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G20 and COP 26 World Leaders Summit

Volume 815: debated on Wednesday 3 November 2021


My Lords, I shall now repeat a Statement made today in another place:

“Mr Speaker, with your permission I will make a Statement about the G20 summit in Rome and update the House on COP 26 in Glasgow. Almost 30 years ago, the world acknowledged the gathering danger of climate change and agreed to do what would once have been inconceivable and regulate the atmosphere of the planet itself by curbing greenhouse gas emissions. And one declaration succeeded another until, in Paris in 2015, we all agreed to seek to restrain the rise in world temperatures to 1.5 degrees centigrade. Now, after all the targets and the promises—and after yet more warnings from our scientists about the peril staring us in the face—we come to the reckoning.

This is the moment when we must turn words into action. If we fail, then Paris will have failed and every summit going back to Rio de Janeiro in 1992 will have failed, because we will have allowed our shared aim of 1.5 degrees to escape our grasp. Even half a degree of extra warming would have tragic consequences. If global temperatures were to rise by 2 degrees, our scientists forecast that we will lose virtually all the world’s coral reefs. The Great Barrier Reef and countless other living marvels would dissolve into an ever warmer and ever more acidic ocean, returning the terrible verdict that human beings lacked the will to preserve the wonders of the natural world.

And in the end it is a question of will. We have the technology to do what is necessary: all that remains in question is our resolve. The G20 summit convened by our Italian friends and COP 26 partners last weekend provided encouraging evidence that the political will exists, which is vital for the simple reason that the G20 accounts for 80% of the world economy and 75% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Britain was the first G20 nation to promise in law to wipe out our contribution to climate change by achieving net zero, and as recently as 2019 only one other member had made a comparable pledge. Today 18 countries in the G20 have made specific commitments to achieve net zero, and in the Rome declaration last Sunday every member acknowledged

‘the key relevance of achieving global net zero greenhouse gas emissions or carbon neutrality by or around mid-century’.

To that end, the G20, including China, agreed to stop financing new international unabated coal projects by the end of this year—a vital step towards consigning coal to history. And every member repeated their commitment to the Paris target of 1.5 degrees.

In a spirit of co-operation, the summit reached other important agreements. The G20 will levy a minimum corporation tax rate of 15%, ensuring that multinational companies make a fair contribution wherever they operate. Over 130 countries and jurisdictions have now joined this arrangement, showing what we can achieve together when the will exists.

The G20 adopted a target of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population against Covid by the middle of next year, and the UK is on track to provide 100 million doses to this effort. By the end of this year, we will have donated 30 million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, and at least another 20 million will follow next year, along with 20 million doses of the Janssen vaccine ordered by the Government. And the G20 resolved to work together to ease the supply chain disruptions which have affected every member, as demand recovers and the world economy rises back to its feet.

I pay tribute to Prime Minister Mario Draghi for his expert handling of the summit. But everyone will accept that far more needs to be done to spare humanity from catastrophic climate change, and in the meantime global warming is already contributing to droughts, brushfires and hurricanes, summoning an awful vision of what lies ahead if we fail to act in the time that remains. So the biggest summit that the United Kingdom has ever hosted is now under way in Glasgow, bringing together 120 world leaders with the aim of translating aspirations into action to keep the ambition of 1.5 degrees alive. I am grateful to Glasgow City Council, Police Scotland, the police across the whole of the UK, and our public health bodies for making this occasion possible and for all their hard work.

For millions across the world, the outcome is literally a matter of life or death. For some island states in the Pacific and the Caribbean it is a question of national survival. The negotiations in Glasgow have almost two weeks to run but we can take heart from what has been achieved so far. Nations which together comprise 90% of the world economy are now committed to net zero, up from 30% when the UK took the reins of COP. Yesterday alone, the United States and over 100 other countries agreed to cut their emissions of methane—one of the most destructive greenhouse gases—by 30% by 2030. And 122 countries, with over 85% of the world’s forests, agreed to end and reverse deforestation by the same deadline, backed by the greatest-ever commitment of public funds to this cause, which I hope will trigger even more from the private sector.

