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Climate: Greenhouse Effect
11 July 1988
Volume 499

2.45 p.m.

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will sponsor more research into ways of preventing or reducing the greenhouse effect on the climate and associated conditions.

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My Lords, while the likely impact of man-made greenhouse gases on climate change remains uncertain, there are a number of measures which can help to control the emission of these gases which the Government endorse. They include improved utilisation of available energy sources. the continued development of both nuclear power and cost-effective alternative energy sources (including renewable energy) and improved management of world forest resources. Substantial programmes of government-funded research are under way in all these areas.

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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that helpful reply. Does he agree that this is now a very real and serious prospect and that, as carbon dioxide produced from burning coal and oil is the main cause, environmentally in the future nuclear energy may be regarded as the friendlier fuel?

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My Lords, nuclear power is the only major source of energy for the UK which does not produce carbon dioxide. As my noble friend knows, this Government have a policy of continuing development of nuclear power on an economic basis.

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My Lords, do the Minister's calculations include the fact that the next ice age is slightly overdue and that the greenhouse effect may have a certain prophylactic value?

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My Lords, that is perhaps one of the many things that is being researched at the moment. Your Lordships will of course he interested to know that my department has placed in the Library a recently compiled catalogue of climate change research in the United Kingdom, which I am sure will be of interest to the noble Earl, among others.

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My Lords, since nitrous oxides also have a greenhouse effect, would it not be worth while to press forward rather faster in trying to reduce nitrous oxides produced by vehicles?

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My Lords, the noble Lord will he pleased to know that there was a recent agreement in Luxembourg on stage 2 of the cars package which will aid in the control of nitrous oxides. At that meeting I was able to keep the door open for the lean burn engine. There is thus a possibility of reducing carbon dixoide through that means.

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My Lords, as the use of fossil fuels is likely to contribute to energy production on a large scale for some time to come, would it not be desirable for the British research effort to concentrate on that impact in order to take a lead position and thereby repair the omission that we committed in not taking acid rain seriously enough when that matter first arose?

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My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, the problems of acid rain have been taken extremely seriously. The Government recognise the important role which renewable energy sources could play. That is why we arc sponsoring research at a level of about £16 million per annum.

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My Lords, is my noble friend aware that before the next ice age which was predicted by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, the greenhouse effect is likely to cause more melting of the polar ice caps, which will raise the sea level with potentially disastrous effects in some areas of the world? It may also cause droughts such as the present one in North America.

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My Lords. our best estimate is that by the middle of the next century sea level will have risen by between 8 inches and 4 feet to 5 feet. The effect at the top end of those estimates could be very serious, as was shown by a recent assessment carried out for my department. The main priority is for more research to reduce the uncertainty in the estimates.

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My Lords, in view of the key role played in research matters by the Natural Environment Research Council, perhaps the Minister will tell the House by how much government funding of the NERC has dropped in real terms over the past five years or whatever period is suitable for the answer. Will the Minister confirm that only last week 130 job losses were reported by the Natural Environment Research Council, which included serious job losses at the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences, which is very important in the study of the greenhouse effect?

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My Lords, as I understand it, the capability of the NERC to join in international research programmes on climate change will not be affected by staff reductions.