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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:07 pm on 4th November 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development 6:07 pm, 4th November 2019

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Jenkin for moving this debate and thank all noble Lords who have taken part this afternoon. A doorkeeper handed me an anonymous note during the debate—but it was on House of Lords paper, so I assume it was from a reputable source—which reminded me of the old saying: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”. I could not agree more.

The most pressing test of this responsibility is the twin challenges of dangerous levels of climate change and catastrophic environmental degradation. Addressing this—both what we do ourselves in the UK and what we can achieve globally in partnership with others—is a priority for the Government, and it reflects the growing concerns and the wish of British people that we act.

The sustainable use of natural resources is intimately linked to preventing loss of the ecosystem services essential to sustain human life. We also want to protect species for their own sake. The variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat is a wealth we have inherited and must steward to pass on to generations to come.

We must also recognise our own responsibility, as many noble Lords acknowledged. From clearing our natural forest to harnessing energy from fossil fuels for manufacturing, heating and electricity, we have contributed to the greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. We have polluted water resources and oceans, overfished our seas and degraded our soils, losing animal and plant species in the process and impacting on human well-being.

We now know the extent and consequences of this action and the impact on both humans and wildlife. Climate change and environmental degradation are bound up with development not just because of the risks they pose to sustained poverty reduction if we do not act but because tackling them is integral to countries’ development, their spending and their policy choices. We need climate-smart development that boosts resilience, uses resources well and drives sustainable economic growth. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, pointed out, developing countries have a chance to leapfrog in their use of technology and approaches and avoid the mistakes we made in the past. We must do what we can to help them.

Many noble Lords highlighted the precarious state our world is in, so I shall not repeat the worrying statistics but aim to respond to as many of the points raised as I can. Many issues were highlighted. We need to do more across the Department for International Development and, indeed, across our government.

One of our main levers is investment. As many noble Lords mentioned, we have committed to doubling the UK’s international climate finance from £5.8 billion to £11.6 billion over the period 2021-25. That funding will support some of the most vulnerable communities in the world to develop low-carbon technologies and shift from fossil fuels to clean energy. For example, this will help to replace wood-burning stoves and kerosene lamps, used by millions of the world’s poorest families, with sustainable and more reliable technologies such as solar power for cooking, heating and lighting.

The noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Bruce asked about our ICF strategy. We are working on a new strategy—it has been some time since the last one—which will set out how we will deliver our commitment to double our ICF. That will be published in the new year. I agree that it is important that everyone sees the evidence in the strategy and has the opportunity to question it. We will focus on halting deforestation and preventing irreversible diversity loss, unlocking affordable and clean energy, helping countries, economies and communities to become more resilient and building sustainable cities and transport systems.

My noble friend Lady Jenkin asked about co-ordination. That is important when we have such a large fund split across multiple government departments, and we are working to ensure that we are properly joined up. We have many working-level and ministerial-level meetings on that, but the appointment of a joint Defra and DfID Minister has been a really good opportunity to further improve that collaboration and coherence between the two departments. He is an excellent Minister and we have seen real progress, but we must continue to ensure that we work together effectively.

Several noble Lords mentioned COP 26, the hosting of which is a huge opportunity for us. We are committed to delivering an impactful presidency and, indeed, an impactful COP. My noble friend Lord Caithness is right to highlight the importance of using our soft power, and COP 26 is a prime opportunity to do so.

We have already demonstrated our international leadership on climate change at the UN Climate Action Summit, through both our financial commitment and our leadership on the resilience and adaption strand; we are committed to building on that legacy. I am a great believer in using impending events to focus the mind on achieving real change, and we have a great president in Claire Perry. She will shortly be standing down from the other place—she will be a great loss—but she will be able to focus exclusively on making COP 26 a great success. I know, because I asked her last week, that she will be delighted to brief noble Lords on progress and what we are trying to achieve, so we will arrange that for the next Session.

My noble friend Lady Hooper asked about the move of COP 25 from Chile. We are grateful to Spain for agreeing to host it. Chile still holds the presidency chair, so we ought to have the same agenda, but we are awaiting confirmation of that.

Many noble Lords talked about finance, which, of course, is crucial. As I said, we are fulfilling our pledge to provide at least £5.8 billion of international climate finance up to 2020. That is part of the developed countries’ commitment to mobilise $100 billion of climate finance annually from 2020.

