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Rainforests: Borneo

Volume 696: debated on Tuesday 27 November 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What measures they intend to take ahead of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change in Bali to draw attention to the continuing destruction of the rainforests in Borneo.

My Lords, the United Kingdom has been working actively through the United Nations and the G8 processes with developing countries, the World Bank and other stakeholders to draw attention to the need for urgent action to address global deforestation, including in Indonesia. Defra and DfID are providing money and expertise to Indonesia to help the Government prepare for the forthcoming United Nations climate change negotiations. We are also helping to develop the technical and institutional requirements for participating in an international agreement on payments for reduced emissions from deforestation.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that Indonesia is the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide behind China and the United States of America? What measures can be taken at the forthcoming summit in Bali to ensure that the post-2012 Kyoto process allows Indonesia and other developing nations to be carbon-credited to preserve their rainforests? In the case of Indonesia, that would mean preserving them from exploitation for logging as well as for coal-mining.

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. It is a serious issue which I hope will be addressed at Bali next month. As he said, a large amount of emissions comes from Indonesia, which contains the world’s third-largest area of rainforest—it is some 220,000 square kilometres. The equatorial rainforest in Borneo is about 90 per cent of the size of the United Kingdom. It is important that we help Indonesia with its governance arrangements and look at the financing of emissions, so that there is practical advantage for it in developing its economy without damaging the environment. That is the key—to be able to develop the economy without damaging the environment. That means correcting some of the issues, including illegal logging, that have arisen in the past 25 years.

My Lords, given the significance of rainforests in climate change matters, are the Government taking any initiative to seek international agreement to stop the replacement of rainforests with palm oil and soya bean production?

My Lords, the direct answer to that is yes. The UK Government are funding projects through three separate departments, the Foreign Office, my department and the Department for International Development. I am told by officials who have been to Borneo, which, as I said, contains the world’s third-largest area of rainforest, that there are now prairies where one cannot see the trees because of palm oil plantations. We have to correct that. The damage to the environment and economy of those countries in forthcoming years will be enormous. Projects are under way, but action has to be taken in a way which not so much bans products as helps those countries with financial mechanisms that enable them to develop their economy without feeling that they are losing out by changing what they are doing. It is important that they feel as though they are gaining something. They will be more likely, therefore, not to be preyed on by those who want to take illegal logging and illegal mining.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Forestry Commission and remind the Minister that almost 20 per cent of all global emissions each year is from deforestation, which is almost equal to the total emissions, from transport, industry and elsewhere, of the United States. Will he assure the House that the Government will bend every sinew at the UN conference in Bali to get an international agreement to make progress on this critical matter?

My Lords, the short answer, which is always useful, is yes. The House might be interested to learn that, in what is left of the rainforest in Borneo—it is still a huge amount—52 new species have been discovered in the past year, simply because the area has not been explored in the past. Massive opportunities for encouraging biodiversity exist in that area, but it can be done only internationally, which is why the forthcoming conference in Bali is so important.

My Lords, the Government last year rightly welcomed the Heart of Borneo declaration between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, and not only welcomed it but offered practical support for the declaration in terms of the rainforest and its diversity. Could the Minister tell us of the success so far of that agreement and what practical support the United Kingdom Government have given?

Yes, my Lords, I have a list of what the UK is doing to champion the Heart of Borneo project. The Foreign Office is championing the initiative internationally and paying for the implementation plan, while Defra is funding the Darwin initiative, which comprises 16 initiatives worth nearly £3 million, and funding projects under the World Summit on Sustainable Development implementation fund. We have also commissioned research on the impacts of commodity production. DfID is funding the multi-stakeholder forestry programme, which is for £25 million, and the Indonesia-UK Memorandum of Understanding on illegal logging of 2002 to the present, which is for about £1.5 million to pay for the partnership agreement. The EU is negotiating partnership arrangements with Indonesia and Malaysia. That is all led by the United Kingdom as a result of supporting the Heart of Borneo project.

My Lords, David Bellamy said recently that world temperatures have stopped going up since 1998, despite a continuing rise in CO2 emissions. Was he right?

My Lords, I am not in a position to answer that, but if the noble Lord stays around for the next six hours during the Climate Change Bill Second Reading I shall try to get an answer.