HC Deb 15 November 2000 vol 356 cc205-26WH

11 am

Mr Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

I take pleasure in speaking in the debate, which concerns the most important international conference this year: the COP6 conference of the parties to discuss the implementation of the 1997 Kyoto agreement.

My predecessor as Member of Parliament for Ceredigion, Cynog Dafis—now the Member of the Welsh Assembly for Mid and West Wales—secured an Adjournment debate on the subject of climate change in 1995. He told me that he was one of the first Members to secure such a debate; the record will show whether that is true. He also told me that, at the time, another Member commiserated with him, saying, "Never mind, perhaps next time you will have an Adjournment debate that will be of interest to your constituents." Following the flooding caused by the recent severe weather, there can be few hon. Members who do not now have a constituency interest in climate change.

I shall give a thumbnail sketch of some of the evidence for climate change, which is the background to the COP6 negotiations that the Minister will attend next week. In August, a Russian icebreaker—a cruise ship taking tourists on what was probably a non-sustainable tourism venture to the north pole—broke through the ice, only to find when it reached its destination that there was no ice, only a mile of open water. In September, at the height of the fuel crisis, there was a little-reported paper from scientists who had been studying ice samples from the Himalayas, which showed that the past decade was the warmest for 1,000 years.

There seems to be a disaster in the making: the thickness of the ice sheet over Greenland has shrunk by 42 per cent. in the past four decades and the area itself has shrunk by 6 per cent., and the annual flow of melted ice from Greenland into the sea is equal to the annual flow of the Nile. If the whole of that ice pack were to melt, the sea level would rise by an amazing 7 m.

In 1850, the Glacier national park in Montana contained 150 glaciers; it now has fewer than 50. In 30 years' time, that national park will no longer justify the name "Glacier" because there will be no glaciers left.

The best prediction is that by the end of the century, sea levels will have risen by 1 m. I shall illustrate that by using a local example. Last week, a blue runner was caught in Swansea bay. A blue runner is not that rare breed, a Welsh Tory MP, although they have certainly left Wales for warmer climes—[Interruption.] No, it was not the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) either, but a Mediterranean fish that has never before been seen in Welsh waters.

Global warming is not in question; the Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, warned at the beginning of the last century that burning fossil fuels could raise atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and create a greenhouse effect. This has been known about by scientists for at least a century. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, estimated to have been at about 280 parts per million before the industrial revolution, had climbed to 317 parts per million in 1960, and 368 parts per million last year. That is a gain of 16 per cent. in four decades. I am pleased to say that even the Prime Minister now seems to be convinced about global warming. Referring in the press to the recent British weather, he said: The increasing frequency of such extreme weather does lend support to those who say that global warming is no longer theory, but is a fact of life. I suspect that the Minister would put it more strongly, and I think that the Prime Minister needs to spend even more late nights with his son slowly learning about environmental change.

There is some debate about whether global warming leads to climate change, and it is important that we lay to rest any such disputes. The planet has warmed by 1.5 deg C since the 1970s, and the 1990s was the warmest decade on record. CO2 emissions are estimated to contribute around 64 per cent. of the greenhouse effect of global warming. Europe and the USA are responsible for 85 per cent. of the man-made CO2—there is, of course, a great deal of natural CO2—in the environment. Some argue that we are living in a period of normal climate fluctuation, and that we are just emerging from a little ice age when the Thames froze over and the state of the Scottish economy forced that unfortunate union between Scotland and England. However, even those who hold such views would tend to agree that industrial emissions exacerbate such climate variations. Dr. Mike Hulme of the Tyndall centre for climate change research at the university of East Anglia—I think that the Minister opened that centre last week—put it very succinctly. He said: Only the input of greenhouse gases can account for things that we have experienced recently. He was talking about the recent weather in the UK, but we must also remember the recent, horrific flooding in Mozambique and in south-east Asia. That is the reason for the Kyoto agreement.

In Kyoto we agreed at a national and European level to reduce our emissions of CO2, and other greenhouse gases by 5.2 per cent. from the 1990 levels by 2012. However, since the agreement was entered into in December 1997, emissions have risen by more than 1 per cent. per year. They are projected to be roughly 8 per cent. greater than 1990 levels by 2010. The Kyoto targets, which we discussed at the COP6 conference, may not be strong enough. The royal commission on environmental pollution reports that cuts of 60 per cent. are needed in the next 50 years. I am pleased to say that in a parliamentary answer to me on 6 November, the Minister confirmed that that was the long-term objective of the Government's climate change programme. However, those cuts represent a huge change, and if COP6 is not to be a cop-out, the Government must set the pace for the developed countries, as well as having due regard for the needs of the south.

The Minister called COP6 a make-or-break conference, and I would like to discuss some of the issues to be resolved there. I hope that the Government will look beyond initial compliance and find long-term solutions. It is vital to ensure that domestic policy—our part of the global picture—is the basis for action taken. It would not be acceptable for us to rely on flexible mechanisms in the agreement, such as the USA wants to see imposed, to pass our responsibilities to the developing countries. 1 hope that the Minister will be able to address my concerns about those mechanisms.

I want to talk about carbon sequestration through the use of carbon sinks, which are not the latest household accessory, but use organic growth to remove CO, from the atmosphere and lock it up. Other Members may wish to comment on that, but I want to raise one problem with it. Carbon sinks lock in industrial greenhouse gas emissions temporarily—50 years is temporarily in terms of the history of the world. Once that organic growth, be it forest, grass or whatever, is burnt or logged or in some way comes to its natural end, the CO, and other greenhouse gases locked into it are once more released into the atmosphere. Therefore, carbon sinks do nothing to alleviate our industrial emissions.

Indeed, it could be said that we are moving along the lines of carbon colonisation. Equity Watch has drawn attention to at least two Norwegian companies that have already acquired several thousand hectares of land in east Africa to use to plant fast-growing trees such as eucalyptus and pine that will not bring any benefits to the local economy, but will be sold off and traded as a carbon sink.

Equity Watch calls that the application of cheap development mechanism-CDM-which COP6 prefers to call clean development mechanism. Developed countries earn carbon credits by investing in clean technology in developing countries. That is good in principle and I assume that most hon. Members would support it, but its practical implications could be unfortunate. The new technologies may be less dirty, but that does not equate to clean. Surely at one level at least, CDM should exclude new nuclear energy and that is one point that I want to stress this morning.

