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Some pessimists argue that, as a fallback against not reaching the 2050 targets, the international community should contemplate a plan B: to be fatalistic about the rise in CO2 but somehow intervene globally to combat its warming effects, for example by putting aerosols in the upper atmosphere or even huge sunshades in space. Such geo-engineering would not solve climate change but would at best buy time, probably at inordinate cost. Indeed, it is by no means clear that any such scheme is feasible. The political problems may be overwhelming. Any effective adaptation policy depends on being able to anticipate not just the mean global temperature rise but also the actual regional impacts. Even more confidence in those predictions will be needed before venturing actively to change the climate. The Royal Society has embarked on a study of geo-engineering. We think that it is at least worth while to clarify what makes sense and what does not. Our study may well put a damper on some enthusiasms and reveal why there is no realistic alternative to mitigation efforts.

Finally, I add my voice to other speakers in emphasising that 2009 is an especially crucial year. Political decisions made this year at the G20 and in Copenhagen will resonate decades ahead. That is why today’s debate is timely as well as important, and why we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for initiating it. The UK is only 2 per cent of the problem—that is our projected share of global emissions. But we can surely contribute far more than 2 per cent to the solution, both through our scientific and technical expertise and through our political influence in international fora.

1 pm

Lord May of Oxford: My Lords, I join others in expressing appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for initiating this important debate. I declare some interests. The noble Lord, Lord Rees, and I strongly identify with the Royal Society’s interests and energetic activities in respect to climate change. I am also a member of the Climate Change Committee.

I want to focus on two aspects of the political challenges of addressing climate change. Some will find the first a rather quirky or perhaps excessively abstract comment on some of the basic underlying evolutionary-related aspects of the problem. On the other hand, the second is very practical and I hope will reassure the noble Lord, Lord Broers, that I have not forgotten my undergraduate training as a chemical engineer.

At the heart of the political challenges that face a global response to ameliorating climate change is what an evolutionary biologist would call the problem of the evolution of co-operation. It is the largest and most important unsolved problem in evolutionary biology. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, touched on it. In this year in which there is a plethora of activity commemorating the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the Origin of Species, it is interesting to remember that in his day evolutionary biology confronted many problems, not least the fact that the sun could not have been burning for more than a couple of million years. Those huge problems

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have all essentially been resolved in broad outline with the exception of an understanding of how co-operative behaviour in complex societies appeared and is maintained. Among prairie dogs or marmots one individual will be the guardian issuing warning calls which benefit the whole community but put that individual at extra risk. Individuals in these small groups take turns to issue the warning calls, paying a small cost for a much bigger benefit. Why does it not work? It is because the individual who cheats and does not give calls is at less risk and leaves more descendants. That paradox has been resolved for small groups of closely related individuals and probably worked for us when we were hunter gatherers. However, the origins and maintenance of our complex societies are not at all understood.

There is a huge and expanding volume of academic research. If you are an evolutionary biologist, it is cast in metaphors of the prisoner’s dilemma. If you are an ecologist, it is cast in metaphors of The Tragedy of the Commons. If you are an economist, it is cast in metaphors of the free rider problem. Essentially, however, all this work, deals with co-operative alliances among equals. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, reminded us, our problem in relation to international co-operation on climate change is further complicated by the fact that we need the world’s nation states to collaborate in equitable proportions. To underline that, the OECD countries have a seventh of the world’s population, own half the GDP and are putting half the CO2 into the atmosphere. In addition, 80 per cent of the carbon that has been added by burning fossil fuels, and which is typically resident for 100 years, has been put there by the OECD countries. Therefore, we need to act but in equitable proportions. As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, reminded us, we come together with no evolutionary experience, neither biological evolution nor cultural evolution, of acting today on behalf of tomorrow. Therefore, it is not surprising that when political leaders get together, their horizon is the next election, not the next generation. It is not surprising that “I will if you will” shades into “I won’t if you won’t” or even, as we have seen recently in the EU, “I won’t even if you will”.

That is a fairly gloomy beginning. Against that background my second theme is a good deal more positive. The UK is, indeed, a leader on this issue internationally. We forget that Tony Blair’s first party conference speech in 1997 majored on climate change. He asked me, as the then Chief Scientific Adviser, to prepare an essay to hand out at the party conference, which was against the Civil Service rules. Commendably and with typical wisdom, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, found a way to square that circle.

As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, reminded us, it is also true that the Government, faced with the paradoxes that the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and I have just put in more abstract terms, have acted somewhat more slowly and diffidently than many would have wished. However, we should not forget that the Government established the Climate Change Committee a year before it formally existed so that it could produce its first report within a week or two of the Climate Change Bill passing into law.



