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5 Mar 2008 : Column 466WH—continued

I would like to return to the central point made by the hon. Member for Chichester. I fully accept the argument for a cost-benefit analysis, but I also agree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) that adaptation has been very much
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the Cinderella at the feast; I am not quite sure if that image works, but hon. Members will know what I mean. We have heard little about adaptation and I was thinking about why that should be. I think that the answer is straightforward. From a Treasury point of view, adaptation has a price tag attached to it. Mitigation can be achieved through carbon pricing, emissions trading and all the rest of it, and it is not a Budget line; it is there, it comes through, but it is not a Budget line. Adaptation, by contrast, is a Budget line. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that Chichester needs better flood defences, but that is a public spending line and I think that that is the nub of the problem. That is why we do not hear much about adaptation. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West says, adaptation is not only about public spending; planning, reform and other measures could help.

I think that that explains why we hear so little about adaptation. The draft Climate Change Bill had virtually nothing—only a tiny little bit—about adaptation. I think that it is being beefed up a little, thanks no doubt to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. When the Bill comes to this end of the building, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will help to beef it up some more.

Where do we go from here? I am puzzled by the suggestion from the hon. Member for Chichester that there is a considerable diversity of opinion on the science. I am not convinced that the scientific viewpoints on climate change and its causes are as diverse as he suggests they are, but we can differ on that. My sense is that the leading-edge science is well ahead of the international consensus of opinion. The IPCC assessment is a consensus document and tends to be what the hon. Gentleman would no doubt call a lagging indicator. It is not a leading indicator at all; it tends to follow behind scientific opinion, because it has to get all the Governments to agree, and some of the scientists who are most worried about climate change cannot get their latest evidence included. Consequently, there is a time lag. The scientific consensus is a lagging indicator in the IPCC and that makes me think that the case for urgent action is growing.

Climate change is not a philosophical issue. My sense is that the scientific opinion is much more alarming than the hon. Member for Chichester thinks it is, and so my sense about the cost-benefit analysis is different from his. I accept the need to evaluate mitigation against adaptation and I also accept the need to look after the most vulnerable people, although I conclude that the best strategy to help them is to treat this issue more seriously, because my judgment is that, in the long term, serious global climate change will ultimately hit the poor most of all and that is what I am most concerned about.

3.37 pm

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): It has been an interesting afternoon. I thought that we were in for a run around the course and a discussion simply about adaptation; I had not realised that we were in for a “sceptic fest”. Nevertheless, it is always good to test one’s own beliefs and to go through the arguments to make sure that they are robust.

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Certainly, nobody could accuse my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) of not having thoroughly researched his subject, although I am led to very different conclusions from those that he reaches. Despite the sceptical rhetoric that he couched his opening remarks in, we are not so very far apart in our views. He conceded that some global warming was happening and that—I think that I wrote this down verbatim—“man is probably responsible for part of it”. If we accept the principle of anthropogenic climate change, we are simply discussing the degree to which it is responsible for climate change as it is happening now.

Climate change is happening now. I have been to the Arctic. I have seen the vast stretches of open Arctic sea water where there were frozen ice caps just a few years ago. In 2007, the Arctic summer ice reduction was 30 years ahead of the predicted melt rate of the most advanced climate models. If melting continues at that rate, before 2030 the Arctic ice shelf itself could completely disappear in the summer months.

Mr. Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I also had the opportunity to visit the Arctic and I saw the retreat of the glaciers there, which was very visible. However, this takes us back to the IPCC assessment, because the IPCC is, in fact, a consensus body. It tries to find agreement among the many countries that are involved. There are many scientists on the IPCC who would go much further than the IPCC report, alarming as it is.

Gregory Barker: Absolutely. The right hon. Gentleman, who has a great deal of experience in this sector, makes a key point.

