Paris Climate Change Conference — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:02 pm on 17th December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Prescott Lord Prescott Labour 4:02 pm, 17th December 2015

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, on making an excellent speech at the appropriate time. This debate is not solely about what was agreed at Paris, but the progress that will be made following that. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, talked about refugees in her excellent speech. We talk a lot about the environment and the economy but refugees may well become one of the biggest complications in this agreement. Therefore, I want to spend the few minutes I have bringing home to noble Lords what we have to do to make sure that the promises made are carried out. That is the real issue.

I declare my interest in the Kyoto process and have negotiated various COPs during the last 18 years. I have seen the difference between them. In Kyoto, we only tried to get agreement from 40 industrial nations. To get an agreement from 190 nations is a magnificent achievement for French diplomacy. There is no doubt about that. However, the whole thing changed at Paris. People began to accept the scientific findings on climate change. That was brilliantly brought out by one of the heroes of this campaign, Al Gore, in his talk “An Inconvenient Truth”. He made an excellent, powerful speech at Paris, which brought home to delegates how the situation had become worse since Kyoto. The noble Lord, Lord Stern, undertook an excellent review entitled The Economics of Climate Change. Over the intervening 18 years, people began to accept the intellectual basis of the science of climate change and its economic consequences, and those campaigners deserve credit for that. I also pay tribute to the negotiators, the French and the role played by the Government. I will come back to the Government shortly.

The other factor was the Civil Service. One of the best civil servants that I had in Kyoto was the major person who convinced the others that we could have a formula for the connection between climate science and the temperature itself. In fact, there were two people: Peter Betts, who is working with the Government at the moment, and Peter Unwin, who worked with me—civil servants of the best order. They provided the theory, analysis and connection that made it possible to convince people they should go along that particular path. They did a great job.

The others who played a part are the politicians themselves. GLOBE International, the Senate in France, the Council of Europe, the Climate Parliament and the IPU have, together, pressed governments to do things. At the time of Kyoto there were only 42 pieces of environmental framework legislation throughout the world; now there are 880. That came as a result of the pressure by NGOs and other political people to make a difference. They will be important in seeing that governments carry out what they have promised. Those promises in Kyoto were fine but, as was mentioned, my own Government have cut zero-carbon housing and the carbon storage system, and they have taken subsidies from renewables to give to the oil industry. That was not what was promised in Paris. Paris will only prove successful if people carry out what they promised to do.

I would suggest that the Climate Change Act we introduced, followed by the creation of an independent committee, is the only way to keep the Government on their toes and to deliver what they promised. We are the only country that has a legal framework. I suggested during the negotiations that every parliament should enact climate change legislation in their countries, which would give the Back-Benchers the strength to force Governments to carry out what they need to do. That is the way we get the legal framework and the understanding. I hope we will now look seriously at how to make sure these promises are really implemented.