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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:51 pm on 4th November 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat 4:51 pm, 4th November 2019

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin of Kennington, on her introduction today and generally for her work on waste and food. I echo her comments on the illegal wildlife trade.

Many noble Lords will be aware of a bird called the hoopoe. It has existed not only in its own right but in myth and legend for thousands of years. It appears in the Bible and earned its showy crest by being wiser than King Solomon: it had a part to play in his relationship with the Queen of Sheba. It appears in the Koran, and is particularly celebrated in the Conference of the Birds, which is an amazing poem in Persian literature: the hoopoe is the messenger of the birds and their leader as they go on a long journey. It is a messenger again today, because it is a migratory bird, and its increasing appearances in southern England talk to us of climate change. Today, I shall talk particularly about migratory birds and ask the Minister about habitat and COP 15.

Many of our best-known summer birds are migrants. There is the cuckoo, whose calls mark the start of spring. There are swallows—your Lordships will know the well-known phrase that one does not make a summer—flycatchers and all sorts of summer visitors. Then we move into autumn, when other species take over: fieldfares, waxwings and so on.

All those migrants have in common the need for safe passage during often very long migrations, feeding grounds on their long flights and the habitat for them when they reach their destination. Of course, there are threats from hunting. Some EU countries, such as Malta and Cyprus, are still not playing their part in this. Does the Minister know whether Cyprus has continued to improve since UK military bases there made a real effort to address the carnage from netting and shooting birds? In July, the EU Commission issued France and Spain with a notice that they are in breach of efforts to protect the turtle dove, which we virtually never hear in England now, from extinction. Far too much hunting is seen as tradition and tied in with patrimony.

However, the main threat to migrating birds is habitat loss: wetlands drained and turned into farmland, an expanding Sahara due to climate change and loss of food as powerful insecticides wipe out insects. Neonicotinoids may be banned in some countries but you can bet your bottom dollar that the manufacturers will be busy finding new markets for them.

The interplay of aid money, tackling climate change, restoring biodiversity and strengthening, not weakening, local communities is very sensitive. In October this year, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations made an agreement with the European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, which will lead into COP 15. In particular, it is increasing funding that will boost countries’ efforts to bring about sustainable changes in agricultural policies and practices, to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity and natural resources. The programme will address some of the most unsustainable practices in agriculture, such as the use of highly hazardous pesticides, and scale up ecosystem-based approaches that favour natural pest control and protect pollinators. As other noble Lords have said, it is extremely important that this is not an either/or approach.

The DfID 2015 strategy on resilience to climate change and environmental sustainability made almost no mention of biodiversity. Other strategies make almost no mention of poverty. If the money for the Government’s recent pledge to give £1.3 billion to climate and biodiversity comes out of the aid budget, that is a real example of this issue. It is all about climate change and biodiversity but, as my noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie said, there is an interplay in tackling food scarcity, poverty and climate change. It is not an either/or situation. That is the big lesson for COP 15.

I hope that the Government will look again at the agreement I mentioned between the FAO and the EU because it is a sound strategy and one that the UK would do well to build on. That is why I heard with incredulity the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about how we cannot learn lessons from the EU; he is entirely wrong.

Finally, I mention the environmental activists who are killed or imprisoned for defending habitats and challenging pollution. We often read about them in the newspapers, in places such as Brazil. This week, in a letter to me, Amnesty International highlighted the case of the activists who have challenged the lack of a clean-up and compensation for a chemical spill in Vietnam that wiped out 6,000 acres of coral reef, meaning that thousands of local fishermen lost their livelihoods. It especially highlights the case of Tran Thi Nga, a mother of two boys. She protested about the pollution and spoke up for fishing families. As a result, she is currently serving nine years in jail. That is the price for speaking out against pollution. Will the Minister undertake to press the Vietnamese Government to recognise that this is a totally inappropriate response to pollution and to release this brave woman?