Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Newspaper column 25 November 2015 - Climate Change and Kenya

At the beginning of next month the world climate change submit will be held in Paris. Called COP21 (Conference of Parties) it will be the latest gathering of world leaders, business, NGOs and civil society to address the issues of our changing climate.

Whatever people’s views on the causes, it is quite clear that our climate is changing. We can see the effects here in Cornwall with heavier rainfall, more frequent flooding and unpredictable weather patterns.

During the recent short Parliamentary Recess I took the opportunity to visit Kenya. The visit was organised and sponsored by Christian Aid in order for MPs to be able to see for themselves some of the impact of climate change and how the UK Government is involved in helping communities adapt to the change.

I have visited Kenya a number of times before in my previous charity work. But this time it was good to go with a different focus. We were in the country for 3 days and packed a great deal into the time – meeting members of the Kenyan Government, UK representatives, campaigners and charity workers.

The highlight for me was a visit to a very rural area where we met with the local farming community. This is where the impact of climate change is felt most sharply. Rainfall is now much less frequent but much heavier when it does rain. This creates significant challenges of soil erosion and flash flooding.

We visited one farm where a partnership of the UK and local Kenyan Government had helped fund the construction of water capture pits for the farmer. This enabled him to store water when it does rain, which can then last for several months in a time of drought. This has enabled the farmer to expand his farm and provide employment for local people.

I am aware that some people question the UK International Development budget. But visiting the sites where some of the money is being spent in Kenya has certainly helped me understand far more why it is necessary. The impact of climate change is being felt in the poorer countries of the world where people are less resilient and able to adapt. Whatever we may feel about our moral responsibility to help these countries, especially in our former Colonial and Commonwealth nations, I believe we also need to see that it is in our own interest.

It is clear that one of the biggest challenges facing the world will be the migration crisis. People are not only fleeing war and conflict, but also poverty. If people find as a result of our changing climate that life is not sustainable, especially in rural areas that are totally dependent on farming, then the likelihood of people migrating to Western Europe will only increase putting more and more pressure on our own country. Granting aid that can help communities to adapt and enable people to live a sustainable life in rural areas is not just the right thing to do it is the sensible thing to do.

Climate change is a global challenge and it will take agreement and working in partnership from all the major nations to face it. Let us hope that progress can be made in Paris next month. I know the UK Government will be playing a leading role in working to achieve this.