Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:44 pm on 4th November 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 4:44 pm, 4th November 2019

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Jenkin for introducing this debate, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, said, covers a huge subject. It is an enormous challenge, not just to this country but to the whole world, and we have to get it right to preserve our grandchildren’s future.

I thank the Government and pay tribute to them for what they have done. They have enshrined in law the 0.7% of GNI and have stuck to it. We all know how much we have been lectured and harangued by the Liberal party as to how much European standards are better than British ones but on this occasion, the British standards are far better than the European ones. If the EU countries spent half what we spend, there would be an enormous increase in the financial aid that goes to developing countries. I hope that the Liberal party will tell its friends in Europe that they had better get their act together if they want to improve the planet.

I welcome in particular what the Government have recently done with regard to oceans. We discussed plastic in oceans in your Lordships’ House and I took part in that debate, but to sign the protocol for a 30% improvement in the oceans by 2030 and to become part of the global alliance shows the UK to be yet again at the forefront of these challenges. On climate change too, the doubling of the UK’s international climate finance is strongly to be welcomed. It gives the local people in affected countries the ability and the help they need to combat climate change and to reduce the causes of it.

My noble friend Lady Jenkin mentioned biodiversity. I will give one example of where UK help has been very effective in producing a success story. It is a small-scale project—the sort that the right reverend Prelate mentioned and which I am sure he would welcome. It was done by the South Georgia Heritage Trust, which spent a lot of time and effort getting rid of rodents that man had introduced to South Georgia with huge detrimental effect on nesting birds. In 2015, that project finished, and the report in 2018 showed what an enormous success it had been by eliminating rodents on South Georgia. The best applause your Lordships will ever get for a project is to hear the amount of song now sung by the South Georgia pipit, which you would not have heard 10 years ago. That is just the sort of project we should be doing round the world.

On aviation, it is interesting to note that in 2009, it was Labour Party policy under Gordon Brown to build a new runway at Heathrow—one runway. In contrast, in 2008, the Chinese decided to build a new airport at Daxing. It opened on 25 September this year. It has six civilian runways and one military runway, and by 2025 it will handle 72 million passengers and over 620,000 aircraft movements. Perhaps we have been helping climate change in a small way by our delay on the Heathrow extension.

The topic of CFCs, which no Lord has mentioned yet, is an old friend of mine, as I was heavily involved in it when I was a Minister in the 1980s. It is disturbing that illegal production of CFCs, which has been tracked to China, equates to about 10% of UK CO2 emissions. That is just illegal production of one substance. This is an international problem, and we are just a very small cog in a very big wheel.

China is building or planning to build some 300 coal-fired power stations around the world from Vietnam to Turkey, and we all know what a dreadful polluter coal is. The China Electricity Council wants to cap coal power capacity by 2030. That is the good news, but the bad news is that the figure it has suggested for the cap allows it to build two large coal-fired power stations a month for the next 12 years. That alone will completely shatter the 1.5 degree aim for global warming and put in jeopardy the 2 degree target.

That is just one country, but China is not alone. India wants to increase its coal-fired power capacity by nearly one quarter in the next three years. Those challenges on the international scale far outweigh anything that we can do.

Russia welcomes global warming: it is very important for it. While the city of Irkutsk is collapsing as the permafrost melts and the methane bubbles to the surface, Tiksi has been given a new military facility as Russia pledges to spend a huge amount of money opening up the North Arctic route along its northern coast and developing its property in the Arctic. That could do more damage to the world’s climate and biodiversity than lots of other things.

My key recommendation to the Government is that this is not only a financial issue: they must use their soft power to maximum extent to bring the rest of the world on board. We recognise that our Government are a world leader and have set standards for others to follow, but they must, just as much as spending the money, bring others on board to take the world forward with their help.