Climate Change: Extreme Weather Events — [Ms Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 13th November 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Labour, Bristol North West 9:30 am, 13th November 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered extreme weather events related to climate change.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms Dorries. Several hon. Members send their apologies, because of a clash with an Environmental Audit Committee visit about sustainable fashion. Many of the normal suspects were sad not to be present. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate. It is a particular treat to be given the opportunity to lead it, not least because it is my birthday.

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its recent report on 6 October, I assumed that we would have time to debate it on the Floor of the House. Any IPCC report should warrant that level of political attention, but that special report tells us that all the warning lights are on red and that we have 12 years to limit global temperature growth to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels or face extreme changes to the way we live our lives.

I welcome the Government’s clean growth strategy and the passing remarks of the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth about the IPCC report in her statement on Green GB Week, but, with respect, heralding a letter from the Government to the Committee on Climate Change asking for advice on what to do next is not good enough. The House of Commons is supposed to be at the heart of the national and international debate. What we do here adds volume to the news that people across the UK see and hear. Shamefully, the IPCC report was covered prominently in the newspapers, on the radio and on the TV, but not in the House of Commons.

The Government’s response to that significant report was not proportionate to the report’s conclusion, which was that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels

“would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” through

“transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities.”

Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide need to fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero around 2050.

That was a lot of information, but the degree and scope of change required to limit and stop temperature growth is enormous. I fail to understand why this debate was not led prominently on the Floor of the House of Commons by the Prime Minister, rather than in Westminster Hall for 90 minutes at the third attempt by an Opposition Back Bencher to force the Government to the table. The report is not just a warning about the future or an academic hypothesis; it is about what is happening around the world today. The co-chair of the IPCC working group said:

“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1 °C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes.”

I will read through some of the headline extreme weather events of this year. In January, a mud slide following rainstorms in California resulted in 18 deaths. Since March, floods in east Africa have accounted for almost 500 deaths. In May, a dust storm caused by high temperatures in India killed 127 people. In June, a monsoon followed by a landslide in Bangladesh caused 12 deaths. A summer of heatwaves across the northern hemisphere, experienced in Britain too, resulted in 65 deaths in Pakistan, 80 deaths in Japan, more than 90 deaths in Canada, 42 deaths in South Korea and 20 deaths in Greece, and, on the best available data, up to 259 deaths were attributed to high temperatures in the UK.

In June and July, floods in Japan led to 225 more deaths, and more than 8 million people were advised to evacuated. In July, wild fires in Greece resulted in 99 deaths. Throughout August, we saw the news of floods in Kerala in India, which caused 483 deaths as of 30 August and forced more than 1 million people into relief camps. Throughout the summer, wild fires in California, which are being dealt with again as we speak, resulted in tens of thousands of evacuations. In September, a typhoon in Japan caused 1.19 million evacuations and seven deaths. A typhoon in the Philippines, China and Taiwan led to nearly 2.7 million evacuations and 134 deaths.

A hurricane in the USA led to up to 1.7 million evacuations and 51 deaths. In October, in another hurricane in the USA, half a million people were ordered to evacuate and there were 45 deaths. In October, flooding in the south of France left 13 dead. Towards the end of August, another typhoon in the South China sea left 15 dead. Those are only some of the extreme weather events in 2018 alone.

My hon. Friend Dr Whitehead tabled urgent questions on our return from the summer recess to try to debate the issue, but he was unsuccessful. When Parliament is not sitting in the summer, we cannot debate. It is vital that we understand the consequences today of world climate change.

To put that list into an historical frame, the World Meteorological Organisation claims that there was a 20% increase in extreme weather-related deaths between 2001 and 2010, which means that at least 370,000 people have died as a consequence of extreme weather around the world—an increase in the number of heatwave-related deaths from 6,000 to 136,000. Extreme heat in the Arctic, coral bleaching in the Great Barrier reef, increased wildfires in the western United States, extreme rainfall in China and drought conditions across South Africa are not just bad weather; they are costing lives, and an estimated $660 billion in economic loss, which is a 54% increase in the costs associated with extreme weather since 2001.

The issue does not just affect other countries; it is about Britain too. We have already heard about the increased number of deaths as a consequence of heat in Britain. The Met Office helpfully published a report in November that concluded that the extreme weather we are facing today in the UK is due to climate change. The report shows that it is hotter for longer in the summer and wetter for longer in the winter, with more rainfall from extreme weather events than ever before.

That is why we are building flood sea defences in Avonmouth in my constituency to prevent my constituents from being flooded by sea level rises due to climate change. It is also why I and so many of my constituents are trying to build renewable energy solutions, albeit without much luck to date on tidal energy, given the Government’s decision to pull funding for the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. My constituency has two islands in the Severn estuary—Steep Holm and Flat Holm—which means my boundaries include a big chunk of the second-largest source of tidal power in the world, but nothing is there to harbour its energy. The Government need to move much more quickly.

The National Farmers Union has made a clear case about the impact of extreme weather on British agriculture. Flooding on farms causes damage to critical infrastructure and property, loss of power, impassable roads and bridges, damage to farmable land and a cost of at least £70 million in direct losses to businesses, before the indirect costs of damage to infrastructure and regional economies are even considered.

