[Steve McCabe in the Chair]
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I beg to move,
That this House has considered deforestation in the Amazon.
I called this debate because of what I see as a mounting crisis in the battle to protect the Amazon rainforest, which is one of the world’s most important biomes, if not the most important. The Amazon is thought to be home to 10% of known species on earth, including 16,000 species of tree, 3,000 species of fish and more species of primate than anywhere else on earth. It is one of the last refuges for jaguars, harpy eagles and pink river dolphins and is home to sloths, black spider monkeys and poison dart frogs. It is a really important part of our global ecosystem.
For decades, large swathes of the Amazon were cleared to make way for agriculture, but the Amazon was not only place affected in that part of the world: areas such as the Atlantic forest in Brazil have also largely disappeared, all too often to leave space for agriculture, and all too often agriculture that uses up the fertility of the land in a few years and leaves behind sparsely used and degraded land. In recent years, the impact of deforestation has become clearer and clearer, and international efforts to halt it have grown. I could speak for much longer than I have available today on the need to increase those efforts, to protect essential habitats and biomes, and to produce a global strategy to begin restoring some of the areas that have been lost, but that is not what the debate is about. It is about what is happening right now in Brazil, which in my view is tragic and cannot be accepted by the rest of the global community.
For many years, it seemed as if progress was being made in slowing the loss of the rainforest. Brazil committed to sharply reduce deforestation, introduced new legislation to strengthen environmental protections, and worked with soy traders to end the purchase of soy from illegally cleared areas. At the Paris climate change conference, it agreed to end illegal deforestation by 2030. However, the Brazilian Government have reversed that progress. I say that with great sorrow and dismay, because Brazil is a friend of this country, but we have to speak truth to friends, and the reality is that the Government in Brazil have reversed the process. Despite warm words to the international community, the situation is now going from bad to worse. The loss of rainforest in the Amazon is now acute, with 2019 and 2020 being disastrous years for the Amazon. In a 12-month period, an area the size of Israel was cleared. In 2020, the loss amounted to 4,281 square miles—and that is a Brazilian statistic. Despite the pandemic, the situation continues to look bleak. Current estimates are that deforestation has actually accelerated this year, with the loss of an area the size of the Isle of Man in just one month. Despite warm words internationally, this clearly has official sanction.
Instead of taking steps to halt deforestation, the Brazilian Government are now pushing legislation through the Congress that will have the opposite effect by regularising the rights of people who have cleared and occupied forest areas illegally. At the same time, a presidential decree has reduced the likelihood of environmental criminals being punished for past actions. I cannot think of any step more likely to encourage those who have been breaking the existing protections and clearing areas illegally than letting them off the punishments that they might have been expecting, or deciding to allow them to stay on those sites legally. What clearer message could there be that they will be allowed to get away with it if they try it again? It is no surprise that environmental groups are up in arms. They rightly see this as a clear route to further illegal forest clearances.
There are also plans to open up to commercial mining interests lands that enjoy existing protections—lands that are those of the indigenous peoples. I suspect that we will hear a bit more about that later from my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who has been champion of indigenous peoples and the protections they need.
New environmental assessment rules for road building do not take deforestation into account, opening the way for large-scale road building through the Amazon, and the inevitable consequence of more clearances for mining and other uses, as remoter areas become more accessible. Those are not policies that come from a Government who are taking their environmental responsibilities seriously. The Brazilian Government claim that they are victims of misinformation, but I am afraid that simply is not true. The reason we know it is not true is because they told us themselves: at a recent meeting, the Brazilian Environment Minister was caught on video threatening to use the pandemic as a smokescreen to run the cattle herd through the Amazon, change all the rules and simplify standards. Heaven help the Amazon if that is the real policy of the Brazilian Environment Minister.
My message today, and the reason for calling the debate, is to say to our Government and the Minister that the international community really act on this issue, and the UK has to take a lead, along with other nations, in making that action happen. The reality is that other countries in that part of the world are working on this—for example, Colombia is starting to get to grips with the issue—but, sadly, the Brazilians are not. The first battleground has to be over trade, but it will not be easy. China has become a huge market for Brazilian exports and Brazil’s reliance on European and north American markets has been reduced, but that is not a reason for us to avoid action. It now looks unlikely that the provisional trade agreement reached between the European Union and the Mercosur trade bloc in South America will be able to go ahead in the agreed form because of what is happening in the Amazon. In the European Parliament, steps are already being taken to block the deal, and several EU Parliaments have voted to oppose it. It certainly gives the impression of being dead in the water.
As colleagues know, I do not always believe in following the example of the EU, but I definitely make an exception in this regard. The UK should not countenance even starting discussions with Brazil about a free trade agreement while the current situation continues. There must be no trade deals with Brazil while it continues to allow wholesale clearances in the Amazon, and we need a very clear message from our Ministers to their counterparts in Brasilia that this is the case. We cannot simply treat this as if it is not happening. Unless the situation changes quickly, I think we actually have to go further than that and deal with the issue in a very direct and robust way. Given the mood in Brussels and the changes in the United States, we can work internationally to tackle the issue directly.
It is very hard to work constantly to identify which products come from sustainable sources and which do not. For example, retailers in the UK tell me that it is hard to tell which soy used in their products has sustainable origins, given that the major dealers mix their supplies together in big batches. We now have to look very seriously at international action to impose tough tariffs on relevant Brazilian food exports unless and until there is clear evidence that the Government there are taking serious steps to protect the Amazon. That might seem strange coming from a strongly profree trade Conservative, but it is essential if we are to put the kind of pressure on Brazil that will stop this deforestation while we still have time. We cannot simply let the exports and imports flow if they are increasingly coming from more and more areas of the Amazon that have been cleared.
There is also a debate in the United States at the moment about whether President Biden and his climate change envoy, John Kerry, should even engage with the Brazilian Government, and in particular meet President Bolsonaro. I think they should, and I think our Government should be engaging as well: we should be having discussions and trying to strengthen relationships, but we have to be absolutely clear all along that future partnerships and future trade agreements are conditional on deforestation stopping. Of course, there is the issue that other countries are close trading partners with the Brazilians—the Chinese, for example. We should be clear with the Chinese Government that, as major importers of its produce, we need them to be part of putting the pressure on Brazil. Although the Chinese are making clear commitments themselves—they are chairing the COP on habitat and biodiversity later this year—they need to be putting that into practice and putting pressure on the Brazilian Government as well.
Protecting our natural ecosystems must become a central responsibility of all countries on Earth. Of course we need development, of course we need homes and jobs for a growing global population, and of course we understand the economic challenges that the Brazilian Government face, but none of the things that need to be done to remove poverty risks and improve the lives of citizens can be allowed to happen at the expense of key biomes and the habitats of endangered plant and animal life. A smart approach to land management and smart technology can help us to reverse the damage that has been done and start to rebuild the natural environment around us, but that work has to start quickly, and the loss of key habitats must stop now.
