Bishop of Manchester speaks in a debate on climate change and food security

On 8th September 2022, the House of Lords debated the effects of climate change on biodiversity and food security. The Bishop of Manchester spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I begin by adding my own compliments to the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, on what was a most excellent maiden speech. I am very much looking forward now to her deep scientific learning informing many future contributions. We need good science in this House. I also echo the sentiments of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham in the previous debate, assuring your Lordships that Her Majesty is very much in the prayers of the Lords Spiritual at this time.

I am deeply grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for securing time for us to discuss the important matters in this debate. I draw attention to my interest as set out in the register as a Church Commissioner; we are one of the largest owners of agricultural land in England.

This year we have seen unprecedented consequences of climate change, both at home in the UK and abroad: record temperatures, shifting weather patterns, rising sea levels and biodiversity loss. Climate change is alive and kicking, and we need to work together at all levels, locally, nationally and internationally, to address the crisis.

I am glad to be able to commend actions taken by the Government to address food security here in the UK. The Government’s food strategy that was published in June was a clear step in the right direction. However, much more still needs to be done to address food security across the country. Like others, I urge the Government to pay attention to the Dimbleby review, particularly its recommendations to pass new legislation to protect our food security and the environment.

As the cost of living crisis and energy bill increases bite—I do not know what the Prime Minister planned to announce today—we must ensure that we are doing all we can to guarantee food security for all. Almost all the churches in my diocese have a food bank that they are supporting. But there other things that we can do: we can invest in the transition to sustainable farming and fisheries, and we must strengthen local food systems and reduce both UK meat consumption, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, urged, and food waste.

I want to speak mostly beyond the UK. We need to look over the horizon to the need for global food security. The United Nations has estimated that 50 million people in 45 countries are living

“each day on the edge of famine”.

Indeed, speaking at the Global Food Security Call to Action ministerial in May this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres spoke of climate change’s impacts on global hunger, saying:

“Over the past decade, 1.7 billion people have been affected by extreme weather and climate-related disasters.”

As noble Lords have discussed, the impacts of climate change on food security are only going to worsen. The IPCC has said that an increase in global warming of 1.5 to 2 degrees centigrade would increase pressure on food production and access. Beyond 2 degrees, it would lead to severe food insecurity across certain regions, particularly in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Global warming beyond 3 degrees would significantly expand the areas impacted by severe food insecurity. As we have heard, these changes compound biodiversity loss, which in turn compounds food insecurity—this is a vicious spiral.

Two days ago, I returned from a trip to Namibia. I have been visiting churches and communities in that diocese because we in the diocese of Manchester have the pleasure of being twinned with it. The majority of Namibia’s population depend, directly or indirectly, on the agricultural sector. It is estimated that the mean annual temperature will go up by 2.7 degrees in the next few years and that annual precipitation will decrease by 7%. This is likely to cause longer droughts, increased heatwaves and greater flooding, and implications for the agriculture sector in the country are obvious—food production is already being destabilised.

Namibia is a semi-arid country; the soil in many places is almost like the sand on a beach. It is highly dependent on grazing animals that can survive through the long dry season on its marginal grasslands. Namibia is probably one of the few countries where I would struggle to maintain my meat-free diet. Sadly, poor rains in the last few years have increased the numbers of people who have lost their cattle. Many have been forced to migrate, particularly from the rural north to the capital, Windhoek. This has created huge pressure on services in the city, led to increased numbers of people living in wholly unacceptable conditions—these have to be seen, heard and smelled—and raised the number of people, especially young men, who lack meaningful employment. Elsewhere, as noble Lords are well aware, such factors have been observed to put social harmony and cohesion at risk.

My diocese is also twinned with the diocese of Lahore in Pakistan, and it has been heart-wrenching to see and hear of the devastating impacts of climate change there. Noble Lords will have seen that more than 33 million people have been displaced from their homes by the recent floods, which cover more than one-third of the country. Huge swathes of farmland, crops and stockpiles have been destroyed, while supplies of rice, vegetables and wheat have been severely disrupted.

These are just two countries—two I happen to know well—among many whose food security is already being negatively impacted by a climate crisis for which they are not primarily responsible. I hope that, in this debate, the Minister will be able to assure us that Her Majesty’s Government will use all their influence and powers, not least to uphold the pledges made at the COP 26 summit to address the challenges of adaptation, loss and damage. It is essential that we all take responsibility, not just individually but collectively, for our part in climate change and biodiversity loss, and that we act to stop them now to ensure a more food-secure future for us all. Let this debate be a significant step in that direction.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab): The NFU rightly recognises that climate change is arguably the greatest challenge facing the world and that British farmers are in the front line of increasingly frequent weather extremes. July this year was the driest in England since 1911, and before that were the driest nine months since 1975-76. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester talked about the clear signs of climate change right across the world this year, and the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, talked movingly about the impact on Pakistan.

Farmers are clearly concerned about the future and need support in protecting, maintaining and enhancing the environment. The NFU also agrees that optimal environmental outcomes should seek to improve nature, enhance air and water quality and build soil health, and has set itself the challenge of agriculture reaching net zero by 2040 in the UK. But the Government have a crucial role to play in this. Food security must be placed at the heart of wider government policies, with a reporting system and clear oversight to ensure that we do not allow our domestic food production to diminish.

CAFOD provided a helpful briefing in which it reminded us that the UK Government made welcome commitments at COP 26 on food and agriculture under the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use. Can the Minister give an update on progress towards delivering on these commitments? We need clear indicators for reporting on new policies and laws, as well as on reduced rates of deforestation, increased land titles for indigenous peoples and local communities, finance for agroecology and actions to repurpose agricultural subsidies.

%d bloggers like this: