Previous Section Index Home Page

5 Nov 2009 : Column 1052

Mr. Lilley: I shall pray you in aid, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when people say that there is only a handful of dissenters and that the science is settled. I am very grateful to you for giving me your authority to do so.

The simple fact is that the science is not resolved. A lot of serious scientists think that although there is a measure of impact-I agree with that-the alarmist views are not upheld by the science. A majority may well disagree with the scientists to whom I have referred-

Dr. Whitehead: More than a majority!

Mr. Lilley: More than a majority? You cannot have more than a majority, can you?

A majority may disagree, but my point is merely that there is dissent, that the science is not settled and that argument and debate go on. We should not pretend otherwise.

Dr. Whitehead: The right hon. Gentleman has read out a very short list, but does he accept that it would take several days to read out the list of people who have the opposite opinion about the science of climate change? Does he also accept that the whole idea of science is that it consists of hypotheses and disputes? There never is an absolute consensus, but is it not probably a good idea to take the advice of the large number of scientists who think certain things and have established a large amount of empirical evidence for, and understanding of, their hypotheses?

Mr. Lilley: When Einstein came out with his theory of relativity, the Nazi authorities in Germany did not like it because he was a Jew. They got 100 professors of physics-Germany's entire physics establishment-to sign a statement that he was wrong. He replied that if he were wrong, it would only take one to prove it.

In this case, there is a majority on one side of the argument, and a minority on the other, but it is clear that the science remains uncertain and open. That is all that I ask the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) to accept, and he should not pretend that there is unanimity where it does not exist.

The proper debate that we need about the subject will require openness and those who doubt what is said by one side to have the opportunity to try to replicate that side's arguments-that is normal in science. I hope that the Minister will tell us what is happening about the Met Office Hadley centre's refusal to publish the basic figures it has received from around the world that it uses to calculate its estimates of the rise in surface temperatures throughout the world. It was disappointing that the scientists initially refused to publish that material-although they made it available to scientists who agreed with them, they refused to give it to those who disagreed. The centre then gave as an excuse the alleged fact that there were confidentiality agreements with some countries that had given information, saying that it was therefore not at liberty to publish, and then refused to publish the confidentiality agreements or the names of the countries with which it supposedly had those agreements, and said that the agreements had disappeared.

If we are to have a sensible and open debate, people must have the opportunity to examine the facts and data, reproduce what others have done, and show whether or not that is replicable, as the case may be. I hope that
5 Nov 2009 : Column 1053
the Minister will respond to this point in her winding-up speech; I tabled a question on the matter a while ago, so the answer must be at her disposal.

There are plenty of other fairy stories around, and I want to touch on the idea that a rise of 2° C would constitute dangerous climate change that we should try to avoid by spending unlimited amounts. That is a 2° C rise not from now, but from before the industrial revolution. We have already had a rise of 0.7° C, so it is being said that a further 1.3° C rise in world temperature would be dangerous. One reason why the ordinary public are in disbelief is because they spend their time looking for places that are 10° C warmer than here, not 1° C. The Minister was frightfully upset when I pointed out that the average temperature in north-east England was more than 2° C higher than that in Cornwall and asked whether it was dangerous for people to go from Newcastle to Newquay. We cannot pretend that comparatively modest changes to the temperature of the Earth will lead to Armageddon-they will not.

I hope that we will listen to those scientists, many of whom are in Government employ, who have warned against alarmist views, and that we will take a more consensual view of the basic minimum science that is agreed and open that up to debate and discussion, without trying to silence those who disagree by calling them "deniers" and equating them with holocaust deniers. As I said, I am not a denier-I am a lukewarmer-but even those who deny the existence of anthropological global warning deserve to be heard, just as the alarmists do, and it is sad that we have heard only one or two such views expressed in the House today.

3.13 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, but it is important that we get on with action rather than simply talking. We might hear many fine words, but action will count in the end.

We understand the importance of working with other countries. I am sure that we have all heard our constituents ask, "What's the good of us doing anything if no one else does?" The climate change conference in Copenhagen will be crucial to efforts to get international progress. I am proud that our Prime Minister and Secretary of State have shown strong leadership.

Our Prime Minister's initiative in commissioning the Stern report led to helpful discussions that allowed us to pass the Climate Change Act 2008, which was a world first. Recently in the EU, he has also shown leadership on trying to take three practical proposals to the Copenhagen meeting: an EU contribution to help developing countries on mitigation and adaptation measures; an attempt to agree figures for international financial support; and an agreement that that support will be given immediately. Obviously, we need to be at the centre of the EU if we are to influence such decisions. We must ensure that we take the lead not only as the UK, but as the EU, which is influential in climate change discussions on the world stage.

