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Climate Change: UN Report

Volume 689: debated on Wednesday 7 February 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their response to the report issued by the United Nations on 2 February following the meeting of climate change scientists held in Paris.

My Lords, the report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the most comprehensive assessment of the science of climate change to date. It leaves us in no doubt that mankind is affecting the climate system and will continue to do so unless we take urgent international action to reduce emissions. We welcome the report and fully endorse its conclusions.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I am impressed, as many Members of this House will be, by his Answer? Is it not right that an unprecedented warning was given that the increased incidence of hurricanes and cyclones is directly related to climate change, which most scientists argue is caused by human activity? How do the Government consider that this dire situation can be cured, and when should we start confronting it?

My Lords, it is a complex issue, but we expect the intensity of cyclones to increase as the world warms. That is the inevitable consequence of the warming process. We believe that by reducing our emissions, we can reduce the risk of the high levels of warming, indicated in the report, and curb the increased intensity of the cyclones. However, we do expect an increased intensity.

My Lords, these United Nations reports do not arise in a vacuum; they are the result of long years of studying. What part did the United Kingdom Government play in the arrival at these conclusions? More importantly, it is agreed that it is essential to get international agreement that all countries should be involved in action to right this particular difficulty. What discussions are the Government involved in to advance that particular point?

My Lords, I cannot give the precise number. Literally thousands of scientists were involved in putting together this report. I understand that some 600 key scientists were involved from 2001 to 2007, the period between the third and fourth report, but with several thousand more peer- reviewing the work of those scientists to come to the unanimous report that was produced. I cannot say how many of those were British, but there is a contribution from this country.

As for the international action, we are required under the international agreements—the Kyoto agreement and others—to produce a climate change programme, which we did last March. There are ongoing discussions around the world at various times. This is a further scientific assessment of where we have got to, in some ways complementing the Stern report, which concentrated more on the economics.

My Lords, are the British Government one of those who signed up to the agreement in Paris last week that the United Nations structures needed to be strengthened when dealing with the environment and that there needed to be an agency or organisation more powerful than the environment programme of the UN to handle this issue? If they did subscribe to that view, what are they going to do about it?

My Lords, I am sorry, but I do not have an answer to the noble Lord’s specific question. The point is that we have welcomed the report and fully endorsed its conclusions at its publication last week. I shall have to take further advice on the detail of the other part of the noble Lord’s question.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the press conference in Paris last week given by United Nations bureaucrats in this area bore very little relation to the careful conclusions of the scientists themselves as manifested in the report, which is there in summary form for policy makers and anybody else to read? What the scientists say—

My Lords, is the Minister aware that what the scientists say does not determine what is sensible economic policy? That is the big question in this area. Finally, may I congratulate the Government on their insincerity on this issue, in making it quite clear by their actions that they do not actually mean what they say about this?

My Lords, the noble Lord himself was present at a counter-report by the Fraser Institute which, according to Wikipedia, is a reactionary conservative think-tank based in Canada. That report, published yesterday, which the noble Lord endorsed, misrepresents the international panel’s conclusions, selectively quotes from the report and distorts the evidence by presenting it out of context without any recognition whatever of the full breadth of the analysis. I can give examples to back up every one of those assertions if required.

My Lords, one area that the Paris meeting emphasised was the warming of the oceans and the accelerating rise of sea levels. When will the Government start to put together and present a strategy to the House on adaptation, especially in relation to sea defences, particularly given the fact that we have extreme weather events? However successful we are in reducing emissions, we will have rising sea levels for several years to come.

My Lords, indeed we are, and an awful lot of work is being done by CEFAS, the laboratory agency of Defra, on rising sea levels to know where to place defences so that they can be effective. It is not necessarily the case that all sea defences can be effective. There is evidence in the report published last week showing potential rises in sea levels that are going to cause catastrophic problems for people around the world. Those problems are not just for one Government to deal with; they are intergovernmental. There will clearly have to be sea defences as well as organised movements of population.

My Lords, on that point, have the Government taken into account what the Stern report and this international panel of experts have said about the danger of tidal surges—not least the consequences for London, the public transportation system in London and the Thames barrier?

My Lords, I am not au fait with updates on the Thames barrier, but it has probably been used a lot more than was planned. Work is in hand longer term on reinforcing the Thames barrier because, on the evidence of the Stern report and the report issued last week, it will not do the job that will need to be done. The position is much more serious now.