I beg to move,
That this House has considered extreme weather events related to climate change.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms Dorries. Several hon. Members send their apologies, because of a clash with an Environmental Audit Committee visit about sustainable fashion. Many of the normal suspects were sad not to be present. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate. It is a particular treat to be given the opportunity to lead it, not least because it is my birthday.
When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its recent report on 6 October, I assumed that we would have time to debate it on the Floor of the House. Any IPCC report should warrant that level of political attention, but that special report tells us that all the warning lights are on red and that we have 12 years to limit global temperature growth to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels or face extreme changes to the way we live our lives.
I welcome the Government’s clean growth strategy and the passing remarks of the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth about the IPCC report in her statement on Green GB Week, but, with respect, heralding a letter from the Government to the Committee on Climate Change asking for advice on what to do next is not good enough. The House of Commons is supposed to be at the heart of the national and international debate. What we do here adds volume to the news that people across the UK see and hear. Shamefully, the IPCC report was covered prominently in the newspapers, on the radio and on the TV, but not in the House of Commons.
The Government’s response to that significant report was not proportionate to the report’s conclusion, which was that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels
“would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”
“transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities.”
Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide need to fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero around 2050.
That was a lot of information, but the degree and scope of change required to limit and stop temperature growth is enormous. I fail to understand why this debate was not led prominently on the Floor of the House of Commons by the Prime Minister, rather than in Westminster Hall for 90 minutes at the third attempt by an Opposition Back Bencher to force the Government to the table. The report is not just a warning about the future or an academic hypothesis; it is about what is happening around the world today. The co-chair of the IPCC working group said:
“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1 °C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes.”
I will read through some of the headline extreme weather events of this year. In January, a mud slide following rainstorms in California resulted in 18 deaths. Since March, floods in east Africa have accounted for almost 500 deaths. In May, a dust storm caused by high temperatures in India killed 127 people. In June, a monsoon followed by a landslide in Bangladesh caused 12 deaths. A summer of heatwaves across the northern hemisphere, experienced in Britain too, resulted in 65 deaths in Pakistan, 80 deaths in Japan, more than 90 deaths in Canada, 42 deaths in South Korea and 20 deaths in Greece, and, on the best available data, up to 259 deaths were attributed to high temperatures in the UK.
In June and July, floods in Japan led to 225 more deaths, and more than 8 million people were advised to evacuated. In July, wild fires in Greece resulted in 99 deaths. Throughout August, we saw the news of floods in Kerala in India, which caused 483 deaths as of 30 August and forced more than 1 million people into relief camps. Throughout the summer, wild fires in California, which are being dealt with again as we speak, resulted in tens of thousands of evacuations. In September, a typhoon in Japan caused 1.19 million evacuations and seven deaths. A typhoon in the Philippines, China and Taiwan led to nearly 2.7 million evacuations and 134 deaths.
A hurricane in the USA led to up to 1.7 million evacuations and 51 deaths. In October, in another hurricane in the USA, half a million people were ordered to evacuate and there were 45 deaths. In October, flooding in the south of France left 13 dead. Towards the end of August, another typhoon in the South China sea left 15 dead. Those are only some of the extreme weather events in 2018 alone.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) tabled urgent questions on our return from the summer recess to try to debate the issue, but he was unsuccessful. When Parliament is not sitting in the summer, we cannot debate. It is vital that we understand the consequences today of world climate change.
To put that list into an historical frame, the World Meteorological Organisation claims that there was a 20% increase in extreme weather-related deaths between 2001 and 2010, which means that at least 370,000 people have died as a consequence of extreme weather around the world—an increase in the number of heatwave-related deaths from 6,000 to 136,000. Extreme heat in the Arctic, coral bleaching in the Great Barrier reef, increased wildfires in the western United States, extreme rainfall in China and drought conditions across South Africa are not just bad weather; they are costing lives, and an estimated $660 billion in economic loss, which is a 54% increase in the costs associated with extreme weather since 2001.
The issue does not just affect other countries; it is about Britain too. We have already heard about the increased number of deaths as a consequence of heat in Britain. The Met Office helpfully published a report in November that concluded that the extreme weather we are facing today in the UK is due to climate change. The report shows that it is hotter for longer in the summer and wetter for longer in the winter, with more rainfall from extreme weather events than ever before.
That is why we are building flood sea defences in Avonmouth in my constituency to prevent my constituents from being flooded by sea level rises due to climate change. It is also why I and so many of my constituents are trying to build renewable energy solutions, albeit without much luck to date on tidal energy, given the Government’s decision to pull funding for the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. My constituency has two islands in the Severn estuary—Steep Holm and Flat Holm—which means my boundaries include a big chunk of the second-largest source of tidal power in the world, but nothing is there to harbour its energy. The Government need to move much more quickly.
The National Farmers Union has made a clear case about the impact of extreme weather on British agriculture. Flooding on farms causes damage to critical infrastructure and property, loss of power, impassable roads and bridges, damage to farmable land and a cost of at least £70 million in direct losses to businesses, before the indirect costs of damage to infrastructure and regional economies are even considered.
In other parts of the world, people are having to live in the most unsatisfactory of conditions. Otto Simpson, a doctoral student from Oxford University, recently emailed me. He had partnered with a Swedish filmmaker to produce a documentary in Bangladesh that shows how women and girls are being disproportionately affected by climate-related displacement. It tells the story of an unnamed women, now 18, whose family home in Bangladesh was washed away by floods. She and her family moved to Dhaka to look for work but arrived in an overcrowded city already struggling to meet the needs of climate migrants, with no jobs to hand and a shortage of food for those looking for it. Today, forced into being a sex worker, she is the main provider for her family and brings home between $120 and $180 per month, which is merely enough to pay the rent for one room for her, her parents and her younger siblings. That is a direct consequence of the extreme weather—the flooding—in Bangladesh.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva estimates that more than 20 million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes temporarily or permanently due to ever more extreme weather. We have seen the official statistics today about the millions of people being advised to evacuate their homes. That may seem unusual for us in Britain, but we should pause and think about what that means. Imagine if the whole of Bristol or London were asked to evacuate. What would that mean for people’s lives? What would be the consequences for the way we manage cities and the country? Imagine if homes were flooded and we had climate migration in our country. The Government’s response would be significant and robust. That is happening around the world today, and as a global partner we have an obligation to ensure that this issue remains high on the agenda. We must not lose focus on the size of the challenge, the speed at which the change is coming and the impact on us and other humans across the globe.
The immediate challenge is to limit temperature growth to 1.5 °C. The Paris accord said that we must limit it to 2 °C or less, but the IPPC said we must meet 1.5 °C within the next 12 years. If we fail to stop global temperature growth, the world will radically change. Models published in the New Scientist suggest that a world that is 4 °C warmer than pre-industrial levels would result in the United States, South America, central and southern Europe, Africa, the middle east, India, China, Japan and most of Australia being uninhabitable—gone. A 4 °C rise means a world without the United States, China and India—that could happen within my daughter’s lifetime. We would be left with a world dominated by Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland, northern Europe and the Nordics, Russia and whoever ends up owning western Antarctica, which would have thawed in the 4 °C model, and might be somewhere that people need to live.
Our ability to grow and ship food around the world would change fundamentally. The way in which we build our cities and live would change. The way we generate and distribute energy would radically change. If we think we have a problem with countries relying on gas from Russia today, imagine a world in which Russia is the main place to live and the main source of our food. The geopolitics would be very different. Climate migration would dwarf the demands of today’s immigration flows, which are caused by war or economic migration. If we think the immigration that Europe faces is a problem, imagine dealing with a world in which many countries are no longer places that humans can live.
We must do everything we can to ensure that that is not the legacy we leave to our grandchildren. This is not just about where we live, what we eat and our energy; it is about national security, defence and geopolitics. If Russia is connected to the United States because the ice in the northern hemisphere has thawed, the way in which defence is resourced in the world will change fundamentally.
The UK has a proud record on tackling climate change, but we must do more at home and, fundamentally, more abroad. What role is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office playing in ensuring that every country in the world signs up to the Paris accord? We are missing Russia, which accounts for 5% of global emissions. We are missing Turkey and Iran, whose oil and natural gas exports account for 77% of its carbon emissions—again, that is an example of why we need to move at speed to a world in which we are not reliant on oil. We are missing Colombia, which has 10% of the Amazon rainforest within its borders. Illegal tree logging accounts for more carbon emissions than transportation. We are also missing a handful of others.
This is not just about the countries that did not sign up to the Paris accord in the first place. The President of the United States has signalled his intention to withdraw the country’s support, and the new President of Brazil has threatened to do the same. Brazil, of course, accounts for 4.1 gigatonnes of carbon emissions due to deforestation.
I find this amazing. I am disappointed that this debate is not receiving the highest levels of attention and that the UK is not forcing this issue up the national and international agenda. I applaud the efforts we are taking with the clean growth strategy and investment under the industrial strategy and on our own carbon emissions. The previous Labour Government had a proud record: they instigated the Climate Change Act 2008, and the Energy and Climate Change Committee is very good, but the speed and breadth are not good enough. Of course, we can be as good as we wish in the United Kingdom, but if the rest of the world does not follow, we all suffer.
I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to help raise the volume, and I hope she agrees that we should have a proper debate on IPPC reports on the Floor of the House of Commons annually. Perhaps the first should be after the Energy and Climate Change Committee’s advice is received next spring. I hope she will set out the work being done across Government to ensure not only that this is a strategy in the energy team at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—as important as that is—but that it affects every Department. What requirements have been placed on the Department for International Trade to drive this agenda as it secures new trade deals around the world?
I also hope the Minister will set out how the Government will build on their current plans to significantly increase the speed and breadth of their clean growth strategy. I again remind her of the IPPC report’s words: it said that we need “unprecedented changes” in all areas of our lives. I hope she will confirm that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with all its diplomatic might and soft power around the world, is keeping this issue high on the agenda so that we bring every country with us on this historic and vital journey to a sustainable planet.
Order. May I just say that it is usual for MPs to discuss terms of address with the Chair before the debate begins? I prefer “Ms Dorries”, “Chairwoman”—“woman” being the noun for an adult human female—or simply “Chair”, but not “Chairperson”.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries.
I thank the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on initiating this hugely important debate. I share his disappointment that it has not attracted a slightly larger audience, although my colleagues on the Environmental Audit Committee have a legitimate excuse: they are at the Victoria and Albert Museum as part of a session looking at sustainable fashion.
It is always tempting to point to individual weather extremes and ascribe them to climate change. This year, we had heavy snowfall in March and the joint hottest summer on record. This is not about taking individual weather events and attributing them directly to climate change. That would be bad science, and would be easy to debunk and discredit. It is about looking at the overall trends, both here and globally, which do show a significant increase in extreme weather. The hon. Gentleman has given lots of examples, and I will briefly look at some additional ones.
The most recent Met Office report, of 2 November, which has already been cited, makes really depressing reading. It compares UK weather data from 1961 to 1990—30 years—with the 10 years between 2008 and 2017. It is pretty clear that the UK is experiencing an increase in weather extremes. The hottest days have become hotter, the number of warm spells has increased and the coldest days are not as cold. On average, the hottest day in each year over the past 10 years is 0.8° C hotter than it was in previous decades. The coldest days are also warmer: temperatures were an average of 1.7° C warmer in the past decade. So-called tropical nights, on which temperatures remain over 20° C, have also increased. In the 30 years between 1961 and 1990, there were eight such tropical nights. In the 10 years between 2008 and 2017, there were four, and we had two more this year.
The Met Office’s conclusion is that those extremes are consistent with overall man-made warming of the UK climate over the past 50 years, and the global trends are showing the same pattern. Globally, the five warmest years in recorded history have taken place since 2010, and 2014 was the hottest year ever recorded until 2015 and 2016. The warmest year on record was 2016, and eight months in that year were the warmest individual month recorded.
If the science is right and the trends continue, we will see appalling consequences: increasing food shortages, lands becoming uninhabitable, and refugees on a scale that we as a species have never had to deal with before. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees tells us that already, on average, 21.5 million people are displaced each year because of weather-related, sudden-onset hazards. It describes climate change as a “threat multiplier” for people in conflict zones—and it goes without saying that it is bad news for the balance of nature as well.
The difficulty with climate systems is that they are so complex that no computer model on earth can fully capture and take on board the full range of feedback, positive and negative. That means that those who seek to pour doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus on the subject will always be able to do so, if that is what they want to do. The same goes for the consequences of climate change.
However, there is a fairly basic calculation to make. On the one hand, what would be the effect of listening to the sceptics, ignoring the overwhelming body of scientific evidence pointing to man-made climate change, and then being wrong? The turbulence and change would likely bring about an end to civilisation as we know it. The impacts on the natural world would be incalculable. It is not inconceivable that this fragile, precious planet that we live on would be altered to such an extent that it would no longer be able to sustain us as a species. That is the downside.
On the other hand, what would be the effect of listening to the scientific consensus, taking the necessary action and then being proven wrong? Accidentally, we would end up with a cleaner and eventually much cheaper energy system, protecting more of the world’s forests and ecosystems, and with an economic system that is more circular and less wasteful. It has always amazed me, in fact, that there is anyone who would look at that basic calculation and conclude that we are better off doing nothing. That just makes no sense. Indeed, almost everything that we need to do to tackle climate change are is something that we would want to do irrespective of climate change.
What is interesting or, rather, infuriating is that over the years that I have been engaged on this issue—20 years ago, I used to edit The Ecologist magazine—the debate has consistently and conveniently shifted. At the beginning, we were told for years that climate change simply was not happening. Then we heard from the same people, “Well, it is happening, but it is nothing to do with our species.” A few years later, we would hear from the same people, “Well, it is happening and we are probably contributing to it, but the cost of tackling it is just too great—it’s punitive—and, by the way, it’s great because we might get a bit of wine in the UK”—that is, better wine; we already get some wine here.
I do not doubt that the challenge that we face is colossal, but action is well within our reach, and we now more or less know exactly what we need to do. The IPCC report, which has already been mentioned, lays it out pretty starkly. Almost the most alarming part of that report is the difference, according to the world’s leading climate scientists, between the effects of keeping the rise in warming to a maximum of 1.5° C, and keeping it to 2° C. They tell us that that half-degree would massively worsen the risks of floods, drought, extreme heat and, as a consequence, poverty for hundreds of millions of people. That half-degree is the difference between losing all the world’s corals, and managing to hold on to 10% of them. The number of people exposed to water stress would be 50% lower if we kept to a rise of 1.5° C instead of 2° C. That half-degree would mean hundreds of millions fewer people, particularly in the world’s poorest countries, being at risk of climate-related destitution. A half-degree of extra warming would lead to a forecasted 10 cm of additional pressure on coastlines.
Currently, we are not heading for that apocalyptic 2° C rise; more likely, we are heading towards a 3° C rise. We will have to change profoundly so much of what we do: not only how we generate electricity, but how we use it; how we manage land; and transport, food and industry. That will require profound change, and investment on the part of Governments, individuals and businesses.
We can be proud that the UK helped to make the Paris agreement more ambitious, and of the cross-party Climate Change Act 2008, which set the target of an 80% cut in carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. I am delighted that the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), who has responsibility for climate change, is looking at how we can go further and make net zero emissions a reality. Renewable electricity capacity in the UK has quadrupled since 2010, and we are world leaders in offshore wind.
However, given the scale of the challenge, as outlined in detail in that IPCC report, clearly we have a very, very long way to go; at the current rate of progress, we will not meet our fourth and fifth carbon budgets. Domestically, that means doing absolutely everything we can now to encourage a transition to electric vehicles, and not waiting until 2040. It means saying no to infrastructure projects such as the third runway at Heathrow, which will increase carbon emissions; rejecting the Government’s proposal to allow fracking without proper local consent; and creating the friendliest possible environment for the accelerated development and roll-out of new, clean technologies.
There is a lot more that we can do globally as well. We need to build on the success of the international climate fund by using much a greater proportion of our overseas aid budget to protect nature. The IPCC maps out four pathways to capping the rise at 1.5° C, and reforestation is critical to all four of them. Apart from transport emissions, deforestation is the single largest source of carbon dioxide emissions; deforestation alone accounts for up to a fifth of all carbon emissions. Forests are, I think, one of the world’s largest carbon sinks; they absorb around 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon every year and they store billions more. However, we are losing 18.7 million acres of forest every year—the equivalent of 27 football pitches every single minute. That is lunacy; it is madness. Protecting forests means helping to protect the world and insulate it against climate change.
However, protecting forests is so much more important even than that. Around 1.6 billion people, which is about a quarter of the world’s population, rely directly on forests for their livelihoods, and many of them are the world’s poorest people. I do not like the crudeness of the calculations that we sometimes hear, but I will cite one all the same: we are told that forests provide around $100 billion a year in goods and services, such as clean water, healthy soils and the like. They are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity.
Although the UK can be proud to be the only nation in the G7, or indeed the G20, to hit the UN’s target on overseas aid last year, and proud of being the third largest donor in the world after the US and Germany, a minimal fraction of that overseas development money—possibly as little as 0.4%—goes to nature. That is such a wasted opportunity. The aim of the Department for International Development is to tackle poverty; how on earth can we expect to do that if the very world on which we all depend is annihilated? Of course, the world’s poorest people depend much more directly on nature than richer people for the free services that it provides. If we destroy nature, we will plunge whole communities into desperate poverty. We have learned again this month of the sheer extent to which our species is denuding the natural world. Since 1972, which is more or less the year in which I was born, we have lost around 60% of the world’s animals.
I do not believe there is any real argument around the science of climate change, and I do not think that there is any argument at all around the annihilation of the planet that is happening right now, on our watch. Logically, this has to be the defining issue of our age. Very simply, if the scale of our response as a Government does not match the scale of the problem, we are failing. My plea to this Government, via the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), who speaks today for the Minister with responsibility for climate change, is: let us be world leaders, as we can be, in restoring ecosystems on a scale that matches the problem.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who has a deep knowledge of this matter. He is someone we all listen to every time he speaks, because he speaks with authority and knowledge, and I thank him for that.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) has brought this issue to the House. Last night, during a different debate, I said that the probable reason we are here in Parliament is that we might have different opinions—perhaps on farming, for example—but on this issue we are all in the same boat, if I can use that terminology, and, as always, we look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say and, in particular, to her response to our questions today.
In the last few years, we have experienced a great deal of adverse winter weather, often resulting in schools having to close their doors. In fact, there is concern in some schools about the number of days that children have to take off because of adverse weather. We can all think back to our parents telling us how they walked 5 miles to school, come hail, rain or shine, but it only takes seeing a sliding school bus once to realise suddenly that there is a safety issue and that safety must come first. I know also of churches that get funding to run programmes having to continue those programmes into the summer months to meet their allocation a certain number of weeks.
The weather is certainly affecting us. In Northern Ireland—and probably here on the mainland—the first thing someone says to a person they meet in the street is, “It’s a cold one today”, or “It’s very warm.” In any conversation, that seems to be the natural introduction before we get down to the nitty-gritty of what we are really talking about. The weather is a topic of conversation every day, and it has been more so in the last year because of the clear changes we have seen. We have to look at how best to create a better environment.
I will speak on a number of issues not raised by the previous speakers. The diesel scrappage scheme, which encouraged people to get rid of gas guzzlers, was a tremendous way of lowering carbon emissions. It was greatly encouraged by my council, Ards and North Down Borough Council. We are pleased that the Government supported and encouraged the initiative. Looking at some of my council’s initiatives, its new recycling and food waste disposal endeavours have taken the equivalent of 10,000 cars off the road. Councils have led the way.