We, the United Kingdom, will be chairing the COP summit on climate change this autumn. We will, I hope, be the drivers of a new agreement on climate change and environmental improvements. This year, Ministers have already taken a lead role in the pre-discussions happening ahead of that meeting. As a Government, we have taken some really quite significant steps to address environmental challenges, both domestically and internationally, so I think we are as well placed as anyone to say, “We are willing to take a lead, but we need the help of others to follow.” In my view, there is no greater environmental need than this, both because the Amazon rainforest is key to dealing with the challenge of climate change and because it is such an important habitat—such an important home—for so many species and for indigenous people. It is a global asset, it is globally vital and it must be protected, but we are now facing a situation where a Government of a friendly nation is allowing policies and actions to go ahead that are accelerating the destruction of that global asset.
My message to the Minister today is very simple: the UK has to act on all of this. We have to be saying to Brazilian Ministers and others in Brazil, “We are your friends. We are going to carry on being your friends, but we cannot just stand idly by while this happens. We will take action. We will take action with the international community to put pressure on you if you do not listen and if you do not act.” It is in the interests of every Brazilian citizen, as it is in the interests of every citizen around the world, to deal with these environmental issues. Brazil has perhaps a bigger responsibility and a bigger burden than most, because it is home to such an important asset, but that responsibility has to be shouldered none the less, and this problem has to be addressed. As such, I say to the Minister and, through her, to colleagues in Government that this is something on which the UK Government have a duty to act. This year, we have a duty to lead, and if that means tough action and very tough words, we have to do it, because it is a historic responsibility that we cannot and must not shirk.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on securing this debate, and I note with great pleasure, Mr McCabe, that you are presiding in the Chair.
This debate is timely, with the debate on the Environment Bill continuing today in the Lords. In my speech, I will refer to the vital provisions in that Bill that seek to place due diligence obligations on companies to eliminate illegal deforestation from their supply chains. That is an important start, but we need to go further. First, however, I will focus on the drivers of deforestation.
One key driver is the conversion of forest for ranching to produce beef. It is no wonder that we hear lots of analysis of the importance of transitioning to plant-based diets and the role of consumer choice in mitigating emissions and restoring biodiversity. The number of vegans and vegetarians in the UK has increased by 40%, and it is estimated that by 2025 vegans and vegetarians will form a quarter of our population. That sounds great until one understands that the other key driver of Amazonian deforestation is the demand for soy. The World Wide Fund for Nature reports that the land required to meet the UK’s annual demand for soy between 2016 and 2018 averaged 17,000 sq km, which is an area of land the size of Wales. This situation is all the more alarming when we consider that 27% of soy consumed in the UK was certified as being deforestation-free. If my maths is right, that means that 73% was not. It is no wonder that the Dasgupta review highlighted the fact that our demand for the Earth’s resources is far outstripping the planet’s capacity to supply us. This is what he called the “impact inequality”. We are living as if we have 1.6 planets.
I support the right hon. Gentleman’s push for sustainability labelling on foods to drive better consumer choices. It is clear to me that information, education and choice are essential to bring about change. However, it is also clear that, on their own, they will not be sufficient. We cannot afford to wait and hope that consumers will drive this change. There must be regulation and the legislative framework in place to drive change from the top. In 2020, deforestation in the Amazon increased by 13% in just 12 months and the number of wildfires there hit a 13-year high. It is easy to become complacent when all these figures are brandished about, so to put it simply: if we do not legislate for an end to deforestation in company supply chains, the Amazon—the world’s most vital biodiversity and carbon sink—will reach a tipping point and be gone.
I welcome the proposals in the Environment Bill for a due diligence system for companies to ensure that their supply chains are free from any involvement with illegal deforestation. This follows the recommendation by the Global Resource Initiative, an independent taskforce convened by the UK Government. Yet the GRI also recommended two vital measures that the UK Government have thus far failed to adopt: extending that due diligence to all deforestation, irrespective of legality; and extending it to the finance sector. I will address finance first.
UK financial institutions have provided finance worth £500 million to the three largest beef companies in the world—JBS, Marfrig and Minerva—all of which are linked with illegal deforestation in the Amazon. That is despite earlier commitments from these companies, stretching back to 2008, to end their links with illegal deforestation. UK-based banks and investment firms are providing huge finance for beef companies that are driving deforestation through their supply chains. It is imperative, therefore, that legislation extends to the finance sector. Voluntary commitments have failed. A Global Witness investigation found that these beef-producing companies bought cattle from 379 ranches containing 20,000 football fields-worth of illegal deforestation. That was not the number in the whole of the Amazon; it was the number in one state in the Amazon alone.
That extraordinary depletion of rainforest is being financed by UK financial institutions and investment companies, and despite the evidence, they are failing to act—indeed, they are failing to follow even their own voluntary “zero deforestation” commitments. Mandatory due diligence on financial institutions is vital, because even excellent initiatives, such as the Financial Stability Board’s task force on climate-related financial disclosures, will not pick up emissions from deforestation associated with these institutions’ financing. Mandatory due diligence and a statutory target to reduce our global footprint by 2030 would send the signal to the finance sector of the seriousness of this issue.
We must also address the problem of defining “legality” by producer-country standards. The Government’s own consultation document on due diligence for forest-risk commodities acknowledges that globally only 49% of deforestation is defined as “illegal” under local country laws. When companies in the global north first began to question their supply chains a few years ago, they asked specifically about the legality of the deforested land on which their supply chain products had been grown. The result was that, in order to help Brazilian business meet the demands of its customers, the Government relaxed the rules on legality. They simply changed the law. WWF found that, with Bolsonaro’s weakening of the legislative framework on deforestation, between only 22% and 29% of soy-related deforestation would now come under illegal deforestation regulation. We simply have to go further.
Law enforcement agencies, including the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources—IBAMA—issued in 2019 the lowest number of fines due to deforestation in the past 30 years. Most concerningly, Bolsonaro is taking away the rights of the indigenous communities to block deforestation and mining on their land. That is important because their land protects 34% of carbon stocks in the Amazon.
A Bill introduced in Congress last February would legalise the commercial mining and agricultural expansion on indigenous land without the free, prior and informed consent of those communities. Notwithstanding the devastating environmental impacts of that, it is also a violation of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people, to which Brazil is a signatory.
So, yes, let us label properly, accounting properly for the actual deforestation, but let us also insist on mandatory reporting for companies and, in particular, for those banks and funds that are financing the destruction. As President of COP26, let us ensure that indigenous land rights are a key priority in Glasgow.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. Mr McCabe. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) for bringing the debate to Westminster Hall. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) who is a very able member of the Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which I chair.
Talking about the deforestation of the Amazon and, in particular, about what is happening in Brazil is a good reason for us to be here this afternoon. The Environment Bill is now in Committee in the Lords and offers a welcome opportunity for the UK to show global leadership in protecting the Amazon. The due diligence obligations will see companies that play a role in producing key commodities such as soya and palm oil held accountable for the illegal deforestation in their supply chains.
