Thursday 16 September 2010
[Mr David Crausby in the Chair]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Richard Benyon.)
It is a great pleasure to serve under your watchful eye this afternoon, Mr Crausby, in this important debate during the international year of biodiversity. It is a crucial time to debate this vital subject.
Progress has been made, in some areas, both in the UK and internationally, to reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity. For example, 94.3% of sites of special scientific interest in England are now in favourable or recovering condition, and we have seen increases in species such as otters, bitterns and stone curlews as a result of conservation action.
However, the overarching global picture is stark. We know that the global target to reduce the rate of loss of the world’s precious biodiversity by 2010 has not been met. Biodiversity continues to be lost at an accelerated rate as a result of human activity, and we know that that puts at risk the huge range of benefits that we get from the natural environment. That concerns us all, which is why my Department has made enhancing and protecting biodiversity one of its highest priorities.
Despite our growing knowledge of its value, the natural environment faces major challenges. For years, the economy and the natural environment have been pitted against each other as if they were competing choices, rather than being interdependent. Globally, it is estimated that the degradation of our planet’s ecosystems costs us some £42 billion each year—a figure that could rise to the equivalent of 7% of global gross domestic product by 2050. We are choosing to lose the valuable benefits of a healthy natural environment on a massive scale. A vibrant natural environment is not a luxury for the good times—it is a necessity for economic recovery and sustainable growth in the long term.
At the international level, we are committed to helping to develop a post-2010 framework on biodiversity that will deliver progress where it matters—on the ground. Next week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will attend the United Nations General Assembly’s special session on biodiversity. This will be the first time that biodiversity has had a day dedicated to it at the General Assembly, and that day will be the final day of the launch of the review of the millennium development goals. It is a particularly important event and an opportunity for us to highlight the interrelationship between biodiversity, poverty and development.
In October, the Secretary of State will lead the UK delegation at the conference in Nagoya of the parties to the convention on biological diversity. We will seek to agree demanding new global targets for biodiversity, among other things. The meeting in Nagoya represents a critical moment in the history of the convention, and in human history. We cannot afford to miss that opportunity.
In England, we will set out our plans for responding to the new international framework, and for taking action on biodiversity, in a natural environment White Paper—the first since 1990. Through the White Paper process, we will, by spring next year, develop a bold and ambitious statement that will outline the Government’s priorities for the natural environment. We will do that by setting out a framework for practical action by the Government, communities, businesses and civil society organisations to deliver on our commitment. We want to develop new and imaginative solutions to tackling the problem of biodiversity loss, and to learn from the experience of others. We launched the discussion document on the White Paper on 26 July and are keen to receive views on it via our website or by post until 30 October.
Restoring and expanding priority habitats remains a major challenge if we are to tackle biodiversity loss successfully. We look forward to receiving soon Sir John Lawton’s report, “Making Space for Nature”, on the review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological networks. It will help to inform our thinking on the way forward.
We know from progress updates that the review is likely to conclude that we do not have a coherent and resilient ecological network in England, but that establishing one will help to reverse the declines in our biodiversity and deliver many other benefits to society such as soil protection, clean water, flood attenuation and carbon sequestration. We will respond to the report’s recommendations through the natural environment White Paper as part of our commitment to promoting green spaces and wildlife corridors to halt the loss of habitats.
Of course, we must also continue to protect the best of England’s wildlife areas. As set out in our departmental reform plan, we are dedicated to protecting the green belt, sites of special scientific interest and other environmentally protected areas.
The Government are also committed to protecting marine biodiversity, which is central to the UK’s economic and social well-being, as well as having intrinsic value. Our aim is to achieve clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse seas and oceans. To achieve that, we seek to address the decline in marine biodiversity and to allow recovery, where appropriate, by implementing a wide range of measures while managing competition between conservation and socio-economic needs.
Marine protected areas are one of the major tools that we will use to conserve biodiversity and associated ecosystem services. In August, the UK put forward to the European Commission 15 new European marine sites for designation. That increase means that 24% of English inshore waters will be covered by marine protected areas. Over the next period, four stakeholder-led regional projects will work to identify possible marine conservation zones.
I very much welcome the announcement on marine protected areas that the Minister has repeated today. Will he give us a brief update on the four projects, mentioning not only the tie-in with socio-economic factors but whether they will be able to generate, in short order, a good, ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones, including some no-take zones?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I hope that when we have implemented what he started in Government, he will find something of which he can be immensely proud, as the projects are very much his legacy. We are working well with the four areas. On occasion, I have in my office people who represent socio-economic groups telling me that we are going too far in one direction, and then green non-governmental organisations tell me that we are going too far in the other direction. That makes me wonder—I am only half joking when I say this—whether we might not be getting it just about right.
I am not ignoring the difficulties. I want to ensure that the projects work and that, where possible, we iron out difficulties. I am free to be candid with the hon. Gentleman and anyone else about where I believe those difficulties exist. Working with the stakeholders, I am trying to get around them all. I am determined to stick to the timetable for 2012, but I will not do that at the expense of getting it right; we have waited a long time for the projects, and I want to get them right. However, I think that we can do that in the time scale that we have given ourselves.
I welcome the Minister’s reassurance, and I know that he shares my commitment. At the risk of sounding like I am giving advice from the subs’ bench, the one thing that I would urge—helpfully, I hope—is that he ensures that the decisions taken by those genuine partnerships, where everyone has their say, are solidly underpinned by the right criteria, and by the right judgments based on the best available evidence on marine biology and biodiversity. We would be concerned if the outcome were diluted in any way, or if undue compromises were made.
That was a concern throughout the passage of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, and it remains a concern for many people. The hon. Gentleman will remember the tortuous process that we went through to establish what we meant by “ecological coherence”, but we have a clear description in the guidance now and I think that we can deliver on it. I hope that we will develop precisely that ecological coherence across the four projects, but he is right: they have to be underpinned by good science, not only for all the reasons that everybody knows about, but because they need credibility, and they will not be underlined with credibility if we have cut corners in any respect. Marine conservation zones, together with European marine sites, SSSIs, and Ramsar sites, will form part of the ecologically coherent network across the UK’s waters that the hon. Gentleman envisaged when he took the Act through Parliament. We will work with devolved Governments in Scotland, Wales and—soon, we hope—Northern Ireland to fulfil our obligations across the UK.
The international year of biodiversity is about engaging people. We need to promote the importance of biodiversity to our economy and well-being, and encourage people to get involved in making a difference. That is why the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been part-funding a partnership this year, hosted by the natural history museum, to support activities in the UK. Over 430 organisations are involved, all helping to raise the profile of biodiversity among the British public this year—for example, through a series of more then 30 BioBlitz citizen science events around the country, which have been engaging tens of thousands of people with the nature on their doorstep.
We know that protecting our biodiversity needs to be done in partnership. That approach will be even more important in the years ahead, and is already being put into practice through initiatives such as the campaign for the farmed environment, which genuinely has the potential to transform our countryside, protect local ecosystems and increase our native biodiversity. It is important for farmers to grasp this opportunity and prove that these important outcomes can be achieved by working with conservation groups and Government. The Lawton review will indicate what we are doing to protect SSSIs, nature sites and reserves, but we must recognise that 70% or more of the space between those islands of excellence is farmed. Many farmers are doing wonderful things, but the real gains in reversing the decline of biodiversity over recent decades will be made in those spaces.
In line with our commitment to shifting the balance of power from big government to big society, we will work closely with all interested parties—individuals, businesses, civil society groups, land managers, local authorities and many more—to articulate a new, compelling and integrated vision for sustaining and managing our natural environment.
The natural environment White Paper will set out a programme of action designed to put the value of the natural environment at the heart of Government and identify new ways of enabling local authorities and local communities to protect and enhance it. We need to consider biodiversity in the context of climate change, where biodiversity plays a hugely important mitigation and adaptation role. We also need to factor the value of ecosystem services, which are fundamentally supported by biodiversity, into our development and accounting processes.
We should value the contribution that biodiversity makes to our quality of life by inspiring and enriching our lives, and by contributing to our health and well-being. That is why the Government have supported the global study by leading economist Pavan Sukhdev, “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity”. I recently met him and was interested to hear his wish that he had called it TEN—“The Economics of Nature”—rather than TEEB, as he believes that that is easier for people to understand than a title that includes the words “ecosystems” and “biodiversity”. We understand what he means, and the value of the work that he is doing. We want to transpose the work that he is doing globally on to a UK, European and certainly English perspective.
We recognise that we need to harness the interest generated by Pavan Sukhdev’s study and to maintain its momentum beyond Nagoya. That is why the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the German Minister, Norbert Röttgen, are co-hosting a ministerial-level lunch in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week. The purpose of that is to encourage more countries to mainstream valuation in Government policy, maintain the momentum generated by TEEB, and identify initiatives and ideas for embedding the valuation of biodiversity and ecosystems in decision making across Government. As we are joined by two vice-presidents of the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment, I want to pay tribute to the work that it is doing in, among other things, encouraging activity on governance so that we can try to embed such valuation in our thinking.
I am grateful for a recent meeting with GLOBE; there was some good thinking on the creation of ministerial posts and on accountancy—the machinery of government, if you like—aimed at embedding such valuing of our natural environment in what we do. There was also thinking on requiring Departments to develop natural capital inventories and to integrate the real value of natural capital into policy-making processes. That is important, and I look forward to taking forward that work with GLOBE and others.
The Darwin initiative has been running since 1993, and has provided over £79 million of financial support to 728 conservation projects in 156 countries. I met the chairman of the Darwin advisory committee, Professor Macdonald, earlier this week, and I hope that we can announce the next round of funding under the scheme later this year. He is one of the most engaging and impressive people I have met for a very long time, and I look forward to working with him on the important work that he and his committee are doing. We are also doing a lot of work on assessing the state of our ecosystems through the national ecosystem assessment. That includes studying how the value of our ecosystem services and biodiversity has changed over the past 60 years, and how it might change in future. It is only by understanding the past that we can plan for the future.
The way we deliver on our commitments will be placed in the context of our overall requirement to reduce the deficit and reflect the Government’s plans for reducing regulatory burdens. We will have to await the outcome of the spending review to know what resources will be allocated to this important area. However, we know that we can no longer afford the costs to our economy and our quality of life that arise from a degraded natural environment.
The international year of biodiversity provides an ideal opportunity to focus on the challenges ahead and to develop workable solutions. It will take an ambitious and radical transformation in our economy, our society and the way we secure our future, but the prize is worth it, and essential for our well-being.
I, too, am pleased to speak in this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. Last year, the UN climate change convention met in Copenhagen. It attracted the most incredible media frenzy, and something of a political frenzy as well, as Prime Ministers, Ministers and politicians from all over the globe made sure that they had a suitable photo opportunity.
In a month’s time, its sister convention on biological diversity will meet in Nagoya, Japan, to discuss why whole species are moving into extinction at a rate that, barring the loss of the dinosaurs, is unprecedented in the entirety of the fossil record of life on this planet. So far, the convention has met with total silence from the world’s press—why? How do the world’s most eminent scientists propose that we tackle the problem of extinctions?
One of the first things I was told in the Department that the Minister now occupies was the wonderful target that had been set to halve the rate of decline in species loss by 2010. That was the UK’s national target. I said that that was wonderful and asked the civil servant what was the rate of loss that we were going to halve. He said that the rate of loss was not known, and I asked how we would halve the rate if we did not know what it was. He replied that we would use indicators. We started without a sufficient baseline. The European Union tried to bail us out, of course, and said that it would substantially reduce the rate of loss. That European target was a bit woollier. With such an assessment at the beginning of the project, it is not very surprising that we reached 2010 to find that even those indicators have not enabled us to say that we have had any real success.
Where will we go in Nagoya? Top of the agenda will be natural capital. I welcome the Minister’s comments on the subject, and all that he said about the TEEB report and Pavan Sukhdev’s astonishing work. We must take on board the fact that one of the great advances in the past 100 years in classical economics was acknowledgment that there is such a thing as human, social and intellectual capital. We have come to realise that a well functioning judicial system and an excellent education system are as much a part of the wealth of a nation as its roads, ports and factories. The irony is that economists and economies have not caught up with the most important capital—natural capital.
Natural capital may be defined as the benefits that accrue to human society from the different species of life that inhabit the natural world—the biodiversity that is the subject of our debate. Classical economics values things such as forests by adding the sale price of the timber that can be harvested, and the alternative use to which the land may be put. A pine forest in the mountains will be worth a lot less per hectare than a forest of oak and ash close to good arable land and a river. Soft wood pine sells for pulp or low-grade timber, but oak and ash sell for designer kitchens. The mountain land has few alternative uses, but river land may raise prime beef. So that is how forests are valued. Wrong.
The true value of forests lies in far more than that. They stop soil erosion, prevent flooding by absorbing moisture, and control climate, often regulating local as well as global weather patterns. They are a source of medicines and food, and they have recreational and aesthetic value. All that is before carbon sequestration has been mentioned. In the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 1,360 of the world’s top scientists showed that classical economics captured only one third of the actual value of the services that forests provide. The same is true for rivers, reefs, salt marshes, mangroves and all other natural ecosystems. We fail to factor in their actual economic value to our policies and decision making, but because most of the other services that they provide are not bought or sold in markets, they are normally not taken into account, so the forests, reefs and rivers are lost or degraded.
Another important consideration is that those wider benefits, although immensely valuable, do not accrue to an individual property owner. The benefits are experienced by a community at large. They are regarded as free goods by the wider economy and the wider community, which would no more think of paying for flood protection provided by the local forest than of paying for the air they breathe, which is also provided in part by the local forest. In classical economics, such free goods are called externalities, but because they are not directly captured by the landowner they do not feature in their decisions on how or whether to dispose of them.
My hon. Friend is making an interesting point. During the last Parliament, we updated the legislation on commons. The previous update had been during the 14th century, so it was in some need of reform. One of the most interesting issues that arose was that there are more SSSIs on common land than on private land because on common land people were under communal pressure to farm sustainably and that such pressure did not exist on private land. There is real-life evidence to back up what my hon. Friend is saying.
As always, I was delighted to sit down when my hon. Friend stood up. She made an excellent intervention and highlighted the importance of seeing land, and land use, and land use change, in a fundamentally economic way, and looking at property ownership and tenure is absolutely part of that. All hon. Members in the Chamber and those who care deeply about the subject will know of the issues relating to indigenous people. There are different forms of communal property ownership in tropical forests throughout the world. That applies not just in this country, as my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, and it is essential to bear in mind the conflict that can arise from land tenure and the different forms of property ownership when considering the future of our tropical rain forests throughout the world.
A country may experience economic growth while becoming poorer, and an example may be helpful. A Government may sell a large timber concession to a logging company. They will achieve for that land only the classical measure of value for the logs or fuel wood, plus any alternative land use. The logging company, perhaps being afraid of political instability somewhere in Africa, may not even cut the logs into timber in the country itself. Instead, it may export them to a neighbouring state where it has a production factory that cuts the logs and produces furniture for export to European markets.