When, wearing a previous hat, I was on the council—the Ards council as it was then; it is now a joint one—the recycling initiative came in. We were perhaps not all that sure of what it was, but we knew we had to do something. We set targets, because setting targets means that everyone tries to achieve them. The councils have achieved those targets, with the co-operation of local people. Something that came up in the Westminster Hall debate yesterday on the e-petition about plastics was the education of children at a very early stage—in primary and secondary schools—to get into their minds the importance of recycling, and that is one way in which the councils have achieved the targets. Very often, it is young children who come home and say to their mum and dad, “We should be putting that in the blue bin.” There is a bit of an education programme for parents, but it also comes through the children, which is great to see.
We must do that kind of thing to help our environment, and I congratulate those who have worked so hard with these initiatives. I believe in being a good steward, and to me that means doing the best we can environmentally. Burning less coal is good for our health as well as for the environment; we need companies to step up when it comes to reducing coal use. In 2012, coal supplied two fifths of electricity; this year so far it has provided less than 6%—a massive change.
In his introduction, the hon. Member for Bristol North West referred to something about which we must express concern: the President of the United States unfortunately seems not to be focused as much as other countries are on environmental issues. We would like to have that commitment by him and the USA. Other countries also have a responsibility. We are not pointing the finger and accusing other countries, but there is a strategy, of which they have to be a part. We look at China, the States, India and Brazil, to which the hon. Member for Richmond Park referred. In the press just last week there was a picture of Brazil from the sky showing how much of the rainforest has disappeared—an enormous amount. That cannot go on. Our incredibly fragile eco-system, which benefits everyone, needs the rainforest to be there as the lungs of the world, yet we see large tracts of forest being decimated and put to other uses. All countries across the world have a role to play.
Other energy sources have provided well, and if we use more renewable sources we can become more self-reliant and less reliant on other nations in a changing world and economy, which can only be a good thing. I look, again, to Government initiatives. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) is here on the Front Bench; his party, the Scottish National party, has shown a strong lead on wind turbines and has encouraged that through its own Parliament. The Government have done that as well, and we have seen some benefits in my constituency: the wind turbines there—they are probably smaller versions—have been incredibly important in getting the right mindset and providing renewable energy. We have also had a dam project. It is a smaller project, but it is enabled by Government money, and it feeds into the grid. We also have solar energy, which is another big benefit in my constituency. It is hard to envisage this, Ms Dorries, but focus on 10 acres of solar panels, with sheep grazing on the land between them—it is possible to have both things together. Farmers have diversified. We have a really good scheme just outside Carrowdore in my constituency, and a couple more up the country in Mid-Ulster and the northern part of Northern Ireland.
The Government could perhaps do more with tidal lagoons projects. In my constituency, through Queen’s University and others, and some private partnership moneys, we are looking at how we can better harness the tidal movements at the narrows between Portaferry and Strangford. The power of that water is incredible, and it could provide green energy. As technology increases, we will probably be in a position to provide such energy at a lower cost. Wind turbine energy was very costly at the beginning, but the cost has dropped now and it is economical.
There was a Government initiative announced in the Budget around electric cars; that was talked about yesterday in the Chamber, in debate on the Finance Bill. Electric cars will work only if the prices are right, the cars run well and there are enough charging points, but at the moment, there is a dearth of these. It is no good if we do not regularly have charging points across high streets, villages and rural constituencies. Only then can people depend on electric cars. I was listening to a story on the radio last week about people who have dual-purpose cars—those that run on both electricity and fuel—resorting back to the fuel because charging points are not always available. That is a real issue for the Government and, to be fair, I think that they, and others, recognise that it is something that we need to look at.
I would like quickly to refer to coastal erosion, because my constituency is subject to it. We have the very active Ards peninsula coastal erosion group, and I am very conscious of the good work that it does. The Government need to set some moneys aside—regionally, not from here centrally. There is erosion in 96 locations in the Ards peninsula. We used to refer to there being a one-in-100-years storm, but there is now one every three years.
It has taken time, but in my home county we have now bought into making changes to be more environmentally friendly, such as enforced recycling and no more free plastic bags, which has been a real success in Northern Ireland. Although the changes were difficult to begin with, we have come out better on the other side—more environmentally aware and proud of what we have achieved. That should be the goal of any environmental agenda—ensuring that people are brought in, buy in, and feel a part of changes that are good for us all in the long run.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) for introducing the debate so well. He is a University of Plymouth graduate, and I know that there are a lot of people back in Plymouth Labour who would want to wish him a happy birthday for today.
Climate change is real. Some 97% of scientists believe that it is happening, and it will continue to happen whether the remaining 3% agree with it or not. The extreme weather produced by climate change is becoming more and more commonplace and its impact on our lives is becoming more profound, obvious and inescapable. A report by Oxfam has shown that, between 2008 and 2016, 23.5 million people were displaced by extreme weather. If we do not wake up, that will get worse and worse. The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West mentioned, predicted that if we do not act to stop a temperature increase of more than 2° above pre-industrial levels, on the current trajectory we will see a sea level rise from melting ice of up to 1 metre by 2100—only 80 years away. That would cause severe coastal flooding and super storms that would easily flood most major Western cities and submerge many low-lying islands, and would mean homes, roads and train lines under water.
Rising sea levels and elevated acidity mean that coastal communities such as mine in Plymouth are on the frontline of climate change and extreme weather. Far too often, more intense and more frequent storms are battering the south-west, and a lack of investment to create proper resilience—especially in our transport links—is cutting people in Plymouth off from the rest of the country. That is what I would like to speak about, because it is a good example of the challenges that we must face if we are to truly mitigate the impacts of climate change and extreme weather on our economy.
Members will know that in 2014, the Great Western rail line between Exeter and Newton Abbot was badly damaged by storms. The train line was washed away, leaving the rails hanging like a Peruvian rope bridge above the waves, and as a result, the far south-west and the rest of the country were cut off from each other. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned coastal erosion, which is most apparent from the coastline at Dawlish. I went to university in Exeter, and the place where I studied in the summer months, on the cliffs overlooking the sea, has now been washed away. Those cliffs are no longer there, and when I go past on the train every day, going back and forth to Westminster, I look at that little bit of air and remember that I used to study on it. Coastal erosion is real, and the threat it poses to our train line is apparent.
