The government should be raising public awareness of climate change. Photo: Getty
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We need a change in the law on information about climate change impacts

The failure by government to make the public aware of how climate change is affecting the UK exposes a loophole in key legislation.

The UK Climate Change Act should be urgently amended to force the government to tell the public about the mounting risks they face from flooding, heatwaves and other impacts.

With growing evidence that global warming is already affecting the UK, government departments and agencies are utterly failing to ensure people understand how their lives and livelihoods are being threatened by rising greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

Several deaths and more than £1bn in damage resulted from flooding caused by heavy rainfall earlier this year during the wettest winter on record.

The year from January to October 2014 was the rainiest such period for the UK since records began in 1910. This is part of a pattern, with four of the five wettest years, not including 2014, having occurred from 2000 onwards.

Over the same period, the UK has also experienced its seven warmest years on record, and the period to October this year was the hottest we have ever had.

As the Met Office has pointed out, the UK appears to be receiving heavier rainfall because the atmosphere is warmer and wetter.

Climate scientists have estimated that the probability of an exceptionally wet winter in the UK has increased by 25 per cent due to climate change.

Yet despite the mounting toll of death and destruction, Government Departments are extremely reluctant to inform the public of the dangers they face from climate change.

Yesterday, for instance, the Department of Energy and Climate Change led the government’s participation in a global "Tweetathon" about climate change.

According to the DECC’s webpage, the aim was “to talk about the impacts of climate change and the action that can be taken to tackle it – both in the UK and globally”.

Several government departments and agencies, along with academic institutions and businesses, took part in the "Tweetathon", but very little of the discussion was about UK impacts.

Amazingly, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is supposed to lead the Government’s efforts to make the UK more resilient to climate change, only produced two tweets from its official Twitter account, neither of which mentioned how the UK is being affected.

This was just the latest demonstration that Defra and the rest of government are failing to make the public aware of the risks they face from climate change, with potentially severe consequences.

In July, the annual report by the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change highlighted the fact that 55 per cent of people living on floodplains falsely believe that they are at no risk of flooding, and warned that the “current lack of awareness of local flood risk may be inhibiting local engagement, and willingness to contribute towards community-level flood risk management solutions”.

The report also drew attention to research showing the UK public wrongly thinks that the occurrences of heatwaves and hot days are decreasing in the UK, which helps to explain why “the uptake of measures to increase cooling capacity in existing homes is currently very low”.

According to the "Heatwave Plan for England 2014", there were 2,000 excess deaths during the heatwave in August 2003, 680 more fatalities during a shorter hot spell in summer 2006, and about 300 additional people died from the effects of heat in 2009.

Yet a series of answers to parliamentary questions over the past few weeks reveals confusion and muddle about what the government is doing to raise public awareness.

DECC claimed it would be too difficult to calculate how much has been earmarked for communications, but suggested that the creation of a “cross-government communications group” which will “help to promote unified and consistent messaging on climate change across the government’s communication channels”. It has not met since August.

Meanwhile, Defra was only able to cite £1.6m spent on the Environment Agency’s Climate Ready Support Service, which does not even target the public.

Of course, the former Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson, was a well-known denier of climate change risks, and savagely cut back the budget for building resilience.

After being sacked from the cabinet by David Cameron earlier this year, Paterson delivered a speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, calling for the Climate Change Act to be suspended or scrapped.

However, he neglected to mention that while he was Environment Secretary he had exploited a loophole in the Act to avoid talking in public about the impacts of global warming on the UK.

The Act, which was passed by Paterson and all but five other MPs, requires the Environment Secretary to deliver both a climate change risk assessment and a national adaptation programme.

However, the Act does not explicitly oblige the government to communicate with the public about the risks of climate change.

As a result, Paterson was able to put his own ideological beliefs ahead of the public interest by refusing to make a single speech about climate change impacts during his entire period at Defra.

His successor, Elizabeth Truss, has yet to speak publicly the issue of climate change impacts since she became Environment Secretary in July, although she has attacked the installation of solar panels on farmland.

It is clear that the loophole on the Climate Change Act must now be closed to ensure that the Environment Secretary and other members of the Government communicate with the UK public about the risks they face from the impacts of global warming.

Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science

Bob Ward is policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The 8 bits of good news about integration buried in the Casey Review

It's not all Trojan Horses.

