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Climate Projections

Volume 711: debated on Thursday 18 June 2009


My Lords, with permission, I will repeat the Statement on climate projections made by the Secretary of State for the Environment in the other place earlier today.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the publication of new projections for the UK’s future climate. A summary will be placed in the Vote Office and full details can be found on the Defra website.

The House knows that climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face. The world's climate is already changing; the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 1990, including every year between 2001 and 2006. In the UK, the 2003 heat wave led to more than 2,000 excess deaths, and yet average temperatures that year were just 2 degrees higher than normal. In 2006, the south-east experienced a severe drought. Eight million people in the region are dependent on rivers for their water supply. In 2007, we saw widespread flooding across the country, and a storm surge came within 10 centimetres of overtopping the defences at Great Yarmouth.

The projections we are publishing today—more than 4,000 maps on the website—give us a clear sense of what we might expect over the next 100 years. They represent the best science we have on how our climate is likely to change, and they are a call to action. I want to thank the scientists at the Met Office Hadley Centre and many others for bringing home to us how these changes in our climate—with a greater likelihood of heat waves, flooding, drought, and coastal erosion—will affect our society, and how important it is that we reach a deal at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen this December.

We are, of course, already taking significant steps to cut our emissions. With the Climate Change Act we became the first country in the world to set legally binding carbon budgets. Across the UK, the projections show a range of climate changes up until the end of the century based on three possible greenhouse gas emissions pathways—high, medium and low. Broadly speaking, the world's emissions are currently closest to the medium pathway, although there is a risk we could still be heading for the high one. While we cannot be absolutely sure what will happen in future and there are uncertainties as these projections are not a long-range weather forecast, they do show the probabilities of potential changes for the United Kingdom, and it is a future we must avoid. The projections, based on the medium emissions scenario, show that by the 2080s—within the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren—we could face an increase in average summer temperatures of between 2 and 6 degrees celsius in the south-east, with a central estimate of 4 degrees. They show a decrease in average summer rainfall of 22 per cent in Yorkshire and Humber and in the south-east—which is already short of water—and an increase of 16 per cent in average winter rainfall in the north-west, with increases in the amount of rain on the wettest days leading to a higher risk of flooding. They also show a rise in the sea level for London of 36 centimetres.

Temperatures would rise even more under the high emissions pathway, which could mean peak summer temperatures in London regularly reaching more than 40 degrees. These results are sobering, and we know that these changes will affect every aspect of our daily lives. The first clear message is that only by cutting emissions through a global deal in Copenhagen can we avoid some of the extreme changes that the projections describe. Even if we achieve our international target to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees, we will still have to live with some level of change. This is because it will take 30 years for past emissions to work through the system, so the next three decades of climate change are already set. By 2040, what was exceptional in the summer of 2003 will become normal. So the second message of these projections is that we must plan to adapt to changes that are now unavoidable, and this is a job for all of us.

That is why we have more than doubled spending on flood and coastal protection since 1997, and we are on course to provide better protection to around 160,000 more homes across England.

We are taking action to tackle water scarcity and improve water efficiency. For the first time all government departments are producing their own adaptation plans, which they will publish by next spring. The NHS now has a heat wave plan to protect vulnerable people from hot weather. The Department for Transport has reviewed its design guidance for roads, looking at drainage capacity and new road surfaces. With Communities and Local Government, we are already working with over 50 local authorities that have made adapting to climate change a priority in their local area agreements. All local authorities will, in future, have to consider adaptation in taking planning decisions and, from today, all major government investment will have to take into account the risks from climate change.

In the Climate Change Act, we took the power to require public bodies to adapt and to report on the steps they are taking. Today, I am launching a consultation paper proposing the first 100 organisations—including Network Rail, the National Grid, Ofwat and the Environment Agency—that will be required to tell us what they are doing. I am placing copies of this consultation in the Library of the House.

