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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

A government Bill to tackle climate change and sustainable waste management was - by tradition - given an unopposed second reading in the lords. It was, however, given a lukewarm welcome by opposition parties who said it did nothing to reduce the amount of waste being produced or encourage recycling.

DEFRA minister Lord Whitty said the 'apparently modest' Waste and Emissions Trading Bill would set up and enhance frameworks to help the UK address two key, and linked, environmental challenges. Less reliance on landfill would help reduce the production of greenhouse gases as well as helping establish a sustainable waste management system.

Essentially, the Bill will enable the UK fulfill its commitments on the Kyoto Protocol and the European landfill directive. Lord Whitty said it would reduce emission of pollutants and make the UK less reliant on landfill. It would create the world's first economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions trading system with statutory penalties. It would also set up a landfill allowance scheme - 'probably the first of its type in Europe, possibly the world' - to address waste, added the minister.

He said that target holders in a trading scheme, whether in landfill or emissions, had three options. First, they could take in-house action to reduce to their target levels. Secondly, they might reduce to below their target and sell or bank the 'surplus'. Thirdly, they might let levels remain above their targets and themselves buy allowances from others.

Landfilling biodegradable waste produced methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and 25% of UK methan emissions came from landfill sites. The UK currently landfills almost 80% of municipal waste - much greater than most other European countries. As well as the implications for climate change, said the minister, much of the waste could be re-used or recycled.

The Bill gives the secretary of state power to specify - after consultation with the devolved UK administrations - the maximum amounts of biodegradable waste which can be sent to landfill in each of the four counties of the UK. After an intial period, responsibility for setting up an allowance scheme will lie with each devolved administration and the UK government for England.

Lord Whitty explained: 'There is an absolute duty on each waste disposal authority not to exceed the allowances which they hold, whether by initial allocation or as a result of a trade. However, no local authority will be obliged to trade: it may simply stay with its allotted allocation. Equally, the Bill gives flexibility for trading to be for no monetary value - simply a question of transfer by arrangements between the authorities'.

The minister added: 'However, we are not giving third parties the right to hold or trade landfill allowances. There are a number of reasons for this: first, we want opportunities for local authorities to trade surplus; secondly, because the targets will be difficult for the UK , so we do not want any possibility of allowances being 'retired' out of the system.

'Neither do we want waste companies to purchase allowances and use them themselves; for example, for direct procurement. It is therefore confined to local authorities'.

The scheme will be monitored by monitoring authorities appointed for each country in the UK. If a waste disposal authority landfills more biodegradable municipal waste than it holds allowances for, there will be financial penalties set through civil courts. This was essential to meet landfill directive targets and underpin an effective trading system. However, said the minister, the aim was not to take resources from local authorities but to encourage them to meet the targets in a sensible or co-ordinated way.

The Bill gives the National Assembly for Wales the power to require the Welsh councils to prepare municipal waste management strategies.

The gas emissions trading scheme, said Lord Whitty, would give UK business, government and the City of London a head start in operation of such schemes and prepare them for the introduction of wider trading schemes at EU and international level.

There would be four types of participant in this scheme. First, and most directly affected by the Bill are companies that take on an abolute five-year emission reduction target in return for a financial incentive. These are represented by 34 organisations spanning a range of sizes and sectors, including public sector bodies.

Others are climate change agreement participants from 44 energy-intensive sectors; trading participants, who do not hold targets, but simply buy and sell targets on the allowance market; and fourthly, said the minister, government was working on another entry route to allow approved UK-based emissions reductions projects - as distinct from companies - to generate credits valid against targets in the scheme.

Conservative front-bencher Baroness Byford said she was disappointed on first reading the Bill. Where are the measures to reduce waste production in the first place, then to encourage the re-use and recycling and composting of such waste, and where is the pressure to recover energy from waste? she asked.

She said the Bill was largely aimed at biodegradable waste going into landfill, but that formed only 6% of total waste produce.

'The Bill has nothing to say about the fridge mountains, nor the looming problem of disposal of old cars. Should there not be a rule or two about the rubble produced when brownfield sites are re-used?' she asked.

Baroness Byford said the government should consider giving priority treatment of planning applications that will be needed to help promote recycling - without that some of the Bill's aims might fall short.

She said the landfill tax introduced by her party might have resulted in some environmental benefits - particularly by grants to improve villages and surrounding countryside - but it did not appear to have been effective in reducing the quantities of waste going to landfill.

Liberal Democrat Lord Livsey said that while the Bill helped the UK meet its international obligations and began to combat climate change, it could operate in isolation from the wider challenges of increasing household and industrial recycling and composting, which are found in targets set in other European directives - for example, on packaging and packaging waste. 'This has burgeoned in recent years and there is undoubtedly a need for more constraints on the commercial instigators of ever more packaging, the disposal of which constantly presents problems for hard-pressed local authorities', he added.

As a Welshman and former MP, Lord Livsey welcomed devolving some of the Bill's functions to the Welsh assembly. It was important the assembly consulted with councils and produced an appropriate scheme. The cost of landfill was a burden on local authorities; he knew one which was faced with the cost of landfill representing 4% of its total budget. That very often applied in rural areas.

The Bill was sent to a specialist grand committee.

Hansard 3 Dec 2002: Column 1032 - 1048; 1075 - 1098

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