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International Sustainability: Natural Resources and Biodiversity - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:55 pm on 4th November 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Jenkin of Kennington Baroness Jenkin of Kennington Conservative 3:55 pm, 4th November 2019

My Lords, it is an honour for me to introduce this debate today, originally tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord McInnes, who sadly cannot be here.

My Twitter bio includes:

“Hates waste of all kinds”,

and for me the topic we are discussing very much falls into the waste category. As an original founder of the Conservative Friends of International Development, I am proud of the work it does and, in particular, of the 600-plus volunteers who have participated in social action projects over the past 11 years in Rwanda, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and most recently last month in Bangladesh. These are all countries where the impact of climate change degradation of the environment is visibly changing people’s lives. The projects—in Bangladesh this year much of the work was focused on plastic pollution—are examples where individuals working at a local level can help those communities and contribute towards the SDGs.

Of course education is key, but so is placing a higher value on natural resources and biodiversity, making it worth more to preserve them than to destroy. This is not always an easy case to make to families living in poverty, where day-to-day survival needs trump long-term environmental impact. I am sure my noble friend agrees that volunteering and participation in projects of these kinds helps us to understand a bit more about the complex issues around the SDGs, as those we try to support gain from shared time and experience.

The situation for our planet is deeply concerning. Public concern is rising, and I welcome that, as I do increased government commitment. Thank heavens for Sir David Attenborough and the brilliant “Blue Planet” and “Our Planet” series, which have inspired and motivated so many. The reaction to the recent forest fires, climate strikes and, of course, Extinction Rebellion are part of that.

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world. Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about two-thirds of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions, and we have all been slow to wake up to the implications. The most comprehensive assessment yet of the state of nature around the world was published last year, confirming that 1 million species are on the brink of extinction. Scientists have warned that even a 1.5-degree rise in temperatures would be devastating for humanity, ecosystems and the natural world as a whole. However, without significant action and intervention we are heading towards an unsustainable 3-degree rise.

It is the poorest in the world who will feel these consequences first. The European Commission report Life, Lives, Livelihoods found that 70% of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend directly on biological diversity for their livelihoods. So the problem is not going away—it is accelerating.

UNEP’s International Resource Panel’s 2017 report estimated that material resource use—biomass, fossil fuels and non-metallic minerals—was expected to reach 90 billion tonnes. That is three times that used in 1970, and may more than double again between 2015 and 2050. Alongside the increase in material resources, global energy consumption is expected to rise by as much as 63% by 2040, much of which is attributed to expected consumption in countries that currently depend on fossil energy sources.

Growing demand for land, unsustainable use of natural resources, population growth and climate change are driving rapid deforestation and degradation of land. Deforestation and land-use change account for around 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This imperils natural systems which sustain life and underpin economic activity. Something must be done—quite a lot of somethings, in fact.

The environment should be at the heart of international development policy. Environmental protection and poverty alleviation are two sides of the same coin. We cannot have sustainable economic development if we fail to properly care for our finite natural resources or if we destroy the fragile ecosystems upon which human life and well-being depends.

We cannot hope to preserve our iconic species, our pristine natural habitats or those other resources if people living in those countries are destitute and lack good jobs. Without rapid, inclusive and climate-informed development, more than 100 million people are at risk of being pushed into poverty by 2030 as a direct result of climate change, particularly through changes in their water, agriculture and energy. Building climate resilience will help individuals, households, communities, countries and systems better to prepare themselves for the potential impacts of these changes.

By using our international development spending well, we can help to tackle poverty and natural environment. Just two weeks ago, I attended a dinner here with experts in this field, and I shall share a case study we heard to illustrate this point. In Zimbabwe, unemployment is rocketing, especially among young people. Tourism is down by more than 60% from 2008 levels, and the country is in the grip of a drought, with people and animals competing for precious, limited water supplies and failing crops leading to major food insecurity. This rising poverty is leading to an increase in deforestation and poaching as people plunder their natural resources just to make it through the drought.

