§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Quite simply, I am more concerned, more alarmed and more frightened by my visit in the last few days of February 1989 to Altamira and the Xingu river rain forest than by any other issue or event in my public life and 27 years' membership of the House of Commons.
Allow me a word to my constituents. We live between Edinburgh and Glasgow, which is the same latitude as the north coast of Labrador. If the destruction in eastern Amazonia proceeds at the exponential pace of felling, clearing and burning of the 1987 and 1988 seasons, we in Linlithgow, along with about 250 million other northern Europeans—not to mention the little matter of the eastern seaboard of the United States—could have the climate of northern Labrador. There really could be flip in world weather patterns.
I know that neither the Foreign Office Ministers nor the Minister for Overseas Development, who are well-informed and deeply concerned about this matter, dismiss me as alarmist. But should anyone suggest that on this matter I am simply a politician in search of a headline, I am entitled to point out that for 22 years now successive editors of the New Scientist have seen fit to give me a weekly column in their informed and responsible journal. They would not have tolerated me had I not been extremely careful with fact.
At Altamira I had two long sessions with the Brazilian-German chemist from Rio Grande del Sul, Jose Lutzenberger. In simplistic terms the argument is that for tens of thousands, probably millions of years, winds from the east have brought the Atlantic rains to north-eastern Brazil, to the province of Para and the Amazon delta. On account of the vast rain forest eco-system, there were massive low cloud formations. Some 75 per cent. of the rains falling to ground and the forest is returned to the atmosphere through the due processes of evapotranspovation. Some 25 per cent. of the Atlantic rains would flow to the ocean through the Amazon and its tributaries, incidentally carrying one fifth of the world's fresh water flow. The Amazon carries a greater volume of water than the Mississippi, the Zambesi, the Congo, the Orinoco, the Nile, the Ob, the Lena and the St. Lawrence combined.
However, suppose that the rain forest of eastern Amazonia is decimated. What is likely to occur? Will there be the same cloud formations that we have taken for granted? Well, not on the experience of sub-Saharan Africa, which my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor), whom I thank for being on the Front-Bench, knows so well. Nor will there be in the light of the recent history of north-eastern Brazil—dry hot air rises; clouds do not form; blue skies: classic desertification.
In Brazil I was told that there was evidence that to an alarming extent thermal currents were being generated upwards where rain forest had been devastated, preventing incoming moist air masses. In truncated form, I am saying that the cutting down of eastern Amazonia and the Para rain forest will create a blocking system—a sort of fire-break situation in terms of rain, where the rains do not get through to central Amazonia. That spells planetary trouble.
If the "hop-scotch" effect—it would be presumptuous of me to give a lesson in climatological physics—of 158 moisture going up down, up down, up down, up down, up down as it crosses the central and western Amazon is broken, if the chain is severed in eastern Amazonia, a number of consequences surely follow.
First, the dry season may be longer, which will give more opportunity for more logging and felling, clearing and burning. The savannah will be extended.
Secondly, there will be more and larger forest tires. At a conservative estimate in 1987–88 an area the size of France was destroyed by fire. Satellite NASA information indicates that it is worse. Ministers should ask NASA for a copy of its data.
Thirdly, I was told in Altamira by Jorge Terena, an English-speaking Amerindian, that, if the central Amazon forest was denied rains for three or four weeks in the rainy season, the entire forest eco-system could die. Does anyone know what percentage of forest can be destroyed without the entire forest eco-system ceasing to be viable? It is a fragile house of cards. My distinct impression was that with thousands of years of accumulated experience, the Xingu Indians knew more about the rain forest than anyone else.
I have a specific request of Ministers. I thought it proper to offer the Minister a full copy of my notes before making this speech. Will Ministers ask a most distinguished botanist, the new director of Kew gardens, Dr. Ghillean Prance—whom on purpose I have not yet contacted—to the Foreign Office and ask him for his considered professional opinion'? Will they then make that opinion available in the Library of the House? Before being deputy director of the New York botanical garden, Dr. Prance worked in Manaos and has great experience. I do not know what Dr. Prance will say, but hon. Members have the right to know. I ask, too, that the embassy in Brasilia contact Dr. Lutzenberger for a detailed report.
In an excellent and formidable "Panorama" programme, it was asserted that if last year's burning season was repeated, the rain forest would be gone in 20 years. It talked of the loss of an acre a second and claimed that 700 acres a day were lost to freelance gangs producing charcoal. On Channel 4 the dire warnings of the brilliantly powerful "Fragile Earth" series have begun to alert the British electorate. Friends of the Earth has done a magnificent job in alerting us all to the issues.
Let us be clear about those issues—we are confronted with the prospect, here and now, of an irreversible and terribly final biological and botanical holocaust. Gone for ever will be the jaguars and black panthers, most of the parrot family and a host of other animals, birds and insects.
Botanically, I am told that 1 per cent. of Amazon plants have been examined for their medicinal qualities. Labelled jungle medicine, there is an enormous potential for low-level technology in medicine. Elaine Elisabetsky, for example, told me something of her work in Belem on plants to cure epilepsy, specifically on cissus cisyoides vifaceo.
Other unexamined or not fully examined possibilities include veronica types to cure anaemia, avocado leaf to cure inflammation, erva cadreira for insomnia, cinnamon for blood diseases and nausea, mamora for bowel complaints, piao blanco for intestinal trouble, orija for kidney problems, capira santo for pain and diarrhoea, amor cresido for colics, guarana for heart problems. Sucuba has anti-carcinogenic qualities, andiroba could 159 help to cure coughs, murure could help muscular pain and rheumatism, alecrin help with puberty problems and pin-piri could help with contraceptive problems.
