It used to be said that ’There’s no ice in Iceland; and Greenland isn’t green.’ The former, as I discovered this week, is becoming true; and the latter, as I discovered this time last year is rapidly becoming false. There were once plenty of glaciers in Iceland but they are disappearing at a rapid rate; and the Greenland ice-shelf is similarly sliding into the sea, leaving large parts of Greenland ’green’. This week I was in Iceland leading a little cross-party expedition of Parliamentarians.
There are those in the world who deny that Climate Change is real; there are others who argue that it has nothing to do with human activity and is merely cyclical. Either group should have come with me to Iceland. They would have seen the diminishing glaciers (one of them, Okjokull, now known as simply Ok, disappearing altogether and for good); they would have felt the unseasonal warmth; they would have heard about the warm water fish which are now routinely found in the High North Atlantic, and about the very worrying changes to migratory patterns of the Arctic geese and others. They would have discovered that the Chinese and Russians are investing billions in the promised ‘Northern Sea Route’, which will allow 100,000 tonne tankers and bulk carriers to sail freely around, or even eventually across, the North Pole.
These things are not the mad imaginings of some weird environmental enthusiasts trying to destroy our Western away of life, as the climate change deniers would argue. These things are real, and very visible at the far end of an Icelandair flight to Reykjavik. Climate Change is real; it is having a devastating effect on large parts of the Arctic (far worse than the rest of the world so far); it has come about as a result of our increased carbon emissions, coupled with deforestation in the Amazon and elsewhere; and it can only be contained or reversed by us if we take urgent and dramatic action.
I was delighted by the announcement this week that COP 26 (the multinational Conference of the Parties on Climate Change) is to be held in Glasgow next year; and I hope that under the Presidency of my (soon to be former) neighbouring MP from Devizes, Claire Perry, it will be able to take forward the agenda set by the last COP in Paris, or the others stretching back to the first, which I attended in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. I also welcome the appointment of my friend and arch-environmentalist, Zac Goldsmith as a Minister of State in the Department of the Environment. If anyone can shake up our stance on these matters it is he. I welcome the Government’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, and hope that it can be sooner and more dramatic than that; and I am proud of the 25 year Environmental programme which we have laid out. This is truly a green government, and I am proud of it. But there is so much more that we can (and must) do.
We can change human behaviour, and we must do so. Electric cars must become the norm; we must act to prevent Brazilian deforestation of the Amazon jungle; persuade China and India to stop building coal-fired power stations and so much else. We ourselves must be ready to make changes in our everyday lives, many of which are perfectly easy and just take a bit of self-discipline. Less car and plastic usage is a good example.
Climate change is real; it is here; and it is our doing. We must now act- dramatically and decisively- to halt; and then, we hope, reverse it.