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Climate Change: IPCC Leadership

Volume 721: debated on Monday 25 October 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they support the leadership of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

My Lords, yes. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the primary authority on the science of climate change and the Government retain confidence in its leadership. We welcome the agreement reached by the IPCC to take forward some key recommendations of the recent independent review into its procedures, communications and management.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. He will be aware that the recent report by the InterAcademy Council laid bare the faulty processes in the IPCC which led, inter alia, to the ridiculous assertion about the melting of the Himalayan glacier. One clear recommendation was that the IPCC chairman should not serve for more than one term—that is to say, that the current incumbent should already have gone. Why have the Government reached the position in which they appear not to support that? What representations, if any, did the Government make at the recent IPCC meeting to that effect?

Let me point this out to the noble Baroness and let us look at the facts: this organisation won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, and that should be commended. Like many organisations it will have growing pains, management and communications issues, but it has 194 countries subscribing to it and we cannot just wave a magic wand and change things. An independent review of its activities was carried out—I am grateful to Sir Peter Williams, the treasurer of the Royal Society, for being on the review committee—which found that the management structure was weak and that communications were not adequate. However, the review found that the information the IPCC provides is highly relevant. Frankly, it is not for this Government to decide how the organisation should be run. Dr Pachauri, the chairman, has accepted the recommendations and is going to implement them. He has an excellent relationship with emerging markets, which is very important, and he is an eminent Yale professor who is working for free.

Does the Minister accept that, although the science on climate change is incredibly complex, all of it points in the direction of climate change being profoundly dangerous? Therefore, is it not right that, even though an organisation such as the climate change body to which he refers may make mistakes from time to time, it is critically important that, although we might examine those mistakes, we do not lose sight of the overall need to stop the pollution in which we are engaged at the moment?

My response can be very short this time: I completely agree with the noble Lord, who is right. The Stern review showed that we have got to invest now to stop climate change in the future. I do not disagree with one word that he has said.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, apart from the necessity of agreeing a road map for the avoidance of deforestation, it is also vitally important that the IPCC addresses the issue of education on environmental matters and the promotion of green professionals?

Again, I totally agree. We have to show leadership on the subject of climate change. As we said in the discussion on deforestation the other day, we have committed £300 million towards that out of the £1.5 billion that has been ring-fenced. It is encouraging that there is cross-party agreement on that endeavour, and that should be continued.

My Lords, the Minister says that Dr Pachauri is working for free, but has he read Christopher Booker's column in the Sunday Telegraph? It suggests that Dr Pachauri has some side activities that might be worthy of the Government's attention.

I have known Christopher Booker for a long time, but I am afraid that I do not agree with a lot of things he has to say. Doubtless, the noble Lord agrees with every word—it is probably a biblical thing.

My Lords, while clearly lessons are to be learnt from any errors in the assessment report, that does not alter the fact that there is overwhelming scientific evidence of significant man-made climate change and action must be taken. Does the Minister agree with the professor of physics and oceanography, Stefan Rahmstorf, that one of the great strengths of the IPCC is that it tends to be conservative and cautious and does not overstate any climate change risk? Indeed, it has since been proved by the July 2001 study that projections in temperature and sea level have risen higher than the top of the range predicted by the IPCC.

I thank the noble Baroness for pointing that out. Again, the role that the Labour Government played in sorting out the problems that the IPCC had got into is to be commended. I totally endorse what the noble Baroness said.

My Lords, should not the most important leadership on climate change be from the United States and China? Will my noble friend inform the House what the Government are doing to persuade those two giants of carbon emissions to exercise that leadership at Cancún later this year?

I thank my noble friend for her second question in this House. Both of them have been excellent on this particular subject. The fact is that we have to show leadership. I am glad to say that the Prime Minister will visit China next month. He will lead a UK-China summit on low carbon development, which will be a central pillar of the visit. The Secretary of State, Chris Huhne, will join him.

The USA has made commitments. We may or may not consider them adequate, but it has made a commitment to improve carbon reduction by 17 per cent on 2005 levels by 2020.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that practically all the criticism that has been levelled at the IPCC and other bodies supporting it has been about personalities and process but has not shaken the fundamental case? It would be much better if the critics concentrated on the fundamental case—if they can disprove it, which I do not believe they can—and laid off on the process and the personalities.

The noble Lord makes a valid point, particularly as the previous chairman was hounded out by a similar approach. The fundamentals are what we are here to look at and I totally agree with him.