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The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, emphasised strongly the role of the Committee on Climate Change. It has a number of powers under the Bill, but they are relatively limited. One of the key issues does not concern this Bill. It is a framework Bill that enables other legislation, sets targets and sets up a committee, but it does not in its own right bring forward the actions that will help to solve climate change. I want the Committee on Climate Change to be able not just to set carbon budgets but to make assessments and report to Parliament on how effective it feels that government policies at the time are in meeting those targets. In that way, the committees powers must be increased to give judgment, so that we in Parliament and the public at large can understand whether the government programme on climate change will meet its aspirations.
We believe strongly that those budget periods need to be shorter. Five years always extends beyond the period of a Parliament. We think that three years would be far more appropriate. We know, in our own lives or in organisations that we have worked in, that if we have a five-year planning period, for the first year, we think, Well, it is five years off. The next year we think, Well, it is still four years off. In three years, we think, Well, wed better do something about it. By year two or year one, we find that we have not got to where we needed to be before. I honestly believe that the budget period needs to be shorter. Even then, we still need indicative targets on the way.
As I said, we strongly welcome the Bill and will do everything that we can to help it on its way speedily. We hope that the Government will welcome some of the amendments that we will bring forward. An even greater challenge will be for the Conservative Opposition to match much of their past greener rhetoric with action. I have to say that I am encouraged. I hope that we on all Benches will be working very closely together to strengthen the Bill.
We often say that legislation should have a sunset clause. In a way, the Bill has its sunset clause in Clause 15, which describes in remarkable detail what has to happen by 31 May 2052. In fact, we are thinking of tabling an amendment that it should happen by midday, or 10 am, or something like that. It will be a very special day for me, because I will be 102 exactly. I imagine sitting on these Benches and, if the targets have not been met, waiting to see the Secretary of State dragged off in a Black Maria to the Tower of London to serve his or her sentence. Of course, I delude myself about being here then, not because of my age but because by then there will surely be a Liberal Democrat Government and we will no longer have an appointed House of Lords.
The most important thing is that the Bill is successful and passes through Parliament in a toughened state but quickly, and that the UK can hold its head high in international fora not only in Bali but beyond, particularly in the post-Kyoto process. The Liberal Democrats want to support that as strongly as we can, but at the moment we do not have the best track record in a number of areas, such as waste disposal, as the Minister has said. That has to changewe believe that it canand a stronger Bill will ensure that it will.
Lord Oxburgh: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the Bill, which is groundbreaking legislation. It is not yet perfect but it is an excellent start on a very tough problem. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and the work of his Joint Committee, which seems to have made a number of excellent recommendations, most of which I support.
Last Friday in Berlin, I attended a meeting of the IPCC. The message that came out of that meeting was that of urgency. We discover that everything we have shows that we have less time than we thought. That should be behind all our thinking and the way in which we approach these matters. I am sure that a
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The Minister went some way in his introduction to convincing me that a Prince Charming might be about to appear around the corner, but a Prince Charming is certainly needed. On adaptation, it is absolutely clear that even if we were to stop emitting greenhouse gases today, there would be 25 to 30 years of a progressively deteriorating climate before we began to see any change. This means that our current infrastructure must meet a variety of situationsstorms, floods, landslides, heat-waves or what have youfor which it was not designed and to which it is not adapted. The trouble with infrastructure is that it changes very slowly and is rather expensive. At the moment, we have an infrastructure that is not fit for the coming purpose. Because infrastructure is so expensive, whether we are talking about roads, railways, river containment or what have you, it is not practicable to change everything at once. It is, however, practicable to change it at times of natural renewal or refurbishment. Will the Minister consider imposing an obligation on all bodiesnot only regional onesboth private and public, down to local council level and up from there, to conduct a risk assessment? He may have included this in what he said. I do not think that he was absolutely specific. They could be required to produce a risk assessment and show how they intend taking it into account in their plans for refurbishment or replacement. Unless we make a move now, it will be either unaffordable or too late.
