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Climate Change

Volume 472: debated on Wednesday 5 March 2008

When I was at school, the standard orthodoxy in geography lessons was that we were on the threshold of a new ice age. Another orthodoxy was that the world faced an era of unparalleled mass starvation unfolding as a consequence of a Malthusian population growth trap. Forty years later the science of global cooling has been replaced by the science of global warming and the Malthusian crisis has been solved by man’s capacity to adapt, using new technology. In the latter case, high-yielding crops delivered what became known as the green revolution. We need to be careful about swallowing orthodoxies. I have initiated the debate to make one straightforward point about the latest orthodoxy. I support the view that mankind might be contributing to global warming, but there is little evidence to support the view that the correct response at this time should be rapidly to decarbonise the economies of the world.

I was at school slightly more recently than my hon. Friend—probably about 30 years ago. One other orthodoxy to which he has not referred, and which has since been disproved, was the idea that we were going to run out of oil and gas by the end of the century. That was the theory of well-paid Government scientists who had research grants in the late 1970s. The same people, or perhaps their successors, are now coming up with the theories that I hope that my hon. Friend will do his best to explode.

That was an interesting intervention. The idea of a peak oil moment in the resources industry is an old chestnut that has been around for at least 50 years. Anybody minded to give the idea houseroom could do no better than read the outstanding paper that was written only a few months ago by Professor Peter Davies of BP in which that theory is decisively scotched—of course, it is complete nonsense.

On current knowledge, acting swiftly to reduce carbon emissions across the world could be as economically imprudent as it would certainly be morally reprehensible.

As my hon. Friend knows, I share many of his views. Does he agree that it would be a mistake to act too swiftly when, according to the Met Office Hadley Centre, last year there was a 12-month long drop in world temperature sufficient to wipe out a whole century of warming? In addition, China, which is supposed to be spewing out more carbon emissions than ever before, has had its coldest winter in 100 years.

There are a lot of measurement problems with global warming. There has not been any global warming for the past eight years, although that is not well known, and whether there was a rate of faster growth in the temperature of the planet in the 1930s or in the 1990s is hotly disputed—if I may use that phrase. There are also some interesting disputes about whether the last century or the mediaeval warm period was the warmest in the last millennium.

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has secured this debate, and I am glad to be able to squeeze in between the interventions of his hon. Friends. Does he accept that if the downside risks of not acting are greater than the downside risks of acting, given the scientific knowledge that we have—even with the qualifications that are put on that scientific understanding—it is imperative for us to act?

That is the nub of the matter. I shall discuss that in a moment as it is why I have initiated this debate.

To finish off my comments on the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), the summary of the Harvard-Smithsonian centre for astrophysics’ study on proxy climatic and environmental changes in the past 1,000 years states:

“across the world, many records reveal that the 20th century is probably not the warmest, nor a uniquely extreme climatic period of the last millennium.”

There are, of course, equally well-qualified people who dispute that vigorously, so a fierce debate is going on about this.

The Government are advocating a policy of almost completely decarbonising our economy over the next 40 years. That will mean drastic reductions in the use of fossil fuels on the roads, for heating our homes and in industry. Such a policy will cost a fortune and will represent a massive undertaking. It will also almost certainly mean a fundamental change in our way of life and will leave us less well off. We are embarking on such a policy without having properly thought through the consequences, or the alternatives.

Has my hon. Friend read the recent report by Professor David Newbury of Cambridge university, which concludes that if motorists were required to pay the true cost of the effect of motoring on the environment, they would pay fuel tax at 20p a litre? Our fuel tax levels are nearly 60p a litre, so whatever side of the argument one is on, there is not a case for further increasing tax on the motorist.

I need to think carefully about that point. At first blush, I am not convinced of the argument, so rather than dwell on that now, I shall move on.

Six conditions need to be met to justify the Government’s proposed action on carbon emissions over the next 40 years. The first is to establish whether the planet is actually warmer, which was what we were just discussing. Establishing that involves considerable measurement problems, but it is clear that the planet has warmed. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s median estimate is 0.6 per cent. over the past 100 years, with a margin of error of plus or minus 0.2 per cent. Secondly, it needs to be shown that we are causing that increase.

Thirdly, we need to be confident that global warming will continue and that the so-called feedbacks that will come with any change in the temperature will not abate the warming. Fourthly, we need to be clear that by sharply reducing mankind’s carbon emissions, we can secure an arrest or reversal of temperature increases. Fifthly, we need to be sure that the main carbon producers of the world—the UK contributes about 2 per cent. of total carbon emissions—will co-operate and implement massive reductions with us. Sixthly, we need to ensure that the cost of largely decarbonising all the world’s economies is less than the damage that would be caused by a failure to abate carbon emissions. That was the issue raised by the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith).

I intend to consider only the last of those six conditions today, although it is important to bear in mind that they all need to be fulfilled before any country embarks on sharp reductions in carbon emissions. As I have pointed out, several of those conditions might not be fulfilled and, contrary to popular perception, all six are highly controversial. There are strong majority views among experts on some of the issues, but the world of climate science is new and fast-changing and, contrary to what we are often told, there is certainly no consensus on many of those matters.

Like my hon. Friend, I have a sceptical frame of mind. It is important to consider this matter in such a frame of mind and not to be blind to certain evidence or science that is important in relation to climate change. He referred to initial conditions that he will not discuss at great length now. I want to mention one issue. On a number of occasions he said that we needed to be sure. Does he not recognise that, at least in the context of this debate, this is not a matter of being absolutely certain, but about the balance of probabilities? That perhaps makes his argument a little less forceful than might otherwise be the case.

That is an issue of cost-benefit analysis. Clearly, one can never be absolutely sure when one tries to mitigate a risk, but one has to apply a probability, and the balance of probabilities—51 per cent.—is clearly not enough to justify a complete restructuring of our economy. What percentage should be applied is one of the issues that we need to examine carefully.

People often invoke the precautionary principle. If that means anything, it should lead us to be wary of embarking on a policy unless we are clear that it is right. The risk of making a mistake, prejudicing global growth and consigning a substantial proportion of the world to continued poverty, not to mention the risk of hitting hardest the poorest in our own community—they are the people who pay for this—could be even greater than the risks of global warming. In other words, the precautionary principle is double edged. This is only another way of addressing the sixth condition to which I referred. The key question is how one weighs the benefits and costs of mitigation policies to remove carbon from the atmosphere against policies to adapt to warming once it has happened.

By far the lengthiest piece of work on the subject has been produced by Professor Stern, the former chief economist to the Treasury. He concludes that the damage caused by unchecked global warming would substantially outweigh the costs of reducing carbon emissions. The key question is: is he right?

Rather than going into too much detail, perhaps it would help if I gave the considered view of some of the world’s leading environmental and welfare economists on the subject. Professor Richard Tol of Carnegie Mellon university, who is a top environmental economist, said:

“If a student of mine were to hand in this report”—

the Stern report—

“as a Masters thesis, perhaps, if I were in a good mood, I would give him a ‘D’ for diligence; but more likely, I would give him an ‘F’ for fail.”

