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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:15 am on 13th November 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy) 10:15 am, 13th November 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairwomanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate Darren Jones on what is clearly a timely debate, and I wish him a happy birthday.

The hon. Gentleman would not have realised when he secured the debate that it was going to coincide with the worst wildfire to have hit California. Sadly, when I looked at the news reports this morning, the death toll had increased to 42. It is impossible to imagine what it must be like to be surrounded and engulfed by flames, and trying to flee those flames, or to be caught up in another natural disaster such as a tsunami and trying to flee the coming carnage. Those disasters are happening too often.

The hon. Gentleman detailed the other extreme events that have been happening recently: mudslides in California and Bangladesh; floods in East Africa and India; dust storms in India; heat waves across the world, causing deaths even in the UK; typhoons; hurricanes; and extreme rainfall. He explained well that such events come at a human and a financial cost, and gave illustrative examples of the disproportionate impact that they are having on women and girls in some developing countries. It is sobering to think that 20 million people annually have to evacuate their homes and uproot their lives because of extreme weather events.

While other hon. Members also spoke about those issues, it was good that the hon. Gentleman not only highlighted the events that are happening here and now, but explained what a 4° increase would mean—Armageddon, frankly. That shows that we need to take action.

Zac Goldsmith reminded us that we are on course for a 3° increase in temperature compared with pre-industrial levels, yet the IPCC report focuses on the difference between a 1.5° increase and a 2° increase, so we need urgent action. The hon. Gentleman also highlighted the clear environmental benefits of taking action: irrespective of climate change, that action will improve the environment of the world we live in. We need to remember that, and look beyond financial costs.

No debate would be complete without Jim Shannon. It was interesting that he highlighted his concern about the impact on education due to school closures because of extreme weather. I remember fondly when, back in my day, we had school closures because of extreme cold, or snow days. I am not sure about their impact on education, but they certainly gave us a lot of fun in the outdoors, so we took full advantage of them.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the diesel scrappage scheme, and councils leading the way in that area, but I suggest that it is the UK Government who need to lead the way. The reason we have so many diesel cars on the road is that incentives were introduced by the UK Government. Clearly, the UK Government now need to take action to get those diesel cars off the road, because people are being penalised through no fault of their own.

The hon. Gentleman and Luke Pollard both highlighted the impact of erosion on coastal communities, and the example that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport gave—the cliffs that he once studied on, which no longer exist—was certainly a stark illustration of the effects of erosion.

The hon. Gentleman also highlighted both the impact of erosion on general transport infrastructure and the closure of the great western rail line, which cut off the south-west of England. Again, that illustrates the need for action and for resilience planning, as he said.

The IPCC report effectively looks at the lesser of two evils: limiting global warming to 1.5° C versus a 2° C increase. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park touched on, a 1.5° C increase would mean global sea levels being 10 cm lower in 80 years’ time than they would be with a 2° C increase. Coral reefs would decline by only—I say “only”, but this is frightening—70% to 90%, rather than being completely wiped out by a 2° C increase. That is a stark illustration of what is going on. With a 1.5° C increase, the Arctic ocean would be free of summer ice once every 100 years, rather than once a decade.

Apart from the head-in-the-sand deniers, people know that climate change is happening. We have the proof and we can see it happening with changing weather patterns. In my lifetime, I have seen winters get milder. As I was growing up, people said, “It used to be far colder in my day,” so there is that generational change. We know people’s memories might play tricks on them, but if we look at old maps of Scotland from the turn of the 20th century we can see they are littered with outdoor curling ponds. Those sites are marked on the maps, but not one of those curling ponds exists any more. That shows the change in winter over the past 100 years or so.

Met Office statistics also back up the changes, which have accelerated in the past decade. The hottest day is on average 0.8° C warmer than for the period 1961 to 1990. Winters are an average of 1.7° C milder as compared with that same period. We now have longer spells where temperatures exceed 25° C. We have fewer ice days, longer wet spells, shorter dry spells and higher extreme wet days. It is obvious that action needs to be taken at a UK level, within the devolved Administrations and at the international level, though the international level clearly becomes more difficult with a climate change denier such as Trump in the White House. I hope his tenure is short lived.

