Monday 7 October 2019
[Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 266638 relating to deforestation in the Amazon.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I declare at the outset that I have been a member of Greenpeace for many years.
This timely debate focuses on a real and urgent concern for the environment, on a day when so many are standing vigil outside Parliament and across the capital, making their strength of feeling on this critical issue heard peacefully, calmly and, as I can hear from my office, often with gentle, soothing music—although interspersed occasionally by energetic drumming. However, that commendable gentleness should not be misunderstood. Urgent action is needed, as demanded by the many people who signed the petition.
The petition, which currently stands at more than 122,500 signatures, including more than 500 from my Cambridge constituency, reads as follows:
“Demand the EU & UN sanction Brazil to halt increased deforestation of the Amazon. The government of Brazil led by Bolsonaro favour the development of the Amazon rainforest over conservation, escalating deforestation. Deforestation threatens indigenous populations who live in the forest, loss of a precious and complex ecosystem and a vital carbon store that slows global warming. Indigenous people have called for the EU to impose trade sanctions on Brazil to halt the deforestation because they fear genocide. Also, the UK parliament has recognised a climate emergency. Since the Amazon rainforest is an important carbon store, absorbing huge volumes of CO2 each year, its deforestation is of global significance. The intrinsic value of the rainforest should also be recognised. Trade sanctions are used elsewhere for important issues as an effective means to force action.”
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to mention Brazil, but I understand that it is responsible for about half the deforestation of the Amazon, and that countries such as Bolivia and Peru are also significantly involved. For accuracy, could he include those countries and all others that are involved in this important issue in his remarks?
I will come to the definitions in a little while; the hon. Gentleman has pre-empted me.
Climate change and environmental issues have shot up the political and public agenda this year—we should all be thankful for that—due in no small part to young people, the school climate strikes and Greta Thunberg, and to various campaigns that have led to long-overdue media attention. In my city of Cambridge, some 3,000 people took to the streets a few weeks ago to support the school children, and today thousands are taking part in the Extinction Rebellion protests. Protecting our natural environment has captured the public conscious and cannot—indeed, must not—be ignored by politicians.
What a natural environment this petition refers to. The Amazon rainforest is 5.5 million sq km of rainforest surrounding the Amazon river. Some 60% of it is contained in Brazil, as the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) indicated. It is home to about one quarter of the world’s species, it accounts for about 15% of terrestrial photosynthesis and it is a major carbon sink. The World Wildlife Fund reports that it is home to perhaps 34 million people, including 385 indigenous groups. It is integral not just to the habitats of the people, plants and animals to which it provides a home, but to the global ecosystem, so it is very precious.
The Amazon rainforest has been under threat from deforestation for some years. Between 2001 and 2018, Brazil lost almost 55 million hectares of tree cover—a staggering amount.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the word “lost” makes it sound like an accident, like someone losing their specs down the back of the sofa, whereas in actual fact—particularly recently—it is due to the deliberate actions of President Bolsonaro, who wants to open up more of the Amazon rainforest? Does he agree that we should not enter trade talks with Bolsonaro unless and until he upholds strong environmental standards and stops that action in the Amazon?
The hon. Lady has provided a short and precise synopsis of my entire speech. I am afraid I will continue with it anyway. She makes an important point: “lost” is perhaps not the right way to put it.
Did my hon. Friend listen to the Environment Minister from Brazil on the World Service this morning, and did his heart sink, as mine did, at his failure to answer any of the questions that my hon. Friend is addressing to the Bolsonaro regime?
I did not hear that exchange, but of course it is not uncommon in the political arena for questions not to be directly answered. The point I will develop in my speech is that the failure to act is devastating and dangerous.
Let me return to the 55 million hectares of tree cover, because not everyone knows what that looks like. I am reliably informed that it translates to a loss of 5.7 football pitches per minute. That is something that I can envisage. It is staggering that so many football pitches have been lost in the time that we have been speaking in this debate.
This is not a new problem. We have known about it for some time. Previous Brazilian Governments have tried to reduce deforestation through a number of measures, which have indeed slowed the rate. In 2012 Brazil recorded its lowest deforestation rate of the past 20 years. However, that has been reversed this year. The New Scientist reported in July that more than 3,700 sq km of forest has been deforested this year alone. According to preliminary satellite data, the losses for the first seven months of 2019 are 16% higher than the high of 3,183 sq km in 2016. There was an 88% increase in deforestation in June 2019, compared with June 2018. Those startling and worrying numbers understandably provoke strong and passionate responses from people across the world.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this extremely important debate, and I apologise for missing the first few moments of his speech. He is of course right to call attention to the vast increase in deforestation that has occurred this year, but it is also right to put that in the context—he mentioned this in passing—of the very significant reduction in deforestation. As recently as 2004, it was 10,500 square miles a year. Last year, it was 4,000 square miles. This year, as he correctly mentioned, it has gone back up again. It is right to say that the Brazilian Government have been doing their best, albeit this year there seems to have been an extremely worrying reversal.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point: there has been progress. The problem is that something has happened. That is what I will come on to.
The threat of natural loss as a consequence of these changes is very real and is under way, but the political situation that underpins this issue deserves careful and considered attention because, as the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray) pointed out, something has changed. It is hard not to conclude that the environmental damage is a direct consequence of a change in policy direction and political attitudes.
That brings me to President Bolsonaro—clearly a controversial figure, although by no means the only controversial figure on the world stage at the moment—whose attitude to climate change is worth highlighting. Back in December 2018, at the 24th conference of the parties to the United Nations framework convention on climate change, the Brazilian Government promised that their carbon emissions would decrease by 37% by 2025, and by 43% by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. However, since President Bolsonaro took office in January there has been a clear change. He is widely considered to be sceptical of actions to curb climate change, and in his election campaign he said he would take Brazil out of the Paris climate change accord—a note, I fear, from the Trump playbook. He has back-peddled a little and has argued that he may not do that so long as Brazil’s control over the Amazon remains intact. I have to say that I do not think these are issues to be negotiated. We should all be working to preserve such an important part of our environment.
This summer the world watched on with huge anxiety as forest fires burned in the Amazon, with many attributing blame to forest clearance policies. The Rainforest Alliance says that satellite data show an 84% increase in fires compared with the same period in 2018. The Brazilian Government deny a causal link, but the disagreement has led to fierce international controversy. It was recently reported that at the UN
“Bolsonaro…launched a cantankerous and conspiratorial defence of his environmental record, blaming Emmanuel Macron and the ‘deceitful’ media for hyping this year’s fires in the Amazon. In a combative 30-minute address to the UN general assembly, Bolsonaro denied—contrary to the evidence—that the world’s largest rainforest was ‘being devastated or consumed by fire, as the media deceitfully says’.”
Similarly, The Guardian has reported that
“Bolsonaro is set to unveil draft legislation that would allow commercial mining in indigenous territories, something currently outlawed, despite overwhelming opposition from voters.”
Clearly there are differences of view, but I find it hard not to conclude that the Brazilian President’s pro-development agenda is having a clear and dangerous impact, and that the clearing of the rainforest will be used to allow further development of mining and agriculture.
If we conclude that we all have an interest in this issue because of the impact on the global climate, the question becomes, “What do we do?” The petition calls for trade sanctions, a measure that the Government have not adopted or advocated so far. The Government state in their response to the petition:
“The United Kingdom shares concerns about deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, and the severe impact on the climate, biodiversity and livelihoods. However, key to tackling these issues is to work with Brazil to find solutions rather than imposing sanctions.”
I am afraid that I must characterise that as a “do nothing” response, or rather a “do a tiny little bit to maybe give us some cover” response, because the Government also stated:
“In response to the recent forest fires, the Prime Minister pledged a further £10 million at the G7 summit on 25 August. This contribution is an expansion of an existing project: Partnerships for Forests.”
The rainforest is burning and the Prime Minister has offered a water pistol—maybe he could have sent an unused water cannon.
Remember the scale of the challenge that we face. The Government’s actions hardly equate to the “rapid”, “unprecedented” and “far-reaching” transitions that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called for in its report last year.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he think that the UK has a critical and special responsibility in this matter? Non-governmental organisations such as Global Witness have shown that much of the deforestation has been backed by companies that often have operations in the City of London, so we should really take more responsibility rather than pretending that it just affects a country many miles away.
My hon. Friend makes an important point on the wider context of Britain’s role on the global stage. I would argue that although we are shamefully withdrawing from our positions of influence on the global stage, we remain important through many of our major companies and should use that influence and position of authority.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we are approaching a very dangerous tipping point in the context of climate change and that the wider world faces catastrophic climate change if urgent action is not taken? That action must include an end to deforestation, radical action to reduce the consumption of meat in the western world, and Government intervention in markets.
That is the important point: the sense of urgency. Of course, this Parliament has declared a climate emergency, not that one would necessarily guess that from the Government’s actions, and actions are what count.
What a marked contrast there is between our Government’s feeble response and the responses of other Governments. Our European partners have called for trade sanctions, with Austrian MPs demanding that their Government veto the EU’s proposed trade deal with South America’s economic bloc, which is currently composed of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. That was due to concerns over workers’ rights, which is absolutely correct, but the environmental reasons are paramount. Similar concerns have been voiced by countries such as France, Ireland and Luxembourg.
Although I have been critical of the Government, I will add a rider, because as a country with an imperial and colonising past, criticism can always be levelled at the UK that, because we industrialised and polluted, it is hypocritical to blame others for doing the same. Brazil could argue that, as a post-colonial industrial country, it should have the chance to develop its economy, as the UK and other European countries did in the past, and it can point to our lack of environmental concerns during that industrialisation. Those sympathetic to Bolsonaro’s argument could point to data indicating that Brazil has historically contributed to around only 1% of global emissions since the start of the industrial age.
To criticise other countries for pursuing industrial development by saying, “We benefited from that kind of approach but now we know more so you should not put your economy first” is a poor argument. However, it is possible to develop the economy in a much more sustainable way if it is not driven just by short-term profit maximisation—that is the answer to the conundrum. The way forward is through international agreements, ratified by the countries involved, to secure a better future approach. Economic avenues could be pursued more sustainably to future-proof Brazil’s industry while maintaining environmental protections and regulations.
Many would argue that there is no need for self-inflicted harm. Greenpeace tells us that indigenous groups across Brazil are calling for global support to protect their rights in their struggle to safeguard the forests that they have inhabited for centuries. Greenpeace argues that environmental governance bodies in Brazil have been dismantled and weakened. For instance, the Climate Change and Forests Office and the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change have been closed, which has impacted policies and deforestation prevention, as well as resourcing. Minister Salles has slashed the budget and staffing of the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or IBAMA. Highly trained units have reportedly been grounded, and the value of fines imposed for environmental offences has dropped by 43%. In August, the director of Brazil’s National Space Research Institute was forced out of office after the President refuted data on rising deforestation.
Of course, the Brazilian Government have a different account and reject the notion that
“Brazil does not take care of the Amazon, does not take care of the environment.”
