Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:53 pm on 2nd May 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Brown of Cambridge Baroness Brown of Cambridge Crossbench 12:53 pm, 2nd May 2019

My Lords, I echo the words of others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for securing this debate on what has turned out to be a very special day. I also declare my interest as vice-chair of the Committee on Climate Change and chair of its adaptation committee.

I want to talk about the lesser-known part of the Climate Change Act that covers climate change risk, and the actions that government must take to address it to keep the people of the UK safe in the face of a changing climate. However well we do on mitigation by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and even if we could cut them to zero by 2025, as Extinction Rebellion would like, or to the much more realistic target that the CCC has recommended today of 2050, we have to recognise that the climate will go on changing because of the lag in the climate system.

It will continue to get hotter. The threats of droughts and fires will continue to increase. Extreme weather events, such as the short periods of very intense rainfall that cause flooding, will continue to become more frequent. Sea levels will continue to rise, contributing more damage to coastal areas. Adaptation, ensuring that people, but also animals and plants, can continue to live safe and healthy lives in the face of these changes, will remain a critical area for policy, investment and action.

Section 56 of the Climate Change Act 2008 requires the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament every five years containing an assessment of the risks to the UK of the current and predicted impact of climate change, and to take into account the advice of the CCC, which is the climate change risk assessment—the CCRA. The current CCRA— our second—was laid before Parliament in 2017.

Under Section 58 of the Act, the Secretary of State has a duty to lay programmes before Parliament, setting out the objectives of Her Majesty’s Government in the UK in relation to the adaptation to climate change; the Government’s proposals and policies for meeting these objectives; and the timescales for introducing these proposals and policies, addressing the risks identified in the most recent climate change risk assessment. This is called the national adaptation programme. Every other year we on the CCC review the progress on delivering the NAP. Our current NAP was laid before Parliament last year, and we will review it formally later this year.

The CCC’s advice to the Government on climate change risks, based on an extensive evidence report, identified 56 key risks and opportunities for the UK which should be addressed in the next five years, 38 of which were classified as “more urgent”— that is, where more action or more research was needed in the next five years. In our first scan of the 2018 NAP, the CCC has already pointed out that half of the 55 key risks are not covered by formal NAP actions, and that includes 16 of the risks identified as “more urgent”. I am not going to list these—our formal report in the summer will cover them in detail—but I want to highlight those particularly pertinent to this debate: the international aspects and the international risks, which include global stability and the global economy.

As we have heard, climate change will impact populations, economies and livelihoods around the world. An increase in extreme weather impacts can be expected to cause widespread loss of life and severe humanitarian crises. Patterns of agricultural production will be disrupted and, over time, will have to change. We will import impacts to the UK through the price and safety of food and other commodities, changes to the patterns of trade, disrupted supply chains and risks to overseas investments. An increased frequency of weather extremes will disproportionately affect low-income populations, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has reminded us, and countries such as the UK will increasingly be called upon to provide more humanitarian assistance. Efforts to build state stability and long-term resilience could be undermined. Further research is urgently needed to understand whether our current approaches to aid and development are contributing effectively to the long-term resilience and stability needed. We need to be aware of the danger that the need for humanitarian assistance, in response to an increasing number of extreme weather events, could shift international aid away from long-term development.

Climate refugees and climate-driven migration are likely to become increasingly problematic, with potential impacts on extremist politics in developed nations. Overall, the research evidence indicates that the key international risks to the UK all fell into the “more urgent” categories, with more action needed on weather-related shocks to global food production and trade, risks from climate-related human displacement—refugees—and more research needed on imported food safety risks, long-term changes in global food production, risks to the UK from international violent conflict, and risks to international law and governance.

None of these has any formal actions in the NAP. While the three relating to food production are mentioned in passing, the three relating to migration, conflict and the breakdown of international law and governance are not mentioned anywhere in the 2018 NAP. The first national adaptation programme, in 2013, set out the laudable aim of:

“A society which makes timely, far-sighted and well-informed decisions to address the risks and opportunities posed by a changing climate”.

The second NAP endorses this aim so why does it appear to ignore the international risks, especially as the UK, through our Prime Minister, is the global lead on resilience for the UN Secretary-General’s special summit on climate change this September?

The international risks are particularly difficult and sensitive: food security, refugees and migration, violent conflict and the breakdown of international law. But we as a society need to discuss these issues so that we can make well-informed decisions about how we want to address them. Some of these risks fall well outside Defra’s departmental remit but so do many of the climate risks to business, communities and infrastructure. Like climate change mitigation, climate change adaptation needs to be a cross-government priority. My questions for the Minister are: first, how do we ensure that adaptation is a priority right across government; and, secondly, why does our national adaptation plan appear to overlook the significant and serious international climate change risks to the UK, despite the positive lead we are taking on resilience to climate change?