Source: BBC1: Question Time
Date: 14/11/2013
Event: Question Time: "Is Typhoon Haiyan further evidence of mankind creating climate change?"
Attribution: BBC1

  • Stella Creasey: Labour MP, Shadow Business Minister
  • Ed DaveySecretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the UK
  • David Dimbleby: BBC presenter, chair of Question Time
  • Paul KennyGeneral Secretary, GMB Union
  • Nikki King: President, Isuzu Truck (UK)
  • Nigel Lawson: Baron Lawson of Blaby, Chairman of the Board, GWPF

David Dimbleby: Let's move on. Simon Frost, please. Simon Frost.  

Simon Frost: Is Typhoon Haiyan further evidence of mankind creating climate change? And, if so, what can we do to reduce the risk of further disasters?

David Dimbleby: Is Typhoon Haiyan further evidence of mankind creating climate change? And, if so, what can we do to reduce the risk of further disasters? Nigel Lawson.

Nigel Lawson: No, there is no connection at all between this typhoon and climate change. If you look at the - if you look at tropical storms, you will find there has been no increase in the amount or the strength of tropical storms for the past hundred years. And indeed this year, there are - Typhoon Haiyan is terrible, absolutely appalling, but these things, I'm afraid, happen in the tropics. In the - in the Atlantic hurricane season, this year has been one of the quietest hurricane seasons in the Atlantic, within living memory. It is the quietest, the least - although they predicted there'd be more, for 30 years or more. And if you look at what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says, which is recognised as an authority on this, they say there is absolutely no connection between so-called climate change and tropical storms or tropical - of all kinds. This is, I'm afraid, a scare which people, which people latch onto but which is absolutely no scientific merit in it, there is no statistical merit in it. There has been no increase in extreme weather events at all. And this is fact.

[Audience applause.]

David Dimbleby: Ed Davey. Do you agree?

Ed Davey: Well, I'm glad to see that Lord Lawson now is praying [?] the IPCC in aid - he normally doesn't do that. But on the question, I think he's actually right. There's no evidence that climate change is increasing the frequency of tropical storms. What there is evidence, is it's increasing the impact of the intensity of those storms. [Nigel Lawson is shaking his head.] And this is how it's doing it. Sea levels are rising. That's a fact, and I hope Nigel Lawson would agree, and that's happening because of climate change, because the ice caps are melting, the glaciers are melting. That means that with higher sea levels, islands like they have in the Philippines - Archipelago - and low-lying coast, coastal areas, are far more vulnerable to these storms than they ever used to be. And that's the real danger of climate change. It isn't always that it is increasing extreme weather events, although the IPCC says that in some cases they think it is, it's making these areas far, far more vulnerable. And that's why these disasters are on a scale we've never seen before. So we have to take climate change extremely seriously. This country, we have to lead by making sure we are taking the measures, whether it's investing in renewables and low-carbon energy efficiency, and we have to lead in the world. Next week I'm going to the global climate change talks in Warsaw, preparing to sign - hopefully work to sign a global deal in 2015. The world has got to take action. All the evidence says it's more urgent than ever before. And I hope Nigel, when he looks at the evidence now that's coming out from the IPCC, which he's now quoting in favour - he doesn't normally - I hope he will now actually realise the world has to take action on climate change.

[Audience applause.]

David Dimbleby: Thank you. Nikki King, where do you stand on this?

Nikki King: Isn't this all so confusing? One minute I'm told I've got to save my rubbish, and the next minute I'm told it all goes into the same landfill site. One minute I'm being told that if I don't save the planet it's going to die in 20 years, then somebody else says no, this is just the natural life of the planet. I wish there was somebody who would tell me exactly what's going on, and then I could make a decision. It's so, so difficult. [Some audience applause.] So I find it very confusing. I have to say, you know, I'm in the truck business, I think you'll probably agree [to Ed Davey] that the motor industry probably is the industry that has been - terrifically done an awful lot for [sic] climate change. We're now in the unique position that if one -

David Dimbleby: Sorry, done an awful lot for climate change -

Nikki King [laughing]: Sorry, an awful lot - to - it's cleaned its own act up, enormously.

David Dimbleby: Some.

Nikki King: We're now in the position that one of my trucks parked in Calcutta, the air coming out of the exhaust pipe will be cleaner than the air going in. But when I look round, if you look round Calcutta, you'll see thousands and thousands of vehicles that are 10 years old, 15-year olds, 20-year olds pouring God knows what into... I'm not quite sure what this little Europe can do when there's so much of the rest of the world that needs to come up to speed.

[Audience applause.]

David Dimbleby: Stella Creasey.

