Mr. Harper: My right hon. Friend may be aware of the discussions about the economic impact of changes in the UK compared with the effects of climate change on the development of the Chinese and Indian economies. Will he bear that in mind as he continues his remarks?
Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will not be surprised to learn that I intend to touch on that point somewhat later in my remarks; it is an important element in what we should be considering. Rather than looking at the narrow perspective that Bills such as this inevitably force us to take, we must bear in mindmust we not?how far it will be effective in the context of global warming and global climate change for us as a country to introduce such measures. They may disadvantageously prejudice our people's standard of living or affect our economic growth, but how far is that likely to affect global emissions and global warming, given the huge developmental prospects of, in particular, China, south-east Asia and India? I may return to that point later.
"International development"I give the Government all credit for acknowledging both the scope and scale of the problems that the Bill addresses and the international context in which it inevitably should be considered.
That is why I felt that this letter was very timely. Indeed, it is absolutely hot off the press; it is dated 7 November. It even says "Dear Eric" at the top, so although I cannot claim to be quite as close to the Minister of State as is the Minister with us today, I am obviously on pretty intimate terms with him. He has written to me very warmly, and he has even signed it "Yours, Elliot". So he and I are obviously very much at one in all of this, and I am most grateful to him for writing to me just in time for today's debate. It has been very timely and very useful.
Because I do not want to sound at all negative today, Mr. Deputy Speakeryou know that that would be completely uncharacteristic of me on a FridayI want to continue to be warm and positive about the Government. The Minister is starting to look slightly uncomfortable, but I shall ladle on a bit more praise just to rub it in. The hon. Gentleman then goes onthis is the other Minister, my friend Elliotto say:
"The Government set up the UK climate impacts programme in 1997 to encourage private and public sector organisations to assess their vulnerability to climate change so that they can plan their own adaptation strategies."
I could not have put it better myself. That is the sort of approach that we should be encouraging, not the heavy-handed approach that we get so oftenbring in a Bill, pass a law, introduce targets, make regulations, introduce penaltieswhich is an approach apparently so much beloved of everybody, including, I am really sorry to say, my own friends on the Front Bench. I am sorry that they should reach so readily for this sort of approach to a problem so widely perceived, instead of the imaginative and positive approach that the Government adopted in 1997, which talks about encouraging the public and private sectors to plan their own strategies. That strikes me as reflecting much more of modern Conservatism than the heavy-handed legislative approach that we have before us today.
My next text, having skimmed lightly over the Minister's letter, is the House of Lords report. So that there is no doubt anywhere, it is the Select Committee on Economic Affairs second report of Session 200506, entitled "The Economics of Climate Change". I recommend it most highly to Members of the House and people beyond.
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"nearly all of the public debate on global warming is about mitigationreducing emissionsrather than about adapting to climate change and assisting the most vulnerable societies in the world to adapt to the risk they may face."
In today's debate we have heard the cosy unanimity of people no doubt wound up by single-interest groups and postcards from certain organisationsthere is nothing wrong with that at all, provided we put them very much in context. But the debate we should be having today is about mitigation versus adaptation, particularly with regard to the developing world.
The excellent Professor Lomborg made a point on this very effectively. He has argued at great lengthI am tempted, but I probably will not quote too much from him, you may be relieved to hear, Mr. Deputy Speakerthat attempts at mitigation, in other words controlled emissions and all that go with that, are at best a very long-term strategy and may or may not be effective, whereas adaptation can be done much more quickly and much more efficaciously, certainly in terms of, for example, flood protection. He says, as did the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment in his letter, although I did not quote that bit, that we are used to adaptation in this country. One only has to ask the good people of the Netherlands about adaptation; they have been doing it for centuries. That makes the point that it is often much more effective to seek to adapt to the effects, claimed or actual, of climate change over a long period than it is to mitigate through the sort of Kyoto approach that we are all supposed to have signed up to. So there is the first very important contribution that the House of Lords report makes.
Then, because most of what their lordships talk about is the link between economic activity and emissions, they point out at paragraph 51 that any analysis of that has to encompass all the following factors:
That is a formidable array of variables, which we should take into account when making our analysis. I have heard nothing of that today. All that we have heard today is the suggestion that we should make a glib assumption about the source of emissions and their alleged causal effect on global warming and nothing of the required analysis of the vital links that their lordships point out.
"We received a significant amount of evidence on the realism of . . . emissions scenarios, and doubts were raised, particularly about the high emissions scenarios. The balance of this evidence suggests to us that the high emissions scenarios contained some questionable assumptions and outcomes."
Again, that takes us into the important area of considering which of the very sophisticated computer models and analyses we choose to believe or should believe. Those things are important because the range of variation is considerable. For example, estimates of the
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increase in sea level can range from 1.5 cm to 4.5 cm. That very wide range of possibilities can lead to all sorts of different conclusions, depending on which estimate one chooses to believe.
"No one disputes the fact of temperature rise in the last 100 years or so. No one disputes that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and few dispute that it has an enhanced 'greenhouse effect'. What is disputed, albeit by a minority of scientists, is the scale of this effect."
In all those important ways, we have considerable work to do in establishing beyond doubt exactly what is the cause of global warming and what its extent will be, and, crucially, what our reaction to it should be. In that context, I have grave doubts about the Bill because I am not convinced that it necessarily addresses the right problem or that it does so in the right way. We are entitled to be somewhat sceptical about it. That deals with mitigation versus adaptation.
I want briefly to touch on the other very obvious fact that we must take into account: multilateral versus unilateral action. As has been said already, it is assumed that although we are a small country in the global context, if we do all sorts of sexy, interesting, exciting, good and heat-warming things about emissions, we will surely have either an effect on global warming itself or some sort of influence on other countries to do the same. Sadly, there is not much evidence to that effect so far.
I share the scepticism that has been expressed about the Kyoto arrangements in any case. However, the fact that countries as important as the United States and Australia have not signed up to those arrangements anyway and given that it is almost certain that the bulk of emissions in the foreseeable and distant future will be caused by economic growth and development in China, south-east Asia, India and, probably, Africa as well, it should give one pause for thought about how effective what we are doing in this country is likely to be.