Amazon Deforestation — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:31 pm on 7th October 2019.

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Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State 6:31 pm, 7th October 2019

Assuming that Prorogation takes place tomorrow, the hon. Gentleman is right, but there will be a trade Bill or trade Bills in the future, where I am sure those issues can be re-addressed.

The fires that ravaged the Amazon rainforest over the summer were not only heartbreaking for the people of the region—we have heard some of the stories this afternoon—but were and are a concern for all of us who care about biodiversity and climate. In some places, the devastating surge in fires has followed a sharp rise in deforestation rates this year. As has been pointed out already, deforestation has been on the increase not since 2015, which is what I said in the Chamber—I must correct the record—but since 2012, which of course predates the Bolsonaro Government. It is clear that although the recent fires may have been exacerbated by low rainfall and in some cases by strong winds, a key cause remains the use of fire to clear the rainforest for agriculture.

In Brazil, as we have heard, record numbers of fires have occurred during this year’s dry season, prompting international concern and prompting President Bolsonaro to send more than 40,000 military personnel to the Amazon to bring the fires under control, but the effect remains unclear. It is worth pointing out something that my hon. Friend Andrew Selous alluded to: Bolivia has suffered a similar fate this summer.

Fires since August have destroyed nearly two million hectares of Bolivian forest, including in the Chiquitania, the largest dry forest on Earth. In response, President Morales and opposition parties suspended campaigning activities for their October presidential elections and the Government set up an emergency environmental cabinet in the affected area. Europe, the United States, Russia and Bolivia’s neighbours have provided the most help to bring the fires under control. British experts were among the first to offer assistance and to be deployed. Rains in the past week have begun to extinguish the fires. I mention Bolivia simply to remind all hon. Members that the problem is not simply a Brazilian one, so we cannot lay the blame at the door of the Brazilian Government and President. There are other reasons for the problems that the rainforest faces.

We respect absolutely the sovereignty of the countries of the region over the rainforest, but that sovereignty comes with a responsibility to protect and preserve that precious resource. Although it is regrettable that some Governments initially sought to play down the extent of the problem, we welcome the current and historic leadership shown by the region to address the fires: for example, the creation of the forest codes in Brazil, which legally require landowners in the Brazilian Amazon to maintain 80% of the land as forest. It is also worth pointing out that on 27 August, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Brazilian Foreign Minister, who made it clear that anyone setting fires in the rainforest will be prosecuted. In fact, prosecutions are under way and the penalties for such fires include imprisonment.

Last month at the regional summit hosted by President Duque of Colombia, seven regional leaders signed the Leticia pact for the Amazon. Leaders pledged to improve co-ordination to prevent and manage forest fires, share best practice, and develop initiatives to accelerate reforestation and build sustainable forest economies. We fully support that regionally-led initiative and stand ready to help. The United Kingdom Government are committed to working with Amazon countries to support efforts to protect and restore the Amazon rainforest. Over many years we have partnered with communities, businesses and state and national Governments in Brazil and the wider Amazon region to preserve and restore rainforests for the benefit of people and nature, and for our collective effort to tackle the threat of climate change. Since 2012—this is another point I made in the Chamber during Foreign Office questions—the United Kingdom Government have committed £120 million in international climate finance programmes operating to reduce deforestation in Brazil and a further £70 million in Colombia. That suggests we are doing a lot more than nothing. That investment generates benefits for the local environment, for local communities and for the global climate.

At the G7, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—helpfully trailed by the hon. Member for Cambridge —pledged a further £10 million for our international climate finance work to support the longer-term efforts to tackle deforestation in Brazil. That will expand an existing programme that supports the protection and restoration of Brazil’s rainforests, including areas affected by the recent fires.