In other parts of the world, people are having to live in the most unsatisfactory of conditions. Otto Simpson, a doctoral student from Oxford University, recently emailed me. He had partnered with a Swedish filmmaker to produce a documentary in Bangladesh that shows how women and girls are being disproportionately affected by climate-related displacement. It tells the story of an unnamed women, now 18, whose family home in Bangladesh was washed away by floods. She and her family moved to Dhaka to look for work but arrived in an overcrowded city already struggling to meet the needs of climate migrants, with no jobs to hand and a shortage of food for those looking for it. Today, forced into being a sex worker, she is the main provider for her family and brings home between $120 and $180 per month, which is merely enough to pay the rent for one room for her, her parents and her younger siblings. That is a direct consequence of the extreme weather—the flooding—in Bangladesh.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva estimates that more than 20 million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes temporarily or permanently due to ever more extreme weather. We have seen the official statistics today about the millions of people being advised to evacuate their homes. That may seem unusual for us in Britain, but we should pause and think about what that means. Imagine if the whole of Bristol or London were asked to evacuate. What would that mean for people’s lives? What would be the consequences for the way we manage cities and the country? Imagine if homes were flooded and we had climate migration in our country. The Government’s response would be significant and robust. That is happening around the world today, and as a global partner we have an obligation to ensure that this issue remains high on the agenda. We must not lose focus on the size of the challenge, the speed at which the change is coming and the impact on us and other humans across the globe.

The immediate challenge is to limit temperature growth to 1.5 °C. The Paris accord said that we must limit it to 2 °C or less, but the IPPC said we must meet 1.5 °C within the next 12 years. If we fail to stop global temperature growth, the world will radically change. Models published in the New Scientist suggest that a world that is 4 °C warmer than pre-industrial levels would result in the United States, South America, central and southern Europe, Africa, the middle east, India, China, Japan and most of Australia being uninhabitable—gone. A 4 °C rise means a world without the United States, China and India—that could happen within my daughter’s lifetime. We would be left with a world dominated by Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland, northern Europe and the Nordics, Russia and whoever ends up owning western Antarctica, which would have thawed in the 4 °C model, and might be somewhere that people need to live.

Our ability to grow and ship food around the world would change fundamentally. The way in which we build our cities and live would change. The way we generate and distribute energy would radically change. If we think we have a problem with countries relying on gas from Russia today, imagine a world in which Russia is the main place to live and the main source of our food. The geopolitics would be very different. Climate migration would dwarf the demands of today’s immigration flows, which are caused by war or economic migration. If we think the immigration that Europe faces is a problem, imagine dealing with a world in which many countries are no longer places that humans can live.

We must do everything we can to ensure that that is not the legacy we leave to our grandchildren. This is not just about where we live, what we eat and our energy; it is about national security, defence and geopolitics. If Russia is connected to the United States because the ice in the northern hemisphere has thawed, the way in which defence is resourced in the world will change fundamentally.

The UK has a proud record on tackling climate change, but we must do more at home and, fundamentally, more abroad. What role is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office playing in ensuring that every country in the world signs up to the Paris accord? We are missing Russia, which accounts for 5% of global emissions. We are missing Turkey and Iran, whose oil and natural gas exports account for 77% of its carbon emissions—again, that is an example of why we need to move at speed to a world in which we are not reliant on oil. We are missing Colombia, which has 10% of the Amazon rainforest within its borders. Illegal tree logging accounts for more carbon emissions than transportation. We are also missing a handful of others.

This is not just about the countries that did not sign up to the Paris accord in the first place. The President of the United States has signalled his intention to withdraw the country’s support, and the new President of Brazil has threatened to do the same. Brazil, of course, accounts for 4.1 gigatonnes of carbon emissions due to deforestation.

I find this amazing. I am disappointed that this debate is not receiving the highest levels of attention and that the UK is not forcing this issue up the national and international agenda. I applaud the efforts we are taking with the clean growth strategy and investment under the industrial strategy and on our own carbon emissions. The previous Labour Government had a proud record: they instigated the Climate Change Act 2008, and the Energy and Climate Change Committee is very good, but the speed and breadth are not good enough. Of course, we can be as good as we wish in the United Kingdom, but if the rest of the world does not follow, we all suffer.

I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to help raise the volume, and I hope she agrees that we should have a proper debate on IPPC reports on the Floor of the House of Commons annually. Perhaps the first should be after the Energy and Climate Change Committee’s advice is received next spring. I hope she will set out the work being done across Government to ensure not only that this is a strategy in the energy team at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—as important as that is—but that it affects every Department. What requirements have been placed on the Department for International Trade to drive this agenda as it secures new trade deals around the world?

I also hope the Minister will set out how the Government will build on their current plans to significantly increase the speed and breadth of their clean growth strategy. I again remind her of the IPPC report’s words: it said that we need “unprecedented changes” in all areas of our lives. I hope she will confirm that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with all its diplomatic might and soft power around the world, is keeping this issue high on the agenda so that we bring every country with us on this historic and vital journey to a sustainable planet.