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Lords a Leaping

Article published on TechCentralStation on July 19, 2005.

At the same time the G8 was meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, to discuss climate change and development aid, a bit further south, the British House of Lords made public a report on the economics of climate change. This report deserves all of our attention, as it constitutes an important evolution in the consensus presented until now by all English political elites.
Indeed, it has been a few months already that climate change became a priority for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who pushed this matter on the G8 agenda. Pleading for an action in the climate sector, he met on June 7 with US President George W. Bush, in order to convince him that « climate change is a serious long term problem which should be dealt with ». But without a consensus on climate change among scientists there is little chance that governments can agree on what actions to take.

Yet, one thing is for certain: there is no consensus on climate change among scientists. They all seem to agree on the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during the last 200 years. But many questions remain unresolved, such as the link between greenhouse gas emissions and the rise in temperature, or the consequences for human life and natural ecosystems.

Usually consensus is a political matter while skepticism is on the side of scientists. This is why the report from the Committee for Economic Affairs of the House of Lords is so unusual; it questions the British government’s policies. Lord Wakeham, president of the committee, declared: « We call on the Government to give the Treasury a more extensive and more rigorous role in examining the costs and benefits of climate change policy and presenting them to the UK public. »

The report from the House of Lords is important because it reminds us of the uncertainties shared by a number of scientists on climate science, from Professor Ross McKitrick, who questioned the temperature graph used by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), to Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, or even Professor Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Based on that, the report’s conclusions are unambiguous. « The science of climate change leaves considerable uncertainties about the future, » it declares. « The costs of mitigation are uncertain, as are the benefits which are also more distant. » The committee even questions the objectivity of the IPCC process and its models concerning emissions. It adds: « Positive aspects of global warming appear to have been downplayed in IPCC reports. »

The committee also recognizes that the Kyoto Protocol will have only a very small impact on lowering global warming and that it is very unlikely the plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will succeed. It thus invites the British government to review its energy and climate policies.

Tony Blair has deplored the inability of governments to agree on climate change, but he will now have to face the lack of consensus in his own country, more so as it comes from such an institution as the House of Lords (which, granted, does not have much legislative power). Indeed, the assembly is known for its seniority, its prestige, its independence. It seems quite logical that its members remind us of truths too often kept from the public, which is hearing only one side of the story: the one saying we have to act fast whatever the price for it.

The author is director of the Molinari Economic Institute.

Cécile Philippe

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