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In that report he picks up a number of points which we, as a Government, can utilise for the benefit of the country. The main point he makes is that sequestration of carbon by trees is beginning to decline in this country simply because our planting has tailed off. Having said that, he and his panel believe that if we increase tree cover by a mere 4 per cent in the United Kingdom, it would sequester 10 per cent of our carbon emissions. That is a significant percentage and we ought to address this issue. The percentage varies: coniferous forests, which are hated by many people, sequester far more carbon than the more natural and more acceptable oak. For example, he estimates that coniferous trees sequester 20 tonnes of CO2 annually whereas with oak it is 15 tonnes.
On top of that we can store even more carbon in the timber itself. It is therefore important that we use more wood in our construction industry because it would tie up carbon for many years, decades and occasionally centuries. We ought to do that. It is possible. Between 80 and 90 per cent of new houses in Scotland are built using the timber-framed method; in England, the figure is less than 20 per cent. The challenge for the Government is to give a lead to architects, developers and builders. It is not only a sensible way to store carbon but, given our climate, it is a cheaper way to build houses.
I hope I have made the case for an increased use of timber and an increase in forest coverage. I take the point of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, that there are certain parts of the country, especially the south-east, where there are many wooded areas-the most wooded counties in England are Kent, Sussex and Surrey-but no market for the wood. However, as it is basically hard wood, it is ideal for burning and producing energy and biomass. We work very closely with the South East England Development Agency but more effort could be put in by regional development agencies to progress that issue.
People love trees and here we have something which can help us to fight carbon emissions and provide so many things for people-timber, recreation, biodiversity, conservation, health promotion; the list goes on and on. I am sure we will hear from the Minister today that the Government are keen to help the Forestry Commission to expand the tree cover in this country.
So not much progress so far. This, incidentally, gives lie to the claim made by the EU Environment Commissioner, reported in the 27 November issue of Resource Management & Recovery, that emissions in the 15 oldest European Union member states had fallen by 4.3 per cent from 1990 levels by 2007. He made the misleading boast:
So all of our recent achievements, such as they are, have been derived not from our own efforts, strenuous and expensive though those have been, but as the result of an economic recession that none of us would have wished to happen-none of us, that is, except, conceivably, those diehard environmentalists and others who would prefer not to see economic growth and prosperity as priorities of policy.
The question is: will the future tell a different story? I shall confine my remarks to electricity generation, which accounts for the largest single demand for primary energy, ahead of transport, and is the primary energy-using sector with the highest CO2 emissions at about one-third of the total, ahead of both industry and transport. A recently published report by the leading engineering consultancy Parsons Brinckerhoff, entitled Powering the Future, forecasts that the United Kingdom generating capacity existing today will fall to a half of its present level by 2023 and will have disappeared almost entirely, with the sole exception of Scottish hydroelectric power, by 2040. So virtually our entire electricity-generating capacity will have to be replaced in the next 30 years. It will mean that new plant will have to be built at a rate at least equal to the highest historical rate achieved in this country and at a time when our own power plant industry is greatly reduced.
At the same time, the demand for electricity will surely rise, with, as the report before us shows, population expected to increase by 9 million by 2022, 3 million new houses likely to be built by 2020, road vehicle emissions expected to continue rising as they have in the past and demand for electricity itself having shown in the years leading up to the recession a secular increase of just over 1.5 per cent a year-and all that before the appearance of the electric car, for which the climate change committee also calls loudly.
Against this background of demand for new plant on an unheard-of scale for replacement of our existing power stations, and the likelihood of a substantial increase in the demand for electricity, unless it is stifled by the effect of environmental taxes, how does the committee propose the gap be filled?
It proposes three essentially carbon-free means: nuclear power, carbon capture and storage and wind power. The trouble with nuclear is that even the committee cannot see more than two new nuclear power stations coming on stream before 2020, by which time it would have liked us to reduce our CO2 emissions by 40 per cent. According to the table on page 146 of the report, the contribution of nuclear power will be less in the third budget period than it is in the first.
