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Brazil: Amazon Rainforest

Volume 685: debated on Tuesday 17 October 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What support they are giving to the strategy of the Government of Brazil to preserve the Amazon rainforest.

My Lords, we offer direct support through bilateral projects. Furthermore, sustainable forest management and climate change are both areas of collaboration under the UK-Brazil high-level dialogue on sustainable development. The UK is also working actively with Brazil and other countries to establish a policy framework for reducing deforestation under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his informative Answer. Given that the future of the rainforest is crucial to developments in climate change and the fact that we are still losing 12,000 acres a day in Brazil alone, can he help us to understand why the European Union has withdrawn its support for the rainforest and why reportedly the World Bank is shifting its support away from the environment and on to the infrastructure of Brazil?

My Lords, for many years the European Commission has provided significant funds for forest-sector work in Brazil under the tropical forest budget line, which comes to an end this year. There is a reorganisation involving the creation of a new environment and natural resources fund. Money for forests will not be ringfenced within the budget line, and I do not yet know what it will mean for expenditure on, particularly, forestry. However, the EC’s Brazil country strategy paper provides for work on the environment. Also, the EC will continue to contribute to PPG7, an ambitious pilot programme set up in the 1990s with the World Bank and other donors for forest conservation in Brazil.

My Lords, what steps do Her Majesty’s Government plan to take in the light of the Global Witness report regarding forest law? Experts estimate that we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation. That equates to the loss of 50,000 species a year. Most important, as rainforest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases. What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking not only to work in this area but to educate people through projects in countries with rainforest environments?

My Lords, the issues raised by the noble Baroness were among the key themes of the Gleneagles discussions held over a year ago, and they have been revisited at a high-level meeting in Mexico attended by the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs just a short time ago. The aim of those meetings is to deal with climate change in a general sense and to make sure that the overall policies on the retention of forests and the natural environment that is dependent on them is part of the sustainable programme and project. I suggest that the outcomes of the discussions in Mexico show a great willingness to do that and a willingness to carry the issues into discussions in the United Nations.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide are from deforestation? Will he assure the House that, following the publication of the Stern report, the Government will engage actively with Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the other players in international fora to tackle this vital 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions?

My Lords, this is an absolutely vital issue. There is no question whatever that unless we get a sustainable environment the prospects for the next generation and generations beyond is very dire indeed. We will do all the work that my noble friend mentions. I know that Brazil, which was mentioned as one of the elements of the Question, is working towards sustainable forest management. That is deeply embedded in the way in which it tries to ensure that the Amazon basin remains one of the great forested areas of the world.

My Lords, I declare an interest in that one of my children works for Survival, a charity operating from London that is concerned about the people living in these areas. To what extent are the Government concerned about the people living in these areas—the “natives”, or whatever is the appropriate word? For example, in Africa, people are being pushed off their land by De Beers for the mining of diamonds and so on. To what extent are the Government supporting charities such as Survival?

My Lords, there is a very active engagement—I am sure that all parties in the House support it—with all of the NGOs working in these areas. I have on other occasions answered questions about the San people and disputed at least one of the facts that my noble friend has introduced in his question. The point about forestry is complex: it concerns the environment and its contribution towards the elimination of some greenhouse gases. It is also about different species of animals and about the people who live in and are dependent on the forest as part of their way of life. That has all been part of the Gleneagles process and the follow-up. I am pleased that Her Majesty’s Government have made it one of their priorities.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that Her Majesty’s Government are confident that the writ of the Brazilian Government runs across the country and can stop maverick logging companies and landowners from deforesting large areas of land of their own accord?

My Lords, I am entirely confident that the Brazilian Government have taken the most serious and responsible view. There is no question but that everyone works in close co-operation on this. I am able to give that assurance because every part of the dialogue—not least during President Lula’s successful visit to this country—has been plainly focused on exactly the issues that have concerned the House today.

My Lords, on the issue of people in the rainforest, is the Minister aware that the major agricultural exports that we enjoy from Brazil—such as sugar and ethanol for fuel—are being produced not only at the expense of the rainforest but on the backs of illegal migrant workers, who are being exploited against ILO rules? Are the Government helping Brazil to follow up employers who contravene ILO rules?

My Lords, the Brazilian Government are aware of and act on their responsibilities in relation to illegal work. I have no doubt of that from any conversations that I have ever had with them. Brazil is a world leader in the production of ethanol and the development of sugar for other purposes, which, given what has happened in Europe and elsewhere, is very significant to these economies. The production of ethanol and the science around it will be one of the most decisive things in stopping greenhouse emissions over the period to come and is much to be commended.

My Lords, the Minister will appreciate that Brazil has more capacity than most countries in Central and South America to ensure that issues of illegal land encroachment and so on are followed up. I am told by the Latin American network of women leaders defending the environment that most countries in that region still have considerable problems involving deforestation and mining. Will the Minister assure me that the Foreign Office’s push on trade and investment is taking full account of the effects of agriculture and deforestation and of mining?

My Lords, I can give the assurance that, in all the bilateral discussions that I have had with Ministers of Latin American countries when I am visiting those countries, we have looked at the issues of economic development of all kinds, and on every occasion there is a full discussion of environmental impact, the ways of measuring it and of containing despoliation. We must talk about these things in a whole way rather than by discussing individual elements. I have not conversed with anyone who is averse to looking at the issue precisely in the way that the noble Baroness suggests.

My Lords, will the Minister do all he can to ensure that his department safeguards our own bioethanol industry to meet our RTFO, which comes into effect in two years’ time, rather than our having to rely on Brazilian imports, which is what will happen with this deforestation?

My Lords, I am a bit cautious about getting into what the Foreign Office should do about production in the United Kingdom. However, having said that, I think that everybody will know that the Foreign Secretary has made sure that the environmental impact and our contribution to environmental sustainability are among the top objectives of the FCO, and I hope that we are doing abroad what we would practise at home.

My Lords, will the Minister say whether the proposal that the richer countries buy tracts of forest in Brazil has any chance of getting off the ground and, if it does, what are its chances of success?

My Lords, I do not know whether it will get off the ground, but let me make it clear that the Government do not support or promote the purchase of the Amazon rainforest. We are working with the Brazilian Government, who have taken a wholly responsible view of it. I can do no better than to repeat the words of my right honourable friend David Miliband in the discussions in Mexico, when he said that we did not,

“support or promote the purchase of the Amazon forest”—

but that we would,

“work with Brazilian colleagues… to support sustainable forestry management”.

It is far better to do it in partnership with a serious Government with serious objectives.