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My second point derives from that. I do not think that we emphasise sufficiently strongly that even if international co-operation lags, many, and arguably most, of the things that are outlined in the first report of the Climate Change Committee, and which the Government are thereby more or less committed to carry out, will benefit us and will have advantages for the UK, even if others do not do their bit and we fail to hold global warming below thresholds such as the aimed for 2 degrees or even 3 degrees—an outcome which I fear is quite likely. That is to say, even if others do not play their part, the cost of many of the activities foreshadowed for us is not necessarily a positive one. It can be a negative cost, a benefit, but is not necessarily a competitive disadvantage. I give some examples. Some of them even resonate with putative solutions for aspects of the financial crisis. Public spending could be directed at retro fitting houses with better insulation and introducing tighter regulations when the building industry recovers to enable it to build houses that are more fit for tomorrow’s purpose. That will involve an initial small cost but it will not happen unless we tighten building regulations, train inspectors to enforce them and change planning laws to stop developers building on floodplains. Benefits could be delivered within the lifetime of the people buying such houses. We should take those beneficial actions no matter what others do.

Decarbonising electricity, of which many noble Lords have spoken, offers clear benefits in energy security in a world in which oil will become pricier, albeit with fluctuating prices, as it becomes less abundant and we pass “peak oil”. Better transport in and between cities can offer improvements in the lives of those who live in overly congested cities.

One of my hobby horses is that we too easily forget that when we were hunter gatherers, we spent typically a tenth of a calorie of metabolic energy to put a calorie in our mouth; 100 years ago, with the advances of scientific agriculture, we spent a calorie of fossil fuel energy subsidy—subsidised energy—to put a calorie on the table. Today, we spend 10 calories to put a calorie on the table. Much of that is used at the production stage and some for transportation. The production stage wastes energy by taking the nutrients out to make things snap, crackle and pop and then uses a bit more energy to put something back in. We could contribute to combating both climate change and obesity by looking hard at what we do with food.

In summary, the political, economic and quality-of-life costs if global co-operative activity falls short are very real and very serious, but many benefits will accrue if we remain firmly committed to what is embodied in the Climate Change Act. All we need here is firm political leadership.

1.11 pm

Baroness Flather: My Lords, I was totally dazzled by the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, in his opening speech. I will have to read it to understand much of it, because just by listening it was not terribly easy for someone who is not knowledgeable in the subject to understand everything. Today, as ever, there have been some amazing speeches. It is a great pleasure

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to follow my noble friend Lord May. On the other occasion when I followed him, I was also absolutely gobsmacked—not a very parliamentary word—and so interested in what he said. He says it very clearly and plainly and people like me can understand him. I thank him and other noble Lords for what they have said today.

I have no expertise, experience or real knowledge on this subject, but I am going to talk about an issue which is very closely connected but which is not talked about when this issue is discussed. Today, only the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has mentioned the “P” word—population, which is what I will focus on. We are asked to change light bulbs, conserve water, recycle, have cleaner cars and so on, and we should be doing all those things anyway. They are good for us, good for our neighbours and they are good things to do. Why should we waste resources? That follows a general way of thinking. I am sure that many people are still not doing those things, and that is sad.

The PC—politically correct—lobby has made sure that we do not talk about a very important reason for the changes in the world’s climate: population increase. There has been enormous population increase in the past 100 years, and it is a factor globally, particularly in developing countries. It has an enormous impact in all sorts of ways, certainly on global warming and on social collapse. How many times do you hear population increase connected with environmental degradation, water shortage and global warming? It leads to all those things, but we do not talk about it.

We are now 6.7 billion people, and it is projected that there will be 2 billion more people on earth by 2050, which is one of the target dates that we have been discussing when we talk about how we are going to reduce carbon emissions. If there are 2 billion more people, they will need to be fed and looked after, and they will need water. At the moment, there are still a lot of people who survive on food aid. Is it possible that 2 billion more people, who are likely to be in the developing and the poorest countries, will be able to survive on their own? They will not. We need to think about this and how we will look at this issue and bring it out into the open and discuss it.