The economic case for acting now is very strong, as the Stern review made clear. By investing in flood defence, for example, we estimate that we can reduce the annual cost of flooding by 80 to 90 per cent in the years to come. There may also be some economic opportunities: for tourism and agriculture, businesses developing adaptation technologies, and jobs in new infrastructure projects. Climate change is going to transform the way we live. These projections show us both the future we need to avoid and the future we need to plan for. So as well as cutting emissions, we have to start making changes today. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place earlier. I am grateful to him for the advance copy of the text and for the opportunity of learning directly at a briefing today from Professor Bob Watson, chief Defra scientist, and from Professor Julia Slingo, head of the Met Office science team.

The picture painted by this Statement is serious and demands our attention but is not a cause for panic. We can be grateful that we have this predictive model, which will help us to take steps to moderate and adapt to climate change. Vital though carbon reduction is—and nothing in this Statement does other than to reinforce that message—it is, however, something that we shall need to act on globally, and the key will be in the Copenhagen summit. However, the particular lesson of this Statement is the action that we shall need to take nationally if we are to adapt to climate change.

It is clear that all possible predictors—high, medium or low—follow a similar trend for the next 30 years. That is because of the inertia built into the ocean system, and the past and inevitably continuing carbon concentrations in the upper atmosphere. The change to an average temperature 2 degrees above the norm is inevitable, and the minimum that we can anticipate. While that may not sound much in itself, it is very significant; it will be accompanied by wetter winters, but far drier and hotter summers. That change in seasonal rainfall patterns poses great challenges to agriculture and horticulture, particularly at a time when demands for food security and the global pressures on food supply are increasing, for we shall not be facing climate change on our own.

The key will be water, and the need to invest in the infrastructure that enables us to conserve water supplies from our wetter winters to assist us through the drier summers. Water management will become a key issue, and water companies will need to look at the models presented and plan for their investment programmes. All infrastructure, as the Statement says, will need to recognise the impact of those detailed predictive maps. Likewise, flood prevention moves higher up the league table of priorities. The threat is not just of sea level rise; noble Lords will know of my interests as a fenman in that. Paradoxically, in some ways, the hazards there are fairly easy to engineer out. No, for in line with the dynamic of climate change, the predictions now show a greater risk of extreme weather events.

Science points to more variations and more extreme weather. Those who will be most at risk, whether from tidal surges or heat waves, will be those who live or work in areas loosely described as flood plains, and who are vulnerable to flash flooding. I emphasise that those areas are not necessarily the same as low-lying areas. Some may easily be thought to be unlikely to face flooding. The catastrophic flooding of two years ago could become a regular occurrence if we do not have the necessary investment in flood-protection schemes and, in particular, the proper maintenance of water courses, sewers and drains. What progress are the Government making on implementing the recommendations of the Pitt report?

The work of the scientists at the Met Office Hadley Centre, whose excellence we should acknowledge, has given us an insight of which we will all need to take notice. It must be our hope that it will continue this work, monitoring outturns and seeking corroboration. Can the Minister confirm that this work will continue?

Notwithstanding what may be achieved in Copenhagen to reduce global carbon emissions, we have to accept that, even on the lowest predictions, we will have to come to terms with the effects of climate change here. Can the Minister confirm that Defra is the lead department in ensuring that the Government sustain the activities of other departments, agencies and contractors in following through climate change policy? How successful has Defra been in this task?

Cutting emissions and energy efficiency are only part of the story. Adapting to this new world may be a challenge, but the Government and all of us will be unable to ignore it. This Statement mentions the consultation process. I hope that the Minister can convince me that this will be about action and not aspiration.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for making the Statement. He made it in a suitably depressing tone—unlike the way he normally presents things. It is a depressing story. The Statement is appropriate coming now, given that earlier this week the Obama Administration in America released a report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, which told a similar story but, refreshingly in terms of the American Administration, recognising the challenges globally and nationally from climate change. That had not been done previously. The report highlighted the problems of rising sea levels, heavy downpours increasing, retreating glaciers and thawing permafrost. It was a very similar list of trials and tribulations to that which we see today in the UK report on climate projections.

