Houses not covered by the coalition's Flood Re scheme could become uninsurable. Photo: Getty
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Labour is right: it’s the government’s duty to protect people from climate change

New Conservative Environment Secretary Liz Truss ahd her Lib Dem coalition partners need to be clear on how they will better protect Britain from climate change.

As torrential rains brought by Hurricane Bertha made yesterday the wettest day of the year yet, Labour made some welcome new commitments on climate change and flood defence policy.

Labour's shadow Environment Secretary, Maria Eagle, declared that “no sensible government can govern in these challenging times without putting tackling climate change at the core of what they do. Ed Miliband, Caroline Flint and I all understand that.”

Her speech outlined a new willingness to champion the role of government in protecting the public from damaging environmental change. Contrasting the coalition's record on climate change with Labour's approach, she stated: “The government believe in cutting the size of the state and letting people fend for themselves... [Labour] believes strongly in the duty of government to protect people, whether it be from floods caused by a changing climate or the threat of air pollution and to protect our environment.”

This is an important principle to establish. The coalition’s new flood insurance system, Flood Re, is designed to remove support for flood risk homes over time, and seeks to individualise risk by compelling those households most at risk to install protection for their own properties. Yet flood defences are a classic instance of “public good” spending – by pooling funds, we protect many households more efficiently and fairly than expecting everyone to effectively dig their own moats. After all, climate change is, in the words of Lord Stern, “the greatest market failure the world has seen”, with a clear case for government intervention.

Also welcome is Labour's fresh commitment to “produce a new plan for climate change adaptation, to replace Owen Paterson’s discredited National Adaptation Programme (NAP) which is not fit for purpose.” The existing National Adaptation Programme dodges the question of how climate change will affect Britain if we continue to burn fossils fuels at current rates, settling instead to cross its fingers and hope that we stay under 2 degrees of global warming. We all hope for that – but it's the job of government to prepare the country for the worst, not simply hope for the best. With the next NAP due for 2018 at the earliest, a more urgent assessment of the climate change risks facing the UK is also needed.

A third development is how Labour is now explicitly linking UK climate change impacts with government policy on emissions cuts and international climate diplomacy. This is spot-on – after all, the best form of insurance we've got against worse flooding in future is to make progress on cutting carbon domestically and globally. Maria Eagle's speech pledged to “make achieving a global deal in Paris to limit emissions a top priority”. The UN climate talks in Paris in December 2015 must deliver an equitable, binding, global deal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and holding global temperature rise well below 2 degrees.

Lastly, Maria Eagle set out Labour's position on flood defence spending, stating that if Labour won the election it would “re-prioritise flooding as a core responsibility of Defra... As part of the Armitt Review, we will establish an Independent National Infrastructure Commission to identify the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs, which will include flood protection.” Again, this is encouraging – though it falls short of explicitly committing to invest in line with rising flood risk due to climate change. As the Committee on Climate Change has stated – and as Maria Eagle's speech pointed out – government underinvestment in flood defences plus climate change equals more homes put at flood risk: 82,500 homes over the next five years, to be precise.

Yesterday's announcements by Labour raise the bar for the new Conservative Environment Secretary Liz Truss and the Liberal Democrats to be clear on how they will better protect Britain from climate change. The central question for all the parties remains: when push comes to shove, will they commit to stopping over 80,000 homes from slipping into flood risk during the next Parliament - or stand by as rising tides wash over our crumbling defences?

Guy Shrubsole is energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

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Donald Trump vs Barack Obama: How the inauguration speeches compared

We compared the two presidents on trade, foreign affairs and climate change – so you (really, really) don't have to.

After watching Donald Trump's inaugural address, what better way to get rid of the last few dregs of hope than by comparing what he said with Barack Obama's address from 2009? 

Both thanked the previous President, with Trump calling the Obamas "magnificent", and pledged to reform Washington, but the comparison ended there. 

Here is what each of them said: 

On American jobs


The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift.  And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.  We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.  We'll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost.  We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.  And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.


For many decades we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.

One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind.

Obama had a plan for growth. Trump just blames the rest of the world...

On global warming


With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.


On the Middle East:


To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. 


We will re-enforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.

On “greatness”


In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned.


America will start winning again, winning like never before.


On trade


This is the journey we continue today.  We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth.  Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began.  Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week, or last month, or last year.  Our capacity remains undiminished.  


We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our product, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never ever let you down.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland