Saturday 22nd October 2016                 Change text size:

Environment secretary has received just two climate change briefings during tenure

owen paterson by policy exchange via flickr

The secretary of state tasked with leading the government’s climate adaptation strategy has only been briefed on climate change twice in the last 14 months, a freedom of information (FoI) request has revealed.

The Independent reported that Owen Paterson, secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs, has received just two briefings since taking up his post. It was also discovered that neither of them were from Sir Ian Boyd, the chief scientific advisor at Paterson’s own department.

It was also reported that the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s chief scientist, Prof David MacKay, has offered to brief Paterson on climate change, but has been ignored.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) described the idea Paterson was not sufficiently up to speed on climate change issues as “nonsense.”

“The number of official briefings do not reflect the regular discussions the secretary of state has had on all areas of his brief”, a spokesperson said.

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.”

However, this latest discovery, which came from an FoI request lodged by the campaign group Friends of the Earth, adds to the growing doubt that Paterson is the right man to be at the forefront of Britain’s efforts to prevent climate change. He was recently labelled “a quack”, after saying that there may actually be advantages to the process for the UK.

Speaking at the Conservative party conference in September, Paterson said that global warming might bring some positives, as it may mean fewer people die due to cold conditions in British winters.

“Remember that for humans, the biggest cause of death is cold in winter, far bigger than heat in 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 said.

Responding to these claims at the time, Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr said, “You wouldn’t go to a GP who rejected the collective learning of the world’s leading experts on the grounds of his own ideological prejudices, but in the environment secretary that’s what we have. Owen Paterson is a quack.”

Earlier this month, Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, said that sceptical politicians were contributing to the UK’s “lethargy in taking action to prevent climate change.

However, last week, energy minister Greg Barker said that no members of the cabinet question the necessity of such action.

Speaking at the FT Global Renewable Energy Summit in London on Tuesday, Barker said that none of his more senior peers in government had questioned the core findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report.

Further reading

Greg Barker: UK cabinet united in fight against climate change

No consensus on GM food safety, scientists say

‘Sceptical’ politicians and financial crisis both factors in UK climate lethargy

Environment secretary Owen Paterson says UK will benefit from global warming

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