Environment, House of Lords, Maiden Speech, Speeches

Maiden Speech

Posted by LordSheikh

My Lords, at the outset, I apologise for my late arrival this morning. I take this opportunity to thank noble Lords for the very warm welcome that I have received. I also thank all the attendants and staff of the House for their courtesy and friendly reception and for the great help and assistance that I have been offered. I am naturally proud to have received the peerage and I hope, in return, to make useful contributions to the House and become a diligent Member.

The environment is a passion of mine and it saddens me to see the devastating impact of climate change, particularly on societies in the most vulnerable parts of our planet. It is on that subject that I wish to speak. I was very pleased to note that Her Majesty in her speech yesterday said that the Government would publish a Bill on climate change as part of their policy to protect the environment, consistent with the need to secure long-term energy supplies. I very much look forward to taking an active part in the proceedings on that Bill.

I was brought up in Uganda, a country once described as the “pearl of Africa” by Sir Winston Churchill. As a young boy I used to fish on the shores of Lake Victoria, swim in the River Nile and visit our game parks to watch with fascination and awe the beauty of the wild. I was lucky enough to see and enjoy the fruits of nature in my youth and it was those experiences that led me to a lifelong love of the environment. I want future generations to be inspired, stirred and captivated by the same natural wonders as I was as a young man. It saddens and worries me when I see the problems that have been created by climate change. The more we understand climate change, the more it looks as if we may be the real culprits.

Climate change poses a serious threat to Africa, and measures to help African countries to “climate-proof” their societies, economies and infrastructure are now widely seen as vital. Sir Nicholas Stern, among others, has recently warned of the uneven impact of climate change on the poorest countries. Most Africans still rely, literally, on the fruits of their labour. When crops fail, things fall apart. Lake dissipation, collapsing fisheries, the displacement of millions, the loss of crops that feed them—all these have a direct and potentially fatal effect.

Many environmental tragedies are being overlooked. They include the shrinking of Lake Chad, formerly the sixth largest lake in the world; the melting glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya; and the drying up of the famously lush Okavango Delta in Botswana. The fate of Africa’s iconic natural wonders is sadly symbolic of a world in which climate change can be measured not only in temperature increases, but in damage to human society.

But of course the problems of climate change affect not only Africa but the entire globe. As the chairman and chief executive of an insurance broking organisation, I see at first hand how the insurance industry is already feeling the impact of climate change worldwide. In the United Kingdom, Europe and America, we are suffering from freak weather conditions; we now have hot summers and excessive rainfall resulting in flooding and stormy conditions in winter. Storm and flood losses in Britain cost £6.2 billion between 1998 and 2003—double the amount in the previous five years. The financial costs of flooding could rise in both the UK and the rest of Europe, increasing the annual flood bill by some £82 billion across the continent. More important than the financial loss is the human cost. It now appears clear that climate change is a threat to the future of the entire world. Hurricanes, floods, drought, tornadoes, wild fires and other natural disasters have caused devastation in parts of the globe.

Yet the future does not look promising. Economic growth is expected to propel global oil demand from 84 million to 116 million barrels a day by 2030. Carbon emissions are set to soar by more than 55 per cent over that period. Furthermore, there may be greater use of the burning of coal. This energy scenario is not only unsustainable, but doomed to failure, according to the International Energy Agency.

What we do with energy is crucial to global climate policy. The production of energy and consumption must change from now on. To take the appropriate action, there needs to be a holistic approach with the participation and the support of local authorities, Governments, international organisations and us, the people. All countries, especially those that consume vast quantities of energy, must sign up to increasingly progressive international agreements. If we take the right action, there will be dual benefits: first, we will reduce pollution and, secondly, we will secure our energy supplies for the future. There needs, therefore, to be more efficient fuel consumption, more efficient power generation and a switch towards nuclear and renewables to minimise fossil fuel burn and carbon emissions.

What can we as people do? We can begin by undertaking home improvements to cut down on energy wastage. We can recycle as much as possible. We should make more use of public transport and cut down on air travel, where possible. There are very great challenges ahead of us and two divergent paths. The first is to live as we are and play Russian roulette with the future of the planet and our species. The second is to find a new direction and, through societal and international action, rebuild and renew our relationship with the natural world.

I end on one of my favourite sayings, which is by Mahatma Gandhi. He said:

“You must be the change you want to see in the world”.

We all must be the change we wish to see. Thank you.

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