Climate Impacts Study - speech by The Rt Hon Chris Huhne MP

Check against delivery Thank you all very much for coming this afternoon. I’m delighted you could be here for the launch of the Climate Impacts…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Chris Huhne

Check against delivery

Thank you all very much for coming this afternoon.

I’m delighted you could be here for the launch of the Climate Impacts study.

One of the things that struck me at Cancun was how important it was for people to engage with what climate change means for them. Not just for the big things like the global economy or the polar icecaps; but for their way of life.

For many people, climate change remains an indistinct threat. It is seen as something that is far-off - and far away. We hear something about polar bears, and long-term temperature trends, and subconsciously discount the threat. ‘It will not happen to us’, we assume. ‘Not here’.

That’s why, earlier this year, I asked the Met Office Hadley Centre to look at the scientific evidence on the impacts of climate change. And to their great credit, they said ‘yes’.


Since then, they’ve worked with organisations and individuals from around the world compiling the evidence. Twenty-four countries have been involved with the project: giving their time and their energy to better understand what climate change could mean for their people.

Today, we are publishing the first reports from the study. It is the culmination of a lot of hard work by teams around the world - and particularly by those at the Met Office Hadley Centre - and I want to thank everyone who has contributed to it.

These reports are a valuable contribution to our understanding of the risks and impacts of climate change, and how they compare across countries. They set out our projections of future climate conditions, and what their impacts might be for future flood risk, crop yields and water stress And I believe they make for pretty interesting reading.

Let me give you a few examples that struck me.

Observations show that heavy rainfall events have increased over decades in parts of China and flooding events have become more frequent in a number of river basins. Projections of changes in rainfall for the future are uncertain, but results from this study show a general tendency towards increasing flood risk in China throughout the century.

Studies published since the last IPCC report, and included here, confirm its findings that India, along with China and Bangladesh, is a country particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. One study projects that by 2070, more than 20 million people in India could be exposed.

Of course, work doesn’t stop here. This is an ongoing project: the Hadley Centre will continue to work with international colleagues, officials and ministers to turn the reports into factsheets, presenting the key findings in a clear and accessible way.

Because these are the kind of climate impacts that can really get people’s attention.

Delegates to the negotiations may be well versed in radiative forcing, biogeochemical coupling - the fine detail on which our scientific understanding rests. But winning hearts and minds is about linking the big picture to everyday life.

If you can show people that their daily bread could cost more in a warmer world. That their children might not be able to grow the same crops as they do, or use as much water for washing - that’s when you start to break through. And that’s when the knock-on effects of our high-carbon habits start to become real.

Because the truth is that a changing climate will imperil food, water, and energy security. It will affect human health, trade flows, and political stability. The resulting pressures will check development, undo progress, and strain international relations.

A world where climate change goes unanswered will be more unstable, and more unequal. That is why focusing minds on the impacts of climate change is essential if we are to build further support for meaningful action to tackle it.


And on that note, let me say a little about what we want to happen here at the 17th Conference of the Parties.

Firstly, we want to send a clear signal that our objective is a legally binding global deal. Only a comprehensive deal will provide certainty for the businesses and investors; close the emissions gap; and show our determination to meet the climate challenge fairly and fully.

That is why the UK remains a firm advocate of a global legally binding agreement within the UNFCCC. We want major economies to commit now to a comprehensive global legal framework, and to complete negotiations by 2015 at the latest.

Such a deal may be beyond our reach this year. But there is much we can do to prepare for it.

We must build on the Cancun Accord, setting up the global climate architecture: including climate finance, adaptation, forests, technology and measuring and reporting emissions.

We must also show that we understand the scale of the challenge. We need to move toward a common understanding on the size of the emissions gap, and how we can close it. And we must find a common position on the Kyoto Protocol.

The UK remains fully committed to Kyoto. Together with the EU, we have already stated that we are willing to move to a second commitment period. But we will not do so alone.

We need others to move, too. We need a clear roadmap to a wider framework, and guaranteed environmental integrity. And we need to recognise that a second commitment period is not an end-goal, but a step towards a legally binding global deal covering all major economies.

There remains much work to be done. And although sometimes seems a long way off, a deal is within our grasp. Making real progress here in Durban would be a fitting tribute to those who have worked so hard to provide the scientific foundations on which the negotiations are built.

I think I have taken up enough of your time already. In a moment, you’ll hear a different perspective on the climate impacts study. But for now, let me offer my sincere thanks to everyone who made these reports possible. They are yet another valuable contribution to our understanding of climate risk. Our task now is to communicate that risk, and get people asking what it might mean for their way of life. That will be an important step towards a cleaner, greener, safer future.

Thank you very much.

Published 5 December 2011