India has agreed to transform her energy system to derive half of her power from renewable sources, keeping a billion tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere. The UK has doubled our commitment to international climate finance to £11.6 billion and we will contribute another £1 billion if the economy grows as forecast. We have launched our clean green initiative, which will help the developing world to build new infrastructure in an environmentally friendly way, and we will invest £3 billion of public money to unlock billions more from the private sector.

The UK has asked the world for action on coal, cars, cash and trees, and we have begun to make progress—substantial, palpable progress—on three out of four. But the negotiations in Glasgow have a long way to go and far more must be done. Whether we can summon the collective wisdom and will to save ourselves from an avoidable danger still hangs in the balance, and we will press on with the hard work until the last hour. I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement to the House. Ten months ago, in his new year message, the Prime Minister, with his usual optimistic rhetoric, declared that with the G7, COP and other global summits ahead of us, 2021 would be

“an amazing moment for this country.”

Yet as the winter nights draw in, I am sure that I am not the only one who feels that perhaps Mr Johnson overpromised and has not made the most of the available opportunities. As world leaders leave Glasgow, we all want COP 26 to be a success. You could say that we need it to be a success. The G20 could have been a springboard for the agreement that we need.

The noble Baroness is right, therefore, to tell the House that two weeks of COP remain, but Ministers cannot rely on warm words alone to deliver the outcome that we all need. On the climate crisis, Covid recovery and much more, it increasingly feels as if the Government are exposed and do not have a plan, despite their promises and commitments. While I appreciate the Minister’s frankness in saying that there is far more to be done, I implore the Prime Minister to use this moment—it is just a brief moment of opportunity—to show real leadership and, more importantly, the direction that is needed.

The Rome G20 started in much the same way as the G7 earlier this year, with Mr Johnson yet again, unfortunately, distracted by ongoing issues relating to the botched Brexit deal. The small steps agreed in Sunday’s communiqué are welcome, and I cannot emphasise enough that we want COP to succeed. Judging, however, by the Statement—if I have understood correctly from listening carefully to the noble Baroness—it is not entirely clear that even the Prime Minister is sure about what was agreed in Rome. Page 1 of my copy of the Statement says:

“We all agreed to seek to restrain the rise in world temperatures to 1.5 degrees centigrade”.

On page 2 it has been downgraded from an agreement to a “shared aim”. By page 3 it is back to “a commitment” on a target, while by page 4 it is downgraded again to an “aspiration” or an “ambition”. Either the Prime Minister is confused or he has someone writing his Statement with a thesaurus to hand.

Together, the G20 nations represent 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As the noble Baroness understands, the world is reliant on their actions towards net zero. If they fail, it will be the small developing countries that pay the price. That is why we need a plan for implementation, whatever the word used for it. I did not hear a plan, strategy or road map today. Where is the plan?

Can the noble Baroness confirm whether the Prime Minister personally advocated for a 2050 net-zero date in the communiqué, or was he satisfied with the inclusion of “around mid-century”? Given the Government’s own record on new coal mines and oil exploration in the UK, did our domestic policy undermine our ability to negotiate a stronger line? The noble Baroness may recall that the FCDO previously announced a climate diplomacy fund to prepare for the summit. Can she update the House on how that money has been spent? I am happy for her to write to me if she is unable to answer today.

On international development, we are grateful to the G20 for reiterating that the consequences of climate change are already being felt by the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. But, as much as I welcome the acknowledgement in the Prime Minister’s Statement of the impact on important coral reefs, I would like to have heard more about the devastating and deadly human impact of our collective failure to act. But given the Government’s attitude to development aid and the cuts made, perhaps we should not be surprised. I wonder whether other countries raised this with Mr Johnson, especially those that have seen the pandemic as a reason to increase international aid.

