HL Deb 30 October 1997 vol 582 cc1132-4

3.38 p.m.

Lord Ezra

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What practical measures they have in mind to achieve the target of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide by 20 per cent. by the year 2010, and how soon these measures will be introduced.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, the Government are convinced of the need to tackle climate change, as stressed by the Deputy Prime Minister in his evidence to the Select Committee in another place yesterday. For our ambitious proposals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the UK to have maximum impact globally, it is essential that all developed countries sign up to significant reduction targets at Kyoto. The Prime Minister has asked my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Mr. Prescott, to take the lead in visiting the key players in the negotiations in order to assess their positions.

We have already started to take action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at home. The Chancellor's announcement in the last Budget that the real increase in fuel duty would be raised to 6 per cent. a year is an important first step. We are currently developing a new climate change programme on which we will consult next year. Measures likely to be included are improvements to business and domestic energy efficiency, an integrated transport strategy and a large increase in the amount of electricity generated from renewables and combined heat and power schemes.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that very encouraging and positive report. I wish the Government well in their forthcoming programme. However, is she aware that there is considerable concern among many people about the present operation of the regulatory system in the electricity and gas industries? Is it not the case that the impact of the way in which that system works is that, far from encouraging more efficient use of those two fuels, it encourages greater use of them? That applies particularly to the gas industry where the present regulator withdrew the energy efficiency measures introduced by her predecessor.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am aware of the concerns that the noble Lord expresses and I am grateful for his general welcome of the measures that the Government are introducing. It is important that we deliver big improvements in domestic energy efficiency, as he points out. It would help in delivering important environmental and social objectives, cut fuel bills and improve comfort in poor housing. We are looking at a variety of options, one of which is a self-financing energy efficiency scheme to be run by the energy supply companies. Another would see a standards of performance scheme run by the gas and electricity regulators. The Government's review of utility regulation is looking at and considering those options.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, will my noble friend and her ministerial colleagues reconsider the use of petrocoke for power combustion? Does she think that that would in any way provide the help that is obviously necessary, given the present inadequacy of the systems for clean combustion, to attain the targets mentioned in the noble Lord's Question?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am aware that National Power has put in an application to vary authorisation in regard to petrocoke. It is an issue which will have to be decided by the Environment Agency, which has responsibility in those matters. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Environment, Mr. Meacher, is taking a close interest in the issue.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say what measures the Government are pursuing in two specific special new clean coal techniques? The first is the pressurised fluidised bed and the second is the gasification of coal.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I shall do my best. We are continuing to support the R&D programme aimed at developing clean coal technology. The Department of Trade and Industry is actively encouraging industries and universities to work together to maintain UK expertise and know-how in this field. The overall strategy for clean coal technology is directed at securing a strong industrial base to commercialise the technologies by encouraging collaboration between industry, universities and overseas organisations, which are particularly important in this area. Perhaps I can write to the noble Lord on the specific question he asked.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if this problem is to be solved, a successful international strategy is essential? There is a real problem about developing countries being told to do as we say rather than as we have done. Can my noble friend assure the House that in his remit the Secretary of State for the Environment will be discussing with other industrialised countries the need to transfer resources to developing countries so that they can build up their development in an environmentally friendly way, something that we in the already industrialised world conspicuously failed to do?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, the House is well aware of my noble friend's long-standing interest in these areas. It is the Government's view that everyone, including developing countries, must play a part in controlling emissions in the medium to long term. However, in the short term it is for the developed countries to take a lead to fulfil their existing commitments and to sign up to significant reductions in Kyoto. It is for that reason that the Prime Minister asked the Deputy Prime Minister to press for action on visits to the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand as well as to chair a crucial meeting of developed countries in Tokyo. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Environment will also visit Washington next week as part of the EU troika. We hope that in that way we can make progress in the run-up to Kyoto to make the success that is essential.