Infrastructure Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by Sam Miller (IB 48)

1In the last month of this year, when world leaders meet in Paris for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, the fate of billions of people, both the living and the as-yet unborn may well depend on their ability to agree a binding plan to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial times. In general, this benchmark has been considered an acceptable temperature increase which will enable us to avoid the worst effects of man-made climate change. [1]

2I am not a scientist, or an energy minister, or a representative from an energy company. I am a fifteen year old boy, who will live through the twenty-first century. When I am older, I would love to have children and grandchildren. Right now, the thought of the future we will all inherit terrifies me.

3It is my sincere belief that the contents of this Bill are destructive and dangerous, and that MPs should take the long view – the only mature view, surely, on matters which affect the planet as a whole? – when it comes to voting on it.

4Last week, the prestigious scientific journal Nature published its most complex and detailed analysis yet of which fossil fuel reserves we should leave in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change. According to Nature, in order for us to have a 50% chance of keeping temperature rises within the 2 degrees threshold, the world must limit its cumulative carbon emissions to no more than 1,100 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. [2] [3]

5Alarmingly, however, the potential amount of carbon emissions locked away in our fossil fuel reserves, at current estimates, is thought to be three times greater than this. [4] [5]

6The world has already gorged itself for over a century on fossil fuels. The temptation to simply continue as normal is very great indeed. I cannot think of a temptation more deadly.

6Most of us would prefer not to think about a world where the temperature rises, say, five degrees centigrade.

7As extreme weather events become more frequent and severe, millions will perish as a result of hurricanes, drought and famine. Changing weather patterns will decimate crop yields, leaving many more hungry and without a livelihood. Millions of people will be uprooted from their home and resort to desperate measures to try and find a life which offers a slither more security, sustenance, and comfort.

8Already, we have seen the tragedy which ensues when people flee from war-torn countries in the Middle East and North Africa, placing themselves in the mercy of traffickers with no regard for human decency, and making the perilous crossing across the Mediterranean into Europe; or the desperate passengers embarking on ‘The Beast’, attempting to escape gang wars and crime in central and southern America and find a new home in the United States.

9Already, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has announced that the total number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people, around the world, has exceeded 50 million people – for the first time since the Second World War. [6]

10Already, we have been given a taste of what may be to come.

11Of course, every single government of every single country in the world is going to have to invest billions in renewable energy. Of course, every single government of every single country in the world is going to have to look at how we can reduce our global consumption of hydrocarbons. Of course we are all going to have to accept changes to our lifestyles and the demands we place on the planet, its people and its creatures.

12Yet, how can we do this when governments all around the world zealously continue to extract ever more crude oil, natural gas and coal from the ground?

13In the short term, yes, this may be tempting, but as I have already said I believe this is the deadliest sort of temptation and we need rigorous, far-sighted legislation to force governments to consider the wider impacts, both in terms of thinking globally as well as nationally, and in terms of decades and centuries as well as the five-year election cycle.

14Instead, what do we get?

15On page 39 of the Infrastructure Bill, under the decidedly unsexy title of Maximising Economic Recovery of UK Petroleum, comes a time bomb buried within 110 pages of legislation.

16In principle, anyone with a desktop home computer, laptop or smartphone and Internet access could read through this entire document. In practice, I doubt many will.

17If they managed to find the time in their busy lives to have a look at the proposed Infrastructure Bill, and if they managed to make their way through 39 pages of legislation without losing the will to live, and if they were still sufficiently awake to sit up and take notice, this is what they would find:

Maximising economic recovery of UK petroleum

9A The principal objective and the strategy

(1) 5 In this Part the "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), and

( b) 10 collaboration among the following persons-

( i )holders of petroleum licences;

(ii )operators under petroleum licences;

(iii )owners of upstream petroleum infrastructure;

(iv )persons planning and carrying out the commissioning
15 of upstream petroleum infrastructure.

(2)The Secretary of State must produce one or more strategies for enabling
the principal objective to be met. [7]

18As I said: very unsexy.

19The clause goes on for another fourteen pages, but everything which is destructive and dangerous is actually contained within the name.

"Maximising Economic Recovery of UK Petroleum"

"Maximising Economic Recovery of UK Petroleum"?

20We are approaching a pivotal moment for the history of the planet...

21No we aren’t.

