I remind hon. Members that the guidance from the Government and the House of Commons Commission is that Members should wear masks when not speaking and give each other space both when sitting and when leaving the room. Members should give their notes to Hansard by email and officials should communicate with Ministers electronically as well. That is the guidance I have to pass on. We now move on to the matter in hand.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Global Britain, human rights and climate change.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I am delighted to have secured this debate—a timely debate, given the circumstances—which will consider the interacting and integral relationship between the Government’s declared ambition for developing a global Britain, universal human rights and the ramifications of climate change, which are obviously global in their nature. I hope that today’s debate will further our shared hopes and wishes for the forthcoming COP26 summit, and that it will be a meaningful success. I think we all wish the Government well in that enterprise.
More than 20 years ago, the Government proposed the idea of what was then called an ethical dimension to foreign policy, famously announced by Robin Cook. I was a Member at the time and I remember Robin Cook on the steps of the Foreign Office declaring that there would be an ethical dimension to foreign policy, I suspect, to the dismay of some of his colleagues and possibly also to some of the professionally straight-faced officials standing behind him. I hope I am not being too sceptical in saying that.
That policy made it explicit that in the modern world
“foreign policy is not divorced from domestic policy but a central part of any political programme.”
Robin Cook said very clearly:
“Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves.”
That must be the yardstick, must it not? What we would want for ourselves is what we would want for other people.
Those are fine words, and I do not need to entertain the Chamber with the outcome, or perhaps the lack of outcome. Tellingly, looking at the four priorities that Robin Cook outlined, I have picked out some words that give something of a flavour. He used words such as “security”, “disarmament”, “prosperity”, “exports” and “jobs”. He talked about improving the quality of life in the UK and the quality of our environment, and as I said a moment ago, said:
“Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension”.
We can see the direction of travel in his remarks.
Looking at the present, with a commitment to delivering unparalleled socioeconomic change by achieving net zero by 2050, it is clear that domestic policy is, at least rhetorically, geared towards fighting climate change. Yet, the Government and UK foreign policy in general have unfortunately undermined the climate effort, tarnishing the UK’s international credibility and, in some instances, exacerbating rather than lessening the decarbonisation challenge.
I have to concede that many other countries are doing no better. There was a report today from the Clean Air Fund that noted that between 2019 and 2020, Governments in the world gave 20% more in overseas aid funding to fossil fuel projects than to programmes to cut air pollution, which those very projects cause. However, it is the Government who have delivered unprecedented cuts to our international aid budget. It is also the Government who have continued support for hydrocarbon projects that undermine our collective climate goals, and it is the Government who have largely missed the unique opportunity of being both the COP26 co-host and president of the G7. That challenge, which has largely been missed, is one of delivering leadership and securing climate action in a decade that will make or break our collective future. It is, indeed, an emergency.
From addressing climate change to the debacle in Afghanistan, it is quite clear that we must revisit the aims and the claims of global Britain, which is in the title of this debate. We must ask fundamental questions about what the UK Government’s foreign policy priorities are and how they intend to deliver them.
Against the backdrop of the climate crisis, rather than sending gunboats or aircraft carriers overseas, or securing some fairly marginal trade deals at present, the Government should revisit the notion of an ethical human rights-based foreign policy. By beginning with such a policy framework we can capture the human rights challenges posed by climate change; we can establish responsibility and frameworks for action. We can use existing international law and thus promote and enable collective buy-in by the global community. It is an extremely practical way to start.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. I am glad he mentioned Afghanistan, because I believe it was a turning point for our thinking on global Britain, whatever than means. The US is going towards a more isolationist position, which leaves the UK somewhat stranded. The rational course of action is to improve our links with Europe, especially on security and defence. Does he share my concern that the incumbents of very important Ministries in Whitehall are probably the last people to rebuild those important bridges?
We are in danger of going off on somewhat of a tangent, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As far as our party was concerned, when the votes came in on the invasion of Afghanistan and the military action there, I was one of the 17 who voted against. I think I am the last person standing of that group. The point that we made at the time was that we should internationalise the response to the conflict by drawing in actors who were not involved in military action in the first place. That is a fine aim for action on climate change—drawing people in is obviously the way to do it, rather than sending gunboats.
The climate crisis has been described as the biggest threat to our survival as a species, and is already threatening human rights around the world. Rising global temperatures are driving unprecedented harmful effects, from drought to floods, rising sea levels to heat waves, extreme weather events and the collapse in biodiversity and all ecosystems. In both its scale and its devastation, climate change is the ultimate threat to the freedom and rights of human kind and to our environment—they all come together.
Most directly, environmental instability threatens basic human rights—the right to life, the right to health and the right to development. The World Health Organisation believes that between 2030 and 2050 alone, climate change will cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths every year. That is the scale of the effect. Those deaths will occur from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress—a multitude of effects with one overriding cause: climate change.
