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Global Population

Volume 493: debated on Thursday 4 June 2009

1. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the effects of climate change on the global population; and if he will make a statement. (277918)

May I first apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State this morning? His partner, Justine, gave birth to a son on Tuesday, so he is taking paternity leave—thanks, of course, to the policy of this Government.

To answer the question, the Secretary of State has frequent discussions with his international counterparts on the effects of climate change on the global population. Adaptation to the impacts of climate change is a key priority for international climate change negotiations, and we recognise that the effects of climate change will have the greatest impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

I congratulate the Secretary of State and his partner on this new addition to world population.

Has my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary read Kofi Annan’s report for the Global Humanitarian Forum, showing that climate change is now responsible for 300,000 deaths a year—98 per cent. of them in developing countries? Has she also seen the forecast that if emissions are not brought under control, climate change will create 75 million refugees by 2034?

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that most important report to the House’s attention. I have indeed seen the report and the figures that he has mentioned. We have absolutely no doubt that that adds to the pressure that we all as part of the international community properly need to absorb and bring to the discussions at Copenhagen at the end of this year. We will not get a global deal unless we can help developing countries to adapt to the effects of climate change, which are already happening and are, of course, the responsibility of the developed world.

We are strong supporters of the United Nations framework convention on climate change adaptation fund, and we have given a considerable sum of money to the climate resilience programme, which is enabling countries to adapt. In Zambia, we are helping people living on the Zambezi flood plain to protect their crops against damage caused by flooding; in Lesotho, we are helping people establish small gardens to make them less vulnerable to food shortage caused by drought; and in Bangladesh, we are helping people to raise their homes on plinths to protect them from the seasonal rains. This country has led the way on climate change, not only on mitigation but on adaptation.

First, I congratulate the Secretary of State. I want to ask the Minister whether the Government’s policy is based on ideology or science. She knows that for a theory to be scientific, it must be capable of being refuted by the evidence. Given that we have had three decades of rising temperatures, followed by a decade of stable and slightly falling temperatures worldwide, how many decades would she require before she were convinced that the theory on which she is committing £400 billion of taxpayers’ money might be slightly wrong?

Indeed, they are our figures, but we are talking about a sum of money that will be spent over more than 40 years, whereas the right hon. Gentleman presents it as if it were all for today. The issue that he has raised about science is very important. Scientists have been predicting for decades the effects of global warming, and the predicted effects are indeed happening. He needs to look at sea level rises, for example, which have been consistent, and the predictions are very extreme indeed. Where he claims that the temperature has gone down, that is very much a short-term phenomenon. When the period of temperature rises is measured against all historic records, it is very unusual. The consensus opinion of world scientists is that it extremely likely that all these effects are man-made. Even if he does not believe in the science, he should believe in taking action to adapt to what is happening—whatever the causes might be. We are quite clear as a Government that the consensus of world scientists is that this is a man-made phenomenon. We must take proper steps to tackle the continuing rise in greenhouse gas emissions, and we will do so.

Quite right too. My hon. Friend will know that the Waxman-Markey Bill on tackling climate change is working its way through the US Congress, but it has already been watered down somewhat—and it has not yet reached the Senate. That suggests that the Bill could be watered down more.

Considering that background, if we are to have higher ambitions in the EU based on a deal, should we not have benchmarks in place—I do not ask my hon. Friend to reveal those now, as they are obviously a matter of negotiation—to say that other annexe 1 countries, which one hopes the United States will soon become, should have higher standards and a better approach than that represented by the Waxman-Markey Bill?

We are most optimistic about the commitment made by President Obama, who has said that the US will lead in the climate change talks. His Secretary of State has said that the US is determined to see that the talks produce a result, and we are confident that it will play a proper part.

My hon. Friend is correct about the Bill—it has been somewhat watered down—and we are encouraging the Administration to have the greatest possible ambition: they are engaged; they accept the science; and they have negotiators with a positive approach. We believe that we will be able to achieve a global deal. It will be important that there is a commitment by the US to make the emissions reduction that is required by 2050, which is 80 per cent. for developed countries. Already, the President has said that the US can make that commitment. It is in a difficult situation because of the history under the previous Administration. We understand that, but there is a great deal of good will. This is a matter of negotiation, and we will continue to press the Administration for the greatest possible ambition.