It is important to note that no one in this example has done anything wrong or corrupt. The Government have increased their export sales by the value of the logs and have seen a corresponding rise in GDP. The logging company has paid the market price for its logging concession and made a rational business decision about the management of the company’s political risk. The neighbouring country happily welcomed the jobs and economic growth that come from the re-export of those logs as much more valuable furniture, but the original country is poorer. The value of the ecosystem services that it has lost is far greater than the value of economic GDP growth that it has achieved.
In 2000, Kofi Annan commissioned an assessment of the state of global ecosystems that aimed to describe and evaluate the full range of services that we as human beings derive from nature. In the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 1,360 scientific experts reported on the 24 key services on which human life depends. Of those, only four services were found to be increasing, 15 were assessed as being in decline and five were said to be stable although under strain in certain regions.
On the positive side of the balance sheet, agricultural production is increasing the amount of crops and livestock available to feed an expanding world population. On the negative side, marine fish stocks are dangerously depleted, fresh water is declining in quality and availability, and services such as pollination, pest control, soil stabilisation, climate regulation and air and water purification are all in marked decline.
Recognising that those essential services provide 50% of the GDP of the poorest people on our planet, the report pointed out:
“The loss of services derived from ecosystems is a significant barrier to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty, hunger and disease.”
It concluded that
“human activities have taken the planet to the edge of a massive wave of species extinctions, further threatening our own well-being.”
Just as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was being published in 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the coast of Louisiana, killing 1,800 people, displacing 1 million more and causing damage assessed at up to $125 billion. The US army engineering corps is spending $16 billion on building a 350-mile long system of levees to replace those that failed in 2005. That failure was not due to a natural disaster; it was the result of 100 years of policy decisions supposedly to “improve” the navigation and economic efficiency of the lower Mississippi basin, and the consequent loss of wetlands that followed from that.
Today, the sewerage and water board of New Orleans plans to pipe thousands of tons of semi-treated sewage into a bayou to help to regrow a cypress-tupelo wetland and protect the lower ninth ward from flooding. Recently, the US army engineering corps made an astonishing admission: during Katrina, every levee that had wetland protection remained intact but every levee that had no wetland protection was breached.
It has been estimated that since the 1930s, 120,000 square miles of wetland habitat has been lost on the lower Mississippi basin. Currently, one acre—the size of a football pitch—is lost every 48 minutes. The wetlands are of various types, but a freshwater or intermediate marsh wetland is estimated to reduce surge swells during a hurricane by as much as 1 foot for every mile width of wetland. A cypress swamp wetland is estimated to reduce storm surges by an incredible 6 feet for every mile width of wetland. The ring of concrete and steel that is being constructed around the city at such enormous cost—$16 billion—sets in context the true value of the natural capital that makes up Louisiana’s lost wetlands.
In 1956, the US Congress gave approval for the construction of the Mississippi river-gulf outlet—MRGO, as it is known locally. The economic case seemed overwhelming. The man-made navigational channel would connect the gulf of Mexico to the city of New Orleans, bisecting the marshes of lower St Bernard parish and the shallow waters of the Chandeleur sound. That would reduce the passage by 40 miles and straighten the route, making it a safer and more efficient passage for shipping than the Mississippi river below New Orleans with its winding channels.
The habitats that the MRGO was cut through are shallow estuarine waters and sub-delta marshes. Much wetland was lost by the original excavation, but more importantly, the soil erosion and rise in salinity have led to the destruction of the cypress swamp. Ironically, the MRGO has not been the economic success that Congress supposed it would be. Today, it carries a mere 3% of the region’s waterborne freight, with fewer than five passages a day. The US army engineering corps estimates dredging costs to be $22.1 million per year. That means that every vessel that passes through will cost $12,657 per vessel per day.
As early as 1958 the US Department of the Interior warned that
“the excavation of the (MRGO) could result in major ecological change with widespread and severe ecological consequences.”
Ecological consequences—the process was not seen as a contribution to the economic debate surrounding the case for the MRGO, but rather as an unimportant, if factual, environmental comment. In those days, the concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services were simply not understood by legislators, but today we have no excuse.
What would a Government who incorporated the valuation of natural capital and ecosystem services into their framework of national accounting look like? What would they do differently? Principally, they would make explicit and visible the estimated value of nature’s multiple and complex benefits. By incorporating that value into their procedures of decision making and cost-benefit analysis, the Government would provide a more complete evidence base through which to improve outcomes. Factors previously regarded as externalities would become essential elements of increased efficiency in policy design.
It is important to understand that the values of natural capital do not exist objectively and independently of a community of potential beneficiaries. Therefore, they cannot simply be imported into a set of national accounts as a constant given. However, that is equally true of other forms of capital and it should not be allowed as an argument against a proper valuation of ecosystem services. The kickback given by Finance Departments and Treasuries is always, “It is very difficult to estimate the value of a river or a forest.” Well, it is difficult to estimate the value of a bridge. Nobody would try to measure a bridge by its height or length, but instead by the economic savings in time and fuel multiplied by the number of people who might use it as opposed to the alternative easiest route. One must estimate. It is the same with forests, wetlands, swamps and peat bogs, but the Treasury will always kick back and say, “No, it is too difficult.” That is the area we have to look at.
In the same way, the value of a coral reef will vary, not only in accordance with the quantity of marine life that it spawns, but with the level of dependence that a community may have on it for food. It may also fluctuate in value in accordance with its suitability for use as a tourist destination generating recreational dollars. Thus, the value of natural capital in one part of the globe cannot easily be translated across borders. Economic values are not a property of ecosystems; they are a measure of those ecosystems’ utility to human communities in a given geographical and socio-economic context. For that reason, Governments who take natural capital seriously would do well to estimate the value not of the ecosystem as such, but of the economic effects that a proposed or envisaged change might have were a particular policy to be pursued.
The successful integration of the value of natural capital into UK Government accounts could see the elimination of perverse subsidies in fishing and agriculture and in the use of nitrates and fossil fuels. It could create financial incentives to encourage proper environmental management that preserves ecosystem services and a rigid application of the “polluter pays” principle throughout industry. To achieve that, a number of undertakings would be required from the Government, and, in that respect, I thank the Minister for the positive and constructive meeting that we had with GLOBE the other day. As he knows, I do not lay these issues simply at the door of his Department; the key point is that these undertakings must be given by Governments, rather than Environment Departments. Environment Departments know and understand them very well; the difficulty is getting them appropriated by Government colleagues more widely.
First, inventories should be required of all Departments. They should identify as far as possible all the natural capital assets for which a Department is responsible or whose value may be affected, whether adversely or positively, by departmental activity. Secondly, in adopting the latest methodology set out in SEEA—the “Handbook of National Accounting: Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting”—Departments should be obliged to co-ordinate with the Treasury and agree a valuation for all the natural capital assets in their inventory.
Thirdly, all policy proposals and recommendations should be obliged to incorporate a costed explanation of how they will enhance natural capital or transform it into other forms of capital so that overall national wealth is increased. Fourthly, where a policy proposal or recommendation is estimated to deplete natural capital or result in declining ecosystem services, that depletion must be clearly costed and agreed by the Treasury.
Fifthly, an equivalent post to that of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury must be established with the aim of regulating the Government’s use of natural resources and signing off all allocations of natural capital. Sixthly, that post should have the further challenge function of questioning why Departments are pursuing a technological solution to a problem that might be more efficiently dealt with through an imaginative use of ecosystem services. For example, why build a chemical-based sewage filtration plant when the lugworms on one hectare of mud flats can provide a remediation service for 100,000 people’s effluent?