On a similar note—again, I am happy for the noble Baroness to write to me if she cannot answer this—she will be aware that the Chancellor recently announced that the IMF’s special drawing rights will now be reclassified as international aid. This might sound like an accounting dodge, but it is important: it means that millions of pounds of support to developing countries will be lost. Given that the UK is the only major donor to do this, can she explain why the Government have taken this route?

On Covid vaccinations, for much of the developing world, the threat from the climate crisis is rivalled only by Covid-19. According to Amnesty International, while 63% of people in G20 countries are vaccinated, the figure in low- and lower-middle income countries is just 10%. We welcome the G20’s commitment, as previously agreed by the World Health Organization, to vaccinating 70% of the world’s population by the middle of next year. But, again, we come back to the plan: there is a lack of clarity about how this will be achieved.

I do not know whether the noble Baroness has had the opportunity to read the 10-point plan to produce and distribute vaccinations globally produced by the Labour Party. She might find it helpful. But can she outline for us the Government’s plan which backs up the commitments made?

On a note of optimism, the rubber-stamping of the global minimum corporation tax could pave the way for a fairer global tax system. But we come back to the issue of the plan: this is still a long way from implementation. Can the noble Baroness confirm whether the legislation has been drafted to give effect to this commitment? What steps are our representatives taking to develop the accompanying global framework at the OECD? The proposal represents an opportunity to build a new economy in the aftermath of the pandemic, but we also must take a lead in responding to the more immediate threats of rising inflation and the shortages we have seen. The noble Baroness may recall—although she may not be aware—that in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, the Labour Government, led by Gordon Brown, put forward a global plan to limit the damage and pave the way for recovery. That is the kind of leadership the UK needs and should provide again.

It is all very well, and is to be admired, for the Government to have aims, ambitions, and targets, and to work with others to secure commitments. But, coming back to my central point, unless there is a plan or detailed strategy to turn those commitments into reality, it is just warm words. If the Leader answers just one question today, can she tell us: where is the plan?

My Lords, I too thank the Leader for repeating the Statement. Before I move on to COP 26, perhaps I might ask her a couple of questions about the G20 announcements.

First, the PM highlights the target of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population against Covid by the middle of next year. He then boasts about the fact that the UK is providing 100 million doses towards this effort, of which 70 million will have been donated by the end of 2022. Can the noble Baroness confirm that to date only 5 million doses have been delivered? Does she accept that, given the overall numbers required to meet the target, which the PM supports, run into several billions, just under 70 million doses from the UK by the middle of next year is simply inadequate? The WHO estimates that some 82 countries are at risk of missing the target, so will the UK be more ambitious and commit to increasing the number of vaccines it provides, so the target might stand a chance of being met?

The Prime Minister highlights the resolve of the G20 to work together to ease supply chain disruption. The declaration from Rome simply makes that statement with no hint of what the leaders intend to do about the problem. Can the noble Baroness explain what international action is planned and whether the Government intend to make any proposals to their G20 partners on how to resolve these problems? In relation to supply problems in the UK, could she update the House on the number of HGV drivers from the EU who have taken up the Government’s offer to work in the UK for the next two months? I think the last published figure was 27. Has it increased? On the assumption that we have not seen any significant increase in driver numbers, what assurances can she give that there will not be further disruption to the supply of presents and food in the run-up to Christmas?

On COP 26 and climate change, the agreements announced in Glasgow on deforestation and methane are very welcome. But does the noble Baroness accept that without the active participation of China in such programmes, and the general unwillingness of China to set targets commensurate with meeting the 1.5 degree target, the chances of hitting that target are remote. To date, the Government do not appear to have any strategy, working with like-minded international partners, of putting effective pressure on China. Does the noble Baroness accept that unless such pressure is brought to bear and there is further movement from China, COP 26 cannot result in a successful outcome?