A species of alexa tree at the western end of Maraca—I commend successive Governments for the help that has been given in Maraca—discovered by Gwilym Lewis contains the plant alkaloid castanospermine, which is also found in Madagascar. Tests at St. Mary's hospital—I do not want to raise hopes—may provide treatment for some forms of AIDS.
It is not only the plant and animal kingdom that could be devastated, but human kind. I ask the Foreign Office to get the Meteorological Office and all the expert advice available to the Government to scrutinise the work of Professor Salati Piracicaba of the university of Brazil and indeed the work of that pioneer of climatological studies, James Lovelock of Cornwall.
The argument is that if the rain forest were to vanish the moist air currents that pound against the Andes would no longer do so. If they cease to do that the high air currents, which in loose terms rebound off the Andes, would simply not be formed.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I note that the Minister is nodding and I believe that he is aware of the argument.
It is those air currents, warm and humid, which return across the South American continent, parallel the Gulf stream and then split to cover the eastern seaboard of the United States and to cover northern Europe.
Our excellent physicist ambassador in Brasilia, Michael Newington, gently said to me, "Tam, you can't prove all this!" Certainly I cannot. But the trouble is that I am not convinced that anyone else can prove it wrong. All I can reflect is that I was lectured to by O. R. Frisch and Paul Dirac, that Harold Wilson made me work to Pat Blackett for two years and I worked on public issues with Neville Mott. I would never ask Ministers to undertake expensive research in physics if it was ill-considered or frivolous. The stakes are stupendous—little less than a neo-ice age for industrial Europe. That is an issue about which humankind, as Michael Stewart used to say, cannot afford to be wrong. Being wrong could lead to catastrophe.
The last ice age came incredibly quickly—that is proven geologically—and we are talking about actual time, not geological time. The mammoth is not a tundra-eating animal. Vegetation was found in the stomachs of mammoths. If the ice age had given them warning, would they not have fled south? How were those animals suddenly encapsulated in ice? May not that tell us something about the suddenness of climatological change?
It is one thing to state such a problem; it is another to suggest how to set about attempting to resolve it. It is enormously complex. However, there is hope. I say to my hon. Friends that, in my opinion, the Minister answering tonight and the Minister for Overseas Development are as concerned as any first-class Labour Minister would be in the circumstances.
Secondly, the briefing I had before going to Altamira, from Charles de Chassiron, head of the South America department of the Foreign Office, was exceedingly 160 well-informed and of the highest quality. I do not doubt that officials in the Foreign Office are fully seized of the gravity of the situation.
Thirdly, Britain has an outstanding embassy in Brasilia. I have long thought—and said publicly—that the Foreign Office and the diplomatic service do a first-class job abroad for Britain. I received much personal kindness, not least from Tim Ewing and his wife Claudine, with whom I stayed for three nights in Brasilia, and my objective observation was how deeply they cared about Brazil and understanding Brazilians.
Fourthly, as when I led the parliamentary delegation to Brazil in 1975, I thought that the senior officials and Ministers whom I met last week in Brasilia were very serious-minded and high-quality people. They were certainly charming.
There is only one thing that I think Ministers and officials may not have fully grasped—certainly I had not done so before setting foot in Altamira—and that is the sheer, gargantuan, awesome scale of the recent devastation up the Xingu river. Kilometre after kilometre we travelled to the site of the proposed dam, and on both sides of the track, as far as the eye could see, were the scorched, gaunt, Brazil nut trees, useless because their eco-system had been burned to make way for a few bone-protruding oxen, and swamps, useful only to mosquitoes. For not grasping this, British Ministers and officials can be forgiven, because I do not think that the delightful Professor David Vieria, professor of history at the university of Brasilia, and reporting to President Sarney on the Altamira gathering, had realised the scale of the devastation either.
I have lived with gold dredgers in the Ashanti forest in Ghana, and have been in Sarawak, and my friend, Simon Counsell, of Friends of the Earth, has considerable experience in South America, and we agreed that what we saw in Xingu was spectacularly the worst sight of its kind we had ever seen.
I hope that when Mr. Speaker goes on an official visit to Brazil this summer, which I greatly welcome, he will ask to see for himself some of the stricken areas. Mr. Speaker, who knows east Asia, will be heartbroken by the spectacle of jagged fire-blackened stumps and weak soils, cracked in the heat, or washed into the eroded gulleys by the tropical rains. Let us be clear that this is the debris of a battlefield. The appalling fact is that in every hectare of forest cleared by fire, hundreds of mammals and countless thousands of insects and soil invertebrates have been burned alive.
I do not want to quibble, but my original title for the debate was "International action to help Brazil conserve the Brazilian Amazonian rain forest". I say that not to complain about Mr. Speaker, who wanted—understandably—to include other hon. Members who had tabled similar subjects for debate, but to make the point that it is counter-productive to lecture the Brazilian Government. Anyhow, none of us is in a position to claim the moral high ground since, as I said in my opening statement at each meeting in Brasilia, I come from Scotland, where we have cut down most of the ancient Caledonian forest.
However, a number of suggestions emerged from these meetings. In the meeting I had along with Simon Counsel of Friends of the Earth with Fernando Cesar Mesquita, he suggested fire-fighting equipment and planes for combating forest fires. I was particularly glad and grateful that Philip Morrice, Minister Counsellor at the embassy, was able to come with us to the meeting, as he will surely make available to the Minister his interpretation of what was 161 said. I have given notice to the Minister of a number of constructive suggestions on which he may care to comment or reflect.
First, I ask Ministers to check the note which Philip Morrice made of the meeting in relation to the provision of fire-fighting equipment and planes. The current negotiations are going on with the Canadians, but it was thought that we might be able to help, as the RAF has aircraft interests in Brazil, and that we might be able to help with the telecommunications equipment and special boats Fernando Mesquita said that he needed.
I believe the west should offer to work with Mr. Mesquita, and refrain from making criticism such as that levelled at him at Altamira. He is a member of a Government with the urgent problem of teeming millions in the cities of Brazil, and comes from the poverty-stricken north-east of the country. A follow-up of the meeting should take place and Government Ministers should at least tell Parliament what practical help Mr. Mesquita has asked for from Britain. This may be expensive for the aid budget. but it is not as expensive as the consequences of climatalogical flip and northern Europe developing Labrador conditions.
My heart went out to Mr. Mesquita when he sighed and said gently to us that there were only five people in the state of Bahia working against deforestation by burning. What does one of the world's most vast states do when freebooters open air strips over which there is little practical control? This was one of the questions which ambassador Araujo Castro, head of the International Organisations Department at Itamaraty, put to me. The answer is that Britain should continue its embassy dialogue with ambassador Castro. Only the Government of Brazil can make decisions as to how the task of dealing with illegal air strips can he met.
Additional praise should be given to the Brazilian Government for their response to international concern. I note the establishment of "Our Nature" programme and urge the Government to support the programme, in particular restrictions on and control of forest exploitation and new conservation legislation. I believe that Colonel Alcantara of Punei and his colleagues are striving with sincerity and ability to exercise such control. I approve strongly of the attitude of Dr. John Hemming, secretary and director of the Royal Geographical Society. He said:We saw the invitation to survey Maraca's flora and fauna as a chance to help save the rain forests. Brazilians are becoming weary of international protest about the destruction of the Amazon forest. We wanted to do something positive to reverse that catastrophic and usually futile devastation. Instead of adding to the outcry, we decided to learn more about the way the forest system functions so that it can be brought to life again after being felled and abandoned.The problem of the Amazon forest is inextricably bound up with power supplies and dams, which in turn are bound up with the debt alleviation problem. The Government should talk to Kit McMahon, that exceedingly able Bank of England official, whom Harold Wilson sent me to see when I was on the Budget Committee of the European Parliament, and whom I met again in Brasilia when he was out there as chairman of the Midland bank. A policy statement should be made on the Government's attitude to "debt-for-nature" swaps. I have studied the speech made by President Sarney on 12 October 1988 about the launching of the Brazilian programme for the protection of the Amazonian 162 eco-system complex in which he seemed to pour cold water on debt for nature. Since then, President Sarney is reported as having discussed the issue with President Bush at Hirohito's funeral. I am entitled to ask what is the Government's latest thinking on debt for nature?
I have spoken to Kit McMahon and the Midland group risk manager, Edward Gager, and other Midland bank decision-makers such as Nicholas Reade, and I have no doubt that they are deeply concerned in their personal and public capacities about the rain forest. My impression is that the great banking institutions of Europe would like to offer constructive help to try to save Amazonia. Are the Government going to hold discussions with the clearing banks about Amazonia?
I take to heart the solemn warning that Sergio Amaral, a key Brazilian Treasury Minister, gave to me and Edward Gager over the ambassador's lunch table about what could happen in Brasil if a more enlightened attitude to debt was not displayed. Since Michael Aron, our extremely competent commercial counsellor participated in the discussions, Ministers will be able to corroborate what was said. I just observe that time may not be on the side of enlightened good sense.
There are also basic questions about the ethics of the debt. The representatives of the bishops, Father Cristobal Alvarez, a Jesuit priest, and Father George Doran representing the bishops, went through the annual figures of recent years. Certainly the problem took off under President Kubitschek. However, if there is blame, the United States and European banks must bear some of it in exacting so much interest. Are we sure that it is in the interests of human kind to continue to demand wood, and to demand soya to feed European cattle to put meat into intervention to pay a debt which could lead to a climatic flip?
We are all in a dangerous mess. Thirty five years ago I used to go three mornings a week at 9 am to listen to Dom David Knowles in a packed Mill lane lecture room and I heard all about St. Thomas Aquinas, usury and the just price. I do not doubt that with his intellectual qualifications and his Roman Catholic convictions the Minister for Overseas Development is even better informed about these matters.
An American business man friend of mine, John Bryan, who accompanied me to Altamira, tells me:Brazil is selling natural resources below market value to finance the national debt. In addition, pressure to reduce prices on export products has forced the use of pesticides and chemicals barred in other developing nations to reduce costs. Therefore, the programme of debt reduction recently announced by President Bush should be supported by the British.Are the British playing a part in the Bush programme and in particular are we discussing with the Americans the banning of certain chemicals such as mercury? I confess that that is easier said than done.
Should help be given foundation to foundation? Excellent work has been done by the Gaia Foundation under the directorship of Ed Posey. I wonder if that might not be one of the best ways to achieve small-scale, practical results. The House will be aware that I tabled a series of questions about the policy of the World bank and the instructions to its British director. I quote with approval the work of Survival International and a host of other 163 human rights and environmental organisations worldwide which have been appealing to the World bank and to the national Governments who fund it not to approve the loan.
