rose to call attention to the case for action at national and international level on climate change in the light of the recent statement by the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser on the threat which climate change poses to the world; and to move for Papers.
"In my view, climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism".
Those are not my words, but those of Sir David King, the Chief Scientific Adviser. Here in the United Kingdom, we certainly believe that he is right. According to Sir David, the UK is trying to show leadership by cutting energy consumption and increasing the use of renewable resources.
However, as I review where we are with climate change, although the United Kingdom Government have set a lead in this area, they have failed to get to grips with how domestic users can become individually energy efficient because they have not given the right incentives. In the case of business, the Government have failed because they have devised such a complicated set of hurdles and mechanisms that the opportunity for innovation and investment has been turned into a bureaucratic jungle and thus has, I believe, lost ground. I shall return to that point at the conclusion of my speech.
But at least the United Kingdom is part of the group of countries which signed up to the Kyoto Protocol. We are committed to cutting our CO2 emissions. There are countries which believe that climate change is a threat, but are afraid to sign up to a low carbon emission policy because they fear that it will weaken their push towards a stronger economy. In that group I would include Russia which, having seen the United States fail to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, had second thoughts because it sees the opportunity for emissions trading diminishing as a result. Then there is the group of countries, including India and China, which are moving fast towards industrialisation. They understand the principles behind Kyoto, but need to make the radical shift on to a different basis from that of fossil fuels.
Finally, there is a group of one, which is made up of the President of the United States, George Bush. As the world's only remaining super-power, the United States is accustomed to leading internationally co-ordinated action. It is willing to act decisively and unilaterally. It is even willing to help other countries in the international community address climate change issues through its technical co-operation programmes. But back at home, due I believe to the President, the political agenda remains firmly rooted in the freedom to drive ever bigger cars and consume ever greater amounts of energy in heating, cooling and transport. I do not believe that the Democrats, in their hustings speeches, have so far made the play they should on environmental issues. They know that these matters are fundamentally important and I wait to hear their candidates say so.
"The United States is the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases, largely because it is the world's most successful economy. The US produced more than 20% of the world's carbon emissions while having only 4% of the world's population".
I do not usually like to use statistics in speeches because they can be dull, but those figures are so stunning that they have to repeated again and again: 4 per cent of the world's population producing 20 per cent of the carbon emissions.
Mr Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, talking of the reasons given by Mr Bush for rejecting Kyoto, dismissed the idea that implementing it would be economically damaging. Mr Annan said:
"The opposite is true . . . Unless we protect resources and the Earth's natural capital, we shall not be able to sustain economic growth".
Like Kofi Annan I believe that the words "climate change" are a sort of shorthand way of describing the threat posed by profligate and greedy use of the world's resources—especially non-renewables. We can lose out twice. When we cut down and burn forests, not only do they emit vast amounts of CO2, they cannot act as carbon sinks to absorb CO2.
The world is depleting fossil fuels by using them as forms of energy when other forms are within our technical grasp. Unless the world grapples with this issue and solves it, we have been told by scientists that it will lead to human misery through flood or desertification and ecological disaster from the extinction of thousands, possibly millions of species.
This debate is particularly timely tonight because we shall have graphic illustrations from my noble friend Lady Walmsley and the chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, who have just come back from the Antarctic and can give us a first-hand explanation of what is happening there. I am especially looking forward to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester.
The scientific community in the United States, in contrast to the President, has plenty of evidence of the gravity of the situation but apparently is not allowed to use it. On June 2003 the Associated Press stated:
"The Environmental Protection Agency scrapped a detailed assessment of climate change from an upcoming report on the state of the environment after the White House directed major changes and deletions".
The changes prompted an EPA staff memorandum saying that revisions demanded by the White House were so extensive that they would embarrass the agency because the section,
"no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change".
I highlight that because it underlines the importance of the statement made by Sir David King. It was terrific and brave of him to go to the United States and to make the statement that he did. It was very much needed.
In the recent All-Party Group on Earth Sciences meeting on climate change, Dr Bryan Lovell of the University of Cambridge—another very distinguished scientist—made the point about engaging with the developing world. We need to highlight that issue, and to be clear about our own national reaction to climate change, whether we are debating increased use of renewable energy or energy conservation. A matter very close to my heart is the need to lessen food miles, but I am trying not to go into that in detail. We can become absorbed in thinking about domestic detail. In doing so, we do not engage with the critical role of the rest of the developing and industrialised world, so I shall say a little on that issue.
The Kyoto Protocol will come into force after ratification by at least 55 countries, representing at least 55 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. That is a critical point because many people think that the Kyoto Protocol is already in force. It is not. As I said at length, the world's largest polluter, the United States, refuses to ratify. The pressure is now on Russia which, with 17 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, would tip the balance to enable the Kyoto Protocol to come into force. I do not believe that Russia has decided whether to ratify. Given that, according to the most recent figures, Russia's greenhouse gas emissions are still rising at 6 per cent a year, will the Minister tell us what the UK Government are doing to encourage Russia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol?
Equally worrying but largely ignored is the situation in those countries with large populations that are undergoing rapid industrialisation, such as China and India. Both are signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, but only China is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol. Those are positive first steps and both countries are beginning to take action towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Next to the US, China is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and its economic growth continues to be among the fastest in the world, with an average of 8.2 per cent per year. At that rate it will outstrip the United States in energy consumption by 2025. Twenty-five years ago private car use in China was unknown. It was very limited, yet by the end of next year the figure will already reach 24 million cars.
Energy consumption is therefore increasing very rapidly. I am not suggesting that the economic development of India or China is a bad thing. On the contrary, it will raise living standards, but the use of new and clean technology is absolutely critical to the development. When the World Wildlife Fund, China branch. said that one of the major barriers to the promotion of renewable energy development in China was the lack of information and international contacts, that worried me. What technical assistance programmes are available to those countries, and what effort are we making to share our knowledge with them?
Climate change is a global problem, and all countries share the responsibility and outcomes. For those countries and the rest of the developing world we must recognise that economic improvement can drive environmental improvement, and that environmental improvement can come about through economic drive as long as the policies and technologies are in place.
It calls for a new attitude, but climate change will be good for economic growth—not the reverse. For too long the message has been that tackling climate change will damage the economy. We need economists to say that that need not be the case. The United Kingdom and indeed the European Union until now have spent far too much time and energy in determining how to target, monitor and measure low carbon outcomes.
We Liberal Democrats have promoted replacing the complicated and unfair climate change levy with a straightforward carbon tax, which would be a great improvement. It would be simple to understand and would go to the heart of what we are trying to cut—carbon emissions.
The programme of measures in place are all about penalising energy use. I hope that the Defra review in 2004 will take the opportunity to deliver a programme of measures that more accurately target the problem. For noble Lords who would like to read more on this issue, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology has produced a timely note for this debate—note 213 on climate change and business, for which I am very grateful.
In thinking about the issues, I concluded that climate change poses the threat of environmental havoc, about which I know many noble Lords will speak, but the most threatening aspect of globalisation that climate change challenges is our concept of democracy. The fate of peoples throughout the world is held in the hands of others who may live far away. They are not so much held in the hands as under the accelerator pedal. Our own actions and those of our nation are not isolated domestic agendas, but affect those who have no power to vote for change. What we do has a critical effect on others, yet they have no say in our democratic process. I hope that the globalisation process will recognise that fact and develop a much more robust way of dealing with the issue of climate change. The World Trade Organisation and the World Bank continue as though it were not the most serious threat to the future of our planet.
Finally, I must return to the issue of international leadership. At yesterday's pre-election press conference, Mr Bush concluded that his most solemn responsibility as US President was to keep the country secure from terrorism. Clearly he has not been listening to his own Environmental Protection Agency, fettered though it may be, or Sir David King. I accept that changing other nations' regimes or painting them as a threat is a much easier target than changing domestic habits, but less critical to the United States' future, our nation's future or the future of the world. It looks as though the US is in danger of setting off on a new diversion. A billion dollar programme to put men on Mars is not only irresponsible but immoral at a time when, according to the best science, the future of our country, that of all countries, and the future of our own planet as a life-sustaining place is so much under threat. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, for introducing this debate and for her good overview of the political aspects of climate change.
Climate change is forcing decisions on governments, local communities, businesses and individuals about future policy and immediate action. If such decisions are to be taken correctly, especially in the United States, perhaps the growing dangers of ideologically-inspired terrorism and, as I shall explain, nuclear terrorism, may diminish. I shall comment on those decisions and hopefully make some suggestions that will be of interest to the Minister and those who are campaigning for sustainable development in the UK and world-wide.
As a professor of climate modelling at University College, the chairman of a non-governmental body, ACOPS, and of a consulting company that works in this area, I declare an interest. I was formerly head of the Met Office, where the Hadley Centre is based.
