Lib Dem Lords’ maiden speeches: Shas Sheehan on the dangers of climate change

We’re catching up this week on Lib Dem Lords’ maiden speeches. Here is Shas Sheehan speaking in the debate after the conclusion of the Paris climate talks.

My Lords, it is indeed a great honour and privilege to be asked to serve in your Lordships’ House. It is a task that I do not undertake lightly and is one that I intend to fulfil with diligence to the best of my ability. Special thanks are due to my noble friends Lady Barker and Lady Kramer for their welcome support on the day of my introduction to this place. Perhaps I may also take this opportunity to thank noble Lords from all sides for their kind words of welcome.

As a young university student, I and some friends worked and travelled our way across America. One night in Chicago, we lost the car. To this day, I do not believe that my husband appreciates the importance of his unerring sense of direction to our enduring relationship. So, as one who can lose her way in a one-way street, noble Lords will appreciate the sincerity in my words of thanks to all the staff of your Lordships’ House, the clerks, doorkeepers, restaurant and security staff, who have all been so unfailingly kind in redirecting me on numerous occasions.

Today, I am reminded of another daunting occasion when I was the new girl. On a freezing cold day in January 1965, newly arrived on a BOAC jet from Pakistan, I can vividly recall my first day of school, unable to speak a word of English. Tooting in south-west London became home. It is not a great distance from Tooting to Wimbledon, where I spent many years working on behalf of local residents as the parliamentary candidate for my party, the Liberal Democrats. That my title should include those contiguous parts of my personal and political lives, which retain a special place in my heart, is fitting.

I have been many things in my life—among them an auxiliary nurse, an O-level and A-level chemistry teacher, a full-time mother and a councillor for Kew ward in the London Borough of Richmond—but it was my passion for environmental issues that led me to opt out of a career in advertising and return to my roots in science. So I congratulate my noble friend Lady Miller on securing this most timely debate. To my mind, the high probability of anthropogenic climate change was established several decades ago, but, sadly, we have had to wait for disastrous events to strike every part of the globe multiple times before a sense of urgency has taken hold. So, imperfect though the COP 21 agreement is, it is nevertheless crucially important that 195 signatories have agreed to pull in the same direction.

But I would like to turn to a possible impact of climate change which does not translate into a bad weather event but rather into the mass movement of people. Some in your Lordships’ House may be aware that I have taken an interest in the issue of refugees, who are arriving in ever greater numbers in Europe. And so it was with interest that I read an article in a recent issue of New Scientist entitled “Climate as a cause of Syria’s conflict?” The article refers to a peer-reviewed paper by Colin Kelley of the University of California, Santa Barbara. It is an interesting paper and well worth reading in its entirety. It goes without saying that we must treat with great caution the possible links between droughts, migrations and conflicts, but I believe we must also question whether the impact of our changing climate on the existence of those who do not enjoy a buffer against the vagaries of the weather, but which leaves them even more susceptible to geopolitical events, will come back to bite us here in Europe.

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