Green Agenda — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 12th January 2012.

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Photo of Lord Turnbull Lord Turnbull Crossbench 3:00 pm, 12th January 2012

My Lords, in a short debate, I will concentrate my remarks on one issue only, the governance of the science, as this is vital for the credibility of the thinking upon which the Government's policies are based.

In a debate in December 2009 on a report by the Committee on Climate Change, I said:

"Below the surface there are serious questions about the foundations on which it has been constructed".-[Hansard, 8/12/09; col. 1051.]

Over the subsequent two years my concerns have increased rather than been assuaged.

The governing narrative for our climate change framework can be summarised as follows. Our planet is not just warming-this is not in dispute-but the rate of warming is projected to accelerate sharply: rather than the increase we have witnessed of less than 1 per cent per century, by the end of this century the planet is projected to be around 3 degrees centigrade hotter, taking the centre of the range. Some time during this century we will pass a 2 degree centigrade threshold, which is portrayed as a tipping point beyond which serious harm to the planet will occur. The main driver of this is man-made CO2 and the principal response must be the almost complete decarbonisation of the economies of the industrial world less than 40 years from now.

This narrative is largely based on the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so the competence and integrity of the IPCC are of huge importance if it is to drive the massive social and economic changes being advocated. The reliance that one can put on the report of the noble Lord, Lord Stern, is also at issue, since it adopted large parts of the IPCC framework.

Over the last two years, there have been three separate reports on the IPCC. They are: the report by the InterAcademy Council, a collective of the world's leading scientific academies; the report written by Professor Ross McKitrick, a Canadian professor of economics who for a time served as an expert reviewer for the IPCC's fourth assessment report; and a book, The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World's Top Climate Expert, written by Donna Laframboise, a Canadian journalist. Although they write from three different perspectives, in different styles, the message is the same: there are serious flaws in the competence, operations and governance of the IPCC.

The reality is a long way from the way that the IPCC describes itself. The IPCC claims that it employs the top scientists in the field; it uses only peer-reviewed material; its staff are independent and impartial; its operations are transparent; its procedures for review are rigorous and free of conflicts of interest; and its role is to present objective scientific advice to policymakers, not to advocate policy responses. None of these claims is true.

There are many instances where it has not employed the top practitioners in the field, and worse, many instances where it has employed researchers who have barely completed their PhDs-and in some cases not even that. There has been substantial use of "grey"-that is, non-peer-reviewed-literature. The IPCC has been extensively infiltrated by scientists from organisations like Greenpeace and WWF. There is no transparency about how its lead authors and reviewers are selected and what their expertise is. It has been obstructive to outsiders seeking information on data sets and working methods. It is resistant to input from those who do not share the house view. It was specifically criticised by the IAC for not giving sufficient weight to alternative views.

Its review procedures are flawed, allowing too much latitude to lead authors in choosing which of its reviewers' comments to accept or reject. It has allowed lead authors to introduce new material after the review phase has been completed. Its policies on conflict of interest are inadequate. It blatantly adopts an advocacy role rather than confining itself to scientific advice. Its Summary for Policymakers is a serious misnomer. The scientists prepare a draft but this is redrafted in a conclave of representatives from the member Governments, mostly officials from environment departments fighting to get their Ministers' views reflected. In short, it is a Summary by Policymakers not for Policymakers.

In a pamphlet I wrote last year for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, I said:

"In my opinion, the IPCC and its current leadership no longer carry the credibility which politicians need if they are going to persuade their citizens to swallow some unpleasant medicine. It is therefore regrettable that the UK Government has taken no steps to find an alternative and more credible source of advice".

I see no signs that serious reform of the IPCC is on the agenda for the fifth assessment. The IAC specifically recommended that the chair should serve only for one cycle. Meanwhile, Chairman Pachauri doggedly clings on.

In the field of governance, things are not a great deal better in the UK. We have seen a second instalment of the CRU "Climategate" e-mails, which tell us little new but confirm the culture of shiftiness, obstruction and the stifling of debate seen in the first instalment. We still hear from time to time the mantra of, "The science is settled, the debate is over" from politicians and even from some scientists.

Therefore, I was very heartened to hear Professor Brian Cox, the pin-up boy of British science, and his colleague Professor Jeff Forshaw on the "Today" programme recently. Professor Cox said:

"Science is an improvement in our understanding of nature ... There are no absolute truths in science. It's the only human endeavour where that level of modesty applies".

Professor Forshaw said:

"We are always trying to improve on the theories we have got ... And we always expect that they are going to be just temporary structures and that they are going to be replaced at some point".

So let us have no more "the science is settled/the debate is over" nonsense, particularly in the field of climate science, which is so complex and so young.

My view on the Durban conference is that while many of the participants came away disappointed, it was a sensible conclusion-in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, to "stop the clock" on the emissions issue for a decade-while the science improves and the evidence accumulates, an approach I have heard suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow. However, there is good news to report. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has drawn the UK back from its extreme unilateralism, for which he should be congratulated rather than criticised.

Finally, I have a few personal observations. In my pamphlet I wrote that,

"if a technology exists only by virtue of subsidy we only impoverish ourselves by trying to build jobs on such shaky foundations".

The debacle in the solar sector was, therefore, entirely predictable. My second observation is that if a debate with the same title as today's had taken place 15 years ago when I became Permanent Secretary at the old Department of the Environment-where I had a very happy year working for the noble Lord, Lord Prescott-it would not have been so dominated by decarbonisation but would have been much more about those aspects of the environment people care deeply about: air and water quality, habitats, birds, forests and the countryside. How sad that the issues have been pushed so far down the agenda, accelerated by the misconceived transfer of climate change from Defra to DECC.

In 40 years engaged on public policy, I have come across a number of cases where there was a strong international consensus among political elites, but for which the intellectual underpinning proved to be weak, as those elites were slow to acknowledge. The first was the so-called Washington Consensus which came to be seen as promoting globalisation with the maximum liberalisation of trade and finance and the minimum of regulation, but it turned out to overestimate the efficiency of markets. I confess that I swallowed that one pretty much whole. The second is the euro, where the European political elite pressed on despite warnings about the internal contradictions of the project and even now, it has yet to acknowledge the full extent of the problem. I never bought into the euro from the start.

Climate change-or more accurately, the current decarbonisation project-is in my view the third. Originally I bought in to the IPCC narrative on the science and its impacts while remaining critical of the policy responses. However, the intellectual certainty is beginning to crumble. In the next 10 years I believe we will see the current narrative replaced by something more sophisticated -perhaps drawing extensively on the work of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, who will speak shortly-more eclectic, less alarmist and, in Professor Cox's words, more "modest" in its claims.