Life will be harder for millions of the most vulnerable people in the world, especially children. By 2040, one in four children—around 600 million—living in areas of extremely high water stress, will be vulnerable. The World Bank believes that an additional 100 million people could be impoverished by 2030 due just to climate change. The potential for increased migration is obvious, and our response needs to develop. In the short term, we have our strategies, debates and disputes, but we must look properly at development in-country and in neighbouring countries.
Other freedoms, including the right to self-determination and political freedom are also threatened. It is no surprise that in some of the countries which are most threatened by climate change there are the most despotic regimes and the most conflict, death and disease.
Rising sea levels, which take no account of sovereignty, so prized by the Government, now affect the very existence of several island countries. That is the scale of the problem. Conflict is made more likely by climate change, as I said a moment ago. In Syria, sustained drought brought about by changing weather patterns is widely seen to have been a substantial contributing factor to the brutal civil war there; a conflict that has claimed 500,000 lives and has already led to mass displacements and migration. I concede and congratulate the Government—the previous one, at least—on the huge spending that the UK made in response; there was 500 million almost immediately. That is certainly a very good thing but, again, it provides an idea of the scale of the problem.
I am glad that these dangers are recognised, and I welcome previous ministerial comments calling on countries to ensure that climate action complies with human rights obligations. I hope that in his closing remarks the Minister will expand on these comments and detail how the UK Government are seeking to hold countries to their climate change commitments in a manner that respects and builds on human rights, especially given the UK’s current status in world affairs.
It is clear that we simply cannot say any more that we did not and do not know the consequences of our actions, which have become abundantly clear, if we continue to degrade the environment and pollute our atmosphere. As the UN Secretary-General has noted, we are
“on a code red for humanity”.
We must act accordingly, yet I fear that the Government are failing to meet the challenge. Prime Ministerial slogans about world-beating global Britain have not generated significant success ahead of COP26 and the UK’s performance as president of the G7 has been disappointing. One such failure was the inability to secure a definitive ban on the use of coal by the world’s largest economies at the G7 summit in Cornwall, and the promise of $100 billion climate-change assistance for developing countries has been largely unfulfilled.
More reports abound about the isolation of the Prime Minister in his own political group. His recent policies, ranging from international aid cuts to promoting domestic coal production, have gravely undermined his diplomatic efforts ahead of the summit in November. The Foreign Secretary yielded to the Chancellor with his savage cuts to the UK’s aid budgets, and actual world-leading programmes crashed because of fiscal circumstances—that was the real effect. However, as leading commentators have noted, the Chancellor managed to increase the UK’s defence budget, including finding money for nuclear weapons.
Worryingly, the UK has pledged £720 million of UK exports finance to support an offshore liquid gas project in Mozambique, at the same time as hosting COP26 and chairing the G7. Taken together with the domestic climate-change record and continuing Back-Bench opposition to net zero commitments, the Government have largely failed to present a credible climate-change action strategy to outside partners, which could be leveraged to inspire global action at COP26.
To close, as we head into the final straits before COP26 in November, the UK’s diplomatic efforts compare poorly with, for example, the French, who co-ordinated the Paris agreement. Their co-ordinated Government-wide approach led to the global success of the Paris agreement in 2015. The French-negotiated agreement could be the basis and the solution for this Government’s performance, and the reason for that is quite obvious.
The 2015 Paris agreement was the first universal, globally agreed, legally binding climate-change agreement explicitly to include human rights, requiring parties to “respect, promote and consider” their human rights obligations as they address climate change. That is why today I urge the Government to revisit the concept of an ethical foreign policy, particularly after the bloody events in Afghanistan, and for the Government to become an actual green force for good.
The public understand and value human rights, international law provides definitions, obligations and parameters, and existing international organisations can be a guarantor. The frameworks and the opportunities to do the right thing are there. This Government just need to seize them.
We have 24 minutes and seven speakers, so there will be an initial time limit of four minutes. I ask Members to be as brief as they can. If Members take interventions, I will have to allow a minute extra, which will come off somebody else’s time. That is just the reality of the situation.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. The title of the debate is of interest to me as the leader of the UK delegation to the Council of Europe. I will try to touch on the three elements of the debate: global Britain, human rights and climate change.
I stress that the global Britain aspect of the debate starts and continues with Europe. We may have left the European Union, but we have not left Europe. The Council of Europe is an organisation of some 47 member countries. It is almost twice the size of the EU and it does a tremendous amount of work. A good example of its work is the Istanbul convention, which looks after the rights of women and tries to prevent domestic violence. Although we have not yet ratified the convention, it is changing the law in this country to ensure that we can ratify it; we have signed it. The Council of Europe is an important organisation, of which we are a part, and I play a particularly prominent role in it, not only as the leader of the delegation but as a vice-president and, effectively, as a deputy speaker.
