HL Deb 04 May 2000 vol 612 cc1125-8

3.21 p.m.

Lord Ezra

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether sufficient progress is being made within the European Union to achieve the climate change objectives.

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

My Lords, during the UK presidency in 1998 member states reached agreement on how to share out the European Community's targets at Kyoto. They also agreed that action was needed at both national and EU level to deliver those targets. In March the European Commission published a communication which suggested that, on current trends, only the UK, Germany and Luxembourg were on course to deliver those targets. However, member states are now developing programmes to ensure that they reverse these trends and deliver their targets. The Commission communication also outlined plans for a new European climate change programme to build consensus on EU level measures to reduce emissions.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. I am delighted that the UK is among those leading the way. First, as a result of its good example, will the UK support fully the efforts of the Commission to get the necessary initiatives going to ensure that the whole of the European Union achieves the very desirable objectives that have been set? Secondly, does the Minister agree that, important though the European climate change problem is, it is even more serious in the Far East and that as China and India develop their economies by use of their large reserves of coal—which, in view of my past, I fully support—there could be adverse environmental impacts which would affect all of us? Therefore, will the European Union take the initiative to ensure that clean coal technology and other measures of that kind are developed and supplied to these countries?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, certainly, the UK Government are very much to the fore in EU councils in encouraging the Commission and other institutions of the Union to develop viable and robust policies which can be implemented at both EU level and among member states. The British example is important in some respects here. It is important that all EU countries meet their commitments under the EU bubble in order that the Union can deliver its own overall target. That has implications for the wider agreements at Kyoto. In particular, the commitments of rapidly developing countries like China and India, with very large potential carbon emission problems, mean that we must make maximum efforts in terms of both political will and helping with technology. One of the main preoccupations of my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister is to ensure that in particular China and India come on board and meet their commitments to the Kyoto objectives. A good number of the detailed issues will be resolved in the COP 6 meetings later this year.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, do the Government have any evidence to suggest that climate and other environmental objectives are better achieved through the scientific fog and incompetence of the European Union than they would be through international governmental collaboration?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, it is quite clear that if we, as the political leaders of this generation, do not act collectively to address these environmental problems the problems in 10 or 20 years' time will be catastrophic for the planet as a whole. The fact that the European countries have agreed to act together on this matter is a major achievement, but that is only part of the jigsaw. Given that there is a common European position, it is of great assistance that, as in Kyoto and in subsequent discussions, the EU acts collectively on the basis of firm scientific and detailed technical work in dealing with the United States and developing countries and reaching a global position. Co-operation is essential, and the first key ingredient is European co-operation.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, given global need and international economic opportunity, is it not appropriate at this stage for Her Majesty's Government to give the same priority to the encouragement of clean coal technology as they give to renewable energy supplies?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there are two aspects. As to clean coal technology, a good deal of effort is being made within the UK and Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, pointed out that we must ensure that as far as possible China, India and other major developing countries are able to make use of the best clean coal technology. Part of the jigsaw of energy use must also be to increase greatly the use of renewables. The UK has set itself the very challenging target of a 10 per cent take-up of renewables by 2010.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, is the noble Lord satisfied that progress in renewable energy is sufficient to enable those targets to be met, particularly within the United Kingdom?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am not satisfied with progress so far. However, there is now a new determination by this Government and much of industry to develop renewable sources and a belief that the target is achievable. It is a challenging target. We have not made much of a start in meeting that challenge in the past 10 years, but we are now determined to do so.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that British representatives in the EU, who are in touch with the European Association of Motor Manufacturers, which in turn is in touch with the Americans and Japanese, continually press for the adoption of the best available technology rather than the use of old methods and the continual postponement of the date of the introduction of the best environmental methods?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there has been substantial progress in relation to European standards of motor vehicle emissions. The noble Lord was present last night when we debated European and British efforts in relation to alternative fuels. As to petrol and diesel-driven engines, the EU target of a 25 per cent improvement in emissions will now be achieved. There is a commitment to the European voluntary code among European manufacturers, and I am gratified that that is now being adopted also by the Japanese and Americans.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is precisely because the EU made a joint commitment at Kyoto to a 10 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide and other gas emissions that we can put pressure on the United States, which so far has done virtually nothing, despite the fact that its energy price is only half that of Europe?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, a concerted European stance at Kyoto and beyond gives us greater leverage in relation to developing countries and the United States in all these negotiations. The position within the United States has hitherto been disappointing. My right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister was there only last week and detected a bit of a shift in both corporate and political opinion, although I do not believe that there will be any serious move in the US until after certain elections take place later this year.