I must also agree with the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, that the IPCC is, by definition, a lag indicator. If my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester could point to at least one Government who were dissenting from the IPCC report, his remarks would have a little more credibility. Of course, I am not suggesting that there is no scientific dispute. There will never be an end to scientific dispute. As long as there are more than two intellectuals, there will always be a debate on any given subject. It is good that there are sceptics out there questioning the science—no knowledge on this subject is perfect. However, on the basis of a rational assessment of the risks, very few people, and certainly no single Government, would now doubt that the climate change effects being seen all around us are man-made and that we should act to try and prevent the catastrophic effects that will follow if we allow the world temperature to rise rapidly to 2° above pre-industrial levels.

Philip Davies: Will my hon. Friend explain why, over the past year, we have seen the single fastest temperature change ever recorded—a reduction in world temperatures of between 0.65 and 0.75 per cent.—and why China has had its coldest winter in 100 years, despite increased carbon emissions?

Gregory Barker: Absolutely. We are seeing an extraordinary change in weather patterns. With global warming, we could see a 2° rise, which sounds very boring and quite slight. However, the real impact of climate change is an increase in extreme weather
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patterns, which is why Africa’s worst floods in three decades hit 23 countries from Senegal to west Somalia, and affected 2 million people, in 2007; why Nepal, India and Bangladesh were hit by their worst floods in living memory affecting 41 million people; why two category 5 hurricanes and unusually heavy rains in central America and Mexico affected more than 1.5 million people in 2007; and why, at the height of the flood in Mexico, more than 80 per cent. of the state of Tabasco was under water.

With climate change, we are seeing not just a steady, manageable, predictable rise in temperatures, but violent, global weather patterns and, of course, fluctuations, which explains the hurricanes and catastrophic losses recorded by the insurance industry. If my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) goes to the City of London and asks about pay-out rates from insurance companies 20 years ago, compared with today, he will find an extraordinary seismic shift. That is why the capital markets and business are taking climate change very seriously.

Those who doubt the scientists and cannot come to a consensus, should consider what the most progressive businesses, nationally and internationally, are doing. My hon. Friend should go and ask his old employer, Asda, or Wal-Mart, what they are doing about climate change. He will find that his old employer, whom he cites quite frequently, is taking climate change extremely seriously. The chief executive of Wal-Mart has signed up to a massive reduction in its carbon emissions and is not waiting for the Government to tell it how to do it. Progressive, responsible, private-sector organisations, such as HSBC, BP, RTZ, Marks and Spencer and Tesco are not waiting to be told by the Government what they should be doing, but acting now. They are doing that not just because of the imperative of climate change or because that is what their consumers and customers are telling them to but because they realise that it makes good business sense. They also realise that squeezing out fossil fuels and decarbonising their production costs makes sound economic sense.

Companies such as BP, GlaxoSmithKline, RTZ and General Electric have all managed to reduce their overall operating costs by hundreds of millions of pounds—BP has saved about $500 million over seven years. That money has gone straight to the bottom line. It is never wrong to get rid of waste and inefficiency, to bear down on the cost of energy and to squeeze out manufacturing costs. I worked in the oil industry. In 1999, the cost of a barrel of oil fell below $10; at times, it now reaches nearly $100—an extraordinary rise in the cost base.

I can tell hon. Members what the single biggest threat to poor people is: it is the spiralling cost of fossil fuels. Never mind climate change—in the short term, the fuel- poor and those dependent on fossil fuels for heating and cooking will be the ones to suffer. They are the ones being squeezed the most by fossil-fuel dependency and who will benefit the most from actions that we should take to reduce that dependency, to tap into the potential of renewable energy and to ensure the long-term, cheap, predictable cost of renewable energy. The world’s poorest people, in places such as south-east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, will be hit the most if we do not tackle the causes of climate change,
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and adapt and mitigate. They are the people who require adaptation—never mind us in the UK, who will probably be among the last to suffer the ill consequences of climate change, which are being felt already by people in Bangladesh and sub-Saharan Africa. They suffer already from drought and flooding and feel now the direct consequences of 200 years of industrialisation. We cannot sit back and wash our hands. We have a moral responsibility, not only to our own people in the UK and those abroad, but to future generations. We cannot sit here complacently.

