COPENHAGEN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE

- Thursday, 16th July 2009

 

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), with whom I often find myself in strange alliance. However, I have to say today that, much as I respect his passionate opposition to nuclear power, if we add opposition to nuclear power to the unrealistic targets we already have, we will get from a dream world to fantasy land in terms of ever meeting the objectives the Government have enshrined in law.

John Mason: Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, although that might be true for the United Kingdom as a whole, it is possible for Scotland to have renewable energy without nuclear power?

Mr. Lilley: That may well be the case and that is up to the Scots, but I am referring to the figures the Government have given out for the United Kingdom, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not want to ignore the rest of the world, let alone the rest of the UK.

The Secretary of State called for the maximum consensus in this House behind his policies. I have to say that all my experience in, and observation of the history of, this House leads me to think that its greatest mistakes have invariably been made when both Front Benches have been united, and even worse mistakes have been made when the whole House has been united. That is the case from Munich through the Child Support Agency to weapons of mass destruction. It is when the House failed to exercise effectively its adversarial functions that we have made the greatest mistakes. A widespread consensus invariably results in a reluctance to face up to inconvenient facts and difficult problems; instead, the House indulges in self-congratulation on its common good intentions. Good intentions are fine, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I suspect that

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the road to Copenhagen is paved with good inventions. A lot of convenient facts-or factoids-have been invented to try to encourage us towards a destination that is probably unrealistic, and which we will undoubtedly not reach.

Colin Challen: I wonder why it would be convenient for politicians to want to invent climate change. Surely climate change is the biggest inconvenience to our normal politics that has ever been conceived of.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We finish this debate at 1.55 pm and a large number of Members, all of whom wish to speak, are still seeking to catch my eye. Could hon. Members bear that in mind?

Mr. Lilley: Politicians, having committed themselves to the idea of climate change, invent the reasons to justify it, and there is a tendency to demonise anybody who dissents from the consensus. I make a point of doing so, because I think it is helpful to have an alternative view expressed in this House. Outside the Chamber a very polarised debate is taking place, on blogs and elsewhere, between the alarmists-they are very well represented in this Chamber, and they believe that almost all the global warming observed over the past century is a result of man-made greenhouse gases and that the future will be even worse-and the deniers, who argue that as climate change occurred long before man appeared on the planet, the current climate change and that which we have observed cannot be down to man’s efforts. I entirely accept that that is a complete non sequitur; the fact that man did not contribute in the past does not mean that he may not be contributing now or may not contribute in the future.

My view is, uncharacteristically, moderate and seems to take the middle way. It is somewhere in between the two positions, because although I believe that some of the heating that we have observed has been due to man’s effort, I doubt whether it all has. I was a physicist in my youth, so I entirely accept that the presence of CO2 in the atmosphere serves to keep us warmer than we otherwise would be, that a doubling of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will, of itself, increase the surface temperature by about 1° C and that there are all sorts of feedback effects, notably the inclusion of water vapour, which is an even more powerful greenhouse gas. However, the models that are then used to suggest that there will be multiple effects far greater than the direct effect of an increase in CO2 are unreliable. I used to produce econometric models, so I know that in all these models based on finding a correlation between two things, the only certain correlation one observes is between the prejudices of the person producing the model and the outcomes of that model; it is no surprise that most models produce the result that they do.

I am happy that we should seek ways of insuring against the costs that might result from climate change arising from increased greenhouse gases, provided the cost of insurance is not disproportionate to the benefits of mitigating climate change. I also welcome moves to more secure and diverse sources of energy for this country, but I believe that the claims that the scientific evidence is overwhelming and that the debate is ended are incorrect and exaggerated, that the damages supposed to result from rises in the global average temperature
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are exaggerated and that the cost of mitigating that rise in temperature is almost certainly understated.

