The Independent View: Liberal Democrat vote on flooding shows politics of climate change is shifting

Liberal Democrats have this morning voted to protect hundreds of thousands of households from flooding and climate change.

The welcome move is thanks to the passage of a policy motion, tabled by Lib Dem activists Duncan Brack and Neil Stockley, that calls on the Government to “Ensure flood defence spending is kept in line with that needed to protect against climate change impacts”.

Current flood defence investment is far below what’s needed to keep pace with our changing climate. As heavy rainfall increases and sea levels rise, numerous experts have urged that Government investment in flood protection should rise correspondingly. The Environment Agency made such recommendations in 2009, but these were ignored by Chancellor George Osborne, who cut the flood defence budget by £100million. The Committee on Climate Change calculates that a huge shortfall of £500million has now emerged between what’s being spent and what’s needed.

The Liberal Democrats’ newly-adopted policy would, if enacted by Government, help resolve this. This matters enormously, because some 5 million British households are already at flood risk. Climate change could put up to a million more households at significant risk of flooding by the 2020s, according to the Government’s own projections. Protecting them requires we invest much more in sea walls, natural flood management and other forms of adaptation. It also, of course, requires that we redouble our efforts to tackle climate change by cutting emissions in the first place.

This morning’s motion also contains a number of other important commitments that now become Liberal Democrat policy. In particular, the motion calls on the Government to “Prepare a national resilience plan to help the UK economy… adapt to the likely impacts of a 3-4 degree global average temperature rise.” This is eminently sensible: whilst the Copenhagen Accord commits governments worldwide to keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees, spiralling emissions are putting us on a pathway to 4 degrees. Spelling out the risks this poses to the UK is not only vital for protecting the public; it also might just persuade politicians to push harder for tougher action on emissions, domestically and internationally.

Today’s vote is the latest piece of evidence that the politics of climate change is shifting. The wettest winter ever exposed the false economy of cuts to flood defences and their maintenance; the sacking of Owen Paterson this June removed a huge obstacle to rational, science-based decision making on climate change adaptation.

Since then, all three main parties have moved towards more sensible policies on flooding and climate change impacts. The new Conservative Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, declared in her party conference speech last week that she is “determined that our flood defences will always be strong enough to protect us against the ravages of a changing climate.” The shadow Environment Secretary, Maria Eagle, has pledged to “re-prioritise flooding as a core responsibility of Defra” and treat flood defences as key infrastructure spending.

Neither Labour nor the Conservatives, however, have yet made explicit spending commitments to keep flood defence investment in line with climate change risk. The Liberal Democrats have this morning raised the bar. I congratulate them on doing so, and hope all parties follow their lead – and that the Liberal Democrat leadership enacts their party’s new policy.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Guy Shrubsole works for Friends of the Earth on climate change and flooding.

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5 Comments

  • Guy, Neither Duncan Brack nor Neil Stockley are what might ordinarily be described as “activists”. They are more what the media might refer to as “policy wonks”, having both been previous Directors of Policy for the party.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 8th Oct '14 - 9:03am

    With the Tories promising in excess of 30 billion of cuts to cut the deficit and fund their tax giveaways to the rich I would imagine that flood defences would be given very low priority if there is a Tory government or Tory led coalition.

  • John Roffey 8th Oct '14 - 10:08am

    @ Mack (Not a Lib Dem}

    “With the Tories promising in excess of 30 billion of cuts to cut the deficit and fund their tax giveaways to the rich I would imagine that flood defences would be given very low priority if there is a Tory government or Tory led coalition.”

    That might not be the case if one of their, most favoured, multinationals are likely to make massive profits from the work.

    You never did provide a link showing that Labour would fight TTIP when the EU parliament is asked to approve the arrangement in the next couple of years. I expect that is because they will not – as you probably well know:

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/07/bullying-corporations-enemy-within-business-politicians

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 8th Oct '14 - 5:11pm

    @ John Roffey

    “You never did provide a link showing that Labour would fight TTIP when the EU parliament is asked to approve the arrangement in the next couple of years. I expect that is because they will not – as you probably well know:”

    Labour will oppose any attempt to allow TTIP destroy our public services, particularly the NHS. This is Labour’s Red Line. http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/2014/05/21/where-uk-political-parties-stand-on-issues-important-to-38-degrees/

    Interestingly, UKIP do not seem to have a view on TTIP in this 38 Degrees survey. I think we know why. (I signed the 38 degree petition against TTIP, by the way

    Labour will also repeal the Liberal Democrat/ Tory Health and Social care Act. This will protect the NHS from “harmonisation” which makes the NHS particularly vulnerable to privatisation by predatory, global healthcare companies under TTIP. Our public services will have far greater protection under Labour than the Tories, and the Liberal Democrats, who, if they are in Coalition with the Conservatives will find it impossible to stop the Tories using TTIP as the means of destroying the NHS and the Welfare State.

    The Trade Unions also oppose TTIP. And, as the Liberal Democrats and the Tories are always accusing the labour Party of being in the pockets of the unions you should presume that their influence will be substantial.

    You might also reflect on these:
    http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/milibands-pledge-on-ttip-labour-will-protect-the-nhs/
    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/02/andy-burnham-nhs-must-be-exempted-eu-us-free-trade-agreement

    Finally, I would say that TTIP is very unpopular within the Labour Party and should we come to power I would expect aspects of it to receive a very hard time indeed. So, yes, you are right, Labour are not opposing TTIP, but it’s not going to be the complete surrender that you would have under the Tories, UKIP or a Liberal Democrat./Tory coalition.

  • @Mack (Not a Lib Dem)
    The real problem is that TTIP is being largely negotiated in private at EU level and so when it finally gets to Westminster it will largely be a done deal…

    Which reminds me, another noticeable absence from the LibDem conference was anything concerning Europe, I’m not talking about UK centric stuff like the referendum but actual policy positions that it will be promoting in European forums. Given the LibDem MEPs are part of the UK federal party this was a little surprising.

    An obvious example being a lobbying bill, as the really big money is being spend lobbying the EU over TTIP for example .

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