The Great Western train line was closed for two months in 2014, which affected our entire region, costing us around £1 billion in lost economic activity. It was our one and only train line—our spinal connection, our lifeline for business and leisure travel, daily journeys, holidays and investment—and its closure exposed a gaping hole in Government policy towards the far south-west. Ministers did not care enough to find the funding that we needed to make our train line resilient to the increasing extreme weather that this country faces. The former Prime Minister David Cameron came down to Dawlish in the wake of the storms and said, “Money is no object” in making sure that such a closure would not happen again. However, last week, the train line closed. A month before, it closed again. It has closed dozens of times since that incident in 2014.
Strong winds, heavy rain, and large waves crashing over the sea wall affect the resilience of the Great Western train line and cut us off. Thanks to the good work of Great Western Railway and Network Rail staff, our train line is now operational again, but more extreme weather is going to have more impacts on that precarious and fragile train line. The Minister will know that in bad weather, when the waves crash over our train line, CrossCountry trains cannot get through. The design of those precious and precarious Voyager trains means that they short-circuit when they come into contact with salt water, meaning that if waves hit those trains at Dawlish, they short-circuit and block the track. That is not good enough. Now that Ministers recognise the chaos in our rail franchising system, they have pulled the franchise competition, but that has removed the opportunity to create trains that can get through that particular bit of track.
Network Rail has carried out studies of extreme weather conditions. Those studies show that by 2065, anticipated environmental changes could result in an increase of 4° in extreme summer temperatures, potentially buckling tracks; a 36% reduction in summer rainfall, but a 15% increase in winter rainfall; a 30 cm increase in sea level; and a 23% increase in river flows. When we look at the precarious nature of much of our transport infrastructure, especially along our coasts, rivers and estuaries, we can see what an impact that change in water level could have on the resilience of that infrastructure. The low sea wall at Dawlish will not be enough: the line will flood, and we will be cut off again. That is why we need resilience upgrades to preserve the line, steady the cliffs, and ensure that trains can get through Dawlish while a Dawlish-avoiding line is built. Nothing else is acceptable.
The lack of investment in much of our transport infrastructure, coupled with the more commonplace extreme weather that is being caused by climate change, means that we need greater focus on, and investment in, resilience in our transport system. The Secretary of State for Transport told me in the Chamber that the work on Dawlish was his No. 1 priority, but yet again, no money for Dawlish was announced in the Budget, and it is still the case that no money has been announced by Ministers. I say to the Minister—who I appreciate is not a transport Minister—that the patience of the south-west is wearing thin. We know that we are getting more extreme weather: we can see it year in, year out, and we can see the impact that it is having on our resilience. The betrayal, the breaking of promises, the frequency of closures, the disruption, the damage to our reputation and attractiveness as a destination are all due to the failure to invest in and secure that train line. That cannot go on. We risk more and more disruption from climate change unless Ministers stop sitting on their hands and blaming others. They must put their money where their mouth is and fund proper, long-term resilience, particularly in Dawlish and Teignmouth.
Warnings about extreme weather can seem far distant from our shores. We sometimes look at extreme weather in far-away countries—hurricanes, tropical storms and mudslides—and think of it as happening to other people, not to us. However, the reality is that climate change and increasing extreme weather are occurring in countries far away, but also here at home. If we do not adjust the way we run our economy, invest in low-carbon technologies, and fundamentally change the way our country operates, we will see more extreme weather—not just far away but in the UK. That is something that we desperately need to avoid.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairwomanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on what is clearly a timely debate, and I wish him a happy birthday.
The hon. Gentleman would not have realised when he secured the debate that it was going to coincide with the worst wildfire to have hit California. Sadly, when I looked at the news reports this morning, the death toll had increased to 42. It is impossible to imagine what it must be like to be surrounded and engulfed by flames, and trying to flee those flames, or to be caught up in another natural disaster such as a tsunami and trying to flee the coming carnage. Those disasters are happening too often.
The hon. Gentleman detailed the other extreme events that have been happening recently: mudslides in California and Bangladesh; floods in East Africa and India; dust storms in India; heat waves across the world, causing deaths even in the UK; typhoons; hurricanes; and extreme rainfall. He explained well that such events come at a human and a financial cost, and gave illustrative examples of the disproportionate impact that they are having on women and girls in some developing countries. It is sobering to think that 20 million people annually have to evacuate their homes and uproot their lives because of extreme weather events.
While other hon. Members also spoke about those issues, it was good that the hon. Gentleman not only highlighted the events that are happening here and now, but explained what a 4° increase would mean—Armageddon, frankly. That shows that we need to take action.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) reminded us that we are on course for a 3° increase in temperature compared with pre-industrial levels, yet the IPCC report focuses on the difference between a 1.5° increase and a 2° increase, so we need urgent action. The hon. Gentleman also highlighted the clear environmental benefits of taking action: irrespective of climate change, that action will improve the environment of the world we live in. We need to remember that, and look beyond financial costs.
No debate would be complete without the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). It was interesting that he highlighted his concern about the impact on education due to school closures because of extreme weather. I remember fondly when, back in my day, we had school closures because of extreme cold, or snow days. I am not sure about their impact on education, but they certainly gave us a lot of fun in the outdoors, so we took full advantage of them.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the diesel scrappage scheme, and councils leading the way in that area, but I suggest that it is the UK Government who need to lead the way. The reason we have so many diesel cars on the road is that incentives were introduced by the UK Government. Clearly, the UK Government now need to take action to get those diesel cars off the road, because people are being penalised through no fault of their own.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) both highlighted the impact of erosion on coastal communities, and the example that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport gave—the cliffs that he once studied on, which no longer exist—was certainly a stark illustration of the effects of erosion.
The hon. Gentleman also highlighted both the impact of erosion on general transport infrastructure and the closure of the great western rail line, which cut off the south-west of England. Again, that illustrates the need for action and for resilience planning, as he said.
The IPCC report effectively looks at the lesser of two evils: limiting global warming to 1.5° C versus a 2° C increase. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park touched on, a 1.5° C increase would mean global sea levels being 10 cm lower in 80 years’ time than they would be with a 2° C increase. Coral reefs would decline by only—I say “only”, but this is frightening—70% to 90%, rather than being completely wiped out by a 2° C increase. That is a stark illustration of what is going on. With a 1.5° C increase, the Arctic ocean would be free of summer ice once every 100 years, rather than once a decade.
Apart from the head-in-the-sand deniers, people know that climate change is happening. We have the proof and we can see it happening with changing weather patterns. In my lifetime, I have seen winters get milder. As I was growing up, people said, “It used to be far colder in my day,” so there is that generational change. We know people’s memories might play tricks on them, but if we look at old maps of Scotland from the turn of the 20th century we can see they are littered with outdoor curling ponds. Those sites are marked on the maps, but not one of those curling ponds exists any more. That shows the change in winter over the past 100 years or so.