Today’s announcement on sustainable finance is potentially extremely significant, because if it becomes more difficult for firms in the coal- and carbon-intensive manufacturing sectors to finance new projects, many of these projects simply will not happen. More generally, the announcement by many global firms and financial institutions that they will align their investment and lending with the Paris climate goals could, if executed, do more than anything else to reorient the world economy towards a net-zero model. But the track record of companies which have made such commitments in the past is not encouraging. In a number of high-profile cases, banks which have promised, for example, to divest themselves of fossil fuel investments have broken the rules which they set for themselves; and they have not applied the rules at all to some asset classes. What legal requirements do the Government plan to place on companies and financial institutions listed in London, or based in the UK, to set net-zero plans? What sanctions will apply if they either fail to set them in the first place or, having set them, simply fail to implement them?

At the weekend the Prime Minister said that the score was 5-1 against the chances of Glasgow succeeding. Yesterday he claimed that the forces of climate action had pulled back a goal, or possibly two. The fact this Government have allowed the score to get to 5-1 against is a telling indictment of the casual way they have approached this summit. Failure over the next few days to change the scoreline further would be a disaster not just for the Government but for the planet.

I thank the noble Baroness and noble Lord for their comments. I am sorry that they were perhaps slightly more downbeat, so I will try to improve the mood by putting forward some positive facts about things that I hope are going on.

Starting off on the noble Baroness’s comments about the G20, this was the first G20 which committed to setting out long-term strategies to achieve net zero by or around the mid-century, and all leaders expressed support for keeping 1.5 degrees within reach, including accelerating action in the 2020s. However, I think the Prime Minister has been quite clear that we would have liked to have gone further, and, as the noble Baroness recognised was said in the Statement, there is work to be done over the next 10 days to try to keep the momentum going forward and make sure that we can get further with what we want to do. However, as the Statement said, as recently as 2019, only one member of the G20 other than the UK had made specific commitments to achieve net zero; today, 18 countries in the G20 have, so we are making progress. I will write to the noble Baroness on the climate diplomacy fund as I do not have those figures to hand.

On where we have got to, our leadership of COP has seen 90% of the global economy now covered by net-zero commitments, up from just 30% when we assumed the presidency, and if we take into account the significant new commitments, we are closer to 2 degrees rather than over 3 degrees, as we were when we took over the COP leadership. However, I stress again that this is not enough; we need to keep 1.5 degrees in reach, which is why the Prime Minister has called on all countries to commit to further action and why over the next few days we will be looking to negotiators to deliver on leaders’ calls to ensure that COP 26 accelerates this further action. As I said, we accept that there is a way to go, but progress has been made over the last couple of days and we are looking to ensure that momentum continues into this week.

The noble Lord asked about China. We welcome China’s commitment to net zero before 2060, and it signed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use. It has committed to reach a peak in its emissions before 2030 and will then cut them to net zero by 2060, and of course it also pledged as part of the G20 commitment to stop funding coal projects overseas. Of course we will continue to engage with it and will continue to put pressure on it to move further and faster. I can assure the noble Lord that the Prime Minister spoke to President Xi before the summit and we will continue to work with international partners to move China in the direction that we would like to see it go.

On the noble Baroness’s comments about international development, as I said before and as she will know, we remain a world leader in international development. This year we provided over £10 billion towards poverty reduction, climate change and global security—a greater proportion of our national income than the majority of the G7. We are expected to be the third largest ODA donor in the G7 as a percentage of GNI this year and the third-highest bilateral humanitarian donor country.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord asked about some of the various tax initiatives in both the G20 and COP 26 so far. We were pleased that the final political agreement has now been reached on the framework for the two-pillar solution on global taxation, as that was one of our priorities for the G7 presidency. The plan should be implemented to the 2023 timeline and we will continue to work with global partners now that we have reached this milestone to ensure that it is delivered.

