There are still some hardy Conservative critics of conventional climate change wisdom in the House of Commons. On Wednesday Mr Lilley introduced a debate on the Stern Review in Westminster Hall. (Lord Stern’s main conclusion was that one per cent of global GDP per year is needed to combat climate change. He has since revised that upwards to two per cent.)
The debate makes for a fascinating read. Many of us feel hopelessly confused about the whole issue of climate change. A good speech from an able politician – replete with evidence and articulated clearly – really can help advance one’s understanding of a subject. Many of us moan about soundbite politics and inane remarks from MPs. It is striking wading through Hansard to see just how often they make excellent, detailed and substantive speeches.
That preamble serves in part as an explanation for covering the debate’s highlights at some length.
Mr Lilley cast doubt on the standards of the Stern Review:
"In his review, Professor Stern makes much of the importance of the peer review process, but his report was not subjected to peer review, and it is time that it was, or at least to a common or garden review in the House."
He later added:
"The simple fact is that since the beginning of this century, the average global temperature has flatlined; indeed, over the past 18 months it has fallen back and, according to the satellite measurements of temperature, it is now basically back at the level it was in 1979, when such measurements started to be taken. Professor Stern ignores that and, throughout his report, refers to continual global warming. However, global warming has not continued. Even Adair Turner, who on all other topics is a model of objectivity, ignores recent developments when discussing climate change, in the section of his letter to the Treasury summarising recent developments. The facts show that the world has not been heating over the past decade. The response is, “So much the worse for the facts.” While we were passing the Climate Change Bill, based on the assumption that the world was becoming hotter, I mentioned in a point of order that it was snowing outside in October for the first time in 70 years. I was told that I should realise that exceptional cold was a consequence of global warming—so much the worse for the facts.
The recent period of global cooling does not itself disprove the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is a scientific fact. Other things being equal, an increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will raise the temperature. However, the recent period of cooling does suggest that either manmade global warming may be smaller or that the impact of other factors may be greater than climate models have so far assumed. In those circumstances, the climate models should be adjusted; the facts should not be ignored."
David Heathcoat-Amory supported Mr Lilley:
"The evidence in the Stern review relied heavily on the intergovernmental panel on climate change. I have read the bulk of both reports and I am aware of being in the presence of something similar to a secular religion with its articles of faith and its heretics.
Following on from the Stern review, we are imposing on our economy and manufacturers acknowledged costs that outweigh the environmental benefits, and we are doing that in the middle of a recession. I am alarmed about the effect of that on fuel poverty and about the incentive for businesses in this country to migrate to other countries. We may meet our international carbon dioxide reduction target, but only by making the recession worse.
On top of that, we—that includes the Conservative party—have now accepted a new target for an 80 per cent. reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, rather than 60 per cent. That will now include aviation and shipping. There is no way on earth that we will meet that target. I return again to the point that we must found our policy on reason and what is realistic and practicable, otherwise we will simply disillusion the public."
Mr Tyrie poured scorn on the notion that there exists a consensus on climate change:
"The basic science is not in dispute, but there are two questions in that science. First, what temperature increase will result from any given increase in carbon concentrations? The scientists are not unanimous, and dispute is widespread in the scientific community. A Hamburg institute study of opinions, prepared by Professor Storch, is decisive on that point. Furthermore, Professor Lindzen—arguably the father of modern climate science—of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was asked to be the lead author of the 2001 science part of the report by the intergovernmental panel on climate change and has argued vigorously against the so-called consensus.
The second controversial question is about impacts, to which my right hon. Friend alluded. Throughout the area of science dealing with impacts, hot disputes are raging. For example, is it true, as is widely asserted, that a given increase in temperature will lead to an increase in malaria? That view can be found in many documents purporting to make the case for urgent cuts in carbon emissions, but most of the world’s leading malaria experts refute it. The same can be found on glaciation and the alleged increase in tropical storms. The world’s leading expert on the latter resigned in disgust from the IPCC process, I think because he felt that his science was being tampered with."
Charles Hendry, Shadow Minister for Energy, disagreed with his Conservative colleagues, but not without paying tribute to Mr Lilley in a thoroughly classy manner:
"I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) on securing the debate and for the constructive and thoughtful way in which he introduced it. It is typical of him to bring to the debate the expertise that he has gained from some of the highest levels of government, which explains the respect people have for him. I do not want him to get the impression that I am about to agree with his speech in its entirety, or even in its majority, but it is important to put on record his background and the expertise he brings to the debate.
I am persuaded that we have seen a non-linear increase in global temperatures, and I understand that scientists agree that in the past 2,000 years, the world’s temperature has never been higher than it is today and that that increase cannot be explained by natural causes. I have seen good explanations for some of the contradictory evidence that has been put forward. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden commented on snowfall, and snow is falling in Antarctica, rather than the ice that should be developing. Snow should not fall there, because the temperature should be so low that snowfall is impossible, so that is evidence that the temperature in Antarctica is rising.
We should be well aware of the contribution that man is making to that change. We contribute 26 billion tons of CO2 to the world’s atmosphere every year, half of which comes from energy generation. That figure is 100 times larger than the CO2 emission from volcanoes, which some people regard as an explanation for the rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. It cannot be good that we are producing so much CO2, and it should be our intention to try to reduce it."