22Throughout the entire history of the Earth it has endured the violent formation of the Solar System itself; countless cataclysmic asteroid and comet impacts; and the eruptions of supervolcanoes. Its surface has frozen and thawed countless times. It has endured the arrival of life and the evolution of photosynthesis, pumping the reactive, corrosive gas oxygen into the atmosphere.

23Manmade climate change is, for the planet, ‘no biggie’.

24For human beings, it is potentially catastrophic.

25At an individual, community, national and international level, we are belatedly realising that we must all do everything in our power to reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases. Some are even warning that this may not be enough and that we need to develop new technologies to capture and lock away carbon dioxide.

26Why, here, then, do we have a piece of legislation which obligates any British government, of any political stripe, to do everything in its power to keep the oil-guzzling show on the road?

27Look out of the caravan window; we’re teetering on the edge of a cliff.

28The Infrastructure Bill requires the Secretary of State to "produce one or more strategies for enabling the principal objective to be met".

29With all respect to the current Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, I do not believe anybody is capable of simultaneously maximising and minimising the United Kingdom’s carbon emissions.

30Yet that, preposterously, is what the proposed Infrastructure Bill would require him to do.

31The Climate Change Act was given Royal Assent on 26 November, 2008. [8] It had broad support across all three of the major political parties, as well as many of the smaller ones.

32The Act requires that:

The target for 2050 E+W+S+N.I.

( 1 ) It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline. [10]

33 I understand that, if the United Kingdom exports petroleum to othe r countries, and then they decide to burn it in thermal power stations to produce electricity, the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere will not technically count towards the "net UK carbon account."

34 However, surely the original purpose of the Climate Change Act was based on the idea that this was the right thing to do – more than this, it was the only reasonable thing to do in a world facing perilous manmade climate change.

35 Even if the Climate Change Act is expensive and politically tricky to implement, if it is successful we will benefit in the long run.

36 So far, it has tended to be wealthier countries which contribute the greatest amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and poorer countries which experience the brunt of climate change. This will not last forever , however . Both the human and the natural worlds are full of complex, interrelated phenomena.

37 In the natural world, the biosphere – the world of animals, plants, bacteria, fungi and protozoa – interacts continuously with the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land. In the human world, trade, wars and migration ensure countries separated by vast physical distances are intimately connected.

38 So far, we have tended as a species to treat our vast, tantalising reserves of crude oil, natural gas and coal as an all-you-can-eat buffet .

39 Perhaps it would be more reasonable to think in terms of an a la carte at an expensive restaurant.

40 Yes, our reserves of hydrocarbon fuels are an energy-rich bonanza, but you wouldn’t want to be eating a la carte every day.

41 After all, somebody’s eventually got to pick up the bill.

42 Just as food is essentially energy, which we all need to simply survive, but if we eat too much or in the wrong proportions there are dire implications for the individual: obesity, high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks; diabetes- not to mention society at large fossil fuels represent a rich source of energy which it will not be easy to wean ourselves off in the short term, but from which it is essential to do so in the long-term.

43 I hope you think hard about what the long-term implications of this bill will be, and how you would feel explaining them to your children and grandchildren.

January 2015

Bibliography

 

[1] http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2009/cop15/eng/11a01.pdf pg 5, United Nations, accessed 11/01/2015

[2] http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v458/n7242/full/nature08017.html Nature, accessed 11/01/2015

[3] Clark, L. et al. in Climate Change 2014 : Mitigation of Climate Change (Edenhofer, O. et al.) Ch. 6 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014)

[4] Rapupach, M. R. et al. Sharing a quota on cumulative carbon emissions. Nature Clim. Chang. 4, 873-879 (2014)

[5] IPCC WORKING GROUP III Integrated Assessment Modelling Consortium (IAMC) AR5 Scenario Databse https://secure.iiasa.ac.at/web-apps/ene/AR5DB/ (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis 2014)

[6] http://www.unhcr.org/53a155bc6.html UNHCR, accessed 11/01/15

[7] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2014-2015/0124/cbill_2014-20150124_en_5.htm UK Parliament, accessed 11/01/15

[8] http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2007-08/climatechangehl.html UK Parliament, accessed 11/01/15

[10] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/27/part/1/crossheading/the-target-for-2050 legislation.gov.uk, accessed 11/01/15

Prepared 15th January 2015