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Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I am interested in what the Minister says about not allowing Governments to control their water supplies because they are so inefficient. I recently saw an example of that Ghana. If such services are run by private companies, how can he ensure that the poor will truly benefit, and not have expensive water instead of no water?

Mr. Meacher: Once again, there are no ready and easy answers to that. We want proper regulation to ensure that that happens, but the rich world also has a responsibility. Presumably our companies will be responsible for improving water supplies and the water framework in developing countries. They will overwhelmingly do that properly and, I hope, efficiently. However, there are powers to ensure that they carry out what is expected of them.

I had intended to address the problem of climate change, but time is running out. One could perhaps be forgiven for wondering whether the summit is the answer. Summit overkill—I am told that the latest estimate of those who will attend is about 65,000—is not an excuse to duck out of taking the opportunity to address the big challenges. The summits are held about once every five years. We did not make much progress at the New York summit in 1997, but this time around people are much more focused on the real issues. If the world summit can produce an ambitious but achievable programme of practical action by a partnership of Government, business and non-governmental organisations, and if its implementation is regularly monitored over the next five years in all the areas of development that I mentioned,

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we might just secure not only a substantive advance in sustainable development, but a major step change towards more co-operative and socially conscious world Governments, which we all want. That is certainly a prize worth striving for.

8.15 pm

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): The United Nations described Rio as a defining moment. It was, but we are 10 years on and the Johannesburg summit on sustainable development is in no small part an effort to put the rhetoric of Rio into practice. As a spokesman on international development, I am conscious of the charge of hypocrisy that the developing world levels against countries such as ours that have not made as much progress as they should have since Rio, but which still dictate to others less fortunate than ourselves what measures they should take to protect the plan.

I welcome the coupling of the environment with international development. We all know that in our constituencies the burning issues tend to be those close to home, such as infringements of the green belt or campaigns about housing schemes and landfill sites. At a global level, we are beginning to take on board the fact that how we live in our 24/7 throw-away society, and the amount of carbon emissions that results from it, causes global warming with—although this is still controversial—unpredictable climatic results.

Nearer to home, a WWF briefing document contains a statistic that is worth citing. It states that we could fill the Albert hall every hour with the refuse produced in this country. The Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs published a report in March last year on sustainable waste management. It found that the United Kingdom lags behind other developed countries in recycling, showing both apathy and a profound lack of imagination. In February this year, the World Economic Forum highlighted the fact that Britain has one of the poorest recycling records in the developed world. If the UK were to achieve a similar rate of re-use of municipal solid waste as Finland is aiming to achieve by 2005, carbon dioxide could be reduced by 14.8 million tonnes, which is the equivalent of taking 5.4 million cars off the road.

We want to encourage business enterprise, both here and in the developing world, but we also want business to embrace sustainable development. The challenge is to find and support sustainable industrial practices and to persuade industry to take up green methods. That is already happening: huge companies such as Shell and BP, traditionally regarded as the villains of the piece when it comes to the environment, are doing that across the world. Although the bulk of their business still depends on the exploitation of non-renewable resources, they are increasingly investing in renewable energy—wind energy, for example, and in the hydrogen storage units that make use of the emerging science of fuel cell technology, which some say could be used to power our vehicles in the future.

Such large companies are aware of their public image. They are sensitive to public opinion, a lesson of which we politicians constantly need to remind ourselves. In the past five years, BP has cut the level of its CO 2 emissions

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by 14 million tonnes. It has achieved that through efficiency and technology. I mention those examples to show that change is possible and that sustainability is good for business, too. Supermarkets are increasingly stocking organic food, and fair trade products are becoming big business. Outlets such as The Body Shop have shown how business and environmentally friendly ethics can be mutually beneficial.

I am aware that the burden of climate change levies on small businesses can seem like the final straw in an area already groaning under the weight of red tape and legislation. For a small manufacturing business near me in the west midlands that is struggling just to keep going, a bill for £38,000 for the climate change levy was the final straw. There should be more finesse in the way we try to fulfil our Kyoto protocol commitment to reduce our carbon emissions. There are examples of how other countries are doing that differently.

I have spoken already of the hypocrisy inherent in richer countries lecturing poorer ones on the benefits of environmental sustainability. In fact, we can learn a great deal from the developing world about the art of sustainable living, simply because it is the way people who live in the poorest countries of the world have to live. I was struck by that fact on a recent visit to India with Oxfam. The south of India is of course vegetarian, and while we are all busy filling the Albert hall with rubbish, figuratively speaking, the people there are eating food off banana leaves with their fingers, and then feeding the leaves to their cattle. That is a nice little metaphor for sustainable living. There is also an inescapable irony in the fact that with development comes the potential for unsustainable lifestyles.

Sustainable development is a different matter. It was defined at Rio as

No one could disagree with that ideal, but it is more easily realised in some areas of the world than in others.

