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Climate Change: Extreme Weather

Volume 753: debated on Wednesday 9 April 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent assessment they have made of the effects of climate change on the frequency of extreme weather events in the United Kingdom; and what action they propose to take as a result.

My Lords, summer heat waves and heavy rainfall events are expected to become more frequent in future. The Government are taking action through the national adaptation plan to develop UK climate resilience, through the Climate Change Act 2008 and the Energy Act 2013 to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, and through international negotiations to mitigate climate change by reducing global emissions.

While I thank the Minister for those observations about resilience, does she agree that the estimate is that over the next 20 years a further 250,000 homes will be at risk and that the cost of the damage is likely to be in excess of £3 billion? Can she assure us that the Government are galvanising action without delay and with all due priority to ensure that the programme is sufficient for the resilience necessary? Furthermore, does she agree that because of the threats within the United Kingdom coupled with the threats across the world—disease, hunger, migration and acute instability—there can be no further delay in galvanising the international community into making this absolutely central to all political activity?

The noble Lord is of course right. My right honourable friend the Minister Greg Barker is currently in New York, ensuring that negotiations at an international level are very much focused on going forward for 2015 and on the sort of commitments that we want from the international community. Closer to home, the noble Lord is of course aware that we have invested over the course of this Parliament over £3 billion in trying to respond to issues such as floods. We are now protecting 20,000 more houses over the 165,000 houses that were already protected through the measures that we have taken.

My Lords, what my noble friend says about adaptation is welcome. Would she not agree that now may be the time to consider switching our colossal expenditure on attempted mitigation to adaptation to what is widely believed by many experts to be coming in the way of more extreme weather, in line with the recommendation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s working group? Would the Minister accept that our current mitigation efforts seem to be producing not a vast improvement in carbon emissions but, in fact, an increase in our carbon footprint, more burning of coal, increased fuel poverty, and the driving away of investment from this country to where power is cheaper, raising the prospect of blackouts and general environmental damage? Is it not becoming obvious that some change of direction in our climate and energy policy is overdue if we are to achieve our green goals?

My noble friend raises a range of very important issues. Of course, climate is measured in average conditions over the long term, but I agree with my noble friend that it is about both adaptation and mitigation. We cannot have one or the other; we have to have both. It is important that, going forward, we encourage not only ourselves but the international community and our partners to respond to the serious issues of increased carbon emissions.

My Lords, it is absolutely clear that the evidence is now showing that climate change is manmade and that we must act. Would the noble Baroness agree with me that, on discovering a flood in a bathroom, you would not make your priority to turn your house into a swimming pool? You would turn the tap off. That is precisely what we need to do. It is regrettable that we have some prominent Members of the Benches opposite who do not seem to accept this logic. I hope that the noble Baroness will continue her spirited and consistent defence of action on climate change.

My Lords, we have been consistent on this side of the House that we need to address mitigation and adaptation.

My Lords, the Minister has mentioned mitigation several times. So far as mitigation and the United Kingdom are concerned, is it not true that one of the most important things—and one of the most important pieces of legislation undertaken in recent years—is this Government’s Energy Act, which the Minister guided and pushed through this House? Is that not an example of how the Government have made sure that mitigation and the future problems of flooding and climate change are being tackled directly by the Government?

I am extremely grateful for my noble friend’s intervention and I agree with every word that he has said.

My Lords, is it not clear that my noble friend the Minister is completely mistaken in saying that it is not a question of mitigation or adaptation but both? There are competing claims on resources, and we have to decide which is our priority. Is it to decide single-handedly to decarbonise the world and thus, to no useful purpose, push up British energy prices, make fuel more expensive for British homes and litter the countryside with wind farms and solar panels? Is it not better instead to devote our resources to increasing our resilience to extreme weather events, whether or not the frequency of such events is marginally increased by global warming?

As always, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for his intervention. However, I am also grateful to him for allowing me to say that the UK has among the cheapest energy prices in Europe. I think my noble friends will agree that this is about measures that address the issues of today, but which also look forward to ensuring that we have a much better future.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, mentioned food in his supplementary question. In a programme some months ago on the BBC, it was stated that this country has the largest production and consumption of baked beans in the world. Can the noble Baroness say whether this affects the calculation of global warming by the Government as a result of the smelly emission resulting therefrom?

The noble Viscount’s question is so different. He raises a very important point, which is that we need to moderate our behaviour.