I have written here that the liberals—with a small “L”—said that the poor consume less. I will not say that now, because the noble Lord, Lord May, has said it; and indeed they do consume less. But that is so because they have less. There is no more for them to consume than what they have. They are cutting down the woods and they are collecting whatever is available. A woman has to collect wood to cook food for herself and her children. She has to take water wherever the water is from, and she has to look at her life as surviving another day. It is not like she has access to things and is holding herself back from consuming; they have nothing. The deserts will grow, the amount of rainfall will reduce, droughts will come—they are already. We know what is happening in the world. Disease is increasing, particularly in Africa, and, as one of your Lordships’ reports has said, that is because of population increase. People are living closer together, so there is disease. We must take these things into account when we talk about global warming and environmental degradation.



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Africa’s population is set to more than double by 2050. It is 1 billion now, and it is expected to become 2.3 billion. We are sending food aid now. What will our grandchildren be doing in 2050? What will the countries that now send aid be trying to do? Africa cannot feed itself now. Will it feed itself when it has more than double the population? I think not. The political will is not there in Africa to look after its people. To me, that is one of the saddest things about Africa.

A poor woman has very little access to the real necessities of life. She has very little access to take control of her fertility. Fathers do not take responsibility for family planning; they never have done, not even in developed countries. It is always the women who look after these issues, and the women in poor countries do not have access and they do not have power. In families in Africa, it is very often the woman alone who brings up the children. Would it not be better for her to have fewer children and give them better health and possibly get them to school? We need much more action on these sorts of issues.

Former President Bush unilaterally decided to stop funding the UNFPA, because it supported China’s one-child policy. That was such an amazing decision. The UNFPA had nothing to do with China’s one-child policy; China itself decided that policy, which has stopped 300 million more Chinese from coming into the world. When we look at China, we must accept that it would not have had the growth that it has had if it did not have the one-child policy. However, I am not advocating that. I am simply advocating that we bring this issue out into the open. It is a major contributor to all the things that everyone has been talking about. Unless we do so, there will be no change of any kind. We need to make that change.

I finish by referring to the seventh millennium development goal: to strive for environmental stability. The targets it sets are to integrate sustainable development into policies and programmes, reverse the loss of national resources, improve access to safe drinking water and improve the lot of millions living in slum dwellings. It is as plain as a pikestaff that none of those can be achieved without tackling the population issue.

1.20 pm

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for initiating this debate. I shall probably disagree with many of his points, but I shall discuss that later.

The politics of climate change has been dealt with in minutiae by many of us who have taken part in these debates over the past few years—we have had the Climate Change Bill, the Energy Bill and numerous debates. It is most encouraging to speak in a debate in which there has been no question that climate change is happening. That is a step forward in this House, where it has been much more a question of how fast changes should take place. My problem with the politics of climate change is that we are still discussing targets, as thought setting them will be the solution. I realise—and the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, made it clear—how important these targets are at an international level and that they have their place.



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However, I have an issue which was borne out when dealing with the Energy Bill and through going to a large number of conferences. We are setting targets that might not be achievable for a number of reasons—technology, and because we and other countries are setting targets that we know none of us will meet. That is a real problem. My view of the politics of this is that we should instead be thinking about building the infrastructure. We should also understand what the targets really mean, because we are talking about an 80 per cent reduction in emissions. Some scientists are talking about an even greater reduction, because we may well have already passed the tipping point.

That means, in reality, that people will be unable to live their lives in the way that they are now. We must seriously change how we live our lives, but that is not being taken on board. It is not a bad thing—for example, SUVs were not around 10 or 15 years ago on the school run, and they probably will not be around in a few years. People will have to change how they lead their lives.

I found the recent announcement on the Heathrow expansion very depressing, but perhaps it is only me who feels like that. Although the arguments were put in favour, I have been to many conferences where there was talk of us running short of peak oil in the next 20 or 30 years. However, the Heathrow expansion will take at least a decade to come into commission and it will have a certain lifespan. Where will the traffic for Heathrow come from in 20 years? There certainly will be no cheap awayday flights to Prague. Flying will, by necessity, become very expensive and we will probably return to the situation of 30 years ago, when only a small number of people could afford to fly. Therefore, we will be building an infrastructure which will break our carbon barriers, but will never live up to expectation. It is a short-term commitment to how we view growth in the economy.

This is why I have a slight problem with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Browne. I very much take on board that the only game in town is the ETS and carbon trading. It is to be welcomed that President Obama is talking about widening the trading fields. However, perhaps unusually, I am a carbon-trade sceptic. I do not believe that carbon trading itself will lead to a reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide produced, because there are many flaws and pitfalls in the system. If we are to throw ourselves at market forces, we only have to think about the banking crisis to realise how that can go horribly wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, mentioned recession. How often have I seen reports in the press recently that big green projects were under immediate threat because of recession? We are saying, “Okay, we have market forces, and we have these targets, but if there is a problem in the economy we cannot meet the targets because we cannot afford them”.

