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I want now to come to a conclusion. I have taken a huge number of interventions, but I think that I can bring my remarks together. Alarmism is breaking out everywhere on this subject. When the Government’s chief scientific adviser tells us that Antarctica is likely to be the world’s only habitable continent by the end of this century if global warming remains unchecked, and when their former chief economic adviser tells us that the damage by the middle of century might be greater than that caused by the first and second world wars put together, politicians may suspect that something is amiss with the advice that they are getting from their experts—and there is.

The issue of global warming is acquiring some of the characteristics of a religion. On the one hand, those who disagree with the so-called consensus are often treated to abuse, being described as flat-earthers and no-hopers or condemned as selfish and immoral.

Joan Ruddock: You said it.

Mr. Tyrie: The Minister has added to that abuse by saying, “You said it.” It is a pity that she is so disengaged from the points that I am trying to make.

On the other hand, toeing the line on global warming is becoming a new moral comfort zone in modern politics—a seemingly unassailable moral high ground. We need to be very wary when our political culture suspends the application of all reason and common sense to this debate. We need to be clear that it would be just as immoral to make mistakes in responding to climate change—mistakes that could trap the most vulnerable in the world in poverty—as it would to ignore the claims of those who press on us the need for urgent action, although much of the media, and particularly the BBC, seem to have been ignoring that point. Of course, apocalyptic predictions make good copy, and challenges to the so-called orthodox are rarely given a fair hearing.

I end where I began: some global warming is certainly happening, and mankind is probably contributing to it, but before we rush to decarbonise our economies, we must think most carefully about those who will be hit hardest by any mistaken restructuring of the global economy. Our primary duty must, as always in this place, be to protect the most vulnerable, at home and abroad, and they deserve better than they have had so far from policy makers on this subject.

3.13 pm

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I am pleased that the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) has secured this debate. He made a thoughtful speech, but he will know from the many conversations that I have had with him that I disagree with most of what he said about the causes of climate change. I am not a flat-earther; I accept Stern and I accept that human activity is leading to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, which are having a deleterious effect on the climate around the world, including in this country. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Antarctica, and I am glad that I am a Canadian citizen, because Canada includes part of the Arctic. I hope, however, that things will not get that bad if we take action in time.

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Like many hon. Members, I have listened to a lot of debates on climate change on the Floor of the House, and they are dominated to the point of hegemony by those who are concerned about the causes of climate change emissions. The debate in Parliament is totally unbalanced, and we seldom talk about effects, although we talk a lot about causes. Action on causes is important, but so is action on effects, by which I mean adaptation. Let me give one example. On 22 November 2007, we had one of our new one-and-a-half-hour topical debates on climate change on the Floor of the House. Unfortunately, I could not get to the debate, but I read Hansard carefully afterward, and not a single word was said by any speaker about adaptation during that hour and a half. That is a shocking indictment of the politicians of the United Kingdom.

I pay tribute, however, to the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling), a Conservative MP who secured a Westminster Hall debate on the issue on 10 July 2007, which I attended. That was thoughtful of him, and he was absolutely right to raise the issue. We should talk a lot more in the House and in society about adaptation to climate change. When I say adaptation, I have in mind the definition used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which states that adaptation is the

The Minister is well aware of my interest in this matter, and one of the things that got me going on it was a DEFRA publication on climate change from March 2006. In round terms, that publication contained 190 pages on climate change, of which a dozen, or 6 per cent. of the total, were on adaptation to climate change. When I went through that publication, I was outraged by that imbalance.

As the hon. Member for Chichester said, the UK is responsible for 2 per cent. of world emissions in round terms, and we have 1 per cent. of the world’s population. The intervention by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is the first time that I have heard him say anything with which I agree. He will correct me if I misunderstood him, but he said words to the effect that we must be careful not to end up beating our breast and driving down emissions in this country, while others do nothing. That does not remove from us the moral responsibility to drive down our emissions and to urge that on others, but what, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, if we do it all and others do nothing? If we do it all and others do nothing, and one accepts, as I do, that human activity leads to deleterious changes in the climate, this country will still be hit with those changes. We therefore need to adapt to them, and we need to start adapting now.