First, the work of the Hadley Centre and other research institutions around the world continues to confirm the hypotheses about climate change that began in the 19th century with the work of John Tyndall here in the UK and Sven Arrhenius. I was rather pleased to read last week that my great grandfather, William Garnett, a physicist, attended Tyndall's lectures at Imperial College in the 1860s, so there is a direct connection.
Those great scientists predicted that carbon dioxide and, as we now know, other gases can lead to the trapping of long-wave radiation leaving the Earth's surface. As in a greenhouse, where the glass traps the radiation, it causes the temperature to rise in the lower atmosphere up to a height comparable to where aircraft fly and to decrease the temperature in the stratosphere above that. Although more clouds are formed, which reduces the sunlight on the surface, the additional water vapour in the atmosphere leads to a warmer climate and has the net effect of trapping radiation and increasing the temperature. In the early days of climate change research in the past 20 years, that was a major controversy. However, it has now been settled. Satellite measurements also confirm that story, showing reduced long-wave radiation and a cooler stratosphere. In fact, some of the work of the UK's satellites has made an important contribution.
The physical and natural consequences of these changes in climate are considerable and quite variable in their effects around the world. In the UK and in north-west Europe we shall have more storms, rainfall will increase, and there will be a likelihood of higher temperatures; and that, of course, will also happen in many other parts of the world. This summer we saw 15,000 people die in France. In temperatures higher than 35 degrees Celsius, we shall certainly see very many more casualties among the sick and elderly. The largest effect on climate change is in the polar regions, with arctic ice likely to disappear in the summer months in the middle of this century. The permafrost is melting and retreating at about 10 kilometres per year, which may have the further knock-on effect of releasing methane and major greenhouse gases.
There is also the possibility, emphasised in a recent television programme, of the Gulf Stream and the polar ocean circulation changing suddenly. Computer models show that that is likely to happen only with a very large change in carbon dioxide—perhaps a factor of four—and that it may not occur for at least 200 years and only if no measures are taken to reduce emissions. One should realise that here we are talking about a variation in the world climate that has not happened previously. There have never been such high levels of carbon dioxide or even temperature. We should also remember that the ocean atmosphere system is in a sensitive equilibrium. In the past it has undergone sudden changes, which often have been quite local. Even with the world's largest Earth simulator in Japan, certain processes cannot be reproduced precisely. Nevertheless, the UK can be very proud of the contribution made by its researchers, its monitoring systems and its prediction work, which has been supported by the present and previous governments and places us in a leading position to give world advice.
As a sometime engineer, and I hope a practical politician, I am also very interested in what can and should be done to mitigate climate change and to help communities adapt to its consequences. Here I believe there are several ways in which the Government could do better, especially in supporting more effectively those communities, industries and researchers who are pioneering new approaches. As one would expect of any British government, all of which are essentially run by the Treasury, the Government are seeking solutions with various market mechanisms. Naturally, with the strength of the City of London, the UK is doing pioneering work in this field. However, it is not yet clear whether the financial carrot approach is really producing substantial improvements in the efficiency of energy use, either in buildings or in transport.
We know that the UK is aiming to meet its Kyoto commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an increased use of gas, which, of course, has lower emissions than oil or coal. I understand that the White Paper was vigorously contested in Whitehall, but it led in the end to the remarkable conclusion that there should be no firm commitment to any UK energy source, but more or less complete reliance on Russian gas, for the next 50 years. Wind energy will clearly contribute, but our reliance on Russian gas will be massive.
As I discovered last week, the Government have many different definitions of "sustainable development". However, in none could I find a prime commitment to security. A major storm, a flood, an industrial disaster or a geo-political threat can destabilise a country. In a parliamentary reply last week, my noble friend Lord Whitty defined nuclear energy as unsustainable. That is only one definition and it might perhaps be contested by the MoD, or by the country at large, if energy systems were threatened. I again ask my noble friend Lord Whitty whether there can be a stronger commitment to the universities and industry that believe there is a strategic need for the UK to have a strong nuclear capability.
The Government Chief Scientist has emphasised the UK's commitment to the international fusion programme that would produce clean energy. As envisaged, that is far into the future. However, in the United States and Russia there are now active programmes for examining combined fission and fusion systems, including the exciting idea of feeding nuclear material from weapons into fusion reactors. In the short term, that will certainly lead to practical power stations and an effective way of eliminating waste stockpiles. Perhaps we could even think of stopping climate change and terrorism in one system. At present that kind of thinking is officially verboten in the UK, but not in other countries, and I do not see why it should be.
In the Guardian of
The reduction of electricity prices by one penny per unit in Woking emphasises the point made by the leader of this debate—that mitigation can really benefit people. Perhaps the DTI needs to revise its policy radically in this area and perhaps also advertise to a greater extent the remarkable achievements of that borough, which I believe need to be taught around the UK, rather than, as at present, regarding it as too clever by half and too successful, which, as we all know, is the worst possible crime in Britain. There have also been complaints about the grid from wind supply companies, and that is clearly a critical area for the UK to get right.
There are other important developments, which I am sure will be mentioned by others in this debate and also by the EU committee looking into climate change. I believe that that committee will report on the need for a more effective national energy centre to highlight and inform about innovation, such as exists in the Netherlands, though not here. We need improved monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions all over the country and we need better information for consumers about the market for improving energy efficiency.
Finally, I should like to make the point, also made by the leader of this debate, about how the world will look as the climate changes, as the temperature and the sea levels rise, and, as the World Bank predicted a year ago, most of the world's population will be living in huge coastal mega-cities. There, because of the lack of escape, rising sea levels and big storms, security issues will be critical. The Chinese Government, in particular, are very fearful of some of the consequences. We have to deal with climate change here in the UK but in future policies we should recognise its far greater impact around the world. This point has been made urgently in the debate and should be very much borne in mind by the Government.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, for introducing this important debate today. Her timing is impeccable as tomorrow we shall continue to debate the renewable energy section of the Energy Bill. Both of us are disappointed that the Energy Bill deals mainly with the decommissioning of nuclear plants and the establishment of the NDA. It brings forward only offshore wind farms in the renewables section; other forms of renewable energy are not included. I believe it to be a wasted opportunity.
It will give me great pleasure to listen to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, to whose contribution we look forward. I am sure that it will be both informative and thought provoking. As a Leicester girl, I am particularly delighted to add my personal welcome to him on the day of his maiden speech. We look forward to hearing from him often, while well appreciating the many demands made upon his time outside the House.
Under the Kyoto Protocol Britain has committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 12.5 per cent below the levels of 1990. In addition, the UK Government have gone further and wish to cut the 1990 carbon dioxide levels by 20 per cent by 2010. The Sustainable Development Commission has expressed concern that unless further action is taken, the Government's reduction goal of 20 per cent will not be met.
British industry has urged the Government to review their 20 per cent target, warning that it could be suicidal for UK manufacturing competitiveness. Digby Jones, the CBI director-general, claimed that the 20 per cent target could damage industry and that at the very minimum the Government should guarantee that other EU states will be equally as stringent in their targets. If not, it will make us less competitive.
The debate calls for action both nationally and internationally, but two questions need to be answered. First, will the higher targets set by the UK Government result in the loss of yet more manufacturing jobs? As Jeremy Nicholson, head of the Energy Intensive Users Group, said, the plans would force industry offshore where production costs and environmental controls were lower. Secondly, does the Minister accept that if this were to happen, it would be disastrous for the UK economy and would perversely act to increase global emissions?
Others have expressed concerns that the targets are too low and too slow. A recent report published in the journal Nature revealed the threat posed by climate change to the world's biodiversity. It estimates that unless action is taken now, between 15 to 37 per cent of all land-based animals could become extinct by 2050.
Defra's own website showed in April 2002 that annual temperatures across the UK may rise between 2 and 3.5 degrees centigrade by 2080, with the degree of warming dependent on future levels of greenhouse gas emissions. It forecasts that higher summer temperatures will become more frequent and cold winters increasingly rare.
We are aware and disappointed that both Australia and the United States have stated that they will not sign up to the Kyoto Protocol and that Russia has not yet decided, a point to which the noble Baroness referred in her opening speech. The US is predicted to increase its emissions by more than 30 per cent but I believe that we should not be deterred from making progress wherever possible.
In August 2003, Defra's website gave a break-down of our emissions. Industry was responsible for 38 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions; road transport for 25 per cent; domestic users for 27 per cent; and others—I am never quite sure what is meant by "others"—for 10 per cent.
Emissions from transport have doubled between 1970 and 2001 and we look to industry to continue to improve its technology and lower the emission rates. As was said earlier, we must acknowledge the part that biofuels could play in a reduction of the overall carbon dioxide emissions. In July 2002 the biofuel industry requested a reduction in fuel duty. The Government reduced the duty on biofuel by 20 pence per litre and, in the Budget of 2003, said that they would do the same for bio-ethanol from January 2005. That is welcome. Although the NFU criticised the cuts in the duty as "insufficient", it was not that it was not pleased to have the cuts; it felt that they were not enough to initiate proper growth in the industry. Will the Government change their thinking in this regard?
