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Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): I am glad that the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) initiated the debate. It started off happily and I was pleased that a consensus was developing across the Chamber, but it has unfortunately gone a little sour since the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) entered the fray.
Climate change is a bigger challenge than the fate or fortunes of any political party and must be tackled through consensus. We cannot simply switch policies if we are to be effective. Lestperish the thought the Government change, we must ensure that we have policies that will be consistently supported and developed. In this context, politicians need to grow up in a way that they never have before.
An international consensus is also required and if we can achieve a solid cross-party consensus in this place, we can provide some international leadership. This country has much of the expertise and many of the technologies necessary to begin to tackle the problem. We are fortunate in our climatologists, who are among the world leaders, if not the world leaders. Thanks to them, we have virtually reached a scientific consensus on climate change, although not necessarily on its scale or timing, because that involves so many variables that it is impossible to be totally precise about whether a given level of carbon dioxide concentration will produce an elevation in temperature of 2° or as high as 11°. It is simply too multifactorial, but it is abundantly clear that further changes will occur. We would prefer to avoid any scenario because it would have serious consequences with which we would have to deal.
Our climatologists have been responsible because, although the range of scenarios that they have presented to us so far has been scary enough, they have carefully avoided invoking the apocalyptic. We must remember that an apocalyptic event happened at least once in geological history. The seas boiled and the methane hydrates on the floor of the oceans were released. The temperatures rocketed and approximately 90 per cent.
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of the species on earth died. That could still happen, for example, if we lost the Amazonian rain forest altogether, perhaps through fire, which is possible, and the methane hydrates were released again. In that case, a future for the whole human race, let alone any other species, would be almost impossible. Although that is an apocalyptic scenario, it is possible and we should never forget it.
We cannot assume that temperature will increase gradually and that the sea level will creep up by a centimetre every decade. Perhaps we could cope with that, but frightening step changes along the way, with which we could not cope, could also occur. Indeed, if we do not take sufficient action now, and if we retain the business-as-usual model, some of the mildest climate change scenarios would lead to the exposure of thousands of millions of people to danger through flood, famine and disease.
The question is therefore not whether we should act but how soon and how radically we can act. We must be radical about the matter. Descending into petty party political bickering about who did what is therefore pathetic and we should not do it.
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those who are most likely to be the victims of climate change are least likely to have influence over gas emissions, and that that is why it is essential to play our part in international discussions about future emissions with emerging industrial nations such as China and India?
Dr. Turner: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, with which I agree. We cannot say, "We've had all the fun with fossil fuels but we're going to stop using them now and you mustn't use them. You're going to have to stay poor and undeveloped." That will not wash. As part of our international aid programme, we should put funds into developing and distributing simple, low-cost and low-carbon technologies that are usable in the developing world. I am happy that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office initiated such a programme, which is now an international programme, about two years ago. It is under way but it needs to be developed a great deal more. Our country is fortunate in having technologies that can be applied in that work.
I am happy that the Government are reviewing their climate change policies. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would not claim that our policies were currently absolutely right. They need to be overhauled, partly because they were developed when it was a battle to convince people that climate change was real. Now the battle is tackling it and we need a step change in the effectiveness of our policies. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment can tell us more about the review. I hope that more hon. Members will contribute to the review in a cross-party and collaborative manner. I would even embrace ideas from the hon. Member for South Suffolk.
The Government must review their policies and reach some consensus. They should also examine the coherence of policies. It is not ideal for DEFRA to have
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responsibilities for climate change, while responsibility for energy, which is one of the key elements in tackling climate change, is split between DEFRA and the Department of Trade and Industry, the keeper of the key fiscal instrumentsthe Treasuryis a separate Department, and the Department for Transport is also involved. At least four major Departments need to work together cohesively to make a future strategy stick. That might mean a change of culture. I do not mean that in a political sense because politicians can speak to each other happily, but we all know that civil servants have a less good record of cross-departmental collaboration. I therefore suggest to my hon. Friend that we also need to consider our civil service structures for underpinning, delivering and developing climate change policy, because we could do much more on that.
Norman Baker: I am attracted by the idea that my parliamentary next-door neighbour presents. Is he drawn to our proposal, as he should logically be, for a merged department of environment, energy and transport, precisely to deal with the problems that he identifies?
Dr. Turner: I do not want to comment one way or the other on any specific structure. I simply say that we should examine the structures and ensure that, whatever they are, they have an overarching brief to work together. There must be a clear Cabinet responsibility at the top to ensure that co-ordination of climate change policy happens on the ground.
It is good that the Government have adopted the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's 60 per cent. target by 2050, but I agree with David King that that is not sufficient to deal with the position that confronts us. We must remember that CO 2 is not the only greenhouse gas. It has been established that atmospheric CO 2 emissions were no higher than today's when the climate change event in the Eocene occurred. The levels of nitrous oxide and methane did the damage. Other greenhouse gases can be just as threatening as CO 2 . We therefore need to examine the spread of greenhouse gases and control the emissions of them all.
We need vigorous action now. We cannot afford to wait 20 years. The insurance industry would endorse that because claims against damage through exceptional weather events have rocketed. There is a clear patternlogarithmic growthin those claims. There is plenty of evidence that we cannot afford not to take action. If we do not, the consequences will be expensive to the economy. We need to invest more, but we do not have to adopt a hair-shirt economic policy to do so. I see no intrinsic reason why renewable energy should be any more expensive than current generation technologies, once it has got over the initial development hump and is fully developed. Likewise, energy conservation investment will pay for itself.
We have the technical potential to reduce CO 2 emissions by 80 per cent. quite easily, and by rather more as far as domestic and industrial energy, land transport and electricity generation are concerned. Air transport remains a problem. People remember the Hindenburg disaster and we would probably have difficulty getting people on to a hydrogen-fuelled plane. Hydrogen is so light that, even in liquid form, the amount required for a transatlantic flight would fill the
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entire fuselage, leaving no room for the passengers. Anyone with any good ideas on how to make hydrogen storage much more compact should go to the DTI and ask for a development grant, because cracking that problem would be one of the greatest services that they could provide. The path to a non-carbon futureor a virtually non-carbon future, at any ratewould then become possible.
Mr. Challen: In this fairly consensual debate, we have heard that onshore wind farms present a problem. I agree with my hon. Friend that we can probably meet a great deal of our energy needs through renewables, but how would he address the growing resistance to onshore wind farms? Does he agree that one way would be to address their ownership structures? We could, for example, have community wind farms and micro-generation. In that way, people would have a vested interest in going down that route.
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