Stella Creasey: I think - I mean, Nigel I hope you will take up the offer made by the Filipino delegate to the climate change conference - I don't know if people saw today his impassioned speech - it made a lot of people cry - about his view that there was a connection. I absolutely take the scientific evidence on that, but let's look at the scientific evidence that shows that there is a 95% chance that climate change is man-made. Now absolutely, that means there is a 5% chance that it is not, and it's right that we have a public policy debate about how do we deal with that kind of risk ratio. My sense is that 95% is a pretty good standard to start thinking about what we can do to address that, because that gentleman was talking about trying to take dead relatives out of the rubble of the buildings and trying to deal with the consequences of this. We are not immune to our own responsibilities about things that we can do to create a more sustainable way of living, and I don't want to take the risk that we might not - we might be in that 5% when the 95% evidence - and it is independent scientific evidence, Nikki. I'm afraid sometimes when I hear you talk, Nigel, I hear it's where opinion meets fact, and the fact is that climate change is happening, we have to find ways to address it, we can have different debates about how we address it, but the idea that we can ignore it, that we can somehow make it go away - well, I say just go and talk to those people in the Philippines, I think you'll hear a very different story.

Nigel Lawson: I think you're very confused, if I may say so. First of all, global - the weather has no scientific connection [sic] - and this is accepted by the IPCC and accepted by the great majority of scientists - is between global warming and the hurricanes and typhoons, including this terrible one in the Philippines, which of course is particularly bad. But that's not what the question was about.

Stella Creasey: No, I didn't say that -

Nigel Lawson: As for - as for the 95%, what they are saying is that they are 95% certain that the amount of global warming that there has been, is largely due to carbon emissions. Now - but in fact there has been very little global warming. There has been none at all over the past 15 years.

Stella Creasey: See what I mean?

Nigel Lawson: This is a fact. You go to the Met Office, they admit this. Everybody who knows anything about it, admits this. [Ed Davey is shaking his head.] The amount of global warming is very little - [everybody is talking at once.]

David Dimbleby: Ed, Ed, what do you say to that exact point?

Ed Davey: Every decade in the last three decades, it's been getting warmer. 

Nigel Lawson: What's happened over the last 15 years?

Ed Davey: This year - this year is going to be the seventh warmest on record. It's not just global temperatures, it's temperatures in the oceans. And it's not just temperatures, it's the ice caps that are melting. It's not just the ice caps that are melting, it's the sea levels. It's not just the sea levels, it's the acidity in the sea. There is huge, overwhelming evidence that climate change is happening, and don't believe me as a politician, believe the scientists.

Stella Creasey: Yes.

Ed Davey: The IPCC had 259 scientists from 39 countries. They had five - 50,000 comments for peer review. It was the most peer-reviewed piece of science in human history. So don't believe politicians -

Stella Creasey: I'm sorry, everyone. Lord Lawson is confused, he's the one who is confused.

David Dimbleby: I think that what Nigel Lawson challenged you with was that there had been no change over the past 15 years.

Nigel Lawson: - 15 years.

David Dimbleby: Is that true or not?

Ed Davey: No, there has been a - it's been slowing down -

Nigel Lawson: It's been flat.

Ed Davey: No, it's not flat -

Stella Creasey: It doesn't take very much change to see the rise in sea levels that we're seeing.

Ed Davey: It's been slowing down, And no - when we're talking about climate change, we're talking about long periods. What the Global Warming Foundation, which Nigel Lawson chairs, which is trying to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change - they take this 15 years and because the increase in global temperatures has been slowing down, they say climate change isn't happening. But when you ask the scientists, they say "Well, over a short period of time, we don't actually expect temperatures to always go up. If you take a longer time period, temperatures are definitely going up" -
David Dimbleby: Ed, can I just -

Ed Davey: I'm afraid he chooses his periods and he shouldn't do that.

David Dimbleby: Ed, why do you say Nigel Lawson tries to undermine scientific opinion? What do you think his motive is?  When you say "undermine", you suggest there's a sort of ulterior motive.

Ed Davey: Well, Nigel will have to answer that -

David Dimbleby: No, you answer. You used the word "undermine", as if there was some sort of malpractice in disagreeing.

Ed Davey: No. What Nigel does continually - he's done it, he does it in a very open way - he writes a good book about it, it's worth a read, I just disagree with most of what's in it. Um, what he does -  he puts his argument but he denies, as far as I can see, the evidence from the international scientific community. And it's not just the international scientific community. [A lot of people in the audience have their hands up, now.] The current Chief Scientist of Britain believes there's a problem. The previous Chief Scientist in Britain thought there was a huge issue here, and his predecessor did as well. Scientists are telling us we've got to take this seriously.