Seventhly, the Treasury should prepare a set of green accounts for natural capital and ecosystem services, which should be published initially for three years in parallel with the Red Book. Eighthly, after the initial trial period, those green accounts should be fully integrated and incorporated into the Budget and the Red Book.
Ninthly, the National Audit Office should be requested to monitor and report on the effective application of the incorporation of natural capital into the national accounting framework. Tenthly, Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee should be requested to hold the Treasury and all Departments across the Government to account for their use of natural capital and ecosystem services. Eleventhly, the Treasury should be tasked with preparing and publishing an annual report on the status of the country’s natural capital and ecosystems.
Are there better ways to achieve this objective? Are there better uses for these resources? The Government have an obligation to their citizens to ensure that no policy, programme or project is adopted without Ministers first having the answer to those questions, and it is not possible to answer them unless the Government unequivocally embrace a transparent system for the valuation of natural capital.
In October 2010, I will chair the GLOBE legislators session at the United Nations convention on biodiversity in Nagoya—the conference of the parties. One hundred legislators will press to have natural capital incorporated into national accounts. They will establish legislators’ role as that of providing a vital monitor and audit function, overseeing their respective Executives. Many scientists regard success at the Nagoya convention as even more important than success at the convention on climate change. After all, what would a change in climate matter if species could keep pace with the rate of change? The fact that they cannot, and the demise of the ecosystem services that are lost with them, is the greatest threat to human well-being on this planet.
A decade ago, the United Nations set the world the target of reducing the rate of species loss by 2010—the international year of biodiversity. Well, here we are. The UN willed the objective but not the means. The integration of the valuation of natural capital into Government accounting frameworks is that means.
Thank you, Mr Crausby, for the opportunity to speak in this crucial debate. I must confess that I do not share the expertise of the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), but I do have a huge interest in the matter under discussion, and the residents I represent often write to me on issues connected with it. He made some excellent points about the need to quantify the environmental benefits and values of forest ecosystems and habitat projects—he referred to their “true value”—and I certainly support that principle. I hope that the Minister will give it much consideration.
I will use this opportunity to talk specifically about my experiences in my constituency. Before I became its Member of Parliament, I represented its northern sector—the Abbey Meads ward—for 10 years. The area is a new development, although it is sometimes unkindly referred to as a concrete jungle, and that relates to the points that I shall speak about. During the 10 years in which I represented that new development, the number of houses in it went from 1,800 to 8,000. As a result of that, the key principle that I developed was that sufficient provision needs to be put in place at the beginning, rather than retrospectively. It is impossible to lower the density of the housing now and to put in sufficient provision.
In my maiden speech I touched on the quality-of-life aspects of green and open spaces, and the issue comes up time and again. From a planning perspective, my concern is that developers and councils are too often allowed to tick boxes and to pay lip service to making sufficient provision. That is not acceptable, and a lot more thought needs to be put into doing things more appropriately.
There are two areas that we can focus on. One is making a lot of areas more open and accessible by pooling more of them. We could have community forests, and the local community could take ownership, come along, enjoy the benefits and learn about these things. We can also raise understanding through education and first-hand experience. I have noticed that in my constituency several schools are leading by example, and turning part of their land over to the development of their own projects, to give schoolchildren the relevant first-hand experience at a young age. I visited two such projects at St. Francis and Orchid Vale primary schools, and it is an excellent approach. I know about that from experience, because school geography lessons encouraged me to take an interest, and that is how we shall educate future generations.
To return to my original point, while we continue in this country to build on green open space we must get sufficient and correct provision now, because it cannot be done retrospectively. Let us proceed in such a way that communities will welcome and benefit from that. When we come to estimate the true value, several more tick boxes will become important, which I would fully support.
What a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr Crausby. I am pleased to have the opportunity, in this, the international year of biodiversity, to speak in this debate. I know that all hon. Members say that their constituency is the most beautiful, but mine is the most beautiful in England, because it includes upper Teesdale, which is part of the North Pennines area of outstanding natural beauty. One of the most important aspects of upper Teesdale is the Teesdale array—the collective name given to the unique set of plants that grow there. Some of those plants grow only in that part of Great Britain. A small number of them also grow in the Burren in Ireland, and some grow in the Alps, but on the mainland, that particular collection of plants grows only in Teesdale. The most famous is a beautiful blue flower called the spring gentian, but there are also lady’s mantles and bogworts.
I wholeheartedly agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) said about valuing and taking account of the economic value of the natural environment, but I also hold out for the notion that those plants have an intrinsic value. Even if the spring gentian is of no use to anyone, it is valuable because it is there. It is there because it is left over from the last ice age. The collection of plants in question is on those rather cold, wet hills in the middle of the Pennines because the climate has not changed significantly since that time. It is the combination of the unique climate and the traditional farming practices of the hill farmers that has enabled the plants to survive.
I want to pay tribute to a botanist, Dr Margaret Bradshaw, who is an expert on the plants of Teesdale. We are fortunate to have her expertise because she originally went to survey the plants there in the 1950s. In this instance, therefore, we have an extremely good record of what has been going on over half a century. In May she took me out to sites where some of the rare plants grow. We went on to Cronkley fell and Widdybank fell, and up to Cow Green reservoir, where they grow. I shall send the Minister some of the charts and tables, because I cannot possibly do justice to them in a speech, but I shall give the highlights of Dr Bradshaw’s findings.
A plant called Alchemilla vulgaris was extremely prevalent in the 1950s in both Teesdale and Weardale, but more than half the subspecies have been lost. Two of them—Alchemilla monticola and Alchemilla subcrenata—have disappeared completely from Weardale. Dr Bradshaw has also done surveys comparing the number of Gentiana verna and Primula farinose in the 1970s and the early 2000s—that is, over a 30-year period. Her method was to survey about nine sites on a fell, seeing how many plants there were, and to go back every year. Whereas, for example, in 1970 there were more than 250 plants of Gentiana verna, by 2007 there were fewer than 50. That is the pattern among those plants in Teesdale. The violas have also fallen in number, as has Gentiana amarella. A plant called Draba incana has disappeared.
I want the Minister to understand why those plants have disappeared, and what we might do to stem the flow. There are two basic reasons for the loss of a suitable habitat for that collection of plants. One is change in the climate—the global warming problem—and the other is changing farming practices. The low point in over-grazing was in the 1970s. I think there is now, pretty much, a good agreement between the hill farmers, Natural England and the AONB about farming practices. There are still some disagreements and technical questions, but the problem is nothing like as bad as it was 30 years ago, and in some cases one can see the biodiversity improving as a result.
There has also been a loss of peat on the fells. I am sure that the Minister is aware of the fact that the peat in the Pennines is a major carbon sink. In a way, it is our forest. A lot of work has been done by the AONB to protect the peat. It has done that by blocking the grips, because previously the peat was being washed away down the streams, into the River Tees and out into the North sea.
My major plea to the Minister is to continue with the scheme, despite the pressure that the Treasury will put on him. It is very important that farmers should continue to be supported to farm sustainably. There must be a balance; they must be able to make a living and to continue to farm in the traditional way. We have had many successes in recent years. The number of meadows has increased and their quality has improved. It would be a big mistake and extremely short-sighted to lose those successes at this juncture. The AONB has also done a lot of excellent work. As I have said, it has been working on the grips. There are some technical problems with the way the legal agreements are set up, and the Minister might look into those at some point. However, there have been significant successes, such as the restoration of black grouse to the area; he has probably heard about that.