Robin Hanbury-Tenison, the president of Survival International, said:If the Bank approves this loan it will become an accomplice in the destruction of Amazon Indian tribes. Previous experience makes all too clear that the Brazilian Government lacks both the political will and the institutional capacity to respect the Indians' rights and protect them from the devastating consequences of such accelerated development.I gained the impression from George Papadopoulos, the World bank's resident representative in Brasilia, that the bank did not have the resources to monitor the ecological effects of the power sector loan. I ask the Minister to check that with Minister Counsellor Philip Morrice, who attended the meeting, and to correct me if I am wrong. If I am right, what instructions will be given to the World Bank's British director to improve ecological monitoring?
On nuclear power, I part company with many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and wth Friends of the Earth, on whose initiative I went to Altamira and for whose careful, responsible work I have the highest regard. For the purposes of the Register of Members' Interests, I ought to say that I paid my own fare to Altamira using bucket shop flights, and that I am not beholden to anybody.
My personal opinion is that it is unforgivable and embarassingly shameful that Westinghouse has palmed off on Brazil a nuclear power plant that does not work properly. We should all offer help in making sure that both Angra I and Siemens' Angra II and III work, sited as they are between Sao Paolo and Rio. We are on delicate ground, but it is indefensible that developed countries and high technology societies should have done such a thing. Our consul-general in Rio, Roger Hart, and his first-rate colleagues could be asked for advice. If the power stations are made to work properly, that would make a tremendous difference to the perceived need to build others and dams, and to flood Amazonia.
In Brasilia, we were welcomed by Edmundo Antonio Taveira of Electronorte. The World bank should tactfully ask Electronorte whether it is sure about the technical feasibility of its transmission proposals. Electronorte said vaguely that the Russians have succeeded in transmitting power over 2000 kms without unacceptable loss, but Altamira to Sao Paulo-Rio is a good deal further—and I am told that efficient transmissions under those circumstances is not within the present state of the art. Why create dams in the Amazon if there are to be Balbina-type disasters? The World bank should equally tactfully establish a conference of hydrologists so that Tucvrui will not be repeated.
Neither the Russians nor anyone in the West has come anywhere near implementing the transmission of power over 2000 kms without unacceptable loss. That calls into question the economic viability of any large-scale dam project in Amazonia. In friendship, the Brazilians should be asked whether they think that they know something about superconductivity that is not known to the British, Americans, Russians, Germans and French.
The expertise of British companies is sought in overcoming some of the hydrological problems arising out 164 of the Tucvrui and Balbina projects. Can that expertise be encouraged to prevent such disasters occurring in the first place? Can information be given, possibly by letter, about the work being done at Wallingford by the hydrological research station?
Can we help over biomass techniques? In Brazil, the secretary-general for technical co-operation at the Ministry of Energy indicated to Simon Counsell and myself that his Ministry was interested in using spoiled land for quick-growing eucalyptus trees for energy. I thought that he seemed anxious about the transmission problem but that he did not want to be disloyal to Electrobras and Electronorte.
What can be done about educational co-operation? I welcome ambassador Michael Newington's involvement in the creation of four scholarships for Brazilians at the university of Aberdeen, and perhaps the Minister can say when that development will be finalised. I welcome also the work of Mike Potter and his colleagues at the British Council in Rio. I hope that Philip Jenkins and his friends receive the support that they deserve for the Margaret Mee Foundation. As I told Margaret Mee's artist widower, Greville, her book on the flowers of the Amazon has been an enormous plus in alerting public opinion in Britain.
I was invited to the home of our defence attaché, Colonel Anthony Witheridge, and his wife Anne—who spoke fluent Portuguese—for a most interesting dinner with the Brazilian military. It is no use pretending that at first the Defence Minister, the formidable and powerful General Leonidas, was not annoyed with me—in fact, jolly angry—for participating in Altamira. Was I trying to tell him about the Amazon? For all his wrath, however, I took an instant liking to him. I remembered that, like the king of Spain, he had taken a major step to save democracy when the chips were down.
When Tancro Neves died prematurely, it was General Leonidas who told the army that Brazil was not going back to military rule. That was an act of courage and wisdom. In my view, the general is the only man who can do much about the burning this season. He is the only man who can control the gold searchers and who has the power to stop landless people and rich ranchers from ravaging the forest. I think that he should be seen as being at the highest level. I am not our Prime Minister's most uncritical admirer in many respects, but if General Leonidas comes to Europe the red carpet should be laid out for him in Downing street. He is the only guy who can do much in the short term, here and now; and it is the short term that matters.
I am glad that at least both Michael Newington and Philip Morrice heard at first hand the general's scorching views being aimed at me exactly a fortnight ago, and I hope that Ministers ask for their judgment on what Britain could usefully do for the Brazilian army to help it to protect the forest.
I was alarmed by some of the Americans at Altamira. Alexander King, from Tempe, Arizona, said:In 10 years, life support systems will be destabilised".Displaying a real knowledge of climatology, he went on to suggest that events in Amazonia, combined with the destruction of Mesquite forest in Colorado, were responsible for the hottest summer in Arizona for at least 150 years; for 85 per cent. of the giant Saguaro cactus dying; for the Arizona desert turning from a living to a dying desert; for unprecedented drought in the grain bowls of Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas; and for dust bowls in 165 Manitoba. Is any serious, sustained research being done, in conjunction with the Americans, on the validity or otherwise of such concerns about Amazon deforestation?