David Dimbleby: All right. Now, I'll come back to you, Nigel. Let's just hear from some members of our audience. You, sir, over there.

Man 1: [Inaudible] the second part of the question, "and what are we going to do about it?"

David Dimbleby: And what are we going to - and so, what can we do to reduce the risk of further disasters?

Man 1: Well, all you've done [inaudible] is argue about whether it exists. So getting on to the actually doing something about it is going to be slightly more difficult.

David Dimbleby: Good thinking - Paul Kenny.

Paul Kenny: Interesting, throwing that one to me... Can I say - look, remembering the first part, I remember in the '70s the scientists were telling us that the ozone layer was going to be depleted. I remember it, I remember it really well. And everybody went around, changing from hair sprays and getting rid of fridges and all sorts of things. So the idea that this has not been a long, long, long run in to where we are now, frankly is not an honest position. And the acidity of the oceans is rising, it is man-made. And the polar caps are melting. Someone didn't leave the fridge door open. I mean, they're absolutely melting. Now that's all the evidence I see, I don't have the scientific knowledge of other colleagues on the panel, but that's what I see. So what we need to do about it - this is really all about how we consider to adapt, what energy we use, how we use it. And Nikki's dead right. Actually, a lot of the car manufacturers took the decision to move to much lower car emissions, really low emissions - we now see dual fuel issues. This was because they recognise that this was how the markets were going to be. And that's what we've got to force other people to do. In some senses, it is just good business to lower our carbon emissions, it is good business to actually take the view that there is global warming, and adjust our energy use, our types of energy - we've been talking about carbon capture for years, I'm still waiting to see it.

David Dimbleby: What about - what about adding to fuel bills, for green - for development of green and other sources of... Are you in favour of that?

Paul Kenny: I am, actually, but I'm actually more in favour of actually using some of the profits that the energy companies make [audience applause] instead of taking it out of the pockets of consumers.

David Dimbleby: Let me hear from some members of our audience. The person in the blue shirt, right up there on the left, first.

Man 2: Yes, I think they are all valid points that have been raised. I think the scientific data is such a small window looked at, given how the planet has been in existence. Now I'm not a scientist, I'm a person who works out on the water. And I think the quickest way we can make an impact in our water, where I live and remind ourselves - stop carrier bags. It's the simplest way forward, there's so many things we can do. All great points raised but look at pollution - stop carrier bags in supermarkets, how simple can it be?

David Dimbleby: And you, sir, in the middle there. Yes.

Man 3: I think we're slightly missing the point, here. I think if you went to the Philippines and asked the people affected by this and say "You know, what's the single most significant thing we can do?" to, perhaps, help them survive it, help their family members survive it, they're not going to be saying, you know, carbon tax and climate change, they're going to be saying "Help me build a house that has got proper foundations". [Audience applause.] It's a structural argument as well. So, you know, I think it's a lot more complicated than that. 

David Dimbleby: And a person over there, on the right hand side.

Man 4: I think the answer to the question "What can we do about it?", really, doing things like green levies and so on, I think are just a drop in the ocean, when you compare it to parts of Asia and China, and so on, who are having massive more impact on climate change and CO2 emissions. 

David Dimbleby: Nigel Lawson, do you approve of green levies? Do you approve of -

Nigel Lawson: I think the whole policy, which Ed Davey is promoting, is positively immoral. [Ed Davey is shaking his head.] It's not going to work, fortunately, but it is positively immoral. The gentleman halfway towards the back there who said that what the Philippines people want is to rebuild their country - they want to get richer, because they are a poor country and it's been exacerbated by the huge increase in population, it's the fastest growing population in the world. What we need to - what the the developing countries, is not the green... Ed is going to go to Warsaw next week to try and get a global agreement, he's not going to get a global agreement -

Ed Davey: Not in Warsaw, no. 

Nigel Lawson: - in Poland. You're going to Poland.

Ed Davey: Yeah, but we're not expecting to get an agreement next week.

Nigel Lawson: You're not going to get an agreement, but you won't get one for 2015. And they didn't get one in the Copenhagen conference, and I'll tell you why -

David Dimbleby: What is the positive - what is the positive immorality?

Nigel Lawson: I'll tell you what the positive immorality is. The reason we use, in the world, carbon-based energy, fossil fuels, is that it is far and away the cheapest form of energy now, and will be for the foreseeable future. Not for ever - technology is wonderful, science is wonderful. But for the foreseeable future, it is. And if you're moving away from that, you're moving from cheaper energy to more expensive energy. It's causing enough problem in this country. The developing world - China is not going to go by that, quite right too. And China is very important. The increase in Chinese emissions in one year is bigger than the total emissions from the United Kingdom. So what we do is neither here nor there unless there is this global agreement.

