Climate Change, the Environment and Global Development

Part of Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill (Programme) – in the House of Commons at 4:58 pm on 10th July 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 4:58 pm, 10th July 2019

Indeed. I am grateful for that intervention and I will come on to talk about some of those issues, some of the lessons that we can learn and some of the opportunities that we can take advantage of, particularly from a Scottish point of view.

It is each generation’s responsibility to preserve and sustain our planet for those who will follow. I believe that this generation accepts the seriousness of that responsibility, but we politicians owe it to the people of our country to hold an honest conversation about what the change in law we made just a few days ago amounts to. Setting targets in law, holding debates, setting up committees and publishing reports are clearly not going to do the job in themselves.

This is the most difficult transitional change we will ever go through as a country, and we should not minimise the challenge. We do ourselves no favours by minimising the nature of the challenge that we face. I too will refer to the evidence that we received yesterday from Sir David Attenborough—appropriately enough, I would say, in the Thatcher Room. We should never forget that Margaret Thatcher was the first politician of stature to highlight the issue of climate change and the dangers that it posed to the whole world, most especially the poorest people on the planet. She did that 30 years ago this coming November, at the United Nations.

It was in the Thatcher Room that we took evidence from Sir David Attenborough. I doubt that anyone has done more to raise public consciousness of humankind’s wanton abuse and neglect of the planet and the impact of climate change than Sir David. As the Chair of the Select Committee has already mentioned, Sir David was indeed a star witness; the Public Gallery was packed—significantly, I would have said, almost exclusively with young people. At one point, he turned in his chair to face them and he applauded them. He told us:

“It is their world that we are playing with. It is their futures that are in our hands. If the faces around here do not inspire us to do that, I don’t know what will.”

It was an inspirational moment.

I had the opportunity to ask Sir David whether he was optimistic about our ability to meet the challenge of climate change, and he said:

“I see no future in being pessimistic, because that leads you to say, ‘To hell with it. Why should I care?’
I believe that way, disaster lies. I feel an obligation, because the only way you can get up in the morning is to believe that actually, we can do something about it, and I suppose I think we can.”

He went on:

“Whether that is optimistic or not, I do not know, and whether in fact it is going to produce a result or not, I do not know, but that is the only way I can operate. I have to get up in the morning and say, ‘Something has to be done, and I will do my best to bring that about.’”

The House will not be surprised to learn that, in the time I have been a member of the Select Committee, Sir David has been the only witness who, at the conclusion of his testimony, elicited a standing ovation from both the members of the Committee and the people in the public gallery. In fact, he is the only witness that the Committee has ever asked for a photograph with.

The young people of the United Kingdom are ahead of the curve on this issue, and it is for us in this House to take up the baton to build a new cross-party consensus. I agree with what was said earlier about the need for this to rise above the cut and thrust of party politics.