Motion to Take Note
“Climate change isn’t just hurting the planet—it’s a public health emergency”.
That is the conclusion of Christiana Figueres, chair of the Lancet Countdown, a collaborative research project which published a report in October that has shone a light on the damaging impacts that climate change is having on our health.
In 2009, the UCL-Lancet Commission published its first report on the relationship between climate change and health. It concluded, simply, that climate change represents the biggest threat to global health in the 21st century. Since that publication, the Lancet has continued to work on this topic, and instead of describing climate change as a threat, the most recent report concluded, optimistically, that climate change represents the biggest opportunity for global health in the 21st century. This change of tone reflects a growing recognition that action on climate change can bring about dividends for public health, a notion which empowers the health and climate community to capture these co-benefits. More recently, the Lancet has pioneered the concept of planetary health. The foundation of this concept is the growing body of evidence that the health of humanity is intrinsically linked to the health of the environment. But by its actions, humanity now threatens to destabilise the earth’s key life-support systems, with significant implications for the political systems and economies that run the nations of the world.
This year’s Lancet Countdown is the latest report in this field from a cross-sectoral partnership of universities and organisations from across the world. It is an accountability mechanism, using 40 indicators to track progress annually on climate action and health, and to catalyse political and scientific discussion about its importance. Today’s debate is proof that it has already succeeded in the second of those aims. The Lancet has committed to producing this annual state of the union report in order to try to sustain, in the interests of global health and stability, the momentum on climate change that was achieved with the negotiation of the Paris Agreement.
The key conclusion from the report is that climate change is damaging health worldwide. The multiple threats to human health of climate change are unequivocal, interacting and potentially irreversible: from direct impacts such as heat waves and extreme weather events such as storms, forest fires, floods or drought, to indirect effects on ecosystems, such as agricultural losses and changing patterns of disease, and effects on economies and social structures, such as migration and conflict. These effects disproportionately impact the most vulnerable populations, but every community will be affected. The World Health Organization agrees that climate change negatively affects the basics of life: safe drinking water and access to food and shelter. Here in the UK, the latest climate change risk assessment under the Climate Change Act 2008 includes heat waves, flooding and drought as aspects that risk UK public health.
According to Countdown, the critical issue at hand globally has been the delay in our response to climate change, which over the past two decades has jeopardised human life and livelihoods. However, the good news is that the past five years have seen an accelerated response, and in 2017, momentum is building across a number of sectors. The direction of travel is set, with clear and unprecedented opportunities for public health. That is why the tone of the latest report is more optimistic than before.
I am glad to note that here in the UK the Climate Change Act 2008 is legally binding whether we are in or out of the EU, and we will also continue to be a signatory to the Paris Agreement although we will have to submit our own submission separately from the rest of the EU. But even if all the signatories to the Paris Agreement achieve their commitments, it is estimated that there will still be an increase in mean global surface temperature of 2.7 degrees by 2100, resulting in significant environmental change, so the Paris targets are not enough. However, if the targets are not achieved, and the attitude of the current US Administration makes it likely that they will not, over 4 degrees is possible, with profound damage to the planet and human health.
So let us look in more detail at the impact of climate change on health. Annual weather-related disasters increased by 46% between 2000 and 2013, and scientists attribute this increase to climate change. These disasters have a monumental effect on the health of the affected communities. Droughts and flooding result in starvation and the mass movement of people, all of which are disastrous for health. Here in the UK, 1.8 million people are living in areas susceptible to flooding or coastal erosion. Although relatively few people die from drowning during UK floods, the psychological trauma and effects on mental health of having your home or business flooded are considerable. A UK study found that flood victims were more than six times more at risk of depression and anxiety and seven times more at risk of PTSD than the general population. So what are the Government doing to reduce the risk of flooding and protect vulnerable areas, and how are the planning regulations being used to discourage new building in areas susceptible to flooding?
Massive storms destroy people’s homes, and most of this damage worldwide is not insured. Again, these storms result in the displacement of people and major health issues, such as cholera, where populations are living close together in poor-quality temporary shelter. Accelerated efforts towards poverty reduction and sustainable development have helped to minimise harm to date. However, the Countdown report’s authors believe that limits to adaptive capacity will soon be reached, so we must address the root cause of these disasters, which is climate change itself, and I shall come to that in a minute. In the meantime, what are the UK Government doing to help populations that are displaced by such disastrous weather events?
Secondly, global warming has a direct effect on the livelihoods of vulnerable people exposed to heat-wave events. From 2000 to 2016, the global average temperature where people are actually living has risen by approximately 0.9 degrees Celsius, more than twice the global mean land temperature increase. Since 2000 the number of those vulnerable people exposed to heat-wave events has increased by around 125 million. This means more people dying from overheating and more people working on the land whose productivity is impacted. The report calculates that global physical labour capacity in populations exposed to severe temperature rises decreased by around 5.3% from 2000 to 2016. This reduces their income and has an effect on local and global food security. Of course, extreme cold weather also usually results in increased deaths, especially of older people through hypothermia, while the increase in the number of UK deaths due to overheating is projected to rise by a massive 250% by the 2050s, partly due to our ageing population, unless action is taken. Both these effects put major stress on the resources of our NHS.
Then there is the effect of global warming on communicable diseases. The geographical scope of some of the vectors of communicable diseases has increased considerably, and this is very worrying for us in the UK. We are already seeing Culex modestus, a vector for the West Nile virus, being found in south-east England. Higher temperatures in future will also increase the suitability of the UK’s climate for other invasive mosquito species. Plant diseases are already reaching us, with major effects on the countryside. For example, in the last few years many of our large and important trees have suffered from diseases that we did not see decades ago, and this has been linked to climate change as well as the increase in the cross-border sales of trees.
So are we doing enough to adapt to the effects of climate change? The report concludes that we are not. However, there are great opportunities. Mitigating climate change benefits health in many ways, but there are some areas where the two are particularly closely linked—for example, air pollution, which is a global health crisis. Seventy-one per cent of the almost 3,000 cities in the World Health Organization’s database do not satisfy WHO annual fine particulate matter exposure recommendations. That includes London and 43 other British cities. This poor air quality results in 40,000 premature deaths each year in the UK—and not just of those who suffer from lung problems.
The UK Government have identified poor air quality as the largest environmental risk to public health, being linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity and changes linked to dementia. In the case of fine particulates, we also know that they particularly affect young children, including the brain development of infants.
It is the heating, transport, industry and energy sectors which are the source of man-made air pollution, producing most of the particulates, as well as carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming, so we need clean transport and clean energy production, but we have an economic system in which the full costs of climate change are not paid for by those responsible for the problem. Will the Government look at the real cost of the use of fossil fuels and consider carbon pricing as a means of getting the balance right? Will they take positive action to reduce the number of diesel vehicles on our roads? What action are they taking to encourage and enable people to insulate their homes properly?
Progress on coal phase-out has tangible benefits for air quality globally, and it is good to see that in 2016-17, the amount of additional coal capacity planned for construction halved. In addition, traffic emissions make a major contribution to the quality of the air we breathe, especially in cities. Sustainable travel uptake, such as walking and cycling, can mitigate climate change while at the same time encouraging healthier lifestyles and improving air quality.
In these ways, mitigation tackles climate change and reduces the harm to health from air pollution. When will the Government spend on sustainable travel reach £10 per head annually, as they have committed to do, and why are they planning to reduce the “active travel” investment from £287 million per year now to £147 million per year by 2020? As physical inactivity and obesity cost the NHS more than £1 billion a year, this seems a very unwise reduction.
I also draw the Minister’s attention to the need for a comprehensive carbon capture and storage strategy, as recommended in the report of the advisory group on CCS, ably led by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh. Clean energy production is essential, but as we grow our ability to produce electricity by sustainable means, we expect to have to depend on fossil fuels for many years. In the light of that, it was very disappointing that the Government cancelled the carbon capture and storage competition. The noble Lord’s report is unequivocal that CCS is an essential component in delivering the lowest-cost decarbonisation across the whole economy, and there is no justification for delay in getting a national strategy up and running. His six recommendations provide a blueprint for how this needs to be done, yet the Government have not responded to the report. I hope that the noble Baroness can tell us why that is and when a government response will be provided.
Food and agriculture is also a sizeable contributor to climate change. The average dietary CO2 emissions per person in the UK are 5.6 kilograms per day, but if we ate according to the WHO’s nutritional guidelines, they would fall by 17%. The dietary changes would also save almost 7 million life years over a 30-year period, mainly due to a reduction in coronary heart disease equivalent to an average increase in life expectancy of just over six months. Here is another opportunity to improve health and address climate change by focusing on the links between the two.
What are the Government doing to promote healthy eating in line with the WHO nutritional guidelines, so that the health of the population can benefit while also reducing greenhouse gases? Are they putting into practice lessons learned from the success of the campaigns to reduce smoking and drink-driving and applying them to healthy eating? There is some good news from right inside the NHS itself. The NHS Sustainable Development Unit has had considerable success in reducing the health sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.
If noble Lords agree that our environment has a major effect on public health, they have to be worried about the life sciences part of the industrial strategy. In his evidence to your Lordships’ Science and Technology Committee, Sir Paul Nurse recently said that the strategy should really be called the health science strategy, because it completely leaves out the environmental and other life sciences, in which the UK has considerable strength. Do the Government plan to publish a separate strategy for life sciences that are not directly linked to health? The reason I ask is that environmental sciences are very much connected with health and there is a danger that they will be ignored. Unlike many other departments, however, the Department of Health has a very large research budget, which should be used in this area. Sir Paul also observed that a great deal of money is being spent on genome sequencing, but that there has been very little work on how the environment affects the expression of the genome on the health of our people.
In conclusion, I very much welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, to your Lordships’ House and look forward to his maiden speech; I am very honoured that he has chosen to use this debate for it. I also pay tribute to all the scientists and publishers who worked on the Lancet Countdown report, which has inspired this debate. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for securing today’s debate on the important issue of the global effects of climate change on health. I refer to my registered interest as chair of a health and well-being board.