I recognise the participation of Her Majesty's Government in various international schemes, including the International Tropical Timber Organisation and the tropical forest action plan. Much of the extra burden of participation in those schemes has fallen on the Overseas Development Ministry. Has its strength of commitment and expertise been supported by additional funding and resources? Is our role as one of the developed world's leading consumers of timber really being reflected in our level of funding for special projects for forest conservation initiated by the ITTO?
The European Parliament has taken steps to act on the devastation of rain forests and the threat to tribal people in parts of the world other than Amazonia, most notably Malaysia. Are Her Majesty's Government supporting the implementation of the European Parliament's proposals through the Council of Ministers?
Finally, I want to say something personal and very heartfelt. Politicians can easily become emotional. After long experience I am a relatively unemotional man, but I was extremely emotional when I reflected on those conversations with Xingu tribespeople. They said, very simply, "We are of the earth; we are the best guardians of the forest." In a sense that is deeply true. It will not help them greatly for us to lecture the Brazilian Government too much, but I hope that we will pay attention to the considerable benefits provided by their thousands of years' experience.
Some of the tribes were discovered—if that is the right word—only in 1948, and that was their first contact with white men. Others have suffered terribly from disease. We would all be wise to care about the Xingu communities. I am mainly concerned with the climatological consequences, but it would be a very unfeeling Member of the British House of Commons who did not conclude by expressing deep feelings about those unique people—the Xingu tribespeople.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)
My purpose in remaining here tonight was not so much to speak, but to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and to the reply which I hope he will have elicited from the Minister. Having listened intently to my hon. Friend's extremely good exposition of the problems, I shall not repeat what he said, but will speak as a non-expert in the matter and say a few words on behalf of an awakening electorate.
My hon. Friend mentioned that the British electorate is becoming increasingly concerned. It is not an easy matter in which to awaken interest, but I have received thoughtful and anxious letters, and today I decided to try a little experiment. At lunchtime I visited a school in my area and spoke to youngsters aged between 11 and 16 about tonight's debate. I half expected them to think that we were quite crazy to be planning to discuss tropical rainforests in the early hours of the morning. I expected a dismissive response, but I was wrong. They were not deeply knowledgeable, but they were aware of the problem. I told the taxi driver who drove me to the station about this debate. I expected him to ask why I was not talking about Preston and to tell me that the problem was 166 a long way away. Far from it—he started telling me about the seriousness of the problem. I agree with my hon. Friend that people are being awakened to the issue by the recent television coverage which has given people knowledge in a way which is getting through to them and deeply disturbing them. As a non-expert who is deeply concerned about the planet, I wish to reflect the concern which is percolating through the population.
My hon. Friend described something quite awesome in its implications. I am concerned about all aspects of the environment and how we treat our soil and our plants, but some of the environmental issues that we usually discuss are small when compared with this one, which is so huge that it is vital that, regardless of political party—I do not often say that—we manage to grope towards some way of preventing the devastation that is taking place. Ii is not only destruction, but truly the devastation of our planet. Human beings do not have the right to devastate and destroy the planet.
I shall not attempt to repeat my hon. F'riend's arguments or marshal any more, because my hon. Friend has covered the ground so admirably. I hope that we will have an equal expression of concern and answers from the Government Front Bench. In so far as this is tied up with debt repayments, it is ludicrous that so much could be endangered for all of us for something as artificial as the way the world economy is conducted.
I helped to get the debate because I wanted the House to discuss the matter. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow for his exposition.
§ Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)
I shall not delay the House more than a couple of minutes. I know that the Minister wants to make quite a long statement, and we agreed on this earlier. I want to make two quick points. We are all indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for raising the matter and for the informative and knowledgeable presentation that he made. Those who are not here can read it in Hansard. It will enhance their knowledge and provide a basis for argument and discussion over the months and years ahead when the subject will command a great deal more attention, as my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) has said.
Those of us who have been hon. Members for some time—apart from a break when I was resting, I have been here for a considerable time—will recall that when matters involving aid and development used to be raised there was not much interest. It took the Brandt report and things like that to inject a feeling of urgency into hon. Members on both sides of the House about what was happening in many Third world countries.
Reference has been made to the part played by the media, by the Friends of the Earth and by others in alerting people to what is happening to the environment and to the destruction that is taking place in many parts of the world. More and more people are becoming interested. As my hon. Friend the Member for Preston has said, it is not a minor problem. We are talking about the end of the planet as we know it and about the sort of world that we will hand on to our children and our grandchildren—or not hand on, as the case may be.
I could not hope to match anything that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow has said, but I have read a great deal of material from many organisations, 167 including Friends of the Earth. I just want to point out that on Friday we will have an opportunity to debate all questions involving aid, development, co-operation and the environment. I hope that some of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members will take the opportunity to extend the discussion that we have started.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Timothy Eggar)
I add my thanks and congratulations to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for raising this crucially important topic. I also join the hon. Members for Preston (Mrs. Wise) and for Eccles (Miss Lestor) in welcoming the way in which the House decided to raise the subject. The hon. Member for Preston rightly drew attention to the considerable importance that is being attached to the issue by youngsters and by people who, probably a matter of weeks or months ago, would have thought that someone had a screw loose if he started talking about the threat to the rain forests.