The question of human rights is allied to the Council of Europe. Both the Foreign Secretary and I are keen on human rights and the Council looks after the European Court of Human Rights. That is not an EU body. It is owned by the Council of Europe. The countries that have had the most cases brought against them there are Russia, Turkey and Romania, in that order. The UK does very well in terms of cases brought before the Court, and something like 92% or 93% of them are dismissed before they even get to a hearing before a judge. Our continued membership of the Council of Europe is an important aspect of the role that we play in human rights.
In climate change, the Council is also playing a good role. At the Council of Europe, I have supported John Prescott’s paper on the role of climate change in estuaries in a cross-party effort to take it forward and to deal with the elements of climate change across the board. On 29 September, there will be a whole-day session about climate change. Speakers include a Belgian, a Greek, a Turk, a Portuguese chap and a German chap. We have another person from Portugal, as well as people from Switzerland and France and, of course, myself.
That is an important measure for us to play a part in. After all, another member of that organisation is Russia. If we can keep the pressure on Russia to follow the climate change agenda that we have all set, we will have achieved a tremendous amount in global terms. I am confident that we can bring Russia to heel when it comes to fulfilling its obligations on climate change and that we will be able to take that forward and sit back in a few years’ time and look at it with great confidence.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for securing this incredibly important debate.
As we speak, Madagascar teeters on the brink of what the United Nations has described as the world’s first famine caused solely by climate breakdown. Four years of drought have left more than 1 million people reliant on food aid, while 30,000 people in the south of the island are suffering from what the World Food Programme categorises as the most severe level of food insecurity. Whole families are forced to survive on a desperate diet of locusts and wild plants, and the worst may be yet to come. In a country that is responsible for at least 0.1% of all global emissions, we see most clearly the devastating potential of the climate crisis to strip people of their most fundamental rights, from the right to a livelihood, sanitation, food and housing to the right to even life itself.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report predicts that the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Madagascar will be repeated across the globe as we barrel towards 1.5° of warming above pre-industrial levels. No country will be spared the devastating consequences of environmental meltdown, but the fallout will be felt hardest by poor countries such as Madagascar, which bears the least responsibility for the crisis with which we are grappling. Within the next decade alone, our planet will be rocked by rising levels of starvation and water scarcity, escalating violence and civil unrest, the erosion of civil liberties and democratic institutions, and mass displacement on an unprecedented scale. That is why Amnesty International, along with many other leading human rights advocates, is so unequivocal in its belief that the climate crisis is also a human rights crisis.
Time is fast running out to ensure that future generations do not have the precious rights that we take for granted snatched away from them. If the Government are serious about global Britain being a force for good in the world, they must recognise the debt that our country owes to the communities who exist on the frontline of environmental collapse. After all, few countries have benefited more from the exploitation of fossil fuels and countries in the global south than the UK has. That is why in November the UK must lead the way with its international partners and work to deliver a comprehensive and appropriately ambitious package of support to help developing countries in decarbonising their economies and building up their resilience to extreme weather events.
We also need to improve accountability in this field. Too often, giant multilaterals in western nations are allowed to wreak devastation on vulnerable communities with total impunity. That has to end. I want to see the Foreign Secretary working towards the establishment of an independent international body to assess the effects of climate change on human rights and to hold the state and private actors to account.
We also need an urgent reassessment of our own practices, such as the offshoring of plastic waste abroad. Finally, all of that will mean nothing without a commitment of support for those living with the fallout of climate chaos now. The Government’s decision to do away with the Department for International Development and slash overseas aid spending was a cowardly abdication of their responsibilities, which could have life or death consequences for communities in Madagascar and across the world who so badly need that support. If we are really serious about being a world leader in climate action and human rights, we must urgently restore the original target of 0.7% of GDP in overseas aid spending.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship today, Mr Betts. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak and I commend the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for securing today’s debate. Although we might not always see eye to eye, I hope he will indulge me a few minutes to draw attention to the fantastic initiatives that the Welsh Labour Government have implemented and committed to. I will start with the steps being taken specifically to tackle climate change.
We all recognise that there is work to be done, but I am immensely proud of the bold actions that the Welsh Labour Government have taken, which have often eclipsed both in time and ambition the policy announcements and seemingly endless consultations undertaken by the UK Government. From plans to tackle single-use plastics, including straws, stirrers, cotton buds and cutlery, to their commitment to extending the national forest to promote landscape and sustainable tourism and support the green economy, it is clear that the Welsh Labour Government have a vested interest in protecting our planet for future generations. The same can be said of the Welsh Government’s commitment to sustainable housing options. In 2019, the Welsh Government introduced mandatory regulations on new housing developments to help reduce flood risk and improve water quality. We have all seen the terrifying effects that flash flooding can have on communities across the UK; my own community was hit by devastating flooding last February and is still recovering, a year and a half on. Colleagues across the political divide support sustainable options, particularly when it comes to flood prevention, yet sustainable urban drainage systems are yet to be introduced to planning regulations in England. This is despite the science showing that these systems can have a huge positive impact.