Professor Dr. William Nordhaus of Yale university, arguably the world’s leading environmental economist, has described the policy prescriptions of the Stern review as “completely absurd”. Professor Dasgupta points out that the implications of Stern’s logic are “patently absurd”. These people are queuing up. The list is so long that I do not have time to read out all the names, but what about a few more from the home team? There is Professor Wilfred Beckerman, one of Britain’s and the world’s leading environmental economists of the past 30 years and a former economic adviser to earlier Labour Governments. There is Sir Ian Byatt, the former director general of Ofwat; Professor David Henderson, the former chief economist of the OECD; Professor Alan Peacock; Lord Skidelsky—the list is virtually endless. To cut a long story short, they all say that Nick Stern has got it wrong, that he has overestimated the damage relating to global warming, and that he has underestimated the costs of decarbonising the economy.

Perhaps, though, we should not be as harsh on the Stern review as some of those academic colleagues. For a start, Stern does have some equally eminent supporters. More importantly, he has done us a service by setting out a framework for thinking about how to address this hugely complicated question.

My hon. Friend is making a case that he obviously believes quite sincerely. Does he remember that back in the 1980s, more than 100 eminent economists wrote to The Times, I believe, to slam the policies of Margaret Thatcher, saying that she was doomed to failure?

That is exactly my point. When we see a consensus, we should be wary of it. That one turned out to be completely wrong. Another from the list of those that we have had to address in the House in the past might be appeasement in the 1930s. A better one, which is more closely related to that cited by my hon. Friend, would be post-war Keynesian economics as a means of controlling inflation. That idea has now been overturned and rejected by the Labour and Conservative parties, but it was the prevailing consensus. To challenge that consensus in the economic community took a great deal of bravery in the 1950s and ’60s. It was down to the bravery of a small number of economists, mainly the Chicago school—whether we agree with everything that it said is another matter—that there was a breakthrough to enable us to re-examine it.

The hon. Gentleman has been very generous in taking interventions. In principle, there ought to be an objective scientific issue to be debated. Relatively few of us are expert scientists, but what puzzles me about this issue is that it tends to cause alignment on political grounds. I wonder whether he has any thoughts, because he is a thoughtful man, about why it tends to be people of the right who are sceptical about the science. Is it that climate change might imply some sort of collective action, which is anathema to them, so they look for the flaws in the science? That is an important question. Why does it tend to be the right that does not believe the science?

That is quite an interesting question. I have not come to debate this issue because I have a hidden agenda about attacking a new form of collectivism that might derive from the science. I have studied a good deal of the material carefully and come to the conclusion that we are rushing to take action about which we should be very cautious.

I wanted to defend Nick Stern a little, having had a go at him. This man stepped up to the plate and at least set the right framework for analysis, so even if he got the answer completely wrong, as I think that he probably did with his main conclusions, that should not necessarily be treated as a blot on his escutcheon. However, he really should stop digging. He is still trying to defend a position that has been pretty much discredited.

At the very least, even those who want to support the view in every particular would have to conclude that Nick Stern’s conclusions are deeply controversial. That point is beyond controversy. Therefore, the question that we should be asking ourselves is: should the UK, or the rest of the world for that matter, embark on such a radical restructuring of our economies on the basis of that controversial advice?

This is not just a question of Nick Stern. My hon. Friend will know that Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth”, was ruled by a judge to contain at least nine inaccuracies, yet the Government have sent it out to every school in the country. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is more propaganda than science?

Absolutely. The Gore report is a scandal. The fact that it has been distributed to our schools reflects badly on the House. It has been comprehensively rubbished by a series of top papers produced by the American Academy of Sciences, so much so that even a judge felt the need to intervene in the debate. It should be withdrawn from our schools. There are many mistakes in it. If hon. Members want to challenge me on that, I will start going through them one by one, but if I do so, others will not get a chance to speak. I am not quite sure how many Members have put in to speak. At the moment, I know of only one, so I do have a bit of time.

At the very least, we all have to agree that the Stern report is deeply controversial. It should have been the duty of the Treasury and the Opposition parties to listen to some of the trenchant criticisms, but both, regrettably, have swallowed the Stern report whole. My party’s Front-Bench spokesmen welcomed the recommendations of the Stern report before they had even had a chance to read it, and I find that quite shocking.

Treasury Ministers, however, have done worse. A full year after the report’s publication, and with the benefit of a cacophony of dissenting material to hand, the Treasury published “Moving to a global low carbon economy: implementing the Stern Review”, which recommended that we proceeded as if none of the criticisms had been made. That beggars belief.

It is worth briefly examining some of Professor Stern’s many mistakes, although perhaps I will pick just one. Nick Stern has applied a discount rate of only 2.1 per cent. to his calculations, although the Treasury requires a discount rate of 3.5 per cent. for any other major project. There are some very good arguments, and some of the world’s leading economists, behind the view that the rate should be much higher than 2.1 per cent. The World Bank customarily uses a rate of 8 to 10 per cent., and 3.5 per cent. is considered historically extremely low.

This is not a trivial or academic point; it is quite fundamental. Just by using a sensible discount rate, Nick Stern’s conclusions would probably be put into reverse. In other words, he would have had to conclude not that we should be rapidly decarbonising the economy, but that we should, for now, be primarily adapting to climate change.

To arrive at his conclusion, Nick Stern had to make an extraordinary assumption: that we should value the welfare of every future generation, however far distant, to the same extent as our own. A moment’s thought shows us what a ridiculous assumption that is. If it were taken to its logical conclusion, as one of the many eminent professors whom I cited pointed out, we should start saving virtually all our income for the benefit of a future generation. Alternatively, as Ian Little, perhaps the world’s greatest post-war welfare economist, put it when I discussed the matter with him to ensure that my head was clear on the subject, we might as well start safeguarding the planet now in case the Martians decide that they have a use for it when they invade.

I find that a curious statement for a national politician to make. Is not thinking about the welfare, livelihood and liberty of future generations at the heart of the matter? Was that not the driving force behind our forefathers who fought in the second world war? If they took my hon. Friend’s line, those people would have appeased Adolf Hitler, done a deal and kept the British empire, and perhaps things would have carried on very well for a generation or two. However, it is surely incumbent on politicians in this place to think about future generations and their welfare and to act accordingly, and not to take selfish, self-interested, short-term decisions. That is the weakest point in my hon. Friend’s argument.

The best thing that I can do in response to that somewhat confused intervention is to move on.

Nick Stern has one powerful shot in his armoury, but for reasons that I cannot fully explain—only he can—it is not set out anywhere in the 700 pages of his review. I am talking about the thought that we are dealing not with damages that can be broadly estimated over 50 or 100 years of global warming, but the likelihood that the planet will cease to be habitable as a consequence of global warming. That might be true, but it is certainly not the view of mainstream climate scientists, who have queued up to disagree with it—most of them repudiate it. Most, including the Hadley Centre, which my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley cited, also repudiate the view that we should implement policies on the basis of what has become known as the “Save the planet” mantra.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his excellent speech. Does he accept that if it is so desperately vital that we have low-carbon economies now, we should expect to see a much larger campaign for nuclear energy than there is from people across the political spectrum? The logic is that we should convert our electricity production to nuclear immediately, but that is not what even the most enthusiastic greens go for.

That is an interesting point about some of the people who argue most strongly for early action on global warming. There are interesting implications for Nick Stern’s discount rate analysis regarding what we should do in the nuclear industry. However, although I have been speaking for about 22 minutes, I have got only a little way through my speech, so I shall not detain hon. Members further on that point.

Even if we accept that there is a risk that we will fall off a cliff, or that if we do not take urgent action, we might suddenly face extinction, we need to weigh that against the other, similar risks with which we are dealing. For example, a number of leading scientists have told us that nanotechnology, bioengineering, meteors and pandemics such as avian flu will imperil the planet in the next 100 years. Of course, we are already taking what most people would consider to be reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of those things. Some experts might say that the amounts that we are spending are inadequate, and others that that is a waste of money. The point is that the threat of extinction from global warming cannot be exempted from the need to weigh its risk against those that I listed and the application of a probability function. That is where the idea of the precautionary principle breaks down completely.

Take meteors, for example. Astrophysicists are able to give us a probability function for the likelihood of being hit by a meteor. It is a small risk, but not a zero risk. If we were to apply what some people think of as the precautionary principle logically, we should stop investing in everything until we find the technology that could definitely enable us to cope with the very small risk of being hit by a meteor. Of course, we need to balance that risk against all the others against which the Government are rightly trying to safeguard, using reasonable assumptions about each one and employing a probability function.

The hon. Gentleman has spent a great deal of time on a critique of the Stern report, but suppose that it had never been written. Does he not accept the evidence of the intergovernmental panel on climate change that there are predicted effects and that the science indicates where we are going—the sea level and temperatures have risen and we can expect them to rise further? That being so, it is within our means to tackle the effects, whereas it is perhaps not within our means to tackle things such as meteors. Does he not believe that some action is needed?

I do. I was nearing the point during that intervention at which I would have said that there was some woolly thinking creeping in, but the Minister rescued herself a little.

The point is not that the science might be nonsense; rather, we should ask whether in response to the science, we should attempt to remove carbon from the atmosphere or find other ways of addressing it. That is the key question—the Stern review was set up to address that, but made a mess of it. I shall address how to come to the right answer in a moment.

The Stern cost-benefit analysis is almost certainly not correct; it is way out. Anyone who has looked at the evidence would have to conclude that there is something seriously wrong with it. We need to ask ourselves how much would it really cost to decarbonise the economy. The truth is that we simply do not know—the experts are only in the foothills of the subject. In answer to the Minister, while that controversy rages, the right Government response should be to prepare for global warming in case it happens, not to rapidly decarbonise. That means adaptation through, for example, allocating a much more sensible budget for flood and sea defences, not least, if I may say so, in my constituency, where the Government are not providing enough even to maintain existing defences. It also means more research into the best adaptive techniques, for example, in agriculture, sea defences and so on.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s view of the risk and the need for urgent action on mitigation, but he has now mentioned adaptation. We are still in Sir Nicholas Stern territory, because he recommends action on adaptation. To tempt the hon. Gentleman one step beyond that, Sir Nicholas also says that retaining our forests and avoiding further deforestation is cheap. Would the hon. Gentleman take that step with Sir Nicholas?

I do not know. I would like to think about that, and I would need to do quite a lot of reading on the subject before coming to a view on something so technical.

For clarity, to avoid the woolly thinking of which my hon. Friend is such an enemy, am I right in thinking that he accepts the premise that climate change is to some extent man-made—

—yes, partly through the emission of carbon into the atmosphere? Does he accept that premise, but not that the way in which to deal with the problem is to reduce the amount of carbon? In other words, he does not disagree that climate change is man-made per se, but that reducing the amount of carbon is the way to deal with it. I am not clear on that and I wish to understand the terms of reference.

At the beginning, I gave a list of six conditions that need to be met, among which were that we need to be clear that the planet is warming, that we are causing it, and whether removing the effect that we might be introducing to the system can arrest or reverse the process. My personal view is that global warming is taking place and that there is, in the language of climate science, an anthropogenic signal, which might be large.

I have noted that arguments within the scientific community about the scale of that signal are now extremely vigorous. It is not true that the scale of the anthropogenic signal is settled among climate scientists. However, my hon. Friend asked for my personal view. I have read quite a lot on the subject, and my view is that the anthropogenic signal probably forms a large proportion of the increase. Nevertheless, we must bear in mind that the temperature increase was only 0.6 per cent. over the past century, with no further increase in this century, and a not yet fully explained cooling period between the late 1930s and early 1940s and the 1960s. In other words, we are back to the measurement issue that I raised a moment ago.

In addition, there is another measurement problem. Although we know pretty accurately the temperature at sea level for the past 150 years, our records are much poorer about temperature in the ocean depths and in the atmosphere, particularly in what is known as the tropical troposphere, about which a fierce debate is taking place. There are unreconciled differences in temperature readings from the tropical troposphere and sea level. Some have tried to come to a clear view about that dispute, but they have failed. The tropical troposphere has not risen in temperature by remotely as much as theory and models predict that it should have, based on what has happened at sea level.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I apologise for not being here at the start of the debate. It is a subject that interests me. Indeed, I was with the Minister in South Africa at the sustainability conference several years ago.

The nub of the matter is using science to establish why global warming exists, and we all agree about that. Another aspect, about which I have read, is the sun’s activity. Records show that there is far more activity on the sun, which is shown by sunspots. Indeed, not only is the earth warming but it is now thought that other climates are warming. We need to differentiate what could happen naturally and what is man-made. That is vital, and far more research needs to be done.

My hon. Friend has articulated in a few sentences one of the key minority dissenting views. The majority view, to which I tentatively subscribe, is that the increase is primarily anthropogenic. A serious group of people, mainly astrophysicists—I have some of their material with me—are convinced that the increase is not primarily anthropogenic but that it is caused by variations in the activity of the sun, particularly its interaction with parts of our atmosphere, especially cloud cover and the ionosphere. However, I do not want to go into the detailed science. Incidentally, most scientists who speak on the subject are from other parts of the scientific community, and have scarcely more legitimacy in commenting on the subject than we have. We need to listen to that much smaller, select group—the world’s leading climate scientists, particularly those of a certain type. I shall now do my best to make progress with my speech.

Given the uncertainties that I have flagged up and the controversies that are clearly raging on the subject, what should we do now? I shall list a few things. First, we need to get out of what I described a moment ago as the foothills of knowledge about the cost-benefit analysis. We should create a commission of our best economists to examine Professor Stern’s conclusions. The commission should include some of the leading critics of that review as well as some of its advocates.

Secondly, the Treasury needs to take a lead by creating an internal group, which should publish an annual assessment of the full cost of decarbonising measures taken during the preceding 12 months. We must have transparency. The public need to know what is being spent on decarbonising the economy.

Thirdly, the same Treasury group needs to examine critically whether the carbon trading emissions scheme, which is not a market-based scheme but a quota-based rationing scheme by another name, can be made to work. It should be borne in mind that all other attempts at quota-based controls have generated massive economic inefficiencies, and that many brought with them corruption and fraud. The European Union’s initial experiment has so far been a disaster, something that could easily have been predicted.