People will make their own judgment, but at the centre of the issue is the fact that we are in a climate crisis. If Brazil rejects the chance to reform its practice, recommit to stopping the fires and return to anti-deforestation policies, and if the Brazilian President continues to take Brazil down such an environmentally damaging path, it is right that the international community thinks hard about how to proceed to best protect the environmental jewel that is the Amazon rainforest.
That is hard because it touches on the most basic issues of national sovereignty. Brazil has reaffirmed many times that this is indeed an issue of sovereignty, and it believes that its approach to the Amazon is one of domestic policy, but we cannot look at this issue in a vacuum. As was mentioned earlier, the Amazon spans not just Brazil, but Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. It is an internationally revered natural treasure, and parts of it that are lost, including some species that are found nowhere else on earth, will not be recovered. That is a global loss
The hon. Gentleman has touched on something so important in our current political debate: nationalism is completely the wrong answer to a global crisis. We can solve these things only if we think globally rather than just in our own national interest.
The hon. Lady is right. If only we could find a way of achieving that consensual approach.
This is a global loss, and many would conclude that that risk creates a global responsibility to respond. How do we solve this dilemma? Greenpeace has asked that
“all trade talks with Brazil be suspended until the Bolsonaro government changes tack and guarantees the necessary protections”.
It says that should include effective support for urgent action by the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources and other agencies responsible for monitoring and enforcement, to tackle environmental crimes and implement forest protections, with guarantees of necessary funding as well as other measures to improve environmental protections. That is the tough approach.
Our Government seem to hope for the best outcome. The Minister of State has previously told Parliament:
“If we help to ensure that these sensible trade arrangements are made, those fires can be put out and they will stay out”.—[Official Report, 3 September 2019; Vol. 664, c. 7.]
That seems to be over-optimistic at best and complacent at worst, but we will await the Minister’s response. If the situation remains as difficult as it currently appears to be, I have to say, I am with Greenpeace. The Amazon rainforest is sometimes said to provide 20% of our terrestrial oxygen, or one in five of each of our breaths. Most of us now recognise that we are in a climate crisis, and that it is time for action and urgency in our approach to both domestic and international policy.
I hope that the Minister will be able to reflect a hitherto undetected ambition and urgency to do what is needed. He could start today by supporting the petitioners in their ambition to secure global action to protect the precious rainforest.
Order. A total of 16 Members wish to speak. I will call first the nine Members who notified me in advance.
Thank you, Mrs Moon, for calling me so early. As always in debates, one hopes to have more time to perfect the speech that should have been written last week. With your generosity, Mrs Moon, hon. Members will have to listen to what I have in front of me.
I do not think there is any disagreement among us about the importance of the rainforest, be it for the physical entity that it is or for the animal and plant species that it hosts. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) highlighted that the Amazon spans much more than just Brazil. I will concentrate on not just Brazil but Colombia next door, and I will draw some comparisons.
I refer to Brazil following my visit there—I led the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation there two weeks ago. Unfortunately, we had to cut our visit short because Parliament was recalled. One of the key themes of our visit was to raise British views on the rainforest with the Brazilian Government, parliamentarians and non-governmental organisations. Particularly when we visited the Senate and Congress in Brasilia, it became clear how sensitive they feel to outside criticism. They certainly hear the voices across the world in response to the crisis in the rainforest. People should not think that is not the case.
I differ from the essence of the petition on the need for economic sanctions. I would like us to find solidarity and common cause with groups in Brazil who care passionately—arguably, even more so than we do, because it is their home—to find ways to collaborate to unleash the true value of the rainforest. The rainforest’s value should never be in cutting down trees—that is a blind, short-term gain. The true value of the rainforest can be seen next door in Columbia, where the United Kingdom works in collaboration with GROW Colombia, using science to unleash some truly phenomenal long-term possibilities.
GROW Colombia is a UK-funded four-year collaboration involving multiple partners, including the Earlham Institute, the University of East Anglia, the Natural History Museum, the Eden project, Colombia’s Humboldt Institute, the Universidad de los Andes and the University of Sydney. The project is designed to demonstrate that biodiversity conservation can drive sustainable economic growth and secure peace and prosperity—in this case in Colombia, but the same lessons can be drawn in many other areas of the Amazon.
Even though the project is in its early days, former guerrillas have been transformed into guardians of the rainforests; people with no scientific or natural background have been trained up to recognise unique species of plants and animals and what they are capable of. It has helped farmers to reform their agricultural practices and techniques to grow crops and forage varieties that can offer conservation gains. It has enabled producers to identify and cultivate wild relatives of commercially produced coca varieties to make production more profitable, eco-friendly and sustainable and less dependent on human intervention. It has taught rural communities taxonomic identification techniques, combining biotechnology resources with practical field work to catalogue species. It has assisted policymakers in analysing socio-economic models to support the ecological restoration of the rainforest. Above all, it has coached rural communities in business models for ecotourism initiatives that guarantee a genuine and lasting conservation benefit to the ecosystem. Some of those measures could be rolled out in Brazil, in collaboration with the regional Governments—an area such as Amazonia is every bit as important as the federal Government in Brasilia. Some of that collaboration with the United Kingdom is already beginning.
I urge the Government to continue to work on pointing out to Brazil not only that it is an economic powerhouse thanks to its variety of rare species but that, if harnessed properly, as is beginning to happen in Colombia, the potential for biotech and pharmaceutical applications of some of the very complex and rare plant species could generate billions of sustainable, clean revenue that would benefit the planet in the long term while generating revenue to benefit the science community in Brazil. That would flow through to communities, particularly the indigenous communities in those areas.
My hon. Friend is making an extremely well-informed and powerful speech. Could he tell us a little more about what enthusiasm there is in the Brazilian Government for adopting a scheme similar to GROW Colombia in Brazil? Would that be part of the answer, to make Brazil see this issue as global as well as Brazilian?
Let me again point out the importance of the federal and state Governments and legislatures. There is huge sensitivity to the criticism directed at Brazil in recent months. There is a danger that that will shut off avenues of co-operation, dialogue and discussion, preventing some of the positive things that we all want to achieve. Particularly in rural areas, people want to be better off. They want better standards of education, better employment opportunities and better prospects for their children than they had. We must show them a way to achieve that without following a path of devastation and destruction. The trees can be cashed in once, but the other possibilities I mentioned can pay dividends in the longer term.
Another reason we should not go down the path of sanctions, or the threat of them, is that Brazil is a global superpower in its renewable energy potential, both solar and wind, thanks to its enormous coast and tremendous sunshine. UK companies are the biggest investors in solar generation in Brazil. The City of London, by providing access to green finance and green reinsurance markets, is fundamental to unlocking some of that sustainable, renewable power. Many of those schemes are micro schemes, which can unlock access to affordable, sustainable energy—a problem that has often plagued Brazil—for the very people we have talked about, who live away from the coast in isolated, poor communities.
However, those schemes can be unlocked only by global co-operation and the free flow of finance to ensure that there is somebody to help to finance them in the long term. Simply pulling up the drawbridge and saying, “No more co-operation; we’re withdrawing from trade agreements and trade discussions with you,” strengthens the hand of the people who want to build a wall around Brazil—those who say, “There they go again: the imperialists are threatening us. We shouldn’t listen to anything they’ve got to say. We do things our way”—and weakens the hand of those in Brazil who want co-operation and to follow a path of alternatives to deforestation.
As somebody who is passionate about Latin America—I have visited the Yungas in Bolivia, and I have visited Colombia five times in my trade envoy role—I know very well the economic power of these rainforests. This is not just about protecting rare species and defending an ecosystem; it is also about allowing people to earn a fantastic living while protecting precious and unique environments. If we get this right, we can do both.
It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Moon. I do not think it will surprise anyone that I am not going to adopt the same conciliatory tone as the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies). The situation we face is far too serious to adopt such an approach. As we heard, the Amazon is being wilfully destroyed. It remains the biggest rainforest in the world and a vital check on climate change. The seriousness of the situation cannot be overestimated and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) said, there are people gathered outside this building who want us to take it seriously.
I make no apologies for referring to a debate I led in this Chamber in March 2009 about the impact of livestock on the environment. I read my speech back and I actually think it was rather good, but the Minister’s response was appalling; she went on at some length about how she really liked her mum’s shepherd’s pie. I would like to think we have made progress since then, but although we are talking about the issue more, we certainly have not made as much progress as I hoped we would back then.
Extensive cattle ranching is the primary culprit for deforestation in virtually every Amazon country. It accounts for 80% of current deforestation and is responsible for the release of 340 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year. That is equivalent to 3.4% of current global emissions. The Brazilian Amazon is home to approximately 200 million head of cattle and is the largest exporter in the world, supplying around a quarter of the global market.
The impact of cattle ranching and deforestation was first publicised by conservationists in the early 1980s—they coined the phrase “the hamburger connection”—but it was fairly small business back then. Government incentives, and improvements in the road and electricity networks and in meat processing facilities, spurred the industry on. Then, with the devaluation of the currency and much of Brazil’s herd being declared free of foot and mouth disease, exports exploded, which led to the current deforestation situation.
Typically, deforestation starts not with animal agriculture but when roads are cut through the forest to open it up for logging and mining. Once the forest along the road has been cleared, commercial or subsistence farmers move in and start growing crops. However, forest soils are too nutrient-poor and fragile to sustain crops for long, so after two or three years, when the soil is depleted, crop yields fall and farmers let the grass grow and move on. That is when the ranchers move in. Little investment is needed to start raising cattle on cheap or abandoned land where grass is already growing, and the returns can be high, at least for a while. However, after five to 10 years, over-grazing and nutrient loss turn rainforest land that was once filled with biodiversity into an eroded wasteland, so ranchers have to look for somewhere else to move on to.
As we heard, deforestation causes irreversible environmental damage if it is not checked in time. The clearing and burning of forests releases billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Scientists estimate that deforestation causes roughly a quarter of all human-induced carbon emissions, and then there is the loss of biodiversity. I have not been to Brazil, but I have been to countries such as Belize; the extent to which the rainforest remains undiscovered and unexplored is amazing. There is so much more to be discovered. Forests are home to more than 13 million distinct species, representing more than two thirds of the world’s plants and animals. Obviously, if their habitats are destroyed, many will be at risk of extinction. When the trees are gone, the soil becomes depleted, which often leads to water pollution as the soil gets washed away. That is something for which we in this country must accept responsibility.
The hon. Lady is making an extremely powerful speech, with which I entirely agree. What she says about the catastrophe in the rainforest, which I have visited many times, is absolutely true. Surely, however, the point of the debate is not so much to say how awful it all is but to ask what we can do about it. The petitioners request trade sanctions against Brazil. The question is how efficacious that would be in persuading the current Government of Brazil to go back to what the Government there were doing only a year ago.
I will get to what I think needs to be done. Sanctions could play a part, but change in consumption habits could play a much bigger part, and that is something we each have some control over.
