HL Deb 09 January 2002 vol 630 cc554-6

2.38 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the state of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, following the Marrakech Conference in November.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, the agreement reached at Marrakech on a set of detailed rules for implementing the Kyoto Protocol should pave the way for its ratification and entry into force. The UK intends to ratify, along with our EU partners, in time to allow entry into force before the World Summit on Sustainable Development later this year. We are encouraging others to meet the same timetable.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the very positive attitude that they have taken towards the Kyoto Protocol and on the actions that they have taken to persuade other countries to do likewise. Can the noble Lord indicate what is the procedure for ratification by the UK Government and whether there will be an opportunity for a full debate on the subject before ratification takes place? Secondly, can he advise on the development of the attitude of the United States towards this problem? The US has indicated a fairly negative attitude; has this in any way been modified?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, so far as concerns the ratification process, there will need to be an EU decision because we wish to proceed with our EU partners. The ratification decision here will need to be taken around the end of June/early July, in time for the Johannesburg summit in early September. This would leave time for a debate—but, of course, debates in this House are not matters for myself but for the House authorities.

So far as concerns the United States, it has demonstrated very clearly that it does not wish to proceed with the ratification of Kyoto. It is undertaking, internally within the administration, a review of climate change policy. That review is on-going but it has obviously been delayed by other events recently. We are expecting that review of policy to be positive and constructive, although it will not lead, I fear, to the US re-engaging in time for Johannesburg or at any foreseeable point in the Kyoto process.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, given the major efforts that we in Britain and the rest of Europe—painful efforts in many cases—are making to deal with the problem and the protocol, can the Minister indicate how, and the time-scale within which, major developing countries such as India and China will be brought eventually within the protocol?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, clearly, with their populations and speed of development, both India and China are important to the process. However, it is worth re-emphasising that the level of emissions per head within those countries is substantially below the rate in Europe, Japan and North America. They are both influential countries, both played a positive role in Marrakech, and both are likely to be beneficiaries of the clean development mechanism under the protocol.

As to their emission rates, we want to move them to future commitments under the protocol. We need to negotiate with them and other developing countries on the role that they should play in order to mitigate their own growth in emissions. The UK is engaged in helping them to do that through our joint programmes on mainstream climate change issues and through projects and programmes within those countries.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, is not the reality of the case that even the Kyoto agreement is unlikely to be implemented and that, since then, there have been substantial derogations from the Kyoto figures? Against the background of the recent leaks about the forthcoming PIU report, is not the reality that there is no hope whatever in this country of achieving the Kyoto targets—let alone the Royal Commission target of a 60 per cent reduction in CO2—without the resumption of a nuclear build? Is it not rather disturbing to recognise that there may be some obstacles in government to achieving that extremely necessary step?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Lord is mistaken in saying that there is not a chance of the UK Government meeting our targets. We are probably better placed than any other country, in Europe or elsewhere, to meet our commitments on existing programmes and on the climate change programme that we have developed. Indeed, together with Germany, we are the most advanced in meeting those objectives. We have targets which go beyond that to reduce carbon emissions by up to 20 per cent by 2010. We are, therefore, very well placed and the issue of nuclear power or otherwise does not affect whether or not we shall meet our 2010 targets; we will do so. Meeting the Royal Commission targets—which run beyond 2010 into the middle of the century—will raise very serious issues of energy policy, which we will address. However, that issue does not arise in immediate terms and we will reach our Kyoto target.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, I add to the congratulations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, to the Government on their very positive approach to the Kyoto Protocol. Is the Minister aware that many of us who are anxious to meet and exceed our obligations under the Kyoto Protocol are nevertheless very concerned about any plans to achieve that which depend on an extension of on-shore wind power? Are the Government seriously committed to research and development and to the implementation of solar and tidal energy? Can the Minister repeat the assurances that he has given the House in the past that the Government have no plans to amend, overrule or set aside the planning process which has so far frustrated many ill-conceived schemes to introduce more wind turbines into our beautiful upland landscapes?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and say to him and to the right reverend Prelate that I appreciate the congratulations. Getting this process moving has been a major achievement by the Government in international circles.

The Government are anxious that all forms of alternative and renewable energy are pursued. We have in place a target of 10 per cent of our energy supply. We are developing policies to achieve that, and it will be part of our strategy to meet and to go beyond the Kyoto targets. Windpower will play a role. Clearly, we do not want to support windpower proposals that would have a seriously detrimental effect more generally on the environment. Nevertheless, there are onshore wind projects that would be allowable under our approach; we are also looking to offshore windpower to make a significant contribution. The planning process is not affected in any respect in the light of those ambitions.