Tory climate-change-deniers have their day in Parliament
This is the true face of the 'Conservative' Party...:
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Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): When I was at school, the standard
orthodoxy in geography lessons was that we were on the threshold of a
new ice age. Another orthodoxy was that the world faced an era of
unparalleled mass starvation unfolding as a consequence of a Malthusian
population growth trap. Forty years later the science of global cooling
has been replaced by the science of global warming and the Malthusian
crisis has been solved by man's capacity to adapt, using new technology.
In the latter case, high-yielding crops delivered what became known as
the green revolution. We need to be careful about swallowing
orthodoxies. I have initiated the debate to make one straightforward
point about the latest orthodoxy. I support the view that mankind might
be contributing to global warming, but there is little evidence to
support the view that the correct response at this time should be
rapidly to decarbonise the economies of the world.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I was at school
slightly more recently than my hon. Friend-probably about 30 years ago.
One other orthodoxy to which he has not referred, and which has since
been disproved, was the idea that we were going to run out of oil and
gas by the end of the century. That was the theory of well-paid
Government scientists who had research grants in the late 1970s. The
same people, or perhaps their successors, are now coming up with the
theories that I hope that my hon. Friend will do his best to explode.
Mr. Tyrie: That was an interesting intervention. The idea of a peak oil
moment in the resources industry is an old chestnut that has been around
for at least 50 years. Anybody minded to give the idea houseroom could
do no better than read the outstanding paper that was written only a few
months ago by Professor Peter Davies of BP in which that theory is
decisively scotched-of course, it is complete nonsense.
On current knowledge, acting swiftly to reduce carbon emissions across
the world could be as economically imprudent as it would certainly be
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): As my hon. Friend knows, I share many of
his views. Does he agree that it would be a mistake to act too swiftly
when, according to the Met Office Hadley Centre, last year there was a
12-month long drop in world temperature sufficient to wipe out a whole
century of warming? In addition, China, which is supposed to be spewing
out more carbon emissions than ever before, has had its coldest winter
in 100 years.
Mr. Tyrie: There are a lot of measurement problems with global warming.
There has not been any global warming for the past eight years, although
that is not well known, and whether there was a rate of faster growth in
the temperature of the planet in the 1930s or in the 1990s is hotly
disputed-if I may use that phrase. There are also some interesting
disputes about whether the last century or the mediaeval warm period was
the warmest in the last millennium.
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Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East) (Lab): I am pleased that the hon.
Gentleman has secured this debate, and I am glad to be able to squeeze
in between the interventions of his hon. Friends. Does he accept that if
the downside risks of not acting are greater than the downside risks of
acting, given the scientific knowledge that we have-even with the
qualifications that are put on that scientific understanding-it is
imperative for us to act?
Mr. Tyrie: That is the nub of the matter. I shall discuss that in a
moment as it is why I have initiated this debate.
To finish off my comments on the intervention made by my hon. Friend the
Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), the summary of the
Harvard-Smithsonian centre for astrophysics' study on proxy climatic and
environmental changes in the past 1,000 years states:
"across the world, many records reveal that the 20 th century is
probably not the warmest, nor a uniquely extreme climatic period of the
There are, of course, equally well-qualified people who dispute that
vigorously, so a fierce debate is going on about this.
The Government are advocating a policy of almost completely
decarbonising our economy over the next 40 years. That will mean drastic
reductions in the use of fossil fuels on the roads, for heating our
homes and in industry. Such a policy will cost a fortune and will
represent a massive undertaking. It will also almost certainly mean a
fundamental change in our way of life and will leave us less well off.
We are embarking on such a policy without having properly thought
through the consequences, or the alternatives.
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Has my hon. Friend read the
recent report by Professor David Newbury of Cambridge university, which
concludes that if motorists were required to pay the true cost of the
effect of motoring on the environment, they would pay fuel tax at 20p a
litre? Our fuel tax levels are nearly 60p a litre, so whatever side of
the argument one is on, there is not a case for further increasing tax
on the motorist.
