Sustainable Development Goals

 

 I also want to declare that I spent more than a year living and working in Sierra Leone as director of the British Council there and four years at the World Economic Forum, which of course deals with many of the issues we are discussing.

Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for noticing me as I jumped to my feet with great rapidity. I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this crucial debate. I also want to declare that I spent more than a year living and working in Sierra Leone as director of the British Council there and four years at the World Economic Forum, which of course deals with many of the issues we are discussing.

The sustainable development goals represent a vitally important set of targets that the international community must achieve if we are to secure a future based on durable and inclusive growth. As the House knows, every one of those goals is critical, but today I want to concentrate on No. 13, which focuses on combating climate change and its impacts.

The first point to establish is that there is no longer any reasonable doubt about the science of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a gathering of the world’s 1,000 most eminent climate scientists, and they have made it absolutely clear that human activity is causing global warming. Indeed, as Lord Deben—formerly a Conservative Member of Parliament, and now the chairman of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change—has stated,

“The connection between global warming and human activity is now as clear as the connection between smoking and lung cancer”.

Human activity is the problem, and human activity must therefore provide the solutions if we are to prevent a rise of at least 3.2° in global temperatures by 2100. The consequences of that would be all too real: the seas rising because the ice caps are melting, heat waves more frequent, and—as we have seen very close to home—flooding and extreme weather on the up. If nothing is done, we can expect more droughts and floods, affecting food security and global poverty, and hitting the poorest countries with the lowest CO2 emissions hardest. We can expect seawater to become more acidic, affecting biodiversity and, again, food security. We can expect the sea level to rise by between 0.5 and 1.5 metres, displacing more than 100 million people and dwarfing the current tragic refugee crisis. To put it simply, if we are to have any chance of meeting the 17 sustainable development goals, we must start with a serious, actionable, large-scale plan to tackle climate change.

Climate change is, of course, tragically topical, because all the signs point towards the refugee crisis becoming increasingly acute as conditions in the global south become worse as a result of drought and severe weather. That was put succinctly by Jamie Drummond of ONE only yesterday:

“In our analysis, there are three extremes—extreme poverty, extreme climate and extreme ideology—that risk taking over certain parts of the world, and if we do not have a pretty enlightened and aggressive long-term investment strategy, future flows of refugees will increase.”

Indeed, they will increase exponentially.

If we are going to feed the world, as the SDGs compel us to do, we need farmers and farmland, much of which is threatened by rising sea levels, desertification and acidification due to climate change. If you own an agri-business and those farmers work for you, it will not be a case of smaller profit margins; it will be the end of your business, and the end of your livelihood and theirs. A coastal city as vast as New York or a coastal town such as Port Talbot in my constituency of Aberavon—both reliant, to differing degrees, on tourism and coastal industries—will find that its economy, and eventually its very existence, are threatened.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, I worked for the World Economic Forum for four years. During that time, I was privy to the thoughts of CEOs and leaders of some of the world’s largest companies. and most had the same message: “Your business is not sustainable if your planet is not sustainable.” The sustainable development goals give us an opportunity to inspire businesses and Governments to reinvent growth—growth of the right sort, which does not lead to the impoverishment of billions of people or the destruction of our planet—and public-private partnership is the key to that reinvention.

I deeply regret the Government’s decisions on renewable energy subsidies, and I urge them to reconsider. However, I welcome the fact that the sustainable development goals, as a whole, are more business-oriented than the millennium goals were. There are more references to job creation and sustainable growth, both of which can be achieved if businesses and Governments invest in green technology and energy innovation. For their part, businesses must accept and embrace their responsibility to commit themselves to those measures, although many will be regulatory and could be spun by short-termists as burdensome. While aid will be necessary for some of the goals, and I would never advocate cuts in overseas development assistance, combating climate change will require large-scale investment, both public and private, first and foremost.

Stephen Phillips: The hon. Gentleman is making a very important speech. Does he agree that, if we are to achieve the sustainable development goals, it is critical for a proper and enforceable agreement to be made on climate change at the Paris summit later this year? Does he agree that that is part and parcel of the solution to the issue with which the SDGs seek to grapple?

Stephen Kinnock: I absolutely agree and therefore underline the importance of us leading by example, which is why I mentioned some of the regrettable decisions made in removing subsidies for renewables. Nevertheless, the Paris discussions and the SDGs mesh together and I hope we will show leadership in Paris in the coming months.

Supporting and enabling sustainably minded business is the key to generating significant wealth at home and abroad. With that in mind, I will finish by saying that there will necessarily be trade-offs and this will be a real test of the Government’s dedication to, and understanding of, the sustainable development goals. Climate change is a classic example of such trade-offs. In the short term fossil fuel companies are likely to perceive themselves as losers, even if the end result is a net improvement for society and the global economy in general. Effective leadership from all concerned Government Departments will be necessary, and innovative solutions will have to be found.

I therefore urge the Government to take seriously the following five recommendations: first, to reverse the recently announced cuts to renewable energy subsidies; secondly, to invest in renewables infrastructure and the research capabilities required to engineer them; thirdly, to attach climate change conditions to overseas aid directed to infrastructure projects; fourthly, to convene a global sustainability summit to develop a road map for public-private partnerships for sustainable growth; and, fifthly, to reform the companies legislation to ensure that the articles of incorporation of any given company must include a commitment to what the World Business Council for Sustainable Development calls triple-bottom line reporting—namely people, planet, profit. This means that the performance of a company should be measured not only in terms of its short-term profitability, but also in terms of its commitment to fulfilling its societal and environmental obligations.

If the Government could adopt these five recommendations, I believe that our country would be well on the way to showing real leadership and making a serious contribution to achieving sustainable development goal 13.