It is a sign of just how far David Cameron’s stock has fallen since his famous pledge to lead the “greenest government ever” that concerns about climate change aired in Prime Minister’s Questions this week have been so gratefully received. Mr Cameron may have said only that he “suspected” the recent storms to be, in part, the result of global warming. But with Tory hostility increasing towards fighting climate change, and sometimes even acknowledging it, the remarks came as a welcome relief.
The overwhelming majority of scientists agree that climate change will result in changes in the weather, such as stronger and more frequent storms. Indeed, one expert, Professor Richard Allan, described such predictions yesterday as “basic physics”.
And yet, uncontroversial as Mr Cameron’s suspicions may be, his own Environment Secretary has refused to endorse them. Given that Owen Paterson is the man in charge of preparing Britain for the effects of climate change, and is currently firing about 15 per cent of the Environment Agency workforce, it would appear that Mr Cameron faces an uphill task.
At least he has made a start, however. The Prime Minister now needs to ensure that he remains vocal on the subject. And he must start by resisting George Osborne’s attempt to postpone decisive action to cut carbon emissions by 10 years to 2030 – an issue which will come to a head at a crucial review this spring.
Mr Cameron also needs to ensure that Britain makes sufficient investment to cope with future, and possibly worse, flooding. At the moment, the amount of money the Government is setting aside for housing deemed too vulnerable to insure is based on estimates that do not account for the impact of climate change. That needs to change. Equally, while the Environment Agency insists it is spending record amounts on flood defences, the Government’s independent adviser, the Climate Change Committee, says more is needed.
More than anything, then, Mr Cameron must learn that the green agenda is not something that he can pick up and put down as it suits his political needs. Climate change is as momentous an issue as any he faces. Talk will not be enough.