Wilberforce Institute Researcher Delivers Climate Change Recommendations in Parliament

Saphia Fleury

PhD Student, Falling Through the Net Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

S.Fleury-2019@hull.ac.uk

Saphia Fleury talks about her research on climate change and the opportunity it gave her to present evidence to parliamentarians last month.

Influencing government policy is a key aim of academia and a strong motivator for many who choose to study for a PhD at the University of Hull. One effective way to achieve change is by submitting evidence to UK parliamentary inquiries and government consultations. (Information about inquiries and consultations in Wales and Scotland is accessible via the websites of the Senedd Cymru and Scottish Parliament). 

My research looks at how people migrate in the context of climate change and natural disasters and the protection gaps that need filling to protect migrants’ human rights. In May, I submitted written evidence to the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Climate Change, which looks at new security threats arising from environmental change. My evidence demonstrated the links between violent struggles and environmental change, from community conflict to wars on an international scale.

As well as having my evidence published on the Committee’s website, I was invited to present it in person in Parliament on 1 November. Contributors are frequently asked to speak as witnesses before formal committee meetings, but on this occasion the format was a little different. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association invited ministers and MPs from across the Commonwealth to join UK parliamentarians to explore emerging security threats arising from climate change, cybersecurity and other phenomena. The session to which I was invited was chaired by Dame Margaret Beckett and heard evidence from Professor Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti on the UK defence apparatus’ approach to climate change, and Dr Stuart Parkinson on the carbon footprint of the military and the threat to climate stability from nuclear weapons.

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, London, UK. Photo courtesy of Marcin Nowak at Unsplash.

I focused my presentation on the four main drivers of climate-induced insecurity: extreme weather events including flash floods and hurricanes; slower, creeping changes such as drought; pandemics and the spread of disease vectors; and human displacement. On the last point, I described how it can be difficult to ascribe human migration to environmental factors alone, since people leave their homes for multiple, complex reasons for which climate change may be a trigger. Nevertheless, changes to the environment play an increasing role in driving people to seek better living conditions elsewhere and the world has not adequately prepared for the human rights crisis that may ensue.

To this end, I made three recommendations to the decision-makers in the room. First, migration should be prevented at source with a robust disaster response, sufficient funding for adaptation, and protecting and fulfilling people’s human rights in situ. Second, accepting that some migration will always occur and can indeed be a positive adaptation measure in itself, people on the move must be protected through safe and orderly migration routes and protection measures, even if they don’t meet the internationally recognised definition of a ‘refugee’. Third, planned resettlement should be facilitated by governments when changes to the environment render it impossible for people to remain in their community or country. In the latter case, affected individuals should be fully consulted in relocation planning and given support to move to new homes and, where necessary, new livelihoods. By implementing these changes through bilateral and multilateral agreements, governments can help to stem the flow of dangerous, irregular migration that harms the migrants themselves and risks triggering political backlash and community conflict.

The high level of engagement with the issue of climate change by those parliamentarians present was clear from the numerous questions posed during the session. Delegates from small island states and developing nations spoke of the urgent need for adaptation support from high-income countries and the inevitability that some of their citizens would have to be relocated, either temporarily or permanently. The delegate from Belize spoke movingly about an evacuation that was currently underway in his country to move people out of the path of an incoming hurricane. The intensity and frequency of hurricanes in the Caribbean Basin, where Belize is situated, is increasing as rising global temperatures warm the sea and air. The perspectives of delegates from Commonwealth countries and British Overseas Territories served to remind all present that climate change is not a theoretical, future problem, but a lived reality for millions of British and Commonwealth citizens globally. There has never been a more urgent time for researchers to make their findings heard by those in power.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, addressing parliamentarians on 1 November 2022. © Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK. Images Copyright http://www.tellingphotography.com

Summary of author’s recent publications

Professor Trevor Burnard

Director of the Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

trevor.burnard@hull.ac.uk

Today Trevor Burnard, Director of the Wilberforce Institute, provides a summary of two of his recent articles on Jamaican history.

‘Slaves and Slavery in Kingston, 1770-1815,’ International Journal of Social History 65 (2020), 39-65

If you wander down to the magnificent Kingston waterfront, you will see nothing which marks the fact that Kingston was the `Ellis Island’ of African American life in British America. It was the place where nearly 900,000 Africans were landed to begin a usually miserable and often foreshortened life as slaves working on sugar and other plantations and occasionally enjoying a slightly better life as an urban enslaved person in Kingston. Slavery and the slave trade were central to eighteenth-century Kingston and in turn Kingston is vital as a place to study so that we understand Jamaican and Atlantic slavery in the period of the Atlantic slave trade. But our knowledge of Kingston and its slaves is very limited. This article looks at slavery in Kingston from when the slave trade was at its height, between the early 1770s, through to the immediate aftermath of the ending of the slave trade in Jamaica in 1807.

