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Climate Change

Volume 712: debated on Thursday 2 July 2009


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to warnings by scientists of an acceleration in the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. [HL4166]

The Government recognise that if we do not take action now to stop climate change getting worse, the ice sheets will continue to melt, the impacts on future generations will be irreversible and the costs of taking action unaffordable. That is why the UK is pushing for an ambitious global climate change deal in Copenhagen later this year that will meet our objective of keeping global temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius. This will mean nothing less than a 50 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels).

In the EU, we have already committed to a 20 per cent reduction in EU emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2020, and if other countries make ambitious commitments in December, the EU is prepared to increase this commitment to 30 per cent. This is by far the most ambitious mitigation offer on the negotiation table so far.

At a national level, future sea level rise around the UK coast due to the effects of climate change is a major concern. In November 2008, the Environment Agency, working with the Met Office Hadley Centre, published some climate change research findings as part of the Thames Estuary 2100 project (TE100). The research outlined that relative sea levels could rise between 0.2m and 0.88m by 2100. This figure allows for small land movements over that time, but does not fully account for the remote possibility of future rapid changes in ice flows in the Atlantic or in Greenland, which could lead to the upper figures being much higher.

In response, the Environment Agency commissioned the Met Office to consider this gap in ice flow science. The work investigated a most extreme scenario, known as High + +. This suggested a higher range of sea level rise of up to 1.9m. This is regarded as a remote possibility, highly uncertain and highly unlikely in this century. As we go forward, we will refine our projections in the light of what is happening in practice and as science deepens our understanding.

Defra manages the impacts of sea level rise through a range of policy approaches including supporting flood adaptation and resilience. Long-term strategies and plans, such as Thames Estuary 2100, have been prepared on the basis of current understanding and are designed to be adaptable to ensure that future challenges can be met.