This country has an abysmal record on the management of waste. Our grandchildren will read about the practices we follow today and have followed for decades with total astonishment. They will say, You thought you had problems with natural resources and energy, and you simply put that stuff into landfill. They will not believe what we are doing on a daily basis. For example, a calculation done by someone I respect at the University of Texas looked at the intrinsic energy content of US urban garbage. The energy content is in all the organic material in garbagefor example, old shoes, tyres, grass cuttings, wood, furniture and what have you. The calculation was that the intrinsic energy content of the garbage thrown away in a year was about the same as the energy used by the current fleet of US surface vehicles, which is a very large number.
In a sense, that is misleading because there is no way to recover all the energy in that garbage. I use this example simply to indicate that there is a lot of energy in our garbage, some of which we see as methane, which we simply abandon. We have to find different ways to manage this. Obviously, we recycle wherever we can, but after we have recycled what we can, there is a significant energy resource. I would expect large cities the size of London and Manchester to develop facilities by which they centrally manage their garbage. What cannot be recycled should be gasifiedeffectively heating organic material in a controlled environment to produce a synthetic gas, an important component of which is hydrogento produce liquid fuels or electric
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My final point relates to regulation. We are in a time of rapidly evolving technology. Quite often, the technology that we have is inappropriately managed within the existing regulatory framework. For example, not long ago I visited a power plant which generated electricity by burning waste straw. The company was close to bankruptcy because it had been obliged by existing legislation to put into its flue stack analytical instruments capable of measuring components that were not present in the straw. It was because the only existing relevant regulation applied to coal. Of course, these elements were present in coal and the local inspectorate had no alternative but to apply totally absurd regulations. I should like the Minister to consider the ways in which absurdities like that can be managed. Perhaps there could be a committee to which there can be recourse if something patently silly is happening as an unintended consequence of existing legislation. That sort of thing will arise time and again as the technology evolves, and there will not be time to return to Parliament and completely redraft the law. We need a system that can respond flexibly to new situations.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with great authority, but did I understand him to say that once we have recycled what we can, he is basically proposing the incineration of much of the rest in order to produce these gases? How do we get to the gases?
Lord Oxburgh: My Lords, incineration is normally burning, while gasification is a quite different process. Incineration normally involves the production of environmentally unfriendly emanations which can be offensive to the local community. Gasification is a quite different process and involves very little in the way of emanations. Whatever may be released would be totally inoffensive.
Lord Puttnam: My Lords, that this is an important Bill, and it is to be welcomed is entirely self-evident and I am enormously encouraged by everything I have heard during the past hour of our debate. Just last week the Prime Minister said of the impact of climate change,
In response to last weeks rather sobering report from the United Nations Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, one of Germanys leading environmental scientists was quoted in the New York Times as saying that:
Three months prior to the Summer Recess, I enjoyed the privilege of chairing a committee of both Houses to scrutinise this Bill. I was fortunate in having alongside me a marvellously committed group of people, many of whom will make their voices and views known later in the debate. It is also worth reminding the House that two other expert parliamentary committees studied the Bill, and I think one would be hard-pressed to put even a cigarette paper between any of our key recommendations for improvement, many of which have, in fairness, already been taken on board.
Being neither a scientist nor an economist, I shall focus my remarks on the moral and historical implications of the Bill, one which will unquestionably have an impact on our economy and our lives. More than anything else, this is a Bill about personal and collective responsibility. It is also about morality, a word that does not force its way into many of our debates, especially those involving ostensibly economic matters. In fact, it is the most vexed kind of moral issue precisely because it is also about economics. It is or should be requiring us to make moral decisions that are more likely than not to have a price tag attached to them, and in that respect it bears a quite uncanny resemblance to another piece of legislation which also addressed what was primarily a moral issue, but one which at the time appeared to have immense economic repercussions. It was a Bill, the 200th anniversary of which we unanimously celebrated earlier this year, which led to the abolition of the slave trade. So, 200 years apart, we find ourselves facing the same timeless question of whether we have a duty of care towards our fellow human beings: Are we our brothers keeper?. In both cases the same economic question arises: what is the true cost of the energy we use to drive our economy?