The Government welcomed the Defra Select Committee's report of
At international level we have a duty to help developing countries to restrict growth in carbon dioxide emissions. We must assist them, for instance, to retain the remaining forests in the face of developmental pressures and to diversify without enduring the vast increases in pollution levels experienced in the West from the period of the Industrial Revolution onwards. We need the equivalent of a CFC ban to reduce the output of carbon dioxide and of the "Whale Watch" programme to protect the forests. Both have made significant improvements to our environment and we should have the imagination and the courage to duplicate them in many areas.
Speaking of courage, we must also tackle the problem of pollution and carbon dioxide emissions from air transport. Over the past 30 years, emissions from road transport have increased by more than 20 per cent in the EU as a whole and by 25 per cent in the UK. The outlook for air transport is a quadrupling of emissions over the next 30 years. Figures vary from source to source and expert to expert, but there seems to be general agreement that the increases from air traffic could completely neutralise the savings planned under Kyoto.
"The government needs to work with the EU, international bodies, its environmental advisors and industry, to reduce aviation's greenhouse gas emissions and to develop appropriate economic instruments that meet the environmental costs of aviation".
I know that recently there was a debate on a statutory instrument in which the issue of emissions from aircraft was discussed. Vast improvements in engine design have been quoted in many debates. Those in favour of expansion cited hugely the reduced levels of noise and pollution. Could it be that setting stringent standards for all aircraft flying to and from our shores would ensure that at least total emissions would be contained and not rise above, say, 2004 levels?
I know that the question of the control of air traffic pollution is very difficult. It obviously affects us internationally. I believe that the one thing for which the industry would plead is that we do not set it too high standards and put at risk again our whole aircraft industry. Therefore, will the Minister tell us whether the Government are exploring the possibility of restricting air travel and air freight to machines that meet increasingly tough emissions and noise standards? I do not know whether the Government have considered and talked about that matter or whether it has been discussed at international level.
I now turn to what we as individuals can do. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, and I recently worked on two Bills—the Water Bill and the Energy Bill. Working on Bills makes one very conscious of the need to conserve and preserve. After the Water Bill went through, we were switching taps off very quickly to try to conserve water. In the same way, when we left this building at night, we switched off lights to try to conserve electricity, so there are things that we can do as individuals. There are also things that the Government are doing. I have posed serious questions to the Minister to which I hope he will respond tonight. I conclude by thanking the noble Baroness again for giving us the chance to talk about this important issue which brings challenges to us as individuals, to our nation and to the whole world.
My Lords, may I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Members of this House and to its officers and staff for the way in which I have been welcomed and guided both at my introduction and subsequently? It was particularly gratifying tonight to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. I thank her for her kind and welcoming remarks.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, pointed out, the Chief Scientific Adviser has drawn our attention to the overwhelming significance of the issues before us today. As he put it, they are,
"more serious even than the threat of terrorism".
It is therefore difficult to imagine a more significant moral as well as scientific and political issue facing the human race. In the United Kingdom, we have not yet really felt the pain of global warming, so our response to the challenge can at times seem worryingly lackadaisical. The danger is that, when we do feel the full impact, it may be much too late.
The European heatwave of 2003, record temperature rises since 1991 and a 40 per cent thinning of the Arctic ice cap leading to rising sea levels, are evidence of this phenomenon. Our natural environment is being asked to cope with humanity's pollutants to an extent that simply cannot be sustained. We may say things and repeat them often, but the words become so familiar that they stop having an impact. Today's debate with its call for action rather than words is entirely apposite.
It is good to report, therefore, that the Churches and other faith communities are waking up to the need to respond to this global challenge. We have two great advantages in coming to address the issue. First, we deal in matters of the spirit, of the heart and the emotions. Global climate change is of course a scientific matter, but it is also something that needs to touch us deeply and personally. To respond, we have to feel part of a global community not just of humans, but of all God's creatures and the planet itself. We have to feel responsible for all that is, and respond even though the real pain of global warming may not be experienced in our own backyards. The faiths are used to this kind of language, and we can and will use it to protect God's creation.
Secondly, our organisations are both global and local. Perhaps in recognition of these qualities, Defra has funded the Conservation Foundation to run workshops throughout the country for concerned Church people and others to learn what their faith teaches—spiritually and practically—about reducing humanity's ecological footprint. In my own diocese of Leicester, we will be organising such a workshop as an inter-faith event, because the issue brings the religions together like nothing else. Churches are taking up the Eco-congregation challenge. Dioceses are undertaking environmental audits and adopting environmental policies. The former Bishop of Hereford, who recently retired and is much missed already, has championed contraction and convergence at every opportunity. He has persuaded the Anglican communion and, most recently, called on the leaders of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland to support the campaign.
Those are some examples of attempts that the Churches and other religions are making to encourage action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There are many other examples of action by local agencies to address climate change, including in my county of Leicestershire and in the east Midlands. As an environment city, and in partnership with the organisation Environ, Leicester has initiated the "Keep Leicester Cool" campaign, promoting 10 steps that local people can take to protect the environment as well as providing advice to the business and education sectors. The east Midlands Community Renewables Initiative is also working with local communities such as former mining areas and local housing estates to integrate environmental technologies, using energy from biomass sources.
As the Chief Scientific Adviser pointed out, the Kyoto Protocol, although important, is not enough. We are now obliged to think carefully and urgently about what our post-Kyoto strategy will be. Sir David King has invited alternative ideas for future agreements about emissions control. Contraction and convergence is one such idea—a simple yet far-reaching proposal to deal with greenhouse gas emissions effectively and justly.
Your Lordships will be aware of the solution to global warming devised by Aubrey Meyer of the Global Commons Institute. Contraction refers to the movement towards a formal stabilisation target of emissions that is sustainable: a 60 per cent reduction by 2050 is the often-repeated suggestion. Convergence is the sharing out of permission to pollute among all the people of the Earth. On a per capita basis, countries would be allocated their share of permits to pollute. As we well know, post-industrialised countries emit far more greenhouse gases then those in the developing world, yet have smaller populations. The richer countries can buy permits to pollute from the poorer countries and offer much needed development aid thereby. Contraction and convergence, therefore, is a simple yet radical solution, and one that I suggest we should be brave enough to support.
Next year, the UK enjoys simultaneously the presidency of the EU and G8. An opportunity that will not be repeated for decades is before us. The Prime Minister has said that he wishes to do something about climate change and about Africa, which is off-track for every one of the millennium development goals. Contraction and convergence is a solution that offers hope to both desperate situations. Climate change and sustainable energy use cannot be more pressing for the UK and the planet. It is in everybody's interest that these issues are debated and action initiated at all levels for the sake of our common future.
My Lords, first, I offer my compliments to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on his excellent maiden speech. I am sure that the House very much enjoyed the wide spectrum of his remarks. Personally, I found his explanation of the very practical measures being taken by the Church, and the spiritual and philosophical basis behind that programme, to be particularly interesting and inspiring.
The right reverend Prelate comes to us with a wide range of previous experience that he will bring to bear on our deliberations. His experience in business and in the Civil Service before he joined the Church and the very wide range of his ministry will give him the knowledge to help us as we legislate in your Lordships' House. I particularly look forward to his input on issues relating to children from his position as president of the council of the Children's Society and I hope he will join me in the all-party parliamentary group for children that does such good work on all legislation in your Lordships' House.
Secondly, I would like to thank my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer for giving us the opportunity of debating this important subject this evening. It relates to an issue which, if not tackled quickly and effectively, could threaten the world and—as the right reverend Prelate referred to it—all God's creatures upon it.
I am particularly pleased with this debate this evening because it gives me the chance to talk about a very interesting and exciting visit that I made last month with other Members of the House of Lords' Science and Technology Committee to the British Antarctic Survey base at Rothera. I would like to take this opportunity to thank BAS for its hospitality and for giving us the unique opportunity of exploring issues relating to our current inquiry into international scientific treaties and other matters. It was the trip of a lifetime and a great privilege. Neither the noble Lords, Lord Oxburgh and Lord Mitchell, nor our Clerk, Rebecca Neal, will ever forget it.
We were impressed by the grandeur and pristine beauty of the Antarctic, by the way the wildlife is so well adapted to the extreme conditions and by the quality of the operation run by BAS on behalf of our country, as well as, of course, by the quality of the scientists, all of whom were incredibly kind and patient with us and our many questions.
We were able to find out a good deal about why the Antarctic is so important for the study of climate change, increase our understanding of the atmosphere and the world's weather systems and our understanding of biological adaptation, colonisation and survival in extreme situations. Since my own background is biology, it is the biological side of what I learned on which I would like to concentrate tonight.
I would like to begin by saying something about the hole in the ozone layer, a matter that was of particular concern to us on our trip as we slapped factor 30 sun protection on to our faces every time we ventured outside. Although global warming and the ozone hole are two separate matters, there is a link, and I will come to that in a minute.