I was surprised to learn through a parliamentary answer that the UK's use of nuclear energy has increased from 21 per cent. of electricity generation in 1990 to 28 per cent. last year. Like many others, I simply assumed that nuclear energy was declining. In fact, it has assumed a greater proportion of our energy generation. Nuclear energy may be less dangerous in terms of long-term greenhouse warming, but its potential for sudden catastrophe, particularly in developing countries, surely disqualifies it as a clean development. The early indications from the COP6 talks, which started among officials this Monday, are not encouraging. Mohammed Barkindo of Nigeria, speaking for the negotiating block of the G77 and the China group, said that it was proving impossible to get the developed countries to talk to them about it. He said that they were frustrated and distressed.

My final point on this aspect of the COP6 talks is to remind us of what was left out of Kyoto—particularly air fuel. A recent report, "Collision Course", published over the weekend by the New Economics Foundation pointed out that the projected 70 per cent. growth of international freight traffic by 2004 will wipe out any gains likely to be made at The Hague. That makes a mockery of the exclusion of such traffic from the current negotiations. Facts can often speak volumes. For each kilo of kiwi fruit imported from New Zealand by air freight, 5 kg of carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere. Clearly, that is not a sustainable way forward.

The Tyndall centre recently carried out research that matched the countries most and least vulnerable to the effects of climate change to their capacity under their gross domestic product to deal with its effects. The four most vulnerable countries were Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. They have just $100 of GDP for each citizen to spend on coping with every degree of warming. By contrast, the least vulnerable country is Luxembourg, which can spend $8,800 per head. It is worth remembering that it is the poorest countries that will suffer most from climate change. We have a moral obligation as heavy as that to rescind third world debt or to dedicate to the UN threshold of our GDP aid to developing countries to act against climate change in the COP6 negotiations.

I should now like to say a little about a country not represented at the COP6 talks but which has a vital role to play in their implementation—my own country, Wales. It is important to emphasise that the UK's obligations will be met in great part by the devolved Administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Indeed, the National Assembly for Wales has a unique role to play, as it is one of only two legislatures in the world that has sustainable development as a statutory duty. It is written into the Government of Wales Act 1998, and we therefore expect a contribution from Wales.

Wales produces some 7 per cent. of UK emissions for just 5 per cent. of population. That is mainly due to coal fire generation, steel production and so on. Anglesey Aluminium produces a ninth of the Welsh total. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) will welcome the agreement for combined heat and power at Anglesey Aluminium, which will no doubt help greatly. However, 5 per cent. of Welsh electricity is produced by renewables. The UK total is only 3 per cent. Perhaps I can look forward to Wales banking carbon credits with the Exchequer in return for full European funding. In 20 years' time, perhaps we shall have a carbon-based formula rather than the Barnett formula to decide funding issues for Wales and Scotland.

Whatever the future, my constituency of Ceredigion currently has 40 per cent. of its energy needs met by wind farms. If one adds the Rheidiol hydroelectric scheme in my constituency—the largest in England and Wales—more than 50 per cent. of our energy needs are now met by renewables. That is good news, but it is also bad news for the Government in terms of getting their message across. Despite having only 5 per cent. of the UK's population, Wales has more than 350 of the 800 wind turbines in the UK. The sort of political difficulties experienced over petrol and fuel prices could be stored up in the renewable sectors in parts of the UK and Wales. Using the same justification, we need to take action for environmental reasons. Rural areas will be disproportionately affected, and the same seemingly weak case will apply; air freight growth alone would wipe out any contribution from renewables. There is also the same potential for a public backlash.

It is proposed that the largest wind farm development in the UK will be in my constituency—58 MW at Cefn Croes, which will produce 1 per cent. of Wales's total electricity needs. It would make Ceredigion the first county in the UK to run on totally renewable energy.

However, many people do not understand the case. The Government should show a greater commitment to developing renewable technologies.

It was disappointing to receive a parliamentary answer on Monday from the Department of Trade and Industry that showed that Government investment in renewable research, technology transfer and development has been slashed by this and the previous Administration. In 1995–96, nearly £9 million was spent on the renewable development sector. By 1997–98, that figure had dropped to £4.36 million. In other words, it had halved in two years. In the last financial year, it was down to £3.14 million. Those are disgraceful figures in terms of moving towards meeting our Kyoto targets and implementing the COP6 agreements. A tidal generator has been suggested for the Rhyl flats off the coast of north Wales, which could produce 50 per cent. of Welsh electricity needs. However, the entire research budget for tidal wave energy last year was only £150,000.

I will finish with a parable, which is the best way to understand complex issues. It is the story of the French Foreign Minister and his ducks, his herons, his foxes and his fish. I hope that hon. Members will be able to follow it. The tale begins last year, when the French Foreign Minister decided that it would be nice to refill the dried-up lake at the bottom of the landscaped gardens at his official residence outside Paris. Several months later, the lake was restored to its former glory but, subsequently, the first problem occurred. The clear waters were invaded by a particularly potent algae. An environmentally friendly solution was decided on and the Minister imported several dozen algae-eating carp, at considerable expense; perhaps not as much as the fig trees, but still considerable.

The second problem was that the carp attracted a heron, which started to eat them. Despite the French love of shooting small birds, the heron is a protected species in France. The Foreign Minister encouraged—I do not know how—a pair of foxes to take up residence in his official garden; to scare off the heron, mind, not to eat it. As so often happens in matters of the environment, a symbiotic relationship developed between the foxes and the heron, and instead of dealing with the heron, the foxes started eating the mallards that had moved in.

The foxes had to be got rid of, but they produced a pair of cubs and the Minister's family persuaded him to stay their destruction. Therefore, the Minister decided to ship the depleted colony of ducks from his official residence to the pond outside his office at the Quai d'Orsay. That brought about problem number five; the mallards started to mess up a statue of one of his illustrious predecessors—I am sure that the hon. Member for Brent East (Mr. Livingstone) would have something to say about that. "Well, its simple," he thought and had the statue moved back to his residency, where it joined the heron, but not the foxes, which he had moved, and unfortunately not the carp. Why not the carp? Because the lake had drained dry.

We meddle with the natural balance of nature at our peril. The COP6 negotiations provide a crucial opportunity to restore that balance. The hopes and expectations of people in the United Kingdom and many in the developing world rest on the leadership that the Government must and can show.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Nicholas Winterton)

I cannot think of an appropriate parable, but I plead with those who wish to participate in the debate to be brief. If Members speak for less than eight minutes, all who wish to can speak, but I must allow the winding-up speeches to start at 12 o'clock.

