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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:06 pm on 4th November 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Hooper Baroness Hooper Conservative 5:06 pm, 4th November 2019

My Lords, this is indeed a vital and topical issue on which your Lordships’ House can sign off just before Dissolution, not least because the United Kingdom’s commitment to funding overseas development is appreciated throughout the world, especially in the less-developed world. In thanking my noble friend Lady Jenkin for opening the debate in such a comprehensive way, I say to her that I too hate waste of all kinds. Indeed, I was president of Waste Watch, the organisation that did so much to get local authorities going with local recycling schemes.

On a personal level, I was disappointed recently when President Piñera of Chile felt he had no alternative but to cancel Chile’s hosting of COP 25 because of unrest and violent demonstrations. I was due to attend the parliamentary meetings taking place alongside the government meetings. This is all very relevant since the United Kingdom is due to host COP 26 next year—in Glasgow, I understand. We have now heard that Madrid is the replacement venue for this meeting, and I hope my noble friend the Minister will be able to enlighten us as to whether there is any more up-to-date information on whether the agenda remains substantially the same, because a focus of these meetings was to be a climate-smart mining policy.

Mining—I do not mean coal mining; I will exclude that—is needed in order to realise a low or zero-carbon future. A World Bank analysis recently found that a low-carbon future is still very mineral intensive and that mining is essential to mitigating climate change, because key metals and minerals such as copper and lithium are a necessary part of clean technology and the digital age. The burden of extracting them will fall mostly on UK-listed mining companies, which are the world’s largest, with the London Metal Exchange dealing in something like 80% of world metals. It was hoped, therefore, that linking COP 25 and 26 would provide an exceptional opportunity over two years to turbocharge research and development in mining technologies and processes to dramatically reduce the environmental impact of mining—for example, the idea of waterless and tailings-damless mineral processing.

As a global commodities hub for key finished metals and value-added battery automated products such as cathodes, anodes, magnets and so on, the United Kingdom has an important role to play. It is essential to drive investment in mining of the United Kingdom’s own resources for value-added products using free ports and so on, and to develop and demonstrate the use of mining as a force for good in sustainably transforming impoverished nations which contain the vast proportion of the key metals. Developing capacity to enable the world mining sector to work better together is a goal we should welcome.

Reference has been made to Africa as a continent rich in resources. I point out, because of my great interest in Latin America, that Chile, Peru and Brazil are also world players. In fact, I have a note here saying that more gold and copper has been found in Ecuador in the last 10 years than anywhere else on earth, and the world’s largest mining companies are already jostling for position in that country.

There is a lot for us to do, but we cannot be seen to be doing it alone, or even trying to be doing it alone. We have to co-operate. Can my noble friend confirm, therefore, that a climate-smart approach to mining is still on the agenda?

Turning to biodiversity, we all know that the largest proportion of the UK’s biodiversity exists in the overseas territories. I therefore recently tabled a Question for Written Answer, to which I have not yet received a reply. I hope that my noble friend will be able to pre-empt that. My Question was to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether any of the funding for the Darwin Initiative, announced recently by the Prime Minister in New York at the United Nations, will replace the lost European Union funding for wildlife in the Falkland Islands and for other British wildlife in the overseas territories. I look forward to that reply from the Minister, because this move comes after assurances from the Government that EU-funded environmental projects in overseas territories that have already been committed to will be honoured. Crucially, the issue that now arises is that no concrete assurance has been made with regard to replacement funding for new projects following Brexit.

Another question relates to the Small Charities Challenge Fund. We all welcomed the information we were given last year, I think, by my noble friend Lord Bates about the fund tailoring to the needs of small, grass-roots British charities doing outstanding humanitarian and development work. I would be glad to hear how that is progressing.

I wish to refer also to a project in Colombia with which I am involved and which receives funding via the Newton Fund. The aim of BRIDGE Colombia and GROW Colombia is to advance research skills, partnerships and technological self-sufficiency. In doing so, it is bringing together many researchers and creating research exchange programmes.

I have been informed, via my noble friend Lord Bates, that the United Kingdom secured a significant change to the international aid rules in November last year for countries which experience natural disasters. This saw the lifting of restrictions to Britain’s aid support to countries affected by crises and natural disasters which impact on their economy. Can my noble friend say whether there has been much international take-up or co-operation for this?

Although I may not be a hoopoe, I am a Hooper, and I definitely have a migratory tendency. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for raising that issue, and I look forward to my noble friend’s answers in due course.