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United States: Global Priorities and Climate Change

Volume 808: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what engagement they have had with the incoming government of the United States on their global priorities, including plans for international co-operation on addressing climate change.

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister spoke to President-elect Biden on 10 November and committed to building on our close and long-standing partnership in the years ahead in areas including trade and security. They look forward to working closely together on our shared priorities, including tackling climate change, promoting democracy and building back better from the coronavirus pandemic. The Prime Minister has invited President-elect Biden to COP 26 next year and we look forward to working closely with the US to address climate change.

President-elect Biden’s decision to engage globally and to sign the United States back up to the Paris Agreement is obviously extremely welcome. How are the Government engaging with his team to ensure that the US restores the climate funding that President Trump cut, and what role will the United Kingdom play in the extra climate summit that President-elect Biden has just announced?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that the Biden Administration have already committed to rejoining the Paris Agreement—Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris has announced as much following a recent event. The noble Baroness will be aware of the climate ambition summit, which also saw participation from the US, and we remain committed to working closely with the US. Announcements from the US about commitments to finance will be very much a matter for the Biden Administration.

My Lords, I was delighted to see that the electoral college has confirmed President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Harris in their positions and that my namesake in the Senate has accepted the election result and finally agreed to endorse them. Vice-President Biden, as he then was, was the keynote speaker at a festival in Central Park in New York that I attended in September 2015 to celebrate the universal agreement in the United Nations that the sustainable development goals be achieved by 2030. When the Biden Administration come to the UK and look for action on the SDGs, will the UK Government, despite their wish to break their promise to the British electorate on overseas aid, keep their promise to the poor of the world and leave no one behind by delivering the SDGs by 2030?

My Lords, I say to the noble Lord that the name McConnell carries as much weight in your Lordships’ House as it does in the US Senate. On the substantive issue of the SDGs, we remain committed to fulfilling and meeting our goals, and we continue to work with the US and other partners internationally in pursuit of that ambition.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Could the Minister tell the House what discussions the Government have had with the incoming US Administration on ensuring that the 2016 G7 pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 is met, and can he confirm to the House that all UK fossil fuel subsidies will be removed by that point?

My Lords, we are engaging with the incoming Administration in line with the mandates, rules and precedents in the United States. Once the Administration take formal leadership, we will engage on the issues the noble Lord has mentioned. We are engaging extensively with the current US Administration, as we will with the new Administration during our leadership of the G7.

My Lords, there is a danger that if US troops leave Afghanistan ahead of the conclusion of the peace talks in Doha, the talks will fail. This will make a mockery of attempts to build lasting peace in the region after decades of sacrificing the lives of our service men and women. I urge the Minister that, as a trusted ally of the USA and a member of NATO, we impress upon the soon to be new President Biden the need to rethink the hurried withdrawal and link draw-down to progress with the peace talks.

My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. I assure her that we remain committed to the Afghan defence and security forces, and we will be working closely with all our NATO allies and partners, including the United States, on the peace negotiations currently taking place. On our specific commitment, my noble friend will be aware that we recently committed £70 million towards security, and at the recent pledging summit we committed a further £155 million towards development. We are all hoping for a strong, inclusive Afghanistan for the future.

My Lords, it is well known that we aspire to a free trade agreement with America. Now that President Biden will be in the White House, what will the priorities of such a trade deal be? Will it now be easier to ensure that we keep high environmental standards for all products, particularly food?

My Lords, we continue to enjoy strong discussions and progress in our trade negotiations with the US. Talks are at an advanced stage, and we remain committed and hopeful that we will complete our substantive negotiations in the first half of 2021. The noble Baroness is right to raise the importance of these issues and the joint shared priorities. We will focus on further strengthening the £230 billion of trade that already exists between the two countries.

My Lords, President-elect Joe Biden said that an effective foreign policy relies on leading

“not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example”,

and he has an ambitious first 100 days programme. What are the Government doing to ensure that we work in tandem over those first 100 days? Also, the noble Lord mentioned the invite to COP 26. Could he say a bit more about whether the Government will be prepared to give President-elect Biden an important role at that conference, perhaps including chairing it?

My Lords, we are proud of being co-chairs of COP 26—the noble Lord is, I am sure, aware that we are co-chairing COP 26 along with our colleagues from Italy. I am sure that as the new Administration come on board, given the commitment they have already shown to COP 26 and the various appointments being made, they will play a leading role in the run-up to COP 26 and at the event itself.

My Lords, America is a major producer of CO2 emissions through the burning of fossil fuels. It also has vast deposits of thorium, a safer, cleaner and plentiful alternative to conventional nuclear fuel. So, did the Prime Minister and President-elect Biden discuss during their call the America’s thorium deposits and how thorium reactors can be deployed? If not, will it be the topic of their next conversation during COP 26?

My Lords, although I can feed into it, the Prime Minister will decide the nature of the agenda of his conversation with President-elect Biden as he takes office. What I can share is that the incoming Biden Administration have committed to net zero by 2050. The noble Baroness raises an important point about looking at alternatives, and I am sure that that will feature across the board in many conversations between the two countries.

My Lords, the United States is our closest international ally and friend. I pay tribute to the current American ambassador, Woody Johnson, who has done a great job in building that relationship. Could the Minister please ensure that the British Embassy in Washington is made aware of the importance of the centenary of Northern Ireland in 2021 and does much more to promote Northern Ireland in the United States, just as the Irish Government promote the Republic of Ireland?

My Lords, first, I agree with the noble Baroness that the ambassador has played an incredible role. Equally, Ambassador Dame Karen Pierce, who is on the ground in Washington, is a very able diplomat whom I am sure will take on board the noble Baroness’s suggestion.

My Lords, I was struck that President-elect Biden has made Brian Deese, a climate policy expert, the head of his National Economic Council. Is this not a reminder to us all how important climate change is not just to the planet but to the British economy and the US economy? There are huge opportunities for us to co-operate economically.

First, I welcome my noble friend to your Lordships’ House—this is the first time he has asked me a question, and I agree with him. The statements we are seeing and the various nominations, which will need to be ratified through the normal process in the US, demonstrate the importance to the incoming Administration of the climate change issue, which we welcome.

My Lords, would the Minister agree that the expectation of a full and rapid return to liberal policies by the Biden Administration might be a bit unrealistic? With this in mind, have Her Majesty’s Government as yet held any discussions with the new the Secretary of State and/or his department on a likely China policy?

My Lords, as the noble Baroness will be aware, the new Administration have not yet taken office, but I am sure we will be discussing a range of important issues, as she suggests.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware of the She campaign. Over 400 female climate leaders, including from the United States, have called for gender equality in the leadership of COP 26 from all countries, including our own at the top. Can the Minister give an assurance that we will have gender equality in leadership, which we do not have now?

My Lords, I speak on behalf of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, and I remember his commitment to this agenda when he was Foreign Secretary. It starts from the bottom up, and his commitment to girls’ education demonstrates his commitment to this important priority. I am sure that, as we build up to COP and at the event itself, the point the noble Baroness makes on gender will be reflected in representations not just from the UK but across the globe.