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BBC Radio 4: Ed Davey vs Nigel Lawson

BBC The World Tonight

BBC The World Tonight, 3 June 2013

You are listening to the World Tonight with Carolyn Quinn.

Carolyn Quinn: Now, to what do we attribute climate change? I pose this question with some trepidation, knowing that it will bring forth a multitude of different responses. Reputations have, as you know, been won and lost over this question and still the arguments continue. The Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, has criticised parts of the media for the way they give a platform to campaigners and groups that question whether climate change is caused by human activity; people like the former chancellor Lord Lawson of Blaby – who joins me now as does Mr Davey. Together in the studio, and Mr Davey making a point by talking into a green microphone. Now, do you think that Lord Lawson and his fellow thinkers are being overexposed then?

Ed Davey: Well, I do think that if you look at the evidence and if you look at what climate scientists around the world are saying, it is extremely convincing that climate change is happening and it is caused by human beings. For example, there is a recent survey that looked at 12,000 scientific surveys and it shows – this are by the way all peer-reviewed scientific papers, so high-quality – and it shows that 97% of those scientists who expressed an opinion, 97%, said yes, that global warming was happening and it was caused by human beings. So there is a massive amount of scientific consensus. And what I was saying today when I was speaking to people from the Met Office and the Hadley Centre was that, given that massive consensus in the scientific community, it really was a shame that there were politicians, there were the media questioning that and actually making difficult for the public to accept the measures, which we need to take. Now, I am really clear, we need healthy scepticism over the science, I am not against that, but when the overwhelming evidence is one way, we need to notice that.

Carolyn Quinn: Well, Lord Lawson, the survey there, 12,000 academic papers on climate change, finds 97% agree human activities are causing the planet to warm. Yet you question that consensus, don’t you?

Nigel Lawson: Well, plenty of very eminent climate scientists are in doubt about that. I have on the Academic Advisory Council of my Foundation some of the most eminent climate scientists in the world who disagree with it. The whole thing is completely uncertain. But of course, what we do know is there has been no warming at all for the past 16 years, no recorded warming at all for the past 16 years. That survey is rather old. Scientists are now, in the view of the latest evidence, beginning to reconsider and say, well, maybe other factors are more important. Nobody knows. What concerns me is not so much this area of discussion – there should be discussion, there should be debate, and different scientists will take different views, consensus is the death of true science – what concerns me is that Ed Davey, who I know is a completely sincere person, is imposing, and the government of which he is a member – but he is the key minister here – is imposing an energy bill, which will hugely increase energy costs in this country. It will be hugely damaging to British industry, to the British economy and, above all, it will be devastating for the poorest families in the land who have a high energy bill as it is and he is going put it up higher. No other country in the world, no other country is doing this.

Caroline Quinn: Ed Davey, just to respond to that, and also the point which Lord Lawson is making, a valid point, you say you accept arguments like that, but yet you accuse climate sceptics of ‘nimbyism, publicity-seeking, blinkered bloody-mindedness.’ Is that encouraging debate?

Ed Davey: Well, the debate we need is over the evidence, over the science. That is what I want to debate about. Unfortunately, debate often is not about that, which is a great shame.

Carolyn Quinn: Although Lord Lawson is saying some of your science is 16 years out of date.

Ed Davey: Well, no, he is wrong on that. Let me take the science point that Lord Lawson said. Climate science suggests that there will be periods where the temperature does not rise. There will be pauses. That’s happened in the past. It happened in the beginning of the last century, happened in the 1950s, but these plateau effects, where you have a period where the average global temperature of the surface does not seem to rise, is actually expected in the science. But if you look what is happening in the temperature of the oceans at the moment, over the last 10 years that Lord Lawson was referring to, if you look at what is happening with the Arctic ice for example, you look at the sea levels, you see evidence that climate changing is continuing; and as for Lord Lawson’s point that our energy bill is putting up costs, I think he is wrong on that. There is an awful lot of people who argue, economists and others, that because we are reducing Britain’s exposure to volatile fossil fuel prices – and a big increase in energy bills in recent years has been because of rising gas prices – we will actually see lower energy prices over the next few years than higher prices because of our policies and therefore it is very important to actually stick to a low-carbon agenda.

Carolyn Quinn: Alright. Well, Lord Lawson, you listed to that argument.

Nigel Lawson: That is absolute nonsense. That can be easy demonstrated to be nonsense. What he is doing is bribing, at the expense of the taxpayer, and even more at the expense of consumers, people who are in the business of providing renewable energy – wind farms and all that sort of thing also nuclear power – with huge amounts of money because the costs of these forms of energy. I have nothing against that as such it is just that they are hugely more costly. And now there has been a fantastic technological breakthrough. I was Energy Secretary myself more than 30 years ago and I watch the energy scene very closely. I cannot remember a technological breakthrough as important as the shale gas revolution, which means that the prospects of gas prices for the future are very much…

Carolyn Quinn: Shale gas is another argument.

Nigel Lawson: And everybody knows that. Nobody in the industry would do this without Ed Davey’s bribes. No other countries are doing this.

Carolyn Quinn: Ed Davey’s bribes. Do answer to that briefly.

Ed Davey: Actually other countries are giving higher bribes. The whole point of our energy bill is to make sure we can move from a fossil fuel, high-carbon energy to a low-carbon at the least cost. In fact, the way we are doing it is much cheaper than most other countries. The problem is they do not like it in some of the fossil fuel vested interest. We are showing how you can go low-carbon in a cheap way.

Carolyn Quinn: And the principle, just very briefly Ed Davey – we are having a debate here, and yet you say that these views should not be aired, that we should not be hearing the sceptical views as well as yours?

Ed Davey: The problem is that they are treated almost on par with the vast majority of scientists. I am quite happy for a balanced debate but the problem is parts of the media and parts of UKIP and right-wing members of the Conservative Party are arguing that these views are held by half of the … The majority of scientists are against these views.

Nigel Lawson: The fact of the matter is Ed Davey is losing the argument. He knows he is losing the argument. That is why he made this intemperate speech. He is a nice chap and I am sure he will regret using this intemperate language.

Carolyn Quinn: Let us leave it there then, at that point of agreement at least, Lord Lawson and Ed Davey. Thanks.