HL Deb 07 October 2002 vol 639 cc9-11

2.59 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

What proposals they made at the Johannesburg Earth Summit on clean energy; and with what effect.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, the summit made a commitment to develop and to disseminate alternative energy technologies with the aim of giving a greater share of the energy mix to renewable energies, improving energy efficiency and placing greater reliance on advanced energy technologies, including cleaner fossil fuel technologies. The Government supported the European Union proposal that renewables should contribute 15 per cent of total global energy use by 2010. Unfortunately that was not accepted by countries opposed to a target.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, while noting with satisfaction the positive role played by the United Kingdom and other EU members, does the Minister agree, as he implied in his Answer, that it was a little disappointing that the outcome of the summit on the subject of clean energy did not go further, and that after hours of fruitless negotiation there was a failure to agree targets for renewable energy, although many of the countries present have had such targets for a long time?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, clearly it was disappointing that we were not able to agree a target. We wanted one, but there was opposition from the United States and the G7 countries. The US accepted the targets on water and sanitation but not on renewables. We were disappointed. Targets are of great value in making firm commitments, but we were not able to achieve one.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the United Kingdom Government have expressed their support for the policy of contraction and convergence, as set out by the Global Commons Institute, as an equitable, scientifically-based energy policy? Did our representatives at Johannesburg speak in favour of contraction and convergence? Are the Government committed to try to enlist the support of other governments for that policy?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we want the developing and the developed countries to take the targets seriously, out of which a convergence would be achieved, but such a move has to take place on both sides.

Lord Razzall

My Lords, while sympathising with Her Majesty's Government in their failure to achieve their policy objectives at Johannesburg in this area, can the Minister indicate what further steps the Government have in mind to achieve the policy of targets for clean energy, rather than the aims and objectives that we have now?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the noble Lord poses two questions. We shall seek to implement the agreements reached. While targets were not involved, there was agreement on what we should try to achieve, which was why, at Johannesburg, we initiated the renewable energy and energy efficiency partnership. We shall take that forward in the months and years ahead. As part of REEP—the renewable energy and efficiency partnership—from 2003 we shall make available export credit guarantees. The department will provide £50 million worth of agreed credits for exports in the energy area. We also have our own targets for clean energy in this country.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, does the Minister agree that biofuels have an important role to play in meeting the Government's target in relation to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

Yes, my Lords, I believe that biofuels have a role to play, although I also believe that any achievement on the targets we are considering will rely on a range of fuels that are coming forward in different areas. For that reason we shall have an R&D programme that seeks to provide clean energy over a whole range. We cannot rely on one energy source to provide that.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that any clean energy targets will not include covering the hills and dales of England and Wales with unsightly wind farms that require a continuous back-up of fossil fuel energy, as wind is not a reliable generator of electricity?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, clearly wind turbines have a considerable part to play in the production of clean energy. In the nature of the debate, everyone is in favour of particular sources of energy so long as they are not in their back garden. Unfortunately, compromises will have to be made if clean energy targets are to be achieved. It cannot be done on a costless basis.

Lord Rea

My Lords, what progress has been made in funding research for wave energy, which is a promising form of clean energy? Twenty years ago research funding for such energy was seriously cut by the previous government. Is the Minister aware of the findings of the Science and Technology Committee in another place that that was an extremely promising area, funding for which should be increased?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, we are rapidly increasing the amount of money spent on renewables. Spending will increase from £11 million in 1997–98 to £109 million in 2003–04 and£170 million in 2004–05. Recently, the Secretary of State for the Department of Trade and Industry commissioned a review of the UK's public energy research from the Chief Scientist. He reviewed the R&D that was being carried out and produced a report which fed into the PIU review of energy policy. In that report he identified wave energy as being promising, it is an area we shall support with extra money for R&D.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that at the recent Labour Party conference in Blackpool some effective lobbying was carried out on renewables and on helping us to meet our environmental objectives? The general feeling was that the Government are undertaking the right actions, but that a push is required to make people aware of the benefits, for example, of hybrid cars that are petrol and electricity driven, or the benefits of solar panels. Can the Government provide that push, given that their policies are moving in the right direction?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. We have demanding targets for renewable energy. Reaching them will be challenging and how we do so will be set out in greater detail in the White Paper due to be published around the turn of the year. Undoubtedly, we shall have to put a great deal more effort into achieving the renewable energy targets.