Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by John Thring

  I note that your enquiry is also required to consider relevant aspects of climate change.

  As a result of my wide reading on this issue I have, of course, come to some tentative conclusions and I must share these with you by way of preamble.

  To be as brief as possible, my conclusions so far are that:

    1.  It seems inescapable that climate change is occurring, and that it will cause global warming with far-reaching consequences.

    2.  It may be true that the pace of such climate change is being accelerated by the actions of humankind, but it may also not be true. In the former case, there is a considerable number of encouraging initiatives under way and we must hope that they come to full fruition in time. In the latter case, all our efforts will be in vain.

    3.  There seem to be only four possible outcomes:

      (a)  Our efforts will halt climate change for the foreseeable future. (This seems most unlikely, if not impossible. Geology indicates that the climate has always been changing, long before humankind had any influence.)

      (b)  Our efforts will slow down the rate of change. However, all this does is delay the process by a number of years. (This may be the best that we can hope for).

      (c)  Our global efforts at slowing the rate of change will be too small, and/or implemented too late, to make any significant difference. (My money would go on this one).

      (d)  If climate change is not being accelerated by the actions of humankind, then our efforts will have no effect upon the rate of such change. (However, we do not know this and therefore need to make the attempt).

  My readings elsewhere inform me that there have been some analyses of the effects of rising seawater levels, disappearance or reversal of the Gulf Stream, annual rainfall etc in the UK as a result of climate change. However, I have not been able to find any consequent proposals about how we might mitigate these effects. New Orleans has recently brought to the forefront questions about allowing low-lying areas to return to the sea, for example.

  My major concern is that I can find no description of a UK strategy or policy concerning the "adaptation strategy" for dealing with the effects of climate change. I feel that it would be wise for such a strategy to consider, for example, the removal of our oil refineries to high ground (I believe all of them lie next to ports on low-lying marshland).

  Similarly, I suspect that many, if not all, of our existing nuclear and carbon-fuelled power stations might be a great risk if we saw a rise in mean sea level of, say, one metre. I feel that constraints as to the siting of any new-build nuclear stations should be a consideration of your Committee, and should consider a probable, and possibly large, rise in sea levels as well as the more usual considerations of accessibility and safety.

22 September 2005

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