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Climate Change - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:58 pm on 6th February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Reid of Cardowan Lord Reid of Cardowan Labour 3:58 pm, 6th February 2020

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Browne on securing this debate and on his opening exposition of the UK FIRES report.

Like many in this House, I have, over time, come to the conclusion that maintaining the ecosystem of our planet is the defining global challenge of our age. We have been successful as a species—indeed, so successful that we have come effectively to dominate the biosphere of the planet on which we live. The next phase will be defined by how well we are able to manage that success.

As the report sets out, it is clear that, however we define success, it must be in the context of a circular economy —one that, like nature, generates no net waste. This is the question that we and the Government face: what happens if we fail to manage our success? The science and scientists of climate change are unequivocal: they are increasingly united in identifying many trends that serve as warnings and indicators that clearly point to our current mismanagement. These include carbon emissions, which we mentioned, and—no less importantly —microplastics, air quality, management of fish stocks, topsoil depletion, insect pollination, and nitrogen. I could go on.

What is less clear than the science is the impact of these various changes on the state of our national and global economies. While the science is clear, the economics are not. The current mainstream models on which the views of many, including some in the Government, I think, are based, turn out to be hopelessly conservative —no pun intended—and wholly unrealistic estimates of the likely impact of these changes. For instance, the economic impact sections of the IPCC report claim that estimates of global annual economic losses for additional temperature increases of about 2°C are between 0.2 and 2.0% of income.

In other words, it is claimed that, economically, climate change is no big deal.

This is fake economics, which deludes and leads astray leaders and Governments. I am grateful to the experts at the Institute for Strategy, Resilience and Security at UCL, which I have the honour of chairing. They have examined in detail the underlying basis of these assertions and have identified what appear to be very serious errors in how these conclusions are reached. I will give merely two examples. In one, a distinguished economist simply assumes that over 80% of the United States economy’s GDP will be unaffected because the activities happen indoors:

“they largely take place in controlled environments and are not really exposed to climate change”.

Furthermore, it predicts that no less than a six-degree increase would reduce GDP by a mere 8.5%.

Scientists on the other hand regard that change as likely to drive our whole species out of existence. Clearly these two views cannot be reconciled. As we have seen in Australia this year, only a one-degree increase in global temperatures has had some terrible consequences because of the fragility and irresilience of the infrastructure on which we depend.

In this short debate, I want to highlight the issue of fake economics deluding us into a false sense of security. The assessments on which we base the urgency and magnitude of the changes that we need to make as a society—and the legislation that this House may have to consider—have been drastically underestimated. We cannot predict the exact consequences of climate change. However, when we extrapolate from our current conditions to a world unlike anything experienced not only in civilisation, as one noble Lord mentioned, but in the whole history of our species, we need to ensure that climate change economists have faithfully reflected potential consequences. I put it simply to noble Lords: the economists working on this are giving us a false view that is starkly contradicted by the conclusions of the scientists—and my money is on the scientists.