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Climate Change and the Environment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:17 pm on 8th February 2005.

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Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:17 pm, 8th February 2005

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would do so, too. I simply say that what the Foreign Office was seeking to do in that paper was to highlight the things that perhaps people do not know are very much already on the agenda, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have the utmost help and co-operation from the Foreign Office, from the Foreign Secretary and, not least, from the many more junior members of the Foreign Office who are in place in our posts in all the various countries with which we need to work and who provide an excellent and very co-operative service, working with my Department, to spread some of these messages. I understand the anxiety that the hon. Gentleman highlights, but I assure him that the Foreign Office is very much on side.

To map our direction of travel, we need to be guided by the best scientific evidence on the potential impact of climate change. That is why at the start of our G8 year, at the Met Office in Exeter last week, we convened a meeting of the top international scientists working on climate change. Those at the meeting concluded that, compared with the IPCC's last assessment in 2001, there is now greater clarity and less uncertainty about the impact of climate change across a wide range of systems, sectors and societies. In many cases, those at the meeting suggested that the risks are more serious than previously thought.

Those at the conference noted that there is evidence that the sensitivity of the climate system to greenhouse gas emissions is now likely to be higher than was believed even in 2001, and that that implies a greater likelihood both of temperature increase and of damaging impacts at lower levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Those at the conference also noted that delaying taking action is likely to require greater action later to achieve the same temperature target, and suggested that even a delay of only five years could be significant.

As I read those words, I was reminded of a remark that an American business man made to me in Davos—it used sailing as a metaphor, so perhaps it is appropriate today. He said that if it is thought necessary to change course, the earlier one does so, the smaller the course correction can be. The later one leaves it, the greater the course correction, and if one leaves it too late, sometimes sufficient correction cannot be made. That is an apposite and useful example.