As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, tackling climate change and protecting the environment is a global effort, and we need to continue to play a leading role in shaping and investing in the international system. We are major funders of the Global Environment Facility and made a recent pledge to the Green Climate Fund but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, said, we are clear that public finance, still less donor ODA, will not be enough by itself. We have launched a green finance strategy, and we need to ensure that businesses take action here, too. We are seeing some progress. At the Climate Action Summit, more than 50 financial institutions pledged to test their $2.9 trillion in assets for their risk to climate change, and nine multilateral development banks committed to support global climate action investments by targeting $175 billion in annual financing by 2025. However, the summit was not an end in itself; it is not enough, and we need to do more to mobilise more finance annually.

On the question of new funding and funding being taken away from DfID’s core work, the funding we have announced is a commitment to future spending from 2021-22 onwards. Decisions about development priorities will be made as part of the Government’s work for the next spending review. Of course, tackling climate change and protecting the environment are bound up with development and, as noble Lords have said, are fundamental to delivering the sustainable development goals, so it is appropriate that they should be a priority for UK aid, which noble Lords have recognised.

Many noble Lords spoke about the importance of protecting our precious biodiversity. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, spoke about how personal actions can improve biodiversity but, as he said, practices here can be very different from those overseas. Climate change and biodiversity are two sides of the same coin; they must be addressed in tandem if we are to protect the planet for future generations. My noble friend Lord Caithness gave the good example of the South Georgian pipit, where a relatively small intervention can rescue a species on an island.

We were delighted to announce a £220 million international biodiversity fund at UNGA to protect and enhance global biodiversity. That includes: £100 million for a new biodiverse landscapes fund, which will focus on five highly biodiverse landscapes globally; £90 million for the Darwin Initiative, representing a tripling of annual funding for this long-established fund that has supported thousands of biodiversity projects in developing countries over the past 25 years; and £30 million to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, mentioned by my noble friend Lady Jenkin, which includes a doubling of funding for the illegal wildlife trade challenge fund. This is welcome; as the noble Lord, Lord Rees, said, extinction is the sin that future generations will not forgive us for.

We are committed to leading action globally on halting the loss of biodiversity and to developing an ambitious and transformational new post-2020 global framework for biodiversity. This morning, next year was described to me as a super-year for biodiversity—let us hope so. For example, there will be a big convention on biological diversity in China.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked about habitats. The UK will support ambitious targets on species, habitats, protected areas and other issues but, of course, ambitious targets must be met with ambitious action if we are to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.

Many noble Lords mentioned forestry and rainforests. Our new international climate finance funding will help to protect our incredible rainforests, which act as vital carbon sinks and help to restore degraded ecosystems, such as abandoned land. We are leading international efforts to reverse deforestation trends by promoting responsible supply chains in timber and agricultural commodities, as well as by supporting countries in transforming the way in which forests are governed. We are working with the private sector to incubate public/private partnerships to catalyse investment in sustainable forests and land use. As my noble friend Lady Jenkin said, local communities are the best custodians of the forest and we must make sure that we get investment to them.

On oceans and plastic pollution, I should declare a personal interest as I like to spend as much of my time as possible underwater. Indeed, I spent this summer volunteering at a marine conservation camp on a tiny, remote island off the coast of Malaysian Borneo. There I saw at first hand the effects of destructive fishing practices and increased plastics in our ocean. The organisation I volunteered for—the Tropical Research and Conservation Centre—does brilliant work in constructing artificial reefs and clearing plastics from the ocean and beaches, as well as scientific research into turtles, fish and invertebrates, but TRACC is just a small organisation on a very small island trying to deal with a global problem. More than 40% of our amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all our marine mammals are threated; unless we make major changes at a global level, future generations will see a very different underwater world to the one I have.

I am delighted that the UK is leading the world on marine protection and is on track to deliver more than 4 million square kilometres of protected oceans around the UK overseas territories by 2020. We will continue to prioritise ocean research to address gaps in our knowledge on the impacts of climate change, ocean acidification, the carbon cycle and the benefits of marine protected areas. We are championing an international commitment to protect at least 30% of the global ocean through marine protected areas by 2030—a commitment known as “30 by 30”. That also highlights the role that marine protected areas can play in providing nature-based solutions for carbon sequestration, as well as adaptation and resilience to climate change. We have so far directly helped 100,000 people through building resilient jobs and supporting marine life. We are also setting up pilot waste recycling projects in Ghana, Bangladesh and Uganda, and we are providing match funding to set up recycling hubs across Pakistan to stop 2,000 tonnes of plastic—more than 150 million plastic bottles—from entering the ocean each year.

