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Paris Agreement on Climate Change

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:06 pm on 7th September 2016.

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Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 4:06 pm, 7th September 2016

I begin by welcoming the new Ministers and indeed the new Department. I am very pleased at the fact that industrial strategy is going to be a huge part of what is going on. I think it is impossible to separate industrial strategy from climate change and energy.

With the greatest respect to Ministers, experienced though they are, I suggest that when their teams of advisers and experts tell them that the temperature is rising directly as a result of carbon dioxide, they should merely deploy the scepticism and intelligence that I know they have and ask a few pertinent questions. They should at least try to get some rational answers before embarking on decisions that will have a huge impact on industry, particularly energy-using industries such as the steel industry, which is an important one for me.

I do not intend to speak for too long today, but every time I speak on this issue, I deliberately and repeatedly make the point that I accept climate change. I have never tried to deny climate change; in fact, I have never met a scientist who does. The climate has always changed, and the ice age is a testament to that. Those changes have gone on over the course of millions of years, and over the last 2 million years, we have seen ice ages usually lasting about 100,000 or so years, followed by interglacials, which are usually about 10,000 to 12,000 years. We are possibly coming towards the end of an interglacial at the moment, so we might want to turn our thoughts to what will happen when the earth inevitably starts to get cooler, as it will.

Of course I do not deny that the climate will continue to change; no sensible scientist has ever done so. The point I always make is that the climate change we have seen over the past 250 years is not particularly exceptional. Although it is of course true that carbon dioxide is a global warming gas—there is no doubt about that either—and that if we have begun to emit more carbon dioxide, it follows logically that it must have had some effect on the climate, that does not mean that it is responsible for the relatively small increase in temperature seen over the past 250 years.

I believe that Callum McCaig said that the temperature has increased by about 1°, and in common with many other commentators, he has linked that directly to increases in carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, the temperature increase that is generally agreed on—it is, of course, open to question—is 0.8°, but even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognises that a significant amount of that is not due to man-made carbon dioxide emissions. The first question that I would put if I were ever to become a Minister in the Department—which I accept is probably an unlikely proposition—is, “What percentage of that 0.8° has come about as a result of man-made carbon dioxide emissions, and what percentage is due to the natural forcings that we know are there?”.

I have mentioned the ice ages and the interglacials, but over the last 2,000 years there has been a well-documented series of climate changes that have had nothing to do with carbon dioxide emissions. We know, for example, that 2,000 years ago, when the Romans ruled Britain, there was what was called a Roman optimum, a warmer period. That was followed by the dark ages, when things were cooler. There was then a medieval warming period during the Renaissance, which was followed by what was commonly referred to, and scientifically recognised, as a “little ice age”. That came to an end in about 1800, which, coincidentally, is when we started to industrialise.

Another important question that I would love to put to experts—in fact, I have put it to experts on many occasions, but have never received a rational answer—is, “How much of that 0.8° increase in temperature is due to the fact that the temperature was warming anyway because we were coming out of a particularly cool period, when the Thames”—just outside the House—“used regularly to freeze over so solidly that ice fairs could be held on it?” Some of that warming is clearly natural.

If people are still not convinced, we can look at the correlation, or rather the lack thereof, between carbon dioxide emissions and the temperature increases that have taken place since industrialisation. If it is the case—as some of the more alarmist commentators would have it—that this 0.8° increase has occurred directly as a result of carbon dioxide emissions, it would logically follow that one could correlate a line between carbon dioxide emissions that have taken place since, say, 1800 and temperature increases, but obviously, if we look at the graph, we find that there is no such correlation. We see that over the last 250 years there have been periods, once again, of warming and cooling, regardless of carbon dioxide emissions. In the first part of the 20th century, for example, there was a significant warming. From 1940 until about 1970, or probably a bit later, there was a significant cooling, which led to people beginning to suggest—