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29 June 2005

Climate Change (G8 Summit)

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): I want to join the consensus that was building—with one notable exception—in the Chamber. The exception in question has clearly spent many hours surfing Liberal Democrat websites, and long may he continue to do so.

The G8 summit in Gleneagles will focus on two themes: climate change and Africa. This time, the public are more involved than ever before, partly because of the celebrities involved, but also because of what happened 20 years ago, when we saw—for many people, it was the first time—the drought in Ethiopia on our television screens. When Michael Buerk brought those images into our homes, we saw the harsh reality of life on the edge: men, women and children suffering from malnutrition, with those who managed to survive the journey trekking miles to camps for a meagre food supply. These events triggered Live Aid, which connected many people, through television and music, to this vitally important issue. Twenty years on, we have to ask, what has changed?

To coincide with the G8 we have the Live8 concert in Edinburgh, which is taking place at the Murrayfield stadium in my constituency. The Make Poverty History march will also take place in Edinburgh, on 2 July. We are expecting in excess of 100,000 people to march through the city centre, and to make a "white band" of people to send a message to the leaders at Gleneagles. I invite others to join that march.

When we saw those images in Ethiopia 20 years ago, a drought was expected once every 10 years; now, a drought is expected approximately once every three years. Fewer Ethiopians are dying from malnutrition, but more are on permanent food aid. We now see humanitarian disasters unfolding elsewhere in Africa. Many factors are contributing to the disaster in Darfur, in Sudan: tribal conflict, Government corruption, too many guns in the country and no clean water supply. But one vital factor that is directly linked to the troubles is the increasing size of the deserts, and the battle for scarce resources such as water and fertile land. We in this country think that we are witnessing extreme changes in our weather, but those who will suffer most are the most vulnerable, who live in the world's poorest countries. Many young children in such countries will never see adulthood.

At the other, extreme end of the scale, approximately 100 million people in the United States are overweight. Interestingly, Paul Higgins, an earth systems scientist from the university of California, reckoned that if the food energy used to feed excessively those 100 million Americans were turned into an exercise regime, and if the basic resources spent on producing that food were spent differently, that in itself would impact on the climate.

I have tried to make some small contribution myself. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) will be pleased to hear that I gave up my four-wheel drive car and went instead for a fuel-efficient model. We cannot just pass the buck and blame this problem on the Government; we all have to accept responsibility for the results of our actions. However, the Government are in a unique position because of their presidency of the G8.

Global warming is not an abstract or distant threat. It is real and current, and must be dealt with as a matter of urgency. The G8 nations at Gleneagles account for 47 per cent. of global CO2 emissions, so it goes without saying that the G8 nations themselves, acting globally, can make a real difference. Tougher international action is crucial to combat climate change and it is time to wake up to the threat before it is too late.

Climate variation is now an accepted part of the natural cycle of our planet. We know that, historically, temperatures have been both higher and lower than they are now. However, what makes the current pattern of climate change so worrying is the pace of change. Projections predict an increase in the average surface temperature of between 1.5o and 6o over the period from 1990 to 2100. That is between two and 10 times larger than the value of observed warming over the 20th century and it is without precedent during the last 10,000 years. Global warming will affect us at home and abroad and it will have social and environmental impacts. Indeed, it will impact on almost every aspect of our lives. It is not surprising that our own chief scientific adviser said that the threat from climate change was greater than that from global terror.

The Kyoto agreement was a good and positive first step towards tackling the issue, but even if the US signed up to it tomorrow, it would not solve many of the problems. We have to remember that the agreement is very much a first step—and a modest one at that. For example, it does not include many developing countries and the largest polluter of all has not signed up to it. Furthermore, many scientists believe that even if the countries producing CO 2emissions signed up and kept to the limits, it would still not be enough to tackle the problem. The agreement aims to reduce emissions from industrialised countries only by about 5 per cent., whereas the consensus of many climate scientists is that in order to avoid the worst consequences of global warming, emissions may have to be cut up to the order of 60 per cent. across the board. That is why we should not put all our eggs in the Kyoto basket.

With that in mind, it is disappointing that so many countries have still failed to meet even those most modest targets. Indeed, it seems increasingly likely that the UK will miss its own Kyoto targets. It does not give the Prime Minister the strongest platform from which to argue for greater efforts from others to combat climate change when we seem unable to put our own house in order. I very much hope, though, that our own failings will not have an adverse effect on the Prime Minister's chances of brokering an agreement on climate change at the summit.
I am sure that Members from across the House will have shared my disappointment and concern at the news that documents on climate change for the G8 have been watered down. It seems that the US is still failing to concede that climate change exists as a problem at all. I find it extraordinary that doubt is being cast on the notion that the world is getting hotter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes has branded George W. Bush the environment's "public enemy No. 1", and I am inclined to agree with him. It is unacceptable that the US—the world's largest polluter, responsible for more than a third of the world's pollution—refuses to take its responsibilities seriously. It is unacceptable that the US President, George W. Bush, simply ignores the advice of his own scientists and continues to refuse to take action to deal with pollution or to accept his responsibility under the Kyoto treaty. There is a serious risk that the US President will prevent the summit from agreeing to realistic and timely actions on climate change and that the rest of the G8 will let him get away with it. While the Prime Minister likes to believe that he can sway the President's judgment on these matters, I believe that, when it comes to climate change, he may have little or no influence at all.

A leaked draft document on climate change for the G8 summit spells out as good as any other the danger of inaction. It says:
" If we miss this opportunity and fail to give a clear sense of direction, then we will be locked into an unsustainable future that will threaten our long-term security and prosperity."

I could not agree more. The G8 summit must reach a positive agreement on climate change. It is too important an issue to be lost among international squabbles and petty transatlantic rivalries. I urge the Prime Minister not to let that happen. We must move towards consensus in the House. If the parties in this Parliament cannot agree, how can we expect the leaders at Gleneagles to agree?


See full debate in Hansard

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This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.