[Relevant Documents: Eighth Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, on Preparations for the Rio+20 Summit, HC 1026, and the Government response, HC 1737.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the year ending with
(1) resources, not exceeding £1,079,958,000, be authorised, on account, for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1756,
(2) resources, not exceeding £172,643,000, be authorised, on account, for use for capital purposes as so set out, and (3) a sum, not exceeding £1,106,539,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund, on account, and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Jeremy Wright.)
I am delighted to have the opportunity to open this debate on behalf of the Environmental Audit Committee following our report on the preparations for the Rio+20 summit. I am pleased that so many members of the Committee are in the Chamber. I am grateful that the Minister is in his place and say at the outset that I acknowledge that the Secretary of State is on other urgent business to do with this topic. We welcome the Minister and look forward to his comments.
All parliamentarians must engage with this issue; those of us on Select Committees are legislators who are there to hold the Government to account. We have already seen, in organisations such as GLOBE International, what a powerful contribution Members of Parliament from different Parliaments around the world can make on these important matters.
The report is the first by our Committee to be debated on an estimates day. The timing of the debate could not be better. This morning, along with other MPs, I was privileged to be able to attend the launch of the report, “Resilient People, Resilient Planet”, which comes from the high-level panel on global sustainability set up by the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, and which was presented to us by Janos Pasztor. In their report, he and the panel members make a truly powerful case for global change, and that is what we have to address in the run-up to the Rio+20 summit. This debate also comes after the publication of the zero draft of the United Nations outcome document for the summit.
We began the Select Committee inquiry early, starting last spring, so that we had time to examine what the Government are doing to make Rio+20 a success and so that we could play a part in getting attention for the summit, including the pre-summit events, the actual negotiations and, crucially, the follow-up work that will be needed. If action was needed at the first Rio Earth summit, 20 years on we need solutions more than ever. Governments and politicians the world over need to get their act sorted. Equally, we have to take this to every community around the UK and to the people we live next to and work with. People in countries, towns and cities the world over need to urge the decision makers to do more.
Whatever agreements are reached at Rio, the summit is not just about one country or one negotiating bloc; it is about developing and developed countries, the haves and the have-nots, and not just one generation, but future generations. This Rio conference will affect us all today, tomorrow and in the days and years ahead. We therefore have to make it a high-level event, where we change the way in which we do politics. It is a crossroads. From now on, policies should be formulated and budgets made on the basis of what is right for the long term. We should give notice that we will change course because we believe that following a more sustainable path will enhance human well-being, further global justice, strengthen gender equity and preserve the earth’s life-support systems for future generations.
We all know that it is 150 days to the start of the Olympics. I wonder whether people in Parliament and out there are aware of the countdown to Rio. There is a bit of a paradox here. We have to be cautious and guard against the impression that this summit is the be-all and end-all. We have to remind ourselves that no instant wins or quick fixes are likely to arise form it. Rather, we need a change of direction. Rio+20 must be seen as a starting-off point for new initiatives, rather than a signing-off point to end a process.
The Select Committee report calls on the Prime Minister to attend the summit to show the UK’s commitment. His office informed us that he would not be able to do so because of a clash of dates with the diamond jubilee celebrations. That seems to have prompted the United Nations and Brazil to move the summit to later in June to allow not just the Prime Minister, but other Heads of Government to attend. The response to the report states that decisions about who will attend Rio, apart from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will be decided on later, as will the decision on the need for a special envoy. Right from the word go, the Government have to be careful not to be on the back foot. This matter has to be clarified.
I have no quarrel whatever with the Secretary of State going out there. It is vital that she attends. I know that she is very committed and that she has been involved in all the preliminary stages. However, I believe that for the full backing of the team, the Prime Minister needs to be there, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister, the scientists and the business leaders. The UK team have to make their mark. At a time when the world is changing; when environmental debt needs to be as high up the agenda as economic debt; when we face temperature rise and biodiversity loss unless we learn to live within our planetary boundaries; and when we have one opportunity for the international community to frame the new priorities and to work out how we will each, individually and collectively, engage with this matter, we need the UK Prime Minister to be there, actively shaping the new agenda and understanding what alliances are being forged.
Does the hon. Lady agree that as we are a global leader in embedding natural capital in the national accounts, which I hope will be a central feature of the summit in Rio later in the year, the Prime Minister has a strong story to tell? He will be able not only to boast of our work in that area, but to share it and further strengthen our alliance with the Brazilians, who are an emerging and important power.
I am very grateful for that intervention, especially as it comes from the hon. Gentleman, who plays such a constructive role in the work of GLOBE legislators not just in the UK, but internationally. This debate is about how we can best use our best practice and leadership and be part of the ongoing process.
It will be no good if we are not seen as one of the main contributors to a new multilateral process. The questions are as difficult as they can be and there are no easy answers, especially if we are not fully committed and on board. It is not in the UK’s interests to be sidelined in any way as the Rio agenda is formulated and then carried on after the summit. This discussion came up at the launch earlier today. This is not a question of the Prime Minister going out there to grandstand; we want him there so that he can understand and be part of the process. When the Minister winds up, I would be grateful if he could tell us what discussions the Secretary of State has had with the Prime Minister about this issue and whether we can expect him to make a commitment to attend.
I would also be grateful if the Minister could address another of our recommendations and say whether the UK will appoint a special envoy to champion some of this work in the years ahead. It was important that we had a special envoy to deal with forestry issues. I am grateful that the very capable hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who played such a distinguished role in forestry issues, is present. I hope that what happened to him does not happen again if our recommendation for a special envoy on biodiversity for Rio is accepted.
The objectives for Rio+20, as set out by the United Nations, are
“to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges.”
In practical terms, the two main themes of the conference are
“a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication” and
“the institutional framework for sustainable development”.
The Select Committee report described the lack of progress on sustainable development since the first Rio summit 20 years ago, which I am sure many Members were involved in taking forward, perhaps in local government. It identified a new impetus for urgent action and for a greater appreciation of our planetary boundaries. The report discussed the merits of new sustainable development goals and recommended that they take forward the millennium development goals, but with the key difference of applying targets to development as well as to developing countries.
The report emphasised how the green economy agenda needs to protect those who might be disadvantaged by it. We need a fair green economy that respects the social justice pillar of sustainable development. The report highlighted the need for the green economy to take account of the value of ecosystem services and beyond-GDP measures of economic activity, including well-being. It noted the need to involve the private sector in the green economy and recommended mandatory sustainability reporting by companies in their annual reports and accounts.
The report said that there is scope for the creation of an international court on the environment, which would provide a forum for adjudicating on environmental cases. However, it noted the Government’s line on United Nations institutions—that the focus should be on making the existing systems work before inventing new ones. We thought that that was a reasonable line to take, but stipulated that the UK should not insist on it if it would get in the way of a wider agreement on the substantive issues, such as the green economy.
The report stressed the importance of engaging with civil society and, more importantly, of finding creative, imaginative and innovative ways of engaging with the public. I know that the Liaison Committee is keen that Parliament should go out to the community. We are looking to hold a special event at St Martin-in-the-Fields on
The Government’s response to our report is fine as far as it goes, but far more work on the ground is needed. That is why it is so important that we flag up the matter in today’s debate. I welcome the Government response, however, which was positive overall. As we would expect, it accepted the importance of the Rio+20 summit and the need to contribute to making it a success. I welcome the fact that the Government are fully committed to sustainable development, but we always hear a lot of warm words about the importance of mainstreaming sustainable development across all policies, and we would like to hear a little more about how that will actually be done and how the Government intend to raise the profile of Rio+20. I know that since our report was published the Secretary of State has spoken to non-governmental organisations and business groups, including on
Another relevant issue, that of mobilisation, was raised at a conference chaired by Nick Stern under the sponsorship of the United Nations Foundation. We need to concentrate on solutions and on leading by example, so local initiatives all over the country are important, such as the one at Keele university that I attended just last week for green week on the occasion of the inauguration of Jonathon Porritt as the university’s Chancellor. Such initiatives follow on from the “Hard Rain” project, which was a solutions exhibition showing that we need to think not about nightmare scenarios but about what we can do. We need to work together to create solutions.
The Government agreed with us that business involvement in the green economy is key. However, their response did not address the important point that we raised about the need for a fair green economy that reflects the social dimension of sustainable development.
Another detailed aspect of our report was our reference to the proposed international court for the environment. We asked for the Government’s views on the pros and cons of setting up such a court. We appreciated their thorough response describing the lack of international appetite for a court that would bind countries. We understand that, but a more modest proposal doing the rounds was a court that would make only declaratory decisions. We would appreciate an update on that from the Minister, including what further developments and discussions there have been.
In the run-up to Rio, it is important that we place our preparations in the context of UK policy. We must examine the issues that the UK should be interested in, so that we can lead by example. Our constituents should be pushing us to push the Government to get the best deal for the UK. We should never be satisfied. We need a deal that acts as a catalyst for green growth, takes account of fairness, defines what we mean by a green economy and does not use green growth as a euphemism for economic growth. It needs to take account of best practice in other legislatures, such as Wales, where there is legislation on sustainable development.
We can start now the discussions about a new framework and a new economy that invests for the long term and offers a future for humankind in which we can live within our environmental limits in a fair and just society. All Departments of our Government must lead by example at home, whether on finance, business or international development. They must consider the causes of poverty, not the symptoms, and embed sustainable development in cross-cutting policies to invest for the long term. We must have the resources to show what the UK can do at a time of transition.
Local Agenda 21 achieved a huge amount at the first Rio summit, and we need to see what equivalent outcomes we can get at this one. I wish to highlight the enormous efforts of many countries, particularly Colombia, whose ambassador is in London today not just garnering support and building consensus on the five main issues—energy, food security, water, sustainable cities and oceans—but doing all he can with other countries, including the UK, to promote the sustainable development goals.
We do not have time to go into detail about many aspects of what we need, such as on forestry. It is really important that we have a time-bound commitment to far more areas of forestry, managed by indigenous people and local communities. I hope that when today’s debate is over, Ministers will have a greater understanding of the fact that they need to keep Parliament up to date with all the initiatives that are under way, including proposals, actions, the changing positions of different countries and what can be done to address possible hurdles. The Environmental Audit Committee wants to be part of that process and actively engage in the progress that the Government make.
I also ask the Minister whether we can have regular updates on the work being done in our bloc, the European Union, in the run-up to Rio+20. How do the Government intend to take forward any commitments reached at Rio, and how will Parliament, the place that should be at the centre of the debate, be involved in debating and agreeing follow-up measures in the years ahead? Will the model be that national and regional economies follow essential components, using environmental taxes and regulations effectively to promote low-carbon industry? Can we have greater transparency in reporting, so that economic decisions reflect the value of ecosystem services and impinging planetary boundaries? In that way we could measure development progress not by gross domestic product alone but by measures that capture well-being and the health of environmental capital.
A further issue to consider is the pivotal role of business and the private sector, and the need for companies to be transparent about the sustainability of their operations, including their resource efficiency. They also need to disclose the source of the raw materials that they use, the waste that they generate and the efficiency with which they use and reuse resources.
Many people are doing what they can to show leadership and demand action, and it is vital that the UK Government engage with parliamentarians and legislators, civil society, business and people the world over on these most pressing issues. I welcome this evening’s debate.
Order. Please resume your seats. Ten Members want to speak. If everybody takes 10 minutes, plus the usual injury time for interventions, everybody will get in. We may have to tweak that a bit later in the debate.