The problem with carbon capture and storage is that the committee and the Government are calling to their aid an unproven technology. It looks likely to be extremely expensive, requiring twice the amount of fuel perhaps to produce the same quantity of electricity. And if it comes at all, it will come too late, at any rate to help meet the targets. As the report sets out, there are still demonstration plants due to be built by 2016, and the first new full CCS plant is not due to appear until 2022.
So the immense reduction in CO2 emissions that the committee is looking forward to-40 per cent by 2020; even more than 50 per cent at one moment, as stated on page 93; 60 per cent by the third budget-is so far as electricity generation is concerned all to depend on wind power.
At what cost will that be and how realistic are those expectations? In the first place, wind can deliver only very modest amounts of electricity. Even Denmark and Germany, two countries renowned for their achievements in this field, get only 7 per cent of their annual electricity consumption from wind. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, was right to say that Germany has gone ahead of this country: it has almost 10 times the number of turbines as us. But do we wish to follow it?
In this country, wind power is paid for by enormous subsidies, mostly indirectly from the consumer, to the tune of more £1 billion per annum today and likely to rise at least fourfold if the Government's targets are ever to be met, pushing electricity bills through the roof. There is not much on that subject in the report.
Wind power is far into, but has by no means finished, the process of industrialising much of our finest countryside, which has been a magnet for visitors from all over the world and inspiration for some of our most famous artists. Here, I declare an interest in that I continue to oppose wind farm applications made close to where I live in the north-west of England.
Wind farms drag in their wake new transmission lines, bringing electricity from remote areas to where it is required at the other end of the country. Incidentally, these new transmission lines are in themselves inefficient, because they have to be capable of operating at a level of capacity which they are only occasionally required to reach.
Offshore wind is little better. It costs at least twice as much as onshore wind, takes twice as long to install and brings with it immense maintenance issues. It must be most doubtful whether the Government's offshore wind targets are achievable. As the report points out on page 117, the United Kingdom will need to access no fewer than 10 additional installation vessels, which cost between £50 million and £150 million each, have a three-year procurement period and of which we currently have only two. Even if we had the
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Wind farms also eat up capital that should be spent on more appropriate efforts to resolve our looming energy crisis. In this regard, the chief executive of Ofgem had some ominous words for MPs last week when he told them that the major energy companies now had serious capital constraints and that the United Kingdom was in danger of losing its position as a prime place for energy investment. We do not live in a world in which we can afford to waste vast sums on the wrong priorities.
Aside from the expense and inefficiency of wind power, what about its justification in the climate committee's eyes: its supposed capability for reducing CO2 emissions? Is it effective in that regard? It must always be borne in mind that the existence of wind power, however big the so-called wind estate, does not result in the closure of a single fossil-fuelled power station. On the contrary, conventional power stations on their own must always be able to meet peak demand, for there are moments, often coinciding with extreme temperatures, when no wind is available, often across the country and even across Europe.
Moreover, these changes occur abruptly and flexible forms of conventional generation must be ready to step in. Present nuclear plants are no good for that purpose as they can take 48 hours to warm up. That is one reason why far more gas-fired power stations than any other sort are now being built. These power stations are kept in a state of so-called spinning reserve and are constantly being ramped up and down, which of course produces additional CO2 emissions. Moreover, why is it right to ignore the CO2 emissions produced in the manufacture, erection and maintenance of wind farms and their attendant transmission lines, considering that they are all entirely surplus to electricity-generating requirements?
There is another factor. To the extent that the conventional power supply sees its CO2 emissions reduced by a move to nuclear power and, in theory, eventually to coal with carbon capture, wind power's carbon emission savings are reduced because they are calculated by reference to the CO2 emissions from the other forms of generation for which wind is a substitution.
