Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:47 pm on 2nd May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Parekh Lord Parekh Labour 1:47 pm, 2nd May 2019

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Rooker for securing this debate. When we talk about climate change we need to remember who our opponents are: unless we know our opponents it becomes very difficult to make a case. When we talk about climate change we are advancing three propositions. First, there is climate change. Secondly, it is created by or fuelled by human activities. Thirdly, it has or will have certain consequences, such as droughts, floods and agricultural crises. Those who deny climate change deny either one or all three propositions. They deny that there is climate change; or they might say, yes, there is climate change, but it is not created by human activities; or they might say, yes, it is created by human activities but the consequences attributed to it are highly exaggerated and we do not believe it. The important thing for us, therefore, is to show why these three propositions, on which our case rests, are all valid.

I do not have the time to go through all that, but I think we can point to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the NASA report that claimed that 97% of scientists agree that climate change is due to human activities and the fact that in our country, in the House of Commons when the Climate Change Act was going through, 463 MPs supported it and only three were against it. I think one can show, in looking at these considerations, that there is a scientific imperative to deal with the problems climate change poses.

In addition, there is a second ground on which climate change can be pressed, and that is the democratic ground. Morally, of course, we ought to be concerned with the consequences of our actions and how they affect future generations. In this case, it is not just future generations in the abstract. We are talking about future generations concretely present in the shape of children of 12, 13, 14 or 15 asking for their rights. If we ignore future generations, we are ignoring the consequences of our actions for actual, living people and invite intergenerational warfare, which is hardly what we should be asking for.

Having made out the case for climate change control, I want to ask a different question and face the opponents on our side. Obviously, we need to do a great deal at the individual and collective levels on climate change. Look, for example, at the way the report published this morning by the climate change committee demands that we do and do not do certain things. For example, it says that the thermostat must be set at 19 degrees centigrade, that people should not be eating or should be cutting down on beef and lamb, that they should take the bus to work rather than a car and use light bulbs of a certain kind. We are also told that if you are against climate change, you should not travel by air or use packages, because packages contribute between 20% and 30% to greenhouse gases.

If we start thinking along those lines, fully implementing the policy on curtailing the impact of climate change, look at the consequences. Is it realistic to say to people, “You must not travel by air or use bulbs of a certain kind”? It is, but only up to a point. It becomes invasive into people’s lives and liberties. How paternalistic and illiberal it sounds for the Government to produce a report asking people to behave in certain ways. Controlling or countering the reality of climate change requires a profound change in our ways of thinking and living. Unless we genuinely believe that we are prepared to make those changes, we should be careful in what we advocate.

Another thing is worth bearing in mind. We cannot localise climate change: it is a global phenomenon. We therefore need to tackle it globally, but at the global level there are poor countries and rich countries. Poor countries cannot carry their share of the burden. Are rich countries prepared to show more altruism? Again, unless we are convinced that rich countries are prepared to make that sacrifice, it is difficult to discuss climate change. My view is that we should certainly push for climate change measures, but bearing in mind that it will involve sacrifices on our part here in the West and making painful changes to our ways of thinking and living.