Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



  60. To nail this down, the timetable and precise figures, are these linked to particular projects? Do they have to be linked to a particular project? You mentioned a range of things they could fund, are they essentially open-ended, a contribution to particular countries to capacity build or technology transfer or whatever?  (Mr Meacher) There is uncertainty about that. On the payment side I think the allocation is fairly clear. How the money is distributed and who gets it will be a much more contentious issue for them.

  61. Yes. Also, how it is distributed between a variety of laudable goals?  (Mr Meacher) Yes.

  62. You are saying that it is up to the developing countries to argue that one out?  (Mr Meacher) It is basically. I do not think it is for us, the Annex 1 countries, to tell them how it should be used. As long as they use it within the range of purposes for which it is intend, which I am sure they will, it is a matter that is up to them. Whether they decide to do it in terms of economic size or in terms of degree of poverty and need is a matter for them. Obviously G77 is a hugely heterogenous category and the difference between China, India, Brazil and Indonesia at one end and the Sub Sahara and Africa at the other is enormous. How you allocate it is open to question.

David Taylor

  63. What is to stop developing countries reclassifying aid they had already promised to bring it within this heading and thereby meet the obligations that might have been agreed to?  (Mr Meacher) Again, that was an issue. One major developed country in particular was extremely keen that contributions for the purposes I have indicated, technology transfer, adaptation and capacity building, should be payable out of ODA. The EU took a line and the United Kingdom strongly supported it, that it should be additional to ODA money. That is the current position.

Mr Jack

  64. We have had some discussion so far about sinks and I just wanted to know basically whether you felt that the sort of growing importance attached to them was good negotiating flexibility or whether it represented, if you like, a scientifically robust way of genuinely dealing with emissions on a continuing basis, because some of the statements coming out under the heading of our own climate change programme, "it believes a reduction in emissions should be the principal policy response, given the vulnerability and uncertainty associated with the sinks process."  (Mr Meacher) There is no doubt, for the reasons I partly mentioned, that sinks are vulnerable, carbon sinks in the form of forestation, because they can burn and the loss to the world with the forest fires in Indonesia and in Brazil a couple of years ago were on a colossal scale. Indeed I heard Klaus T½pfer, who is the Executive Director of UNIP, who visited Indonesia at the time, saying that the rough calculation was that the increase in CO2 generated by those fires in Asia was greater than the whole of the CO2 emissions from Europe in that year. The vulnerability is on a colossal scale. Uncertainty we have already mentioned, there is uncertainty but I think we can refine that. The truth is that sinks are in the Kyoto Protocol, carbon sinks are a phenomenon that nobody denies, it does happen. The question is, how you decide on additionality and how you decide on quantification, bearing in mind the nature of the product, the age of the forest, its type, et cetera. It is for those reasons that we are very cautious about it. There is no question of eliminating carbon sinks from the protocol. Countries can justifiably regard that as part of the way in which they meet their targets. The truth is in Bonn I actually think that we did quite well on targets. Before Bonn there was a view that if existing forests were allowed there could be something like 1,000 million tonnes of carbon extra which would be allowed in, which would really blow the whole Kyoto five per cent target. That has now been removed. The Bonn agreement capped the forest management in terms of sinks at 50 million tonnes of carbon a year, that is one twentieth of what it might have been, and it is worth the flexibility, which we were obliged to offer to Japan and Canada in order to get the agreement. We gave them more than we would have liked but the overall gain is greatly disproportionate to the small and marginal concession we had to make.

  65. Can I be clear, are we talking about the use of forestation as net to what there is or allowing what is already on the ground to count towards each nation's target?  (Mr Meacher) Again, this is one of the issues. It will be argued by states, has been argued by states, that improved forest management should be allowed even with regard to existing forests. It is one thing to plant new forests, afforestation, reforestation, they count, but what about an existing forest where as a result of improved forest management, whatever exactly that means, one can claim certain targets? This is where the uncertainty is very great and we need to have agreed rules before we start.

Mr Jack

  66. Can we just have a look at the United Kingdom Government's attitude to all this because on page 21 of the Executive Summary of the England Rural Development Programme 2000-06 we find this encouraging statement: "To encourage the development of energy crops in order to contribute both to EU commitments on the reduction of greenhouse gases and to the UK Government's target to produce ten per cent of electricity from renewable sources. These crops also offer a diversification opportunity for farmers". That is under a section headed "Energy Crops Scheme (Miscanthus)". Are you as enthusiastic now that you are part of the Department that espouses this particular view as you were under your former incarnation? Are you going to really encourage UK agriculture to take up this opportunity?  (Mr Meacher) Yes, we are but—


  67. Miscanthus is coarse grass.  (Mr Meacher) Yes, I realise that.

  68. I know you do.  (Mr Meacher) Yes, we are but subject to the cost efficiency. These do need to be encouraged, for example through cuts in duty. They have to be justified in terms of loss to the Exchequer against other alternative ways of achieving CO2 emission reductions. If they can be justified, yes, we will certainly be supporting them and, indeed, the Chancellor announced in the last Budget a Green Fuels Challenge and invited industry to come forward with proposals about how they can extend exactly the kind of source for transport fuel that you are referring to.

  69. Am I right in saying that the original target for the Climate Change Levy was a saving of two million tonnes of CO2, or carbon dioxide?  (Mr Meacher) Two million tonnes as a saving?

  70. As a target of the Climate Change Levy.  (Mr Meacher) Partly. We expected that as a result of the Climate Change Agreement there might be a gain of the order of two million tonnes, but in addition the price differential, we believe, could also generate a further two million tonnes. In total it could be around four million tonnes.

  71. Interestingly when I put down a series of parliamentary questions last year it was confirmed that in terms of the four million tonne figure you have quoted you would need about 200,000 hectares of short rotational coppice to absorb that, which I think represents about one per cent of the UK's cultivatable area transferred to SRC. Do you do any kind of scenario play like that to work out relationships between these big number targets and what could be achieved by SRC and the contribution it makes to renewable energies?  (Mr Meacher) I think a fair answer to that is yes. We are looking at all sources for saving carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The strategy paper that we published last year does look at all the main sectors where this can be expected, including the one you have just mentioned. It is not the case that if we can do more in one area then we can exclude another. I know of your concerns from previous discussions about this with regard to the Climate Change Levy and its effect on industry. The fact is industry is as wasteful in the use of energy as many households are and, therefore, to have an incentive or a lever to improve energy efficiency is actually valuable to that industry itself. Of course there is a capital outlay while one either changes process plants or puts in place equipment which will save energy, but within a payback period which may be a year and a half, five years, I certainly think not more than seven years in most cases, there is an actual saving in the utilisation of energy and it is actually good for the bottom line. We are only encouraging industry to do what is in its own long-term self-interest. The premise of your argument if we could do more in terms of miscanthus and bioethanol and SRC then we could exclude industry from the rigours of the Climate Change Levy, I would not agree with that premise, I think we need both.

  72. I am not necessarily saying I would disagree with that in the light of the earlier discussion when you illustrated the size of the problem. I think what was at the back of my mind was part of the agenda that this Committee is going to consider in the future is the future form of our agricultural industry and new things for agriculture to do with the land mass address part of this issue. I was looking for some signals that, in spite of the odd question mark about the value of sinks both in terms of science and monitorability, we would still be encouraging this type of thinking, development, investment in it in the context of our own UK agriculture.  (Mr Meacher) Certainly.

Patrick Hall

  73. Minister, I understand that the most significant natural carbon sinks are the world's oceans, if I am right in that.  (Mr Meacher) They are certainly a sink and they are certainly the largest. The seas cover 71 per cent of the surface of the earth, so they are enormous. On the other hand, I think the degree of carbon sequestration by oceans within a certain magnitude is less than forests. Trees absorb carbon more than the oceans but because the oceans are so vast, yes, there is an effect.

  74. They play a very important role.  (Mr Meacher) Yes.

  75. So protection of the global marine environment is an important element in looking at and dealing with climate change. To what extent do you think that this is addressed in Kyoto?  (Mr Meacher) It has certainly had very little discussion, the main discussion is about the role of forests. After all, the oceans are there whether we like it or not and although we can degrade them, and I am afraid we do by a number of our practices, both land based pollution but also pollution at sea, they also have an internal cleansing capacity on a significant scale and they are there but, of course, plankton and other small marine species do have a role in absorbing carbon, that is perfectly true. How far any state can claim the benefit of this because if we are talking about oceans which are well away from the land no-one has responsibility for them and, secondly, there is no incremental effort involved, it is simply a natural process which is beneficial up to a certain level.

  76. It is a natural process that we are putting at risk ultimately if we continue to pollute. Therefore, is it not something that should be examined in the future so that the plankton can continue to perform their very helpful function?  (Mr Meacher) I very much agree with that and, indeed, the UK Government in this year is giving considerable attention to this issue ourselves. We have protection of terrestrial species with SSSIs. We do realise that the protection of marine species is at a much lower level and we are looking, and indeed I met a number of the relevant interests, the stakeholders, including not just the NGOs but the ports developers, literally in this last week to look at ways by which compatibly with the interests of the parties, if that is possible, we could improve the protection of the marine ecosystem. There has also been talk from the NGOs about a new Oceans Act. There is awareness of this issue but of course the UK can only do a limited amount itself and it is only multilateral agreements which are going to be effective. There are, of course, many such international agreements in place. UNLOSC, the Law of the Sea Conference, and the IMO, the International Maritime Organisation, are already responsible for trying to reduce pollution in the wider oceans.

  77. I am just trying to make the point that I do not think it has been given enough significant attention in the context of looking at climate change and I think that has got to be put right, it has got to be addressed.  (Mr Meacher) That is an interesting point and I do think that when the more immediate pressing issues about the utilisation of terrestrial sinks has been settled, that is something which perhaps the scientists could give more attention to and put some quantification on it which I cannot at this moment.

Mr Mitchell

  78. Are we preparing an Oceans Act?  (Mr Meacher) No, no.

  79. Why not?  (Mr Meacher) I see. I did say that the —

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