Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the advisory board of the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit. I am most grateful to the Cross-Benchers who chose this topic for one of our two debates today, and I am delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has chosen this debate for his maiden speech. I welcome him to the Chamber and very much look forward to hearing his contribution later on.
This debate could not be happening at a more appropriate moment. On the one hand, we are seeing record-breaking heatwaves across the world, in Europe, the US and China. We know with a high degree of confidence that the likelihood of these events has increased already as result of manmade climate change. Professor Fredi Otto of Imperial College said to me last week: “The bottom line is that these events in the US and Europe are not rare today—about one in 10-year events—but would have been extremely rare if it was not for climate change”.
Against this backdrop, last week the Government published their third national adaptation plan—or NAP3 for short—which sets out how the UK will prepare itself for the inevitable impacts of climate change that will result from the greenhouse gases humanity has already pumped into the atmosphere. As we all know, the global response to climate change has two strands: there is the commitment, starting with the Paris Agreement in 2015, to try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees; at the same time, there is the need to prepare for the inevitability of climate change to which we are already committed, however good we are at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
This debate is about the second of these two strands: adaptation rather than mitigation. The UK has an excellent process for developing an adaptation plan. The adaptation sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change, of which I was the chair between 2009 and 2017, prepares an independent evidence report on the present and future risks to the UK from climate change: the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment evidence report. Based on this risk assessment, the Government then publish a national adaptation plan, or NAP, which aims to set out how the country will respond to the risks identified in the Climate Change Risk Assessment. This process is repeated on a five-yearly cycle.
Unfortunately, up to now, this excellent process has not been matched by action. The first two national adaptation plans were woefully inadequate. In March, the Climate Change Committee said that England is not prepared for climate risks and we have lost a decade to inaction. For no adaptation outcome—of the 45 examined in the progress report—do we find evidence of good progress in the delivery and implementation of adaptation policy on the ground. This is a truly shocking assessment of the failure of the Government to take climate adaptation seriously.
We know that climate adaptation is not a priority for this Government, because when the Prime Minister set out his five key priorities for 2023, climate change was not among them. The press is now reporting that the Prime Minister is being urged to ditch or dilute green policies, and today the Prime Minister himself appeared to confirm this.
The Climate Change Committee also said in its report last March:
“The next National Adaptation Programme”—
that is NAP3, published about a week ago—
“must make a step change”.
“it risks another lost five years of ineffectual adaptation action – which the UK’s people, ecosystems and infrastructure cannot afford”.
The Met Office’s most recent fine resolution projections for the UK climate in 2050, called UKCP18, indicate that we will have
“hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters”.
There will be more extreme events, such as flooding and drought, and sea level will continue to rise. The more the average global temperature rises, the more extreme these effects will be.
This means that, with no effective adaptation, which is the path we are on now, it will be like this in a few decades. People will more frequently overheat in their homes, hospitals, care homes and workplaces. We are not retrofitting old buildings, nor are we designing new buildings, to be resilient to overheating. Houses built in flood plains will be inundated more often due to extreme weather. We are continuing to build new homes in high-risk areas, we are allowing paving over of surfaces in urban areas which leads to surface water flooding, and we are not retrofitting homes to make them more resilient.
Rail and roads will be more likely buckle or melt in hot weather while power infrastructure will be damaged by extreme events. We are not retrofitting our infrastructure to allow it to function under a changed climate. Coastal towns will be inundated by rising sea levels. We are not planning managed retreat from low-lying coastal towns and villages. We will be chronically short of water in many parts of the country. We are not managing demand by domestic users, farmers and industry.
Growing our own food may become more challenging. According to analysis commissioned a few years ago by Defra, much of the most productive farmland in the UK may become unsuitable for agriculture in the second half of this century. Finally, ecosystems and habitats and the services they provide will suffer because they are in poor condition now.
This sounds like a grim scenario for future generations but, unless the Government start serious action now, these are not unrealistic scenarios. Although the Times this morning warns us not to be too apocalyptic about future risks, it would be foolhardy to ignore them.
Does NAP3, the third national adaptation plan, give us a glimmer of hope? In her introduction, the Secretary of State says that NAP3 is the “step change” that the Climate Change Committee has called for, and, indeed, there are some positive features: the Government commit to establish a new climate and resilience board of senior officials to work across government; the NAP3 attempts to respond to all 61 climate risks and opportunities in the third Climate Change Risk Assessment; it announces £15 million more for more research from UKRI and Defra. Clearly, we need to know more—we have to have a strong evidence base—but we must not be seduced into paralysis by analysis.
The NAP3 says that the Department for Transport will publish an adaptation strategy and the Department for Business and Trade will publish a new strategy on supply chains, including the impacts of climate change. And NAP3 says that various nature recovery initiatives will take into account the impact and need to adapt to the consequences of climate change. So these are positive aspects of the latest national adaptation plan.
However, the Climate Change Committee says in its assessment that while NAP3 is better than its predecessors, it still falls well short of a plan to ensure that the country is properly prepared for the impacts of climate change. When I started reading it, I was delighted to see on pages 9 to 11 a summary of the actions that the Government will take to prepare us for the future impacts of climate change.
As noble Lords will know, actions come in three categories: inputs, outputs and outcomes. In the end, it is outcomes that count. Unfortunately, none of the actions listed on those pages of the third national adaptation plan are outcome actions, nor is it explained how the impact of the actions listed will be measured or over what timescale. In short, NAP3 will not tell us whether or not the Government are effectively adapting this country to climate change. The words used to describe those actions, such as “take into account”, “update”, “work with”, “survey” and “explore” do not give much confidence that the actions are directly linked to outcomes. Furthermore, although the NAP appears to announce new initiatives, at least some of those are simply reheated existing policies and funding commitments, such as the £5.2 billion for flood and coastal defences, the tripling of ODA adaptation funding, and the adverse health and weather plan.
My final point about the third national adaptation plan is that the so-called adaptation reporting power remains voluntary. The power requires organisations that have key functions, such as local authorities and providers of infrastructure and healthcare, to report on their adaptation plans. Surely it should be mandatory that they have to report, not simply voluntary if they care to do so. In short, my reading of NAP3 is summarised as “could do better”.
Before I finish my introduction to this debate, I address my comments to those noble Lords who are sceptical about the need to take any action to adapt to climate change. On July 11, at col. 1636 of Hansard, a Member of your Lordships’ House claimed that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II says in its sixth assessment report that
“there is not expected to be, nor is there any sign so far of, any increase in droughts, floods, landslides or fires”.—[Official Report, 11/7/23; col. 1636.]
As that statement is in Hansard, I wish to correct it. Here is what IPCC Working Group II says in its summary for policymakers:
“Human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme events, has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability … Global warming, reaching 1.5°C in the near-term, would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans”.
In the working group’s category of how confident it is, it has very high confidence in that statement.
There are also those who critique the notion of adaptation to climate change because of the costs. They ask whether it is worth spending money now to prepare for an uncertain future. It is worth pointing out that the third climate change risk assessment includes an analysis of the benefit-to-cost ratio of adaptation for different risks. As with any such analysis, there are inherent uncertainties, and the CCRA presents a range of values; it does not anchor on a single value. However, the modal value for many cases is that investing now has a benefit-to-cost ratio of between two and 10—in other words, every pound invested today could yield benefits of between £2 and £10 in future. So although some people argue that it is not worth spending the money now, I think the evidence is against them.
I look forward to the contributions of noble Lords to this debate. I close with some questions for the Minister. First, the national adaptation plan announces a climate and resilience board. Who will be on it, what are its terms of reference, to whom will it report, how often will it meet and will its minutes be made public? Secondly, as I have explained, a problem with the latest national adaptation plan is that it does not set out specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound outcome actions so that it would be possible to measure progress in adaptation. Could the Minister tell us whether the Government have any intention of setting out such specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound outcome actions? If so, by when? Thirdly, could the Minister confirm that the Government do not intend to roll back on their green agenda, including climate adaptation, in spite of reports to that effect in the press in the past few days? I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare an interest as an unpaid trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, an educational charity in this area.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for securing this debate. We have all too little debate on climate change and it is all the more important we have it now, since critics of any aspect of this policy find it increasingly difficult to get a hearing in the media. Here in this House, at least, we cannot be censored—though it seems that we run some risk of losing our bank accounts if we dare to speak up.
