It has been a big week in the UK for energy and climate change with launch of the Green Investment Bank in Edinburgh and the publication of the Energy Bill in Westminster. With the climate talks in Doha well underway, the week ahead looks to be an important one internationally.
The Coalition’s Energy Bill is essential legislation to kick-start a new phase of low-carbon economic growth, to protect consumers from the rising costs of energy and to help us keep the lights on in the UK.
This has not been without controversy. When we talk about the amount of investment required – £110 billion just for electricity infrastructure in the next decade – I understand why people worry about the cost.
But moving to a lower carbon energy mix protects our domestic and business consumers from high and volatile global fossil fuel prices and future proofs our energy system for the twenty-first century. British companies can benefit from being at the forefront of the fast-growing global green economy. We need to continue to demonstrate that green is compatible with growth, and our latest legislation is another important step in that direction.
The need to demonstrate low carbon growth in action is not unique to the UK.
Earlier this week in preparation for Doha I was delighted to join a meeting with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, Ministers from the US, Norway, DRC, Colombia, Indonesia and Gabon, and representatives of the private sector and civil society to discuss the state of the world’s forests.
Global deforestation is a serious and growing problem: it accounts for around 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions; it puts in jeopardy an estimated 1.2bn poor people who depend on forests for their livelihoods; and it threatens the 80% of global terrestrial species found in forests. So protecting forests is good for the climate, for people and for biodiversity.
Protecting nature is something the British people care passionately about. It’s why the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has a million members. Even wrong-headed climate sceptics tend not to want to chop down the world’s forests.
The Government is committed to using UK influence and expertise to support the global effort to save the world’s forests. We have provided support under our International Climate Fund to multiple forests initiatives including programmes aimed at tackling illegal logging and improving forest governance. Through these programmes, the UK is playing its part to help save tens of millions of hectares of one of the richest ecosystems on the planet and to boost the incomes of thousands of poor people who depend on forests for their livelihoods.
Support from successive UK governments for countries’ efforts to control illegal logging and to encourage trade in legally harvested timber has already showed great success. Collective efforts to control illegal logging over the past ten years have helped to protect an estimated 17m hectares of forest, an area equivalent to England and Wales in size. These efforts have saved developing countries an estimated US$6.5bn in potential tax revenues. The benefits of taking action are clear.
With growing demand for food and fuel, around 60% of deforestation is now thought to be driven by agriculture, notably production of soy, beef, palm oil and cocoa: markets worth trillions of dollars. Now we need to see the same shift in supply of certified sustainable products as we saw for timber.
So this week the Government set out our plans for working with the private sector and rainforest countries so that the timber and foodstuffs we buy do not cause deforestation. Over the next few months we will develop ways of supporting sustainable intensification of agriculture to reduce the expansion of farming into precious forests and increase agricultural output. We will consider support for community forestry and other investments which make forests more valuable alive than dead. We also must recognise our responsibility as consumers. The government will continue to use its purchasing power to build the market share for sustainably produced agricultural commodities.
Up to £300m of our International Climate Fund will be made available for these activities.
And the UK is not alone. The meeting this week was heartening in demonstrating the convergence of other donors governments, rainforest countries, companies and NGOs, around the need to work together to tackle deforestation. A number of big companies have already committed to transforming their business practices to remove deforestation from their supply chains. And rainforest countries are taking ambitious steps to integrate sustainable management of their forests into plans for green growth.
Working in this way, with both the private sector and rainforest countries, could be transformational. At the meeting with the Prince of Wales, my colleague from Brazil highlighted his country’s impressive success in the past few years, reducing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by 70% since 2004.
This week I travel to Doha for the climate talks. The recent reports from UNEP and the World Bank are clear that time is running out to avert the worst impacts of dangerous man-made climate change. But avoiding these impacts is still possible if we can muster sufficient political will. Tackling deforestation is critical to this endeavour.