The government-commissioned Casey Review on integration tackles serious subjects, from honour crimes to discrimination and hate crime.

It outlines how deprivation, discrimination, segregated schools and unenlightened traditions can drag certain British-Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities into isolation. 

It shines a light on nepotistic local politics, which only entrench religious and gender segregation. It also charts the hurdles faced by ethnic minorities from school, to university and the workplace. There is no doubt it makes uncomfortable reading. 

But at a time when the negative consequences of immigration are dominating headlines, it’s easy to miss some of the more optimistic trends the Casey Report uncovered:

1. You can always have more friends

For all the talk of segregation, 82 per cent of us socialise at least once a month with people from a different ethnic and religious background, according to the Citizenship Survey 2010-11.

More than half of first generation migrants had friends of a different ethnicity. As for their children, nearly three quarters were friends with people from other ethnic backgrounds. Younger people with higher levels of education and better wages are most likely to have close inter-ethnic friendships. 

Brits from Black African and Mixed ethnic backgrounds are the most sociable it seems, as they are most likely to have friends from outside their neighbourhood. White British and Irish ethnic groups, on the other hand, are least likely to have ethnically-mixed social networks. 

Moving away from home seemed to be a key factor in diversifying your friendship group –18 to 34s were the most ethnically integrated age group. 

2. Integrated schools help

The Casey Review tells the story of how schools can distort a community’s view of the world, such as the mostly Asian high school where pupils thought 90 per cent of Brits were Asian (the actual figure is 7 per cent), and the Trojan Horse affair, where hardline Muslims were accused of dominating the curriculum of a state school (the exact facts have never come to light). 

But on the other hand, schools that are integrated, can change a whole community’s perspective. A study in Oldham found that when two schools were merged to create a more balanced pupil population between White Brits and British Asians, the level of anxiety both groups felt diminished. 

3. And kids are doing better at school

The Casey Report notes: “In recent years there has been a general improvement in educational attainment in schools, with a narrowing in the gap between White pupils and pupils from Pakistani, Bangladeshi and African/Caribbean/Black ethnic backgrounds.”

A number of ethnic minority groups, including pupils of Chinese, Indian, Irish and Bangladeshi ethnicity, outperformed White British pupils (but not White Gypsy and Roma pupils, who had the lowest attainment levels of all). 

4. Most people feel part of a community

Despite the talk of a divided society, in 2015-16, 89 per cent of people thought their community was cohesive, according to the Community Life Survey, and agreed their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together. This feeling of cohesiveness is actually higher than in 2003, at the height of New Labour multiculturalism, when the figure stood at 80 per cent. 

5. Muslims are sticklers for the law

Much of the Casey Report dealt with the divisions between British Muslims and other communities, on matters of culture, religious extremism and equality. It also looked at the Islamophobia and discrimination Muslims face in the UK. 

However, while the cultural and ideological clashes may be real, a ComRes/BBC poll in 2015 found that 95 per cent of British Muslims felt loyal to Britain and 93 per cent believed Muslims in Britain should always obey British laws. 

6. Employment prospects are improving

The Casey Review rightly notes the discrimination faced by jobseekers, such as study which found CVs with white-sounding names had a better rate of reply. Brits from Black, Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds are more likely to be unemployed than Whites. 

However, the employment gap between ethnic minorities and White Brits has narrowed over the last decade, from 15.6 per cent in 2004 to 12.8 per cent in 2015. 

In October 2015, public and private sector employers responsible for employing 1.8m people signed a pledge to operate recruitment on a “name blind” basis. 

7. Pretty much everyone understand this

According to the 2011 census, 91.6 per cent of adults in England and Wales had English as their main language. And 98.2 per cent of them could speak English. 

Since 2008-2009, most non-European migrants coming to the UK have to meet English requirements as part of the immigration process. 

8. Oh, and there’s a British Muslim Mayor ready to tackle integration head on

The Casey Review criticised British Asian community leaders in northern towns for preventing proper discussion of equality and in some cases preventing women from launching rival bids for a council seat.

But it also quoted Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and a British Muslim. Khan criticised religious families that force children to adopt a certain lifestyle, and he concluded:

"There is no other city in the world where I would want to raise my daughters than London.

"They have rights, they have protection, the right to wear what they like, think what they like, to meet who they like, to study what they like, more than they would in any other country.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.