Infrastructure Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by Roger Humphry (PhD) (IB 34)

My profession is as a quantitative scientist with publications on various topics, including the effects of previous climate change (early Holocene).

Summary: I wish to explain why the maximisation of economic recovery of UK petroleum should not be legislated for.

The section of concern to me is

page 39, 9A, "Part 1A

Maximising economic recovery of UK petroleum

And begins:

"principal objective" is the objective of maximising the
economic recovery of UK petroleum, in particular through-

(a) development, construction, deployment and use of equipment
used in the petroleum industry (including upstream petroleum
infrastructure),"

The main point I wish to make is one that will, no doubt, have been put forward in different ways by others. However, its importance I believe, deserves re-explaining in case this particular explanation assists in some way to any of our legislators when considering this bill. The primary point is that the degree of success of our (UK and global) collective effort on climate change ultimately is going to depend upon our willingness to leave fossil carbon as fossil carbon.

The reason for this dependency, is that, as outlined by Bjorn Llomberg (Skeptical Environmentalist), the remaining fossil carbon still swamps the carbon so far released. James Lovelock is possibly the most accessible source on why moving towards the paleo (pre-Cambrian) concentrations of CO2 before it was sequestered/fossilised is much less attractive to life now than it was 0.5 Billion years ago (essentially it is because solar output is much higher now). It is for this reason that the UK government passed the 2008 climate act and why other governments slowly are creating similar policy and legislative shifts.

Let us consider a thought experiment in which consuming societies around the world continue to pursue increased consumption of non-carbon based energy whilst fossil carbon producing societies (which are a subset of the former set) seek to maximise fossil carbon extraction (via "economic recovery"). This is the position the UK would be taking if the above "maximising economic recovery" section passes as is. I appreciate that maximising economic recovery does not only depend on maximising physical recovery but there can be little doubt that one major tool to maximise economic recovery will be to maximise physical recovery.

Let us imagine that in this above situation that either

a) non carbon energy sources become cheaper than the bulk of the oil to be extracted. In this case, the above legislation on maximising economic recovery is somewhat effete and therefore is of no benefit to the UK economically nor in any other form.

OR:

b) Non carbon energy sources fail to become cheaper than the bulk of the oil to be extracted. In this case the above legislation will clearly help the oil industry but it also clearly means that any growth in non carbon energy sources will not have prevented the release of fossil carbon into the atmosphere. Therefore the above legislation will be in direct opposition to the climate change act. In the short to medium term the oil industry has political importance but in the long term it is very likely to be the degree of climate change that will be most important.

Legislation of the above type is much more necessary for the long-term and difficult changes we know we need to achieve, and is much less necessary for policies aimed to lubricate economic functioning over the short term. The shorter the term of impact of a policy the less appropriate it is for it to be legislated. When two pieces of potential legislation would be in conflict then it is the difficult long-term and essential policy which ought be given the muscle of legal clout. Not only is it the better form of governance generally, it also is important for encouraging the long-term planners in society to keep faith in government’s ability to plan ahead.

Finally, in an attempt to make my submission a bit less cumbersome, I’d like the committee to consider an imperfect analogy as they weigh up the above legislation with its inconsistency with the climate change act. I ask you to consider whether we would respect a government whose position in combatting drugs was to encourage its citizens to avoid consuming drugs but, at the same time, sought to maximise the production of drugs? Clearly not, I hope.

January 2015

Prepared 13th January 2015