David Cameron went from promising the “greenest government ever” to appointing a climate change denier, Owen Paterson, as environment secretary. With swathes of our country submerged under water after the most extreme flooding this country has had since at least 1766, enough is enough. Here are three reasons why David Cameron must get rid of him – and put somebody in charge who believes in taking an evidence-led approach.
1) Experts said we should increase flood budgets – but ministers cut them instead
The Committee on Climate Change, the independent experts who advised ministers on what’s needed to deal with the climate crisis, have advised the government to increase flood defence budgets by half a billion pounds to keep pace with what’s required because of climate change. The Environment Agency too said as far back as 2010, and still says now, that they need more money to be able to adequately respond to flooding.
Despite David Cameron’s initial claims that his government was spending more on flood defence budgets, his government have been forced to admit they’ve actually cut this funding – and they came under fire from the head of the UK Statistics Authority for the way they had tried to spin the numbers.
In fact, Owen Paterson’s department got rid of 550 of his employees working for the Environment Agency on flood maintenance and preparation.
As the Committee on Climate Change put it, “cuts imposed mean floods will happen that could be cost effectively avoided."
2) Experts said climate change meant increased flood risks – but Owen Paterson disregarded them, and cut the numbers of staff working on preparing for floods
Owen Paterson’s department – Defra - did a review of the flood risks to the UK that concluded a million more homes could be at risk of flooding over the next 15 years because of climate change.
Yet Owen Paterson’s flood plan explicitly disregards consideration of climate change as contributor to future flooding, and “assumes that flood risk remains the same.” (Never mind that polling shows 80% of the public understand the flooding risk is increasing and are concerned about increased flooding in the UK in future.)
Owen Paterson also cut back the number of his staff working on understanding and preparing the UK for the impacts of climate change, like flooding events, from 38 to 6 – and halved the budgets for working on this.
One senior source inside Paterson’s department told Greenpeace that their Minister wouldn’t even read a briefing from his team if it contained the words “climate change” – so blinkered is he by his ideological view that global warming isn’t a problem. One of his own Cabinet colleagues told the Daily Mail yesterday, “He isn’t climate sceptic, he’s climate stupid.’”
But it seems Paterson isn’t alone in ignoring the climate change risks. His colleague the Planning Minister Eric Pickles scrapped the obligation on councils to prepare for how climate change could affect their residents – despite the government’s own figures showing a million extra homes at risk.
3) Experts said carbon pollution is driving climate change and increasing the risks of extreme weather – but Owen Paterson ignored them and listened to deniers instead
The Met Office’s Chief Scientist said this weekend that all the evidence points to the extreme rainfall we’ve seen being linked climate change, and that the UK hasn’t experienced rainfall like this for at least 248 years. This followed the government’s former chief science adviser, Sir David King, warning that extreme weather would be an increasing problem because of climate change. Other world leaders, like President Obama, have already acknowledged that there would be an increase in extreme weather unless action is taken to cut the amount of carbon pollution we put into the atmosphere.
In October The Independent revealed Owen Paterson has not had a single briefing on climate change from his own science adviser. In September Professor David MacKay, the Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, said he had offered to give Paterson a briefing on climate change but his offer had yet to be taken up.
Yet the Environment Secretary has felt confident to make a number of climate denier outbursts. On one occasion he said: “People get very emotional about this subject and I think we should just accept that the climate has been changing for centuries.” On another occasion, speaking on BBC Radio 4, he made numerous scientific errors – neatly rebutted in this blog.
It seems the vacuum caused by the absence of real science advice is being filled by a notorious network of climate change deniers.
It’s time for Paterson to go.
What all this shows us is that the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has failed in his responsibilities at every turn.
It’s time David Cameron put someone in charge who believes in an evidence-led approach to climate change and flooding.
To have a joined-up national strategy to deal with the flooding crisis – David Cameron must start by putting somebody competent in charge and somebody who is prepared to acknowledge the climate change threat we must deal with if we’re to keep trains running, food growing, and the lights on.