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Climate Change: Migration

Volume 832: debated on Thursday 14 September 2023

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what consultations they are having with European and other partners on how best to manage the likely migration as a result of climate change.

My Lords, during the passage of the Illegal Migration Bill, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury stressed in his contributions that we were dealing with an international problem that requires international solutions. If this is so with the present refugee crisis, which is caused mainly by war, oppressive regimes and dire poverty, how much more is this the case when, on top of this, we have a mass movement of people predicted by climate change?

In fact, that movement is already taking place. Although it is not always easy to separate out displacement as a result of political and economic factors from that due to climate change, it has been estimated that, even now, a huge number of people have had to move because of the latter. For example, in 2022, it was estimated that 32.8 million people fell into this category. In other words, movement of people due to climate factors already forms just under half of the 71.1 million total displaced people in the world. This breaks down to 19.2 million having to move because of floods and 10 million because of storms, with 2.2 million as a result of wildfires, landslides and extreme temperatures forming the remainder.

To take just one example, the climate crisis has already uprooted millions of people in the United States. In 2018, 1.2 million people were displaced by extreme conditions of fire, storms and flooding, and the annual toll had risen to 1.7 million people by 2020. The US now spends the amazing figure of $l billion on a disaster every 18 days. If this is the impact on a developed country, it is not difficult to imagine the effect of climate change on those with fewer resources and a less developed infrastructure.

If this is what is happening in the present, scenarios for the future suggest that movements of people could be on a truly massive scale. One cause, as we know, is rising sea levels. Take Bangladesh for example: by 2050, climate experts predict that rising sea levels will submerge some 17% of the nation’s land and displace about 20 million people.

The World Bank has produced a scenario-based analysis which estimated that

“as many as 216 million people could move within their own countries due to slow-onset climate change impacts by 2050”,

with 86 million predicted to be displaced in sub-Saharan Africa alone. The UN’s International Organization for Migration puts the figure even higher, predicting there could be as many as 1 billion environmental migrants in the next few years, while more recent projections point to 1.2 billion by 2050 and 1.4 billion by 2060. After 2050, that figure is expected to soar as the world heats up further and the global population rises to its predicted peak in the mid-2060s.

Floods, fires and drought bring great hardship and suffering and force people to move. Most will seek to move within their own country, but some who are particularly desperate and resourceful will do anything to get away to what is perceived as a better life in a country overseas. It has been estimated that, since 2014, 28,000 people have lost their lives at sea. This reminds us that, unless the problems are tackled locally, there is bound to be an increase in the number of desperate people who will do anything for the chance of a better life in a more developed country.

The good news is that this issue is being discussed in a number of international organisations, including the Global Forum on Migration and Development, the GFMD; the International Dialogue on Migration, the IDM; and the International Migration Review Forum, the IMRF. The GFMD is currently ongoing, under the chairmanship of France, and its findings are due to be reported at its summit in January next year. It would be good if the Minister could say something about how these findings might best be discussed in Parliament. The IDM is an organ of the International Organization on Migration—the IOM—which brings together all stakeholders. It is urging countries to adopt a more preventive approach rather than just a reactive one.

The main body for Governments, however, is the IMRF, which serves as the “primary intergovernmental global platform”. It has a global compact, which is a “non-legally binding, cooperative framework”, which, as it says,

“fosters international cooperation among all relevant actors on migration, acknowledging that no State can address migration alone, and upholds the sovereignty of States and their obligations under international law”.

The IMRF takes place every four years. The summary report of its last meetings noted that speakers had highlighted the “importance of shared responsibility” in finding solutions to challenges, while noting that the pandemic had

“revealed gaps in migration governance”.

Looking to the future, it is probable that most migration will remain local or regional. It is vital that, in order for regions and countries to cope, the international community should assist in the initial phase of relocation by providing the necessary requirements for a smooth transition. This means stronger resources for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for example, in acute situations, and measures to integrate migrants with the local population. It is likely that, rather than an acute crisis, there will be slower and more orderly movements. In relation to this, it is good to note the UK climate change fund to help countries adapt to climate change. Perhaps the Minister might be able say something about this and how the fund will work—or is working already—to achieve this.

