Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC): I acknowledge that Shell and BP accept the science of climate change and that they have invested in other technologies. However, those two companies have posted huge profits in the past week. That raises the question of why they do not invest significantly more in renewable and energy-saving technologies. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that they could be doing a damn sight more?

Norman Baker: Yes, they could. They have accepted the science and are going in the right direction, as the hon. Gentleman says. I am grateful for his intervention. It might encourage them to go further, as I believe that they should.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a windfall tax on those producers would be a good idea? That money could be invested in renewable energy technologies, as has been suggested.

Norman Baker: I am not necessarily in favour of windfall taxes, but I believe that measures should be put in place to encourage companies to take the right steps. That can be achieved without a windfall tax, not least because it is in companies' economic interest to go down that road.

I want to speak briefly about media reporting of climate change. I make a particular plea to the producers of the "Today" programme on Radio 4. Can we please stop having artificial debates between those who believe that climate change is happening and the minority who say that they believe that it is not? We should move on from that: we need debates between politicians about how best to deal with the problem. Producers insist on presenting a ludicrous juxtaposition that does not help the argument. I very much hope that they will take what I say on board. We no longer argue about whether smoking causes lung cancer. That is now accepted, and I hope that BBC producers will accept that parallel.

I congratulate broadsheet newspapers such as The Independent and The Guardian on much of the exposure that they give to climate change and on the way that they raise the issue for readers, but it is not sufficient for their science editors simply to write a finite piece that causes people to think how dreadful things are. Politicians of all parties and countries should be engaged and asked what they are doing about the problem. The newspapers need to make the issue far more political than they have done so far.
8 Feb 2005 : Column 1357

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): It is slightly dangerous to go down the road of suggesting that people whose opinions may be erroneous or unpalatable should not have the right to express them on radio, if it is the presenters' choice that they should do so. I am generally in favour of what the hon. Gentleman is trying to do, but I think that that is dangerous.

Norman Baker: Let me reassure the Father of the House that no one is suggesting that people should be censored, or that the "Today" programme's editorial content should be determined by anyone other than the BBC. However, it is neither sensible nor editorially justifiable to give equal weight to both sides of an argument when the overwhelming scientific consensus is on one side. That consensus is so overwhelming that it should be taken as read. For instance, a person who wanted to say on Radio 4 that lung cancer was not related to smoking would be given short shrift. That is the comparison that I want to make.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries) (Lab): To set the record straight, is the hon. Gentleman saying that we should listen to what is being said, and that programmes should have a mix that includes politicians? Surely he is not saying that other people should be set aside, and that politicians should take control?

Norman Baker: I am certainly not saying that. Programmes should dovetail scientists, politicians and pressure groups. That sort of arrangement applies in most other fields of policy, although it seems that it does not in respect of environment policy.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): My hon. Friend has praised some elements of the press, and some of them do a very good job, but does he accept that the national media should also report what happens at a local and regional level? For example, one Sunday newspaper carried a very good story about the potential effect of climate change on a very old pub's daub and wattle structure. People realise that climate change affects faraway countries with which we have links, but they will be more likely to accept that they must change their lives and lifestyles if they understand that places in this country can suffer as well.

Norman Baker: I agree, and I should declare an interest: I own a building with wot and dobble—I mean wauble and dot—

Simon Hughes: Wattle and daub.

Norman Baker: With that particular method of construction—[Laughter.] That was how buildings were made many hundreds of years ago. As always, my hon. Friend makes a valuable point.

I turn now to the comments of Bjorn Lomborg, associate professor of political science at Anglia university. He was the author of a book entitled "Global Crises". I believe that he is well motivated, but in error. If some hon. Members disagree, I can say that I am being generous for the purpose of this debate.

Lomborg suggests that we should spend the money necessary to tackle global warming on other matters, such as helping developing countries with aid, and so on.
8 Feb 2005 : Column 1358
I shall describe later how I do not believe that there is a net cost to the prevention of global warming, but I think that Lomborg misses the point. He is worried about developing countries, but they are the ones that suffer most from global warming. They will be hit first by the floods associated with warming, and their populations and lifestyles will absorb the biggest impact.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): Of the money given by the developed world to the developing world for energy projects, less than 3 per cent. is spent on renewable forms of energy. Does not the hon. Gentleman think that that is shocking? Should we not take that huge opportunity to get the latest technology to places where it will make a real difference?

Norman Baker: I absolutely agree. The hon. Gentleman is Chair of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, and does a splendid job. Moreover, I watched him grill the Prime Minister very effectively this morning in the Liaison Committee.

All Governments—our own can do this through the Department for International Development and other Departments—need to look at how international development aid is spent. We need to know that the money we give in aid, for good reasons, is not making an environmental problem worse. In the end, developing countries need a secure environment even more than the UK does. It is an own goal to encourage fossil-fuel energy generation, as happens in some places.

It seems very likely that there will be an increase in global temperature of 2°C by the 2050s. The consequence for the developing world will be that an additional 250 million to 300 million people will be at risk of contracting malaria. Also, 12 million more people will be exposed to hunger as crop production falls, and 20 million more could suffer from coastal flooding. Clearly, that must be tackled. I suggest to Mr. Lomborg that merely giving aid and doing nothing else is like pouring water into a colander: it will not solve the problem.

Does tackling climate change have a negative economic impact? The Secretary of State will know that one reason given by the US for not engaging in the Kyoto process was the alleged damage to the US economy. Frankly, I think that that damage is somewhat overstated. To be fair to the Government, and their Tory predecessors, this country over the past 15 years has demonstrated an ability to disconnect economic growth from carbon emissions. That is a very important lesson to take out and sell to the Americans and to others who are sceptical about the proposition.

Mr. Simon Thomas: It is true that carbon emissions can be decoupled from economic growth, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that the aviation industry is the exception and that the problem that it poses needs to be tackled? Under Kyoto, this country has generally succeeded in decreasing emissions, but the aviation industry and some parts of the transport sector remain problematic. Does he agree that the decoupling that he describes has to happen in those sectors as well?
8 Feb 2005 : Column 1359

Norman Baker: I agree, and I shall come to that later, if time allows.

One of the first things we must do is to end the "predict and provide" policy on airport growth, which the Government seem to have accepted. Secondly, fiscal measures must be introduced to put pressure on airlines for greater efficiency in minimising carbon emissions, which will soar if we do not take action soon.

Next Section IndexHome Page