Archbishop highlights increased risk of climate change-driven conflict and migration

On 30th March 2023 the House of Lords held a short debate on a Motion from Lord Naseby: To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce new economic policies to address the challenges of climate change in developing countries, particularly those that are members of the Commonwealth.

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for tabling this Question. In his travelogue, he mentioned, to my alarm, the areas for which I am directly responsible—I suppose because they could not go anywhere else—notably, the Falkland Islands, Antarctica, Sri Lanka and Bermuda; I do not know what is going to happen to Kent.

The OECD’s most recent States of Fragility report found that, in 2022, 23% of the world’s population were living in fragile contexts, often linked to climate change, but 73% of the world’s extreme poor were. This figure is projected to rise to 86% of the world’s poor on the lowest incomes by 2030. For the Anglican Communion, within 165 countries over 150 of them are affected by such changes.

Climate change is one of the three chief causes of fragility highlighted in the OECD report. Climate change is not in and of itself the driver of violent conflict; however, it is a significant force multiplier, and violent conflict is the easiest way of preventing people from taking any action on climate change by making such action impossible. Drought, flooding, food shortages, desertification, other natural disasters, and even the disappearance entirely of some land, all increase the chances of large numbers of people having to move to survive—and their movement creates conflict. In 2019 alone, 24.9 million people around the world were internally displaced by climate-related disasters; that is more than the total number of refugees in 1945.

Global faith leaders meeting at the Vatican just before COP 26 were told by the head of the IPCC that at our present rate of progress, climate change-driven migration could increase to as much as 800 million or more by 2050. Environmental peacebuilding suggests that partnerships will be required to mitigate conflict and enable the control of changes to the environment. What action are the Government taking to consider the current and future risks of climate change-driven conflict, and will they look at opportunities for environmental peacebuilding and at where reconciliation approaches might best take root between competing and conflicting groups?

The Integrated Review Refresh 2023 uses the words “peace” 14 times, “climate change” 16 times—but only once in terms of threat multiplication—and “reconciliation” zero times. In the past, the Government were committed to preventing conflict through a mediation unit set up in 2018 or thereabouts, but during and since Covid that unit has been run down to two people and gets no mention in the review. Will the Minister undertake to address this issue? We would be glad to work with him on this, using our considerable global experience and expertise. Following our introductions, the UN’s Mediation Support Unit has been mentoring and training Anglican bishop peacebuilders in northern Mozambique and is starting in South Sudan and possibly the DRC. The UK Government used to be ahead here but are now far behind in this much cheaper and more effective means of dealing with conflict than any other means.

Secondly, there is an urgent need for developing countries facing the brunt of climate change to develop resilience. For example, Malawi’s maize yields could fall by a fifth by 2050 without action, but with climate-smart policies, its production could increase by more than 700%. Kew Gardens is also developing climate change-resistant coffee for west Africa. Will the Minister outline how much money the UK contributes each year towards climate resilience in developing countries? Will he give an update on when it is likely that we will return to our 0.7% target for ODA, as promised? The deployment of the additional 0.2% on supporting developing countries to adapt in the face of rising temperatures and climate-related disasters will be far cheaper for this country in the long term than dealing with the consequences of such disasters.

Finally, for the poorest and most affected countries, it is too late to adapt to climate change. Finance for loss and damage, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, was agreed in principle at COP 27, but much work needs to be done to pin it down. The fund should make grants, not loans; it should be comprised of new money rather than that taken from existing or reduced pledges; and it should be allocated on the basis of need, paid for by countries that have contributed most to climate change. Will the Minister update the House on the UK’s involvement in providing finance for loss and damage and how it fits with our other funding commitments?


Extract from the Minister’s reply:

The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park) (Con) My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for securing this debate. As he illustrated with frightening clarity, climate change and biodiversity loss are the defining challenges of our time and many developing countries including Commonwealth members are particularly vulnerable.

This is not a futuristic scenario. This is not all about predicting where we are going to end up, much as that matters and is important, but, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury pointed out, it is happening now. He made that point forcefully and extremely well and it was picked up and echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Collins.

… extreme weather and damage to nature are fuelling a raft of other problems—food insecurity, water scarcity, pandemics and, as the most reverend Primate said, conflict and instability to name just a few. Unprecedented global action is therefore needed to tackle climate change and to protect and restore nature on a scale that we have never seen before. This must be coupled with full-scale economic transformation, the global shift to net zero, and climate-resilient and, crucially, nature-positive economies. It will require trillions of dollars of investment.

…Our commitment also includes investing at least £3 billion in solutions that protect and restore nature, and tripling adaptation finance from 2019 levels to £1.5 billion. I think I am responding here to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Oates, but I cannot read my own writing. He raised 0.7% again, and he is right; I agree. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury made the same point, and he is right too. I would love to see us return to 0.7%, but it is not something that I am capable of doing. I am very keen to see it happen as soon as possible, but I am afraid that I cannot say anything more useful about it.

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