Although those due diligence obligations are welcome, they do not go far enough to protect the Amazon and other crucial, natural ecosystems, or to meet the UK’s global goals on climate and nature. The deforestation amendments I tabled unsuccessfully in the House of Commons were targeted towards ensuring that big businesses are not bankrolled. Those big businesses in Brazil that carry out cattle ranching, driving the cattle towards the Amazon, and ploughing up the savannah to grow soya, removing the rights of indigenous people, are being bankrolled by major UK institutions, such as HSBC, Santander and Barclays, which have investments in those big agribusinesses.
The Global Witness “Money to Burn” report shows that UK banks invested £5 billion between 2013 and 2019 in companies that are illegally deforesting land, such as those in the Amazon. We may not be conscious of it but our own pension funds in the House of Commons may well contribute to that by having investments in those institutions.
In a capitalist system, if those businesses are starved of capital they are brought to some recognition of the huge damage that they are doing. They are causing huge environmental damage; if we did them financial damage they would listen more carefully.
That is why I am so keen for this to happen, and I shall be interested to hear what our Minister has to say.
In December 2020, Global Witness, in “Beef, Banks and the Brazilian Amazon”, found that Brazil’s three largest beef companies are linked to tens of thousands of hectares of illegal deforestation, despite auditors saying otherwise. In just one state, over three years, beef giants JBS, Marfrig and Minerva brought cattle from a combined 379 ranches, containing 20,000 football fields-worth of illegal deforestation. In this year alone, an area twice the size of Devon has been deforested. While we stand here and speak, deforestation is going on at an alarming rate.
We have to remember that, although trees are valuable in every country in which they are grown, we would need to grow three trees here to hold the amount of carbon that a tree in the rainforest holds. We need to wake up to that. I understand that Brazil is a sovereign country and that it needs to make its decisions, but it cannot make decisions that are seriously damaging—literally—the health and sometimes the lives of indigenous people in Brazil and are causing so much degradation to our global climate. As we move forward as a country towards ensuring we have a much greener environment, we have to look to the rest of the world to deliver on that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell made a point about the Chinese, who are very hungry for minerals and all sorts of commodities, including soya for feeding their cattle and their people, but they too must be very conscious of where this is coming from. We can all work together to deliver on this. Overall, the people of Brazil would benefit from a regime that did not deforest.
Finally, to put my farming hat on, one of the problems that I have with what they do in Brazil is that they basically burn down the rainforest and plough it up, using all the fertility in the soil, and then move on to some more rainforest, abandoning the land after taking the fertility that has probably taken hundreds of thousands of years to deliver. Even from a farming perspective, it is ruinous. That is why I say bluntly that we need to listen to this debate very clearly. I look forward to the Minister taking the points that we are making very seriously. This is very much a cross-party issue, and is very much for the good of this country. In this case, we have to give clear guidance to the Brazilians about the impact of the policies of the present President of Brazil and where they are leading the country.
It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr McCabe. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on securing this debate. I hope he is not too offended if I say that I find myself agreeing with him an awful lot more these days, now that he is on the Back Benches, than I did when he was in Government.
Yesterday was World Rainforest Day, and it would be wonderful if we were here to celebrate all the wonders of the rainforest—the huge range of biodiversity and the fact that it is a habitat that is home to many rare and exotic species, as the right hon. Gentleman said. Instead, this is a very depressing day because, as has been said, the rainforests are under threat and are disappearing at a very worrying rate. Deforestation continues to devastate many havens of biodiversity around the world. It is driven by a variety of economic drivers, including infrastructure construction, logging, extractive industries and land conversion for livestock and feed crops such as soy.
The Amazon is a huge global resource in terms of its environmental contribution and is home to around 10% of known species. It stores around 76 billion tonnes of carbon. Clearly, we have a responsibility to do all that we can to protect it, but there was a devastating 13% increase in Amazonian deforestation in 2020, with over 11,000 sq kms of deforestation. Unfortunately, as has been said, the UK is driving this deforestation with our domestic consumption.
As was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), in 2017 only 27% of soy consumed in the UK was certified as deforestation free, meaning that the rest was not. Supermarkets, such as Tesco, have well-documented links to meat firms tied to deforestation. I know some supermarkets have spoken about trying to stamp out those connections in their supply chains, and I welcome that move.
It is very rare that I take issue with anything my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North says, but I have to correct him about what he said earlier. The main driver by far in the expansion of soy production, which has almost doubled in recent years, is increased meat consumption. The main use of soy is livestock feed. Soybean oil is also used in cooking, cosmetics and soap and soy is used in industrial processes.
According to WWF, 80% of the world soybean crop is fed to livestock and according to Oilseed & Grain News, which I am sure we all read avidly every night, it is 85%, but that is where the bulk of it goes. I have had these run-ins with a former agriculture Minister in previous Parliaments. He is not in Parliament any more, but on quite a few occasions he stood up and said, “It’s all the vegans and their veggie burgers that’s causing this problem.” It really is not, although with the move to plant-based diets, the best thing people can eat is plants and not processed food anyway.
Many of us have been raising this subject for some time. A year ago I asked a question of the International Trade Secretary:
“Between 2013 and 2019, British financial institutions provided over $2 billion in financial backing to Brazilian beef companies linked to Amazon deforestation. How can we ensure that there is greater transparency in our supply chains so that we are not unwittingly, through exports from Brazil, contributing to such environmental degradation?”—[Official Report, 18 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 939.]
I got a vague answer that they were working on “supply chain” issues.
In January this year, I asked about this issue again at International Trade questions. I mentioned my recent correspondence with the Brazilian ambassador that started after I had mentioned the problems with biofuel when I was leading for Labour on a statutory instrument about the renewable transport fuels obligation, which I am sure the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell knows about. The Brazilians took issue with something I said, and we entered into a chain of correspondence, which was basically the Brazilians saying that deforestation was not a problem.
I mentioned this correspondence at International Trade questions and raised with the Trade Minister recent, very worrying reports in the press about Brazilian beef farms, where working conditions were said to be akin to modern slavery. I asked if the Government would make any future bilateral trade deal conditional on Brazil taking action to protect workers and prevent deforestation. I note that the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell said that there should be no trade deal agreed with Brazil until these issues are resolved.
In reply to my question, the Minister said that
“the United Kingdom has already committed £259 million to Brazil through its international climate finance programme to tackle deforestation.”—[Official Report, 14 January 2021; Vol. 687, c. 471.]
He mentioned the early movers programme, which rewards pioneers in forest conservation, and a programme led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that has prevented the clearance of around 430,000 acres in Brazil. DEFRA stopping the clearance of 430,000 acres sounds really good, but under the Bolsonaro Administration deforestation is at a 12-year high.
As The Guardian has reported, at least 11,000 sq kms were razed between August 2019 and July 2020. That is roughly 2,740,000 acres in the space of less than a year. For all our efforts, we are just giving with one hand while Bolsonaro is destroying all that work with the other.
The Government had an opportunity to address this issue in the Environment Bill. I lose track with the Environment Bill because it took so long to go through Parliament. At one point, I tabled some amendments but they are lost in the mists of time. I was pleased that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) tabled his amendments at the final stage. I was pleased that the Government went halfway by including measures in the Bill to impose a due diligence obligation on the supply chains of UK firms, forcing them to tackle illegal deforestation. As has been said, and as I have tried to raise in Parliament with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the issue should not just be about illegal deforestation, because we know that so many of the activities that contribute to deforestation are legal, and Bolsonaro has been relaxing legal protections. We also know that there is very little enforcement and that companies can act with impunity. The Environment Secretary replied by saying that many countries have laws on deforestation in place, and that there was evidence that the failure to enforce was the problem, but I do not accept that.
