Debate on the Address
The Bishop of London (Bishop)
My Lords, on these Benches, we shall look at various aspects of the rich agenda laid before us this afternoon by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. I join other noble Lords in thanking and congratulating the Government on being the first in the world to introduce a Bill committing the UK to substantial reductions in C02 emissions. We are discussing this matter at a crucial time. As we are debating this matter here, the 27th session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is meeting in Valencia. The intention is to release a synthesis report over the weekend, which will sum up the current state of scientific research.
We all know that in historical times the climate has shown variations and that average temperatures have fluctuated. In the 12th century, for example, the century of cheerful cathedral building and the flowering of medieval culture, the average temperatures in Europe were about a degree higher than they are now. That led to warnings to the French nobility not to drink so much English wine. From 1315 onwards, a sequence of rain-sodden harvests and deteriorating climatic conditions exposed a malnourished population to the ravages of the Black Death, with very severe economic and social consequences. We can easily see from experience that climate change is a health issue and, of course, a security issue, since competition for scarce resources and humanitarian crises will have a major impact on prospects for peace in the world.
In the past, climate change has always had an impact on society and there have always been fluctuations in temperature. But, as we all know, the scientific case is proven—what we are witnessing at the moment is quite unprecedented. Next month the UN Climate Change Conference will meet in Bali. The hope is that the representatives of more than 180 countries will be able to set out plans for a global agreement to replace Kyoto. The proposals in the Climate Change Bill should confirm the UK's leading role in contributing to this debate. John Ashton, the UK climate change envoy, has observed that,
"if the first priority of any government is to provide for the welfare of its citizens in return for the taxes that citizens pay, then climate change is potentially the most serious threat to this most fundamental of social contracts".
The draft Bill has provoked some constructive debate, and we heard some details from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. There is a debate about targets and the implications of including other greenhouse gases and emissions from international aviation and shipping in the UK targets. There is a debate about the precise role, responsibility and independence of the Committee on Climate Change. There will be an opportunity to debate these matters in detail when the final version of the Bill is introduced, but for now it is important to welcome a move towards a world in which the human family acts together and not against itself to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
The Prime Minister in his Guildhall speech last night stressed the interdependent nature of the 21st-century world. We are all aware that those most at risk from the way we live now are some of the poorest and most vulnerable in the world. The Stern report made the connection very clear. These days, if we are to obey the command to love our neighbours, we should be thinking both of the people next door and the rice farmers of Bangladesh.
I should declare an interest as the chairman of the Church of England's Shrinking the Footprint campaign aimed at reducing the Church's energy consumption. The booklet published in conjunction with the campaign, cheerfully entitled, How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change a Christian?, has been a bestseller in 2007 and shortly will hit the bookshops in the US. Now we are launching a follow-up programme under the risky title "Don't stop at the lights". Among other things, we hope to encourage greater use of Church land to encourage biodiversity. We are also publishing fresh ideas for observing the various festivals of the Christian year and, of course, we have much to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters in reinvigorating the Sabbath. This is an issue which can draw on the deepest spiritual traditions in our world. On Sunday I was briefed on the work of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences.
This is a matter of human solidarity and we pledge ourselves to work closely with other organisations and faith traditions to support the Government's intentions. We hope that the Government will acknowledge and assist the work of those parts of civil society that are aware of the scale of the challenge we face and the need for concerted action.
In Greater London alone, even before the recent arrivals from eastern Europe, sober research suggests that in excess of 630,000 Christians worship in more than 4,000 churches in any ordinary week. If we can inspire this constituency, the impact will be palpable and measurable. From these Benches we stand by to make a constructive, but not uncritical, contribution to the debate on a very welcome initiative. The Foreign Secretary said this year:
"Miliband's first law of climate change is that you've got to get it out of the hands of environment ministers and into the hands of prime ministers, finance ministers and foreign secretaries".
Climate change is not one topic among many, as this debate nears its conclusion, but in reality it has an impact on almost everything that we have discussed.