It is interesting that the report points out that there has been a 1 degree centigrade increase in temperatures since the 1970s. Again, there is the problem of more heavy downpours. There has been a 4 per cent increase since 2000, and there will be an increase in temperatures of 4 degrees by 2080. There will be changes in rainfall patterns—less in the summer and more in the winter.

I regret, perhaps, that the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, is not here to hear this evidence and argue against something which I note, particularly in this report, has been peer-reviewed by 12 independent scientists and ties in with other evidence from around the world. It would have been interesting to hear his take on this area. What is absolutely true and comes through in this report is that climate change is happening, that we have the problem of lags of at least 30 years, that the various issues we predicted are already happening, and that they will get worse over time.

However, the key thing about climate change is not predicting it. One of the most telling sentences of the Statement was:

“We are, of course, already taking significant steps to cut our emissions. With the Climate Change Act we became the first country in the world to set legally binding carbon”,

targets. The action is still all around setting targets, whereas the action needs to be around adaptation, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, outlined, and mitigation. We are nowhere near where we need to be by our national, let alone international, action.

In July, the White Paper from the Climate Change Act will come forward from the Government, which will set out their full policies on these issues. We look forward to that, but I remind the Minister that since 1997 carbon emissions in this country have declined hardly at all—by only 1 or 2 per cent. There has really been a very flat line in terms of emissions decreasing.

I would like to hear from the Minister whether we will therefore state that we will stop the programme of coal-fired stations starting again. Will there be a real programme of energy saving, particularly in the Government’s aspirations for existing housing stock? Are we going to change that? What will we do to enable local government to implement adaptation through proper budget allocations? I do not particularly see those here. What will we do about transport systems where carbon emissions are still going up? Does the scenario painted by this report mean that, at last, we will get a reversal of the decision about Heathrow’s third runway?

Strangely enough, I was first aware of this report when I looked at the press this morning. It said that Cornwall and Devon will have the good life, with the best wine regions, higher property prices, better summers and milder winters. I live in Cornwall; that is great. Maybe we will have those, but what will really happen is global migration, decreasing biodiversity and an increase in disease. All these will come to the UK. The Government have rightly recognised that and published this report. Now we need the action to make sure that we adapt and mitigate.

My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords. If I look doleful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, it is because I am. This is a very serious Statement about the inevitability of some climate change and the danger—if we do not take action—of something far more drastic. I have six grandchildren. I owe it to them, as I do to the rest of the nation, to try to create a better future than the one that unrestrained climate change will produce for them. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. It is not a time for panic but for considered action and preparation for making such action effective.

I also accept that, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, actions are more important than words. Actions are more important than targets, but without words and targets in legislation, there will be no basis on which action can be mounted. Therefore, the noble Lord must recognise that we are the first country in the world to introduce legislation that establishes this framework. He is absolutely right that we should now see what that action will be. I give him the obvious reassurance that, of course, we intend to act on these matters as rapidly as we can. That includes such international action as taking our case to, and winning the support of, the nations in Copenhagen in December. We all recognise that there is no national solution to these issues; they require action on all our parts.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, rightly concentrated on water. He is right that we need to conserve water. The issue is one of water management. The noble Lord also mentioned that we could see a period of extreme weather events. He knows that we will shortly introduce legislation on flood prevention. I assure him that we take on board his points about the Pitt review. It was published on 17 December last year. The Government’s response was to commit to reporting further on implementation approximately every six months, beginning this month. We will honour that commitment and will produce our responses to the Pitt report by the end of the month. We are on target to produce the report, as we said we would. I am sure that the noble Lord will await that development, much as I will enjoy presenting the issues to the House at that time.

On water management, as was indicated in the Statement, we clearly have to ensure that water companies adopt a far more strategic approach, particularly to water conservation. It means heavy investment. We will all need to be more efficient in water demand and controlling leakage. When there have been water shortages in the past, we have all been aware of the very grim figures attributed to leakage as opposed to usage. Those issues, which relate overwhelmingly to the supply of water, need to be addressed and will require significant investment.

