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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:28 am on 13th November 2018.

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change) 10:28 am, 13th November 2018

I congratulate my hon. Friend Darren Jones on taking the initiative of writing to the Backbench Business Committee to suggest we have this debate. I congratulate him not only on persuading the Committee to allow it but on putting the case this morning that his achievement in bringing this debate reflects the non-achievement of the House as a whole in putting the issue firmly on the Floor of the House. The fact that we are debating this matter here this morning with the cream of the usual suspects indicates that we are still a very long way from getting the issue debated with the importance and urgency it deserves. I therefore fully back and support the suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West that the IPCC report should have been debated fully on the Floor of the House. Indeed, the developments from that report should be debated regularly on the Floor of the House from now.

The subject of this debate is extreme weather and climate change, which has been debated in this House previously. Climate change deniers have come to the Floor here and indicated that this extreme weather stuff is nothing to do with climate change; that it is all a bit of a hoax and we should just accept the fact that the weather changes, as I think a certain President of the United States recently opined, and we should not worry too much about it. Well, I think that has been comprehensively demonstrated to be not only a completely false conclusion but an alarming and complacent conclusion, because we know what action we will have to take on climate change over the next period.

The IPCC report, as hon. Members have mentioned this morning, is not just a wake-up call but a blueprint. As Zac Goldsmith said, if we do not tackle the speed at which temperatures are rising and how much they are rising across the world, we will inevitably face a very difficult future. The extreme weather events that we are seeing at the moment are simply a signpost of the long-term enormous effects, as the hon. Gentleman set out, on the world’s economy and the livelihoods and lives of millions of people across the planet, and on the liveability, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West set out, of large parts of the planet in future. So the extreme weather events that we increasingly see are a harbinger of much wider effects in future—harbingers that we ignore at our extreme peril.

Hon. Members have drawn attention to a recent report by the Met Office on the changing nature of the climate in the UK. The report demonstrates to me that the issue is not only about hurricanes in the United States, flooding in south-east Asia or forests catching fire in northern Sweden but is very much here at home now and is the future that we will face to some considerable extent if we do nothing about it. The Met Office report is a stark reminder of how much and how rapidly things are changing. The creep of red across the map of the UK over the past 50 years shows the daily maximum temperatures of hot summer days and dry spells. Conversely, the creep of white across the country shows how icy days and daily minimum temperatures in winter change across the country. So we can see a clear change in climate.

As the hon. Member for Richmond Park has rightly said, we cannot attribute particular weather events to the effects of climate change, but elementary physics teaches us that—I speak as the proud possessor of a relatively good grade in O-level physics, so I am at the elementary level—if the temperature of water increases, as we know is happening, the water expands. It is not just a question of global icecaps and various other things melting that adds to sea level increases across the world; it is just the fact that water expands as it gets warmer.

As water expands as it gets warmer, the air above it is affected and becomes more turbulent. It absorbs more energy and takes up more water vapour, resulting in more precipitation, exacerbating the effects on the weather. It is not the case that climate change causes tidal surges or hurricanes in the southern United States, but it exacerbates them and changes them. They are longer in duration, more severe and more frequent, and are the consequences of the physics of climate change, as I have described.

So we know what our future holds if we do not take urgent action not only to mitigate climate change but to adapt to it. My hon. Friend Luke Pollard set out clearly what is in store for our own country’s infrastructure as a result of the changes. Indeed, I have observed the substantial effects of tidal surges and extreme tidal weather; a vital part of communication infrastructure has been severed. To a much lesser extent, I have had a small attempt in my constituency area to get much greater attention paid to flood defences for the Itchen valley. For certain, that valley will be flooded to an increasingly frequent extent as a result of tidal surges and changes.

Southampton put together a scheme for dealing with tidal surges and possible flooding. It obtained some funding through the local enterprise partnership to assist with flood relief, but the funding was then taken away on the instructions of the Government and placed into a road scheme. Unless we take the issue seriously, get our priorities right and adapt our country for what we know will be a future of far greater extreme weather events, with all the consequences that that will have on infrastructure and our daily lives, we will surely pay the price. Likewise, if we do not take seriously what the IPCC says about the global scale, we will pay the price.

I am worried about the extent to which past performance is prayed in aid for not doing as much on climate change and global warming as we might do. It is true that the UK has performed better than many other countries in taking action on climate change, but the sheer scale of the task facing us means that one country’s performance cannot be set against another’s.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park indicated that our clean growth plan is good in many ways. It has many good things in it, and includes many good responses to the requirements of the fourth and fifth carbon budgets from the Committee on Climate Change. However, the clean growth plan itself acknowledges that it will not get us to the terms of the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. Indeed, it states that it will fall short by about 5% in terms of emissions by the time of the fifth carbon budget. The failure between the fourth and fifth carbon budgets is much worse; the clean growth plan gets us only about 50% of the distance between them.

Given what we know about the difference between 1.5° C and 2° C, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park mentioned, we have to do so much more. I was therefore dismayed that when the Government wrote to the Committee on Climate Change to ask what it thought about a 1.5° C, net-zero target on climate change they specifically excluded action to change the terms of the requirements of the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. We are looking at what we can do about a world increase of 1.5° C, with the enormous differences that the hon. Member for Richmond Park says would result from 2° C. Yet we are proposing no change at all in the current carbon budgets, which, even by the Government’s own plans, we will not reach anyway.

A theme of this morning’s debate is that far more needs to be done and we have, as the IPCC report tells us, a very limited amount of time in which to get it done. We therefore need at the very least to express that urgency in the House, to ensure that the debate is shared among all Members. The urgency, effort and additional activities that are needed to combat climate change, and to adapt, must be properly brought before the whole House. As a result of this morning’s debate that call might be heard.