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10 July 2007 : Column 399WH—continued

I know that it is far easier to pose questions than to answer them, so I shall pose mine to the Minister early
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in my speech to allow her time to give the most comprehensive reply. First, when will the inter-departmental framework for climate change adaptation be ready for publication? Is there any recognition that early investment is better than reactive, unplanned adaptation? We saw the fate of the French politicians who dealt with the problems of the 2003 heat wave and what happened to the senior US officials who were unable to cope satisfactorily with the appalling effects of hurricane Katrina.

Good work has been done by public authorities at EU level to deal with migration from north Africa and the Maghreb. If climate change hampers opportunities for access to EU markets through its effect on the ability to provide primary products to the EU, we will continue to face increased migration pressures from that part of the world. This country has strong links with Bangladesh, which is particularly liable to the effects of climate change: as a low-lying area, it is particularly at risk of flooding. We must either be prepared for the migration pressures that will arise from climate change or provide aid that is directed at climate change. The Government have been trying to become a leading player in the provision of such aid, but a strong concentration on preventing such flows through preventive aid is needed.

Does the Minister believe that the national heat wave plan is sufficiently robust? What continuing work has been done with primary care trusts and emergency services on the emerging risks of the effect of heat waves on the vulnerable? What additional resource is being provided to fire authorities to deal with the increased incidence of forest and heath fires, and what measurements are being adopted by police services on the conflicts that are more likely to arise after extended, hot summers?

Good work has been done on city heat islands and the large increase in overnight temperatures in summer periods. The London assembly published a good report called “Chainsaw Massacre: a review of London’s street trees”, which considered the role that street trees can play in the mitigation of high temperatures in high summer. The report found that although 48,000 trees had been planted in the past year, another 40,000 mature street trees had been removed. My borough was particularly maladroit in removing a net 2,600 street trees, but it is addressing that issue by providing an extra £300,000 of expenditure. I am interested to know what can be done to encourage local authorities to mimic the work in places such as Basel, Linz and Toronto to support the construction of green roofs and cooler pavements—I do not mean that they should be more chic, but am describing the use of more reflective surfaces and surfaces that can retain more water to have a cooling effect.

I am also interested in the work that has been done in the city of Tokyo on thermal environmental mats and ventilation paths, which can be extremely hot in the summer. Can we encourage the adoption of similar approaches here as good practice? What can be done to mimic the work of the City of London in encouraging good practice regarding subsidence in buildings? There is good work to be done with planning new buildings.

Many people in the south-east do not realise how vulnerable the area is in relation to naturally available water supplies. For example, our average rainfall is
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lower than that in Spain. I am pleased that work is being done to have an additional reservoir in Abingdon, although that idea is not always popular with my colleagues from elsewhere in the country. In addition to the work that is being done to deal with water leaks, should consideration be given to encouraging major investment in the transfer of water from elsewhere in the country so that the continued and robust economic growth of London and the south-east can be supported? That growth will be compromised if a water supply is not available.

The harvesting of water is an important aspect of storage plans that can be put in place to deal with the heavier summer storms that will come with climate change. There are such opportunities in the Thames Gateway—an area where there will be substantial housing development and which is at risk in respect of building on a floodplain. For example, storm run-off could be retained in the gap between dual carriageways rather than in the raised level, as is typical.

Work needs to be done on a regional basis. The UK faces the risk that moneys will be transferred away from us because EU funding is needed for areas that will be even more severely impacted by the need to deal with climate change. I hope that the Department has a positive attitude to the idea of sharing experience between the 27 partner members of the European Union.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I wholeheartedly congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He is doing a wonderful job, knowledgeably and succinctly hitting all the right buttons in his speech. I welcome the cross-party consensus that I think we have on many of these issues. Does he share my sadness that almost all the climate change debate in our country, and in Parliament in particular, has centred on the causes of climate change and there has been almost no debate on its effects? Concentrating on its causes is almost totally beyond the UK’s control, given that we are responsible for only 2 per cent. of world emissions, whereas adaptation—the sorts of issues that he has been discussing—is entirely within the control of the UK and our Government.

Mr. Pelling: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. To some extent, I am inspired by the work that he has done on this issue. This is an important path for us to walk down. In many ways, it can allow us to have a positive view about what people can do, not only at governmental level, but at local level. Businesses and individual citizens can also have a real impact in dealing with these challenges.

The Government have given strong support for investment in cooling London’s transport, and money has been provided for that. In hot summers, this can be a real issue. Issues will arise in terms of less hydro provision and cooling water for nuclear power stations. What is the Government strategy for dealing with such issues? What advice can the Government give farmers on pest-resistant crops, given the change in the pests that we will face? What advice is being given to health authorities on dealing with the likely increase in
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deer-tick diseases that will arise from changes in our environment? What support can be given to our tourist industry, which might well benefit from people deciding to holiday here during the summer rather than go to previously warmer climes?

