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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 do not want to comment one way or the other on any specific structure. I simply say that we should examine the structures and ensure that, whatever they are, they have an overarching brief to work together. There must be a clear Cabinet responsibility at the top to ensure that co-ordination of climate change policy happens on the ground.

It is good that the Government have adopted the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's 60 per cent. target by 2050, but I agree with David King that that is not sufficient to deal with the position that confronts us. We must remember that CO 2 is not the only greenhouse gas. It has been established that atmospheric CO 2 emissions were no higher than today's when the climate change event in the Eocene occurred. The levels of nitrous oxide and methane did the damage. Other greenhouse gases can be just as threatening as CO 2 . We therefore need to examine the spread of greenhouse gases and control the emissions of them all.

We need vigorous action now. We cannot afford to wait 20 years. The insurance industry would endorse that because claims against damage through exceptional weather events have rocketed. There is a clear pattern—logarithmic growth—in those claims. There is plenty of evidence that we cannot afford not to take action. If we do not, the consequences will be expensive to the economy. We need to invest more, but we do not have to adopt a hair-shirt economic policy to do so. I see no intrinsic reason why renewable energy should be any more expensive than current generation technologies, once it has got over the initial development hump and is fully developed. Likewise, energy conservation investment will pay for itself.

We have the technical potential to reduce CO 2 emissions by 80 per cent. quite easily, and by rather more as far as domestic and industrial energy, land transport and electricity generation are concerned. Air transport remains a problem. People remember the Hindenburg disaster and we would probably have difficulty getting people on to a hydrogen-fuelled plane. Hydrogen is so light that, even in liquid form, the amount required for a transatlantic flight would fill the entire fuselage, leaving no room for the passengers. Anyone with any good ideas on how to make hydrogen storage much more compact should go to the DTI and ask for a development grant, because cracking that problem would be one of the greatest services that they could provide. The path to a non-carbon future—or a virtually non-carbon future, at any rate—would then become possible.