11.20 am
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) on securing this debate. I welcome his reference to his predecessor, who deserves credit for being instrumental in alerting hon. Members to the dangers of climate change at an early stage. I endorse everything that he said about the seriousness of the problem and the issues facing us at the conference in The Hague next week.

I note the promotion that he gave to his constituency and the extent to which sustainable technologies are already operating in Ceredigion and in Wales as a whole, but he conveniently overlooked the fact that Wales contains some of those who are most aggressive and militant in their determination to pollute the planet. An educational role exists for him with some Welsh farmers and hauliers. Our debate this morning is appropriate not only because of the COP6 conference next week, but following yesterday's fuel protest, which showed that a considerable body of opinion in the United Kingdom remains unaware of the significance and danger of burning excessive fossil fuels. It is a timely reminder for all of us that work must be done to improve the flow of public information and the level of public understanding.

The Government deserve enormous credit for the lead that they have shown internationally. My right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment have been instrumental in moving the political agenda at an international level and I welcome what the Government have done. I particularly welcome the speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the CBI Green Alliance conference two or three weeks ago, in which he gave an important commitment to put the environment on the political agenda and to promote policies of sustainable development, and in which he put money behind important new concepts, particularly by increasing the amount for renewable technologies and establishing the Carbon Trust.

The policies outlined in that speech were reflected in the Chancellor's pre-Budget statement last week, in which the word "environment" was heard more often than in any other Budget speech in the history of this country. We all have reservations about what he did not say, and we all know that there is much more to do on transport taxation in particular, but the pre-Budget statement was an important step forward in the consolidation of environmental and fiscal policy in the United Kingdom.

Earlier this year, the Government published their draft climate change strategy on which there was a period of consultation. We expected the strategy to be published and it would have been logical to publish it before the COP6 conference. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister will tell us when we shall see it. At business questions last week, I asked whether, if it is not published before the end of this week, we can have a full statement on the Deputy Prime Minister's return from The Hague and an announcement of when the final strategy will be published.

I turn to the clean development mechanism to which the hon. Member for Ceredigion referred, and the inclusion or otherwise of nuclear energy. I welcome the fact that the European Union's position is not explicitly to include nuclear energy within the CDM, but to compile a positive list of clean and renewable technologies that contribute to sustainable development. Our Government's position is not quite so clear as that of the European Union, in that they believe that it should be left to the individual host country to determine for itself what constitutes a sustainable energy policy. The United States, the G77, Australia and China are in favour of including nuclear energy in the CDM.

It is indisputable that burning uranium in nuclear reactors does not directly increase carbon dioxide emissions, or, as far as I am aware, those of other greenhouse gasses. However, if we consider the whole nuclear cycle and all the associated activities related to the burning of uranium, nuclear energy as an industry produces considerable quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.

One could argue that the carbon dioxide emissions from nuclear energy were lower when compared, like for like, with gas or coal. However, it has one insuperable problem that other forms of energy do not have: a propensity to sudden, inexplicable lapses in safety, with all the appalling dangers that can result. Well-documented disasters in recent years include Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and, on a smaller scale, the case of the Sellafield radioactive pigeons flying round the Lake district.

The continuing, serious problem with safety was well documented earlier this year by the nuclear installations inspectorate report into the processes at Sellafield. Although the operation by BNFL has improved significantly over recent years, the NII report continued to condemn lapses in safety practices in the nuclear operations at Sellafield. Additionally, no one knows the solution, at present, to the more serious long-term problems of the disposal of radioactive waste and the treatment of plutonium.

The Government will produce their own policy for radioactive waste management in the next few weeks, which may make some reference to what is to be done with the 60 tonnes of plutonium that are to be stockpiled in the United Kingdom—a stockpile that will increase to 120 tonnes between 2010 and 2015. It is difficult to argue that nuclear energy should be seen as a clean development mechanism when there is the propensity for breakdowns in nuclear power plants that can have such catastrophic effects, and when no one on the planet knows how to dispose of nuclear waste or immobilise plutonium safely.

The clean development mechanism is an important strand of the Kyoto protocol. I hope that the Government will stiffen their resolve and support for the European Union's position to exclude nuclear energy from the CDM. I also hope that they will continue to argue the case, as they have done strongly in the past, for genuine renewable technologies. The future for energy policy and the solution to climate change lies in the exploitation of new technologies. We may not yet be aware of some of those technologies. Those that are at an early stage of market development and hold remarkable potential include photovoltaics and solar hydrogen, as well as the wind and wave power already mentioned.

Although the nuclear industry in the northern industrial countries is keen to export its products to the southern countries, it is the latter that have the greatest potential for the development of genuine clean sustainable energy. I hope that Ministers will urge those points at The Hague next week.

11.29 am
Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) on securing this Adjournment debate on the third day of the crucial meeting in The Hague, which we all hope will reach agreement on setting the global rules for implementing the Kyoto protocol on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. If ever there was a time for a united front by the world community on any environmental issue, that time is now, and the issue is that of tackling global warming.

One of the Kyoto mechanisms by which emission reductions can be achieved is the innocuous-sounding clean development mechanism—at the heart of which, from the perspective of the USA and its allies, is the ability to invest in projects in developing countries that are claimed to reduce emissions and to count them as a credit against their own targets.

The most controversial aspect of CDMs is the inclusion of so-called carbon sinks to absorb the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. In essence, the protocol states that parties must account for carbon emissions and take-up from afforestation, reforestation and deforestation. That creates perverse incentives for removing old growth forests and creating new plantations, as has been seen in Australia and elsewhere. For example, Japan and Canada are trying to secure rules that would allow them not to count emissions from cutting down forests, but to count the carbon stored when plantations are grown back on the land. That is, to put it candidly, barmy.

The USA, Japan and Canada also claim that they can use all kinds of additional activities—such as agroforestry, urban greening and cropland management—to meet their targets. The EU opposes any crediting of those activities. That is right. Many such activities would happen anyway and therefore count as business as usual. Some countries want to claim credit for what would happen without human action, such as increased vegetation through nitrogen or carbon dioxide fertilisation. That is logically and environmentally unsustainable, and would blow a hole right through the Kyoto protocol. Allowing forest activities in the CDM is a distortion. It offers cheap and temporary credits to industrialised countries—hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon a year, with a likely estimate of about 300 million tonnes—while still allowing them to increase their fossil fuel output.