Unlike the hon. Member for Bristol North West, I welcome the Government writing to the Committee on Climate Change asking for updated advice on reaching a net zero carbon economy, on long-term greenhouse gas emissions, on when the UK should reach zero emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, and the implications for emissions in 2050. I take his point that the UK Government need to take action, and I will come on to that. When that analysis and advice come at the end of March 2019, they will need sober reflection and concerted planning and action. This will have big implications for UK carbon budgets.

As the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, we are already on track to fail to meet those carbon budgets, so strong leadership will be needed from the UK Government and we will need proper parliamentary scrutiny. As the hon. Member for Bristol North West said, we need more debates on the main Floor of the House to bring that level of scrutiny to Government policy.

Lord Deben has confirmed that, as part of its work, the Committee on Climate Change will look at how the UK can effectively eliminate carbon emissions and set out the necessary steps to clean up the UK’s homes, industry, transport and agriculture. That will clearly be critical, but I have a few suggestions of my own. First, direct Government action will be required. They cannot continue to try to hide behind things such as the green deal and hide how borrowing happens; they need to take a lead and invest. They need to move away from the obsession with nuclear as a means of low-carbon transition. That will free up billions of pounds for investment in renewables and energy efficiency measures. They should follow the Scottish Government and invest directly in energy efficiency for homes. As the hon. Member for Strangford said, the UK Government need to embrace the renewables sector.

Greater investment is required in carbon capture and storage to try to recover from the shameful pulling of £1 billion of funding. That remains a continual reminder that Departments need to work together and that the Treasury cannot have carte blanche suddenly to pull funding streams because it wants to impose austerity. CCS can decarbonise energy production and energy-intensive industries, and it can produce hydrogen, which is a carbon-free source of fuel. Onshore wind must be allowed to bid in future energy auctions, and the UK Government should not end the generation export tariff in March 2019.

Figures from the Renewable Energy Association show that changes to the energy market rules already mean that employment in the photovoltaic sector in 2016-17 was down 30% as compared with 2011-12. The number of companies in the PV supply chain was down 60% over that period, and turnover was approximately 50% in real terms. Government policy changes have a massive impact on the renewables sector. It is little wonder that the UK has once again slipped down the EY renewable energy investment attractiveness index, which compares countries all over the world. We know we need to develop energy storage, but I would suggest that the funding for the Faraday challenge is insufficient, especially when we consider that the failing nuclear industry has been given a £200 million sector deal. The UK Government need to step up with an oil and gas sector deal to help that sector to realise the 2035 vision and carbon reductions in those industries.

Before I became an MP, I spent my career as a civil engineer working in the sewerage sector. Much of my work related to sewer flooding. I have seen the number of houses affected by internal sewer flooding. I cannot think of anything worse, but the numbers over the years have increased massively. That is due to the increase in the frequency of intense rainfall. That is coupled with changes to lifestyle and the urban environment, where more and more runways are put in. People change from soft landscaping to hard landscaping, which increases run-off and water gets into sewers quicker. That is causing problems and leads to internal sewer flooding. To solve that retrospectively is expensive.

Going forward, we need to try to mitigate those things—there is demand to build more and more houses—by taking stock of those factors. In Scotland, any housing development of more than two houses must incorporate sustainable urban drainage systems, or SUDS. That has been the law for a number of years, yet in England SUDS are still voluntary. SUDS are a way of minimising the run-off into sewers or water courses, thereby preventing any detriment.

In Scotland—I know this from experience as well—any new development must get permission to connect to the sewer system from Scottish Water, which has the right to say no. The developer must pay for any upgrades to the sewer system or any mitigation measures that are required. That becomes part of the planning conditions, yet in England the UK Government have steadfastly refused to end the right to connect. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has made that recommendation over a number of years, yet the UK Government refuse to act. I do not understand that. If we are going to mitigate the impact of future housing and climate change, we need to start looking at this.

When it comes to building houses in Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency does not allow houses to be built on flood plain land with a predicted flood frequency of less than one in 200 years. Critical infrastructure cannot be built on land with a flood frequency of less than a one in 1,000 years. In England over the years, too many houses were built on flood plains, and we are now seeing the consequences of that.

The Government must take independent advice. They cannot listen to the lobbyists from the nuclear industry and the big housebuilders, which only want to make money. We need to take control and change where we are going just now. I have made a few suggestions, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister.