Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate. COP28 will be vital, recognising the global stocktake that will be happening, and I commend the Government on the progress they have made, while also recognising, not just in this country but around the world, the necessity of a just transition.
I pay tribute to the Prime Minister, who in his speech a couple of months ago recognised that we have already been doing so well on aspects of the carbon budget. He also recognised some of the impacts that were about to unfold, particularly in rural communities like mine in Suffolk Coastal, including a transition away from oil boilers—something that we all want. He is allowing more time for that to happen, rather than the sudden impact that such measures could have had on many people in my constituency and across the country. His speech was also about aspects of housing and the energy performance certificate. Undoubtedly, in many rural parts of the country, trying to achieve EPC standard C is difficult, because there is pretty old housing—not just from 20 or 30 years ago, but considerably older. Trying to make that change meant that a lot of buildings were at risk of being removed from the private rental sector, which would not be good in terms of housing people in our rural communities.
I also commend the Prime Minister on saying, in a key part of his speech at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh last year, that there is no solution to climate change without protecting and restoring nature. That is 100% right. Again, the United Kingdom should be proud of how it has put nature, and nature-based solutions, at the heart of ensuring that we achieve net zero around the world.
In her 1988 speech, my political heroine Margaret Thatcher highlighted the risk to the world of climate change. She was pivotal in ensuring that the Montreal protocol, and its subsequent amendments, was an innovative way—indeed, the most successful agreement ever reached —to try to tackle climate change. The Kigali amendment to the Montreal protocol was ratified by this Parliament in 2017, and I was pleased to be the DEFRA Minister who led that ratification. The critical outcome of that is to try to prevent 0.5°C of warming, which will help. Indeed, that is the single biggest contribution that will be made towards keeping the goal of 1.5° alive.
This is about how we tackle the issue in a variety of ways, in particular how we use hydrofluorocarbons—in the past it was chlorofluorocarbons—and thinking about the global warming power of the different chemicals we use. In my constituency, GAH Transport has been in operation for 30 years. It is a small business, but it is really making an impact with the amount of research and innovation that it is undertaking to try to use more of the sorts of chemical that reduce global warming potential. That will be an important part of the innovation we need not just in this country but around the world. I am delighted that the UK Government are funding, through international climate finance and other aspects of official development assistance, important progress in India and Rwanda. That is important progress in the cooling challenges that those countries face, not only when heating or cooling homes, but also—particularly in Rwanda, working with other African nations nearby—when thinking about the impact on agriculture, and how we can try to reduce food waste. We are supporting that important innovation to ensure that we keep the goal of 1.5° alive.
I have one request for the Minister. The United Arab Emirates, which is taking up the COP28 presidency, has not ratified the Kigali amendment, and I encourage him to raise that with the COP28 President and Ministers for that country to see whether they can do that. We need leadership across the world. The amendment is already in effect because a sufficient number of countries have signed, but it would show further leadership from the UAE to undertake that important ratification.
I admit that I am a bit of a veteran of COPs. I went to COP23 in Bonn in 2017, and to COP24 in Katowice. We had the magnificent COP26 in Glasgow, with our own president, my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Sir Alok Sharma). In many ways that was a game changer for nature, and it was strengthened last year at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh. Going back to Bonn, nature was really the Cinderella of it all. The oceans—we were already seeing the change, and the impact of climate change; we were starting to see acidification. Although the seas are still alkaline, they are getting more acidic, and it is important to recognise that power and how nature has helped us.
Oceans have effectively been absorbing so much carbon that the impacts—what that is doing to nature—are now starting to become clear. The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) mentioned the bleaching of coral reefs and the potential loss of those reefs, and it is important that nature goes hand in hand with climate strategy. I am delighted that the UK Government have made that a key part of what we do.