Met Office statistics also back up the changes, which have accelerated in the past decade. The hottest day is on average 0.8° C warmer than for the period 1961 to 1990. Winters are an average of 1.7° C milder as compared with that same period. We now have longer spells where temperatures exceed 25° C. We have fewer ice days, longer wet spells, shorter dry spells and higher extreme wet days. It is obvious that action needs to be taken at a UK level, within the devolved Administrations and at the international level, though the international level clearly becomes more difficult with a climate change denier such as Trump in the White House. I hope his tenure is short lived.
Unlike the hon. Member for Bristol North West, I welcome the Government writing to the Committee on Climate Change asking for updated advice on reaching a net zero carbon economy, on long-term greenhouse gas emissions, on when the UK should reach zero emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, and the implications for emissions in 2050. I take his point that the UK Government need to take action, and I will come on to that. When that analysis and advice come at the end of March 2019, they will need sober reflection and concerted planning and action. This will have big implications for UK carbon budgets.
As the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, we are already on track to fail to meet those carbon budgets, so strong leadership will be needed from the UK Government and we will need proper parliamentary scrutiny. As the hon. Member for Bristol North West said, we need more debates on the main Floor of the House to bring that level of scrutiny to Government policy.
Lord Deben has confirmed that, as part of its work, the Committee on Climate Change will look at how the UK can effectively eliminate carbon emissions and set out the necessary steps to clean up the UK’s homes, industry, transport and agriculture. That will clearly be critical, but I have a few suggestions of my own. First, direct Government action will be required. They cannot continue to try to hide behind things such as the green deal and hide how borrowing happens; they need to take a lead and invest. They need to move away from the obsession with nuclear as a means of low-carbon transition. That will free up billions of pounds for investment in renewables and energy efficiency measures. They should follow the Scottish Government and invest directly in energy efficiency for homes. As the hon. Member for Strangford said, the UK Government need to embrace the renewables sector.
Greater investment is required in carbon capture and storage to try to recover from the shameful pulling of £1 billion of funding. That remains a continual reminder that Departments need to work together and that the Treasury cannot have carte blanche suddenly to pull funding streams because it wants to impose austerity. CCS can decarbonise energy production and energy-intensive industries, and it can produce hydrogen, which is a carbon-free source of fuel. Onshore wind must be allowed to bid in future energy auctions, and the UK Government should not end the generation export tariff in March 2019.
Figures from the Renewable Energy Association show that changes to the energy market rules already mean that employment in the photovoltaic sector in 2016-17 was down 30% as compared with 2011-12. The number of companies in the PV supply chain was down 60% over that period, and turnover was approximately 50% in real terms. Government policy changes have a massive impact on the renewables sector. It is little wonder that the UK has once again slipped down the EY renewable energy investment attractiveness index, which compares countries all over the world. We know we need to develop energy storage, but I would suggest that the funding for the Faraday challenge is insufficient, especially when we consider that the failing nuclear industry has been given a £200 million sector deal. The UK Government need to step up with an oil and gas sector deal to help that sector to realise the 2035 vision and carbon reductions in those industries.
Before I became an MP, I spent my career as a civil engineer working in the sewerage sector. Much of my work related to sewer flooding. I have seen the number of houses affected by internal sewer flooding. I cannot think of anything worse, but the numbers over the years have increased massively. That is due to the increase in the frequency of intense rainfall. That is coupled with changes to lifestyle and the urban environment, where more and more runways are put in. People change from soft landscaping to hard landscaping, which increases run-off and water gets into sewers quicker. That is causing problems and leads to internal sewer flooding. To solve that retrospectively is expensive.
Going forward, we need to try to mitigate those things—there is demand to build more and more houses—by taking stock of those factors. In Scotland, any housing development of more than two houses must incorporate sustainable urban drainage systems, or SUDS. That has been the law for a number of years, yet in England SUDS are still voluntary. SUDS are a way of minimising the run-off into sewers or water courses, thereby preventing any detriment.
In Scotland—I know this from experience as well—any new development must get permission to connect to the sewer system from Scottish Water, which has the right to say no. The developer must pay for any upgrades to the sewer system or any mitigation measures that are required. That becomes part of the planning conditions, yet in England the UK Government have steadfastly refused to end the right to connect. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has made that recommendation over a number of years, yet the UK Government refuse to act. I do not understand that. If we are going to mitigate the impact of future housing and climate change, we need to start looking at this.
When it comes to building houses in Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency does not allow houses to be built on flood plain land with a predicted flood frequency of less than one in 200 years. Critical infrastructure cannot be built on land with a flood frequency of less than a one in 1,000 years. In England over the years, too many houses were built on flood plains, and we are now seeing the consequences of that.
The Government must take independent advice. They cannot listen to the lobbyists from the nuclear industry and the big housebuilders, which only want to make money. We need to take control and change where we are going just now. I have made a few suggestions, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on taking the initiative of writing to the Backbench Business Committee to suggest we have this debate. I congratulate him not only on persuading the Committee to allow it but on putting the case this morning that his achievement in bringing this debate reflects the non-achievement of the House as a whole in putting the issue firmly on the Floor of the House. The fact that we are debating this matter here this morning with the cream of the usual suspects indicates that we are still a very long way from getting the issue debated with the importance and urgency it deserves. I therefore fully back and support the suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West that the IPCC report should have been debated fully on the Floor of the House. Indeed, the developments from that report should be debated regularly on the Floor of the House from now.
The subject of this debate is extreme weather and climate change, which has been debated in this House previously. Climate change deniers have come to the Floor here and indicated that this extreme weather stuff is nothing to do with climate change; that it is all a bit of a hoax and we should just accept the fact that the weather changes, as I think a certain President of the United States recently opined, and we should not worry too much about it. Well, I think that has been comprehensively demonstrated to be not only a completely false conclusion but an alarming and complacent conclusion, because we know what action we will have to take on climate change over the next period.
The IPCC report, as hon. Members have mentioned this morning, is not just a wake-up call but a blueprint. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) said, if we do not tackle the speed at which temperatures are rising and how much they are rising across the world, we will inevitably face a very difficult future. The extreme weather events that we are seeing at the moment are simply a signpost of the long-term enormous effects, as the hon. Gentleman set out, on the world’s economy and the livelihoods and lives of millions of people across the planet, and on the liveability, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West set out, of large parts of the planet in future. So the extreme weather events that we increasingly see are a harbinger of much wider effects in future—harbingers that we ignore at our extreme peril.
