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Climate Change - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 6th February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour 4:30 pm, 6th February 2020

My Lords, I think every noble Lord in the House agrees about the threat and danger of climate change. I start from the position that it is not just a question of reduction but also one of removal—the two are equally important. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Broers, who referred to the report by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society which emphasised that point—we need both.

My concern about this report, following some of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Lipsey and others, is that it is a bit too optimistic about changing human behaviour and is focused on one country. Some years ago, I mentioned to the Malaysian Minister the problem of deforestation there. He pointed out, gently but very firmly, that Britain had chopped all its trees down 300 years ago and started the Industrial Revolution, which got us to where we are. So we have to be a bit cautious on this.

The first thing I want to say to the Minister is that, to engage the public as far as possible with this, we have to avoid frightening them and avoid the panic measures because they do not work and they tend to make people switch off and look away. What we could do—and this is where I come to one of the removal techniques, which are well known—is plant more trees. I see no reason why the Government could not lead a campaign, involving individuals, local authorities, businesses and organisations of all types, in order to plant trees across the UK on a much greater scale than we are doing. I accept the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that we are planting more trees than we used to, but we could do a lot more. We could also make it part of our overseas aid programme to those countries who want to plant more trees and have the land space to do it. Leading a campaign of that type would be very good.

A danger which I have come across over many years in grabbing hold of a particular industry or issue is saying, “If we stop people doing other things, it will solve the problem.” It will not. If you grounded every aircraft in the UK today, you would still not be able to stop the rest of the world from flying. Aviation fuel is developing—several noble friends made the point about using renewable fuels, which are used on a number of airlines in the UK at the moment—but the point is, if you were to focus on just one issue, the one to focus on would be cement. If the cement industry worldwide was a nation state, it would be the third largest emitter after the United States and China. Does that mean we stop building houses, high-speed rail or whatever else that requires an enormous amount of cement? No, we cannot. The problem is that we do not have a quick answer to that, so we need to look for both reduction across the scale and for new technologies.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Hunt about the potential for fusion, but there are other ones here that we can relate to. I warn against panicky reactions. If you think about what happened with nuclear, both Britain and Germany gave up nuclear power stations because of the argument of the green movement. Then we had to rush like mad to try to build them again because we saw them as part of the solution. This is not the first threat to mankind. The first was CFCs and the depletion of the ozone layer, which is now repairing. It was much easier to deal with that because there were limited causes of it, whereas the causes of this are much more complex, but we cannot do it without a much wider-scale response.

I would like to hear from the Government—I have indicated this to them before—whether the Agricultural Bill will include things such as soil carbon sequestration. That is an important one and we need to know because there has to be some sort of strategy involved in here, which I do not feel any country has at the moment. We really do need a strategy and I think there is something to be said for a cross-party approach to these things. Where are we up to with the Strategic Priorities Fund, which we have not heard too much about recently? I would like to know where we are up to on that.

My final point is on the importance of getting the strategy right for our legislation. People may have received information today from Drax, which is linked up with one of the energy companies and the national grid, on producing systems that will enable us not only to reduce existing use of carbon but to develop things like hydrogen as a fuel. One point it makes is that, unless there is a regulatory system, that will not be able to be developed to its potential. Leeds City Council has expressed interest in using hydrogen as its heating fuel, but it would need some regulatory structure. That is where we need to think ahead to get right the governmental structures that enable companies to develop these systems. They are not straightforward.

I am also interested in the use of seaweed; we do not talk about it very much and I know it is still very contentious scientifically in terms of whether it could work as well as people think—though there is certainly evidence that it could. It is another thing that we ought to look at.