On May 16th, my colleague Charles Tannock was accorded the exceptional honour of addressing the Taiwanese parliament (“Legislative Yuan”) in Taipei, in his capacity as Chairman of the European parliament’s Taiwan Friendship Group. He became the first member of the European parliament ever to do so. As circumstance and opportunity would have it, I soon became the second.
Charles gave an excellent and well-received speech, if somewhat constrained by the limits of European parliament and Conservative Party policy. I was impressed to learn of the extensive work which Charles has been doing to promote access for Taiwan to international bodies, in the face of implacable hostility from China PRC. Just recently, for example, Taiwan has reached a visa-waiver deal with the EU’s Schengen area. But the UK and Ireland (outside Schengen) had already offered Taiwan a visa-waiver, and as a result, tourism into the UK from Taiwan has grown rapidly.
After his speech, Charles invited questions, and indicated that he might ask colleagues to help him answer where they had more detailed knowledge.
He was as good as his word, and for example invited our defence spokesman Geoffrey Van Orden to add to his reply on a defence issue — though Geoffrey declined as Charles’ answer had covered the point.
Then Charles got a very detailed question on climate change. He replied that he personally accepted the orthodox position shared by the Conservative Party and the European parliament, although he indicated that there was room for doubt, and that the science could not be described as “settled”. He then invited me to take the floor, first issuing a caveat that my views were not the official view of the EU institutions. So I found myself at the microphone in front of 100+ Taiwanese parliamentarians.
I was conscious that I could not abuse the privilege by speaking for more than say five minutes — and that a dense, technical speech might challenge the interpreter, excellent though she clearly was.
So I expressed my regret that in the available time I could not develop the arguments or the detail — I could do no more than state my position (but I offered to send my “Cool Thinking” book to anyone interested — and had several requests for it afterwards). I said that a large and increasing number of highly qualified scientists were challenging the orthodox view. I pointed out that by general agreement mean global temperatures in the last hundred years had risen less than one degree C — a very modest and normal sort of change. I said that many people thought that the small changes we had seen were entirely consistent with well-established, long-term, natural climate cycles. I briefly mentioned the Roman Optimum/Dark Ages/Mediaeval Warm Period cycle, and said that we appeared to be moving towards a new 21st century climate optimum.
I said there were sound scientific reasons to believe that CO2 was not a major factor in climate change — though sadly I had no time to develop that point.
I said that many of those scientists who accepted the CO2 theory still believed that the actions we propose to take, while vastly expensive, would make only a trivial difference to the trajectory of global temperatures. Renewable technologies like solar and wind delivered the most expensive and least reliable generating capacity on the planet. Our green policies in fact amounted to an economic suicide pact.
And I argued that many scientists and economists believed that adaptation — responding to changes if and when they occur — was a hugely better, cheaper and safer approach than futile attempts at mitigation — or preventing climate change. Had they been more familiar with British history, I might have mentioned King Canute’s futile attempt to hold back the tide.
On the whole, my remarks were well-received, and several parliamentarians discussed them with me later.
It would have been so easy for Charles to answer the question himself and carry on. His decision to give me the opportunity to express the alternative view, however briefly, was a generous and comradely action, and I thank him for it.