On the IMF special drawing rights, the historic $650 billion SDR allocation has provided much-needed resources for vulnerable countries to pay for vaccine and food imports as well as increasing fiscal space for countries to pursue development priorities, including on climate and the environment. We have also been a leading voice on advocating for a new IMF resilience and sustainability trust, which will provide low-interest funding to vulnerable countries to address long-term structural challenges, and we are considering a sizeable contribution to that once it is established.

I hope the noble Lord will be pleased to know that progress so far has meant that $130 trillion of financial assets, equating to 40% of global finance, will now be aligned with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement thanks to the climate commitments made from 450 financial services firms. On the announcement that the Chancellor made today, the aim of the plans is for financial services to set out clearly their overall targets for decarbonisation, how they will align with the UK’s net-zero commitment, and what concrete actions they are taking to deliver this. To ensure that this is robust and to prevent greenwashing, we will set up a transition plan task force to set the gold standard for transition planning across the economy. Firms listed on the London Stock Exchange will have regulatory expectations that they set out transparently to consumers, investors and the public on what steps they are taking to align their business with net zero. Obviously it will then be for the market to determine whether those plans are credible. However, next year we will publish a net-zero transition pathway for this sector setting out how the financial sector will evolve out to 2050.

The noble Lord and noble Baroness rightly asked about Covid and highlighted the fact that the G20 leaders have indeed adopted a target of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population against Covid by the middle of the year. They also agreed to establish a G20 joint finance health task force to enhance dialogue and global co-operation on issues related to pandemic prevention and preparedness responses. We are being ambitious in what we are doing. We are donating at least 100 million Covid vaccines within the next year, 30 million of which we aim to deliver by the end of this year. That is in addition to the £548 million we have committed to COVAX to provide vaccines to help deliver more than 1 billion vaccines to up to 92 lower-income countries. As I said, before the end of the year we will have donated 30 million of the Oxford vaccines but next year we will donate at least 20 million more as well as all the 20 million Janssen doses we have ordered to COVAX. I can assure the noble Lord that that puts us well on track to meet our commitment of 100 million doses by mid-2022.

The noble Lord asked about supply chains. G20 leaders focused on the need for ongoing global co-ordination and action to address the huge price volatilities we have been seeing and they agreed to work together to better monitor and address supply chain vulnerabilities as economies recover and to support the sustainability of the global economy. In fact, the noble Lord will no doubt be interested to know that there was a dedicated session for like-minded partners that focused on how international co-operation to strengthen and diversify the supply chain ecosystem could happen, so a lot of work and discussion took place in that area.

On HGVs, we are increasing apprenticeship training funding by £7,000, investing £70 million in HGV skills bootcamps and we are increasing testing availability by 50,000 a year so that we can address this issue.

My Lords, in the Statement to which reference has just been made—I thank the noble Baroness for repeating it—there is a very interesting passage. In the context of considering world temperatures, the Prime Minister said:

“Now, after all the targets and the promises … we come to the reckoning. This is the moment when we must turn words into action.”

Against that promise, I want to go back to the issue of vaccination. I hope I may be excused for being rather sceptical about our capacity to meet the targets which have been set out in the Statement. For this reason, as of 30 September of this year, more than 50 countries, mainly in Africa, were unable to reach even the 10% target of the World Health Organization. In Africa, the percentage of those fully vaccinated was only 4.4%. If these targets which are set out in the Statement are ever to be met, they will require resources, not simply in the provision of vaccination but in the means of distribution. Where is the plan for distribution, as the shadow Leader of the House said? In the absence of that, the day of reckoning will not properly arrive.

