My Lords, I know we are not supposed to reiterate congratulations to the maiden speaker. However, as the first speaker from his side, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Gascoigne on his maiden speech and on his modesty, which, I suspect, belies great ability. We look forward to hearing more from him in future.
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Stern, I welcome the Government’s decision to allow exploration in the North Sea. There are two ways to reduce emissions: phase out demand for fossil fuels, or phase out their supply. Sensibly, we have decided to phase out demand—indeed, that is the basis of his whole report. It would be absurd for the UK unilaterally to restrict domestic oil and gas production while allowing imports with added transport emissions from abroad. If oil and gas industries worldwide invest in more fossil fuels than are needed as we phase out demand, they will lose a lot of money. Tough—it could not happen to a nicer bunch of people—but that is not our big problem. However, if we reduce the supply of fossil fuels worldwide faster than we phase out demand, we will face shortages and escalating prices, there will be huge profits for the oil industry, and we will have done to ourselves exactly what Putin did to us two years ago. Let us keep to phasing out demand and not supply.
I also welcome the PM’s decision to delay the ban on internal combustion engine vehicles—not because it will have a major effect in itself. More than 80% of all the vehicles produced in this country are exported, so they depend on the rules of the countries to which they are exported. The rules here have almost no effect on them. What he has done is open up the possibility of a rational debate about the cost of action to reach net zero versus the cost of inaction or delaying action.
Until now, the presumption has been that incorporated in the very name of Extinction Rebellion: that if we do nothing, the human race faces the risk of extinction. If that were the case, almost no cost would be too great to bear to phase out fossil fuels and prevent global warming. But is it true? I asked Ministers in a Written Question if they know of any peer-reviewed study accepted by the IPCC which forecasts the extinction of the human race if the world takes no action to phase out fossil fuels. The answer was clear: there are no peer-reviewed studies predicting human extinction if we do nothing. Of course there would be problems, costs, and so on.
Nor is there a serious threat of humankind being reduced to poverty, hunger and wretchedness if we take no action to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Take, for example, the predictions of the noble Lord, Lord Stern. His key conclusion was that if we do nothing—not if we do not do enough, but if we do nothing—it would be equivalent to a loss of well-being of 5% of GDP every year, now and for ever. Being 5% poorer than we would otherwise be is a serious blow, but by no stretch of the imagination does it amount to impoverishment of the human race, just setting us back by two, three or four years of growth.
A more recent assessment, if you think that the noble Lord’s report is out of date, comes from Professor Nordhaus, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2018 for his work on assessing the costs and benefits of action on climate change. He concluded that the optimum target for the world to aim for is not 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, or even limited to 2 degrees, but nearer to 3 degrees, which would mean that there may be scope for us to delay our target for net zero beyond 2050.
If that is not enough and you want the imprimatur of the IPCC, turn to its chapter on the impact of climate change on the economy. I quote the opening words:
“For most economic sectors, the impact of climate change will be small relative to the impacts of other drivers … Changes in population, age, income, technology, relative prices, lifestyle, regulation, governance, and many other aspects of socioeconomic development will have an impact on the supply and demand of economic goods and services that is large relative to the impact of climate change”.
I am a scientist by training, and I know the basic science is rock solid, but let us have a rational debate about the cost of action and inaction, because these costs and benefits are more finely balanced than often supposed. Let us approach the issue in a rational way and not as if we are all members of an apocalyptic sect.