It has been said before, and I am almost certain it will be said again, but it really is the case of where Wales leads, England follows. I am a proud Unionist. Our United Kingdom is at its strongest when our cultural differences are acknowledged and celebrated, not used to incite division. I support steps taken to sustain the United Kingdom’s position on the global stage, both in terms of upholding human rights and tackling climate change. However, I must also highlight the worrying impact that the UK Government’s half-baked trade deals are having across the country. This week, The Guardian reported that exports of food and drink to the EU have suffered a disastrous decline in the first half of the year due to Brexit trade barriers, with sales of beef and cheese hit the hardest. Far from global Britain, we are now at risk of resembling little Britain—at best.
Frustratingly, the same can be said of the UK Government’s tackling of modern-day slavery. A decade of cuts to policing has led to a situation that is regularly reported to be out of control. In 21st-century Britain, I am shocked and appalled that the number of victims of modern slavery has been rising year on year, with over 10,000 people referred to the authorities in 2019.
As a Member of Parliament representing an area with a devolved Government, I am extremely passionate about sustaining Wales’s position on the global stage, but that does not need to come in the form of separation from the United Kingdom. Instead, if we are to truly tackle the impact of climate change, the infringements on human rights and the myriad other issues raised here today, then surely a united approach involving the devolved nations is the most productive way forward. The UK Government can and should do better, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to these pressing concerns.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the chair, Mr Betts, and I also thank the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for highlighting the urgent need for Government leadership, not least at a time when we see the G7 intersecting with COP26. In my city of York—the only human rights city in the UK—we weave human rights together with climate rights; we believe that together they deliver a just agenda.
The events in Afghanistan this summer have ricocheted through the Government, demanding that the Government seriously question their priorities. The UK Government have spent around £37 billion on a war that has resulted in a shattered country, now on the edge of a humanitarian crisis due to crop failure caused by climate failure—or should I say human failure. The country is now so fragile that we fear that to talk about human rights seems understated, since the right of humans just to exist there is the only thing we can focus on. The UK has spent the equivalent of just 10% of the war’s cost on development aid in Afghanistan. If the balance between development and defence had been reversed, if we had chosen to use our soft power to support the region rather than destroy it, if we had spent our time building bridges not conflict and instead of provocation chosen reconciliation, what a difference we could have made. If we had traded in ethics and ethical goods, not arms and aggression, what lasting good we could have done alongside others.
The term global Britain, in itself, imposes a colonial superiority from a nation that has over the centuries used its influence to extract wealth, resources and even people for its own economic advantage. When we examine our shameful history, we soon realise our part in driving global destitution, climate degradation and international instability. Our export portfolio hardly causes us to lift our heads from this shame; trade has been at the expense of rights and the climate—not in aid of it. It has been transactional, not relational and transformational. Arms sold to nations such as Saudi Arabia—which protect neither human rights nor the climate—are one such example that shows that trade, rights and climate are interwoven.
We should harness a different approach—one that seeks to advance equality and reparation, and economic and climate diplomacy—and lead a new dialogue on peacemaking and trade justice. We should collaborate with others, not exert power over them. Hardwiring simple principles will demand a different emphasis on our trading priorities, but will leave a more stable and equal planet. A carbon border adjustment mechanism or a border tax would ensure that we minimised carbon use through trade, instead of offshoring climate destruction activity, while keeping our country clean. It would ensure that we took responsibility for substandard practices in making all the products we purchase. Fundamentally, it would shift us from a consumerist approach to a collaborative one that advances values and enhances the people and planet we interact with.
In a post-Afghanistan world, the UK must never again return to its hard imperial roots, but instead must find its soft power as one of many collaborators, not as global Britain but as Britain humbly repaying the debt we owe this planet and all who inhabit it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) on securing this debate.
Climate change is inherently a human rights issue. From the right to housing, food, water and sanitation, to the right to development and cultural and political rights, climate change is already damaging the rights of countless people across the world. Human rights must be the principle that underpins our approach to COP26. That means making progress on the issue of loss and damage. Nations have been ravaged by the covid pandemic while facing climate impacts that are causing devastation. Those vulnerable communities deserve new and additional finance to compensate for the irretrievable non-economic loss. It also means reversing the heartless cut to foreign aid, including climate finance projects. It means solidarity with those worst affected by climate change, including the rights of indigenous people. Collectively, indigenous people protect about 80% of the world’s biodiversity. They manage 25% of the Earth’s land surface and a third of the carbon stored in tropical forests. We must listen to their voices, needs and concerns, and ensure that their rights are respected in the decision-making process.