Fourthly, we should seriously examine introducing a carbon tax, initially at a low level, with its proceeds being allocated to reductions in general taxation elsewhere in the economy.

Fifthly, the Government should begin the process of removing all subsidies to carbon consumption still in the system. That raises some highly contentious political issues, and it can be done easily only with all-party agreement—and then only gradually. The sort of things that need to be considered include VAT on domestic fuel and power, red diesel and others. I do not advocate action now; I am saying that the Government should start examining such things. The reason is that most measures in this field distort economic activity and therefore, ceteris paribus, reduce economic growth. Removing the subsidies will increase efficiency and growth, provided that there are offsetting tax cuts elsewhere in the economy.

Sixthly, the Government should give much greater prominence to removing carbon subsidies in other countries. It is a scandal and the height of absurdity that the Germans are still subsidising their coal industry.

Seventhly, Nick Stern relied for much of his work on the political summaries of the IPCC panel. Another huge row about whether those summaries are accurate is now taking place in learned journals. Those who are interested might want to read World Economics, but there are many others. We need to find a way to include the Washington institutions and the OECD in the scrutiny of the IPCC process, to bolster the credibility of their conclusions, to ensure that their summaries are a fair reflection of the main text, and to review their methodology.

Eighthly, we need to find a more intelligent and systematic way of allocating research into global warming. I am reliably informed that such research is threatening to crowd out other important work in our universities. It is difficult for applicants to get a grant unless they can find a way of describing their research as being related to global warming—usually on one side of the debate. We need to come to a clear view about how much we want to spend each year, and ring-fence it. We also need to ensure a balance between those challenging and supporting the orthodoxy.

Ninthly, we should act only when the world can go forward together. The UK should not try to take the lead by cutting carbon emissions faster than other countries. It would be particularly absurd if we were to impose carbon-reducing measures that resulted in the closure of British industries, only to see those same industries reopening in China.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the argument is similar to the one put forward by CND in the 1980s—that if we were to get rid of our nuclear weapons, everyone else would follow? I was never persuaded by it. Does he agree that there is no real evidence to suggest that if we were to reduce our carbon emissions by 80 per cent. every other country would automatically follow suit?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s unilateralist-multilateralist analogy. Our actions must of course be multilateralist.

Tenthly, we must ensure that we do not use bogus or ropey arguments drawn in from outside the climate change debate to justify our actions. Among them is the idea that because fossil fuels are ultimately a finite resource we might as well end our dependence on them now rather than later. That, of course, is an absurd piece of economic illiteracy, and the argument could have been used at any time in the last 100 years.

Another such argument is that we should decarbonise our economy because it would make us more secure against blackmail by producers. For those old enough to remember the oil crises of 1973 and 1979—I am sorry to say that that includes me—it is an old chestnut, and we know the answer. Short-term interruptions to supply can be a major threat and need to be dealt with by a variety of measures, including stockpiling. However, long-term interruptions are exceptionally unlikely. That is because all resources cartels collapse and, in the end, all producers need to sell their product.

I should also like to throw in a few things that we definitely must avoid. First, we must do our utmost to avoid doing anything that could hurt the poorest, whether at home or abroad. As I said, it is the poorest, not the rich, who will be hit hardest by decarbonising at home.

Secondly, we must resist protectionism at all costs. A number of western leaders, including the EU industry Commissioner, Mr. Verheugen and President Sarkozy, have foolishly proposed that we consider protectionist measures to coerce China and other developing countries to introduce rapid carbon reductions, but that would be as economically suicidal as it was morally reprehensible.

Thirdly, we must avoid gesture politics as much as possible. I fear that the Climate Change Bill falls into that category, and on the basis of what I have seen so far, I do not think that I will be able to vote for it.

I want now to come to a conclusion. I have taken a huge number of interventions, but I think that I can bring my remarks together. Alarmism is breaking out everywhere on this subject. When the Government’s chief scientific adviser tells us that Antarctica is likely to be the world’s only habitable continent by the end of this century if global warming remains unchecked, and when their former chief economic adviser tells us that the damage by the middle of century might be greater than that caused by the first and second world wars put together, politicians may suspect that something is amiss with the advice that they are getting from their experts—and there is.

The issue of global warming is acquiring some of the characteristics of a religion. On the one hand, those who disagree with the so-called consensus are often treated to abuse, being described as flat-earthers and no-hopers or condemned as selfish and immoral.

The Minister has added to that abuse by saying, “You said it.” It is a pity that she is so disengaged from the points that I am trying to make.

On the other hand, toeing the line on global warming is becoming a new moral comfort zone in modern politics—a seemingly unassailable moral high ground. We need to be very wary when our political culture suspends the application of all reason and common sense to this debate. We need to be clear that it would be just as immoral to make mistakes in responding to climate change—mistakes that could trap the most vulnerable in the world in poverty—as it would to ignore the claims of those who press on us the need for urgent action, although much of the media, and particularly the BBC, seem to have been ignoring that point. Of course, apocalyptic predictions make good copy, and challenges to the so-called orthodox are rarely given a fair hearing.

I end where I began: some global warming is certainly happening, and mankind is probably contributing to it, but before we rush to decarbonise our economies, we must think most carefully about those who will be hit hardest by any mistaken restructuring of the global economy. Our primary duty must, as always in this place, be to protect the most vulnerable, at home and abroad, and they deserve better than they have had so far from policy makers on this subject.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) has secured this debate. He made a thoughtful speech, but he will know from the many conversations that I have had with him that I disagree with most of what he said about the causes of climate change. I am not a flat-earther; I accept Stern and I accept that human activity is leading to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, which are having a deleterious effect on the climate around the world, including in this country. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Antarctica, and I am glad that I am a Canadian citizen, because Canada includes part of the Arctic. I hope, however, that things will not get that bad if we take action in time.

Like many hon. Members, I have listened to a lot of debates on climate change on the Floor of the House, and they are dominated to the point of hegemony by those who are concerned about the causes of climate change emissions. The debate in Parliament is totally unbalanced, and we seldom talk about effects, although we talk a lot about causes. Action on causes is important, but so is action on effects, by which I mean adaptation. Let me give one example. On 22 November 2007, we had one of our new one-and-a-half-hour topical debates on climate change on the Floor of the House. Unfortunately, I could not get to the debate, but I read Hansard carefully afterward, and not a single word was said by any speaker about adaptation during that hour and a half. That is a shocking indictment of the politicians of the United Kingdom.

I pay tribute, however, to the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling), a Conservative MP who secured a Westminster Hall debate on the issue on 10 July 2007, which I attended. That was thoughtful of him, and he was absolutely right to raise the issue. We should talk a lot more in the House and in society about adaptation to climate change. When I say adaptation, I have in mind the definition used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which states that adaptation is the

“Adjustment in natural and human systems in response to actual and potential climatic stimuli and their effects, which mutually moderates harm and exploits beneficial opportunities.”

The Minister is well aware of my interest in this matter, and one of the things that got me going on it was a DEFRA publication on climate change from March 2006. In round terms, that publication contained 190 pages on climate change, of which a dozen, or 6 per cent. of the total, were on adaptation to climate change. When I went through that publication, I was outraged by that imbalance.