We have heard what is happening in Brazil. As has been said, it is not just that some states are pushing ahead with measures to weaken legal protections. There are also serious concerns that they lack the mechanisms. Even if the political will was there, which I do not think there is, they do not have the mechanisms to identify what is legally and illegally produced. Clearly, a distinction between legal and illegal deforestation is not good enough.
As has been said by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, UK financial support for firms linked to deforestation goes far deeper than many of us would expect. Analysis from Feedback shows that even the parliamentary pension fund has investments in big meat firms such as JBS, which have been repeatedly linked to deforestation. I hope that that is something we can take up after this debate, because we should set an example in this place by severing all our financial links to forest risk commodities.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell that what is happening in Brazil is tragic and cannot be accepted. I agree with his argument that it has been officially sanctioned by Bolsonaro and that our Government need to act. I thank organisations such as WWF, CAFOD and Global Witness for their tireless efforts to raise awareness of the issue and to try to ensure that the Environment Bill includes measures to address it. I very much hope that now the Bill is in the other place we can take stronger action.
I hope the Minister can shed some light on how the Government plan to rectify the glaring holes in their proposals on deforestation. I accept that she is a Foreign Office Minister, but there is a link with DEFRA and the Department for International Trade, and I hope that ahead of COP and the convention on biological diversity she talks to all her colleagues and tries to secure firm action on this.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on securing this debate, because the issue is not talked about as much as it should be. It is right that we talk frequently about developing electric vehicles and renewable energy, but we do not discuss deforestation enough, so I am glad to have this opportunity to make a brief contribution.
During the recess I had the pleasure of visiting the Eden Project, which, as Members know, is expertly run by David Harland and his team in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). The project clearly demonstrates the importance of rainforests, particularly the Amazon rainforest, in terms of biodiversity, insects, birds, animals, plants and perhaps other forms of life that have not been fully discovered. Very simple research demonstrates that although rainforests cover 6% of the world’s surface, they host half of the world’s plant and animal species.
It is also important that rainforests generate so much of the earth’s oxygen. Given all those facts, it really is important that we talk much more about rainforests, particularly the Amazon rainforest, because its deforestation is one of the great crises facing the world. We talk about the climate change emergency, quite rightly, but contributing to that is the rainforest emergency, and we need to address the issue urgently. The process of deforestation adds to the carbon dioxide emissions that the world suffers from.
We source a number of products from the rainforests, but the production of palm oil is perhaps the main issue in encouraging people to deforest. Palm oil is important to many people, including small-scale farmers in developing countries. The countries that are causing deforestation are themselves developing. The problem is not easy to solve, especially as the research shows that growing palm oil substitutes could require even more land. This is not an easy problem.
The UK has played its part in addressing the problem and moving towards the use of sustainably produced palm oil. It has to be a Government initiative, because, although I am certainly in favour of consumer responsibility and putting as many warnings on packaging as we possibly can, there are more and more requirements for packaging and it is getting rather crowded, which could lead to people ignoring the messages. It is up to the Government to ensure that what we import is produced sustainably.
Of course, like climate change itself, we in the UK cannot solve all the world’s problems, but we certainly need to give a lead. I am pleased that we are doing that, but we have to take the rest of the world with us if these problems are to be solved and we are to protect the planet in the way that we want and need to.
Helping countries that might otherwise cut down forests and helping those countries that benefit from the importation of cheaply produced palm oil might be a very important role for us to play, and it might be a very good use of part of our aid budget. As Bill Gates said:
“People cut down trees not because people are evil; they do it when the incentives to cut down trees are stronger than the incentives to leave them alone.”
I might add that they do it when the incentives are also more immediate, because if people are starving, they are understandably more concerned about that than what they see as some distant concept of climate change.
For other products that we source from around the world, the fact that we can now negotiate our own trade deals provides us with the opportunity to try to stress to other countries how seriously we take these issues, just as negotiators from all developed countries should do.
The solutions are not simple. An emphasis on sustainability is one way forward. The possible development of synthetic palm oil might be another way forward, but I really believe that it has to be accompanied by help for others if it is to work.
We in the UK have enjoyed relative prosperity since the industrial revolution, and we have polluted the planet as we have gone along. We need to help others to reach the same level of prosperity without their polluting the planet in the way that we have. Perhaps I might suggest that that is another reason for us to maintain our aid levels at 0.7%. Perhaps this is yet another example of how doing so ultimately benefits the UK. As I say, we cannot do it all on our own. COP26 provides an ideal opportunity for us to set out a structure within which we can lead the world on this issue.
Before I call the next speaker, Mr Law, are you experiencing some technical difficulties there? As I said at the start, Mr Speaker was very clear: people appearing virtually should have their cameras on throughout and should be present throughout.
It is excellent to see you in the chair, Mr McCabe. I once again find myself in agreement with the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), as I was in the tourism and travel debate. I thank him for securing this vital debate, which could not have come at a more appropriate time, as we marked World Rainforest Day yesterday.
Last February, Chief Raoni, a chief of the Kayapo people in north central Brazil, visited the UK and addressed a number of us, including the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who spoke earlier. He told us about the destruction of their lands by strip-mining, farming and industrialisation. It was not just a threat to the rainforest—his people were being killed if caught, in their own lands. Since then, I have kept in touch with the non-governmental organisations and Chief Raoni, who say that the destruction and human rights abuses have sped up since covid, with little ability to curb the rapacious nature of the forest destroyers and the Brazilian President acting more as a co-conspirator than as a protector of our greatest natural resource.
Chief Raoni’s biggest ask is to make indigenous lands protected reserves, with not just legal protection but security and human rights defenders on the ground, supported by us in the international community. However, the demarcation process is threatened under President Bolsonaro, who is a right-wing populist climate change sceptic who continues to open the door of protected lands to mining and agribusiness.
Last month, Chief Raoni and another top indigenous leader, Chief Almir Surui, asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Bolsonaro for crimes against humanity, accusing him of unprecedented environmental damage, killings and persecution in the Amazon. Will the UK Government be supporting Chief Raoni and Chief Surui, who are on the front line and have lost members of their tribes to those who destroy the rainforest?
Immediate action is so important as the climate crisis picks up speed and temperatures steadily rise. The lungs of our planet are burning. The Amazon rainforest is at a tipping point. Droughts and wildfires are now the norm, with 2021 set to be a particularly bad year. Just yesterday, an international study led by the University of Leeds warned that huge areas in the eastern part of the Amazon face severe drying by the end of the century if action is not taken to curb carbon emissions.
