Climate Change: Carbon Budgets — Motion to Take Note
Lord Hunt of Chesterton (Labour)
My Lords, this is an important time to be discussing the first report of the climate change committee. It is a great pleasure to follow the very cogent analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull.
This report was produced with commendable speed. I declare my interests as a professor of climate modelling at University College, a director of an environmental company and an active member of two NGOs. Over the past 10 years the temperatures over the land areas of the world have been rising steadily; indeed, over China-as it reports-they have risen by 1 degree in 10 years, a remarkable rate, so the 4 degrees expected in China by 2100 may well be exceeded. The UK, thanks to ministerial intervention-the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, was present at that time-publishes temperatures over the land areas of the world, unlike most countries and the IPCC, which present data over the land and the sea.
The constant global average temperatures over the land and sea for the past 10 years are due to one of the periodic, but huge, fluctuations in the oceans' temperatures when cool water is brought to their surface, and this cooling affects the global climate. We are probably now moving again into the El Niño phase when the surface waters warm and the climate changes. When this happened in 1998, some leading United States climate scientists, who should have known better, erroneously hailed the sharp rise in global temperatures at that time as a signal of global warming, and that has caused some of the subsequent confusion. Indeed, the IPCC 2001 report could have been clearer on that point. Parliamentary aficionados with long memories may remember that in 1971 Prime Minister Heath blamed inflation on the rising price of cattle feed due to the El Niño phenomenon, so even economists should believe in this phenomenon.
At a recent conference, Met Office climate scientists stated confidently that the long-term rise of global warming would be seen in annual temperatures as we moved forward. I share with other noble Lords the belief that vigorous debate on this is very important. John Stuart Mill wrote in his essay On Liberty that opinions and practices, particularly those central to government policies, should be questioned and debated.
The urgency of dealing with climate change still needs to be debated. However, my criticism-no other speaker has made this criticism in the debate-is that, even in this fortnight of the Copenhagen conference, people are right to be somewhat sceptical about the real commitment of Governments and leaders in this and many other countries. Why is the heating in buildings still set so high? By contrast, in Japan in the summer people now turn down the air conditioning. As noble Lords know, the Japanese Prime Minister no longer wears a tie. They call this "cool biz" in the summer. In the winter, people in the Mitsubishi offices wear jerseys, and they call that "warm biz". However, these symbolic changes are absent elsewhere.
I return to the report. Its central recommendation is for the UK to press ahead with non-fossil energy sources-wind and nuclear. However, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, that gas is a very important part of our energy, and has a lower carbon impact than coal. Not everyone may know that Denmark has a significantly higher carbon use per head than the UK because it uses coal for 80 per cent of its energy-only 20 per cent is wind-and there are, I believe, seven pigs per person in Denmark, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will know. This leads to a very substantial carbon impact. I believe that the House of Lords kitchens use Danish pork. There has been a debate on that matter.
The important point about wind is that we should certainly focus on wind energy offshore. Again, I support the views of the noble Lord, Lord Reay, on that matter. However, as a fluid dynamicist and meteorologist, one notes that the highest winds are often very close to the coast on a lee shore, as sailors well know, so there are aesthetic and planning problems. There is still a lot of science and engineering to overcome in the design and operation of wind farms. However, the reliability is significantly increasing, so the slightly pessimistic estimates on that of the noble Lord, Lord Reay, may well be vitiated shortly. However, the major worry about wind-others have commented on this-is that with climate change there will be substantially more periods in the summer with very low winds, and these will extend over large parts of north-west Europe. But the wider the area covered by wind machines, the likelier it is that at least some parts will be in a windy environment in these extreme conditions, so we need wind energy but we also need back-up systems of nuclear power stations. In France in 2003-I say this to show the danger here-and in Germany many of the nuclear power stations had serious difficulties in operating as the rivers heated up and their water levels fell.
The Government, with the support of the Conservative Party, and, as I hear-this is confidential-the support of 45 per cent of the Liberal Democrats, are now strongly promoting nuclear, although I am surprised at how long it has taken for this consensus to emerge. When going round the country, talking to groups, I have certainly noticed that wherever there is a nuclear power station, there is considerable enthusiasm for having another one-for example, in Middlesbrough, which has been afflicted by the loss of its steelworks. I hope that Middlesbrough will push ahead with new nuclear.
There are two ways in which the new energy policy and the work of the Committee on Climate Change could be improved. First, it should be by considering the integration of mitigation and adaptation policies, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and my noble friend Lord Giddens mentioned. I hope that I am wrong in my impression that economists find integration a difficult concept. Many environmental economists have made this point. The noble Lord, Lord Stern, will speak after me, and he may deny this canard. However, the fact that we have the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on both committees will enable us to keep this integration.
For example, in the Netherlands wind machines are placed on the dykes, which are constructed to avoid flooding and sea-level rise. If you put a windmill on a dyke, its cost is reduced because 40 per cent of a wind machine is the foundation. That requires, even in Holland, two government departments to get together. It was quite a struggle for them to do it, but they have done it. If you fly into Rotterdam you can see all the windmills on the dykes. That does not happen in the UK, although it may happen on the Severn barrage.
This assumes that the UK knows where it wants its coastal defences to be. There is no clarity on that, except as regards the preservation of London. That also affects the planning of future nuclear power stations along our coasts, which are clearly the places where they should be. Again, an integrationist policy may be needed in which nuclear power stations' massive foundations could usefully be part of coastal defences.
There is another aspect to nuclear power stations. They provide warm water. It is well known that in Essex-the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will know this-they help the oyster farms in Bradwell, and a member of the Conservative Front Bench involved in the fishing industry makes use of the warm water from Gravelines nuclear power station for breeding fish.
The most significant contribution to integrated policies would be to establish district heating in housing near power stations. That was the initiative of Woking borough, which, as many noble Lords will know, is the exemplar in the UK. It reduced energy by about 50 per cent and carbon by 70 per cent over 10 years in all the buildings and structures owned by the council, and district heating through combined heat and power was one of its methods. This only goes to show that intervention can be local as well as national, and I endorse the remarks of other noble Lords on the importance of a directed approach. The other important point is that the scheme was local. Globe and other NGOs mentioned this afternoon are working with many local groups to enlarge target-setting measurements, not only of temperature and pollution but to demonstrate to communities that working for climate change also helps their environment. It was one of the tragedies of the recent document by the Prime Minister on the future of Britain that he mentioned climate change but not the environment. The two are intimately connected.
The Government should be integrating their actions and policies on climate change mitigation as regards sustainable economic growth. Perhaps the Government should even consider delaying some of their installation plans for wind and nuclear, until the UK has the manufacturing capacity to carry out much of the work in the UK. At present, if there is a massive drive in this direction, it looks like it will all come from imports. The UK does not have a steel plant to make the forgings for the nuclear power stations, nor the manufacturing plants to construct the tall towers of wind machines, although I understand that we will have a new plant for the fabrication of blades. However, as I learnt recently, Sheffield and Wales continue to have world-class steel technologists and the know-how.
The last time that there was a surge of building power plants in the UK was in the 1960s, as the noble Lord, Lord Reay, said, when I worked for the CEGB, and I was a trade unionist there. All the plants were built in the UK and exported. This is a critical moment for the UK, where we have enormous investment potential; but where do we have the industry to do that? There is no doubt what Mr Sarkozy would do, but will Mr Brown and my noble friend Lord Mandelson? Unless we do this, the message to students and engineers will not be as positive as it should be.
We need an imaginative leap, as well as this revolution, in the presentation of the urgency of this issue. I was going to ask how many people in the Danish big building will be wearing jerseys this week. We must somehow connect with people, but we must also think strategically and politically in leading forward to new economics and lifestyles. The revolution mentioned by my noble friend Lord Giddens is exactly in the right direction.