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David Maclean says that stopping deforestation is the key to combatting climate change

Picture 22 David Maclean, a one-time Home Office Minister and a former Conservative Chief Whip, used his contribution to the Queen's Speech Debate to raise the issue of climate change, and specifically to highlight the need to stop deforestation if it is to be combatted. He said:

"There is still some argument about the extent, nature and pace of climate change. I accept that climate change is happening, but no one knows the exact rate of that change. However, there is a massive change taking place in the world that is the prime contributor to climate change, and we can measure that to the hectare: day by day and week by week of the year, we burn 32,000 hectares of rain forest—9 million hectares every year, which is the size of England.

"Why should that matter? If climate change matters—and it does—the only way to stop it is by stopping deforestation. Saving the rain forest, and other forests, is the key. Forests are critical to regulating climate. Any real solution to climate change requires not only a reduction in fossil-fuel use, but protection of ecosystems like forests, which are critical to regulating carbon. The Amazon rain forest has been described as the “lungs” of our planet, because it provides the essential world service of continuously recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen. More than 20 per cent. of the world’s oxygen is produced in the Amazon rain forest, which also releases 20 billion tonnes of moisture every day, much of it watering crops tens of thousands of miles away.

"Let us look at this another way round. I understand that the main thing we have to do to tackle climate change is to reduce carbon emissions, but the burning of the rain forest accounts for almost 20 per cent. of all such emissions in the world—that is far more than is accounted for by all the cars, lorries, buses, planes and ships in the world put together. Of course we in the western world have to do our bit to reduce transport carbon emissions, but if we do not halt the total destruction of our rain forests, we could close down all the transport in the world and we would still, eventually, die. Some say that the rain forests are very large and can easily take the loss of an area the size of England every year, but at the present rate of destruction, they will be totally destroyed in 40 years’ time. In just 20 years’ time, there will be only half of them left and they may then be too small to act as the lungs of the world to give us the oxygen we need.

"There is an infinitely greater reason for saving the rain forest than merely reducing carbon emissions, important though that is—the reason being that the rain forests are the “medicine cabinet” of the world, to steal another phrase from the Prince’s Rainforests Project. As rain forest species disappear, so, too, do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases. Currently, 121 prescription drugs sold worldwide are derived from plant sources and 25 per cent. of western pharmaceuticals are derived from rain forest ingredients, but less than 1 per cent. of tropical trees and plants have been tested by scientists. So we have tested 1 per cent. and we are burning the other 99 per cent., yet we are getting 25 per cent. of our drugs from that 1 per cent.—that is a dangerous pyramid."

He concluded:

"The point of my speech is to say to the Government that the one deal that they must do in Copenhagen next month is on concerted action to save the world’s rain forests. I believe that a rain forest plan is on the agenda. We need not conventional overseas aid, but a new, verifiable and rapid system of carbon credits, properly and legitimately traded on the world market. Those countries with rain forests have a natural resource that the world needs—we need them, so we should pay for them and save them. Those of us who produce carbon should therefore pay those who have carbon sinks. That is not rocket science: we know that it can work—there have already been experiments—and we can easily police it with modern technology. What we now need is international action, led by the Prime Minister in Copenhagen, to make it work... If in the next few months the Government want to show that they are doing things to be on the side of the angels, they should come back from Copenhagen with a deal on saving the rain forests. We should forget about the rest of the measures in the Queen’s Speech and concentrate on the climate change agenda and the world’s rain forests."


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