It is crucial, as we debate this, that we do so in a measured and rational fashion. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister’s comments today suggest that that might be beginning to happen in government. We must put aside the current mood of hysteria and try to assess the choices logically.
When people like me argue about the costs of mitigating climate change, we are often told: “There is no choice. Not acting costs even more”. I question that. Of course temperatures are increasing, slowly, and that will have consequences, but there is another choice, and that is what we are debating today—adaptation.
Let us look at the relative costs and benefits of the two routes. Let us look at the macro level first. The Skidmore net-zero review earlier this year asserted that the costs of mitigation would be 1% to 2% of GDP per year—that is £25 billion to £50 billion sterling—though other studies say it will be quite a lot more than that. Moreover, unless everyone else in the world is willing to bear the same costs, our spending that much will have precisely zero effect on the global climate.
In contrast, look at adaptation. It is not easy to find hard figures about the costs of adaptation but, if we look at the 2021 technical report on this, prepared for the Climate Change Committee in 2021, we see that it shows the cost of adaptation as only £8 billion a year by 2050 and £13 billion to £20 billion, non-discounted, as far out as 2080—and by then, I hope, that will be a very small proportion of our GDP. The orders of magnitude of those figures surely suggest that adaptation might actually be a more productive route than mitigation. I therefore agree with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that more will need to be spent on things such as flood protection and reservoirs.
Let us look at one example at the micro level, also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs: the calls for Britain to adapt to the health consequences of rising temperatures. We should dig in deeper and ask: what are the consequences of hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters? At the moment, seven times as many people die from cold as from heat in Britain. Rising temperatures are likely to be beneficial. No less than the Government Actuary’s Department wrote in April this year that
“it is the low winter temperatures that have a greater effect on the number of deaths … since the start of the millennium … A decline in deaths from cold temperature periods has more than offset any increase in the number of deaths associated with warmer temperature over the same period”.
I am not sceptical about adaptation; I am sceptical about mitigation. I suggest that the rational thing to do is move away from the current high-cost mitigation efforts, which involve massive investment in unproductive renewables, huge changes in lifestyles and the crushing of economic growth, and pursue mitigation in a different way. We should invest in effective energy production—such as nuclear, gas and other technologies as they emerge. Meanwhile, we should spend the manageable sums that we need to on adaptation so we can adjust to the perfectly manageable consequences of slowly rising temperatures as they emerge.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for his introduction and attention to this issue, on which he is always clear and relates all the different effects of climate change. I am afraid I cannot be quite so complimentary about the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Frost. The idea that we have a choice between mitigation and adaptation is absurd. We need both. As to the current furore in the newspapers over the weekend, after a by-election in which 250 people voted the wrong way, there is pressure on the leaders of our two main parties to back off from their commitment to green policies and tackling climate change. I find that absolutely absurd. I hope that the leaders of both parties will resist it, and I believe they will.
In Glasgow 18 months ago, Britain was seen to be taking a lead on reductions in fossil fuels. Commitments to adaptation were less clear, but nevertheless they were there. There was a minimalist contribution by rich nations to help the adaptation of more vulnerable, usually poorer, nations. Since then, we have gone backwards as a country in terms of UK leadership and as a globe as whole. The recent Climate Change Committee report—the last from the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and I pay tribute to his work and look forward to what he has to say—clearly shows, as do the other reports referred to, that Britain is not on track to achieve net zero or to have adapted to the warmer, more dangerous world that will ensue, and nor is the world on that check.
We have seen the results in heatwaves, high temperatures, wildfires, melting ice caps and disappearing glaciers. Sea temperatures and levels rise, while at the same time we have seen a loss of reliable rainfall and fresh water. We will now not, frankly, meet the target of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees—the Paris target. Nor will we restrain it to 2 degrees. The more off course we are for mitigating global warming, the more essential is the need to prioritise and pay for adaptation, with significant investment and major economic and societal behaviour change. The longer we continue to burn fossil fuels, drive diesel cars and cut down trees, the more expensive and difficult that adaptation becomes.
For some countries, adaptation is an existential requirement. Low-lying islands such as the Maldives and some Caribbean and Pacific nations will disappear unless we adapt as well as mitigate. Yet the already inadequate Glasgow commitments made by richer nations have failed to materialise. Here in Britain, we need a focus on flood defence. We need to be prepared to designate which land we will have to abandon, yet we are still building on floodplains. For this city of London, we need to start assessing the cost and the need for a second Thames barrier. We need to be building net-zero homes, yet the Government have abandoned those regulations.
Adaptations mean not only major infrastructure expenditure and commitment but societal change in our behaviour. The Environment and Climate Change Committee of your Lordships’ House, on which I sit, produced a report a few months ago in which we looked at changes in relation to food, energy and transport. I will not go over those, but they are all needed. At the moment, we are so far off the net-zero trajectory that we have little chance of limiting climate change. We need early focus on adaptation. The recent adaptation report from the sub-committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, who is not in her place, indicates that early adaptation investment could, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, give 10 times as much benefit later on and avoid additional expenditure. And yet we have the present pressure on today’s leaders and commitments by the major parties to back off from their policies.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a director of Peers for the Planet. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for tabling this much-needed debate and for his very knowledgeable introduction. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome my noble friend Lord Russell, with whom I have had the pleasure to work on at least two campaigns for the London elections. I look forward very much to his maiden speech, which I know will be excellent.
It used to be that extreme climate change events mainly threatened lives in low-lying developing countries, where weak structures were swept away by floodwaters and desertification was a food and water issue for the famine-stricken countries of the Sahel. However, today, in a few short years the narrative has changed, particularly in the richer countries of the world. Who, before a few years ago, had heard of heat domes or atmospheric rivers? Frighteningly, these heat domes are covering larger areas in the US, Europe and Asia than ever before. According to NASA, atmospheric rivers are forecast to become more frequent, longer and wider.
The global temperature rise is already nearing 1.2 degrees centigrade, yet fossil fuels emissions are still increasing. According to the IEA, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions grew by 0.9% or 321 megatons last year, reaching a new high of over 36.8 gigatons.
Time per speaker is short for this debate, but it is essential to spend a little time to appreciate the context within which adaptation to extreme events is urgent. Unless we accept that fossil fuel emissions must be stopped as soon as humanly possible, it will be too late to act, and we will render vast swathes of our planet uninhabitable. The climate change deniers—reincarnated as climate change delayers—have much to answer for. Their insistence that we do not take out insurance to safeguard our planet means that we will lose our no-claims bonus and end up paying inordinately more—and with more than just money. The Government’s NAP3 does not inspire confidence.
Our hotter summers need cooler homes, the energy for which, for obvious reasons, will come most efficiently and cheaply from solar PV. I suggest to the Minister that a sensible immediate policy change would be to lift the moratorium on solar PV. He should lend his support to the amendment to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill for rooftop solar on every new domestic and commercial building—an amendment to which I have added my name. The IEA and the IPCC are clear: we have the means to supply all our energy needs without new fossil fuels and therefore without adding to the already deadly accumulation of greenhouse gases.
If an inventory of historic emissions since the start of the Industrial Revolution is apportioned by nation, it is clear that the bulk of the responsibility for the clean-up lies with the richer nations of the world, not with those which have contributed the least to the problem. The loss of environmental benefits and the degradation of natural capital will be global and affect us all. Enlightened self-interest, if nothing else, should dictate that we take urgent adaptation measures seriously, both here at home and around the rest of our planet.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Krebs for the very thoughtful way in which he introduced the debate. I declare my interests as chairman of the King’s Fund and chairman of King’s Health Partners.
I will focus, over the next three minutes or so, on the question of adaptation to climate change and the potential impact on the delivery of healthcare in our country and the health of our fellow citizens. It is quite right to be thoughtful and measured in considering these matters, but there is no doubt that we saw a substantial impact in Europe during the last heatwave of 2022, with the reported excess deaths associated with heat. Indeed, last year we saw in our own country some 2,500 reported excess deaths associated with heat-related conditions.
The impact of climate change can be seen very much as having a multiplying effect on underlying predispositions to poor health outcomes. For instance, a predisposition to heart disease or respiratory conditions can be exacerbated by the impact of alterations in climate. We also know that the nature of the diseases that we will experience as the climate changes in our own country will need to be carefully planned for. For instance, in the future we will see more vector-related diseases, mosquito-related diseases—such as Zika virus and West Nile fever—and, potentially, malaria, if the predictions are correct. Tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, will be seen more frequently. There is an important need to ensure that, with the potential for flooding, other waterborne diseases are properly recognised and can be treated early, and that appropriate public health measures can be employed to mitigate against them.
