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Climate Change

Volume 831: debated on Tuesday 11 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they plan to make preparations to adapt to a global temperature rise of 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

My Lords, the third climate change risk assessment provided climate projections for rises of 2 and 4 degrees centigrade by the end of the century. The upcoming third national adaptation programme—NAP 3—will set out the Government’s plans for climate risks and opportunities for a 2 degree warming scenario to continue to build a more resilient country, with a focus on enhanced ambition, implementation and evaluation. In developing NAP 3, departments were also advised to assess the risks for 4 degrees of warming by 2100.

I am very glad to hear that; that is quite good news. With all his financial acumen, can the Minister also tell me which would cost more: allowing food price inflation, because of multiple harvest failures; seaside erosion and mass evacuations; communities and towns collapsing from floods, fires and general devastation; or making the right policies in the first place to be climate friendly?

The noble Baroness does not have to rely on my questionable financial acumen; the Office for Budget Responsibility concluded, before the current gas crisis, that investment in net zero by 2050 represents 0.4% of GDP in additional public spending, while delaying the net zero transition by 10 years would double overall costs. It highlighted that the costs of global inaction would significantly outweigh the costs of action. That is the sort of financial backing we have for our adaptation plans.

My Lords, last week we had the four hottest days for the globe in living history. Last summer, 60,000 people died of heat stress in Europe, including 3,500 in the UK. As temperatures rise, that will become an epidemic. Can the Minister say what the Government are doing to make public housing, homes and business premises resilient to heat stress? I do not see a government plan for that; could he tell me what it might be?

We have already introduced requirements for new residential buildings to reduce overheating risks, making them more suitable for the warming climate. We are strengthening the resilience of the housebuilding industry right across the piece and looking at the impact of not only heat events but floods. We are spending billions on adaptation through the Environment Agency to protect homes from both extremes of weather.

Can the Minister tell us whether the Government plan to introduce a maximum working temperature for people at work?

I have no knowledge of plans to produce such data, but I will certainly find out from the relevant department and contact the noble Baroness.

Given the information we have heard in the previous questions on how destructive a rise of even 2 degrees centigrade could be, why are we still considering licensing a new oilfield in the North Sea?

Oil as part of our economy is seen as a transition, and we want to make sure that we move our whole energy production to a renewable and non-carbon basis. The continued use of oil is inevitable, but we will continue to make sure that the economy is based on as much renewable as possible. If the noble Baroness, like me, goes on to the National Grid app, she can see that as of today, at this precise moment, energy from renewable way exceeds energy from oil and gas.

My Lords, has the Minister noticed that Green politicians tend to be a wee bit hypocritical? We have two Green Ministers in Scotland, Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie, who go everywhere in chauffeur-driven cars when there is perfectly good public transport available, which I use regularly. Is it not about time that they lived up to their theories in their actions?

When I arrived at Defra in 2010, there were five ministerial cars; that has gone down to one, and I travel mostly by the use of an Oyster card.

My Lords, can the Minister tell me the comparative fuel consumption and emissions from a helicopter flight compared to travelling by car?

My Lords, the rise in sea level means that there will be more sea. Does not the Minister agree that this is yet another reason why the Royal Navy might need more ships to patrol it?

That is a spectacular intervention on this subject. Interestingly, at the height of the Trump presidency, the Pentagon put out a piece of work where it referred to climate change as the “threat multiplier”. The nexus between the security implications of climate change and the environmental ones is absolutely fundamental to what we are trying to achieve. We are going to see a much more dangerous world, unless we can tackle these precise issues.

My Lords, I declare my interests as chair of the adaptation committee of the Climate Change Committee. Very hot weather often goes with periods of drought. Can the Minister tell me what he is doing to make sure that the farmers of the fenlands are able to water their crops this summer?

The noble Baroness raises a really important point. What we are doing through our environmental land management schemes and future farming is to try to make farming more resilient in so many ways. One of the great difficulties we face in the east and the south of England is that we have rainfall levels in many parts that are equivalent to some sub-Saharan African countries, and using water, slowing it and using it more sensibly, with the production of more reservoirs, is crucial. Also, the Bills that this House has passed, such as the one on gene technology, producing crops that are more resilient to drought, are really important.

My Lords, in his recent resignation letter, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, cited a concern that

“the UK has visibly stepped off the world stage and withdrawn our leadership on climate and nature”.

He told us:

“The problem is not that the government is hostile to the environment, it is that you, our Prime Minister, are simply uninterested. That signal, or lack of it, has trickled down through Whitehall and caused a kind of paralysis”.

Does the Minister agree with his former colleague?

This Prime Minister, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, agreed to the doubling of our international climate finance contribution to £11.6 billion, one of the most generous of any country. I have been to three recent COPs and seen that the United Kingdom is revered in this area of policy in a way that I cannot put words to, because we are leading on so much of this. At COP 27, the UK committed to tripling its funding for climate adaptation finance. In 2021, the UK was the first Government to endorse the principles for locally led adaptation, which has now been picked up by 140 countries. We are very much a leader, and I know that this Prime Minister, who gave that assurance again at the more recent COP, is right behind making sure that we are tackling this the greatest challenge that mankind has ever faced.

My Lords, will the Minister comment, therefore, on reports that the commitment he has just referred to is one that they intend to row back on?

I have no knowledge that we are going to row back on that commitment. It was made by three recent Prime Ministers, and we want to make sure that it continues.

My Lords, the Minister, in an earlier answer, referred in passing to the production—I think that was the word he used —of more reservoirs. Can he tell the House what plans there are for reservoir building in England at the moment and where those reservoirs are planned for?

My experience of this is that it is not quick enough. The River Thames is the conduit for water for a number of water companies in the south- east and it needs a reservoir in its headwaters. That has been being planned now for more than a decade and a half, and we want to see it built. It is unlikely to be built within the next decade because it is an incredibly complex process, but we are also looking at trying to move water more effectively. We can now move water from Yorkshire to Ipswich and from parts of Wales into the south-east of England—I know that is a controversial issue and I do not want to unleash the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, on that one. We are looking to use technology to move water more effectively.

Does my noble friend agree that, in contemplating how we prepare for the future, we should take into account the science, as prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is summarised in table 12.2 of Working Group II. It says that, though of course the temperature is expected to rise if we follow the most extreme scenarios, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has forecast, there is not expected to be, nor is there any sign so far of, any increase in droughts, floods, landslides or fires.

My experience in talking to members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Royal Society and some of the best experts in the world on this is that there is a very real danger. While I respect my noble friend in so many ways, I feel I will listen in this case to members of the Royal Society and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, because they are the guardians of knowledge on this.