COP26 Conference Priorities — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:45 pm on 22nd July 2021.

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Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:45 pm, 22nd July 2021

It is an absolute pleasure to see you in the Chair for this very important debate, Mr McCabe. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke), and the hon. Members for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), for securing the debate. The fact that there have been so many speakers demonstrates the strength of feeling about this issue and the hope that we can use COP26, of which we are so proud to be co-president, to address the climate crisis. As has been pointed out by so many colleagues, we are just 100 days from COP26, where the global community will come together and, with one voice, demonstrate that we are living up to the expectations of the Paris agreement.

In response to Matthew Pennycook, yes, focus has been sharpened, and I am pleased that he has noted that. On the point raised by Deidre Brock, it will be a very inclusive COP26. We are championing inclusivity at COP26.

We have seen much more ambition this year, as countries have come forward with emissions reduction targets for 2030, including the US, Japan and Canada. We are now in a position whereby all the G7 countries, which are responsible for almost half of global GDP, have now committed to deeper cuts to their emissions over the next decade. Collectively, those commitments will bring us closer to the goal of keeping to an increase of 1.5°, which is so critical. However, it is obvious to us all that extreme weather events are made much more likely by climate change. We have had wildfires in North America and floods in China just this week, and we have a trail of devastation in so many places, reminding us how critical this issue is. It demonstrates that climate change is not a distant threat and that we need to take action right now in order to turn the tide on the climate crisis. That was stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland in his opening speech, in which he spoke of the importance of using diplomatic pressure and targets. That is exactly what we will be doing through COP26.

I want to take this opportunity to update the House on progress across the four COP26 goals—mitigation, adaptation, finance and collaboration—and to highlight the role of parliamentarians. It is great to have hon. Members taking part in today’s debate, to ensure that COP26 in an inclusive event and that we are all playing our role. Jim Shannon said we are better together, and I could not agree more.

On mitigation, we are making good progress, with 71 nationally determined contributions submitted. The number is going up by the day and has just increased from 68 in the last 24 hours. They cover more than 90 priorities, including the EU and its 27 member states, and over 70% of global GDP is covered by a net zero target, including all G7 nations, which now have net zero targets for 2050. That has increased from around 30% since the UK assumed the presidency, so we are making progress. Of course, that is not to say that there is not a great deal more to do.

On adaptation, we are championing a number of initiatives, including the Adaptation Action Coalition, which aims to share knowledge and good practices. We have secured $175 million for the Risk-informed Early Action Partnership, which aims to improve early warnings. Across Government, adaptation is integrated through our policies, with Departments working together and using the national adaptation plan. Adaptation has been raised by a number of hon. Members, and that is obviously a critical element. On finance, of the $100 billion developed countries commitment, approximately $80 billion was reached in 2018, which is the last year that we have data for.

We are then pushing to meet and exceed the $100 billion target through to 2025, with the G7 leaders each committing to increase their overall international public climate finance contributions. There was criticism from a number of hon. Members, particularly Caroline Lucas, but we have committed to maintaining our five-year pledge to spend £11.6 billion on climate finance for developing countries. Between just 2011 and 2020, 66 million people have been supported to cope with the effects of climate change.

On collaboration, the UK remains committed to facilitating agreement on an ambitious, comprehensive, and balanced set of negotiated outcomes at COP26. We are also planning for an in-person ministerial meeting in London at the end of July to build on our momentum. That will be a key step, bringing together more than 40 countries from the United Nations framework convention on climate change negotiating groups to delve into some of the key topics for negotiation at the actual conference. It will build those important relationships that we need to make progress.

Nature—a subject dear to my heart, due to my role as the Environment Minister in DEFRA—is a key theme of our COP presidency. If we are serious about mitigating climate change, adapting to its impacts and keeping to 1.5°, we must change the way we use and look after our land and water, and the ecosystems and biodiversity on which life depends. Agriculture, forest loss and land use contribute 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Nature-based solutions, such as trees, peatlands and wetlands, can provide a third of the most cost-effective climate change solutions. They pay their way by more than sixfold, so investing in those schemes is very much worth it. A number of colleagues touched on nature-based solutions: Kerry McCarthy, who referenced the blue economy; my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart, who is a great champion for this; and, indeed, the hon. Member for Strangford.