There is also the question of how the public health system more broadly is to prepare itself. It is clearly important that we have appropriate surveillance mechanisms in place through the Health Protection Agency to identify and to characterise the changing frequency, occurrence and regional distribution of such diseases. With the risk, more broadly, of global climate change comes the establishment of newer zoonotic diseases, as animals and humans are forced to live in much closer proximity. Much of what we learned during the Covid pandemic needs to be retained and applied in a thoughtful and appropriate fashion to ensure that those surveillance mechanisms are in place, so that when diseases occur and when individuals develop those conditions, there can be appropriate measures in place—for instance, establishing the sequence of novel viruses and so on which might occur as a result of those climate impacts.
There is also a very important opportunity for us to start adapting the built environment of our hospitals. His Majesty’s Government are rightly committed to a major hospital-building programme. That provides the opportunity to start designing our hospitals so that they can provide services to our fellow citizens in the future that may be much more like services associated with the management of acute infectious diseases. That includes the management of patients who have underlying chronic conditions; they may see acute exasperations, such as exasperated respiratory illnesses, in periods of a substantial climate change and climate variation.
I will ask the Minister two questions. First, are His Majesty’s Government content that the Health Protection Agency is now properly mobilised and constructed in such a way to be able to provide the kind of surveillance and acute interventions that are required to protect us? Secondly, is the Minister content that the hospital-building programme is building in such a way as to deal with the potential consequences of climate change?
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for this timely debate and very much look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Russell.
The Church Commissioners and the Church of England Pensions Board have recently taken the decision to divest from fossil fuels following insufficient progress towards meeting the targets set by their investment boards in 2018. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury put it:
“We have long urged companies to take climate change seriously, and specifically to align with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and pursue efforts to limit the rise in temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels … Some progress has been made, but not nearly enough. The Church will follow not just the science, but our faith—both of which call us to work for climate justice”.
While mitigating the worst impacts of climate change must remain our primary goal—and here I disagree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Frost, especially when we consider the global dimension—the Church and the communities we serve have increasingly recognised the need for adaptation too, not least given the alarmingly rapid rise in so-called freak weather events that are impacting us all, and not simply those in far-flung corners of the globe. Heatwaves, droughts and heavy rainfall have affected every community across the nation in recent years, with the freakish apparently becoming the new normal. Churches have begun to think through how they can adapt so as to provide a base for emergency services, a safe refuge from extreme weather events and a sanctuary from overheating, as well as considering how their buildings might be protected from flooding, subsidence and other severe impacts of the climate crisis.
Many of our churches, including some in my own diocese, are set in predominantly agricultural communities, and I am grateful for today’s debate secured by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter highlighting the housing crisis there and elsewhere. Yet alongside those challenges sits a whole range of adaptation concerns too. The English language, like the Hebrew of the Jewish Bible, has a single root for “human”, “humility” and “humus”—the soil or tilth—reminding us of the complete interdependence between humanity and the soil we cultivate, and the consequent need to treat the planet humbly and with respect. Yet the pressing need for a cohesive strategy for land use to tackle climate-related degradation of the soil and what we grow in it is largely unmet by the Government’s NAP3, leading to unanswered concerns around food security, not least given the equal pressures on other nations on which we have traditionally depended when crops have failed.
The huge incoming changes in the structure of farming subsidies, with the phasing out of the basic payment scheme and the phasing in of the environmental land management schemes, are valuable and worthy in their intent. But difficulties in accessing new funding are in danger of pushing many small farmers over the edge, and the new schemes are insufficiently integrated with climate goals and indicators, on both mitigation and adaptation. Investment is needed here to help farmers and land managers choose the optimal use for each plot of land, considering water management, crop productivity, carbon storage and non-farm uses, alongside the Government’s existing and welcome commitment to greater biodiversity.
Water infrastructure is equally in need of fresh investment, not simply in reservoirs and pipe renewals but in nature-based solutions. Very little UK agriculture is currently irrigated, but that is likely to change as water supplies become increasingly inconsistent, with severe implications for our already stretched reservoir capacity. Meanwhile, the spectre of synchronised crop failures across a whole family of nations is real, making the case for lessening our dependence on imports even stronger.
I declare an interest in crop improvement work, in which my son-in-law Peter is involved as a foundation fellow at the Norwich Institute for Sustainable Development. Peter would be the first to acknowledge that a cohesive approach to land use is by far the most important factor in the food security equation, whatever the weather.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for introducing this debate so moderately and reasonably, and I look forward to the maiden speech from the noble Earl, Lord Russell.
I am sure the House will remember that the Global Warming Policy Foundation to which my noble friend Lord Frost adheres used to say that climate change was not happening. Then it said it was happening a bit and now, evidently, it says that it is happening but other people ought to deal with it and we should not be involved at all. We are not talking about that, happily, but I look forward to a debate with my noble friend when I shall be quoting the science and he will be quoting the prejudices.
I have been a businessman all my life—except when I was a Minister—and I am always interested in finding certainties. We have a certainty here: the weather is changing dramatically and we have to sort out our acceptance of it. That means that we cannot talk about deaths, as my noble friend Lord Frost did. I do not think that the families of people who die because of heat are very much cheered by the fact that there are fewer people dying because of cold. The fact is that we have to deal with these problems. We have to do something about our care homes, most—not just many—of which are entirely unsuited for the weather that we are going to have.
We still have not had the future homes legislation to bring new houses up to date. A million and a half crap houses have been built, and the next generation—the people who have paid for them and contributed to the profits of the housebuilders—are the ones who are going to have to change those houses.
We have rising sea levels, but I see very little in this report about how we are going to deal with that. However, I want to concentrate, in my short time, on water. I come from East Anglia, which is now a semi-arid region. The local water company has announced that it cannot produce any connections for new commercial businesses until 2032, because it has not got any water. In south-east England, South East Water has not been able to provide water for quite a number of its people for this part of the year, and we have not got into August yet, nor have we had the kind of withering hot weather we had last year.
We must make sure that we are making the changes that are necessary, and it will be cheaper to do it now than pay the costs and have to do it later. That is the difference. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that it is not just 2:10; it is the cost in between times that not having spent lays on our shoulders. We in the Climate Change Committee—I declare my interest as its former chairman—gave the Government a list of things that could be done, and needed to be done. We expected not only that the Government should accept them but that they should be able to measure whether they had done them and that the outcomes would be available for people to know. That has not happened. I say to my noble friend that unless you measure it—I come back to being a businessman—you do not do it.
If this were presented to me as the company report on how we were to deal with the problems of climate change, I would have to say that the person who presented it should be sacked. That is how I feel about this report.
My Lords, I rise to speak very aware of the history of this great Chamber, and very aware of my small part in the narrative. I am honoured to be a Member of this House and I wish to thank everyone, particularly the doorkeepers, who have made me so welcome.
Thank you for the kind words I have received about my father, Conrad. I know he is still remembered, particularly for his unique historical and constitutional knowledge. If I might share with your Lordships: one of his proudest moments was when, during one very late-night sitting, he out-quoted the Bishops one by one with the Bible.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for bringing this important debate forward. I am passionate about the environment. My commitment and care come from my personal experience of adventure, long-distance walking and a love of wild places. Climate change is happening now. It is real and it is truly frightening. No longer the stuff of dystopian films, it is our present reality.
I recognise the work the Government have done to date, and the ambitions they have set to be a global leader and to reach UK net zero by 2050. However, all the present political mood music is pessimistic. The Government’s new climate adaption programme does not go far enough. The Government are on course to miss every target to hit net zero, according to their own advisers. This month, we heard that the Government plan to drop their own flagship £11.6 billion climate and nature funding pledge.
Halting climate change at 1.5 degrees Celsius has passed, and 2 degrees Celsius may be passed as well. On current trends, the world will be 2.8 degrees warmer by the end of this century. We do not know where the ultimate tipping points are, but we know that we are getting way too close. The one thing we do not have is time. In the words of Bill McKibben:
“If we do not win very quickly on climate change, then we will never win ... It’s what makes it different from every other problem our political systems have faced”.
