MPs Attack Impact Of Climate Change Act On Families & Industry

  • Date: 11/09/13
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I urge the minister, in the light of all the evidence that has come out about the lack of any change in temperature over the past 15 years, to think again about the Climate Change Act and to revoke it, amend it and support home owners and British businesses. –David T. C. Davies, MP

House of Parliament, 10 September:

Climate Change Act

[Katy Clark in the Chair]

David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Five years or so ago, with apparently irrefutable evidence that the Earth’s temperatures were rising out of control as a result of carbon dioxide emissions, the then Government, with support from left and right, passed the Climate Change Act 2008, which committed the Government to cutting emissions by 80% by 2050. In order to do that, the Act introduced a series of measures, a raft of extra taxes and a whole bureaucracy, which have made it ever more expensive for home owners and, just as importantly, businesses, particularly large manufacturing industries, to buy gas and electricity. That has had the perverse effect of making cheap forms of energy, such as coal and gas, expensive and subsidising expensive forms of energy, such as solar and wind, so that they can operate.

The 2008 Act was based on the belief that reducing CO2 emissions would reduce global temperatures, or at least stop the increase that was apparently going on at the time. Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions are actually tiny; they are about 1.6% of total world CO2 emissions, which I believe is less than China’s year-on-year increase. Furthermore, the Government have argued—I respect the Minister greatly, but I am afraid we will have to disagree rather a lot this afternoon—that the costs will not be that significant.

A few years ago, the phrase on everyone’s lips was “peak oil.” The greens were setting up transition towns all over the place and arguing that we should go back to weaving baskets and driving horses and carts, because we were about to run out of oil. The following week, the same people would be complaining about all the oil and gas that there was, which I thought at the time was a bit strange. In any case, the idea of peak oil was one that we all followed and, to me at least, it made a little bit of sense to try to develop our own forms of energy.

Finally, of course, there was an argument about energy security. We all accept that there are good reasons for wanting to have our own energy sources so that we do not have to rely on other people. An argument was proposed that developing our own solar, wind and biomass energy would be good from a security point of view.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I am delighted to be one of the four remaining MPs who voted against the Climate Change Act in the previous Parliament, all of whom are in the room today. Although my hon. Friend rightly wants to chastise the Government, does he acknowledge that the Act, which has done so much to add to people’s energy bills, was actually steered through Parliament by the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), who is now Leader of the Opposition? Does my hon. Friend also agree that the Labour party has played a huge part in increasing energy bills, and that it is no good for Labour Members to complain about fuel poverty when they have created so much of it?

David T. C. Davies: Indeed, I do agree. I am sorry that I was not a member of the famous five who voted against the Act in 2008, but I hope I will now do something to put that right. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) here, because he helped to steer the opposition to the Act at the time.

I must confess that I was one of those who accepted the arguments that were made—I supported the Act when it was passed. Of course, part 1 clearly states that the Act is open to amendment if the science changes or if significant developments in science become clear. I contend that, given what we now know about climate science, we have a strong argument for reconsidering the Act with a view to either revoking it completely or drastically amending it.

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Act is without doubt the most foolish piece of statute that any of us here is likely to see in Parliament? Does he further agree that the very principle of unilaterally re-embarking on a crash programme of carbon reduction can only have the effect of exporting our energy-intensive industries to places where they may emit more carbon, and that carbon reduction will have only a nugatory effect on the problem because, as he correctly states, the Chinese are increasing carbon emissions faster than we are succeeding in reducing them?

David T. C. Davies: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. He is jumping a little ahead of what I was going to say and has saved me the trouble of saying it, but he is absolutely right. It is ludicrous for us to embark on drastic reductions of carbon dioxide at huge cost to our manufacturing and other industries when nobody else will follow.

A lot has been said about how the science is settled and how anyone who denies the science is some sort of climate change denier, which is nonsense. The very last thing I want to do is to deny that the climate changes. In fact, the climate has been changing probably ever since the Earth was created 4.5 billion years ago. The real deniers are those who deny that change took place before about 300 years ago.

