Climate Change Bill [Lords]

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The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 40, in clause 14, page 7, line 29, at end insert—
‘(3A) The report must explain how the proposals and policies set out in the report will affect—
(a) global average temperature,
(b) loss of world biodiversity, and
(c) loss of world rainforests.’.
New clause 9—Duty to report on impact of climate change on biodiversity
‘(1) It is the duty of the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament an annual report on the impact of the UK’s carbon budgeting on—
(a) UK biodiversity,
(b) global biodiversity, and
(c) world rainforests.
(2) So far as the report relates to proposals and policies of the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers, or a Northern Ireland department, it must be prepared in consultation with that authority.
(3) The Secretary of State must send a copy of the report to those authorities.
(4) The first report under this section must be laid before Parliament and the devolved legislatures not later than 30th September 2009.
(5) Each subsequent report must be laid before Parliament not later than 30th June in the year in which it is made.’.
Amendment No. 42, in title, line 8, after ‘produced;’, insert
‘to make provisions for the reporting of the impact on biodiversity of carbon offsetting measures;’.
David Maclean: Although I have tabled amendments to the clause and have attempted to scatter other amendments across other parts of the Bill, they all basically say or ask the same thing.
Clause 11(2) says that
“the Secretary of State in coming to any decision under this Part relating to carbon budgets”
has to take
“scientific knowledge about climate change”
into account. I want to insert three proposals that would make it absolutely clear that among the scientific knowledge the Secretary of State had to take into account would be rises in global temperature, the impact of climate change on world biodiversity and the impact in relation to the loss of world forests.
In relation to other parts of the Bill, where the Prime Minister is under a duty to report on climate change, I say that he should ensure that the report includes impact on world forests, biodiversity and temperature rises. Why am I doing that? What concerns me? What concerns me is the fact that this is a highly technical Bill. It is a pretty boring Bill. It is almost like the EU treaty—totally inexplicable to outsiders. One would think that it is understood only by accountants. Like the EU treaty, the people may go one way, yet the leaders carry on.
I worry that when the Prime Minister comes to make a report—a change may be made, and the report may have to be made by the Secretary of State—and things are taken into account, if one is merely dealing with some of the arguments that we have had this morning, which are interesting but esoteric arguments about 60 or 80 per cent., I am afraid that the people in the pubs in Hexham and Penrith are going to lose interest. They will not understand the relevance of it all.
3 pm
As I have been reading about this subject, I have discovered that climate change is infinitely important to our survival. Yet, from my research on the effects of climate change on England, it does not seem very frightening. Why do we have this complex Bill? Why are we setting targets that may have enormous costs for the economy and be difficult to implement? Why are we doing it when the research into the consequences for England suggests it would simply mean a little bit of warming? There would be flash floods and more violent storms—that would not be good. We are likely to have water shortages and hosepipe bans and, of course, if sea levels rose, large parts of lowland England and Scotland, and Wales too, no doubt, would be underwater. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal, would not want his home to become a new Lindisfarne; a new Holy island in Suffolk. So, there are serious consequences of rises in water levels.
We would have hot spells—my research suggests that we would probably get more train lines buckling in the heat, but we would probably not have frozen points in winter. It is difficult to see things of earth-shattering importance that will happen because of climate change in England. Yet we know that the consequences of climate change can be absolutely disastrous for the survival of the whole human race, and for the survival of the human race in this country.
We will see the potential extinction of arctic species, including the polar bear. The polar bear is one of those wonderful icons. My secretary gives me an awful ear bashing in Portcullis House if I go out and leave the lights on, because she is trying to save the polar bear. That is something that has stuck in the public conscience. Much as polar bears are important, as I was trying to say on Second Reading, there are more important species than that, although they are not as cuddly—although I am sure that polar bears are not that cuddly—and do not look as friendly.
A couple of weeks ago I went to Kew to do a little bit of background research before serving on this Committee, and one of the things that scared me in the wonderful greenhouses at Kew was the tiny number of species of insects that pollinate in the world. We know about bees, but there are other insects that pollinate around the world. If we lose some of those rather unsexy little bugs and species, the world starves. Nothing pollinates in future.
Mr. Gummer: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government’s current indifference to the fate of the indigenous bee and their failure to provide for its protection from disease, shows how easy it is for these things to go unnoticed? In fact, the bee and similar insects provide an enormously important fundamental ecological job.
David Maclean: That is absolutely true. The job they do is absolutely vital, and I suspect that my right hon. Friend is referring to varoa and disease control. That is not a route that I wish to go down now, but no doubt the Minister will defend the Government’s record on that in due course.
That was my summary of the research on what happens with a 2C rise in world temperatures. If we get a 4 to 5C rise in due course, we will get drastically reduced crop yields around the world, and mass starvation. Diarrhoea, which is a huge killer in the developing world, will expand rapidly and kill millions more in Africa. The rise in temperature would lead to widespread species extinction and huge desertification. There would be a wholesale collapse of the Amazon ecosystem, and the complete loss of all arboreal and Alpine ecosystems. We would have the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, and in Greenland, we would see more melting of the ice sheet with huge rises in sea levels.
When we say “huge” rises in sea levels we do not need to talk about 10, 20 or 30 ft; a 3 ft—1 m—rise in sea levels puts half of Bangladesh underwater, and 14 million people displaced or homeless, as well as having an impact on our own country. Other parts of the world would have no agricultural production whatsoever. In addition, there is a danger that global warming could trigger further releases of methane in Siberia and the Arctic tundra. Although this is more speculative, if we had a 5C rise, some scientists say that that there is a 50 per cent. chance that the world’s ocean circulation systems would cease to operate, or may close down. There will be even more horrific effects that I have not quoted to the Committee.
If only half of the incidents that I have just described are true, I want the Government and the Prime Minister to put that in every ruddy report that is produced and to refer to it. We must excite the imagination of the British public into realising how serious the matter is. With all due respect, vital arguments about 60 per cent. or 80 per cent. targets do not bring the consequences home to the public. That is why I want specific mention in the reports and in the Bill of the effects of temperature rise I want the Secretary of State to acknowledge that when considering scientific knowledge.
Why do I want to see the tropical rain forests mentioned? What has that to do with the price of fish in England? It has a tremendous amount to do with our own survival in England. Rain forests are now receiving a level of international attention not seen since I was at the Earth sum in Rio in 1992. The Stern report—and thank goodness that the Government are to keep Stern working for them—showed the important link between forests and climate. This is a climate change Bill, and one fifth of the total annual carbon emissions now come from land use changes, especially tropical deforestation. In fact, cutting down the tropical forests is releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than the whole of international shipping and aircraft combined. That is why, if we want to do something about this, although we need to tackle our own industries, cars, pollution, and increasing carbon emissions, unless we are doing things to save the rain forest—perhaps in carbon trading, which is covered in later parts of the Bill—we will not succeed in meeting our climate change objectives and we will lose those precious forests.
Rain forests continue to be destroyed at a pace exceeding 80,000 acres per day—32,000 hectares per day. I cannot imagine something on that scale; that is horrendous: 1.5 acres of rain forest are being lost every second. Rain forests once covered 14 per cent. of the Earth’s land surface; they now cover a mere 6 per cent. If we continue at the present rate of destruction, the remaining rain forests will be consumed in fewer than 40 years. The current world rain forest cover of 2.5 million sq miles sounds pretty big—it is the size of about 48 contiguous states in the United States, representing 6 per cent. of the world’s surface—but the rate at which it is disappearing is frightening. If we are losing 13 million hectares of forest land every year, adding to that huge amount of carbon in the atmosphere, the rain forests will no longer be able to be the lungs of the earth, performing that vital role of soaking up carbon and giving us clean air, oxygen and water in return.
As the rain forests disappear, we are not just losing trees or the ability to soak up carbon and produce oxygen. It is not just a large bit of greenery. The most important thing is that, as the rain forests disappear, we are losing the species in them; we are losing the fauna and flora, the insect life and the animals. With them goes potential cures for life-threatening diseases. I am told by my researchers that there are currently 121 prescription drugs sold worldwide which come from plant-derived sources. While 25 per cent. of western pharmaceuticals are derived from rain forest ingredients, less than 1 per cent. of these tropical trees and plants are being tested by scientists. So 25 per cent. of the drugs we use to treat illnesses come from rain forest ingredients and we have examined only 1 per cent of those ingredients. Yet we are going to continue cutting down the rest of the rain forests. Where on earth will we get the raw material to make the drugs that will save human life in the future? I have never been a flat-earther, nor have I the reputation of being a great herbalist, but I have always believed that part of the solution to human ills lay inside the sealed globe we call the world. It does not lie in the synthesis of new chemicals by chemical companies, it lies in using the products and ingredients we have. Opium is a perfect example. Many other solutions to the ills and diseases we face are already out there, possibly deep in the ocean, in the jungles of the Amazon and Papua New Guinea, in fauna, in flora, and in animal species. If we destroy them, we can never get them back.
