The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) will spend just £17.2m on domestic “climate change initiatives” this financial year, a 41 per cent decline on the previous 12 months, according to its response to a freedom of information request.
The figures will fuel fears that the Environment Secretary’s personal climate-change scepticism could be exposing the UK to a higher risk of flooding and other global warming consequences.
Bob Ward, policy director at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute, said: “These shocking figures should worry everyone in the UK. Defra is the lead government department for climate change adaptation and is primarily responsible for making the UK resilient to the impacts of global warming, such as increased flood risk,”
Maria Eagle, shadow Environment Secretary, said such a steep drop in domestic climate change initiatives “reveals an incredible level of complacency about the threat to the UK from climate change”.
She added:“This is further evidence that Owen Paterson’s unwillingness to accept the science on climate change is leading him to make the wrong choices on spending cuts within his department,.”
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Most of the money has been spent helping Britain adapt to cope with the effects of global warming, such as by investing in research projects and giving advice on how to deal with water shortages, soil erosion, and extreme weather.
The rest is being spent on curbing the extent of climate change, for example by monitoring and capturing methane emissions which contribute to global warming and ensuring carbon emissions from agriculture comply with UN and EU regulations.
The dramatic cut in domestic climate change spending comes in Mr Paterson’s first full-year as Environment Secretary – he took up the post in September 2012 . The spending now represents just 0.7 per cent of the department’s total budget for the year, down from 1.2 per cent last year.
Defra is in charge of preparing, or adapting, Britain for global warming, while the Department for Energy and Climate Change is responsible for mitigating the risks.
One source who worked with the Environment Secretary said: “Adapting to climate change in itself is not a priority for Owen Paterson. He doesn’t believe that floods have anything to do with climate change, so he calls the biggest aspect of adaptation ‘flood management’. When you talk to him, you don’t use words like ‘adaptation’ – instead you talk about the economic impacts and opportunities and present it as a market solution.”
This month, Mr Paterson was asked in Parliament whether he agreed with David Cameron’s “suspicion” that climate change was partly to blame for the ferocity of the recent storms – and he failed to answer.
Guy Shrubsole, a Friends of the Earth campaigner, said: “By cutting Defra’s work to protect the UK from climate change and extreme weather events, Owen Paterson has shown that he’s unfit for office. He continues to put more people and their livelihoods at risk.”
The freedom of information figures obtained from Defra only relate to spending where the primary aim is to tackle climate change, so exclude some investments which could indirectly help Britain deal with global warming.
A Defra spokesman said: “Defra funds programmes that help protect international forests, cut greenhouse gas emissions and help the UK adapt to a changing climate.”
Defra’s decreased domestic spending came as its spending overseas increased, from £20.1m last year to £30m this year – almost the same amount as the decline in domestic spending.
But much of this increase can be put down to an agreement before Mr Paterson took over the department in September 2012, following the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun in 2010. This requires Defra to give £140m to the International Climate Fund, which helps the world’s poorest adapt to climate change, between April 2011 and March 2016 – primarily through forest protection.