Most of us here in this Chamber will die of old age. By contrast, many of the young people at school today will die from the consequences of climate change: flash floods, droughts, and conflicts brought about by shifting climatic conditions. It is going to be an unstable world—more than it is already.
This is an emergency and a crisis, and the Government are not stepping up. For all their fine words, they do not measure up to the task.
My Lords, I too congratulate Lady Blackstone, on this debate; I wish we could have this sort of debate every day. It is absolutely true, as Lady Bull, said, that our young people are terrified. We need to talk solutions. I try to offer solutions in this Chamber, but I am afraid that the Government simply do not understand the urgency. This is an emergency and a crisis, and the Government are not stepping up. For all their fine words, they do not measure up to the task.
Most of us here in this Chamber will die of old age; that is what I suspect we would all like. By contrast, many of the young people at school today will die from the consequences of climate change: flash floods, droughts, and conflicts brought about by shifting climatic conditions. It is going to be an unstable world—more than it is already.
I will deal with only one aspect of this crisis: sea level rises and their impacts. To some extent, of course, every single person has to do something—behaviour change has to be universal—but I am afraid that the Government have to take the lead on this. The Government can make it easy for people, and at the moment they mostly are not.
In 2007 the IPCC had a worst-case scenario of a 0.5-metre sea level rise in the next 100 years. It was a fairly reassuring analysis that did not include any figures from melting glaciers and ice sheets, because that was not going to happen in anyone’s lifetime. The evidence started to say otherwise, and has rapidly changed with each new report from a satellite or Arctic monitoring station. Every IPCC assessment in the last 14 years has shifted the worst-case scenario much closer to us. The most recent assessment has shifted everything upwards again, but the really terrifying bit is that, due to the IPCC’s rigorous process of analysis, consensus building and governmental oversight, those conclusions are already likely to be out of date.
Any debate we have in this place or the other place needs a new starting point. In the last year, a large section of the scientific community has realised that the models were wrong and that we have lost the 70- to 90-year buffer we thought we had to turn these things around. Things that were not meant to happen until 2100 are happening now. The poles are warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, as receding sea ice reduces the ability to reflect heat back upwards and melting permafrost releases methane that creates a warming cloud of local gases. The decline of the Greenland ice sheet is inevitable. That alone would lead to an estimated 7-metre rise in sea level. To put that into perspective, this House is 6 metres above sea level, so much of London will face regular flooding unless multi-billion-pound mitigation works are undertaken. Even then, it will not stop the flash floods.
When we discuss behavioural change, we are talking about more than switching off the lights when you leave an empty room, not leaving your TV on standby or even buying an electric car. As for all these technological advancements that are going to save our planet, they are not here yet. We cannot rely on something that could be five or 10 years in the future. We absolutely have to deal with what we have now.
We need wholesale change, which requires government to make the choices easy and more obvious for people. For example, the cost of travel by car has declined by 16% since 1997, but the cost of coaches and buses has gone up by a third. Why has the cost of domestic flights gone down by 16% but the cost of a train risen by a quarter? That is the Government sending signals in the wrong direction. When the Government finally put a charge on plastic bags, the result was a huge public switch. They have refused to put a deposit charge on plastic bottles or plastic-lined coffee cups, so the results have been completely different.
Plastic has been the one big growth area of the oil industry, and it nearly all goes in the waste-bin. The oil companies make money out of making it and the waste companies make money out of burning it. The consumers end up paying the long-term cost for something they did not ask for. We need the Government to make the alternatives cheaper and easier to use.
None of this can wait until 2050; we have lost that chance. The fundamental changes to our lifestyle have to be made now. Our biggest challenge is not stopping the Greenland ice sheet melting—that chance has gone—but stopping the massive glaciers of Antarctica slipping into the sea. If that happens, no walls will be high enough.
When our current Prime Minister was Mayor of London, in the first few weeks of his term I wrote him out three simple rules of sustainability, which I will list now in the hope that your Lordships can use them in future. I stood over him and made him read them, and kept them simple so that he could read them quickly. The first was that every single person has to do something. It is not enough to say that we will all do our personal bit; the Government have to do something as well. The second was that you have to make sure that there are no unintended consequences of something you do now; for example, that green airline fuel does not mean we cannot grow food in a certain area. The other thing is that there is no one answer. People always look for a big solution, but it is too big and too complex. Al Gore said there is no silver bullet, only silver buckshot.
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