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Climate Security

Volume 696: debated on Monday 24 May 2021

Climate change worsens poverty and economic stability, and poses a significant risk to global security. In our climate change and sustainability strategic approach, which I launched in March, we have laid out the extensive steps that we are taking to mitigate climate change and to address its implications.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Refugee organisations say that 30 million new displacements last year were caused by floods, storms and wildfires. Acts of nature such as these triggered three times more displacements than violent conflicts did last year, and the number of those internally displaced worldwide hit the highest levels on record, yet this Government have chosen to slash foreign aid to some of the world’s most vulnerable to climate-based threats, making a complete mockery of the United Kingdom’s leadership role ahead of COP26. So what assessment has the Ministry of Defence made of the cuts to foreign aid, and how does it plan to address the rising threat of climate change to our own national security in the face of increasing instability across the world?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the threat from climate change is indeed one of the major priorities of my colleagues in the Foreign, Development and Commonwealth Office. It is also a priority of ours. As I have said, the document we published back in March sets out how we are planning for the increase in the HADR, or humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and MACA, or military assistance to civilian authorities, roles that the armed forces are going to have to take on. I know we are all proud to see the work of our armed forces as they rise to those challenges and help some of the poorest people in the world to meet the challenges of their daily lives. We will continue to support them in doing so.

I, too, welcome the new Minister for Defence People and Veterans, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty), to his place on the Government Front Bench. I also thank the outgoing Minister, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), for all the work he did at the veterans office.

Climate change is altering the threat picture across the globe, and not for the better. It is happening in our own back yard and on our own doorstep in the high north and in the Arctic, where we have seen a build-up of military tension because of Russia’s actions. Russia has, of course, just taken over the rotating chairmanship of the Arctic Council. Can the Minister outline to the House exactly what the Ministry of Defence is doing with regard to the threat picture in the Arctic and the high north, and explain to the House why that area of the world should get less attention than the Indo-Pacific tilt?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I know that, being the person he is, he will have read the Command Paper in depth. He will have seen the copious references to the high north strategy and to our joint expeditionary force partners—it is good to see Iceland coming on board with that. We are acutely aware of the need to have a forward understanding and presence and to work with our allies in the high north. The First Sea Lord and ourselves have mentioned on many occasions the impact of changing ice presence in the far north and how we need to rise to that threat. We are always alive to these threats and we are always working to ensure that we are prepared for them, but I would also gently remind the hon. Gentleman that, ultimately, our defence is a combination of all the assets we have, including our commitment to a strategic nuclear deterrent.

The Minister rightly mentions the defence Command Paper, which comes on the back of the integrated review. As my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) has just outlined, there is a lack of joined-up Government thinking on that. If the Government were serious about the impact that climate change is having on the threat picture, the foreign aid budget would not be getting cut and, yes, greater attention would be paid to the high north and the Arctic, so can the Minister just answer a simple question? What does the Ministry of Defence specifically want to get out of COP26?

COP26 is an entire-Government piece of work, and we are working with all nations around the Earth to get a whole load of deliverables out of COP26, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. Our commitment in terms of defence to meeting and addressing the needs of climate change was, I am pleased to say, recognised on President Biden’s Earth Day earlier this year, which my right hon. Friend addressed, where the US Defence Secretary referred to the UK as having “raised the bar” in terms of Defence’s work in this country on climate change. We are alert to the need, and I would recommend to the hon. Gentleman the document we published earlier this year on our climate change and sustainability strategic approach. He will find a lot of his thinking in that document.