Amazon Deforestation DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Andrew SelousMain Page: Andrew Selous (Conservative - South West Bedfordshire)
Department Debates - View all Andrew Selous's debates with the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 266638 relating to deforestation in the Amazon.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I declare at the outset that I have been a member of Greenpeace for many years.
This timely debate focuses on a real and urgent concern for the environment, on a day when so many are standing vigil outside Parliament and across the capital, making their strength of feeling on this critical issue heard peacefully, calmly and, as I can hear from my office, often with gentle, soothing music—although interspersed occasionally by energetic drumming. However, that commendable gentleness should not be misunderstood. Urgent action is needed, as demanded by the many people who signed the petition.
The petition, which currently stands at more than 122,500 signatures, including more than 500 from my Cambridge constituency, reads as follows:
“Demand the EU & UN sanction Brazil to halt increased deforestation of the Amazon. The government of Brazil led by Bolsonaro favour the development of the Amazon rainforest over conservation, escalating deforestation. Deforestation threatens indigenous populations who live in the forest, loss of a precious and complex ecosystem and a vital carbon store that slows global warming. Indigenous people have called for the EU to impose trade sanctions on Brazil to halt the deforestation because they fear genocide. Also, the UK parliament has recognised a climate emergency. Since the Amazon rainforest is an important carbon store, absorbing huge volumes of CO2 each year, its deforestation is of global significance. The intrinsic value of the rainforest should also be recognised. Trade sanctions are used elsewhere for important issues as an effective means to force action.”
I will come to the definitions in a little while; the hon. Gentleman has pre-empted me.
Climate change and environmental issues have shot up the political and public agenda this year—we should all be thankful for that—due in no small part to young people, the school climate strikes and Greta Thunberg, and to various campaigns that have led to long-overdue media attention. In my city of Cambridge, some 3,000 people took to the streets a few weeks ago to support the school children, and today thousands are taking part in the Extinction Rebellion protests. Protecting our natural environment has captured the public conscious and cannot—indeed, must not—be ignored by politicians.
What a natural environment this petition refers to. The Amazon rainforest is 5.5 million sq km of rainforest surrounding the Amazon river. Some 60% of it is contained in Brazil, as the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) indicated. It is home to about one quarter of the world’s species, it accounts for about 15% of terrestrial photosynthesis and it is a major carbon sink. The World Wildlife Fund reports that it is home to perhaps 34 million people, including 385 indigenous groups. It is integral not just to the habitats of the people, plants and animals to which it provides a home, but to the global ecosystem, so it is very precious.
The Amazon rainforest has been under threat from deforestation for some years. Between 2001 and 2018, Brazil lost almost 55 million hectares of tree cover—a staggering amount.
Break in Debate
Thank you, Mrs Moon, for calling me so early. As always in debates, one hopes to have more time to perfect the speech that should have been written last week. With your generosity, Mrs Moon, hon. Members will have to listen to what I have in front of me.
I do not think there is any disagreement among us about the importance of the rainforest, be it for the physical entity that it is or for the animal and plant species that it hosts. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) highlighted that the Amazon spans much more than just Brazil. I will concentrate on not just Brazil but Colombia next door, and I will draw some comparisons.
I refer to Brazil following my visit there—I led the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation there two weeks ago. Unfortunately, we had to cut our visit short because Parliament was recalled. One of the key themes of our visit was to raise British views on the rainforest with the Brazilian Government, parliamentarians and non-governmental organisations. Particularly when we visited the Senate and Congress in Brasilia, it became clear how sensitive they feel to outside criticism. They certainly hear the voices across the world in response to the crisis in the rainforest. People should not think that is not the case.
I differ from the essence of the petition on the need for economic sanctions. I would like us to find solidarity and common cause with groups in Brazil who care passionately—arguably, even more so than we do, because it is their home—to find ways to collaborate to unleash the true value of the rainforest. The rainforest’s value should never be in cutting down trees—that is a blind, short-term gain. The true value of the rainforest can be seen next door in Columbia, where the United Kingdom works in collaboration with GROW Colombia, using science to unleash some truly phenomenal long-term possibilities.
