Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Climate Change

Delivered 26th April at the EP Latin American Conference in Valparaiso, Chile

Mr. President, Fellow Parliamentarians

Although some sceptics still doubt the phenomenon of global warming, nobody can doubt the “cooling” of relations between the EU and the new Bush Administration over the refusal to recommend ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, although whether the US Senate would have been carried under either a Democrat or Republican President is open to question.  Certainly 2000 scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have no doubt that there is global warming and that Greenhouse gases, in particular CO2 emissions are largely responsible.  The EU is now determined to go it alone, although hopefully with Indian, Chinese and Russian additional support, but the biggest culprit, the USA, with 4% of the world’s population and 25% of global emissions won’t co-operate very much to our dismay.

I was a guest in July at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia and saw at first hand the close direct link between big business and Republican Party funding, so it’s not really surprising there should be a payback time now, to the likes of Exxon, who naturally feel threatened by the Koyoto protocols.  I came away convinced that such a system of party finance was not very healthy for democracy and would not wish to see it introduced in the UK. Similarly, in my country, where under a Conservative Government, we made a “dash for gas”, as Natural Gas produces far less CO2, we went on to see it rapidly reversed by the new Labour Government, anxious to preserve jobs in the coal mining industry, where so much of their electoral support lies, even though coal is a dirty fuel which emits far more Greenhouse gases.

We are already witnessing in the European winter resort areas the effects of the rising snow line which will eventually devastate the Alpine economies from France to the Slovak Tatras and drive the ski business to Northern Swedish resorts or force skiers to go ever higher up the mountains where the sport is more dangerous, and where with the already depleted ozone layer and higher U.V. light levels fair skinned Europeans will have to be very careful not to get more skin cancer!

But the long term prospects are far more frightening.  At some point there is a danger of ‘thermal runaway’ as the polar caps melt, reflect less sunshine and cause a rapid increase in atmospheric warming.  This threatens flooding of many Pacific Islands and climatic changes due to changes in ocean currents and winds which may cause droughts in agricultural producing nations and floods in the arid parts of the globe.  This threatens economic devastation, and huge migratory pressures of peoples, not to mention potential Middle Eastern wars over water supplies.

What is the solution?  I believe that all nations must play a constructive part in managing the global environment and subscribe to policies of sustainable economic development, which doesn’t mean extreme ecological Green policies, but yes, a responsible attitude, which means re-opening the Nuclear Power debate which remains currently the only realistic option to power our energy hungry economies. We must also look at using market based mechanisms, such as Tradeable Emission Permits, to harness the power of the market to incentivate industry to reduce Greenhouse gases and reward efficiency and those who can better the official targets.  Certainly, the Kyoto 5% targeted reduction by 2010 from 1990 levels is in the opinion of many scientists unlikely to be enough to significantly reverse climate change.

Lastly, as I am in South America the home to the Great Tropical Rainforests we must look again at the issue of Carbon Sinks to fix CO2 levels and related ideas like seeding the Ocean with Iron Salts to raise the Plankton levels which fix CO2 irreversibly then sink to the ocean bed and effectively repeat the cycle which made our fossil fuels millions of years ago. There are many challenges ahead of us, but I believe that the USA must see the folly of its ways and come back to the July Bonn meeting with fresh proposals unless we want to jeopardise the future environmental stability of the planet.