In their recent “Risky Business” report, WWF and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds estimate that more than 40% of the UK’s overseas land footprint—nearly 6 million hectares—is in countries that are at high or very high risk of deforestation and of having weak governance and poor labour standards. The more I read about it, the more I see the links between this trade and modern slavery and human rights abuses, with people being displaced from their land, and so on; they are all part and parcel of the same thing.
WWF and the RSPB looked at seven key agricultural commodities imported into the UK: beef and leather, cocoa, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber, soy, and timber. Of those, beef and leather account for by far the largest proportion of our land footprint overseas, despite the fact that we produce almost 80% of our own beef in the UK and import a lot from Ireland. However, the actual picture is much worse, because we must look at animal feed, too. In the EU, around 90% of soy imports are for livestock feed, so it is not just a case of beef from Argentina or Brazil being bad and British beef being fine, as I often hear people try to argue. Yes, there is a case for pasture-fed livestock—I chair the all-party parliamentary group on agroecology for sustainable food and farming, of which the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association is an active member—but that is not what we are talking about.
Every year, the UK consumes around 3.3 million tonnes of soy, more than 75% of which is related to meat consumption, either as imported animal feed or as soy embedded in imported meat products. We must also consider the feed for chickens that lay eggs, and the feed for dairy herds, as well as soya bean oil, which is the second most widely used vegetable oil after palm oil. This has happened to me many times, but I remember the former farming Minister, Jim Paice, trying to tell me that that was all down to more people eating veggie burgers. I assure people that is not the case. That figure may have gone up in recent years, but I think it is still well below 5%—but yes, it is all the vegetarians’ and vegans’ fault, as usual.
It is interesting to compare what has happened with soy bean oil and palm oil. We import nearly three times as much soy bean oil as palm oil, yet it is palm oil that has tended to receive the attention of environmentalists, probably because of the orangutans. Some 21% of global palm oil production is now certified, whereas soy certified by the Round Table on Responsible Soy or ProTerra accounts for only about 2% of global production.
It is true that we cannot be sanctimonious or hypocritical and tell developing countries what to do, given that we deforested our country in the past, but we now know a lot more about the consequences. The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. Should not we all adopt a responsible, conscious approach to consumption, and promote that politically, rather than saying, “We don’t really need to do anything about it, and it’s not about sanctions”? We must all understand that we are responsible, too.
I think so. There have been some interesting global initiatives or attempts at global initiatives. When I was a shadow Minister in the foreign affairs team, I remember meeting representatives from Ecuador. Yasuni national park in Ecuador is almost as biologically diverse and as amazing as the Galapagos Islands, but oil has been discovered there. The representatives wanted to raise funds from across the world by saying to people, “We are a poor country. We need to exploit our natural resources. We need to get the finances in. If you don’t want us to do that and you think that is appalling, then give us some money not to do it.” I understand that was not a successful approach; they did not raise any money and they ended up having to exploit the natural resources.
The Seychelles issued an ocean bond, saying it would protect its marine areas and not overfish if people gave it money to do that. Although there are wealthy people in the Seychelles, there is a lot of poverty too. That blue bond was successful; we need to look at such initiatives, because it is not just about sanctions, but about working together. As the hon. Lady mentioned, I think it is the wrong approach for us to say, “You cannot exploit what you have got,” when we have exploited everything we have got, and we have been to many other countries and exploited what they have as well, over the centuries.”
Some 77% of UK soy imports come from the high-risk countries of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. In its recent report “Money to Burn”, the NGO Global Witness identified the financial institutions behind six key agribusiness companies involved in deforesting climate-critical forests in Brazil, the Congo basin and New Guinea. It revealed that UK-based financial institutions were the second biggest source of financing, providing $6.5 billion, so the UK has a huge responsibility to take action to tackle the source of financing for deforestation. I urge Members to read the report, which is powerful. We must have due diligence regulation across sectors and throughout the supply chain, so people know what their money is being invested in. That would send an important message to businesses, and companies would change the way they operate.
In 2009 I held a debate in this chamber that was prompted in part by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, which was released in 2006. It made a compelling case for action to tackle the consequences for the climate and for our natural environment of the ever more industrialised and intensive livestock industry. As I said in that debate, growing animal feed is a supremely inefficient use of land; it takes around 8 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of beef, and there is a huge water footprint, too. It takes almost 21 square metres of land to produce 1 kg of beef, compared with 0.3 square metres to produce 1 kg of vegetables.
Since then, numerous other highly authoritative reports have made the same arguments. They make the headlines and most people agree that something needs to be done, and yet we seem to be no closer to action, apart from people making their own decisions about what they consume.
I finish by expressing my disappointment at the recent report from the Committee on Climate Change on how we reach net zero; it was, frankly, pathetic. At the launch, the chair of the committee said in his opening speech that his least favourite environmentalists were those who expected people to be cold in their homes or to eat disgusting food. I wondered what he meant by disgusting food, but I can guess. This was from the man who fed his daughter, Cordelia, a hamburger at the height of the BSE crisis; I think we know where he is coming from. We were then told that because people could not be expected to eat disgusting food, the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change was for only a 20% reduction in red meat consumption, which was to be replaced primarily with pork, bacon and poultry rather than plant-based meals.
The Committee on Climate Change was meant to be looking at how deliverable net zero was, primarily from an economic point of view; for example, it was looking at whether we could afford to make the transition to electric vehicles. It also looked at behavioural change and how palatable that would be to the general public. I gather that the behavioural scientist on the committee specialises in shifts in transport, rather than diet, but it took his word on what people would tolerate.
I refer again to the people outside the building today, to people I know and to the people who have contacted me, particularly younger people. I think people are willing to play their part and want to know about the damage their consumption habits cause. It is not just a question of them being able to exercise a choice; the market needs to respond. We need more transparency, so people are educated to make choices, and we need the Government to step in to ensure people are in a position to make those choices.
It is pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). I hope it will not be another 10 years before she makes a speech on this subject. I enjoyed her contribution and found it educational, and I thank her for it. I thank the Petitions Committee for holding this debate—as a former Minister who responded to many Petitions Committee debates, it is nice to be on the other side—and the just over 300 of my constituents who signed the petition; I think I know them all. I thank the schoolchildren, from every school I visit and all those that visit me here, who raise this subject with me, and my own two children, who also raise it with me. I also thank the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for setting out the issue so clearly. I do not want to speak for long, and will make three brief points.
First, and personally, as I have droned on to anyone who will listen or who has asked me about environmental policy since I was elected, this is the issue that got me here and opened my eyes as a schoolboy, when I was no older than my eight-year-old son is now. I remember seeing it on television and protesting at the television about it, and my parents saying it was no good telling them—that I should tell someone else and do something about it. That opened my eyes to becoming an activist, and led me to a lifetime of activism. It got me to join Friends of the Earth when I was a young man and ultimately to pursue a career in politics.
Ever since I was adopted as the candidate for Winchester in 2007, I have campaigned relentlessly under the Green Winchester umbrella on many issues, but I have always returned to this subject. As a schoolboy, I wrote articles and held debates on it. I even wrote a poem on it for the school poetry competition, which the swine did not let me win. While the rates of deforestation in the ’80s, when I was at school, and continuing into the ’90s were deeply troubling and led to the television coverage that caught my attention and raised my ire, it seems that more recent years have given cause for hope in the Amazon.
Deforestation has been a concern in the region for some years, but I note in the excellent House of Commons Library briefing for the debate that the New York declaration on deforestation published this year said:
“Brazil lost almost 55 million hectares of tree cover at a rate of 5.7 soccer fields per minute. More than 84 percent of this loss occurred in the…Amazon…an area bigger than Norway.”
However, previous Brazilian Governments have adopted a series of legal and administrative approaches aimed at reducing deforestation, which led to a decline in loss rates. As the declaration reports, the
“Amazon has long been hailed as a success story in global forest conservation efforts. In 2012, Brazil recorded its lowest deforestation rate in the last 20 years.”
It is worth repeating that point, which was made in the opening speech.
Soy was mentioned in a previous contribution. The world’s first two large-scale voluntary commitments to reduce deforestation were based in the Amazon: the 2006 sector-wide soy moratorium and the 2009 company-specific Cattle Brazil: forging public-private co-operation agreements. Nearly 50 companies have endorsed the soy moratorium covering 90% of the soy trade in the Brazilian Amazon, while 18 of the country’s 22 largest meat processors have committed to at least one of the cattle agreements. These approaches were successful, yet trends in the slowing of forest loss have been reversed in recent years. In the period after 2012, deforestation has again increased, no doubt generating more young boys and girls shouting at the television or outside in Westminster today. The reversal of the trend for the slowing of forest loss has been particularly acute this year, and that is what worries us all so much. The progress report of the New York declaration on forests, published in September, states that
“tree cover loss in the Amazon began to rise again in 2016 when it reached 3.7 million hectares. While the rate of loss has fallen in the past two years, it is still higher than it had been since 2005. For the Amazon, deforestation rates continued to rise in the first part of 2019 with an alarming 88 percent increase in June compared to same month the previous year.”
It is worth repeating the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) that deforestation is increasing in Bolivia and Peru, so it is not just a matter of Brazil—but of course it is mainly Brazil.
Secondly, lots of points have been made about indigenous peoples and ecosystems, and I am not going to repeat them. However, I am a former Health Minister and was the cancer care Minister, and it is often said that the Amazon is the world’s largest medicine cabinet. That is a good point. About 25% of all the drugs that are used today derive from rainforest plants. One point that caused one of my shouty TV moments was this: logically, on the balance of probability, if such a high percentage of the things we know about have come from the rainforest, what else is out there? For those who have been involved with fighting cancer, and the loss of the fight, as many times as I and many other people in the Chamber have, it would be wonderful if we could detect more cancers earlier, as is the Government’s ambition. However, as we will not do that for everyone, we will need medicines and drug treatments. For me, the great question is what else is out there.
My third point is about the response, which is obviously what the petitioners are interested in. I understand President Bolsonaro’s view about sovereignty. Of course, international law would be on his side with respect to the sovereignty of his land, but I argue that sovereignty of the planet belongs to us all. Some 40 years after I was raised into political activism of some sort we are still having the same conversation—and, what is worse, the situation is getting more acute and worrying, because deforestation rates seem to be going in the wrong direction again.
I understand the argument that we need to help Brazil to trade its way out of the situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) made his point well, and I listened to him carefully. He has visited the area many times. It is often said that the Amazon basin has a population living in poverty, and that is undoubtedly true, but a lot of deforestation does not stem from poverty. According to the federal Government 32.5% of deforestation in 2016 happened on big farms, and 24.5% on invaded public land, while 30% happened on smallholder agricultural land possessions and 11% inside protected areas that allow for economic activities. So much deforestation, especially on squatted land, is commissioned by people who do not live in the Amazon, including gangs of land speculators and other forms of organised crime. Most of the big farmers and land-grabbers come from São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Paraná and other southern states, attracted by the cheap land and the low level of law enforcement in Brazil. I understand the argument, but it worries me.