It was in the Antarctic that the scientists from the British Antarctic Survey discovered the hole in the ozone layer back in 1985. They had been measuring ozone levels above the Antarctic continent since 1957. It was initially studied because of its influence on the temperature structure of the atmosphere and as a tracer for the circulation of stratospheric air. In the 1970s ozone became the focus of attention because scientists realised it might be affected by the increasing amount of chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere coming from aerosols, refrigeration and air-conditioning systems and the like. The evidence for the destruction of the protective layer of ozone by these substances became clear in 1985.
The link with global warming can be easily understood when you know how ozone is destroyed in a seasonal way by CFCs. During the Antarctic winter a strong westerly wind around the continent, known as the circumpolar vortex, builds up in the stratosphere. This cuts off the interior and allows it to cool to minus 80 degrees. Thin clouds form which allow reactions with gases containing chlorine to take place. When the sun returns in the spring, the chlorine is able to break the ozone down into normal oxygen and, hey presto, you have a hole. As the stratosphere warms up again, these reactions stop, the vortex stops whirling around, and warmer air containing ozone flows in and closes up the hole; this happens every year.
Unlike Antarctica, which is a continent surrounded by ocean, the Arctic is an ocean surrounded by mountainous continents, which is why the vortex there is more irregular and it does not get so cold. That is why there is no deep ozone hole over the Arctic. However, it is predicted that there will be one within the next 20 years, despite the successful decrease in CFC emissions achieved by the Montreal Protocol.
The link with global warming is this: warming at the Earth's surface is caused by increased carbon dioxide emissions which can trap energy from the sun, blocking the emission of infrared energy from the surface and so warming up the Earth. However, this allows the higher atmosphere, where the ozone is present, to cool, and, as we have heard, it is these very cold conditions that allow the ozone-destroying reactions to take place. So, global warming not only presents us with the danger of flooding and desertification, it threatens the success of other measures to stop the destruction of ozone in the atmosphere.
Why is lack of the ozone layer a problem for living things? Anyone who has gone out without sun protection can see the result. Ozone provides a protective coat around the earth. It prevents harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun from entering the lower atmosphere and thereby protects us and all other living things from their effects. High energy UV-B radiation is easily absorbed by the DNA which we have in all our cells, and the cell can then not read the code properly. In extreme situations this can lead to the death of the cell and the organism. In our case it can burn our skin and cause skin cancer. The chlorophyll in green plants is also destroyed by this UV-B energy, and plants become bleached and non-functional. You can imagine how that might affect woods and forests, and the food crops on which mankind depends.
Just as we produce melanin in our skin which gives us a tan and protects us from UV light to some extent, so many Antarctic organisms such as lichens and mosses produce a pigment that protects them from UV damage. That is why you see bright orange, brown and black lichens encrusting the rock where the snow has melted. A study of these may be very useful in understanding how we can protect ourselves. However, there is a limit to how much of this natural protection we and all other living things can produce, certainly not enough to substitute for the ozone layer. That is why it is so important.
The living organisms in the Antarctic are remarkable in many ways, especially in the way they are adapted to extreme environments. Scientists are rapidly discovering ways in which a study of Antarctic creatures and plants can be applied to benefit man. It is becoming clear that the organisms that live at the bottom of the world are a priceless resource for good for mankind.
However, as pointed out recently in a report by Sam Johnston and Hamid Zakri for the United Nations University in Tokyo, there is a real danger that commercial biological prospecting in the Antarctic, if not regulated very soon, will get out of hand and could damage the environment and limit the exchange of important scientific information through commercial confidentiality. If not actually banned by the Antarctic Treaty, this is certainly against the spirit of the treaty, which preserves the continent for peace and science for all mankind.
That is why the Antarctic Treaty group's advisory body, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, known as SCAR, and chaired by Professor David Walton from the BAS, raised concerns about biological prospecting in a recent report. It stated:
"While no current instance of harvesting for biotechnology is known, there are obvious environmental ramifications of the taking of animals and plants as a commercial venture".
They recommended that the situation be watched very carefully.
We heard during our trip that the valuable work done by SCAR is badly under-resourced and much of the work is done by scientists with other jobs in their own free time. This is something that cannot be allowed go on and I wonder if the Minister could say whether the UK Government have any plans to take a lead in addressing this matter.
The sort of useful things we heard about are fish that produce their own antifreeze, and novel antibiotics that could be developed to serve medical and veterinary science. We heard how the Antarctic cod can reduce its heart rate to five times per minute at very low temperatures. Imagine how an understanding of the physiology of this could assist with anaesthesia. However, we also learned about the threat to these creatures of global warming. Experiments are being done in the aquarium in the Rothera laboratories on the effects of raising the temperature of the water surrounding some of the marine creatures found in the Southern Ocean. The temperature of the sea there is low but stable and it has been found that many creatures lose vital functions such as moving, feeding and burying themselves in the sand if the temperature is raised by only one degree. Two degrees can kill some of them; five degrees would kill most of them. Yet it is predicted that there could be a rise in temperature of up to two degrees in the next hundred years unless something is done to stop it. What a tragedy it would be if global warming were to destroy this wonderful and potentially valuable ecosystem. As Sam Johnston said in his paper:
"The Antarctic is a pristine global park and it needs to be preserved".
I believe that too much tourism, too much bio-prospecting and the possibility of commercial mineral exploitation are not the only threats to the Antarctic. Global warming could destroy it even more tragically. I recommend that the Minister, if he needs any further convincing, should retrace the steps of the Science and Technology Committee last month and go and see for himself.
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, I appreciate very much the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate. I share with him and with the poet Pope the thought that we are all,
"but parts of one stupendous whole,
"whose body Nature is, and God the soul".
I wonder whether noble Lords will allow me, in response to the noble Baroness's timely debate on energy and climatic change, to go back 31 years to the 1970s. On
"whether there is cause for concern in the current increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide and apparent change in global weather patterns".—[Official Report, 30/11/78; col. 628.]
The Question was based on the advice of Sir John Mason to me when he showed me the original paper that he presented to the Royal Society at about that time. I had hoped that the government of the day would take note of the moral contained in the parable that I quoted about the wise and foolish virgins and create a permanent energy commission made up from businessmen, scientists and politicians. The terms of reference would have been to create and implement a flexible energy policy for the future, one which would wisely protect the nation's fuel supply and the environment at the same time by maintaining a large nuclear generating element to keep the lamps burning regardless of the political persuasion of the government of the day.
Unfortunately, I do not recall in the intervening years the formation of such a body or a proper debate about a coherent and continuing policy from any of the political parties with regard to nuclear power generation or even talk of the possibility of a hydrogen-based economy, based on electricity produced by nuclear power. All that has emerged so far are the good intentions of the Kyoto Protocol—which as far as the United States is concerned are apparently optional, while the rest of the world will try no doubt to conform to it.
In my view—perhaps the Minister will persuade me otherwise—Kyoto will do little at this stage to reduce global carbon emissions. What it may succeed in doing is to create out of every extra tonne of carbon generated into the atmosphere just one more tax collector, businessman or lawyer to make capital out of it at ground level. I think that this rule could be applied equally to countries such as the United Kingdom which accept the protocol and those such as the United States which do not. In this connection, it might be educational if the Minister could divulge to us how many of his departmental staff are employed in what might be deemed carbon-related jobs and what proportion of the whole they make up.
I wonder whether the Minister can tell us why we have to ask the very same questions in our debate today on climate change that were asked 30 years ago. Perhaps my noble friend Lady Greenfield may have given us part of the answer in the opening speech of her recent seminal debate on communications between scientists and politicians when she said:
"Politicians . . . with their limited tenure of office, need answers quickly and have a time scale of three years or usually much less".—[Official Report, 9/12/03; col. 652.]
For example, can the Minister say today what will be the Government's position on nuclear power generation three years hence? I doubt it, unless he can predict with absolute certainty that he will continue to be at the Dispatch Box after the next general election. Of course we all hope that he is there. However, is that not always the problem when it comes to laying down a responsible long-term energy policy?
I spent three of what I look upon as the intervening years as chairman of the Parliamentary Group for Alternative Energy Strategies, in pursuit of an answer to this problem. PARLIGAES, as it was known, became a forum where civil servants, businessmen, students, scientists and politicians from all parties could freely discuss and debate how alternative sources of power generation might be able to meet the problem of global warming. Looking back on those days, I like to think that PARLIGAES made some valuable contributions to the foundations of the commendable alternative energy strategies that the present Government are attempting to pursue today.
However—and it a very big "however"—it was always assumed then, and it must be assumed now, that nuclear power would be a major contributor in reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Alternative energy supplies would always remain an added bonus to the equation in any responsible long-term energy policy. Was that fact not confirmed when BNFL stated recently that in 2002–03 it supplied 17.4 TWh (terawatt) hours to the National Grid, thus saving 7.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions?