My overall concern is that the Government should not do something very short-sighted to bring the deficit down in four years rather than six. If we lost plants that have been in upper Teesdale for 20,000 years, it would be the height of absurdity. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has its big “Letter to the Future” campaign at the moment. I expect that the Minister has been inundated with postcards. I want to give that campaign 100% of my support; the RSPB is right. It would be absurd for the Government to take a short-sighted approach. I endorse the slogan that the RSPB has adopted: “Don’t cut the countryside”.
First, I want to echo the formidable words of the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner). I do not think that there is anything in his speech that I disagree with. On the contrary, I wholeheartedly support everything that he said. Without wanting to repeat it, I want to add my support.
It is more or less a given that we all recognise that nature provides very valuable—some would say non-negotiable—benefits, but we have not yet developed the tools to measure those benefits. We have heard today and in previous debates about the value of wetlands, mangroves and forests, and no one could even begin to argue about their benefits. Despite that, we attach a formal or recognised value to those things only as we cash them in, so a forest is worth virtually nothing to us until we have converted it into toilet paper. We are destroying unavoidably and unarguably priceless, non-negotiable, valuable natural assets, simply because we have not yet designed tools sophisticated enough to value them. That is the ultimate example—the most defining example—of market failure.
The situation is beginning to change. Just as we all recognise—a child would recognise—that without healthy fisheries we would have no fish, people are beginning to realise now that as we lose our bee colonies, our agriculture will be affected. We are beginning to realise that as we continue to pave over and destroy our flood plains, we shall have to invest more and more in defences, as the speed of surface water continues to increase. In fact, as a result, water companies are beginning to pay farmers to manage their farms in such a way that they take into account the value of slowing down the speed of water. In other examples, water companies are paying farmers to avoid contaminating the water near their farms. As a result of farming in a different way, they are seeing returns of up to 65 times the cost of capital investment. That train of thought is beginning to become more mainstream, but not yet in Government.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has signalled its intention of beginning the process of embedding the value of the natural world in the decision-making process. That is hugely welcome. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on taking that agenda so much further than it has been taken before, certainly in my political experience—and although I have been an MP for only four months, I was involved in politics for many years before that. It is the best possible news. I echo the words of the hon. Member for Brent North and encourage the Minister to use whatever influence he has to take the message to the Treasury, because without cross-departmental acceptance of the need to value natural capital, we will not see anything more than a synthetic change in the way decisions are made. I shall finish on that point, and by again congratulating the Minister on taking the agenda so much further forward in a very short time.
It is a delight to take part in the debate. I was glad to see, among the various pieces of business that we are dealing with in this fortnight in which Parliament has resumed, this debate on the international year of biodiversity. The debate is timely and I am glad that it is happening so early in the Minister’s career. It allows us to put down a few markers and, I hope, make some helpful suggestions.
At the outset, I want to welcome not only the debate, but the work that has been done by and the briefings that we have had from various groups. I shall mention just a few: the Wildlife Trust, the RSPB and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. There are others. I also want to mention the work of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has pushed forward the agenda generally. Some of the issues discussed today are not new. Members of all parties on the EFRA Committee have been pushing this agenda forward for some time. It is also very good to see a couple of the vice-presidents of GLOBE present. I acknowledge the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) has been doing with that organisation. It is very important and I shall return to it.
Let me turn to some of the comments that have been made. I shall start with the very good contribution made by my hon. Friend. He brings great experience and expertise to the Opposition Benches, both from his ministerial role and from his various roles with environmental organisations. He plays a prominent and active role in that regard. He gave us a timely reminder of the importance of considering natural capital, which we often ignore because we tend to focus on top line economic gain. He mentioned, for example, that only one third of the value of our forests is captured by classical economic analysis. The same applies across the board. That is the way we traditionally regard those priceless assets in government and in policy making and decision making. I say “priceless” because this is a classic case of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. Today’s debate has shown that we need to move way beyond that. We have started work on some of the helpful mechanisms that could lead us to move beyond that point, but we now need to do it.
My hon. Friend’s account of natural defences was interesting. It reminded me of two things. One is a domestic issue. As we consider the increase in storm surges and the increasing prevalence of flooding and of coastal erosion, it is important that while we are employing a huge armoury of different approaches to deal with those things, we do not negate the role of natural defences but actively encourage them as part of the toolbox that we have to respond to such eventualities; otherwise, we are resorting purely to the old hard-style defences. Things have moved on significantly and I know the Minister will be keen to continue with what I have described domestically.
My hon. Friend’s comments also reminded me of observing at first hand the replanting of mangrove plants in the Cayman Islands in little concrete wellies. The idea was to hold them down and embed them sufficiently before the concrete fell to bits. They had to have something that weighted them down sufficiently, given the storminess there, and very successful it was. It was hard work, but it was a case of rebuilding natural defences and recognising the wide benefits that come from valuing that natural capital, rather than choosing hard technical solutions all the time.
My hon. Friend has just given a fascinating illustration of the point. I suspect that he may have visited that project because it was one of the Darwin projects. Does he agree that of all the things that the Department does, if it protects anything in the comprehensive spending review, it should be the Darwin projects? Nothing can be more innovative and valuable than the work that has been done under that relatively tiny budget.
Indeed. In terms of bang for our buck—or whatever the sterling equivalent is—we cannot do much better than the Darwin initiative. I applaud the Minister for not going through the political rote that we sometimes hear at the moment of “Times are terrible.” I know that he faces challenges, but I agree with my hon. Friend; the Darwin initiative is a singular example of an initiative in which a little investment goes a long, long way. That investment sits alongside an investment of expertise from people from the natural history museum and Kew gardens, and the use of committed people in the overseas territories, volunteers and so on. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that announcements will be made about the next round of funding under the scheme. We look forward to that. I ask him please to keep that momentum going.
My hon. Friend moved on, in the latter part of his contribution, to some excellent ideas about embedding the values of natural capital in our policy making and decision making. That is one of the big ideas whose time has come. He talked about Departments having natural capital auditing and evaluation and every policy being assessed according to its contribution to increasing natural capital wealth or to denuding natural wealth. Another idea was the use of ecosystem services instead of hard technical solutions and weighing those up every time a hard technical solution is proposed. Sometimes we will need hard technical solutions; that is without a doubt, but they need to be weighed in the balance against whether there is a softer, longer-lasting, enduring, multifaceted-benefit approach that might be better.
That very interesting concept of departmental budgets of natural wealth should, after a trial, be incorporated into the Treasury. I would not give up on that. I know the Treasury is often portrayed as the ogre of Government, sitting there jealously guarding the keys to its bullion, or whatever it has, but it can be open to persuasion if a good case is put forward, particularly if the denuding of our domestic natural wealth affects us in a very anthropocentric way—a purely selfish way. When that is done, both globally—in terms of impact on global poverty, migration flows, our own shores and indigenous communities—and here, it is better to weigh these things in the balance. I genuinely offer the Minister and the Secretary of State my support. The Minister should advance that argument because it is time to do so. I will return to that.
The fascinating idea of an audit of the state of the nation based on natural wealth, with an annual report, and with the EFRA Committee playing a scrutiny role, was, the Minister will be intrigued to know, part of a conversation that took place in discussions with the former Secretary of State. We frequently asked, “What comes beyond Pavan Sukhdev and TEEB? What comes beyond the internal work that we have been doing? What is the next stage?” If it is to be embedded in Government, it cannot be in DEFRA alone; that point is well made.
The hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) rightly mentioned the importance of community engagement and education. It is very often the simple, immediately identifiable natural phenomenon that can do that. I recall visiting a school just outside Newcastle early in my tenure as a Minister, where we were looking at the reintroduction of the red kite. It was being reintroduced not to a completely rural environment, but to an urban-rural mix. I had not seen a single red kite and came out of the school thinking that it was going to be a classic ministerial visit; they had brought me all the way up there to see it and I was going to have to say how impressed I was, but I had not seen a darn thing. The school had branded itself round the red kite and the kids understood—they get it in a way that an earlier generation has not quite. As I walked out of that school door on the way back, five of the magnificent red kites were swirling around in the air outside. Whether it be the red Kite or the blue iguana in the Cayman Islands, such events bring it home to me that single species can transform people’s understanding of the importance of biodiversity in the natural environment. They can also lead to habitat recreation and so on. It is a virtuous circle. We need to start with young people and community engagement.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) made a good contribution. I had never heard of the Teesdale array but I am glad that I have now. She reminded us of the intrinsic value of species. That briefly takes me back to the contribution made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) when he, as Secretary of State, announced the opening of the South Downs national park, the final bolt in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. I spoke just before him and I was like the greased mechanic in the bonnet talking about the nuts and bolts and how it had happened and so on. While I had spoken in prose, he got up and spoke in poetry and reminded us what it was about: the joy, the experience, the benefits for many people who will never see some of the species we are talking about. The fact that they are there is important. That has to be balanced against finding a way for policy makers and decision makers to see tangibly what that value is. How does one express that in decision making, so that Ministers, civil servants and international organisations can make sense of it and base decisions on it?
My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland also reminded us of the importance of volunteers and the great tradition of enthusiastic amateurs, in monitoring, recording and protecting our flora and fauna. She finished neatly by reminding us of that very good RSPB campaign, “Don’t Cut the Countryside”. I know that the Minister will be aware of it and will return in his closing remarks to how we can avoid that cut.
I welcome the Minister’s opening remarks to the effect that this does not have to be a matter of the economy or the environment. It is a matter of putting the triangle together: the economy, the environment and communities—national and international—and making sure that they are all delivered, at least in this international year of biodiversity.
The Minister noted the progress that has been made in some areas on SSSIs and on some of the UK species. He also rightly noted the accelerated loss of biodiversity as we run up to the countdown to 2010 and what will come after. He also rightly reminded us of the £42 billion cost per year in biodiversity loss. That is as real for us in developed nations as it is for poorer countries. We need to do something about the issue of access and benefit sharing, which is one of the pieces of unfinished business of Copenhagen, going into Nagoya. We need to find the right mechanism by which we can share the benefits that can accrue from sustainable exploitation of that natural wealth.
With regard to the CSR, I will go through some detailed and some big points, in as helpful a way as possible. I know that neither the Minister nor the Secretary of State intends to be the one who sacrifices natural wealth and environment on the altar of austerity. I welcome the Minister’s opening comments because I do not think he intends to be that person. The environment, the economy, society and communities go together. May he be the Minister who brings them together, domestically and internationally, within the UK Government and international institutions.
In a very good contribution, the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) reinforced the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North and also rightly said that the tools we employ are not sophisticated enough; I will return to that. In a way that was slightly prickly and defensive, the hon. Gentleman perhaps glossed over, or was a little begrudging about, the contribution of the previous Government in moving this agenda forward. I think we moved it forward significantly, hence the nature and tone of this debate. It is now a matter of what the next steps are. Let me go back to the launch of the discussion document on the natural environment White Paper.
I want to clarify one thing. I accept fully that a great deal of thinking has been invested by Members of various parties over the past few years. My criticism of the previous Government is that the conclusions—the result of that thinking—were never properly woven into the process of government. In other words, decisions were being taken on a routine basis that utterly failed to take into account any of the real value of the natural world. That is what we have to change. We need to take the thinking that has happened across the board over the past few years and mainstream it into the heart of Government. That is what I hope our new Government will do, with the help of the Minister we have here using his influence within the Treasury.
I share that aspiration; I really hope the new Government do that. I would only remind the hon. Gentleman that for the crops that come to fruition under this Government, a lot of the hard work on tilling the ground has already been done. But it was done on a cross-party basis and with a lot of support from external organisations, which have generated and brought forward the ideas that we have worked on. We will do this together, one way or another, because the issues we are discussing are bigger than party politics. We often say that, but it is true. Climate change is one of those issues; biodiversity is another. I want to discuss how we bring those together and stop one being to the exclusion or domination of the other.
At the launch of the consultation, the Secretary of State said:
“We want everyone to contribute their views on the natural environment, whether they're concerned at the plight of the songbirds in their garden, the quality of air in their town, flooding problems worsened by people paving over their gardens or the fate of our wider countryside. We have the opportunity to be the generation that puts a stop to the piecemeal degradation of our natural environment.”
She went on to say:
“This discussion document will allow everyone to shape the White Paper, in a Big Society approach to policy making so that together we can aim to halt this decline and recognise that nature is our ultimate producer and supplier.”
That is excellent, but what we are looking for now, as the consultation proceeds, is much more specific detail. To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Richmond Park, we need to convert that rhetoric into tangible measures, so that we have the detail on how economic issues globally and locally will not push aside the environment, particularly this year.
The importance of biodiversity has already been stressed, but we have had difficulty getting across to the general public and other less disinterested observers what we mean by biodiversity. When we talk about ecosystem services, in simple terms we mean the quality of our clean water. Natural filtration from a good water system means that we do not have to spend a hell of a lot of taxpayers’ money on treating the water. With farming, if we do not have good soil quality and properly functioning soil with good bacteria and fungi—as opposed to a sterile environment—agricultural production will dramatically decrease year on year. If we do not have the insects, bats and birds adequately to pollinate our crops, both here and internationally, we will see a reduction in the number of plants pollinated and a negative impact on both agriculture and flora biodiversity. One other aspect, which dramatically brings the point home to a lay person, is that something in excess of 40% of anti-cancer drugs come from natural sources. If we continue to lose biodiversity at the current rate, we will lose some of the solutions to some of our significant human-centred problems, which is why we have to address the matter.
The threats are immense, among them the introduction of alien species, habitat loss and degradation, threats to species, over-exploitation or inappropriate exploitation of resources, and human-induced climate change. So, why should we be bothered? We should be bothered because we need to protect these healthy ecosystems for our well-being, for purely self-centred reasons if nothing else—if not for the intrinsic benefits, then for the extrinsic ones. We should be bothered because of the quality of our goods and services: the fresh water, the marine fisheries, the cleansing of atmospheric pollutants, the protection from natural hazards, the pest control and the pollination of our crops.
But we should also be bothered because of the stability of ecosystems. We have increasingly come to learn in recent years that when we lose biodiversity, we lose the ability of our natural ecosystems to resist biological shocks, such as hurricanes and floods, as we have seen only too recently. An important thing that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North and which we need to emphasise is that while we face some implications of this degradation of the natural environment in the UK, the most significant visitations are on the very poor, very often in developing countries.
Let me first deal quickly with some detail. The Minister will be told afterwards by his officials that this is a classic Irranca-Davies approach, that I go through 101 things that I hope will help but then zone in on just two or three important issues. That approach is genuinely meant to be helpful. If the Minister cannot answer everything today, I would be very happy for him to write to me and to Members who have taken part in the debate.
First, there is the issue of access and benefit sharing. How do we bring progress forward on that? This is a classic illustration of something that we had moved on very far and had immense discussions on, but on which we had not had the breakthrough. What can the Minister do during his tenure, including in the important summits that are coming up, to push that agenda forward, with the help of the Secretary of State? Mention was made of the Lawton review. What role will national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest—including both those that have progressed and those in the buffer zones—have in contributing to biodiversity within the UK, in not only stopping the loss but reversing it?