Another concern, which is not unrelated to this, has been raised by a number of concerned bodies. It is that, at the moment, there is no definition of “climate migrant”. Perhaps the Minister might be able to take that back to his department to ask whether consideration of that might be possible, because that would make it possible to have a much stronger legal framework for this whole issue.

I began by quoting the words of the most reverend Primate: that when it comes to migration, we are dealing with an international problem that has to be tackled internationally. It is therefore good to note that the issue is under discussion in at least three organisations under the auspices of the UN.

The danger is that these will just be talking shops, and—however useful they may be—in the end decisions have to be made and money has to be raised and spent. Is the Minister confident that we do in fact have the right mechanism in place for making decisions about how those countries most affected can be best helped and that resources for them can be made available? I mentioned earlier that the IMRF has commented on “gaps in migration governance”. In other words, are we confident that when decisions have to be made, there is a body capable of making them and making sure that the appropriate funds are available? Perhaps the Minister can reassure us on this issue. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for securing this debate, for his excellent and comprehensive introduction and particularly for setting out so clearly some of the work undertaken by international bodies. I will not repeat any of that, because he spelt that out very clearly for us. As he noted, the climate crisis is at the heart of famines, conflicts and food insecurity across the globe today. We have already seen the disastrous effects of climate change in many parts of the developing world.

I want to focus on a few thoughts, particularly on the Horn of Africa, where we see this perhaps most clearly at the moment. Indeed, a terrible natural humanitarian disaster is unfolding before our very eyes, with thousands now fleeing the region in search of food security and water. It is vital to develop an effective strategy to mitigate the impacts of climate change in the developing world. The Horn of Africa is currently facing a climate-induced drought and a serious food crisis affecting more than 36 million people, more than half of whom are children. UNICEF estimates that up to 5.7 million children need urgent treatment for acute malnutrition.

I have spoken repeatedly in your Lordships’ House of the need for a decisive emergency response to this crisis. As a country, our current pledge is £143 million to that region. Yet back in 2017 we were investing £861 million a year, as we were responding both to the immediate crisis and to long-term development. While I continue to urge His Majesty’s Government to scale up their short-term response, this debate is more centred on our long-term climate strategies. As well as the immediate need for emergency aid, it is vital that wherever possible we think creatively about the money we are investing to increase trade. We need these economies to get a much higher level of resilience so that, wherever possible, they are able to deal with the problems of internal displacement themselves.

Therefore, the focus of what we are doing, which in the long run will benefit the wider world—and indeed may benefit us indirectly—needs to be on how we are attending not only to those great trade deals with some of the wealthier countries in the world but to parts of Africa. Let us be quite clear: many other major players—some with what one might say are more dubious motives—are now investing hugely in parts of Africa. We need to see this as an absolute priority, both for the sake of the people there and as we seek to build long-term peace across the world. Africa has now become the scene and centre of the most extraordinary battle for hearts and minds. So this is really in our own interests, as well as helping those in desperate need.

The approach from the UN and the various NGOs has shifted focus towards promoting climate adaptation and the creation of economies and societies that are more resilient to climate impacts. Such adaptation includes building more resilient infrastructure, large-scale planting of trees, trying to stop erosion and problems with the environment, helping and training farmers, and providing resources to switch to more drought-resilient crops. This is all key.

Getting it right early on will not only save lives and cut costs but lessen the impact of climate migration down the line. Therefore, although we know that some international organisations are now looking at long-term strategies for climate adaptation, can the Minister tell us His Majesty’s Government’s plans for us to adopt a similar long-term strategy based and rooted here in the UK? The only sensible course of action for us, based on present trends, is to anticipate a significant rise in climate-related migration. It is, in the modern world, a relatively new phenomenon—hundreds of years ago it was quite common—but it poses some associated challenges and questions that we must address urgently.

I want to mention one further area, which is the importance of family. Earlier this year the Justice and Home Affairs Committee released a report, All Families Matter: An Inquiry Into Family Migration. It opened with Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”.

It is terrible to think that in some cases Governments are breaking up families because of some of the laws on migration. Families are the foundation of a good society and a building block of community. Here in this country we need to invest, as always, in how we support family life, which is the basic place where values are nurtured and where people are brought up and provided for.

The report speaks of how bespoke routes created to address emerging crises are often inconsistent on which family members are allowed and helped in migration and on what terms that takes place. With climate migrants potentially being one of the greatest challenges that we are going to face, it is important that we try to get this right and ensure a fair and consistent approach to family migration rules. We have witnessed the catastrophic effects that climate change can have on the developing world, and we can expect it only to get worse, so our immediate focus needs to be on providing climate-vulnerable countries with the tools necessary for adaptation and resilience. This will, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, require international co-operation. Surely, with our honourable tradition of seeking to be a leader in our world when such crises emerge, this is now the time for us to step up and take a leading role. I hope the Minister will be able to set out His Majesty’s Government’s approach to this important area as we seek to work on the role that we can play in trying to solve or ameliorate the worst effects of the crisis emerging in front of us now.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and very much agree with his expressions of concern about our current family migration policies. I am sure the Government would like to claim to be the party of the family, yet we have migration policies that regularly separate refugees and other families on a huge scale. That is something that one hopes to see change in future. I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for securing this important debate. It is a pity that it comes at the end of a week when the House is exhausted by a deluge of government legislation, but it means that those of us who are here perhaps have a chance to take a broader view than is commonly possible.

I am going to start with a longue-durée perspective, inspired in part by recently listening to the University of Georgia academic Kalyani Ramnath, author of Boats in a Storm: Law, Migration, and Decolonization in South and Southeast Asia, 1942-1962. It recounts how people from what are now India, Burma, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, who had traditionally moved freely around the Indian Ocean, were suddenly trapped—families divided, trade routes disrupted—by the imposition of the idea, imported from Europe, of the rigid Westphalian system of states. All of this is within living memory; a change from freedom to restriction and great suffering inflicted by borders.

It is a useful reminder that freedom of movement has been the normal condition for nearly all of human history. Our current rigidity is, on a global scale, an extremely recent development. We can all enjoy reading the travel narratives of Ibn Battuta or Marco Polo. Neither of them talks about significant border issues—or immigration issues at all. We have to ask the question about this rigidity: is it going to be fit for this age of shocks, of the climate emergency—the desperate urgency of which has been driven home to us again and again this year as the El Niño weather system has magnified the boiling of our world? Clearly, the rigidity is now a huge problem. The people of the Libyan city of Derna, formerly with a population of around 100,000, have so tragically suffered this week. Perhaps 20,000 people have been swept to their deaths, one description speaking of a seven-meter high wall of water surging along a valley in the city, gouging out whole neighbourhoods.

That is a powerful, tragic and little-covered reminder of a truth driven home to me a few years ago by a Women’s Environmental Network event on climate migration, which stressed that, while much of the debate around climate migration is “How do we stop it?”, the reality is that, for many, the inability to migrate is literally a death sentence. Being trapped in place that is literally unsurvivable is as much of a problem as being forced to move. Potentially, of course, it is a greater problem. That is not to say, of course, that the world must not do everything it can to mitigate emissions to reduce the scale of the coming disaster, but, as so many have experienced this year, there is already a great deal of disaster built in.

The Green Party position is absolutely clear. We want to create a world in which no one is forced to move by the climate emergency, or by other human-inflicted disasters, including war and conflict. We have the political vision to see that this is possible. But we also want a world in which people are free to move when they want. As a migrant who has lived on three continents, I had the privilege of my place of birth—a place stolen from its original inhabitants in hideous acts of genocide by incoming migrants who were my predecessors—which made it easy for me. We must work towards a world where everyone who wants it has the same freedom that I have been lucky enough to enjoy.