We have set a target to reduce our water usage. In London, 150 litres a day are consumed by the average citizen, whereas in Berlin it is only 130 litres. We intend to move from 150 to 130 litres as soon as we can. We have established the Walker review to look at water meters and household charging. The vast majority of businesses are already metered but that is not the case with households, although there has been some progress on that matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, emphasised the broader picture and the need for action, and I hope that I shall be able to show him clear action in response to our climate change situation. I know that he regards our current response as words in legislation and not action, but he will know that we intend to follow up those words.

The noble Lord mentioned a couple of specific points. Housing is an area in which people’s ability to adapt is notoriously slow, and that is certainly the case with new build. However, he is right that we need to address ourselves to energy savings in the housing stock. That is important, as it is in regard to transport. I think that the noble Lord will take some encouragement from the fact that certain forms of transport, particularly rail, have shown a significant increase in energy savings in recent years. That is a reflection of the current structure of, and investment in, the rail industry, but that is not enough.

The noble Lord will know from the Statement that we are looking at new measures for the transport system. We have to deal with the problem of road surfaces, which at present create, rather than absorb, heat. We also have to tackle the need for effective drainage and water control on our road surfaces. The French do that already because they have been dealing with a different climate in the south of France—the one that we anticipate will inevitably be ours in two or three decades’ time. Therefore, we have time to adapt, as we need to do, and those are areas in which we can learn from what others are already doing.

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on what is a very useful, although it is hard to say “welcome”, report. I want to touch on something that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. There is a need for a broader, more holistic take on all this. I have no doubt in my mind that the initial impact on the UK will come from climate change migrants and refugees. That will be the first time that this issue comes home in a very serious way. It would be good to know what the Government’s policies are in that respect and whether any international planning is taking place on what to do when the situation explodes, either in Bangladesh or in sub-Saharan Africa, and we suddenly see possibly vast numbers of people moving through southern Spain and up through Europe. What will our response be?

An excellent report was recently published by UCL entitled Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change. Supported by the WHO, it puts forward the belief that climate change will represent far and away the greatest threat to health in the 21st century. That, again, badly needs to be taken into account.

Finally, I reread, and commend to the House, the speeches made by Sir Winston Churchill in the House of Commons from 1935 to 1937 on the subject of rearmament. I suggest that we very much take note of what he said and the climate in which he tried to make his warnings. Opposition to those warnings tended to be made on economic and political grounds. It was not that anyone doubted that there was a problem; it was simply that it was a very inconvenient problem. I am concerned about the possibility that climate change will become a politically inconvenient problem and will therefore not receive the attention that, without doubt, it badly deserves.

My Lords, on the latter point, it is the duty of all of us to build up the necessary degree of public opinion to change the definition from politically inconvenient to politically necessary. That is what Statements like this set out to do in terms of engendering a debate in which, I have not the slightest doubt, there will be a great deal of consensual activity, as evidenced by the two Front-Bench responses today. We all recognise that this is beyond one nation to solve, and beyond one Government in one nation to solve. We are talking about decades for there to be successful action. The nation, therefore, has to be alerted to these issues and convinced of the necessity for what my noble friend has identified as inconvenient action. A great deal of political action is inconvenient at the time at which it is carried out; that is the nature of political leadership.

On the international measures, my noble friend identified the most difficult one. When climate change, as it is already doing, affects, in very adverse circumstances, certain sections of the world so as to render them effectively uninhabitable, how does the world react? That is a challenging question. As a starter for one, let me say that all of us in the other place had Bangladeshi constituents. Bangladesh has been subjected to something pretty close to climate change of this kind for several decades. The floods there are such that thousands of people lose their lives and the impact on the British community of Bangladeshis is huge. They are often low earners and they make a huge contribution back home. How will the international community react? That will certainly be a crucial issue on the agenda for the United Nations and world organisations. Migration will have to be managed, but some migration is bound to occur when places become uninhabitable.