It was good to hear the Minister mention the BioBlitz, but what do we have beyond that? How are our biodiversity action plans within the UK progressing, and what more will be done, particularly at the end of this international year of biodiversity? What is the next stage? How do we keep the momentum going? How do we roll things out, so that the very good examples in some regions and areas are spread right across the UK?
The Minister and I often debate reform of the common fisheries policy, and we have broadly the same approach to it, as we have to many issues. I simply urge him not to capitulate but to carry on with the work that has already been done and get the CFP reform. Many members of the public often miss this point entirely, but the reform is vital for marine biodiversity. If we get it right, we can really assist the general health of our seas. The reform needs to be grounded in sound scientific advice, based on a proper ecosystem approach, sustainable fishery yields and multi-species analysis, multi-annual plans and sea-scale plans, not on the traditional approach that we have had through our European Councils of individual plans for individual species, with some species being covered and others not, and the interrelation between them not being considered at all.
The Minister has very good people in his Department, and we have had very good engagement with colleagues in Scotland and elsewhere. We need to keep on pushing very hard on the reform—the UK is leading in this area. We never get everything that we want, but we need to be the country that leads this debate and gets a very good outcome for its marine areas. As I have said, it is important that fisheries are seen not only as fisheries but as part of overall marine management and conservation. Global management of fisheries is also an important issue in the debate, given the scale of the problem right across the world.
Will the Minister in his response, or in writing, state what further work he will do on the issue of bluefin tuna? I know that he played a good hand—we tried to do our best as well—but this is still in many ways unfinished business. One opportunity has been missed, not through lack of effort but simply through lack of ability to get people to agree a way forward. Is the Minister still committed to the idea of the largest marine fish that we have—that iconic species—having an appendix 1 listing in the convention on international trade in endangered species? That would move the debate on significantly and show real leadership. Alternatively, is there another way forward?
My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland talked about the uplands, peat degradation and the importance of farming. We agree very much, as I know the Minister and colleagues here will, that the stewardship of much of the land in this country is in the hands of those who either own or farm the land—tenants or landowners—and that is absolutely right. However, we were pushing very hard within the Department not only on the uplands entry-level stewardship scheme but on the higher-level stewardship scheme, because those higher-end schemes are the most important ones. They give real additionality, way beyond what is already being done. Sometimes they are trickier for the individual on the ground to implement, but for the hon. Gentleman as a Minister, us as a country and this debate on developing natural wealth, they are the most important. Perhaps the Minister cannot give me an answer today, but I strongly urge him not to give way on those higher-end countryside stewardship schemes. They are vital because they set the standard to which we should aspire. I am sure that there is Treasury pressure to look for some cost-cutting here, but that is really difficult because the schemes set the highest standard to which we should aspire for the uplands.
The Minister also mentioned the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, and I welcome his commitment to that. That agreement was hard-won and not uncontroversial, going as it did for a voluntary approach rather than a regulatory one, but let me put this question firmly to him. Following all the discussion that we have had on biodiversity—often in terms of flora biodiversity and the farmland bird index, in relation to farming—is the Minister confident that in the coming years, as we look at the roll-out of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and at the buy-in from agronomists, farmers and landowners, we will be in a position effectively to monitor and measure what is happening on the ground, that we have the right measures in place, and that whatever streamlining there is of the number of people visiting farms, that monitoring is going on? Without such monitoring, we will have nothing to measure; we will not know whether we are successful. We must find a way to deliver on that without over-regulation and additional burdens of bureaucracy. Moreover, it must be credible that it is being delivered effectively, not only to the farming community and landowners, but to non-governmental organisations outside. My concern, echoed by a number of groups, is that there might be some denuding of the monitoring and evaluation of our farming stewardship and of various other schemes, including the voluntary one.
I welcome the Minister’s commitment to the roll-out of marine coastal zones and marine protected area networks. Stick at that. I strongly support what he is doing in that area. I look forward to the delivery of these wildlife corridors, stepping stones and buffer areas that are mentioned in the White Paper and the consultation document. They refer not just to undesignated areas, but to the linkages between them. Such developments will enhance the ability of our wildlife and habitats to migrate, which they may need to do not just because of development pressures but because of the impact of climate change, which is having an effect on our wildlife as we speak.
Further work must be done on non-native and invasive species as well. I should welcome an update in writing on how the trials are going with Aphalara itadori, one of the first invasive species that we introduced. We hope that it is a nice sort of invasive, and that it will effectively tackle nasty invasives. I have not heard anything about those trials for some time, so it would be good to have an update.
One critical issue relates to the quality of water and the water framework directive. I suspect that the big society will strongly come into play here. I will be interested to see how the Department can square the circle given the financial pressures that it is under. We knew that the secret behind the water framework directive’s ability to improve not just the water quality but the ecological quality of the water and the species that are within it was always going to depend on partnerships—river catchment partnerships, angling societies or people just buying in to the scheme. The Environment Agency cannot solve the problem on its own, so this will be a real test of the big society. We cannot walk away from our commitments. This is not a Brussels-led, top-down bureaucratic mess, but a genuine right-minded aspiration to ensure that we have not just clean water but a multiplicity of species and flora and fauna within our rivers to the higher reaches. I welcome the Minister’s initial thoughts on how we will achieve that.
Government procurement within Departments is also important for biodiversity whether it is through the use of legal sustainable timber or other such things. I should welcome an update on that.
As for international wildlife crime, we know that there is a multi-billion pound annual trade in prohibited species. Will the Minister give us an update on the individual species that are in the public domain at the moment, which includes tigers. A hard line was taken under the previous Government on ivory trading. Does that still hold or are there nuances that we should know about? Moreover, I should like to hear about the commitment domestically to the wildlife crime unit, which does sterling work. The former Home Office Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), and I visited the unit and saw what it was doing on the ground in the UK. It requires a Government commitment and a small element of funding to keep it going. One thing it was admired for was its specific focus on wildlife crime, which was pushed up the agenda of many individual police forces across the country, but still more work needs to be done there.
I have mentioned the Darwin initiative already. Stick with it because it goes a long way for very little investment. I also urge the Government to continue promoting eco-tourism, which covers whale watching and other forms of wildlife enjoyment, with our colleagues in Norway, Iceland and elsewhere. That has to be the way forward—we are not killing the wildlife, but snapping it on our cameras and enjoying it for its intrinsic merit and beauty.
My final point on the detail relates to peat extraction. That is an enormously complex issue, because we cannot isolate UK peat extraction from the extraction that is carried out internationally. Different countries have different objectives and uses for the peat that is extracted. We tend to use it in horticultural, industrial and garden-based products. We said that we wanted to move away from peat extraction much faster, and there is still more work to be done. I am sure that hon. Members here today are interested to hear what the next stages will be. It is not an easy task, but it needs to be addressed.
After that wealth of detail that I have thrown at the Minister, I shall now turn to the big questions. Before I do, let me say—the Minister will know this—that the issue of biodiversity runs not just through his portfolio but across everything. It cannot be isolated into one area.