As to the response to the petition, at the time of the G20 summit France and Ireland raised the prospect of not ratifying the huge trade deal with South American nations unless Brazil did more to fight fires in the Amazon. President Macron of France said that President Bolsonara had lied to him about his stance on climate change. Our Prime Minister said:
“The fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest are not only heartbreaking, they are an international crisis. We stand ready to provide whatever help we can to bring them under control and help protect one of Earth’s greatest wonders.”
German Chancellor Merkel called the fire an “acute emergency” that was
“shocking and threatening not only for Brazil and the other affected countries, but also for the whole world”.
I agree with all those statements but, far from arguing that we should withdraw from trade negotiations, I suggest that the deal should explicitly say that countries must commit to tackling climate change. I suggest therefore that all we are asking is that the EU, of which we are still currently a member, should hold Brazil to the commitments in the emerging agreement. That seems perfectly reasonable to me.
Forty years on from the time I described earlier, we are still having the conversation. If we are still having it after another 40 years it will not be a problem but a bit of history—gone for ever. The medicines that we might have found, which might have produced cures for terrible diseases—the diseases that I have spent many hours answering debates on in Westminster Hall, and that affect our constituents—will not be found. If we were to let that happen it seems to me it would be a stain on humanity. The point about sovereignty needs to be balanced alongside that argument. I ask the Minister—he is an excellent Minister and a good friend—to set out the latest position of Her Majesty’s Government on the EU-Mercosur trade deal, from the point of view of a member state and, presumably, from 1 November, a former member state. Where do we stand? What leverage do the Government propose to put on to Brazil and the neighbouring countries that have been mentioned? I will not be here in 40 years but perhaps my son will. I do not want him to be having the same argument that we are.
I am sorry if I repeat anything that another Member has said. It has been a good debate, with excellent contributions, and I will not push too many statistics. I have always been involved in environmental issues. Early in my career, before I got into Parliament, I started the Socialist Environment and Resources Association, and the first branch of Friends of the Earth in England and Wales, in Swansea. I also started a number of organisation such as Urban Minds. So I “do” the environment, in a sense, but I have obviously not done it very effectively. I have been in this place for 40 years and we have not woken up to the fact that we are destroying our fragile planet. We seem to be hell bent on destroying it.
I support most of the petition, but I think that the question is multifaceted. I have worked with Brazilians and other South Americans. I used to co-chair the British-Brazilian all-party parliamentary group, and I started a charity in Peru working on rural and urban development, giving jobs to young people in Lima and the countryside. I know that those are not primitive, backward people. They are highly intelligent and clever. Often they are absolutely let down by bad governance, but they are talented. They have talented scientists. Some of the best technological and scientific innovation takes place in Brazil. It was one of the best competitors in the aircraft industry—a pretty sophisticated industry. Brazil has enormous talent and I sometimes wonder why we do not reach out to that talent more effectively.
I get fed up, and I think the time is coming when the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association must wake up to the fact that getting on planes and going to visit and talk to other parliamentarians is something of the past. Some colleagues will not like that, but we must develop new techniques for parliamentarians across the globe to work together. We can do it by clever video conferences and the social media potential is enormous. We should reflect on that as parliamentarians. We often say “It’s the Government.” In an intervention on the very good speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), I mentioned the appearance of the Brazilian Environment Minister on the BBC World Service this morning, which I thought was very poor. However, other major influences are also poor. I work with a number of Brazilian legislators on reducing road deaths in Brazil—a very big killer—so I know about international working.
What a great and powerful contribution from the hon. Gentleman. I encourage him to renew his interest in not only the IPU, but the all-party parliamentary group on Latin America, because we engage on many of the issues that he has talked about, and with that knowledge and expertise he would make a very valuable new member.
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much; I will revisit my level of activity in the group.
When I speak to clever Brazilians, they say to me, “But look what you’ve done to the world. You’ve deforested Europe. At present you are probably despoiling the quality of soil right across Europe and in the UK. You are doing dreadful things that are awful for the environment as well.” When we look at the facts of the matter, we are exporting some of the worst chemicals for people all over the world to put on their land. Indeed, in my own constituency, Syngenta makes weed-killers that it cannot sell in Europe, but it exports them beyond Europe. We should have a conscience about what we are exporting, the soil degradation that we are causing and the fact that we must prove to the Brazilians that we are concerned about climate change worldwide.
I have been inspired by the young people. I have 12 grandchildren. Four of them live in Cambridge and a couple of them have been leaders in the climate change campaign. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge brought one of my granddaughters, Lola, up to meet the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). That shows how active we are on a cross-party basis.
I am inspired because young people have got it. Greta Thunberg, who we invited to this place, has galvanised the level of activity and interest. On the other side, I am inspired by the young people coming out. In Huddersfield the other day, we had a wonderful event in St George’s Square with great speakers. They were young people. It is young people who excite me, because they have got it, and things are changing.
Young people are changing what they eat, so there are more vegans. Two or three years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) got me to join the all-party parliamentary group on vegetarianism and veganism. I do not know that I am as good at pursuing that as she is, but I helped the group to be quorate on a particular day. The fact of the matter is that young people’s habits—what they eat, what they do, their impact on the environment—are changing fast.
My other inspiration is Professor Steve Jones of University College London, who has produced a book that I have just finished reviewing, “Here Comes the Sun”. If people want to know the real science, he is a Reith lecturer and one of the leading experts in the world. I say to hon. Members, “Read it. It is a hard read, but it tells the unvarnished truth about how we are destroying the climate.” This is not just about the species and the wonderful flora and fauna of the Amazon, but about the fact that the Amazon rainforest helps to regulate the weather globally. When are people going to wake up to the fact that these changes—these fires, these droughts, these floods—are related to climate change?
Of course, if we want to pick on anyone big and say, “It’s your fault, mate,” we should not pick just on the Brazilian leadership. We should look at north America and President Trump. If we want to know what has changed a lot of the attitudes in South America, it is the attitude of the President of the United States, which has changed dramatically from Obama to the present President.
Let us, first, recognise that our delicate, fragile planet is desperately in trouble, and that we will not hand on anything to our children and grandchildren if we do not act now, and act positively. That means sharing technology, science and innovation—including giving it to the Chinese. We do not do anything about the Chinese. The Chinese no longer have any bees. Their agriculture has been so intensive that they have to hand-pollinate, because they have killed all the bees in China. In north America they have killed most of the songbirds.
We must wake up to the urgency of what we face, but not then despair and say, “Oh, it’s all too difficult for us, we can’t tackle this.” We need good science, good technology, sharing of information, sharing of new methods of agriculture and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East said powerfully, new ways of consuming.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I was just going to finish, but I will give way.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful speech. Had I appreciated that he was coming to the end of it, I would have backed off. He made the point about how informed young people are about consumption. He was talking about his grandchildren, and I am sure he is struck by how knowledgeable they are and how that knowledge and information is informing the decisions and choices that they make. That should be inspirational to all of us, as he suggests. Visiting various primary schools, I was amazed that so many children said, “We don’t eat those biscuits, because they have so much palm oil.” We are talking about Brazil and the impact on the rainforests there, but if we look at the rainforest fires in Indonesia, where there is widespread devastation and clearance for palm oil, which goes into so many of our foodstuffs, does he agree that this is a massive, global issue? Obviously we are talking about Brazil, but it is a wider thing across our globe.
I am grateful for that helpful intervention. I will reiterate that my Bible has become Professor Steve Jones. Interestingly enough, he has been almost banned by the BBC. He told me that the trouble is that we cannot get a decent debate on climate change on radio or television, because the BBC has this daft idea of balance. Steve cannot get on, as a leading professor and scientist, because apparently they cannot find anyone better qualified than Nigel Lawson to provide balance. He is almost banned from the BBC because he knows too much. What a crazy world! The fact of the matter is that we know what is happening, we know about the science and we know that we have the keys if we share information.
We as parliamentarians are too often lazy. We should not be getting on planes. There is a group of us who are working together on how, deep into the 21st century, we can communicate with other legislators around the world in a positive and supportive way. If anyone would like to join that group with me, I will be holding a meeting this coming Wednesday.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Moon. I congratulate the more than 100,000 signatories to this petition, because it seems that more and more it is the people outside who bring the most pertinent discussions to this House.
We are having a good discussion. I am happy to acknowledge what a pleasure it is to follow the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), and his enthusiasm, which I share, that if we put our mind to it, there are solutions to the climate crisis and we must not be gloomy. We hear increasingly about people who get really depressed about the future, especially young people. That, on top of the challenge that we have, will be devastating if we allow it to continue. The hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) is leaving the Chamber, but it was a particular pleasure to listen to what he was saying.
One of my favourite films is “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”. Hon. Members may remember how, at the end of the film, the committee is still debating and Brian is already on the cross. That is what we often do: we debate and debate, and we do not acknowledge the emergency that is actually before us. I share the impatience of everybody who has been demonstrating today and who will continue to demonstrate outside with Extinction Rebellion.
Like the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), I became a member of Greenpeace—more than 30 years ago, in Germany. This is not a new thing. We knew about it, yet what have we done about it? If anything, we will have to justify to future generations the fact that we knew about this. The chair of the Committee on Climate Change said that we have a “moral duty”, because we know what to do about it, so let us do it.
That is the impetus, and that is the response that I would like to see from the Government. There is an emergency. We know what to do about it. Let us not just say, “Well, we have already done quite a lot.” We have definitely not done enough. That is what these debates are all about. I hope that we can find a cross-party consensus on the fact that it an emergency and that we need to do a lot more. It is a massive challenge; young people are reminding us how big the challenge is. We do not want to be depressed about it, but we need to do a lot more.
I must say that I take a slightly grim view of the Brazilian Government. As the hon. Member for Winchester said, deforestation actually slowed down between 2004 and 2014, or 2013—I cannot quite remember the figures—but it is increasing again, which is disappointing. If we could do that between 2004 and 2012, we need to look at why it has gone backwards. These are the questions that we have to ask ourselves.
Deforestation in the Amazon is a global crisis. The Amazon is the largest carbon dioxide sink in the world; it captures and stores a huge amount of CO2, doing the heavy lifting for all of us in the fight to stop the looming climate crisis. During the summer, reports emerged about the huge expansion of Amazon rainforest fires. Although wildfires are seasonal and play a role in regenerating wildlife, the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest were much larger than usual. If the Brazilian Government continue to ignore the extent of the damage, those fires will pose a serious threat to the Amazon biome.
I understand the argument that it is a bit rich for us to pontificate if we have, in the past, also deforested and if our economies ultimately profit from what is happening elsewhere in the world. However, responsible Governments see that there has to be something like a carrot and a stick, and I think we need to apply a bit of a stick, not just a carrot. We need global co-operation if we are to have any chance of keeping the rise in global temperatures below 1.5° C. If we continue on this trajectory, global temperatures are currently predicted to rise by about 3° C. That is just not acceptable, and we cannot be complacent. If we fail, we will face an irreversible climate crisis, which evidence suggests will destroy ecosystems, cause the extinction of thousands of species and displace much of the world’s population.
