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Climate Change

Volume 819: debated on Tuesday 1 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made adapting the United Kingdom to climate change risks since the Climate Change Committee’s Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk, published in June 2021.

My Lords, the Government welcome the Climate Change Committee’s constructive assessment, which informed the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2022, published in January. Since then, we have started to develop the third national adaptation programme, using this risk assessment. We know that we must go further and faster to prepare for the impacts of a warmer world. Adapting to climate change is a government-wide challenge, and we are looking across all government policies and programmes to develop NAP 3.

My Lords, the Climate Change Committee clearly recommended that the Government publish how we would adapt to 2 degrees of warming and assess the risks for 4 degrees in the next national adaptation programme, due in 2023. However, the response to the CCC recommendation said only that the Government would address the risks and opportunities of a scenario of 2 degrees of warming. In such circumstances, is it the Government’s view that it is not worth assessing the risks of 4 degrees of warming for the UK, or was this omission accidental? Is there any assessment yet of yesterday’s alarming report, which stated that all of us would cause irreparable damage to our ecosystem?

The noble Baroness is entirely right in her assessment. The Dasgupta review and other work has indicated the impact that global warming will have on our ecosystems and economy. The CCC has identified eight priority areas for urgent attention and considered 61 UK-wide climate risks and opportunities cutting across multiple sectors. We are looking at every risk and tackling those eight priorities, four of which come directly under Defra and all of which are cross-government.

My Lords, does my noble friend not recognise that, since the climate change conference, one of the risks that we need to be concerned about is security of supply for the energy that we need to keep people warm and keep our economy operating? Does he not think that this might be the moment when we should refresh our ideas on whether we allow fracking and the exploration of gas in our own resources so that we can maintain that security of supply?

The greatest stability in an unstable world is for us to decarbonise our economy as much as we can and become less reliant on other countries, or indeed on hydrocarbons, for our future. The Government’s strategy thus far has been absolutely right, and we will continue to make sure that our economy is resilient to the kind of global instability that we are experiencing at the moment.

My Lords, one of the risks highlighted by the Climate Change Committee is the risk to buildings of overheating from extreme heat waves. In the light of that, can the Minister tell us what proportion of the 460,000 new homes built in the last two years are designed to be resilient and cope with extreme heat waves, which are likely to be the norm by 2050?

The noble Lord is very experienced in this whole area of adaptation. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has introduced a new requirement on overheating into the building regulations to ensure that new residential buildings are built for a warming climate. The new requirement prioritises addressing overheating through passive measures, including reducing solar gains and sufficient removal of heat.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the warning in yesterday’s report that increasing severe impacts to humans, nature and the climate can be expected as global temperatures rise by 1.5 degrees centigrade. Will he agree to meet me and other supporters of the climate and ecology emergency Bill to discuss how the UK can use its COP 26 presidency to lead by example and deliver a joined-up strategy to restore nature and limit warming to 1.5 degrees?

My colleagues at Defra—my noble friend Lord Goldsmith, who led on this at COP, and my colleague Jo Churchill, who leads on climate change adaptation—and I would certainly be happy to meet the noble Lord to explain how we hope we are still on track for 1.5 degrees, while ensuring that we adapt to all the risks in the report we are responding to that we could face in the coming decades.

Does the Minister accept that one of the problems with renewables is intermittency of supply? Surely one way round that serious problem for the next decade would be to use gas like we do now but capture the carbon. The Government have never taken carbon capture and storage seriously and are now putting all their eggs in the hydrogen basket. Carbon capture and storage will enable us to deal with the intermittency, I accept by burning a fossil fuel, but allow no carbon to go into the atmosphere. Why are the Government so reluctant to push carbon capture and storage?

The Government have co-financed a number of research projects on this. It remains a technology that has potential. We are working to understand it, its viability and all its implications to ensure that our infrastructure in the North Sea can be used as we develop it.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that planting trees can contribute to mitigating and adapting to climate change, particularly to reduce the threat of flooding? Will he give an assurance that the trees that will be planted under the Government’s programme and ELMS will be fit for purpose and will not contribute to the possibility of flooding?

New tree planting is absolutely fundamental to our new ELMS and environmental policies. We have very bold targets for tree planting. However, my noble friend is absolutely right: they need to be in the right place. There is incredibly powerful evidence to show that a tree’s ability to move water underground from the surface can enormously contribute to flood mitigation. It is very much part of our policy.

My Lords, over the last fortnight vast swathes of the UK were battered by three ferocious storms in seven days, leading to the heartbreak of many thousands of properties being flooded, some of them for a second or third time. We are told by the Met Office that these extreme weather events will continue and get worse. The Government recognise that flooding is a key risk in their response to the CCC report, but what urgent action is being taken to follow that up and to accelerate building the defences that we will need not only now but for the future to withstand those threats? Can he give an assurance that this action is being accelerated?

I can absolutely do that. We have doubled our investment in flood defences to a record £5.2 billion. with some 2,000 new defence schemes over the next six years. This programme will better protect 336,000 properties, including homes and non-residential properties such as schools, hospitals and transport links. But, as I just said to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, concrete and steel are not the sum total of this; it is also about planting trees and using nature to slow water. That is at the fundamental heart of our new agricultural policy.

My Lords, this morning Reuters published draft proposals from the European Commission that will be published next week including proposals for national Governments to tax the windfall profits that energy companies have made from high gas prices. If the Government want to be world-leading, do they not need to get in in the next few days to bring in a windfall tax on those gas prices that could then be used for adaptation measures, identified as urgently needed in this report?

I will relay the noble Baroness’s suggestion to the Chancellor and he will consider it within the Government’s fiscal policies.

My Lords, it is rare that I disagree, or have the trepidation to disagree, with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, but does my noble friend agree that tidal power is utterly predictable?

I entirely agree with my noble friend that it is predictable. It is another emerging technology and one that we are investing in with academia to try to see its development around our coast.

My Lords, the IPCC report yesterday made clear the overwhelming risks of humanitarian crises, food insecurity, flooding and other problems for some of the most exposed places in the world. What progress have we made in our ongoing presidency of COP in terms of global action on mitigation?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. Climate change hurts the most vulnerable most. I have been in parts of world where I have seen the impact of climate change. I have seen the look on people’s faces as they have to move from one island to another because they can no longer survive on the island of their birth. We are determined to use our experience and our presidency of COP with our successors to make sure that we reflect the needs of the most vulnerable on this planet.