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At Last: UK Government Abandons Failed Climate Policy

Adapting to climate change will be at the heart of UK government agenda. Coalition government withholds green funding and appeals to private enterprise

Britons must radically change the way they live and work to adapt to being “stuck with unavoidable climate change” the Government will caution this week, as it unveils a dramatic vision of how society will be altered by floods, droughts and rising temperatures.

The coalition will signal a major switch towards adapting to the impact of existing climate change, away from Labour’s heavy emphasis on cutting carbon emissions to reverse global temperature rises. Caroline Spelman, the Tory Secretary of State for the Environment, will use her first major speech on climate change since taking office to admit that the inevitable severe weather conditions will present a “survival-of-the- fittest scenario”, with only those who have planned ahead able to thrive. Adapting to climate change will be “at the heart of our agenda”, she is expected to say.

In a series of dramatic artistic impressions, the Government illustrates how hospitals and fire stations should be built on hills to escape floods, skyscrapers designed to reflect the sun’s rays and tracts of land allowed to be reclaimed by the sea. At the same time, two major reports that will make the urgent scientific and economic case for action this week.

The Government’s stance sets the scene for a political battle with Labour, which insists that tackling a challenge on the scale of climate change requires state intervention and global co-operation, and cannot simply be left to the free market and private business. Critics will also seize on the absence of any new money for Ms Spelman’s plans, at a time when her department faces cuts of up to 40 per cent.

She will say: “It is vital that we carry on working to drastically cut our greenhouse gas emissions to stop the problem getting any worse – but we are already stuck with some unavoidable climate change. Because of this, we need to prepare for the best and worst cases which a changing climate will entail for our country.”

Her comments will be seen as an attempt to address the growing threat posed by rising temperatures without confronting climate change deniers. Ms Spelman’s plea for action will coincide on Thursday with the launch of the latest report from the Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) of the Climate Change Committee, which advises the Government on preparing for the impacts of global warming. The report will warn: “If we wait, it will be too late.”

In a sign of the growing urgency of the need to act, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) will publish a report tomorrow into growing concern that firms have invested heavily in cutting carbon emissions and increasing energy efficiency, but far less has been spent on preparing for the worst effects of climate change. Ministers will caution that Britain’s economy is at risk if more is not done.

In official “best-case” scenarios, the UK would experience average temperatures up to C (sic) hotter in summer, and 10 per cent more rainfall in winter, by the 2080s. “Worst-case” projections predict temperature increases of 4C.

Lord John Krebs, the chairman of the Adaptation Sub-Committee, said: “The Government is absolutely right, we do need to act now to ensure we are better prepared to deal with the sort of extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods and heatwaves which will become more frequent over the coming years. Adapting to climate change isn’t an alternative to continuing to reduce our emissions. We must do both.”

Environmental experts have seized on the Government’s admission that there will be no new money allocated for a programme of work that could cost billions. Sara Parkin, a co-founder of Forum for the Future, said: “It’ll take a very clever government to translate what are sure to be tough recommendations into policies to protect vulnerable citizens and infrastructure, especially as the cash box is empty.” She added that Ms Spelman must “make the connections between the Big Society ambitions of her party and realise that connecting local economic and social resilience to that of the environment will the best – the only – way of achieving any of it”.

Scientists claim that Britain is capable of adapting to a rise in temperature of C (sic) but no more, and they will urge ministers not to neglect the need to curb emissions. The ASC report is expected to recommend specific actions, including drawing up emergency plans, that the Government should be taking to ensure the UK is better prepared. Temperatures are on average of 1C higher than in the 1970s, and the last decade has been the warmest on record. However, according to the Met Office, last winter was also the coldest in over 30 years and this July was the wettest since records began.

One in three businesses in the UK has been significantly affected in the past three years by extreme weather such as flooding or drought, but fewer than one in four have done anything to protect itself, the Government says.

However, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs admits there is no new money for adaptation programmes, and will place responsibility at the door of individuals, organisations and private businesses.

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