Under Bolsonaro, we have seen record levels of deforestation, with an area seven times greater than London destroyed last year alone. Crucially, the Amazon may begin to contribute more greenhouse gases to the air than it absorbs by 2050, or possibly even sooner if the expansion of this work under Bolsonaro continues. His predecessor President Lula brought in protections that we saw work, and the rainforest loss was curbed. However, that work has all been undone in quite a short space of time. Now the Brazilian Government are pushing laws to make deforestation easier.
Bill 2633 in the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies encourages and legalises land grabbing of public lands, and is one of the key parts of the President’s legislative agenda. Bill 510 is a Brazilian Senate ill that also encourages land grabbing. These bills, encouraging land grabbing of public lands and authorising mining construction in indigenous lands, are set to be pushed through before the summer recess next month.
We need to consider this in our own law making. The Environment Bill will require firms to carry out due diligence on whether or not commodities come from areas that have been illegally deforested. Yet that only addresses illegal deforestation. If Bolsonaro’s Government are successful, what is currently illegal will become legal, and the Environment Bill will be unable to stop it or curb it in any way. We urgently need the Bill to be amended in the other place, where it now rests, so that we are not creating demand for the destruction of the Amazon.
The Conservative party promised to fight against Amazon deforestation, yet one of their biggest donors is an investor who profits from the destruction of Brazilian rainforests. If the Prime Minister is happy to take Crispin Odey’s money, questions have to be asked about his commitment to protecting the Amazon.
The Amazon is thought to be the home of 10% of known species on Earth, including 16,000 species of trees, 3,000 species of fish, and more species of primates than anywhere else. I work closely with the WWF, and hosted its Brazil director in March last year, right here in Portcullis House. The WWF told us that new species are being discovered all the time. Between 1999 and 2015, 2,200 new animal and plant species were discovered in the Amazon, including a river dolphin, a vegetarian piranha and eight species of monkey, including one that purrs like a cat. Are these not just wonderous, joyful things?
The outstanding biodiversity of the Amazon is not only important for the natural ecosystem, it also provides many befits to us as humans. The plants and animals are used for food, research, medicine and textiles. Any reduction in biodiversity can also contribute to increased disease risks, and after this past year we all know what zoonotic diseases and global pandemics are. In its initial report on the origins of covid-19, the WHO pointed out the threat of natural ecosystem destruction breaking down the buffer zone that protects us from wildlife- borne viruses.
Just as a virus born in one country can sweep across the globe, deforestation of the Amazon has the capacity to devastate not just Brazil, but the entire world. While Brazil acts as the primary custodian, maintaining the rainforest should not solely fall on their shoulders. Internationally, we must reflect critically as to how we consume the planet’s resources. COP26 will be a pivotal moment to focus on efforts to protect the Amazon rainforest and tackle unnecessary deforestation, with Brazilian representatives right here on our own shores.
The natural world does not reflect man-made borders, which is why we need multilateral co-operation on this issue. Now more than ever, the UK Government—even though they are retreating from their international development commitments—need to provide funds to protect the rainforest and its people. I will finish with the words of Chief Raoni:
“I'm overwhelmed with sadness when I see how our lands are being destroyed more each day”.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr McCabe. I join other hon. Members in congratulating the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on securing the debate and on laying out clearly and convincingly the reality of the situation in Brazil today. Although he painted a bleak and depressing picture, what he said needed saying, and I thank him for saying it.
We all recognise the importance of the rainforest and the disaster that would follow from its destruction, but it seems that, rather than doing everything possible to save it, the Government of Brazil have effectively given a green light to criminal networks to pursue illegal logging, mining and cattle ranching, thereby accelerating the destruction of the forest. It is right that President Bolsonaro is called out, as he has been in this debate, but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that we are blameless in all this. We are not, because, as the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) says, on our doorstep—in this city—financial institutions are complicit in the destruction of the rainforest. The Guardian revealed in 2020 that British banks and finance houses had given more than $2 billion to Brazilian beef corporations implicated in deforestation.
Of course, although the implications of the Amazon’s destruction affect the entire planet, they are most keenly felt by the indigenous peoples whose territories are being stolen and destroyed and whose human rights are being routinely violated. The Brazilian Amazon is home to approximately 25 million people, but it is also the poorest region in Brazil, with the worst socioeconomic indicators. Since coming to power, President Bolsonaro has scaled back enforcement of environmental laws, weakened the power of the federal environmental agencies and removed many of the protections and rights of the indigenous people.
As Sônia Guajajara, the leader of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, said recently:
“He is committing one crime after another against the peoples of the forest and against the environment.”
She says that he is not only a risk to indigenous peoples but that
“it has turned into a global problem, because what he’s doing here has an impact on the planet”.
As the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) said, so fearful are the indigenous people of Bolsonaro and his policies that they have petitioned the International Criminal Court, asking that an investigation be opened into allegations of human rights abuses.
Sadly, across the world, indigenous people are among the most marginalised groups in society. They have historically faced systematic discrimination in everything from healthcare to education and from work to legal rights. They often have little or no political representation. Routinely, their lands have been seized and they have been forced to relocate when others have decided that they have to. All too often, they face persecution and violence and the destruction of their culture, language and traditional way of life. And the people of the Amazon rainforest are no different.
As Myrna Cunningham, a Nicaraguan woman and president of the Centre for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous People, says:
“Indigenous peoples have a different concept of forests. They are not seen as a place where you take out resources to increase your money—they are seen as a space where we live and that is given to us to protect for the next generations.”
Unfortunately, Myrna Cunningham’s concept and vision of what the forest is and how it should be used is not shared by everyone. As we have heard, President Bolsonaro, since coming to power, has actively pursued policies that erode protections for indigenous land and the indigenous people of the forest, and make it easier for non-indigenous Brazilians to carry out economic activity in the Amazon. He has attempted to shift more authority away from agencies whose job it is to protect indigenous rights, and handed it over instead to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply, which has a vested interest in expanding development in the rainforest. During Bolsonaro’s first year in power, there was a staggering 135% increase in illegal invasions, illegal logging, land grabbing and other infringements in indigenous areas. According to the Brazilian Government’s own figures, the level of deforestation of indigenous land is now higher than it has been in a decade.
Of course, there is a terrible human cost for those communities seen to be standing in the way of so-called progress, as forest clearings frequently result in violence, forced eviction, harassment, intimidation, death threats, arbitrary arrests of community leaders and even murder. Human Rights Watch reported that illegal deforestation and violence in the Amazon were largely being driven by criminal gangs. Twenty-eight people have been murdered, four have faced murder attempts, and there were more than 40 cases of death threats in 2019 alone.
One indigenous reserve that has suffered more than most is the area of the Yanomami, which in one year saw deforestation soar by almost 1,700%, and where there are no fewer than 536 current requests for mining rights. I will conclude with the words of Davi Kopenawa, a spokesman for the Yanomami people, who said,
“The Whites cannot destroy our house for, if they do, things will not end well for the whole world. We are looking after the forest for everyone, not just for the Yanomami and the isolated peoples. We work with our shamans who understand these things well, who possess wisdom that comes from contact with the land.”
I just wish more shared that wisdom.
I certainly will; it may not even take me that length of time, but I will do my best to lengthen my speech to six minutes.