To allow carbon sink projects in the CDM would be to sanction cheating by industrial countries. Every tonne of carbon supposedly retained in such a project is one more tonne that the developed nation can pump into the atmosphere. It lets the north off the hook; totally undermines the impetus for domestic action on greenhouse gas emissions, which are so damaging in their impact on climate change; and removes the incentives to invest in energy conservation, to develop renewable energies—as the hon. Member for Ceredigion illustrated—and to achieve energy efficiency. Those are the only real hopes, in the medium and long term, for combating climate change.

A number of other fundamental problems are linked to the use of biological systems to absorb and retain atmospheric carbon dioxide. On impermanence, the fact that carbon storage in biological systems is reversible—for instance, through forest fires—means that reliable monitoring is required over long periods.

Another difficulty concerns who is responsible if carbon losses from sinks occur in future. Such losses could arise, if recent findings are correct, when ageing forests become net carbon generators midway through the next century. Just days ago, the Hadley centre published research in which its computer climate model predicts that, as soils warm and forests decay, land sources will switch from being net absorbers of carbon to net emitters by 2050. That, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, would be a mind-blowing result.

Other uncertainties about biological systems include the worry that carbon sinks could damage biodiversity. Forests that are good carbon sinks are not optimum areas for biodiversity. Carbon sinks are also often people's homes, and ascribing their environment a carbon value would increase the threat to indigenous peoples' land rights. More generally, there may be a loss of sovereignty for developing countries that are associated with sink projects. To count as a carbon offset, a plantation would have to remain intact for a specified period. In effect, the host country would surrender control of the land, which would then be subject to international surveillance and verification. Where does that leave future Governments who may wish or need to develop another economic role for that land, and find themselves prevented from doing so? Sustainability must be not only environmental but economic and political.

Greenpeace, of which I am happy to be a member, says that, in essence, sink projects are a way of dumping responsibility. It is right: at the best, carbon sinks are a partial and highly uncertain answer to the climatic changes that may result from global warming. The planet's soils, forests and seas do not have the capacity to absorb our ever-increasing emissions. The real answer—the only answer—is for the developed nations to reduce their emissions. It is we in the north, with our use of fossil fuels for more than a century and a half, who have caused the global climate change, which seems to be gathering speed with such damaging effect. It is we who have the prime responsibility for tackling the crisis by reducing our carbon emissions.

Sinks are merely a tree-lined window dressing, behind which we are pressuring developing nations to accept environmental responsibility for our industrial past and present. It is little more than third millennium colonialism for the wealth-creating, pollution-generating nations of the north to try to coerce our southern neighbours into cleaning up after us through low-value or no-value schemes—schemes that transfer no positive technology and produce little prosperity.

Uncaring United Kingdom Governments—but not the present Government—have routinely allowed unwanted people to be dumped in sink communities. Negligent nations meeting at The Hague must not get away with dumping their unwanted economic side-effects on sink countries. Our priority must instead be to reduce our fossil fuel emissions. We must target transport emissions in order to improve air quality—and the quality of life—for the cities of the north and south alike. We must reduce our reliance on coal and oil in order to drive down mercury contamination and reduce acid rain. We must invest also in renewable energy projects to transfer state-of-the-art technology to the countries of the south, thereby speeding their economic growth and development.

I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to seek agreement at the COP6 talks this week and next on excluding sinks from the CDM. If sanctioned, the sinks will increase the real prospect of us suffering a damaging climate change. Kyoto raised the hope that the 6 billion people on planet earth could work together to confront the grave environmental problems that face us all. Let not those hopes be dashed. The political dinosaurs must not have their way, or our descendants could share the fate of those earlier dinosaurs. Global warming is that important.

11.37 am
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) on initiating this important and timely debate, once again proving himself to be an excellent successor to Cynog Dafis, who was highly regarded on this matter.

I am sorry to say that there is considerable inconsistency in the Government's environmental policies. In a recent speech, the Prime Minister committed the Government to following green policies. The recent climate change programme set out the ambitious target of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent. The Minister for the Environment intends to take the lead in the discussion at The Hague in support of a narrow definition of carbon sinks. And the Chancellor's pre-Budget statement introduced a 3p cut in low sulphur petrol, although that fuel is available from only 10 outlets in Wales and does not lower carbon dioxide emissions. By cutting duty on that fuel, the Chancellor is sidestepping the climatic effect of traffic to ensure short-term popularity.

No mention has been made of the more environmentally friendly alternative of liquid petroleum gas. Only 16,000 LPG vehicles have been sold this year, but the manufacturers believe that, given the right incentives, as many as 250,000 could be on the road within a few years. The Government are not acting on that.

Dissatisfaction with the Chancellor's statement has been expressed by many sectors. In a strange alliance, Greenpeace and the RAC are demanding that the Government should use a portion of fuel tax to start what they call a green fuel fund, to be used to protect the climate and human health by promoting alternatives to oil. That is one alternative to the Chancellor's short-term fix to the fuel protests. He could use his next Budget to offer a way out of the high environmental and financial costs of using oil.

The Chancellor should also have targeted his fuel tax cuts towards rural areas. Prices in rural petrol stations are considerably higher than they are in London or Cardiff. By bringing rural prices into line through subsidy, the Government could have eased the considerable burden on rural drivers. In many rural areas there are no public transport alternatives. Further investment in public transport—as I have said, a serious problem in rural areas—was notably absent from the Chancellor's statement, as was any reference to the thorny issue of possible congestion charges. No one is addressing that politically unacceptable question. Cutting tax for cars with 1500 cc engines is a step in the right direction, but means that there is no incentive for people to have cars with smaller engines. Why not have a graduated scheme across the board? Why should the measure apply only to new cars as opposed to the range of older cars on the road?

My hon. Friend has drawn attention to the fact that research into renewable energy sources has been steadily decreasing since 1995. I would like to add to that by reference to the recent 19th round of oil licensing. In a recent question, one of the Minister's colleagues confirmed that carbon energy would be at the centre of the Government's energy policy. One cannot square that with trying to decrease carbon emissions by 20 per cent. The Minister for the Environment stated recently in a reply to a written question that although carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by 7.5 per cent. between 1990 and 1997, the figure has not decreased further since 1997. There is a danger of stagnation in that important area.

My hon. Friend referred to the clean development mechanism, as did the hon. Members for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) and for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor), and I will not refer more to it other than to say that I agree with what all three said. Evidence suggests that we will have simply to put up with the hardships caused by the recent extreme weather throughout the country. We will have to deal with such problems again and again in the coming years.

About 3,000 homes throughout the UK were flooded and the transport infrastructure paralysed. The storms have cost the insurance industry an estimated £500 million and the Association of British Insurers says that if, as is likely, recent weather patterns continue, insurance premiums will increase substantially. Meanwhile, the costs of building properties that are able to cope with flood alleviation are rising. Ten per cent. of the population of Britain live in flood-risk areas, accounting for about £200 billion of property. Damage from flooding could eventually reach £1.8 billion a year and the value of properties on flood plains or near rivers could plunge by as much as a third. There is also the problem of rising sea levels, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion eloquently said.

On Monday, I visited the constituency of Clwyd, West to look at the flooding in the town of Ruthin. The town was severely hit, with many properties under water and businesses brought to a standstill. Unfortunately, the Government's response has not been good enough. They have offered Wales an additional resource of £3 million to deal with the damage. An estimated £5.5 million is needed in Ruthin and the county of Denbighshire alone—just one unitary authority out of 22—to alleviate the problems. I know the credentials of the Minister for the Environment and respect him greatly, but I ask how committed his Government are to reducing emissions, encouraging more renewable energy, decreasing traffic and countering the effects of global warming that have sadly become apparent. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is sincere, but I question the Government's determination to tackle that serious problem.

11.44 am
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I congratulate warmly the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas). To refer to the work of his predecessor and the contribution made by my right hon. Friend the Minister in this debate, Ceredigion, climate change, Kyoto and COP6 are all synonymous with getting the environment at the heart of public policy. I welcome this brief debate and I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions returns from The Hague we will have an opportunity to debate this important matter in the House.

Climate change should be a mainstream issue. The general public should regard it as one of the most pressing issues currently facing us. Our efforts this morning will help to ensure that there is a general understanding of the importance of climate change and the effect that it could have on future generations. We must find a way to make it a key issue to be debated by the British public. That is especially important in light of the third assessment of atmospheric warming by the United Nations' official research body—the intergovernmental panel on climate change—which, I understand, is likely to find that the rate of warming is twice the initial estimate. That is a pressing problem that we all face and that we as parliamentarians have a responsibility to do something about.

I cannot help thinking about a previous debate that took place in this Chamber, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) discussed global citizenship and the work that has been done by the Department for Education and Employment to promote that in schools. A tremendous amount could be done in schools and through twinning to move that issue up the agenda.

I wish to stress to my right hon. Friend the Minister that, more than ever, we need joined-up government thinking so that he can take the lead in negotiations in The Hague. When he returns, we should use joined-up government to implement what will, hopefully, have been agreed. In addition, I hope that, through the green Ministers' committee, he will provide more support for renewables, in order to build on the Prime Minister's speech last week in the City. The money that is now available from the climate change levy can be used to invest in renewables throughout the country.

As we will have a centre for renewables in every part of the country, I would like to make a bid for the west midlands centre to be located at Chatterly Whitfield in my constituency, which is a grade 2 scheduled monument currently being worked on by English Heritage. Chatterly Whitfield was a powerhouse of the past, and it could become a powerhouse for the future promotion of renewables. That would create work and jobs in communities that have been abandoned since the closure of the colliery. It would also allow us to link the local with the global.

I would like my right hon. Friend the Minister to consider the work of the CBI and to find a way to ensure that there is no resistance from the business community to the imposition of a climate change levy. We need sustainable technology for the long term, so I want business to take a clear lead.

In the brief time available, I would like to flag up the issue of refrigeration. I remember much of the debate in the House about 10 years ago on the importance of the Montreal treaty and phasing out CFCs, which were responsible for ozone depletion. I am conscious that HFCs, which have come to be regarded one of the substitutes for CFCs, themselves contribute to global warming. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend to do everything that he can in The Hague to ensure that we support the work of Denmark by committing ourselves to an early phase-out of HFCs. It is possible that HFCs could comprise 4 per cent. of our greenhouse gas emissions by 2010, which would be almost a third of the UK target. We need an early phase-out of the products concerned, and I want the UK to lead the way on that.

I am mindful of last week's prestigious launch at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the new environmental policy unit. In pursuance of joined-up government, that unit, with its input from business and from various Departments, will become a player on the world stage that could help us to make progress on this issue, so that we can tackle the vulnerability of developing countries.

I want to pick up on the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor). He talked about the importance of not going down the route of carbon sinks, and I want to refer to developing countries in that context. According to the Red Cross, 96 per cent. of deaths from "natural disasters"—in fact, we are talking about unnatural disasters—occur in developing countries. UN figures show that, by 2025, 80 per cent. of the world's population will live in developing countries, and many will be at risk from cyclones or flooding.

According to Christian Aid's information on unnatural disasters, 12 of the 14 disasters to which it has responded since 1997 were caused by extreme weather conditions. The cyclone that hit south-east Bangladesh in 1997 left 1.5 million people homeless, and the floods that began in September 1998 affected three quarters of the country. In 1998, Hurricane Georgia caused extensive damage in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, El Nino-related floods brought disaster to Peru and there was a drought in Sudan. In 1999, there were mudslides in Venezuela. Those events should create major headlines and be the cause for great concern. We should properly take on board the precautionary principle, so that we can prevent such disasters rather than dealing with them after the event.

There are concerns that the proposed flexible mechanisms that are under discussion in The Hague fail to fulfil the principles that should underpin the UN framework convention on climate change. They fall short of the precautionary principle, and ignore equal rights. When my right hon. Friend the Minister visits The Hague, I want him to feel secure in the knowledge—as was my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on his visit to Kyoto—that the UK can play a leading part. I recognise the contribution of Wales, and I applaud its sustainable policies. I want to ensure that we ratify the 5.2 per cent. cuts, but that should be only the first step. I want work on a new agreement that is effective and fair, but it is important for industrial countries to provide aid and investment to developing countries, so that they can avoid future dependency on the fossil fuel economy. We do not need to keep reinventing the wheel.

During last week's severe weather debate, I urged my right hon. Friend the Minister to take the lead in initiating public debate, and 1 hope that today's debate will take us one step forward in that respect.

11.53 am
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) on securing today's extremely important and timely debate. Perhaps the only positive outcome of the recent floods is the change in public understanding, which is critically important. Environmental awareness in this country had fallen off, but it is now very much on the increase. Research undertaken on behalf of the World Wildlife Fund and the Energy Saving Trust suggests that 83 per cent. of people reject the belief that climate change is good for the UK. People had begun to buy the stories of how they would be able to make red wine in their back gardens, but they now understand that climate change poses a very real threat. Four out of five respondents said that climate change causes freak weather conditions such as storms and floods, and women expressed more concern—as they so often do—than men. That is important, because behavioural change will be the responsibility of individuals.