Under article 6 of the Paris agreement, countries are able to sell their over-achievement of the Paris goals to other countries that have fallen short. That allows countries to maximise emissions reductions without concern for indigenous people’s lands. It has been six years since the Paris agreement. This year, the UK must go further than the Indigenous People’s Pavilion. It is absolutely vital that the UK ensures that at COP26 human rights language is put back into article 6.
The Government must also get their own house in order on human rights. In the year that the UK hosts COP26, the Government are pushing through a Bill that the charity Liberty describes as one of the worst and
“most serious threats to human rights and civil liberties in recent”
UK history. The Bill is a thinly veiled reaction to the climate protests that we have seen over the past few years. Grassroots activism has played a critical role in getting the climate emergency on the political agenda. Let us not forget that it was thanks to the right to protest that there was a moratorium on fracking in England.
The climate emergency has evoked strong feelings, especially among young people. It is their generation that will bear its brunt. It is their generation whose human rights are threatened most unless we significantly reduce emissions. Curtailing their voice and their right to be heard before and during COP26 is simply the wrong thing to do.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) on bringing this issue to the Chamber. Human rights is an absolute passion of mine, and the most fundamental right is the right to life. The right to life and quality of life are impacted by the environment and increasingly by environmental change. This is not a phenomenon impacting the third world alone, although we all agree that the impact of climate change is devastating in the extreme. Nations are suffering droughts or floods, and just a few weeks ago Texas experienced dire shifts in their cold snap that saw a loss of life and a cost of $21 billion.
The problem is caused by us all, and therefore the remedy must be from us all—those in this Chamber, those in this place and those outside this place. I believe in a sovereign God. I believe that He knows the end from the beginning, that our days are numbered and that He will call us in time with that eternal plan. However, I also believe that He has appointed us to be good stewards of this Earth, and that when we fail in that duty, we reap the consequences. We have failed in that duty, and my granddaughters’ and grandsons’ generation will reap the consequences, with extremes that will impact on their future quality of life. I accept this, but I also accept that we can still make a change. We can use this change to improve the outcome, and that is what we must do.
It is clear to me that climate change and human rights are intrinsically linked, and it is right and proper that our legislation reflects this view. I welcomed the Government’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement in 2015, and I believe that we must do better to fulfil our commitments to that agreement. That is one reason why I was shocked and upset to learn that the Government were reducing overseas development aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income. That, too, has an impact on how we battle climate change and fulfil our obligations. Respectfully, I will use this opportunity to again request that the Minister understand that the Government cannot come close to honouring our word without honouring this commitment. I know that the Minister is an honourable man—I am not saying that he is not—but we really must deliver that.
I support the calls by my colleagues who have spoken—and the hon. Lady who will follow me—for less talk and more action. We are calling for our obligations to be fulfilled and not reprioritised, and for us to do what we can to leave this world better than we found it. What a responsibility we have, as MPs in this House, to do just that and deliver. I understand that we need China, India and so many other nations to buy in, but their excuses do not excuse us from doing what we need to do. I ask the Government to increase international aid, recognise the firm link between our environmental and humanitarian obligations, and do what we can, now, in this House, in Westminster Hall today, through our Minister, to effect positive change.
Diolch yn fawr, Llefarydd. It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for securing this debate, and for his welcome remarks on the need to move to an inclusive global human rights-orientated foreign policy approach. He rightly draws attention to this Government’s failure to take full advantage of the UK’s roles, both as co-hosts of COP26 and as current president of the G7, to secure definitive climate action ahead of November.
Equally worrying is our relative failure compared to the efforts of the French Government in 2015 to secure conclusive global engagement, or even to mobilise a common cross-Government approach to the upcoming summit. “GB: Global Britain”, as a slogan, has frankly failed to mean anything tangible in Whitehall, let alone to our partners abroad. Alliteration is not the same thing as action.
However, I would like my remarks today to focus on the broader issue of migration and displacement that is attributable to climate change, as referred to by my hon. Friend. That is, of course, an issue that is real and pressing, both here in the UK and abroad. The UN Refugee Agency believes that already, due to increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, more than 20 million people, on average, are being internally displaced annually. Despite such suffering, appropriate descriptions, such as the term “climate refugee” are yet to receive a solid legal basis that would, following accordingly, give them international protection and rights. I therefore invite and would welcome a comment from the Minister today on the Government’s approach to the rights of people displaced by climate change, and on how the Government will be raising this point at the upcoming COP26 summit.
Displacement due to climate change is also happening here, in the UK. In my constituency lies Fairbourne, and the UK’s first community facing decommissioning. These are people who do not know where their homes will be, and what the value of their community is, per se. Will they be kept together? How will the infrastructure be dealt with, and what remains of that community? What are the rights of these people? All of the legislation that we have in place overrides their rights. Until we know what their rights are here, it is difficult for us to talk about those abroad. They have been left in limbo, by both the UK and the Welsh Government, and by our wider modern economy and social safety net. Their plight demonstrates that if we, even as one of the world’s wealthiest nations, cannot properly respect and look after our own, we cannot expect developing nations, who will be more affected by climate change than the UK, to do so?