What work can be done to provide additional support to the regulator and to water utilities to deal with increased sewerage outflow risks that result from storm drains spilling into sewerage facilities when there is high rainfall? As a London Assembly member, I greatly enjoyed going down London’s sewers, but my colleagues on that investigative committee did not regard this as a clever joke.

What work can be done to encourage the healthiest of ecosystems? Healthy ecosystems are more likely to be able to deal with fighting changes in the environment. Watering holes for migrant birds is an important strategy matter for us, because reduced water provision in certain areas is likely to compromise migrations.

What work can be done to support the insurance industry, particularly in terms of further integration across the European Union, so as to maximise responsiveness in providing insurance products that will be able to deal with climate change? What will the Government be able to do to promote climate change adaptation in the private sector? It is clear that the Government have done good work on liaising with business and that they have listened to the robust advice of the Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment.

Good work has also been undertaken by local authorities in supporting the Nottingham declaration. Some 200 authorities have been involved in that way, but have the Government considered whether there is value in making that declaration, or any derivative document, mandatory?

Does the Minister accept that her statutory responsibility to come to the House to account for climate change adaptation progress is a necessary part of parliamentary scrutiny? In many ways, I am asking whether it is option one or option two within the climate change process.

I appreciate that I have asked more than 20 questions. I am sorry to have spent the whole of my speech asking questions and I appreciate that the Minister cannot answer them all in the remaining time. My asking so many questions perhaps underlines just how much this is a cross-cutting issue for Government; it runs beyond many Departments. I am sure that the answer that she is able to give will contain a clear indication that the issue is being addressed throughout Government as a whole.

1.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Joan Ruddock): I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) on obtaining this debate and on raising what we all agree to be an important issue. We do not debate it often enough, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) has said. It is a key part of the climate change battle and I intend to increase its profile both in Parliament and in the country. We all agree that climate change is
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happening now. While we put every effort into curbing emissions to protect our future, we must also accept the need to adapt to the inevitable changes brought about by the world’s existing and increasing CO2 burden.

The recent intergovernmental panel on climate change report clearly states that the impacts of climate change are real and global. It says that

More erratic weather patterns, hotter summers and bigger storms have been predicted, and few of us doubt that recent UK weather patterns are tantamount to those predictions.

The flood events in June were notable for the intensity of rainfall and the fact that a lot of flooding was surface water run-off rather than fluvial. These are precisely the sorts of events that we might expect as a result of climate change. If we are to try to prevent appalling damage and tragic loss of life such as we recently experienced, we must learn the lessons. As hon. Members will know, the Prime Minister has announced a lessons-learned exercise, and officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be heavily involved in the examination of our agencies on the ground, delivery and policy development. We have no time to lose in developing adaptation responses to these challenges. The Secretary of State has announced that spending on flood management will rise to £800 million in 2010-11 to help to protect more homes and livelihoods.

Past events also give us pause for thought. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the insurance industry. It tells us that between 1998 and 2003, claims for flood and storm damage reached £64 billion—double those of the previous five-year period.

We do not just have to worry about excess water—the best available science predicts hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters. The hon. Gentleman mentioned our vulnerabilities. Within 70 years, rainfall in the south-east might fall by 50 per cent. That would have obvious consequences for water supply. Yet we could also be facing increasingly intense rainfall, leading to more frequent flooding.

The UK is considered to be a world leader in adaptation; it is leading the way at home and abroad. The Government are supporting stakeholders with information and tools for adaptation, but there is a need for a more strategic direction and for ensuring that the science and tools remain up to date. Cutting edge information is being published for decision makers through a series of climate change scenarios, which have been developed using the latest modelling techniques by the Met Office’s Hadley centre, working closely with the UK climate impact programme—UKCIP, not UKIP. A new set of scenarios will be published next year.

I shall now touch on some of the questions raised by the hon. Gentleman. UKCIP works with a number of partners to develop adaptation strategies. Local climate impact profiles are being developed to help councils to obtain an insight into how a changing climate may affect their locality and to learn the lessons of past events. UKCIP also works closely with the regional climate change partnerships. The hon. Gentleman is familiar with the London partnership, which is very
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active and has produced guidance for businesses. He asked about guidance for the private sector. That is being provided through those partnerships to business, developers and planners. I am pleased to note that Croydon has taken advantage of that advice and has made it a requirement for all new developments to include adaptation measures. The regional partnerships are essential in supporting and catalysing action at the level where impacts will be experienced.

I spoke earlier about the need to provide greater strategic direction. We are providing that in two ways. First, the draft Climate Change Bill places a reporting requirement on the Government. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government should report, and clearly they will have to do so because that is clearly stated in the draft Bill.