Mr. Tyrie: I need to think carefully about that point. At first blush, I
am not convinced of the argument, so rather than dwell on that now, I
shall move on.
Six conditions need to be met to justify the Government's proposed
action on carbon emissions over the next 40 years. The first is to
establish whether the planet is actually warmer, which was what we were
just discussing. Establishing that involves considerable measurement
problems, but it is clear that the planet has warmed. The
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's median estimate is 0.6 per
cent. over the past 100 years, with a margin of error of plus or minus
0.2 per cent. Secondly, it needs to be shown that we are causing that
Thirdly, we need to be confident that global warming will continue and
that the so-called feedbacks that will come with any change in the
temperature will not abate the warming. Fourthly, we need to be clear
that by sharply reducing mankind's carbon emissions, we can secure an
arrest or reversal of temperature increases. Fifthly, we need to be sure
that the main carbon
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producers of the world-the UK contributes about 2 per cent. of total
carbon emissions-will co-operate and implement massive reductions with
us. Sixthly, we need to ensure that the cost of largely decarbonising
all the world's economies is less than the damage that would be caused
by a failure to abate carbon emissions. That was the issue raised by the
right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith).
I intend to consider only the last of those six conditions today,
although it is important to bear in mind that they all need to be
fulfilled before any country embarks on sharp reductions in carbon
emissions. As I have pointed out, several of those conditions might not
be fulfilled and, contrary to popular perception, all six are highly
controversial. There are strong majority views among experts on some of
the issues, but the world of climate science is new and fast-changing
and, contrary to what we are often told, there is certainly no consensus
on many of those matters.
Mr. Mark Field: Like my hon. Friend, I have a sceptical frame of mind.
It is important to consider this matter in such a frame of mind and not
to be blind to certain evidence or science that is important in relation
to climate change. He referred to initial conditions that he will not
discuss at great length now. I want to mention one issue. On a number of
occasions he said that we needed to be sure. Does he not recognise that,
at least in the context of this debate, this is not a matter of being
absolutely certain, but about the balance of probabilities? That perhaps
makes his argument a little less forceful than might otherwise be the
Mr. Tyrie: That is an issue of cost-benefit analysis. Clearly, o ne can
never be absolutely sure when one tries to mitigate a risk, but one has
to apply a probability, and the balance of probabilities-51 per cent.-is
clearly not enough to justify a complete restructuring of our economy.
What percentage should be applied is one of the issues that we need to
People often invoke the precautionary principle. If that means anything,
it should lead us to be wary of embarking on a policy unless we are
clear that it is right. The risk of making a mistake, prejudicing global
growth and consigning a substantial proportion of the world to continued
poverty, not to mention the risk of hitting hardest the poorest in our
own community-they are the people who pay for this-could be even greater
than the risks of global warming. In other words, the precautionary
principle is double edged. This is only another way of addressing the
sixth condition to which I referred. The key question is how one weighs
the benefits and costs of mitigation policies to remove carbon from the
atmosphere against policies to adapt to warming once it has happened.
By far the lengthiest piece of work on the subject has been produced by
Professor Stern, the former chief economist to the Treasury. He
concludes that the damage caused by unchecked global warming would
substantially outweigh the costs of reducing carbon emissions. The key
question is: is he right?
Rather than going into too much detail, perhaps it would help if I gave
the considered view of some of the world's leading environmental and
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on the subject. Professor Richard Tol of Carnegie Mellon university, who
is a top environmental economist, said:
"If a student of mine were to hand in this report"-
the Stern report-
"as a Masters thesis, perhaps, if I were in a good mood, I would give
him a 'D' for diligence; but more likely, I would give him an 'F' for
Professor Dr. William Nordhaus of Yale university, arguably the world's
leading environmental economist, has described the policy prescriptions
of the Stern review as "completely absurd". Professor Dasgupta points
out that the implications of Stern's logic are "patently absurd". These
people are queuing up. The list is so long that I do not have time to
read out all the names, but what about a few more from the home team?