On the face of it, National Park Rescue exists to protect a national park and the animals that live in it, but to do this it has become the largest local employer. It has established a functioning micro-economy between the park and the communities that surround it, prosecuted and imprisoned career criminals, and increased tourism to the area, all of which helps the local people appreciate that the park is an asset to be protected. It estimates that we have only 10 years before elephants, rhinos and lions will become extinct, so there will be no second chances if we get this wrong. It has shown how you can help to alleviate poverty by protecting the environment or, to put it the other way round, how you can help to protect the environment by alleviating poverty.

Our Government have recently made a number of important commitments in this area, which I very much welcome. The announcement made by the Prime Minister at the UN General Assembly last month to double the UK’s international climate finance spend, to help developing countries turn the tide against climate change and species loss, was particularly welcome. This means an investment of at least £11.6 billion over the next five years. Can the Minister say more about how this fund will be managed and what its priorities will be? A number of different government departments are involved in this work, and we know how difficult that can be. Can she explain how the work will be co-ordinated between them?

On biodiversity, the Prime Minister also announced at UNGA a new £220 million fund to save endangered animals such as the black rhino, the African elephant, the snow leopard and the Sumatran tiger from extinction. He rightly said:

“It is a privilege to share our planet with such majestic beasts as the African elephant, the black rhino and the beautiful pangolin. We cannot just sit back and watch as priceless endangered species are wiped off the face of the earth by our own carelessness and criminality”.

What are the Government doing to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, a destructive criminal industry worth £17 billion annually that is often associated with other illegal activities such as smuggling, human trafficking and drugs?

Before these announcements, UK ODA spending on nature-related development projects was relatively small compared to that of countries such as Germany and the US, each of which spend around $600 million to $700 million a year. As a country with an unrivalled love of wildlife and nature, it is welcome that we have begun to show greater leadership internationally. Another area in which the UK should show international leadership is to encourage investments in nature-based solutions. Currently only around 2.5% of the money invested to tackle climate change goes to nature-based solutions. Can the Minster give me an assurance that the Government will increase their focus on such solutions?

Half the world’s rainforest has been destroyed in the past 40 years, and rainforest continues to be lost at a faster rate than ever. It drives me completely nuts that these ancient, irreplaceable forests are cut down to grow soy, not for local indigenous people but to feed our pigs, which could be fed on food waste. However, that is a debate for another day.

I declare an interest as a trustee of Cool Earth, a non-profit organisation working alongside rainforest communities to halt deforestation and its impact on climate change. Local people stand to lose the most from deforestation, and have the most to gain from its protection. As such, they are the forest’s best possible custodians. Cool Earth partnerships are community-owned and community-led—an approach that research has continually shown to be the most effective way to keep rainforest standing. Protecting rainforest is one of the most effective actions that we can take to tackle climate breakdown. What are the Government doing to support them?

More than 1 billion people depend on fish as their main source of protein, and about 200 million depend on fishing for their livelihoods. However, our oceans are suffering. We are told that by 2050 they will contain more plastic than fish, measured by weight. Our oceans are being overfished. Fisheries that were once abundant have either collapsed entirely or are on the verge of collapse. Our land-based practices are resulting in acidification of our seas, and plastics and microplastics are building up and making their way back into our food systems.

Closer to home, noble Lords may have seen the story over the weekend of a malnourished baby sperm whale washed up on a beach in Wales, with blue plastic sheeting and other debris in its stomach. For years I have tried to do my bit while on holiday by picking up plastic on beaches, but I am aware that it is literally a drop in the ocean. The story how of my husband’s photograph surrounded by this plastic ended up in the Sun is for another day, I think. What work is being done by the Government in this area?

Finally, I would like to ask my noble friend about the entirety of DfID’s spending. Under ODA rules, it must be demonstrated how spending alleviates poverty and contributes to economic development. Does she agree that we should create a new “do no environmental harm” rule for ODA spending so that it does not undermine UK objectives on international biodiversity, sustainable resource use and climate change? This is not an optional add-on; it is a priority. I am delighted that so many experts in the field have signed up to speak today. I look forward to hearing from them all and learning more.