Two hundred years ago, slavery was perhaps the primary source of energy, a cheap and apparently infinite generator of power, and regarded by many as the foundation stone of British commerce and prosperity. As with our energy industries today, slavery appeared to represent a large and vital component of the economy. At the time of its abolition, the slave trade and its associated activities were reckoned by those opposing the Bill to account, quite astonishingly, for well over a quarter of this nations GDP, a fact which helped to drive one of the central arguments deployed by the anti-abolitionists: that the overly hasty abolition of slavery could prove only ruinous to the nations economy. In exactly the same way, their counterparts of todaythe dominant energy interestsargue that any overly hasty commitment to change will prove economically catastrophic. If change is necessary, they argue, let it be incremental, gradual, and it will all come out right in the end.
But those same vested interests who argued that a speedy end to the slave trade would be ruinous were profoundly wrong. In fact they were doubly wrong. Far from proving damaging, the abolition of the slave trade allowed Britain to leap forward, as if a metaphorical ball and chain had been lifted from the economy. Slavery, far from being the foundation stone
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That misjudgment arose, as such misjudgments usually do, from an irrational fear of the unknown and, more significantly, from a refusal to recognise that the real cost of the slave trade was infinitely wider and deeper than anything that could be measured by the profits made by a few prosperous souls in Bristol and Liverpool. The true price, the human price, was ignored by the anti-abolitionists because it was not them, their friends or their communities that were paying; it was someone else, and that someone else did not have a vote.
Is it not exactly the same today with the debate surrounding the use of fossil fuels? Those who refuse to acknowledge the mounting cost of climate change do so because they are not yet the ones who are paying the price. Of course climate change is likely to affect every one of us in the long run, but it is already having a devastating impact on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on earthin Bangladesh last week; in Mexico the week before; and in parts of Africa, almost every week of the year.
Just as the real cost of slavery was displaced on those least able to pay, so the real cost of our profligate use of fossil fuels is displaced on those least able to absorb itthe poor, the already disadvantaged, those who do not have the power to affect change themselves or the power to vote for change in countries such as ours which, for all the rapid growth elsewhere in the world, are still the real wastrels of energy and resources. That is why, in welcoming this ambitious and forward-looking Bill, I am concerned that the Government should not dilute the apparent strength of their commitment by addressing issues such as the purchase of carbon credits or the introduction of verifiable sectorial targets in such a depressingly evasive way.
In order to press my point, I shall dwell on carbon credits, an issue which is being represented as an economic argument but which reveals itself quite quickly to be also an issue of morality and leadership. The Bill considers what proportion of any reduction in carbon emissions to which the UK commits itself might be achieved by the purchase of credits in other countries. The Joint Committee considered this question at considerable length. Climate change is a global emergency demanding a global response. A carbon reduction is a carbon reduction wherever and however it is achieved, and there is a great deal to be said for using the resources and the technologies of a vast economy such as ours to help others to achieve change.
But the burdens and the benefits also need to be shared. The Government argumentor, more precisely, the Treasury argumentis that there should be no limit to our ability to purchase carbon credits overseas in order, as the response to the Joint Committees report put it,
I am forced on behalf of our committee to ask the Minister in his reply to spell out to the House exactly what that means. Does it suggest that we just carry on much as we are today, allowing the worlds poor to make whatever adjustments to their lifestyle as may be necessary to ensure that we are required to make no adjustment to our own? Is it really needlessly expensive for us to adapt the way we live to these new and difficult circumstances? Or is it just politically and socially inconvenient, when it would be cheaper and more convenient to persuade an Indian or a Kenyan or a Brazilian to take the hit?
Not only is this avenue of argument morally questionable, it is also economically illiterate, even in the Governments own terms. Are we to forgo the multitude of blessings which the Prime Minister assured us last week will accrue to those who are environmentally responsible and thoroughly innovative? Can it be all that smart to promote new technologies and whole new ways of managing the economies and societies of other parts of the world while we continue to indulge ourselves in the same old ways? As I have said, the Bill is as ambitious as it is urgently necessary. That being the case, let us not cut the ground from under our own feet by setting tough-sounding targets, only to immediately start grubbing around for ways in which they can be evaded and avoided. In my judgment, to do so would be morally indefensible and economically unjustifiable.
