The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
My Lords, I join with the rest of the House in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on securing this debate. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for kindly welcoming me to the Dispatch Box. This item spans a number of government departments, but most of it is in Defra and my noble friend Lord Benyon was originally going to be replying. Sadly, he is unavailable this evening, but I am delighted to stand in his place, since my department still has the overall responsibility for delivering net zero.
Before I move on to the substantive parts, I join other Members of the House in paying tribute to the excellent speech from the noble Earl, Lord Russell. He made a number of brilliant points and we all look forward to hearing his future contributions. I note that he is a photographer who does a lot of work for the London Wildlife Trust. I note also that he is a political photographer as well. Since a friend once described me as somebody with a perfect face for radio, I probably will not be taking great advantage of his political photography skills, but I think my right side is my best, should he ever wish to do so in the future. We look forward to working with him and hearing his contributions to the work of the House.
Even with the many successful actions that we are taking to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions—the best record in the G7, as the House is probably sick of hearing me say—we still need to prepare for the way the climate is changing. We must strengthen our national security and resilience, from producing food and securing water supplies to protecting our health and our natural environment, as well as maintaining critical infrastructure and supply chains. To this end, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, reminded us, last week we launched our Third National Adaptation Programme—NAP3, as nobody refers to it. This sets out the Government’s plans and policies to address a wide range of climate risks and opportunities to the UK that were highlighted in our third climate change risk assessment, published last year. The publication of NAP3 marks a step change in the UK Government’s approach to climate adaptation, putting in place an ambitious programme of decisive action for the next five years across all sectors of the economy and society.
Given the broad range of questions raised by many noble Lords, I will try to group them by theme and hopefully respond to all the points raised. I start with the new climate resilience board, which has raised interest from the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Teverson. The Cabinet Office and Defra, working with the Treasury, are currently establishing the new board to oversee strategic, crosscutting climate adaptation and resilience issues and drive further government action to increase UK resilience to climate change.
Membership has not yet been determined but it will be made up of representatives from the key departments across government on the issue of climate resilience. This forum will of course work closely with existing cross-government climate governance, aligning climate adaptation to wider government priorities on net zero and the environment. At ministerial level, this work will continue to be considered as required by the relevant Cabinet committees.
I turn to the points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Kakkar, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and others on heat and public health. Tackling the risks, including to public health, from overheating is of course a key priority for the Government. As a number of noble Lords cited, there were 2,803 excess deaths among those aged 65 and over following the heatwaves in 2022. A number of well-developed warning systems are already in place to alert the public and emergency responders to imminent threats of heatwaves.
The Met Office issued a new extreme heat warning service in June 2021, designed to work alongside the UK Health Security Agency’s health alert system. As outlined in the third national adaptation programme, the Government will implement the adverse weather and health plan published in April this year to support local and national organisations in preparing and building for and responding to future adverse weather events to protect lives and promote health and well-being. This includes provisions to cascade support and guidance to care home managers in the event of extreme weather events such as heatwaves.
In October last year, the Health Security Agency launched its Centre for Climate and Health Security with a mission to deliver a step change in our capabilities in this area. That centre is now leading UKHSA’s climate health activity, providing a focus for partnerships and collaboration with academia, local authorities and other public sector organisations.
In addition to that, NHS England is developing an interactive climate change risk assessment tool to support the identification of local climate change risks to the NHS—I think that addresses one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar. Finally, NHS England will include adaptation measures in the NHS standard contract for NHS buildings and services from this year and include adaptation measures within NHS building standards to increase the uptake of adaptation planning and activity.