As I said earlier, with a huge amount of effort, we could lower the world temperature. We can reverse climate change. We cannot bring back the millions of species which may be destroyed if those forests are cut down and burned. Experts estimate that we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every day, due to rain forest deforestation. That equates to 50,000 species a year. I do not mean that we are losing 50,000 of one animal, or one beastie, or one insect, but 50,000 different species. That is absolutely frightening. Deforestation of tropical rain forests has a global impact through species extinction. We will see the loss of important ecosystem services and renewable resources and the reduction of carbon sinks.
I want this in the Bill so that the people of the United Kingdom—and everyone in Penrith—can see that the loss of the rain forest affects our human health in this country. It does not just affect the Indians who might be living in the forest, or some of the animals and wildlife there—although it would be tragic if we lost some of that wildlife, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal would say, it would also be immoral—it affects us. It is in our own vital life-preserving interest that we save those things. If we could spell out more of the biodiversity consequences in the report that the Prime Minister will be asked to produce, we might be able to engage the British public so that they realise that, goodness me, this is a very serious thing. That would have more impact than just talking about carbon at 80 and 60 per cent., important though that is.
We know that faunas are critical to regulating the climate. We know that more than half the world’s estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects live in the tropical rain forest. A fifth of the world’s fresh water is in the Amazon basin. Also, although I would be highly critical of the food miles, in any huge supermarket these days—Sainsbury in Pimlico, or any other big market—we see ranges of fruit and vegetables that we did not even know existed five, 10 or 20 years ago. A total of 80 per cent. of the developed world’s diet originated in the tropical rain forest. Its gifts and the wonderful foods it has provided include avocados, coconuts, figs, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, bananas, guavas, pineapples, mangos, tomatoes, vegetables, corn, potatoes, rice, winter squash, yams, black pepper—I am getting quite hungry now. There are many more but I will not bore the Committee by reading a huge shopping list of food from Tesco or Sainsbury’s.
3.15 pm
At least 3,000 fruit species are found in the rain forest alone. We use only about 200 of those in the western developed world, whereas the Indians in the rain forest consume about 2,000 different species of fruit and vegetable. Who knows what solutions for the illnesses that we may face lie in those fruits and vegetables? People with my condition are told to eat a lot more oily fish. I love fish, but I hate oily fish. Initially, I did not believe that it was beneficial, but I certainly find it slightly beneficial in tackling multiple sclerosis. I think, in my little mind, that if that bit of oily fish can help me in a minor way, what else that could save people is lying in those rain forests, which are being cut down at the rate of 80,000 hectares a day?
The US National Cancer Institute has identified more than 3,000 plants that are active against cancer cells. Seventy per cent. of those plants are found in the rain forest, and 25 per cent. of the active ingredients in today’s cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rain forest. I am told that vincristine—I shall pass that name on to Hansard later—which is extracted from the rain forest plant the Madagascar periwinkle, is one of the world’s most powerful anti-cancer drugs. It has dramatically increased the survival rate for acute childhood leukaemia since its discovery, and that discovery was linked directly to the rain forest rather than to the millions of pounds spent by multinational chemical companies. That is why I want rain forests to be specifically mentioned and flagged up. We have a chance to excite the British public with the wonderful reasons why we are backing the Bill. We can terrify them—legitimately—with the consequences of cutting down the rain forests, and we can tell them why climate change, which is a terribly boring term, matters.
The final thing that I want to flag up to the Government relates to forests. We cannot discuss biodiversity without rain forests, and we cannot discuss rain forests without biodiversity. I want biodiversity to be mentioned specifically in the Bill because, as I said earlier, everyone sees that biological extinction is the most critical global environmental change that we face, because it cannot be reversed. Aaron Bernstein, a doctor at Harvard medical school and one of the authors of the book, “Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity”, has stated:
“When we harm nature, we are harming ourselves...few people realise that our health is directly tied to the health of the natural world”,
The current extinction crisis is a serious threat to humanity that is equal to, if not greater than, climate change.