UK emissions are within the control of the UK, but world emissions are not. Let us therefore have a bit more emphasis on that part of the climate change equation that is within the control of our country, rather than talking almost exclusively about that part that exists at the world level and which is outwith the control of our country. That is another example of imbalance.

Joan Ruddock: My hon. Friend knows that I agree very much about the need to advance the issue of
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adaptation, and I hope to get a chance to say a few words about it if time permits. Does he not accept, however, that there is a real case for having international leadership, which is what this country has shown on the issue of mitigation? That was incredibly important in getting the Bali agreement, where all countries could come in at last, and in persuading the emerging economies of China and India that we will do our bit, which is the only way that we will ever get them to do their bit.

Rob Marris: I entirely agree. The UK has a leading role, if not the leading role, in addressing the causes of climate change emissions internationally through agreement and debate. However, we must be realistic and we must bear it in mind that emissions have gone up massively around the world since 1990.

Mr. Mark Field: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his sensible comments about adaptation. The concern among many on our side of the debate is that much of the so-called leadership that the Minister mentioned is cost-free—it is a matter of great, rhetorical talk and of targets to be met in 42 years or beyond. There are great concerns that this is a wonderful bandwagon on which certain rather cynical political leaderships can jump, without achieving any results in the short-to-medium term. That is why the issue of adaptation is of great importance, and it is with that in mind that I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue in a much more practical way without any high-flown rhetoric.

Rob Marris: To some extent, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The international discussions are cost free, but there is a huge cost to not having them and to failing to have international agreement. The Government are acutely aware that they must continue to try to build international action through agreement. Emissions in the world have gone up massively since 1990. For example, the figures for cars in the UK are slightly out of date, but a reply to a parliamentary answer in February 2006 said that between 1997 and 2005, the average CO2 emissions per kilometre of new vehicles sold in the United Kingdom—I do not think that that covers the commercial sector—went down by 1.2 per cent. per year. Despite all the publicity that we had, the emissions went down by only 1.2 per cent. a year. Between 2000 and 2006, which were the latest figures I could get, per capita—not overall—CO2 emissions in the United Kingdom increased.

While the Government have shown a lot of international leadership, people living in the United Kingdom are not as seized of this issue as the Government are in terms of changing their day-to-day activities as regards emissions.

Mr. Field: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Rob Marris: No, I must make some progress. Therefore, we must look at the practicalities. We all know young people of 18, 19, 20 or 21 who are flying off to stag nights and weekend trips to Berlin. They are taking their gap year in countries such as Thailand, Australia or the States. Good luck to them, I say. Those opportunities were not so available for my generation because there were no low-cost airlines. However, those
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are all massively CO2 producing activities undertaken by the next generation who will cop for this and the effects of climate change.

I agree with the hon. Member for Chichester that some of the stuff that gets talked about on emissions is gesture politics. To talk about 80 per cent. is gesture politics. There is nary a Member in either House who will be an active politician in 2050. I think that the youngest is the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who is 28. She might be an active politician then, but she is about the only one. It is easier for people to say that we will go for an 80 per cent. rather than a 60 per cent. cut. It is gesture politics and we need to be doing much more about adaptation. The Government are slowly starting to deal with adaptation. I do not have time to go into all of the replies that I received when I sent a written question to every Department except for the Northern Ireland and Scotland Offices, because of the devolved stuff. I asked them what they were doing about adapting to climate change. Some are doing a bit of stuff and some are doing nothing. I tabled a question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and I received a written reply from my hon. Friend the Minister on 6 December. It said:

I think that means spring 2008, which is good. But 2008 is now and we are just starting to have a cross-Government adaptation policy framework.