First of all, I thank the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) for having set the scene so well on a really important issue. Every one of today’s speakers has outlined why the issue is important. We may not live in Brazil, but what happens in Brazil affects us here, which is why the debate is so important, and we look forward to the Minister being able to give us some assurances on the matters that have been raised. It is also always a pleasure to follow my friend and colleague, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara). There are very few debates in which he and I are on the same side: more often than not, it used to be debates about human rights issues, and today is an example of that. This debate is about human rights, but it is also about what is good for us in the world.
When I was very young—which was not yesterday—I remember one saying that my mother always said to me, which was, “The trees are the lungs of the world.” The Amazon rainforest, with all the massive trees it has, is clearly the lungs of the world as well, so when they are being destroyed to the extent they are, that should affect us all. We should become very concerned about it, bearing in mind that the latest data released by Global Forest Watch found that primary forest loss was 12% higher in 2020 than the year before, including the loss of some 4.2 million hectares—an area the size of the Netherlands—of primary humid tropical forest: in other words, those particular trees were unique to the world. The Minister has already been asked many questions, but will he consider taking appropriate action to reduce demand in our country for the goods resulting from that deforestation? If that happens, and if we are able to join with other countries—the EU, the USA, and much of the western world—we may be able to reduce the level of deforestation, which is really important.
However, this is not just about deforestation: a combination of other things is happening. Vast areas of the Amazon rainforest will be at risk from extreme drought—that is one of the things that is happening at this moment in time—and there is a need for the world to take rapid action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Whether we are climate change sceptics or believe in it, the reality is that it is happening. Scientists have predicted that the dry season will make things even worse than they already are: the eastern region of the Amazon will become increasingly arid, and it will become increasingly warm as well, putting already vulnerable trees that cannot respond to the drought stress they are already under at risk from forest fires. Many Members have referred to those forest fires: that will be worse for Brazil and the world as well, because carbon dioxide then adds to the greenhouse gas effect. What happens in Brazil affects us here and everywhere else. An international study has found that drought could affect a third of the Amazon by the end of the century, although there could perhaps be more rain in the western Amazon area.
As part of the Amazon dries out, it could turn into a savannah—I think the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) referred to that. There are deep concerns that this drought could be even worse than previously thought, so the Amazon is at risk from deforestation, climate change and drought. That should be ringing alarm bells for not just our Government but Governments across the world. Vital global resources must not be taken for granted. We must protect and expand forests rather than reduce them. They can absorb and store carbon; there has been much research and model trials on that. The relationship between the water, soil and trees, and the interaction between the atmosphere and the land surface, show strongly that this is truly an emergency.
We need to encourage Brazil to reduce the deforestation and to act to prevent any more loss. We can do that by gentle persuasion, as the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell said, but it may take something more. If it does, and if we are acting for all the world, I have to say that that is something that has to be done.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I last spoke on the topic of deforestation in the Amazon less than two years ago, in a Westminster Hall debate prompted by a petition signed by more than 120,000 people. I welcome the fact that we have another opportunity to raise the issue, and I thank the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) for presenting this important debate.
Back in 2019, Extinction Rebellion had just begun its two-week protest in and around Westminster. The shared message that day from MPs in the Chamber, protesters on the streets and the thousands of our constituents who put their names to the petition was that deforestation in the Amazon is one of the great man-made tragedies of our time and that urgent action was required to stop it spiralling out of control.
Sadly, as we have heard in the debate, the urgent action required has not materialised; rather, the situation has become more perilous, with deforestation rates in Brazil hitting a 12-year high in 2020. Many of the fears expressed two years ago that the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro would, for economic gain, cause environmental destruction have now become reality. It is being reported that deforestation during his Administration is today more than double than in the same period under his predecessor, and just last month deforestation soared by two thirds from the same month last year, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. Furthermore, professors at the National Institute of Amazonian Research have expressed concern that legislative changes currently before the Brazilian Parliament could result in increases in unsustainable deforestation that would have previously been illegal. The World Wildlife Fund has warned that the proposed changes
“will destroy the legal framework that has enabled Brazil to control deforestation in the past, making it impossible to control deforestation in the Amazon for the next decade”.
That matters to us all. The Amazon rainforest is invaluable to our environment and fragile ecosystem, producing as much as 20% of the world’s oxygen and acting as a natural carbon capture for vast amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation threatens the 30 million people who live there, including up to 400 indigenous groups, and many thousands of plants and animal species. It also threatens to fundamentally hinder attempts to tackle climate change, reversing any progress made so far and contributing to rising global temperatures, with all the devastation that that will bring.
The Scottish Government declared a climate emergency in April 2019, followed a month later by the UK Parliament. It is therefore imperative that we collectively do all that we can to combat environmental destruction of natural habitats such as the Amazon rainforest. If we are serious about the climate emergency, we must use every tool available to us to ensure that we lead the international pressure to end this destructive deforestation in the Amazon.
At the leaders’ climate summit hosted by US President Joe Biden in April, Jair Bolsonaro vowed that Brazil would become carbon neutral by 2050 and recommitted to net zero deforestation by 2030. However, as we know, that empty rhetoric does not reflect reality. In the first six months of Bolsonaro’s term, enforcement measures to protect the Amazon, such as levying fines and destroying logging equipment in protected areas, fell by 20%, and inspection requirements for timber exports have been significantly relaxed. Enforcement agencies have been underfunded and sabotaged, and the 2021 federal budget for the Ministry of Environment and agencies was cut by nearly a third compared with last year. One campaign group put it bluntly, stating:
“The Amazon has become an open bar for land grabbers, illegal loggers and miners.”
The Brazilian Environment Minister said the country would need $1 billion in foreign aid to support efforts to reduce deforestation in the Amazon, while President Biden has previously stated that foreign Governments should provide Brazil with $20 billion. Will the UK Government therefore reduce their aid cuts and ensure that no projects to prevent deforestation in the Amazon are cancelled and in fact ensure that support is increased? Sadly, we probably know the answer.
We learned just last week that the UK Government cannot be trusted to maintain their commitment to projects vital to our planet’s health. Just weeks after the UK’s COP26 President visited Indonesia and called on it to move forward with plans to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office cancelled a green growth programme designed to prevent deforestation in the Indonesian Papuan provinces three years into a five-year programme. We urgently need to know the Government’s rationale for cancelling that project, what impact assessments have been undertaken and how serious Ministers are about tackling deforestation across the globe. This is a completely scandalous decision that once again highlights the real-life impact that UK aid cuts are having and demonstrates the UK’s failing as a leader on the world stage. As with Bolsonaro, this UK Government’s rhetoric does not reflect reality.
