Climate Change and Sustainable Development

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 5th December 2002.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 2:30 pm, 5th December 2002

I welcome this opportunity to debate the Select Committee on International Development report on global climate change and sustainable development. A significant number of Committee members are present today, including the hon. Members for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty), for Putney (Mr. Colman), for City of York (Hugh Bayley) and for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington). I am sure that all hon. Members, in their own way, will base their contributions on the impressions that they drew from a fairly extensive inquiry that lasted a number of months. Some hon. Members may not have had the opportunity to read the evidence, but I hope that the report will stand the test of time as being worthwhile.

The United Nations world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg two months ago was the first summit of its kind for 10 years. A number of Committee members were fortunate enough to be able to attend. Frustratingly and somewhat disappointingly, and despite the attendance at the summit of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Secretary of State for International Development, no ministerial statement was made on the subject when the House returned shortly afterwards, which would have put what happened there into perspective. Today's debate is the first opportunity that we have had to consider what happened at Johannesburg.

Perspective and scale are imperative when considering climate change. One of the things that struck me while listening to the evidence of witnesses during the Select Committee inquiry was that such a dramatic scale of change should have taken place in so a short time. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its third assessment report published in 2001, observed that the concentrations of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere had risen, that carbon dioxide was at its highest concentration for the past 42,000 years, and that the rate at which its concentration was increasing was unprecedented in the past 20,000 years.

Those are dramatic figures. A number of witnesses, including the Hadley centre for climate change, observed that during the next 100 years temperatures around the world are likely to be higher than in millions of years past. We are in a period of considerable and dramatic change. I wonder whether the Department for International Development is sufficiently forward thinking on the matter.

I note that in paragraph 12.2 of their response, on the Select Committee's encouragement of enhanced funding of the global environment facility, the Government state:

"We are not in favour of any prior allocation of funds within the GEF overall budget".

That is unfortunate, given that the global environment facility is one of the central mechanisms to ensure that environmental objectives are reflected within development projects—and, moreover, to identify climate risks such as famine sooner rather than later.

DFID does not seem to mainstream our concerns on climate change through its development policies. The Secretary of State's evidence to the Committee was, as always, robust and welcome, but it does not seem that DFID has a coherent policy on climate change. I believe that that is inadequate. The result is that policies in developing countries, including poverty reduction strategy papers and national strategies for sustainable development, often contain little to address climate risk. Unless DFID helps poorer countries to develop policies to deal with that risk, climate change will continue to undermine development.

The Select Committee heard the Secretary of State talk at length, although understandably, about "northern greens" during her evidence sessions, but I believe that that sometimes misses the point. Conclusions 5 and 6 of the report help us to put the world summit on sustainable development into some perspective. Conclusion 5 states:

"Developing countries have a different view of climate change to developed countries. They see it not as a problem of pollution or of how to sustain economic growth but as a problem of human welfare that threatens survival itself".

That might be a different perception, but it should make DFID put the wider implications of climate change into perspective.

The World Bank said that the WSSD should have focused on Africa, and I agree. Asia and south America contain developing countries, but most of Africa contains only poor countries. The fact is that the effects of climate change will not be spread evenly across the globe but will be felt disproportionately by the poor. Poor people are likely to be the most vulnerable because they are unable to withstand even the slightest shock to their livelihood.

Since 1997, DFID has pursued a sustainable livelihoods approach to development. It was encapsulated in the 1997 White Paper and has been the backbone of much of DFID's policy. The most widely accepted definition of sustainable livelihoods was proposed by an academic, Carney, in 1995:

"A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (including both material and social resources) and activities required for a means of living. A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stresses and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, while not undermining the natural resource base."

One point that I hope to make this afternoon is that millions of families in Africa are so beset by food shortages, drought and HIV/AIDS that they can no longer cope with or easily recover from stresses and shocks. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for focusing a little on the plight of two regions of Africa. I and many other members of the Select Committee have just returned from visits to Malawi and/or the horn of Africa, and those examples may best illustrate the approach that DFID should adopt to climate change.

It is estimated that as many as 14 million people in southern Africa and another 14 million in Ethiopia and the horn of Africa are at risk of starvation. That means that nearly 30 million people are suffering almost silent starvation, because the media are only intermittently interested. Understandably, overseas coverage in the broadsheets these days deals almost exclusively with Iraq. Some people suggest that we are not dealing with the Ethiopia of 1985. I have been to Ethiopia, and that may not yet be the case. Film crews looking for tents full of skeletal children will be disappointed, but this is no less a holocaust of hunger. In that respect, the media cannot be guaranteed to act as an early warning system. An article from the current edition of the Institute of Development Studies' journal asserts:

"The case of Malawi in 2002 reveals the limitations of this argument. The media is a late indicator of distress, not an early warning. Journalists and television crews arrived in Malawi like spectators at a car crash: to observe the tragedy, not to prevent it."

Africans starve, journalists come, food aid dribbles forth, the journalists go and the Africans still starve.

If the media do not fully recognise the scale of Africa's plight, do Governments? I am sure that they do, but I want the House to consider two statements from the past fortnight on the prospects of African famine. Statement No. 1 reads:

"From my latest assessments in the field for southern Africa, certainly the peak period for assistance will begin in December and it is about 14.4 million people. In Ethiopia they have assessments in the field now and the 14 million, I think, was the worst case looking at all factors".

Statement No. 2 reads:

"A total of 427,000 tonnes of food aid was requested to help meet the needs of some 5.9 million people who were at risk. That followed the generally good harvests of 2001." —[Hansard, 3 December 2002; Vol. 395, c. 885.]

I believe that hon. Members would agree that those two statements are somewhat at loggerheads. The first statement was made by Judith Lewis, the World Food Programme regional director in southern Africa, in evidence to the Select Committee two weeks ago. The second statement was made by the Minister in an Adjournment debate in the House the day before yesterday. There is a huge difference between 14 million and 6 million. The response of DFID to the African crisis appears to be based not on the requests of UN agencies in the field, but on its judgment of what scale the crisis should be. Before the Minister rises to say that the World Food Programme always overestimates, there is no cogent argument to suggest that the WFP has miscalculated need by a factor of three.