I wish to say a bit about the science, and the argument that it is settled and that there is no dissent. As far as I know, only one comprehensive study has been undertaken on the views of climate scientists and it was carried out by Professor von Storch. He received replies from 570 climate scientists-members of the international bodies of climate science across the world-to his asking them whether they agreed or disagreed that climate change is mostly the result of man-made causes. More than half of those scientists-56 per cent.-said that they agreed, but 14 per cent. were unsure and 30 per cent. disagreed. So if the Government were to say that a majority of scientists agree with them, that would be correct, but to suggest that none disagrees is simply factually incorrect. In any case, it is absurd to suggest that science is carried out by majority opinion. When Einstein was told that 100 German physicists had-probably as a result of Herr Goebbels getting them together-signed a statement saying that his theory of relativity was wrong, he said that if it were wrong it would require only one scientist to prove that. The fact that uncertainty remains means that the science is still unsettled. Yesterday-I think that was when this was-the Prime Minister said that the science is irrefutable. If a theory is irrefutable it is not scientific. Scientific theories must be capable of refutation. If a theory is not capable of refutation, we are dealing with metaphysics rather than science.

Over the past decade, despite the predictions of the climate models and the fact that the amount of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere has exceeded expectations, no global warming has taken place-indeed a slight global cooling has occurred. I accept that one decade of the absence of global warming and of a slight decline is not sufficient to refute the notion that CO2 is having a substantial impact. However, I must ask the Government a question: how many decades will be required before they are prepared at least to consider the fact that their climate models may be somewhat exaggerated? Clearly there must be other factors that they are not taking into account, which are at least masking and suppressing the global warming over the past decade. Of course, those factors might have been operating in the opposite direction in the previous three decades, when we did observe global heating.

The second issue is that of damaging climate change. I believe that the Secretary of State-although it might have been the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs-proudly told us that it was an historic moment when the G8 agreed to define a 2° C rise in average global temperature as “damaging climate change”, that that would be caused by the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere increasing from the current 380 parts per million to 450 parts per million and that we were to prevent that from happening. The idea that we have got our fingers on a global dimmer switch and we can determine the average temperature is an example of human hubris that has rarely been matched in this Chamber.

It is also rarely stated that when the Government talk about a 2° C increase, they are not talking about an increase from now; they are talking about an increase of that order from the early 18th century-from before the

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industrial revolution. We have already had about two thirds of that increase in CO2 since then. [Interruption.] Well, the increase has been from 280 parts per million to 380 parts per million, which is an increase of 100 parts per million out of a rise of 170 parts per million. The impact is logarithmic, so that should account for about 64 per cent., or about two thirds, of the global heating that would be expected to be induced by a rise to 450 parts per million. Thus, a rise of 1.3 ° C ought already to have appeared, whereas in fact only a rise of 0.8° C has done so. That leaves us with a rise of about a further 1.2 ° C to occur.

The Government are saying that a further one and a bit degrees centigrade rise in the average temperature of the world would be hugely damaging and that we must be prepared to sacrifice billions of pounds to avoid it. I pointed out the other day that the average temperature in Cornwall is more than 2° C higher than the average temperature in the north-east of England. Is it really dangerous for someone to move from Newcastle to Cornwall? Would it be dangerous if the north-east of England became as warm as Cornwall? Would it be dangerous if Cornwall became as warm as the Loire valley? That is what a 2° C increase-let alone a 1° C increase-would involve. It is not such a big deal. I accept that for poor and tropical countries a rise of that order is more serious, whoever causes it, and we ought to be prepared to help them. However, we ought not to kid ourselves that we are really facing Armageddon if this happens.

Finally, the Secretary of State said in his statement the other day that the impact of these measures on household budgets would be 6 per cent. In his White Paper, he says that the cost of renewables would put electricity budgets up by 15 per cent., on top of the 15 per cent. increase already, and that gas prices and household budgets would increase by 23 per cent. I cannot find the quantification of the measures that he suggests will reduce the impact on households-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman has run out of time. I call Joan Walley.

 

 

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