Mr. Mark Field rose—

Gregory Barker: I am sorry; I will not give way.

Some say that we should act for long-term climate change reasons, others because of the spiralling cost of fossil fuels. I do not believe in peak oil any time soon, but I do believe that, whichever way we cut it, the cost of oil and fossil fuels will continue to rise in the long term, not just because it is running out, but because, given consumption patterns and the demand from the fast-growing economies of the far east, pressure on those reserves will increase—even if they are not going to run dry tomorrow.

Those factors will push up the cost of oil and fossil fuels. We should do as much as we can to squeeze out our dependency on high-cost fossil fuels and to invest in clean energy and the technologies of tomorrow. We should follow the model of places such as California, where people have realised that non-polluting, sustainable forms of economic progress are the way forward. Look at sunrise technologies and silicon valley. Look at the entrepreneurs whose private capital backed the fast-growing businesses of the ’80s and ’90s and who are now looking to the green-tech revolution and at sustainable forms of economic growth. They see that as the big future.

That is what we should do in this country. We should do exactly the things that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) spoke about. In our own backyard, we should be looking at climate change and empowering local communities and local authorities, which need the power and responsibility to frame solutions that are right for their areas. For example, some of the things that we need to do in the south-east, on connectivity and flood defences, differ greatly from what needs to be done 200 miles away in Derbyshire. Pockets of local and regional sub-climates will be impacted on much more than places elsewhere. We need to think very carefully about that.

Biodiversity has not been mentioned yet—

Mr. Joe Benton (in the Chair): Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but I want to give the Minister the chance to respond.

Gregory Barker: With that, Mr. Benton, I am very happy to draw my remarks to a conclusion. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

3.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Joan Ruddock): For the very first time in my life, I must say how incredibly grateful I am to the hon. Member for Bexhill
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and Battle (Gregory Barker). He has done a superb job of demolishing the arguments of his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), allowing me to come straight to adaptation. He has so wonderfully espoused the cause of mitigation, for which I am extremely grateful.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Chichester on acquiring this incredibly important debate. Although he spent a great deal of time on the Stern report, he acknowledged that climate change is happening and that it is man-made. The Government are responding to the science. If Stern had never existed, the science would still dictate that we have to address what is now the misnomer of global warming, but which is definitively climate change. The climate is changing and we have to adapt.

We are working hard throughout the Government both to ensure that all our operations, investments and policies take into account the unavoidable impacts of climate change, and to facilitate adaptation in every sector of UK society. One of the cross-Government public service agreements for the new comprehensive spending review period is for the UK to:

That target includes an objective, shared throughout the Government, for the UK to develop a robust approach to domestic adaptation to climate change, and encourage adaptation to climate change internationally.

Mr. Mark Field rose—

Joan Ruddock: I shall not give way, because I have so little time. We have put in place a world-leading resource, the UK climate impacts programme, to provide information and tools that all types of organisations can use to help them adapt to the risks and opportunities of a changing climate. UKCIP is also working with the Met Office’s Hadley centre on the UK 21st-century climate change scenarios, known as UKCIP08. Those scenarios are due to be launched in November this year, and they will provide probabilistic UK climate projections up to 2099. They will be absolutely critical for doing the work to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) referred. The projections will provide more localised detail than we have ever had, drilling down to 25 km grid squares over land, regions and river catchments. The UKCIP08 scenarios will support risk-based decision-making on adaptation, and they will be a major tool for understanding the risks that we face and how we can respond to them.

We have already set up a new adapting to climate change programme, led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to co-ordinate action throughout the Government and drive adaptation throughout society, the economy and the natural environment. Reference was made to biodiversity, and as Minister with responsibility for biodiversity as well as for climate change, I know how critical it is. From the work of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in particular, on the way in which birds already have difficulties finding suitable habitats and moving north, we already know that we need
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wildlife corridors to protect our biodiversity. There will have to be a huge programme of work, and Natural England, which is very much devoted to it, already has an adaptation strategy.

