HL Deb 08 November 2004 vol 666 cc610-2

2.51 p.m.

Lord Truscott asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will urge President Putin of Russia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change at the earliest opportunity.

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

My Lords, the Russian Government approved the Kyoto Protocol on 30 September. It was subsequently approved by the Duma and the Federation Council; and President Putin signed the protocol last Friday. We are still awaiting the instrument's deposition in the UN headquarters in New York. Ninety days afterwards the Kyoto Protocol will enter into legal force. We believe that ratification will be in Russia's interests and is certainly in the world's interests. Therefore, we look forward to the completion of that process.

Lord Truscott

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful and positive Answer. Given the recent report by 250 scientists that the Arctic ice cap may well be ice free by 2070 and that sea levels may rise by a metre by the end of the century, and bearing in mind the statement by Her Majesty the Queen that she is concerned about global warming, will Her Majesty's Government use the forthcoming Washington summit as an opportunity to remind the United States, as the world's worst polluter, that it should either ratify the Kyoto Protocol or, at the very least, reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the precise agenda of the Washington summit has not yet been fixed, but noble Lords will know that the Prime Minster has clearly stated that global warming will be one of our main priorities in relation to the G8 process next year. Therefore, one can derive the conclusion that that will need to be discussed with the Americans. The latest information on the Arctic, and other signs that global warming is proceeding even faster than was previously thought, must give urgency to those discussions among all governments—even those who have hitherto been unwilling to regard the issue as a priority.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, is it correct that there was no ice in the Arctic 55 million years ago and, as far as we know, no one was burning fossil fuels? I ask that question in a general spirit of inquiry, rather than to stir things up.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Lord's memory goes back further than mine. It is true that the Earth has passed through many different phases—many of which would be inimical to life as we now know it. The fact that the Earth has been through such processes before does not mean that we or other species on this globe could survive a global warming of the extent that is now predicted, unless we do something about it. Even if there are natural processes at work in that cycle, the burning of carbon makes the situation significantly worse.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, in the absence of the noble Lord's noble friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, perhaps I may promote the report of Sub-Committee D of the European Union Committee which has been investigating climate change. The noble Baroness has done a brilliant job. Also, is it not the case that in the United States of America individual states are taking a very strong line on global warming and that the US Government are looking at technological ways of solving the problem?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I agree with the noble Countess that the work of the sub-committee has been thorough, and the Government are taking many of its recommendations fully on board. Regarding the situation in the United States, in many respects central federal politics is well behind leading opinion in corporate areas of America and in many states. Noble Lords may know that the north-east and western seaboard states have begun to take serious measures to try to control carbon emissions—in fact, Mr Arnold Schwarzenegger is a leading campaigner in that regard. So, despite the fact that it does not seem possible at present to gain support in Washington for signing the Kyoto Protocol, the pressure within America is likely to begin to make that country focus on how it can contribute to combating global warming in the longer term.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine

My Lords, returning to the phase through which the Earth is currently passing, and looking beyond whether the US ratifies the Kyoto Protocol, which is desirable, does the Minister agree that the provisions of that protocol are fairly modest and that we need an international effort, not only to reduce emissions but to move to a fairer distribution of carbon use as the only long-term strategy to confront climate change, which, alas, affects the developing world disproportionately?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, it was clear that, the American political process being what it is, whatever last week's election result had been it was unlikely that the Americans would have been able to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The objective now is to engage the Americans at all levels in the longer-term process, which needs to go beyond the provisions of Kyoto. The importance of Kyoto is that we should establish mechanisms and commitments, but the objective of reducing carbon emissions must be much greater than that provided by Kyoto itself—not least because of the effect of global warming on developing countries that was pointed out by the noble Baroness.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the decision by the Russians is remarkable in some respects, because the Siberian growing season could become longer, the Arctic seaway could be easier to open and so on? But in the short to medium term the Russians—and the Americans—would benefit if Kyoto worked properly by the great transfers through the Global Tradable Permits Scheme, because Russia is a low user of carbon per head of population. This is the goal that must be pursued so that every nation—India, China and the United States—now that this ratification has rightly been made, can move forward on a united basis.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, yes. The noble Lord has raised a number of aspects. It is certainly right to congratulate the Russians on taking this step, despite some siren voices within Russia itself. The Russians have recognised that it is for their benefit, and the benefit of the world; and that it will make sense of the Kyoto process, particularly regarding countries such as Canada and Japan who trade with Russia in relation to emissions. The fact that some parts of the world will see a beneficial climatic effect in the very short term does not mean that we should ignore the very long-term overwhelming effects that unrestrained climate change would bring to the whole globe.