As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate Nadia Whittome on securing this hugely important debate. The beginning of the new Parliament is the perfect time to raise the issue.
I am delighted to be continuing in my role as the Scottish National party shadow International Development Secretary. I am particularly focused on the need to tackle climate change globally and to ensure that there is climate justice. That, I believe, will be a regular topic, if not the key topic, in this Parliament, and the defining feature of the next decade. Prior to last year’s general election, I was proud to propose the opening resolution—passed by acclaim—at the SNP conference on climate justice. We recognise that, while it has been the most developed and industrialised countries that have been the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, it is the poorest communities in the world who feel the devastating impact of climate change. We must recognise this reality and our obligation to right this wrong. Countries that have become prosperous while damaging the environment have a responsibility to help developing countries adapt to the consequences of climate change.
That is not just empty rhetoric. The SNP Scottish Government have been at the forefront of the global fight, tackling climate change and delivering climate justice, and showed bold leadership in establishing the world’s first climate justice fund in 2012. By 2021, £21 million will have been distributed through the fund, which is now supporting projects in Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Rwanda. Some of the fund’s successes so far include establishing 217 village-level committees to support water resource management and resilience, improving agricultural practices and irrigation services for more than 11,000 people, and providing 110,000 people with training in climate change. Going forward, the climate challenge programme in Malawi will support rural communities to identify and implement their own solutions for adapting to and building resilience against the worst effects of climate change.
Similarly, the climate justice innovation fund will support projects that are developing innovative solutions for strengthening African communities against the effects of climate change. The most recent projects to have secured funding address deforestation, food security and rural water supplies, while also empowering women, youth and other disenfranchised, vulnerable stakeholders in those communities. Through the climate justice fund, the Scottish Government are promoting the economic benefits of a just and fair transition to a low-carbon economy. The fund aims to share the benefits of equitable global development and the burdens of climate change through a people-centred, human rights approach.
What I have outlined has been done with a fund of £21 million over nine years, which has delivered incredible results. Just think of the potential if the UK were to follow the same model, given the scale of its resources. We hope that, through our example of leading on the issue of climate justice, we can embolden others in the international community. It is therefore vital that the UK Government follow the Scottish Government’s lead. Indeed, last year’s report by the International Development Committee on UK aid for combatting climate change highlighted the usefulness of climate justice as a framework for policies and programmes and called for the UK Government to adopt the concept of climate justice explicitly, to guide its international climate finance spending. However, that has so far been misrepresented or misunderstood by Secretaries of State or other Ministers when addressing the House of Commons, or has simply fallen on deaf ears.
The report was also clear that DFID must have adequate resources. Evidence to the Committee suggested that DFID’s capacity and expertise on climate had been reduced in recent years. That is not indicative of a Government who are tackling climate change and climate justice at the heart of their agenda. It is vital that DFID rectify that and that it should have sufficient members of staff who have climate expertise and are focused on climate programming. Furthermore, DFID must remain a strong stand-alone Department if the UK is serious about climate justice. Development spending must be focused on helping the poorest and most vulnerable, and on alleviating global poverty. If we are to embrace the concept of climate justice and help the worst-off deal with the effects of climate change, we must have a Department equipped to do that, rather than one that views development through the ideological prism of national and commercial interest.
Trade and development are distinctly two different areas and they must not be forced together at the expense of the world’s most vulnerable people, particularly in the midst of a climate emergency. That is a growing concern for me and my party, and for NGOs at national and international level. In addition, there must be policy coherence on climate change across Government. We simply cannot have the situation that currently exists, whereby international climate finance spending to tackle climate change is undermined by support for the fossil fuel economy in developing countries by UK Export Finance, as has been mentioned several times in the debate. That will leave a legacy of dependency on fossil fuels and will disincentivise investment in renewables. Therefore, climate change should be an explicit strategic priority across all Departments. It is overdue and needs to be addressed now.
The sacking last week of Claire O’Neill, the former Minister of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, as president for COP26 has shown what a complete shambles the UK Government are in. Their approach to international climate change policy has been patchy at best. On Radio 4 this morning Claire O’Neill said that the Prime Minister has shown
“a huge lack of leadership and engagement”,
and that he
“doesn’t really understand climate change”,
leading the UK to be
“miles off globally from where we need to be”.
It is therefore little wonder that the Prime Minister is doing everything in his power to stop the Scottish Government being represented at COP26 in Glasgow later this year. To put it simply, the Prime Minister does not want to be upstaged and embarrassed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who certainly does recognise the urgency and moral responsibility that we have with climate change, and who leads a Government whose work has been described by the UN climate change secretary as “exemplary”.
Putting it frankly, if the UK Government are not willing or able to properly prepare to host what is a major international event, perhaps they should speak with the First Minister for some blunt advice. As things stand, it is impossible to conclude anything other than that the UK Government are in a shambles and are playing politics with the global climate emergency. Therefore, if the UK Government are serious about alleviating the harm that climate change will bring to some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, they must follow the bold leadership of the Scottish Government and the recommendations of the International Development Committee and explicitly adopt the concept of climate justice to guide their climate spending. To do anything less is to reject our global commitments, our global partners and our global responsibility. While it is obvious to most that Brexit will undoubtedly make the UK smaller and poorer, not taking climate justice seriously will also make it both short and brutish.
The SNP has every reason to be proud of its record in championing climate justice abroad. More than 75% of the mentions of “climate justice” in the past decade in this Parliament have come from SNP MPs. I hope to see the same interest in the subject on the UK Government Benches in this Parliament. The simple fact is that we face a climate emergency that threatens us all. It will result in a less safe world, where ecological and demographic crises are unmanageable and where the development gains that have been made will be reversed. What good is our work on delivering aid for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable if it is undermined by disasters, disease, and displacement caused by climate change? It is now time to put climate justice at the forefront of aid spending and urgently do all we can to address the crisis.