This is one of the wider political problems. The climate crisis and catastrophe will affect the world disproportionately. Some countries, particularly in the northern hemisphere, will be okay—Britain will probably be one of them—but what about Africa and the southern hemisphere? If we think globally, and if we believe that we cannot just let other countries sink into the ocean or have intolerable temperatures so that they cannot sustain human life, our response has to be urgent. It is our global moral responsibility to act, and so far I do not think that the Government have really woken up to this emergency.
The only way we can stop this is by everyone, on every level, doing their bit, from individuals to international bodies that represent groups of nations. Brazilian President Bolsonaro, it seems, has so far shown no interest in averting the climate catastrophe or in putting forward some climate action. I will be very political here: he is a populist leader who uses environmental chaos, social instability and economic disruption for his own political gain. He has no regard for the long-term implications of rainforest destruction. It would be naive to think that Bolsonaro turns a blind eye only for short-term financial success. Burning down the rainforests and literally fuelling the climate crisis is consistent with his disruptive political agenda. It matters that we stand up to these populist leaders who seek to divide people, not only for the people of this world but for the planet.
I fully agree with the petition, signed by 122,578 people across the UK. We cannot afford to sit on the fence and let other countries do the work. If the Government are serious about reaching net zero and about preserving our environment for future generations, we must do more now. Liberal Democrat MEPs have been playing a central role within the EU in challenging Mr Bolsonaro’s policy and in working with other EU partners to figure out how to challenge his destructive agenda. I take the point of the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) that it is no good only to impose sanctions. However, the European Union, which is usually very good on international co-operation, has proposed this path, and I believe that the British Government should fall in line and do the same and really put some stick into their actions towards the Brazilian Government.
International pressure is the way to build incentives for Brazil to protect its rainforest and step up in the fight against the climate crisis. This is where our membership of the EU is central, allowing us to lead the fight against populism and climate destruction. By promising to leave the EU on 31 October, the Government are recklessly putting the UK out into the cold, where our power and influence will be much diminished. The fight to reach net zero and save our planet for future generations will be the biggest challenge we have ever faced. We owe it to future generations to act and do something now.
The hon. Lady makes some powerful points. Does she agree—the point was made by the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine)—that this is almost like a double whammy? It is not just the fact that we depend on these international organisations to oversee and to show responsibility for these challenges, which are multinational, not national, and that leaving the EU will make things so much tougher for us. To underline the point, as the hon. Member for Winchester was saying, it is also about where we see ourselves, and the opportunities and challenges, and perhaps the threats, of doing global trade deals and free trade agreements with countries such as Brazil when we are in a weaker position. There will be a hint of desperation about our trying to strike an early deal with them. We may seek to get exports to them, but are we prepared to take more beef from them, which of course comes at the expense of the rainforest? Does she agree that it is not simply about international organisations but also our future trade arrangements and the power we have or do not have in them?
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. Again, who do we see ourselves to be in the world? Will we support nationalist Governments who, ultimately, when it really becomes difficult, will put up fences, pull up the drawbridge and not let people in anymore, saying, “Well, we are okay; sod everybody else”? Sorry, Mrs Moon.
International solidarity and our humanity demand of us to act globally and not just to do things in our national interest. I have always believed that being a member of the European Union is part of that attitude of being global and thinking co-operatively, not only in our own national interest. Of course, national interest matters, and everybody can discover their national interest at some point, but it is very dangerous to think in that way. We have to solve global challenges globally and be a good global player, and wow, hasn’t Britain been leading the way internationally for so many decades? I have become a proud British citizen because I believe in that sort of Britain, not in a small-minded, narrow Britain.
We cannot get there without global action, and we must respond with one voice when a leader like Bolsonaro fails to take the climate crisis seriously. I hope that the Minister will take on board what has been said so far this afternoon.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. As we have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and the hon. Members for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and for Winchester (Steve Brine), we have a real crisis on our hands.
Although Parliament did declare a climate emergency, “emergency” seems to have slipped from the lexicon, so it is really important that we in the debate ensure that the Government hear very clearly their responsibility not just for our generation but for future generations, and not just for our nation but as a global partner, to ensure that we get this right. After all, it is only a fleeting time that we are on this planet, and we therefore carry such a huge responsibility, not least in being elected to this place, to ensure that we do absolutely everything within our power to make sure that we address the climate injustice that we see at this time.
As has already been described, the Amazon basin sits there as home and habitat to unique biospheres, and the accelerating pace at which it is being degraded, under the leadership of Mr Bolsonaro, is of real concern. I therefore believe that we in Parliament have a responsibility to put pressure on leaderships where they fail. We speak so much about how we have such global influence—I have heard it in debate after debate since being in the House—but unless we use it, it is futile.
We recognise the progress that Brazil has made in setting stringent targets for itself and moving towards those. However, if it is now regressing, as seems to be the case, all of that is tokenistic and we therefore have a serious responsibility not only to get to grips with the issues before us, but to ensure that other countries do likewise, in solidarity with us, and to apply the appropriate pressure—leverage—and put our power in the right place to ensure that Brazil falls into line. The same applies to many other countries where we are also seeing deforestation.
We must remind ourselves that of the 7 million sq km of the Amazon basin, 5.5 million sq km are covered by rainforest, of which 60% is in Brazil, so Brazil is significant in this debate. One in 10 species lives in the Amazon, and a quarter of terrestrial species. It accounts for half the world’s tropical forest area. Thirty-four million people also live there, and 385 indigenous groups depend on its resources. We have not heard about the people in this debate, but it is vital that we protect their environment, the environment in which they live, as opposed to seeing them moved out of places where for generations they have respected and treated with such kindness and diligence their local environment.
Of course, South America is such an incredible carbon store but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge said, we are seeing the loss of the equivalent of 5.7 football pitches every minute. That must wake us up. It is worth repeating until they are etched on our minds the statistics for the scale of devastation that we are seeing.
That is why Brazil’s commitment at COP 24 was so significant. It stated that carbon emissions were to decrease by 37% by 2025 and 43% by 2030. It is extremely alarming that we have heard that President Bolsonaro wants to withdraw from the Paris agreement. At COP 24, it was stated that 94 million more hectares in the key biomes would be protected; that was on top of the 335 already protected areas.
We are seeing regression. We are seeing Bolsonaro looking the other way. The first part of 2019 has seen an 88% rise in the rate of deforestation. The New Scientist reported that in July alone—just one month; 31 days— 3,700 sq km were lost. And there has been an 84% increase in fires compared with the same period just one year previously—77,000 fires have been recorded in satellite data.
We have not taken our eye off the ball, but we cannot do nothing at this time and just comment, as we are doing today in this Chamber; we have to act. The facts can no longer be hidden. We see the propaganda machines come out to challenge the figures, but technology itself is telling the story for us.
We have seen the rise in agricultural activity, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East highlighted. I am referring to the beef industry, soy, logging, mining, land speculation—the buying up of this vital habitat—and urban development on core sites. Of course, this is driven not just by internal politics, but by international trade, financing and political determinations. And it is all happening at a time when enforcement agencies in Brazil are being stripped of their funding and their ability to act.
May I intervene on the point about international agencies and enforcement? My hon. Friend mentioned logging. Does she share my concern and my belief that at this time there is an opportunity through the United Nations and CITES—the convention on international trade in endangered species—to ensure that there are greater controls over not just the logging, but the markets and the opportunities to sell the timber products around the world? We are seeing rosewood, teak and so on being lost, for all sorts of things—garden furniture and other products—which is really unnecessary in this era. Does my hon. Friend share my concern and my belief that through the UN and CITES we should be putting an absolute stop to that, so that there is no market?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the role of CITES and the UN. I shall highlight some other ways in which I believe we could bring pressure to bear in order to protect this habitat. The fact that goods can be traded, and across the agricultural sector as well, means that we have a serious problem. When we start seeing the label “Brazil”, we have to be able to make inquiries as to where things have been sourced. The same applies to places elsewhere in the world. When I was a shadow Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister, I was looking at the labelling that we have on all our products, because the right labelling is essential. Our inquiring minds should not have to go and research everything that we purchase; we should be able easily to access data to understand the source. We might make different consumption choices if that were the case.
This is not just another problem in another country on a far-off continent; this is where 15% of global terrestrial photosynthesis takes place. We think of the rainforest as the lungs of our planet, sequestering carbon and driving climate, precipitation and weather systems. Our battle with climate deterioration is caught up in the Amazon story. Events that happen in the UK are the result of what is happening across the Amazon, so our actions at this time really matter. Whether in the Amazon, Borneo and Indonesia, west Africa or the US, the pace of deforestation is alarming, and actions to respond to that will provide real resistance to climate degradation.
COP 24 was a hopeful moment. However, we are all realistic enough to know that unless we see global action taken, the Paris accord will be futile. I do not belittle the agreements, such as the tropical forest alliance, to which the UK is a signatory, and I urge the Government to use greater influence within these alliances for global action. Nor do I belittle the drops of money that we have placed in the ocean needed to tackle the global climate catastrophe. But it is clear that the political and financial relationships of the UK and global partners also have a significant role to play.
As the UK this summer launched a new trade facilitation programme with Brazil to support exports to the UK, I ask the Minister how that has specifically brought pressure to bear on Mr Bolsonaro to change his approach. What efforts are being made in the City and, no doubt, UK pension funds and investments to withdraw from companies exploiting the Amazon region? Where is the market transparency? Where are we seriously lessening the demand for products, ranging from minerals to meat, to take away the case for destroying our rainforests?
Does the hon. Lady agree that it is really important that we encourage the City of London, for example, to invest in ethical funds, particularly those seeking to unleash the huge potential that I alluded to in my speech with regard to renewable energy, particularly offshore wind, for which Brazil’s coastline is unmatched in terms of ability to produce?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I listened carefully to his speech. Across the globe there is so much untapped resource with which we could transform our energy market. It is really important that we look at that seriously. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield referred to the talent within Brazil to bring about such a transformation. It does not necessarily have to come from the UK; it could come from Brazil as well. It could bring transformation to the whole region. I agree that there are real opportunities. As we look to green new deals, we do not want to see them just in the UK; we want to see them spring up across the world.
However, we do have a role in applying leverage over the protection of natural resources; otherwise, our battle with the climate will be lost. Real climate justice must be rooted in making the connection between politics, finance and climate change. Where harm is occurring in one corner of the world, the consequences will be felt by us all, and of course the least resilient will feel them the most. Therefore, we cannot deal with this issue just as nation states, or see it as our responsibility just to have jurisdiction over our country. These are global issues, and as internationalists it is vital that we address them globally.
We cannot afford not to apply that leverage. The cost of climate degradation to the UK and to developing countries—through global inequality, population migration, flood and famine—is too great. The UK boasts of its place in the global economic market, but unless we use our power to force change, we will be complicit with the actions of Bolsonaro.
