Nick Hurd is MP for Ruislip-Northwood and heads up the Climate Change Working Group of the Conservative Party’s Quality of Life Policy Group. He provides a second YourPlatform rebuttal of Nigel Lawson’s recent case for adapting to climate change. Peter Franklin wrote the first last week.
Nigel Lawson argues that climate change risk is uncertain and therefore we should focus on helping vulnerable countries adapt to climate change rather than grip the challenge of reducing emissions. It is disappointing to see one of the great intellects of the Conservative past skip so superficially around one of the big issues of our time.
The modern policy maker, faced with an overwhelming scientific consensus about the scale of risk attached to carrying on as we are cannot afford to be quite so complacent. Lawson finds it convenient to ignore the fact that every molecule of carbon stays in the atmosphere for at least 100 years.
This inertia in the climate system means that if we wait for greater certainty on what the scientists are already telling us, then the bigger and more expensive the adaptation challenge is likely to get. The next twenty years will be critical because it is in this period that the big investment decisions will be taken on our energy infrastructure. Get this wrong and the scientists tell us that we will be locking ourselves into a serious problem.
At the extreme end of the risk spectrum, the focus on adaptation alone becomes ridiculous. How is India supposed to adapt to the melting of the Himalayan water source? How does China adapt to the potential loss of one third of her grain production? At that stage people will adapt by moving, which is why Climate Change is a security issue as much as anything. Lawson is understandably silent on both the short term and long term cost of his strategy but the message from the more rigorous Stern Review is that over time it is likely to be significantly higher than taking action now to try and stabilise our emissions and so mitigate the risk of dangerous climate instability.
Lawson argues that there is no point because it will add too much to our energy bill. That position ignores the high probability that the cost of fossil fuel based energy is likely to go up over time anyway because the world is well on our way to exhausting reserves. It ignores the fact that for many importers of energy (including the UK) the issue of security of supply is now a major issue, so why not try and become more self-sufficient? In short reducing our dependence on fossil fuels makes sense irrespective of climate change risk.
The technology is basically in place today to help us move to a low carbon economy .The problem is that it is relatively expensive now but Governments has the power to make that technology cheaper by facilitating roll out at scale. They have the power to create new market opportunities by requiring higher energy efficiency standards of the products we use and incentivising us to make the low carbon choices.
Lawson says there is no point because the USA, China and India are not prepared to play ball. He ignores the significant economic opportunity in being at the vanguard of this new investment frontier. He has nothing to say about the benefits of greater energy efficiency to the UK Economy. He ignores what is actually happening below federal level in the USA where progressive Governors and Business leaders push the Superpower into a more engaged position. He ignores the real concerns that India and China have about pollution and access to water which are forcing them to revaluate the issue.
It is not just in this country that the politics of Climate Change are changing fast as the risks and the opportunities become clearer. This is not the time to lapse into lazy scepticism. As Stern makes clear, adaptation is an essential part of the policy mix but it cannot be the exclusive focus.
It is time for much greater urgency in controlling the one variable we can – namely the emissions we generate. Concerns about energy security and the future price of fossil fuels should only reinforce political will to pursue policies that we will not regret even if the climate sceptics are proved right.