We need to hear how the UK Government plan to tackle deforestation in the Amazon and how they are co-operating with other Governments around the world to do so. What recent discussions have UK Government Ministers had with their counterparts in Brazil? Will they publicly condemn increasing deforestation, the deliberate underfunding of agencies tasked with protecting the environment and the continued attacks on indigenous people and their land? In any trade talks and agreements with Brazil, will protection of the Amazon be put front and centre to ensure that the UK does not share in the profits of the rainforest’s deliberate destruction? Furthermore, do the UK Government agree with several US Senators that any funding provided to the Brazilian Government should be contingent on their having a clear plan to curb deforestation, including significant and sustained progress in reducing deforestation and, importantly, ending environmental crimes and acts of intimidation and violence against forest defenders? Given the importance of the Amazon rainforest to us all and its role in lowering the global carbon emission footprint, was this even discussed at the recent G7 summit? Will the UK Government commit to this as a priority at COP26 in November?
As Scotland will host COP26 this year in Glasgow, I will now turn my attention to domestic policy and reforestation on these islands. Due to a better, more efficient grant system and strong political will to meet targets, the SNP Government lead the way in the UK on tree planting, with Scotland planting 22 million trees last year alone, making up nearly 85% of the UK’s mainland tree planting in 2020. Around 9.5 million tonnes of CO2 are removed from the atmosphere each year by Scotland’s forests. The first quantitative study of its kind in the UK evidenced the natural capital benefits of planting new woodlands in our green recovery, which will help to meet Scotland’s goal of net zero by 2045. Given that Scotland is unrivalled in the UK nations for tree planting and environmental protections, the other UK nations ought to follow Scotland’s lead and demonstrate to the world through their own practices just how important the protection of forests is to all of us.
Thank you, Mr McCabe. As the UK Government encourage others to follow suit, they have to do enough domestically to protect the environment and to make sure that we reforest, as well as talking about deforesting. Deforesting will inevitably lead to a need to reforest, because there is a balance, to which we may not be able to return.
Finally, I do not want to have to make these points again in yet another Westminster Hall debate in two years’ time, and nor do I want to hear further reports of increasing rates of deforestation, logging, resource mining, tree burning for farming and cattle-raising, or—last but not least—land seizures from indigenous people. I want to speak positively about successful global efforts to protect the Amazon and the people, flora and fauna who call it home. I want to hear about the protection of forests throughout the world and to celebrate reforestation projects across these islands. However, that will happen only if each and every nation takes its responsibilities on reaching net zero and protecting the environment seriously, and if we are vocal and forceful in tackling deforestation head on, not just in the Amazon but everywhere else too. We all know that the Amazon rainforest serves as the lungs of all nations across the world. Therefore, it is imperative that we urgently address this climate emergency together. No nation should be allowed to participate in, or be a bystander to, this self-inflicted damage to the planet.
It is a pleasure to contribute under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe, to this very timely debate secured by the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). There is a great deal of cross-party consensus. I obviously agree with the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) about the aid cuts. I hope the Minister will give an assessment of the impact that the reductions being made by the Department will have on the subject of today’s debate.
Without a doubt, the Amazon rainforest is a vital bulwark in the international fight against climate change. It is apt that we are having this debate as the Government prepare to host the critically important conference of the parties climate summit in Glasgow later this year. It is impossible to overstate the importance of the Amazon. It has long been considered a vital carbon sink, and the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) related that to his own experience of farming. Scientists estimate that the vegetation and trees making up the forest contain a staggering 76 billion tonnes of carbon. It is also home to a rich tapestry of wildlife and rivers. It was lovely that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) and the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) quoted the indigenous leaders, who have spoken with such heartfelt poignancy about their current position.
Despite that, the situation today remains precarious. Some scientists estimate that if we lose just 5% more of the Amazon, it will trigger a tipping point. The forest will no longer be able to sustain itself and we will lose the Amazon as we know it. The warning signs have been there: from 2012 to 2016, there was a 200% increase in carbon loss. Before that, between 1992 and 2014, half a million square kilometres of Brazilian Amazon was either degraded or deforested. Other Members have cited very useful statistics. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) linked what we eat off our plates with the impact it has day in, day out in the Amazon.
Of course, there are no signs that there will be a reversal in fortunes while we have the current Government position in Brazil. Under President Bolsonaro, the Brazilian Parliament is about to improve, with the endorsement of a presidential decree, a legislative package that will alter key environmental legislation. That includes an amnesty for land grabbers and the approval of major infrastructure projects that will see swathes of the forest paved over.
What assessment has the Minister made of the excellent work of the international panel of jurists, chaired by our own Philippe Sands QC, which has come up with a definition of ecocide as the fifth pillar of the International Criminal Court? Obviously, headings 1 to 4 are the human rights ones that we know well. What assessment has the Minister’s Department made of the fifth—the new definition of ecocide? Does she believe that that legal instrument, if it is approved, will be useful in our deliberations on how to manage this crucial question?
As well as the very clear risks of climate change, we must be alive to the human dangers of ongoing and increasing deforestation. That has been so eloquently laid out by Members that I need not repeat it. In the past 18 months, we have become particularly attuned to the danger of pandemics, and there is a very real and clear risk, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West said, that further deforestation may cause another deadly pandemic. Biologists and epidemiologists have been ringing the alarm about that for some time. Does the Minister believe that that is an effective use of some of the global health spend in her Department, which I know she is trying hard to protect? Does she think this might be a worthy subject to fund, in terms of global health priorities? This is a moment when we are all focused on the way that coming into close contact with the animal kingdom can lead to deadly viruses such as covid-19. It is a question that desperately needs further research. We have the intellectual firepower here in the UK; I hope that the Minister, as a great champion for universities and the link between global health, universities and foreign policy, will opine on that. The Amazon is thought to be home to 10% of known species on earth, so risk of another zoological pandemic originating from the region could not be starker.
The UK is uniquely positioned to act. Many of us mentioned the global COP summit in Glasgow. What dialogue has the Minister had directly with the ambassador regarding the deforestation question? Did he suggest, as some Brazilian MPs suggested to me, that the Amazon grows back? Could she enlighten us about how that bilateral conversation is going, saying whatever she can say in public?
Turning to the role of the financial sector, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) made a very eloquent speech about our financial centre and the impact of our banks, our insurance and all the other instruments, which we might be able to challenge. I hope that the Treasury will become more activist about that. What protections are the Government putting in place so that trade between the UK and Brazil enshrines environmental and human rights protections during the negotiations? In a trade negotiation, it is amazing how far-reaching the discussions can be. Will the Minister also tell us where she thinks the Department for International Trade is up to in its discussions? I assume that they are at a preliminary stage, but now is a great time to be talking about the issues that we in Parliament are raising. There is no time like the present, especially when we are talking about the environment.
Other hon. Members have spoken so well in the debate, such as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who raised the question of drought. That is another specialism within the new FCDO that I know the Minister has many thoughts on. Has she given any consideration to that?
I want to finish there to give the Minister plenty of time and so that she can perhaps allow a couple of interventions. I thank hon. Members for taking part, and I want to put on record how deeply we care about the environment and our relationship with Brazil. I hope we can all send a message from our Parliament to theirs and when we can travel again I hope we can welcome Brazilian MPs here to discuss this issue in person.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on securing this debate. We have had a very broad debate with a lot of contributions from right across the House. This issue means a lot to my right hon. Friend and quite clearly to Members across the House. It means a lot to me as well. Given the breadth of the debate, I will endeavour to answer as many questions as I can. On whether I will have time for interventions, let us see how I canter along, but I will try my best.