There is an increasing, perhaps unfortunately rather belated, understanding of the threat that is posed to all of us by the danger of environmental change on a rapid scale, as the hon. Member for Linlithgow outlined. If I may say so, without wishing to be in any way condescending, it is critical that at a time when public interest has been awakened, the House tackles the issue in a bipartisan way as far as possible, and in a way which does not over-simplify the solutions to an immensely complex subject, as the hon. Gentleman said. In other words, we must not draw the environment into our domestic yah-boo politics. The international community has not done that.
One of the most heartening features of last year's activity at the United Nations, particularly at the General Assembly, was the way in which all countries, from whatever geographical region, and whether from the Third world or the first world, concentrated on the threat posed by changes in the environment. It was a major—probably the major—theme of last year's General Assembly session. What took place there was a complex and serious discussion of a major threat. That, I believe, is how this subject should be tackled in our domestic debates, and we should do everything we can to ensure that the discussion continues in the same way internationally. I welcome in particular the hon. Gentleman's very astute assessment of the problems and opportunities that the international community faces as it discusses this complex issue with the Brazilian Government.
As I have said, the topic of this debate is extremely important, not just for the tens of millions of people living in the tropical rain forest, but also for us in northern Europe. The Government share the widespread public concern about the destruction of the rain forest. The present scale of that destruction is truly alarming. The latest internationally comparable figures that we have relate to 1980. As the hon. Gentleman said, there are more recent figures, which are subject to debate. For the purposes of illustration, however, let me use the 1980 figures.
They suggest that the annul loss of tropical forest of all kinds was 11 million hectares—an area the size of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put together. 168 About 6 million hectares—slightly more than half of that—was rain forest in the broad sense. Preliminary figures for 1988 suggest that in Brazil alone an area greater than the whole of the United Kingdom was burned. By no means all of the burned area was previously rain forest, but it must be remembered that Brazil is not the only country affected. Rain forest is disappearing throughout the tropics—in the other countries of the Amazon basin, as I saw for myself in Peru; in central America, as I saw for myself; in west Africa; in Zaire, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Deforestation affects other types of forests also. Ethiopia has lost no less than 90 per cent. of its tree cover since 1900.
It has to be said that converting forest to agricultural land is not always bad. In Europe and North America, which are fortunate in having deep, fertile soils, it was possible to clear forests and to use the land for sustainable agriculture. The countries of the Amazon basin are not so fortunate. The soils below the lush vegetation of Amazonia are fragile and poor. When the forest is cut down and burned, the ash gives a once-and-for-all boost to the soils, but the minerals are soon leached out, and the organic matter destroyed. As a result, more often than not—indeed, almost always—agriculture is simply not sustainable.
The failure of the farmers' dreams is tragic but, as the hon. Gentleman said, in the process a resource of global environmental importance is being destroyed.
Forests can play a major part in checking the gradual warming of the earth's atmosphere. Mankind releases carbon dioxide into the air from power stations, transport systems, factories and homes. The forests naturally counteract that, partly by absorbing carbon dioxide, but as long as the forests are being cut down and burned at their present rates, that itself is contributing between 10 per cent. and 20 per cent. to net global carbon dioxide emissions.
Of course, the burning of fossil fuels, mostly in the power stations of the developed world, contributes about 80 per cent. of net carbon dioxide emissions. So we, in the rich countries, must show that we are doing all that we can to solve the problems to which we are contributing. Nevertheless, the world cannot afford to ignore tropical deforestation in our studies of possible climate change.
We still have a lot to learn about long-term climate change. The hon. Member for Linlithgow mentioned the hopscotch effect and the dangers of a flip. However, I stress that the present general circulation models on climate do not allow us to predict regional change with any certainty, although it is true that there is now some evidence, for example, from west Africa, that the loss of rain forests affects local rainfall.
Britain is playing an active role in the intergovernmental panel on climate change in an effort to reduce the range of uncertainties. Her Majesty's Government will contribute about £750,000 to its work, which may well help to clarify the questions about the climatic consequences of deforestation in eastern Amazonia which have been raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow.
Forests are also important for their genetic diversity. It is not just the huge number of species in the forests that is important. Many of those species are highly adapted to their ecological niche and have valuable properties. It is no accident that 40 per cent. of all the drugs prescribed in the United States are based on chemicals derived from rain forest species.
169 I raised British concerns about the rate of forest loss when I visited Brazil late last year. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I had extensive discussions on environmental issues, including rain forests specifically, with the visiting secretary general to the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Itermaraty, when he visited London last week. My hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development learnt first-hand about the Amo-Indian perspective when he received a call from Chief Paiakan of the Kayapo.
As the hon. Member for Linlithgow said, the Brazilian Government face a difficult dilemma in Amazonia. As President Sarnay told me last November, there is a need in Brazil to move away from the historical equation equating forest destruction with economic development, which has been the preception in Brazil for many years. However, we must understand that Brazil has a large and growing population and an understandable wish to achieve economic progress.
The difficulty that Brazil faces, like so many other countries, is how to square sensible development with environmental sensitivity and thus ensure the long-term viability of that development. When we in the United Kingdom went through our own industrial revolution, we took virtually no notice of the environmental implications; so I understand it when the Brazilians and other developing countries sometimes say, "Why can't we do exactly what you did a number of years ago?" The answer must be, "Whether you like it or not, since that time circumstances have changed." We must, however, understand the Brazilians' point of view. If we are to tackle the problems that they now acknowledge exist, it is right that we should work towards a sensible and co-operative approach and not a confrontation. If in the past Brazilian Government policies have contributed to rain forest destruction, pointing a finger at those policies will not do anybody much good. We must co-operate to introduce sensible future policies.