There is Professor Wilfred Beckerman, one of Britain's and the world's
leading environmental economists of the past 30 years and a former
economic adviser to earlier Labour Governments. There is Sir Ian Byatt,
the former director general of Ofwat; Professor David Henderson, the
former chief economist of the OECD; Professor Alan Peacock; Lord
Skidelsky-the list is virtually endless. To cut a long story short, they
all say that Nick Stern has got it wrong, that he has overestimated the
damage relating to global warming, and that he has underestimated the
costs of decarbonising the economy.
Perhaps, though, we should not be as harsh on the Stern review as some
of those academic colleagues. For a start, Stern does have some equally
eminent supporters. More importantly, he has done us a service by
setting out a framework for thinking about how to address this hugely
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a
case that he obviously believes quite sincerely. Does he remember that
back in the 1980s, more than 100 eminent economists wrote to The Times,
I believe,to slam the policies of Margaret Thatcher, saying that she was
doomed to failure?
Mr. Tyrie: That is exactly my point. When we see a consensus, we should
be wary of it. That one turned out to be completely wrong. Another from
the list of those that we have had to address in the House in the past
might be appeasement in the 1930s. A better one, which is more closely
related to that cited by my hon. Friend, would be post-war Keynesian
economics as a means of controlling inflation. That idea has now bee n
overturned and rejected by the Labour and Conservative parties, but it
was the prevailing consensus. To challenge that consensus in the
economic community took a great deal of bravery in the 1950s and '60s.
It was down to the bravery of a small number of economists, mainly the
Chicago school-whether we agree with everything that it said is another
matter-that there was a breakthrough to enable us to re-examine it.
Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): The hon. Gentleman has been very generous
in taking interventions. In principle, there ought to be an objective
scientific issue to be debated. Relatively few of us are expert
scientists, but what puzzles me about this issue is that it tends to
cause alignment on political grounds. I wonder whether
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he has any thoughts, because he is a thoughtful man, about why it tends
to be people of the right who are sceptical about the science. Is it
that climate change might imply some sort of collective action, which is
anathema to them, so they look for the flaws in the science? That is an
important question. Why does it tend to be the right that does not
believe the science?
Mr. Tyrie: That is quite an interesting question. I have not come to
debate this issue because I have a hidden agenda about attacking a new
form of collectivism that might derive from the science. I have studied
a good deal of the material carefully and come to the conclusion that we
are rushing to take action about which we should be very cautious.
I wanted to defend Nick Stern a little, having had a go at him. This man
stepped up to the plate and at least set the right framework for
analysis, so even if he got the answer completely wrong, as I think that
he probably did with his main conclusions, that should not necessarily
be treated as a blot on his escutcheon. However, he really should stop
digging. He is still trying to defend a position that has been pretty
At the very least, even those who want to support the view in every
particular would have to conclude that Nick Stern's conclusions are
deeply controversial. That point is beyond controversy. Therefore, the
question that we should be asking ourselves is: should the UK, or the
rest of the world for that matter, embark on such a radical
restructuring of our economies on the basis of that controversial
Philip Davies: This is not just a question of Nick Stern. My hon.
Friend will know that Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth", was ruled
by a judge to contain at least nine inaccuracies, yet the Government
have sent it out to every school in the country. Does my hon.
Friend agree that that is more propaganda than science?
Mr. Tyrie: Absolutely. The Gore report is a scandal. The fact that it
has been distributed to our schools reflects badly on the House. It has
been comprehensively rubbished by a series of top papers produced by the
American Academy of Scientists, so much so that even a judge felt the
need to intervene in the debate. It should be withdrawn from our
schools. There are many mistakes in it. If hon. Members want to
challenge me on that, I will start going through them one by one, but if
I do so, others will not get a chance to speak. I am not quite sure how
many Members have put in to speak. At the moment, I know of only one, so
I do have a bit of time.
At the very least, we all have to agree that the Stern report is deeply
controversial. It should have been the duty of the Treasury and the
Opposition parties to listen to some of the trenchant criticisms, but
both, regrettably, have swallowed the Stern report whole. My party's
Front-Bench spokesmen welcomed the recommendations of the Stern report
before they had even had a chance to read it, and I find that quite