How is the department's climate change programme intended to reduce emissions by 20 per cent without relying on a meaningful nuclear generating element and without stifling business through having to ration electricity if the economy continues to grow at its present rate? Can the Minister also say how many terawatt hours of electricity his department estimates will be supplied 24/7 from clean non-nuclear alternative energy sources in 2010? I do not count gas as an alternative energy. According to the Government's own paper on energy, all existing Magnox nuclear reactors will have been shut down by 2010, and so will some of the remaining advanced cooled reactors. Therefore, will the Minister not agree that approximately 20 per cent of current electricity demand will have to be replaced by 2010 from clean non-nuclear alternative energy sources? How on earth will that be possible?
To make matters worse—that is, if I understand the present situation correctly—all three main political parties do not have the political will to beget a renewed nuclear generation programme. Therefore, unless there is a radical change of heart, there will be no nuclear industry—apart from waste management—in this country by 2020.
After talking to astronomers, astrophysicists and other scientists whose work is in the near-space environment, I have been convinced as a non-scientist that global warming is not due entirely to industrial expansion over the past century. It seems that there is increasing evidence that the sun is a major part—60 per cent—of the reason for the increased temperatures on the Earth's surface and in its atmosphere and oceans.
As a result of wanting to learn more and to hear the latest on what scientists have to say to us politicians, I set up the All Party Group on the Astronomy and Near Space Environment Group, known as APASEG, about four years ago, of which I am the chairman. Scientists approach things differently from those of us in the political spectrum, and much more cautiously. However, they are saying that the sun has a variable output and can suddenly at any time increase its heat, or—as it did in the Maunder minimum, when there were no sunspots—seriously reduce its heat, with major effects on the surface of the Earth.
I think that energy policy, whatever it may be, has to make allowances for that. Therefore we should have a very large back-up. The Government's chief adviser says that this is the hottest that the Earth has been for the past 420,000 years. The mild winters and the prospect of more to come with global warming is not entirely unattractive to many people. Provided that the coastal defences are in place and flood waters kept in check, most people do not seem to have many worries for the future of northern Europe.
According to the press today, the swallows have started to arrive already in south-east England. However, the scientists are saying something different, and they are saying it with caution because they do not know what is going to happen. They are saying that all this may not necessarily be good news, particularly for those of us who live in Scotland or any other of the northern latitudes of Europe. For if the ocean temperatures change due to the melting icecaps and the sun increases its intensity and pushes the Gulf Stream away from our shores, the temperatures, instead of rising, will drop to those of northern Labrador at the same latitude. Therefore, must not any medium or long-term energy policy at the end of the day, at the end of an integrational period—in which we are now living—require complete flexibility to cope not only with hot summers but with very cold winters?
We can say that that may not happen for another 200 years, but on the other hand the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has just been to the Antarctic with the British Antarctic Survey—the core samples taken from Greenland and parts of the Antarctic clearly show that there is often a sudden change from a very hot to a very cold Earth. No one quite yet knows the powers that create these things.
I have suggested that only a new nuclear energy programme can achieve that in this country. Many people are against nuclear power because they may believe that it somehow goes against nature, in spite of the fact that our sun is a major source of radioactivity throughout interplanetary space. However, there can be no argument that nature is benign; it is not. It has been an unforgiving, indiscriminate and indifferent killer of humankind in large numbers throughout the ages. The recent earthquake in Iran, which took more than 30,000 lives in a matter of minutes, is surely proof of that. Nevertheless, in present form it would seem that it will be not nature but short-term politics that will eventually put out the lights on this planet.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to thank my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer for giving us the opportunity to debate this important subject. Last week, with some other members of the Science and Technology Committee, including our chairman the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, who will be speaking later in the debate, I was able to visit the new Meteorological Office centre in Exeter, both as a general informative visit for the committee's benefit and in connection with Sub-Committee II's inquiry into the practicalities of renewable energy.
Our Meteorological Office is a world leader in its activities in developing weather forecasting and climate change research. We were given a series of presentations covering many aspects of its work. Its climate change work is of obvious relevance to this debate and I have drawn on its presentations extensively in my speech.
The Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research has been mentioned. It was opened by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, in 1990, and is the UK research centre into climate change. Its main funding comes from Defra, backed up by funds from other government departments and the EU. The Meteorological Office is dependent on its commercial activities for the benefit of various organisations.
The Hadley Centre's mission is to understand the climate system and to represent it in mathematical models to monitor both global and national climate change to predict future change. To do that it needs to understand the causes and thus provide advice to the Government. Its research covers many areas looking at long-term changes in global temperature since the 1860s and carbon dioxide and methane levels more recently. It has noted the effects causing global cooling such as the eruptions of Krakatoa in the 1880s and more recently that of Mount Pinatubo. It has developed models which show the temperature changes which might occur with and without human intervention in our eco-system. Its research shows, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, said, that human activity is undoubtedly a major influence.
The aim of the Meteorological Office is to improve the quality of its climate change models by quantifying and reducing the uncertainty in the predictions. This uncertainty covers such things as the natural variability of global climate systems—including solar radiation—the emission levels of the various greenhouse gases, the forcing of climatic conditions due to volcanic eruptions and the lack of knowledge as to how global climatic systems respond to these changes.
Various scenarios can be developed which produce widely differing results over the next hundred years due to the uncertainty factors in the models. This indicates the need for better climatic models—higher resolution within the model and increased complexity due to a better understanding of climate change factors, leading to increased credibility in the model. It is then possible to explore how the model responds to various parameter sensitivities, leading to less uncertainty and further confidence in the results. All this requires greatly increased computer resources, which the Meteorological Office currently is in the process of installing. Such an office can always use as much computer resource as can be made available by current technology.
Looking at the evidence, UK climate variability change now occurs against a background of global warming. On a 10 to 20-year time-scale, central England summer temperatures are at a record level. Winters have tended to become more stormy and noticeably milder. Patterns of ocean surface water temperature are implicated in both summer and winter seasonal changes.
What about sea level change? Predictions for 2100 indicate a rise of 10 to 90 centimetres between the least and most extreme climate models, and assume that the Antarctic ice sheet remains substantially intact. Such sea level rises will have a disastrous result if we have a repeat of the North Sea surge of 1953 when large areas of East Anglia, Canvey Island and Holland suffered disastrous inundations and many lives were lost. The Thames barrier should protect London, but if that failed we would lose most of the Underground system with catastrophic economic effects.
If the Antarctic ice sheet melted, there could be sea level rises of some six metres. A mass movement of population away from the affected areas in places such as Bangladesh would lead to enormous international problems in what are likely to be already overcrowded areas; one can imagine the effects.
Whatever we do now, it will take years to compensate for our past extravagances due to the inbuilt delays of our global climate system. Therefore I encourage the Government to take all necessary steps to get the developing countries and the USA and Russia to ratify the Kyoto protocols.
My Lords, this has been a very good debate and I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for having introduced it. We live on a remarkably tolerant planet. Whether or not you accept the Gaia hypothesis—and I see no reason not to do so—Earth needs to operate between fairly close physical limits to support the life on it and so far, it appears to have done so.
But there can be no doubt that we as species are running the planet and ourselves into serious trouble. When I say serious trouble I do not just mean events such as the Hundred Years War or the slaughter of the Great War—and the equally homicidal flu epidemic that followed it—or the mass murders of the atom bomb 50 years ago, or even the global threat of Aids. We are talking about events which will threaten the very existence of life on the planet.
Climate change is happening and although it has happened before, it seems now to be on a totally different scale and to be caused by the actions of mankind—by you and me, my Lords. Although most of us in this Chamber will not live long enough to go down with the ship, as it were, we can not be at all sure that our grandchildren will not.
We are asked in this debate to consider the challenges of climate change. It is a completely different order of threat from the other matters that occupy us these days such as the fight against terrorism. However, there is one area where they overlap and that is in the nuclear field. Most of the manifestations of terrorism that we have seen or can imagine are not planet-threatening. But nuclear terrorism might be, and that is why, if the President of the United States should, as is widely suspected, be tempted to take really violent steps to bring so-called "rogue states" under control, one can see the logic, even the morality of his reasoning. One need not necessarily agree with or approve of it—I do not—but the United States of America and its president cannot be said to be totally unaware of what is happening, merely because they are not helping as much as they should do on climate change.
Apart from nuclear and conceivable biological threats, the actions of terrorist organisations, however widespread, are likely to be mere blips on the history of mankind. But climate change may well be of a different order altogether. We in this Chamber may share with the powers-that-be in the other countries of the world a responsibility vaster than any previous generation has had to shoulder. It was for that reason that I was one of the founder members of the Green Liberals and an enthusiastic member of the Green Liberal Democrats—I salute their initiative in bringing the subject before us today—and eventually joined the Green Party, which alone in my view of politicians takes the problem seriously enough.
In passing, I should like to pay tribute to our Green MEPs, who are tirelessly involved in the area, especially Caroline Lucas. I draw noble Lords' attention, if it has not been drawn to it already, to the Bill that I have placed before the House at the moment on the subject of air traffic emissions and airports. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to those issues as a major problem.
