Amazon Deforestation — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:18 pm on 7th October 2019.

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Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 6:18 pm, 7th October 2019

It is very nice to see you in the Chair, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner on his excellent and comprehensive introduction to the debate.

I am grateful to everyone who initiated and signed the petition, because it relates to a crucial problem for us all. As colleagues have said, it is appropriate that we are debating it while Extinction Rebellion is demonstrating outside. I find it incredible that some people seem to think that the big problem is that Westminster bridge is blocked. The big problem is that the Amazon has been on fire! We need to get these things in proportion.

The Amazon fires over the summer were not accidental or natural. They were lit deliberately, and they destroyed 7,000 square miles of forest. The situation is particularly worrying because once a large amount of forest is destroyed, we will get feedback mechanisms and we will not be able to control what goes on. Avoiding such a feedback mechanism here is one of the most important things that we must do, because every year the Amazon rainforest absorbs a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted across the whole world. That tells us that fires in the Amazon are not a Brazilian problem or a Latin American problem; they are our problem and everybody’s problem, and we need to own the problem and tackle it in that spirit.

I am disappointed with the Government’s tip-toeing approach, which suggests to me that they do not really understand the seriousness of the problem. I do not know why Government Ministers do not understand it; my constituents do. Di Murphy, who has set up Bishop Auckland Climate Action, understands it. Even 10-year-old Meredith Lambert Sams, who invited me to her primary school last week, understands it.

I went to Cotherstone Primary School on Friday and I was asked a lot of questions by the extremely well-informed children. The most worrying question came from a boy who said to me, “What I don’t understand is why proper action hasn’t been taken already.” I have to say that I was quite stumped by that, because it is not as if we have not known about this situation for 10 years, 20 years or 50 years. How bad does it have to get before we take proper action? There is absolutely no longer any room for complacency whatsoever. We only have 12 years now, and we have to sort this out.

We are really concerned about the Amazon because of the impact it has on the climate, and that is the priority. However, I will just remind people of the Amazon’s biodiversity, because we do not inhabit this globe alone; we do so alongside other species. The Amazon is one of the Earth’s last refuges for jaguars, harpy eagles, pink dolphins, two-toed sloths, pygmy marmosets, saddleback and emperor tamarins, and Goeldi’s monkeys. There are also thousands of birds, butterflies and other insects there. When we think about looking after the planet, we have to do so not only for ourselves, but for all the marvellous range of biodiversity that currently exists.

I am disappointed that Mark Menzies has left the Chamber. He said that he was very concerned and that we should not implement trade sanctions, because we should have a more collaborative approach with the indigenous people. I think he has not read the petition, which says:

“Indigenous people have called for the EU to impose trade sanctions on Brazil to halt the deforestation because they fear genocide.”

The indigenous people of the Amazon have been living there in a sustainable way for generations. Steve Brine is right that with modern science we can use the resources of the Amazon in new and creative ways, particularly in medicine. However, we need to be very careful about behaving as if we are the experts and the indigenous people do not know what they are doing, because it is clear that their way of life does not destroy the Amazon in the way that ours does.

My hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy made an excellent speech about the exploitation of forests and the urgent need for us to cut our meat consumption. When she and I first discussed the issue three years ago, I thought she was being a bit zany, but I have been totally persuaded that she has a strong case and that we need to think about this issue and act on it, both as individuals and as a nation. We need to move from talking about the situation to taking action, and some actions are particularly pertinent in this context.

The petition calls for trade sanctions, and we have had quite a lot of debate about whether we need to collaborate or have trade sanctions. I am not sure that that is necessarily a choice. Let us look at a connected area of public policy. Of course we put money into universities to finance research and development, but we also have laws to protect people’s intellectual property. We can have a “both/and” approach. We can collaborate, but we need to have sanctions for when things go wrong.

As my hon. Friend did, I will refer to a debate that I initiated a few years ago and a speech that I made at that time. We had a debate before the Paris summit; it was a Backbench Business Committee debate in the main Chamber. Everybody was saying, “Oh, it’s all going to be absolutely marvellous, because everybody’s going to turn up and they will volunteer their contributions, and that’s the way to get everybody on board, and it will all be absolutely marvellous.” I stood up and said—I am afraid that people thought I was zany then—“This is no good, because these commitments are not legally binding, and if they’re not legally binding how can we be confident that we are going to meet the targets that we have to meet? The science is not going to change, and we know how much carbon we must not burn. Therefore, we need to make commitments that will achieve the scientific objective, and they need to be legally binding.” Legally binding commitments mean that there is a penalty for countries that do not abide by them.

We should think about other areas of international law where there are penalties for countries that do not fulfil their obligations, and we should borrow our experience from other areas of international law and—“adapt” is not the right word—use them in the area of the environment. I will give an example. When Russia invaded Ukraine, we imposed sanctions. We were appalled by that invasion, and we thought it was absolutely dreadful. However, when Canada left Kyoto, we took no action whatsoever. Now Bolsonaro is behaving in an utterly irresponsible way, as hon. Members have set out, but we are proposing to take no action. That is not serious, and we need to get serious about this issue. We need to have legally binding international agreements.

One of my asks of the Minister today is this: before Ministers go to Chile for the next round of international negotiations, and while they are considering what the format and structure should be, we need to have a proper and clear legal base. We need to move away from voluntaryism and towards legally binding treaties.

As colleagues have already said, the danger in the Mercosur deal is that if we cut tariffs on beef, we incentivise the destruction of the rainforest by Brazil and the other Latin American countries, so that we become complicit in that destruction. I raised this issue with the Minister in the main Chamber at Foreign Office questions. He said that he did not think I was right about this issue, because he thought that cutting tariffs was good for the poorest people, including farmers on the lowest incomes, in Brazil. I am afraid I do not believe that argument, because we see in this petition that the indigenous people—they are the poorest people in Brazil—want tougher action. We have also seen that with large-scale ranching, large agribusinesses and multinational companies make the profits. The Minister really needs to rethink that argument. We need to line up with France, Ireland and other countries, and say no. A trade deal must be done on the basis that it is consistent with Brazil’s—