On housing, DLUHC implemented Approved Document O of the building regulations in June 2022 to limit excess heat and solar gains across all new residential buildings. DLUHC and the building safety regulator will investigate overheating risk in homes that have been created through a material change of use in 2022-24
On climate change and disease, and another point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, the Government are monitoring the occurrence of vector-borne diseases—VBDs—including the number and size of outbreaks, to improve our understanding of the changing distribution and human cases to manage impacts. Defra will develop new tools for assessing the impact of extreme weather events and projecting the influence of climate change on plant pests by 2026. It will conduct a study on the importance of microclimate by 2025 and invest in a research programme on climate change and vector-borne disease. UKHSA will reduce future risks by maintaining and expanding the UK’s surveillance system for ticks and mosquitoes to achieve rapid detection and control of non-native vectors and raise awareness of VBDs.
I turn to points made by a number of noble Lords regarding homes. We are of course committed to ensuring that all homes are fit for the future in a changing climate. To achieve that in all new homes, we have updated building regulations this year to reduce excess heat and unwanted solar gains in all new residential buildings. For existing buildings, we are undertaking a programme of research to fill evidence gaps in our understanding of the existing building stock’s vulnerability to climate hazards and the methods that can be used to most effectively minimise overheating.
On points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and my noble friends Lord Frost and Lord Lucas relating to our combined efforts on climate adaptation and mitigation, adaptation and net zero in fact go hand in hand. Achieving net zero actually requires adaptation. We have a huge opportunity to make substantial net-zero investments that are resilient to current and future climate change risks, and doing so, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out, can prevent higher future costs.
For the avoidance of any doubt, I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that delivering net zero is of course vital to this Government—as well as being a legal commitment. That is one of the reasons why the Prime Minister set up the department that I am a proud to be a Minister of, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. As the House will no doubt get sick of hearing me say, our track record on this is better than those of the vast majority of other comparator countries, including, for the benefit of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, countries that have Greens in government. As the Prime Minister confirmed today, we will continue to make progress towards our net-zero ambitions in a proportionate and pragmatic way.
I actually agree with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty—and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in his maiden speech—that the evidence clearly suggests that it is cheaper to invest early, anticipating and preparing for risks, than to live with the costs of inaction by rebuilding, recovering and compensating for losses. That is why we have already committed significant government investment to a range of adaptation actions. I entirely accept that it is the role of noble Lords to call for even more money to be spent, but we are already investing considerable sums.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned rising sea levels and flood defences. I can tell him that the Government are investing £5.2 billion in flooding and coastal erosion management programmes, precisely to protect the thousands of homes and businesses that are at risk.
We are also investing in nature—a point made by a number of other noble Lords—with more than £750 million in the Nature for Climate fund driving £2.2 billion of accelerated investment through the Plan for Water—a point also raised by a number of noble Lords—to help to secure a resilient, clean and plentiful supply of water now and in the future.
In his opening speech, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, set out the importance of measuring the outcomes of our actions on adaptation. The Government are committed to monitoring the actions in NAP3 over the five-year programme timescale. To support that, NAP3 includes an annexe dedicated to outlining our approach. Monitoring, evaluation and learning are of course fundamental.
The Climate Change Committee will continue to assess the Government’s progress on adapting to a changing climate in its biennial progress reports on the UK’s current national adaptation programme. In our view, that is the best measure as an independent assessment of government progress against the objectives that we ourselves have outlined in NAP3. To help to support that work, Defra is designing and monitoring an evaluation framework to inform the Climate Change Committee’s first progress report on NAP3, which is due in 2025.
In response to the concerns from the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about our continued commitment to the International Climate Fund, I can tell him that the UK ICF climate finance strategy includes a commitment to spend £11.6 billion between 2021 and 2026, with a balance between adaptation and mitigation measures. That includes targeting priority regions and sectors to enhance locally led adaptation, and supporting many overseas Governments to help them to increase their climate resilience. It also includes a commitment to investing at least £3 billion of international climate finance in development solutions that protect and restore nature. That commitment was repeated in NAP3, which was published last week.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned the Thames Barrier. I point out to the noble Lord that the Thames Estuary 2100 Plan, which is the first adaptive flood risk management strategy of its kind, allows us to plan, monitor and review how we adapt to flood and climate risks to the end of the century and beyond. In May this year, the Environment Agency published an updated plan which confirms that we remain on the right pathway and that current plans for maintenance, repair and improvement of flood defences remain the best value for money.
