John Ashton warns that failure to deal with climate change would amplify problems such as water and food insecurity
The government’s climate change envoy has warned that failure to take more action to invest in a low carbon economy is a threat to the future “prosperity and security” of the British people.
John Ashton, who has just stepped down from his post at the Foreign Office, told MPs that the UK was still considered an influential global player on climate change, but signalled that position was at risk as the country was falling behind on investment in energy efficiency and clean energy.
This in turn would make it harder to meet global targets to limit global warming to 2C – the level at which experts consider most countries will cope with the ensuing disruption to weather patterns.
“Failure to deal with climate change would amplify already dangerous stresses arising from food, water and energy insecurity,” Ashton told the energy and climate change select committee. “This potentially unmanageable combination of stresses poses a systemic risk to the security and prosperity of our country.”
In 2004 the government’s then chief scientist, Professor Sir David King, made headlines around the world when he declared that climate change was “the most severe problem we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism”.
However, the growing political consensus for tackling climate change, which culminated in the 2008 Climate Change Act committing the UK to binding emissions reductions, has appeared to be breaking down in the last two years as lack of economic growth and savage public spending cuts have eroded support for sometimes costly policies.
These issues came to a head in February when more than 100 Conservative MPs signed a letter to the prime minister, David Cameron, calling for an end to onshore windfarms.