In addition to health, people’s quality of life and well-being are now seen as an important measure of national progress alongside traditional economic measures, such as GDP. Quality of life and well-being are affected by a wide range of factors, have economic, social and psychological elements, and are linked closely to community cohesion and connectedness. Local neighbourhood factors are an important determinant of health and quality of life, too, particularly around whether people feel safe and secure in their surroundings and can take a positive stance on their well-being.
In the future we will possibly see extreme weather conditions. We all remember when many areas of the UK experienced flooding in 2007 and 2013-14, which had a devastating impact on homes, businesses and essential services in England. We witnessed the effects of the physical damage to people’s property and the disruption to transport, business and people’s work, which carried huge and real economic costs.
Flooding brings with it stress and anxiety for residents, with homes and treasured possessions ruined. I personally witnessed the huge toll that this placed on families and residents in my area; it was, in many cases, a life-changing experience. The effects on people’s health and welfare can be significant, with huge social and welfare problems that continue over long periods—well beyond the flooding. According to research, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has already mentioned, 1.8 million people in the UK currently live in areas with a change in river surface water or coastal flooding in more than one in every 75 years.
Higher summer temperatures are also likely to have a range of impacts on the UK population. Of course, some of these could be beneficial but, as specific thresholds are exceeded, the adverse effects of hot weather will increasingly be felt, unfortunately. Heat-related deaths are therefore likely to increase in the future. All types of buildings are at risk of overheating, including homes, hospitals, care homes, offices, schools and prisons. Around 20% of homes in England are thought to overheat, even in the current climate.
Warmer weather can bring about a positive effect: increased outdoor activities become more attractive and tourism could increase, with families visiting different parts of the countryside. There are also other aspects of physical activity, such as walking your way to health, joining groups, which can help to relieve loneliness for many people, and other outdoor pursuits such as cycling, which benefit health and well-being. It is about just being there and enjoying the countryside for what it is.
On the other side of the equation, cold temperatures bring with them a significant public health problem, with between 35,000 to about 50,000 cold-related deaths per year across the UK. Cold will remain an important climate risk, even with milder average winter temperatures, due to the poor thermal performance of the UK housing stock and the ageing population.
Trees and green spaces should be an integral part of flood risk and climate adaptation strategies. They play pivotal roles in adapting to climate change and reducing flood risk, including mitigating the impacts of urban conurbations, which have poor air quality and public health, and they help to reduce CO2 emissions while improving the energy efficiency of businesses and buildings. Energy efficiency, too, must be an integral part of new homes being built.
We need to protect what we have but support a campaign for the expansion of trees and woodland, placing an emphasis on trees. Trees planted in the right places can do much to help with flooding before it happens, helping to prevent soil erosion, particularly on hillsides or stream slopes; trees slow run-off and hold soil in place. I am particularly pleased that, in my authority in the last four years, we have planted over 17,000 trees. I have even got my spade and wellies out and planted some, too. Britain has lost 84% of fertile topsoil since 1850, and the erosion continues in some areas at between 1 centimetre and 3 centimetres per year.
There are also real benefits to be gained from strengthening public health systems, including emergency planning with the shift of public health into local government, which is a significant opportunity for collaborative action on climate change. But much more has to be done, because I feel that, if left, unmitigated climate change would undermine 50 years of public health gains, while responding to it could represent the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century. We want to see a better place for our children and grandchildren. So I am pleased that the Government are supporting woodland creation and tree planting, aiming for 11 million more trees over the next 10 years. Trees are not only a source of beauty; they create a restful environment, and are of value in welcoming visitors, while at the same time managing flood risk and preserving our habitats for precious species.
Finally, leaving the EU means leaving the CAP and taking back control of environmental policy—how important it is that we care for our land. The opportunity is placed with us, and we need to do more.
My Lords, I apologise for having arrived unavoidably about two minutes late, so I missed the profound opening statement from the noble Baroness.
We are discussing two very important subjects here: climate change and global health. But after listening to what has already been said, and having read much elsewhere, it seems to me that the relationship between those two is not always as clear as is claimed. The facts are not established, and get ignored or lost in generalisations. That is also a problem with the debate on climate change, which suffers from exaggeration, scaremongering and a lack of proper candour. Climate change is, of course, taking place—it has always taken place—and we are quite right to monitor it. But if you look at the facts, as opposed to the alarmist statements, basically—the figures were given—we are in a warming cycle. It is a modest one, but it is there, pretty consistently. In the 150 years since the cycle turned up, following the previous little ice age, I believe, the global climate has warmed by about 1%, as was said. That is not a very dramatic and alarming increase and it is not very surprising—
I accept that rebuke from the noble Lord. I trust that he will never in his life say 1% instead of one degree. It is 150 years since the cool cycle turned down, so it is not surprising if the climate turns up and gets a little warmer.
In the 21st century, the warming is virtually zero. Who knows what is going to happen? I certainly do not. Many alarmists claim to know, but I do not. Reason suggests that we are in a cycle, so warming will resume; I accept that. The question is whether it resumes at an alarming rate that will damage the planet and people’s health, as we are discussing. I do not deny that that may happen. However, the claims that it will certainly happen are based not on observational evidence but on 100-odd physical models making forecasts. They have not been successful so far in the 21st century. When they were published at the beginning of the century, they forecast significant warming during these first two decades, but that has not happened. However, as I say, it may.
On current observed facts, one sees modest warming—grounds certainly for concerned monitoring and for taking action as the facts emerge. We should monitor carefully and take measured mitigation measures. If the situation grows more alarming, I would be alongside the noble Lord in wishing to see urgent action taken. However, we do not see that situation now. When people talk about controlling climate change, I am always intrigued by how on earth they think they will do that. Climate change strikes me as a huge, dynamic force and I am not sure that we have the power to control it.
I know there is evidence that health issues arise in areas where the global warming cycle is having an effect, but global warming in itself does not seem to me—certainly in these early stages—to constitute a threat to health. For a start, it certainly does not increase mortality. It is estimated that in the United Kingdom three deaths per 100,000 of the population are heat related. That situation would presumably continue with global warming. However, 61 deaths per 100,000 of the population are cold related, so a cooling cycle, should it ever reappear, would be intrinsically more threatening to health than a warming one. Modest warming reduces temperature-related deaths. In the United States, a famous study at Stanford University concluded that warming there of 2.5 degrees centigrade would reduce deaths in the United States by 40,000 a year and reduce medical costs—
Is my noble friend aware of a recent modelling study by Forzieri, which showed that extreme weather events of heat and cold, including other weather events promoted by climate change, are now estimated to cause 50 times the current number of deaths from both those factors? Therefore deaths from heat, drought, floods and windstorms outweigh the reduction in deaths from cold that he has outlined.
I was aware of that study but we were discussing health today, and I was producing numbers on that.
In the United Kingdom, the forecast warming to 2050—if it continues at the present rate; if it increased it would be more—is forecast to cause an extra 2,000 heat-related deaths. However, we in the UK would of course benefit by 20,000 fewer cold-related deaths. People so far adapt better through technology to increases in heat than they do to increased cold, especially since the extra costs of renewable energy make heating for the poorer part of the population, who I should mention, pay the bulk of the cost for the climate change ventures, more than they can afford.
To get more particular, malaria is often referred to, and may be also today, as a kind of victim result of warming. In fact—I will try hard to get the fact correct in this case—deaths from malaria have fallen this century from 839,000 to 445,000 annually. My conclusion, shared by many who have studied the subject, is that malaria, like other diseases primarily in underdeveloped countries, is linked most to economic welfare—to GDP per capita. That being the case, the UK’s opulent overseas aid programme is perhaps a little misdirected in that it concentrates so much on renewables when it might go more to improving economic growth and the institutional provision of health.
The Lancet magazine recently joined the band wagon in blaming fossil fuels for global pollution. Those two articles have been subject to serious criticism, which noble Lords may wish to pursue, and they seem to ignore the research, especially by Lelisfeldt and others, which shows that the main cause of pollution, which is strongly related to health, in the main areas of the world where it is a problem—the Asian cities, China, India, and so on—is nothing to do with the source of your energy generation, such as fossil fuels, but due to domestic cooking and the burning of wood in that area.
On pollution, London is particularly concerned about this, and we certainly have a major problem here, which is of course more linked to diesel. As I said, when I was in government, I was aware of the pressures from our green friends, who tried to persuade the Labour Government to incentivise diesel vehicles.
Malnutrition is another major health problem, but it seems to derive more from the use of animal manure than it does from the source of energy generation.
I am aware that my views are not held by the majority in the House, but that gives me mild pleasure.
My Lords, climate change models have been shown to be amazingly accurate. Although one should not look at individual instances, I should mention that a couple of years ago I was privileged to chair the House’s ad hoc Select Committee on the Arctic. When faced with a temperature rise of 4 degrees and a spectacular diminishing ice sheet, one might find it difficult to dismiss climate change.
With regard to energy bills, I think that the noble Lord should remember that most heating is by gas or—if you are off the gas grid, as I am—oil, and there are no green charges on either of those fuels. There is a charge purely on electricity, which is generally not used for heating, so in general that does not affect heating bills. However, I agree with him that man-made climate change is not certain. In fact, it is only about 95% probable, but with a 95% probability, if anybody is looking to the future then action is exactly the right thing to take, and I look forward to the next speech, which will be made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. He has probably already changed what he was going to say in response to some of the previous speeches. I note that he is listed as the early Lord Krebs on the speakers list. I am glad that he is not the late Lords Krebs—that would be a great loss to the House and to the environmental community generally.
Two weeks ago I attended a meeting on climate change held at the other end of this building. It involved a group of people who were really concerned about the environment and about climate change and its implications. Funnily enough, they were not a band of eco-warriors; they were not even 1970s liberals in sandals. The meeting consisted, at its core, of two admirals and a general, who were very concerned about climate change from a national security point of view. In fact, they were not even from a minor European nation; they were from the United States. They were very concerned about climate change, and I am sure they are even more concerned now, given the Trump presidency’s removal of climate change from the strategic concerns of American foreign and defence policy. That showed me that this is not in any way a minority issue; it is something that affects not just business people generally but also what we think of as those hard-nosed people in the military and defence areas who are not in any way sentimental in their beliefs.
What also came over was that climate change has moved well beyond environmentalists, not just to defence but to issues such as biodiversity, migration, invasive species, world development goals and, not least—this is why I was so delighted that my noble friend Lady Walmsley brought this subject forward today—health.
The area on which I want to concentrate—we have already heard speeches on a fantastic range of subjects—is housing. In just a moment, I will be agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, because housing is a key area in terms of health. I am not a health expert but I know that people’s living conditions in this country and elsewhere are fundamental to their health and personal development.
We know that 2.5 million households in this country live in fuel poverty because they cannot afford their energy bills. As a result, we have something like 34,000 premature deaths each year due to temperature. That is one issue that climate change might start to solve in the short term, but the other side of the balance sheet is that in this country we already have around 2,000 premature deaths because of heat. Paradoxically, in looking forward at that we should look backwards to 2003, when a heatwave in Europe saw some 70,000 excess deaths due to heat, 17,000 of which were in France alone. Such exceptional climate events will increase significantly and statistically have already increased, having doubled, I think, over the last one or two decades. This is a real issue.
As my noble friend Lady Featherstone has mentioned many times, it was a tragedy when, in 2015, when the Cameron Government took power, they took away the regulations for zero-carbon homes by 2016. Quite frankly, this was an act of vandalism in setting aside the right standards for new builds, especially as the industry was ready for it. In effect, what that means is that the 200,000 or so houses that have been built since the regulations were supposed to come into force will, over the next three or four decades, have to be retrofitted at extraordinary and avoidable expense. Getting efficiency right in housing is key, not just for health but for climate change, as one-third of our carbon emissions are presently linked to space heating. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, that we have all sorts of ways of solving climate change if we concentrate our minds, including the one I have just mentioned, which would deal with health and climate change at the same time.
I looked at the Government’s recent clean energy strategy, and although it was late, I look forward to reading all of it and in many ways support it. Page 13 of the strategy gives us an idea of what they are looking at for homes. On the positive side, there is support of,
“£3.6 billion of investment to upgrade around a million homes through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO).
It is good news that that is being extended, although of course that £3.6 billion is not government money but comes from the electricity bills that we consumers pay. However, I suggest that ECO is a scheme that has run out of steam in many ways and requires a severe redesign.
Otherwise, I feel that the aspiration is not good. The Government wish all fuel-poor homes to be,
“upgraded to Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) Band C by 2030”,
which is 12 years ahead. They go on to say that, “our aspiration”—and it is only an aspiration—is for,
“as many homes as possible to be EPC Band C by 2035”,
which is almost 20 years ahead. On rented homes, they again want to see energy performance standards going up to band C by 2030, but only where “practical, cost-effective and affordable”. When it comes to social housing, the Government are seeking only a consultation on meeting similar standards over this period. On new and existing homes, we are back to only consultation. But we had consultation and strong work with the industry before 2016. We know what we need to do—surely we need to get on with it.
I wanted to stress in this debate the link between housing, health and climate change. It is potentially, just as clean air is with motor transport, a win, win, win in terms of health and climate change policy. What I see at the moment is not much better than aspiration from the Government. They have set out a strategy in terms of clean growth and part of that is improving homes. I welcome that, but for goodness’ sake let us have some real action. Let us stop the consultation and the half measures. Let us get on with it and solve this, and save not just energy poverty in this country but prepare ourselves for the heat that is to come.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on securing this timely debate. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, hinted that I might want to change some elements of my contribution in light of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Donoghue. I would inject one additional fact, since we are on to facts. It is a fact that 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been during the 21st century. The notion that climate change has somehow stopped or slowed down is just not borne out by the evidence.
I declare two interests. Until 1 February this year, I was for eight years chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change and also a member of the Committee on Climate Change. At the moment, I work part-time for the Wellcome Trust on its planetary health research programme, which includes funding the Lancet Countdown to which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred.
The topic could not be timelier. Even though the noble Lord, Lord Donoghue, doubts that the link between climate change and health is serious, others certainly take it seriously. In making his speech when he accepted the post, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr Ted Ross, announced four priorities for the WHO, one of which is the health impacts of climate change. He said:
“While health emergencies hit quickly, climate change is a slow-motion disaster. WHO must play a strategic and decisive role not only in adaptation but also in mitigation”.
In quite a different domain, on 6 November this year, Pope Francis produced a papal declaration on planetary health which states:
“Health must be central to policies that stabilize climate change below dangerous levels, drive zero-carbon as well as zero-air pollution and prevent ecosystem disruptions”.
The WHO estimates that approximately 12.6 million deaths each year are attributable to avoidable environmental risk factors, and climate change exacerbates those factors, which include access to clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. The WHO states that climate change is projected to cause 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 if we do not act to mitigate and adapt.
The effects will be felt by everybody on the planet—everybody in this Room, if they are still around in those decades, and certainly our children and grandchildren. But people living in island developing states and other coastal regions, in large cities and mountainous and polar regions will be particularly vulnerable. The effects of climate change will interact with other risk factors in affecting health. The very young, very old, very poor and the sick will be most vulnerable. Although it is not possible precisely to attribute morbidity and mortality to the climate signal, there is no doubt that climate change is a significant risk factor now and in the future. The effects will be through many routes. For some populations, as we have already heard, heat stress and air pollution will be the biggest risk and for some it will be the spread of new diseases. For some it will be undernourishment because of lack of water or fertile soil to grow food, and for some it will be the consequences of dislocation from their homes through flooding. These risks, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, so clearly articulated, have been set out in detail in Lancet Countdown’s 2017 report on climate and health, and I do not intend to repeat what has already been said.
Instead, I wish to turn from the global scale to the national one. As has already been said, the Climate Change Act 2008 places a legal obligation on the Government to both assess the risks from climate change to the UK every five years and prepare a national adaptation programme that addresses those risks. The Adaptation Sub-Committee, of which I used to be chairman, has a statutory duty to advise government on the risks and report to Parliament every two years on whether the national adaptation programme is adequately addressing the risks.
The first national adaptation programme, published in 2013, looked very impressive at first glance: it contained 31 objectives and no fewer than 371 actions, most of which have been, or are being, implemented. However, closer inspection reveals that it did not contain any significant new proposals or reprioritisation of resources. On the whole, the objectives and actions were vague, unmeasurable and did not have any timescales for delivery. In short, it is not possible to evaluate whether this country is preparing for the effects of climate change, including impacts on health. If I am asked to score the 2013 national adaptation programme on a scale of one to 10, I would give it about three. I hope the Minister can reassure the House that the second national adaptation programme, due to be published next year, will contain measurable, specific and outcome-focused priorities with specified timelines.
In its 2016 climate change risk assessment evidence report, the Adaptation Sub-Committee pointed to six urgent priority areas for the UK in which more action is needed now to adapt to climate change. All six risks carry implications for human health: flooding, high temperatures, water shortage, impact on natural ecosystems, impact on food production, and the potential spread of new diseases. As has already been said, an estimated 1.8 million people live in areas at significant risk of flooding; that number is predicted to rise to 2.6 million by 2050. The number of heat-related deaths, although smaller than that of cold-related deaths at the moment, is projected to rise by 250% by 2050. New insect vectors for diseases such as West Nile fever, dengue and chikungunya are likely to arrive in this country. Importantly, the majority of our most productive farmland in the eastern United Kingdom is projected to become less suitable for growing crops due to a combination of lack of water, soil loss and sea level rise. That could have a big effect on our food security.
Are preparations in place to head off those risks? As has already been said, the good news is that we are doing well in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, thereby playing our part in helping to reduce the magnitude of future climate change. The bad news is that we are not preparing ourselves for the inevitable impacts on health of the climate change to which we and the rest of the world are already committed as a result of the greenhouse gases we have pumped into the atmosphere.
Let me illustrate with a few examples. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, gave me a convenient lead-in by talking about housing. We are not ensuring that new homes and businesses are resilient. The noble Lord referred to zero-carbon homes. I want to refer to flood resilience. When I, together with other noble Lords, attempted to incorporate into what is now the Housing and Planning Act 2016 a requirement for flood resilience in new housing developments, the Government rejected our amendments as they were deemed unnecessary or too onerous for builders. Now, over a year on, can the Minister assure us on behalf of future occupants that the 300,000 new homes to be built per year, as announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, will be resilient to the impacts of climate change, particularly flooding and overheating?
As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern, the design of a large proportion of our hospital spaces—according to the Adaptation Sub-Committee, more than 90% of hospital wards—makes them prone to overheating, an example being large windows that cannot be opened. Are the Government taking steps to tackle this problem in both existing wards and new builds? The noble Baroness also referred to urban green space, which is crucial to countering the urban heat island effect. We know that urban green space has declined by 7% since 2001. We heard recently that the Mayor of London has announced that 25,000 new homes per year should be built in so-called convenience spaces, such as London gardens. Is the Minister satisfied that this plan to fill in the small amount of remaining green space will not exacerbate the urban heat island effect and make London less resilient to climate change in the future?
Finally, I want to ask the Minister about noise. This may seem irrelevant, but it is not. Many homes in this country—I declare my own as one of them—are close to busy roads and railways. Some degree of protection from environmental noise is achieved by double glazing, but as the climate changes, people will need to keep their windows open at night to cool their houses or flats. Can the Minister tell us, either now or perhaps in writing afterwards, what scientific assessment the Government have made of the health impacts of chronic noise now and in the future, as well as how climate change might alter those impacts?
Once again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for her timely debate. I look forward to the Minister’s answers to my, and other noble Lords’, questions at the end of the debate.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for introducing the debate. I also associate myself with the importance of the Lancet project, to which she referred.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned the papal declaration. I was privileged to be part of the conference in Rome that produced it. Interestingly, the conference was called “Health of People, Health of Planet”. It is a very precise equation, which we must step into. I want to offer a few remarks on that very broad theme. What does “health of people” mean for the political ordering of our society, in terms of our culture and our responsibilities in a House such as this?