Hon. Members have drawn attention to a recent report by the Met Office on the changing nature of the climate in the UK. The report demonstrates to me that the issue is not only about hurricanes in the United States, flooding in south-east Asia or forests catching fire in northern Sweden but is very much here at home now and is the future that we will face to some considerable extent if we do nothing about it. The Met Office report is a stark reminder of how much and how rapidly things are changing. The creep of red across the map of the UK over the past 50 years shows the daily maximum temperatures of hot summer days and dry spells. Conversely, the creep of white across the country shows how icy days and daily minimum temperatures in winter change across the country. So we can see a clear change in climate.
As the hon. Member for Richmond Park has rightly said, we cannot attribute particular weather events to the effects of climate change, but elementary physics teaches us that—I speak as the proud possessor of a relatively good grade in O-level physics, so I am at the elementary level—if the temperature of water increases, as we know is happening, the water expands. It is not just a question of global icecaps and various other things melting that adds to sea level increases across the world; it is just the fact that water expands as it gets warmer.
As water expands as it gets warmer, the air above it is affected and becomes more turbulent. It absorbs more energy and takes up more water vapour, resulting in more precipitation, exacerbating the effects on the weather. It is not the case that climate change causes tidal surges or hurricanes in the southern United States, but it exacerbates them and changes them. They are longer in duration, more severe and more frequent, and are the consequences of the physics of climate change, as I have described.
So we know what our future holds if we do not take urgent action not only to mitigate climate change but to adapt to it. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) set out clearly what is in store for our own country’s infrastructure as a result of the changes. Indeed, I have observed the substantial effects of tidal surges and extreme tidal weather; a vital part of communication infrastructure has been severed. To a much lesser extent, I have had a small attempt in my constituency area to get much greater attention paid to flood defences for the Itchen valley. For certain, that valley will be flooded to an increasingly frequent extent as a result of tidal surges and changes.
Southampton put together a scheme for dealing with tidal surges and possible flooding. It obtained some funding through the local enterprise partnership to assist with flood relief, but the funding was then taken away on the instructions of the Government and placed into a road scheme. Unless we take the issue seriously, get our priorities right and adapt our country for what we know will be a future of far greater extreme weather events, with all the consequences that that will have on infrastructure and our daily lives, we will surely pay the price. Likewise, if we do not take seriously what the IPCC says about the global scale, we will pay the price.
I am worried about the extent to which past performance is prayed in aid for not doing as much on climate change and global warming as we might do. It is true that the UK has performed better than many other countries in taking action on climate change, but the sheer scale of the task facing us means that one country’s performance cannot be set against another’s.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park indicated that our clean growth plan is good in many ways. It has many good things in it, and includes many good responses to the requirements of the fourth and fifth carbon budgets from the Committee on Climate Change. However, the clean growth plan itself acknowledges that it will not get us to the terms of the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. Indeed, it states that it will fall short by about 5% in terms of emissions by the time of the fifth carbon budget. The failure between the fourth and fifth carbon budgets is much worse; the clean growth plan gets us only about 50% of the distance between them.
Given what we know about the difference between 1.5° C and 2° C, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park mentioned, we have to do so much more. I was therefore dismayed that when the Government wrote to the Committee on Climate Change to ask what it thought about a 1.5° C, net-zero target on climate change they specifically excluded action to change the terms of the requirements of the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. We are looking at what we can do about a world increase of 1.5° C, with the enormous differences that the hon. Member for Richmond Park says would result from 2° C. Yet we are proposing no change at all in the current carbon budgets, which, even by the Government’s own plans, we will not reach anyway.
A theme of this morning’s debate is that far more needs to be done and we have, as the IPCC report tells us, a very limited amount of time in which to get it done. We therefore need at the very least to express that urgency in the House, to ensure that the debate is shared among all Members. The urgency, effort and additional activities that are needed to combat climate change, and to adapt, must be properly brought before the whole House. As a result of this morning’s debate that call might be heard.
In terms of parliamentary scrutiny, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government sent out the wrong signal when they abolished the Department of Energy and Climate Change and subsumed it into the much bigger Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, where these issues get lost among all the other stuff that the Government are looking at?
Order. Dr Whitehead, I am sure that you would like to hear from the Minister after you answer that question.
Indeed, Ms Dorries; I was just about to come to my last sentence when the hon. Gentleman asked me that pertinent question, to which I will take one second to reply. Yes—when the Department of Energy and Climate Change was subsumed into BEIS that gave out a bad signal about the Government’s seriousness about these issues. Whether or not that Department is re-established, the status of climate change within Government needs to be uprated, not just in BEIS but across all Departments, in terms of what we know we need to do.
I hope that the Minister will be in concord with what has been set out in the debate, and that she will take from it the message that more effort is needed, that the urgency is real, and that we look forward to the Government grasping the issue with the seriousness that it deserves. I am sure that she will agree that it deserves to be taken seriously and that action is essential. I am sure that she will set out exactly what that action will be.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on securing today’s important debate, and I wish him a happy birthday. I am pleased to respond to today’s debate, and I note his creditable concerns regarding climate change and extreme weather. I assure him and other hon. Members that the Government take those issues seriously. A Government’s first duty must be to guarantee the safety of their citizens. That is why the Government are taking steps to limit the causes of climate change and to prepare for the impacts of extreme weather.
The science is clear: our world is warming, and will warm further as emissions of greenhouse gases continue. Climate change is one of the greatest global challenges of our time, but it is a large-scale and long-term problem that it is often hard to grasp. Today’s debate touches on important points. It is often through local and immediate extremes of weather that we notice what is happening—record temperatures, droughts or downpours, or fewer, milder cold snaps. As the hon. Gentleman highlighted, around the world we have seen striking examples of extremes in recent months: the drought in Cape Town, wildfires in Alaska, and record-breaking rain over Texas from Hurricane Harvey to name just three.
In the UK we are not immune. As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) identified, fresh in our minds is this year’s summer, which led to discomfort for many elderly and vulnerable people, and problems for farmers growing food. Provisional statistics from the Met Office showed it to be the joint hottest on record, together with 1976, 2003 and 2006, and one of the top 15 driest. Also, the winter floods of December 2015 and January 2016 involved the most intense rainfall at a national scale on record. Storm Desmond killed three people, contributed to severe flooding of more than 5,000 homes and businesses, and left more than 60,000 people without power in the north of England.