My Lords, I will start with an institutional question. For some months now, we have had a Department of Energy and Climate Change. Yet today the Statement, which is entirely about climate change, is being made by the noble Lord’s department—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Could he just say a word about how the responsibility for this is divided between the two departments?

More specifically, how far is this latest report leading to a change in the pace at which we are approaching these problems? I draw the distinction here between prevention and adaptation. The point has been made by the Minister and others that prevention takes much longer because of the time lag and because of the evidence from some of the biggest emitters—particularly China and India—that they are not yet signed up to the measures that will be necessary to achieve prevention. In the medium term, surely we are going to have to principally concentrate on adaptation. I am not suggesting for a moment that we should abandon the longer-term policies of prevention.

I want to mention two examples. First, I heard a talk upstairs in one of the all-party groups from Thames Water. We asked when we are going to have to have the second, lower barrier across the Thames. The answer was, “We are not going to have to have that for 100 years”. Does this report change that?

Secondly—here I am relying on what I read in the press this morning, and I am not sure whether it was in the Statement—one of the things picked out by the press was that this was going to have an effect on the siting of nuclear power stations. A large number of the sites are beside various parts of the coast, which is right, both for keeping them away from centres of population and also for the use of cooling water. Is this going to change? Is there going to be a different planning approach to the siting of nuclear power stations? If so, I suggest to the noble Lord that that needs to be made abundantly clear very soon. As the noble Lord’s colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, constantly reminds this House, a huge programme is going ahead on that, which is needed urgently. One needs to know whether people are going to have to change the basis on which they are devising their plans for the new nuclear renaissance. Those are some important questions on which there needs to be much greater clarity.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. The report is given by my department because it is not a climate change report; it is a meteorological report about temperature change. It is not a weather forecast, but it is a projection of temperature change, and we are responsible for that as the department for the environment. The noble Lord will say that a great deal of the action is bound to be carried out by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. He will be right, because that department is responsible for the Climate Change Committee, which is a monitor and enactor of a great deal of the climate change legislation that we need to enact and whose powers we will use to reach the objectives that the noble Lord suggested.

The noble Lord will have already adjusted to the fact that this is joined-up government. I recognise the emphasis that he puts on adaptation. That is the earlier and quicker strategy, and we have indicated that we will expect all government departments, local authorities—some of which are already doing this—and public institutions to develop plans to show how they are carrying out adaptation against targets related to the phenomenon that the meteorologists have forecast.

On prevention, of course the noble Lord is right that, internationally, carbon production is still on a prolific level and increasing year on year because of the technologies used. He also knows how distant we still are from economic clean coal carbon storage. He probably knows that better than anyone in the House. That is a great limiting factor for China and India, but also for western economies.

On the Thames Barrier, if the worst scenario occurs, according to our figures, it will be breached and we will need another one within 100 years. If we are successful in hitting the targets that we expect and intend to hit for moderating temperature change, and therefore climate change, the present Thames Barrier will be sufficient and effective for 100 years at least.

The noble Lord will know that the siting of nuclear power stations relates to the identification of erosion factors. He knows that there are parts of East Anglia where we could not dream of putting a power station in the immediate future, but he also knows where we are entirely secure in the coastal areas. With nuclear power, above all things, the Government are bound to go for the coastal areas, for the reasons that he suggested. By the same token, they must be secure. That will need to be identified.

My Lords, when we were discussing this a few years ago and some of us were talking about adaptation, we were denounced as proposing undesirable diversions from the real task. I am glad that this is now understood. We are told that this is not a weather forecast; it is certainly a climate forecast. I am reminded of the old standard A-level geography question: “Britain possesses weather not climate: discuss”. Climate is now coming home to roost.