We have been talking about climate change for years and years. It is now 42 years until 2050, which is the 60 per cent. deadline. I have been aware of this issue for the last 34 years. I learned about greenhouse gases at university. In those 34 years emissions from around the world, including from this country, have gone up massively, not down. That is why we need to do so much more about adaptation. I mention briefly in passing that there are other institutions doing rather more than the Government. I urge on my hon. Friend the Minister a little faster progress co-ordinated across Government on adaptation to the effects of climate change. She should listen to the Association of British Insurers, the Woodland Trust, the Wildlife Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership and the British Beekeepers Association. She should also listen to the Met Office, the Environment Agency and the European Union Commission itself, which produced a very helpful document on adapting to climate change on 29 June 2007.

Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman is undoubtedly the greatest expert in the House on adaptation. Most of us are very familiar with his thesis, which he makes with great emphasis. However, given that he has only a few minutes left, can he give us a few specific points about adaptation that we should consider? He cites those organisations. I am familiar with what they are saying. Connectivity, for example, for biodiversity is very important. In using his knowledge and understanding of the imperative for adaptation, will the hon. Gentleman talk about the specifics that we should be doing now?

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Rob Marris: That was a very helpful intervention. We need to look at wildlife corridors so that those creatures and species that have to move north because of climate change have a passage north and do not get blocked by urbanisation. With regard to flood control, the Government have announced a big increase in spending on flood control, which is not nearly enough. I would pray in aid the Association of British Insurers, which probably knows that issue better than anyone, which says that we need to spend a lot more on flood control. We have to be a lot more careful about where we build houses because of future flooding. We have to be a lot more careful about coastal defences. We are already doing stuff on that, but we need to do a lot more, as the hon. Member for Chichester said. We need to consider the design of our buildings to make them more flood resistant. We need to change planning regulations so that the National Trust, which owns ancient properties, can put proper drain pipes on them. Such drainpipes would not be an original feature but will be needed for the heavier downpours. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman some more examples afterwards.

Overall, what we need is more leadership, and more foot to the floor from the Government. Adaptation to climate change simply should not, and will not, wait. I accept that the climate out there is changing, and changing because of human activities. I accept that those human activities are largely unabated. From that I draw the conclusion that climate change will continue to occur and probably accelerate across the world in the next 50 years and that that will produce hugely negative effects both in the United Kingdom and in other countries. While we should do our bit in terms of international aid to help people adapt to climate change in other countries, particularly the poor countries that have been the worst affected due to our industrial activities, we must have a huge concentration on adaptation to climate change within the United Kingdom because that is the major thing that is within our control. International agreements, desirable as they are—I salute the Government’s efforts in that regard—are not within our control and neither is international action. Let us do what we can more quickly and more comprehensively in our own backyard.

3.28 pm

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): I must admit that I came along this afternoon anticipating a routine—if I may use that word—Westminster Hall debate on the relative merits of adaptation and mitigation, and no one can say that the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) has given us a routine afternoon, so I thank him for that. He is a thoughtful man. I first met him when he was a special adviser to the Treasury in the mid-1980s. I was a wet-behind-the-ears economist, and he was busy totting up the cost of Labour’s spending plans. I was trying to validate the Treasury’s numbers, so some things never change.

Let me try to find some common ground with the hon. Gentleman because I did not find very much. He has probably never seen a Liberal Democrat membership card. On the back, it says:

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When he began, I agreed with him that we should be nervous of consensus, and of received wisdom. I also agree that those who have divergent views and who criticise the orthodoxy should be heard and their comments should be evaluated and treated with respect. [Interruption.] They should not be heckled, for example. The serious points that they make should be listened to.

Having said that, I have some reservations about the hon. Member for Chichester’s speech and my intervention on him earlier got to the nub of my concern. I have come to this issue relatively fresh, having been the party’s environmental spokesperson only since Christmas, so I do not regard myself as an authority on these matters. When I examined the climate change evidence, I wondered what I would conclude.