As the hon. Member for Chichester said, the UK is responsible for 2 per cent. of world emissions in round terms, and we have 1 per cent. of the world’s population. The intervention by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is the first time that I have heard him say anything with which I agree. He will correct me if I misunderstood him, but he said words to the effect that we must be careful not to end up beating our breast and driving down emissions in this country, while others do nothing. That does not remove from us the moral responsibility to drive down our emissions and to urge that on others, but what, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, if we do it all and others do nothing? If we do it all and others do nothing, and one accepts, as I do, that human activity leads to deleterious changes in the climate, this country will still be hit with those changes. We therefore need to adapt to them, and we need to start adapting now.

UK emissions are within the control of the UK, but world emissions are not. Let us therefore have a bit more emphasis on that part of the climate change equation that is within the control of our country, rather than talking almost exclusively about that part that exists at the world level and which is outwith the control of our country. That is another example of imbalance.

My hon. Friend knows that I agree very much about the need to advance the issue of adaptation, and I hope to get a chance to say a few words about it if time permits. Does he not accept, however, that there is a real case for having international leadership, which is what this country has shown on the issue of mitigation? That was incredibly important in getting the Bali agreement, where all countries could come in at last, and in persuading the emerging economies of China and India that we will do our bit, which is the only way that we will ever get them to do their bit.

I entirely agree. The UK has a leading role, if not the leading role, in addressing the causes of climate change emissions internationally through agreement and debate. However, we must be realistic and we must bear it in mind that emissions have gone up massively around the world since 1990.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his sensible comments about adaptation. The concern among many on our side of the debate is that much of the so-called leadership that the Minister mentioned is cost-free—it is a matter of great, rhetorical talk and of targets to be met in 42 years or beyond. There are great concerns that this is a wonderful bandwagon on which certain rather cynical political leaderships can jump, without achieving any results in the short-to-medium term. That is why the issue of adaptation is of great importance, and it is with that in mind that I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue in a much more practical way without any high-flown rhetoric.

To some extent, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The international discussions are cost free, but there is a huge cost to not having them and to failing to have international agreement. The Government are acutely aware that they must continue to try to build international action through agreement. Emissions in the world have gone up massively since 1990. For example, the figures for cars in the UK are slightly out of date, but a reply to a parliamentary answer in February 2006 said that between 1997 and 2005, the average CO2 emissions per kilometre of new vehicles sold in the United Kingdom—I do not think that that covers the commercial sector—went down by 1.2 per cent. per year. Despite all the publicity that we had, the emissions went down by only 1.2 per cent. a year. Between 2000 and 2006, which were the latest figures I could get, per capita—not overall—CO2 emissions in the United Kingdom increased.

While the Government have shown a lot of international leadership, people living in the United Kingdom are not as seized of this issue as the Government are in terms of changing their day-to-day activities as regards emissions.

No, I must make some progress. Therefore, we must look at the practicalities. We all know young people of 18, 19, 20 or 21 who are flying off to stag nights and weekend trips to Berlin. They are taking their gap year in countries such as Thailand, Australia or the States. Good luck to them, I say. Those opportunities were not so available for my generation because there were no low-cost airlines. However, those are all massively CO2 producing activities undertaken by the next generation who will cop for this and the effects of climate change.

I agree with the hon. Member for Chichester that some of the stuff that gets talked about on emissions is gesture politics. To talk about 80 per cent. is gesture politics. There is nary a Member in either House who will be an active politician in 2050. I think that the youngest is the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who is 28. She might be an active politician then, but she is about the only one. It is easier for people to say that we will go for an 80 per cent. rather than a 60 per cent. cut. It is gesture politics and we need to be doing much more about adaptation. The Government are slowly starting to deal with adaptation. I do not have time to go into all of the replies that I received when I sent a written question to every Department except for the Northern Ireland and Scotland Offices, because of the devolved stuff. I asked them what they were doing about adapting to climate change. Some are doing a bit of stuff and some are doing nothing. I tabled a question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and I received a written reply from my hon. Friend the Minister on 6 December. It said:

“Defra is also leading on the development of a cross-Government Adaptation Policy Framework to be published in the Spring.”—[Official Report, 6 December 2007; Vol. 468, c. 1411W.]

I think that means spring 2008, which is good. But 2008 is now and we are just starting to have a cross-Government adaptation policy framework.

We have been talking about climate change for years and years. It is now 42 years until 2050, which is the 60 per cent. deadline. I have been aware of this issue for the last 34 years. I learned about greenhouse gases at university. In those 34 years emissions from around the world, including from this country, have gone up massively, not down. That is why we need to do so much more about adaptation. I mention briefly in passing that there are other institutions doing rather more than the Government. I urge on my hon. Friend the Minister a little faster progress co-ordinated across Government on adaptation to the effects of climate change. She should listen to the Association of British Insurers, the Woodland Trust, the Wildlife Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership and the British Beekeepers Association. She should also listen to the Met Office, the Environment Agency and the European Union Commission itself, which produced a very helpful document on adapting to climate change on 29 June 2007.

The hon. Gentleman is undoubtedly the greatest expert in the House on adaptation. Most of us are very familiar with his thesis, which he makes with great emphasis. However, given that he has only a few minutes left, can he give us a few specific points about adaptation that we should consider? He cites those organisations. I am familiar with what they are saying. Connectivity, for example, for biodiversity is very important. In using his knowledge and understanding of the imperative for adaptation, will the hon. Gentleman talk about the specifics that we should be doing now?

That was a very helpful intervention. We need to look at wildlife corridors so that those creatures and species that have to move north because of climate change have a passage north and do not get blocked by urbanisation. With regard to flood control, the Government have announced a big increase in spending on flood control, which is not nearly enough. I would pray in aid the Association of British Insurers, which probably knows that issue better than anyone, which says that we need to spend a lot more on flood control. We have to be a lot more careful about where we build houses because of future flooding. We have to be a lot more careful about coastal defences. We are already doing stuff on that, but we need to do a lot more, as the hon. Member for Chichester said. We need to consider the design of our buildings to make them more flood resistant. We need to change planning regulations so that the National Trust, which owns ancient properties, can put proper drain pipes on them. Such drainpipes would not be an original feature but will be needed for the heavier downpours. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman some more examples afterwards.

Overall, what we need is more leadership, and more foot to the floor from the Government. Adaptation to climate change simply should not, and will not, wait. I accept that the climate out there is changing, and changing because of human activities. I accept that those human activities are largely unabated. From that I draw the conclusion that climate change will continue to occur and probably accelerate across the world in the next 50 years and that that will produce hugely negative effects both in the United Kingdom and in other countries. While we should do our bit in terms of international aid to help people adapt to climate change in other countries, particularly the poor countries that have been the worst affected due to our industrial activities, we must have a huge concentration on adaptation to climate change within the United Kingdom because that is the major thing that is within our control. International agreements, desirable as they are—I salute the Government’s efforts in that regard—are not within our control and neither is international action. Let us do what we can more quickly and more comprehensively in our own backyard.

