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Conflict and Climate Change in Fragile States: Support for Children

Volume 834: debated on Tuesday 28 November 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what support they are providing to children affected by conflict and climate change in fragile states.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in doing so, draw attention to my entry in the Lords register.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. His Majesty’s Government are committed to protecting children affected by conflict and climate change in fragile states. We prioritise the countries and communities most vulnerable to climate change in our policy and programmes on adaption. As a leading donor to Education Cannot Wait, this Government have helped 130,000 children affected by drought in Ethiopia and Somalia access an education. We address the wider impact of conflict on children through the UN Security Council.

I thank the noble Lord, on behalf of the Government, for his Answer. I was pleased to see, in the White Paper published last week, a greater commitment in words to action on conflict, conflict prevention and attempts to help those who suffer in conflict-affected and fragile states. But I did not see any new financial commitments, and I think there is a genuine worry that the new integrated security fund and the new fund for humanitarian resilience could divert funds away from existing commitments on conflict, rather than increase that funding. Can the Government guarantee that programmes such as Education Cannot Wait, which are vital for children affected by conflict, and other programmes for conflict prevention and peacebuilding, will not see their funding reduced as a result of the creation of these two new funds?

My Lords, throughout 2023 and 2024 the FCDO will explore how to integrate climate-related drivers into conflict and instability risk assessments at global and country levels. This evidence base will be used to achieve an informed approach towards climate action. That is why the FCDO will fund almost £1 billion in projects to tackle these complex and interrelated security challenges.

My Lords, 14 of the 25 countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are already in conflict. Does the Minister agree that the women, peace and security agenda is vital to helping protect children in states fragile to conflict and climate?

My noble friend makes an incredibly important point. It is often those most vulnerable in societies who are also at most risk of vulnerability to conflict and climate change. Some 3.3 billion to 3.6 billion people live in contexts highly vulnerable to climate change. In fragile and conflict-afflicted states, these people are more vulnerable to, and less able to cope with, the intersection of climate and conflict, which contributes to worsening food security.

My Lords, we know that children are bearing the brunt of the many crises around the world. The Development Minister wrote to the International Development Committee at the end of July with a copy of the equalities impact assessment that advised Ministers on the decisions they have made on overseas development assistance cuts. That included a 54% cut to girls’ education and a 48% cut to human development. The Minister just said that this Government were leading on Education Cannot Wait for girls, but the equalities impact assessment highlighted that its funding has been cut by 87% by this Government. It says that

“approximately 230,000 children (115,000 girls) will not benefit in 2023/24”.

That is the Development Minister’s own statement, so how on earth can a Minister come to this Chamber and say that we are leading on this when we have cut it by 87%?

My Lords, the UK is a champion for international development and one of the most generous global aid donors, spending more than £11 billion in aid in 2021. We remain committed to spending 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance. Ministers continuously review the ODA budget to ensure that it is spent in the most effective way possible to support the Government’s objectives. That includes ensuring that we are working to deliver on our climate finance commitments.

Can we have another go at answering my noble friend’s question, because there is a bit of smoke and mirrors here? The simple fact is that a large proportion of ODA at the moment is going not to those fragile states but to hotels in this country to support refugees. My noble friend’s question was specifically about two new funds; he is asking whether they will draw money away from the priority that this Government have made for children’s education in fragile states. Will the Minister answer that question?

My Lords, I will give the House another example of where we are spending money. The UK spent £2.4 billion on international climate finance from 2016 to 2020 for adaptation, including investment in areas relevant to addressing loss and damage. That included around £303 million on humanitarian assistance directly linked to climate change and building resilience to it, £396 million on social protection and £196 million on financial protection and risk management. It is too early for the UK to say how much it might commit to the loss and damage fund.

My Lords, given the long-term mental health consequences of conflict and climate change on children, has the Minister considered that investment in the protection and recovery of those children’s mental health is critical for the long-term future of those fragile states and that a psychosocial model of recovery and stability will be the most effective way to meet those children’s needs?

The noble Baroness makes a very important point: supporting children affected by conflict and climate change, including their education, is absolutely fundamental to their well-being. Recent estimates show that 224 million crisis-affected children are not receiving a quality education, including almost 80 million children who cannot access education at all. In crisis-affected countries, only 27% of refugee girls are enrolled in a secondary school. That is why the UK is committed to supporting education in emergencies and protracted crises and is the leading donor in this space.

Does the Minister agree that some of the children most affected are in the Middle East, particularly Israel? Is he therefore, like me, surprised—as I found out just an hour ago—that the Foreign Secretary and his predecessor have refused an invitation to meet the families of the children who were massacred on 7 October in Israel? Will he go back to the Foreign Office and say that the Foreign Secretary should meet them immediately?

My Lords, I can confirm that the Foreign Secretary went to one of the kibbutzim that suffered the atrocities and that the UK Government are concerned about the disproportionate impact on children of the conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. UK humanitarian aid will ensure that the specific needs of children are met. We will remind all parties that in armed conflict children must be protected from all grave violations against them.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that 1 million people live in what was a place of outstanding natural beauty in Bangladesh that is now hosting children and families. Will he tell the House what sort of support is being provided for those children, given what has already been raised about their mental well-being and educational needs? These children will have been deeply traumatised by ethnic cleansing and genocide by Myanmar. Secondly, what support is available—

My Lords, I am allowed two questions. What do the Government intend to do to support the 5,000 children and families who have been traumatised in the Middle East and Gaza right now? Thousands have been maimed and killed. What support are this Government proposing?

My Lords, the noble Baroness raised two important points. Again, I condemn all violence against women, children and vulnerable communities. The UK Government and our ministerial team are at the forefront of dialogue between all parties. On her first point on communities affected by climate change, UK climate finance has, through a tranche of measures, invested significantly, supporting more than 100 million people to adapt to the effects of climate change. Between 2012 and 2021, the UK spent £4.1 billion on adaptation and investment in areas affected by drought and flooding to address loss and damage, social protection, water supply, sanitation, emergency response and disaster prevention and preparedness.