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The new plans are a welcome update to the last climate change scenarios, which were produced in 2002, but have these projections not been delayed on several
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occasions? The national flood risk assessment, which has been informed by the data, has also been delayed by several months. Does the Environment Secretary recognise the need to balance the regular provision of information, to keep people updated with the latest projections, with the need to provide a degree of certainty for those making long-term plans and investment decisions, at least to the greatest extent possible?

One of the authors of the US report said this week:

Is not the message of the Met Office’s projections not only that action to reduce carbon emissions is essential to avoid very serious climate change events in future, but that we need to begin preparing now for significant changes in the environment that we can no longer avoid?

Hilary Benn: I agree wholeheartedly with what the hon. Gentleman said about the message that the projections give us. If there are those in society who somehow think that climate change is not happening and we do not need to worry, and that we can pull up the bed covers and hope it will all go away, they are profoundly mistaken. That is why I believe the publication of the projections today will have an impact, and a lot of people will have cause to think about what the future may hold if we do not change it.

With respect, it is not true to say that the UK is not delivering on its own commitments. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are one of the few countries that will not just meet its Kyoto commitments but do more than that. Frankly, when one looks around the world, one finds a lot of countries where that is not the case.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned smart meters, and there is a plan to roll them out over 10 years. As he knows, we as a nation are investing a significant amount in renewable energy, and we are producing more electricity from offshore wind than any other country on the planet. The consultation on coal, for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change was responsible, set out proposals that will give us the toughest regime for any future coal-fired electricity generation of any country in the world.

On the adaptation sub-committee, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that Sir John Krebs has been appointed to chair it, and I hope to make an announcement very soon about the other members. It is not the case that the programme is not going to start until 2011. A cross-Government programme is already under way, but the national risk assessment must be pulled together by that date.

With respect, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s assessment of the progress that we have made in implementing the recommendations in Sir Michael Pitt’s report. What he said is not Sir Michael’s view, and he is in a better position to make judgments than either the hon. Gentleman or I. We have made a lot of progress, and I shall shortly report to the House with a further update on what has happened since I last reported in December.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point about new green spaces. He drew attention to the sites of special scientific interest that we currently have. They
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reflect what is special now, but a changing climate may alter that. One thing that will have to adapt over time is the system we have in place to safeguard what is special. We must recognise that climate change will have an impact on that.

On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, I want to be straight with the House and say that there is a balance to be struck. As he will know, this is cutting-edge science and an enormous amount of work has gone into producing the projections. Those involved should not apologise for one second for taking the time required to get them right. However, he is correct to say it is important that we get the information out. The 2002 projections were for then, and the new ones give us a much better assessment of the probability of the change. He knows, as does the whole House, that there is no absolute certainty, but I think we have struck the right balance. It will be for everyone who sees the projections to make their own judgment about the message that they send us, which is pretty clear, and the action that we need to take to adapt.

Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on an impressive, timely and comprehensive statement. May I urge him and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to resist the temptation to cover the superb wild uplands of Wales and other beautiful parts of this country with thousands of wind generators, not one of which would be built without a direct or indirect subsidy from the British taxpayer? Will he get on with the much more sensible and much cleaner way of generating energy—a new nuclear power station programme?

Hilary Benn: There are places in the country where it would not be appropriate to put wind turbines, including some of our most beautiful landscapes. However, the biggest obstacle to more onshore generation of electricity from wind power is planning permission, followed by issues to do with the grid connection. It has therefore been easier to get agreement offshore. In the end, we cannot pick and choose because we will need all such means of generating energy. The Government, with some foresight, said a little while ago that nuclear needed to be part of the mix, as well as cleaner coal, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change announced recently, and renewables. We must also not forget that we can do much to reduce our consumption of energy. That is why the home insulation programme, on which we are leading, is an important contribution to the progress that we all support.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for today’s early briefing, and I welcome the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change back to the House after his paternity leave and send him best wishes for his new responsibilities.

We are grateful to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and ask him to pass on our thanks to the Met Office scientists, who have done a fantastic amount of work. They have produced what is probably one of the most significant pieces of scientific work to influence the debate for decades. We owe them great respect—they are hugely well regarded.