I shall do my best to be as brief as possible, Mr Deputy Speaker, to allow colleagues time.
I first wish to put on record my appreciation of Joan Walley, who has not only secured the debate but done extensive work with the Environmental Audit Committee. She has had an extensive career working on environmental issues, and I appreciate her efforts over a number of years.
The Government have a fine line to walk. Clearly the United Kingdom wants to be seen to be leading the world on environmental issues, and we have a moral responsibility to go to Rio and negotiate the best deal that we can for the globe. At the same time, however, we have to ensure that the rest of the world comes with us. That will be crucial as we move forward. We need to be seen to be leading the demand for improvements to protect the world in which we live, but we cannot be seen to be charging over the hill and leaving everybody else behind. We have to take people with us.
It is also worth putting on record that we have nothing to fear from a green agenda. In fact, just the opposite—the UK has everything to gain from moving towards a green economy. We have seen that in our own constituencies. My constituents have embraced solar power in their desire to put panels on their roof and partake of free energy from the sun. It is crucial to recognise that we are pushing at an open door, because our constituents are keen to get on board as long as they can see the benefits to themselves. It is important not only that we achieve things but that we take the general public with us. They are very keen, and for the next generation—my children’s generation—having a little dial in the kitchen telling them what energy they are generating from solar panels and what energy they are consuming will be very powerful. The Government need to push such ideas.
That leads me to science and technology, which will be crucial. Science has a great deal to offer in solving some of the problems that we face on Earth, and the Government should embrace science and technology and try to find more methods of doing things more efficiently. We must ensure that new technology is brought forward.
One technology that is particularly relevant to the Sherwood constituency is carbon capture. Sherwood is a former Nottinghamshire coalfield and coal is a crucial part of my constituency, but we all recognise the global warming problems that coal causes. If we can find a solution to catching carbon from those polluting power stations, there is an opportunity to make use of the Earth’s natural resources without releasing carbon. As we open new technologies such as shale gas, as long as we do not release carbon into the atmosphere, we have a wider window for improving technologies to make them more renewable and, as it were, less traditional. That could be a great benefit not only to this country, but to the world.
At the same time, we need to recognise our nation’s energy security position and how crucial it is for us to find new sources of energy so that we are not dependent on other nations to produce energy for us. We have a great thirst for energy and power, and it is important for us to find new sources of renewable energy. Solar is a good example, but another one that I should like to flag up is anaerobic digestion, which has a great future. My constituents recognise the benefits of anaerobic digestion. Anybody who is offered the choice of an energy recovery plant, an incinerator or an anaerobic digester within their community will always go for an anaerobic digester, because it does not involve a chimney pot. Anaerobic digestion has a great deal to offer the nation, and with that method we can produce energy using biogas—I want the Government to push that.
Another issue that I want to highlight—I hope the Government take it seriously—is water. Western nations drag water around the world and pull it from water-stressed places. We are all keen to eat asparagus and strawberries in December, but as consumers, we sometimes do not give a thought to the impact that that might have globally. That links to other Departments, and I hope the Minister recognises how important it is that the whole of the Government climb on board with the Rio agenda. I am thinking of projects funded by the Department for International Development. UK taxpayers’ money could be used, for example, for a project such as building a power station in a third world country, which is an honourable project. However, it is important that that power station does not burn carbon fuels, or if it does, that it has carbon capture and storage. It is also important that UK taxpayers’ money is not used to devise water systems—for hydroelectricity or irrigation—if that will impact on a community downstream and leave it without a clean water source and unable to live a normal life. UK consumers need to be mindful of the impact we have on the global ecosystem.
I mentioned taking the world with us and keeping pace, and another issue that needs highlighting in that respect is carbon leakage. The last thing we want is for the UK Government to take firm action over energy-intensive industries only for those industries to relocate to another part of the world and for us to import its products. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North is keen to see the success of the ceramics industry in the UK. It would be a tragedy if, for example, the steel, cement and ceramics industries left for other parts of the world and continued to burn enormous amounts of energy in an unenvironmental way, and if we continued to import those products. It is crucial that we move at the right pace on carbon leakage. We support those industries in reducing the amount of energy that they use, but we can do that only in a global context.
My final point is also on technology. It is almost impossible to separate the issues of food and energy. If we are to solve the problem of feeding the world and keeping it warm at the same time, we must make use of new technologies and scientific innovations. I am keen to see the introduction and use of genetic modification technologies, which are already used extensively in the US, South America and China. There is a danger that the EU will be left behind on GM technology. The Government need to lead independent research—I emphasise independence—into GM technology, so that UK consumers can be confident not only that it is a safe technology, but that it offers rewards.
Finally—I know I have said “finally” already, but this really is finally—we need to bear in mind that if we are unable to secure the rest of the world and if they do not come with us, we need to look at the practical implications for the UK. That is probably the most controversial thing I have said. If we are unable to drag the rest of the world with us, the impact of global warming on the UK will be catastrophic. If other nations around that table are not supportive, our communities will be at severe risk of flooding and weather conditions. The Government must then consider how we are to mitigate the symptoms of global warming for those communities. There is a balance to strike in that situation. Do we spend taxpayers’ money on trying to reduce our carbon footprint, or do we spend it on mitigating the symptoms of the world’s inability to act to curb carbon release? That will be an enormous challenge not only for the UK, but for the rest of the world.
I thank the House for its time and look forward to the rest of the debate.
As a member of the Environmental Audit Committee under the committed leadership of my hon. Friend Joan Walley, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I shall pick up on some of the issues that she raised and ask how we can help to make the Earth Summit in Brazil in June a meaningful driver of sustainable development. I am also pleased to follow Mr Spencer, a colleague on the Committee. I am not convinced that I want to look through his shale gas window, but I agree with many of the other points he made.
Twenty years after the original Rio summit, which adopted the Brundtland commission concept and established the three-pillar approach to sustainable development, which ties social and environment goals together, it is right to look back at how far we have come, or indeed to admit how far we have not come, since ’92. To paraphrase the UN Secretary-General, the trends on the three pillars of sustainable development are at best mixed. There has been significant economic growth overall, but the benefits have not been universally felt. He pointed out that income poverty remains an enormous problem in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia; large disparities between regions remain on other millennium development goals, including school enrolment, and maternal and child health; and 1 billion people are still under-nourished. Yet only half the countries with data on their millennium development goals are on track to meet their targets.
The environmental protection pillar has probably shown the least progress. The Secretary-General said that pressure on ecosystems continued to increase, as did the loss of forests and biodiversity. Sadly, the world has failed to respond to the dangers that it recognised 20 years ago, which is enormously disappointing, because in that time the scientific evidence on the consequences of failing to tackle climate change has become stronger. We have also learned a lot more about what is happening to ecosystems, biodiversity, the nitrogen cycle and the other processes that the Stockholm Resilience Centre identifies as the planetary boundaries within which humanity can operate safely.
Our Committee took evidence from a range of organisations, and the picture painted of progress was pretty well uniformly gloomy. The International Institute for Environment and Development said that
“we are currently losing the battle for sustainable development”;
Oxfam stated that progress since 1992 has been “weak”; and the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development identified
“signs of erosion in the overall global political commitment to sustainable development”.
Why then has the world failed to respond anything like as robustly as it should to the threats the planet faces? There is probably a multitude of answers, but the underlying one is that most people in the world have not been convinced of the severity and urgency of the challenge, and even if they have, they are far from sure that action at any level will be effective. A “business as usual”, or a “business more or less as usual”, scenario therefore wins by default. We need to use the run-up to Rio as an opportunity to combat that inertia and make the case for action, so that the summit can enable a renewal and more concerted response to the threats, but also the opportunities, that we face.
One option that has arisen out of discussions in the run-up to Rio has been the establishment of new international goals. Colombia submitted a proposal for the introduction of UN sustainable development goals. That seems to have been reasonably well received, albeit with two not unreasonable caveats: first, there is no time before June to draw up and agree a detailed set of such goals, and secondly, the new goals must complement, not undermine, the existing millennium development goals. Indeed, the Committee considered the establishment of sustainable development and consumption goals at Rio—even if at first in broad-brush terms—as a way of shifting effort contributions from the developing to the developed world.
The two main themes for Rio, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North said, are to build a green economy in the context of sustainable development, and poverty eradication. The UN Secretary-General envisages that involving a multi-track approach encompassing taxation, public procurement, public investment in sustainable infrastructure, public sector support for research and development, and reconciling social goals with economic policies. In my view, taxation has a vital role to play in incentivising more sustainable behaviour. It helps to make environmentally damaging activity less economically attractive and encourages environmental goods. One problem in this country, however, is that the Government do not have a definition of an environmental tax. They have abandoned the previous Government’s definition, which reflected the international norm—basically, if a tax has an environmentally beneficial effect, it is an environmental tax—and the Treasury is now considering a new definition. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether the UK delegation will have a new definition to take to Rio to inform its negotiating position in this policy area.
The green economy debate also focuses on the valuation of ecosystems services, the role of regulation, the need to measure sustainable economic performance by a yardstick that goes beyond gross domestic product so that human well-being becomes central, and the need to ensure that the green economy is a fair economy—fair across the planet, and within regions and countries. There is every prospect of those themes being adopted at Rio as essential requirements of a green economy, and I hope that the Government will press the case.
The EAC report on carbon budgets called for the introduction of mandatory emissions reporting by business to help to tackle climate change. Various organisations and bodies have called for Rio+20 to agree a mandatory regime for sustainability reporting, and we agree with them. That sort of transparency will help the private sector to move more quickly to play its part in creating that green economy.
The other main theme for Rio is the institutional framework for sustainable development. The UK is not in as strong a position on governance issues as it was a few years ago. The Government have badly weakened the capacity for the objective assessment of their own environmental performance, with the abolition of the royal commission on environmental pollution, the withdrawal of funding from the Sustainable Development Commission and the removal of the watchdog role of Natural England and the Environment Agency. On the other hand, the UK devolved Administrations have a role in promoting sustainable development. I represent a Welsh constituency and believe that the Welsh Assembly Government have a valuable contribution to make on the governance question. Perhaps the Minister will inform the House how the Government intend to facilitate input from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales before and during Rio. Furthermore, the Select Committee heard evidence in support of an international court for the environment. Although it must be recognised that that would not be universally welcomed, the idea has real merit and should be pursued.
A real danger in the run-up to Rio is that ambitions will be diminished by the global economic crisis, that we will return to the old, sterile, economy versus environment agenda, and that in practice Governments will choose to define a green economy as “full steam ahead but with a bit of environmental window dressing”. That will not do. Across the globe, it is clear that environmental protection and enhancement are too often being forced into second place by the economic imperative.
The message from our own Government and the lead party in the coalition is mixed. Good things have been done and said. I broadly welcome the green investment bank, the natural environment White Paper, the establishment of the natural capital committee and the national ecosystem assessment. I thought the Secretary of State’s speech on this very subject to environmental non-governmental organisations and industry representatives in the Guildhall on
On the other hand, a rather different message is coming from parts of the Government—that environmental protection is a barrier to economic growth. We see all environmental regulations being reviewed as potential red tape, the EU habitats directive described as gold-plated by the Chancellor without any supporting evidence, the mishandling of the solar feed-in tariff issue, and strong resistance to the use of wind energy by large numbers of Government Back Benchers, resulting in the industry reconsidering major investment in renewables in the UK.