In the meantime, we have huge numbers of people trapped and dying at borders that are increasingly fortified to keep them out, from the charnel house of the Med to the desperate badlands of Mexico adjoining the US border, and across the border in states such as Arizona. UN figures from the first half of this year show that 11 children die every week attempting to cross the Mediterranean. Those figures came out just a month after an estimated 100 children died when a fishing boat sank off southern Greece. We should be putting significant pressure on the European Union to acknowledge the horrors that “Fortress Europe”—its policy—has created and to see a situation that provides an orderly, safe route for people to seek sanctuary. I am very proud that the European Green Party has been an absolute leader in fighting back against Fortress Europe and in promoting orderly, safe, just policies.

It is worth focusing a little on how the climate emergency interacts with, magnifies and even causes conflict. I will take the case study of Somalia, where there have been six failed rainy seasons in a row, which has led to three years of insufficient water and food insecurity. Since the middle of 2021, one-third of all the livestock in Somalia has died. Some 20% of its people are displaced, many of them heading to refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. Each week, 2,000 people from Somalia arrive at the Dadaab refugee camp alone. Some people in the UK like to talk about our alleged small boat crisis, which, in the first half of this year, saw 11,500 people arriving across the channel because no safe, orderly routes were available to them. That amounts to six weeks of arrivals at one refugee camp in Kenya.

The fact is that most refugees are either internally displaced in their own country or are in neighbouring countries that are massively wracked by poverty and inequality, and a global system that still sucks resources out of the global south and into the global north. I note that, this morning, your Lordships’ House discussed the Foreign Secretary’s speech in Africa, which, I was pleased to note, included a reference to the need to reform the international financial sector. Of course, looking at the issues of debt, this is still pumping huge amounts of money out of the global south and into the City of London, down the road. That is leaving people with no choice but to become refugees. Of course, in this context, I cannot avoid mentioning the cuts to overseas development assistance and the diversion of funds to be spent here in the UK, instead of for their proper purpose.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, gave us many of the figures and much of the scale of this, but it is worth focusing on the fact that some people, particularly on the Benches opposite, like to attack the idea of net zero by 2050. Of course, what we should be looking at for the UK is net zero by 2030, or by the early 2030s at the absolute latest. If climate mitigation measures are not taken, there will be a world of climate refugees. Middle-level estimates are that 216 million people could be forced to move within their own countries by 2050, but there could be an 80% reduction in that if the world—that is, primarily the global north—does what it needs to do now on climate. These estimates range from 25 million to 1.5 billion people being climate refugees. I would ask every person who questions climate action in the UK to consider what the impact of failing to act adequately on the climate, as we are now failing to act, will mean for that figure of climate refugees.

My Lords, it is a delight to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. I am grateful to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for bringing this debate and raising this important issue. It touches on two of the primary challenges that we face in the 21st century; as we have heard, they are deeply connected. We heard astounding statistics, such as that, by 2050, perhaps 200 million people will be displaced due to climate change.

I was reminded of many of the weather events of this summer in Europe. We saw about 19,000 people evacuated from Rhodes due to wildfires; there were images of holidaymakers fleeing but being given refuge and hospitality by local people. We saw temperature red alerts and the hottest June on record globally. This is the climate crisis close up and, at the most basic level, it involved the movement of people and the support of other people—a small snapshot of a much larger global issue.

Just recently, at a refugee and asylum seekers service in Gloucestershire, we had a conversation about the fact that some regions of the planet are becoming uninhabitable and simply will not be able to adapt to extreme temperatures. A recent report published by Christian Aid pointed to research that supports what we have already heard: higher temperatures will lead to greater projected asylum applications to European countries.

However, as we have also heard, we need to keep this in perspective, set against the backdrop of millions of people displaced within their own countries and across neighbouring borders. I, too, was going to talk about Somalia but we have heard about that already. What is really important is that so many people across our world are being displaced for reasons other than climate change, such as war or persecution, and then discovering that the effects of climate change are adding to their suffering. Another example concerns the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, who are being further impacted by adverse weather disasters due to climate change.