To close, I hope that the Minister and the Government will take on board my hon. Friend’s call for an ethical, human rights-based foreign policy that acknowledges the importance of international law, the role of international institutions, and the inviolability of human rights, both here and abroad.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, and I thank the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for securing this hugely important debate.
Let me begin by saying one thing about which there is no doubt—we are living through and experiencing the beginning of a climate emergency. The effects of global climate change, which scientists have predicted for the past three decades and more, are happening now. July was the hottest month on record and across the world we witnessed extreme weather events: deadly wildfires spread across Europe and north America, and devastating flooding caused chaos in Germany and China. Those are but a few examples.
Last month’s IPCC report was damning, with the UN Secretary General António Guterres describing the situation as
“code red for humanity”.
If emissions continue at their current rate, global temperatures will rise more than 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels by 2050. There is still time to stop that from happening, but emissions must be cut dramatically by the end of this decade and not a moment later. As we approach COP26 in November, the UK Government must lead from the front, ensuring that new and ambitious targets are agreed on to avert this unfolding climate disaster.
Sustainable development goal 13 calls for
“urgent action to combat climate change”.
Without that, the devastating consequences of climate change will undo hard-won development gains. Let there be no doubt: the poor and the wealthy are not affected equally by climate change, and that is true of nations as well as individuals. The cruel reality is that despite the world’s poorest and most vulnerable contributing the least to climate change, they are most at risk from its negative effects and the least equipped to withstand and adapt to it.
Oxfam has calculated that the richest 10% of the world’s population were responsible for more than half of the cumulative emissions between 1990 and 2015. The wealthiest 1% were responsible for the emission of more than twice as much CO2 as the poorer half of the world combined, which is something for all of us to consider and reflect upon.
The climate crisis disproportionately affects individuals and groups who are already marginalised as a result of structural inequalities. The World Bank has predicted that climate change will push over 130 million people into poverty in the next 10 years. Additionally, the World Health Organisation predicts that climate change will cause a quarter of a million additional deaths a year through malaria, malnutrition, diarrhoea and heat stress.
Climate change fundamentally impacts human rights—the right to life, to food, to water and sanitation, to health and to housing, among many others. It exacerbates inequalities between the poor and the wealthy, between ethnicities, between genders and between generations. Climate change is a human rights crisis.
We know that the G20 countries are responsible for almost 80% of global annual emissions. Net zero emission targets by 2050 are, frankly, too little, too late. Wealthier countries must take the lead by decarbonising more quickly. Before, during and after COP26, a human rights-focused approach is essential to tackle the climate crisis and to secure a just transition.
Sadly, at a time when we need international co-operation to tackle climate change, those who lead us in the UK Government espouse an empty slogan of “global Britain” that goes against just that. As warned, the decision to slash the aid budget is fundamentally undermining the UK’s efforts to show any leadership in tackling international climate change. For example, in May the COP26 President visited Indonesia and called on others to move forward with plans to reach net zero. Yet just weeks later, the same UK Government cancelled a highly effective green growth programme that was designed to prevent deforestation in Indonesia. Similarly, in Malawi the Promoting Sustainable Partnerships for Empowered Resilience, or PROSPER, project, which focuses on training farmers in climate-smart and adaptive agricultural practices, has been cancelled by this Tory Government, halfway through its implementation. That not only breaks trust with those communities but sends a message to those countries yet to determine their contribution to the Paris agreement that the host of COP26 does not take its obligations on climate change seriously. Frankly, it does not care.
Global Britain, if it is to mean anything, should be about listening to and supporting these marginalised communities in tackling this climate emergency, and not about cutting their funding and shutting them out. Tragically, with just over 50 days until COP26, those communities will not have their voices heard, as vaccine inequity means they cannot attend, and once again decisions will be made for them, rather than with them, a further indication that so-called global Britain is, under the Tories, nothing but a poor and nasty little Britain.
Finally, in the last Westminster Hall debate that I attended in person, I called on the UK Government to follow the Scottish Government’s lead in placing human rights at the centre of their climate justice fund response and to establish a climate justice fund. Since then, the Scottish Government have doubled their world-leading fund to £24 million over four years, in stark contrast to the UK Government, I would like to hear from the Minister today whether he is willing to initiate such a fund now.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Betts. I thank the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for securing this important debate—diolch yn fawr iawn—which is, as has been said, appropriately timed, following some of the worst years of environmental catastrophes and the unequivocal evidence from the IPCC ahead of the crucial COP meeting. The hon. Gentleman will know how seriously the Welsh Government take these issues and how they are incorporating them at the heart of their policies.
Let us remind ourselves of the two key facts in the IPCC report. The last decade was hotter than any period in the last 125,000 years, and scientists can now link specific weather events to human-made climate change.