I want to ask the Minister a specific question about home insulation and improving home energy. He will remember, as I do, 40 or so years ago when vast numbers of terraced houses in areas such as the north of England and south Wales had no inside bathrooms or inside lavatories, and were pouring vast amounts of filth out of their chimneys from open coal fires. Those problems were solved by massive efforts from Government in partnership, as people would now say, with the owners of those houses. It was a combination of carrot and stick to get inside bathrooms and lavatories installed and to convert to smokeless fuels. Are not present efforts to convert similar housing—to give them much greater energy efficiency and to reduce substantially the 20 per cent of our CO2 emissions which go on home heating and water heating in homes—feeble in relation to what is needed? Schemes such as Warm Front are just tackling the problem at the edges. A much greater effort is required across the board to concentrate on those people who are most in fuel poverty, on the basis of the old installation of inside bathrooms and lavatories and the smokeless zones.

My Lords, the adaptation of British housing which the noble Lord identified in the past took place over a very long timescale indeed. He is gesturing to me that it was done in 10 years; I dispute that, and it is certainly not the kind of thing that one does, if I can keep the metaphor going, at the flick of a switch. He must recognise that we want to avoid the waste of energy in homes because that is a significant part of the equation. It is important that we do something both in regard to home insulation and the nature of the electricity that is supplied to homes. He knows that it is difficult in certain areas to improve the supply of energy to homes. We all know how expensive solar power and solar panels are for householders and what a massive subsidy would be required for each individual household if the Government took the rap for that; it is therefore difficult to justify. But he is right that in response to all these issues we will have to concentrate on all aspects of energy usage. Home usage is a very important dimension of that.

My Lords, I declare an intellectual interest as someone who was present at the full-day seminar on climate change of the then Prime Minister—now the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher—in 1989, 20 years ago.

The Statement refers to,

“three possible greenhouse gas emissions pathways—high, medium and low. Broadly speaking the world’s emissions are currently closest to the medium pathway, although there is a risk we could still be heading for the high one”.

The Statement alludes to different effects on the different parts of the United Kingdom but curiously does not identify the UK’s current pathway overall. What is it?

Given the 40 small island states in our world at greatest danger of flooding, may I idiosyncratically suggest that each of our British counties might voluntarily adopt one or other of them and make an economic contribution to their defences as a way of educating ourselves in a manner which would appeal to the imagination of our traditional British ethos.

My Lords, the noble Lord’s last suggestion was extremely interesting, and we should look at it. Something similar to it in the past has enlivened the experience of children in education and caused them to understand other parts of the world with difficulties. He is saying that this is a graphic way in which we might get the adult population more effectively linked in to problems and how they can be resolved.

On the three paths, although he is not here to answer questions, I am a little tempted to ask the noble Lord just what effective action was taken in the eight years after that analysis was carried out at that famous conference in 1989. I am glad of his support for government action at all times now that we are addressing ourselves to the issue.

Where are we on this? Britain continues to consume energy at levels similar to those of that period, but the big change is surely the very rapid growth of the far-eastern economies, the Chinese economy being the outstanding one. In 1989, it had not really reached the pitch that it has reached over the past decade or so. Once one starts to look at the growth rates of 12 per cent or more a year for an economy, by definition the energy consumed by that economy and the emissions contributed by that consumption of energy—particularly by the worst of all carbon producers, which on the whole China and India have tended to be—are the features that make the world position much more difficult, threatening and challenging in every way than was probably the case in the halcyon days of the noble Lord way back in 1989.

My Lords, the Statement repeated by my noble friend said that all the major government departments will take climate change into account in their investments, but the point of the report is that adaptation is a local matter. Government departments each have a scientist who can presumably take care of this, but is my noble friend satisfied that there is enough local knowledge, and that there are enough scientists at a local level who will take adaptation into account at a local level?

My Lords, that is a very good point. My instinctive answer is that there are never enough scientists for the challenges that face an advanced economy such as ours at present. However, 50 local authorities have already signed up to recognition of the necessity for adaptation and are prepared to follow strategies that meet expectations and targets in those terms. Is that enough? No, because it is only a fraction of the total of local authorities. Is science key to this? Probably not. Local knowledge is certainly important, as is the ability to tap into the right strategies to be pursued. They will have to be infused with local perspectives on what is necessary, but I would have thought that we could communicate the science effectively and usefully to local authorities so that they know which routes to go down.