None of this can be separated from the issues of poverty that underlie all we are talking about. The option of air conditioning simply does not exist in many places where people live across our world and the world’s poorest are bearing the burden of the climate crisis, which is not of their making. We also know that, for a whole host of reasons, the impact of climate change is predicted to affect women and girls disproportionately; we have already heard about children. It is not surprising that people are on the move. It is simply not an option for us to pull up the drawbridge and leave others to deal with the consequences of global migration. Working with our European partners is a practical necessity to deal with a crisis that is global in scale. As we have already heard, we have a collective responsibility to work with our European partners; many of those bodies have already been named. We cannot expect other countries to pick up the tab when we hold so many of the resources.

There are practical questions that we must address. The issue of the definition of a refugee has already been mentioned. The refugee convention described a refugee as

“someone unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted”.

That reflected the realities of 1951, not 2023. We would be wise to explore a more extensive definition that takes into account the drivers of migration that have developed over the past 70 years and, in particular, reflects the way in which climate change affects migration patterns. One way of addressing this is to invest further in climate adaptation, as well as in loss and damage payments, to help people respond to the impact of climate change in the countries where they live. It would be good if the Minister could say what is being done to address this.

One day last year, at the Lambeth conference, bishops from across the world gathered in the grounds of Lambeth Palace on one of the hottest days of the year. The grass was like straw. We sat in the shade of marquees and heard stories about the effects of climate change on real lives in real places. Some of it was very hard to hear. We had food that day—extremely good food—and plenty of water as we talked and listened to one another but many of the stories I heard were about climate change devastating food production, the failure of crops and people no longer being able to survive in the places of their communities. We also heard stories of hope. For example, I heard of churches in Uganda providing seedlings for tree planting and of the church in Kenya teaching and encouraging dryland farming, but all of it requires investment so that people can stay and build strong communities where they are.

This is an issue of justice. For me, as a Christian, that really matters, so I am grateful for this debate, which has highlighted the need for us not simply to keep looking for instant solutions to a problem that is about us here in the UK endeavouring to manage the inflow of people. This is about the need to work closely with European and other partners to engage in a courageous global vision and seek long-term and often slow but persistent ways to address the push factors, as well as just ways of managing the flows of increased movement across Europe.

My Lords, it is always interesting for me when I speak on behalf of my Benches and yet agree with every single world that has been said by all previous speakers in the debate. I congratulate the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, on bringing this debate to us. In many respects, this is the issue of our time, in this generation, and it is incumbent on us, as leaders of this generation in the world, to ensure that we correct—or at least ameliorate—some of the issues and start to have some solutions so that we do not pass this issue on to another generation who will be even less equipped than us to address it.

I left the debate on the Abraham Accords in Grand Committee, in which I spoke, early in order to be in the Chamber for this debate. In Grand Committee, we referenced the natural disasters in Morocco and Libya. Although it was a debate on the geopolitical relationships between countries on the one hand, noble Lords were also seeking to address the impact of climate and people movement in the Gulf, Middle East and north Africa, as we are in this debate. They are connected, as are so many areas. It is interesting that the Home Office Minister is responding to this debate; the Home Office is, in many respects, a recipient department that probably sees itself as having to try to address this issue, whereas the Foreign Office and the Treasury are departments in government that we need to hold to account because they have more tools available to them to address the root causes. I will return to that issue in a moment.

I regret to say that we are a long way from having a fully integrated government approach on the climate emergency and its consequences when it comes to the movement of people. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans was right: the debate in the Chamber on the Horn of Africa meant that we could have a debate on the impact on the individual human, rather than simply all the statistics and figures. However, the statistics and figures, with which the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, started, are stark. The Groundswell report by the World Bank, from which I believe he sourced his statistics, indicated that the 260 million people who are likely to migrate as a result of climate change are doing so within their own countries.

The backcloth of the debate is not only natural disasters and the climate emergency. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, myself and others, including the Minister, are veterans of the Illegal Migration Bill. I regret to say that we saw then how the Government were quite willing to weaponise the fear around the statistics on the number of people being forcibly displaced. The Home Secretary said that 105 million people are on the move and are coming here—of course they were not. Migration being used as a tool to create fear for political purposes is not unique to our Government; this is, regrettably, becoming a trend in other countries that are among the richest in the world.