I turn to the points made by my noble friend Lady Browning and the noble Baroness, Lady Anderson, on global food security and climate change. The UK is stepping up to address international food security, and we are calling for all countries to keep food trade flowing—protectionism is in nobody’s interest. At the World Bank and the IMF’s spring meetings in April, the UK and our partners secured the largest ever financial commitment from the World Bank of $170 billion until the end of June 2023, to support countries faced with economic hardships as a direct result of the Russian invasion and its impact on the world. Together with G7 allies, we are discussing Germany’s proposal for a G7 global alliance on food security to help to scale up a rapid needs-based co-ordinated response, while building on current food security architecture and avoiding a fragmented global response.
More locally, here in the UK the Government are committed to ensuring a resilient food supply, which includes considering the impacts of climate change on domestic food production and its consequent impact on international supply chains. Securing a resilient food supply for the UK by backing British farmers and our rural communities was at the heart of this Government’s manifesto. It is why we have committed to maintaining the £2.4 billion annual farming budget, to help support farmers to become more productive and profitable. We are actively co-ordinating work across the food supply chain to strengthen resilience planning, which will help supply chains respond to climate and other emerging risks. The United Kingdom Food Security Report is a triannual statistical report required under the Agriculture Act 2020. The next report, due in 2024, will continue to improve our understanding of climate risks to UK food security.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed towards examples from the USA’s Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s net-zero recovery plan. I can tell the noble Baroness that, since 2010, the UK has been much more successful than both the EU and the US. We have secured nearly £200 billion-worth of public and private investment in low-carbon energy. Obviously, we are pleased to see that both the EU and the US are now trying to follow our lead. The UK’s innovative approach, such as the contracts for difference scheme, is now being copied across the word, so successful has it been. That investment is 50% higher than the US achieved as a share of GDP, and that is why 40% of our power came from renewables last year, which is twice the figure the US achieved. The amount of renewable power is increasing all the time.
Let me shock the House and agree with a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I realise that this runs the risk of destroying her social media profile, but she was right in some of the points that she made about the oceans. Through the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership, we are improving our understanding of the impact of climate change and rising sea levels. MCCIP engages with a wide range of scientific authors to supply policymakers and the public with updates on the current and predicted impacts of climate change. Defra intends to manage impacts on our fisheries by investing in the creation and restoration of blue carbon habitats, managing anthropogenic pressures in the marine environment and taking advantage of the opportunities posed by climate change for fisheries, such as projected movements of species.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Devon, for his considered points on the risk that climate change poses to intertidal habitats and the benefits to be derived from their effective conservation and management. Again, Defra will continue to manage and, where appropriate, to reduce non-climate pressure on blue-carbon habitats to help protect them and build their resilience. Our target is that 70% of designated features in marine protected areas will be in favourable condition by 2042, with the remainder in recoverable condition. Following the designation of the first three highly protected marine areas in English water, Defra now intends to identify further suitable sites for consultation and potential designation.
Finally, on the important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, about climate change and national security, I point out that the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy recently conducted an important inquiry on precisely that topic. I can tell him that, in response, the UK Government’s resilience framework published in December last year set out their plan to strengthen the systems and capabilities that underpin our collective resilience to all risks to our security, including that of climate change.
I am running out of time, so I thank all noble Lords who contributed to this important debate. The publication of the third national adaptation programme marks an important step at the beginning of five years of concerted action across all parts of government and society to strengthen the resilience of the nation to the changing climate. As this will be my last appearance at the Dispatch Box before the Recess, I will, for a change, agree with the Opposition—specifically, the noble Baroness, Lady Anderson—by wishing all noble Lords a fantastic summer and a very restful period before we resume in the autumn.