Owen Paterson: Global warming can have a positive side
Secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, says global warming could allow food to be grown further north
The cabinet minister responsible for fighting the effects of climate change claimed there would be advantages to an increase in temperature predicted by the United Nations including fewer people dying of cold in winter and the growth of certain crops further north.
Owen Paterson told a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference on Sunday night that predictions by scientists - that there could be major increases in temperature resulting in melting ice caps and worldwide flooding - should not be seen as entirely negative.
His comments came after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found last week that within two or three decades the world will face nearly inevitable warming of more than 2 degrees, resulting in rising sea levels, heatwaves, droughts and extreme weather.
Asked at a fringe meeting organised by the RSPB if the report proved that the climate is "broken", Paterson said: "People get very emotional about this subject and I think we should just accept that the climate has been changing for centuries.
"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.
"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.
"I actually see this report as something we need to take seriously but I am rather relieved that it is not as catastrophic in its forecast as we had been led to believe early on and what it is saying is something we can adapt to over time and we are very good as a race at adapting," he said.
Paterson's views were taken to task by Guy Newey, head of environment and energy at the Policy Exchange thinktank.
"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. We really have no idea of knowing what is going to happen in terms of temperature. The risk is really very scary ... I worry that some of the language that Owen uses - that we can actually wait and see what happens - is a big risk," he replied, to applause from the audience.
Paterson has long been suspected of being a climate change sceptic. He has previously called for a reduction in the subsidies given to wind farms and other green energy initiatives.
He also defended the government's plans for a badger cull, revealing that he had two pet badgers when he was a child.
Rajeev Syal, the Guardian
This article first appeared at the Guardian
edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network