HL Deb 28 February 2005 vol 670 cc7-9

2.52 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What practical conclusions they have drawn from the climate change conferences in Exeter and in Houston, Texas, and how these conclusions will influence their climate change policy and G8 diplomacy in 2005.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, both the Exeter and Houston conferences demonstrated a growing consensus of opinion on the science surrounding climate change. Both conferences highlighted the serious global risk expected as a result of climate change and the need to adapt to those changes and to reduce emissions to avoid dangerous climate change. Those results give further weight to our work in the G8 aiming to promote an international consensus on the need for further action.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. What new, imaginative plans for the G8 countries are being proposed this year, from big business to householders, to reduce carbon emissions? Will best practice in the G8 countries be publicised? Will government and industry make more use of displays in shopping centres and museums of science and technology? In one museum in Florida, they have a Disasterville. How about us having a Climateville or Sustainville to show everyone what needs to be done?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, part of the output of various events taking place, including the Exeter conference and the meeting of environment and energy Ministers taking place later this month, will be to share best practice and the best means to educate and inform the public and business of the problem of climate change and what individuals can do about it. It is clear that there is a general level of awareness, but not sufficient change in behaviour in either commerce or households. Defra has just announced a £12 million package to improve education and information schemes for individuals so that each of us can better understand what we can do to help to tackle that problem.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My Lords, in the light of the Exeter and Houston conferences, can the Minister reassure the House that the UK's national allocation plan for a reduction in CO2 emissions has now been accepted by the European Commission? Has it been resubmitted?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that the original plan was accepted by the Commission, but we have needed to revise that plan in the light of later information. There has been very misleading commentary on the Government's position in that respect. As I said in our debate on climate change last week, the Government have taken the latest figures—the best, most up-to-date information. The requirement to meet our targets, based on that information, although at a higher absolute level, is a bigger demand on industry than was our original plan and is considerably more ambitious than that of any other state in the European Union.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, has any Minister studied the predictions of Mr Charles T Maxwell, who is, perhaps, the leading energy analyst in the United States, who believes that, taking everything into account, world oil production will peak between 2020 and 2025, by which time demand will have increased hugely, so there will be a great gap? Does the Minister recognise that that will just give the Government time to restart the nuclear programme, which would help to protect the poor in this country from rising energy prices and contribute to reduced CO2 production?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, Mr Maxwell's estimates are not universally accepted, but they suggest that if we continue to increase demand for fossil fuels, we will create a serious problem of climate change and begin to run out of fossil-based fuels and, in the interim, significantly increase their cost. That is why it is important that we consider all low-carbon technologies, including wind power, tidal power and wave power, as well as the nuclear option, which we have kept open, on the understanding—the next Question touches on this matter—that for nuclear power to play a major role in future, we will need to resolve the issue of radioactive waste.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, we have often talked in the House about the necessity of insulating our homes to save on heating bills, but what predictions has the department made about the increased use of air conditioning to cool domestic homes? I understand that that is estimated to grow by about 6 per cent a year for the next 10 years—which, as the Minister will know, comes to 60 per cent. That would eliminate many of the savings made by more efficient heating systems.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there is and will be increased demand for cooling systems, but whether there will be a proportionate demand on fossil fuels depends on how they are sourced and run. It is important that energy efficiency and improvements in the use of renewables in sourcing that energy apply to air conditioning systems as much as to heating and other uses of energy.

Baroness Billingham

My Lords, do the Government have plans further to publicise the potential benefits of hybrid cars? Those benefits are enormous. Not only are those cars much more neutral in carbon consumption, they have tax breaks and, in London, do not incur the congestion charge. That is not widely known and the Government really ought to publicise it more fully.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am strongly in favour of all forms of low-carbon vehicles, including hybrid cars, which make a positive contribution. As my noble friend will know, from this September, all new cars will be graded according to the amount of carbon dioxide that they emit. The cleanest cars will get a dark green label and the absolutely nil-carbon cars gain various other exemptions, as my noble friend said, whereas the dirtiest and least fuel-efficient will get a red card. Following the improvements in consumer choice of white goods, we hope that consumers will also follow that guidance in their choice of car.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, has the noble Lord ever looked across London at night and seen the millions of lights that are on in unoccupied buildings, which must also happen in almost every city in the world? Would it not be a good idea to have a campaign saying "If it is not in use or if you don't need it, switch it off"?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, yes. There are a number of companies and government departments attempting that, although it is not universal, as has been shown by our newspapers not long ago. I therefore urge all colleagues and all private sector owners of buildings to follow that. Failing that, I will consider the noble Countess as one of the wardens to go around saying, "Turn out that light".