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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:07 pm on 4th November 2019.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 4:07 pm, 4th November 2019

My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin. She is of course no newcomer to this subject—she has shown a consistent commitment to and interest in it, with a determination to see progress, and I commend her for that. She will forgive me if I say that I wish she were in the driving seat of the Conservative Party and that I had the same feeling about the Conservative Party as a whole.

It is certainly true that at the UN General Assembly in 2019 the Prime Minister undertook to double the UK’s spend on international climate finance. On the other hand, a little earlier in the year the House of Commons International Development Committee report, while acknowledging UK leadership in advancing climate change and sustainable development agendas, said that,

“there does not appear to be an active strategy underpinning the Government’s international Climate Finance spending”.

It is terribly important that we see evidence of that strategy, and a general election is a very good time to hear more about it.

The UN climate change conference in Glasgow will be coming up in 2020. Whichever Government are in power, it will be very sad if the Prime Minister’s statements are not underpinned by a really effective strategy to combat climate change, and that strategy has to encompass all departments and be central to all their work. There must be an inner conviction that this is an overwhelming challenge for humanity—a challenge that threatens humanity in the long run if not in the short term. For that reason, effective co-ordination of government policy is needed across all aspects. There is no evidence of this at the moment. Even today, we read that the Government have approved a new coal mine—the noble Baroness looks surprised but it is true —for coking coal in Cumbria. It is difficult to understand how that can be reconciled with an overriding commitment and strategy.

I should say that my interests are as in the register; indeed, my work in this sphere goes back very many years and I had the privilege for a while of being Overseas Development Minister.

If we are to be effective in combating climate change, trade deals are crucial. How are we ensuring that the necessary measures and commitments are written into trade deals to make sure that we are all on course? Multilateralism is crucial. We cannot possibly deal effectively with the issues of climate change on the basis of insular nationality. We have to recognise that if any sphere demands international co-operation it is this one. I would like the Government to convince me how they intend to make good the loss of co-operation which will follow Brexit. How will we get effective measures in place to enable the international community to work together in furthering the objectives?

The World Bank has given us a lead, having established that it has dual goals. It wants to reduce poverty, but also to promote greater equality, which it sees as essential to achieving the first goal. I was glad that the noble Baroness made the point in her very interesting speech that combating poverty is vital to the cause of effective policy on climate change. Perhaps this will ring true in all that the Government say during the next few weeks—that they are determined to eliminate poverty and see this as essential to the survival of humanity. I would love to hear that but, unfortunately, I am not confident that it will happen.

The World Bank has established that, on current economic growth predictions, some 6.5% of the global population will still be living in extreme poverty by 2030. We need to see this as a grave challenge. The pace of global poverty reduction has halved between 2013 and 2015. Sub-Saharan Africa saw the number of people living in extreme poverty increase from 278 million in 1990 to 413 million in 2015. Meanwhile, the wealth of the world’s 1,900 billionaires increased by $2.5 billion each day.

It is also worth facing the challenge that the poorest half of the global population is estimated to be responsible for approximately 10% of global emissions, while the richest 10% is responsible for 50%. Against that challenge, it is understandable that the World Bank could empathise with not just a fight against poverty but the cause of promoting greater stability.

Debates about development are so often dominated by talk of GDP. It has been a sort of totem pole which we are expected to worship. Surely it is becoming increasingly recognised that matters including wealth distribution, quality of life, poverty, climate change, sustainability, health and gender all come together in what we are trying to do.

Against that background, I hope the House will forgive me if I make what might seem to be a rather partisan point in the run-up to an election. It happens to be a deeply genuine conviction on my part. I do not begin to understand how an overriding commitment to the market as the solution to all our problems is viable. How can we welcome the prospect of deregulated markets? The challenge is to have intelligent, sane, rational regulations in place which face up to these interrelated realities and produce coherent and effective results.

Alongside this is the need for tax reforms. We need to put a great deal of work into this. I am not suggesting that the Government have not done a bit, but we need to do a great deal more. We also have to face up to the issue of the race to the bottom on corporate tax. Social justice and a fairer society must become part of the culture of corporate society itself. It is not just a matter of blowing your whistle and calling them to heel, but of generating a realisation that there is an unrivalled responsibility to promote a fairer society and more even distribution of wealth.

The approach that I am advocating for the Government will take courage and leadership. Populism will have no place in a genuine fight. When Churchill led us into the Second World War—thanks to the support of the Labour Party, which came to insist on his premiership—he did not indulge in populism. He used all his powers of rhetoric and his enthusiasm to inspire the nation to what should happen. It is a very sad reflection on our democratic system that, as we go into a general election, that type of leadership, while at a premium, is conspicuous by its absence.