I must admit that I came along this afternoon anticipating a routine—if I may use that word—Westminster Hall debate on the relative merits of adaptation and mitigation, and no one can say that the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) has given us a routine afternoon, so I thank him for that. He is a thoughtful man. I first met him when he was a special adviser to the Treasury in the mid-1980s. I was a wet-behind-the-ears economist, and he was busy totting up the cost of Labour’s spending plans. I was trying to validate the Treasury’s numbers, so some things never change.

Let me try to find some common ground with the hon. Gentleman because I did not find very much. He has probably never seen a Liberal Democrat membership card. On the back, it says:

“Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a society in which none shall be enslaved by ignorance or conformity.”

When he began, I agreed with him that we should be nervous of consensus, and of received wisdom. I also agree that those who have divergent views and who criticise the orthodoxy should be heard and their comments should be evaluated and treated with respect. [Interruption.] They should not be heckled, for example. The serious points that they make should be listened to.

Having said that, I have some reservations about the hon. Member for Chichester’s speech and my intervention on him earlier got to the nub of my concern. I have come to this issue relatively fresh, having been the party’s environmental spokesperson only since Christmas, so I do not regard myself as an authority on these matters. When I examined the climate change evidence, I wondered what I would conclude.

The first thing that struck me is that, although there is divergence of scientific opinion, as the hon. Gentleman says—I do not think that it is on the scale that he suggests, but there is some divergence of scientific opinion—I wondered why it tends to be those on the political right who are most sceptical. Why was it the Americans who were most sceptical and why was it that the social democrats of Europe were most ready to be convinced? There was a clear correlation. I think that the answer is the one that I suggested to him in my intervention. It is the sense that, if the diagnosis—I know there are a lot of steps from saying that there is a problem to reaching a particular diagnosis—is that, essentially, the rich west is the biggest part of the problem and we, the market economies of the rich west, may need to make sacrifices to tackle the problem, that is a very unpalatable message, especially if some sort of collective, co-ordinated action is involved. That diagnosis is anathema to the political right, as broadly defined.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) intervened earlier and said that the opposite would also be true and the left would think that such a diagnosis is great. But, of course, that is not true. That is because none of this is terribly palatable. Nobody really wants to believe in climate change; we would all love it not to be true. There are not votes in standing up to the rich west and saying, “Actually, we may have to have a lower standard of living and we may have to change the way we do things”. That is a tough sell.

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, if he will forgive me, because I think that I have the shortest time slot in the entire debate and I want to try to develop my argument.

That division of political opinion makes me suspicious. My point is this: if even President Bush, who presumably has no real incentive to believe all this stuff on climate change—he certainly had no real incentive to believe it when he became President—has started to believe it, and is now one of the people talking about India and China and international co-operation on tackling climate change, surely that is prima facie evidence that the scientific and economic evidence is quite striking. Otherwise, why would someone coming from that political perspective have moved so far? Clearly, one could say that, once someone is not fighting for re-election again, they can just indulge in rhetoric. However, I am struck by the fact that, although this is an uncomfortable political message, many politicians are accepting the need to make it and many of us would not do so if we were not convinced of the need for it.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not giving way.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Chichester on a number of points. First, he said that it is the poor who will suffer from decarbonisation. Certainly, in the personal sector, the carbon outputs are coming from driving, and the people who do not have cars are poor people. We are also talking about flights, and the people who do not fly are poor people. On a global scale—this was what I expected to hear at some point in the hon. Gentleman’s speech, but we did not hear it—if the climate is changing and if sea levels are rising, it is the poor “that’s gonna get it” around the world. He argued that decarbonisation is somehow bad news for the poor; carbonisation is bad news for the poor, in the big picture. For that reason, the message that he gave was rather unbalanced.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the need for a sober cost-benefit analysis. However, as the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) said, my judgment is that the downside risk is potentially cataclysmic, and I do not use that word lightly; some of the things that could happen are pretty dramatic and would have to be seriously weighed in any such cost-benefit analysis. Some of the costs that the hon. Member for Chichester mentioned are not, in my judgment, as great as he suggested.

The hon. Member for Chichester also suggested that international leadership is a bit of a con and is irrelevant, and we are a small part of a big problem. I do not think that that is true. Funnily enough, I would cite the example of Germany, which has really gone hell for leather on renewables and made huge strides on them. No doubt the hon. Gentleman may think that Germany perhaps got the cost-benefit analysis on renewables wrong. Nevertheless, if renewables is part of the response to climate change, the fact that Germany has a comparable economy to ours and has seriously gone for renewables and delivered a huge amount in that area enables us to shame the British Government for their pathetic record on renewables. Because the British Government are hearing this all the time—“Germany has done it, Germany has done it, another country has done it and our country has not done it”—they are starting to move on renewables. Therefore, it is not an entirely empty argument that, when one country provides a lead, other countries can be shamed, cajoled or encouraged to follow. One country demonstrating that change can be achieved does provide a lead. There is an issue about unilateral action, and there is some evidence that there is a role for leadership.

I would like to return to the central point made by the hon. Member for Chichester. I fully accept the argument for a cost-benefit analysis, but I also agree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) that adaptation has been very much the Cinderella at the feast; I am not quite sure if that image works, but hon. Members will know what I mean. We have heard little about adaptation and I was thinking about why that should be. I think that the answer is straightforward. From a Treasury point of view, adaptation has a price tag attached to it. Mitigation can be achieved through carbon pricing, emissions trading and all the rest of it, and it is not a Budget line; it is there, it comes through, but it is not a Budget line. Adaptation, by contrast, is a Budget line. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that Chichester needs better flood defences, but that is a public spending line and I think that that is the nub of the problem. That is why we do not hear much about adaptation. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West says, adaptation is not only about public spending; planning, reform and other measures could help.

I think that that explains why we hear so little about adaptation. The draft Climate Change Bill had virtually nothing—only a tiny little bit—about adaptation. I think that it is being beefed up a little, thanks no doubt to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. When the Bill comes to this end of the building, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will help to beef it up some more.

Where do we go from here? I am puzzled by the suggestion from the hon. Member for Chichester that there is a considerable diversity of opinion on the science. I am not convinced that the scientific viewpoints on climate change and its causes are as diverse as he suggests they are, but we can differ on that. My sense is that the leading-edge science is well ahead of the international consensus of opinion. The IPCC assessment is a consensus document and tends to be what the hon. Gentleman would no doubt call a lagging indicator. It is not a leading indicator at all; it tends to follow behind scientific opinion, because it has to get all the Governments to agree, and some of the scientists who are most worried about climate change cannot get their latest evidence included. Consequently, there is a time lag. The scientific consensus is a lagging indicator in the IPCC and that makes me think that the case for urgent action is growing.

Climate change is not a philosophical issue. My sense is that the scientific opinion is much more alarming than the hon. Member for Chichester thinks it is, and so my sense about the cost-benefit analysis is different from his. I accept the need to evaluate mitigation against adaptation and I also accept the need to look after the most vulnerable people, although I conclude that the best strategy to help them is to treat this issue more seriously, because my judgment is that, in the long term, serious global climate change will ultimately hit the poor most of all and that is what I am most concerned about.