As I said, the G20 adopted the target for vaccinating 70% of the world’s population against Covid. I have set out the work that we are doing and the contribution we are making and I also set out the fact that we have committed £548 million to COVAX to provide vaccinations to help deliver more than 1 billion vaccines to up to 92 lower-income countries. Therefore, we are playing our part and will continue to work with partners to ensure that we meet these ambitious but correct targets.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement and the measures taken to reduce global warming, but can the Minister elaborate on what measures have been taken to embrace more innovative technologies? While there has been much debate on measures to reduce deforestation, is she aware that algae-fuelled bioreactors can soak up 400 times more CO2 than tropical trees?

I have to confess that I was not aware of that, no, but I am very grateful that I am aware of it now. Certainly, the noble Lord is absolutely right that advancing technology and using technology will be some of the key things we need to do to ensure that we meet these ambitious targets. He may be interested to know that more than 40 leaders, for instance, have now joined the UK’s Glasgow Breakthroughs, which will turbocharge affordable green technologies in the most polluting sectors by 2030, including a $4 billion deal between the UEA and US, with the support of 30 others, for climate-smart agriculture and food systems, and $10 billion of funding from philanthropists and development banks to support energy access and clean energy transition in the global south. There are a lot of discussions going on within COP about how we can all come together in order to further develop and spread these technologies out, because, as he rightly says, this will be what we need in order to meet these targets.

Can the Minister clarify one point about the hundred million doses? Is it the Government’s intention that they should all be distributed via COVAX, or will there be bilateral Government-to-Government action to provide doses to the many countries that need them?

Obviously, we are working through COVAX a lot, but we have already had bilateral communication with other countries and have worked with them directly, so it will be a combination of both.

My Lords, I think one should dispose and spread a bit of optimism, given some of the comments we have heard from COP 26. There are problems, as we have heard, and I do not deny that, but I think the Prime Minister is trying to embrace this with vigour—there may be a degree of rhetoric—and we need a lot of enthusiasm here. I have a specific question. First, it was a very good sign that Brazil might be stopping deforestation, but I have to say I will believe it when I see it. The thing that concerns me, and that I want to ask the noble Baroness about in particular, is methane. It is great that so many countries decided to curb their methane emissions, but I am very worried that Russia, South Africa, India, Australia and China ducked out of that, because they, put together, will really undermine the effort everybody else is making. Will the Government try to address this? Is there any way to bring pressure on those countries to join this commendable exercise?

The noble Lord is right; about 100 countries responsible for more than half of methane emissions have joined the global methane pledge to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030, but he is right, of course, that that does not include everyone. We will, of course, both during the rest of COP and going forward, keep encouraging and putting pressure on friends and allies to meet commitments along with us. But it is a good start, a good contribution and, as I say, the 100 countries are responsible for more than half of the emissions, so I do not think it is something to be sniffed at.

We all wish success at COP 26, but it has been a bit confusing at times to understand what funds have been committed and in what context. The Prime Minister had said he wished to have commitments of $100 billion of funding annually for developing countries to be able to achieve net zero. Can the Leader of the House confirm what the Government’s commitment is on behalf of the UK; what other commitments have been secured from other leading nations, such as the US, other leading European economies and even China towards this total; and what is the total of all the commitments towards the $100 billion annually?

The noble Lord is right to highlight this as one of the areas where we had wanted to see more progress, so it has been somewhat of a disappointment, but it was fantastic to see Japan step forward this week with a pledge of $10 billion. We have set out our commitment to increase international climate finance by a further £1 billion by 2025, on top of the £11.6 billion we have already announced—so, £12.6 billion—but there will be a shortfall. We will not meet the $100 billion goal at the point we wanted to, as was originally said, which is deeply disappointing. The plan shows though that the goal will be met in 2023 at the latest, and continues on a rising trajectory through to 2025, but we have been consistently clear that the developed world must make good on this promise and we want to keep the eyes of the world on Glasgow to see how much further progress we can make over the next week.

If I am allowed a quick supplementary, is there any news of what the US contribution is going to come to?

I am afraid I do not have those figures; I am not sure it has got that far yet. As I said, the figure I have got is that the latest significant commitment was that of the Japanese of $10 billion.