This article summarizes what we know about slavery in Kingston already and provides some empirical data which can be helpful in drawing attention to Kingston’s importance in the history of slavery. The Atlantic slave trade in Kingston was easily the largest business in eighteenth-century British America and had a very distinctive character. Contrary to popular legend, African captives were seldom sold directly from ships in what was described as a `scramble’, when potential buyers pushed and shoved each other in order to acquire valuable property. Slaves cost too much money for any factor selling slaves to allow such chaos to occur. Instead, Africans were purchased in large lots by carefully selected merchants and were moved to merchant houses where they were corralled (`like sheep’, Olaudah Equaino lamented) and then sold usually in small lots to planters. In short, the slave market in Kingston harbor was a wholesale market and was followed by retail sales. Everyone took their cut at all times and the money that flowed was so substantial as to make Kingston and its slave merchants very wealthy.

The manner of slave sales meant that enslaved Africans experienced the transformation of themselves into ‘commodities’ first in Kingston. That was a profound, and profoundly disturbing, human moment. From Kingston, they were dispersed throughout Jamaica, in ways that made enslaved populations very polyglot – Africans from various ships from various places in West Africa were purchased together and sent to very ethnically diverse plantations. Some enslaved people, of course, stayed in Kingston, and I discuss what they did as tradespeople, domestics and sailors in the article.

One would think that the end of a lucrative slave trade would spell disaster for Kingston and its wealthy merchant class. Surprisingly, this did not happen. Why not? What seems to have occurred, although much more work needs to be done on this subject, is that Kingston moved quickly from being a major slave trading entrepot to being the centre of trade with Spanish America. It was a depot from which British manufactured goods were dispersed throughout the Spanish American empire. In an ironic restatement of the famous thesis by Eric Williams that slavery created capitalism, after 1807 capitalism remade slavery as capitalism in the form of British manufactured goods stimulated the slave system and slave economy in places like Cuba.

The slave trade ended in 1807 but slavery remained in Kingston, I finish this article with the perspective of the enslaved, and their participation in festivals, such as Jonkunnu. A spatial inversion occurred during these carnivals, during which black entertainers invaded the spaces of white authority. Slavery was complicated and diverse in Kingston, as in the rest of Jamaica.

James Hakewill (1875), A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica: Kingston and Port Royal 

***

‘Security, Taxation, and the Imperial System in Jamaica, 1721-1782,’ Early American Studies 18, 4 (Fall, 2020)

Aaron Graham of Oxford and myself have written an article, soon forthcoming in Early American Studies, which examines the question of how white Jamaicans ensured their security in a colony where the majority of the inhabitants were enslaved people who hated them and which was periodically subject to severe challenges to white authority coming from black people. The most serious eighteenth-century challenges were the first Maroon War in the 1730s and Tacky’s Revolt in 1760-61. These challenges were existential threats to the Jamaican state and the people – in Britain and among colonial elites – who ran that state. What these threats showed was that Jamaica was a society at war. Societies at war needed to be well funded – something Britain was very good at in the eighteenth century as it developed and perfected a fiscal-military state, designed to fight wars without incurring state bankruptcy.

White Jamaicans welcomed a strong fiscal-military state as the basis for colonial rule because they realized the perilous nature of their rule in their peculiar society. White Jamaicans were willing to pay relatively high rates of taxation to support a powerful and assertive state in schemes of settlement and security. The schemes for settlement did not work, mainly due to dire demographic conditions for white people, but white Jamaicans’ security concerns were generally answered, leading to a settler society that was reasonably content with what the state offered (unlike in the settler societies developed by their American cousins, which opted for rebellion in the 1770s) right up until the end of the American Revolution. White Jamaicans paid relatively high taxes willingly because they were satisfied with what they received from the state and because they were wealthy enough to afford high rates of taxation. Furthermore, in this period white Jamaicans believed that they had a significant stake in the processes by which taxes were collected and spent. Jamaica provides a case study of how the imperial state worked satisfactorily for imperial rulers and those colonists whom they ruled when both the state and colonial settlers shared common beliefs and where negotiations made it clear that the interests of all parties coincided.

Though an extreme example, by virtue of its exposed strategic position, the demographic imbalance between whites and blacks, and its economic importance, Jamaica differed in degree rather than kind from other colonies and territories of the British Atlantic. Eighteenth-century statesmen as different as Charles Townshend, Benjamin Franklin and Edmund Burke understood these imperial realities. Less sophisticated thinkers like Lord North and George Grenville, however, were seduced by plans that forced the empire into one colonial model and thought that the same solutions were applicable to the problems throughout the empire.  The American War of Independence resulted from a failure to understand this fundamental reality about the need to treat colonies within an imperial framework according to their local circumstances, rather than as if they were all Jamaica and equally committed to the expansion of the colonial fiscal-military state.

Map of Jamaica with relief and other marks, 1763.