As Thomas Jefferson wrote two centuries ago: In the environment, every victory is temporary, every defeat permanent. As my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding said today, "The road to Rio is paved with a great many good intentions". For everyone's sake, we shall strive to reach the right decisions in Rio and to follow them up assiduously afterwards. However, the real work begins after 14th June. It will be for governments, international bodies, local government, and indeed every citizen, to put into effect the commitments reached in Rio this June.

7.30 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, when movers of Motions for debate use their last position on the list of speakers to make a second speech I have been known to mutter under my breath and sometimes to mutter not under my breath. I hope I shall resist the temptation to make a further speech, despite some of the provocative remarks made by the Minister in his reply to the debate. I wish to confine myself almost entirely to thanking noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby for proposing this subject for debate at this time—it was extremely apposite—and the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for turning out, in the event, not to be a cuckoo in the nest.

We have had a range of speeches with widely differing sources of expertise, and very valuable they have been. We have also had a range of views, from the deep pessimism of my noble friend Lady Hilton —closely argued and deeply felt pessimism—to some noble Lords who have managed to express some cautious optimism about the future. What we have to remember is that in comparison with Stockholm in 1972 almost every measure on which we would look at environmental policy—population, resource depletion, pollution and so on—has become worse. It must be the intention and the firm determination of all governments and all organisations that this will not be the case in another 20 years. I hope that the Minister is right. I hope that we shall look back on this as a seminal debate and as part of a continuing consideration and review of these matters and that we shall be doing so in the context of concrete action by this Government and by the world. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.