We are fortunate enough to find ourselves in a situation in which defensibly moral and business decisions can at last go hand in hand. Could we not just for once grab the opportunity and make the most of it? But we should be under no illusions. At the heart of the Bill lies a moral dilemma that has to be wrestled to the ground, and like most moral or ethical questions it comes down to a simple choice. Can we decide to be honest todaynot just a little bit honest; not honest abroad but dishonest at home; not honest in willing the ends but dishonest in denying the means; but properly honest? We could for once trust the electorate with a full and frank confession of the need for radical change, and then offer the leadership and commitment to achieve it.
Of course there will be a price to pay, I hope a modest one. Sir Nicholas Sterns report a year ago gave us a pretty good idea of what that price could be. The unacceptable alternative is to shut our eyes and continue to protest either innocence or ignorance of the real cost of what we all sincerely thought of as progress throughout the whole of the 20th century. Should we choose to close our eyes, our children and our childrens children will pay a truly crippling pricea price that will make a mockery of the comforts and the pleasures of the civilised life that today we all take for grantedand they will justifiably curse us as a generation for having been dishonest and irresponsible on a scale that would make the behaviour of the most callous slave trader in the 18th century pale into insignificance. Should we fail to get to grips with this impending crisis, there will be no need to ask for whom the bell tolls. It will be tolling for every man, woman and child on this once quite beautiful planet.
The Lord Bishop of London: My Lords, I am particularly glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. Not only has he made a most distinguished contribution to the preparation of this debate, but he has introduced a note into our deliberations that is absolutely vital. As we have heard, the science develops but the moral imperatives stay the same, and we cannot really look at this issue without taking that seriously into consideration.
One of the reasons that we have had this debate with remarkable unanimity so far today is the exemplary way in which the process of consultation has been undertaken. The principal issues have been identified, and the Government are to be congratulated on the way Ministers have listened and responded. One of the big issues is the development of the science that has put a question mark against the adequacy of the 60 per cent target, and there is now persuasive evidence that an 80 per cent target is more appropriate.
The church is also involved here. In 2006, using the same sort of scientific basis and analysis, the Church of England through the General Synod pledged itself as an institution to reducing its own carbon footprint by 60 per cent by 2050, and we launched the Shrinking the Footprint campaign, which I chair. In the light of the new scientific evidence and the debate on the Bill, the church will also urgently review moving to an 80 per cent target. We are also looking for ways of making our contribution to redressing another aspect of this problem, in which we are by no means world leaders: the use of renewables. We have already heard from the Minister about our poor performance with regard to waste. We are supplying rather less from renewable sources to our total energy needs. We want to look as an institution at what we can do about that. Already we have put solar panels on all sorts of church roofs. I look forward to the day when every place of worship in the country will be generating energy for the national grid. I look for some help, as the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, was saying, in overcoming the planning difficulties that stand in the way of doing such a sensible thing.
This topic unites people of all faiths. We are already working with Christians of every kind and members of other faiths. My friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool has been a prime mover in a Liverpool and north-western initiative called Faiths for Change, which engages the faith communities in environmental transformation. The Northwest Regional Development Agency has embraced and backed the initiative. It could be a model for other parts of the country, where the potential of the faith communities in bringing moral passion, numbers and practical resources is still underestimated.
People of faith are increasingly united in the conviction, which is clearly stated in the Bible, that we are placed on earth as viceroys and not as tyrants, with a duty to keep a balance between its development and preservation. Representatives of all the Christian churches in Europe met recently in an ecumenical assembly in TransylvaniaI travelled by train, it is trueand agreed that all member churches should
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The Environment Agency has just published an interesting survey of the views of 25 leading environmental experts. They were asked to identify the top 50 things that are necessary to save the planet. Number one, as we might all expect, is reducing energy use. Number two is,
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