We face the massive challenge of the difference between having the right attitude and translating that into action, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who said that people are seeing that there is an issue and getting the right attitude. One of the challenges is the great emphasis in our culture on the individual: individual rights and individual identity. Although that is important, the danger is that we will step into a world that the Pope calls the “globalisation of indifference”, saying, “I am concerned about myself and my little bit of the world, but I am not too bothered about other people. They can get on with their lives as they want”. We have shifted from a healthy toleration of others to ignoring others if they do not get in our way in our space. That will make the challenge of not just attitude, but action, in this area enormously difficult, in tackling the globalisation of indifference.
Health is a public issue. If we look at the briefing paper for the debate—there is also a note in the Library about global health inequalities—the issue of climate change is looked at through the lens of the individual. We aggregate individual illnesses, looking at how many people have died from a particular illness. If we are to order this in the political sphere, we need somehow to help individuals to join up in a common set of values and responsibilities that translate into common actions and what the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern, called common lifestyles. That is a huge challenge in a world where we have allowed so many people to dissolve into their private spaces through the globalisation of indifference.
One of the tragic outcomes of the globalisation of indifference and disturbance of communities of people through climate change is the great increase in modern slavery, an issue with which I am quite connected. Part of the Church of England’s response—a thing called the Clewer Initiative—has as its strapline, “We see you”. We need to notice what is going on in the climate and how it is affecting people: are they being disturbed out of their environments and taken to criminal environments to be exploited? We need to talk up the importance of noticing, being connected and having common action together to push back against this disaster—I use that word, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue—that is coming towards us very quickly.
I will point to a couple of further challenges and ask some questions of the Minister. One challenge is that research shows that older generations are not convinced of the importance of the issue in itself. There is a demographic thing about older generations—the principle of what is happening and noticing and reaching out with others to respond. The same research indicates that younger people do get it, but feel their responses as an individual lifestyle choice, not a joined-up, societal response. Such is the magnitude of this challenge that we must have a joined-up, societal response. That is the challenge to us in a political Chamber such as this.
I will raise a couple of points that the Minister might like to comment on. The market drives so much of how we behave and where our values come from. The market looks for technological solutions to these issues. My plea, as noble Lords heard, is that there need to be lifestyle changes. It is not just technology, but how human beings live: how we use heat and coal, how we travel and all those things. Technology is an important part of the answer, but there is a lifestyle issue that comes much closer to home for us all.
That is why, like the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I welcome the Lancet’s emphasis not on presenting a problem that people make an individual response to, but on an opportunity to become a kind of society where people together have certain values about how to travel, behave and use resources. That is an enormous challenge in our fragmented political world. It would be interesting to know how the Government think we might get on the front foot with a positive opportunity to step into together as a society, rather than expecting individuals to make their private decisions and somehow hope it will add up to change the whole scenario.
The NHS employs, I believe, more than 1 million people. We present health as a private matter. We provide the NHS so that any of us can go as an individual and have our health looked after or be made healthier. But if health is a public matter, there is the whole thing about the atmosphere and what it indicates. As some noble Lords know—as a Christian I read the Bible—Genesis says that human life comes from breath. Breath—air—gives us life, and the pollution of breath damages our bodies, our souls and our minds. We know that. Whether you are a person of faith or science, it is the breath that is important.
Air pollution is something that does not discriminate. You cannot make an individual choice about it. You have to do something together, whether it is in Africa or Asia, where people are dying at very young ages because they are cooking over wood and coal, breathing in the smoke. I was at a conference where a heart specialist from New York talked about the major problem for her as a heart surgeon being the effect of the bad air on people’s bodies and hearts. It is not fatty foods or this or that, but air pollution. I sometimes spend time on Putney High Street, which I think is rated as a pretty terrible area in London for pollution. Air pollution affects all of us.
I look to the Minister for an answer on this: we have 1 million workers in the National Health Service who can help people begin to see this. People would not just go for private health treatment. These employees need to be advocates, for health is a public issue, about the environment we live in, the air we breathe and the way we treat it. Therefore, we are part of the solution. It is not just about giving people drugs and therapy, but about giving them the confidence to live a lifestyle together that would reduce emissions, change the way we travel and all the things that together would make a huge difference. The Minister might like to comment on the travel policy that a Government might have that will help us fight back together as a society in the way we travel, not just in terms of diesel emissions, but public transport and how it is driven.
Finally, I invite the Minister to comment on how we will develop and use indicators of public health—not an agglomeration of private cases, but what the public health of our society looks like in terms of its air quality, its travel patterns and the values people live out together, rather than retreating into their private indifferent spaces, which we will be for ever trying to shake them out of, making no progress at all. Our task in a political Chamber is to create the ordering of a society where those values can be recognised, owned, shared, lived out and acted. We need policies and encouragement about things such as transport and air quality, which will get people looking for an opportunity to live in a healthier environment and a healthier planet for healthier people.
My Lords, climate change has undoubtedly put an end to many species, most famously the dinosaurs. I am in your Lordships’ House as one of the last members of a species whose extinction is attributable to rather a different sort of change, namely constitutional change. In other words, I am a judicial dinosaur: one of the 12 Law Lords—or, more properly, Lords of Appeal in Ordinary—who had sat dispensing justice as the voices of legal infallibility in this House since the 1870s. Then, in 2009, pursuant to the Constitutional Reform Act, the Law Lords jumped across Parliament Square to their new home in the Supreme Court—12 Lords a-leaping, as you might somewhat seasonably say.
Since then, I have been successively Master of the Rolls and more recently President of the Supreme Court, and, as such, excluded from this Chamber. I hope that that explains my near 11-year delay between introduction and maiden speech. It does seem a long time, but it is what we lawyers would call a de minimis compared with the age of the earth—4.5 billion years. It is clear that, throughout that period, the earth has been undergoing climate change, sometimes pretty extreme change. So human activity is by no means the sole potential cause of climate change. I should add the fact that climate change was occurring long before humans existed most certainly does not even begin to cast doubt on the notion that human activity can cause climate change.
Identifying the present and, even more, predicting the future extent and effects of climate change, and identifying the actual and potential causes of climate change, all involve experts, such as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, making scientific assessments based on evidence, logic and experience. Uncertainties are inevitable, owing to many factors, including the enormous amount of available evidence, inevitable variations and apparent inconsistencies in the evidence, and the vast numbers of potential causes and effects, all of which can fairly be said to be the sort of problems one encounters when seeking to analyse or predict the behaviour of a highly complex system.
Accordingly, it is inevitable that any such assessments will end up involving judgments, that any such assessments will be probabilities rather than certainties, and that any timeframes will be imprecise. It is for this reason that the precautionary principle was developed. The principle should strike a chord with those who are familiar with risk registers. Once the possibility of a specific serious problem occurring reaches a certain level of likelihood, it becomes appropriate—indeed, it becomes a duty on those responsible—to do something about it.
Some people, no doubt including some Members of this House, have serious doubts as to the correctness of the scientific consensus as to the extent to which human activities cause or contribute towards climate change. However, I respectfully suggest that it is hard to quarrel with the notion that the possibility of the consensus being correct, coupled with the seriousness of the problem if it is correct, must mean that something should be done, if possible, to mitigate or eradicate the risk.
Because of the nature and importance of the topic, it would seem obvious that any assessment as to the existence, cause and likely effect of climate change must be made, received and reviewed dispassionately. Very sadly, that is not how much of the most accessible public discussion on the topic of climate change is conducted. Views from experts are routinely not merely simplified but regularly exaggerated and often positively misrepresented. Many newspapers, many articles and many discussions on the topic leave one with the strong impression that the opinion of the writer or speaker on climate change is founded on quasi-religious dogma or blind faith rather than on any genuine attempt at dispassionately analysing the evidence.
Many writers and commentators approach the issue by reference to a visceral opinion as to whether climate change is occurring and, if so, how it is caused, an opinion which they then seek to justify by selecting or slanting the evidence and attacking the opposition. For example, when virtually all respected and experienced scientists in the field agree on a certain fact or prediction, someone who opposes the consensus will simply convict them of group thinking and dismiss their conclusions simply on that ground, without seriously addressing the argument on its merits.
In a sense, this is an extreme example of a more general problem. People do not naturally think scientifically; indeed, it is no exaggeration to suggest that scientific thought is close to the antithesis of the way in which public opinion is formed, at least by most people. A natural human instinct which governs most people’s thinking is confirmation bias, the search for and interpretation of data with a view to confirming one’s beliefs. But that is precisely the opposite of the attitude adopted by any good scientist or sensible policymaker, which relies on falsifiability and the null hypothesis. Most people want a definitive answer to complex problems, preferring a clear, if meretricious, analysis to an honest and measured analysis.
During the past three months, I have had the benefit of listening to informed and rationally conducted debates in your Lordships’ House, exemplified by the impressive contents of the preceding speeches, as well as by the kind welcoming comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I have also had the experience of observing and taking part in friendly and constructive discussions between Members of this House outside the Chamber. Accordingly, this seems a very fitting forum in terms of its open-mindedness and expertise as well as its constitutional character for a discussion of this important, complex and potentially contentious and divisive topic
I turn, finally, to the specific question of the consequences to the United Kingdom of the effect of climate change on human health. It seems clearly accepted by the great majority of reputable scientists in the field that, at least partly as a consequence of human activities, climate change is already occurring and posing a serious risk to human health, and that, unless drastic steps are taken, this is likely to get worse, possibly much worse.
