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Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use

Volume 825: debated on Monday 28 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken since they committed to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use on 2 November 2021; and what plans they have to increase investment internationally to support agroecological transitions in lower and middle-income countries.

My Lords, there is no solution to climate change without nature, which is why, as part of our COP 26 presidency, the UK moved nature from the margins of the debate to its centre. We secured commitments from 145 countries, representing 91% of the world’s forests, to end deforestation in this decade. Alongside that, we secured financial commitments worth around $20 billion to help those countries deliver, as well as pledges from the multilateral development banks, financial institutions and the world’s biggest commodity traders to align their businesses with that goal. Since then, the UK has created the Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership, which we launched at COP 27, to provide a long-term delivery mechanism for building momentum and holding all those parties to account.

My Lords, I am very encouraged that the Government have committed £3 billion for nature in their climate finance Bill but, another year on and with another COP over, we have no clearer understanding of where and how that money is to be spent. Can the Minister reassure us that land use for agroecology and other sustainable farming practices that have huge potential for biodiversity, climate mitigation and providing food security in low-income countries will receive some of this funding, and that it will not be focused just on forests? Can he also confirm that supporting those agroecological systems will be included as a key objective in the ongoing integrated review of foreign policy?

My Lords, I do not think anyone would pretend that we do not need more progress or do not need to accelerate efforts to reverse deforestation, but the pledges that were secured at COP are being delivered. Through the Global Forest Finance Pledge, which is the umbrella pledge for all this, the UK committed £1.5 billion over five years. So far, 22% of that pledge has been spent, so we are on track to meet that commitment. Specifically, we made commitments around the Congo basin; around $300 million of the $1.5 billion that was secured or promised at COP 26 has now been disbursed and spent in that region. Likewise, through our pledge to indigenous people in local communities, we secured a commitment of $1.7 billion from 22 different donors around the world. So far, nearly 20% of that money has already been invested, so we are on track to meet the commitments that we made. I should say, as I have not answered the noble Baroness directly, that a significant focus of UK funding has been on the promotion of agroecology.

My Lords, can the Minister say a little bit more about what is being done to stop the import of soya and palm oil into this country, which is fuelling the deforestation in so many of these developing nations? I know it is a pledge, but we want to see concrete action in the UK now, so perhaps the Minister could update us on the action on that.

With the noble Baroness’s help, we passed the Environment Bill into law. That made provision for a due-diligence law, requiring secondary legislation, that is working its way through the system. We needed to consult—and this has been done by Defra—on which commodities should be initially included in the first tranche of the due-diligence legislation. I have pushing for—and I think we will end up with—a very expansive approach, covering all the key commodities, and that will have a direct impact on our own supply chains. We are, however, doing much more than that. We co-chair, with Indonesia, the FACT dialogue, which brings together 28 countries representing the vast bulk of deforestation caused by agricultural commodities, as well as the main consumer markets. We are working together to try to agree a mechanism for breaking the link between commodity production and deforestation, the former being responsible for about 80% of the latter. We are making progress, but it requires us to talk to countries that do not necessarily agree with us on every issue, so we have to go as far as we are able to go while pushing all the time for greater ambition.

My Lords, women are disproportionately represented in the production of agricultural businesses, but they are massively underrepresented in their ownership. This is largely due to there being too many restrictive legal frameworks that reduce the ability of women to secure investment for ownership and for their own entrepreneurial liberties and freedoms. Will the Minister put forward the case for gender-lens investment through the City of London, British International Investment, and any UK support, because the most transformative thing that we could do for agriculture in developing countries would be to empower women for ownership?

I thank the noble Lord for making an important point. The main focus, when it comes to supporting a shift towards sustainable land use, at least from the point of view of the UK and ODA, is on supporting smallholders, who are disproportionately responsible by default for much of the deforestation that we see, for example, in the Congo Basin, Indonesia and elsewhere. Almost all the work that we are doing—whether it is the global agriculture and food security programme, or the agricultural breakthrough, which we launched at COP 26, to which 13 countries signed up—is about helping smallholders achieve climate-resilient, sustainable agriculture and ensuring that that model is the most attractive and widely adopted option for farmers everywhere. That, in turn, has a disproportionate impact on women, who tend to make up a disproportionate number of those who actually engage in smallholder farming.

My Lords, just picking up the theme here of how we transition countries, the Minister talks about the very good work that the Government have done on deforestation, but what is he doing to link with other government departments, particularly the BII, in order to ensure that what we are doing in one area is reflected in the other? If we are spending money investing in deforestation through the sorts of things raised by my noble friend, and then he is pumping money into stopping it, are we not defeating the whole objective?

The noble Lord is right. It would be wrong to pretend that all of our policies are lined up across the whole of government and are entirely consistent. What was said at COP 26, or more recently at COP 27, by us and by all the consumer countries is not reflected, for example, in our trade policies. That is just a statement of the obvious. There is much more work to be done to align the way we approach trade with one of the biggest consumer economies in the world. Countries want access to our markets, and we need to incentivise a move towards sustainability by removing barriers, for example, on commodities grown in Costa Rica, or tuna caught in the Maldives or timber produced and logged in Gabon. In each of those countries there are models of sustainability. We would be able to do much more that way than we could ever do through the use of aid. This is something that we are working on through government. The UK was responsible, at the last G7 last year, for persuading all the G7 countries to commit to aligning their entire ODA portfolios, including ancillary bodies such as BII, with our broader climate and nature agenda. There is a lot of work to be done to make that happen; the commitment is there, and we are making progress here in the UK. As I say, however, there is more work to be done.

My Lords, perhaps the Minister could say a little more about the original Question from my noble friend Lady Willis. Where can we find out about these success stories that he points to? If he does not know, can he write to us and leave a letter in the Library?

There are many success stories. They get overlooked when we have these huge COP 27-type summits, but there are countries around the world providing perfect examples of what can be done. I mentioned that Gabon had broken the link between logging and deforestation. Costa Rica has broken the link between agricultural commodities and deforestation. There are a few other countries as well. We do not need to invent anything new. We just must make those examples of best practice the norm. If we can do that through our ODA and other tools, such as trade policy, we will be making a very significant difference.

The agricultural breakthrough that I mentioned earlier, which was launched at COP 26 with 13 countries endorsing it, has identified agroecology as one of the first priority areas for the next three years, and the 13 countries have all signed up to ensure that agroecology receives the funding needed to give it the boost that we want it to have.

My Lords, after COP 27, the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa said:

“It was very disturbing to see a large contingent of corporate lobbyists influencing the process while small-scale farmers have been shut out and drowned out”.

Does the Minister agree that this has been a problem through the COP process? Are the Government acting, ideally to exclude but at least to tone down, the impact of big food—the agrochemical companies, the seed companies, the commodity trading giants—which has such a loud voice in the COP process?

I half-agree with the noble Baroness. There is no doubt that the big vested interests have a disproportionate impact on all such international fora, and that is sometimes reflected in decisions that are made. However, we cannot hope to stop deforestation unless we have co-operation now from the 13 or 14 biggest agricultural trading companies. A few months ago, I co-chaired, with John Kerry, a meeting where we summoned the 12 biggest agricultural commodity traders, to try to pressure them to deliver progress by COP 27, and to show us the road map they intend to follow to break the link between their purchasing of commodities and deforestation. While they did produce that road map for COP 27, and while some of it was very good, particularly in relation to palm oil, it was disappointing in other areas. However, we must keep up the pressure and continue that discussion with those commodity traders.