Recent moves in Brazil, such as the suspension of development grants for ranching operations in the Amazon region and the announcement that the Government would forcibly remove illegal gold diggers from Indian reserves, are hopeful signs. We must welcome those signs and encourage their effective implementation while continuing at the same time to monitor the situation extremely carefully.
There is no question of not respecting the sovereignty of Brazil or other countries facing similar dilemmas. I am sure that the hon. Member for Linlithgow was right to underline this point during his recent visit to Brazil. Within the resources available, and our overall forestry sector aid strategy, the United Kingdom has a responsibility to provide practical support. I know from my discussions in Brasilia and those held last week that the Brazilian Government regard the Overseas Development Administration research project on Maraca island as a shining example of the positive international co-operation that Brazil will welcome to save the rain forests.
In very recent discussions, the Brazilian Government asked for further technical co-operation—possibly specifically to understand the genetic potential of the Amazon. This may well involve links between Brazilian and British institutions such as the royal botanic gardens in Kew, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Linlithgow. We are considering this matter urgently.
170 Our technical assistance must and always will be modest when compared with the region's demands. No country has the manpower or financial resources to take on the Amazon single handed.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow asked, among other things—I shall write to the hon. Gentleman if I am unable to answer his questions in my speech—whether we could provide firefighting equipment. Having seen some of the extensive burning in Rondonia and Mato Grosso, I doubt whether the provision of firefighting equipment is the answer because of the scale on which that equipment would have to be provided. We must concentrate on preventing the burning occuring, but I undertake that we shall carefully consider Philip Morrice's report when we receive it.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Will particular attention be given to the climatological problem of what will happen when eastern Amazonia and Para are further destroyed? We must urgently discover what Dr. Lutzenberger and others who o have argued the case have to say and ask the authorities to conduct specific research about this immediate point.
§ Mr. Eggar
Before the hon. Gentleman intervened. I was moving on to talk about our worldwide aid programme relating to rain forest destruction. Our forestry assistance course extends beyond the rain forests. We are helping those in arid areas who struggle against deforestation and its consequences—fuel wood shortages and soil erosion. Our bilateral aid concentrates on the poorest countries and on members of the Commonwealth. Those are not always the countries with extensive rain forest, so our forestry assistance worldwide covers the spectrum of research, reafforestation, conservation and training and is aimed at all types of forestry.
The ODA has committed about £80 million to bilateral forestry projects of all types, which are currently under way. They include support for 45 projects spread over 25 countries, funding for 16 research projects, assistance to at least 18 projects under the joint funding scheme, support for more than 70 British experts and 36 volunteers working as foresters and training awards for about 120 people from developing countries studying forestry in Britain. Details of those projects are given in a forestry supplement to the December 1988 issue of British Overseas Development; a copy of that is in the Library.
The record to date is impressive, but we want to do more. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pledged to the House:We will direct more of our aid to encourage the wise and sustainable use of forest resources."—[Official Report, 24 October 1988; Vol. 139, c. 14.]That pledge has resulted in a forestry initiative which is now under way. The forestry initiative has four components. First, we shall encourage recipient countries to direct more of the aid resources we provide to forestry. Obviously, we must respect countries' own priorities, so it would not be appropriate to set global expenditure targets for forestry aid. Nevertheless, ODA is just completing an 171 exercise to identify those countries where we feel that, as a country, we have a comparative advantage in offering forestry assistance. We shall discuss those possibilities with Governments with a view to identifying forestry projects with which we might be able to assist.
Secondly, we shall make an extra £500,000 a year available for international collaborative research. Trees are hundreds of years behind agricultural crops in selective breeding. The wealth of variation between and among species in the natural forests can be the basis for increases in future productivity comparable to the change from the gathering of wild grasses to the harvesting of modern rice and wheat crops. The exploration and conservation of the genetic resources of tropical forests have high priority in our forestry aid programme, as I saw for myself only two weeks ago when I visited an impressive project in Honduras.
Thirdly, we shall encourage British charities to put forward more forestry projects under the joint funding scheme. My hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development recently announced a block grant to the World Wide Fund for Nature of £1 million in 1989–90, the financial year. Both ODA and the World Wide Fund for Nature agree that more than 70 per cent. of that money should go on forestry conservation projects.
The fourth component in the new initiative is training and institution strengthening. In addition to our bilateral effort, we play a role through international agencies and we contribute 16 per cent. to the European development fund, whose support for forestry includes the approval of £32 million worth of forestry projects in Africa since 1986. On top of that, the Community in 1988 allocated £5 million for reafforestation in central America. That is very badly needed, as I saw for myself on my recent visit to the Honduras and Guatemala. We have also contributed through the World bank, and in 1988 IBRD loans and IDA credits to the value of $168 million were approved for the forestry sector.
§ Mrs. Wise
May I ask the Minister a question before he leaves the subject of central America? I noted what he said. Will he bear in mind the destruction of trees in Nicaragua, which was exacerbated by the hurricane? I note that he did not mention Nicaragua in his list. Will he consider whether we should be making a contribution there?
Will he also bear in mind that, although the sums that he has mentioned will no doubt have been put to good use, they are very small in relation to the size of the problem? Tomorrow we shall hear of much largers sums going to much less useful purposes. May I suggest that our good intentions should be accompanied by the devotion of rather more money?
§ Mr. Eggar
I take the hon. Lady's point. I did not mention Nicaragua because I did not visit it. I know that the hon. Lady is aware that we gave substantial assistance to Nicaragua following the hurricane.
