Climate Change

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 30 November 2005.

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Photo of Lord Sheldon Lord Sheldon Labour 2:30, 30 November 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What comparison they have made of the consequences of climate change for the United Kingdom and for other countries.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming, Food and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, climate change is obviously a global issue. The United Kingdom is giving increasing attention to understanding climate change impacts on both the UK and other countries, particularly developing countries, to help them assess their vulnerability. Last year, Defra funded a global assessment of climate change impacts by sector. This report highlighted that the most severe negative effects are most likely to occur in less developed countries and that up to 70 per cent of the world's coastal wetlands could be lost by the 2080s.

Photo of Lord Sheldon Lord Sheldon Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Although climate change could have serious consequences for many countries, is it not likely that its effect on Britain would be rather less severe? In such a situation, should we be taking such a prominent position ahead of those countries which are considered so much more at risk of global warming?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming, Food and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, it is certainly right that climate change may lead to some positive consequences for the United Kingdom but they are likely to be negated by the negative consequences which will affect this country as well. We are right to be extremely cautious indeed about seeing any real positive advantages in climate change for the United Kingdom. There is a balance to be struck. We feel that it is essential to look after the interests of the United Kingdom so far as climate change is concerned, but it is also in our interests to make sure that developing countries, in particular, are protected as much as they can be and are able to deal with climate change over the years to come. The world is becoming smaller and smaller and the consequences of some disaster occurring in Bangladesh, for example, will very much affect Britain and its citizens.

Photo of Lord Lawson of Blaby Lord Lawson of Blaby Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is increasing evidence that adaptation to any problems of climate change—whether man made or natural—is far more cost effective than attempts at mitigation, which cannot work if they are not carried out on a global basis, which, of course, they are not? The Minister referred to the issue of rising sea levels but is he aware that the problem could be more effectively met by improved sea defences? This would be a much more sensible use of funds than the vast amounts that are being spent in a doomed attempt to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming, Food and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, until recently there has been, as the noble Lord is implying, more emphasis on mitigation and financial incentives for mitigation than on adaptation. But the balance is now shifting towards adapting to climate change. For example, Defra has commissioned research on assessing the costs of adaptation options both for ourselves and for other countries.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that carbon emissions are making a major contribution to climate change? Will he therefore confirm that his department and the Ministers within it are now enthusiastic supporters of the recent announcement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister?

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if we called it "global chilling", people in England might be more worried than they are generally, because the idea of warming is quite cosy? Further, I am sure that the Minister is aware of yesterday's report from the National Farmers Union on the effects of climate change on agriculture. What are the Government doing to ensure the capacity of the UK to feed itself and the future of food production in the face of climate change?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming, Food and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, we are aware of the NFU document, which is an important contribution to a debate that has taken off in the past year or so. We are of course concerned that climate change may affect the way in which British agriculture is conducted, so, along with the National Farmers Union and other interested bodies, we are researching what we can do to anticipate as best we can what we will be farming in years to come. This is an important matter and the noble Baroness is right when she implies that the consequences for the United Kingdom can be pretty severe.

Photo of Lord Tanlaw Lord Tanlaw Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that there is no problem with the possible stoppage of the Gulf stream and the very dramatic effect that that would have on the northern latitudes, particularly Scotland, were it to occur, as some scientists believe it might?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming, Food and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, for a variety of reasons, it would be a very serious matter if that was to occur. That would affect not just the United Kingdom but the continent of Europe. One does not know whether that will happen but it is clearly a danger.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Spokespersons In the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, economic modelling appears to indicate that in developed economies, the cost of switching from a high-carbon emissions economy to a low-carbon emissions economy is relatively small in the context of the overall economic situation. Have the Government undertaken any studies of what will happen in less developed economies, where the situation is remarkably different, to see whether the same, relatively neutral, effect applies there? If that were the case, it would be so much easier to persuade those countries to take action on global warming.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming, Food and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord's question, but we have to take notice of the wish and requirement of developing countries to grow. It is all very well for us in the developed countries that enjoy a very high standard of living to be self-righteous about climate change and say what we can do to mitigate or adapt to it, but it would not be acceptable for developing countries to stop growing because of climate change. That is why we support the idea that there should be discussions between the developed countries and those developing countries, particularly China and India, which are not signed up to Kyoto. What we need to tackle the global problem is global action. We are driving forward a complementary approach to formal target-setting. These matters are being discussed at Montreal as we speak.

Photo of Lord Davies of Coity Lord Davies of Coity Labour

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend—