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My last words in Parliament - on climate change


The Climate Change Debate


My very last words in Parliament were on Thursday 8 April during oral questions to the Secretary of State at the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), when I raised the need to ensure that our current focus on tacking the fiscal deficit should not detract us from the equaliy important issue of the "environmental deficit" that we have created as a result of our unsustainable lifestyles:

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Humankind is borrowing from the earth's capital at a rate that threatens the very viability of our planet. Although we do not yet have an agreed currency for the environmental deficit, does the Secretary of State agree that tackling that deficit is as vital as tackling the fiscal deficit? How are we doing in this country in meeting Lord Stern's
8 Apr 2010 : Column 1177
recommendation that we should have a carbon constraint on the economy equivalent to 2 per cent. of GDP if costs are not to be even higher in the long run?

Edward Miliband: Let me pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who is standing down. We did not always agree on every issue, but she pursued the issues that she cared about passionately and with great idealism. She asked about carbon constraint. We are living at the moment as if there were three planets on which to live, rather than one. That sums up our excessive use of carbon in this country. Carbon budgets are an important step forward in constraining what we do, Department by Department and sector by sector.

During the previous DECC Question Time on 25 February, I had raised the issue of climate change research and the strength of the scientific case for man-made climate change :  :

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab):
What recent research he has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated into the scientific case for man-made climate change; and if he will make a statement. [318555]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock):
Last year, DECC and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs launched the AVOID research programme on avoiding dangerous climate change which assessed the scientific research published since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fourth assessment report. The findings informed the UK delegation ahead of Copenhagen. The integrated climate programme at the Met Office Hadley centre is also providing new climate science research and expert advice on the findings of that research.

Lynne Jones: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. In this country, there has been a broad consensus that the risk of dangerous climate change is real. It is based on broad and deep scientific evidence, with acknowledged uncertainties, that we cannot go on pumping billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere without serious adverse effects. Does she agree that, if we are to continue to take the right decisions for the long term, it is important that that political consensus is maintained, and that we should not be distracted by the noise being made by those who claim that climate change is not a serious risk?

Joan Ruddock:
I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. We have seen nothing that undermines the main body of climate research, which goes back many decades and has involved some of the best scientists in the world. Although it is clear that there have been some errors and possible misjudgments, we know that CO2 emissions in the atmosphere are growing at an unprecedented rate. We have every reason to accept that that is the result of human activities. I am pleased that the consensus that it is human activities that are leading to the excessive warming that we see, and to the other climatic effects that we associate with climate change, holds across this House.

As evidence of cross party consensus on this issue, see also the following questions asked on the same day by Tom Baldry, Conservative MP, and Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP: 

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con):
Will the Secretary of State make every effort to republish and promulgate the conclusions of the Stern review, which make very clear the huge cost to our children and grandchildren if we do not take action now to tackle climate change? The costs will be huge and fall heavily on future generations.

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes a point that is central to this debate. We need to be open about the fact that there are costs to acting on climate change, but we know that the costs of not acting would be greater. That central conclusion of the Stern report is important in shaping the climate change debate, and he is right that we should emphasise it.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [ Interruption. ] I come hot-foot from a meeting at your office, Sir. Does the Secretary of State agree that despite the controversy over the university of East Anglia e-mails, the science is very clear, not least from other data sets, that global warming is a real effect, and that we should not be distracted by this controversy from insisting on our policies? *

Edward Miliband: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his just-in-time questioning. He raises an important issue. Clearly, mistakes have been made, and it is important that those are looked at and that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change looks at its procedures. I have written to Dr. Pachauri to emphasise our support for the organisation, but also our wish that it looks at its procedures to try to eliminate such errors. The overall picture is very clear: climate change is happening, it is real, and it is man-made. It is very important to say that.

I hope that this cross-party concensus continues. The science on climate change remains fundamentally sound despite the doubts generated by, for example, the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia  (the Science and Tecnology Select Committee has produced a report on this issue ). After my retirement from Parliament I intend to continue to work with SusMo for a more sustainable community where I live and I will be keeping a close eye on the work of the next Government in the fight against dangerous climate change.

* Evan Harris uses the term ‘global warming’ but, in my view, the term ‘climate change’ more accurately describes the phenomena as, if we reach  any of the possible  tipping point s  (defined as the critical threshold when even a small change caused by human activity can have dramatic effects) the UK may experience a substantial reduction in temperatures.

For more information on climate change click here.

To read the Stern Review
Report on the Economics of Climate Change click here:

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