‘So farewell to the Monty’. I’m glad my son doesn’t work down the pit but I wasn’t glad to see the last colliery at Kellingley in Yorkshire close last Friday. Deep mined coal was central to the Industrial Revolution and when production peaked just before the First World War, more than a million men were employed in Britain’s pits. ‘And your work has been good and your work has been hell’. It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine the North East without king coal for it runs like a seam (pun intended) through our history, economy and culture. If, as a country, we had got our act together and delivered Carbon Capture and Storage there could still have been a future for UK coal but to date we haven’t, so ‘no more to your dirty old heap will I come, for your life it is finished and your work it is done’.
As Kellingley was entering its final days of production I was attending the UN climate change talks in Paris as part of the European Union’s parliament delegation. I’ve been working on matters to do with climate change one way and another for ten years. A decade ago I was one of the first people to hear Al Gore deliver his now legendary global warming shock talk and hear his demand for action. At around the same time I read James Lovelock’s clarion call The Revenge of Gaia, which was why I returned to work for Christian Aid in 2007 so that I could head up their campaign on climate change.
Christian Aid, to their credit, were the first development agency in the UK to recognise that climate change was already impacting on poor communities around the world and that, ‘You can forget making poverty history, climate change will make it permanent’.
We began the Christian Aid campaign by organising what remains to this day Britain’s longest ever political march. The ‘Cut the Carbon’ march covered 1,000 miles from Belfast to London via Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Birmingham, Cardiff and Brighton. One of those who walked all the way was Mohamed Adow a Kenyan from a family of nomadic pastoralists who was able to talk first hand about how droughts were increasing in frequency in the Sahel and how self-sufficient farmers were being pushed into poverty because of climate change. At the time it was hard going, both the walking and finding a receptive audience for the message, even amongst the churches. The BBC’s Peter Sissons asked me sceptically three consecutive times live on BBC News 24, ‘What scientific evidence is there for climate change?’
The march also aimed to draw attention to the UN climate talks scheduled for December 2009 in Copenhagen. At the time hopes of an agreement were high but the talks were confusingly complicated and it soon became clear there was to be no meaningful agreement to tackle climate change.
Fast forward to Paris and there is Mohamed now working for Christian Aid as their Senior Climate Advisor and leading for a wider coalition of church based organisations making sure the voice of the developing world was heard during the talks.
The negotiations were given an extra significance for me given the weekend before I arrived had seen the devastating flooding in Cumbria and beyond. My Uncle Billy was without electricity in Carlisle and my sister in Haydon Bridge had neighbours staying with her after they had lost power due to their cellar flooding. The front page of The Times on Tuesday 8th December, pulled no punches, ‘Floods caused by global warming, says minister’ and I made sure Commissioner Canete, who was the EU’s lead negotiator, saw this.
This time, fantastic news, the negotiations did succeed, summed up well by my friend Mohamed, "For the first time in history the whole world has made a public commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deal with the impacts of climate change. Although different countries will move at different speeds, the transition to a low carbon world is now inevitable. Governments, investors and businesses must ride this wave or be swept away by it”.
Hopefully Mohamed now feels his 1,000 mile walk has at long last been worth it.
Labour MEP for the North East