I commend the speeches made by a range of hon. Members, in particular my hon. Friends the Members for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) and for York Central (Rachael Maskell). There was also a typically passionate speech from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).
Human rights were rightly referenced in the 2015 Paris agreement, because the fortunes of all aspects of life, including that of humanity, are inevitably intertwined with the functioning of ecosystems on this small blue dot, whether that is access to food and land or to water and sanitation, or the prospects of women and girls, right through to the implications of conflict driven by climate change. In 2015, the UN Environment Programme executive director described climate change as one of the greatest threats to human rights in a generation. If global Britain is to mean anything—we have seen the concept starkly drawn into question in recent weeks—we have to ensure that climate sustainability is at the heart of all of our international policies, from trade, through business and development assistance, to our defence and our diplomacy. That is why it was so disappointing to see such little reference to it in the recent Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office human rights report.
I have just a few examples from recent weeks—we have heard many today. Just a few weeks ago, Haiti endured another devastating earthquake, and on top of that, the impact of a hit from Tropical Storm Grace. Thirteen thousand Rohingya refugees were forced to relocate after intense rainfall and landslides in Bangladesh. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead about the situation in Madagascar and potentially one of the first climate famines, with families forced to survive on eating a handful of insects. In Ethiopia and South Sudan—we will discuss the situation in Tigray tomorrow—hundreds of thousands face starvation, with the implications of climate change coming on top of conflict in the region.
Climate change not only physically threatens lives, but potentially unwinds decades of progress in other areas, such as education, infrastructure, access to clean water, food, sanitation and healthcare. Five hundred million people rely on ecosystem services worldwide as a source of income and to put food on their tables. The total number of people affected by natural disasters over the past decade has tripled to 2 billion and the WHO speaks of the impact on infectious diseases and an additional 250,000 deaths.
For some countries, particularly small island states, sea level rises could threaten their very existence. That applies in our British family, in our overseas territories. The British Virgin Islands experienced a devastating hit from Hurricane Irma, which cost £2.3 billion in 2017, with public schools destroyed and others rendered unusable. Yet, because of Brexit, they have lost €7 million in funding from the EU global climate change alliance plus and are yet to get answers from the Government on how that will be replaced. I hope the Minister can answer that question. What role will our overseas territories and our wider family play at the upcoming COP? What representation will they have?
Many hon. Members referenced migration as a result of climate change. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported that more than three times as many displacements happened in the years 2008 to 2018 as a result of environmental disasters than from conflict. Let us not forget that that is a period that includes the disasters in Syria and north Africa. If what we are seeing from climate change dwarfs that, we should all be deeply concerned.
Climate change is of course a threat to the amazing progress made in the last decades on the rights of women and girls, because environmental hazards that lead to crises often mean girls dropping out of school to help their families to engage in the daily search for drinking water, as well as other aspects such as forced marriage.
In the face of the climate emergency and the impacts that we have heard about in powerful speeches today, it is deeply disappointing that the FCDO has been cutting its support for key programmes as part of the official development assistance cuts. That has been criticised by the director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, not just for the cuts themselves but for the impact they will have on our diplomatic position at the COP conference. Here are two examples: the Plastic Pollution Free Galapagos programme and the Green Economic Growth programme in Papua, which had been described as highly effective, have been cut. That is absolutely absurd. Will the Minister set out how much of the cuts to ODA has hit programmes with climate change as a key or majority component? Conversely, how much funding is still going into fossil fuel projects, directly or via other agencies?
The Government have yet to come forward with how they will allocate or spend the £11.6 billion that has been promised. Can the Minister give us some details? How will that be scheduled over the next few years? What discussions has the Minister been having with the Home Office and other colleagues about the implications on migration changes and refugee flows as a result of climate change?
The Labour party would put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy, and climate change at the heart of all our policies. As has been said, those two things are absolutely intertwined. We would seek the action needed to tackle them.
I will. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I start by thanking the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for securing this important and wide-ranging debate, and I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. I will try to respond to all the points raised, and I note that I need to give the hon. Gentleman a couple of minutes at the end of the debate.
Let me begin with Afghanistan, because a number of hon. Members rightly mentioned it as uppermost in our minds. Incredibly brave human rights activists and project partners were among the 15,000 people that the UK evacuated from Kabul between 15 and 29 August. The Foreign Secretary has led work with other countries in the region to ensure safe passage to the UK for those eligible. That is our immediate priority. We have committed to resettle 20,000 Afghan nationals most at risk from human rights violations and dehumanising treatment, under the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme, which includes 5,000 in year one.
We are continuing to work for human rights in Afghanistan. The Foreign Secretary has set out a plan and is building an international coalition to that end. He has been clear that holding the Taliban to account on human rights, particularly their respect for the rights of women and girls and members of minority groups, which hon. Members are passionate about, must be one of the four touchstone priorities for any future international engagement. Hon. Members are right to be concerned about the rights of women and girls under the Taliban regime. That is why we are working to ensure that we have maximum moderating influence over the Taliban, and to ensure that the gains of the past two decades are not lost.
