Kerry McCarthy – 2022 Speech on Climate Change and Human Security

The speech made by Kerry McCarthy, the Labour MP for Bristol East, in Westminster Hall on 3 November 2022.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Efford. I thank the hon. Members for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) for securing this debate, which is a very timely one, given that COP is about to start. I think I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow South that this debate should have fallen within the remit of the FCDO or the Ministry of Defence, but the Minister and I, with our climate change briefs, will try to do justice to some of the issues that have been raised.

The hon. Member for Bath was right to talk about Putin’s hostile actions in Ukraine, which have drawn energy security to the forefront of people’s minds. It has always been quite difficult to get people interested in energy policy—it is sometimes seen as a very techy issue—but when we put it in the global context of how undue reliance on Russian energy supplies affects our security and the security of many countries, the lesson to be learned is that we need to be more self-sufficient. Obviously, the way to achieve self-sufficiency is through a quicker shift towards renewables, and—as I hope Members spotted—at its recent conference in Liverpool, Labour made a pledge for clean power by 2030. That is not just based on the awareness that we need to tackle the climate emergency, or that renewables are far cheaper—nine times cheaper—than gas; it is about our energy security needs as well.

It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Bath talk about the impact on the financial system. I have spoken to insurance companies that are having to reappraise what they do, given that some of the risks they are used to insuring against are getting to the stage where they are either uninsurable, or those companies are far more likely to have to pay out on them. Flooding is an obvious example, but there is also this issue of stranded assets when it comes to their investments. Both the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) and the hon. Member for Bath talked about how this is an opportunity, and as the shadow Secretary of State for climate change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), said at Labour conference,

“It’s cheaper to save the planet than it is to destroy it.”

Most people—although perhaps not the previous BEIS Secretary, the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg)—are beginning to realise that we have huge opportunities in this space.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about the irony of there being flooding one moment in Northern Ireland and hosepipe bans the next, which brought home the fact that this is not just something that is happening in the most climate-vulnerable countries: we are seeing the impacts of climate change everywhere. Even just in recent times, we have seen floods in Pakistan, as has been mentioned; droughts and famine in east Africa; extreme weather events hitting central America, the Caribbean and the Asia-Pacific; and wildfires in California. We are seeing those physical manifestations of climate change around the globe, and the associated geopolitical risks.

Obviously, climate migration—the outflow of people from areas where their lives or livelihoods are threatened—is one of those risks. In some cases, those people are in mortal danger and it is imperative that they flee; in other cases, it is because their former way of life is no longer economically viable. A report from the World Bank suggests that 216 million people may be displaced by 2050 due to climate breakdown. Of course, not all of those people will choose to leave their homes, but they will then be left in an increasingly vulnerable situation where they are likely to be in immense poverty and at risk of resorting to desperate measures.

The other aspect is the battle over resources—for example, the melting of the ice on the third pole, the Himalayas. That is absolutely crucial to the water supply in India and China, and we may well see those two major superpowers at war with each other over access to that resource. Increasingly, we also see criminal elements being involved in deforestation in a bid to plunder the forests. Somali piracy, which was an issue a few years ago, is not quite a climate change issue, but it is closely linked to overfishing. It might not be climate change, but it is about the plundering of the world’s natural resources, and the inadvertent consequences of Somali fishermen not being able to make a living from their traditional way of life, and therefore turning to other activities.

The climate crisis accelerates instability around the world, and opens up a vacuum in which extremism can fester. As the UN Secretary-General said, it is a “crisis amplifier”. It often contributes to a breakdown of law, increased inequality and rapid social change. For example, in the Lake Chad basin, Boko Haram has taken advantage of a scarcity of natural resources to conscript young people to its cause. In war-torn Yemen, the humanitarian crisis has been exacerbated by drought. ISIS has exploited water shortages in the middle east. As well as turning people towards terror, the damaging effects of climate change also risk leaving countries dependent on hostile states. A delegation from Madagascar is here this week, for example, and we know the role that China is beginning to play there. Countries in desperate need of economic support and security are turning to China, which gives China a huge degree of influence over their politics and full access to their resources.

