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Climate Change

Volume 715: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the debate about the recently published e-mails sent by scientists in the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia has altered their stance on the evidence of man-made climate change.

My Lords, no: we remain absolutely convinced by the comprehensive and compelling evidence that shows that humans are causing the climate to change.

My Lords, I am very thankful that the Government are taking that position and I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he agree that, just as in a sick person, the temperature rise is just one symptom of the very sick state of the planet, and that the conference at Copenhagen represents a step change in trying to deal with many of the symptoms to do with our overuse of resources? Does he also agree that it is an outrage that those who quibble with the evidence and who want to deny the little bits of evidence here and there are those who want to continue business as usual and deny future generations their rights?

Yes, my Lords, I think that the noble Baroness is spot on in her analysis of where we are and of the importance of the Copenhagen discussions. No one should underestimate the challenge of reaching agreement at Copenhagen but we are confident that we can see a successful outcome.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia agree with the two data sets collected independently in the United States at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the National Climatic Data Centre, and that all three data sets show that thermometer measurements of the global temperature have risen by 0.75 degrees since 1850? Does he also agree that where direct measurements from thermometers conflict with proxy measurements such as those from tree rings, the thermometer measurements should be treated as more reliable?

My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with great authority. I cannot disagree with him at all in his analysis, which suggests that the credibility of the climate science on which we are informed is not in doubt.

Is it not clear that the vast majority of scientists conclude that there is a real risk of climate change and that it is preferable to take precautionary action now rather than be sorry later?

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the rise in carbon dioxide is entirely uncontroversial and that if we had no other information apart from the agreed measurements of carbon dioxide and the projections that they carry for the second half of this century, that would in itself motivate very strong action at Copenhagen?

My Lords, I think that that is right, and that is why it is so important that we should reach agreement in Copenhagen. No one should have any doubt that the evidence has been rigorously assessed by a number of institutions throughout the world and that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that climate change is real, it is happening, and we have to do something about it.

I’m up, and I’m staying up.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that questioning theories by subjecting them to rigorous testing is the foundation of scientific method and is how our body of knowledge was built? Although the revelations at the University of East Anglia are deeply concerning, our knowledge of climate change does not hang on this set of e-mails but on the work of thousands of scientists pursuing many separate lines of inquiry over many years.

My Lords, I agree with the general thrust of the noble Baroness’s question. As for the UEA, the university has announced an independent review, and I think it best to await the outcome. However, I am convinced that the evidence overall, not only from that university but also from other universities around the world, is utterly convincing.

Will Her Majesty’s Government promise to work very hard indeed through the usual polite channels to persuade a few myopic and reactionary US senators of the need to support a full universal treaty when the time comes on 20 December and not to resile back into old views which are out of date on this matter?

My Lords, I have some sympathy with the noble Lord’s point. However, I think it is worth saying that the position of the US Administration is very much more positive than it has been and we are very much encouraged by that. However, no doubt there will be considerable challenges ahead.

My Lords, while I and a great many noble Lords are persuaded of climate change and that much of it is manmade, and that science and change in lifestyles will have to be used to counter it, will the Minister accept that nature can give us a hand in this? Has he seen the independent report chaired by Sir David Read, which has concluded that an extension of our woodland cover in the United Kingdom by 4 per cent would allow us to sequester 10 per cent of our carbon emissions? I declare an interest as chairman of the Forestry Commission.

My Lords, I have not read the report, but I understand my noble friend’s point. There is no question that forestation offers many opportunities. As part of the agreement in Copenhagen, we must ensure that action is taken to prevent further deforestation.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the discovery of the mammal in Siberia that is said to be 37,000 years old? As a result of some of the investigations that have been made, it is clear that 37,000 years ago the arctic was tundra; there were grazing animals and people living there. It was considerably warmer, and it is doubtful whether there was any ice there at all. Would the Minister agree that as a result of that we are probably in a cycle returning?

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for imparting that information to your Lordships' House this afternoon. The fact is that of course there have been periods of warmth, and natural processes can obviously affect climate. However, we are seeing temperatures rising rapidly due to human activities. I am convinced that we have to take action to limit this warming to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.