The government’s spending on preparing for the effects of global warming has almost halved since the current environment secretary Owen Paterson took office, newly released figures have revealed.
Released by a freedom of information request, the records show that adaptation spending by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has fallen from £29.1m in 2012/13 to £17.2m in 2013/14.
The budget is mostly spent on finding new ways to prepare for the increasing occurrence of extreme weather that climate change will bring to the UK, including floods but also heatwaves and droughts.
“These shocking figures should worry everyone in the UK”, Bob Ward, policy director at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute told the Independent on Sunday.
Critics say the 41% cut taking place under Paterson’s watch is evidence of the environment secretary’s climate change scepticism.
“David Cameron gets climate change, but it’s clear that the appointment of a climate sceptic as environment secretary has drastically affected Defra’s priorities”, said Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole.
“Owen Paterson has shown that he’s unfit for office. He continues to put more people and their livelihoods at risk as flooding, drought and other impacts of climate change get worse.”
Meanwhile, shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle added that the cuts “reveal an incredible level of complacency about the threat to the UK from climate change”.
Paterson was recently besieged with criticism over his stance on climate change and flood spending. While visiting the heavily flooded Somerset Levels on Monday, he was confronted by angry residents demanding to know why the Environment Agency had not dredged the local river.
MPs and campaigners have also questioned the timing of government enforced Environment Agency budget cuts, following the worst spate of flooding to hit the UK for decades.
In response, Paterson insisted that the current government was spending more on flood defences than any before it, but the government has since been forced to admit this is not the case.
In September, Paterson said that climate change would benefit the UK. He added that he was “relieved” by the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest review of climate science, which warned that potentially devastating temperature increases were likely unless drastic cuts to global greenhouse gas emissions are made in the next few decades.