Why is no one in government worried about climate change anymore?

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

My favoured explanation for now is that they think there's no particular urgency, compared, say, to deficit reduction, unemployment, sorting out the EU, reforming the banks, the need to keep the lights on, and the threat from Ukip [that is, the election].

As if on cue, along comes Owen Patterson, who's supposed to be a steward of the environment (well, he's i/c Defra).  This is from Tuesday's Independent:

Speaking on the fringes of the Tory party conference, Mr Paterson said that a major UN report into climate change published on Friday suggested the threat of global warming had been overstated and indicated his confidence that humans would be able to adapt to its consequences. “People get very emotional about this subject and I think we should just accept that the climate has been changing for centuries,” he said.

“Remember that for humans, the biggest cause of death is cold in winter, far bigger than heat in summer. It would also lead to longer growing seasons and you could extend growing a little further north into some of the colder areas. I think the relief of this latest report is that it shows a really quite modest increase [in temperatures], half of which has already happened. They are talking one to two-and-a-half degrees.”

Mr Paterson, who is in charge of “adaptation” – the process of preparing Britain for the effects of climate change, added: “I see this report as something we need to take seriously but I am relieved that it is not as catastrophic in its forecast as we had been led to believe early on. What it is saying is that it is something we can adapt to over time, and we are very good as a race at adapting.”

Well!  This is just the message so as not to frighten the Tory horses in the Shires, and is probably good parochial politics.  Others were not impressed.  More from the Indy:

Scientists yesterday expressed their disbelief at the Environment Secretary’s comments. Professor Myles Allen of Oxford University, one of the lead authors of the report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said: “A modest increase, half of which has happened already? This is not consistent with the report at all, which says that, under a business-as-usual scenario, the temperature will have risen by between 3.2C and 5.4C by the end of the century, compared to pre-industrial times.  “I find it very worrying that this person is charged with adapting [Britain] to climate change. I think it is a good idea for whoever is planning for adaptation to have a realistic understanding of what the science is saying.”

Mr Paterson was also criticised for his assertion that there could even be advantages to global warming. Professor Andrew Watkinson of the University of East Anglia, one of the leading research institutions into the science of global warming, said that, while deaths relating to temperature changes and UK agriculture were an important issue, the problems relating to climate change were much broader and deeper than that.  "It sounds as though he’s being somewhat complacent,” he said. “Looking at Owen Paterson’s stated priorities, adaptation is not one of them and it ought to be at the top of Defra’s [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] list,” he said.

Of course, it's complex (as opposed to merely complicated) as it requires a sense of the interconnected nature of things and the co-ordination of policies, both of which Whitehall finds so difficult.  It's rather like a secondary school in that regard: all those powerful robber barons – aka heads of dept.

Actually, it's not just that co-ordination of policies is needed; rather, it's co-ordinated policy-making.  I wonder if those who matter have read the first part of the new IPCC report.  Here's the Economist's (fairly gloomy) summary.  The report for policymakers itself, is here.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates


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