Philip Davies: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I promise not to interrupt him again.

Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that although the issue used to be called “global warming”, when the globe stopped warming the fanatics changed the name to “climate change” because nobody can ever deny that the climate changes? As he has just acknowledged, the climate always changes, and by changing the name they admitted that their previous hypothesis was wrong.

David T. C. Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): I thank the hon. Gentleman for very kindly giving way so early in his speech. I know that I will have some minutes to speak at the end of the debate, but I want to ask him this question now. Why does he believe that 97% of more than 4,000 peer-reviewed studies by climate scientists over the past two years agree, first, that climate change is happening, and secondly, that it is man-made?

David T. C. Davies: First, as I have just said, climate change is happening, just as it has always happened. Secondly, we must consider the nature of what has been suggested is going on. Carbon dioxide is a warming gas—that is a scientific fact. There has been an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since we started industrialising—that is also a fact. Where I beg to differ is that it is not proven that the carbon dioxide that has gone into the atmosphere is responsible for the relatively small amount of warming that has taken place since industrialisation. The total amount of warming that we are talking about is some 0.8° C; it is a very small amount in the scheme of things.

When we started to industrialise, we were coming out of a very cool period known as the little ice age; it was so cold that the Thames used to freeze over and they used to have ice fairs on it. That is part of a pattern of cooling and warming that has been going on for several thousand years. We had a warm period during Roman times, and things became cooler again during the dark ages before becoming warmer during the mediaeval warm period. The temperature then became cooler before it started warming up again.

Some of the 0.8° rise has to be down to the fact that we were going to warm up whatever happened, because we were coming out of a cool period. Is the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) able to tell me how much of that 0.8° rise is a result of the natural warming that should have taken place? Perhaps she could also tell me why we cannot make a straightforward correlation between CO2 emissions and temperature. If she is right, as the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere increases, temperatures ought to increase, but that is not what happened at all. We have seen increases and decreases. Temperatures went up in the first half of the last century, but after the second world war, as we industrialised and started to pour much larger amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, temperatures went down again until, in the 1970s, everyone was predicting a forthcoming ice age. Temperatures then started to increase again until about 1997. Since then there has been absolutely no increase in temperature whatsoever, and that is with all the industrialisation going on in China and India.

Perhaps the hon. Lady can tell us—

Katy Clark (in the Chair): Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) is not here to answer his questions, and she will not be given an opportunity to do so by the Chair. I suggest that he does not direct all his questions at her.

David T. C. Davies: I appreciate that. I am picking on the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree because she intervened last. Perhaps somebody, somewhere—maybe the Minister—will be able to tell me why there has been no warming since 1997.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): I do not want to enter into a ping-pong match, so I will try to hold myself in until the end. I have brought a helpful graphic with me, which I will pass to my hon. Friend. The graphic might answer some of his questions so that we can have some cool analysis in this debate.

David T. C. Davies: I also have a typical graph, and very worrying it is, too, because we see that over the past 150 years there has been a huge spike in temperatures, which would be enough to worry anyone—it got me going in 2008. The problem with it is that it does not take into account the fact that if one goes back 1,000 years, 2,000 years or 1 million years, one will see large increases and decreases in temperature and in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

I was thinking the other day that we would need a graph going back at least 1 million years to get any idea of what is really going on. If we had one—1 million years is still only a fraction of the earth’s 4.5 billion-year history—we would see that most of the time, ice covered the northern part of the earth. We have been in an ice age for roughly 90,000 out of every 100,000 years. For 10,000 years, it would warm up, and then it would go back to being cold. We seem at the moment to be coming to the end of 10,000 or so years of relative warmth. It is an ice age that we should be worried about.

If we want to make policy based on graphs like this, we need to look at what is really going on. We need to go back 1 million years, and based on the scale of the graph that I have, we would need a graph 10 km long to get an idea. I did a 10 km race for charity on Sunday in Cardiff. It took me 42 minutes, which—I am not trying to brag—I am told is not bad for a 42-year-old. What has happened is as though I had run for every one of those 42 minutes past a graph showing peaks and troughs in temperature, and then looked at the last 3 cm and decided, based on that, to embark on a Government policy that would cost my country billions of pounds and thousands of jobs. That is absolute madness.

Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): I really do not know where to start with this flat-earth love-in. Does the hon. Gentleman accept the observations of the Met Office Hadley Centre, or is the Met Office in on the conspiracy? If it is not, the recent papers that it published considering anthropogenic warming globally over an extended period demonstrate clearly that recent changes in weather, and pauses and reductions in temperature increase, in no way affect the underlying issues of global warming. The Met Office is clear about that, and about the effect of the overall increase in anthropogenic carbon dioxide on the overall temperature systems of the world, as well as on the atmosphere, the oceans and the surface temperature of the world as a whole.

David T. C. Davies: No, I do not accept that at all. The Hadley Centre did everything possible to withhold its evidence and calculations from anyone who wanted to look at them independently.

Dr Whitehead: So they are in on the conspiracy.

David T. C. Davies: I am not going to answer an intervention made from a sedentary position, but I have made my point. It is absolutely disgraceful that Government-funded bodies have tried to withhold evidence from people who want to examine it independently. I have tabled written questions to the Met Office while this Minister has been in office. I have had to table and re-table them, because I have asked for graphs showing what the temperature increases will be, and the Met Office has hidden them as well as it can on its website, because it does not want to make it plain that there has been no increase in temperature since 1997.

Maybe the Met Office should start explaining why its predictions are so wrong and why there has been no increase, despite the enormous amount of CO2 produced since then. Maybe it should tell us how much of the increase that has taken place resulted from natural warming as a consequence of leaving the little ice age.

Gregory Barker: Is my hon. Friend genuinely saying that he thinks the Met Office is a part of some conspiracy or has some hidden agenda? I have been to the Met Office and met the professionals there. They are distinguished people with excellent records. There is no uniform view on any single element of science; it deals with probabilities, and it changes. Is he genuinely saying that all those learned people are in on some conspiracy?

David T. C. Davies: What I am saying is that they are unable to answer basic questions. I am sure that the Minister will have put this question to them; he is a highly intelligent man. It must have occurred to him that it is a bit strange that there has been no increase in temperature since 1997, despite the predictions in the ’90s that it would rise every year. He must have asked about that, and I am sure that in his speech he will tell us what the Met Office said.

At the same time, I am sure the Minister will have asked the Met Office how much of that temperature increase was due to man-made global warming and how much was due to natural factors. I am sure that he will have concluded, based on the facts alone, that some of that increase in temperature must have been due to other, natural factors, and that he will want to tell us how much.

My problem with the Met Office is that its entire model seems to be based on the following premises: x amount of CO2 has entered the atmosphere; there has been an increase of nought-point-something degrees in temperature; therefore, that increase has been caused by the x amount of CO2. The Met Office has then gone on to conclude that a similar amount of CO2 put into the atmosphere will create a similar increase in temperature, which is absolutely unproven. There is no reason to assume that just because a certain amount of CO2 has caused a certain increase in temperature, a similar amount will cause a similar further increase. The Met Office has also assumed that the increases in temperature will cause all sorts of feedbacks that will create further increases. Its models are based on that theory, and it is unsound science.

Gregory Barker: Nobody suggests that the definitive evidence for climate change rests on incremental year-on-year temperature increases. One must look at trends when looking at the science. We are dealing with long-term trends. We are not dealing with weather; we are dealing with climate. Although my hon. Friend is right that there has been no substantial absolute year-on-year increase since the beginning of the century, the fact of the matter is that in terms of average global temperatures, the 1980s were significantly warmer than the 1970s, the 1990s were warmer than the 1980s and the years 2001 to 2010 were by far the warmest 10-year period on instrumental record since 1850. It was not the same year-on-year incremental, but taken across the decade, it was by far the warmest, and I have here the graph to prove it.

