Lib Dem Lords’ maiden speeches – Earl Russell

I noted a few weeks ago that it has been a very long time since there was a Liberal Democrat maiden speech in the Lords but, following the recent hereditary Peer by-election, John Russell took the opportunity to make his maiden speech during a debate on climate change yesterday evening…

My Lords, I rise to speak very aware of the history of this great Chamber, and very aware of my small part in the narrative. I am honoured to be a Member of this House and I wish to thank everyone, particularly the doorkeepers, who have made me so welcome.

Thank you for the kind words I have received about my father, Conrad. I know he is still remembered, particularly for his unique historical and constitutional knowledge. If I might share with your Lordships: one of his proudest moments was when, during one very late-night sitting, he out-quoted the Bishops one by one with the Bible.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for bringing this important debate forward. I am passionate about the environment. My commitment and care come from my personal experience of adventure, long-distance walking and a love of wild places. Climate change is happening now. It is real and it is truly frightening. No longer the stuff of dystopian films, it is our present reality.

I recognise the work the Government have done to date, and the ambitions they have set to be a global leader and to reach UK net zero by 2050. However, all the present political mood music is pessimistic. The Government’s new climate adaption programme does not go far enough. The Government are on course to miss every target to hit net zero, according to their own advisers. This month, we heard that the Government plan to drop their own flagship £11.6 billion climate and nature funding pledge.

Halting climate change at 1.5 degrees Celsius has passed, and 2 degrees Celsius may be passed as well. On current trends, the world will be 2.8 degrees warmer by the end of this century. We do not know where the ultimate tipping points are, but we know that we are getting way too close. The one thing we do not have is time. In the words of Bill McKibben:

“If we do not win very quickly on climate change, then we will never win … It’s what makes it different from every other problem our political systems have faced”.

The questions of what to do and how we fight for our common survival must be addressed and solutions found and implemented with utmost urgency. We have to adapt our ways of life, our cities, our transport systems, simply for our society to continue to function and survive. We must have hope and inspire confidence that change is possible. The costs of adaption and of preventing climate change may be high, but the costs and consequences of not doing so will be higher still. The UK cost of net zero is estimated to be around £10 billion per year. UK GDP is £3.1 trillion per year: we can afford to do this.

Systems must be found to distribute costs equitably, both within individual countries and within the international system. We can change. We can accept that solutions are global, not state-centric, and that survival is collective not individual. We can set aside our short-term national and political self-interests and work collectively for the survival of all humanity. Internationally, much more must be done urgently to encourage and leverage international finance to pay for adaption in developing countries. We must continue to conduct international climate research to better understand our climate systems. The UK must join Europe’s Horizon programme.

Big companies and businesses must adapt: they will be part of the solutions we need for a functioning society. The biggest polluters must be held accountable. We must give nature and the ecosystem an economic value and assign it worth. We need a new economics and a global green economy. We must pay to start reversing climate change now, or we will pay more and we may not be able to stop runaway climate change later. We must fight for a secure future for humanity.

John has already been appointed to serve on the Built Environment Committee, and I’m sure that he’ll be an effective and hardworking member of the Liberal Democrat team in the Lords going forwards.

* Mark Valladares is the occasional Lords Correspondent and Monday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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  • David Symonds 26th Jul '23 - 11:06am

    Best wishes to Earl Russell. I had the pleasure of working with his elder brother Nicholas at Waltham Forest Council some years ago when Nicholas was a Labour Councillor and remember how dilligent and hard working he was, it was a real tragedy that Nicholas passed away so young. Very dedicated although a bit too red for me.!

  • william wallace 26th Jul '23 - 11:55am

    Just to add that a great many LibDem activists will recognise John Russell, since he is an expert photographer, and has been visible at many party conferences taking pictures during leaders’ speeches. And he’s been an active LibDem campaigner for years.

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