I am very pleased to see that deforestation is on the Copenhagen agenda. It is difficult to believe, but the emissions from deforestation each year are equivalent to the emissions from 600 coal-fired power stations, so
5 Nov 2009 : Column 1054
it is a major contributor to the loss of mitigation of climate change: in other words, we need to stop cutting down forests, and quickly. The answer is not as simple as going around the world telling other countries and local communities what to do, but we must avoid providing additional incentives for deforestation. We must ensure that it does not take place to fuel rich countries' greed-in particular, their greed for energy sources. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to persuade international colleagues to agree to the Eliasch review's recommendation that credits for avoided deforestation be included on the international carbon market. It is difficult to work out what that means in practice, but it is important to provide incentives for people not to destroy the world's forests, which are so vital to combating climate change.

We have recently heard a good deal about the 10:10 campaign, and I congratulate hon. Members who have signed up to it, particularly the members of the Cabinet, who have all signed up to it. However, it reminds us that in 2005 I, together with several enlightened colleagues, signed up to the 25/5 campaign for a 25 per cent. reduction in emissions over five years. I am sure that many colleagues agree that the first part is easy, involving reducing waste, switching off unnecessary appliances, using low-energy light bulbs and turning down the heating. However, it then becomes more difficult. Moving on from waste, one has to think about more fundamental changes in lifestyle, including one's transport modes, holiday destinations and energy sources.

The same applies to Government action. We need more investment in public transport if we are to help people to cut down on individual transport use and to reduce their carbon footprint. We certainly need much more investment in renewable energy, so that, if we decide to fuel electric cars, we know that the electricity comes from renewable sources.

To deliver on climate change, strong Government leadership is essential; it cannot be left purely to market forces. We often demonstrate that leadership, but are then pilloried in the tabloid press-ridiculed for ideas that need to be implemented. A good example is some of their attitudes towards recycling schemes. We know why we need to recycle, but we encounter ridicule instead of sensible and constructive debate in some of our tabloids.

Simon Hughes: Does the hon. Lady therefore agree that it would have been helpful, first, if the Department for Transport had signed up to the 10:10 campaign, as the Department for Energy and Climate Change has, and committed itself to achieving those objectives; and, secondly, if the Government had not opposed the proposal two weeks ago?

Nia Griffith: The problem is that the 10:10 campaign represents a short time scale, and many spending plans are in place up to April next year and, indeed, beyond. We must address the question, what is a realistic time scale? We must also be honest about the things that we control and the things that private companies provide, which are not so easy to control. We must consider introducing carbon limits for procurement, and we must look at what the people from whom we buy goods and services, and the people who obtain franchises for services, actually deliver.

5 Nov 2009 : Column 1055

We have made progress on microgeneration, and we have certainly come a long way since my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) introduced his private Member's Bill several years ago, when hardly anyone had heard of microgeneration. However, there are still difficulties and we need to put things right so that people do not face questions about how to set it up and how to get on to the national grid. We have introduced the idea of using feed-in tariffs, but it is still not quick and easy for people to get sorted out.

We also need to consider permitted development on farms and in smallholdings. We might talk about a wind turbine on a house roof, but farm users have much bigger energy needs, particularly if they run dairy sheds, and it would be more practical if they were able to install the slightly larger wind turbines that provide for their needs. They should not have to go through a long and complicated planning process.

Mr. Graham Stuart: Does the hon. Lady believe, as I do, that legislators have a key role in holding Governments to account for the promises that they make? If so, what role has she played personally in holding this Government to account for their record at home?

Nia Griffith: One of the difficulties with planning is that it is a highly devolved issue. Much of the permitted development is discussed at local authority level, so that is where much of the emphasis has to be if we are to get this right. Some local authorities are way ahead of others in dealing with these matters.

We must remember how much we need to do in terms of adaptation. The draft Floods and Water Management Bill is now proposed for the Queen's Speech, and that will do many of things that we wanted following the Pitt report. Having seen the terrible pictures on television, we are all aware of how devastating flooding can be to people across the country, but apart from those high-profile cases, many of us know of more local places where flash floods have occurred and people have had to stay out of their homes for months. In a constituency such as mine, which is very low-lying and surrounded on three sides by sea, the whole issue of dealing with climate change is very real to people as they move out of their homes to have all the work done that is necessary after flooding. That is a gruesome reminder of how close we are to some awful effects of climate change.

We need to be sure that there is a truly concerted effort by all the agencies involved to protect people's homes from flooding so that we get better maintenance, more flood defences and much speedier action in emergencies. I welcome the measures in the Bill to secure better co-ordination between authorities. However, I am worried by the recent Wales Audit Office report stating that the Welsh Assembly Government are not spending enough money on flood defences. We need to take seriously the whole question of how we can make more funds available, so that people can be protected in their homes now.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend accept that there is an onus on individual households, perhaps working in communities, to take initiatives to mitigate the worst aspects of flooding? It has been disappointing to see the low take-up of measures
5 Nov 2009 : Column 1056
introduced for that purpose. Government must pay attention to that, because flooding is a key feature of climate change.

Nia Griffith: Yes, indeed. It is easy to think, "What harm will one more garage or one more patio do?" but we need to be aware of the effects that we have collectively when we do these things. We must look for ways to mitigate those effects and try to reduce the amount of surface water that we contribute.

On the low-carbon economy, we all realise how important it is that we get ahead of the game and ensure that we develop low-carbon industries, instead of ending up importing things that could have been designed, developed and manufactured in this country. We must give clear signals to manufacturers about what we want. That was certainly the evidence put to us in the Committee on the draft Climate Change Bill, where manufacturers said, "You tell us the parameters, you tell us what you want, and we will deliver." We have to say what we want and set strict objectives, whether on emissions, fuel efficiency or producing electric cars, and manufacturers will respond.

On renewable energy, too, we cannot just leave things to market forces. We have to take a very proactive approach, and in particular not limit it to the easy-to-develop types of technology. We need to spend a lot more time encouraging and giving financial incentives to develop some of the more difficult renewables, such as the use of marine current turbines under the sea or other methods of harnessing water energy. We have tended to see things simply in terms of wind or solar and have not developed water, of which we have a huge resource in this country.

The beginnings of the industrial revolution came from water mills. We must look carefully at what we could do in harnessing a lot more of what we might call mini-hydro on many of our rivers. Some very small mini-hydro projects run into trouble because of various rules on water extraction. The Environment Agency tells people that they cannot do this or that, but it is important that we consider what can be done to enable people to develop mini-hydro projects, perhaps by increasing water capacity so that they are not seen as destroying the environment. Essentially, all they do is take water out and then put it back; the difficulty is the level that it goes down to when it is taken out. I am sure that more help could be given to people to overcome such small, technical problems. Once the resource is established and the system is in place, it can run for ever.

We must ensure that we give full encouragement to a full range of renewables, but we also need to decide how many of each facility we want. One problem with our planning system is that there can be applications all over the country, but people have not added up the sum total of what they will lead to. One example is biomass plants: many people are racing for them, but I ask whether we have enough biomass to fuel a large number of plants.

If it is simply a matter of sweeping up sawdust and using the rough materials that we can provide in this country, that is one thing. However, if we are not careful, we will end up competing for precious forest products from across the world, which makes no sense at all, given the problem of deforestation. Sadly, people are not as honest about sustainability and replanting when they are anxiously trying to get a biomass plant so
5 Nov 2009 : Column 1057
that they can access the funding that is available for renewables obligation certificates. We need to examine the overall strategy for the whole country and ask whether we are getting the numbers right on the availability of biomass.

In an ideal world, perhaps we would like to give up using fossil fuels, but we have to be honest and say that currently 70 per cent. of our electricity comes from such sources, whether coal or gas. It is not realistic to want to throw fossil fuels out of the window just like that. We need to develop clean coal and carbon capture technology, because if we are to rely on coal for some considerable time to come, it makes sense to use our indigenous coal as cleanly as we can and put carbon capture measures in place. It is absolute madness to import coal or use enormous quantities of vegetation when we have a compact form of fuel in our coal. We need to consider what to do to encourage deep mining, now that Tower colliery in south Wales and others have closed. That requires more investment, or we will be left with a simple situation in which people go for open-cast mining, with its unpleasant environmental impact on local communities.

I wish my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State all the best in securing a strong agreement at Copenhagen. I look forward to supporting him in driving forward a strong agenda for tackling climate change, and particularly developing renewable energies and providing further investment in public transport.

3.28 pm

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am glad to be able to contribute to the debate. Few Members are in any doubt about the reality of climate change and the dangers that face us all. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has produced a model of what would happen by 2080 based on a "business as usual" scenario, and it is frightening. There would be huge changes in the world. We are already seeing changes, and they are having an impact even on us and our budgets.

I recently chaired a statutory instrument Committee on increased funding for the Caribbean Development Bank. The Minister of State, Department for International Development, cited the reason for the increase as being to deal with the effects of climate change, particularly given the increasing number and effect of hurricanes. That is one example of the impact that it is having on our budgets.

We do not need to speculate about what might happen. We can see in other areas of the world that climate change is already having an impact. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) spoke movingly of the situation in Bangladesh and the terrible floods there. Even in my area, although I would not claim that it is equivalent to that, we have seen terrible flooding over the past week, which was perhaps at least partly due to climate change. That brings home the costs of adaptation. There are various schemes in my neck of the woods for dealing with flooding from our rivers, but if we were to undertake all the schemes that are necessary, the cost would run into billions of pounds in Scotland alone. If we add those things together, we see the huge amounts of money that are required.

5 Nov 2009 : Column 1058

Given that background, it is abundantly clear that action needs to be taken. To coin a phrase, we are all in this together, and action has to be taken on a co-ordinated, international basis. The Copenhagen conference must come up with a good deal. As I have said, I agree that it should not be a deal at any price. A deal that avoids committing the world to real action to combat climate change may be worse than no deal at all, as it would give many a false sense of security that something is being done when it is not.

Like others who have spoken in the debate, I am becoming increasingly pessimistic about the prospects of getting a good deal at Copenhagen and, as I said in interventions on the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), I am also concerned about the impact on people in this country of the failure to get such a deal. We have to fight on two fronts: we must not only secure the deal in Copenhagen, but convince people in this country of the need to tackle climate change.

The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) quoted Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, as saying:

Next Section Index Home Page