Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

On electricity, I very much hope that the committee will start looking at balancing the grid, which is a major problem for this country. New nuclear power stations are planned but will not come online until about 2030. One of the issues is how we can best use our current energy infrastructure. I am particularly concerned about the grid, which seems to have been neglected in many of the reports. Many of the White Papers have not talked about the electricity grid itself. An inefficient grid will waste enormous amounts of energy. I very much hope that the Government will look over the next couple of years at the whole issue of energy storage. This is the holy grail of electricity. With energy storage, you could turn renewables into base load and vastly increase the value of energy coming from energy storage. I declare an interest as a shareholder in an energy storage company called Highview, which will produce electricity from liquid nitrogen. However, I shall not go any further into that because, whenever I mention it, it takes people a long time to work out how you can use liquid nitrogen. However, I believe that energy storage in many forms-whether through liquid nitrogen or batteries-will be a real issue. I know that the Americans are spending enormous amounts on this.

One real concern that I have is that we are underestimating a key contributor to carbon in this country: boilers. I am very boring on the subject; I have raised boilers a great many times, and it does not seem to catch the public imagination as it should. It is an issue. However, a group called G2Action has calculated that we have a slight issue with boilers; even if we start converting at the present rate to A-rated boilers, we will miss the target for reduction in CO2 from boilers that is set down by 1.5 billion tonnes by 2050. I went through the figures myself and the reason for that is that, although we can increase the efficiency of boilers so that they are at 97 per cent efficiency-and you cannot get very much more efficient than that-they are not being replaced fast enough. Even when you get to that efficiency rate, the increase in the number of households in the country negates that saving. It is a real concern. Therefore, we have to look at ways in which to deal with that.

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1032

Suggesting a change to an A-rated boiler would be a helpful hint to people. However, I have just changed my own boiler at a cost of £5,000. I know that I will save that, but it is a large financial leap. I have worked hard with Ofgem over the past two or three years to look at CERT on boilers to see whether we could come up with some financial incentives. Boilers have been included in CERT, but at an average of £65 per boiler it is insignificant and irrelevant. So CERT has failed as a financial mechanism for boilers.

The one way in which to deal with the problem of boilers is by decarbonising the gas grid. The only way in which we could look at doing that is by looking at renewable gas through biogas. This is an area that I am particularly keen on and have spent a great deal of time on recently. Indeed, I set up the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association and became its chair to look at the anaerobic industry. We have been working very hard on that recently and found that there is probably about £680 million of plant under development or in the planning process at the moment. To give the size of the market that I believe will take place, there are probably about 1,000 plants; 75 per cent of those will be in the agricultural sector, while 25 per cent of those will deal with municipal waste. From those 1,000 plants, we could produce between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of our domestic gas. That will be vital because, by 2015, we will import about 80 per cent of our gas. Therefore, the more gas we can produce from the renewable sector, the more it will affect gas prices. We have a massive problem with gas storage, which leads to the fact that the spot price on gas is what we are paying, rather than the underlying price.

The report talks about the renewable heat incentive, and there were certain question marks over biogas. Gas produced by anaerobic digestion plants, of which there will be quite a large number, then pumped into the grid, is a form of heat, using the gas as an energy-carrier medium. It is probably one of the most efficient mediums to carry energy to the household, if it is fired through a condensing boiler, because you do not lose the heat through a district heating system in the process. That is of particular interest with regard to the renewable heat incentive; one application for that incentive that DECC is considering at the moment is how heat can be dealt with and subsidised. That is a real issue, and I very much hope that the consultation process that is starting in January is looked at carefully. We will have to look at a high price for the renewable heat incentive for biogas, but it will have a major impact on our supply chain and the cost of gas. Far more than that, it will have a massive impact on the carbon content of the gas going into the national gas grid. That is a fundamental issue that we will have to look at with the RHI. I hope that the renewable that everybody is talking about next year is anaerobic digestion and biogas and that the next document that comes before Parliament from the climate change committee looks carefully at its role.

5.55 pm

Lord Krebs: My Lords, I thank the Minister for this opportunity to debate the climate change committee's first annual report. I am delighted to hear the positive

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1033

response that the Minister indicated the Government had made to the report. I declare an interest as a member of the climate change committee as well as the chairman of the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the CCC.

I will not live to see the potentially damaging consequences of climate change and, looking around the room, I believe that the same may be said of a number of other noble Lords in the Chamber. However, I have a two month-old grandson, who certainly will live to see the damaging effects of the profligacy of our generation. So it is certainly a moral imperative for us to do what we can to put right the damage that we have done to the planet, for the sake of future generations. It is also worth reflecting that the commitment made in the Climate Change Act, and on the basis of subsequent advice from the climate change committee, to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050 is based on an assumption of global equity. If in 2050 everybody in the world produces 2 tonnes of carbon per year, that would have a reasonable chance of stabilising global warming below the dangerous levels that would lead to tipping points.