David Dimbleby: Why "immorality"? Is what?

Nigel Lawson: The immorality is this, is that if you are inhibiting their economic development, by forcing them or persuading them to use expensive energy instead of cheaper energy - which they're not going to do - but if you do, you are going to condemn hundreds of millions of people, in China and India and the developing world, to premature death, unnecessary disease [Ed Davey is shaking his head with a bemused expression on his face], poverty - unnecessary poverty, and destitution. That is what you are doing, if you get them to do that - it is positively immoral, it is economic growth which will take them off, which will solve the problems in the Philippines and elsewhere, and that means using the cheapest form of energy.

David Dimbleby: So you're preventing growth in poorer parts of the world, and that is positively immoral.

Ed Davey: Well, we're not doing that. What we're saying is the developed world needs to make the biggest cut in carbon emissions. And we need to help - and we need to help the developing countries, the poorer countries get a cleaner form of development than we've had. And if you go to China - let's take China. China is investing more in low-carbon technology than any other country in the world. [Nigel Lawson is shaking his head.] It has woken up to the problems of pollution and climate change. And I'll tell you why - I've just been to China. If you go to their big cities, the air pollution in places like Beijing is dramatic, it's appalling. And the Chinese know -

Nigel Lawson: That's got nothing to do with climate change. Pollution in the air - nothing whatever to do with it.

Ed Davey: That's not what they think. And what they are doing is they are going to tackle this seriously. They are now talking about building what they call an "ecological civilisation". They are moving very, very hard and fast on green growth, in order to try to change their whole growth model so it doesn't damage the air and the environment and the climate. So you're behind the times, Nigel. If you look at China, you look at other countries, even if you look at America, if you look at what Obama is now doing, with Secretary Kerry, they are moving fast to try to reduce the carbon emissions from the US. That's why I think we can get a global deal.

David Dimbleby: All right.

Ed Davey: We desperately need it, and I think we need to make sure it enables our economy to grow and developing countries to grow too.

Nikki King: In my industry, the Chinese are working on low-emission technology to sell to the rest of the world.

Ed Davey: Indeed they are.

Nikki King: It's not actually happening in the remote villages and townships of China.

Nigel Lawson: The Chinese plan is that by 2020, how much do you think of their energy, their electricity will be generated by wind power? Only 5%, that's [inaudible.] 

Ed Davey: It has to be nuclear - 

Nigel Lawson: How much do you think, in solar - one half of 1%. They have been building coal-fired power stations - 

Ed Davey [pointing to Nigel Lawson]: This is the fossil fuel industry. 

Nigel Lawson: They have been building coal-fired  - this is not the fossil fuel industry.

Ed Davey: Yes it is -

Nigel Lawson: Take that back. If you look at the facts -

Ed Davey: - if you look at the new technologies -

Nigel Lawson: Keep quiet! [Some audience laughter. Ed Davey shrugs, grimaces.] They have been - they have been building coal-fired -

Ed Davey [mockingly]: Yes, my lord.

Nigel Lawson: - power stations at the rate of rate of, pretty well, one a month for several years, and they're continuing to do that. These are not being built for decoration, they are being built for use.

Ed Davey: You are out of touch.

Nigel Lawson: And they've been doing it - no, this is happening. You've been taken for a ride.

Ed Davey: There is a big, there is a big [audience is applauding] - there is a big change happening. There is a big change happening. Let me give you an example of solar. What is extremely exciting, the costs of solar have plummeted in recent years, because China is manufacturing solar panels at a massive scale. That is brilliant for villages in sub-Saharan Africa which can't connect to the grid. They're going to have to have - they're going to have power much cheaper than some of the kerosene fossil fuels that they currently use. 

David Dimbleby: All right.

Ed Davey: They're going to save money and go green, and that's going to be brilliant for their education figures and their health figures.

David Dimbleby: I'm going to stick with this. Ed, curb yourself - can't curb yourself, can you. [Pointing to an audience member.] And [to Ed Davey] don't curb your enthusiasm, either, just pause for a moment. The woman here in the front.

Woman 1: I'm a materials scientist, I've been involved in developing materials, from CFCs to HFAs, which improve carbon - well, it reduces greenhouse gas warming within the atmosphere. And I would say that what we would need to look at - whether we've got warming or not, and I do believe it is happening - is that we reduce our need for fossil fuels. Resource efficiency - Nikki will have been developing her car to have low-weight - light weighting in her vehicle, and parts that are efficient, and that's what we should do, we should invest in technology and innovation and do that. And that's what China are doing - they're doing it as fast as we are, because they know that is the way to go. 

