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Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Developed Countries

Volume 825: debated on Monday 7 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to the recent flooding in Pakistan, what steps they are taking as president of COP26 (1) to acknowledge, and (2) to address, the effects of greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries.

First, I express my heartfelt sadness at the horrifying events resulting from the flooding in Pakistan. The UK has committed £26.5 million in humanitarian funding to help support the people of Pakistan as they rebuild from this terrible event. At COP 26, parties recognised that loss and damage are already impacting lives and livelihoods and agreed to scale up support to address this issue. An agenda has now been agreed for COP 27 this week and next, with a specific item on loss and damage. New news today is that the UK Government will commit to triple funding for climate adaptation, up from £500 million in 2019 to £1.5 billion in 2025, which will of course help countries such as Pakistan and Somalia.

I thank the Minister for her Answer. The World Meteorological Organization reports that greenhouse gas emissions are at historic highs, with a worrying, unexplained spike in methane—a greenhouse gas which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Countries such as Pakistan, those of east Africa and low-lying island states are responsible for a minuscule amount of current emissions and practically none of the historical emissions, yet they are in the front line of the extreme weather events that are a direct consequence of those emissions. First, now that the Prime Minister is going to COP 27, will the Minister urge him personally to intervene and make sure that the loss and damage agenda sees some progress there? Secondly, does she regret that we have missed our own target for the Green Climate Fund this year by $288 million?

The good news is that the Prime Minister is at COP 27 today. He has been speaking and will make announcements, one of which I have just mentioned. While I cannot go into the detail of what kind of negotiations will go on on loss and damage, we have announced funding of £5 million for the Santiago network as a demonstration of our commitment to this issue. The points the noble Baroness makes about the particular circumstances of Pakistan are interesting ones which I will take away.

The Pakistan situation is clearly appalling. However, would my noble friend agree that at COP 27, rather than concentrating solely on reaffirming targets, which, frankly, may never be met, or loss and damage grants, which may never be decided, let alone paid, and while emissions worldwide continue to rise very rapidly, there is a much stronger case for focusing on innovative new world schemes for extracting carbon out of the atmosphere and absorbing it directly? Will she reassure us that the UK Government will look at these new schemes and take the lead where they can in a full and constructive way?

I thank my noble friend for his constructive suggestion. I believe in the power of technology. The point he makes about carbon capture and storage is absolutely on the money. We have seen leaps forward which have helped us with tackling climate change on everything from electric vehicles to wind turbines, solar power, LED lighting, hydrogen and new nuclear. Carbon capture and storage are in the same category. Areas like these are where businesses can come together with Governments to innovate, drive things forward and then get them copied in lots of different countries around the world. Climate change is an international phenomenon; sadly, carbon and greenhouse gas emissions have no borders.

My Lords, last week we had a briefing from the President of the Maldives. He pointed out that, of the 100% of GDP, they spend 30% on adaptation due to the fact that the islands are being trashed by hurricanes and sea-level rises, and they are spending a further 25% on debt relief—the debt that they incurred in building infrastructure, roads and hospitals, which are now being washed away by the climate crisis. Do the Government think that there is any value in trying to work towards debt relief for nations such as this, given that the international community cannot yet come up with the £100 billion that we agreed last year in Glasgow for situations just like this?

We are open to innovative solutions. This is another one that has come forward from the Maldives, which I have only just heard about. It is obviously right that hurricanes and monsoons and things make it difficult for countries such as the Maldives and other small islands to deal with their debts; in any financing, we would need to make sure that the result helped with climate change alleviation, but I am very happy to learn more.

My Lords, the Question points the finger of blame solely at developed countries. Does the Minister agree that it is not just developed countries, but also countries such as China and India, whose leaders have failed to attend the conference at Sharm el-Sheikh? Does the fact of their non-attendance suggest a lack of commitment and engagement on their part?

The attendance of the UK delegation—which includes the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Environment Secretary, my noble friend Lord Goldsmith from our House, Graham Stuart MP, and, indeed, a former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson—shows the seriousness of this matter. To be fair, we have these big COPs, as we had in 2015 and as we were honoured to chair last year, and not all world leaders go to every COP every year. Of course, if action on climate change is going to work—for exactly the reasons that I have already articulated, in terms of there being no borders for greenhouse gas emissions—it is absolutely essential that China, India and other big emitters step up to the plate and deliver on what they have promised and, indeed, even more.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned Boris Johnson. What has happened to Britain’s global leadership since Glasgow? Boris Johnson said today that he is there in a purely supportive role, but he also said that Britain should not pay reparations for climate change. This was in complete contradiction to the Prime Minister’s announcement today that we should enter into discussions about this question. Can the Minister tell us what the Prime Minister needs to do to make sure that his words are credible?

I do not like the direction of that question. However, we have encouraged discussion on loss and damage. Obviously, the Labour Party has come out with a big initiative on reparations—which is not funded—and it is very important that we join in the discussion of loss and damage to try to find a joined-up way forward, with support from around the world. The whole problem about climate change, as I have said in the House so often, is that it is an international challenge as well as a domestic challenge.

My Lords, following on from the question on loss and damage, the Minister said that it was really important that there is discussion. Have we not utterly arrived at the time when we need action, given that loss and damage was kicked into the long grass, taken out of the Glasgow climate pact and put into the Glasgow dialogue instead? Denmark has promised loss and damage money; Scotland has promised loss and damage money; and the Belgian region of Wallonia has promised loss and damage money. If the Government want to be world-leading, when are we going from discussion to actual action and a promise of money? It is not the same thing as adaptation finance.

In my experience, you can only get action, especially in an international context, if you have constructive discussion. In terms of our contribution, the UK spent £2.4 billion on our international climate finance between 2016 and 2020 on adaptation and investment in areas that needed to address loss and damage. The Scottish Government fund is £2 million.

My Lords, there is no point in offering the least-developed countries support for loss and damage if our Government are removing funding from other areas of that community. For all the figures that the Minister has stated today from the Dispatch Box, how much is new money and how much of it is simply reallocated from the arbitrary cap of 0.5%?

We made very generous commitments to funding on climate change last year. We are sticking to those; the Prime Minister made it clear on the steps of Downing Street that he regarded protecting the environment as very important. Sometimes you change the priority which you give to different aspects of the climate change matter, but that is the way to move forward and do things better, and the announcements that have been made today are directed exactly at that. I am delighted at the progress that is being made today, but the question is whether the discussions will deliver what we want over the next two weeks. We look forward to reporting on that when COP 27 ends.