I add an aside on climate change sceptics. There are those around who still do not accept the science behind climate change and the human impact. Of course, there are still many uncertainties in the science, and we should continue to improve our scientific understanding. However, in explaining this to people, I say that all they have to remember is three facts that are well established. First, carbon dioxide in greenhouse gases trap the sun's heat and keep the earth warm; without them, we would be living at a temperature of minus 18 degrees. That was worked out in 1824 by the French scientist Joseph Fourier. Fact two is that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas levels have gone up in recent decades; indeed, since the start of the industrial revolution, CO2 has gone up by 30 per cent. The third fact is that that increase in CO2 can be attributed, by the isotopic signature of the carbon directly, to the burning of fossil fuels. Those three facts, together with the direct measurements that temperature has gone up by three-quarters of a degree since the beginning of thermometer records in 1850, is absolutely irrefutable evidence of global warming and that human activity has made a contribution.

I come to the points that I want to make about the committee's report. In the UK, we are rightly proud of the fact that we lead the pack, as the Minister has said, in establishing a legally binding target for greenhouse gas emissions. Our intention and plans are very good. But before we let ourselves get too excited by our achievement we should ask what is happening to our national carbon footprint. As is so often the case, we appear to be better on process than on action, which was one of the headlines of the CCC's report. Emissions need to go down between 2 per cent and 3 per cent a year to meet our target of 80 per cent reduction. But at the moment they are going down by less than 1 per cent a year, which is why the committee called for a step change. We have to triple our rate of greenhouse gas reductions if we are to meet the target. I am sure that other noble Lords will say more about the details in the committee's report, which looks at how emission

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1034

reductions can be achieved in relation to power generation in buildings and in road transport. But a central objective of the report is to decarbonise electricity generation and then use electricity as the energy source of choice.

I want to make simply one general point. Much of the policy of this and other Governments over recent decades has relied on the mantra of the market and individual consumer choice delivering the desired outcome. The climate change committee's report makes it clear that the operation of the market and consumer choice will not deliver the required step change. More intervention, more tough choices and more leadership by government are required. That is true in relation to renewable energy and the switch to electric cars, as well as to increased energy efficiency in the home. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are, as recommended by the climate change committee, prepared to take a more interventionist stance to achieve their emissions targets? That may involve investment, incentivising individuals to make choices, regulation or, as referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, procurement decisions.

It is also clear that lessons may be learnt from what other countries have done. Germany, for example, is considerably ahead of the UK on wind power, even though we have the natural advantage of living on a very windy island with a huge coastline. How has Germany got ahead of us? I am told that two very simple measures played an important role. The first was the introduction of a guaranteed price for wind energy through a feed-in tariff that made wind farms a good investment for the private citizen as well as for businesses and the second was the requirement for local governments to identify suitable sites for wind farm development. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are prepared to learn lessons from other countries and apply them in an appropriate way in this country?

My final point is about adaptation to climate change. However successful we are at mitigation and even if Copenhagen exceeds the wildest hopes of environmentalists, which, in itself is most unlikely, we are committed to some climate change. The climate system is like a very large tanker. You cannot turn it around quickly. Even if we radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally, it will take some time for the climate system to respond. For example, it is estimated that 20 per cent of today's carbon dioxide will still be in the atmosphere in 1,000 years.

The longer we go without a global deal to stem greenhouse gas emissions, the more important adaptation will become-not as an alternative to mitigation, but we need to prepare ourselves for the inevitability of some climate change. The impact of this change will be felt partly directly here in the UK and partly indirectly through the effects on other parts of the world that will have knock-on consequences for us. According to some climate models, a 4 degrees centigrade global temperature rise, which is within the range of possibilities, would make the Mediterranean basin more like the Sahara desert. We should pause to think of the consequences of this, not just for our holiday homes in Italy or southern France, but in terms of food production, climate migrants and tourism.

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1035

The Met Office Hadley Centre has produced projections for the UK up to 2080-the so-called UKCP09 projections. These projections should be treated with great caution because they are provisional and are pushing the modelling by climate scientists to their limits. Nevertheless, they give us an indication of what we are likely to have to adapt to. I hear some people say, "Global warming, bring it on. It will get warmer here and London will be more like Lisbon. Wonderful". But we should stop to think about what it would be like to travel on the London Underground day after day, week after week, in 40 degrees centigrade temperatures. We in this country are not well prepared for a significantly hotter world.

Water supply may be at least as important as temperature rise in adapting to climate change, in the sense of both getting too much and having too little. One prediction of the climate models is for more frequent periods of drought and heat stress, particularly in the south-east, which is already water stressed. At the same time, heavier seasonal rainfall, as well as the possibility of a sea-level rise, will make many parts of the country more flood prone. While the recent floods in Cumbria, as well as the July 2007 floods, cannot as individual events be attributed to climate change, they could be an indication of what is likely to come. The Environment Agency has estimated that already one in six homes in England is at risk of flooding. The misery caused to the occupants and the problem of insurance are likely to increase.

Measures can be taken to adapt. We could stop building new homes in flood-prone areas. Equally, on water shortage, we could make more efficient use of domestic water by a range of measures. When you think of it, it is bizarre that most of us treat water as a more or less free good. The Environment Agency and today's Walker report have already recommended that all homes should have metered water, which would cut consumption by an estimated 10 per cent to 15 per cent. It is further estimated by the Environment Agency that domestic water consumption could be cut by as much as one-third by installing grey water recycling systems. It is truly profligate that we wash our cars and water our gardens with purified drinking water. It is madness. I am told that the cost of fitting grey water recycling systems to new houses would add perhaps 1 per cent or 2 per cent to the overall price that people would pay for a house.

As with mitigation, the adaptation agenda will require leadership from the Government. I shall end with an echo of my earlier question on mitigation. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are prepared to take the necessary action to prepare us for the inevitable change to our climate that lies ahead, as well as the action to mitigate against further climate change?

6.08 pm

The Lord Bishop of Salisbury: My Lords, the problem with global warming and climate change is that the urgency of the task requires action. Moreover, it requires change and sacrifice. The church often prefers to deliberate, talk, reflect, pray, debate or plan. It prefers to do anything other than do something or, as in this

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1036

case, stop doing things. It is clear from this debate that meeting carbon budgets is a precise, calculated and even legally definable science. Many noble Lords are telling us what we might do and how we might do it.

I shall offer some comments on the effects of global warming that can be observed, as the alarming photos of disappearing ice in the Arctic or on the alpine glaciers show. The deductions based on them virtually all point in one direction; namely, how we decide to live more frugally in energy terms. I believe that that is a precise and positive choice and not a matter to be left to economic laissez faire. This makes what happens at the Copenhagen summit all the more important. As we can see, the production of more evidence along the lines of the CCC's progress report is not in itself enough to galvanise people to act. The more vulnerable nations already suffering from a less predictable climate are less able to help themselves, so significant efforts to cut emissions will be made only when the nations make a commitment to act in concert. To do that, their leaders need an indication that a decent proportion of their people are behind them.

It is the intention of the Church of England to persuade its members to support our Government in their endeavours to co-operate with other nations and, more significantly, to act itself. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury is going to Copenhagen to preach there and to make our support explicit. Last month, the church issued a seven-year plan to be implemented by its 16,200 churches and 4,700 schools across the UK in an effort to cut the combined annual carbon footprint of around 330,000 tonnes of CO2. The report, Church and Earth, includes emissions reduction targets for the church as a whole in line with the national target of 80 per cent by 2050, and with an interim aim of reducing the church's carbon footprint by 42 per cent by 2020. This plan puts education and young people at the heart of the church's climate change strategy, with all 4,700 church schools nationwide aiming to achieve "eco-school" status and implementing government policy on education for sustainable development.

It is not only the Church of England; the world's major faiths have drawn up long-term plans which were discussed at Windsor in November by more than 200 leaders of faith groups as part of their programme for "seven-year plans for generational change". The major faith communities worldwide recognise unequivocally that there is a moral imperative to tackle the causes of global warming. They have a crucial role to play around the world as key agents of change in pressing for changes in behaviour at every level of society and in every economic sector. Faith groups reach half of all the world's schools and have been called on by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to,

The churches have accepted the responsibility to learn how to live and develop sustainability in a world of finite resources, and we will redouble our efforts to reduce emissions that result from our institutional and individual activities.

