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UK Politics

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has yet to be briefed on climate change by chief scientist Sir Ian Boyd


The Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, has never been briefed on climate change by the Government's chief scientist since taking up his Cabinet post 14 months ago, The Independent has learnt.

A Freedom of Information request revealed that the man in charge of preparing Britain for the effects of climate change has received just two briefings on the subject since taking up his post. Neither of them were from Sir Ian Boyd, the Chief Scientific Adviser at Mr Paterson's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

One of the briefings, by Defra's head of sustainable business, Jonathan Tillson, was on the morning of 27 September this year, just before the launch of the latest Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change (IPCC) and briefly covered the main points expected to be in the report.

The other, by an unnamed person, was given last September, a few days after Mr Paterson took up office, and consisted of a 17-slide overview of the issues surrounding climate change. Defra declined to give the identity of the second briefer.

Professor David MacKay, the Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), said last month that he had offered to give the Environment Secretary a briefing on climate change last year - but his offer had yet to be taken up.

The low number of official briefings Mr Paterson has had adds to concerns that he is not giving the matter the attention many believe it deserves. Last month, he was accused by Britain's leading climate scientists of being "irresponsible and immoral" - as well as incorrect and misleading - after responding to the IPCC report by playing down the dangers of global warming and suggesting that the process had its advantages.

"People get very emotional about this subject and I think we should just accept that the climate has been changing for centuries. Remember that for humans, the biggest cause of death is cold winter, far bigger than heat in the summer. It would also lead to longer growing seasons and you could extend growing a little further north into some of the colder areas," he argued.

Professor Myles Allen, of Oxford University and a lead author on the recent IPCC report, said: "I certainly think that the Secretary of State for the Environment should be properly briefed about climate change, which is one of the big issues of our times. I'm sure a lot of people would be happy to brief him.

"It's easy to get confused with climate change and Owen Paterson's comments after the IPCC report reflected that confusion. He was happily saying that the warming doesn't look too bad, but he was confusing the warming we will see by the middle of this century with the total warming we will see."

Guy Shrubsole, a climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth who found out about Mr Paterson's meetings through a freedom of information request, said: "By failing to get properly briefed, ignoring his advisers and repeating quack claims, Mr Paterson is neglecting his responsibility to protect the country from climate impacts.

"Owen Paterson can't ignore the risks Britain faces from climate change forever. The UK is facing increasingly extreme weather - from flooding to storms - with climate change a key driver."

A spokesman for Defra said: "This is nonsense. The number of official briefings do not reflect the regular discussions the Secretary of State has had on all areas of his brief. We take climate change adaptation very seriously, which is why we are spending £7.5m to ensure that businesses and local communities are equipped to deal with the challenges ahead."

The FoI response came a day after The Independent revealed that, despite the havoc wreaked by the St Jude's Day Storm, many staff working on Britain's flood defences are in danger of losing their jobs as the Environment Agency prepares to axe about 1,700 jobs.