This petition, signed by 303 of my constituents, calls for trade sanctions, one measure among many to pressurise the Brazilian Government. The Government’s response to the petition was woeful. It stated:
“The United Kingdom will continue to monitor the situation in the Amazon closely”.
How will that help? They talk about “dialogue with Brazil”—really? We are currently part of the UN and the EU. How are we using our leverage to ensure that those responsible for not only Amazon deforestation but the wider global climate crisis are held to account?
[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]
Paris was a landmark agreement, but with Bolsonaro wanting to withdraw, and the UK Government well off target for meeting their fourth and fifth carbon budgets, it is clear that declarations are not enough; global leverage is now needed. When atrocities are committed, we have an international process of justice in The Hague to deal with those responsible through the International Court of Justice. However, the millions who are affected by climate degradation have no such seat of justice.
If we leave the EU, we will see the powers of the EU courts removed and, short of the environment Bill filling the deficit, accountability over pollution and environmental destruction will be severely weakened. The UN may pass resolutions, which are valued, but the leverage it applies is all too weak. The likes of Bolsonaro will be able to laugh at the UN, the EU and the UK, unless we first apply a comprehensive approach of political, trade and financial sanctions.
Further, in the light of the climate crisis, we must seriously explore the leverage we can apply through a system of global justice to those who breach global agreements, whether a signatory to them or not. The level of devastation to our climate is so significant that it demands an international judicial approach, with powers to strip assets from companies that breach international agreements and political Administrations that enable them to do so. We have a role in shaping the future and leading the world in these matters, and I want to hear what the Minister will do to that end. I know that we cannot sit back and wait. We need innovative and harsh solutions to tackle the crisis that we are facing.
I want to end by reflecting on the climate strikes, and the words of one boy who spoke in York. His speech was very short. As he got up and left his class to join the climate strikers, his teacher called out, “What difference are you going to make as one person?” He said, “Let’s see” and walked out of the room. He spoke at that climate strike and I spoke to him. I am now speaking to the Minister. Let’s see what difference that boy can make, as well as the thousands of young people who have come out on to the streets, the people protesting from Extinction Rebellion and the global movement that is building today. Let’s see how the Minister responds. Let us hope that we can really address this climate emergency and put real measures in place that will transform this very serious situation today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I thank the hon. Members who have spoken in favour of this motion. I was particularly taken by the speeches made by my hon. Friends the Members for York Central (Rachael Maskell), for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), as well as the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse). They all spoke eloquently about the need for urgent action, and I agree wholeheartedly with their support for the petition.
I would like to address two key points, which have been mentioned but perhaps need some further emphasis: first, the scale of the challenge; and, secondly, the need for an urgent response. It is vital to consider where we are with climate change, to look at the term “climate emergency” and consider what it really means, and then to look at the range of potential responses available to Governments around the world.
Regarding the science of climate change, it is fair to say—without being an expert, but as a relatively well-informed observer—that we are approaching a serious tipping point. I do not say that lightly. It is really clear from the evidence from the UN reports, and other independent science from a range of universities and other scientific bodies around the world, that the climate faces a tipping point.
That is not a small tweak or a little change, but a fundamental change. It means that we are on a path to the destruction of humanity on this planet, because of the rising proportion of carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere which cause or facilitate climate change. As humans, we are ultimately responsible for that process. The data is clear on the number of warm years recently, and the amount of carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere, which has been measured since the 1950s. The link with climate change is clear.
We now sit on the edge of the abyss, and we have to do something about that. I think that it is perfectly reasonable and responsible to do so, given the situation that we now face, which is demonstrated by the melting and the threat of melting of great ice sheets—not just of relatively modest areas of ice, but of the West Antarctic ice sheet and the Greenland ice sheet—which would dramatically increase the sea level around the world, and which would lead to large parts of the planet being uninhabitable, including in parts of Great Britain. Many coastal cities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and towns next to rivers, such as Reading and Woodley in my constituency, could be very seriously affected by this level of change. Admittedly, that would be over many decades, but it would mean saying to our children in our old age, “We failed, and we failed very seriously.”
In that context, I think it is perfectly reasonable for protestors outside, and for us in this House, to use the term “climate emergency”. We should not shy away from it. I am sure the Minister will address that with the level of gravity that this serious situation demands. That is my first point. I am grateful to colleagues who made points clearly in support of that and highlighted the particular issues in Brazil, where the Amazon is greatly important. It is a huge carbon sink, but it is under threat from the dreadfully irresponsible fires, which the Government of Brazil have so wrongly allowed to take place.
My second point is on a different note, but it addresses the first one. There is a need for urgent and sustained action. It is the duty of all Governments around the world, of whatever political colour, to join together and take that action now. The same goes for private individuals, companies, charities and schools. In whatever human organisation, we need to change our behaviour, whether that is by eating less meat, driving less or cycling rather than driving. There is a series of measures that we can all take in our daily lives.
As people in the developed world, we should not shy away from taking a clear stance with people in the developing world, however awkward that might seem. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) about the need to engage with civil society in Brazil, but we can do that by reinforcing the voices of those in Brazil who are calling for change and addressing the deep mistakes of that Government. In that context, this petition is absolutely right and we should take it seriously. I hope the Minister will address it and take it on. I urge him to take the matter very seriously, to leave no stone unturned and to consider this form of action. We should not take this potential policy lightly; it is necessary, given the situation, and I urge him to address the matter clearly.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I thank all who have spoken. Everyone pointed in the same direction: urgent action is needed now. I thank those who initiated and added their signature to this petition. I believe there are more than 122,000 signatories, many hundreds of whom are from my city of Dundee. They have enabled us to have this important debate. I thank the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for his insightful and informative speech, which opened the good debate we have had so far.
As many other hon. Members have noticed, it is particularly fitting that we are having this debate as Extinction Rebellion begins its two-week protest in and around Westminster. Last Friday, a couple of its members came to see me to discuss what they should do while they are outside this week. I said, “The most important thing is to pressurise each and every one of your MPs to speak,” but I am afraid to say that although there are great speakers here, this Chamber is frankly not as ram-packed as it should be.
Extinction Rebellion has been clear that human activity is causing irreparable harm to life on this planet, and that we face a global climate emergency and mass extinction as a result. That is happening both here in the UK and across the planet, and the current situation in the Amazon is a sad illustration. The continued deforestation of the Amazon rainforest will only exacerbate the climate emergency that we face and accelerate the loss of species that we should be protecting.
The protection of the Amazon rainforest is of global importance. In simple terms, the Amazon rainforest serves as the lungs of our planet. It accounts for 15% of global terrestrial photosynthesis, absorbing huge amounts of carbon dioxide every year. At a time when we are acutely aware of the need to remove CO2 from our atmosphere, it is dangerously counterproductive to risk the future of our planet by recklessly damaging a vital global resource.
More than 30 million people live in the Amazon, including between 300 and 400 indigenous groups. After my university studies in social anthropology, I had the opportunity to spend some time in the Amazon and listen to some of the many secrets and lessons that people have learned from living there. For many of them, the rainforest is not just their home; it is the home of their ancestors, it defines their daily lives and it is integral to their culture. Those people, who have lived and breathed the Amazon for generations, are the most likely to suffer as their needs are overlooked and their environment is destroyed in favour of the interests of those pursuing profit and economic growth regardless of the consequences.
Furthermore, the Amazon has an incredibly rich ecosystem, which we have a duty to protect. The rainforest contains one in 10 known species on Earth, including 40,000 plant species, 3,000 varieties of fish, and 1,300 types of bird. As the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) mentioned, there are medicines there waiting to be discovered, many of which may be life-saving. All of that is under threat from deforestation. The simple but sad fact is that once we destroy these species, we will never get them back. We must not let that happen. It should be unthinkable that future generations will grow up without such biodiversity in one of the world’s natural wonders, but without serious action we risk losing this vital asset, with devastating consequences.
We will have all seen the shocking images of fires in the Amazon rainforest over the summer; more than 30,000 were recorded in August alone. That has prompted much of the recent discussion on deforestation—a huge problem in the Amazon over the past 50 years, during which 17% of the forest cover has been devastated. We are all familiar with the reasons for deforestation: the expansion of extensive cattle farming and timber plantations, the increase of oil, gas and mining operations, and the construction of large-scale infrastructure projects such as big dams and roads.
Between 2004 and 2012, large-scale voluntary commitments, regulatory reforms and the creation of protected areas helped to result in a dramatic drop in deforestation in the Amazon; in 2012 Brazil recorded its lowest deforestation rate in the past 20 years. That would have been something to be proud of if the trend had not reversed since then, troublingly: deforestation began to rise again in 2016, and the rate of damage and loss over the past two years is higher than it was 20 years ago.
It is clear that we have not been vigilant enough in protecting our rainforests, and it appears that 2019 has been a particularly bad year. Deforestation rates in June were 88% higher than in June 2018, and according to preliminary satellite data, the losses in the first seven months of 2019 were 16% above the recent high of 3,183 sq km lost in 2016. We are witnessing disaster unfold before our eyes.
What is most troubling is the attitude of the Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro. We know that he is sceptical about actions to curb climate change and that he wanted to pull Brazil out of the Paris climate change accord. He has spoken of the Amazon as a “virgin” that should be “exploited” for agriculture, mining and infrastructure projects. When Brazil’s institute for space research revealed the extent of deforestation this summer, he said that the numbers were fake, dismissed international concerns as sensationalist and sacked the head of the institute.
Bolsonaro’s stripping back of protections and anti-environmental rhetoric have clearly encouraged those who wish the deforestation of the Amazon for their own gain. Worryingly, they appear to be becoming something of a global pattern, with Bolsonaro following in the climate change-denying, anti-environmental footsteps of President Trump. Each President scorns the need to protect the environment, undermines the Paris agreement and is willing to sacrifice precious resources, which will only embolden the next populist leader elsewhere intent on dismissing the scientific evidence in front of us, turning their back on collective responsibility and refusing to take on the environmental challenge that we all face in favour of furthering their own short-term, narrow interests regardless of the consequences.
We must have a means to fight back against those attitudes and actions. Trade wars are in no-one’s best interest, but we must keep every option open to combat deforestation and the climate emergency. My SNP colleague in the European Parliament, Alyn Smith, has joined other MEPs across the member states in writing to the European Commission to urge it to make implementation of the Paris agreement on climate change a precondition for any country that wants to conclude a trade agreement with the European Union. Additionally, Ireland’s Taoiseach and France’s President have said that they will attempt to block the Mercosur trade agreement if Brazil continues to ignore its environmental commitments.
The UK Government should listen seriously to those words. They cannot continue with business as usual while Bolsonaro presides over the destruction of the Amazon. The deforestation of the Amazon is a global issue that requires a global response. It is evident that economic development will always trump environmental protection in the eyes of Brazil’s current President, and the UK cannot indulge and seek to benefit from Bolsonaro’s desire for growth and trade while the Amazon rainforest is sacrificed. In any future trade talks with Brazil, what provisions will be made to disincentivise deforestation and ensure that goods that originate from illegally cleared land in the Amazon do not form part of any trade deal or find a way into the UK? We need a crystal-clear answer from the Minister today about the UK Government’s plans.