I have met a large number of carbon traders who have not given me a great deal of hope on the issue. However, carbon trading could work well on a macro level. I do not believe that market forces will be the real driver; it will be regulation by the Government. I have spoken to a large number of power companies over the years which have talked about what type of

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power stations they will build and how they will meet the so-called decarbonised electricity grid. Most of the companies say that they are hanging back and not making decisions because of the real issue of whether they can meet the carbon targets set by the Government, who have not come forward with them. That creates a real problem in the system, because if no new power stations are built, we cannot see how the electricity sector will be developed.

I very much hope that we look at this issue in the future. My problem is that while I believe that coal should not be part of the mix because of its carbon content, I cannot see a way of meeting our energy requirements without including coal. Therefore, the only way that we could include coal would be through carbon capture and storage technologies. However, the problem is that we are only talking about one demonstration plant, we are not realistically saying how we can use that technology in all power stations within a certain time frame. We are talking about 20 or 30 years ahead. The world does not have 20 or 30 years. I very much welcome the efforts undertaken by the Chinese Government. They have already put forward, and are starting to construct, more than one demonstration plant. It is unfortunate that a few years ago we said that we were going to build a demonstration plant and export that technology to the world, whereas it very much looks as though that technology will be exported to us over the next few years.

Looking to the future, the Government have made some positive gestures. We talked at Question Time about the use of light bulbs which will save some 5 million tonnes of carbon. It is one of the changes that people will have to get used to. Indeed, there will be a spur to the market place; the papers today reported a new type of light bulb which will be extremely bright for 75 per cent less energy. That is important.

There are areas where the Government have failed, especially in the Energy Bill. I was disappointed that the Government have not moved forward on smart meters, considering the speed that such a programme could be rolled out. One issue is that Ofgem has not worked out what sort of market model there should be—whether meters should be given to individual customers or whether the programme should be carried out street by street. Holding that system up on that basis is unfortunate, because that would be one of the greatest ways of bringing about behavioural change.

We shall have to bring about behavioural change. I have been doing a great deal of work on energy efficiency in houses, especially regarding energy performance certificates. The Government, in meeting their targets, will have to introduce regulations that produce more than the carrot of economic benefit for people if they carry out the change. At some point, they will have to think of imposing a regulatory stick if people do not change; for example, not allowing them to complete on conveyancing if a house is not insulated to the correct levels, and making it impossible to sell a house with a G-rated, rather than an A-rated, boiler. Such changes could be simple to make, and if they were put into the process, people would carry them out without thinking about them. As with light bulbs, they would be a requirement and, therefore, people would undertake them.



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Some future technologies could help and one of them, in which I declare an interest, is anaerobic digestion. I have just become the chairman of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association, whose aim is not to set up a working group to discuss what sort of standards it should be reaching but to build, over the next 10 to 15 years, 1,000 AD plants in this country. This is an old technology. Germany has more than 3,500 plants; Austria and Italy have 400 plants apiece; Denmark has a few hundred; and, of large-scale plants, we have 10. When we talk about carbon, we should think not only about the electricity grid but about the gas grid as well, because that is a massive source of carbon dioxide. It has just been shown by the national grid that 50 per cent of our domestic gas could come from anaerobic digestion. If Germany can produce that many plants, we should be able to do so. It is a mature technology that can be brought here to deal with many of our waste issues.

I want to end by talking about the politics of this matter. There is one big problem affects every Government. We talk about moving forward as quickly as possible but every single industry involved in energy efficiency, low-carbon products or microgeneration that I have talked to always has problems with regulation. Yesterday, I was lobbied by a company called Living Fuels, which takes waste chip oil from prisons, schools and other organisations and puts it through a power station that can produce six megawatts of power. I should declare that when I met the people from that company yesterday, I paid for tea. I say that just in case, in the present climate, people think that I am doing this for any other reason.

The company uses a fuel called LF100. The problem is that there was a court case to decide how the fuel should be designated, which affects how it should be dealt with. It was decided that the fuel should be designated in a specific way, and the court said that the Environment Agency and Defra should work out regulations to allow the company to move forward. The trouble is that the company has now been waiting eight and a half months for those regulations to be brought forward and, until that happens, it cannot do anything. That could kill a fantastically good industry. The trouble with waste oil is that it goes down the drains and costs the water companies millions of pounds to clear. I will pass on the details to the Minister and hope that he can meet representatives from the company. One problem with the politics is that sometimes regulation gets in the way of moving towards a low-carbon economy.


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