The questions of what to do and how we fight for our common survival must be addressed and solutions found and implemented with utmost urgency. We have to adapt our ways of life, our cities, our transport systems, simply for our society to continue to function and survive. We must have hope and inspire confidence that change is possible. The costs of adaption and of preventing climate change may be high, but the costs and consequences of not doing so will be higher still. The UK cost of net zero is estimated to be around £10 billion per year. UK GDP is £3.1 trillion per year: we can afford to do this.
Systems must be found to distribute costs equitably, both within individual countries and within the international system. We can change. We can accept that solutions are global, not state-centric, and that survival is collective not individual. We can set aside our short-term national and political self-interests and work collectively for the survival of all humanity. Internationally, much more must be done urgently to encourage and leverage international finance to pay for adaption in developing countries. We must continue to conduct international climate research to better understand our climate systems. The UK must join Europe’s Horizon programme.
Big companies and businesses must adapt: they will be part of the solutions we need for a functioning society. The biggest polluters must be held accountable. We must give nature and the ecosystem an economic value and assign it worth. We need a new economics and a global green economy. We must pay to start reversing climate change now, or we will pay more and we may not be able to stop runaway climate change later. We must fight for a secure future for humanity.
My Lords, it is my very great pleasure to welcome my noble friend Lord Russell to these Benches and to congratulate him on his excellent and very thought-provoking maiden speech. He is the first new colleague to join these Benches since 2016 and, although he comes via an appointment process whose days may well be numbered, he will be a valuable addition to the knowledge and expertise of this Chamber. We have heard of his passion for protecting the planet from the dire effects of climate change and, in doing so, he will find a meeting of minds with many of us in your Lordships’ House. I know he is also passionate about outdoor adventure and education and about enabling children from disadvantaged backgrounds to have the joy and developmental opportunities of working with nature, and I look forward to hearing more about that.
The global effort to tackle climate change faces many barriers, with political dysfunction being one of them. Perhaps that is why the third national adaptation plan, published last week, has been described as weak. Politicians understandably tend to favour policies that are popular with the voters. Research shows that voters reward politicians for delivering emergency relief, such as rescuing people from forest fires and floods, but last week’s Uxbridge by-election showed that they are less keen on investing in natural-disaster preparedness. But preventive and adaptive policies on climate change will cost less if we do them soon rather than leave them till later, as the Climate Change Committee has often warned.
Floods, wildfires and deadly heat are a reminder that climate change is already happening. The question is whether that will generate new political will for preventing harm, not just reacting to it. Here in the UK, climate change is already having a deadly impact on our health and well-being. The One Health multi-disciplinary approach, as recommended by the WHO, recognises the complex relationship between the health of humans, animals and the planet.
The UK health and care system needs both a plan and capacity to deal with the results of extreme weather. The NHS Adverse Weather and Health Plan, published in May, is not good enough. Currently we have long waiting lists and overflowing A&E departments. What extra resources will be provided to achieve that plan, and is this included in the long-term workforce plan?
There are many aspects of health affected by climate change. People who work outdoors in the UK are rarely prevented from doing so on hot days, but the increased effects of UV radiation are already increasing the incidence of skin cancer. Elsewhere, extreme temperatures make it impossible to work outdoors, which puts our access to a varied, healthy diet at risk through climate-caused food shortages. It will also cause a mass movement of people—a humanitarian crisis in the offing. It is not just people who will move—as the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, reminded us, mosquito-borne viruses such as West Nile, dengue and Zika are an increasing risk to UK public health.
Because the global food supply is at risk, it is essential that we grow more of our own. Your Lordships’ horticulture Select Committee, on which I serve, is taking evidence about the challenges and opportunities for the growth of our horticulture sector, but the House will have to wait until November for our recommendations. Suffice it to say, there are opportunities as well as challenges.
Extreme weather events causing flooding are becoming more frequent, with long-term negative impacts on mental health and livelihoods. Yet the resources available to the Environment Agency to ensure effective mitigation measures have fallen in recent years. When will the Government reverse that? It is essential.
Air pollution is a significant public health problem. Sadly, the legally binding air quality standard in the UK lags far behind that in the EU, despite the demands of many of us in your Lordships’ House. As we have seen, there is considerable resistance to measures designed to clean up our air. More non-emission private and public transport is part of the solution.
Climate change presents opportunities as well as challenges, but we are missing opportunities. Global competition for green growth is intensifying, yet the UK’s investment in the energy transition has fallen compared with other G7 economies, according to the CBI’s Green Growth report, losing us a potential £37 billion to £57 billion boost to GDP by 2030. Is it not therefore time for the UK equivalent of President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s Net-Zero Industry Act?
My Lords, I too welcome the excellent maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. We welcome him most sincerely to the House of Lords. My thanks go also to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for initiating this important debate.
I shall focus on food and food security. We are all aware of the effect of global conflict on food supplies, not least because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has already identified Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan as facing acute food insecurity. However, it stresses the impact of climate change, quite apart from the conflicts in that part of the world.
Due to excessive heavy monsoon damage to crops, India has very recently banned the export of 10 million tonnes of rice. This follows on from the monsoon damage in Pakistan the year before. Those 10 million tonnes of rice would mostly have gone to Africa—a stable crop that it will not now receive.
The extremes of weather that we see around the world should not just be dismissed as the norm for certain parts of the globe. Global commodity prices will affect us all, and scarcity leads to increased prices at best, starvation at worst.
In the UK, home-produced food production stands at 60%. I believe that we face a long-term challenge, because our attitude is that if we do not produce it here, we can always get it somewhere else. We had some experience of that last winter with winter vegetables, when the shelves in the supermarkets were actually bare.
Recent history tells us that severe flooding, wildfires and extreme weather conditions have always occurred, but not to the extent that they do now. Increasingly, we experience microclimates that did not occur before. I have had some experience of that; my home was flooded twice—a house that had stood for 200 years had three feet of water through the ground floor twice in 10 years—and the Environment Agency told me that I was subject to a microclimate.
Add to this the impact on food production of what is happening to water supplies, as access to water is the most important factor in agriculture. As temperatures rise, rivers, reservoirs, aquifers and the water table drop. Can my noble friend say what is being planned here? In line with what the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, was asking, can we have a timetable for when these matters will be addressed, not just for outcomes?
Global warming and sporadic extremes of climate have already shown us that this is not a uniform process. Where things will happen is not always predictable; we need science to give us more of a steer. There will also be changes in biodiversity. Animal and plant diseases will begin to appear in areas where previously they were not a threat, which will have a big impact on food and agriculture. What contingency planning is being done? The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, mentioned human health, but this will apply equally to animals, plants and our most important food-producing industries.
I am disappointed that the Government in their food strategy in June last year did not take Henry Dimbleby’s advice to be much bolder in protecting food security and the environment. I hear people talk about 2030 or 2050; I am worried about next year and the year after. An old tune—I will not sing it—keeps going through my head:
“Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think”.
My Lords, we are watching two very bizarre events at the same moment: the intense tragedy of people fleeing a burning Europe and trying, mid-holiday, to get out of a desperate place and survive, and the political shenanigans of the two main party leaders being equally indecisive about whether they believe climate change deserves intense heat action—lasering in on what must be the duties of government rather than just the short-term gains of a by-election.
I had responsibility for the climate reduction plan at one of the big four audit firms, with 200,000 people and 170 countries; I was head of corporate responsibility across KPMG. We met and achieved more than our target of 29% carbon reduction over 10 years—we achieved over 35%. That required one major action that I do not yet see contained in any government documents: a deep and detailed information and public awareness campaign for all the staff of the organisation, let alone their families and the public in the towns and cities in which we operated, to ensure that people understood the savage costs of inaction, the necessity of taking action and what that would cost each individual.
Just recently, we watched the end of Glastonbury—how fantastic! But the day after—in particular if you watched on the BBC, which covered it live—you saw literally millions of tonnes of deposited rubbish left behind after the final concert. People abandon carelessly and believe somebody else will take responsibility. This goes to the heart of our adaptive problem; we still do not believe that it is down to us. We still think it is about what government must do, but so much of it is about what I must do, what we must do, and the costs we must be aware of. Then people say, “You’re naive—we can’t afford to add cost burdens on our shopping and energy bills so that we can mitigate appropriately and adapt effectively”.