Let us be clear that uncertainty about any country’s absolute commitment to the strongest possible outcomes at Rio will help to make such beneficial outcomes less likely. One way to overcome such uncertainty is for the Prime Minister to commit himself to attending the summit with the determination to secure substantial progress in the international commitment to sustainable development.
It is a pleasure to follow the previous speakers.
The Earth Summit in 1992 was a timely and significant international event that brought together 172 countries, more than 100 of which were represented by their leaders. It led to the creation of the UN conventions on biological diversity, the framework convention on climate change, the principles on sustainable forestry and Local Agenda 21, all of which were designed to tackle the unsustainable use of natural resources and reduce man’s impact on the environment. Twenty years later, however, as leaders are about to meet again in Rio, we have to be honest about where we are. The state of the environment has worsened significantly, with many of the natural resources on which we all depend under ever-increasing strain in many areas, including oceans and forests, biodiversity and rising greenhouse gas emissions. Yes, we can all point to significant advances in parts of the world—for example, the significant decrease in deforestation in Brazil—and to political processes such as the recent outcome of the Durban climate negotiations, but all the scientific indicators are flashing red.
The question is why? It is not that we committed to the wrong policies at Rio 20 years ago and in Johannesburg 10 years later; it is that Governments have failed properly to implement their commitments. If we are to ensure that Rio+20 warrants the participation of leaders again, we need to recognise that three key parts of the Rio jigsaw were missing, so that that implementation was always likely to be difficult. First, there was a lack of domestic legislation to underpin the Rio principles and conventions; secondly, there was a lack of credible and independent international scrutiny outside the governmental processes to monitor and scrutinise governmental delivery; and thirdly, the international community failed to convert the Rio agenda into a language that would hold sway in the most powerful Ministries in each Government—namely, the Treasuries and Finance Ministries.
Perversely, we still focus on GDP as the indicator of national wealth, when clearly it is only a partial measure that does not take into account the stock of natural capital on which we all depend and all economies rely. One reason for the failure to look after and steward natural capital is the absence of effective recognition within the national accounts of what capital there is. A country can grow while becoming poorer as it destroys the natural capital on which its future prosperity depends. If Rio+20 is to be a success, we must address these three challenges. That is why I am so pleased that we have this opportunity to discuss Rio+20.
We should not leave it to Governments, who have not done a particularly strong job. As previous speakers, not least the Chairman of the Select Committee, have said, we need to step up as legislators. We need to ensure that in Chambers such as this across the world, we hold our Governments to account and ensure that they deliver on the promises they make in high-falutin’ speeches at high-falutin’ summits. As the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the formal announcement of the Rio+20 world summit of legislators:
“Parliamentarians have a profound influence. You enact legislation. You approve budgets. You are at the heart of democratic governance. And in today’s increasingly interconnected world, you are also a link between the global and local—bringing local concerns into the global arena, and translating global standards into national action.”
I am not sure that we have been good at translating global standards into national action. The international presidency of GLOBE International rests with the UK parliamentary group, and the right honourable John Gummer, now Lord Deben, is serving as the president of GLOBE. As the president of GLOBE in the House of Commons, I am delighted to say that the Government of Brazil and the United Nations Secretary-General have both recognised that a new process is required at the Rio+20 to remedy the underlying weaknesses that I have mentioned. That process will be overseen by the global legislators’ organisation, GLOBE. With the support of the United Nations Secretary-General and the Government of Brazil, as well as the visionary mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, the world summit of legislators will be launched. The summit will involve more than 300 Speakers of Parliaments, Presidents of Congresses and Senates, and senior legislators. It will mark the beginning of a new international process for legislators that is dedicated to establishing a mechanism that scrutinises and monitors Governments on the delivery of the original Rio agenda and the conventions on climate, desertification and biodiversity, as well as any further commitments made at Rio+20.
The summit will have three core objectives. The first is scrutiny. Recognising the role of legislators in monitoring and scrutinising the work of Governments, the summit will establish a mechanism at the international level to monitor the implementation by Governments of commitments made at Rio+20. The summit will develop a set of Rio scrutiny principles to strengthen legislators’ capacity to hold Governments to account. The second objective is legislation. Recognising the role of legislators in developing and passing laws, the summit will provide a platform to advance and share best legislative practice, as well as to promote a mechanism in international processes that can recognise national legislation. The third objective is on natural capital. Recognising the role of many countries’ Parliaments in approving budgets and national accounts, the summit will examine how the value of natural capital can be integrated in our national economic frameworks, to enable legislators better to monitor the use of natural capital.
Based on those objectives, the summit participants will negotiate a Rio+20 legislators’ protocol. They will be asked to make a commitment to take it back to their respective legislatures to seek support for, or formal ratification of, the protocol. Legislators will then be asked to reconvene in Rio every two years to monitor progress in implementing the Rio+20 outcomes, as well as to share best legislative practice. It is therefore with great pleasure that, on behalf of the President of the Brazilian Senate, I formally invite Mr Speaker to lead a delegation from this House to attend the summit of legislators. I shall be pleased to present the President’s invitation after the debate.
The world summit of legislators would not have been possible without the commitment of legislators from the Senate and Congress of Brazil. With the support of the President of the Brazilian Congress, Senator José Sarney, and the relentless efforts of the President of GLOBE Brazil and First Secretary of the Brazilian Senate, Senator Cicero Lucena, that process would not be taking place. Likewise, it is with the support of the mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, that the summit will have a home in Rio.
In concluding, let me say that the UK has an extremely important role to play at Rio+20. The UK has made a series of significant commitments to incorporate the value of natural capital into its accounts—a radical step, and one that shows that the Prime Minister is delivering on his promise to lead the greenest Government ever. In fact, that step alone has the potential to be one of the most radical changes to the way in which we operate our economy. I am delighted that it is under this Chancellor that the UK natural capital committee build on this experience, which provides concrete and practical actions that can be taken at national level. That radical yet sensible agenda can be presented by our Prime Minister at Rio in person, I hope. I urge him to attend personally, following the G20 in Mexico, and I believe that the international process would benefit from his contribution. I also urge his personal support for President Dilma in that undertaking, as Brazil and the UK have the potential to be much closer allies.
I urge the Government to support the world summit of legislators and ensure that it is appropriately acknowledged and recognized in the leaders’ communiqué at Rio+20. I know that the Secretary of State has been asked to meet GLOBE to discuss the issue. If parliamentarians are properly engaged, we can deliver on our nation’s promises, give weight to the needs of future generations, not just our own, and deliver sustainable development not as a soundbite, but in reality.
It is an honour to follow Mr Stuart in this important debate. Right at the outset, let me put on record my congratulations to the British Government on ensuring that issues that are important to this nation, including our agriculture, are on the agenda and will be addressed to ensure that good, sustainable husbandry and agricultural processes are pursued.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman and Joan Walley that the Prime Minister should attend the summit. That would give it the necessary panache and provide the necessary proof that the issue is at the top of the Government’s agenda. I hope that Ministers can find a way to do that within their busy schedule. We know it is difficult to find time in what is an especially busy schedule this year for our nation, with the jubilee celebrations and of course the Olympics, but this is one of those make-or-break points, where world leaders can say either that they are on the side of some measures that will be very positive in helping to eradicate world poverty, or that they are not. That is not to diminish the role that will be played by our Secretary of State, who has done an excellent job of ensuring that British interests and the interests that the House is expressing this evening are on the agenda, but sometimes leaders have to step up to the mark too, and I hope that that happens.
I would like the Minister to take the opportunity this evening to outline the objectives and goals of our nation’s Government for the outcome of the process, because it is outcomes that are measurable. The Government have to set their own outcomes, not just for the summit generally but specifically for our country. What are we going to do? What are this Government going to do and, as the last speaker asked, what is this Parliament going to do to achieve those outcomes? We also have to ensure that our needs as a nation are not disadvantaged. Martin Caton made it clear that the way to ensure that those outcomes are on agenda and are achievable is by having good communication with all regions of the UK in advance of the summit. I would welcome the Minister coming to talk to our devolved Assembly and those of Scotland and Wales, to ensure that we have a united national front for the whole nation.
Europe was previously not a good example of sustainable food production. It has obviously changed in recent years—we no longer have the vast butter mountains or wine lakes that once marked Europe. Since the decoupling, the dynamic has changed somewhat, potentially for the better, in helping to demonstrate how we can get sustainable food production and how we can set a good example. The UK and the European Community now look to security of food supply in driving forward the agri-agenda. We could introduce that agenda and that dynamic to the summit to demonstrate that changing our approach to livestock can change the flow of agriculture and production levels. Our own livestock numbers, especially suckler cows, have reduced in recent years, thus rebalancing the green economy to a degree. That ought to allow the UK to encourage the various nations of Africa to ensure that food production on their own small agri-holdings is sustainable and that they learn from our own sustainable practices.
It has already been pointed out that 1 billion people around the world are going hungry tonight—largely because of inefficient food production, because, frankly, we live in a world of plenty. We should set a goal to change that, and I hope that that will be done in Rio. I also hope that the big polluters of the world’s vast resources are made to pay. We need to see a change in how the “polluter pays” principle is driven by Governments. I welcome the moves to prioritise global water governance and to protect downstream users of water. That will be important for sustainable village life in many of the countries that would be regarded as third world, and I hope that we will be able to ensure that underground water resources will be protected for the future. The fact is that those who were the poorest 20 years ago are still the poorest now, and that 20% of the population consume 80% of the world’s resources. Furthermore, 20% of the world’s poorest people do not have a decent standard of living. I hope that that we will see change for the better in Rio.
It is a pleasure to follow Ian Paisley and all the other speakers of all parties with whom I agree on many issues. Speaking as a Liberal Democrat, as a former member of the Environmental Audit Committee and, indeed, as a former GLOBE delegate to the Cancun climate change summit, I feel as though I am speaking among friends here on many of these issues. I commend the Environmental Audit Committee for its report, for its mission to raise the profile of Rio+20 and for its role in securing this debate today.
Twenty years ago, I was involved in raising the profile of the original Earth summit. I then worked for Oxfam, and we were sending out tens of thousands of mailings to Oxfam supporters, trying to get them to lobby their MPs. I remember that a young campaigner called Caroline Lucas was working there at the same time. Whatever happened to her, Mr Deputy Speaker? Even then, we were trying to link the issues of global poverty, global justice and global sustainability, and trying to persuade people that they were absolutely inseparable. In the intervening 20 years, it has become even clearer that that is the case. The risk of climate change, and the risk that it poses to the global economy, as well as to people’s lives and livelihoods, is now even better understood. The risk of climate change accelerating beyond 2 above pre-industrial levels is also much clearer, not only from the United Nations framework convention on climate change reports but from domestic reports such as the Stern report, which catalogued in excruciating detail the risks of flooding, famine and disruption, and the challenge that they would pose to global economics as well as to people’s lives.
Even then, we predicted that the first people to suffer the most from climate change and environmental disaster would be the poor. Sadly, that has proved to be the case. With hindsight, it was probably true even then, as environments in the horn of Africa and the Sahel were beginning to change on a permanent basis. The risks to the poor in countries such as Bangladesh are even clearer now. This is also true in the UK, and even more so now. In 2007, my constituency was extremely badly flooded, and it was the uninsured and the underinsured—those on low incomes—who often suffered the most. We know that that kind of extreme weather event, even in relatively wealthy countries such as ours, will be much more frequent thanks to climate change. It is even clearer that we cannot separate climate change and environmental sustainability from issues of poverty and social justice. Only by taking concerted action across rich and poor nations, forested and deforested nations, and those nations that are the most and least vulnerable to climate change, can we tackle this global challenge. We are, as someone said a few years ago, all in this together.
