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Climate Change and the Environment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:17 pm on 8th February 2005.

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Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:17 pm, 8th February 2005

I find myself in a rather unusual position for a Minister taking part in an Opposition day debate. Although, inevitably, I do not agree with everything that Norman Baker has just said, I am in agreement with the sentiments expressed in the motion. As the opening words of the motion draw attention to the overwhelming importance and gravity of the threat of climate change, it is welcome and not altogether surprising that there should be common ground and agreement on both sides of the House, or at least in most parts of the House.

Climate change is a global problem—probably, as the motion says, the most urgent challenge facing the global community. It requires not only political leadership but ultimately a global solution. The Prime Minister, as is acknowledged across the world, is doing his utmost to provide that leadership and is leading international efforts to tackle climate change. It was his decision to make climate change a top priority for both our G8 and our EU presidencies. I welcome the recognition of that fact in the Liberal Democrat motion.

I begin by reiterating, as did the hon. Member for Lewes in his opening speech, the sheer breadth of consensus on the science of climate change—a degree of consensus, which, as he said, is not always reflected in the way in which scientific discussion is reported. Over about 18 years, the intergovernmental panel on climate change has brought together more than 1,000 international scientific experts on climate change.

The IPCC's third assessment report in 2001 concluded that there was strong evidence that climate change owing to human emissions of greenhouse gases was already occurring and that future emissions of greenhouse gases were likely to raise global temperatures by between 1.4 and 5.8° C during this century. I am always conscious of the fact that that does not sound very much, but I am equally conscious of the fact that the scientific evidence suggests that such a rise in temperature would have a wide range of impacts both on the natural world and, in consequence, on human society.

Nevertheless, some are still questioning whether we should worry about climate change. The most vociferous challenges that we hear nearly all come from self-proclaimed experts with little real expertise, whose arguments nevertheless receive attention that is out of all proportion to either their numbers or their relevance. That is not unprecedented, of course. The hon. Member for Lewes gave the example of those who query the link between lung cancer and smoking, and there are still more who still query the link between HIV and AIDS. So that phenomenon is not uncommon, but it is dangerous.

I will not reiterate the examples that the hon. Gentleman gave, but I will make an observation about one of those whom he quoted. As he rightly says, Professor Lomborg talks instead about diverting resources that could be used to help to tackle the problems of climate change to tackle those of development. Indeed, we all accept that development needs to be addressed, but the real danger of his argument is that if we follow the route that he prescribes—the hon. Gentleman used the example of pouring water into a colander—we would certainly be in danger of running to stand still, because of trying to tackle impacts that we were not seeking to mitigate. Such people must not be allowed to divert us from the real question, which is not whether climate change is happening, but what we could and should do about it.


stinky will
Posted on 17 Aug 2007 8:46 pm (Report this annotation)

"The hon. Member for Lewes gave the example of those who query the link between lung cancer and smoking"

It is actually the link between passive smoking and cancer that is subject to dispute and with good reason it is.

Nobody who can write smoking=cancer would dispute the available evidence that supports the claim,the same cannot be said for passive/second hand smoking due to there being no such supporting evidence.

All we have gotten by way of a responce from labour relating to climate change is words the same words just rearanged every so often,proof the gov totally missing the ball on co reduction renewable energy etc etc.

Lastly when trying to make people look a bit simple by making statements being sarcastic,it is usually best to actually know what is really said.