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1037

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, referred to water as a particular example. In the part of sub-Saharan Africa that I know well-Sudan-it is quite clear that water shortage is not only a present difficulty in environmental terms, but that it is also highly likely that access to water and, indeed, how the Nile is treated higher up than Sudan, will be the cause of major conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa in years to come. It is not just a matter of our carbon footprint now and over the next 20 years, it is also a question that profoundly affects the possibilities for peace in that very troubled area of the world. If Ethiopia were to cut off supplies from the Blue Nile, Egypt would at once become unsustainable and infertile. There would be an immediate and determined attempt by the Egyptians to try to enforce the plans and covenants they have tried to put in place over the waters of the Blue Nile. It is only one example of the way in which the patterns of our future lifestyle are interconnected and require us not merely to make national or even modest international progress in trying to act together, but to mobilise the community of the world. That is needed not only for the sustainability of our world in terms of lifestyle, carbon emissions and climate change governance, but also to provide for the world a pattern of living together in such a way that we will be able to avoid some of the conflicts that will inevitably come upon us if we do not take these options seriously.

Surely these kind of corporate commitments are preferable to what the report calls the,

That is not what we need. What we need is a greater degree of co-operation between the nations of the world, to act together in this, as in so much else.

6.15 pm

Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, it is a privilege to participate in this debate and I am happy to follow the right reverend Prelate in his general thesis. I am persuaded by climate change. We need to act quickly and it means that we have to change our habits as individuals and, indeed, as a society and as a Government. That will involve hard choices individually, nationally and internationally. However, I would add a caveat in saying that. When we are talking about hard choices, we must ensure that there is a sense of equity, as the right reverend Prelate said, in the international context for the undeveloped world. Just as when we think about our own citizens, we must not get into a situation where there is no equity so that the poor end up paying a disproportionate price for the inevitable costly hard choices.

It is also clear that we must use science to help tackle this problem. I declare an interest as a non-executive director of Sellafield and a lifelong supporter of the nuclear industry. I follow the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, in his special plea for the electricity grid. It is something that the Government need to be moving a little faster on. I clearly believe that at least one new nuclear power station is needed in west Cumbria, but I recognise the difficulties involved in getting the electricity on to the current grid system. We need to be thinking about to develop a grid that will have to run through a national park, and work needs to proceed to see how efficiently we can transmit

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1038

that electricity under the estuaries-perhaps even across Morecambe Bay to Heysham power station itself. That sort of preparatory work could be taken forward now.

I also want to make that the point that it is not just window dressing when we talk about the economy of west Cumbria as the "energy coast". It has gone right through and energised the local society, and I can cite the example of the town of Cockermouth, which has suffered so much of late. Recently a group of youngsters came down from the local comprehensive school. It was one of the most inspiring events I have been to. The key fact I want to impress on noble Lords is this: more than 90 young people from that comprehensive school are studying A-level mathematics, while more than 100 are reading A-level physics. That is a measure of the hope and expectation for science that we have in that part of the world. I believe that we need to use the nuclear industry as the non-carbon power base for our baseload of electricity.

The other thing is that we should not forget nature in all this. Any society in an increasingly developed world is becoming more and more removed and remote from nature. Although we see the great power of nature, as we did in Cumbria three weeks ago, sometimes we still think that we as mankind can do it better and more cleverly. In this climate change debate, we ignore nature at our peril. That may seem mere tautology, but I declare an interest as chair of the Forestry Commission. It is probably the last time I shall make that declaration because I finish my eight-year stint at midnight tomorrow. It has been a great privilege to hold that post because I started my life as a forest worker. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that climate change is long term and most of us will not see its effect, applies equally to forestry: you plant trees and very rarely see them harvested. Incidentally, this applies also to nuclear energy, which is another long-term industry.

I make that point because for the past two years I have been encouraging my director-general, Tim Rawlinson, to take a lead internationally to see what we can do in the forestry world. In many ways we are inspired to do so by the impressive work of the noble Lord, Lord Stern, on climate change. Although we may argue about the odd percentage, he made the point that about 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation. That is almost as much as the industrial emissions from the whole of the United States of America. It is a large contribution that we have to tackle. The level of deforestation is still proceeding, which all adds to the difficulty of the situation.

However, the Forestry Commission in Britain has taken the lead by establishing an organisation called the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration. It is not good enough to stop deforestation; we must start increasing afforestation. In degraded parts of the world and in areas that used to be afforested and are now just deserts, we can grow trees again. At a conference in London a couple of weeks ago, a number of European Ministers signed up to that. It was held in conjunction with the IUCN, and Latin American and South American countries and China have joined us in that effort. Reafforestation is an important issue.

However, it is not as simple as that because we do not know what the position is here in our own country. In order to find out, we asked the eminent scientist,

8 Dec 2009 : Column 1039

Professor Sir David Read, a former vice-president of the Royal Society and an eminent professor of plant pathology at the University of Sheffield, to chair an inquiry by a group of scientists and he reported a couple of weeks ago. His remit was, basically, to analyse the position of forestry in Britain in relation to the mitigation of climate change. He has produced a sound report which is well worth studying.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page