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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:46 am on 13th November 2018.

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Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 10:46 am, 13th November 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate Darren Jones on securing today’s important debate, and I wish him a happy birthday. I am pleased to respond to today’s debate, and I note his creditable concerns regarding climate change and extreme weather. I assure him and other hon. Members that the Government take those issues seriously. A Government’s first duty must be to guarantee the safety of their citizens. That is why the Government are taking steps to limit the causes of climate change and to prepare for the impacts of extreme weather.

The science is clear: our world is warming, and will warm further as emissions of greenhouse gases continue. Climate change is one of the greatest global challenges of our time, but it is a large-scale and long-term problem that it is often hard to grasp. Today’s debate touches on important points. It is often through local and immediate extremes of weather that we notice what is happening—record temperatures, droughts or downpours, or fewer, milder cold snaps. As the hon. Gentleman highlighted, around the world we have seen striking examples of extremes in recent months: the drought in Cape Town, wildfires in Alaska, and record-breaking rain over Texas from Hurricane Harvey to name just three.

In the UK we are not immune. As my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith identified, fresh in our minds is this year’s summer, which led to discomfort for many elderly and vulnerable people, and problems for farmers growing food. Provisional statistics from the Met Office showed it to be the joint hottest on record, together with 1976, 2003 and 2006, and one of the top 15 driest. Also, the winter floods of December 2015 and January 2016 involved the most intense rainfall at a national scale on record. Storm Desmond killed three people, contributed to severe flooding of more than 5,000 homes and businesses, and left more than 60,000 people without power in the north of England.

The risk in talking about extremes is that we rely on anecdotes—memorable events that might not really be part of a trend. Of course, not all extreme weather is directly because of climate change. That is why it is important to have recent, careful analysis by the Met Office, which shows that many extremes in the UK are indeed changing compared with the period 1961 to 1990. In the last 10 years we have seen higher maximum temperatures, longer warmer spells, lower minimum temperatures, and more rainfall on the wettest days. Those changes are consistent with a warming world.

The Met Office report was funded by the Government as part of our ongoing support for world-leading science. Thanks to cutting-edge research by scientists around the UK, the link between global warming and extremes is becoming clearer, even at the level of individual events. In Texas last year, the record rainfall during Hurricane Harvey led to 80 deaths and 100,000 flooded homes; researchers at Oxford University have found that human influence on the climate tripled the chance of that rainfall. To give an example closer to home, the scorching Europe-wide summer of 2003, which led to 70,000 deaths, was made twice as likely by climate change, according to studies by the Met Office. What is more, such summers are projected to become the norm by the 2040s.

The Government have a duty to protect our citizens, which means ensuring that the UK is resilient to damaging weather. We are therefore investing £2.6 billion between 2015 and 2021 in England in 1,500 new flood defence schemes to better protect 300,000 homes. When extreme weather is on the way, the Met Office makes weather warnings available to the public. Through the national risk register, we ensure co-ordinated emergency responses to possible major incidents, including flooding, storms, low temperatures, heavy snow, heatwaves and drought. We are also working to help other countries to deal with extreme weather. We have endorsed the UN’s Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction, which sets out targets and actions to reduce existing risks and prevent new ones, including risks from climate change.

We not only have measures in place to deal with today’s risks of flooding, drought, storms and heatwaves, but are actively planning for the changing risks that the future climate will bring. Last year, colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published the second national climate change risk assessment, and this July they produced the second national adaptation programme to address the key risks that they identified. Later this month, with the Met Office, DEFRA will publish UKCP18, a new set of UK climate projections that will be a key tool to help Government, businesses and the public to make climate resilience decisions.

It is vital that we maintain our resilience to present and future weather, but that is not enough. Unless we limit climate change, we will face ever-increasing risks, some of which we cannot simply adapt to, as last month’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on global warming of 1.5° C made clear. My Department is therefore leading steps to cut the UK’s emissions of greenhouse gases while growing the economy. We are also encouraging other countries to do the same.

