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Mr. Forth: My point of reference for debates on these matters is the excellent second report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs, HL paper 12, which covers many of the subjects that we are discussing today extremely well, and I recommend it to the House and to people outside. On page 11, their Lordships consider the greenhouse gases listed in clause 2, and say:
"The main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide . . . which is emitted by the use of fossil fuels and by the burning of forests; methane . . . which comes from decaying degradable matter, e.g. in landfill sites, and from livestock".
The report goes on to refer to a group of other gases such as perfluoromethane, perfluoroethane which is used in aluminium production, and sulphur hexafluoride from dielectric fluids. The list is in line with the one that we are discussing.
The report helpfully provides a list showing how the gases force temperature rises and how they vary substantially. That is expressed in terms of their global warming potential. Carbon dioxide is set at 1, methane is 23 and nitrous oxide is 296. Hydrofluorocarbons vary from 12 to 12,000, perfluorocarbons from 5,000 to 12,000, and sulphur hexafluoride up to 22,200. That bears out the point that my hon. Friend made so eloquently. Sadly, a list such as the one in the Bill, which the Minister proposes to move to a different part of the Bill, gives no indication of the relative effects of the gases.
My hon. Friend brought out extremely well in his submission and in his amendment the fact that we must be careful not to fall into the trap of treating all gases in the same way. Their lordships' report goes to some pains to identify the fact that some gases are far more important and potentially damaging than others. It is
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therefore important that we always make a distinction not only as to their relative effectthere are uncertainties surrounding that, which we may explore at some length on Third Reading, but not nowbut as to their volumes, so that we can assess their potential effect in the atmosphere and therefore on the climate.
In that context, I wonder whether the requirement in clause 2 for an annual report on greenhouse gas emissions, which are listed, showing levels of emissions, including increases or decreases, will give us the measure of their potential effect. I say in passing, as I said earlier, that I very much doubt whether an annual report would be the appropriate vehicle for that. Annual variations in emissions may not tell us very much because of individual circumstances of various kinds. It would be much more efficacious to look over a longer time scale, with longer intervals of reporting, to get a clearer view of possible trends and to examine the policy imperatives that may arise from those.
The impression given by the clause, and even by the annual reporting process, is that if one detects a slight variation in the level of one of the greenhouse gases, something can be done immediately to deal with that. No one would pretend that that was the case, but there is a risk that we give that impression. If, in one of the reports, methane, say, was shown to have gone up slightly or even significantly from one year to another, are we to respond to that in policy terms? I would have thought not. I imagine that we should consider a policy response only if we were able to detect and measure a secular trend one way or the other in these gases. What would our policy response be if there was a decrease? Would we congratulate ourselves, continue with the policies that we believe contributed to that, and tighten them or loosen them, or, as my hon. Friend suggested, would we have some regard as to whether they play, in a different way, a vital part in our economytransport, in this case? All that would have to be taken into account.
Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend has referred to methane: UK methane emissions have dropped by 50 per cent. since 1999 and now form only 7 per cent. of total UK emissionsagriculture and landfill are the main methane producers. Will my right hon. Friend accept that that is another area in which the figures have decreased significantly? The Government seem to want a global figure rather than considering each greenhouse gas separately.
Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend's point raises the question of the sectoral effectin other words, which sectors are producing those gases and what the effect might be sector by sector if we sought to reduce such emissions. There is a real debate about the global versus the particular, which the next group of amendments will allow us to explore. We should always consider the particular as well as the global.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con):
On the particular, has my right hon. Friend seen the amusing photograph of the Secretary of State for Health's car stuck on the blocker in Downing street? It is approximately 125 yd from Downing street to Richmond terrace. Does he think that the Government
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are showing leadership on reducing carbon emissions when the Secretary of State for Health could have walked those 125 yd?
Mr. Forth: That point relates to the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch about catalytic converters and nitrous oxide. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) has referred to a very particular effect, and we are getting down to the level of individual vehicles. I hope that we can debate whether the much-vaunted hybrid vehicles are as environmentally beneficial as has been claimedI wonder how the battery is disposed of when a hybrid reaches end of life and whether that gives rise to greenhouse gases. We tend to get drawn into examining narrowly focused matters that should be broadened out. Few Ministers walk, while many of them have several cars or use a hybrid without having asked serious questions about the effect on the environment of the large battery at the end of life. Perhaps the Minister will tell us his views on that matter at some point, but an annual report on a global increase or decrease in those gases will not take us very far in terms of policy.
I shall end as I began by recommending the House of Lords report, to which I hope to refer much more extensively on Third Reading, when we debate the general impact of the Bill. For the time being, I am happy to support my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and eager to hear the Minister's response.
Mark Lazarowicz: No one has suggested that different greenhouse gases have different impacts, although the rate of emission obviously varies from greenhouse gas to greenhouse gas. The greenhouse gases specified by the Bill are those that we are signed up internationally to monitor and seek to reduce.
Once again, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) seeks to broaden the debate beyond what the Bill is intended to do. Indeed, he has challenged the basis on which we have signed up to the Kyoto protocol. He may agree with the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) that we should not be signed up to the Kyoto protocol but we are and we have commitments. It is therefore only fair to ensure that we have mechanisms in the UK to monitor our performance on them.
Mark Lazarowicz: Of course not. The hon. Gentleman should tackle the issue more constructively. I appeal to him not to press amendment No. 29 because it contributes nothing positive to the Bill or to our international obligations.
As one who gave up chemistry at 14 and Latin even earlier, I have struggled at times to keep up with the learned debate and the well informed points that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) made. However, given that the Minister had the benefit of a large body of scientific opinion, not least that of the chief scientist, in drafting the Government amendments, which appear reasonable, I have no problem with them.
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As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) said, nitrous oxide is, legally, a Kyoto treaty gas. Its reduction must therefore be reported. That is not to negate the interesting points that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch made, but all of us who support the Bill do so because we recognise the genuine danger that climate change poses and the contribution that CO 2 makes to climate change. Amendment No. 29 is unhelpful because it would convey a mixed message about our commitment to Kyoto and do nothing to strengthen our international reputation.
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