Many noble Lords raised the issue of using fossil fuels. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, said in his very well-considered speech, this is a complex area where there are no easy solutions. However, I will probably make the argument predicted by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. Energy is of course essential to economic growth and poverty reduction. Some 840 million people currently have no access to electricity, while 2.9 billion people do not have access to clean cooking. Our priority is to help developing countries to establish secure and sustainable energy supplies and at the same time support climate and environmental objectives. We have committed to aligning all UK ODA with the objectives of the Paris agreement, which will include making fossil fuel policy consistent with them. Increasingly, of course, our ODA spending supports renewable energy. Since 2011, UK aid has provided more than 26 million people with improved access to clean energy and has installed 1,600 megawatts of clean energy capacity, thus reducing or avoiding 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. However, we recognise that countries will continue to need a mix of energy sources as part of the transition towards low-carbon and sustainable economies, including renewable energy and lower-carbon fossil fuels such as natural gas, which is significantly lower-carbon than coal and other commonly used fuels.

Our approach to fossil fuels is to support them where there is a clear developmental need and as part of the transition to low-carbon economies. In assessing new support, we will ensure that any assistance does not undermine the ambitions of a country’s nationally determined contribution and that an appropriate carbon price is used in the appraisal of the programme. However, I have taken on board the point made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Sheehan, and work is ongoing to review the Government’s approach to fossil fuels and ODA. We will look at where and when to consider assistance with fossil fuel development, including by bilaterals. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, raised CDC. It has made no new investments in coal-fired power projects since 2012. When it invests in fossil fuels, it does so with the aim of reducing emissions and as part of a low carbon-growth transition plan. CDC is in the process of revising its climate strategy to set out publicly how, as a development finance institution, it plans to support the goals set out in the Paris agreement. I look forward to seeing that.

I turn to agriculture, which the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord German, and others raised. I agree that African agriculture needs investment which could indeed bring huge rewards. The noble Lord, Lord Rees, highlighted the progress we need in sustainable diversification. On infrastructure, we are providing funding through the adaptation for smallholder agriculture programme, which is building climate-proof rural infrastructure. We are also supporting new rural roads. More than 2,000 kilometres of new rural roads have been built, while over 97% of public investment is in rural infrastructure through our global agriculture and food security programme. We are investing in innovative digital infrastructure for agriculture. I am grateful to the noble Lord for highlighting the good work of DfID on legal security of tenure and we are continuing work on that. The noble Lord also said that the greatest need in African agriculture is knowledge, including for women, and I wholeheartedly agree with that. We are working on programmes with the private sector to provide training opportunities so that farmers can better manage their crops and soils, and we are investing in farmer field schools which have led to the adoption of good practices that build soil fertility.

Nature-based solutions play a critical role in addressing climate change in terms of both mitigation and adaptation. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked how we define that. It is about using cost-effective methods to tackle climate change which also deliver for biodiversity and sustainable development, reducing emissions and acting as carbon sinks, thus taking carbon out of the atmosphere and helping to build resilience. They include a range of interventions centred on land use and the natural environment, including the marine environment such as afforestation and peatland restoration. The Prime Minister has said that he wants to put nature-based solutions at the heart of the UK’s presidency, so I think we will see more in that area. I agree with the noble Lord that having a clear definition of these things is very helpful. We launched the Just Rural Transition initiative at the UN climate summit to drive policy reform and investment towards a new vision that will help to support shifts towards more resilient land use and sustain ecosystems.

My noble friend Lady Jenkin and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, talked about the “do no harm” principle, which is incredibly important. All DfID programmes are designed and implemented in line with our own smart rules, which include the principle to avoid doing harm in our programming, including to the environment. I will take back my noble friend’s suggestion and the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised; we can do more in this area.

My noble friend Lord Caithness spoke about ODA spend by the EU. I take the opportunity to highlight how proud we are of our commitment to spend 0.7% of our GNI on ODA. As my noble friend points out, this is higher than some of our EU partners and above the EU average of 0.5%. I agree that the Department for International Development’s independence and the scrutiny of all our ODA spending across government are important. That is something we are working on. I am a passionate supporter of 0.7%. I hope that those who are not—a few remain—have listened to this debate, because it has been an excellent example that it is worth spending at least 0.7% of our ODA on some of the most important issues we face, both on climate and, of course, on reducing poverty.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, spoke about palm oil. The UK supports sustainable trade in palm oil. We are working with Indonesia to support a revision of the Indonesian sustainable palm oil standard, and with other European Governments and companies throughout the palm oil supply chain to tackle deforestation. Like the noble and learned Lord, I have seen those palm oil plantations and was equally struck by the devastating effect that has on species—the orangutan, obviously, but many others. We can do more and are working to do more on this.

The noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Cameron, raised the issue of population growth. It is the growth in the levels of consumption by unsustainable development that influences carbon emissions and increases climate change, rather than population growth itself, but I take the opportunity to wholeheartedly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, on population and providing women with choice. Some 240 million women around the world want to delay or space their next presidency—I mean pregnancy, although the more women who can get presidencies, the better—but are not able to use modern methods of contraception. We are taking action to improve access to that and to improve sexual and reproductive health and rights. That, alongside investment in girls’ education and empowerment, strong economic growth and development, will reduce unwanted fertility. We will continue to do a lot in that area.

On clean energy and green technology, the noble Lord, Lord Rees, spoke of the importance of investing in our research. I did not realise that 10% of good ideas come from the UK. I highlight the £1 billion Ayrton Fund we announced at UNGA. That fund is named after the British physicist and suffragette Hertha Ayrton, whose work at the beginning of the 20th century inspired the Ayrton anti-gas fans that saved lives during the First World War. It is new funding that will help leading scientists and innovators from across the UK and the world, ensuring that they can access that. I take the point on ensuring that we are not diverting this money away from reducing poverty, which of course is our core aim at DfID. Tackling climate change and protecting the environment are bound up with development. It is fundamental to delivering the SDGs. It is appropriate that it should be a priority, and all our programmes that deploy our ICF are designed to deliver strong developmental benefits as well as tackling climate change.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, raised the activist in Vietnam. I have great respect for those who put themselves on the front line in protecting the environment. We are supporting those on the front line and, for example, funding anti-poacher ranger training in Malawi. I will come back to the noble Baroness on the details of that case.

The noble Lord, Lord German, raised fruit trees in Lesotho and Mrs Fokotsale’s garden. Where we spend money is, of course, a constant question that we ask ourselves in DfID. We are focused on helping as many people as possible, but of course we must spend taxpayers’ money efficiently; it has been a while since the last aid strategy. It is something we look at and continue to review. I also agree with the noble Lord on putting the tangible and intangible support together between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DfID. We work very well together, but there can always be improvements. The noble Lord asked about the Governments in Scotland and Wales and rightly highlighted the work they do in this area. We meet our counterparts and work with many NGOs in Scotland and Wales but, again, there is always room for improvement.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, spoke about the environmental report, which I am afraid I have not seen. I will go back and look at it and come back to her in writing with a clear response on that. She is right to say that we do not currently finance the Great Green Wall initiative, but we do fund similar projects. Again, I will come back to her in writing with detail on that.

This debate has been about the Government’s international development work to promote the sustainable use of natural resources and prevent biodiversity loss. I hope I have been able to explain a bit more about what we are doing in this area and answer some of the questions from noble Lords—I have run out of time to answer all of them. To my noble friend Lady Hooper, I say that the Small Charities Challenge Fund is alive and well, and I am a great supporter of it. We are using it to support WasteAid projects in Gambia and Kenya to increase plastic recycling and support livelihoods. However, I will write to all noble Lords, and place a copy in the Library, on that and other things, including Cyprus, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. I will go through Hansard and make sure that I come back in writing—I will have to be quick, as we do not have long before Parliament breaks.

I also agree with the right reverend Prelate, as did the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that we should all be kinder to the environment, and indeed each other. We should also recognise all our environmental work in the context of poverty. We must support small-scale projects and bear in mind how our larger projects affect smaller ones. We need to move away from the idea that you can tackle either environmental and climate problems or poverty. We all know that the poorest in the world will be hit hardest by climate change and that the poorest in the world depend most directly on natural resources, and so destroying ecosystems plunges them into destabilisation and yet more poverty.

As I said at the start, addressing the twin challenges of dangerous levels of climate change and catastrophic environmental degradation is our greatest challenge. It is easy to worry for our future, and we are right to be concerned about the state of the world we leave for future generations. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, is right to say that we are not on track; we are not where we need to be and we need to step up. But there is also some room for hope. The UK is in a position of global leadership in this area. We have a great opportunity next year at COP 26 to make real global progress. We are seeing individuals question their personal behaviour and take action to contribute. We are seeing incredible interest and passion from those younger than us, but we know that we do not have time to wait for that younger generation to grow up and take action—it is on us. It is on my department, the whole of government, Parliament and all of us as legislators to take action now to leave the world fit for future generations.