Rob Marris: Clause 37 of the draft Climate Change Bill follows on from my ten-minute Bill earlier this year, which called for annual reporting. The draft Climate Change Bill calls for a first report in three years and five-yearly reporting thereafter. That frequency is insufficient. Will my hon. Friend look again at the frequency called for in clause 37?

Joan Ruddock: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in this field and for his ten-minute Bill. He has heard from the Government about annual reporting not being appropriate, but I am always happy to look at the matter again and will do so at his request.

The draft Climate Change Bill introduces a reporting requirement, which includes an assessment of the risks of climate change to the UK in terms of impacts and vulnerabilities, to which the hon. Gentleman also referred. Furthermore, we will be required to set out our efforts to integrate adaptation. Efforts are also under way to set a strategic direction through a cross-Government framework, and last year’s consultation acknowledged that the time was right for a new direction to enable the UK to take more effective action.

The hon. Gentleman asked when the cross-Government framework will be published, and I am assured that it will be ready by the end of the year. It will identify priority areas for action when Departments need to work closely together to ensure that adaptation occurs.

I shall try to answer some of the hon. Gentleman’s specific questions. He asked whether early intervention was better than later adaptation. There can be no disagreement about that, and I hope that there is none throughout the House. We must get on with the matter with increased vigour.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the need to direct aid to prevent mass migration from other countries. I hope that I shall have time for a few concluding comments on the subject of developing countries and their needs. I agree with him that we must provide them with help.

Questions about national heat wave plans for primary care trusts, fire authorities and the police are for other Departments, and without prior notice I am certainly not in a position to gather the answers for the hon. Gentleman.

On street trees—this is entirely my personal view—I agree that there has been far too much removal of trees
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from streets. I understand the difficulties, but we must examine ways of reintroducing greenery, not just for aesthetic reasons, but for the important impact on global warming.

The hon. Gentleman asked what can be done to encourage local authorities to undertake a whole range of tasks. UKCIP works closely with local authorities to provide support and tools. He mentioned the Nottingham declaration action pack, which is an ongoing toolkit to help to develop adaptation and mitigation strategies at local level.

The next round of beacon council schemes includes a climate change theme with adaptation elements, and DEFRA officials have met the Local Government Association’s Climate Change Commission to stress the importance of adaptation. The commission’s recently published interim report puts adaptation first of the six key issues that local authorities must deal with. A slow start was made, but a lot is now being done, although there is much more to do.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned ideas from other cities, notably Tokyo, and there is undoubtedly much that we can learn and intend to learn from the experience. He will know the extent to which the London Mayor has made working with other cities a priority.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the vulnerability of the south-east and asked whether consideration should be given to investment in a linked transfer, so that water could be brought to many other parts of the country. If I said that that was a great idea and that we would get on with it, there would be a lot of concern in the Government and certainly among my colleagues. I am a Welsh woman, and I remember the stories that I heard during my childhood about the English stealing our water. That is a debate for another day, and something to be looked at.

Other questions referred to transport cooling and nuclear power stations. They are matters for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, previously the Department of Trade and Industry, and we can certainly consider with it what can be done. DEFRA began work on the agricultural project to look at adaptation some time ago, so that is in hand. A DEFRA tourism study was published in 2005 on climate change and the visitor economy. Again, the Government are keen to tackle both risks and benefits.

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On sharing experiences between EU partner members, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand that that is normal practice. He spoke about the recent publication of the EU document, and we will of course do more to keep in touch. My hon. Friend spoke about his sadness about the fact that the debate has been too concentrated on the causes and that not enough attention has been paid to what we should do. I agree with him absolutely.

If there is anything that I have not dealt with, I shall be pleased to do so in some other way, but I want to conclude by stressing that the problem is not for the future, but for us now because it is happening and it is global. Despite all the horrors that we have had to endure during the past few weeks, we should never forget that the greatest impact of climate change is already being felt in the developing world, where we can see the potential for crop failure as temperatures rise, with more cases of malaria, which is already a tremendous blight on African countries and their people.

With sea levels rising, we can, as the hon. Gentleman said, anticipate that low-lying countries such as Bangladesh will be seriously affected. We must do all we can through our aid programmes and encourage other international aid agencies. Britain cannot do everything alone, and we must encourage help for countries that will suffer and may create difficulties for us with migration.

I am glad that DEFRA is working with teams in India, China and Bangladesh on climate change and adaptation. The Department for International Development is beginning to take action to ensure that its development projects build in climate change. The challenges at home and abroad for adaptation are immense, but the Government cannot do everything alone. We have responsibilities as individuals, and we must factor in all those aspects of investment, infrastructure and our own objectives, ask how viable they will be in 10, 20 or 30 years, and take climate change into consideration. Winning the battle requires a twofold effort. We must stop the rising greenhouse gasses—

Mr. David Wilshire (in the Chair): Order. We must move on to the next debate.

As I am feeling my age, Mr. Touhig, I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

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