Tireless we too must be if we are to shoulder the burden. In the history of the planet, I believe terrorism to be a disease that needs urgent measures. But climate change may be mortal and, in fighting it, 'We have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep'.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, for introducing this very opportune debate. I, too, wish to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his most successful maiden speech.
The atmosphere and the oceans work together to give the Earth an integrated central heating and air-conditioning system. All life depends on it. If we change the properties of the atmosphere so that the earth retains more of the heat reaching us from the sun, it is much the same as turning up the Earth's thermostat a notch or two. For more than 150 years, we have done exactly that by burning coal and oil and releasing into the atmosphere carbon that has been stored in the Earth's crust for many millions of years. There are those who dispute statements of that kind. I think that they are wrong. They are certainly swimming against the near consensus of international scientific opinion, including—it is worth recording this—that of the US National Academy of Sciences.
This is not the occasion for detailed analysis of the arguments. Suffice it to say, as has already been pointed out, that the composition of the atmosphere can change naturally, and we now have a pretty good idea of how its composition has varied in the past. That comes from analysing the bubbles of atmospheric air trapped by successive layers of snow over hundreds of thousands of years in polar glaciers. We can therefore compare recent changes with those of the past. The increases in atmospheric CO2 and global temperature observed over the past century are faster and more extreme than have ever been recorded in the geological past, and correlate precisely in time with the widespread burning of fossil fuels. That and a host of other more complex arguments build what I believe is a virtually unassailable circumstantial case that it is we who, by our actions, are bringing about a rise in global temperature and associated climate change.
So what do we mean by climate change and global warming, and would it not be a good thing, as has been suggested, if the average temperature of the Earth increased by a few degrees by the end of the century? It is important to recognise that global warming does not mean that the whole earth becomes uniformly a little warmer. The climate at any one place depends on the dynamics of the winds and the ocean currents, and on their interaction. Even small changes in average temperature are enough to change the patterns of global circulation with the result that some places may become very much warmer and others very much cooler, or drier, wetter, stormier or more calm. It is simply very difficult to say.
Even so, is that important? Why cannot civilisation simply adapt to climate change? Up to a point we probably can, provided that at any one place the change is steady and progressive. Urban life will change, and technology will make the new conditions bearable. However, for agriculture and the world's food production, there will be very clear winners and losers—and the losers will inevitably become the next wave of economic migrants. For the very poorest peoples whose climate has deteriorated, we are likely to see more and larger devastating famines.
Unfortunately, not all changes in climate are slow and progressive over decades. Although they are much less fickle than the winds and may remain steady for millions of years, ocean currents can, like the wind, suddenly change if the delicate balance of driving forces is altered. One of those forces depends on temperature. From our point of view, the greatest concern is the Gulf Stream, which underpins the temperate climate of the British Isles. It allows palm trees to grow in the Isles of Scilly while Nova Scotia freezes. Nova Scotia and the Isles of Scilly are at the same latitude but on opposite sides of the Atlantic. If the Gulf Stream switched off, we should feel the consequences in a year or two, not over decades. The implications for agriculture, wildlife, energy and shipping would be devastating.
The problem is that, pace the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, it is very difficult to predict how much warming there can be without triggering such major change in ocean circulation. Although we cannot avoid some of the effects of global warming that are already with us, the consequences of a drastic circulation change are likely to be so rapid and devastating that they are worth avoiding if we can.
So what can be done? It has been suggested that the problem can be managed through planting more trees; that can help a little, but it is very little and not a solution. Ideally, we would stop burning fossil fuels and releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, but that cannot happen overnight. Both the EU and the UK Government are already taking the matter seriously, and are making commendable efforts to promote other sources of energy and to limit emissions to satisfy the Kyoto proposals. They are working to persuade other countries to do so as well. Other countries differ widely in their responses; many noble Lords have made the point that it is to be regretted that the US Government have chosen to ignore the advice of their scientists. Nevertheless, a number of individual US states and global companies in the US have voluntarily agreed to limit emissions.
But what of the developing countries? Although pressure can reasonably be brought to bear on developed countries to reduce their emissions, the same cannot be expected of developing countries. Developing countries in general have much lower per capita CO2 releases than the developed world, and as their economies become more prosperous so will their energy use grow. They are also the countries where greatest population growth, and hence growth in energy demand, is to be expected. They may reasonably argue that the problems that the Earth now faces are the direct result of the developed world passing through the stage on which they themselves are now entering.
They will need energy and they will take it from the cheapest source. For at least two major countries, India and China, that source will be coal. Both countries have abundant supplies of readily accessible coal which they seem bound to use. For a given amount of energy produced, coal releases more CO2 to the atmosphere than any other fossil fuel. That could completely dwarf and overwhelm the emissions savings of ourselves and other countries.
That suggests for the developed world that there should be a twofold strategy: first to limit its own emissions as tightly as possible—as is beginning to happen; secondly, and as the very highest priority, to redouble efforts to find an inexpensive and efficient means of carbon sequestration. It is possible in principle thereby to remove CO2 from gases produced by burning fossil fuels and preventing it entering the atmosphere. Then we would need to make that technology available inexpensively to the developing world. Arguably it is the most important contribution the UK could make to the problem of global warming. It has the additional advantage that, if successful, it could considerably ease our own transition to a low carbon economy.
It makes good sense to move away from fossil fuels as fast as we can, but we have to recognise that the full transition will take a number of decades. However, it would be wildly irresponsible for us not to use other means of reducing CO2 emissions during that transition. We should urge the Government most strongly to set carbon sequestration as a prime challenge for the relevant UK research community and to make the funds available to meet it.
I declare an interest as a former chairman of the Government's inter-departmental panel on climate change and as a non-executive director of Shell Transport and Trading.
My Lords, the debate has been extremely interesting and I thank my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on providing a thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion of some of the developments that are taking place in his own diocese, among others, and raising wider matters for us to think about.
One of the conclusions that we can draw from the debate is that climate change is for real. Despite people sometimes wondering over the past 25 years whether we are merely experiencing a little variation in the ice ages, the speeches we heard from the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Tanlaw and Lord Oxburgh, and the changes we have seen leave us in no doubt, as the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, said, that there is an unassailable circumstantial case that humankind is bringing about unprecedented climate change.
As a result, as we have seen in south-east England, there have been relative rises in temperature. It is expected that by 2050 we will see an average change of between 2 and 4 per cent—with mostly higher summer temperatures and less snow and frost in winter. But some of the violent swings and violent storms that we have seen, even in the past week, have shown us how quickly we can move from a cold climate to a much warmer one. I believe that that is to be expected. One prediction is that inevitably we shall see worldwide rises in sea levels from the melting of the Antarctic and Arctic ice caps—88 centimetres by the end of the century. That will swamp many low-lying parts of the world. Even here in Britain we will see many of our wetlands dry out in the summer unless we do something. The danger of flood damage from winter rains will be extreme.
Nature over the ages, as the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, said, has been unforgiving and indiscriminate. Such changes have been discussed, both nationally and internationally, over the past 25 years on many occasions. The big international conferences in Rio de Janeiro, Kyoto and Berlin, particularly, have made people aware of such developments and what we need to do if we are to limit their implications. We all know that we have to do something about CO 2 emissions. Some countries have done more than others. It is an issue that has been taken up by many European countries, including our own. Sometimes we have not been slow in congratulating ourselves on our actions, but if we look around the world there are other countries that have done rather more than us.
In today's debate we have castigated the United States many times for its failure to ratify, or put its name behind, the Kyoto agreement. We are also worried about Russia's position. As economic development progresses throughout Russia and the former countries of the Soviet empire we are seeing economic benefits for people who inevitably wish to follow the same paths as ourselves. At the moment if the whole population of the world was to live at the standards of south-east England we would need three and a half planets to satisfy our need. If we all lived at the level of the United States that figure would be six planets.
What is to be done? The Motion calls for action at "national and international" levels. It is vitally important that we operate at an international level and that we manage to forge international agreements that pursue strategies to limit carbon emissions. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, talked about the need to set in motion an international emissions trading system. Again, picking up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, about the development of China and India, whose economies are largely based on coal, unless we begin to develop some form of international trading system for emissions there is no way in which the inevitable increase in those countries' emissions can be counterbalanced by reductions elsewhere. Therefore, it is vital for us to pursue those international agreements. I also take to heart the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, about the development of carbon sequestration. If we go back 20 years to the middle of the 1980s, when microelectronic technologies were pouring forth—if only we had picked up, used and applied some of those technologies—it is sad to reflect that countries such as China, which were beginning to emerge from the process of industrialisation, could have jumped over the fossil fuel stage and moved more quickly to pick up new technologies that were far more energy efficient. We missed those opportunities and we are now "ruing the day".