The risk in talking about extremes is that we rely on anecdotes—memorable events that might not really be part of a trend. Of course, not all extreme weather is directly because of climate change. That is why it is important to have recent, careful analysis by the Met Office, which shows that many extremes in the UK are indeed changing compared with the period 1961 to 1990. In the last 10 years we have seen higher maximum temperatures, longer warmer spells, lower minimum temperatures, and more rainfall on the wettest days. Those changes are consistent with a warming world.
The Met Office report was funded by the Government as part of our ongoing support for world-leading science. Thanks to cutting-edge research by scientists around the UK, the link between global warming and extremes is becoming clearer, even at the level of individual events. In Texas last year, the record rainfall during Hurricane Harvey led to 80 deaths and 100,000 flooded homes; researchers at Oxford University have found that human influence on the climate tripled the chance of that rainfall. To give an example closer to home, the scorching Europe-wide summer of 2003, which led to 70,000 deaths, was made twice as likely by climate change, according to studies by the Met Office. What is more, such summers are projected to become the norm by the 2040s.
The Government have a duty to protect our citizens, which means ensuring that the UK is resilient to damaging weather. We are therefore investing £2.6 billion between 2015 and 2021 in England in 1,500 new flood defence schemes to better protect 300,000 homes. When extreme weather is on the way, the Met Office makes weather warnings available to the public. Through the national risk register, we ensure co-ordinated emergency responses to possible major incidents, including flooding, storms, low temperatures, heavy snow, heatwaves and drought. We are also working to help other countries to deal with extreme weather. We have endorsed the UN’s Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction, which sets out targets and actions to reduce existing risks and prevent new ones, including risks from climate change.
We not only have measures in place to deal with today’s risks of flooding, drought, storms and heatwaves, but are actively planning for the changing risks that the future climate will bring. Last year, colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published the second national climate change risk assessment, and this July they produced the second national adaptation programme to address the key risks that they identified. Later this month, with the Met Office, DEFRA will publish UKCP18, a new set of UK climate projections that will be a key tool to help Government, businesses and the public to make climate resilience decisions.
It is vital that we maintain our resilience to present and future weather, but that is not enough. Unless we limit climate change, we will face ever-increasing risks, some of which we cannot simply adapt to, as last month’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on global warming of 1.5° C made clear. My Department is therefore leading steps to cut the UK’s emissions of greenhouse gases while growing the economy. We are also encouraging other countries to do the same.
The UK was a vital player in securing the 2015 Paris agreement, which has been a game changer in bringing pledges of action from nearly all countries and collectively raising ambition. At this year’s UN General Assembly, the Prime Minister spoke about the importance of global co-operation and the value of such multilateral agreements.
We are among the world’s leading providers of international climate finance, having committed at least £5.8 billion between 2016 and 2020. That finance, which is mobilising further public and private finance globally, is helping developing countries to deal with the impacts of climate change by taking action as well as reducing emissions.
The UK is a world leader in reducing emissions. We were the first country to introduce a long-term, legally binding emission reduction target through the Climate Change Act 2008. Since 1990, we have cut emissions by more than 40% while growing the economy by more than two thirds—the best performance per person of any advanced nation.
Just last month, we held the first ever Green GB Week, with more than 100 events nationwide that demonstrated the strength of the UK’s commitment to a cleaner world: we hosted the European launch of the 1.5° report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, dozens of companies made pledges, the London Eye was lit green and it was even mentioned on “EastEnders”.
Our ambitious clean growth strategy sets out our plan until 2032 for decarbonising the UK economy, on the path to our target emissions reduction of at least 80% by 2050. However, we are not resting there. In the light of the IPCC’s report, we have joined with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to ask the independent Committee on Climate Change for advice on the UK’s long-term emissions target, and on whether we should move to a goal of net zero emissions. We will consider that advice carefully when it is complete in March next year. Going low carbon is not only good for the environment; we also see it as good for business, which is why we have put clean growth at the heart of our modern industrial strategy.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park for his speech. He is a passionate campaigner on the subject and has a long track record of raising these issues in Parliament. On international work, I should point out that we invested £3.87 billion between 2011 and 2016 in our multi-agency international climate finance programme and, as I have outlined, we have committed a further £5.6 billion. We spent £1.4 billion on adaptation projects between 2013 and 2016 and have helped 47 million people to cope with the effects of climate change since 2011. That has helped to deal with extreme weather, which is a priority for developing countries. The Government’s climate finance aims for a balance between adapting to climate change and limiting emissions. The Department for International Development leads several projects and delivery programmes to improve overall resilience to extreme weather.
On deforestation and overseas development, we support countries in taking steps to protect natural forests and make economies more sustainable. With Germany and Norway, we pledged £5 billion between 2015 and 2020 to incentivise ambitious behaviour such as partnerships for forest programmes, which catalyse forest-friendly businesses, creating employment in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park raised the issue of deforestation in Brazil. The UK and Brazil have a close dialogue on issues of mutual interest and concern globally and bilaterally. Brazil receives the third largest UK climate finance contribution in Latin America, the majority of which goes to forests and land use projects.
Hon. Members mentioned our influence and our work with global partners. The Government played a key role in securing the agreement of 195 countries to the landmark 2015 Paris agreement, and we remain fully committed to its implementation. We disagree with the US decision to exit that agreement.
Time is short, but let me touch on just a few other points raised by hon. Members. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park for highlighting the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) as Minister for climate change. Sadly, she cannot be present to respond to the debate, but I know that she would have enjoyed the challenge. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for raising a wide range of topics relating to the impact on all aspects of our lives. I reassure him that climate change is part of the curriculum for young people.
I thank the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) for raising an issue relating to the trains in his constituency, which I understand must be particularly stressful for him as a constituency MP. I can tell him that the Department for Transport is working to build improvement and plan resilience, but I encourage him to engage directly with the DFT.
Finally, to touch on a point made by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), the Government take this issue very seriously. That is why we have a Minister for climate change who attends Cabinet meetings and is heard at the highest level. Unfortunately, that is why she is not able to be present to respond to the debate.
I thank all hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions to the debate. The Government will continue to work to deliver a clean, resilient and prosperous society for all our constituents. I believe that everyone in this Chamber would agree with that.
Mr Jones, you have less than a minute.
I thank the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), and the Minister for taking part in the debate.
The Minister’s response was a defence. It set out what the Government are doing but failed to admit the IPCC report’s findings: that we are not doing enough and not acting quickly enough. That admission needs to be made, on the basis of that evidence about us and other countries around the world. As my hon. Friend the shadow Minister said, we must ensure that the matter continues to be raised in the House of Commons and throughout the country. I hope that our debate this morning will raise the prominence of this vital issue and allow it to be debated on the Floor of the House in a more routine fashion in the years ahead.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered extreme weather events related to climate change.