The risk will continue to manifest itself in various ways, which have been touched on and summarised in the speeches preceding mine, including infectious and other diseases arising from extreme temperature changes, poor air quality, shortage and contamination of food and water, and other geographical occurrences. Some think that the United Kingdom will get off relatively lightly. Enjoying a temperate maritime climate, being an island and having a plentiful supply of natural water are all said to be beneficial factors, as is the quality of our medical and public health services. The position is said to be very different in other parts of the world, particularly in those countries near the equator. But we cannot be sure. On the contrary, as is clear from what has been said, based on evidence, in speeches preceding mine, there is no reason to be confident that we will be relatively unaffected. Even if we are relatively unaffected, that is no reason to sit on our hands. The fact that other countries will suffer more than the UK does not mean that we will not suffer. The fact that someone else may be hurt more than you in an accident is scarcely a reason for not trying to avoid the accident.
In any event, if people in other countries are going to suffer badly as a result of climate change, and bearing in mind this country’s unrivalled record in scientific advances and discoveries and consistent with our commendable record on foreign aid, this country should do its best to help the other countries. Not only would it be humane but it would be a source of soft power. Quite apart from that, even in the unlikely event that the UK was immune from the effects of climate change, it would be in our own interest to prevent or mitigate its effect in other countries.
Four hundred years ago, John Donne famously wrote that no man is an island. Had he been writing in the 21st century, with its ubiquitous and instantaneous means of communication, its speedy and accessible means of transport and our knowledge of the speed with which disease and pollution can spread, Donne may have written that no island is an island. As we look at climate change and its effect in other areas of the world, which may become uninhabitable due to risks to human health and human survival, migration and the spread of disease and pollution from those areas to all parts of the globe, even those rather less affected, seem likely.
I end by echoing what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, quoting from a report; namely, that while climate change is a threat, it is right for those on whom there is a duty to do something about it to regard it also as an opportunity.
My Lords, it is a huge privilege to welcome on behalf of the House the maiden speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, and to say that we understand entirely why it has taken him 11 years to prepare his speech. He has had a glittering legal career, culminating as President of the Supreme Court. Now that he is all ours, his experience will be a major resource for this House, especially as we wrestle with the task of transferring 50 years of complex European legislation into UK law. His forensic powers of analysis, illustrated precisely in the way he expounded today, are tempered by his personal commitment to fairness and equality. They will be beacons for us all in this post-truth era, and I am hugely privileged to be able to respond to his speech. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and declare an interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust and vice-president of BirdLife International, Flora and Fauna International and several other international biodiversity and community organisations.
The global effects of climate change on health will not only impact globally; the UK is part of the globe and they will have an effect here. I want to cover three areas: first, climate change and population movement; secondly, adaptation to the impacts of climate change in the UK; and, thirdly, as many of your Lordships know, my favourite hobby-horse: the importance of trees and woods in responding to climate change and its health impacts.
The world’s population is predicted to reach 9.1 billion by 2050. Growing populations endanger human development, the provision of basic services and poverty eradication, and weaken the capacity of poor communities to adapt to climate change. Significant mass migration is likely to occur in response to climate change. Many people will move from the arid zones to more temperate zones, and towards the bread-baskets of the globe. The majority of environmental migrants have so far come from rural areas within the least developed countries, but in the future there will be an unprecedented level of environment-induced migration out of urban areas as rising sea levels threaten to inundate densely populated coastal areas. One-third of the world’s population currently lives within 60 miles of a shoreline.
Such migration has two major health impacts. Migrant groups are more vulnerable to a range of health stresses and this impact is complicated by poor access to healthcare. Migration pressures will impact on Europe and the UK, including pressures on water, land availability and open space, with knock-on effects for physical and mental health, particularly in the south-east. Though we may be welcoming to populations moving as a result of environmental pressure from abroad, we still have not found a way of spreading them evenly across the land surface of this country. It is like rolling rocks uphill to suggest that population will move further north than Watford.
We really need to tackle what is quite a sensitive issue. Linking population dynamics with climate change raises many hackles in many directions. Population dynamics have simply not been integrated systematically into our climate change science or policies, either globally or locally. The contribution of population growth, migration and urbanisation, and the impact on green space and the countryside and on other mitigation and adaptation programmes, need urgent investigation and swift action. What plans do the Government have far more effective forward planning in relation to services, housing, land and property in the face of the expected changes in migration patterns in response to climate change and the potential health impacts of those changes?
I turn to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I commend the work of the Adaptation Sub-Committee, under his former leadership, on adaptation to the impacts of climate change in the UK. Climate change poses a range of health risks from heat and floods, which have a particular impact on the vulnerable and the elderly. It is anticipated that there will be future increases in both mortality and the number affected by extreme weather events across Europe and the UK. Recent modelling, which I commend to my noble friend, shows that extreme weather events—heat, cold, drought, floods and windstorms—could affect 60% of Europe’s population annually between 2070 and the end of the century, compared to the current 5% so impacted.
The report to Parliament of the climate change Adaptation Sub-Committee in 2017 showed that the overall state of the natural environment in the UK is reducing its resilience to climate change. The sub-committee called for, among other measures, increased attention to the need to enhance protection of biodiversity in soils and for the national adaptation programme to be more ambitious and have clearer mechanisms. You heard it here today: the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, gave it only three out of 10. That is a fairly clear message to the Government. Will the Minister tell the House how the 25-year environment plan, which the Government are allegedly planning to publish in January, will take the opportunities to provide more robust action for adaptation to the impacts of climate change in this country? It is called the 25-year environment plan because it looks forward 25 years, but we have been waiting now for more than two years, so I am earnestly hoping that it is not called the 25-year environment plan because it is going to take 25 years to emerge.
I shall finish with my usual commendation of the importance of trees and woods in responding to climate change and its health impacts. If we did not have trees, we would have to invent them. They combat climate change both in terms of mitigation and in terms of adapting to the impacts of climate change. They are excellent at sequestering carbon, they help reduce heat effects in urban areas, they are excellent trappers of pollution, particularly in an urban pattern, and they are good at helping to manage floods. Woods and woodlands are nice places for people to go walking and to get their levels of activity up to help with their health and we know that mental health is improved by exposure to green spaces and trees. The evidence is there in a clear way for all of those impacts.
Deforestation increases climate change. The world is currently estimated to be losing 10 billion trees a year. In the UK, tree cover is also reducing, which is pretty crazy since we have all worked our socks off for the last 15 years to get it to slowly creep up—but, as a result of post-Brexit uncertainty, dysfunctional tree planting grants and a complex grants system for carbon credit planting, which is putting people off, we as a nation have failed to meet even the modest government targets for tree planting in 2016 and 2017. The Government have announced a target of planting 11 million trees over the next 10 years, but at current rates of planting they simply will not make that target, which anyway is not enough. Yesterday I celebrated Sainsbury’s, a supermarket, planting 3 million trees in the last seven years. If a supermarket can plant 3 million trees I am sure that the Government, with all of us working with them, can plant more than 11 million.
What needs to be done if we are to see trees play their full potential role in helping with climate change? Globally, BirdLife International, with WWF UK and the Wildlife Conservation Society, has launched a trillion tree initiative to encourage ethical investment in forests, find new sources of funding for protection of existing forests, including community management of its forests, and work with corporations to develop plans to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. In the UK, there are a number of things that we absolutely need to see, including enhanced protection for our ancient woodlands, 800 of which are currently threatened by development. The national planning policy framework is currently going around Whitehall before being relaunched for consultation in the spring and could produce much more effective protection for our ancient woodlands.
We need swift delivery of a simpler and more effective grant system to increase planting so that the Government, with all those who plant trees in this country, can approach that 11 million target and, I hope, go well beyond it. We need local authorities to require developers, as planning gain as we build the 300,000 houses per year, to make sure that green areas for health and mental health well-being are integral parts of those developments. And we need to create a substantial new forest for this country, spanning the M62 from Liverpool to Leeds and the east coast, which will be a major new resource for carbon sequestration, resilience of landscapes, and recreation and health for the people of the northern powerhouse.
All of these could also figure in the 25-year environment plan and I ask the Minister whether they will. We also need agricultural policy reform in order to make sure that, when we come out of the common agricultural policy in Europe, our domestic policies promote carbon reduction and reward farmers for planting trees. I would be delighted if the Minister would tell us that all of those propositions will be committed to by the Government in the near future in the 25-year plan and the revision of the agriculture strategy to enable trees and woods to play a substantial role in mitigating the health impacts of climate change. Climate change means that we need to think global and act local.
My Lords, it is good to follow my noble friend Lady Young, and the excellent, forensic maiden speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for introducing the debate. We are all grateful for her introduction of the Lancet project, which is certainly very impressive. I declare an interest as a director of a consulting company and an adviser to Tokamak Energy, which is interested in long-term clean energy.
It is important to understand the interconnection between the global and local effects of climate change, and how climate change has direct and indirect impacts, now and for the future, on the human population, the whole biosphere and the geosphere. The most important of these impacts include deteriorating human health in critical areas of the world, the loss of forests, increased floods, problems with agriculture, a deteriorating atmospheric environment, rising temperatures, and pollution. The water environment in rivers and oceans and along coasts is also at risk. These impacts have direct and indirect effects on human health.
Some of the most critical situations occur in urban areas. This is mainly because of the concentration there of air and water pollution, which is significantly higher than in rural areas, as is clear in health and mortality statistics. However, large areas of burning forest contribute to high rural and urban pollution levels, and chronic health problems in urban areas in south-east Asia, for example, notably in Indonesia and Singapore. Rising temperatures, flooding and landslides are also associated with climate change. The growth of airports is also producing new areas of very high pollution where motor vehicle and aviation pollution combine, as is shown in the studies at Heathrow. Recently India and China have experienced such bad air pollution in their cities that healthy sportsmen have collapsed on cricket pitches and in sports stadia. Some Governments have responded by taking special measures to close down industry and traffic for special events. Fortunately, we did not have to do that in the UK for the Olympics but some other countries have had this problem.
The effects of climate change further damage health due to temperature rises in cities and sometimes hundreds of kilometres downwind, as we have seen in southern China. These long-distance health effects of climate change are also associated with pollution from shipping, which is now being studied by the International Maritime Organization, based here in London. I hope the UK Government will play a very strong role in that, given our significant contribution to world shipping.