I want finally to return home and examine some developments that are taking place next door to where I live; the borough of Woking. They were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. They illustrate very well how small measures, consistently taken over time, can build up to something that is more significant. We should still bear in mind that the contribution is remarkably small, but if all local authorities were to pursue the same policies we might begin to see more consistent results. It picks up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, that unfortunately politicians tend to expect a three-year time scale. Here we are looking at a much longer one.
Woking began its development in the early 1990s, which was post-Rio when Agenda 21 started to appear on local authorities' agendas. It was also stimulated by the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995. It looked at its sheltered housing and recognised that if it converted its boilers, or used mini-turbines, it could have micro-combined heat and power facilities. It therefore converted the boilers in the larger establishments so that they generated electricity. It had mini-CHP facilities within its sheltered housing developments.
As the authority was building some affordable houses around those developments, it piped them into the same system. That proved to be most efficient. It was able to supply electricity to people at 1p per unit less than that provided by the National Grid. The heating was also cheaper than it would otherwise have been.
The success of those developments was helped by a decision of the borough council to create a recyclable fund. One quarter of a million pounds was put into the fund to assist some of the developments and that was receded by the savings made. That £500,000 rotating fund, which continues to exist, has enabled the borough to pursue other measures.
It extended the development to the leisure complex, where there is a combination of solar heating for the water and the swimming pool, and a heat exchanger which generates cooling systems for air conditioning as required. It has installed photovoltaics and it is using fuel cell technology which converts the surplus heat generated into electricity that goes into the system. There is also a similar system in the council offices, with combined heat and power and chillers. That has been extended to a nearby Holiday Inn that has recently been built.
Overall, the system illustrates extremely well how small processes pursued over time—Woking is looking at a 10 to 12-year development horizon—can generate considerable savings. There is a 41 per cent energy saving and a 60 per cent saving on carbon emissions. That example is well worth examining and pursuing by other local authorities, but time is against me and I must wind up.
My Lords, as has been said, it is only 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, the point at which mankind began to develop philosophically, technically, politically and in population numbers. We now know that we are having an adverse influence on the atmosphere because of the philosophical knowledge base developed over the same period. We should not be too depressed that we have had such an adverse effect provided—the big "if"—we have the brains and the application to apply that knowledge so that we diminish the adverse effect.
The debate, prompted by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, is most welcome. I agree with all she said about the need for international action. We have 1 per cent of the world's population and, it is true, 2 per cent of its emissions—our record is not good—but we cannot solve the problem on our own. If it is to be solved, it will take the involvement of the developed and the under-developed nations.
I welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. The Bishops Bench always has a way of making me feel inadequate and small because I always feel that perhaps I do not have the necessary dedication to good in my life. But there it is. The right reverend Prelate is most welcome.
I also welcome the statement that was published by the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser which prompted the noble Baroness. I suspect that that was published as a kite-flier because he is this week addressing the American Society for the Advancement of Science. We should welcome that. It bears out what the noble Baroness was talking about. Moreover, I am sure that he will have a sympathetic audience, but he needs to get through to the politicians. Indeed, politicians though we are, we need to get through to them. I am not yet wholly convinced that political leadership in this country is wholly appraised of the danger we are in. The pace of change that is taking place certainly frightens me.
The lion's share of the burden in trying to find solutions to the problem must, at the present time, fall on the developed world. After all, we have the facilities. But it is everyone's problem. We tend to think of it in terms of the heatwave in France last summer and milder winters than those to which we are accustomed. Predictions for some of the countries bordering the sea in south-east Asia will not be very different from the predictions for this country. They show that a one in 100 year flood event will by 2080 be a one in three year flood event. Consider that in the context of those millions of people around the world who live under threat from the ocean and we can see that we have a great problem.
Furthermore, all the economic assessments I have seen of the consequences of climate change show that the cost of trying to tackle the issue is less than the likely cost of doing nothing. The simplest way to illustrate that is simply to say that we need only one flood to go over the top of the Thames barrier, which is predicted as possible somewhat later this century, if we do not do something about it, for the immediate loss to be £30 billion in London alone, without considering the adverse effect that such a high tide would have across so many of our low lying coastal areas. That is 2 per cent of present GDP, lost like blowing out a candle.
So we must tackle the issue. Although that will require international action, I return to what we can do ourselves. I have the pleasure of sitting with the Minister on the Committee considering the Energy Bill. I am not sure that the Government have really been listening to the arguments advanced about nuclear power, and so forth. With the exception of an agency to wind up nuclear power stations, nuclear power is not really the matter of the Bill. However, it is in the nature of debate that we try to widen the issues.
If we consider what has happened in this country, and the reason for the Government's complacency, it is a matter of luck. The Government are pledged to reduce CO2 emissions below the 1990 level by 20 per cent, I think, by 2010. We have a successful record, but by good fortune. It has been mentioned that the privatisation of the electricity industry led to a big surge in gas generation of electricity, which is much more CO2-efficient—30 per cent more efficient—than coal. That gave us a huge start in reducing CO emissions.
The second thing that has happened since 1990 is an industrial run down. Industries such as the steel industry have almost disappeared. It was the biggest electricity user in British industry. To a certain extent, that industry may have been sent abroad. That does not reduce CO2 emissions at all, but that works out well for this country's statistics.
A huge wind-generating programme is under way at present as a result of the Bill. Unfortunately, we do not yet know whether there are potential ill-effects from that, but that will not alter this country's CO2 emissions one jot because, as has been said, we are closing more nuclear power stations than we are creating wind farms, as far as I can tell.
In Committee the other day, the Minister mentioned that about 6 gigawatts were to be installed. I was not sure whether his figure was net or gross. Wind is inherently inefficient. The installed capacity and the output capacity are very different; the output capacity is only about 30 per cent of the installed capacity.
In the mean time, road transport is giving off another 250,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum; while aviation is giving off another 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum. We may reach our 2010 target, but if we go as on we are, we will do much worse after that. That is why I am not wholly convinced that the Government have their mind round the scale of the problem that we face.
I return to our debate on the Severn barrage, which unfortunately occurred while I was detained in hospital, and ask the Minister the question that I wanted to ask him then. The Government rightly say that, on the basis of their costings, the Severn barrage is very expensive. The costings were based on various economic regression rates established in a study first undertaken at the beginning of the 1990s. I think that the figures of 15, 12 and 8 per cent were used. Even at 8 per cent, the barrage was uneconomic.
The Government reviewed all that work just a couple of years ago. However, one thing that they did not review was the economic regression rate. The Severn barrage would have a 120-year life, which is much longer than most projects. It would rely entirely on proven technology. More than that, the economic climate has totally changed in the decade since the early 1990s, when interest rates were much higher. I cannot help but wonder why the interest rate was not reviewed to calculate that economic regression rate. If it was reduced to 6 per cent, I suspect that we might get some interesting answers. However, I ask the Minister no more than that he would consider what would happen if those figures were reduced.
I have taken enough of the House's time. This has been a useful debate and I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.
My Lords, I first thank the noble Baroness for initiating this debate, which has been extremely wide-ranging and informed. There is widespread recognition of the importance of this topic around the House; I am glad that we have this time to debate it. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his maiden speech. The Church is never slow to tackle the major issues, and this is in many ways one of the major issues facing us all. We need to take to heart much of what he said.
To answer the noble Baroness's specific Question, I agree with the Chief Scientific Adviser. There is no doubt that climate change is one of the most—probably the most—serious challenges that the world faces. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, that other challenges fade into the second order when compared with this one. That means that as politicians and leaders of opinion and action, we have a special responsibility. As several noble Lords said, politicians' timescale tends to be three years, but we must all be clear that the political and business leadership of this generation will be judged severely if it does not take a longer view of the challenges arising from climate change. We all have our responsibilities in that respect.
We all accept the basics: that the world is getting significantly warmer at a dramatic rate and that that rate is likely to increase during the course of this century. There are doubts about causes and speed, some of which I shall address later—especially those expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw—but there is great clarity about how scientists' models and actual experience suggest that the world is getting warmer and will continue to do so.
Sir David King's article in Science, which provoked the debate and which I am sure that he will reinforce in his various addresses to the American scientific community, suggests the degree to which the world will be changed if those trends continue. Just to take one example, a quarter of land species could be committed to extinction by 2050 under the middle range of the climate projections.
To consider the international dimension, it is true to say that the majority of the international community recognises the importance of that challenge. The UK Government and most others have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and a substantial number of countries have now ratified the Kyoto Protocol. At the recent conference of the parties in Milan in December, which was attended by representatives of 171 countries, there was near universal support for the Kyoto protocol. As noble Lords have said, the Kyoto Protocol is only a start, but it is an important one. If we fail to deliver Kyoto, we are failing seriously on the longer-term problems that have been put forward in this debate and more broadly.
Formally speaking, ratification of Kyoto now depends on Russia. The noble Baroness asked us to use all our methods of persuasion to try to ensure that the Russians ratify. I suspect that patience is needed, as the Russian elections are unlikely to be preceded by ratification. However, I hope and believe that, assuming that President Putin wins the election—I think that we probably can—every pressure will be put on him and he will then take steps to ensure that Russia takes a lead and recognises its own interests in ratifying the rest of the Kyoto Protocol.
In that respect, Russia is only crucial in one sense, because the United States has opted out of the process. We all recognise that that is deeply regrettable. Dave King's article indicates a grave responsibility on the Americans. The decision was deeply disappointing and presents the rest of us with a very wide range of problems. Although there are efforts, even within the current administration, to take action domestically, that action is insufficient. At best, it will slow the growth of US greenhouse gas emissions, but it will not reduce them.
We must engage with the United States on many different levels, including the field of technology. There is considerable enthusiasm in the corporate and business sector and the government in the United States to move faster to combat climate change. But we need political commitment from the United States also. The United States has only 4 per cent of the world's population but is responsible for 20 per cent of all global emissions of greenhouse gases. Its present targets, such as they are, would do nothing to reduce that proportion. The absolute amount of United States emissions is on course to increase, whereas those for the UK and Europe will diminish and, it is to be hoped, meet the Kyoto targets.
We need to use all our diplomatic influence on the United States. We must use the consecutive presidencies of the US and the UK in the G8 in 2004–05 to bring to life the energy commitments of the previous G8 in the Evian action plan. On a European level, we must use the UK presidency of the EU to ensure that, domestically within the EU and internationally with the United States, we try to make climate change central to our political objectives for that period. It is therefore vital that we use all such influence and take a leadership role. The Government are committed to doing precisely that.
I wish briefly to mention the slight doubts raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, about whether the cause of global warming was primarily industrial activity and the effects of man in the past 200 years. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, and others indicated, all the scientific evidence shows that, since the industrial revolution, the process of warming has speeded up. Changes in the emissions and radioactivity of the sun may have a significant effect. However, at whatever level the sun influences our climate—it is obviously a very important factor—additional heat generated by mankind through the creation of greenhouse gases must aggravate that situation. We can and must do something about it.
The severity of the impact of global warming, which the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, also raised, may be variable. It may not be entirely predictable and in line with what every model suggests. There will be differential effects in different parts of the world. As the noble Lords, Lord Tanlaw and Lord Oxburgh, mentioned, it is important that we look at the possible effects on ocean currents, particularly, in our parochial but important case, the gulf stream. It is possible that the changes could effect significant cooling of the climate. Although most models show the likelihood of that to be relatively low in the short term, it is nevertheless one of the potential implications and uncertainties that arise from the science of global warming.
Throughout the planet, global warming determines the nature of climates, vulnerability to climatic conditions such as drought, floods and storms, and the nature of agriculture. Many noble Lords with far greater experience than me—the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Methuen, and others—referred to the need for better modelling and more work and details in that respect, with which I agree. We must engage substantially in that area, and in mitigating and offsetting action.
There is much discussion here, as elsewhere in my life at present—the Committee stage of the Energy Bill—on the role of energy policy, particularly the potential role of nuclear power. It is also important to recognise that the big issues of energy policy are matched by the importance of small issues. Those include changing consumer behaviour and adopting new energy systems—the noble Baroness and the right reverend Prelate mentioned the example of Woking. Planning small-scale or medium-scale energy entirely differently can make a big difference. The sourcing of our energy sources is an important issue. It is not true that the Government are not listening, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said; I have been listening quite a lot in Committee. I have not agreed entirely with everything, but that is a different matter.
To tackle climate change one must consider seriously the role of nuclear power—I do not deny that—on either a UK or worldwide basis. However, at present, nuclear power is neither a sustainable technology—it is a low-carbon technology—because we have not yet worked out how to deal with waste, nor is it a particularly cheap way of saving carbon. As regards tonnes of carbon saved per buck, nuclear energy remains an extremely expensive short- and long-term way of saving carbon.
Nevertheless, it is government policy and a clear part of the energy White Paper that we should keep the nuclear option open. Discussions in the Committee stage of the Energy Bill and here today about how we should keep it open—for example, the expertise and research needed—are relevant to that prospect. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, asked whether I could stand up in three years' time and say that the UK did not need nuclear power in the medium term. I probably will be able to do that, but, then as now, I could not say that either the UK or the world will never need it. Therefore, keeping the nuclear option open is important.
The rest of the energy White Paper, some of which is dismissed slightly in this debate and those on the Energy Bill, is palpably deliverable. If we can manage to change consumer and business behaviour to double the rate of energy efficiency improvement, a substantial part of our demand for energy, and therefore our production of carbon, will have been avoided. If we can generate an equivalent amount of energy through renewables, where for the most part the technology either already exists or is within our grasp, that renewable energy will help effectively and reliably to replace some of the carbon and some of the nuclear energy in the old nuclear power stations.
I find slightly odd the attack on wind power in this House, which the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, repeated today. Any single wind source is unreliable in that wind will be intermittent, but, if a substantial amount of our power generation is through wind from different sites around these islands, it is unlikely to be intermittent. It is certainly as reliable as many fossil fuel stations that we have had in the past as regards reliance on delivery, or long-term reliance on any other form of energy, including nuclear power. Other contributions both to the sourcing and use of our energy must be made if we are to meet the targets in the Energy White Paper and our targets beyond Kyoto, from 2020 into 2050; a 20 per cent reduction to 2020 and a 50 per cent reduction of carbon use by 2050.
Other technologies will be coming on stream that will help in the short term in relation to biofuels and using biofuels in a transport component, where the use of carbon-based fuels has grown and has not been restrained as it has been in industry and the energy-producing industries. Biofuels could certainly play a significant role there. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, indicated some encouragement for that. We are shortly to consult on the Biofuels for Transport Directive, which requires higher targets for the use of biofuels in that sector. That might make a big impact.
In the longer term, in the transport sector we may be moving to both hybrid vehicles and to hydrogen vehicles in a big way. Certainly, if we do not, the contribution of transport to the continuing escalation of carbon emissions will be a real problem.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. He mentioned hydrogen. How will the hydrogen be produced? Hydrogen is produced by running electric current through water. Nuclear energy was going to be the supplier of hydrogen. How will hydrogen be made to drive our cars in the future?
My Lords, hydrogen will be made by the balance of sourcing of electricity by that stage. In the initial stages, as we move across to a hydrogen-based economy, the manufacture of hydrogen will be by the mixture of conventional and renewable sources of energy. The degree to which hydrogen will be carbon-reducing will depend to some extent on the mix of energy at the point when the hydrogen is being produced. It is certainly true that hydrogen could be produced efficiently through nuclear power. It can be produced with a relatively low level of carbon take by other forms of power as well. At the point of use, and the recycling of use, it has a nil carbon effect and therefore a great benefit to the kind of vehicles that we power by hydrogen, which at present are almost completely reliant on fossil fuels.
It is not only road transport that needs to play a role in this, but aviation, which has hitherto largely escaped the restraints on the use of fossil fuels on surface transport. Surface transport has, particularly in this country, been pretty highly taxed and has led to a reduction in use via energy efficiency and the move to more energy efficient cars and fuels. That is an important effect of fiscal intervention that is not always appreciated by the motorist but is making the situation considerably better in the long term.
No such development has taken place in the same way in relation to aviation, and nor is there a longer-term solution in the sense of alternatives to fossil-based fuels for aviation. We need to consider how to curb the growth of demand in aviation. At present, international aviation is excluded from the Kyoto calculations, but it will need to come into play before and beyond Kyoto and reduce the use of fossil fuels over the longer term. A significant step was indicated in the recent aviation White Paper, when we talked about the need for aviation to internalise its external costs in the environmental sense, and also the specific proposition that aviation should join, at least on a European basis, in the second stage of the European Emissions Trading Scheme. While there were difficulties with that, it is the immediate way forward, and one that could help aviation to make its own contribution. Otherwise, aviation will be one of the biggest contributors to global emissions in a decade or two, although it is currently a relatively small contributor.
All sections of the economy need to take a role in this. One of the most important roles is to change consumption in our homes and buildings. The Government have taken a number of steps in relation to building regulations and labelling and promotion of domestic appliances. Greater efficiencies can be obtained from that area. The recent sustainable building summit set out a number of objectives for how to deal with the construction and use of our buildings and how to deliver carbon savings. How we use our buildings will enable the consumer sector and the household sector to make contributions to the targets on climate change to offset the pressures on global warming.
A number of other questions were raised in the course of this debate. I will check Hansard to see whether there are any specifics that I need to reply to, which may well include the sudden barrage that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, sprung on me at the last moment, not entirely unexpectedly. There may be other points that deserve a reply. I thank the noble Baroness for initiating this important debate. I am sure that it is a subject to which we shall return in one guise or another in this House, as its importance is accepted by politicians of all parties and all nations.
My Lords, I warmly thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. Your Lordships who are scientists painted graphic pictures that certainly increased my understanding. Your Lordships also built on the idea that local action is important. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester introduced the important theme of global community and responsibility. I thank the Minister for his very thoughtful reply. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.