Amazon Deforestation — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:47 pm on 7th October 2019.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport) 5:47 pm, 7th October 2019

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. As we have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and the hon. Members for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and for Winchester (Steve Brine), we have a real crisis on our hands.

Although Parliament did declare a climate emergency, “emergency” seems to have slipped from the lexicon, so it is really important that we in the debate ensure that the Government hear very clearly their responsibility not just for our generation but for future generations, and not just for our nation but as a global partner, to ensure that we get this right. After all, it is only a fleeting time that we are on this planet, and we therefore carry such a huge responsibility, not least in being elected to this place, to ensure that we do absolutely everything within our power to make sure that we address the climate injustice that we see at this time.

As has already been described, the Amazon basin sits there as home and habitat to unique biospheres, and the accelerating pace at which it is being degraded, under the leadership of Mr Bolsonaro, is of real concern. I therefore believe that we in Parliament have a responsibility to put pressure on leaderships where they fail. We speak so much about how we have such global influence—I have heard it in debate after debate since being in the House—but unless we use it, it is futile.

We recognise the progress that Brazil has made in setting stringent targets for itself and moving towards those. However, if it is now regressing, as seems to be the case, all of that is tokenistic and we therefore have a serious responsibility not only to get to grips with the issues before us, but to ensure that other countries do likewise, in solidarity with us, and to apply the appropriate pressure—leverage—and put our power in the right place to ensure that Brazil falls into line. The same applies to many other countries where we are also seeing deforestation.

We must remind ourselves that of the 7 million sq km of the Amazon basin, 5.5 million sq km are covered by rainforest, of which 60% is in Brazil, so Brazil is significant in this debate. One in 10 species lives in the Amazon, and a quarter of terrestrial species. It accounts for half the world’s tropical forest area. Thirty-four million people also live there, and 385 indigenous groups depend on its resources. We have not heard about the people in this debate, but it is vital that we protect their environment, the environment in which they live, as opposed to seeing them moved out of places where for generations they have respected and treated with such kindness and diligence their local environment.

Of course, South America is such an incredible carbon store but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge said, we are seeing the loss of the equivalent of 5.7 football pitches every minute. That must wake us up. It is worth repeating until they are etched on our minds the statistics for the scale of devastation that we are seeing.

That is why Brazil’s commitment at COP 24 was so significant. It stated that carbon emissions were to decrease by 37% by 2025 and 43% by 2030. It is extremely alarming that we have heard that President Bolsonaro wants to withdraw from the Paris agreement. At COP 24, it was stated that 94 million more hectares in the key biomes would be protected; that was on top of the 335 already protected areas.

We are seeing regression. We are seeing Bolsonaro looking the other way. The first part of 2019 has seen an 88% rise in the rate of deforestation. The New Scientist reported that in July alone—just one month; 31 days— 3,700 sq km were lost. And there has been an 84% increase in fires compared with the same period just one year previously—77,000 fires have been recorded in satellite data.

We have not taken our eye off the ball, but we cannot do nothing at this time and just comment, as we are doing today in this Chamber; we have to act. The facts can no longer be hidden. We see the propaganda machines come out to challenge the figures, but technology itself is telling the story for us.

We have seen the rise in agricultural activity, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East highlighted. I am referring to the beef industry, soy, logging, mining, land speculation—the buying up of this vital habitat—and urban development on core sites. Of course, this is driven not just by internal politics, but by international trade, financing and political determinations. And it is all happening at a time when enforcement agencies in Brazil are being stripped of their funding and their ability to act.