The Government have already conceded that wind farms save less than half the CO2 that they did a few years ago while gas has replaced coal. If the committee was to attain its eventual objectives for nuclear power and coal, wind power would cease to produce any CO2 savings. So even if wind power produces on balance some CO2 savings today-and even that is doubtful-one day it will produce none at all. Yet we will still have the wind farms, a blot on the landscape and a reminder of our past follies.
This report stands fully behind, indeed it shares a responsibility for, the Government's commitment to spend staggering and ever-rising amounts of money-the agreed total at the moment seems to be something in the order of £200 billion by 2020-not in an attempt to ward off an energy crisis, nor to help this country achieve greater economic competitiveness, nor to try to uphold the standards of living of the people of this
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One of the Miliband brothers called my noble friend Lord Lawson-who, with Christopher Booker, leads the climate change sceptics in this country-"profoundly irresponsible". I very much doubt whether that will be the verdict of history.
Lord May of Oxford: My Lords, in his first party conference speech after the Labour Party won the election in 1997, the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, took climate change as his major theme. He distributed a 5,000-word essay on the subject by his Chief Scientific Adviser. This set the tone for a Government whose recognition of the problem and the concomitant need for action, both national and globally co-ordinated, has been world-leading and much to their credit. Jonathon Porritt recently stepped down as chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, which he chaired with a fascinating mixture of distinction and occasional exasperation. He said,
As we have heard, the Committee on Climate Change, which was established by the Climate Change Act, recently issued its first annual report. I declare my interest, as I have been one of the eight members of that committee from its inception. The most significant aspect of the report is embodied in its title, Meeting Carbon Budgets-The Need for a Step Change. To draw an analogy that comes comfortably to an Australian, the simple fact is that we are falling behind the run rate-not just the run rate for 2050, but for 2022. It is understandable, but unfortunate. It essentially derives from the gap between the Government's sincere aspirations and the fact that many of the consequent actions run up against political difficulties. Let me give the House four examples.
My first example is nuclear energy. In 1997, the amount of electricity on the grid coming from nuclear had just slipped below 30 per cent. Today, it is below 20 per cent, and we have heard of the difficulties of ramping it back up. Of course nuclear has problems, as does, essentially, every method of generating energy. On the other hand, expert opinion-the Government have come round to this view more recently, but the lag will linger-sees it as a necessary component, along with other things, in the medium term. It was a difficult issue to deal with because it lay on the fault-line between old Labour and new Labour.
My second example is wind power. My noble friend Lord Krebs has already pointed out that wind power-and I shall not take a detour to respond in detail to the
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My third example is the one I find most upsetting. We, like other countries in the OECD and elsewhere, have a massive stimulus package, and properly so. However, it is fairly generally agreed that if one rates it as a green package, it can be put generously by saying that it is not in the top half. One specificity that I find frankly incomprehensible was the scrappage package for older cars, the £2,000 intervention to help people trade them in. The CCC promptly suggested that some limit on the grams of carbon per mile should be added. On that topic, the Treasury gave us two fingers.
My fourth example is more general and picks up a theme that has already been sounded by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. Perhaps some noble Lords are not aware that Selborne is a particularly resonant place to be the earl of because the first serious work on ecology is Gilbert White's The Natural History of Selborne. The noble Earl is a worthy-not genetic-heir of that tradition. My noble friend Lord Krebs, who I more commonly think of as John Krebs, and the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, reminded us that climate change is only part of a gestalt of problems that roil together and are made up of increasing impact per person and increasing numbers of people. It is curious that we are focused on total impact in the UK and have not talked much about numbers of people. This is a more general question globally, and there are uncertainties about that that are not as explicit in the report as I perhaps would have wished. The current population of Britain is 61 million or 62 million. We do not know; most countries do not know to within 1 or 2 per cent what their population is. Projections for 2050 range from a low of high 60 millions or low 70 millions to a high of high 80 millions, and there is even an EU projection that suggests that by 2050 we will have the highest population. This is not me wishing to set an agenda for the BNP, but it is another issue. It has more general implications for educating women in the developing world and in our own country and empowering them to make non-coerced choices about families.
Ultimately, our trajectory to the Committee on Climate Change's 2050 target and to sustainable development more generally depends on us all co-operating nationally and internationally in equitable proportions. Unfortunately, an increasing number of studies and experiments on how people co-operate,
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This, as many noble Lords know, is Darwin's year, and I have given more lectures than I care to remember on that. My standard Darwin lecture, which I will not inflict on the House, is about Darwin's great unsolved problem, the remaining puzzle of how we became a co-operative group once we had got bigger than bands of closely related hunter-gatherers. It is a problem that underlies much of the discussion, and it leads me-this is a bit of a leap-to the conclusion that in many ways, given that we have no evolutionary experience of acting today on behalf of a seemingly distant future, voluntary bodies and NGOs are none the less more effective in delivering such things than are the more process-oriented machineries of government.
Others have made many requests of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, but my one request is that we give a bit more consideration to distributing some of the money for initiatives to some of these voluntary bodies. The Ashenden Foundation, with which I have no association, made a particularly favourable impression on me. It has an annual awards ceremony in which it has a hierarchy of awards to primary school kids-so you hear six and seven year-olds talking about what they have done to try to sensitise their fellows to being less wasteful-up through secondary school and on to local councils. There is an understanding that if you get one person in a street to make their house more energy-secure, you will generate demand for the whole street. It needs a fairly minimal subsidy to get that kind of ball rolling. This echoes a theme that I went on about at excessive length in the debate on HIV not long ago: how much more effectively we could be acting on sexual health if we gave more of the money to voluntary bodies.
My third and final point is that we need to stop thinking about the unwelcome question of the costs of these actions. In the world that we are heading towards, the actions recommended in the climate change committee's report and accepted by the Government and which will produce the step change, uncomfortable, awkward and difficult though some of them may be, will have net benefits to the UK in energy security, food security and other respects, regardless of whether other countries are shouldering their burden. It will put us ahead of the curve for a future that will be different from the past, and where those who act early will benefit.
Lord Giddens: My Lords, it is entirely apposite that this debate is taking place at the same time as the meetings in Copenhagen. Whatever happens there, everyone recognises that there has been a tremendous change in global attitudes towards the risk of climate change; 192 countries are meeting there, and no fewer than 100 heads of state are attending.
I join noble Lords in paying homage to my noble friend Lord Stern. I know that in technical House of Lords terms he is not my noble friend, but he is noble-is he not?-and he is a friend and colleague in
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In this country, as other noble Lords have remarked, we have been slow to introduce effective climate change and energy policy. Across the industrial world there is a cluster of avant-garde states that we lag behind, including Germany, as has been mentioned, Denmark, Sweden and even France, which gets nearly 80 per cent of its electricity from nuclear. With the Climate Change and Energy Acts, the Government can no longer be accused of not having seriousness of intent, but now the hard part starts. Ambition has to be brought into line with achievement, a truly formidable task.
I think we are talking about a revolution here. We are talking about a transformation of our society and our economy that is probably as far-reaching as the original industrial revolution. We have to think through the implications of all that, and we have to do so against the background of climate change, which is not a take-it-or-leave-it issue. You can say, for example, that global poverty is a terrible thing, and if the level of it is the same in 2050 as it is now, it will still be a terrible thing. But climate change is not like that; every hour, week, month and year that we fail to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions going into the air-they are still climbing on a global level-we meet a future that leads to a potential catastrophe because, as has been mentioned, once the emissions are in the air we know of no way of getting them out again.
The sheer scope of these changes requires a new political framework. We are talking-several noble Lords alluded to this-about a return to planning; to something like a national plan. When we do so, we have to ensure that we do not make the mistakes that were made in the 1960s and 1970s when planning was in vogue.
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