During my visit, I visited a regional forestry school set up in the centre of the Honduras as part of the help to Central America as a whole. That was a school that we helped, particularly on the forestry side, which is now entirely run by the Hondurans. Both there and at a similar school or college in Costa Rica, I was struck by the lack of attendance by citizens of other central American states. 172 We have already said that that needs to be pursued by the central Americans. We need to try to persuade them to make more use of the existing regional institutions.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Preston about the level of assistance, and I am sure that we shall have a chance to discuss the overall level of assistance on Friday. I am trying to show that we are placing considerable additional resources in the forestry sector as a direct result of the widespread concern and of the increased willingness of developing countries to ask for assistance in this sector. There is still some way to go, however.
As I said, donors are supporting the tropical forestry action plan, which is now active in more than 60 countries. We are directly involved in 20 of those countries.
It may help if I say something about what is known as "green conditionality". The Government do not support the kind of green conditionality that would mean our attempting to improve developing countries' environmental performance by threatening to withhold aid from them if they failed to reach certain standards. The hon. Member for Eccles knows our attitude to conditionality in general. We aim to promote in those countries sustainable economic and social development, so helping to relieve poverty, which often causes people to clear forests. We seek to improve those countries' institutional capacity to deal with environmental matters and to agree with them appropriate environmenal safeguards and individual projects.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow referred to "debt-for-nature" swaps. Where such swaps are entered into voluntarily and genuinely release additional resources, they can be useful. I was told about such a scheme—one of the first of its kind—when I visited Bolivia. The hon. Member mentioned Sir Kit McMahon of the Midland bank. He might like to know that the Midland bank donated its entire Sudanese exposure of just $1 million to finance the health, water and reafforestation in the Kordofan region of Sudan. That is another example of a debt-for-nature swap. I should not want to overstate the scale of the potential contribution proposed by those debt-for-nature swaps.
Hon. Members are concerned about a possible World bank loan which some fear will destroy vast areas of the Amazon. I refer to the second power sector loan in Brazil.My hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development has publicly said that, although it seems that the proposed loan will not directly finance the construction of dams in the Amazon, we are acutely conscious of the need for appropriate safeguards for the environment and for Indian rights.
The loan—there is now some uncertainty about exactly what its status is—is unlikely to go before the World bank's executive board until May, and its precise terms are not yet known. My hon. Friend has undertaken to keep in close touch with concerned non-governmental organisations about it. We shall certainly consider extremely carefully the environmental and social aspects if and when a loan is put to the board. The latest information appears to be that there is a rethinking of the matter. We have not had clear information on that.
Environmental issues are being given much greater attention in the World bank, in part due to the efforts of the United Kingdom and several other members. The reorganisation of the World bank in 1987 strengthened its capacity to ensure that environmental costs and benefits 173 are systematically addressed in project appraisal. It is clear that the bank is aware of the sensitivities surrounding the proposal, but I repeat that we will need to look at the precise terms of any proposal.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I and some of my colleagues get the impression that the Americans are far more open about their directions to their director of the World bank than we are to the British director. Could there be a reflection within Government on why Parliament should not be told what instructions are being given to the British director of the World bank?
§ Mr. Eggar
There is possibly a difference in approach between us and the Americans on this matter. It relates to our reluctance to use our voting in the World bank as any kind of political lever or pressure—a reluctance which the Americans certainly do not go along with to the extent that we do.
That is illustrated by the fact that we have not voted on political grounds on loans to Nicaragua or to Chile. We have always voted specifically on technical grounds. That is the right approach. It leads us to a reluctance to be drawn into political assessments and statements about what instructions are given to our executive director. We prefer to concentrate much more on technical reasons. Obviously, because of the sensitivity of information, that is not normally disclosed, as discussions are behind closed doors.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that, to avoid the threat from new dams, the United Kingdom should give support to help get Brazil's nuclear power stations working effectively. As he himself acknowledges, that was a controversial statement when he made it in Brazil. The OECD sector agreement on nuclear power prohibits the use of tied bilateral aid for such projects.
174 Aid is by no means the only international activity with an effect on the rain forest. Trade is at least as important. It was for that reason that we were one of the first signatories to the agreement under which the International Tropical Timber Organisation was established. The agreement's objectives balance trade expansion and diversification with an ecologically sustainable approach to tropical forest management. The ITTO's members account for most of the trade in tropical timber.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Trade has responsibility for this matter, and he recently had a meeting with the executive director of the ITTO. We believe that action through the ITTO on a global basis offers a promising line of approach to achieve sustainable management of commercial tropical forestry.
Some believe such management to be impossible and have argued for a ban on tropical timber imports from non-sustainable sources. Any such proposal would be restrictive and need careful consideration, not least in the EEC context. I know that my hon. Friend wishes to keep all possibilities under review.
The DTI is also considering the implications of the Anglo-Dutch timber trade's proposal for a levy on tropical timber imports to be channelled through the ITTO.
We would all agree that we have had an important and interesting debate, even if it is at an unreasonably anti-social hour. I hope that I have reassured Opposition Members that the Government share their concern about the global effects of rain forest destruction. Aid, trade and international dialogue all have an important role to play in this extremely complex problem. The Government are actively pursuing all three. As the problem becomes ever more widely recognised, I am confident that we shall be able to achieve more, but whatever we do must be in partnership with the countries that are the homes to the rain forests. Without their co-operation, we shall not be able to succeed.