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We are also grateful to the Government for being honest about the conclusion, which the science backs, that we will experience a 2° rise in temperature. According to assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that might mean that between two and three species are at further risk of extinction. We must face up to the biodiversity implications.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the statement predicts the fastest and most dramatic change in our environment that has ever been witnessed in such a short time? Today’s projections probably mark a watershed in how we consider the future. We now have the evidence at home as well as abroad to show that we must change the way we do things in this country and plan our future differently.

I have some questions about the specifics. Does he accept that we must rethink food production in this country so that we are more self-sufficient in different parts of the country, avoiding the areas that have been most at risk from flooding and might be at more risk in future? Will we not have to rethink how we ensure access to clean water at all times, when more storms and unexpected global events are likely, with the consequent risk to the water supply? Will we not need to think carefully about our housing and planning? We will have more people to accommodate and many more houses to build, but we need to be much more careful about where we build them, given what we know about the risks in Gloucestershire, parts of Yorkshire, places on the east coast and, indeed, along the Thames estuary.

I have a different view about energy policy from that of the right hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells). Does the Secretary of State accept that we need to boost, not reduce, the opportunity for renewables as a result of the report because climate change means that we need to reduce emissions and move to other more dependable supplies? In London and the south-east, does the report imply that the Thames barrier may not be enough and that we need to start planning much earlier for further protection?

Does the Secretary of State accept that we need the same accuracy of prediction continentally and globally as we now have nationally and that we should work at Copenhagen and elsewhere on that basis?

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that what he has told us today, based on the science, means that the Government may have to rethink some of their policies for the best of reasons—for example, the third runway at Heathrow, the plan for coal-fired power stations and the general balance of the energy mix? None of us can afford to avoid the implications of today’s announcement, and we must all realise that Britain and the world need to act pretty quickly or we will risk not only future generations but this generation’s ability to maintain a planet on which we can continue the sort of life that not only we but people abroad need and expect.

Hilary Benn: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about the Met Office scientists, who have worked so hard to give us the benefit of the projections. He is right to talk about the fundamental changes that we could face. We cannot absolutely predict the future, but we can try to plan for it. That is the message that we must take from the report.

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The changes outlined in the report will unquestionably affect the way we produce our food. I spoke earlier about trying to garner the water that we have got. Bluetongue is a disease that travelled up Africa, swept through Europe and arrived in the UK. That is an example of a change in climate affecting our farming industry. We found a way of dealing with that—we funded a vaccination programme, which farmers strongly supported.

Of course, the changes will affect the provision of water. That is why the water companies have to think 25 years ahead in their plans about how many houses they might serve, what the population will be and so on. It is also why we changed planning policy statement 25—the guidance on housing and planning—to provide that the Environment Agency, which has most expertise in the risks of flooding, must be consulted. It is encouraging to see that many planning applications against which the Environment Agency advised have not been approved. That shows that the change that we have made to the system is working.

I agree that we need to boost renewables. The current assessment of the Thames barrier is that it will see us to 2070. The important point about the projections is that, because they give us the probabilities, all a sun hat manufacturer needs to know is that the weather will be warmer, while those responsible for protecting London from flooding want to know what the 10 per cent. probability at the upper range is so that they can plan accordingly. The Thames barrier is a result of adaptation after the 1953 storm surge, which killed 300 people.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need such projections and information to be available globally. Anyone who examines what the scientists have to say to us cannot fail to understand the importance of responding, reducing emissions and adapting.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the excellent scientific work that lies behind it. I note that he referred to the potential for some economic opportunities for tourism and agriculture arising from climate change. I have also heard it argued that there are potential benefits in the reduced incidence of winter illness as a result of climate change. Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to ensure that we and the public are not seduced by such small and doubtful potential benefits, and to emphasise that they are totally dwarfed by potentially devastating effects on vulnerable communities throughout the world and substantial infrastructure costs for us in Britain?

Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We must tell the truth about the range of consequences that may flow. It would therefore be wrong not to refer to the opportunities that might emerge. We should want to take advantage of adaptation technologies and more efficient use of water so that we have the kit to fit to our houses to use water much more efficiently in future. However, my hon. Friend is right that the overwhelming message of the projections is that we do not want to end up in the sort of future predicted for 2070, 2080 and 2090. Whether we will is in our hands and those of other nations as we determine the emission reductions to which we are prepared to commit in Copenhagen in December.