We have three main areas of work in our adaptation programme: the Climate Change Bill, to which the hon. Member for Chichester referred, the adaptation policy framework document, and the new local government performance framework. The Climate Change Bill, which is on Report in the House of Lords, not only sets statutory targets for emissions reductions, but introduces a legislative framework for adaptation.

The Bill requires the Government to produce a national risk assessment on adaptation, which we will follow with a cost-benefit analysis. No doubt, the hon. Gentleman will wish to contribute to that analysis, and I hope that as he approves of adaptation, he will join us as we try to create a national risk assessment so that we can properly develop policies to meet those risks. The Bill also requires that we produce a national programme of work every five years, with interim updates. In addition, it gives the Secretary of State the power to request reports and action plans on adaptation from public bodies and statutory undertakers, such as water companies. Those aspects are new, and I hope that my hon. Friend recognises that we have responded to his arguments in particular, and to the arguments made by many others, who either responded to the consultation on the Bill, or indeed, were critical in the House of Lords.

We are also developing an adaptation policy framework, to which my hon. Friend referred. The framework will identify the key impacts and vulnerabilities that we face. It will set out what action the Government are already taking and provide a road map for the way in which we will meet our statutory commitments under the Climate Change Bill. My hon. Friend quoted my parliamentary answer that the document would be available in the spring, and I know how anxious and frustrated he is. We have agreed that it will be produced as the Climate Change Bill becomes an Act, meaning a small delay but one of which he should approve, because it will enable us to take account of the amendments that we are making in the House of Lords. It is more appropriate to align that work with the new framework that will arise from the legislation. The APF will set out a strategic vision for a UK that is adapting well to the impacts of climate change, and it will explain our understanding of the existing barriers to adaptation and the role of the Government in addressing them.

We have also introduced climate change adaptation into the new local government performance framework. The new indicator will require local authorities to assess the risks that climate change poses to the delivery of their services, and to draw up and implement action to address those risks. It will help to ensure that local authorities are more prepared for the climate change risks to service delivery, local infrastructure, businesses and the public. Negotiations are still under way, but we have been pleased with the initial positive response from local authorities during our consultations on the indicators.

The Local Government Association has also set up its own climate change commission, whose recent report we warmly welcomed. At the heart of our work on climate change is the recognition that it is a cross-cutting issue. An example of that is the recently
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published water strategy “Future Water”, which was launched last month. That strategy has adaptation at its core. It is amazing that the lack of water in London is comparable with that in many Mediterranean countries. The water problem in many parts of the country is much more serious than many people appreciate, so addressing the questions of drought, water shortage and so on are important. We will do so, and the issues of water efficiency, maintaining sustainable supplies, and surface water drainage will all be critical to the development of that water strategy.

We have also been working closely with our colleagues from the Department for Communities and Local Government on the supplement to the new planning and policy statement—planning and climate change. It was launched in December last year and sets out how planning should help us to shape places with lower carbon emissions that are resilient to the impacts of climate change. Several people mentioned that issue, and again it is critical. We must ensure that the new homes we build, and those that we already have, are protected, because we anticipate more severe weather patterns and more flooding as a consequence. We have dramatically increased the flooding budgets, and we are dealing with coastal erosion, too.

The hon. Gentleman did not ask me any questions about that, but he certainly commented on coastal erosion in his constituency. I understand how he feels about that, but DEFRA concluded that the council’s scheme appraisal did not adequately demonstrate that the preferred option was the most appropriate. We will not be able to keep in place every inch of our coast, and we will have to understand that at times, allowing nature to come into our coastal areas is one of the best ways in which we can protect against flooding elsewhere. Those are difficult judgments, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that the decision has not been taken lightly; it has been carefully assessed.

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