As hon. Members will recall, when the Government published its integrated review in March, we put the UK’s role as a force for good in the world front and centre of our security, defence, development and foreign policy. Our work on human rights and the environment are two areas where that is particularly evident. As part of the integrated review process, the Prime Minister set out that in 2021 and beyond the Government will make tackling climate change and biodiversity loss their No. 1 international priority. In the birthplace of the Magna Carta, with one of the world’s oldest and strongest democracies, we are deeply committed to the promotion and protection of human rights. It is in the DNA of this Government and has been of successive Governments from both sides of the House. It is not just about doing the right thing; it is evident that climate change, as described eloquently by many hon. Members, and human rights abuses and violations pose a significant threat to our national interests, our economy, our borders and our security. Tackling those is a huge priority.
The recent working group contribution to the sixth assessment report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change removes any doubt that human activities have warmed the planet and caused widespread and rapid changes to the climate. The report shows clearly that without immediate and drastic action, the impacts will be severe. We know that some of the changes to the planet are irreversible. It is clear that we must decarbonise the global economy faster. We can only achieve that through more ambitious national actions and international collaboration.
Every conversation that I, as Minister for Asia, and my colleagues at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office have with our counterparts involves deep discussion on ensuring that countries come forward with ambitious nationally determined contributions. As we approach COP26, we have a clear plan to deliver a comprehensive, ambitious and balanced set of negotiated outcomes that can halt rising temperatures and help those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We have heard about many of those this afternoon.
We are focused on four priorities for the summit: mitigation, adaptation, climate finance and collaboration. As I have said, we are asking all countries to come forward ahead of the summit with ambitious commitments on reducing emissions, increasing climate finance and scaling up adaptation. We need every country to commit to net zero and we would like to see 2030 emissions reduction targets as part of their nationally determined contributions. We are working across governments, businesses and civil society to make real progress in the largest emitting sectors of power, road transport and land use, and to bend the curve on biodiversity loss and deforestation.
We have lobbied donor countries to step up their climate finance commitments in order to meet the goal of $100 billion a year that was agreed, as has been mentioned this afternoon, as part of the Paris agreement. The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) referred to the £11.6 billion we have committed to double our climate finance over the next five years. We are doing all we can to deliver a summit that will be a turning point, and we are working closely with our public health officials, the Scottish Government, Glasgow City Council, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and all our partners to ensure that we have an in-person event to enable all those who need to to participate on an equal footing.
The hon. Member for Arfon was right to speak passionately about both climate change and human rights, as did many other hon. Members. We are alert to the potential for climate change to undermine the enjoyment of human rights. As the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) mentioned, without action on climate change, according to the World Bank and other organisations, 143 million people could be displaced by 2050. We are calling on countries to ensure that any action they take to respond to climate change and environmental degradation complies with their human rights obligations. It is also imperative that the actions we take globally to tackle climate change will support those countries where humanitarian needs are greatest. That was amplified by the contribution from the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), when he referenced the issues facing Madagascar.
Women and girls are an example of those who are affected disproportionately by the consequences of climate-related displacement, which has been a theme of many speeches this afternoon. For that reason, since 2018 we have committed to both the global compact on refugees and the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration. By realising global climate finance targets and supporting credible strategies to help the vulnerable adapt to climate change, we can prevent and mitigate its impacts on lives, livelihoods and the human rights of those most affected.
We are committed to using COP26 to amplify the concerns of countries vulnerable to climate change and to agree actions to address their concerns. Briefly, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), who was right to highlight the role of the Council of Europe on human rights, on his sterling work as a senior member of the Council.
We are committed to delivering a carbon-neutral COP26 summit and I thank the hon. Member for Arfon for his good wishes to the Government on delivering it successfully. I am conscious that I need to give the hon. Member a few moments to sum up, and I apologise that I have brought it down to about 80 seconds.
I thank all hon. Members who took part. The debate has been a rich source of comment, analysis and points for action. In fact, the debate should be of interest to anyone who is concerned about climate change. That should be everyone, not just anyone.
I cannot summarise what has been said in just one minute, but there is a breadth of interest, knowledge and information, from the Council of Europe to Madagascar to Fairbourne. That should give people pause for thought. I am glad to give credit where credit is due, of course, but the burden of my speech was that we should start from a specific point and that should be human rights, from which other actions will flow. We are in the Westminster Hall Chamber and outside, in the other Westminster Hall, there is a plaque that people look at every day as they pass. That is the spot where Sir Thomas More stood trial and, of course, was condemned. He is famous for lots of things, but he is famous for five words: “no man is an island”. No island is an island, for that matter, so let us have some action from this island.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).