When we look at the World Bank statistics, they require global consideration. In east Asia and the Pacific, the World Bank estimates that 49 million people will be displaced in their own countries owing to climate change. In south Asia, it is 40 million. The noble and right reverend Lord indicated that the figure is 86 million in sub-Saharan Africa and 17 million in Latin America. These are enormous figures. We have seen, in certain areas, ways to try to address the issue.

The World Bank indicated that it could be addressed if we act now to cut global greenhouse gases, to integrate climate migration into green, resilient and inclusive development planning, to plan for each phase of the migration, with proper strategic planning of countries working together, and to invest in understanding the drivers. The World Bank indicated that the numbers that I cited could be reduced by up to 80% if we act—so all is not lost. Therefore, the focus must be on how Governments such as the UK’s can be leaders in that action.

Unfortunately, in many respects, we are being embarrassed by other countries that are most affected and are taking the lead themselves. Over the summer, and at the moment—this was referenced in Questions earlier in the Chamber—African countries have signed a continental agreement to address climate mobility, led by Kenya and Uganda, at the Africa climate summit in Nairobi. John Kerry was there, representing the US President, and the IOM and the other networks were putting together a strategy. I would be grateful if the Minister could indicate who represented the UK at the Africa climate summit in Nairobi. I hope that there was ministerial representation, but, if that was not that case, I hope the Minister will be able to indicate who represented us.

The Government have also, regrettably, stepped back from a leadership role. That is not just my position—the Minister might not be surprised to hear me say that. That was from a former Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, who resigned because he felt that the Government were resiling from a leadership role. I will quote from his resignation letter. He said:

“More worrying, the UK has visibly stepped off the world stage and withdrawn our leadership on climate and nature. Too often we are simply absent from key international fora”.

He went on:

“The problem is not that the government is hostile to the environment, it is that you, our prime minister, are simply uninterested. That signal, or lack of it, has trickled down through Whitehall and caused a kind of paralysis”.

Now ministerial leadership can change, and we can see, hopefully, some differences in approach. But that seems unlikely. What is harder to reverse are the devastating reductions referenced by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, with regards to official development assistance. The very tools which the UK worked with our partners not only to design and fund but to make sure would be effective—thought leadership, financial support at scale, and implementation—have been cut dramatically.

It was the hottest month on record in July this year in this country. At that time, the Government released figures showing that they had cut at least £85 million from the funding of international climate programmes. The UK has reported to the OECD that in 2019-20, we supported the Rio commitment by £1.8 billion. The latest report to the OECD is that has been drastically cut to £449 million. This is not just a case of citing other statistics. These are programmes which have been either reduced massively or cut altogether, and the UK was the global leader in support for them.

The International Development Minister, Andrew Mitchell, reported to Parliament’s International Development Committee and revealed how much the reduced funding was affecting climate programmes. For example, the international forest unit will lose £38 million after being cut by 51%. The adaptation, nature and resilience department is being halved by 51%, losing £23 million—despite Ministers saying that the UK needs to do more to help lower-income countries adapt to the effects of climate change. Adaptation was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. We have pulled back in so many areas from supporting those countries that can least support themselves for adaptation.

The UK partnership for accelerating climate transition is being cut by 49%. Known as PACT, the programme works to accelerate partner countries’ transition to low-carbon development and help aid eligible countries meet their climate targets. These are not academic reductions; these are reductions that will make an impact on our ability to address the very crisis that is causing the migration. So I hope that the Minister will be able to say that the Home Office is leading—with other departments in Government—a change of direction. I suspect that we may not hear that, but we cannot wait. This is an emergency. The UK cannot simply be having our political discussions debated upon us receiving; we need to be part of solving the problems. We need a change of policy and that is urgent.

