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Climate Change - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:20 pm on 6th February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Lipsey Lord Lipsey Labour 4:20 pm, 6th February 2020

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for bringing the report to us. It has certainly led to a fruitful debate. I was also grateful that he brought in two of the authors to meet noble Lords and have a chat about it beforehand. I say that because I am much more critical of the report than many people who have spoken in this debate. I am not so much critical of the science. Anybody who can construct diagram 2.12, which explains what I have always wanted to know—exactly how the cement production chain works—is working very hard. It is not the science that I particularly want to dispute but the insensitivity to the politics.

My general belief is that we are not doing as well as we should be on climate change, but we are doing better than we could have done. My general belief is that the Stern report was basically right in saying that it was possible to deal with climate change and, at the same time, preserve something like our present economy. My crucial point is that there is a big difference between what we have all accepted now—zero net emissions—and what this report proposes: zero emissions. Not a single particle or atom of carbon is to be produced by man, and that means no aircraft, no shipping, no cement and various other extreme things.

Other noble Lords may find that helpful. I do not find it helpful in selling this prospectus to people in the future. I think it sounds too scary. It is not the case that if we go above zero, there will be Armageddon. There is a set of scenarios of possible temperature rises with a set of emissions. It could be worse or better—scientists do not know precisely. So the idea that we have to get rid of absolutely every particle of emissions is crazy. Having taught people that planting trees is a good thing to do, we cannot turn round and say planting trees makes no difference whatever, because we cannot plant enough in England. To spurn carbon capture and storage—one of the major potential contributors to doing something about this—is patently absurd. I also think the authors of the report are extremely pessimistic about the potential for developing more forms of electricity that are non-polluting, particularly nuclear. In Sweden, a civilised country by any standards, virtually all electricity is produced by nuclear reactors. That is a tremendous leap forward which we too will need to make if electric cars are to replace diesel cars, and so on.

We also need think about the political challenge a bit more carefully than we sometimes do. It is all very well for the House of Lords—we will be long gone by 2050 and do not need to get elected in the meantime. We do not have to worry about it, but the political challenge is enormous. The strange thing about the report is that it acts as if climate change is all about what one country does. If we look at the practical difficulties facing us now, what are the worst of them? President Trump and Mr Scott Morrison in Australia, who says that the cause of the bush fires was that he was not allowed to light enough fires himself to cause fire breaks. I am much more sympathetic to the many leaders of developing countries who say, “Well, you have had all the benefits from carbon, why should we take all the costs, especially when our people are starving, thirsty or lack the basics that you take totally for granted?”. Dealing with those issues seems absolutely major.

I am not a denier at all; I strongly believe in dealing with climate change. But if we were to put this report before the British people, it would be received in much same way as was the Labour manifesto: “Oh, you cannot be serious.” And we know what the result of that was. We need a practical programme to deal with climate change, working towards a sensible target for zero net emissions. As well as spending time on developing the technological and engineering changes needed to produce that, we need to spend time converting our people to the importance of what we are asking them to do.