Bishop of Ripon and Leeds calls for post-2015 agenda to focus on tackling inequality

On 23rd October 2013, Baroness Jenkin of Kennington led a short debate in the House of Lords to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the United Nations High-level Panel report into the successor agenda to the Millennium Development Goals. The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, spoke during the debate, calling on the Government to support a post-2015 agenda focused on tackling inequality as well as extreme poverty.

R_LThe Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, and I share the welcome for the high-level panel report. I believe it could be strengthened in two areas. The first area is environmental sustainability. The millennium goals are weak on climate change and the high-level panel report does not make it sufficiently clear that global warming already damages the economies, and therefore the poor, in poorer countries such as Bangladesh. The panel has the laudable aim of eliminating $1.25 a day poverty but that needs to be inextricably linked with a new climate equilibrium, which we are far from attaining. Do Her Majesty’s Government agree that there needs to be a legally binding global climate deal in 2015 in line with the scientific consensus?

Secondly, the emphasis on absolute poverty must not hide the danger of increasing inequality in our world. Income inequality is rife in both richer and poorer countries and is one mark of the increasing power of elites at the expense of those in poverty. I regret that the powerful analysis of Pickett and Wilkinson’s Spirit Level, that less equal societies do worse, has almost disappeared from our political debate. This inequality within and between nations is exacerbated by the failure of tax justice so far to ensure that multinationals pay a proper proportion of tax and that this is paid in the countries where their profits are made.

Will the Government support a post-2015 agenda which focuses on inequality as well as eradicating extreme poverty; and how could a new set of goals ensure a more equitable distribution of power and resources, both within and between nation states?


Lord Bates (Government response): …The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds asked two very specific questions on climate change. Of course, on climate change we have in goal 7 the aim to secure sustainable energy, while goal 8 is to create jobs, sustainable livelihoods and equitable growth. The report highlighted some very important issues.

One of the most staggering figures was that the bottom billion, to which we referred, consume 1% of the world’s resources, while the top billion consume 72%. It is therefore axiomatic that it is unsustainable. You can argue that you want wealth and prosperity to increase—and we do—but if it happened at that rate, there would be major problems. It is right, therefore, that there is a sustainable dimension to this. That a parallel track is going on here with the Rio+20 initiative is the big contribution. Linking them both together, I think, gives the right balance between development and the environment.