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International Mother Earth Day

Volume 837: debated on Monday 22 April 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to mark International Mother Earth Day, and to fulfil the United Kingdom’s commitments set out in their White Paper on International Development, published in November 2023 (CP 975).

My Lords, the UK has previously attended UN events to mark International Mother Earth Day, recognising that development, nature and climate are interconnected. We are progressing our White Paper commitments, helping to end extreme poverty and address climate change and biodiversity loss. The UK ensured that nature remained central to the international agenda at COP 28, announcing £576 million to halt forest loss and protect nature. Our £11.6 billion international climate finance commitment includes £3 billion to protect, restore and sustainably manage nature.

My Lords, on International Mother Earth Day, which falls today, I welcome the Government’s White Paper commitment to protect forests, land and natural resources. Can my noble friend please give a couple of significant practical examples of where the Government will assist those countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are facing substantial desertification and illegal practices on mineral extraction?

Protecting natural resources in sub-Saharan Africa continues to be a focus for the United Kingdom. Our support includes the Investments in Forest and Sustainable Land Use program. This is mobilising private investment into forest protection, restoration and sustainable land use. Its highly successful first phase, which ran from 2017 to 2024, operated in eastern, west and central Africa. Our Biodiverse Landscapes Fund aims to reduce poverty and protect and restore biodiversity in environmentally critical landscapes, including the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area and areas in Madagascar and the western Congo Basin. There are many other examples but those are two, to answer my noble friend’s point.

My Lords, given the importance of deforestation as far as climate is concerned, can the Minister celebrate Earth Day by publishing this week the Schedule 17 forest risk due diligence regulations? He assured the House before Easter that they would be published shortly, so why not this week?

This forest risk commodities regulation is a good news story and the UK has been pushing for it. The publication of the statutory instrument is imminent and the House will be able to debate it. The UK will be one of the countries at the forefront of introducing sensible, well consulted regulations that will protect forests by making sure that supply chains are rigorously enforced.

My Lords, given the decision last week in Scotland, where I live, for Green Party Ministers to ditch their target on climate change, and the concerns raised by the head of the Climate Change Committee that the UK is less ambitious on climate than it had been, does the Minister agree that emerging economies need the UK to be reliable and dependable in planning for climate alleviation policies? It is why I asked the Minister in a debate in January whether the climate finance that he announced and referred to was new money. Subsequently, independent analysis has suggested £2 billion pounds of that has been recycled. What is the point of making announcements when they are reneged on, or indeed when the funding given is recycled?

I am sorry but I cannot take that. The £11.6 billion, one of the largest commitments by a country, is absolutely solid. If the noble Lord wants me to be completely frank, I suspect that our spending on climate finances is probably nearer to £15 billion or £16 billion if I take into account other things that other countries calculate as international climate finance. The noble Lord really cannot say that we are somehow reneging on this. The Prime Minister and the Government are absolutely committed to this, and we should be proud that we are a country that has halved our greenhouse gas emissions and that we are the fastest reducer of greenhouse gas emissions of any country in the G7.

My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned the extractive industries. The UN 2021 report recognised that extractive industries have the potential to drive growth and reduce poverty in developing countries, yet it also recognised that most of those developing countries are locked into patterns of primary product exportation specialisation. That constitutes a barrier to long-term economic growth. One of the UN’s calls for action was to systematically include civil society and vulnerable groups affected by the green transition—including women and indigenous populations—in the design, implementation and monitoring of all extractive operations. What are this Government doing to ensure that this call for action applies, and that we involve those people who are most directly affected?

I entirely agree with the noble Lord. At recent COPs, particularly the CBD in Montreal 14 months ago, we spent a lot of time talking to representatives of local communities and indigenous peoples, to make sure that we are making this relevant to them. If the noble Lord wants one example, I will mention digital sequence information, which is potentially a £100 billion a year new nature fund, where the money will go direct to local communities and indigenous people. It is an example of the priority we are making them, to make sure that they are part of the conversation.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. The scale of the cost of servicing debt for emerging economies was highlighted at the World Economic Forum last week. Are His Majesty’s Government open to pursuing debt swaps as a way of allowing climate-vulnerable countries to implement the very necessary adaptation to combat the damaging effects of climate change that are all too obvious?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right that debt holds back countries in a completely unfair way, particularly those which are most vulnerable, and we are committed to improving the international debt system. We are pushing for improvements to the G20 common framework, and we use our position in official creditor committees to help to return countries to debt sustainability. One example I would give her is that we in the UK pioneered the climate resilient debt clauses, which pause debt repayments when a developing country is hit by a disaster. I am delighted that France and three other countries have followed suit, and that this is now becoming an established form of debt alleviation.

My Lords, in the White Paper we are talking about, there is a short but quite good section on working with the Commonwealth. Given that security goes with development—there is no development, let alone green development, without reasonable security and political stability—would the Minister remind the authors of this aspect, particularly as the Chinese are now actively undermining the security of numerous Commonwealth countries? The Solomon Islands is a good example of the latest one, but there are many others. Should we not have this aspect of the whole development question rather higher in the agenda than we seem to have it now?

My noble friend raises a really important issue in the run up to CHOGM, where we want to show that we are using the Commonwealth in an effective way, in supporting small island developing states in particular to manage the adaptation to climate change. It is being held in Samoa, so his point is absolutely right. On Friday of last week, I was in Cyprus at the Commonwealth Ocean Ministers Meeting. You cannot sit and listen to the representative from Tuvalu without understanding the importance of this to them. It is an existential threat, and the work we are doing on SIDS this year in the run up to CHOGM, and in the future, shows that it is an absolute priority, and the Commonwealth is an excellent way of supporting so many of them.

The Minister recognises the importance of indigenous land management for environmental benefit. Can he comment on why upland farmers in the UK are so mistreated by the SFI as it is currently set out?

That is quite a leap from the Pacific but I will try to answer the noble Earl. He should look at the amendments that have been made to the SFI recently, which have been broadly welcomed by upland farmers. Where there was an actual or perceived discrepancy between lowland and upland farming, that has been addressed. It is vital that we maintain a vibrant upland farming community, which is absolutely the Government’s intention. Our grant schemes—the sustainable farming incentive, Countryside Stewardship and the farming in protected landscapes fund—show that these are people who matter to us, our landscape and the future of farming in this country.