Given the Rhodes situation, I decided to check how many British adults and children are going on holiday in 2023. The figure will work out at just in excess of 53 million adults and children who will take overseas holidays in 2023. There were 49 million last year, and even in the year of Covid it was 8.2 million—how that happened is interesting, but never mind. The reality is that people can afford, in mass numbers, to undertake easy pleasures, but when it comes to affording the cost of responding to the cataclysmic crisis of climate change we are told that we cannot afford it. We can, but citizens will not be aware of that unless the Government make them aware. The Government were remarkable, in the multiple alliances—“a-lie-ances”—of deceit around Brexit, at telling everybody of all the great gains they would have, but now we wonder where anyone is. We must become serious about this issue. If public campaigning is not taken seriously, and if I do not realise what I am costing and what everyone is costing, we will continue to holiday at random and do nothing to change our behaviour.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on his incisive opening to this debate, and for getting it in the first place. It is fantastic to have the noble Earl, Lord Russell, here, as yet another person who cares about planet and people—it is absolutely amazing.
One of the problems with coming further down the speakers’ lists in these debates is that I get distracted by all the people who come before me. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, mentioned Glastonbury —I was there, so I can talk to him more about the waste and the rubbish. The noble Lord, Lord Frost, made all the denialist tropes. If he would like more debate, I can recommend some leading climate scientists who can explain the situation to him, instead of him reading right-wing conspiracy theories, as those are quite damaging.
I am not going to ask the Minister any questions because I do not think he will answer them to my satisfaction, even marginally. The Government are so awful on the issue of climate change, on both mitigation and adaptation; they are absolutely incompetent. I can see that the Minister is not hanging his head in shame, but he really ought to.
As we have heard from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, things are going to get tough. It is saying that, as we go towards 2 degrees of warming, there will be impacts on things such as food. With a rise of up to 2 degrees, people and Governments can adapt to a great extent by changing what we grow, where we grow it and when we harvest it. However, those are no longer once-in-a-generation changes; they are changes that will happen at least every decade, and possibly every few years, as the climate shifts further away from what we have known.
The IPCC also found that, once we go beyond 2 degrees, the damage to world food production will be absolutely devastating, no matter how much we try to adapt. That will of course mean the migration of millions of people, as they try to find food and homes. Millions of people will die—I hate to be depressing about this but I cannot see any way round it. The human world will become smaller, as ecosystems that support life simply collapse. We have to take responsibility for our failure to mitigate the impacts of climate change. We are very slow to adapt. Beyond 2 degrees, we get into an era where millions of species will die—plants, creatures and fungi. We will die with them—the bees go and they take us with them.
One vast area that the Government are not doing enough about is the ocean. As the oceans warm, all sorts of things are changing. We can see that they are changing already, but we do not know how far they will go. Adaptation is all very well if you know what is going to happen, but with the ocean we do not have the scientific data to tell us. Changes in ecosystems barely register with us as crucial when they could be really worrying.
In the meantime, Oceana, an organisation that campaigns to achieve measurable outcomes that will protect and restore our ocean, says we must end new offshore oil and gas drilling and accelerate a just transition to renewable energy; ban bottom trawling in offshore marine protected areas and within three nautical miles of the coast; and end overfishing by committing to catch quotas in line with scientific advice. That all sounds like really good advice for the Government to take.
Finally, if the Government do only one thing, they really have to just stop oil.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on securing this important debate. My focus this evening is to concentrate just on one issue—one example of where global warming and climate change are having an adverse effect and acting as a multiplier or accelerator to the damage being inflicted on our environment. In so doing, I declare my interest as chair of governors at Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools.
At our schools we have decided to champion climate change and sustainability. Our flagship policy is the health of the River Wye. Our objective is to place sustainability at the heart of everything we do, and for that reason we are one of only eight schools in the United Kingdom on the ISC advisory group on sustainability. The River Wye is in sight from all our schools. It runs through Wales, Herefordshire, and Gloucestershire. The River Wye is ill; it is in poor health. Local practices, many uncontrolled, are impacting the ecosystems, and global warming compounds their damaging effect. Treated sewage is discharged into the river and combines with run-off from farms. When combined with rising temperatures, conditions become perfect for algal blooms, which limit oxygen levels in the river and act to distress the lifestyle of the whole ecosystem. The depletion of ozone is happening due to global warming and is a major factor behind rapid growth in algal blooms.
Global warming compounds the problem. At seven to 16 degrees centigrade, fish are happy and active. By 19 degrees, temperatures are too high, and fish are stressed. Aquatic life at this temperature and above will increase the risk of fish mortality. Last month, temperatures in the River Wye during the daytime exceeded 20 degrees, leading to fish mortality, and the incidence of such high temperatures is not a one off but regularly reoccurs. The Wye Valley is an iconic landscape, hugely important for biodiversity. It is an SSSI and part of it comprises the River Wye special area of conservation. Yet it is dying.
My intention on focusing on the Wye this evening is to demonstrate that climate change must never be viewed in isolation from the wider devastation to which it contributes. The decline in the health of our rivers is magnified by climate change, which can turn manageable problems into a heady cocktail of aggressive destruction, as they increasingly oscillate from flood to drought. On the River Wye we have a duty not only to take action against the huge algal blooms, the invisible poison of phosphate and the dumping of over 1 million tonnes of manure from farms housing up to 10 million chickens; we have to engage in the climate change debate, to which the impacts of these actions are linked.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hastings: we need to campaign. It is vitally important to engage with young people in all our schools in the UK, following the lead we are taking in Monmouth, and to assist in ensuring the integration of environmental and sustainable principles into the educational delivery and operational procedures in all our schools. We must do all this with the same commitment as we intend to generate with our focus on the River Wye. It is one of our great rivers, which must be nursed out of intensive care and away from its current spiralling decline to once again becoming the river which used to see 2,000 to 3,000 salmon run every year, not today’s few hundred stressed fish. We will do that only if all politicians lead by example and work with all students in the United Kingdom, as we intend to do with the people in Monmouth, those living in our towns and villages close to the river, and the many organisations that come together and work so diligently to save the Wye.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the other Cross-Bench Peers who have supported this important debate. For my contribution this evening, I will stick in the mud to focus on our coastal fringes and particularly our intertidal habitat. As we all know from our earliest biology lessons, this is where terrestrial life began, and terrestrial life’s survival in the face of climate change depends on how we manage it.
This habitat is the most productive for protein, offering unparalleled biodiversity. It will protect our largest towns and cities from storms and rising tides; it provides carbon sequestration potential and cleans pollutants from the water; it is easily accessible, to the benefit of our health and well-being—yet it is ever changing and highly vulnerable, requiring constant, active and sympathetic management. Unfortunately, national policy and regulation largely ignore it. My request to the Minister is that he explain what the Government intend to do about this.
I declare my interests as set out in the register, including my membership of the Wetlands APPG and my stewardship of intertidal habitat on the Exe estuary. I also work for a law firm that is a leading adviser on natural capital and was recently engaged by a leading NGO to consider the regulation of our marine and coastal environment.
If we are to adapt to climate change, we need to regulate accordingly. Regulation of our natural capital has traditionally been siloed between Natural England’s responsibility for land and the Marine Management Organisation’s oversight of the marine environment. During the passage of both the Agriculture Act and the Environment Act this was noted repeatedly, including the failure of ELMS and other programmes to include the intertidal space, which provides such opportunity for the propagation of shellfish, seagrass and seaweed.
The UK shellfish industry generates nearly £l billion in revenue per annum, much of which is a high-margin, export-led business that supports coastal employment. Across the south-west the industry is threatened by warming water and the invasive Pacific oyster, which is rendering large areas of foreshore simply inaccessible and unfarmable. There is no joined-up strategy to combat it.
Seagrass absorbs and stores carbon and provides a vital home for nature. Healthy meadows can help protect communities from the impacts of coastal erosion and flooding, as well as reducing coastal pollution. We have lost up to 92% of the UK’s seagrass meadows.
Seaweed farming is both a regenerative food production method and a nature-based solution. It does not require additional land, feed, fresh water, fertiliser or pesticides, making it a very low-impact production method. It has the added advantage of absorbing excess nutrients from the sea, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. It can also temporarily remove carbon from the ocean and displace carbon-intensive products, helping to combat climate change.
Across the UK, ground-breaking projects in these industries experience delays and barriers in relation to licensing, impinging on the wider efforts to restore oceans, shift to sustainable food production and adapt to climate change. Concerns have been raised about the cost, complexity and time it takes to apply for licences and the lack of consistency from licensing bodies. The current licensing regime is simply not fit for purpose because it was designed to regulate building, development and extractive industries and was aimed at preventing damage to coastal habitats. It has the effect of inhibiting projects which would actively benefit coastal habitats and help us to adapt.