Furthermore, it is imperative that we act not only as defenders of the environment, but as defenders of human rights. Bolsonaro has stated that “not a centimetre” more of land will be demarcated for indigenous reserves, and has transferred responsibility for delineating indigenous territories from the Justice Ministry to the Agriculture Ministry, which means putting people among cattle as if they were one and the same. That was seen by many people as a concession to the agriculture industry and an expression of his desire to pursue the expansion of agriculture at the expense of the rights of indigenous people—one lawmaker described it as
“letting the fox take over the chicken coop.”
Ensuring the territorial rights of indigenous peoples is an urgent imperative. What efforts are the UK Government making to ensure that those rights are protected? The protection of the Amazon cuts across foreign policy, trade policy and international development policy, so there must be coherence among the relevant Departments in how the UK tackles the ongoing problem of Amazon deforestation and of global climate change and environmental degradation more generally. As we know, policy coherence across the UK Government has been left wanting, so what steps are being taken to ensure policy coherence to tackle this hugely important problem in the short and medium term?
Throughout this debate, I have been reminded of the passionate words of Greta Thunberg at the UN last month:
“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.”
Nothing exemplifies that more than the deforestation of the Amazon. It is one of the great tragedies of our time, and we must do everything we possibly can to stop it spiralling out of control.
It is very nice to see you in the Chair, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on his excellent and comprehensive introduction to the debate.
I am grateful to everyone who initiated and signed the petition, because it relates to a crucial problem for us all. As colleagues have said, it is appropriate that we are debating it while Extinction Rebellion is demonstrating outside. I find it incredible that some people seem to think that the big problem is that Westminster bridge is blocked. The big problem is that the Amazon has been on fire! We need to get these things in proportion.
The Amazon fires over the summer were not accidental or natural. They were lit deliberately, and they destroyed 7,000 square miles of forest. The situation is particularly worrying because once a large amount of forest is destroyed, we will get feedback mechanisms and we will not be able to control what goes on. Avoiding such a feedback mechanism here is one of the most important things that we must do, because every year the Amazon rainforest absorbs a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted across the whole world. That tells us that fires in the Amazon are not a Brazilian problem or a Latin American problem; they are our problem and everybody’s problem, and we need to own the problem and tackle it in that spirit.
I am disappointed with the Government’s tip-toeing approach, which suggests to me that they do not really understand the seriousness of the problem. I do not know why Government Ministers do not understand it; my constituents do. Di Murphy, who has set up Bishop Auckland Climate Action, understands it. Even 10-year-old Meredith Lambert Sams, who invited me to her primary school last week, understands it.
I went to Cotherstone Primary School on Friday and I was asked a lot of questions by the extremely well-informed children. The most worrying question came from a boy who said to me, “What I don’t understand is why proper action hasn’t been taken already.” I have to say that I was quite stumped by that, because it is not as if we have not known about this situation for 10 years, 20 years or 50 years. How bad does it have to get before we take proper action? There is absolutely no longer any room for complacency whatsoever. We only have 12 years now, and we have to sort this out.
We are really concerned about the Amazon because of the impact it has on the climate, and that is the priority. However, I will just remind people of the Amazon’s biodiversity, because we do not inhabit this globe alone; we do so alongside other species. The Amazon is one of the Earth’s last refuges for jaguars, harpy eagles, pink dolphins, two-toed sloths, pygmy marmosets, saddleback and emperor tamarins, and Goeldi’s monkeys. There are also thousands of birds, butterflies and other insects there. When we think about looking after the planet, we have to do so not only for ourselves, but for all the marvellous range of biodiversity that currently exists.
I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) has left the Chamber. He said that he was very concerned and that we should not implement trade sanctions, because we should have a more collaborative approach with the indigenous people. I think he has not read the petition, which says:
“Indigenous people have called for the EU to impose trade sanctions on Brazil to halt the deforestation because they fear genocide.”
The indigenous people of the Amazon have been living there in a sustainable way for generations. the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) is right that with modern science we can use the resources of the Amazon in new and creative ways, particularly in medicine. However, we need to be very careful about behaving as if we are the experts and the indigenous people do not know what they are doing, because it is clear that their way of life does not destroy the Amazon in the way that ours does.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) made an excellent speech about the exploitation of forests and the urgent need for us to cut our meat consumption. When she and I first discussed the issue three years ago, I thought she was being a bit zany, but I have been totally persuaded that she has a strong case and that we need to think about this issue and act on it, both as individuals and as a nation. We need to move from talking about the situation to taking action, and some actions are particularly pertinent in this context.
The petition calls for trade sanctions, and we have had quite a lot of debate about whether we need to collaborate or have trade sanctions. I am not sure that that is necessarily a choice. Let us look at a connected area of public policy. Of course we put money into universities to finance research and development, but we also have laws to protect people’s intellectual property. We can have a “both/and” approach. We can collaborate, but we need to have sanctions for when things go wrong.
As my hon. Friend did, I will refer to a debate that I initiated a few years ago and a speech that I made at that time. We had a debate before the Paris summit; it was a Backbench Business Committee debate in the main Chamber. Everybody was saying, “Oh, it’s all going to be absolutely marvellous, because everybody’s going to turn up and they will volunteer their contributions, and that’s the way to get everybody on board, and it will all be absolutely marvellous.” I stood up and said—I am afraid that people thought I was zany then—“This is no good, because these commitments are not legally binding, and if they’re not legally binding how can we be confident that we are going to meet the targets that we have to meet? The science is not going to change, and we know how much carbon we must not burn. Therefore, we need to make commitments that will achieve the scientific objective, and they need to be legally binding.” Legally binding commitments mean that there is a penalty for countries that do not abide by them.
We should think about other areas of international law where there are penalties for countries that do not fulfil their obligations, and we should borrow our experience from other areas of international law and—“adapt” is not the right word—use them in the area of the environment. I will give an example. When Russia invaded Ukraine, we imposed sanctions. We were appalled by that invasion, and we thought it was absolutely dreadful. However, when Canada left Kyoto, we took no action whatsoever. Now Bolsonaro is behaving in an utterly irresponsible way, as hon. Members have set out, but we are proposing to take no action. That is not serious, and we need to get serious about this issue. We need to have legally binding international agreements.
One of my asks of the Minister today is this: before Ministers go to Chile for the next round of international negotiations, and while they are considering what the format and structure should be, we need to have a proper and clear legal base. We need to move away from voluntaryism and towards legally binding treaties.
As colleagues have already said, the danger in the Mercosur deal is that if we cut tariffs on beef, we incentivise the destruction of the rainforest by Brazil and the other Latin American countries, so that we become complicit in that destruction. I raised this issue with the Minister in the main Chamber at Foreign Office questions. He said that he did not think I was right about this issue, because he thought that cutting tariffs was good for the poorest people, including farmers on the lowest incomes, in Brazil. I am afraid I do not believe that argument, because we see in this petition that the indigenous people—they are the poorest people in Brazil—want tougher action. We have also seen that with large-scale ranching, large agribusinesses and multinational companies make the profits. The Minister really needs to rethink that argument. We need to line up with France, Ireland and other countries, and say no. A trade deal must be done on the basis that it is consistent with Brazil’s—
My hon. Friend is making a great and passionate speech. According to figures I have seen from the International Labour Organisation, some 62% of slave labour in Brazil is employed in livestock farming-related businesses. As she says, it is not the indigenous people who are benefiting from the trade, and people are being grossly exploited at its heart.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and she brings me on to my next action. The fact of the matter is—we see this all over the world—that environmental destruction and human rights abuses are often going on in the same places at the same time, all jumbled up. We are seeing that here, too. That is one reason why I hope the Government will take a more sympathetic view than they do currently to the ongoing negotiations in Geneva on the UN binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights. That treaty would put obligations on transnational corporations to respect human rights, and we could extend that to respecting environmental rights, too.
The No. 1 priority is not to sign a trade deal that will incentivise further destruction of the rainforest, but there are a range of things that the Minister could do. We are discussing the issue here, and the Pope is holding an Amazon synod in Rome. I was struck by what he said in opening the meeting on Saturday; it was appropriate and it set the problem in its context. In Rome, he has groups representing 400 indigenous communities alongside him. He said that we have to stop
“the greed of new forms of colonialism.”
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and to attend this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on introducing it, and I congratulate all Members who have contributed on what they have said. It may be that we disagree on some of the solutions, but I do not think anyone will disagree with the passion and expertise that has been brought to the Chamber today. I will try to address as many as I can of the points that Members have raised, but to begin I will draw out two points.
The first relates to something that the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) said. She mentioned some interesting diversification initiatives, and I am happy to talk to her about some of those. I was on the Energy and Climate Change Committee between 2010 and 2015, and I remember looking at the question of how best to increase awareness and change the choices that drive carbon emissions. We looked at whether it was possible to measure carbon emissions by production or whether it was better to do it by consumption, which Members have mentioned today.
The Committee’s finding was that to go down the route of measuring carbon emissions by consumption and imposing penalties or sanctions or modelling policy around that approach might risk trade conflict, which would hurt not only those who are consuming the goods, possibly in the west, but those who are producing them in low-wage developing economies. That was the view at the time.
I was also struck by the speech of my hon. Friend—I call him a friend—the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), who gave a sad story of his poetic limitations. In fact, I thought he had gone away a moment ago to write yet another poem. He made reference to what our policy will be in the future, and he made a veiled reference to Mercosur and our attitude to it, which the hon. Members for Dundee West (Chris Law) and for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) also referenced. Mercosur will not be signed any time soon, and by the time it is, we will be out of the European Union and it will not be a trade agreement for us to sign. We will be free to develop and model our own trading agreements and arrangements, and how they look, what they feel like and what they smell like will be a matter for the British Government.
Whether there are environmental elements in those trade deals is still to be determined, but I believe—here, again, I take issue with the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland—that when tariffs are imposed or are not removed, we hurt poor people. Tariffs on food tend to hurt the poorest, so I would support a wide-ranging free trading policy. I discourage her from channelling her inner protectionist and pursuing a policy that would hurt everybody, including her constituents and indigenous communities in the rainforest.
Will the Minister give way?
Yes. I have only just begun; I have not even got on to my speech proper, rather like the hon. Member for Cambridge.
I thank the Minister for addressing my point. I will not say this in prose, but obviously we will be outside of being a member state and that trade deal will be signed by the remaining members of the European Union. Were the Government to consider a trade deal with Brazil in the future, does the Minister agree that Brazil’s approach to tackling climate change should be a consideration that would be discussed by his colleagues in the Department for International Trade?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He said he will not speak in prose, but I will speak in plain verse: it is for Britain to decide what its trade policy and the models it applies in free trade agreements will be. That is a future decision for the Government to take. I am sure there will be debate on the matter across the House and through Government.