GROW Colombia is a UK-funded four-year collaboration involving multiple partners, including the Earlham Institute, the University of East Anglia, the Natural History Museum, the Eden project, Colombia’s Humboldt Institute, the Universidad de los Andes and the University of Sydney. The project is designed to demonstrate that biodiversity conservation can drive sustainable economic growth and secure peace and prosperity—in this case in Colombia, but the same lessons can be drawn in many other areas of the Amazon.
Even though the project is in its early days, former guerrillas have been transformed into guardians of the rainforests; people with no scientific or natural background have been trained up to recognise unique species of plants and animals and what they are capable of. It has helped farmers to reform their agricultural practices and techniques to grow crops and forage varieties that can offer conservation gains. It has enabled producers to identify and cultivate wild relatives of commercially produced coca varieties to make production more profitable, eco-friendly and sustainable and less dependent on human intervention. It has taught rural communities taxonomic identification techniques, combining biotechnology resources with practical field work to catalogue species. It has assisted policymakers in analysing socio-economic models to support the ecological restoration of the rainforest. Above all, it has coached rural communities in business models for ecotourism initiatives that guarantee a genuine and lasting conservation benefit to the ecosystem. Some of those measures could be rolled out in Brazil, in collaboration with the regional Governments—an area such as Amazonia is every bit as important as the federal Government in Brasilia. Some of that collaboration with the United Kingdom is already beginning.
I urge the Government to continue to work on pointing out to Brazil not only that it is an economic powerhouse thanks to its variety of rare species but that, if harnessed properly, as is beginning to happen in Colombia, the potential for biotech and pharmaceutical applications of some of the very complex and rare plant species could generate billions of sustainable, clean revenue that would benefit the planet in the long term while generating revenue to benefit the science community in Brazil. That would flow through to communities, particularly the indigenous communities in those areas.
Let me again point out the importance of the federal and state Governments and legislatures. There is huge sensitivity to the criticism directed at Brazil in recent months. There is a danger that that will shut off avenues of co-operation, dialogue and discussion, preventing some of the positive things that we all want to achieve. Particularly in rural areas, people want to be better off. They want better standards of education, better employment opportunities and better prospects for their children than they had. We must show them a way to achieve that without following a path of devastation and destruction. The trees can be cashed in once, but the other possibilities I mentioned can pay dividends in the longer term.
Another reason we should not go down the path of sanctions, or the threat of them, is that Brazil is a global superpower in its renewable energy potential, both solar and wind, thanks to its enormous coast and tremendous sunshine. UK companies are the biggest investors in solar generation in Brazil. The City of London, by providing access to green finance and green reinsurance markets, is fundamental to unlocking some of that sustainable, renewable power. Many of those schemes are micro schemes, which can unlock access to affordable, sustainable energy—a problem that has often plagued Brazil—for the very people we have talked about, who live away from the coast in isolated, poor communities.
However, those schemes can be unlocked only by global co-operation and the free flow of finance to ensure that there is somebody to help to finance them in the long term. Simply pulling up the drawbridge and saying, “No more co-operation; we’re withdrawing from trade agreements and trade discussions with you,” strengthens the hand of the people who want to build a wall around Brazil—those who say, “There they go again: the imperialists are threatening us. We shouldn’t listen to anything they’ve got to say. We do things our way”—and weakens the hand of those in Brazil who want co-operation and to follow a path of alternatives to deforestation.
As somebody who is passionate about Latin America—I have visited the Yungas in Bolivia, and I have visited Colombia five times in my trade envoy role—I know very well the economic power of these rainforests. This is not just about protecting rare species and defending an ecosystem; it is also about allowing people to earn a fantastic living while protecting precious and unique environments. If we get this right, we can do both.