Protecting the Amazon is a priority for the UK. The pandemic has been a powerful reminder of the great global challenges that pose an existential threat to our security and prosperity here in the UK. We recognise that in our integrated review of UK foreign policy, in which we said that tackling climate change and biodiversity loss is our No. 1 international priority. Climate change and biodiversity loss are inseparable. We cannot stop climate change without protecting the natural environment, and we cannot protect the natural environment without tackling climate change. Conserving the Amazon is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
As we heard, the Amazon is one of the world’s most precious places. It is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Its role in the global ecosystem, producing oxygen, absorbing carbon dioxide and regulating rainfall and temperatures, is huge. It is home to numerous indigenous people. Around a quarter of all drugs used today are derived from rainforest plants. It is estimated that the Amazon stores almost five years’ worth of global emissions of carbon dioxide. If deforestation is allowed to carry on, it will reach a tipping point—potentially in the next 10 years. Unchecked, the Amazon will be turned from carbon sink into source of emissions. That is one of the gravest risks that the world faces. It is a critical time for action on climate change, as we prepare to host COP26 in November. We know there is no path to net zero without a massive escalation of efforts to protect and restore nature, and crucially to protect the Amazon.
As president of COP26 and recently president of the G7, we have put nature at the heart of our response to tackling climate change. The leaders’ 2030 Nature Compact set out G7 ambition to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, highlighting nature’s role in tackling climate change; tackling deforestation through supporting sustainable supply chains; and participating in the COP26 forest, agriculture and commodity trade dialogue.
The problems with deforestation do not stop with climate or biodiversity. There is a strong link with security. Across the Amazon, illegal deforestation is inseparably bound up with criminal organisations. They operate transnationally, trafficking wood, minerals, drugs and people. Tackling illegal deforestation is vital, whether through alternative livelihoods or law enforcement co-operation. More than anything, it requires strong and principled political leadership.
It is not a challenge for any one country or even one region alone. The world’s tropical forests benefit all of us, and all countries have a shared responsibility as consumers and producers alike. The furniture we buy and the food that we eat can make a difference. We know that to protect the Amazon we need to support the efforts of countries in the region. There are three that contain more than three quarters of the forest between them: Brazil, Colombia and Peru. We cannot achieve our aims without Brazil, and I welcome Brazil’s recommitment to zero deforestation in the Amazon by 2030, which it announced at the Earth Day summit this year.
We are eager to see the robust implementation plans that Brazil will need to deliver on that commitment. We are using our diplomatic capabilities and ODA programming to encourage the Brazilian Government to recommit to implementing and enforcing the Brazilian forest code, which is an important legal mechanism for protecting the Amazon rainforest. For Brazil, setting out those plans will bring advantages. It will shore up investor and consumer confidence and unlock private sector financial flows.
We are working at a national level with Brazil and with individual regions, for example, supporting the state of Mato Grosso to reduce deforestation, through our climate finance programmes. Brazil needs to tackle its problems of deforestation urgently, and we are closely watching the rates of deforestation and Brazil’s actions, as the dry season approaches.
A number of hon. Members referred to vulnerable communities and indigenous peoples. We are engaging with state Governments and local authorities. We have a results-based agreement with the states of Mato Grosso and Acre, which helps indigenous communities to develop sustainable income sources, and strengthen food security. Around 20,000 families have benefited so far.
Through the ICF partnerships for forests programme, the UK also supports almost 2,000 indigenous people, to strengthen their livelihoods through sustainable forest management. Our embassy international programme works to better understand the needs of indigenous peoples, supporting vulnerable communities during the pandemic.
As we ask other countries to act on climate change, it is only right that we make our own commitments. We have committed to double our international climate finance to £11.6 billion over the next five years, and to invest at least £3 billion of that in solutions that protect and restore nature. We are engaging the multilateral development banks and asking them to put nature first across all their work, and to support countries to fulfil their environmental commitments
As we announced at President Biden’s climate summit, we are helping to build the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance coalition, which aims to mobilise $1 billion in financing. It will kick off what is expected to become one of the largest ever public-private efforts to protect tropical forests and support sustainable development.
Reducing our footprint overseas is critical to that development. This year, through the forest, agriculture and commodity trade dialogue, we are bringing together the biggest producers and consumers of the commodities that drive deforestation—cocoa, cattle, soy and palm oil. Together with those countries and co-chair Indonesia, we are agreeing actions to protect forests and other carbon- rich ecosystems, such as the Amazon, while promoting trade and development.
While the Minister is speaking about the private-public partnerships, could she comment on the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) on the banking—financial—sector, which we are famous for, so that it is a virtual circle?
I am about to come onto that point. In May, our joint statement, drafted with the 24 signatory countries on collaboration, was endorsed by critical Amazon countries, such as Brazil, Colombia and Peru. I have talked about a responsibility to reduce our impact at home. We are bringing forward a law that will make it illegal for larger businesses in the UK to use forest risk commodities produced on land used illegally. That will make sure there is no place for illegally produced commodities on our supermarket shelves, and support other countries to enforce their own forest protection measures. At the same time, we are working with UK businesses to improve the sustainability of their soy and palm oil supply chains through roundtables on these.
On the point raised by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) about the importance of engaging with the financial sector on deforestation, the UK Government are funding a phase 2 global resource initiative taskforce, tasked specifically to make recommendations on addressing deforestation and linked finance. It will report with recommendations to the Government in the autumn.
Those initiatives are helping UK supermarkets and restaurants reach 100% sustainable soy and palm oil to reduce the UK’s environmental footprint overseas. Alongside that engagement with businesses, we urgently need financial decision making and investments to take account of nature. The launch of the taskforce on nature-related financial disclosure this month marks an important milestone in that process and builds on our leadership in green finance.
All the Minister has described is part of a great step forward in the policies of the UK Government, and I commend them. However, the reality is the urgency of what is happening in the Amazon is serious. I encourage the Minister, and her colleagues in the Foreign Office and diplomatic service, to step up the pressure. Does she agree that we cannot afford to wait to stop the deforestation in Brazil? Will she commit to telling the diplomatic service to step up what it does with the Brazilians, and look at other ways of putting pressure on them to bring this to a halt as quickly as possible?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, and reminds us of the importance of climate change. We do engage with the Brazilians. The Foreign Secretary recently discussed with the Brazilian Foreign Minister how we can work more constructively together to deliver COP26 objectives. UK Ministers and diplomats in Brasilia routinely engage with the highest levels of the Brazilian Government, on this and many other important items. Protecting the Amazon is critical if we are to tackle climate change and restore nature, and for long-term prosperity in the region. The UK is working closely with our partners there to support their efforts to reduce deforestation and protect the Amazon.
With a few seconds left, I thank the Minister for her remarks and colleagues on all sides for joining in this debate. We need to keep the pressure up. The simple message for the Minister to take back to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is that this is urgent, it is accelerating, we cannot afford it to carry on, and we have to use every tool at our disposal, whether small or large, to bring it to an end as quickly as possible.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered deforestation in the Amazon.