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International Development: Forestry

Volume 782: debated on Tuesday 21 March 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the Department for International Development’s Economic Development Strategy, whether they plan to commit to supporting forest programmes across the globe to improve forest governance and reduce deforestation.

My Lords, stopping deforestation is an essential part of global efforts to promote sustainable economic development. DfID already supports programmes focused on governance, tackling illegal logging and related corruption, and working with companies to eliminate deforestation from supply chains for palm oil, cocoa and other commodities. This makes an important contribution to DfID’s economic development strategy.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of both this Government and previous Governments in the fight against global deforestation. Given that we are losing an area the size of a football pitch every two seconds, and that deforestation accounts for 10% of our global carbon emissions, will the Minister commit to the fact that the Government will not lose any further funding to take forward this important work?

I am very happy to renew that commitment, particularly on the International Day of Forests. The commitment is there not only in a government statement on such matters, but also in our signing up to the sustainable development goals. Sustainable development goal 15 puts sustainable managed forests, combating deforestation and reversing land degradation at the heart of one of the key goals that need to be attained. The Government are committed to those goals, and through a number of different mechanisms seek to bring them about by 2030.

My Lords, the Washington-based NGO Forest Trends has been working extremely hard to save the South American rainforests. I declare an interest: my son is in Brazil on its behalf at this moment. It has received support from the Obama Administration, but that is now almost certain to end as a result of the policies of President Trump. Does my noble friend agree that public/private organisations of this kind, particularly those working in countries like Brazil, facing economic difficulties, deserve the widest possible support?

I do, and that is what DfID provides through many of its programmes and by working in public/private partnerships in this area. We recognise that tropical forests regulate weather patterns and that 25% of global greenhouse gases are a result of deforestation and land-use changes. It is therefore crucial that we make efforts in this area. Regarding my noble friend’s opening point about the US Administration’s policy, I would comfort him to an extent and say that that policy is a proposal. A full budget will be published in May and has then to find its way through Congress.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chair of the Forestry Commission. As the Minister is aware, Britain has a unique reputation as one of the few countries in the world that has successfully reforested its landscape. Traditionally, the Forestry Commission has offered much expertise and experience to countries seeking to reforest their landscape but of late, due to the financial cuts, it has been unable to sustain that at the level it would like. Will the Minister look again at how we could use money to utilise the expertise of the Forestry Commission to practically help countries grow more trees?

I certainly pay regard to the noble Lord’s great experience and commitment to this area over many years. However, I would also say that, through DfID, we fund a number of programmes, such as the international forestry knowledge programme, which does a great deal around the world in terms of forest governance and partnerships in forests, and are part of the forest investment programme with the World Bank. A key part of those initiatives takes place in areas such as Indonesia, for example, where 80% of forestry was formerly illegal but now 90% is legally audited. We want to see more of that type of work and I assure the noble Lord that that will continue to happen.

With DfID’s new and welcome emphasis on the promotion of agriculture as the bottom rung of our wider economic agenda, does the Minister agree that forestry and agri-forestry have a vital role to play in sustaining soils and encouraging the sustainable management of water and grazing, and that therefore forestry has a really important role to play in the wider economic agenda generally within sub-Saharan Africa in particular?

Absolutely. That is why it is such a prominent part of the sustainable development goals. As the noble Lord says, it is about livelihoods and climate change. It is also about direct livelihoods, as about a billion people around the world depend on forests for their livelihoods. That is a very important part of our economic development strategy.

Will my noble friend look again at the decision of DfID not to give any help to Chile, our greatest ally in South America, following the extensive deforestation from the wildfires and the subsequent difficulties of rehabilitation for the people who were devastated in that part of Chile?

My noble friend and I have had a number of discussions on this. Of course, because Chile is not ODA eligible due to its middle-income status, it is difficult to do that. However, we have corresponded and are looking at ways, through the Cabinet Office, to extend technical support and advice to the people of Chile, who are of course great friends of the UK and who we want to support in their hour of need.

My Lords, do the Government agree that if their fine objectives in this strategy of securing greater prosperity and tackling poverty are to be achieved, then tying aid to trade as part of any DfID economic strategy would be the wrong course of action? Will they support continued improvements in the business environment in developing countries, including in forestry, to ensure that there is greater prosperity in those countries in the future?

The noble Lord is absolutely right that tying aid to trade benefits no one in the long run. We want to get the most competitive people who can deliver the best services to the countries that are in need of our help. We remain resolutely committed to that. That was set out again in the economic development paper.

Global co-operation is absolutely critical, as the Minister mentioned, in achieving the SDGs. Can he tell us how we will ensure that co-operation post Brexit? How will we maintain a relationship with our European partners in delivering the SDGs, particularly on deforestation? I must admit that on days like this, hearing his responses, I wish he was the Secretary of State.

Let me go straight to the points that the noble Lord has raised. As has been said many times from this Dispatch Box in recent years, we are leaving the European Union, not leaving Europe. We work with Europe around the world on delivering those sustainable development goals, and we will continue to do so. We also have other commitments. There is the New York Declaration on Forests, which is an international commitment of 190 NGOs, Governments and multinationals that contribute towards that effort. We will be working with everyone in pursuit of those global sustainable development goals.