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Climate Change

Volume 575: debated on Thursday 13 February 2014

2. What assessment his Department has made of the potential effect of climate change on the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events and on the need for higher priority to be given to adaptation policy. (902560)

We recognise that, in line with the latest scientific understanding of our changing climate, the frequency and intensity of many extreme weather events are expected to increase. The UK’s first climate change risk assessment, published in 2012, assessed the trend and informed the national adaptation programme that we published last year. This sets out a wide range of actions by the Government, business, councils and civil society to address the most significant climate risks that we face as a country.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although concern is sometimes expressed about the cost of climate change mitigation, recent events are a stark warning that the cost of adaptation to climate change is also substantial, and is a bill that might have to be paid sooner rather than later?

I thank my hon. Friend for making that case. He has a long track record of speaking on climate change, and on mitigation and adaptation. I agree that we must continue to ensure that this country meets all the demands that will be made of us by the changing climate.

Does the Minister acknowledge that the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change recommended that the deficit of £500 million on flood defence spending needed to be urgently addressed? Will the Minister ask the Secretary of State and his Cabinet colleagues to ensure that there is a firm commitment from the Government in this spending review to providing that £500 million for flood defences, which is now urgently needed because of climate change?

I very much welcome the work that Lord Krebs and his sub-committee have done on these issues. We think that some of the information is based on older data that have been updated by the Environment Agency, so we do not entirely recognise the figures he gives. The Government have secured a £2.3 billion capital settlement in the next spending review period, which will mean we are spending more than ever before on flood defences.

Whatever the cause, we are seeing extreme weather events and we need to do more between floods. Will the Department consider restoring the balance between building new flood defences, repairing and making good the existing ones and maintaining watercourses? May I ask, in the presence of the Leader of the House of Commons, whether it would be a good idea to have a national statement on adaptation and on climate change generally for this purpose?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and her Committee for all the work they have done on flood defences—

Yes, I suppose I should admit to that. Sadly, I am no longer a member.

The question from my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) about a statement is obviously a matter for the Leader of the House to consider, perhaps later this morning. On her questions on maintenance, given this year’s extreme weather events, the Government have made available a £130 million investment to ensure that we repair and maintain the existing flood defences, which of course will allow us to invest in new schemes in the coming year.

As I saw for myself in Somerset earlier this week, the severe floods are causing unimaginable distress for many people as they see their homes wrecked, farmland submerged and businesses suffer. As all the evidence suggests, and as the Minister has just accepted, climate change will lead to extreme weather events becoming more frequent, so will he explain why his Department has been forced to admit, thanks to a freedom of information request, that total spending on climate change mitigation and adaptation has been cut by more than 40% since last year?

I suspect that the hon. Lady is referring to the freedom of information request submitted on behalf of Lord Lawson. I can confirm that total Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs climate change spending on mitigation and adaptation was £34.8 million in 2011-12, £49.2 million in 2012-13 and £47.2 million in 2013-14, and we have resources yet to be allocated in the coming financial year.

The figures for the domestic spend were £24.7 million in 2011-12 and £29.1 million in 2012-13, but that has decreased this year to £17.2 million, which is a 40% cut. The decision to cut the climate change mitigation and adaptation budget by 40% was a serious error of judgment, one that the events of the past weeks must lead the Government to reconsider. The Minister will know that funding for flood protection remains £63.5 million below 2010 levels, even after the additional funding announced last week. Will he now agree to review the stringent cost-benefit ratio of eight to one applied by his Department to flood defence spending, which appears to have prevented so many vital schemes from going ahead?

As the hon. Lady also knows, in the first four years of this Government we have spent £2.4 billion on flood defences, which was more than the £2.2 billion spent in the last four years of the previous Government—so this Government continue to make tackling this a priority. Today, the focus remains on response and we will then move into recovery, but in the long term we have secured £2.3 billion on capital alone into the next spending review period.

Are movements in the jet stream not more closely and demonstrably linked to our current adverse weather event than climate change is? To what extent is the Environment Agency using movements in the jet stream as a predictive tool for flooding?

The hon. Gentleman is clearly spending a great deal of time studying these methods. Given the advice, which I respect, from scientists across government, all the signs point to the fact that the changes he is talking about are influenced by climate change. That is one reason why we have had more precipitation deposited in the country and had the rainiest January in a quarter of a millennium.