As desert areas expand in Africa and Asia, dust storms are created, which further damage health. Of course, local measures such as tree planting, which has been mentioned, mitigate these effects—what we see in parts of China is quite impressive—but they cannot prevent the increasing effect of dust. In winter periods in Asia, as I have experienced, the combination of traffic, dust and gases produces stable atmospheric conditions, which have adverse effects on health.
The consequences of climate change and population growth in Asia, which is particularly affected by the combined impact of flooding and landslides, are dangerous. The rising sea level is also an important problem. The Philippines experiences a simultaneous combination of these hazards. In some areas these have coincided with geophysical risks such as earthquakes. Protective measures are needed to deal with all these impacts, and it is impressive to meet local officials and hear about their self-help programmes.
UK organisations have helped countries experiencing these hazards through many scientific and technical programmes—I have participated in some—funded by BEIS, Innovate UK, the Newton Fund and DfID. But the experience of some countries has also provided knowledge and technology that can be of value to UK programmes dealing with climate change effects such as flooding. The rapid construction of houses has been explored elsewhere, and we perhaps need that. Through the modelling and prediction of air pollution in megacities with tall buildings, I believe London can learn something from the experience of some other countries. One of the biggest causes of poor health in developing countries is contaminated water in rivers, along coastlines and in offshore fishing areas.
I will end by briefly reviewing the prospects of reducing global climate change and environmental pollution through technology. It is encouraging that some countries, including the UK, are demonstrating how carbon emissions can be and are being reduced, and at least that emissions increase is slowing. The scientific reasons for this are well understood and the technologies for producing lower and zero-carbon emissions are well established. These include wind energy, solar energy, carbon capture and storage, nuclear fission and, for the future, nuclear fusion. Mostly these systems generate electricity, which is then used for various purposes such as industry, transportation, heating and so on. But in some systems thermal power can be applied directly and more efficiently than through the generation of electricity.
One such example is desalination, leading to greater availability of fresh water, which is one of the best ways of improving health in developing countries. A new application of low-carbon thermal power via fission may be possible for cleaning polluted water. This and other techniques were reviewed recently by Mr Pearce in the New Scientist. This has become a more complex process for dealing with soluble chemicals and solid plastics, about which there has been much discussion recently. The new technology of modular fusion may well lead to local power generation, which can have environmental as well as power uses.
Finally, we should perhaps remember that education of the public and in schools is really important. The Government need to realise that they will not have political support in future without popular understanding, which is very important. One other important issue we have to think about in the context of climate change and the environment is nuclear fission. France has the lowest carbon emissions because it uses nuclear fission, but the radioactive waste is then stored in the ground. Euratom has proposed processes by which we deal with this waste. It will be in the ground for a long time—perhaps thousands of years—so we need to find new technologies to deal with it. One may well be nuclear energy fusion, which I am working on myself.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Walmsley on securing this very important debate. It has been a very good debate, ranging widely across the multifarious health impacts of climate change, both globally and domestically. My noble friend and many noble Lords across the House referred to the Lancet Countdown report, which is the basis for this debate. Its conclusions were supported and echoed around the Chamber, and are reinforced by the World Health Organization, among others.
My noble friend Lady Walmsley started with the conclusion of the Lancet Countdown report: climate change is not just hurting the planet, it is a public health emergency. She forcefully laid out the case made by the report and highlighted the critical issue globally: the delay in our response to climate change, which has jeopardised human life and livelihoods. She also reminded us that the tone of the latest report is optimistic and that over the past five years we have seen an accelerated response.
My noble friend Lord Teverson concentrated on housing as being key to public health. He pointed to the fuel poverty that results in 34,000 deaths per year; the devastating heat-related deaths that were experienced in Europe during the great heatwave a few years ago; and the unbelievable short-sightedness of the Government in doing away with the zero-carbon homes standard.
Obviously, we bow to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and his expertise in these areas. I would not like him to mark my work. His score of three puts the Government fairly and squarely in their place.
The right reverend Prelate is very exercised that we have become a world full of individuals thinking about ourselves and not thinking about everybody else. He wants us to understand that, as a community, we have to find a solution for all of us.
What can I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury? He made a stunning maiden speech. He is clearly not an extinct species. He pointed us to some very good ways through life—evidence, logic and experience—and said that the precautionary principle should be used when we are not sure about our actions.
I have stood here several times in debates on climate change and talked about my experience of climate change during two years as a Minister in DfID with responsibility for Africa. I have talked about having felt desertification under my feet and seeing the disasters that result from too much water in Asia and too little water in Africa. Those extremes are increasing. I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, is no longer in his place so that I am unable to educate him on the error of his ways.
As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, pointed out, the World Health Organization has stated that between 2030 and 2050 climate change is expected to cause 250,000 extra deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. To anyone who has spent time in the most challenging places in Africa, this is not a surprise of any kind. For the vast majority of those populations, already battling weak health infrastructure, the increasing levels of ill health will be insupportable. Those countries cannot improve their health systems fast enough to keep up with the pace of climate change.
When I was in Nigeria, I saw poverty, violence, conflict, disease and violence against women. They will all intensify with climate change. They already are. Lake Chad is a freshwater lake that provides water to more than 60 million people living in the four countries that border it, including Nigeria, and it is shrinking. The Nigerian part of the lake has diminished by 95%. It is called an ecological catastrophe by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The farmlands and villages surrounding what was the lake have desertified and died. That desertification led to the migration of the people who had lived there, causing conflict and pressure in the areas to which they migrated. There has been heat-related mortality, dehydration, the spread of infectious diseases, malnutrition, damage to public health infrastructure and the migration of both man and animals.
In Uganda, the glaciers at the tops of the Rwenzori mountains are receding at an unprecedented pace. The mean temperature has increased by 1.3 degrees. Trends in annual rainfall are significantly decreasing in the rainy season of March, April and May. Uganda is already experiencing health impacts: outbreaks of malaria, dengue fever, water-borne diseases, such as cholera and dysentery, diseases associated with floods, respiratory diseases and food insecurity.
Sierra Leone already had the highest rainfall in Africa. An average of 539 centimetres of rain falls on the capital, which is used to flooding, but it has a hugely dense population living in informal settlements—if you are being polite—in the slums of Freetown, which are an absolute horror. Large families are squeezed into tiny homes on river banks, the sides of mountains and the edge of the sea.
We heard from the noble Baroness about planting trees. Deforestation is destabilising the soil, as is the dumping of waste into drainages and the clearing of trees. There is a lack of political will. All these issues are challenges to dealing with climate change. In 2009, the Unjust Waters report found worsening floods in Ghana, Uganda, Mozambique and Kenya.
Kenya is so beautiful. It has an equatorial tropical climate which is hot and humid at the coast, temperate inland and very dry in the north and north-east. It has hot, dry lowlands and temperate highlands. It has two annual rainy seasons. It is prone to cyclical droughts and is expected to experience climate-driven events of increased intensity and frequency. There, climate change will increase malaria which will spread into new locations. There are already reports of increases in acute respiratory infections in the arid and semi-arid lands and the emergence and re-emergence of Rift Valley fever, Leishmaniasis and malnutrition. Adaptive capacity development is being targeted with the improved use of weather forecasting, which can provide the data needed to predict malaria epidemics, improved disease prediction capacity, early warning systems, improved epidemic preparedness and improved outbreak response.
In the Congo basin—noble Lords will be relieved to know that I am not going to take the House on a tour of every country in Africa that I visited, although I could go on and on. Health policy in these countries must ensure that all programmes incorporate climate change issues in their plans. It is a reality. They must adapt to minimise the consequences. As has been said, the greatest effects of climate change will devastate the poorest and most vulnerable in the world. The poor and the vulnerable are, as I have described, already suffering the effects of climate change. Adaptation and mitigation cannot keep pace. That is why our commitment—the world’s commitment—to signing up to the Paris agreement is vital. However, it is not just signing; that was not the point. Having a national plan that keeps us to 1.5 degrees is the point. My fear is that the signing may be the apex, the zenith, but we in this country, where our word is our bond, must act. Listening to noble Lords’ comments across the Chamber, I have to say that I have seen no change of pace since that awesome signing, no sense of urgency and no new measures that will deliver on the promise we have signed up to. That is unforgivable because we have been the cause. The countries that suffer most did not cause it; the poor of the world did not cause it.
We rich nations have a super-responsibility to the world, but also to ourselves. We are suffering health impacts too. Poor air quality, mentioned by my noble friend Lady Walmsley and the right reverend Prelate, is just one example. The main culprit for it is fossil fuel air pollution, which is not helped by the discovery that diesel is equally bad. We are not on course to meet our commitments in the fourth and fifth carbon budgets and, extraordinarily, the Government are still licensing more exploration for North Sea oil and gas and are encouraging—nay, reliant on—the shale gas industry filling the gap left by their lack of policy boldness. What are they thinking of, creating a new fossil fuel with one hand while signing the Paris agreement with the other? According to the Health and Environment Alliance, the health cost of fossil fuels in the UK every year is £23.2 billion. This Government must stop subsidising fossil fuel, as must Europe. Although as a Liberal Democrat I am obviously a Europhile, it is not perfect in this and has just made some decisions with which I disagree. It is a first.
It is absurd for Greg Clark to launch the Clean Growth Strategy and say we are leading the world in fighting climate change when the facts on the ground, such as the scrapping of the £1 billion competition, which has been mentioned, the measures in the Budget and fossil fuel subsidies scream the absolute opposite.
Again, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Walmsley on bringing this important topic to the Floor. The health impacts across the world and at home are overwhelming and faster and further action, not words, is the only hope we have.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of a clinical commissioning group and a health and well-being board. I also join in the congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on initiating this timely and important debate. We have heard some excellent and expert contributions, as one might expect, particularly from my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lady Young and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I also congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger. I realise that he is going to be a very valuable addition to your Lordships’ House and our proceedings. I do not know about the Minister but, as is so often the case with these debates, the people on the Front Bench are the least expert in the matter and just have to do their best.