On other aspects of nature, the Minister and I have attended a variety of international meetings. Most recently we were together in India for the G20, and I was with the former Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), in Japan at the G7. It has been an important part of that journey that we work globally with partners. To some extent, that has been the secret of what made the Montreal protocol work so well. Funding was given to try to help countries around the world with that innovation and transition. Some of those things are not straightforward. For example, right beneath us we have the tube system, and the way that some of these chemicals or gases were used in the past has been a key part of some of our own infrastructure. We need to change away from that, in particular by not using sulphur hexafluoride any more, or by reducing it and phasing it down as far as we can. It is important that we share our understanding and technology, and that is why what I said about India and Rwanda is an important part of making that happen.
Thinking a little more broadly, I will briefly touch on my time at the Department for Work and Pensions. I do so because I know that a lot of these measures will need financing. We made an important decision to make reporting to the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures mandatory when it comes to pensions. If we think about the trillions of pounds of assets that are in global business and being invested, it makes sense for businesses to think ahead about the impact of climate change, and for investors to do so as well. That does not mean that things will happen overnight. Businesses must be conscious of what the impact of climate change will be, and frankly they need to start financing to try to mitigate that impact or adapt towards it. As a slight aside, I welcome the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures, and I hope I can persuade the Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions to adopt that in future as well.
In order to ensure that we achieve net zero by 2050, we do have to think of the planet—of course we do—and we have to think of people. A lot of this is quite an uncomfortable transition and a change to a way of life, and we must make it as straightforward as possible. I also know that we can be prosperous as a consequence of these changes, whether that is through green jobs in the UK, or ensuring that instead of spending lots of money on having to adapt, mitigate or deal with crises in different parts of the world, we build such measures into our systematic way of growing globally in terms of our prosperity. That is why it is so important that the £11.5 billion of international climate finance is still a key part of the Government’s strategy.
My constituency contains a nuclear power station, Sizewell B. It was home to Sizewell A, which is now being decommissioned, and planning consent has been given for Sizewell C. It really matters for our energy supply that we have a mix. There is also a lot of offshore wind in the southern North sea. The impact on the onshore infrastructure required to bring that into our network is a source of much concern in Suffolk, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister is well aware of that. I will not dwell on that—I intend to bring it up another time—but to take the national and global position, we need to work out how we will make that transition fair, thinking of the impact on communities and on nature. I know that my right hon. Friend is wise about those matters.
The shadow Minister referred to the greenhouse gases inventory. I agree that we should look to bring saltmarsh, woodlands and so on into the inventory. I am delighted that DEFRA’s chief scientific adviser, Dr Gideon Henderson, is undertaking that work. I wish him well and hope he will be able to work at pace. I will shortly talk about mangroves—my favourite, they are magic and it would not be a speech from me if I did not talk about them—and we have to recognise that saltmarsh is our equivalent of mangroves. In my time previously in DEFRA and in the past year, I tried but did not quite get there—I really need the Marine Management Organisation to work much more collaboratively with Natural England and the Environment Agency to make it more straightforward to plant saltmarsh. There have been too many complications with licensing in different ways, and it is very frustrating. Like mangroves, saltmarsh is multipurpose. It can sequester carbon, it can be a good flood defence, and it is a brilliant habitat for many of the migratory wading birds that come to our shores. I am very keen that we make good progress on making that happen.
On emissions, I want to thank Robert Caudwell who did a report for DEFRA on lowland peat and the impact of farming and agriculture. I wrote the foreword to the Government’s response earlier this year and welcomed the investment towards tackling the emissions, because it is a significant amount. It is of course important that we have food security, but we also need to tackle emissions from agriculture in a measured way. Wider work on the restoration of peatlands has been a passion of mine for several years.
My right hon. Friend mentioned deforestation, which was one of the key elements of COP26 in the leaders’ pledge, various declarations and the coalition of ambitions. I am known for wanting to make sure we turn ambitions into action, and I know that the House will share that thought. I was, therefore, delighted that we were able to contribute to the Amazon Fund, which will help Brazil in particular. That was announced by the Prime Minister earlier this year. Progress is being made on getting the forest risk commodities legislation ready, and I hope it will be laid before the House before too long. It is important that as we make these changes we do our best to reduce deforestation and our demands through supply chains, and I commend the companies that have already made those changes. There is more to do, and I hope more will be done very shortly.