Most people have not acted, however, and there is an important message in that for the Government. We have failed to explain adequately what our eco-taxes were designed to do, which is part of the reason for the fuel tax crisis. Much more work remains to be done. I realise that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment has always been active, but on that front it is for the Government as a whole to increase public awareness of the issues involved.

Most hon. Members who have spoken today have begun by acknowledging information from scientists in recent reports from the Hadley centre and in the draft report from the international group that reports on such matters. Clearly, the debate is now not between the majority of the 3,000 international scientists and the few who do not agree that global warming is a reality. It is between the majority and those who are saying that global warming is much worse than predicted. We must all take that on board.

The debate has three elements—the international community's responsibility, our domestic responsibilities as a nation and our responsibilities as individuals. At every level, we shall have to act even more seriously and rapidly than we have to date.

The Government cannot be faulted on their approach to the international community. My right hon. Friends the Minister for the Environment and the Deputy Prime Minister have been an example not only in how they have developed our domestic programmes and held them up as an example in the international community but in how they have worked tirelessly to encourage and cajole others to follow in similar ways. We can rely on them in the COP6 talks to press strongly the principle of supplementarity, that domestic measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should form the basis of the action taken by every nation, and especially industrialised ones. We can expect them to shame the United States, in particular, for its selfish adherence to the so-called flexible mechanisms as a way of avoiding making domestic cuts.

I agree with what other hon. Members said about nuclear power in the CDM. I believe that our Government will argue that emissions trading is not a substitute for taking domestic action. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment is convinced—I am glad that we have all shared in that conviction—that carbon sinks are a small part of the equation and that there are real risks in countries adopting them as a way forward.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment will raise the issue of taxation of aircraft fuel, because there is no doubt that that is the biggest single issue that the international community has failed to tackle. It must do so, for the reasons set out in the report on global transport growth and climate disaster, to which the hon. Member for Ceredigion referred.

COP6 also gives us an opportunity to consider our domestic responsibilities. I speak as someone who was active in our party's development in opposition of the targets to which the Government now adhere—a 20 per cent. reduction on 1990 levels of carbon dioxide, and 10 per cent. of electricity to be produced from renewables, by 2010. Those two targets are vital. I believe that the United Kingdom will easily meet the Kyoto target of a 12.5 per cent. reduction, and I am sure that we shall have confirmation of that when the report on the Government's climate change programme is published.

We should go further. Aiming for 20 per cent. is something that we owe to ourselves and the world community. I am not convinced, and nor are others, such as SERA—the Socialist Environmental Resources Association—and Friends of the Earth, that the draft programme provides a secure basis for achieving the 20 per cent. target as opposed to the obvious 12.5 percent.

Why should we do so much more when other nations are often doing so little? Because it is our duty to the international community and because we can. We have the resources to do it, and it is in the public interest. The Environment Sub-Committee has already given its professional and expert view that a greater increase in the use of renewable energy in Britain is possible.

When I was in opposition, shadowing the position now occupied by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, I proposed the target of 10 per cent. electricity production from renewables by 2010, and it looked exceedingly ambitious. Today, it looks exceedingly modest. I believe that it will be possible to double that target, so I hope that he will press my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to build on what he has done this year when he forms next year's Budget, to give more incentives to other forms of renewables, to consider solar again, to encourage increased use of wind power and to think about biomass.

Will my right hon. Friend the Minister comment on the inclusion of legally binding targets for renewable generation in the EU renewables directive? I understand that our Government may be ambivalent or may even oppose that, so I would be interested to know the reasons why.

I have not time to talk about many other aspects of Government policy, so I will concentrate on the issue of energy efficiency improvements to buildings. It would be helpful if the energy industry published energy consumption figures by postcode. We need to know much more of what goes on in our communities, and we must be able to create new incentives for the average owner to improve energy efficiency in the home.

We can all contribute through individual behaviour. If hon. Members did not see Monday's edition of The Guardian, I refer them to Ros Coward's excellent 10-point plan for how we can all contribute, in our own small ways, to the reduction of greenhouse gases and, consequentially, global warming. I urge my right hon. Friends the Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions to do their utmost to ensure that agreement is reached at COP6. That agreement should be designed to produce emissions reductions in industrialised countries and, critically, be a first step towards the equity-based allocation of emission rights.

12.1 pm

Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas). I especially liked his parable, which reminded me of Carshalton ponds in my constituency. We need to introduce congestion charges on the ponds for the Canada geese, which live quite happily alongside a suburban fox population. I should like to focus on the Government's pre-Budget statement and the assessment of its impact on climate change, the role of the United States, and the need for a long-term strategy.

It would be churlish not to recognise that the Government have a greater awareness of environmental issues than the previous Administration. That is largely down to the influence of the Minister, and of the small band of environmentally friendly Labour Members who are present. The Government believe, rightly, that the environment should be at the heart of their decision-making process, so I hope that the Minister can confirm what discussions he, or perhaps the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, had with the Chancellor about the environmental implications of the Chancellor's pre-Budget statement. If any such discussions took place, it would seem as though the team at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions was outmanoeuvred.

Steven Twindale is the policy director of Greenpeace, of which I am a member. He said that the pre-Budget statement hasn't cut taxes on alternative fuels such as bio diesel and compressed natural gas…Although the statement did introduce reduced tax on Ultra Low Sulphur petrol, sulphur isn't such a big problem with petrol anyway, and therefore is just a gesture…There are other new technologies round the corner that the government should be giving far more support to, such as fuel cell vehicles…These could reduce emissions by 50 per cent. immediately, and in the long run by 100 per cent. with renewable energies. Finally, he makes a point that other hon. Members have made, which is that renewable energy and the Government's investment in it have not been successful so far. A total of £89 million has been spent on biomass and offshore renewable energies compared with £100 million on coalfields, apparently.

It is therefore clear that from the environmentalists' point of view, that the pre-Budget statement has not done what was required. I should think that it has also failed to accord with the Government's draft climate change strategy, which stated: Alternative fuels…can offer both greenhouse gas and air quality benefits…It is necessary…to stimulate the take-up of those fuels.

