HL Deb 04 April 2001 vol 624 cc815-7

2.55 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they propose to collaborate within the European Union and the wider international community to press the United States to maintain its international obligations and ratify the Kyoto climate convention.

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

My Lords, the Government are deeply disturbed by the latest statements from the American Administration on climate change. We remain committed to the Kyoto Protocol. We believe that it is the only way forward. In co-operation with our EU partners and other countries, we shall continue to take advantage of all appropriate opportunities to persuade and encourage the United States to engage constructively in the next round of talks due to take place in July.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and I hope that the EU and other international bodies will succeed. However, in the meantime, will Her Majesty's Government ensure that the UK, in its urban, rural and coastal planning, along with our industry, will adapt to the changing global climate? The UK needs to be competitive. We now see hydrogen fuel stations in California and Germany. When shall we see them in the United Kingdom?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the United Kingdom probably has the most developed climate change programme of any country. The programme which we issued in November spells out action on a number of fronts. As regards fuels for vehicles, it is of course true that transport is now the fastest growing cause of carbon emissions, despite improvements in conventional technology. For that reason, we need to develop alternative technologies. Immediate incentives were built into the Budget which are already available, along with a commitment to the Green Fuels Challenge which will enable the development of pilot studies and R&D on fuel cell technology, based mainly on hydrogen and other promising renewable fuels such as ethanol. We are committed to developing such alternative fuels and to their speedy introduction into the vehicle fleet.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that President Bush has brought a little common sense into an area where there has been a great deal of posturing and—dare I say it—a great deal of hot air? Bearing in mind that in 1997 the United States Senate voted 95 to nil against a deal which did not include China and India, am I not right in saying that there never has been the slightest chance of the Congress agreeing to the Kyoto deal? That applies whatever administration might have been in office now. Is it not rather absurd to think in terms of a deal which ignores China and India, where these emissions are increasing at an enormous rate?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I do not accept the first part of those remarks. I think that the statement from President Bush was deeply damaging to the process. It is necessary for us in Europe to try to persuade the Americans back into an area in which many thinkers, business and industrial leaders in America already recognise that their country has to make its contribution. America is responsible for one-quarter of the total carbon emissions in the world. The Kyoto processes themselves would have helped India, China and other developing countries. Without them, and without a commitment from America, we shall be in a difficult situation. However, we believe that we can persuade the Americans back. To that end, we wish to engage in constructive negotiations in July.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that the United States Administration has indicated that it will be coming forward with alternative proposals for dealing with climate change? Does he know what those proposals might be? Furthermore, in the event, would it not have been better if the Americans, in announcing that they were not prepared to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, had announced their alternative course of action at the same time?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, it is true that President Bush has said that he is looking for alternatives. However, there is no indication that the Americans have a worked-up alternative. Our view and that of our European partners—and indeed of most countries participating in the Kyoto process—is that Kyoto is the only show in town. An American disaffiliation from that process is therefore a serious problem. We believe that the Americans will be persuaded eventually to come back into something like the Kyoto process.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, was it not particularly inappropriate for President Bush to cite the non-involvement of China and India as justification for US non-involvement? In Rio in 1992, under the previous government, it was generally agreed that, as the OECD countries were producing 75 per cent of the carbon dioxide in the world they had to give a lead and take some pain—as we are doing under the climate change levy—in order that we should be in a strong position to influence China and India to play their parts. That was always part of the conception.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, not only was the Rio convention signed under the previous government; it was also signed under President Bush's dad, who perhaps had a clearer perspective on these matters. We are clear—and have been throughout this process—that the OECD countries, including the United States, must take the lead. It is incumbent on the leadership of the developed world to take that lead and to continue to try to find a way of involving in that process not only the United States but the developing countries. As I said, when the United States accounts for a quarter of the emissions, it is vital that the Americans participate constructively