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Climate Change and the Environment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:26 pm on 8th February 2005.

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Photo of Desmond Turner Desmond Turner Labour, Brighton, Kemptown 2:26 pm, 8th February 2005

I am glad that Norman Baker initiated the debate. It started off happily and I was pleased that a consensus was developing across the Chamber, but it has unfortunately gone a little sour since Mr. Yeo entered the fray.

Climate change is a bigger challenge than the fate or fortunes of any political party and must be tackled through consensus. We cannot simply switch policies if we are to be effective. Lest—perish the thought— the Government change, we must ensure that we have policies that will be consistently supported and developed. In this context, politicians need to grow up in a way that they never have before.

An international consensus is also required and if we can achieve a solid cross-party consensus in this place, we can provide some international leadership. This country has much of the expertise and many of the technologies necessary to begin to tackle the problem. We are fortunate in our climatologists, who are among the world leaders, if not the world leaders. Thanks to them, we have virtually reached a scientific consensus on climate change, although not necessarily on its scale or timing, because that involves so many variables that it is impossible to be totally precise about whether a given level of carbon dioxide concentration will produce an elevation in temperature of 2° or as high as 11°. It is simply too multifactorial, but it is abundantly clear that further changes will occur. We would prefer to avoid any scenario because it would have serious consequences with which we would have to deal.

Our climatologists have been responsible because, although the range of scenarios that they have presented to us so far has been scary enough, they have carefully avoided invoking the apocalyptic. We must remember that an apocalyptic event happened at least once in geological history. The seas boiled and the methane hydrates on the floor of the oceans were released. The temperatures rocketed and approximately 90 per cent. of the species on earth died. That could still happen, for example, if we lost the Amazonian rain forest altogether, perhaps through fire, which is possible, and the methane hydrates were released again. In that case, a future for the whole human race, let alone any other species, would be almost impossible. Although that is an apocalyptic scenario, it is possible and we should never forget it.

We cannot assume that temperature will increase gradually and that the sea level will creep up by a centimetre every decade. Perhaps we could cope with that, but frightening step changes along the way, with which we could not cope, could also occur. Indeed, if we do not take sufficient action now, and if we retain the business-as-usual model, some of the mildest climate change scenarios would lead to the exposure of thousands of millions of people to danger through flood, famine and disease.

The question is therefore not whether we should act but how soon and how radically we can act. We must be radical about the matter. Descending into petty party political bickering about who did what is therefore pathetic and we should not do it.