By Anna McMorrin MP – Shadow Minister for International Development and Climate Justice

The great injustice is that they are the ones that suffer the most and yet are the least responsible. We are in a race against time and unless we take climate justice seriously, we will be doing the world a great disservice.

I have a vivid childhood memory of playing with children on the outskirts of Harare. Excitedly searching for leftover nuts on the dry, dusty streets and scrabbling to put one after another into our mouths as we found them. I was visiting my grandparents and enjoyed the novelty of the game. It made me pretty ill that night but those children I was playing with had it much tougher. And it’s only got worse for them.

The UN special rapporteur, last year warned that Zimbabwe was on the verge of manmade starvation, with 60% of the population already facing hunger. Droughts and acute water shortages along with ill-equipped health facilities have made regular handwashing nearly impossible. We know that the Covid crisis will hit people in these vulnerable and poorer countries far harder. It is now estimated that over 6 million people in Zimbabwe are facing severe hunger.

Today marks World Environment Day – a day to renew urgent calls for worldwide environmental action, to send a unified message that the health of people and planet are intertwined and in order to care for ourselves, we must take care of nature. The year 2020 was to be a pivotal year for climate action where countries around the world would demonstrate by their actions that they were working to implement the Paris Agreement and accelerate the transition to net zero.

Instead, the global pandemic has shut down our industries, given us clean air to breathe, less pollution on our streets and more birds in the skies. At face value this is good news for our climate. However, it’s an unintended consequence which is having a huge impact on the economy and has come at a huge cost with many people losing loved ones, entrenching inequalities and decimating livelihoods. How we rebuild and recover from this crisis will define how well we tackle the deeper, graver climate crisis.

As Shadow Minister for International Development with dedicated responsibility for international climate justice, this World Environment Day I am setting out Labour’s ambition to put climate action at the heart of all international development. To do this, I’m calling on the international development community – for grassroots organisations, charities, experts and activists in the global south to join me in establishing a Labour Climate Justice Network – to make space for the voices for people across the world, who are bearing the brunt of the climate emergency, to speak out on the climate injustices they are facing.

And we know the climate impact is disproportionate. It hits small islands, fragile states, vulnerable people hardest and it’s often women who bear the most responsibility. It’s often the women who are tasked with finding the water, feeding the family or keeping the house together. Like Lydia who couldn’t go to school but now works with the Campaign for Women’s Education in Tanzania to train other young women from marginalised farming communities in Africa how to adapt to climate change. Or Helander-Renvall, head of the Arctic Indigenous Peoples Office and representing the Sami communities, who sees how vulnerable the Arctic is to climate change.

I have spent my professional life working on climate issues, campaigning for green jobs and technologies, developing ground-breaking legislation for the Welsh Government on Wellbeing of Future Generations and on the environment and working with fifty states and regions across the world to ensure they played a part in the official UN Paris Climate Agreement. It was a proud moment when they were officially recognised in the body of that agreement. But we know we face a bigger challenge. Unless we change how we do business, how we work, how we travel, how we invest, the future for many and for the most vulnerable is stark.

Business as usual will not lead us to a safe future. Since 2010, the Conservatives have spent hundreds of millions of pounds of aid on fossil fuel projects. As the world seeks to rebuild post Covid it’s essential that it is weaned off our dependency on the fossil fuel industry.  Labour will ensure that all overseas aid and assistance has climate justice at its heart. This means working with communities to address the destruction and losses caused by the climate crisis and addressing the long term issues by investing in new technologies, skills and training. It’s up to us to show the global leadership that is missing.

If we have learnt anything from the Covid crisis it’s that we must follow the science and that collective human behaviour matters. Time is running out and future Governments won’t be able to do what Governments can do now. We have a huge opportunity over the next few months as financial injections and stimulus will be used to boost growth. If that money is put into carbon intensive businesses, it will dwarf any efforts we may make on climate change.

I want those children I was playing with all those years ago on the streets of Harare to have a future and for their children and grandchildren to have one too. The great injustice is that they are the ones that suffer the most and yet are the least responsible. We are in a race against time and unless we take climate justice seriously, we will be doing the world a great disservice.

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