Lord Henley speech – CBI roundtable on climate change adaptation

First, thank you for the invitation to be here today, and discuss this important issue.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Lord Henley

First, thank you for the invitation to be here today, and discuss this important issue.

There’s nothing new about the weather affecting business; nor about business protecting itself against weather risks. Farmers were insuring themselves against hail damaging their crops two hundred years ago.

But, as we all here know, we’re encountering a step change in weather risk. Climate change, and the extreme weather events it brings, are happening, not just overseas, for example in Pakistan recently, but here and now - as I saw on my recent trip to Cumbria. Changing weather patterns and heavy rainfall are having a huge impact on the Lake District - on the natural environment, and on communities.

The journey to climate resilience is an urgent one. But one that not enough people have set out on - particularly in the private sector.

A recent MORI poll funded by my department shows that most companies are not prepared for the impacts of climate change.

Three quarters of the businesses surveyed were concerned about climate change impacts, and one in three had recently been affected by extreme weather.

But less than a quarter had started to act on their concerns.

If the business sector isn’t climate change resilient, then neither is our economy. So I welcome the CBI’s leadership on business resilience. I know your climate change team has been working very constructively with Defra people. We value the relationship greatly.

And I welcome today’s report, which is timely, insightful - and chimes with the coalition government’s thinking.

The survey I just mentioned shows that businesses generally perceive a changing climate to be a threat rather than an opportunity.

We’ve got to remember, it’s both.

The UK already leads the way in climate resilience science and technology.

And our strong finance and insurance sectors will be critical in driving adaptation forwards, while at the same time growing business and feeding the economy.

Another recent Defra-funded report - by GHK consultancy - found that UK businesses are well-placed to exploit opportunities across the board: in construction and retro-fitting, in water management, in tourism, in transport, and in food production.

So the challenge for business is two-fold - build resilience, and get first mover advantage in new markets, here and overseas.

And we need businesses to rise to both these challenges if we are to build a globally competitive, green and thriving economy for the UK.

To meet these challenges, to embark upon both these journeys, businesses must have easy access to all the scientific evidence and information that’s available. Again the UK is one of the world’s leaders in climate science. And today’s report raises good questions about how this science can be best presented, used and acted upon by businesses in the future.

We’re already working to get a better understanding of this business need, and how we might build on the work of the UK Climate Impacts Project. I’d be grateful to hear more of your thinking on this today.

The report asks for Government to make access to other types of information easier too - particularly around risk to infrastructure. We must all share information wherever we can. I understand very well the concerns about commercially sensitive information, but I think it’s essential that businesses become more open about how they are approaching adaptation. The examples cited in the report show how much there is to learn from the businesses that are innovating and leading the way on climate resilience. So I applaud this leadership and innovation; and I urge more openness.

Because, one way or another, climate change is going to affect every organisation, every business, every community and every individual in this country. If we are to thrive economically and as a society, we must all adapt.

And on that journey to resilience, we need information, innovation and leadership.

I look forward to our discussion.

Published 13 September 2010