Travelling north on my way home, I am spurred to ask myself if there are many climate change sceptics in Watford for if there are they will have been cheered by the sight of snow lying on the ground: ‘and it’s only October.’ If this indeed is the first taste of a cold winter, and that is what the Met Office is predicting, then Nigel Lawson will be able to lead a demonstration of thousands to No. 10 demanding an end to the great climate change conspiracy, Ryanair will launch even more flights to obscure destinations so that the better off segments of the middle classes can have a second home away from it all and of course our dear friend Jeremy Clarkson will be revving up his four wheel fans to ever greater ejaculations of joy. Indeed as the frosts descend it will appear terribly odd to many that we are planning to spend as much as we are on climate change when there are plenty of other things crying out for cash, like ailing banks for example.
The cost of dealing with climate change certainly sends shivers down the spines of some in the House. The debate on the Climate Change Bill heard contributions from the likes of Peter ‘I have a little list’ Lilley, the former Tory cabinet minister who came to epitomise the caring, sensitive policies of Thatcher’s heyday. Now he could barely keep his cardigan on whilst denouncing the Bill, and I thought at one point a few blood vessels may have been rent. For people of Lilley’s mould, the word ‘cost’ can only mean burden, when of course it may actually mean investment. This is as much a product of partisan language as anything else – the party in government always talks of its wise investments, whereas the opposition can only ever imagine the taxpayers’ dosh being poured down the drain. But in the meantime the Conservatives have supported the proposal to spend over £50 billion on a replacement for Trident, a defence system which is so irrelevant to the defence needs of today it can only be classed a staggering con trick perpetrated by the military-industrial establishment. The only justification made for it by the government is that we cannot foretell the defence challenges of tomorrow.
Actually we can. Resource wars, regional conflict, mass migration for starters. For these challenges we need a fully resourced army (which can act as peacemakers and aid workers), not expensive ‘deterrents,’ weapons which are useless in a world of asymmetric conflict. Climate change is a threat multiplier, and that is where the real cost-as-burden lies, a thought that clearly hasn’t occurred to the desiccated calculating machines clinging to their A-level accountancy examination papers. But there’s another way of looking at the money we’ll be spending on tackling climate change – and that is to remember that all that mitigation seeks to do is to end our dependency on fossil fuels. In other words, if we can decarbonise our activities, we need not necessarily assume that it is the activity per se that is ‘bad.’ Investing in new technologies, based on renewable energy is an inevitable path in any case (peak oil and all that) so why not start today? Who are the Luddites now?
Thankfully the exchanges yesterday between Cameron and Brown were relatively brief, and my turn to ask a question of the Prime Minister duly came with minutes to spare. I raised the issue of British funding for Kopernikus, the satellite earth observation system which will greatly increase our understanding of climate change. It is funded by member nations of the European Space Agency, who each expected to cough up funding proportionate to their GDP. Sadly, the UK never has, despite our having a leading role in climate change science. Gordon seemed sympathetic to the case and agreed to meet me. Indeed, this happened forty minutes later. The last time I used PMQs to ask for a meeting – it was Tony Blair and the subject was increasing the funding for microgenerated energy – an extra £6 million was rustled up, but the outcome was not quite as expected, a story I relate in my forthcoming book to be published by Picnic early in the new year. Even though the economy now feels cash-strapped, we cannot afford to ease up on climate change. With the Climate Change Bill now closer to Royal Assent, with the last House of Commons stages dealt with the day before yesterday, we may be forced to rethink all the practical steps we are taking if we are to meet the legal targets it lays down. I’m not sure people, either in government or generally have yet assimilated the scale of the challenge . . .
A report from Australia was in the news yesterday – this is Prof. Ross Garnaut’s climate change report asked for by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who famously won what was possibly the world’s first ‘climate change’ election last year. The report concludes that the situation is worse than we feared, which comes as no surprise, since all the trends are heading in that direction. But some people still cling on to the belief that climate change is all a hoax (they’ve obviously moved on from the moon landings) and insist that any apparent counter evidence proves that the whole climate change hypothesis is wrong. One such ‘fact’ is that the arctic ice cap is actually growing in size despite the satellite measurements demonstrating the opposite. Some people just can’t get their heads around seasonal changes. In winter the ice cap always grows. But overall, it is diminishing in its maximum extent, although there can always be periods when this doesn’t happen. If climate change reduces the North Atlantic current, which brings warm water up from equatorial oceans, then we will face some very much colder weather in the north – but it will only be temporary in the face of the overall global warming trend. No doubt sceptics will leap on this possibility, if it happens, as further proof that all is well. They will have ready listeners amongst the public, who won’t want to pay extra to avoid something they don’t think is happening. For politicians, it will be harder still to sell such policies . . .
I see that I am listed at number eight in the pecking order to ask a question of the Prime Minister at PMQs this Wednesday. This is a very frustrating position to be in, since depending on how long the Cameron/Brown spat lasts, and how long other MPs questions are, the allotted 30 minutes may expire before we get to question number eight. Of course, during the course of the session one has to continually get up and sit down (the process by which one catches the Speaker’s eye) so at least I’ll be in for some exercise. If I am called to ask a question, I can exclusively reveal to the blog world that my question will relate to the Kopernikus earth observation programme, which is run by the European Space Agency. For all the UK’s leadership on climate change, it seems we are not willing to pay our fair share of Kopernikus’s costs, which is a major embarrassment. Today I am putting down an Early Day Motion (though EDMs were once described as parliamentary confetti, so don’t get carried away) to highlight the issue. Earth observation is an essential tool to better understand the processes of climate change. These observations need to be more frequent, they need to provide more information, and quicker. Otherwise, we may just end up stumbling around in the dark. My EDM reads:
Climate change and the UK’s contribution to the Kopernikus satellite programme
This House recognises that the UK has established a lead in the understanding of climate change, with the Hadley Centre, Tyndall Centre and Walker Centre amongst many other highly regarded institutions providing essential insights into the causes and effects of climate change; notes that to follow Lord Stern’s advice that more will have to be done to tackle climate change it will be necessary to increase the global research effort and therefore calls upon the government to fully meet its funding obligations for the European Space Agency’s Kopernikus earth observation programme and further notes that by doing so it will be making a firm commitment to the development of the UK-based space industry.
Please ask your MP to sign it!
Come this Tuesday and short of a meteorite hitting the House of Commons, the Climate Change Bill will receive its Third and final reading by MPs. To listen to the hype, this Bill will represent a groundbreaking first for any parliament, and even stripping away some of the hype it will undoubtedly break new ground. But to paraphrase the millionaire upon discovering that Tony Curtis was a man in the last scene of Some Like It Hot (there is a connection with climate change somewhere there), nothing is perfect. I’ve put down some amendments which would improve the Bill but the government is most unlikely to accept them. One of the most important of these amendments suggests that the independent climate change committee, which Lord Adair Turner currently chairs, should be given a clue as to what methodology it should use when drawing up its recommendations. As it stands, the committee seems too susceptible to the whims of politicians or outside campaigns, and whilst those influences may seek to be benign, they don’t always bear close scrutiny. This is because they very often only talk about the science behind a CO2 emissions cut, and not how the responsibility for the cuts should be globally distributed. It is a crazy situation – like we’ll all be asked to make cuts, and be told to cross our fingers that this will be enough without having the foggiest idea if that is true. Apparently, we don’t want to give away our thoughts on the methodology, lest our negotiating position in the international climate change talks is compromised. It’s British bullshit at its best.