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Global Warming

Volume 819: debated on Thursday 3 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government further to the finding by the Mauna Loa Observatory that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 419 parts per million in May 2021, what advice they have received from their Chief Scientific Adviser about the implications of global warming for the United Kingdom.

Her Majesty’s Government and advice from their Chief Scientific Adviser are informed by the latest scientific evidence as presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel’s report set out how, as carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere rise, global temperatures are also expected to rise, with severe impacts globally. Risks to the UK are assessed in the UK’s climate change risk assessments, which are informed by the Climate Change Committee’s independent assessments.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The figure of 419 parts per million is the highest ever recorded over the last 800,000 years and it is a direct indicator, based on hard science, of a rapidly changing climate and consequent irreversible damage to our ecosystems. The BBC reports that in January 2020 some hard science was presented to the Prime Minister in the form of a slide show at a teach-in organised by Sir Patrick Vallance and led by Professor Stephen Belcher of the Met Office. It is said to have convinced the Prime Minister to take climate change seriously and that must mean keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Was the Minister present and will he ask for a similar teach-in for all government departments?

No, I was not present, but we have regular meetings with all the advisers who inform government policy on this matter. I know the noble Baroness has a strong view about “leaving fossil fuels in the ground”, but we require gas as a transition fuel. In the context of the recent crisis in Ukraine, surely even the noble Baroness can see the logic of obtaining that transitional fuel from UK sources.

My Lords, in 2020 BEIS set up a committee to look at and collaborate on policy development to ensure that individual policies were joined up across government—surely a good move. That committee was disbanded in May 2021. May I ask the Minister two questions? What has replaced that committee as a cross-government body to oversee climate considerations in all departments? If that committee is the one chaired by the Prime Minister, when did it last meet and are we allowed to know what it discussed?

There is a Cabinet committee on climate change chaired by the Prime Minister dealing with cross-government issues. The noble Baroness will be aware individual Cabinet committee meetings are confidential, but she can be assured that there is regular collaborative cross-government working between departments on all these issues.

My Lords, the Thwaites Glacier in western Antarctica is collapsing into the sea, which could raise sea levels by as much as 10 feet if the whole ice sheet falls. In such circumstances, have the Government undertaken an assessment of the likely impact that this would have on coastal communities in the UK and on vulnerable areas around the world?

The Government’s third climate change risk assessment sets out 61 risks and opportunities facing the UK from climate change, with eight priority risk areas identified as requiring action within the next two years. Action already taken includes £5.2 billion in 2021 for flood and coastal defences.

My Lords, following the IPCC report, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, on the damage to our ecosystem, can the Minister update the House on what further work is being done to engage the public on climate change and biodiversity issues? I think he agrees with me that evidence shows that, if these issues are understood, far more people are willing to change the way they live to reduce the impact of climate change.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness; of course, we regularly undertake public information activities. The public are well aware of the risks presented by climate change and there is wide public support for action.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that these concerns make it even more imperative that we press ahead with our plans for getting more nuclear power, and that anyone opposing that has no idea of what the risks are?

On this, as with so many issues, I totally agree with the noble Lord; he should, perhaps, be on this side of the House. The noble Lord is, of course, absolutely right. We need to expand our nuclear power provisions and I am delighted that we have the support of the Official Opposition for our Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill, which is shortly to come back to the House.

My Lords, do the Government plan to take any action to ensure that factually incorrect statements made in your Lordships’ House are corrected, either at the time they are made or subsequently, given that the science behind climate change is incontrovertible?

Individual Members are responsible for their own statements and opinions. This is a debating House, in which there are strongly held opinions on all sides, but if any Member, whether in government or otherwise, gets something factually wrong, I am sure they would want to correct the record.

My Lords, this week’s IPCC report suggests increasingly severe climate impacts, with warnings that heatwaves and flooding are highly likely, including in the UK. Firefighters are the primary public service responding to flooding in the UK; heatwaves can cause wildfires, which firefighters increasingly face. Yet our fire and rescue service has seen huge cuts, including one in every five firefighters since 2010. What plans do the Government have to fully support those in our emergency services who have to deal with the increasing numbers of catastrophic events?

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point. Of course we want to support workers in our emergency services, who do such a tremendous job. We saw some of that during the recent flooding: they are the first line of our defence, and we should support them in every way that we can.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill. He will be aware from an intervention that I made previously that many of us are concerned that the Scottish Government might be able to use planning laws to thwart the development of new nuclear in Scotland. Is it not the case that, if this is vital for the security and diversity of energy supply for the whole United Kingdom, there must be some way in which the United Kingdom can make sure that new nuclear can extend to Scotland as well? Will he look into this further?

I would be happy to have a further look at it and I completely agree with the noble Lord. I think the Scottish Government’s policy to rule out new nuclear is crazy, and what will end up happening is that Scotland will be supplied from nuclear power in England and Wales, because there are lots of interlinking connecters. The same thing is happening in Germany. Ironically, the Germans just announced that they were abandoning their nuclear stations, but will end being supplied by the huge number just across the border in France.