As I have said, although the Earth’s rain forests cover only 6 per cent. of its surface, they harbour 50 per cent. of all known life on this planet. The estimated number of creatures that inhabit the tropical rain forest is so great—between 5 million and 50 million species—that it is almost incomprehensible. The sheer range of numbers alone is mind-boggling. If the best experts—the Attenboroughs of this world—can calculate only that it is between 5 million and 50 million, it shows how little we have actually explored life on Earth. If we do not understand it, for goodness’ sake, we must not destroy it first.
Our western forests are good things, too, but whereas half a dozen tree species or fewer make up 90 per cent. of the trees that dominate western forests, a typical rain forest, I am told, may have more than 480 tree species in a single hectare, which means not 480 trees but 480 different tree species. Similarly, a single bush in the Amazon may contain more species of ant than the entire British isles. Rain forest biodiversity is not a haphazard event, but the result of a series of unique circumstances. Unfortunately, every year approximately 27,000 species of animal and plant life disappear from our planet. We hear about big cuddly animals if they are in danger of extinction, but not about the fauna, flora, bits of moss, trees and bushes. Those things may seem utterly unimportant, boring and not sexy, but they may contain chemicals that are vital for our survival. Scientists estimate that there are between 3 million and 30 million species of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and so on. Only 1.4 million have been identified so far, and we risk destroying the rest. Up to 30 per cent. of all species on earth could vanish by 2050 due to unsustainable human activities—mainly deforestation. Medicines are just a small part of the role that biodiversity plays in human well-being. Without beneficial insects, most of the land ecosystems in the world would collapse, and a good part of humanity would perish with them. We have already discussed bees and other insects, but that is an absolutely crucial point.
I will not bore the Committee for much longer, because I only want to make two points. I have made my first point on biodiversity, and my second point concerns garbage—I hope that colleagues can spot the difference. I will conclude with the cone snail. I am not sure who has heard of the cone snail—I had not heard of it before I started my research. Cone snails live only in coral reefs, and at least a third to a half of all reefs are in danger of dying off due to a combination of disease, pollution and climate change. What have cone snails got to do with anything? The first breakthrough in pain medication in years has come from those little snails. I have no idea what they look like or how big they are—I presume that they are tiny or even microscopic. Some 33 per cent. of terminal cancer and HIV patients for whom the strongest opiates were ineffective are now pain free thanks to a pain-blocking peptide from cone snail venom. I have no reason to disbelieve that point—no one could make it up—which I discovered during my research. The cone snail is a tiny little thing in the coral reef, yet people are making a highly powerful medicine—it is more powerful than opium—from a peptide that it produces for the treatment of cancer patients. That in itself is justification for saving the coral reefs. We have to save the coral reefs, if only to get that material from the cone snail for cancer and HIV patients. How do we save the coral reefs? The answer is by reducing the global temperature.
I do not want to live in a world where we have only met our carbon targets. We could meet 60, 80, 90 or 100 per cent. of our carbon targets, but that would be irrelevant because—as the Minister has said—what is important are the measures that we take to meet the ultimate target. There will be no point to a society in which we have managed to meet our carbon targets, if we have lost all the rain forests. Make no doubt about it, we can meet the carbon targets, even if we cut down every forest—it would be much more difficult, but we could do it. The danger is that we would lose millions of species that we do not even know about yet that have the potential to improve or save human life. We would lose the tiny insects, bugs and creepy crawlies—“the wee beasties” as my old mother used to say—that are so vital to our ecology and economy. I do not know what they are—nobody in the Committee knows. Nobody knows what is in the rain forests in Brazil, Papua New Guinea and elsewhere, which we are losing at a rate of knots.
I am certain that the Minister will tell me not to worry about scientific knowledge on climate change. He will say, “That’s all in there David. We’ll be thinking about that.” I am merely saying that my amendment would not significantly change the Bill. It would not cause damage, and the Government would not have to impose a new target. It would merely signal what the Government will probably report on anyway. It will make the Bill slightly sexier, and slightly easier for people like me—virgins in carbon matters—to understand. It will make it easier to get the message home in the pubs of Hexham and Penrith, and around the country. People will not buy in to the boring bits of climate change, such as the stuff about dustbins in clauses 69 and 70, unless we create reasons. If my proposals were implemented, the Government would have to spell out why biodiversity and rain forests are so vital to the survival of the human species.
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