If we are to deliver on the environmental adaptation commitments of this Government, it is essential that we have a regulatory regime that is fit for purpose. I look forward to the Minister’s response and ask that he takes this issue forward with the appropriate departments across Whitehall.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for giving us the chance to have this debate. I very much enjoyed the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, as I did many of his father’s speeches. I look forward to plenty of future iterations.
I approach this debate in a positive frame of mind. I look at the national adaptation programme and think, “Yeah, that’s a good start”—but I shall not be short of ideas of how to do even better. I share my noble friend Lord Frost’s preference for adaptation. It is something we can do. We can get this done ourselves and look after ourselves. We do not have to fret about what the rest of the world is doing as we do with amelioration, where all our efforts would be wasted if they do not come up to scratch. With adaptation, we can absolutely look after ourselves. It ought to be the focus. I share my noble friend Lord Deben’s wish that that focus should immediately be on water. I declare an interest as a resident of the south-east. This is something we can do.
There is no UK shortage of water, but it is a big project; it is something where there needs to be a fair degree of consensus between all sides of politics on what we should do. It is something we should be actively trying to get on with, because the problems are with us now and will, we expect, get considerably worse. Of course, it might be that the Gulf Stream stops and we all get cold, but I think we should not bet on that.
There are some things we can do that we can all agree are worthwhile, whatever the circumstances. We should be putting extra money into crop genetics. We know that we will need to change the crops we grow; we know that will we need them to deal with different climate, whatever else happens. We really ought not be so dependent on varieties of grass. We are not in a resilient situation and we have the skills in this country to do a great deal better. We ought, as the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, said, to major on disease surveillance; we ought to know what is going on.
As my noble friend will discover when we get back to LURB, we ought to be doing stuff on local solar: solar on roofs, particularly industrial roofs, is just a total no-brainer. Solar and cooling go together, like love and marriage, and we are not doing enough to make that possible at the moment. The other thing we need to major on is truthfulness. I have been very impressed by noble Lords from all sides today, and much less so by the BBC in its garish reporting of dubious statistics on temperatures here and abroad.
We also ought to be looking at long-timescale things: restoration and renewal should remind us that this is committing us to defend London for one or two centuries. We ought to agree how we will do that, and where the barrier will be. What will be the technology? If we take those long-term decisions now, we shall build infrastructure that fits with the future, rather than stuff that will get washed away in the next flood.
My Lords, congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. If I were ever on the wrong side of him in a court and he were the prosecutor, I think I would plead guilty and ask for the maximum sentence as quickly as possible. In fact, the whole of the rest of the debate here hardly had to happen; it would have been interesting just to have had that dialogue between the noble Lord and the Minister. I ought, in some ways, to welcome the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, to this debate, because it always seemed to me that adaptation was supposed to be for Defra, yet so often it is missing in action. So, I thank him from these Benches for standing in and answering many noble Lords’ questions.
My congratulations to my noble friend Lord Russell. If I can persuade him to stick to the climate change agenda and portfolio, I would be most grateful myself. I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Frost, is here, because we need to have a proper debate in this House and I thank him. I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that it seems a bit of a Malthusian or utilitarian argument that we can get rid of the hot ones to save the cold ones; I guess what we want to do is save them all—let us see if we can do that.
One of the things that is most important is a statistic mentioned by my noble friend Lady Sheehan. Temperatures have already risen 1.2 degrees centigrade. We have that target of 1.5 degrees centigrade now from Paris that seems far more difficult. It is estimated that we have a quarter of a degree increase in temperatures every decade, so we do not have far to go. I want to echo something that the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, alluded to, which is the speed of change. Whenever we look at this area—this is why that prosecution case from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, is so important—we have an acceleration.
I, like many other people in politics and advocates of this agenda, used to use the cliché “Well, we need to do it for our grandchildren”. Forget the grandchildren; we need to do it for our actual children, and for some of us who are the average of the House or slightly less, probably for ourselves as well. It is happening and that is why it is so important that we take this adaptation agenda so seriously.
I remember that one of the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, often uses with regard to climate change is around insurance: this is our insurance policy—another noble Lord used that phrase. For me, another truism is that one of the first responsibilities of government is the security of the nation; its number one objective is to keep our nation secure. We often think of that in terms of defence or 2% of GDP—all those areas which are particularly important during these years of the Ukraine war. In fact, this is the most challenging part of our national security, because if we do not get adaptation right our nation will be inundated, period. That is what will happen. That is why, as was mentioned, if we stretch the Prime Minister’s five objectives out beyond the next general election, adaptation should actually be number 1, 2 or 3. It needs to be there—it is a fundamental part of government responsibility.
I think sometimes that the Minister thinks I am overcritical of the Government—he is denying it, of course, over there. It has to be recognised that this is not an easy area for government policy, for taxpayers or for people. Adaptation is not one of those issues where, potentially, we can show an immediate benefit in cost, as we can for renewable energy and EVs. There are lots of ways we could do it, and we could get the private sector to be part of it, such as changing the specifications of our homes and our buildings, with solar energy in warehouses and industrial and commercial buildings. However, there is real cost here. Perhaps the person who most needs to be here is the Treasury spokesman, because the issue is around having to put real resources into changing and improving the situation. It is a difficult area in government policy but it is one that we have to do.
We have all those vulnerabilities that noble Lords have mentioned, such as in health, as spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley, and around food systems and nature. I have to tell the noble Earl, Lord Devon, the good news: IFCA tells me that, the more it looks at the seabed, the more seagrass it sees. The amount might be going down but we are discovering more, which is a good thing.
I will not take up all my 10 minutes because so much has been said already. I want to come back to two questions, one of which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. When will the Government’s climate resilience board meet and who will be on it? Will it concentrate on nature-based solutions and adaptation? The phrase has become a bit of a cliché but it is one that can really work, and work across the terrestrial-marine border. Will the Government take that positively?
I want to come back to that one issue of mine: that the Government’s responsibility is the security of this nation. The most important medium-term way that that is challenged is through climate change, rising ocean height and all the events that we see. It is so important, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, that the Government take adaptation much more seriously than they have done so far.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Earl, Lord Russell, to his place, It was an excellent maiden speech and I look forward to working with him in the coming years. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on securing such a timely debate.
As we convene this evening, fires rage across Europe. Families have had to be evacuated from Rhodes and now Corfu, and temperatures have broken all records. Parts of southern Europe exceeded 47 degrees yesterday. People are struggling, roads are melting and crops are failing in the extreme temperatures. Unfortunately, this is not a unique phenomenon. Last year, 61,752 people died across Europe due to excess temperatures.
Earlier this month, your Lordships’ House questioned the Government on potential global temperature rises of 4% by 2100. While I pray that our planet will not experience such an increase, it is no longer beyond the realms of possibility. However, it is nearly recess, and I wish to be slightly more hopeful. No one who has listened to the calibre of this evening’s debate should question our collective desire to achieve net zero and try to mitigate the worst excesses of the damage already done. This debate has also demonstrated the sheer scale of the issues in front of us, as each noble Lord has highlighted a different threat posed.
Climate change is no longer an academic theory: we are living through the realities every day, and the impact of our changing environment is beginning to affect every part of our lives. It is crucial that we not only seek to mitigate the damage we have done to our environment but prepare effectively to manage the impact of changing temperatures on our daily lives.
As we have heard throughout the debate, the impact of climate change is indiscriminate. Let me touch on some of our deepest concerns. As the NFU has stated, last year was the driest on record in the UK since 1911. This has had an impact on both our domestic agri-businesses and our long-term water table and biodiversity, which in turn will have an impact on the security of our food supply.
Rising temperatures and the increased frequency of extreme weather events are contributing to crop damage and loss, with potentially dramatic consequences for both domestic and global food security. The Government have put many of their eggs in the basket of gene-edited climate-resistant crops, having passed enabling legislation for the development and marketing of such products earlier this year. Can the Minister provide an update on this work and the ongoing discussions being held with stakeholders?
On a similar theme, earlier this year we saw disruption to supply chains as a result of extreme weather conditions in north Africa and across the Mediterranean. Supermarkets called for government support, but Ministers resisted on the basis that supply-chain issues should be resolved by business, not the state. Can the Minister assist the House by letting us know what steps the Government have taken to track progress made by retailers in relation to supply-chain diversity and appropriate mitigations? Do the Government expect the introduction of import checks later this year to exacerbate shortages when they arise?
Moving to a different aspect of security just touched on, I declare my interest as an honorary captain in the Royal Navy. One of the issues less frequently discussed when we look at the impact of climate change is how it impacts our national security at a tangible level. In 2017, the Pentagon published a report highlighting that rising sea levels were having an impact on the functionality of its Norfolk shipyard, the largest naval facility in the world. In the last century, sea levels at Norfolk have risen by 1.5 feet and remediation works totalling $300 million are now under way. I know how much work all our services are doing to move to net zero, but remedial works will be necessary. Can the Minister assure the House that the relevant discussions are under way and will be fully funded?
I move on to our energy supply. One of the consequences of extreme temperatures is an increased demand for energy for both air conditioning and other forms of cooling, as well as a need for enhanced heating, for longer periods in both domestic and business premises. What long-term assessments have the Government made of these increases in demand, both in the additional energy that would be required to power new units—earlier this year, a coal power station was put on standby in case air-con use caused a surge in power usage, although evidently that has not been a requirement for us this summer—and the potential longer-term consequences of relying on systems that expel hot air into the environment?
On housing infrastructure, today the Government announced that they plan to meet their manifesto commitment to build 1 million houses before the next general election, seemingly by focusing on urban regeneration using permitted development rights. Putting aside the practicality and the politics of this rehashed commitment, the announcement does lead to some questions following on from the recent report from the Climate Change Committee, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. The committee stated that its confidence in the Government to meet their medium-term targets had decreased over the last year. Specifically on our housing infrastructure, it noted the importance of updating building regulations to ensure that new homes meet higher environmental standards. Can the Minister assure the House that these will be expedited to apply to all newbuilds?
Regarding our current housing stock, it has been reported that a third of the funding pot allocated for improved insulation and green energy installations has yet to be spent. In light of recent reports suggesting that the Energy and Utilities Alliance is seeking to delay the transition to heat pumps, can the Minister confirm that the Government will not be swayed and that they are committed to delivering more sustainable housing?
A recurrent theme of today’s debate is that climate change is an international issue, that unless we work with others to protect our natural resources we will all fail, and that it will be harder for smaller and less wealthy countries to meet their commitments. During the passage of the Financial Services and Markets Bill, the Government resisted an amendment to increase transparency around financial institutions’ investment in firms that contribute to deforestation. Ministers eventually offered a compromise, but the review may not surface for many years. Given the obvious urgency, can the Minister confirm a timescale for the review?
The issue of climate change is all-encompassing and increasingly terrifying. I would like to conclude in a slightly more positive manner. As this is one of the last debates before the Recess, I wish your Lordships a relaxing and enjoyable break.
My Lords, I join with the rest of the House in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on securing this debate. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for kindly welcoming me to the Dispatch Box. This item spans a number of government departments, but most of it is in Defra and my noble friend Lord Benyon was originally going to be replying. Sadly, he is unavailable this evening, but I am delighted to stand in his place, since my department still has the overall responsibility for delivering net zero.
Before I move on to the substantive parts, I join other Members of the House in paying tribute to the excellent speech from the noble Earl, Lord Russell. He made a number of brilliant points and we all look forward to hearing his future contributions. I note that he is a photographer who does a lot of work for the London Wildlife Trust. I note also that he is a political photographer as well. Since a friend once described me as somebody with a perfect face for radio, I probably will not be taking great advantage of his political photography skills, but I think my right side is my best, should he ever wish to do so in the future. We look forward to working with him and hearing his contributions to the work of the House.
Even with the many successful actions that we are taking to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions—the best record in the G7, as the House is probably sick of hearing me say—we still need to prepare for the way the climate is changing. We must strengthen our national security and resilience, from producing food and securing water supplies to protecting our health and our natural environment, as well as maintaining critical infrastructure and supply chains. To this end, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, reminded us, last week we launched our Third National Adaptation Programme—NAP3, as nobody refers to it. This sets out the Government’s plans and policies to address a wide range of climate risks and opportunities to the UK that were highlighted in our third climate change risk assessment, published last year. The publication of NAP3 marks a step change in the UK Government’s approach to climate adaptation, putting in place an ambitious programme of decisive action for the next five years across all sectors of the economy and society.
Given the broad range of questions raised by many noble Lords, I will try to group them by theme and hopefully respond to all the points raised. I start with the new climate resilience board, which has raised interest from the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Teverson. The Cabinet Office and Defra, working with the Treasury, are currently establishing the new board to oversee strategic, crosscutting climate adaptation and resilience issues and drive further government action to increase UK resilience to climate change.
Membership has not yet been determined but it will be made up of representatives from the key departments across government on the issue of climate resilience. This forum will of course work closely with existing cross-government climate governance, aligning climate adaptation to wider government priorities on net zero and the environment. At ministerial level, this work will continue to be considered as required by the relevant Cabinet committees.
I turn to the points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Kakkar, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and others on heat and public health. Tackling the risks, including to public health, from overheating is of course a key priority for the Government. As a number of noble Lords cited, there were 2,803 excess deaths among those aged 65 and over following the heatwaves in 2022. A number of well-developed warning systems are already in place to alert the public and emergency responders to imminent threats of heatwaves.
The Met Office issued a new extreme heat warning service in June 2021, designed to work alongside the UK Health Security Agency’s health alert system. As outlined in the third national adaptation programme, the Government will implement the adverse weather and health plan published in April this year to support local and national organisations in preparing and building for and responding to future adverse weather events to protect lives and promote health and well-being. This includes provisions to cascade support and guidance to care home managers in the event of extreme weather events such as heatwaves.
In October last year, the Health Security Agency launched its Centre for Climate and Health Security with a mission to deliver a step change in our capabilities in this area. That centre is now leading UKHSA’s climate health activity, providing a focus for partnerships and collaboration with academia, local authorities and other public sector organisations.
In addition to that, NHS England is developing an interactive climate change risk assessment tool to support the identification of local climate change risks to the NHS—I think that addresses one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar. Finally, NHS England will include adaptation measures in the NHS standard contract for NHS buildings and services from this year and include adaptation measures within NHS building standards to increase the uptake of adaptation planning and activity.
On housing, DLUHC implemented Approved Document O of the building regulations in June 2022 to limit excess heat and solar gains across all new residential buildings. DLUHC and the building safety regulator will investigate overheating risk in homes that have been created through a material change of use in 2022-24
On climate change and disease, and another point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, the Government are monitoring the occurrence of vector-borne diseases—VBDs—including the number and size of outbreaks, to improve our understanding of the changing distribution and human cases to manage impacts. Defra will develop new tools for assessing the impact of extreme weather events and projecting the influence of climate change on plant pests by 2026. It will conduct a study on the importance of microclimate by 2025 and invest in a research programme on climate change and vector-borne disease. UKHSA will reduce future risks by maintaining and expanding the UK’s surveillance system for ticks and mosquitoes to achieve rapid detection and control of non-native vectors and raise awareness of VBDs.
I turn to points made by a number of noble Lords regarding homes. We are of course committed to ensuring that all homes are fit for the future in a changing climate. To achieve that in all new homes, we have updated building regulations this year to reduce excess heat and unwanted solar gains in all new residential buildings. For existing buildings, we are undertaking a programme of research to fill evidence gaps in our understanding of the existing building stock’s vulnerability to climate hazards and the methods that can be used to most effectively minimise overheating.
On points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and my noble friends Lord Frost and Lord Lucas relating to our combined efforts on climate adaptation and mitigation, adaptation and net zero in fact go hand in hand. Achieving net zero actually requires adaptation. We have a huge opportunity to make substantial net-zero investments that are resilient to current and future climate change risks, and doing so, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out, can prevent higher future costs.
For the avoidance of any doubt, I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that delivering net zero is of course vital to this Government—as well as being a legal commitment. That is one of the reasons why the Prime Minister set up the department that I am a proud to be a Minister of, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. As the House will no doubt get sick of hearing me say, our track record on this is better than those of the vast majority of other comparator countries, including, for the benefit of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, countries that have Greens in government. As the Prime Minister confirmed today, we will continue to make progress towards our net-zero ambitions in a proportionate and pragmatic way.