The first thing that struck me is that, although there is divergence of scientific opinion, as the hon. Gentleman says—I do not think that it is on the scale that he suggests, but there is some divergence of scientific opinion—I wondered why it tends to be those on the political right who are most sceptical. Why was it the Americans who were most sceptical and why was it that the social democrats of Europe were most ready to be convinced? There was a clear correlation. I think that the answer is the one that I suggested to him in my intervention. It is the sense that, if the diagnosis—I know there are a lot of steps from saying that there is a problem to reaching a particular diagnosis—is that, essentially, the rich west is the biggest part of the problem and we, the market economies of the rich west, may need to make sacrifices to tackle the problem, that is a very unpalatable message, especially if some sort of collective, co-ordinated action is involved. That diagnosis is anathema to the political right, as broadly defined.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) intervened earlier and said that the opposite would also be true and the left would think that such a diagnosis is great. But, of course, that is not true. That is because none of this is terribly palatable. Nobody really wants to believe in climate change; we would all love it not to be true. There are not votes in standing up to the rich west and saying, “Actually, we may have to have a lower standard of living and we may have to change the way we do things”. That is a tough sell.

Philip Davies rose—

Steve Webb: I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, if he will forgive me, because I think that I have the shortest time slot in the entire debate and I want to try to develop my argument.

That division of political opinion makes me suspicious. My point is this: if even President Bush, who presumably has no real incentive to believe all this stuff on climate change—he certainly had no real incentive to believe it when he became President—has started to believe it, and is now one of the people talking about India and China and international co-operation on tackling climate change, surely that is prima facie evidence that the scientific and economic evidence is quite striking. Otherwise, why would someone coming from that political perspective have moved so far? Clearly, one could say that, once
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someone is not fighting for re-election again, they can just indulge in rhetoric. However, I am struck by the fact that, although this is an uncomfortable political message, many politicians are accepting the need to make it and many of us would not do so if we were not convinced of the need for it.

Philip Davies rose—

Steve Webb: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not giving way.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Chichester on a number of points. First, he said that it is the poor who will suffer from decarbonisation. Certainly, in the personal sector, the carbon outputs are coming from driving, and the people who do not have cars are poor people. We are also talking about flights, and the people who do not fly are poor people. On a global scale—this was what I expected to hear at some point in the hon. Gentleman’s speech, but we did not hear it—if the climate is changing and if sea levels are rising, it is the poor “that’s gonna get it” around the world. He argued that decarbonisation is somehow bad news for the poor; carbonisation is bad news for the poor, in the big picture. For that reason, the message that he gave was rather unbalanced.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the need for a sober cost-benefit analysis. However, as the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) said, my judgment is that the downside risk is potentially cataclysmic, and I do not use that word lightly; some of the things that could happen are pretty dramatic and would have to be seriously weighed in any such cost-benefit analysis. Some of the costs that the hon. Member for Chichester mentioned are not, in my judgment, as great as he suggested.

The hon. Member for Chichester also suggested that international leadership is a bit of a con and is irrelevant, and we are a small part of a big problem. I do not think that that is true. Funnily enough, I would cite the example of Germany, which has really gone hell for leather on renewables and made huge strides on them. No doubt the hon. Gentleman may think that Germany perhaps got the cost-benefit analysis on renewables wrong. Nevertheless, if renewables is part of the response to climate change, the fact that Germany has a comparable economy to ours and has seriously gone for renewables and delivered a huge amount in that area enables us to shame the British Government for their pathetic record on renewables. Because the British Government are hearing this all the time—“Germany has done it, Germany has done it, another country has done it and our country has not done it”—they are starting to move on renewables. Therefore, it is not an entirely empty argument that, when one country provides a lead, other countries can be shamed, cajoled or encouraged to follow. One country demonstrating that change can be achieved does provide a lead. There is an issue about unilateral action, and there is some evidence that there is a role for leadership.

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