The secretary of state for the environment has been labelled “a quack”, after saying that there may be advantages to climate change for the UK.
On Friday, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that if greenhouse gas emissions remained at current rates, then within 20-30 years global warming of more than 2C would be almost inevitable.
The consequences of such a warming could be catastrophic, causing rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions across the globe.
However, speaking at a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference in Manchester on Sunday night, Owen Paterson argued that if the predictions of the IPCC came true, there might be some positives, as it may mean fewer people die due to cold conditions in British winters.
“People get very emotional about this subject and I think we should just accept that the climate has been changing for centuries”, he said.
“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.”
Responding to these claims, Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr said, “While the World Bank, the International Energy Agency and most of the world’s leading scientific minds say climate change represents a threat to the basic stability of the world economy, Britain has an environment secretary whose response is to turn the graph upside down, squint at the figures then slip on the shades, slap on the factor 20 and declare all is well in the world.
“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.”
Guy Newey, head of environment and energy at the Policy Exchange thinktank, also expressed concern at Paterson’s comments.
“The point that the climate has been changing for centuries understates the size of the problem that we are facing and the size of the action we need to overcome it”, he said.
Many scientific studies have investigated the potential impacts of climate change, with the negative far outweighing the positive.
That global warming may prevent deaths from cold conditions has been investigated by scientists. However, while warmer winters would mean fewer deaths among vulnerable groups like the aged, the same groups are also vulnerable to additional heat, and deaths attributable to heatwaves are globally expected to be many times as great as any winter deaths prevented by climate change. It is also argued that warmer temperatures will also encourage migration of disease-bearing insects such as mosquitos.
Paterson added, “I think the relief of this latest report is that it shows a really quite modest increase, half of which has already happened. They are talking one to two-and-a-half degrees.”
However, an interactive guide created by the Guardian last week showed that, according to the projections of the IPCC, a child born today may see temperature rises of 6.3C in their lifetime.