Climate Justice — [Sir Charles Walker in the Chair.]

Part of Innovation in Hospital Design – in Westminster Hall at 3:41 pm on 4th February 2020.

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Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development) 3:41 pm, 4th February 2020

I agree: we need to go further and faster. Today’s announcement is encouraging. As a former Minister for the automotive sector, I remember working on the “Road to Zero” policy paper, which looked at how we can roll out electric vehicles across the UK even faster than we planned. We were always keen to review the evidence and be guided by the science on how we can move these things forward. I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement today on that increasing ambition, but we always need to look at ways to go further. This debate is about climate justice, and air pollution disadvantages disproportionately the most disadvantaged communities in this country. We need to work together and be ambitious. We need to look at decarbonising the whole transport sector. We have been most successful so far in the energy sector, but transport still has a long way to go. I welcome the ambition today, but I agree with the hon. Lady that we need to go further and faster.

We need to invest more in our world-leading expertise, particularly in the north of England, where one in five of all the electric vehicles sold in Europe are made, the world’s biggest offshore wind turbines are being built, and carbon capture and storage is being pioneered. In addition, last week in the House of Commons we introduced the Environment Bill, which sets out how we plan to protect and improve the natural environment in the United Kingdom. The Bill will ensure that the environment is front and centre in our future policymaking. It will support the delivery of the most ambitious environmental programme of any country in the world. That landmark Bill will enhance wildlife, tackle air pollution, transform the way in which we manage our resources and waste, and improve the resilience of our water supplies. The speedy return of the Bill to Parliament following the general election underlines our commitment to tackling climate change and protecting and restoring our natural environment for future generations, as we maximise the opportunities created by leaving the European Union.

We are making net zero a reality as we raise our ambition at home. We will use the opportunity of COP26—officially launched by the Prime Minister earlier today—to demonstrate global leadership on climate action and bring the world together to achieve real progress. As has been said, it is often the poorest countries and people who are the worst affected and least prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. That triple threat threatens to undo decades of progress towards the sustainable development goals. The World Bank estimates that, unless serious and urgent action is taken, 100 million people are at risk of being pushed into poverty by climate change by 2030.

We are committed to supporting the most vulnerable countries adapt and build their resilience and to supporting low-carbon growth and development. We remain the only major economy in the world to put into law our commitment to meet the internationally agreed target of investing 0.7% of our national income on international development. That shows that we are an enterprising, outward-looking and truly global Britain that is fully engaged with the world.

We are committed to transforming the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people by giving them access to quality education and jobs, about which my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire, spoke so eloquently, and by supporting millions in dealing with the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation while promoting Britain’s economic, security and foreign policy interests.

Since 2011, our international climate programmes have helped 57 million people cope with the effects of climate change; provided 26 million people with improved access to clean energy; and helped to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 16 million tonnes, which is the equivalent of taking three million cars off the road for a year. In September, the Prime Minister committed to doubling our international climate finance to at least £11.6 billion over the next five years, which will make us one of the world’s leading providers of climate finance.

That funding really works. In 1991, a category 6 cyclone hit Bangladesh, killing 139,000 people. In 2007, an even stronger cyclone killed 4,000. That is still far too many deaths, but the incredible 97% reduction was achieved by Bangladesh’s investment in better disaster preparedness, with support from international donors.

UK Government research into drought-resistant wheat varieties has delivered benefits more than 100 times greater than costs, delivering an annual economic benefit of between $2.2 billion and $3.1 billion. Our forestry programmes have supported Indonesia in introducing regulatory changes, including setting up independent monitoring and improving law enforcement. Today, 100% of timber exports are sourced from independently audited factories and forests, and over 20.3 million hectares of forest are independently certified. In Ethiopia, our productive safety net programme helped to prevent 4.2 million people from going hungry when the country experienced severe drought. Our programmes have helped smallholder farmers in Burkina Faso deal with increased rainfall variability and higher temperatures; have assisted with the production of Kenya’s national climate change action plan; developed early warning systems to reduce the impacts of disasters in Chad; improved flood defences in South Sudan; and delivered solar power to clinics across Uganda .

Addressing the contribution from Chris Law gives me the opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of the Scottish Government, who have also recognised that the poor and vulnerable at home and overseas are the first to be affected by climate change and will suffer the worst. The Scottish Government’s work—particularly in Malawi, which he mentioned—continues to be cited by the Department for International Development as a really good example. I take exception, however, to the hon. Gentleman’s claim that DFID’s expertise has been reduced in this area. We have made a number of investments, and I hope that he welcomes this Government’s appointment of Lord Goldsmith as a joint Minister for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and DFID, to bring expertise to both Departments and determine how we can better collaborate to tackle the issue.

Turning to the UK-Africa investment summit, which was also mentioned, we may not agree, but energy is essential to economic growth and poverty reduction. Currently, 840 million people have no access to electricity, and 2.9 billion have no access to clean cooking. Our priority is to help developing countries to establish a secure and sustainable energy supply while supporting climate and environmental objectives. Increasing our overseas development support for renewable energy has been the top priority. Since 2011, UK aid has provided more than 26 million people with improved access to clean energy and installed 1,600 MW in clean energy capacity.

We recognise that countries will continue to need a mix of energy sources as part of a transition to a low-carbon sustainable economy, including renewable energy and lower-carbon fossil fuels such as natural gas, which produces significantly less carbon than coal or other commonly used fuels. Our approach to fossil fuels is therefore to support them where there is a clear development need and as part of a transition to low-carbon economies. When assessing new support, we will ensure that assistance does not undermine the ambitions of a country’s nationally determined contributions, and that an appropriate carbon price is used in the appraisal of the programme.