COP26 Conference Priorities — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:54 pm on 22nd July 2021.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner 1:54 pm, 22nd July 2021

One hundred days to save the next 100 years—that is how John Kerry, the US climate envoy, described this moment in our planet’s existence. It may sound dramatic, but the scientific consensus is that he is right. The United Kingdom bears a heavy responsibility to get the world to commit to doing the right thing, for the mainly poorer people who are dying today because of climate change in the global south, and for all future generations, as our own climate will definitely be affected if global warming goes above 1.5°C. The recent extreme heat in the western United States and in Canada, and the floods in Germany and in Belgium, have demonstrated that amply.

While not having one shred of complacency, we can take some encouragement from the fact that although only 30% of the global economy was committed to net zero by 2050 when the UK assumed the COP presidency, that figure has already risen to 73%. To achieve even more, we need to get three areas to work together in perfect harmony: technology, policy and markets. We need to get all three in the right place, because without any one of them, we will not achieve success. In my constituency, I am delighted that the A5 electric bus and car charging station has been given planning permission. It will provide a replicable model of how renewable energy can be used to charge buses, taxis and cars. I am also pleased that many more electric vehicle charging points will be installed across central Bedfordshire.

I will focus the rest of my remarks on agriculture. Two facts may surprise hon. Members. First, if food waste was a country, it would be the third highest greenhouse gas-emitting nation on earth. Secondly, in Africa, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are higher than fossil fuel emissions, which are themselves much higher than they should be. At COP21 in Paris in 2015, the United Kingdom and many other nations—although not, unfortunately, the United States—committed to the “4 per 1000” initiative. Soil can hold more carbon than all organisms and plants on the planet combined. Only nature can increase the carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and water in soil while producing copious nutrient- rich food.

An annual growth rate of 0.4% in soil carbon stocks in the first 30 cm to 40 cm of soil would significantly reduce the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere due to human activity. If we managed to achieve that, we would not only stabilise the climate, but ensure food security to provide food in sufficient quantity for a rapidly growing global population. To achieve it, we need to reduce deforestation and encourage agroecological practices that increase the amount of organic matter in soils to meet the “4 per 1000” target.

Agroecology is sometimes referred to as regenerative agriculture. Recently, I was pleased to attend the Groundswell regenerative agriculture farming conference with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Thousands of UK farmers have started to farm in a nature-friendly way and are making more money as a result.

In the past 40 years, a third of global crop land has been abandoned due to soil degradation. That disrupts the small water cycle, which desertifies land and causes soil desertification on a massive scale. As Walter Lowdermilk observed, those civilisations that have not practised soil conservation have quite literally ended in dust, so my plea to the Minister is to ensure that we build on the achievement of COP21 and ensure that agriculture is front and centre of everything we do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.