We have done some great work internationally on mangrove swamps, but here there is also huge mileage and potential on our salt marshes and our kelp beds. We are working with countries and communities to protect and restore forests and critical ecosystems, and to transition to sustainable agriculture, which was eloquently referred to by my hon. Friend Andrew Selous when he referenced regenerative agriculture—something that I know is dear to his heart.

We want to ensure that nature is on a par with climate, recognising that nature, biodiversity and the climate crisis are inextricably interlinked. I am proud to say that DEFRA will be leading on the nature and land use day at COP, and there will be a number of events and receptions. I urge the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne, to register his interest in coming on that day. He will be very welcome, as will his knowledge and input.

At the US leaders summit, Governments and companies came together to announce a coalition for lowering emissions by accelerating forest finance, called the LEAF Coalition. That is an ambitious public-private initiative, which aims to mobilise $1 billion in financing to accelerate climate action to protect tropical forests and support sustainable development. The forest, agriculture and commodity trade—FACT—dialogue, has also been established, bringing together 20 major producer and consumer countries to agree collective action for protecting forests while promoting trade and development.

Here, in the UK, as many colleagues will be aware, we are introducing a world-leading due diligence clause through the Environment Bill to tackle illegal deforestation in our supply chains. It is one of our much wider packages of measures to improve the sustainability of our supply chains. I hope that the EAC Chair, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow—and indeed, the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith—will be pleased to hear that the cross-Government net zero strategy will be published ahead of COP26. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been leading on that, and has been commissioning work across Whitehall that will feed into it.

I take slight issue with the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, who says that there is no ambition and no direction for this COP, or, indeed, from this Government on their entire agenda. I will therefore rattle through a few things where I feel that we are demonstrating extreme ambition.

The UK was the first major economy to adopt a net zero target. We have the highest levels in terms of the UK’s nationally determined contributions. We are the fastest nation in the G7 to decarbonise cars, and we are doubling our investment on international climate finance. We have also set a target aiming to halt the decline in species abundance. I think that all that demonstrates that we really are leading by example, which is very important.

Mr Chairman, I know that you are wondering what will actually happen at COP26. We have now published our high-level programme. COP26 will open with a summit of world leaders, where each leader will set the direction for the following two weeks of negotiations. Then, there will be a lot of themed days, including on finance, energy use, public employment, gender, science, innovation and transport—a raft of different themes.

All Members will know that they should have received a letter just this week to invite them—both MPs and peers are invited—to register their interests in attending the summit and to specify which themed day they would like to attend. This will be for the blue zone and day passes will be issued. Allocations will be made per day, but obviously that will depend on the covid mitigation measures that are in place. Out of interest, 4,000 different organisations and bodies have applied to have a presence at the event and the team are trawling through those applications right now. We can see the interest in this tremendous opportunity to come and get involved.

I will also just flag up that a whole lot of resources are being made available to hon. Members and hon. Friends, which we hope everyone will engage with and then use within their constituencies, to go out to schools, to hold events with businesses and all the rest of it. There is an engagement pack. There is also a “Together for our Planet” schools pack, which is actually really rather good. It also shows schools how they might want to hold a green assembly, in which an MP could take part.

I must also flag up our own DEFRA-launched initiative called “Plant For Our Planet”. This is a hands-on initiative whereby we can all get involved in planting something, whether it is just something in a window box or on a verge in a town, or doing something with the community, so that we can all do our bit to tackle emissions and also help to tackle the biodiversity crisis—it genuinely will help. There is great information on the gov.uk website.

Penultimately, I will just turn back to the international stage for a minute. As we all know, the UK hosted the G7 event in June and at that event leaders committed to end international coal power finance in 2021 and replace it with more funding for renewables. The summit also spawned a number of climate finance commitments, including from Canada, to double its private finance, from Japan, and from Germany, which announced that it will increase its climate financing from €4 billion to €6 billion. Leaders also committed—