Nature-based solutions can be symbiotic and provide much more value for money in achieving what we want to achieve. It has not always been the case that actions taken to reduce carbon have been beneficial to the environment. That is not a criticism. The dash for diesel had other impacts, especially with particulate matter 2.5. People did not know at the time, but we should recognise now that the dash for diesel had an impact on other aspects of the environment and it is important that we consider both as we make further changes.
I have a particular passion for mangroves. I tried to brand them “blue forests” to make them a bit more accessible around the world, but they are magical. They are magic because, bang for buck, they are better at carbon sequestration than the Amazon forests. They have been in place for a long time, but they are also under threat, because they make brilliant wood for building homes and boats. I commend countries such as Mozambique that have put in national protections. We should think about how much of the Commonwealth has mangroves, because at the moment they do not get rewarded for the protections they have put in place.
Communities do understand; it is not just about carbon. What is magic about mangroves is that they provide a brilliant place to develop aquaculture. The fishing industries locally can be sustainable because of the opportunities for the growth of fish stock and protection from other predators, just by the nature of the mangroves. They also have an impact on coastal erosion and protection. Haiti in the Caribbean suffered a devastating hurricane some years ago, but, while the areas with mangroves were still damaged, they were the quickest to recover. That is why I am on a mission, and will continue to be so as long as I have breath, to champion mangroves whether in this House or as I regularly did in ministerial meetings around the world.
The magic of mangroves needs to be recognised more, and that is why I was pleased that for COP28 the UAE made a commitment to plant more mangroves. My right hon. Friend the Minister and I went different ways after the G20 in Chennai, and I had the privilege of visiting the second largest mangrove forest in the world at Pichavaram, and it was exceptionally special. I love that the community also recognises how special the forest is and how important it is to protect it. I am conscious that other parts of the world have had a slash and burn approach in the past to generate other aspects of the economy, but now Governments and communities have recognised the importance of stopping deforestation, as my right hon. Friend mentioned.
On the history of climate change, I give credit to the Labour Government who introduced the Climate Act 2008, and we took a generally cross-party approach to it. David Cameron introduced “vote blue, go green” and was really behind the change. The Act legislated for an 80% reduction by 2050, and it was actually my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), when she was Prime Minister, who made the change to a 100% reduction by law. Those legal targets matter. We should also recognise that it was Boris Johnson who really made a difference at COP26. He brought nature and the world together to make sure that we would keep up the momentum.
There is no doubt in my mind that covid was a bit of a body-check to progress on many environmental matters, but it is important that we keep accelerating, and I wish my right hon. Friend the Minister well at COP28. I know that several Ministers are going, including Lord Benyon from DEFRA and my successor as the Secretary of State. It matters that we are there. We need to bring others with us, but they will not come with us if we just attack what they do.
Just last week, I was in Beijing where I met Minister Huang, the president of the Committee on Biological Diversity that led to the immense global biodiversity framework agreed last December in Montreal. We have to work with China and with other countries—I think in particular of Minister Yadav in India. I was able to explain what I thought was the Prime Minister’s just transition, but we certainly cannot reduce our ambition; we have to work with other countries, and challenge them but bring them along, because it matters that everybody makes their commitment.
It does not matter if the United Kingdom or any other country is the first to reach net zero—what matters is when the last country hits net zero. We need to ensure that as many countries as possible achieve that by 2050, if not before, and I wish my right hon. Friend the Minister well in the negotiations. I know there is ambition in our thinking about some of the different approaches that need to be taken. I hope that he will also be key to the Commonwealth playing its part. At the UN General Assembly, I was delighted to chair the first meeting of Commonwealth Ministers for environment and climate, and there was certainly ambition there. Let us turn that into action. I have great confidence in my right hon. Friend making that happen.