The UK was a vital player in securing the 2015 Paris agreement, which has been a game changer in bringing pledges of action from nearly all countries and collectively raising ambition. At this year’s UN General Assembly, the Prime Minister spoke about the importance of global co-operation and the value of such multilateral agreements.

We are among the world’s leading providers of international climate finance, having committed at least £5.8 billion between 2016 and 2020. That finance, which is mobilising further public and private finance globally, is helping developing countries to deal with the impacts of climate change by taking action as well as reducing emissions.

The UK is a world leader in reducing emissions. We were the first country to introduce a long-term, legally binding emission reduction target through the Climate Change Act 2008. Since 1990, we have cut emissions by more than 40% while growing the economy by more than two thirds—the best performance per person of any advanced nation.

Just last month, we held the first ever Green GB Week, with more than 100 events nationwide that demonstrated the strength of the UK’s commitment to a cleaner world: we hosted the European launch of the 1.5° report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, dozens of companies made pledges, the London Eye was lit green and it was even mentioned on “EastEnders”.

Our ambitious clean growth strategy sets out our plan until 2032 for decarbonising the UK economy, on the path to our target emissions reduction of at least 80% by 2050. However, we are not resting there. In the light of the IPCC’s report, we have joined with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to ask the independent Committee on Climate Change for advice on the UK’s long-term emissions target, and on whether we should move to a goal of net zero emissions. We will consider that advice carefully when it is complete in March next year. Going low carbon is not only good for the environment; we also see it as good for business, which is why we have put clean growth at the heart of our modern industrial strategy.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park for his speech. He is a passionate campaigner on the subject and has a long track record of raising these issues in Parliament. On international work, I should point out that we invested £3.87 billion between 2011 and 2016 in our multi-agency international climate finance programme and, as I have outlined, we have committed a further £5.6 billion. We spent £1.4 billion on adaptation projects between 2013 and 2016 and have helped 47 million people to cope with the effects of climate change since 2011. That has helped to deal with extreme weather, which is a priority for developing countries. The Government’s climate finance aims for a balance between adapting to climate change and limiting emissions. The Department for International Development leads several projects and delivery programmes to improve overall resilience to extreme weather.

On deforestation and overseas development, we support countries in taking steps to protect natural forests and make economies more sustainable. With Germany and Norway, we pledged £5 billion between 2015 and 2020 to incentivise ambitious behaviour such as partnerships for forest programmes, which catalyse forest-friendly businesses, creating employment in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park raised the issue of deforestation in Brazil. The UK and Brazil have a close dialogue on issues of mutual interest and concern globally and bilaterally. Brazil receives the third largest UK climate finance contribution in Latin America, the majority of which goes to forests and land use projects.

Hon. Members mentioned our influence and our work with global partners. The Government played a key role in securing the agreement of 195 countries to the landmark 2015 Paris agreement, and we remain fully committed to its implementation. We disagree with the US decision to exit that agreement.

Time is short, but let me touch on just a few other points raised by hon. Members. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park for highlighting the work of my right hon. Friend Claire Perry as Minister for climate change. Sadly, she cannot be present to respond to the debate, but I know that she would have enjoyed the challenge. I thank Jim Shannon for raising a wide range of topics relating to the impact on all aspects of our lives. I reassure him that climate change is part of the curriculum for young people.

I thank Luke Pollard for raising an issue relating to the trains in his constituency, which I understand must be particularly stressful for him as a constituency MP. I can tell him that the Department for Transport is working to build improvement and plan resilience, but I encourage him to engage directly with the DFT.

Finally, to touch on a point made by Alan Brown, the Government take this issue very seriously. That is why we have a Minister for climate change who attends Cabinet meetings and is heard at the highest level. Unfortunately, that is why she is not able to be present to respond to the debate.

I thank all hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions to the debate. The Government will continue to work to deliver a clean, resilient and prosperous society for all our constituents. I believe that everyone in this Chamber would agree with that.