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Sahel: Climate Change

Volume 799: debated on Wednesday 24 July 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of climate change on the livelihoods of people in the Sahel region of Africa.

My Lords, the countries of the Sahel are on the front line of climate change. About 80% of people in that region are reliant on agriculture or grazing livestock. Rising temperatures and more erratic rainfall pose a serious challenge to their livelihoods. Last year, the Prime Minister committed the UK to significantly scaling up support to the Sahel. Helping farmers and pastoralists to anticipate and adapt to the impacts of climate change will be an important part of our efforts.

I thank the Minister for her response, which is all well and good. Our Government have committed to deliver the sustainable development goals, including SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production. Nevertheless, our Government give major subsidies for oil and gas extraction, such as tax allowances, zero-rated petroleum revenue tax and UK Export Finance support. Given that DfID is the department with oversight for delivering the SDGs domestically, what conversations have been had with other departments about the transition of investment and jobs from the fossil fuels sector to renewables?

The noble Baroness is quite right to point out the importance of tackling climate change. Unless we do so there will be 100 million more people living in poverty for the next 15 years. That is why we have put the environment and climate change at the centre of what we do at DfID. The Secretary of State has been clear on our commitment to green our development spending, making sure that everything is Paris-compliant and, indeed, doubling DfID’s spending on environment and climate. The priority for UKEF, at home and abroad, is to encourage international opportunities for UK businesses, but as I say, the Government fully recognise the importance of tackling climate change—while also recognising that developing countries will need to use energy from a range of sources while making that important transition to a low-carbon economy—and ensuring that we reach the development goals.

My Lords, under Prime Minister Cameron and the noble Lord, Lord Hague, when he was Foreign Secretary, the UK had a very strategic focus on the Sahel, including a very high-profile special representative. Such focus and strategy were lost under their successors as Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. Will the Minister make representations to whoever is appointed Secretary of State for DfID and the new Foreign Secretary over the next 24 hours to ensure that that strategic focus comes back into government?

I completely agree with the noble Lord on the importance of having a focus on this area. The Sahel is marked by chronic poverty, instability, high levels of gender inequality, and is one of the world’s regions most vulnerable to climate change. We are stepping up our presence there already. It is in all our interests that we bring together the UK’s world-class development, diplomacy and defence expertise to help to build a safer, healthier and more prosperous future. Should I have the opportunity, I will certainly raise that with the new Secretary of State.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise the link between the desertification of areas such as Darfur in Sudan and in Nigeria, where herders and pastoralists are often therefore in conflict because of the reduction in land available for farming, and the growth of groups such as the Fulani militias in Nigeria and the Janjaweed in Darfur? Is this not an issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, is right to point us towards, since it directly relates to the levels of conflict in countries where we want to see genuine development?

I agree with the noble Lord. As herders, fishing communities and farmers compete over the dwindling fertile lands, we are, sadly, seeing more intercommunal clashes. We need to address that if we are to achieve peace. As I said, 80% of people are dependent on pastoral and subsistent agriculture, so we are looking carefully at how we can support people to thrive in a region that is so affected by climate change and using our expertise in the UK in technology and scientific innovations, such as early warning systems for shocks. If we are to see an end to conflict we need to ensure that we address the issues of climate change.

My Lords, there are two aspects to the human impact on climate change. One is the impact per head mainly in the industrial countries and the other is the number of people. I think that the biggest growth rate in Africa is in Niger, where I was, at 7% per annum, doubling in 10 years. How can the Government make more impact, given the imperialism argument and given that we cannot solve the climate change problem unless we decelerate the rate of population growth in sub-Saharan Africa in particular?

The Sahel has one of the fastest growing populations in the world, with some of the world’s highest fertility rates. The combined populations of the G5 nations will nearly treble from 71 million today to more than 200 million by 2100. On average, a woman in Niger has a birth rate of 7.4 children and fewer than one in 10 couples uses modern contraception. We are rolling out the women’s integrated sexual health programme, WISH, which will operate in parts of the Sahel to improve access to modern family planning methods and create more choices for women in Africa on how many children they have and when they have them.

My Lords, even if we get to our net carbon zero target by 2050, parts of the world will have become uninhabitable. Will the Government publish a climate migration strategy? We have been polluting for 200 years, so we have a duty to take our fair share of climate migrants.

I agree with the noble Baroness about duty. Often, the countries most affected by climate change are those who emit the least. The suggestion about a strategy is interesting; I will take it back to the department for discussion.