My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for his excellent and comprehensive introduction to the debate. The problems that have been outlined are of such an overwhelming scale that it is difficult to comprehend effective action. We have heard what action has been taken by the British Government, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, spoke specifically and eloquently about cuts in government budgets. Nevertheless, the overwhelming scale of the problems we have heard about is very difficult to comprehend.

It is my understanding, having read the Library’s report and other reports, that a clear and direct link has not been established between climate change and migration, yet the UNHCR estimates the number of people who are forcibly displaced by severe weather-related hazards each year. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, cited the figure of 32 million people displaced last year, which is a UNHCR figure. There is a consensus among international climate authorities that climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of such weather events. However, there is not a consensus on what the future flows of migration due to climate change will look like—although various figures on that were cited in today’s debate. The World Bank figure cited by a number of noble Lords was that as many as 200 million people could move within their own countries due to slow onset climate change by 2050.

Many international conferences and meetings have focused on migration and climate, all of which have emphasised the need for international co-operation that recognises obligations under international law—that is the only way to address these massive problems. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and others have said that this is perhaps the greatest and most challenging issue of our time. There is a real passion among many people to try to address the problems.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester mentioned air conditioning, which reminded me of an experience I had some 30 years ago at an oil and gas development conference where we were addressed by the Turkish Oil Minister. He said that that was the first year that Turkish people were spending more money on air conditioning than on heating their homes. It was a turning point in Turkey, but I suspect that many other countries have had that flipping in the use of their energy and an overall massive increase in their energy over the last few decades. Who are we to say that they should not turn on the air conditioning units? Nevertheless, we need to find better ways of people being able to live in the climate as it changes.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, mentioned wildfires in the States. I have just returned from Seattle and Portland in the northern States, and I was also in Canada. In Seattle and Portland, I could smell the smoke from Canada, and they gave routine predictions on the smoke every day. There were also a number of evacuations in Canada while I was there.

Canada is a very wealthy country, and this was handled. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, but it was almost routine—these things are happening every year. While there is nothing new in wildfires, the scale and consistency of them is a cause for concern. Nevertheless, I make the point that in a mature, wealthy country such as Canada, they were able to handle these wildfire situations and were of course trying to mitigate against them as far as possible. I was there nearly a month, and while I was there, there were no reports of any deaths as a result of the wildfires in Canada.

To return to the politics a bit more, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, we have debated migration issues in this Chamber at length, and a number of speeches on previous legislation have talked about the impact of climate change on migration, and we have heard about the Government’s cuts in this respect. I really want to hear from the Minister today something about the Government’s aspiration for taking a leading role in the world, for people to look to Britain to try to address the profound issues which we are facing. We on this side always say we can do this only with a proper international, ongoing source of co-operation. Just pulling up the drawbridge is not going to be the solution to these problems. Can the Minister give us some hope that the current Government aspire to international co-operation to try to deal with these profound issues?

My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions and add my congratulations to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, on securing this important debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, this debate is reminiscent of certain debates that we had during the passage of the Illegal Migration Act—in particular that of the most reverend Primate’s amendments in respect of a 10-year plan on migration. As a result of that experience, we all know that these issues are particularly live and pertinent to many Members across the House, including the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries.

The topics that are discussed are hugely complex, and it seems difficult to do justice to them in the short time that the House has had to do so, but I will endeavour to answer the questions raised. Let me say in opening that this question as posed by the noble and right reverend Lord will find answers only in co-operation—he is absolutely right to say that. That is co-operation between countries, between government departments, and between business and civil society.

The right reverend prelate the Bishop of Saint Albans, who spoke on the impact of climate change on the world’s poorest, made an important point. We need to consider our policies and action related to climate change and migration strategically and in the round—with regard to our trade policy, development policy and wider international engagement. The tone of our debate on this subject, like our response as a country, must be tempered and careful.

Throughout the evidence that we have on the links between climate change and migration, there remain many variables and possibilities. Obviously, we are increasing our understanding of this area. We do not and must not make policy in this country according to mob rule. Selfish protestors who disrupt people as they go about their lives do nothing to address the cause of climate change. The reality is that climate change is already influencing where people live and how they move. Where this is the case, the effects of climate change are generally just one factor in a wider range of immediate considerations.