It has been an interesting afternoon. I thought that we were in for a run around the course and a discussion simply about adaptation; I had not realised that we were in for a “sceptic fest”. Nevertheless, it is always good to test one’s own beliefs and to go through the arguments to make sure that they are robust.

Certainly, nobody could accuse my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) of not having thoroughly researched his subject, although I am led to very different conclusions from those that he reaches. Despite the sceptical rhetoric that he couched his opening remarks in, we are not so very far apart in our views. He conceded that some global warming was happening and that—I think that I wrote this down verbatim—“man is probably responsible for part of it”. If we accept the principle of anthropogenic climate change, we are simply discussing the degree to which it is responsible for climate change as it is happening now.

Climate change is happening now. I have been to the Arctic. I have seen the vast stretches of open Arctic sea water where there were frozen ice caps just a few years ago. In 2007, the Arctic summer ice reduction was 30 years ahead of the predicted melt rate of the most advanced climate models. If melting continues at that rate, before 2030 the Arctic ice shelf itself could completely disappear in the summer months.

I also had the opportunity to visit the Arctic and I saw the retreat of the glaciers there, which was very visible. However, this takes us back to the IPCC assessment, because the IPCC is, in fact, a consensus body. It tries to find agreement among the many countries that are involved. There are many scientists on the IPCC who would go much further than the IPCC report, alarming as it is.

Absolutely. The right hon. Gentleman, who has a great deal of experience in this sector, makes a key point.

I must also agree with the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, that the IPCC is, by definition, a lag indicator. If my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester could point to at least one Government who were dissenting from the IPCC report, his remarks would have a little more credibility. Of course, I am not suggesting that there is no scientific dispute. There will never be an end to scientific dispute. As long as there are more than two intellectuals, there will always be a debate on any given subject. It is good that there are sceptics out there questioning the science—no knowledge on this subject is perfect. However, on the basis of a rational assessment of the risks, very few people, and certainly no single Government, would now doubt that the climate change effects being seen all around us are man-made and that we should act to try and prevent the catastrophic effects that will follow if we allow the world temperature to rise rapidly to 2° above pre-industrial levels.

Will my hon. Friend explain why, over the past year, we have seen the single fastest temperature change ever recorded—a reduction in world temperatures of between 0.65 and 0.75 per cent.—and why China has had its coldest winter in 100 years, despite increased carbon emissions?

Absolutely. We are seeing an extraordinary change in weather patterns. With global warming, we could see a 2° rise, which sounds very boring and quite slight. However, the real impact of climate change is an increase in extreme weather patterns, which is why Africa’s worst floods in three decades hit 23 countries from Senegal to west Somalia, and affected 2 million people, in 2007; why Nepal, India and Bangladesh were hit by their worst floods in living memory affecting 41 million people; why two category 5 hurricanes and unusually heavy rains in central America and Mexico affected more than 1.5 million people in 2007; and why, at the height of the flood in Mexico, more than 80 per cent. of the state of Tabasco was under water.

With climate change, we are seeing not just a steady, manageable, predictable rise in temperatures, but violent, global weather patterns and, of course, fluctuations, which explains the hurricanes and catastrophic losses recorded by the insurance industry. If my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) goes to the City of London and asks about pay-out rates from insurance companies 20 years ago, compared with today, he will find an extraordinary seismic shift. That is why the capital markets and business are taking climate change very seriously.

Those who doubt the scientists and cannot come to a consensus, should consider what the most progressive businesses, nationally and internationally, are doing. My hon. Friend should go and ask his old employer, Asda, or Wal-Mart, what they are doing about climate change. He will find that his old employer, whom he cites quite frequently, is taking climate change extremely seriously. The chief executive of Wal-Mart has signed up to a massive reduction in its carbon emissions and is not waiting for the Government to tell it how to do it. Progressive, responsible, private-sector organisations, such as HSBC, BP, RTZ, Marks and Spencer and Tesco are not waiting to be told by the Government what they should be doing, but acting now. They are doing that not just because of the imperative of climate change or because that is what their consumers and customers are telling them to but because they realise that it makes good business sense. They also realise that squeezing out fossil fuels and decarbonising their production costs makes sound economic sense.

Companies such as BP, GlaxoSmithKline, RTZ and General Electric have all managed to reduce their overall operating costs by hundreds of millions of pounds—BP has saved about $500 million over seven years. That money has gone straight to the bottom line. It is never wrong to get rid of waste and inefficiency, to bear down on the cost of energy and to squeeze out manufacturing costs. I worked in the oil industry. In 1999, the cost of a barrel of oil fell below $10; at times, it now reaches nearly $100—an extraordinary rise in the cost base.

I can tell hon. Members what the single biggest threat to poor people is: it is the spiralling cost of fossil fuels. Never mind climate change—in the short term, the fuel- poor and those dependent on fossil fuels for heating and cooking will be the ones to suffer. They are the ones being squeezed the most by fossil-fuel dependency and who will benefit the most from actions that we should take to reduce that dependency, to tap into the potential of renewable energy and to ensure the long-term, cheap, predictable cost of renewable energy. The world’s poorest people, in places such as south-east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, will be hit the most if we do not tackle the causes of climate change, and adapt and mitigate. They are the people who require adaptation—never mind us in the UK, who will probably be among the last to suffer the ill consequences of climate change, which are being felt already by people in Bangladesh and sub-Saharan Africa. They suffer already from drought and flooding and feel now the direct consequences of 200 years of industrialisation. We cannot sit back and wash our hands. We have a moral responsibility, not only to our own people in the UK and those abroad, but to future generations. We cannot sit here complacently.

I am sorry; I will not give way.

Some say that we should act for long-term climate change reasons, others because of the spiralling cost of fossil fuels. I do not believe in peak oil any time soon, but I do believe that, whichever way we cut it, the cost of oil and fossil fuels will continue to rise in the long term, not just because it is running out, but because, given consumption patterns and the demand from the fast-growing economies of the far east, pressure on those reserves will increase—even if they are not going to run dry tomorrow.

Those factors will push up the cost of oil and fossil fuels. We should do as much as we can to squeeze out our dependency on high-cost fossil fuels and to invest in clean energy and the technologies of tomorrow. We should follow the model of places such as California, where people have realised that non-polluting, sustainable forms of economic progress are the way forward. Look at sunrise technologies and silicon valley. Look at the entrepreneurs whose private capital backed the fast-growing businesses of the ’80s and ’90s and who are now looking to the green-tech revolution and at sustainable forms of economic growth. They see that as the big future.

That is what we should do in this country. We should do exactly the things that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) spoke about. In our own backyard, we should be looking at climate change and empowering local communities and local authorities, which need the power and responsibility to frame solutions that are right for their areas. For example, some of the things that we need to do in the south-east, on connectivity and flood defences, differ greatly from what needs to be done 200 miles away in Derbyshire. Pockets of local and regional sub-climates will be impacted on much more than places elsewhere. We need to think very carefully about that.

Biodiversity has not been mentioned yet—

Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but I want to give the Minister the chance to respond.

With that, Mr. Benton, I am very happy to draw my remarks to a conclusion. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

For the very first time in my life, I must say how incredibly grateful I am to the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker). He has done a superb job of demolishing the arguments of his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), allowing me to come straight to adaptation. He has so wonderfully espoused the cause of mitigation, for which I am extremely grateful.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Chichester on acquiring this incredibly important debate. Although he spent a great deal of time on the Stern report, he acknowledged that climate change is happening and that it is man-made. The Government are responding to the science. If Stern had never existed, the science would still dictate that we have to address what is now the misnomer of global warming, but which is definitively climate change. The climate is changing and we have to adapt.

We are working hard throughout the Government both to ensure that all our operations, investments and policies take into account the unavoidable impacts of climate change, and to facilitate adaptation in every sector of UK society. One of the cross-Government public service agreements for the new comprehensive spending review period is for the UK to:

“Lead the global effort to avoid dangerous climate change.”

That target includes an objective, shared throughout the Government, for the UK to develop a robust approach to domestic adaptation to climate change, and encourage adaptation to climate change internationally.

I shall not give way, because I have so little time. We have put in place a world-leading resource, the UK climate impacts programme, to provide information and tools that all types of organisations can use to help them adapt to the risks and opportunities of a changing climate. UKCIP is also working with the Met Office’s Hadley centre on the UK 21st-century climate change scenarios, known as UKCIP08. Those scenarios are due to be launched in November this year, and they will provide probabilistic UK climate projections up to 2099. They will be absolutely critical for doing the work to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) referred. The projections will provide more localised detail than we have ever had, drilling down to 25 km grid squares over land, regions and river catchments. The UKCIP08 scenarios will support risk-based decision-making on adaptation, and they will be a major tool for understanding the risks that we face and how we can respond to them.

We have already set up a new adapting to climate change programme, led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to co-ordinate action throughout the Government and drive adaptation throughout society, the economy and the natural environment. Reference was made to biodiversity, and as Minister with responsibility for biodiversity as well as for climate change, I know how critical it is. From the work of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in particular, on the way in which birds already have difficulties finding suitable habitats and moving north, we already know that we need wildlife corridors to protect our biodiversity. There will have to be a huge programme of work, and Natural England, which is very much devoted to it, already has an adaptation strategy.

We have three main areas of work in our adaptation programme: the Climate Change Bill, to which the hon. Member for Chichester referred, the adaptation policy framework document, and the new local government performance framework. The Climate Change Bill, which is on Report in the House of Lords, not only sets statutory targets for emissions reductions, but introduces a legislative framework for adaptation.

The Bill requires the Government to produce a national risk assessment on adaptation, which we will follow with a cost-benefit analysis. No doubt, the hon. Gentleman will wish to contribute to that analysis, and I hope that as he approves of adaptation, he will join us as we try to create a national risk assessment so that we can properly develop policies to meet those risks. The Bill also requires that we produce a national programme of work every five years, with interim updates. In addition, it gives the Secretary of State the power to request reports and action plans on adaptation from public bodies and statutory undertakers, such as water companies. Those aspects are new, and I hope that my hon. Friend recognises that we have responded to his arguments in particular, and to the arguments made by many others, who either responded to the consultation on the Bill, or indeed, were critical in the House of Lords.

We are also developing an adaptation policy framework, to which my hon. Friend referred. The framework will identify the key impacts and vulnerabilities that we face. It will set out what action the Government are already taking and provide a road map for the way in which we will meet our statutory commitments under the Climate Change Bill. My hon. Friend quoted my parliamentary answer that the document would be available in the spring, and I know how anxious and frustrated he is. We have agreed that it will be produced as the Climate Change Bill becomes an Act, meaning a small delay but one of which he should approve, because it will enable us to take account of the amendments that we are making in the House of Lords. It is more appropriate to align that work with the new framework that will arise from the legislation. The APF will set out a strategic vision for a UK that is adapting well to the impacts of climate change, and it will explain our understanding of the existing barriers to adaptation and the role of the Government in addressing them.

We have also introduced climate change adaptation into the new local government performance framework. The new indicator will require local authorities to assess the risks that climate change poses to the delivery of their services, and to draw up and implement action to address those risks. It will help to ensure that local authorities are more prepared for the climate change risks to service delivery, local infrastructure, businesses and the public. Negotiations are still under way, but we have been pleased with the initial positive response from local authorities during our consultations on the indicators.

The Local Government Association has also set up its own climate change commission, whose recent report we warmly welcomed. At the heart of our work on climate change is the recognition that it is a cross-cutting issue. An example of that is the recently published water strategy “Future Water”, which was launched last month. That strategy has adaptation at its core. It is amazing that the lack of water in London is comparable with that in many Mediterranean countries. The water problem in many parts of the country is much more serious than many people appreciate, so addressing the questions of drought, water shortage and so on are important. We will do so, and the issues of water efficiency, maintaining sustainable supplies, and surface water drainage will all be critical to the development of that water strategy.

We have also been working closely with our colleagues from the Department for Communities and Local Government on the supplement to the new planning and policy statement—planning and climate change. It was launched in December last year and sets out how planning should help us to shape places with lower carbon emissions that are resilient to the impacts of climate change. Several people mentioned that issue, and again it is critical. We must ensure that the new homes we build, and those that we already have, are protected, because we anticipate more severe weather patterns and more flooding as a consequence. We have dramatically increased the flooding budgets, and we are dealing with coastal erosion, too.

The hon. Gentleman did not ask me any questions about that, but he certainly commented on coastal erosion in his constituency. I understand how he feels about that, but DEFRA concluded that the council’s scheme appraisal did not adequately demonstrate that the preferred option was the most appropriate. We will not be able to keep in place every inch of our coast, and we will have to understand that at times, allowing nature to come into our coastal areas is one of the best ways in which we can protect against flooding elsewhere. Those are difficult judgments, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that the decision has not been taken lightly; it has been carefully assessed.

More widely, throughout the Government, the Department of Health has recently published a report on the health impacts of climate change, and the Department for Transport has plans for its own adaptation strategy. In my Department, we are setting up a dedicated team to work with the agricultural sector to help it adapt its businesses in the most sustainable way.

I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm exactly what she is telling my constituents. Is she saying that the decision has already been taken to release a lot of land to the sea, or is it still a matter for debate and discussion?

Indeed, it is a matter for debate and discussion. I simply make the point that it is only honest to understand, say and accept that it is not possible—I use the term carefully—to protect every inch of the coastline. Those are matters for debate and for difficult decisions, and of course, more consideration will undoubtedly be given to the issue. We hope that we can persuade authorities that they should work on coastal defence plans.

There is undoubtedly a need for us all to work together to protect the very poorest people, as the hon. Gentleman said. I have not the slightest doubt that we must reduce our carbon emissions to allow space for the carbon emissions of the poorest economies in the world to develop. That is why there must be a global deal on mitigation and adaptation. If he had met, as I met on Monday night, a woman from Bangladesh who has rebuilt her home five times because of the floods, and now receives support from this country and so many others that are trying to help developing countries, he would understand that there is no conflict. We must mitigate and adapt in this country certainly, but we must also enter into that global agreement. Nothing else will save the planet.