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Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): The projections, especially those at the high end of the time scale, suggest that, for example, temperatures on the London underground might reach 47 °, although I think we might have got there already when travelling on the Northern line at 8 am. That raises important questions about the usability of major parts of transport infrastructure if the projections become reality. The Secretary of State has talked about the need for adaptation in a wide range of activity. What steps will the Government take to set up some form of adaptation fund to provide the long-term investment? The short-term political cycle of a Parliament that lasts four or five years, particularly when we face the economic pressures of the current situation, means that it is all too easy to postpone the necessary investment until another Parliament. Eventually, we could run out of time and not be able to afford the investments if the temperature projections reach the upper limits.

Hilary Benn: The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. The fact is that whoever is in government will have to deal with that issue, because that is the future that we are heading for. However, to be honest, I am not persuaded that a separate adaptation fund is the right approach, for this simple reason. If someone were designing a new school, would they say, “Right, I’ll build it this way, like we’ve always done, but if a fund comes along, I shall change it, because you’ve given some extra finance”? Some of the changes are not very profound. Take highways, for instance. Let us say that someone building a new motorway wants to have drains of a certain capacity, but then decides to have slightly larger drains. That will not necessarily add hugely to the cost, but it does mean that as those concerned—whether they be businesses, councils or anybody else—think about how they are going to build, design and operate something, they will take those considerations into account. The message is that adaptation is not separate, new and special; rather, we have to build it into what we do every day.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): I really do welcome today’s statement, given that its timing quite deliberately coincides with my presentation afterwards of a Bill to introduce climate change health warnings in all car adverts. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend about the central role that water companies will have to play in our future. Is he happy with the regulatory regime, which obviously places the supply of good, clean, potable water at its core, but which may also militate somewhat against water companies branching out into renewable energy? I am thinking of a recent analysis by National Grid which showed that we could produce some 50 per cent. of our gas from biogas by 2020. However, the regime under Ofwat is perhaps not quite good enough to help water companies to achieve that target.

Hilary Benn: Water companies already produce quite a bit of energy from anaerobic digestion, in order to power their works. With the publication of the draft Flood and Water Management Bill and the document that went with it, we are consulting people on what more we should do on water efficiency, which the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently scrutinising, under the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack). Should what we do mirror what we
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have been doing on energy efficiency? I would be very interested to hear what people have to say about that. However, my hon. Friend is right: if the current regulatory structure does not fit what we now know we need to do, we will need to revise what we are doing in the light of the new evidence. That seems a pretty sensible thing to do when we have new evidence, and the new projections are certainly that.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Spine-chilling projections are one thing, but may I ask the Secretary of State about his performance in meeting existing targets for emission reductions? Am I right in thinking that the Government have a legally binding commitment to source 15 per cent. of all energy consumed—not just electricity—from renewable sources by 2020, even though that is widely regarded as unattainable? Could he tell the House what legal sanctions and penalties will apply to Ministers, Departments and civil servants who sign up to targets that are legally binding in international law, but then fail to meet them? If the answer is none, does that not contrast with how the Government treat businesses, which have to sign up to and meet, by force of legal sanction, fines and even imprisonment, targets set by the Government?

Hilary Benn: The right hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point about who, in the end, holds Governments to account for the commitments that they enter into, and this is the Chamber in which we do that.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): And in the courts.

Hilary Benn: It is for the courts to determine what that means in practice if people seek to bring a legal case. Indeed, there was a judicial review recently in relation to the fuel poverty targets that we set. The issues were played out in the courts and a judgment was delivered.

The target for renewable energy is challenging—there is no running away from that—but we are putting in place the policies that we need to get there. We have seen significant change in recent years, through the renewables obligation and the further measures that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is setting out and will be getting on with.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend has rightly referred to the need for international agreement among Governments. However, does he agree that there is also a need for, in effect, an international movement of civil society, involving citizens and peoples, just as we saw with Make Poverty History and similar campaigns, to try to build up the pressure, particularly on the more recalcitrant Governments, to get the agreements that are so urgently needed?

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