In the Question before the House today, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, makes the distinction between the EU and other partners. I understand why he has set out the Question in that way. His interest is in the proximity of and dialogue with near neighbours. There is value in this view. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester rightly noted the importance of working with our European and wider partners. However, I respectfully urge that we approach this with a wider lens. This is not to denigrate in any way the importance of our European relationships. We must also place the upstream source at the forefront of how we think about this issue. This grasp of the global situation is representative of how we, as a Government, are approaching the dialogue on this subject.

With this in mind, I can inform the House that the United Kingdom is involved with a range of international conversations and discussions around climate change, as identified by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, in his speech. They include three international bodies: the Global Compact for Migration and its associated events, namely the International Migration Review Forum and regional reviews; the Global Forum for Migration and Development; and the International Dialogue on Migration. A further joint workshop between the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Inter-Governmental Consultations on Migration, Asylum and Refugees was also held earlier this year in June.

At the International Migration Review Forum in May 2022, the United Kingdom Government attended side events on the climate migration nexus. They supplied a speaker at a Guatemala-organised side event on this topic. The international community clearly needs to work together to make sure that any resultant migratory movements are done in a safe, orderly and regular fashion. They must work to benefit both the countries of origin and of destination, as well as those people affected and on the move.

To help develop our understanding of the challenges and potential solutions arising from this issue, the United Kingdom has funded research on the relationship between climate change and human mobility. We are using this and the growing body of evidence from around the world to support the development of a comprehensive policy position on climate migration. Evidence shows that climate extremes and environmental degradation are often amplifiers of other principal migration drivers—economic, social and political. We should recognise the complexity of the causes of migration and the links between them, as well as seek to provide people with options for sustainable livelihoods.

I turn to the specifics. A rapid evidence assessment published by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in 2021 made a number of important findings. First, climate-related shocks can contribute to increases and decreases in migration but there is no upward trend in weather shock-related migration. Secondly, there is little evidence of existing impacts of long-term climatic and related changes on migration. Thirdly, there is strong evidence that adaptations to climate-related shocks and hazards can reduce migration pressures but maladaptation contributes to displacement and migration. Fourthly, there is strong evidence that perceptions and narratives of climate change, weather shocks and local environments affect migration practices and decisions. Fifthly, poverty-affected individuals and households are particularly affected by both migration pressures and barriers to movement, while young people are the most likely to move in response to climatic pressures. Finally, there are no rigorous global estimates of the number of people who have been displaced or are migrating in response to weather shocks or climate change; high-end projections of future climate-related migration are not considered credible.

I turn to a number of other points raised by noble Lords. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans noted how some of the most acute impacts of climate change are falling on people in Africa. Mindful of this, only this month in Nairobi at the Africa Climate Summit, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, the Minister for Development and Africa announced £49 million for new finance and resilience projects and reaffirmed £11.6 billion of funding for an international climate finance pledge. This reflects the degree of seriousness that this Government place on the issue and underlines the UK’s commitment, with the international community, to the issue in Africa. More widely, the UK is the third-largest donor of the UN Migration Multi-Partner Trust Fund, with over £4.2 million pledged. I hope that this answers the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in relation to the Government’s presence at the summit.

As to the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, about the concept of climate refugees, the 1951 convention, which the right reverend Prelate mentioned, does not recognise climate change and it therefore cannot be used as a justification for grant of refugee status. The UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration caution against the use of language around climate refugees. Our priority must be to focus our wider efforts on migration and climate change rather than this.

I conclude by reiterating the need for a temperate tone and for co-operation. This issue affects us all. Harmonious working is therefore vital. I reassure the House that His Majesty’s Government will continue to work with all their internal component parts—as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked—and with all our international partners in Europe and beyond to ensure that our response to climate-driven migration is evidenced and effective and, as I was rightly exhorted from the Bishops’ Benches, to ensure that it is fair both to the individuals displaced and of course to the British public.