Alongside carbon emissions and natural resource use, Rio+20 must tackle the issues of poverty, food, energy access and water. I do not entirely agree with the support expressed by Mr Spencer for GM technology. There are other ways to tackle food production, including introducing more efficient food production, as the hon. Member for North Antrim said. Less wasted food in the richer countries would be a significant contribution, as would the fairer distribution of land and better education and training for poor farmers in many parts of the world. All those things can work together to make the whole planet more efficient at producing and distributing food.
Several hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Gower (Martin Caton) and for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), have highlighted the many failures in development and environmental protection over the past 20 years. In the graphic phrase of the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness, many of the scientific indicators are still flashing red. And yet, many things that have happened during those 20 years have given cause for hope. Many people thought even 20 years ago that the UNFCCC process might run into the ground and expire very quickly, but despite some close calls, especially in Copenhagen, it is still on track. It is still a UN-led process incorporating more or less all the countries of the globe, and that in itself is an encouraging development.
Several hon. Members have said that monitoring and verification are a crucial part of the process, and we have seen significant progress in that regard. There is a significant prospect of reconciliation between China and the United States on those issues, which offers the prospect of whatever follows the Kyoto protocol being a more robust and verifiable process. We have also seen the setting of high-level millennium development goals, and the acceptance by many nations that those goals can provide a driver for international and domestic action, even though we know that many of them might be missed.
In this country, the use of domestic legislation has been important, as the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness said. The Climate Change Act 2008 set the 80% target, and this Government have produced the natural environment White Paper, which is a truly radical document. If the policy of valuing natural capital that it advocates were put into practice and were to make a difference to the detail of Government policy, we would be taking a massive step forward. We have also heard the promise to establish the world’s first green investment bank, and seen the prospect of the green deal making a radical difference to energy efficiency.
There have also been many other smaller, less high-profile initiatives, such as the local sustainable transport fund proposed by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Norman Baker, and his promotion of alternatives to travel. He has done many of those things on a small scale, to make sustainable development approaches work across different Departments. However, we need to embed that right across Government to make sure that it functions right across Government.
I commend my hon. Friend, too, for securing an abstention in the recent European vote on biofuels, which I think was a positive step. We have seen progress at the European level as well. The establishment of the European Commission’s emissions trading scheme may be flawed and limited, but it was a first step towards international action on limiting emissions, which has been copied worldwide.
A great deal of action has been taken by what we are supposed to call non-state actors nowadays—or people, as we used to call them. In business and, significantly, non-governmental organisations, in politics and for the Environmental Audit Committee and the media, this is an issue that has become high profile, leading to a great deal of action at the local and individual level as well as the governmental level.
What are the key messages for Rio? First, it is right for us to support the high-level goals. I strongly urge that they should include goals on resource use as well as on development and carbon emissions.
In opposition the Liberal Democrats produced a document called “Our Natural Heritage”. It highlighted the risk of things such as nickel, tin, tungsten, zinc, bauxite and oil becoming rarer in some cases and perhaps even running out in the next 50 years; or, if they did not run out, becoming much more expensive and more environmentally damaging to extract. The economic risks as well as the environmental risks were pinpointed, and we suggested introducing an Anti-Waste and Resource Efficiency Act to parallel the Climate Change Act 2008, to monitor and set objectives for sustainable resource use and reduce the associated risks. I still commend our publication to Ministers. One policy we got through from this document was the local green space designation to protect green spaces important to local communities. I can see why that was a politically attractive one to pick out, but I think our proposed Resource Efficiency Act would have been even more important. If the Rio high-level goals helped to contribute to promoting governmental goals on resource use and worldwide goals, that would be significant.
Other issues have been raised for Rio, including crimes against the environment, which I believe is important, as is challenging the primacy of economic growth as an indicator of the quality of success of economies.
Finally, the political message conveyed by who attends the summit is particularly important. It is welcome that the Secretary of State has committed to attend. I would love to see the Deputy Prime Minister flying the Lib Dem flag there as well, but just for once we should put party advantage aside and strongly urge the Prime Minister to attend Rio+20 if he possibly can. I think that would send out exactly the right message—that, 20 years on, we are turning youthful idealism into real leadership and tangible action at governmental and global level.
The Rio summit of 1992 represented what many people saw as a comprehensive programme of aspiration towards an international understanding of sustainability and a move towards a sustainable world economy. As Mr Stuart set out, a number of important things came out of Rio 1992, which I believe was signed up to in the end by 178 Governments. It was to a large extent informed by the unsurpassed definition of sustainability from Brundtland—that it is development
“that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
That is the famous part, but the central definition refers to other things from Brundtland, such as
“the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and, the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organisation on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”
If anything, it is that second element of sustainability that we have let slip by over the 20 years since Rio.
As hon. Members have mentioned, Rio led among other things to an outpouring of local enthusiasm in the form of Local Agenda 21. I was an enthusiastic Local Agenda 21-er at that time, but we were probably naive about implementation and subsequently about what sustainability actually meant.
I was recently invited to an interesting seminar on sustainable aviation. There, I wondered whether the concept of sustainability might have been pushed a little to the margins. As far as the approach to Rio+20 is concerned, it is important to get clear what we mean by sustainability and what we mean in respect of the needs and the limitations that go with the sustainability concept. We must then address those matters very seriously in the Rio+20 discussions.
Things have certainly not happened since the original Rio along the lines that those who participated and lauded what happened there would have expected. Although considerable progress has been made with the millennium goals that were set at the Rio+10 summit in Johannesburg, most of them will not be met by 2015, partly because, as I think we now know, many Governments who say they will do things simply do not do them. Being clear about that at Rio+20 will be an important part of securing a realistic outcome from what it may achieve.
Rio+20 is likely to proceed on a much more sombre basis than earlier summits of this kind, but as other Members have pointed out, last year’s Durban summit on climate change demonstrated that expectations can sometimes be confounded, and I hope that we can approach this summit in that spirit. The fact that it has been demanded by the developing world rather than by developed nations makes a significant difference. It will look to the themes of Rio, but it will do so in terms of everyone’s development. It will consider the concept of a green economy in the context of sustainable development and the institutional framework that will make it possible, and I believe that it will do so in the light of the whole Brundtland report rather than just the oft-quoted first line. It must concern itself with the carrying capacity of the planet and with its concomitant—the need for global equity in the sharing of the resources that go into sustainable development.
It might be salutary to compare that starting line with what we thought obtained at Rio 20 years ago. The work of the Stockholm resilience centre at Stockholm university was mentioned by my hon. Friend Martin Caton, and was examined in some detail in the Select Committee’s report. The centre asked what the planet could put up with in a number of areas before its sustainability threshold was breached. What were the planet’s sustainability boundaries? It considered 10 of them: climate change, ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, the nitrogen cycle, the phosphorus cycle, global freshwater use, land system change, the rate of biodiversity loss, atmospheric aerosol loading, and chemical pollution. That work made it clear that we have not only transgressed three of those boundaries—the rate of biodiversity loss, the nitrogen cycle and, of course, climate change—but have often done so in a startlingly profligate way, and are close to doing so in three other areas: ocean acidification, the phosphorus cycle, and land system change.
Rio+20, then, is not just about how the planet can carry sustainable development, but about how can we row back and make the planet sustainable again, in terms of the carrying capacity that the Stockholm resilience centre set out so carefully. We should, however, celebrate some of our international successes. For instance, as a result of an international convention, we have returned ozone depletion to a point at which carrying capacity has been restored, and have done so through international negotiation and discussion in a way that was not thought possible a few years ago. That analysis, however, tells us only some of the tale. The reason for our transgression of the boundaries that I have mentioned is, overwhelmingly, the extent to which the developed world has hoarded its access to the planet’s carrying capacity at the expense of all other countries.
This is about sustainable development, but it is also about a worldwide green economy that is based on fairness and equity. In that context, it is clear that the proposals that Colombia and Guatemala are bringing to Rio+20—there may not be time to organise their sustainable development goals properly, but I think they understand that, and see this as a starting point—do not counter the existing millennium goals. I refer to the adoption of sustainable development goals for all, not just developing nations, relating to combating poverty, changing consumption patterns, promoting sustainable human settlement patterns, biodiversity and forests, oceans, water resources, advancing food security, and energy sustainability. All those are sustainability goals for the whole world: they do not simply mean that the developed world is giving back some of what it took from the developing world in the first place.
I think that the promotion of global resources will inevitably have to be developed in order to promote those goals. I hope that the United Kingdom will support the idea of a global transaction tax—even if it does not support efforts to introduce such a tax at European level—with the proceeds going to the development of these sustainability goals.
I strongly support the hon. Gentleman in making that call. The Government may have been right to reject a financial transaction tax at an EU level, which would have meant a real risk of driving businesses to other financial centres. A global financial transaction tax would avoid that risk.
The hon. Gentleman is right. I appreciate his continuing loyalty to his adopted coalition on the issue. I thought someone had to go it alone and advance this idea, but he is right: a global transaction tax that everyone could unite around would be a far preferable way of proceeding, particularly if that tax was clearly hypothecated for the purposes of global sustainable development and global equity.
I agree with what the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said about her approach to Rio in her recent speech to NGOs. Rio must be a workshop, not a talking shop. I also agree that being green is integral to sustainable economic growth and that we must put value on our carrying capacity so that it becomes an integral part of our economic transactions, not merely the fuel for them to take place. We must also add the essential ingredient of global equity in respect of resources. I hope the Secretary of State will pledge that the UK will push for that goal at Rio and call for the Colombian agenda of sustainability with global equity to be moved decisively forward.
That is the shape of the outcome I want at Rio. I do not want to be back here in 20 years talking about Rio+40 and wondering what might have been. By then it will be too late, as the Stockholm environment institute shows.
As this debate has shown, there is considerable scepticism about the prospect of getting much change. Martin Caton said that in recent evidence sessions there has been a downbeat response about what has happened over the past 20 years. The media coverage of the build-up to Rio has revealed concern about the fact that the summit will last for only three days, rather than the 14 days of the original summit. Many people are saying in insistent tones that this must not just be a talking shop, which points to the horrible possibility that it might end up being precisely that.
We must ask why we always seem to end up in such a situation when addressing these issues. We feel very optimistic and set great targets, but a few years down the line we find ourselves wringing our hands and asking why nothing has happened. I am a great believer in the UN and I think it is fantastic that we can pull countries together to discuss common challenges, but we must also be honest with ourselves about some of the UN’s limitations. It can bring people together to agree goals and targets, but it cannot take final decisions on policy or implement policies in individual countries.
My hon. Friend Mr Stuart talked about the idea of holding a summit of global legislators. I support that, and wish him the best of luck in making it work. There is something more fundamental that we need to try to do alongside that, however: we must lead by example. We must come up with good ideas, implement them and demonstrate that they can work so that they become, as it were, contagious and spread around the world and other Governments adopt them, too.
One of the major challenges that we, as a western democracy, face is that some of the things that we are trying to achieve are not very popular. For example, we are addicted to consuming, but we need to reduce our consumption. Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that education of the next generation to ensure that they are better than we have been in such regards will be key?
I absolutely agree with that, and I was going to discuss it, because we do not spend anywhere near enough time addressing these issues of our environment and biodiversity, and that is a great shame.
The green campaign groups have been so incredibly successful at highlighting the problem of climate change that there has almost been an unintended consequence that has been unhelpful to the cause: the creation of a sense of resignation among people that there is nothing that they can do, there is huge impending doom and no person on their own can make a difference. That is a dangerous thing to encourage.
The over-emphasis on climate change in the environmental debate has been in danger of eclipsing other equally important issues, such as biodiversity. I have encountered green campaigners who say, “Yes, but tackling climate change is the key to improving biodiversity. If we solve climate change, we solve a lot of other things.” That is true up to a point, because climate change is a factor in undermining biodiversity, but we must recognise that a range of other issues, such as sustainable farming and deforestation, get neglected and overlooked.
The danger of focusing too much on climate change in this debate is that it will not energise the public in a way that other things can. Fundraisers at bodies such as the WWF do not put complicated issues to do with carbon footprints on the front covers of their magazines; they use pictures of baby tigers under threat of extinction, and there is a reason for that. People care about our environment and about issues such as species extinction and biodiversity, so we are missing a trick by not broadening the debate out to engage people more.
For those reasons, I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State and the Government have put the idea of valuing our natural capital front and centre in their approach to this summit, because that is the key message we should get across. There are lots of other conflicting messages, but the one thing we can do is highlight how we can place a value on our natural capital, and some marvellous ideas have been set out in the natural environment White Paper. One example cited has been that pollinators can be worth £400 million a year to our economy. As a former fruit farmer, I can vouch for that, because without the honey bees, the crop cannot be pollinated.
Emotionally, I have a slight problem with some of these ideas, as I think that we should value the intrinsic things about nature and the natural environment. An element of me thinks, “Isn’t it sad that it all has to be about bean counters trying to add up how much money a sparrow might be worth, rather than just valuing it intrinsically?” That said, when the limits of regulation have been reached and innovative solutions are needed, sophisticated ideas of offsetting and environmental plans to mitigate damage that might be caused in other areas can play an important role. There is huge potential in this area.
That is why I wish to finish by outlining one idea that tries to combine all these things. How do we demonstrate that individuals can do things, so that people can see that they can make a difference? We heard a fascinating suggestion in a Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs evidence session on the natural environment White Paper. Professor Hill, one of the leading authorities in this area, suggested that we try to link some of the ambitions of the White Paper with current proposals for the reform of the common agricultural policy, because some of the criticisms of the White Paper’s objectives are that there is not really enough money to make it work on the scale required, yet there is a huge amount of money in pillar 1 of the CAP. We could have discussions about how that might be “greened” and it should not be beyond the wit of man to design a clever system—a market in environmental obligations—whereby some farmers might be able to transfer their environmental obligations to others. That may lead, in some of the more marginal land in less favoured areas, to a critical mass of wildlife and wildlife corridors. We might, thus, create the habitats that will allow wildlife to flourish in much a larger number than we will with a piecemeal approach.
We have heard some interesting ideas and I welcome the fact that the Government have put this idea of valuing capital at the heart of their proposals. The really important thing is for us to implement something that works. We will then be able to go back to other countries and not just talk about goals, but demonstrate how they can achieve those goals. That is what will be needed to move things forward.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate, and, as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, I too want to pay tribute to Joan Walley for her commitment to do more and more work on the environment across the whole House.
I want to focus in particular on recommendations 1 and 9 of the EAC report and the Government’s response to them. Recommendation 1 rightly observes that
“there has been inadequate progress on sustainable development since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.”
Sadly, I think that that is something of a grave understatement. Although there has certainly been some progress, it has been very slow and incremental, whereas the science demands an urgent paradigm shift. No wonder our report states:
“There is still far to travel. Some ‘planetary boundaries’ having been breached, and others approaching, make the task more urgent than ever.”
I agree very strongly with that. There is enormous urgency behind the agenda as planetary boundaries are indeed being breached. If everybody in the world lived as we do in the rich north, we would need another three planets to provide the resources and absorb the waste. I hardly need to say that we do not have three planets; we have one, and it is already looking pretty degraded.
Recommendation 9, however, claims:
“It would be unrealistic to expect the imperative for economic growth not to be high on the agenda of many countries going to Rio+20, developing and developed.”
My case is that as far as the developed countries are concerned, we need a different imperative high on our agenda. Indeed, the recommendation goes on to state:
“The Government should resist any moves there might be to use the financial situation to dilute the extent of the environmental and social aspects of the green economy discussed at Rio+20. Rather, it should emphasise…that environmental planetary boundaries will ultimately limit the room for growth.”
It is important to state in black and white that there are limits to growth. I know that that is not a popular perception or idea, but it is very clear that on a planet of finite resources with a rising population and rising expectations, infinite economic growth simply is not possible.
I will forgive the hon. Gentleman for taking one of my best lines, but I think that that is a very important point. I am glad to see that our sources are moving in the same direction.
The source to which I want to refer is a film, “The Age of Stupid”. I do not know whether many hon. Members will have seen it, but it features Pete Postlethwaite as the sole survivor of a climate catastrophe. It is based in 2050 and he is looking back to today. He looks through all the newsreels—real, genuine newsreels with all the evidence that we have around us that climate change is happening—and he says, in words that still make the hairs on the back of my neck go up in a shiver, “Why is it, knowing what we knew then, we didn’t act when there was still time?” To me, that is just about the most important question that we could ask. Given that we have all this evidence that we must act, what is stopping us?
Part of it is to do with the fact that for too long, a shift to a green economy has been portrayed as though we were talking about shivering around a candle in a cave. It has been portrayed too often as being about hair shirts and we have assumed that if we scare the life out of people sufficiently with the terrible stories of what will happen—and it will happen if we do not get off the collision course with climate change—that, on its own, will be enough to motivate people to change their behaviour. Yet, as we have seen, the evidence shows that that is not what will motivate behaviour change.
Such change would be motivated by our painting a much better picture—a much greener, more compelling vision—of what a zero-carbon economy would look like and by our making the point that it is about a better quality of life. We should also make the point that the current economic model is not even working on its own terms, and we need look no further than the financial crash to see that. Not only that—it is not actually making those of us in the rich countries any happier beyond a certain point. There is a lot of evidence that once basic needs are met, beyond a certain point more and more economic growth does not make us happier. The stress on turbo-consumerism is not increasing our well-being. I could not put it better than Professor Tim Jackson, a professor at the university of Surrey who wrote the wonderful report, “Prosperity without growth?” He has said that we
“spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to create impressions that won’t last on people we don’t care about.”
To me, that sums up more or less what we are doing wrong.
We need real change. We need to recognise that the economy is a subset of the wider ecology and the environment—not the other way around. We need to recognise that, although technology and efficiency have their parts to play, they are not going to get us there on their own. In a planet with a rising population and rising expectations, to think that efficiency gains and technology alone will get us off the collision course we are on is to be in fantasy land. We need behaviour change as well and more education on population growth—an issue that no one has put on the table yet this evening. Population is a controversial issue but it has to be part of our discussions about a sustainable future. I am talking not about anything coercive, but about education and the provision of family planning for those women who still need and want it in developing countries. I am talking about recognising that the impact of different populations is different in different places. The impact of our fewer numbers in the north is far greater than that of higher numbers in the south, but population still has to be part of the discussion.
Social justice also has to be part of the discussion. The aim of meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs does not apply only to the rich or those in the global north—it has to apply to every citizen. Under current trends, it looks as though there will be 9 billion people by 2050, and the real challenge we face if we are serious about a green economy is how future populations will be able to consume equally on a per capita basis and still remain within resource constraints. I suggest that that could only be feasible if we in the rich north significantly reduced our consumption patterns and our impact on the planet.
We have started to make some policies based on recognising the need for constraint, starting with the Climate Change Act 2008. I believe, and the science suggests, that we in the developed countries need to be reducing our emissions by something like 90% by 2030, so I do not agree with the targets in that Act, but the architecture in it is incredibly important. The Government could do much worse than to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rio summit by amending the Act, first, to set targets that are in line with the science and, secondly, to include traded or embedded carbon. For too long it has been too easy to outsource our responsibility for much of the carbon that is produced in order to make the products that we consume. The fact that the production happily happens over in China, with the impact going on to its balance sheet rather than on to ours, seems grossly unfair to me. If we are importing products from other countries, the carbon that is embedded in those products should be part of our calculations and audits.
There are also biodiversity constraints. Our consumption of resources has a knock-on effect for habitats, so that needs to be strictly regulated to prevent further loss of biodiversity and, where possible, to reverse the losses that have already happened.
Other hon. Members have talked about our current fixation with economic growth, which means that we over-emphasise the measure of that growth—gross domestic product—to the detriment of other measures of success. Really, our policy on growth is no more or less than a policy to increase GDP by a certain percentage each year, but as others have said, GDP measures do not differentiate the social value of different forms of economic activity or revenue and capital. A Government who use up their capital—the country’s natural resources—and treat it as national income, can boast of having delivered growth and increased GDP. We have seen that on a vast scale with the billions of pounds-worth of oil and gas from the North sea that has been treated as revenue with no thought to the fact that that income is a one-off boost to the economy. For 30 years it has made the UK economy look much healthier than it actually has been, and instead of the proceeds being invested wisely in the future—for example, on renewable energy facilities that we can use when the oil and gas run out—it has been used to fund consumer booms that have led to the inevitable busts.
Perhaps worst of all, the use of GDP as a measure does not count the full costs of production, such as the impact on our natural world and on people’s quality of life. DEFRA’s natural environment White Paper suggests that we can produce metrics of natural environmental value for transactions, but we need to be clear that simply saying that the natural environment has a value is not, in itself, sufficient to ensure that it is internalised in decision-making processes. I would also argue, as George Eustice was in some senses, that it is impossible to put a value on some resources. What value do we put on a liveable atmosphere? That is a public good, not a private good. Relying on the markets to offer protection is therefore insufficient. We need regulation as well.
Businesses need to be hugely involved in the project, and in some respects are far more advanced in their thinking on this agenda than Ministers. We could learn from some of the businesses that are already beginning to think about what it would mean for them to live in a steady state economy, rather than one that was based on more and more production and consumption. As others have said, it is incredibly important that we send a very clear message about the importance of the Rio Earth Summit, and we would do that by ensuring that our own Secretary of State is there, but I join other hon. Members who have said strongly that the Prime Minister also needs to be there to send a strong message that this matters, that this is urgent. The time that we have in this Parliament—the next three or four years—will be critical as to whether we invest properly in getting off the collision course that we are on with the climate crisis. It falls on our generation to do that. It is a huge responsibility, but it is also an awesome opportunity.
As a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I shall start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend Joan Walley for her passion, conviction and resolution in leading that Committee. I shall limit my observations to the opportunities and challenges to be faced in the transition to the green economy.
The forthcoming summit has two themes—the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development. These themes are in many respects the same as those of a conference outside Norwich that I shall be attending and speaking at this Thursday. The New Anglia local enterprise partnership is hosting a conference entitled “Norfolk and Suffolk— leading the green economy”. Its objective is to help secure a smooth transition to a green economy, which can bring significant benefits to East Anglia.
The LEP has been asked by the Government to take a UK lead in demonstrating how business can take advantage of the new markets for environmental goods and services, and to support the strong stance that the UK has taken nationally to reduce carbon and tackle climate change. The Government have given the LEP green economy pathfinder status and it is currently working up with business leaders and academics proposals that demonstrate how the green economy is vital to the UK economic recovery and to sustainable growth. In April the LEP will present to Government its manifesto, which will bring together a wide range of best practice studies, as well as some innovative thinking on how to put low carbon at the heart of business opportunity and success.
In my view, one role that the Government should be playing on the international stage at Rio is the same one as the New Anglia LEP is performing in this country. Rio provides us with the opportunity to showcase what the UK can do. We were at the forefront of the 19th century industrial revolution. There is now the opportunity for us to play the same role in a 21st century revolution, the transition to the green economy.
There are three advantages of green growth, the three Es—enhancing the environment, achieving a secure and stable energy supply, and creating new employment opportunities. First, on the environmental front, it is vital that we manage our natural resources in a prudent and responsible manner and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Given the vast offshore renewable resources and extensive maritime engineering expertise in the North sea off the East Anglian coast, the UK can be a prime beneficiary of clean energy projects.
Secondly, it is important that we have a secure supply of energy, and that we are in control of our own destiny and not reliant on fossil fuel imports. Thirdly, the move to the green economy creates significant employment opportunities. At present clean energy employs 250,000 people in the UK. With conducive Government policies this can grow to 500,000 by 2020. Moreover, retrofitting our houses through the forthcoming green deal provides the opportunity not only to make the country’s housing stock more energy efficient and to drive down utility bills, but to help rejuvenate our dormant manufacturing and construction industries.
Since May 2010 the Government have done much to promote the green economy. First, they have supported research and development through the proposed technology and innovation centre for renewable energy and the proposed five renewable obligation certificates that support and encourage wave and tidal technology.
Secondly, they have provided a new streamlined planning process for determining applications for large infrastructure projects, which so far appears to be working well, based on the feedback I have received from Scottish and Southern on its Galloper wind farm application and from East Anglia Offshore Wind on East Anglia ONE.
Thirdly, there have been important developments in investment in sustainable infrastructure, with regard to rail and the roll-out of superfast broadband across the country by 2015, and in encouraging proposals for investment in electricity infrastructure so that the demand for energy can be better managed through a smart grid, smart metering and, in due course, the development of a European super grid.
Fourthly, working with the private sector is vital if we are successfully to realise the opportunities presented by the green economy. On the East Anglian coast, the enterprise zone due to start in April in my constituency—in Lowestoft and adjoining Great Yarmouth—and the designation of the two ports as centres for offshore renewable engineering will provide businesses with much-needed support and will help to reinvigorate supply chains. Moreover, the green investment bank can act as a catalyst for private sector investment.
Fifthly, and most importantly, on skills and advancing education, the most important thing we can do is invest in people. It is vital that people have the necessary skills to take up the jobs that will be created in the green economy. The further education and apprenticeship policies that are being enthusiastically promoted by my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning provide an ideal foundation on which to build. We also need to promote the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths in our schools.
The Rio summit presents the UK with an opportunity to showcase what we have been doing to promote the green economy. I am not suggesting that the Secretary of State should fly down to Rio, hopefully with the Prime Minister on the wing, to boast and to swank about the Government’s achievements. However, in a measured and constructive way she, with the Prime Minister by her side, can promote the green economy and show how a framework for sustainable development can be laid down. I also ask that she supports the UN Secretary-General’s “Sustainable Energy for All by 2030” initiative, which will be launched at the conference.
On the home front, the Government must finish the work they have started. There might be a temptation to water down the approach to sustainable development by adopting a “slightly green but business as usual” approach. This temptation must be resisted. Over the past 20 months the Government have successfully set out their stall, showing how they intend to move towards a green economy. The private sector has accepted the invitation to work with them to achieve that goal. The Government must not let the private sector down and must continue to work with it to bring to fruition the three objectives: nurturing and looking after the environment in a sustainable and responsible manner; achieving a low-carbon and secure energy supply with less price volatility; and creating new and exciting jobs that can play an important role in leading the economic recovery.
My hon. Friend is using the terms “green economy” and “renewables” as though they were the same as decarbonisation. As Caroline Lucas explained, we have to cut our carbon emissions by 80%, or even 90%, by 2050. Currently, about 2.5% of our energy comes from renewables. Does my hon. Friend accept that other forms of low-carbon energy have a major part to play, because he has not mentioned them so far in his remarks? I of course mean nuclear and carbon capture and storage.
The Government’s policy is a mixed-energy approach—that is, nuclear, renewables and carbon capture, as my hon. Friend said. I support that policy. I was concentrating my comments on the green economy, but I agree with him.
I share in the compliments that many Members on both sides of the House have paid to the Committee Chair, my hon. Friend Joan Walley, who has done an excellent job in that role over the past year. I also apologise to her and to the Front Benchers for missing the opening speeches. I am afraid I was delayed elsewhere, so I welcome the opportunity, nevertheless, to make a few points in the debate.
George Eustice said that prior to his contribution the debate had been pessimistic in terms of the seriousness of the situation that people had portrayed, but I feel that people were being a little optimistic, because there is a danger of striking the wrong balance—between on the one hand not being so pessimistic that people are discouraged from taking action, and on the other not recognising the seriousness of the position that we all face. I know that the hon. Gentleman recognises that seriousness, but, although we must always try to be positive and see a way forward, we should also look at the underlying realities, particularly when discussing what has happened since the conference 20 years ago, when an agenda was set out on how the world might address its many environmental challenges.
Members have already said that although there has been progress things have, in many ways, gone backwards very badly over the past 20 years. The examples of climate change, deforestation, water shortages, melting ice caps and biodiversity have been mentioned, and in most respects things have become a lot worse, rather than better, over the past 20 years, so it is worth understanding where we are if we are going to think about how we move forward.
That point needs to be made before, dangerously, we forget the pessimism because we want to be positive. I understand that that is important politically, but we must consider the underlying reality, because we have to work out how we get the world community back on the path to making the fundamental changes and securing the fundamental international agreements that are essential if we are to address the challenges faced by our environment.
We know that Rio is not going to end with any massive, great, super plans, or with any great international agreements. Since the failure to secure comprehensive and legally binding agreements in Copenhagen, the world community has undoubtedly gone backwards, and Rio is not going to reverse that movement, but what Rio can do—and not just Rio, but the other meetings that take place over the next few months, of which Rio is just a part—is to go for relatively modest objectives and to set out future pathways that, at the same time, put back on the agenda our attempts to secure the wider international agreements that we need.
Rio can, for example, address the food and agriculture issues to which Members have referred, and encourage the exchange of technologies and ideas on the green economy worldwide, an issue on which we in the UK have an opportunity to set an agenda from which other countries can benefit. We can try to ensure that the climate finance funds that were promised at Copenhagen, at Cancun and then at Durban are delivered, and we can look for progress on deforestation. Some progress has been made, but in many areas matters are going backwards not forwards, and we certainly need to push action on deforestation much higher up the international agenda.
We should not, however, delude ourselves into thinking that such changes and progress are going to be enough. Pathways, road maps and signposts are all important, but at the end of the day we need to secure the type of internationally binding agreements that were sought at Copenhagen on climate change, on tackling deforestation, on food, on agriculture and on land use.
These kinds of changes are essential. It is not going to happen this year—it may not happen for some years to come—but we must try to get the world to move in the right direction if we want to save the planet from irreversible degradation. Rio can point us in that direction. If we can start to move forward after a few years of delay and backward movement internationally—not because of this Government, who have played a fairly good role in these issues following the work of the previous Government—then at least Rio will have done something. I hope that we can approach the negotiations at Rio and the other international events over the next few months in that spirit.
I apologise for missing some of this excellent debate, but it was for a good reason. I was meeting representatives of Christian Aid, who are very interested in the debate having been much engaged in this issue; indeed, a briefing was sent to hon. Members. They reminded me that this week the high-level UN Commission on Sustainable Development published a report that set the parameters for April’s G20 meeting of Ministers on sustainable energy. That is a very important meeting that will set the ground for the Rio summit. I invite the Minister to respond positively in seeing Rio as a practical way of following up the meeting to ensure that there is genuine progress.
As we approach Rio—we all say this in grand terms, but it is true—we have the opportunity to shape the future of not just one generation but several generations, and they are growing generations. We now have 7 billion people on the planet. In 1992, the world population stood at 5.5 billion, so there has been an increase of 1.5 billion in just 19 years—an increase equivalent to the total global population in 1900. That is the amazing level of growth that is taking place. Those 7 billion people are affected by the global economic crisis, in many cases very much so, but also by the environmental crisis facing this generation and future generations. This Government, and other Governments, have an excellent opportunity to make the case that we can tackle these economic and environmental challenges. The dramatically increasing population means that our natural resources cannot cope. There has been an increase of nearly 150% in real-terms commodity prices, and each year 44 million people are driven into poverty by rising food prices, with food and water scarcity causing civil unrest and war.
The Government, together with non-governmental organisations such as Christian Aid, are rightly taking the lead on this, and civil society is very active. More significant, and more sustainable in some ways, is the lead taken by businesses, including British businesses. Unilever wants within 10 years to double its size, halve its carbon footprint for production and source all raw materials sustainably. Rolls-Royce is reducing carbon emissions and saving £26 million per year. I understand from DEFRA that UK businesses could save £23 billion per year by using raw materials, energy and water more efficiently.
While we undoubtedly see great challenges in the increasing global population, we also see great opportunities in the global market for low-carbon and environmental goods and services, which are worth some £3 trillion and growing at 5% per year. Green issues and economic issues are not divorcees but marrieds, with the foundation of their marriage being natural capital. We need to put the value of nature at the heart of the marriage between the economy and the environment. The Government are right to promote green accounting and the auditing of the nation’s rivers, forests and other landscapes. The ecosystems analysis started under the previous Government and followed up under this Government is one of the best pieces of literature to come out of Government, and it is of wonderful value. It is a useful tool for us domestically and a model that can be adopted by other countries that recognise its value—indeed, its financial value. We all know the cost of ignoring nature, and it is therefore important to put a price on nature. I hope that that will be followed through at the Rio summit.
We are debating the resources that we want to invest in preparation for the Rio summit. Those resources are important and they must go to the right place. They must lead to action, not just talk. Other hon. Members have spoken about that.
The proposals for sustainable development goals that came out of Colombia and Guatemala have been commended and adopted. They are an important way forward. They are practical and will lead to action, rather than just to more talk about targets and goals. They mirror the millennium development goals. That approach is important, because it means that at Rio there is the prospect not just of fine-sounding statements and communiqués and green-sounding rhetoric, which we saw a lot of in 1992 as well as the international agreements, but of action. The sustainable development goals align properly with practical realities and priorities at national level and will drive things forward.
We must also put out some warning signals. In 2000, seven millennium development goals came out of the process and suddenly people said, “What about the environment as a goal?” They then went back into the conference and came up with an eighth development goal. We need to ensure that we align the sustainable development goals with the millennium development goals. They need to coalesce. More than that, the sustainable development goals that come out of Rio should act as a catalyst to ensure that the millennium development goals are achieved. We do not want a parallel universe with different development goals. They need to work together properly.
To put it in a straightforward way, we need to improve the situation for the poorest communities across the globe. We must banish the need for young people to go miles and miles to forage for firewood in forests. We must ensure that there is sustainable energy so that young people do not need to do that, but can instead go into education and help to meet the millennium development goals.
I welcome the Government’s approach of bringing in business, which has been mentioned by hon. Members. As I have said, businesses are taking the lead. The Secretary of State has invited businesses to put forward their ideas. The businesses that are doing things such as sustainable accounting and that are taking the lead in this country should also be invited to take the lead in Rio and to make the case. If we make the case, together with business, for a green and sustainable economy, we can be optimistic that Rio will lead to action for the benefit of the world’s children, and indeed their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
I congratulate and thank Joan Walley, not only for initiating this important debate, but for chairing the Environmental Audit Committee so expertly and brilliantly for the two years since the election. She has done extraordinary things with the Committee.
Every single environmental indicator that matters is heading in the wrong direction. It does not matter which area one looks at. A number of Members have spoken about what is happening to our forests, so I will not dwell on that but simply say that since 2000, just 12 years ago, the equivalent of the land space of Germany has been lost. That should not have been so difficult to say. [ Laughter. ] I should not be laughing, because it is a staggering and appallingly depressing statistic. We have also learned that 80% of the world’s fish stocks have either collapsed or are on the brink of collapse. That is 15 of the world’s 17 major fisheries. We know that most if not all of the world’s bread baskets are shrinking rapidly. The Gobi desert is growing by roughly 10,000 sq km every year—I could go on and on.
All that results from a growth model that effectively involves cashing in the planet and the natural world for short-term consumer goods. What is that actually achieving? In the 20 years since 1992, the year of the first Rio summit, we have seen a 162% rise in world GDP, but apart from the devastation that that has caused to the natural world around us, what has it actually delivered for the world?
According to the UN, 1 billion people live in urban squalor and more than 1 billion are described as living in conditions in which they are chronically undernourished —that is a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation figure. Between a quarter and a third of the world’s population live in a state of persistent deprivation. Just last week, KPMG produced a brilliant report—I wish I could remember the title—predicting among other things that food prices will rise by up to 90% by 2030. For most people in this country that would not necessarily be a disaster, because if we spend 5% to 10% of our budget on food, even a 100% increase would still allow some wiggle room; but for somebody living in a country where people spend 60% of their income on food, such an increase would be absolutely devastating.
I will not dwell on climate change, other than to say that even if it is not happening, those other trends are real. They are mathematical observations, and there is no doubting them. If even the most conservative predictions about climate change are accurate, those problems will be massively compounded. One has to wonder what is the purpose of an economy that is so utterly divorced from basic reality that it is still growing even as it is eroding the very basis of life. We know that change is going to happen. The current trends clearly cannot continue for ever—primary level mathematics tells us that they have to end at some point, and it is unlikely to be a happy ending. Change is going to happen either through our choice or because it is forced upon us.
I accept that if we were to ask people to list their top priorities and concerns nowadays, the environment would not feature at the top for many or even most of them. Someone at the bottom of the pecking order in this country worries about food, shelter and what school to send their children to—concerns that, unfortunately, are affecting more and more people in this country as a result of the economic conditions in which we find ourselves. However, that does not take away from the fact that, logically, the environment is still the biggest priority of all. Environmental concerns are neither a luxury nor a frivolity.
I believe that we are going to have a debate on Greece tomorrow, and the Chamber will be packed. I will be here myself, and I certainly do not want to imply that what is happening in Greece is not a disaster on a significant scale, but it does not compare to the problems that we face in our relationship with the natural world. Future generations, perhaps our own children, will live with an enormous cloud of incredible uncertainty hovering over them.
My hon. Friend Mr Burrowes listed a number of concerns—I believe he was citing research by Christian Aid. I will not repeat them, but I will say that they are not abstract concerns for people around the world. We would do well to take note of that.
In questions to Foreign Office Ministers today, a number of Members discussed Somalia. They talked about action on pirates, what we are going to do to police the borders and how we are going to prevent the problems from recurring. What is too often left out is the unavoidable correlation between the emergence of pirates and the exhaustion of the oceans around the coast of Somalia—the hoovering up of the very last fish, unfortunately by European trawlers. Fishing communities lost their access to fish and their livelihoods and took to an activity that, unfortunately, is so much more financially attractive that we are unlikely to get them out of it without the use of police. That is one illustration of what happens when we undermine basic ecological systems and destroy ecosystems. The world’s poorest are the first in line to suffer, because they are the most likely to depend on the free services provided by nature.
What are we to do? Resource scarcity will define the world from now on. That is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of basic mathematical fact and there is no avoiding it. Businesses will have to design out of their business model waste, pollution and the use of scarce resources. We will have to rearrange our economy and break the link between economic growth and environmental devastation. We will have to learn to live within our means. Like others, I hope that Rio will, among other things, provide an opportunity for real solutions to be showcased.
No country in the world is doing all the things that are necessary to drive us towards a sustainable future, but there are shining examples in most countries. Japan, for example, has an enormous amount to teach us about waste. It is much closer to achieving zero-waste status than we are. Costa Rica has done extraordinary things with marine protected areas to boost the viability of its fishing communities, and it is succeeding. Denmark has done extraordinary things with its decentralised energy infrastructure. The list goes on.
I shall not dwell on the natural capital work that the Government in this country have done, other than to say that it is pioneering. That work puts us in front with, strangely enough, South Korea which has done a lot of work on valuing natural capital. I hope that we can take that work to Rio and showcase it as an area in which Britain is taking the lead.
The Government are not just valuing natural capital. They have been bullish in trying to ensure that within the Rio agenda there is proper discussion of the need to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. The International Energy Agency figure for how much we spent subsidising the consumption of fossil fuels last year is $409 billion. Clearly, the world cannot become less dependent on fossil fuels without our tackling those subsidies.
Finally—this relates to the Minister’s work—I hope we can ensure that marine issues feature heavily in the discussions at Rio. I believe we are responsible, through our overseas territories, for around 10% of the world’s oceans. There is an amazing opportunity for us to create a network, as I know we are already doing, of marine protected areas and vast nature reserves that will benefit not only biodiversity, but coastal fishing communities, who are running out of fish and things to catch. That will probably entail taking on vested interests and some of the industrial mega-trawlers, but those types of organisation and operations are not compatible with a sustainable future.
Not only are countries showing us what can be done, but companies are also doing so. Companies in the most polluting sectors, such as construction, are showing what can be done. Uponor, based in London, has become a zero-waste company. Construction is responsible for about a third of this country’s waste, so if that company has managed to become a zero-waste company, the hope must be that other companies will do the same. We must take the best practice today and roll it into the norm tomorrow. We do that only by looking at what others are achieving.
Big energy companies—I cannot bear to name them—have shown that they can buy tens of times more solution per £1 by saving energy than by making energy. I will name E.ON, which spent £250 million as part of its energy company obligation and saved the equivalent of 2.3 Kingsnorth power plants. What would it have cost the company to build 2.3 Kingsnorths—20, 30, 40 or even 50 times more? That is the rate of return for investing in energy efficiency—I can see the shadow Minister doing the maths, so I have probably got it wrong, but we cannot argue that energy efficiency does not pay.
May I reassure Zac Goldsmith that I was more concerned that he may be a tenant of Dolphin square, where E.ON is the only provider of energy?
I congratulate the Chair of the Committee, my hon. Friend Joan Walley, on her excellent contribution and on her Committee’s work scrutinising the Government’s environmental policy. She is an environmental giant, and I have been pleased to sit in her shadow. Absolutely in character, she took an understanding approach to the absence of the Secretary of State. I shall follow her example, but I want to put it on record that I find it deeply disappointing that the Secretary of State is not present. Will the Minister indicate when she will be in the House so that she can engage in debate? I understand the importance of engaging with business, NGOs and the public, and that her speech in London’s Guildhall is an important part of that. A Government Member quoted Ban Ki-moon on the role of politicians in this debate, so it is only fair to ask that the Secretary of State, as the lead person on Rio+20, comes to the House at some point to give us a chance to debate the issues with her.
I welcome the Committee’s report on the preparations for the Rio+20 summit in June, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the report and the many questions raised by Members on both sides in their informed and passionate contributions. The tone of the debate has been very positive, although many Members have spoken about the dire challenges that we face. I congratulate the Government Whips for keeping their climate change deniers off their Benches.
Rio+20 is the biggest global gathering on sustainable development since the original summit in 1992. It is crucial that it delivers outcomes and sets down some serious policy milestones for 2015 and beyond. The previous Labour Government were the first on the planet to enshrine climate change targets in law. Given the UK’s global leadership on environmental issues, we want to work with the Secretary of State and the Government on a cross-party basis to give that same leadership at Rio+20.
I have to tell the Minister that part of that support involves talking about the Government’s record at home. My hon. Friend Dr Whitehead said that this is a test for all nations, so let us look at the Government’s record. They have a poor record on protecting our forests and woodlands. More than half a million people signed a national petition against the plan to sell off the public forestry estate last year, forcing the Minister and Secretary of State to perform an embarrassing U-turn. However, the sell-off has merely been put on hold until the report from the independent panel is published in May. The panel is due to report before Rio. Will the Minister guarantee that while the Secretary of State is waxing lyrical on the international stage about reforestation, she will not return to a fire sale of our forest assets back home?
The previous Labour Government committed the UK to establishing an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones by 2012. The Government’s decision to delay their implementation is a bitter blow for the 1 million stakeholders who took part in the consultation process. How can the Government provide leadership on the global stage on marine conservation when they have failed to meet their own deadline for designating marine conservation zones? The EU is in the process of radically reforming the common fisheries policy to provide a sustainable and profitable future for UK fishermen. That reform might pose serious challenges for the UK fleet on issues such as maximum sustainable yields, discards and capacity.
I was hugely impressed by the contribution from the hon. Member for Richmond Park, although his reputation preceded him, when he spoke about the need to protect developing countries. What proposals will the Minister bring to the table to ensure that the EU fleet will not resort to unsustainable fishing off the coast of developing countries to offset the conservation of stocks closer to home? What about marine protection in overseas territories, which the hon. Gentleman also spoke about? Some 90% of our marine biodiversity is in overseas territories. Labour designated the Chagos islands as a marine reserve. What plans does the Minister have to protect biodiversity in these areas?
Mr Burrowes spoke about the record of some companies in reducing their carbon footprint, but again I want to turn to the Government’s record at home. Earlier this month, the Secretary of State said that she would join the call for Rio to drive uptake of sustainable businesses practices
“in particular transparent and coherent sustainability reporting”.—[Hansard, 9 February 2012; Vol. 540, c. 44WS.]
Carbon reporting is a vital connection in driving up standards in green jobs and growth, yet when it comes to carbon reporting at home, the Government are dragging their feet. Will the Minister guarantee that his Government keep their promise and make it mandatory for UK companies to report their carbon emissions before Rio? The deadline in the Climate Change Act 2008 is April 2012. Will the Department meet that deadline—yes or no?
One of the Government’s first acts was to abolish the Sustainable Development Commission, their own green watchdog. This Government have invented their very own approach to sustainable development at home, and that is before we even mention the influence of the Chancellor on this debate. He sees the environment as a barrier to growth and thinks that the green agenda is bad for business and jobs. In his autumn statement, he said that burdening British business with environmental goals would mean that
“businesses will fail, jobs will be lost, and our country will be poorer.”—[Hansard, 29 November 2011; Vol. 536, c. 807.]
Yet the reality is that this could not be further from the truth. The UK is falling behind because of this Government’s policies and their lack of environmental ambition. Peter Aldous spoke about the growth in green jobs, but since this Government came to power, the UK has slipped from third in the world for investment in green growth to 13th, behind such countries as Brazil and India. In 2009, investment in alternative energy and clean technology reached £7 billion. That fell by more than 70% the year this Government were elected. The latest figures for last year seem to suggest that if there was any pick-up, it was very modest. Investment levels are still considerably below what they were in 2009.