David Dimbleby [to Stella Creasey]: Do you agree with Nigel on this? Where do you stand?

Stella Creasey: Unusually for me, I find myself agreeing with Ed, for a very simple principle. We've got scarce resources. Why would we encourage profligate use? Actually, whether you think climate change is happening or not, surely being more efficient with what we've got makes good business sense. [Audience applause.] And as I say, in the end the evidence is there that it's 95% likely that climate change is man-made, actually I want to see Britain leading in this, I want to see Britain leading, because of all the jobs that will come from renewable energies, for all the jobs that will come from that different way of living, I don't just want Nikki to recycle more, I want her to have a different, more sustainable way of living because it's going to be better for our economy and best for Britain. And I am sorry, Nigel, you're the one who's confused, who thinks that we can carry on as we are now, without there being any consequences. Of course there are consequences. And it's not just the people in the Philippines who will feel it, it's people on the roads in my community who have to deal with high levels of pollution, or people who don't get the jobs that could come, because we're not as efficient, because we're not being able to compete with the Chinese because they've got those technologies.

David Dimbleby: All right. I'd like to hear from one or two more -

Woman 1: We are [inaudible] light weighting our -

Nigel Lawson: That's right.

Stella Creasey: But we've got to keep doing that, haven't we.

Woman 1: Absolutely - 

Stella Creasey: We've got to keep doing that, we can't pretend that nothing is happening, as Nigel is.

David Dimbleby: Right. Your turn, over there.

Woman 2: Um, I was going to say, everyone talks about emissions and industry... Farming accounts for an enormous amount of greenhouse gases - sheep in New Zealand, cows in America, I remember learning it in Geography GCSE... Um... And also I think it's incredibly arrogant of human beings to think that there's anything that we can do that will destroy the planet. You know, when the planet's had either hope that we do start to make changes fast enough, that we are still here in generations to come, but also, you know, if we - if it goes too far, the planet's just going to have enough and will just say goodbye to us like it did in the past.

David Dimbleby: I can't work out whether you're for cows and sheep or against them. 

Woman 2: Well, I don't really have a political stance on that...[Audience laughter.]

David Dimbleby: All right. Um, who hasn't had a go yet? No, you've spoken before. Up there, there, you, sir, with the spectacles on, yes. 

Man 5: Using greater use [sic] of renewable energy isn't just the right thing to do, as regards climate change, it's also about energy security, so we're not affected by, you know, a new Gulf war cutting off all supplies. And oil prices rose massively a few years ago, and then fell, you know, and... Whereas renewable energy, renewable energy's probably more stable, in terms of its cost.

David Dimbleby: All right. We've got a big audience here. Do any of you side with what Nigel Lawson's been saying, about climate change? You do, sir, in the centre there. Yes.

Man 6: I agree totally. If you think, at the moment, the ice cap in the Antarctic is as big as it's ever been. And the planet, since the Big Bang, has been going in and out of cold, hot, wet, dry - it does what it does -

Stella Creasey: We're not the dinosaurs, sir! Do we want to be extinct, surely?

Man 6: We've got no choice - if we want to be extinct, we'll be extinct. If the planet or the sun or whatever, takes its... It will do what it does. And we will have no influence.

David Dimbleby: So you would take no action on any front.

Man 6: No, I - all those things that you talk about are great. What we're doing is we're confusing the bigger issue. We can't affect the climate. We can't affect the change. 

Stella Creasey: We can, we can...

Man 6: Cleaning up the air's a great idea, renewables are a great idea, none of that's wrong, it's just that it's - as the lady pointed out - arrogant to think that we can actually do anything to change the world.

David Dimbleby: All right -

Stella Creasey: If the science is telling us, though, that there's a good possibility that we are responsible, so we could do things that would limit that damage, isn't that the right thing to do to look at what we can do to do that, it's not just good business but it's also that 95% risk ratio. 

Man 6: The risk of what?

Stella Creasey: Isn't it a good idea, because if the science is telling us that we are -

Nigel Lawson: The risk of what?

Stella Creasey: - 95% likely that man-made responsible - man is responsible for climate change, so ergo we can do something about it, why would we not?

Man 7: We're a coastal city.

David Dimbleby: And who is a coastal city?

Man 7: We're a coastal city here in Portsmouth. It's a flat coastal city. Why risk this city?

David Dimbleby: All right. Well, our hour is up. We started with Portsmouth, we've come back to Portsmouth, thank you very much. That's all for Question Time this week. Next week we're going to be in Salford, in Greater Manchester.