I actually agree with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty—and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in his maiden speech—that the evidence clearly suggests that it is cheaper to invest early, anticipating and preparing for risks, than to live with the costs of inaction by rebuilding, recovering and compensating for losses. That is why we have already committed significant government investment to a range of adaptation actions. I entirely accept that it is the role of noble Lords to call for even more money to be spent, but we are already investing considerable sums.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned rising sea levels and flood defences. I can tell him that the Government are investing £5.2 billion in flooding and coastal erosion management programmes, precisely to protect the thousands of homes and businesses that are at risk.
We are also investing in nature—a point made by a number of other noble Lords—with more than £750 million in the Nature for Climate fund driving £2.2 billion of accelerated investment through the Plan for Water—a point also raised by a number of noble Lords—to help to secure a resilient, clean and plentiful supply of water now and in the future.
In his opening speech, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, set out the importance of measuring the outcomes of our actions on adaptation. The Government are committed to monitoring the actions in NAP3 over the five-year programme timescale. To support that, NAP3 includes an annexe dedicated to outlining our approach. Monitoring, evaluation and learning are of course fundamental.
The Climate Change Committee will continue to assess the Government’s progress on adapting to a changing climate in its biennial progress reports on the UK’s current national adaptation programme. In our view, that is the best measure as an independent assessment of government progress against the objectives that we ourselves have outlined in NAP3. To help to support that work, Defra is designing and monitoring an evaluation framework to inform the Climate Change Committee’s first progress report on NAP3, which is due in 2025.
In response to the concerns from the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about our continued commitment to the International Climate Fund, I can tell him that the UK ICF climate finance strategy includes a commitment to spend £11.6 billion between 2021 and 2026, with a balance between adaptation and mitigation measures. That includes targeting priority regions and sectors to enhance locally led adaptation, and supporting many overseas Governments to help them to increase their climate resilience. It also includes a commitment to investing at least £3 billion of international climate finance in development solutions that protect and restore nature. That commitment was repeated in NAP3, which was published last week.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned the Thames Barrier. I point out to the noble Lord that the Thames Estuary 2100 Plan, which is the first adaptive flood risk management strategy of its kind, allows us to plan, monitor and review how we adapt to flood and climate risks to the end of the century and beyond. In May this year, the Environment Agency published an updated plan which confirms that we remain on the right pathway and that current plans for maintenance, repair and improvement of flood defences remain the best value for money.
I turn to the points made by my noble friend Lady Browning and the noble Baroness, Lady Anderson, on global food security and climate change. The UK is stepping up to address international food security, and we are calling for all countries to keep food trade flowing—protectionism is in nobody’s interest. At the World Bank and the IMF’s spring meetings in April, the UK and our partners secured the largest ever financial commitment from the World Bank of $170 billion until the end of June 2023, to support countries faced with economic hardships as a direct result of the Russian invasion and its impact on the world. Together with G7 allies, we are discussing Germany’s proposal for a G7 global alliance on food security to help to scale up a rapid needs-based co-ordinated response, while building on current food security architecture and avoiding a fragmented global response.
More locally, here in the UK the Government are committed to ensuring a resilient food supply, which includes considering the impacts of climate change on domestic food production and its consequent impact on international supply chains. Securing a resilient food supply for the UK by backing British farmers and our rural communities was at the heart of this Government’s manifesto. It is why we have committed to maintaining the £2.4 billion annual farming budget, to help support farmers to become more productive and profitable. We are actively co-ordinating work across the food supply chain to strengthen resilience planning, which will help supply chains respond to climate and other emerging risks. The United Kingdom Food Security Report is a triannual statistical report required under the Agriculture Act 2020. The next report, due in 2024, will continue to improve our understanding of climate risks to UK food security.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed towards examples from the USA’s Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s net-zero recovery plan. I can tell the noble Baroness that, since 2010, the UK has been much more successful than both the EU and the US. We have secured nearly £200 billion-worth of public and private investment in low-carbon energy. Obviously, we are pleased to see that both the EU and the US are now trying to follow our lead. The UK’s innovative approach, such as the contracts for difference scheme, is now being copied across the word, so successful has it been. That investment is 50% higher than the US achieved as a share of GDP, and that is why 40% of our power came from renewables last year, which is twice the figure the US achieved. The amount of renewable power is increasing all the time.
Let me shock the House and agree with a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I realise that this runs the risk of destroying her social media profile, but she was right in some of the points that she made about the oceans. Through the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership, we are improving our understanding of the impact of climate change and rising sea levels. MCCIP engages with a wide range of scientific authors to supply policymakers and the public with updates on the current and predicted impacts of climate change. Defra intends to manage impacts on our fisheries by investing in the creation and restoration of blue carbon habitats, managing anthropogenic pressures in the marine environment and taking advantage of the opportunities posed by climate change for fisheries, such as projected movements of species.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Devon, for his considered points on the risk that climate change poses to intertidal habitats and the benefits to be derived from their effective conservation and management. Again, Defra will continue to manage and, where appropriate, to reduce non-climate pressure on blue-carbon habitats to help protect them and build their resilience. Our target is that 70% of designated features in marine protected areas will be in favourable condition by 2042, with the remainder in recoverable condition. Following the designation of the first three highly protected marine areas in English water, Defra now intends to identify further suitable sites for consultation and potential designation.
Finally, on the important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, about climate change and national security, I point out that the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy recently conducted an important inquiry on precisely that topic. I can tell him that, in response, the UK Government’s resilience framework published in December last year set out their plan to strengthen the systems and capabilities that underpin our collective resilience to all risks to our security, including that of climate change.
I am running out of time, so I thank all noble Lords who contributed to this important debate. The publication of the third national adaptation programme marks an important step at the beginning of five years of concerted action across all parts of government and society to strengthen the resilience of the nation to the changing climate. As this will be my last appearance at the Dispatch Box before the Recess, I will, for a change, agree with the Opposition—specifically, the noble Baroness, Lady Anderson—by wishing all noble Lords a fantastic summer and a very restful period before we resume in the autumn.
My Lords, I will not detain the House for very long, bearing in mind the late hour. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate; we have had some fantastic contributions covering a wide variety of topics. I thank the Minister for his wide-ranging responses to the points raised. I also join others in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on his truly excellent maiden speech. I look forward to many future contributions from him on matters to do with the environment and, no doubt, other topics of importance.
I also acknowledge the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I had the honour of serving on the Climate Change Committee under his chairmanship for a number of years. I do not know which of us was more alarmed when we found that on many occasions, perhaps even on most occasions, we tended to agree with each other—but we were always on the right side when we agreed. I acknowledge his tremendous contribution to the Climate Change Committee and the pleasure I had in serving under his chairmanship.
I just want to very briefly refer to three points mentioned in the debate. One—which I think many noble Lords including the Minister effectively responded to—is this notion that it is either mitigation or adaptation. I am sorry to say that the noble Lords, Lord Frost and Lord Lucas, seemed to feel that you could do one but not the other, and that is clearly not the case. They are both needed.
The second point again has been dealt with by a number of speakers, including the noble Lords, Lord Deben and Lord Teverson: the deaths from cold and heat. It is a peculiar kind of levelling-up argument to say, “More people are dying from cold. Therefore, we can allow the heat deaths to go up”. Perhaps one way of emphasising the bizarreness of that assertion is if you consider that last year 1,675 people died as a result of being killed on our roads. Compare that with the 86,000 deaths that arose as a result of bad diets in this country, according to the Global Burden of Disease study. Does that mean we should allow road deaths to increase and not worry about them, maybe deregulating to allow people to drink and drive and drive too fast in speed-limited areas? Clearly not: we bear down on all causes of death because every death, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, is a tragedy for the families whose loved ones have gone away.
My very final point is about this figure of a cost of maybe 1% to 2% of GDP by 2050 for mitigation. When I was on the Climate Change Committee and it produced this figure, I almost asked, “Is it a big or a small number? How do we know?” One way of expressing it is this: if we reckon we ever get back to a trend of 2% growth per year in GDP, a cost of 1% by 2050 means we will delay until June 2050 being as rich as we would have been in January 2050—a tragedy for all of us: six months of being that bit poorer. When we throw out numbers as a percentage of GDP, we have to be careful about what they actually mean.
Having said that, I reiterate my thanks and wish all noble Lords, as others have done, a very relaxing and pleasant summer break.
House adjourned at 9.45 pm.