Bishop of Oxford responds to Queen’s Speech debate, warns of”environmental catastrophe”

On 7th January 2020 the Bishop of Oxford, Rt Revd Steven Croft, spoke during the second day of debate on the Queen’s Speech, on the topic of the environment and climate change:

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I rise to speak about the climate emergency and declare an interest as a member of the advisory board of the Environmental Change Institute in the University of Oxford. It is a privilege to share in this debate and particularly to welcome the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. Her commitment to her local community and depth of wisdom are very clear.

The Minister said in his opening address that climate change will test us all, and it will.

David Wallace-Wells’s book, The Uninhabitable Earth, should be required reading for every Member of this House as we move forward. Wallace-Wells begins his graphic description of the future of the earth with the unforgettable words:

“It is much, much worse than you think.”

He goes on to describe the effects and the economic costs of bushfires, drought, mass migration, sea and air pollution, flooding and extreme weather. I read Wallace-Wells early last year and have now watched his words become the lived reality of people in California, Australia—as we noted earlier this afternoon—across South Africa and Indonesia and, closer to home, in the floods in South Yorkshire.

We are living through an environmental catastrophe and that catastrophe will increasingly shape our foreign and domestic policy, economic life and politics over the next decade. The science is clear. The needs are urgent. How will we respond? I welcome all that the Minister said. The Government are to be congratulated on embracing the target of net zero by 2050 and their ambition to lead the COP talks in November. The talks have the potential to change the world in the next generation. I welcome all that the Minister said about the priority of climate change and the range of measures we can expect.

The challenge now is to realise this vision with specific, planned action. First, we need a detailed, accountable plan of how our economy will reach net zero by 2050 or earlier. If we are serious, we must have a year-by-year accountable strategy. Secondly, Governments and responsible investors, including the churches, need to stop investing in and subsidising fossil fuels and invest in renewables here and across the world, as Mark Carney has recently argued very powerfully. Thirdly, let us have some further bold initiatives to show the world that the United Kingdom means business, that we can reach these targets and that we have the courage to bring forward the ban on petrol and diesel vehicles to 2030, to fund an ambitious new home energy programme and to give more detail on the projected investment in mitigation and flood defences here and overseas.

There is a moral imperative to act for the sake of the earth and for the sake of the poorest—those who have contributed least to climate change are suffering the most and will suffer most in the future—but this is one of those very rare moments when to do the right thing ethically is also doing the right thing for the economic prosperity of the country and our place in the world. The cost of acting slowly is increasing. The 2018 forest fires in California have so far cost $400 billion—the equivalent of the entire US defence budget.

Every year now counts. Your Lordships will remember the story in the Book of Genesis of Pharaoh’s dream, interpreted by Joseph: seven fat cows consumed by seven thin cows; seven years of plenty devoured by seven years of famine. We have no need of Joseph to interpret the impending disaster—we have the IPCC and the global scientific community—but we need a Government with the wisdom of Joseph to use these next seven years well and to put us on a pathway to recovery with a new agenda for the next decade for the world. We must not fail.

Baroness Hayman (CB):[extract] The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford eloquently expressed the potentially catastrophic environmental, economic and social effects of the current trajectory…

Lord Ravensdale (CB): [extract]…Others have made the case much better than I could on why we are pursuing this, particularly in the powerful contributions of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and my noble friend Lady Hayman. Now we need to focus on the how.


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