Amazon Deforestation — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 7th October 2019.

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Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge 4:30 pm, 7th October 2019

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point: there has been progress. The problem is that something has happened. That is what I will come on to.

The threat of natural loss as a consequence of these changes is very real and is under way, but the political situation that underpins this issue deserves careful and considered attention because, as James Gray pointed out, something has changed. It is hard not to conclude that the environmental damage is a direct consequence of a change in policy direction and political attitudes.

That brings me to President Bolsonaro—clearly a controversial figure, although by no means the only controversial figure on the world stage at the moment—whose attitude to climate change is worth highlighting. Back in December 2018, at the 24th conference of the parties to the United Nations framework convention on climate change, the Brazilian Government promised that their carbon emissions would decrease by 37% by 2025, and by 43% by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. However, since President Bolsonaro took office in January there has been a clear change. He is widely considered to be sceptical of actions to curb climate change, and in his election campaign he said he would take Brazil out of the Paris climate change accord—a note, I fear, from the Trump playbook. He has back-peddled a little and has argued that he may not do that so long as Brazil’s control over the Amazon remains intact. I have to say that I do not think these are issues to be negotiated. We should all be working to preserve such an important part of our environment.

This summer the world watched on with huge anxiety as forest fires burned in the Amazon, with many attributing blame to forest clearance policies. The Rainforest Alliance says that satellite data show an 84% increase in fires compared with the same period in 2018. The Brazilian Government deny a causal link, but the disagreement has led to fierce international controversy. It was recently reported that at the UN

“Bolsonaro…launched a cantankerous and conspiratorial defence of his environmental record, blaming Emmanuel Macron and the ‘deceitful’
media for hyping this year’s fires in the Amazon. In a combative 30-minute address to the UN general assembly, Bolsonaro denied—contrary to the evidence—that the world’s largest rainforest was ‘being devastated or consumed by fire, as the media deceitfully says’.”

Similarly, The Guardian has reported that

“Bolsonaro is set to unveil draft legislation that would allow commercial mining in indigenous territories, something currently outlawed, despite overwhelming opposition from voters.”

Clearly there are differences of view, but I find it hard not to conclude that the Brazilian President’s pro-development agenda is having a clear and dangerous impact, and that the clearing of the rainforest will be used to allow further development of mining and agriculture.

If we conclude that we all have an interest in this issue because of the impact on the global climate, the question becomes, “What do we do?” The petition calls for trade sanctions, a measure that the Government have not adopted or advocated so far. The Government state in their response to the petition:

The United Kingdom shares concerns about deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, and the severe impact on the climate, biodiversity and livelihoods. However, key to tackling these issues is to work with Brazil to find solutions rather than imposing sanctions.”

I am afraid that I must characterise that as a “do nothing” response, or rather a “do a tiny little bit to maybe give us some cover” response, because the Government also stated:

“In response to the recent forest fires, the Prime Minister pledged a further £10 million at the G7 summit on 25 August. This contribution is an expansion of an existing project: Partnerships for Forests.”

The rainforest is burning and the Prime Minister has offered a water pistol—maybe he could have sent an unused water cannon.

Remember the scale of the challenge that we face. The Government’s actions hardly equate to the “rapid”, “unprecedented” and “far-reaching” transitions that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called for in its report last year.