Patrick Grady – 2022 Speech on Climate Change and Human Security

The speech made by Patrick Grady, the Independent MP for Glasgow North, in Westminster Hall on 3 November 2022.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) on securing such an important debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) on supporting it, as numerous Members have done.

In 2007 the Stern report stated that climate change was the greatest and widest-ranging market failure that the world had ever seen, but here we are—all these years later—and it seems that warning is still falling on deaf ears. I used to stand in Westminster Hall debates and say that climate change threatens to undo progress towards the millennium development goals and the sustainable development goals. After only seven years since I was elected in 2015, we can now say that climate change is undoing progress towards the millennium development goals and the sustainable development goals. It is making it harder to reach poverty eradication targets, gender equality targets, and education and health targets. In some cases, we are going backwards on those indicators, after a period of progress that should be acknowledged.

Climate change is not something that is happening somewhere else, in faraway parts of the world; as the hon. Member for Bath said, it is beginning to disrupt our own way of life in these islands, across western Europe and across what we call the developed world, and it is becoming increasingly clear that things are going to get worse before they start to get any kind of better. This is an issue of huge concern to my constituents in Glasgow North, who I hear from regularly on all the points raised by the hon. Lady.

Glasgow could not have been prouder to host COP26 last year, but the conference was not a one-off: the clue is in the name. It is part of a process, and in the very near future—next week—COP27 will take place, where the work must continue on the progress towards making real the commitments to which Governments have pledged, whether that is coming up with the funds that have been committed to mitigation and adaptation measures, or making clear statements and demonstrations of action towards the targets that have been agreed upon and that we need to go further and faster to reach. The security implications—in the broadest meaning of that word—can already be seen all around the world.

The scarcity of vital natural resources, water scarcity and crop failure are often the root of instability in so many of the flashpoints and troubled parts of the world that we debate not infrequently here in Westminster Hall, including the situation in Tigray, Ethiopia. I firmly suspect that if people had more confidence in predicting the rains and being able to grow crops to feed themselves and their families, the chances are that the instability there and in so many other parts of the world would be significantly lessened. Many of the roots of such conflicts are to do with scarcity, particularly of water and food, the supply of which is directly affected by climate change.

Wera Hobhouse

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we always look at these things in silos and do not make the connections, and that if we put climate change in the centre of the connections we created, we might tackle these issues much better?

Patrick Grady

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I will reflect a little more on those interconnections later. This is exactly about that kind of domino effect, because the Government are really concerned about the small boats crisis and people coming to the United Kingdom, but what are many of those people fleeing? They are fleeing scarcity and instability in their home countries. The changing climate is leading to the massive displacement of populations across the world. Difficult though the UK Government might think the migrant crisis is on the shores of Great Britain, it is considerably greater in other parts of the world, such as Africa and Asia, where there are massive movements of populations—and climate change is at the root of it all.

It is worth reflecting on the instability that even the concept of climate change is starting to cause; and I will return to some of these ideas later. There is climate change denial in so many parts of the world, even in so-called western liberal developed democracies. When climate change starts to become an ideological divide, that in itself causes instability and is part of a polarisation that we are seeing across the world, particularly in the United States, which the hon. Member for Bath mentioned. The extremes of response to the climate crisis that we have seen in the space of the change of one Administration—and the risk of that swinging back in the other direction—is in itself a significant challenge to the world’s ability to respond to climate change. That has an impact on the politics of those countries and, perhaps, to a certain extent here.

Here at home we are also experiencing the effects of climate change. Just in the past 12 months we have experienced increasing extremes of weather. There was a heatwave not just down here in London: we even had record temperatures up in Scotland. Although on one level people might make a joke about that and say it is quite a nice thing—“It makes a change” and so on—it is becoming a new reality that we have to adapt to, and that is not cost-free.

As the hon. Lady said, climate change also affects the food supply and food security in Scotland and across these islands. Last week, there was a Westminster Hall debate about global food security; we used to talk about food security as a problem elsewhere, but it is becoming a real challenge in the United Kingdom too. That is also true of our energy security, as she set out.

