Barry speaks in the House on the UN Climate Action Summit
Barry speaks in the House on the UN Climate Action Summit

On Thursday, the government gave a statement to the House of Commons on the UN Climate Action Summit. Barry responded to the government on behalf of the Labour Party, in his role as Shadow Minister for International Climate Change.

Watch Barry’s speech in Parliament here:

Barry’s response can be read on Hansard online or below:

The climate emergency is worse than we feared. Yesterday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its special report on oceans and the cryosphere, which set out the danger starkly. Sea levels threaten nearly 1 billion people who live in low-lying coastal regions, and tipping points in the permafrost could release hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon. The report makes it clear, yet again, that we must do everything to reduce emissions as fast as possible to limit global warming to 1.5°, beyond which climate breakdown will be catastrophic.

 

The purpose of the UN climate action summit was to spur on greater climate ambition towards that aim, but none of the world’s large polluters met the challenge. China, India and the EU were all unable to announce tougher nationally determined contributions. Brazil and the USA refused even to turn up. Our country must step forward to fill that vacuum of political leadership on the world stage.

 

The UK’s commitments at the summit need close scrutiny. The new Ayrton fund that the Government have announced allocates £1 billion to help British scientists and innovators create new clean technology. That is great, but the funding has come from the aid budget. We should not siphon off overseas development assistance to spend on UK universities and firms. They should be funded by non-ODA finance, so will the Secretary of State explain why the funding diverts precious resources from mitigation in climate-vulnerable nations? If she claims that the money is classified as aid because it will help export clean technologies to the developing world, perhaps she can today commit to following Labour’s lead and pledge to provide to the citizens of the global south free or cheap access to green technologies that we develop here.

 

The Government’s pledge to double international climate finance, while welcome, also raises questions. Will the Secretary of State confirm that that money will be disbursed predominantly through grants rather than loans, which unfairly saddle the poorest nations with debt to pay the costs of a problem they did little to cause? Climate change is already wreaking hundreds of billions of dollars worth of damage on those communities. Will she commit to devoting any of the resources to covering loss and damage caused by climate disasters? After all, the Government perpetuate the fossil fuel economy for the poorest nations abroad, completely undermining our international climate finance. From 2013 to 2018, UK Export Finance gave £2.6 billion in export support to the energy sector, of which 96% went to fossil fuel projects, overwhelmingly in low and middle-income countries. Will she therefore commit today to ending taxpayer support for fossil fuels abroad, as so many other countries have done?

 

What we do abroad matters more than ever. The UK is hosting the UN climate conference, COP 26, in Glasgow next year. It is the most important climate summit since the Paris agreement. The right hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) is president of COP 26, but COP presidents are normally Ministers in their Governments, and she has indicated her intention to stand down at the next general election. I therefore ask the Government what staffing resources the office of the COP president will be provided with; how much funding the Government intend to provide for COP 26 preparations; what regular reports the COP president will be able to give to Cabinet; and what objectives the COP president been set by the Cabinet.

 

Those resources must be provided because at COP 26 we will need to use our diplomatic leverage to persuade other nations to bring forward much tougher NDCs. I am deeply concerned that staffing levels are inadequate. In 2009, under the Labour Government, the Foreign Office had an army of climate staff 277-strong. Seven subsequent years of austerity halved that. When the Prime Minister was Foreign Secretary, the number of officials working full-time on climate change fell to 55. Do the Government intend to restore the workforce to levels last seen a decade ago in recognition of the diplomatic resource that is now required to support the agenda of a UK-led COP 26?

 

The failures of the UN climate action summit raise the stakes of COP 26 so much higher. We cannot afford for the talks, or those at COP 25 in Chile, to stumble. The issue of climate breakdown is far greater than the party-political divides that afflict this Parliament, and I urge all Members to find common ground in the pursuit of a healthy and stable climate. In that spirit, I make an offer to the Secretary of State: I and my colleagues in the Labour party are fully committed to doing everything we can in a cross-party manner to ensure that COP 26 delivers the highest possible ambition.

 

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