It is quite an achievement that in less than two years the Government have alienated businesses over green investment, along with the National Trust, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and The Daily Telegraph, because of their plans to rip up the planning rules that have protected our environment for 60 years. The Minister of State, Cabinet Office wants to do to the planning system what the Chancellor has done to environmental regulations, tearing up best practice and replacing it with a 50-page document. When asked by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the Cabinet Office’s intentions, the Secretary of State replied:
“I am not in a position to confirm or deny” the story, adding:
“I was not at such a meeting.”
That is exactly the problem with this Secretary of State: she is always outside the room when the big boys are making the decisions.
I want to try to strike a positive note, so let me move on to what Labour sees as the key priorities and opportunities at Rio. Our leadership at home is key to our credibility on the global stage, and if Government Members do not get that, we have a problem. When it comes to food poverty at home, we see rising food prices and families forced to rely on charities and food banks. Last year the Trussell Trust, one of the largest food charities, opened a food bank every week. The amazing charity FareShare, which I visited yesterday, works with other charities to feed 35,000 people a day in the UK. Rio rightly places food security and ensuring a sustainable, healthy and safe food supply for the world’s population at the top of its agenda. The hon. Members for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) both have a history with Oxfam. As Oxfam has highlighted in its Grow campaign, we need to tackle the structural causes of food crises, addressing the effects of speculation on food prices, the impact of biofuels and land grabs. The answer is not producing more food alone, but producing more food with less impact. We need to mitigate the impact of climate change and invest in agricultural practices and sustainable livelihoods in developing countries.
As the hon. Members for Cheltenham and for Richmond Park both said, resource scarcity is the biggest challenge facing the planet. With the population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, Rio is an opportunity to reach a global agreement on how we can ensure access to water, food and energy for all, alongside the long-term challenges of climate change and eco-system management. The interconnected nature of resource scarcity means that political leadership is vital. On this side of the House, we are taking a joined-up approach, working across shadow Departments to reflect the broad range of issues that will be discussed in June. Will the Minister tell us when he last met with his colleagues in the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for International Development, and what discussions they had about their priorities for Rio?
As many Members have said, GDP alone is a limited measure of growth and does not take into account the other pillars of sustainable development—the social and environmental costs. Labour agrees that one of the key priorities for Rio should be to develop sustainable development goals and set down serious policy milestones for 2015 and beyond. The Committee recommends that the Government should engage with European countries to ensure that the EU pushes strongly for sustainable development goals ahead of Rio+20. Indeed, Mr Spencer spoke of the need for countries to work together. With just over four months until the conference, will the Minister tell us what discussions he has had with other EU member states, and what progress has been made?
The Secretary of State claims that she is ambitious. However, on forests, marine conservation zones, carbon reporting, sustainable development and food poverty, the ambition of this Government has not been matched at home. We need an ambitious Government who will lead the world on sustainable development. The Secretary of State said that Rio+20 had to be
“a workshop, not a talking shop”.
If the Government are to have any credibility, it will not be enough for them to talk the talk; they will have to walk the walk, too.
I should like to start by thanking Joan Walley for securing this timely debate, and by welcoming the contributions from both sides of the House. These discussions, and the strong parliamentary interest in them, are an important part of informing our approach to the negotiations. The hon. Lady led the debate with real knowledge and power. With the exception of the final speech, there has been fantastic cross-party support today. Fiona O'Donnell really read the mood of the House wrongly tonight, and she should reflect on that.
The Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North, articulated a concept that is considered irrelevant and old fashioned in some quarters, but it is one that I believe to be totally relevant to the debate on Rio and on sustainability. It is the concept of stewardship. When we talk about the stewardship of our planet, we are talking about the future for our children and grandchildren—a point that my hon. Friend Mr Spencer made particularly well. Caroline Lucas also made that point. This is the time to get this right. Dr Whitehead raised the prospect of Rio+40, and said that it would be a tragedy if we did not put in place the measures that we hope will come from this conference, and did not hold politicians of this generation to their commitments.
Our understanding of the need to green our economy and promote sustainable development has improved dramatically over the past 20 years. It is no longer something that we should do, but something that we need to do for future prosperity. It has been pointed out tonight that more than 1 billion people are living in poverty, that two thirds of the world’s ecosystems are in decline and that climate change will cost up to a quarter of global gross domestic product.
We are well aware of what is at stake here. This has been well articulated by the hon. Members for Gower (Martin Caton) and for Brighton, Pavilion and by my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), for Sherwood and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), among many others. The key point is that the UK must and will take a leading role to secure a successful outcome in Rio.
Since our response to the Committee’s report, we have—as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North said—received the zero draft that will act as the basis of negotiations until June. We also have recommendations from the Secretary-General’s high-level panel on global sustainability, which was launched in London this week. With just four months to go, momentum is building and we are getting a clearer idea of what countries, NGOs and businesses are calling for. I should therefore like to make clear the UK priorities for Rio, which will go some way to addressing concerns raised here today, although I will of course pick up any further points.
I want to see Governments stand up at Rio and make a clear statement—a political declaration—that sustainable development is the only way forward. We need to make it absolutely clear that long-term, sustainable, climate-resilient growth is possible only if we use natural resources sustainably and tackle poverty. In the UK, we have shown our commitment to green growth through a raft of policies and initiatives, including our publication “Enabling the Transition to a Green Economy”, which provides businesses with the certainty and clarity to innovate, invest and grow in a green way.
I want to make a bit of progress, if the hon. Lady will allow me.
We have established the green investment bank with £3 billion-worth of funding. Together with the green deal, it will accelerate green investment by businesses and households. We have introduced a carbon floor price that will come into force from April next year. We have published the natural environment White Paper—the Government’s vision of how to protect and improve the natural environment over the next 50 years—with 92 recommendations for action.
Yesterday morning I stood at the top of the Wiltshire downs with a really enthusiastic group of farmers and people from the local community as we launched one of the nature improvement areas—a really exciting prospect. At Rio, we must ensure that the commitment to green growth is secured at the international level—it needs tangible outcomes—which will help all countries move to a sustainable growth path.
The Minister cannot have it both ways. He cannot come to this House singing the praises of his Department and then not expect us to hold it accountable for its record at home. Will he give a commitment now to mandatory reporting of carbon emissions?
I will come on to that. I said a little earlier that the hon. Lady had misread the mood of the House—and she still seems to be doing so. I will answer her points later.
A key part of Rio will be an agreement on the sustainable development goals—a priority for the UK, on which we are working closely with our EU and international partners. There is a lot to do on fleshing out SDGs, but we want to lead the way in helping to develop this thinking. The Secretary of State met a group of Ministers in Nairobi last week and the Colombian Environment Minister here today. We need a renewed focus on tackling the major sustainability issues of access to food, sustainable energy and water.
We need to focus on global challenges. Agriculture, water and energy are fundamental to our economy, and provide livelihoods for the world’s poorest people. By 2030, the world will need at least 50% more food, 45% more energy and 30% more water. These are massive issues. We have tried to do our bit in government by reflecting the concerns that we know future generations will face—for example in our water White Paper published just before Christmas, which set out how we will approach the resilience of our economy and natural environment to provide the water we need in the future.
We need a clear course of action on food security and sustainable agriculture, which is climate smart, reduces waste and takes into account water resources. We need to be clear that access to clean and safe water is a prerequisite for green growth. Just last week, we were discussing drought here in the UK—a country famous for its rainfall. In China, which has 20% of the world’s population but only 6% of its water resources, half of which are undrinkable, access to water resources will only become more important. The UN Secretary-General's “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative is an important step towards increasing sustainable energy, energy efficiency and the use of renewables.
We want to see outcomes that will put sustainability at the heart of decision making. This includes a commitment to go beyond gross domestic product so as to account for natural and social values, too. Many hon. Members touched on this issue. It is vital that we articulate it not just in the high-level conversations—or high-falutin ones, as one hon. Member put it—but at the local level. Several hon. Members stressed that we have to carry people with us in these arguments. I was particularly impressed with how my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood brought the argument down to the household level, as it is crucial to impact on households now and in the future.
The UK has a lot to share at Rio: through our national ecosystems assessment, through the Prime Minister’s work on well-being and through work stemming from our natural environment White Paper, we can begin to put natural value at the heart of decision making. A number of Members referred to the Government’s agenda in that regard. I was particularly taken by what was said by my hon. Friend George Eustice and by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion. We are trying to value natural capital in the context of our economic well-being, of which it is a vital element, and we will shortly announce the membership of the natural capital committee. However, it is impossible to value a view: there must still be an element of the spiritual and uplifting benefits of nature that we all experience, and it is important that we articulate that.
The natural capital committee will advise the Government on our natural capital, and our work with the Office for National Statistics will embed it in our environmental accounts by 2020. Our guidance entitled “Accounting for Environmental Impacts” will help Departments to reflect the value of nature in decision-making. Our ecosystems market taskforce—led by Ian Cheshire, chief executive of the Kingfisher group—will look at opportunities for businesses in new green goods and services, which form a vital part of our work in the future. Our work with the World Bank on its “Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services” will pilot new approaches to wealth accounting in developing countries.
As has been said during today’s debate, we also need greater resource efficiency and a commitment to reducing inefficient and environmentally harmful subsidies, including fossil fuel subsidies. In the UK alone, resource efficiency could provide £23 billion-worth of savings, or £2.9 trillion globally per annum, and the EU is well placed to lead on that through its “Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe”.
As the Government have noted, action by Governments alone will not be enough. Rio needs to engage the private sector actively so that it plays its part in delivering a greener economy through trade, innovation and investment. However, a Government can facilitate the transition by, for instance, reducing environmentally harmful subsidies. A number of Members mentioned fishing. Let me assure my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith that the Government’s agenda on fisheries partnership agreements is right up there in terms of reform of the common fisheries policy. It is entirely wrong that, having failed to put our own house in order, we are now inflicting bad management on some of the people in this world who can least afford it, and I assure my hon. Friend that dealing with that is an absolute priority for me.
We will be able to assist by incentivising research and development and innovation, by increasing resource efficiency, to which we have referred in the context of the water White Paper, by getting price signals right—I have mentioned the carbon floor in that connection—by valuing and accounting for natural resources, by making the best use of standards and voluntary approaches such as labelling and procurement, and by developing indicators of green growth. We have been engaging businesses in relation to possible outcomes from Rio, for example through the Green Economy Council.
A very strong message has been conveyed by this debate. The hon. Lady knows that I cannot give an absolute commitment one way or the other. As was made clear to her Committee, the Prime Minister thinks that this is an absolute priority. The Secretary of State will be going, and whether or not the Prime Minister can go will be announced in the near future.
As I was saying and as was said earlier, businesses are leading the way, and to an extent Government must follow. We know that the Brazilians are planning to bring non-governmental organisations and the private sector together before the ministerial segment, and I hope that a range of UK businesses and NGOs will help to shape the negotiations that follow. We have also encouraged the Brazilians to hold a trade fair to showcase the opportunities that the transition to a green economy can offer. It is important to note that politicians will not just be talking to each other: there will be engagement with business, the voluntary sector, NGOs and, of course, Governments.
These are our high-level priorities for Rio. The areas where we think we can make a real difference include the sustainable development goals, agriculture and energy, valuing natural capital and corporate sustainability. Rio is above all a negotiation, and we will be working hard with the EU Commissioner and member states to ensure that Europe has a strong voice. We will also need to work with our international—
Debate interrupted, and Question deferred (
The Speaker put the deferred Questions (