There is a real danger of a feedback loop: we have a shortage of energy so we dig more coal out of the ground and burn it, but that worsens the problem of climate change and increases the challenge and the costs to the Government in the long run. The Government have to grasp that tackling climate change is the ultimate idea of preventive spend. We are going to have to pay for the costs of a changing climate, which has largely been brought about by the process of industrialisation in the west over the past 150 years or so, and we can do that either now in such a way that we prevent, mitigate and adapt to the changes, or later as the changes become more extreme and severe. That will cost us more in the long run, so it makes financial sense to start to invest now in tackling the causes and effects of climate change. It will also enhance our security.

That brings me to my challenges to the Government. I do not know what the right word is, but this is not about ideology. There may be free market, right-wing solutions to the climate crisis—setting aside what Lord Stern said back in 2007—so bring them forward. Let the market compete to find the most effective form of renewable energy and the most effective way to maximise crop yields, but not in a way that continues to cause problems. Externalising the costs of those things in the first place led to where we are.

Some of us might think that we need a bit more in the way of state intervention and direction of spending, but we should all start from an agreement that the climate and nature emergency is real. Sadly, I am not 100% convinced that everyone on the Government Benches would be willing to stand up and say that. In the Chamber, I asked the previous Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg)—in the short time he was in post—whether he believed that the climate emergency is real and that anthropogenic climate change is happening today, and he completely dodged the question. Ministers in the western world in this day and age should not be dodging that kind of question. The answer to the question, “Is anthropogenic climate change happening today in front of us?” is yes. There might be a debate about how we tackle it, how we respond and how we prevent it from getting worse, but the answer to the question is yes.

I am sure the Minister will confirm that the Government’s position is that the climate change that is being experienced all over the world is the direct result of human behaviour over the past 150 years or so. It might be a bit difficult to get the Government to start to adopt the language of climate justice and to recognise the historical obligation that we in the west have to people in other parts of the world who are being hit by climate change first and hardest, but the point of debates such as this is to put those points to them and hear them argue either why that is not necessary or why they do not agree.

In among all that is the mainstreaming of our net zero targets. We should put that at the heart of Government policy and then, yes, debate how things will be delivered and the best way to invest resources, and the best way to let the market respond, if that is what people believe, or whether to let the state intervene more heavily, if that is what people believe.

Wera Hobhouse

The hon. Gentleman is generous to give way again. He is coming to the issue of delivery. Ultimately, we all agree that the pathway is there but the delivery is not happening fast enough. That really worries me, which is why I said at the very beginning of the debate that this is not a bus that we can miss: we have to get on with things now. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the Climate Change Committee, which has said that the Government must now urgently focus on the delivery of their own targets?

Patrick Grady

Yes, absolutely. The Government have agreed to the targets and achieved a certain amount of cross-party consensus on them. That is important given how some people want to use the very concept of climate change as a political wedge issue, when in fact it is something that should unite us as far as possible. Especially among all the chaos and revolving doors for Ministers of late, the Government should speak with one voice on these issues. Irrespective of which Department or Minister happens to respond to this debate, we should hear the voice of the UK Government, with all the weight that that is supposed to carry.

Even though we do not have a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Minister responding to today’s debate, it is important to address the question of the aid budget, its diminution, the cuts to it that are being applied across the board and the risk of further cuts to come. I come back to my point about preventive spend. If we do not support small farmers in different parts of Africa to grow sustainable crops without the need for expensive and polluting fertilisers, if we do not support communities to access fresh and clean water, and if we do not support girls to get into education so that they can raise healthier and stronger families and contribute to their economy, we really should not be surprised if, further down the line, those people start to get quite annoyed and upset about the kind of lifestyle that is being forced upon them and decide to take matters into their own hands. Indeed, they may decide to get on a small boat and come across to the United Kingdom, where everything seems to be much more comfortable. The Government must realise the importance of preventive spend and not just address the issues of climate justice and poverty eradication but understand that it is to everybody’s benefit to tackle such issues.

We all have to agree that this is the defining challenge of our times. By all means we should have a debate about the precise way in which we can reach our goals, but let us not argue about whether those goals have to be met, because not meeting them will simply make matters considerably worse, not just for people overseas but for people on these islands, too. We have to continue to hold the Government to account in the way that our constituents want us to, and we have to hope that the Government are prepared to recognise the consensus that can exist and get us forward and closer to tackling the causes and effects of climate change.