David T. C. Davies: The Minister is going back 150 years and showing me a graph. The point that I made earlier is that the graph would need to be 10 km long to give any real sense of what is going on with the climate. He himself said that we are not talking about weather; we are talking about climate. Climate is not something that goes on over a decade, or even 150 years. It takes place over millennia.

Gregory Barker: It dates from 1850 because that is when reliable instrument records date from. Obviously, there are data much further back, but I was dealing with instrumental scientific records.

David T. C. Davies: Absolutely, but one of the problems with the calculations made by the Met Office is that they use tree rings, ice samples and all sorts of other things to calculate what went on before 1850, but the Met Office is not prepared to use similar methods to calculate what has gone on since then. It has married up temperatures from weather stations with data predating them, and then tried to make similar comparisons. It does not work.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): I hate even to semi-defend the Met Office, but my hon. Friend is talking with certainty as though the science were settled in his favour. Does he accept that due to physics, CO2 and water vapour increase temperature? What we do not know is how much. We have two effects: natural and man-made CO2. They interact. On his point about the last 12 or 15 years, it is true that there has been no warming. That is because warming is non-linear. One explanation could be that there is one chance in 15 of the models being right and that happening. That is not insignificant.

David T. C. Davies: There is another explanation, which is that they do not have a clue what they are doing. Based on the precautionary principle, perhaps we should not hobble the entire manufacturing industry in this country alone on the assumption that they have got it right. I accept my hon. Friend’s point about water vapour, which is important. Water vapour is a far more important warming gas than CO2, although neither is a pollutant. Without CO2, we would have none of the trees, plants and wildlife that the greens—and I, actually—love so much.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

David T. C. Davies: I will give way one last time and then move on, because there are people in the Chamber from whom I would like to hear.

Graham Stringer: The hon. Gentleman need not rely on a conspiracy between the Hadley Centre and the Met Office. He should look at the Oxburgh report on the Hadley Centre and the work of Professor Jones, who leads the centre. He will find that Professor Kelly from Cambridge said that Professor Jones’s methodology is “turning centuries of science on its head”.

He also found, as the Oxburgh report found, that none of the work the Hadley Centre was doing under Professor Jones was replicable. As I understand science, one must be able to test it, so I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees that what Professor Jones was doing was not science but writing narrative.

David T. C. Davies: I am grateful for the intervention and agree 100%. We could argue a long time about the science, but even if the Minister does not accept anything that I am saying—although I hope that he will answer my questions at some point—for us to embark on a unilateral policy, without anyone else in the world following us, is surely folly.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I am glad that my hon. Friend is moving on, because what worries me is our attacks on people’s energy bills—the poorest suffer most—and on British industry, because we have such penal energy policies. Tony Abbott recently won an important election victory in Australia saying that for him it was a referendum on the carbon tax, because he simply rejected dear energy for Australia. He was right about that for Australia, and should we not be doing the same here?

David T. C. Davies: I hope that a certain other Australian who works closely with our leader is taking note.

I have tabled a lot of questions to the Minister on the issue. In reply to one, he has said that by 2020 around 23% of household electricity bills will be as a result of climate change policy. I have also tabled questions to find out, thus far without success, how much of the NHS electricity bill goes to support wind and solar farms. Another of his answers, which I do not have to hand, suggests that every person in the country will be paying between £4,700 and £5,300 a year towards the Government’s climate change policies. We have embarked on a hugely expensive course of action, which no other country in the world shows any signs of following.

I am anxious about what those policies will do to manufacturing jobs. I spoke recently to people at Tata, which is a huge employer in Wales, and they said that the costs of electricity and labour in this country mean that they are thinking of relocating abroad. When they do, they will be taking the factories with them, which will still emit the same amount of CO2 globally, but the jobs will be elsewhere and the foreign exchange will be going out of the country instead of coming in.

Gregory Barker: Of course we have to be careful about the costs levied on industry, wherever those costs come from. My hon. Friend’s argument would hold more water, however, were it not for the fact that Germany, Europe’s manufacturing powerhouse, has increased its share of the global market in manufactured goods every single year since the beginning of the century—it has massively increased its global market share—and is at the same time the largest European producer of renewable energy. Germany produces far more renewable energy than the UK, and has paid more for it, because it was an early adopter.

Katy Clark (in the Chair): I remind the Minister that he will get the opportunity to respond at the end of the debate. This is supposed to be the time for Back Benchers.

I also remind all Members that interventions are supposed to be brief. Every intervention so far has been lengthy, so perhaps any further ones could be shorter.

David T. C. Davies: I will take that as a hint, Ms Clark.

I know Germany extremely well, and the German politicians that I have spoken to about that think, in private, that it is barking. They will tell anyone that Germany has to buy in energy—nuclear power from France—because it simply cannot get enough from wind.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman talked about our country legislating for this area and leading alone, but will he peruse the GLOBE International report on 33 countries, 32 of which are making what I would call progress—I am sure he would not—in the area? Britain is not doing things alone; 32 like-minded countries are passing legislation to similar effect.

David T. C. Davies: I look forward to hearing from the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

David Mowat: Germany’s global carbon emissions are 20% higher per capita and per unit of GDP than ours, and the reason is that, notwithstanding its renewables, it burns much more coal than we do. Germany is accelerating coal production in order to bring electricity prices down.

David T. C. Davies: I will perhaps draw my remarks to a close.

With all due respect to the Minister, one of the things that makes me most suspicious is the attitude of the greens themselves. We can offer ways of providing cheap and reliable forms of electricity without carbon. For example, nuclear power provides 70% of the electricity in France, but the greens do not want to know about nuclear power; as soon as anyone mentions nuclear power, they jump up and down in a rage. Fracking for gas has driven down not only energy prices in America but its carbon dioxide emissions. America is one of the few leading countries in the world to have reduced CO2 drastically, because it is fracking for gas, instead of getting coal. As a result, manufacturers are now looking to relocate to the United States of America. Surely that is something that the greens should be pleased about.

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

David T. C. Davies: Yes. I thought my hon. Friend might want to intervene on that point.

Zac Goldsmith: I have heard what my hon. Friend has said with interest. He has a history of support for nuclear power, but can he provide a single example from the past 20, 30 or 40 years of a nuclear power plant being built, anywhere in the world, without the use of public subsidies?

David T. C. Davies: I do not argue that nuclear is the cheapest form of electricity generation, but it does generate electricity without carbon dioxide emissions. A recent report by the Royal Academy of Engineering suggested that nuclear power was certainly cheaper than offshore wind and probably cheaper than onshore wind. No one is arguing that nuclear is the cheapest form of electricity. If we want cheap electricity, we can burn coal; we have loads of it in Wales. There is no problem getting cheap energy; the trick, to keep everyone happy, is cheap and reliable energy without carbon dioxide emissions. Nuclear is one way of achieving that, fracking and using gas is another, while yet another way might be a Severn barrage, although I am not sure whether the economic case stacks up. A barrage could certainly generate a large amount of the UK’s electricity without any carbon dioxide emissions, but what is the response of Friends of the Earth? They are all running around worried about natterjack toads. They are not living on the real planet.

With all due respect to the Minister—he is a Conservative, as I am, and he understands how the free market works—it makes no economic sense for him to be subsidising industries that are uneconomic and punishing industries that are economic. The Minister need not think that any of those policies will win him friends in the green lobby. Whatever he does—he could cut CO2 by 80%, 90% or 100%, but it would make no difference—those people are not his friends. They will never support him. They are the same ban-the-bomb, left-wing socialists whom we remember from the 1980s and 1990s, and they have reinvented themselves in this environmental guise, because it is about the only way in which they can impose their economic world view on an unwilling populace.

I hope that the Minister will put my questions to the Met Office, or give us answers today. I urge him, however, in the light of all the evidence that has come out about the lack of any change in temperature over the past 15 years, to think again about the Act and to revoke it, amend it and support home owners and British businesses.

Full debate