At a recent debate at the Oxford Union on the motion that

one speaker made a thought-provoking observation. He begged to differ in his definition of the developing world, which he maintained was in fact a better description of our world, as the so-called developing world is not, in reality, developing.

Christian Aid's campaign "Listen to Africa", which was launched yesterday, is saying that too. The only two African countries that have sustainable debt, as defined by the World Bank, are Mozambique and Tanzania, which both export gold, a finite resource. Because of the collapse of the prices of almost everything every commodity except gold since 11 September, and because many African countries are dependent on a single cash crop such as tobacco or cocoa, many of those countries are drifting further and further away from sustainable development and into intractable debt.

I am not saying that developing countries cannot make a difference. I can think of an arresting example in India. In Delhi, motor vehicles now run on liquid petroleum gas, which although not renewable is at least fume free. So the image of Delhi choked with rickshaws and cloaked in diesel fumes is now a thing of the past.

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Where does that leave us? In the developed world the moral argument has been won, but the battle to make a difference has only just begun, and we can do better. I genuinely believe that businesses will increasingly make environmentally friendly decisions on how they run their companies. Any Government should encourage those practices with carrots, rather than sticks.

We all have a part to play in this. I challenge hon. Members to go home and do an environmental audit of the way we live. I am sure I am not the only one who has had to empty the contents of a black plastic rubbish sack in a frantic search for a set of lost car keys. What do those contents tell us? It is a catalogue of convenience where green principles are sacrificed on the altar of packaging and where plastic is king.

When it comes to the ballot box, it may be the state of our public services that preoccupies voters, but there is an undercurrent of change, a growing awareness of what is precious about this planet and a commitment to its survival. We are the guardians of its future, and as Shakespeare said in "Measure for Measure",

we have a duty to nurture and maintain it for future generations both on our little patch and in the wider world.

8.24 pm

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): I am grateful to the Liberal Democrats for picking this important subject for debate. However, like my right hon. Friend the Minister, I think that the rather ungracious and pious attitude that they adopted is all too familiar from their contributions in other debates on similar issues. It would have been better to hear a rather more balanced account of how all parties could do a great deal more on environmental issues. Fortunately, we are all improving in our attitude, but we all have some way to go.

I want to restrict my comments to sustainable energy and climate change. Global warming is no longer a far away fear; it is a fact. Even if we stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow, we could not stop the global temperature rising. All we could do is slow the eventual rate of increase. The effects of global warming on the United Kingdom are not certain. If the gulf stream were to change direction, as some predict it will, our climate would cool dramatically. We are more likely to see a warmer and wetter climate, but as sea temperatures increase, sea levels will rise and many coastal areas will be swamped. We are sure to experience extremes in weather patterns.

The countries that will suffer most from those effects are not the developed countries, which have the finance and wherewithal to adapt, but the poorest countries in the world—the very countries that the Johannesburg summit is meant to be addressing. The problems of rising sea levels and climate change will affect the way in which countries can produce food. Population movements, which may be catastrophic and dramatic, will largely affect those third-world countries that are the poorest and the least able to deal with the effects. Although the precise effects are unknown, there is sure to be an impact that will reach right across the globe.

For that reason, most countries are part of the Kyoto process, trying to work together to reduce greenhouse gases. We in this country boast that we are determined to meet our Kyoto targets and that we are in the forefront of

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that process, and with some good reason. However, there is a danger of our becoming complacent. The amendment tabled by my party speaks of targets that we hope to reach in the future—10 or 12 years from now. I sincerely hope that the Minister is right, and that in 10 or 12 years he is rewarded for achieving those targets. I hope that he will be in at least his present position, if not a more elevated one, so that he can accept the praise of all parties in the House for that achievement.

If we look at what is being achieved now, however, we see that the picture is not so glorious. It is not clear to me that we have made much progress at all in the last few years. At the moment, 70 per cent. of our power is produced from fossil fuels; 27 per cent. is nuclear; and just 3 per cent. comes from renewable sources such as wind, wave, solar and hydro-electric. Of that 3 per cent., the vast majority is from hydro-electric production, which was developed, and to which we committed ourselves, several decades ago. We therefore have no right to demand great praise for that development. New renewable energy probably accounts for less than 1 per cent. of the total—not a glorious achievement.

Are we likely to make rapid progress towards the targets? The simple answer is, not unless we change our ways quite dramatically. I was annoyed by the Liberals' pious talk about the need for the Government to make progress, and by the response the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) gave when he was chided for the fact that Liberals in the Welsh Assembly had opposed wind farm energy production. I notice that not a single Welsh Liberal MP attended even the start of this debate. Furthermore, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), a Liberal, is vehement in his opposition to the siting of any wind farms in his constituency. Given that his constituency comprises a large proportion of the total land area of Wales, that is a bit of a problem.

I am not personalising the issue by confining my objections to the Liberals—well, I am a little bit. To be fair, we all need to examine the performance of our party, our local councils and so on. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy said, everyone is in favour of developing renewable energy in principle, but the difficulties arise when it comes to developing it in practice.

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