Thank you, Mrs Moon, for calling me so early. As always in debates, one hopes to have more time to perfect the speech that should have been written last week. With your generosity, Mrs Moon, hon. Members will have to listen to what I have in front of me.
I do not think there is any disagreement among us about the importance of the rainforest, be it for the physical entity that it is or for the animal and plant species that it hosts. Daniel Zeichner highlighted that the Amazon spans much more than just Brazil. I will concentrate on not just Brazil but Colombia next door, and I will draw some comparisons.
I refer to Brazil following my visit there—I led the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation there two weeks ago. Unfortunately, we had to cut our visit short because Parliament was recalled. One of the key themes of our visit was to raise British views on the rainforest with the Brazilian Government, parliamentarians and non-governmental organisations. Particularly when we visited the Senate and Congress in Brasilia, it became clear how sensitive they feel to outside criticism. They certainly hear the voices across the world in response to the crisis in the rainforest. People should not think that is not the case.
I differ from the essence of the petition on the need for economic sanctions. I would like us to find solidarity and common cause with groups in Brazil who care passionately—arguably, even more so than we do, because it is their home—to find ways to collaborate to unleash the true value of the rainforest. The rainforest’s value should never be in cutting down trees—that is a blind, short-term gain. The true value of the rainforest can be seen next door in Columbia, where the United Kingdom works in collaboration with GROW Colombia, using science to unleash some truly phenomenal long-term possibilities.
GROW Colombia is a UK-funded four-year collaboration involving multiple partners, including the Earlham Institute, the University of East Anglia, the Natural History Museum, the Eden project, Colombia’s Humboldt Institute, the Universidad de los Andes and the University of Sydney. The project is designed to demonstrate that biodiversity conservation can drive sustainable economic growth and secure peace and prosperity—in this case in Colombia, but the same lessons can be drawn in many other areas of the Amazon.
Even though the project is in its early days, former guerrillas have been transformed into guardians of the rainforests; people with no scientific or natural background have been trained up to recognise unique species of plants and animals and what they are capable of. It has helped farmers to reform their agricultural practices and techniques to grow crops and forage varieties that can offer conservation gains. It has enabled producers to identify and cultivate wild relatives of commercially produced coca varieties to make production more profitable, eco-friendly and sustainable and less dependent on human intervention. It has taught rural communities taxonomic identification techniques, combining biotechnology resources with practical field work to catalogue species. It has assisted policymakers in analysing socio-economic models to support the ecological restoration of the rainforest. Above all, it has coached rural communities in business models for ecotourism initiatives that guarantee a genuine and lasting conservation benefit to the ecosystem. Some of those measures could be rolled out in Brazil, in collaboration with the regional Governments—an area such as Amazonia is every bit as important as the federal Government in Brasilia. Some of that collaboration with the United Kingdom is already beginning.
I urge the Government to continue to work on pointing out to Brazil not only that it is an economic powerhouse thanks to its variety of rare species but that, if harnessed properly, as is beginning to happen in Colombia, the potential for biotech and pharmaceutical applications of some of the very complex and rare plant species could generate billions of sustainable, clean revenue that would benefit the planet in the long term while generating revenue to benefit the science community in Brazil. That would flow through to communities, particularly the indigenous communities in those areas.