I have a personal interest in this subject because I am one of the thousands if not millions of people in London whose breathing is affected by the atmosphere and local pollution here in our capital city. I worry greatly for my little granddaughter, who is growing up and going to school near a main road in London. In my remarks, I intend, like the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to go global and then to come local, which seems to be the appropriate way.
I agree with that great woman Mary Robinson when she says that climate change is a human rights issue. It is notable that in recent years she has chosen to establish the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice, which is a centre for thought leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for people vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly women. Her intervention alone tells us yet again that the world is surely facing its biggest challenge. I think my views and those of my party somewhat diverge from those of my noble friend Lord Donoughue, who is of course one of our beloved contrarians in the Labour Party.
Perhaps more than any other problem humanity has faced, climate change confronts us with the reality of our interdependence, which I think the right reverend Prelate referred to in his remarks. No country alone can protect its citizens from the impacts of dangerous climate change. The impacts of climate change already affect people’s enjoyment of their human rights, and the right to an environment that promotes good health surely lies at the centre of that. Left unchecked, climate change also has the potential to wipe out the development gains of recent decades.
As Mary Robinson said in the Madeleine Albright lecture last year:
“The injustice of climate change is that those who are most vulnerable in society, no matter the level of development of the country in question, will suffer most. This means that people who are marginalised or poor, women, indigenous communities, slum dwellers and migrants will be disproportionately affected by climate impacts”.
Dear to my heart is the importance of the inclusion of women in decision-making and consultation on climate issues, because I believe that that will greatly improve the effectiveness of those climate policies.
Noble Lords have already referred to the World Health Organization and the key facts about climate change on health, including that between 2030 and 2050, there will be approximately a quarter of a million additional deaths per year due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. There are direct costs to health—excluding health-determining sectors such as agriculture, water and sanitation—of between $2 billion to $4 billion a year by 2030.
Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution. I agree with other noble Lords that the Paris Agreement is vital on the international stage, so the words and actions of the current US President are of great concern not only for citizens of the United States but for all of us across the world. Would the Minister please update the House on whether and how the UK is encouraging the current US Administration to change their mind about the Paris Agreement? Secondly, on the issue of climate change, when will the Government update the carbon budgets to enshrine the Paris Agreement?
Turning to the local—to how we are doing and what we are doing in the UK—I will concentrate on air quality. The Government’s latest air quality plan for tackling nitrogen dioxide, published in July 2017, acknowledged poor air quality as the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK. The Royal College of Physicians estimates that the annual cost of health problems resulting from exposure to air pollution in the UK exceeds £20 billion. This includes costs to society and business, health services and the individuals who are affected. We have heard from several noble Lords about the contents of the Lancet Countdown report of 2017 with the Royal College of Physicians—on which I congratulate and thank them.
The UK’s continuing failure to meet air quality targets has led to ClientEarth, for example, taking the Government to court successfully several times since 2014 over the lack of an effective plan to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels. The UK is also subject to EU infraction proceedings for failure to meet those targets, as the noble Baroness referred to earlier. We are not a world leader in this area. The UK is obliged under international treaties to reduce overall emissions of certain pollutants, but local air quality targets are contained in EU legislation. I welcome the fact that the Government have given a commitment to maintaining air quality targets after Brexit. However, as they have not said what they are, I will welcome the targets only if they are robust and effective.
Here in London, the air quality problem is on a unique scale. Unlike anywhere else in the country, nearly all of central London, most of inner London and all major roads in outer London exceed the legal limits for nitrogen dioxide. No part of London meets the World Health Organization’s recommended guidelines. In London, the mayor has been using what powers he can to achieve legal compliance. Quite rightly, he wants to minimise the impacts on drivers, residents and businesses, which is why he is asking for the Government’s help, including for new powers and a diesel scrappage fund. This is in the context that road transport is responsible for around half of the emissions in London, and around 88% of these emissions are caused by diesel vehicles. As buses and taxis become cleaner, it is estimated that the road transport pollution contribution from diesel cars will increase dramatically, from 24% in 2013 to 40% in 2020. Clearly, any approach to tackle pollution in London needs to address diesel vehicles, including cars.
However, road transport is only roughly half the problem in London. It is also essential to tackle emissions from buildings, construction and the river. Pollution has real and proven effects over the course of our lives, from smaller lungs in our children to a greater risk of dementia and strokes as we get older. Earlier this month, the BMJ published research led by Imperial College which says that air pollution from road traffic is having a detrimental impact on babies’ health before they are born, leading to low birth weight and them being born small for gestational age. The impact on London’s children is severe, with more than 400 schools in London located in areas with illegal levels of pollution. One in 10 Londoners under the age of 18 has asthma. It is estimated that a London child born in 2010 and exposed to the same level of pollution over the course of his or her life would lose around two years of life expectancy due to pollution here in our capital city. The estimated annual cost of the health impacts associated with long-term exposure to poor-quality air is estimated to be £3.7 billion in London alone.
The Government acknowledge these impacts and have taken some limited action to start to address them in recent years. However, this has mainly been in response to legal challenges or the risk of financial penalties. As happened following the great smog of the 1950s, the Government should do more to take account of the health and environmental impacts of poor air quality by adopting more ambitious policies.
Londoners cannot wait for action, although the mayor is doing everything he can where he has powers to act. Against the backdrop of air quality as a public health crisis, the approach proposed by the Government so far is woefully inadequate. The mayor’s approach to tackling air pollution is set out in his draft environmental strategy, which is more comprehensive and ambitious than that of his predecessor and aimed at reducing the exposure of Londoners to harmful pollution across London. As a Londoner, I am grateful for this activity and have two questions for the Minister. Why is London being barred from access to recently announced funding on air quality? London is being barred from accessing the result of the new VED diesel surcharge announced in the Budget. Surely this is essentially a fairness issue, given that Londoners contribute through the new VED diesel surcharge but are not able to benefit from it.
Secondly, will the Government help provide support for emergency services to clean up their vehicles? A particular ask in London is support for emergency service vehicles such as fire engines to be retrofitted so that they can meet new emissions standards in the most cost-effective way. To achieve this, eligibility for the existing £100 million bus retrofit fund needs to be expanded or further funding made available to London. To reduce the administrative burden on government, retrofit funds could be administered locally. TfL has an excellent track record in doing this for buses. We need support from the Government in London to reduce our air pollution.
This has been a really rather excellent debate, particularly at this late time of year—I wish all noble Lords the season’s greetings. We have urgent and huge challenges ahead of us in the world, in Europe, in the UK and in London.
My Lords, I am very grateful both to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for securing this important debate today, and to all noble Lords for their contributions. I would pick out in particular the wise words from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger. It was a fine maiden speech and I feel that he has set the bar very high.
Climate change is one of the most urgent and pressing challenges that we face today, and it demands an urgent and strong response. It is clear from the evidence and from the discussion today that climate change is not just a threat to the environment; it is also a threat to global health. By taking action, we can protect our natural environment and safeguard human health. An overwhelming majority of scientists agree that climate change is happening, that it is being driven by human activity and that we must act urgently to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid increasingly dangerous impacts in future.
There is a large body of evidence showing that climate change will directly influence human health. This evidence has been laid out in the Lancet Countdown report, which has been referred to extensively today, as well as the latest assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I will not repeat the evidence here as time is short.
The case for strong global action to tackle climate change has never been clearer. The UK was the first country to introduce legally binding emissions reduction targets through the Climate Change Act, which set a target of at least an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 from 1990 levels. However, we cannot act alone. Only through collective international action can we succeed in keeping temperature rises within manageable levels. The UK played a leading role in securing the agreement of 195 countries to sign up to the historic Paris climate change agreement. This is an unprecedented multilateral partnership, demonstrating a real commitment and collective responsibility for our planet. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about our conversations with President Trump at the current time. The UK is aligned with European partners; we did that at the G7 Environment Ministers meeting and the EU foreign affairs and environment affairs councils in June. We welcome the continued support that the Paris agreement has received from other countries and subnational and non-state actors in the US and around the world, and we will continue to work with the US to encourage it to show the leadership that it has done in the past on reducing carbon emissions.
In 2018 we will continue our efforts to drive action by others. We will continue to play a major role in UN climate negotiations, and climate change will be a major focus of discussion and further action at next year’s Commonwealth summit—the largest Heads of Government meeting ever hosted in the UK.
As well as supporting greater action on climate change mitigation, the Government are also supporting countries to adapt to and manage the consequences of climate change. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned helping populations displaced by disastrous weather events. DfID’s team of dedicated humanitarian logisticians is often first on the ground, providing immediate lifesaving action through the rapid response facility. Government support following severe earthquakes and flooding includes deploying our UK international search and rescue team and the emergency medical team.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, in his outstanding speech, referred to migration as a consequence of climate change. The UK recognises the role that climate change plays in exacerbating the key drivers of migration: conflict, instability and the loss of livelihoods. The UK is supporting greater co-ordination and efforts to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries. For example, DfID has invested over £1.8 billion in the climate investment funds, including the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience, the world’s largest active adaptation fund. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said:
“There is also a clear moral imperative for developed economies such as the UK to help those around the world who stand to lose most from the consequences of man-made climate change”.
Recent extreme weather events have devastated the lives of many across the world, and the impacts of climate change do and will infringe on many more people’s ability to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health—which, as noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, is a human right. DfID’s efforts to improve health outcomes have seen health systems in developing countries become stronger. Deaths from malaria have halved while polio is on the verge of being eradicated.
In parallel, UK-backed climate projects are tackling the root causes of instability and poor health, making the world safer, healthier and more prosperous. The UK is working closely with countries in the Caribbean, Asia and Africa to build resilience against natural disasters and climate extremes, and we will provide an additional £53 million of funding to extend this work. Vulnerability will be a key priority for the UK as one of the strands of the Commonwealth summit in April 2018. DfID has already supported 34 million poor farmers and low-income workers vulnerable to drought or living along affected coastlines, with more reliable water supplies and insurance in case their crops fail.
