Bishop of Leeds speaks in debate on mass displacement of refugees

On 6th January 2022, the Bishop of Leeds spoke in a debate on refugee displacement, highlighting the role of climate change in displacement and the need for urgent action on the causes of refugee crises:

The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this debate. I am grateful to him for personifying the issue by naming individuals. I visited camps for internally displaced people in Iraqi Kurdistan several years ago. I am still haunted by the faces, not always the voices. When you are confronted with a 12 year-old boy who had not spoken since being forced to watch his father be beheaded outside his front door, then it is the faces, not the voices. They haunt me.

As Desmond Tutu observed, although it is possibly misquoted, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” What he actually might have said is: find out who or what is pushing then in. Yesterday in this House we discussed the Nationality and Borders Bill. That legislation focuses on asylum and refugees almost entirely through the lens of deterrence and enforcement. It contains a lot of measures to make it harder to prove refugee status and to prevent pull factors, but there is nothing at all on going upstream to find out why they are falling in or being pushed in. This debate is therefore critical in this context. Until we can take action to prevent people falling in, all the deterrence policies in the world are unlikely to stop an ever greater flow of displaced peoples. What happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object? That is what we are talking about.

In this context, I will add a few remarks on climate and displacement. While the UK retains COP presidency and the Government are in the business of rethinking international norms around refugee law, perhaps we might hear from the Minister what thought, if any, has been given to climate displacement and refugee policy. There is no such thing, legally speaking, as a climate refugee. There is a growing wave of people displaced by climate and weather events. Of the 82.4 million people displaced worldwide, the UNHCR reports that about a quarter are forcibly displaced by sudden-onset weather-related hazards and thousands more from slow-onset hazards linked to climate change. Tens of millions of people are likely to be displaced over the next two or three decades due in large measure to climate change impacts.

These changes have been recognised for some time as a long-term driver of displacement, especially in the absence of appropriate mitigation and adaptation support for communities. Some £100 billion a year in climate finance was promised in the COP process, but it has not been delivered. This target is not likely to be met until 2023, so there is not just a shortfall in the finance but it is skewed in favour of mitigation, such as renewable energy projects, rather than adaptation, such as flood defences and so on. Global south nations have been calling for more funding for adaptation, and some progress was made in the Glasgow climate pact when developed nations were called on to double, at least, their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation from 2019 levels by 2025. This falls a long way short of what is needed. We need an urgent international response on all these fronts.

I have focused my remarks on climate displacement but there is a thread in this: that our national approach to refugees and asylum is doomed to failure unless we acknowledge, understand and confront the push factors that are driving displacement. This cannot be accomplished simply by deterrence and enforcement, no matter how draconian the regime that we install.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con, Foreign Office): Besides helping those in immediate need, it is crucial—as almost every speech in this very debate has emphasised, and in particular the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds—that we address the root causes of displacement. That is absolutely central to our approach. It is not only central to our approach; it is directly in our own interest, as well as being the right thing to do. Addressing the triggers—from conflict to climate change, and from poverty to abuse of human rights—is a key strand of our integrated review, which sets out our plans to address these challenges over the next 10 years. We will use all the political, security, development and trade levers we have to reduce tensions, end conflicts, build stability, protect freedoms and spread opportunity and prosperity across the globe. The multilateral system is central to that approach, but we will not be constrained by its limitations.


As a number of noble Lords have rightly said, all the science tells us that climate change and environmental destruction are likely to become a bigger and bigger reason for the increasing movement of people in the coming years; the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Loomba, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, made similar points. The UK has played a leading role in the global response to climate change. COP 26 made unexpected and really important progress on adaptation and climate finance, which are obviously essential to managing climate displacement. The work that we did in the run-up to COP 26 and the work that we will do this year as the COP president, which will be no less intense than the work that was done last year, are a really positive example of internationalism and in many ways embody what many of us mean by “global Britain”.

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