Will the Minister give way on that point?
I will give way on that point, and then I really have to get into my speech, otherwise we will be here until 7.30 pm.
I thank the Minister for giving way specifically on that point. He will know, as will others in the Chamber, that a Trade Bill has been sat on the shelf waiting for more than a year. I sat on the Trade Bill Committee. That Bill included certain protections, certain measures and certain bodies that would have had some say in how we should be constructing our trade deals, whether that was on an ethical basis or through such bodies as the trade remedies authority. Those sorts of things would have come into play. The concern that most people in this Chamber, in Parliament and across the country will have is that those sorts of protections will not be available because the Trade Bill will no longer exist.
Assuming that Prorogation takes place tomorrow, the hon. Gentleman is right, but there will be a trade Bill or trade Bills in the future, where I am sure those issues can be re-addressed.
The fires that ravaged the Amazon rainforest over the summer were not only heartbreaking for the people of the region—we have heard some of the stories this afternoon—but were and are a concern for all of us who care about biodiversity and climate. In some places, the devastating surge in fires has followed a sharp rise in deforestation rates this year. As has been pointed out already, deforestation has been on the increase not since 2015, which is what I said in the Chamber—I must correct the record—but since 2012, which of course predates the Bolsonaro Government. It is clear that although the recent fires may have been exacerbated by low rainfall and in some cases by strong winds, a key cause remains the use of fire to clear the rainforest for agriculture.
In Brazil, as we have heard, record numbers of fires have occurred during this year’s dry season, prompting international concern and prompting President Bolsonaro to send more than 40,000 military personnel to the Amazon to bring the fires under control, but the effect remains unclear. It is worth pointing out something that my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) alluded to: Bolivia has suffered a similar fate this summer.
Fires since August have destroyed nearly two million hectares of Bolivian forest, including in the Chiquitania, the largest dry forest on Earth. In response, President Morales and opposition parties suspended campaigning activities for their October presidential elections and the Government set up an emergency environmental cabinet in the affected area. Europe, the United States, Russia and Bolivia’s neighbours have provided the most help to bring the fires under control. British experts were among the first to offer assistance and to be deployed. Rains in the past week have begun to extinguish the fires. I mention Bolivia simply to remind all hon. Members that the problem is not simply a Brazilian one, so we cannot lay the blame at the door of the Brazilian Government and President. There are other reasons for the problems that the rainforest faces.
We respect absolutely the sovereignty of the countries of the region over the rainforest, but that sovereignty comes with a responsibility to protect and preserve that precious resource. Although it is regrettable that some Governments initially sought to play down the extent of the problem, we welcome the current and historic leadership shown by the region to address the fires: for example, the creation of the forest codes in Brazil, which legally require landowners in the Brazilian Amazon to maintain 80% of the land as forest. It is also worth pointing out that on 27 August, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Brazilian Foreign Minister, who made it clear that anyone setting fires in the rainforest will be prosecuted. In fact, prosecutions are under way and the penalties for such fires include imprisonment.
Last month at the regional summit hosted by President Duque of Colombia, seven regional leaders signed the Leticia pact for the Amazon. Leaders pledged to improve co-ordination to prevent and manage forest fires, share best practice, and develop initiatives to accelerate reforestation and build sustainable forest economies. We fully support that regionally-led initiative and stand ready to help. The United Kingdom Government are committed to working with Amazon countries to support efforts to protect and restore the Amazon rainforest. Over many years we have partnered with communities, businesses and state and national Governments in Brazil and the wider Amazon region to preserve and restore rainforests for the benefit of people and nature, and for our collective effort to tackle the threat of climate change. Since 2012—this is another point I made in the Chamber during Foreign Office questions—the United Kingdom Government have committed £120 million in international climate finance programmes operating to reduce deforestation in Brazil and a further £70 million in Colombia. That suggests we are doing a lot more than nothing. That investment generates benefits for the local environment, for local communities and for the global climate.
At the G7, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—helpfully trailed by the hon. Member for Cambridge —pledged a further £10 million for our international climate finance work to support the longer-term efforts to tackle deforestation in Brazil. That will expand an existing programme that supports the protection and restoration of Brazil’s rainforests, including areas affected by the recent fires.
I thank the Minister for giving way on that point. It is interesting to hear him tiptoe around some of the issues in this important debate. Given the scale of the challenge that we face across the world, does he feel that £10 million is enough money to deploy on this important issue?
We are spending £120 million, not £10 million. The hon. Gentleman is a little ahead of me, but I will mention some rather larger figures as my speech develops.
It is important to build an international coalition around our ambition, so we have worked with Germany and Norway to mobilise $5 billion—there is the big number—between 2015 and 2020 to help reduce tropical deforestation in developing countries. Our support helps to improve the capacity of national and regional Governments to reduce deforestation. It incentivises the protection of forests, conserves a way of life for many unique indigenous groups, and enables businesses and communities to build sustainable economies without destroying tropical rainforests, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) eloquently described. He has now gone off to a Delegated Legislation Committee, which is why he is not here for the wind-ups.
One of our programmes supports indigenous Brazil nut collectors to cut out the middleman and sell directly to mainstream buyers. Perhaps that is not such a difficult nut to crack. Furthermore, as a result of our Cerrado programme in Brazil, 38,017 farmers were enrolled onto the rural land registry, representing some 861,000 hectares of land where sustainable practices have now been adopted.
Does the Minister really believe that the young impatient people out there, and the older impatient people, will find what he has said to be a satisfactory answer to all that we have just heard about this year being the most devastating for deforestation in the Amazon? The Government really need to do better. Does the Minister really think that the people out there who have been campaigning, and who will campaign for the next two weeks, will be satisfied with what he has just said?
I do not doubt for a moment the sincerity of the people out on the streets of London campaigning about the impact of climate change, but it is better for us to work with economies such as Brazil’s, the ninth largest economy in the world, than to work against them in order to achieve the objectives that we all want, which is to see carbon emissions reduced, the rainforest restored and the poorest people get richer.
The United Kingdom is leading the world in the fight against rising temperatures, reducing our emissions by over 40% since 1990 and legislating for net zero emissions by 2050. We were one of the first major economies to do so. Since 1990, our economy has grown by 66%, so I disagree with those who suggest that there is a conflict between better trade, growth in economies and environmental concerns and calls for action.
Can I ask the Minister how this works in terms of co-operation between Government Departments? The other day in the Chamber, I asked the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about the things I highlighted in my speech today and she basically said it was an issue for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and not anything to do with her. I said, “It is because it is about climate change and that is your brief.” We also hear reports of Ministers in the Department for International Trade lobbying on behalf of BP at meetings in Brazil. On the other hand, we talk about reducing our fossil fuel use in this country, so there does not seem to be much joined-up working.
That charge can be levelled at Governments of all stripes down the ages. Government Departments work together to try to achieve the right result in this arena. For example, BEIS officials are embedded in the COP 25 plan, and in that meeting, to ensure that it is handed over to us smoothly at COP 26, with objectives that can be taken up in the Italian-British conference of the parties.
As we have all alluded to, we cannot tackle this threat to our very existence on our own. Only through international co-operation can we protect our precious planet, and protecting forests is essential if we are to meet our global climate change goals. The Inter- governmental Panel on Climate Change special report on global warming makes it clear that the preservation, restoration and sustainable management of forests is critical for limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.
Our global leadership on climate change helped us to win our bid to host COP 26 next year. We will make telling progress towards carbon-neutral global growth only if we act together as a global community. That means that we need to have all the countries in the Amazon onside. Brazil is particularly important on climate change and deforestation, and has a critical role to play as a partner. We must work together to find solutions, which is why we have an ongoing dialogue with Brazil on these issues at ministerial and official level.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs met last week with Brazil’s Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles, and she stressed the importance of efforts to halt deforestation. The Foreign Secretary has spoken to the Brazilian Foreign Minister, and I have met the Brazilian ambassador, Mr Arruda. We are committed to working with Brazil and other Amazon countries to tackle climate change and deforestation.
I am listening carefully to the Minister’s speech, and to the diplomatic channels that the Government want to pursue to influence Brazil’s response to deforestation. However, could the Minister set out exactly what sanction or leverage they will apply? If talk is not enough and Brazil is determined to do something different, it seems that the exercise is quite futile.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention, but I do not think that talk of sanctions will help the cause. Threatening Brazil will not encourage President Bolsonaro or his Government to talk with us about how we can collaboratively tackle the problem. It is better that we engage sensitively and sensibly than engage in megaphone diplomacy from afar.
We all care deeply about the future of our planet, and we are determined that COP 26 will deliver a greater ambition. It will promote tangible action to deliver the transformational change required by the Paris agreement. We are working closely with Chile to ensure a smooth handover from COP 25, as I described, and we firmly support Chile’s desire for an ambitious, blue COP 25 with a strong focus on oceans.
We remain committed to supporting the countries of the Amazon to tackle deforestation. Those countries will be vital allies in the fight against climate change. Brazil particularly, as home to 60% of the Amazon and 12% of the world’s forests, has a crucial role to play if we are to achieve our climate ambitions at COP 26 and beyond. If future climate negotiations are to succeed, we need to engage with Brazil and her neighbours positively and maintain a constructive dialogue, not shout at them from afar.
At the same time, the United Kingdom Government will continue to raise our concerns about deforestation and to support initiatives that protect the Amazon rainforest. Only through partnership and dialogue will we be able to preserve those precious tropical forests and avert the gravest forecasts of climate change. That is the responsible approach, the approach that will address the passions of the people outside the Chamber as well as within it, and the approach that the Government are determined to take.
Thank you, Sir Roger, for chairing the debate. We have had a full debate, during the course of which we have heard from, I think, five political parties. For much of the debate, I was greatly enthused and encouraged, because there was seemingly a lot of common ground. Some thorny issues, such as sovereignty, were raised by a number of people, including the hon. Members for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and for Winchester (Steve Brine). I think the emerging conclusion was that this is a global crisis and a global responsibility, in which we all have a role to play. Both Front-Bench spokespeople made powerful speeches with which I strongly agreed.
I was hoping that I would hear a positive, civilised and courteous response from the Minister, but I have to say that in policy terms, for me and I suspect for others, it was profoundly disappointing, not least because when invited to suggest that in future trade deals environmental considerations would be a key part, there was a stunning silence. The Minister said only that there would be trade deals. Well, they will not be very quick—we know that for sure—and we also know that there is an urgency about everything.
I did not hear even a suggestion of criticism of the Brazilian Government, which would not be very hard to do given their record. Of course, they will watch the debate and hear what we say, so it is important that our contributions are measured and constructive. However, we must also say very clearly to people on the global stage who are damaging our climate and planet that that will not go unchallenged. Frankly, I am deeply disappointed, as the petitioners and the people outside surely are, to hear that our Government are so weak in their response. The conclusion I have come to is that the Government are not part of the solution; frankly, they are part of the problem.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petition 266638 relating to deforestation in the Amazon.