Perhaps we should consider the Government's own assessment of the pre-Budget statement. According to table 6.2 on page 139, relating to road fuel duty differentials, ultra-low sulphur petrol price reduction will reduce nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds. However, there is no mention of CO2 reductions because, as other hon. Members have said, there will be none as a result of the differential in question. Have the Government failed to refer to that because, according to page 86 of the 10-year transport plan, increases in fuel duty reduce the general level of traffic growth and CO2 emissions and therefore, presumably, decreases in fuel duty must increase the level of CO2 emissions? If that is the case, and I am sure that it is, I should expect some bad news in table 6.2 as well as some good news. The Government have been quite candid in setting out the table, for example highlighting the fact that a reduced rate of VAT on domestic fuel and power will increase carbon dioxide emissions.

My second topic is the impact that the United States has on climate change. Developed countries such as the United Kingdom are the villains with respect to CO2 emissions, but the biggest villain of all has to be the USA. Does the Minister agree that much more hangs on the spoiled ballot papers in America than the outcome of the US elections? The election of Al Gore might mean a successful outcome to the climate change negotiations, but the election of George "Dubya" Bush would be a disaster. No one can doubt that.

The attitude that the US adopts in The Hague will make or break the negotiations. If it was right to impose sanctions on South Africa over apartheid, and on Iraq for its treatment of its own people, surely it is right to impose sanctions on the world's most powerful nation, the last super-power, if it chooses to pursue an anti-environment agenda that threatens the long-term survival of the planet. What sanctions would the Government support? Those would of course apply equally to the United Kingdom if it failed to meet its target. Perhaps sanctions are too radical and financial penalties are what would be required. Will the Minister seek to block proposals by the United States to rely on carbon sinks as a means of meeting targets? I am sure that he accepts that carbon sinks are not for eternity. At best they will buy a little time, but they will become carbon generators later.

I want to press the Minister on the extent of the cuts in CO2s emissions that he thinks will be required to stabilise climate change. He has already said in response to a parliamentary question that he thinks that a 60 per cent. reduction in CO2 is needed. If that is so, what national and international measures will the Government implement to achieve that significant cut, and over what time scales? If he is short of ideas, I commend to him "A Strategy for Sustainability", a Liberal Democrat policy paper, which I launched at our party conference in September. It outlines how emissions could be reduced by 50 per cent. from 1990 levels in the next 40 years. It is available free on our website if the Minister or his assistants want to print it.

The outcome of the COP6 conference will either secure or destroy our global future. The Minister will have the support of all hon. Members who are present today, and many others, I am sure, if he goes to The Hague and argues for the toughest possible action to be taken on climate change. We expect nothing less of him.

12.9 pm

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)

I join hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Thomas) on securing the debate. I, too, wish the Minister well in the Hague, as it is in the interests of people in this country and around the world that that important conference continues the momentum of Rio and Kyoto and comes to a successful conclusion. The conferences are not less important because they continue a process.

I am happy to agree that the Minister represents Wales as much as any other part of the United Kingdom. Wales should not feel unrepresented, because it is represented by the UK Government.

I agree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley), who said that she wished that the environment was a more mainstream part of political debate; I assume that she meant that it should have as much political salience as debates on issues such as health, education and transport. A peculiar, but beneficial, side effect of the horrors visited on many people by the recent floods is that the environment and how best to combat climate change will be higher on the political agenda.

A relatively small band of enthusiasts turns up to debates on the environment. Discussing the issue means debating big, long-term politics and complex and controversial scientific matters. Those who want the environment to be higher up the political agenda do not serve that cause if the debate is conducted in simplistic, black-and-white terms.

It was alarming that some contributions to the debate verged on straightforward anti-growth rhetoric; they were not just attacks on the west, the north or the United States but on economic growth itself, which was deemed a bad thing. That is a foolish proposition; it is unarguable that if there was a world agreement to reduce growth, poor people in poor countries would be affected first, and most severely. Turning the argument in favour of the environment into an argument against economic growth is unhelpful.

Mr. David Taylor

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Green

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman; I would usually give way, but we are under pressure of time this morning.

I shall speak briefly about the key issues before the conference and about the Government's tactics and their performance in respect of Britain's contribution to climate change. Hon. Members spoke about the important issue of carbon sinks and I confess that I thought that the debate was moving into rather simplistic territory on that subject.

The Minister for the Environment is not sure whether carbon sequestration can make a significant contribution to the CDM and I ask him to clarify his thinking on the matter. I am aware that he will not want to give away every detail of a negotiating stance, but it would be helpful if he could give us some details on that issue and on other technologies that he believes should be included within the CDM. Nuclear power does not contribute to carbon emissions but there are other serious questions to be asked about its future. What will be the Government's position on that issue in the conference?

Another area that has not been covered this morning but that I suspect will feature quite largely at The Hague is that of emissions trading. Many of those who are most sceptical, for instance about carbon sinks, believe that emissions trading is a way for developed countries to evade some of their responsibilities. If the Government are tempted to go down that route, I urge them not to do so because there is clearly a serious need for precautions and for limits on how much can be put under the banner of emissions trading. All those who wish to participate in an emissions trading system should be required to meet certain prerequisites in their domestic actions before being allowed to participate.

Having said that, a proper, well-run emissions trading system would offer a powerful, market-based method of driving down carbon and other emissions. We should not let the caveats that we would all wish to issue outweigh the virtues that can come from a decent emissions trading system. If the Government are to play the leading role that they claim for themselves, their own record must bear examination. I do not share the unquestioning praise that many hon. Members have expressed during the debate for the Government's record on emissions reduction. They have set themselves an ambitious target on that, on top of the Kyoto commitments, but while they may not admit it publicly, everyone privately knows that the principal reason that they will be able to meet the Kyoto targets and possibly the more ambitious targets is our reduction in the use of coal, which largely took place from the 1980s.

I do not wish to make partisan points, so I turn to the report of the royal commission on pollution, a body with impeccable and impartial credentials, which states that it is extremely doubtful that the measures in the Government's draft strategy will achieve their targets.

Indeed, the Government do not think that they will hit the 20 per cent. target for reduction from 1990 usage. The royal commission itself says that there is therefore something of a hole in the government's climate change programme. I agree with that. I suspect that the Minister will take the opportunity to tell us when he will unveil the policy in its full glory. If he does, perhaps he could, for the convenience of the many hon. Members who will wish to attend, say whether he will make a parliamentary statement this Friday—otherwise, many hon. Members who would be interested may not be here. The underlying point is that the Government's great claims to virtue in regard to Britain's performance on carbon emissions do not stand up to the detailed scrutiny to which the royal commission subjected them, and that will weaken their ambition to play a leading role in the matter.