Programmes on the development and use of cleaner energy have helped 12 million people to access clean energy while reducing or avoiding emissions that cause climate change. Government funding has installed more than 400 megawatts of clean energy capacity. The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue—who, disappointingly, is not in his place—noted that DfID funds would be better focused on economic growth than on renewable energy, but the two are not mutually exclusive. Renewable energy provides reliable energy for business, providing economic growth in the developing world.
I was very taken by the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, and I would like time to go back and reflect on them. He talked about the values that drive our response to climate change and the lifestyle choices that the Government may encourage. He also briefly mentioned modern slavery, which can be a consequence of climate change. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has called modern slavery one of the greatest human rights challenges of our times, and has said that the UK will take a leading global role in ending this scourge. DfID is currently spending £45 million on modern slavery programmes, including £10.5 million through the Work in Freedom programme in south-east Asia.
The UK is not immune to the negative health implications of climate change. The Government use evidence such as the Lancet Countdown report and the IPCC reports to assess the risks of climate change to national public health. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and many others mentioned, the adaptation sub-committee of the UK Committee on Climate Change advises the Government on adapting to climate change and assesses how well the UK is preparing for its effects. Every five years the Government publish the UK climate change risk assessment, which sets out the main priorities for adaptation in the UK. The latest risk assessment concluded that the priorities for action in the next five years from a health perspective are the risks to health and well-being from high temperatures, flooding, drought and the disruption of health services and care delivery by extreme weather. Indirect impacts in the UK also include the threat of new diseases—for example, those carried by non-native species of mosquito—poor air quality, changes to food and water security and population displacement.
The UK is a leader in facing up to the challenge of climate change. That is why the Prime Minister joined world leaders in France last week to mark the two-year anniversary of the Paris agreement. There, she reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to climate action while setting out our leadership on challenges including phasing out coal and zero-emission vehicles. We recognise that actions to cut our emissions can be a win/win. We can cut consumer bills, drive economic growth, create high-value jobs and help to improve our quality of life, including our health. We have shown the world that you can cut emissions while creating wealth: between 1990 and 2016 the UK reduced its emissions by 42% while growing the economy by two-thirds. We are continuing that legacy: our recently published clean growth strategy sets out our ambitious proposals for continuing progress through the 2020s. Meanwhile, we have also placed clean growth at the heart of our modern industrial strategy, which aims to make our country one of the best places in the world to develop and sell clean technologies.
The Government are taking steps to ensure that the UK public are protected against the climate change risks to health. For example, a heatwave plan has been published annually since 2004 after the severe heatwave of 2003. This plan raises awareness of the dangers of severe heat and describes actions to reduce harm for individuals and services such as the NHS and social care.
The Government also produce a cold weather plan to raise public awareness and prepare for the effects of winter weather on people’s health. It also aims to support NHS providers to consider the internal environment where care is given and how winter weather will affect buildings, infrastructure and services.
The Department of Health works with NHS England, Public Health England, the Sustainable Development Unit and the Environment Agency to plan and maintain healthcare facilities that are resilient to flooding and extreme temperatures.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, noted the apparent absence in the life sciences strategy, which is not related to health. All these disciplines will be brought together better to understand the health impacts of climate change as part of the national adaptation programme. The national adaptation programme was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, but, sadly, not in the most glowing terms. I commit to him that we will try harder. It contains a number of objectives to address the risks of climate change to the UK.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and my noble friend Lady Redfern all raised the issue of flooding, the associated psychological trauma and flooding resilience within buildings. The Government are taking action to improve our protection from and resilience to flooding. We are spending £2.3 billion between 2015 and 2021 to strengthen the country’s flood and coastal defences, better protecting 300,000 homes.
The magnitude of events in recent years means that it is important to reassure ourselves that we understand the scale of the risk and to take more immediate steps to improve resilience. The Government set up the National Flood Resilience Review last year. It looked at our flooding risk from extreme weather over the next 10 years and assessed how we can be better protected. It also provided recommendations on how we respond to flood incidents, including through new temporary flood defences.
The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding should be avoided by directing development away from those areas. Where development is necessary in flood risk areas and where there are no suitable sites available in areas with a lower probability of flooding, it should be made safe, resilient and not increase flood risk elsewhere.
Other government priorities also have a positive impact on climate change. Take, for example, healthy eating, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. The Department of Health launched Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action in August 2016. This world-leading plan will help children and families to make healthier choices and be more active. The Eatwell Guide aims to assist the population in choosing a varied and balanced diet to meet latest dietary advice. Choosing alternative protein sources such as beans and pulses reduces meat consumption, which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Another question raised by several noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, is how the Government are getting on the front foot to promote change in society. For example, Stoptober has driven almost 1.5 million quit attempts since it began in 2012. We continually refine the campaign based on evaluation and share learning across government for departments to incorporate into their work as appropriate. The Government are applying lessons from one public health campaign, such as this one, to messaging in other areas such as air pollution. The Department of Health and Public Health England are in discussion with Defra on how best to support the goals—
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I will write to him, as I am not entirely sure that the direct link to climate change is wholly valid. It is indeed a cause of death, but perhaps not from climate change.
The Department of Health and Public Health England is in discussion with Defra on how best to support the goals of the clean air strategy with effective public health messaging on air pollution.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, also mentioned fossil fuels and carbon pricing. The clean growth strategy underlined the Government’s commitment to carbon pricing as a tool to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. At the Autumn Budget 2017, the Government announced that we are confident that the total carbon price, currently created by a combination of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and carbon price support, is set at the right level, and will continue to target a similar level until unabated coal is no longer used. This will deliver a stable carbon price while limiting cost on business. This stable price will provide certainty to the electricity sector as well as limiting costs to business.
The noble Baroness also mentioned diesel vehicles, and many noble Lords mentioned air quality and air pollution. The Government committed to ensuring that almost every car and van is a zero-emission vehicle by 2050, as stated in the Conservative Party manifesto 2017 and in line with meeting our targets under the Climate Change Act.
This means that we will end the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040. We are clear that meeting the 2040 commitment should be industry-led, with the Government monitoring developments closely. Against a rapidly evolving international context, we will seek to maintain ambitious targets and our leadership position, and intervene firmly if not enough progress is being made.
On the health impact of air quality, Public Health England has been asked by the Government to review the evidence of effective interventions and provide practical recommendations for any action which will significantly reduce harm from air pollution. These recommendations will be published in 2018 and will be stratified by their health and economic impact.
Several noble Lords mentioned trees and woods, specifically the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I am struck by the image of spade and wellies from my noble friend Lady Redfern. The forestry sector plays an important role in adapting to ongoing climate change, reducing the net release of greenhouse gases to minimise future climate change and, as mentioned by my noble friend, helping to mitigate flood risk.
We will continue to work closely with a wide range of key stakeholders, including the forestry sector. Furthermore, leaving the common agricultural policy will give us more opportunity directly to address the impact of climate change. Meanwhile, woodland expansion is a policy objective of all four countries of the United Kingdom—in part, to deliver greenhouse gas abatement through sequestration in growing biomass.
Turning to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about the 25-year environment plan, it sets out how the Government will deliver our ambitious goal to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited. The plan will use insight of natural capital thinking to develop an approach which helps to guide us. The plan will be with us shortly.
Turning to comments by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, the best long-term solution to tackle fuel poverty is to improve home energy efficiency. That is why 70% of the £640 million per year energy company obligation is focused on low-income households. We intend to consult on increasing this to 100% from 2018. We also recognise that low-income households need immediate support each winter. We have retained the warm home discount, which provides more than 2 million vulnerable households with £140 rebate off their energy bill each winter.
As for why the Government have not replaced zero-carbon homes, the clean growth strategy has an ambitious set of proposals on homes, and we have commissioned an independent review of building regulations and fire safety, which is being led by Dame Judith Hackitt. The review will report shortly.
I fear that I have far more information here than I will be able to impart to your Lordships in such limited time. I hope that you will bear with me if I feel a letter coming on; it will be with you in the new year.
Briefly, addressing the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the response to the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, I believe that my noble friend Lord Henley stated in the House this week that he will be writing to him very shortly.
This has been a fascinating and wide-ranging debate. Once again, I thank all noble Lords for contributing. The Lancet Countdown report acknowledges that in recent years, action to respond to the challenge of climate change has accelerated, with clear and unprecedented opportunity for the public. It comments that the health co-benefits of meeting commitments under the Paris agreement are potentially immense. Further research involving the Met Office shows that by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we will also reduce the number of mortalities from air pollution and poor air quality and avoid up to 90% of the potential worldwide impact of heatwaves.
The UK is leading the world on global action, but the climate challenge will require ambitious co-operation from all Governments, organisations and individuals across all sectors.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her valiant defence of the Government’s record. I will leave noble Lords to decide how many marks out of 10 it should get. I also thank all those who have spoken in this debate. It was a particular pleasure to hear the maiden speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger. Early in his speech, he mentioned that he had had to do a lot of risk assessments in his career. If I found that there was a 95% chance of something I was doing causing a negative effect, I would stop doing it. I am glad to see that the vast majority of the Members of your Lordships’ House are on the side of the 95% rather than the 5%. I believe it is in fact 99% of scientists who believe that it is human activity that is causing climate change. Indeed, they also tell us that, even if we stopped this very day all the activities that cause climate change, global warming would continue. It is a bit like an ocean liner: you switch off the engine but it still carries on for several miles. So the sooner we stop doing those things the better.
I was very struck by the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby about how, as a community and a country, we need to take action, but also how we have individual responsibility. Some years ago, I made a new year’s resolution that, the next year, I would live more lightly on the planet. My most recent effort in that respect has been to build a passive house—a highly insulated house—and it is very gratifying to see how many public housing projects are now being built to that gold standard; it is terrific. I recommend such a new year’s resolution to all noble Lords. If we all take a step every year then we will be moving in the right direction.
Finally, I wish all noble Lords a happy Christmas and a green and healthy new year. I beg to move.