HL Deb 15 July 2004 vol 663 cc1353-7

11.7 a.m.

Lord Mitchell

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their plans to encourage Russia and the United States to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

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

My Lords, the Government continue to urge Russia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol as soon as possible. Indeed, the Prime Minister has spoken personally to President Putin on the matter. There would be economic as well as environmental advantages to Russia, which we put across at every opportunity. Unfortunately, the United States Administration have made it clear that they have no intention of ever ratifying Kyoto. However, we continue to engage them on climate change. For example, my right honourable friend Margaret Beckett spoke to senior members of the administration during her recent visit to Washington, and we look forward to their constructive engagement.

Lord Mitchell

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. It was not entirely reassuring, but I thank him all the same. Global warming poses what many have described as mankind's greatest threat—irreversible climate change. The Kyoto Protocol to limit carbon dioxide emissions cannot come into effect unless either Russia or the United States ratifies the treaty. President Putin is indecisive; President Bush is indifferent. When will our Government use their considerable influence with both leaders to give the issue the priority that it demands?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely correct to say that the issue is the greatest challenge facing the world's politicians. It is deeply regrettable that the leaders of many countries have failed to give it the same priority as we in Britain and many other countries in Europe have. We use all our best efforts to try to persuade both the Russian and United States Governments to engage constructively in discussions on climate change. I regret to say that the United States Administration are more than indifferent; they are deeply hostile to the Kyoto Protocol. However, they are ignoring increasing concern within America as a whole about climate change, and we wish to engage the United States, perhaps beyond the Kyoto Protocol, in a more constructive relationship. We look forward to that occurring. With the Russians, there is a chance of ratification and we continue to press them on it.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, does the noble Lord not recognise that Britain's influence in the world on global warming might be a great deal better if the Government were to recognise that the biggest single contribution we could make to its reduction was to have a fresh look at nuclear power? They should recognise that it is both renewable and benign in terms of carbon dioxide.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, we have had this debate and I suspect that we shall have it again when we deal with the Energy Bill immediately after these Questions. Clearly, like all governments, this Government have adopted an energy policy based on low carbon energy with the intention of achieving it over a considerable period of time. We believe that we can do that with a combination of energy efficiency measures and renewables, but we are keeping the nuclear option open. There may be a role for nuclear, certainly in a global context. But, however we achieve it, the aim must be to have low carbon energy sources and a substantial cut in carbon take for energy over the next few decades.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House when the restrictions on land grazing in North Wales, which were imposed as a result of fall-out from Chernobyl, were lifted? They may still be in place during certain times of the year.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Baroness has switched me back to agriculture and left me slightly unbriefed on this question. However, I am aware that not long ago some of the restrictions arising from Chernobyl were still operating in parts of North Wales. That indicates that, although nuclear power is a very low carbon technology, it will not be a sustainable technology until we are absolutely clear about the safety and disposal of nuclear waste.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

My Lords, do Her Majesty's Government agree that practical energy-saving measures are necessary in order to fulfil the obligations of Kyoto? Will they use the visit of the G8 leaders next year to demonstrate what we are doing in the UK? Will they be visiting BedZED in Sutton and Woking, and will they be driving around in hybrid cars and buses during the visit of those leaders?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, energy saving is clearly a major part of the world's, as well as Britain's, achievement of low carbon technology. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that we shall use the presidency of both the G8 and the EU to ensure that climate change is a central preoccupation of those organisations next year. As to the detailed arrangements of the visit, I have no information at this stage, but I shall let my noble friend know.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the United States is in denial about Kyoto but that some of its states are supportive of the idea? Are the Government in contact with any of the states which have progressive views—for example, on emissions trading schemes—and what have they found? And are they influencing the situation as best they can?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord made a distinction between the attitude of many in the current United States Administration and the changing view of many in the business and political worlds within the United States. He is clearly right. For example, the five north-eastern states of the United States, the majority of which are run by Republican governors, have joined a proper climate change programme and are looking to join, in some way or another, European emissions trading schemes. That is a very positive development, as are developments in California. We hope that they spread to Washington soon.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, within the EU how hard are the Government pressing for a deal with Russia? When will that country's WTO status be sufficiently clear so that its Kyoto ratification can then be adequately secured?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, discussion on the WTO front is proceeding positively. I cannot give the exact timing of any deal, but clearly that is a consideration of the Russian Government. We are saying that, from a political, as well as from an economic and environmental, point of view, Kyoto is part of establishing Russia as a major player and it has environmental and economic advantages for Russia.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there may be some tension between the Government's commitment to meeting their own Kyoto targets in respect of emissions and their declared policy in respect of expansion of air travel?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, aviation creates a serious problem of CO2 emissions. As I suspect my noble friend knows, international aviation was excluded from the Kyoto Protocol and therefore it does not make any difference. At present, aviation accounts for a small amount of CO2 emissions. However, the level of such emissions will rise, and it is therefore important that aviation begins to take seriously measures to reduce the effect of CO2 emissions from air travel. We are trying to urge the British and European aviation industries to take measures to join the second phase of the emissions trading scheme starting in 2008. Some parts of the UK aviation industry are taking on board that message.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, if I understand matters correctly, the Kyoto Protocol applies to OECD countries. But it looks as though, within a decade, CO2 emissions from non-OECD countries will exceed CO2 emissions from OECD countries. The problem will not be resolved without the involvement of the non-OECD countries. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that they also play their part in tackling this global problem?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, it is certainly true that climate change in total will not be properly tackled until the burgeoning economies of China and India also participate. However, it is incumbent on the developed countries to take a lead in the matter. The carbon take per person in the United States is 20 times the carbon take per person in India. If we cannot persuade the United States and Russia to join the protocol, it will be difficult to persuade the Chinese and the Indians to do so.

Certainly, in the phase beyond Kyoto, when it is hoped that the United States will have taken heed of the concerns of its own citizens, as well as world concerns, we can engage both the United States and the developing countries—particularly the big economies—in tackling what must be the biggest challenge to this generation of politicians. It is about time that politicians in all parts of the world recognised that as their top priority.

Lord Lawson of Blaby

My Lords, is the Minister aware that considerable doubt has been raised about the quality of the economic analysis underlying the climate change projections produced by the International Panel on Climate Change—the IPCC—with which the panel has refused to engage? As this is such an important matter, as the Minister said, is it not important that the Government use their influence to have the economic aspects analysed separately by the OECD before any further conclusions are drawn?

Lord Whitty

No, my Lords, because the scientific basis for, and the physical effects of, climate change are virtually unchallenged by any serious scientist. The economic calculations are subject to some degree of dispute. I am happy to urge people to engage in discussing those calculations, but they do not undermine or threaten the basic conclusion that, unless we do something, this world will get dangerously warmer.