My final point is on tactics and on whether the Government can continue to play a leading role. If the Minister is to act as a kind of bridge between the EU and US positions, I urge him to resist the temptation to lapse into anti-American rhetoric. There has already been a report this week of his attacking the US stance on emissions. He should avoid going down the route that the Liberal Democrats apparently favour, comparing the US Government to Saddam Hussein's Iraq and apartheid-era South Africa, which was not a helpful or sensible contribution to the debate. He should resist that cheap anti-Americanism and retain Britain's credentials to act as an honest broker, as I suspect that honest broking will be needed over the next week or so.

I hope that the Minister has a successful week, that the conference succeeds and that the UK plays a significant role, because this is vital, not just for the people of this country, but for people all over the planet.

12.20 pm
The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher)

I would like to respond immediately to the good wishes that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) has just expressed, which I think were echoed throughout the Chamber, for the Government's success at this important conference. I should like to commend the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) as a worthy successor to a tremendous advocate of the green cause. His speech today focused on a lot of the key issues and I will try to deal with as many of the points as I can.

I regard sinks as one of the make-and-break issues in these negotiations. I have always supported a narrow definition. I will come on to what I mean by that in a moment, if I get that far. However, because there are questions of scientific uncertainty and impermanence—forests burn, die back and are corrupted by pests—and there are problems with base lines and the degree of additionality that one can fairly attribute to sinks, I am extremely cautious.

The EU's position on the CDM is quite clear. We had a long debate on this at the June Council. We agreed that there should be a positive and exclusive list. By that the EU means that it excludes nuclear, which it does not regard as a clean, sustainable technology. The question of air travel and whether there should be a tax on aviation fuel was indeed omitted from the Kyoto protocol. Off the top of my head, I believe that aircraft fuel accounts for 3 to 5 per cent. of nitrous oxide, which is one of the main greenhouse gases. If airline travel doubles over the next 10 to 20 years that can be expected to increase. There are problems, because the US is resisting action on this. I will say a little more about how we may be able to tackle the issue.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion also mentioned renewables. Of course we have our 10 per cent. obligation. Ceredigion should be congratulated on its 40 per cent. of energy from wind farms. It is an excellent precedent for many other parts of the country. I agree that the great moral of the fuel crisis, whatever one thinks about cuts in fuel duty, is the need to switch from over-dependence on oil towards renewable sources of energy, particularly wind power, but also biomass and solar power.

The figures that the hon. Gentleman quoted for expenditure on renewables are correct, but that is now being turned around through new investment that has been announced over the past few weeks and through the portion of funds recycled from the climate change levy and other new funding. There is a focus on important newer technologies: £89 million is now committed for offshore wind and energy crops, and there is also £12 million for planting grants for energy crops. I would be the first to say that that is not enough, but there is a definite momentum in that direction.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) said that some people had not made the co nnection between the fuel crisis and climate change impacts. I liked the newspaper cartoon of someone proudly rowing down the high street with his coracle full of petrol canisters. That made the point very nicely. The climate change strategy will be published this week, before COP6.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the CDM and said that he did not regard the technology as clean and sustainable. I think that that view is widely shared in the EU. A lack of clear policies for immobilising plutonium or for long-term—one uses the phrase with a view to geological time—disposal of radioactive waste, occasional flaws in safety procedures and lack of managerial rigour and capacity building in some developing countries mean that there can be no ultimate and total guarantee against potentially catastrophic accidents. That is the background against which the EU debate was held.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) asked about carbon sinks and the Hadley centre conclusion about the switch from net absorption to net release, which is serious. He also mentioned the social consequences of loss of sovereignty by native peoples who are displaced by widespread planting, which I recognise. My point about sinks is that the Kyoto target of 5.2 per cent. would save about 250 million tonnes of carbon. With the increase that occurs in the interim, before it falls back—it is to be hoped—below 1990 levels, the figure might be 1 billion tonnes. A loose or unrestricted definition of carbon sinks could give scope for an increase in the allowed emission of carbon of about 2 billion tonnes. In other words, it could wipe away all the benefits to be gained from Kyoto by strict action from other countries. My hon. Friend asked for sinks to be excluded from the protocol. They cannot be, as they are dealt with directly in articles 3.3 and 3.4; it is simply a question of how they are regarded.

I shared extremely enjoyable discussions with the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) in Committee during consideration of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. However, I think that he is being less than fair on this occasion. He referred to the 3p cut in ultra-low sulphur petrol. First, half the gain for hauliers—£560 million this year and next year—comes from a reduction in vehicle excise duty. For motorists, raising the threshold for the £55 cut in vehicle excise duty from 1000 cc to 1500 cc means that the advantage is available in respect of 4 million cars. Secondly, the cut is not a general price cut in conventional duty but is concentrated on ultra-low sulphur petrol, which is currently used by only about 35 per cent. of motorists. No doubt such use will increase because of the incentive. If so, the environmental gain in the reduction of nitrogen oxides and particulates will be considerable.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the suggestion by non-governmental organisations that a green fuel fund be established. Fine. We have set up a fund, whose exact title I forget—it may be the green challenge transport fund. It asks industry to develop alternative fuels and says that we—or, rather, the Treasury—will offer major or substantial reductions in duty. We are moving in that direction and are keen to make progress.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned rural areas—of course, his own constituency is one—and appealed to us to reduce prices. A moment before, however, he was telling us not to do so. The ultra-low sulphur petrol cut of 3p will especially benefit people in rural areas. He said that we had not referred to transport investment. That is because we have mentioned on other occasions payments such as £170 million on buses in rural areas and the 1,800 new or enhanced services. Over the next 10 years, there will be an investment of £180 billion in transport.

The hon. Gentleman said that carbon reductions have stagnated. Indeed, they have not fallen significantly over the past two or three years. However, we have not yet published, let alone implemented, our climate change strategy. As to flood defences expenditure, we are spending about £400 million over the current three years. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister mentioned an extra £51 million, and we are considering what can further be achieved with local authority leaders.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) mentioned more support for renewables. I listened to what she said about her constituency projects; it is a nice idea. On the Montreal protocol and ozone depletion, we have given a clear signal that we need to phase out hydrofluorocarbons in the next investment round. In some ways, of course, there is no alternative to HFCs, but have given a clear signal to industry that it needs to come forward with new technologies.

I realise that I am running out of time, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I promise to respond to all the points made during the debate, but I shall continue speaking until 12.30 pm—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Frank Cook)

Order. Time is up.