I appreciate that this is a matter for FCDO, but one way in which the Government could make an immediate impact, if they wanted to, would be to reinstate our overseas aid commitment of 0.7% of GDP. The cut was a stark betrayal of the world’s poorest people, and may well have security consequences. Given our respective briefs, however, I will focus primarily on COP and what can be achieved there.

At COP, there should be a big focus on climate mitigation, renewed ambition when it comes to countries’ nationally determined contributions, and a focus on keeping 1.5° alive. Somebody said during a debate this week, I think, that 1.5° is on a life support machine, but we certainly must ensure that it is still very much the ambition. However, COP cannot be just about mitigation. We must also hear much more about adaptation, and how we can support the most climate-vulnerable countries as they try to make their nations more resilient. That could be about building sea walls; about natural defences against rising sea levels, such as planting mangroves; or about buildings that can better withstand extreme weather events.

There is a lot that we can do, but those countries need finance. In some cases, they are very poor countries that would normally be in receipt of aid, or they are tiny countries, for example the small island developing states. They tell me that they find it almost impossible to access climate finance. There are too many hurdles for them to jump over. In some cases, that is because they do not have the resources: they are tiny countries, and do not have the people to do all the research for the paperwork.

According to the UN, the 10 most environmentally fragile countries receive a mere 4.5% of all climate funding. That falls far behind other nations. It is not just about giving them climate finance; it is also about supporting them with their own initiatives. For example, the island and coastal states are increasingly looking at blue bonds. I know that Seychelles is doing so, as is—I think—Belize. As the centre of global finance, whether it is green finance or blue finance, the City of London could play a good role by helping those countries to access that money. That would be money from investors that are looking to do climate offsetting, for example. I am not that keen on carbon offsetting. It is not the solution to reaching 1.5°, but if there is an opportunity to get climate finance to climate-vulnerable countries, the UK ought to be playing a leading role.

We need to see progress at COP27 on loss and damage, too. There should be a formal mechanism in place so that those with the responsibility and capacity to pay for it do so. I was part of a meeting last week in Parliament with John Kerry, the US climate envoy. I asked him about the issue, and it was good to see that he thinks that it is important. He spoke about trying to bring forward progress on loss and damage, so that it is something we can deliver on at the 2023 COP, rather than perhaps something for 2024.

I also met the Foreign Minister of the Maldives recently, on Tuesday. That is an island state with a small population that covers a massive territory when we include the ocean around the islands. Seventy of its islands flooded this year. I wonder whether the Minister remembers when the then President Nasheed held a cabinet meeting underwater with scuba gear. I think he addressed the Conservative party conference around the same time. He was highlighting the fact that they will all be living under water if they are not supported. They are paying a price for a problem not of their own making.

The Foreign Minister spoke to me about how the country hopes to get to fully renewable energy by 2030. Although its own carbon footprint is absolutely minuscule, it is doing its bit. The islands are of course surrounded by salt water, but fresh water is really important, and the rain water is so polluted by the industrialisation of neighbouring India that it cannot be used. That demonstrates the interface between what the industrialised world is doing, and small countries such as the Maldives. They cannot sort out this issue by themselves. They need collective responsibility to be shown.

On finance, it was shocking to hear that the UK has not yet coughed up its contributions to the green climate fund and the adaptation fund—the $300 million promised in Glasgow. We currently hold the COP presidency. If we cannot meet our promises when we are meant to be showing leadership, we really cannot expect anybody else to do so. It is a total abdication of responsibility, as is the Prime Minister’s reluctance to attend COP27. He is going now, but it is pretty obvious he regards it as an inconvenience. I suspect he is only going because the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) is going and he does not want to be upstaged.

I hope that when he gets there, the Prime Minister rises to the challenge. It is crucial that, in the outgoing days of our presidency, we bring together countries to co-operate and that we show climate leadership. I hope that he has a bit of an epiphany as he flies out to Sharm El Sheikh and realises that he is there to do a serious job, and that he does it.