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Environmental folly: Cutting the domestic climate change budget is a mistake

The odds strongly favour more extreme weather, even if the Environment Secretary chooses to remain oblivious

These are desperate times for parts of the South-west of England, where monsoon-like rains have left villages stranded by floodwater for the best part of a month. Nor has Somerset been the only part of the country to experience the full force of what to many seems an increasingly volatile and spiteful climate. After the largest tidal surge in 60 years hit the east coast last week, parts of East Anglia may have to be abandoned to the sea for good.

As the weather does its worst, David Cameron’s government – the same one that once boasted of its green credentials – seems bent on ignoring the implications of climate change. New figures show that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under Owen Paterson will spend only £17m on “domestic climate change initiatives” this financial year, a fall of more than 40 per cent on the previous year. Spending on this vital issue will now account for only 0.7 per cent of total departmental spending.

This is a strange saving to make, given that a significant part of this budget has gone on research into the impact of extreme weather – an eminently justifiable investment after Britain’s wettest year ever in 2012 and after what parts of the country experienced recently.

It is true that we cannot predict exactly how rising global temperatures will affect Britain. The earlier consensus was that we would have hotter, drier summers, but the evidence of recent years suggests that we are heading into a warmer, wetter climate. Either way, the odds strongly favour more extreme weather, even if the Environment Secretary, the one man who ought to be most cognisant of the dangers lying ahead, chooses to remain oblivious. Last October, Mr Paterson told Parliament that if the world was indeed getting warmer, we should welcome the fact, as farmers would be able to grow more food. Such asininity is hard to credit in a government minister.

Mr Cameron appointed Mr Paterson in 2012 largely to appease Tory right-wingers, not because he had any known expertise on the environment. As the waters of Somerset rise, he is ever more obviously out of his depth.