One of my first big question relates to an issue that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North. What measures will we be passed that take us on to the next step and that build on the work of ecosystem valuation through TEEB—“The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity”? How will we embed that aim in Government? Some fascinating options have been put forward by GLOBE and other organisations, but the secret is to place the whole matter not in DEFRA but in mainstream Government. What could be more mainstream than the Treasury? I have no doubt that the opposition to that will be immense, but what would be better than having a far-sighted Minister and Secretary of State who were willing to take the fight on? They may not succeed in six months, a year or even 18 months, but they can start doing the work now, because it really is possible, and it is the logical next stage. We should be looking at not just the pure, arithmetical economic wealth, GDP and GNP of the country, but what is happening to the natural wealth of this country and we should give it the same ultimate credibility. If we can encourage that to happen internationally, heaven help us, we would have really got to the holy grail.
Secondly, what can the Minister and the Secretary of State do to bring biodiversity and climate change together with equal priority on the national and international agenda? What arguments will he use to articulate that and to persuade international colleagues to recognise it? For too long, the focus has been very much on climate change, with biodiversity as something of a side show. Both need to be together because they are so intimately interlinked.
Thirdly, I return to the issue of measuring and monitoring. Has the Minister the confidence that in the next six months or two years, we in the UK will have not only an adequate set of measures that we should be monitoring, but the mechanisms to do that, as well as the people on the ground? We need credible, adequate measures so that we know what is happening. That will be an issue for the Government’s big society, and a tangible test of whether it works. So much had been done already; DEFRA was very good at engaging with the third sector and voluntary organisations. If that is the way forward, it will have to be asked to do a heck of a lot more. There is also a role for Government in coming up with creative solutions to the many challenges that face us and showing leadership. I am sure that the Minister is up to that. If he and the Secretary of State can show us that the leadership is there on those three big issues, we will be applauding by the end of this Government.
I am glad that I have just under two hours to respond to the many and diverse points that have been made this afternoon in what has been a fantastically useful debate. It has unlocked some of the talent that we have in this place, across the House, on these important issues. I will respond in as much detail as I can provide to the points that have been raised and if I cannot respond now, that is either because I cannot speak about financial matters with as much willingness as I would like until after 20 October or because I do not know the answer, in which case I will write to the hon. Member concerned.
I want to start by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) for what I thought was a very powerful speech, which established the absolute importance of knowing, first of all, where we are on biodiversity. We cannot measure whether we are continuing to see a decline in biodiversity, holding the line or reversing that decline unless we know where we are. There are all sorts of indicators that we use to measure diversity, but they are relatively blunt tools; I am the first to admit that. I think that there are wider measures that we need to apply.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the need to value natural capital. When we talk about our natural environment White Paper or our passion for this subject, some people nod and think, “Oh, good, here’s a Minister or here’s a Department that values our natural environment in the general sense,” and I say, “No, we are actually talking about real value, in the economic sense.” Until we do that, we will not get to where we need to be and I am grateful for suggestions about how to embed the valuation of natural capital into Government decision making.
That is precisely the type of issue that the Secretary of State will be discussing with other Environment Ministers in New York next week, to bring together ideas and initiatives for embedding the valuation of biodiversity and ecosystems across government. It is also a theme that we will take forward in our thinking in the White Paper.
The hon. Gentleman and others, including the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), made the point that the impoverishment of our natural environment hits worst those who are least able to deal with it the poorest. That is why this issue is not something for some leafy backwater of Government; it is absolutely at the heart of every single Department.
If our constituents are concerned about the pressures of international migration, they should be interested that we are supporting forests, environments and ecosystems that will sustain agriculture and life, and they should also be interested that the marine environment is sustained in parts of the world where it is currently being degraded at an alarming rate. They should be interested because that environmental degradation puts pressure on societies such as ours, both through migration and the impending catastrophe that is a war brought about by poverty and all the other related pressures. So this issue of biodiversity is absolutely at the heart of everything that we are talking about; issues do not get much more important than biodiversity.
Given what the Minister has just said, he will perhaps reflect on the fact that, in the horn of Africa, we have seen what are often referred to as the first climate change wars. The desertification that has gone on there has seen the collapse of civil society and spawned the lawlessness that has given rise to piracy on the high seas around the horn of Africa. From that perspective, we see countries such as our own and the US, and international shipping generally, spending millions of pounds in that region on insuring ships and providing navies to escort and safeguard ships in that region. Yet we spend nothing, relatively, on sorting out the ecological and environmental problem of the desertification that has caused that piracy in the first place. Does he not agree that that is the case?
As before, the hon. Gentleman has got it exactly right. Elsewhere in Parliament, Members are debating the strategic defence and security review. Part of that review involves how we will fund the type of operations being carried out in the seas off the horn of Africa. It is precisely because fisheries in those seas and agricultural systems in the region have been degraded, as well as the fact that the governance that supports a civilised society has been allowed to collapse in that region, that we now have to spend millions of pounds every year as part of an international campaign to counter that issue of piracy.
On that point, has the Minister been able to discuss the environmental causes of poverty with the Secretary of State for International Development? Given that the international development budget is one of the few that will be largely unaffected by the cuts—at least we think that is the case—it seems to me that there is huge potential to transform completely the way in which, historically, that money has been spent. We should start focusing it on tackling real environmental sources of poverty—for example, restoring forests to boost the water table and to stop women having to walk 5 miles to get water, or restoring fisheries to revitalise fishing communities, and so on. If the Secretary of State for International Development was to put much greater emphasis on the environmental causes of poverty, I believe that we might see some real progress in tackling these huge issues.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs regularly meets the Secretary of State for International Development, but last week she met him and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. They were talking about sustainability and they are going to New York next week to talk about the millennium development goals. We cannot achieve those goals unless we have sustainability at the heart of our actions.
My hon. Friend points out, quite rightly, that one can achieve quick wins in international development: we can have a gift from the people of Britain of a pump that is put on some giant structure that perhaps pumps thousands of gallons of water every day into some irrigation system. However, we could have a much more sustainable solution, which provides a better deal for the British taxpayer as well as for that environment, by protecting the ecosystem that provides the water in the first place. I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but that point must be understood across Government and that is why sustainability must be at the heart of our actions.
The hon. Member for Brent North also touched on the issue of coastal erosion. He talked about coastal erosion in the gulf of Mexico, but I saw coastal erosion nearer to home last week, or the week before—the weeks are merging into one at the moment. I went to Norfolk and Suffolk and saw for myself what is a quite—I use my words carefully—frightening prospect for communities living in that area. During the last 50 years, the collective class of politicians has been party to a slight con of the people in certain coastal areas of Britain, in arguing that this concept of “holding the line” is achievable amid the modern pressures of our economy. The idea that we can ring large parts of our coast with constructions of steel and concrete for ever more—that is just not going to happen. Therefore, we must certainly develop innovative financial solutions to hold the line where we can, but we must also look at some of the sustainable solutions that the hon. Gentleman was discussing, such as salt flats, mudflats and other constructions that work. There is wonderful work going on and I am really impressed by the people that I meet in the Environment Agency and in the Department who completely get the necessity of taking that route.
The hon. Gentleman also talked about measuring cost, which was also touched on by the hon. Member for Ogmore, who speaks from their party’s Front Bench, in relation to eco-tourism. To a brutally simplistic economist advising a Japanese whaling company, the value of a whale would be calculated in terms of the value of the product as against the cost of harvesting that animal in whatever part of the seas it is found, and the cost of the fuel for the ship. However, if we compare that with the value of that animal as a global eco-tourism resource, we see that there is no viability in whaling at all. Whaling can survive only with huge investments from Governments to support the few jobs that remain in the industry. That was brought home to me very clearly when I went to the International Whaling Commission in Agadir. The number of species, including whales, and the scale of the fish stocks that we manage to maintain in our oceans are also indicators of the general state of the seas. Therefore, the issues that the hon. Gentlemen covered are incredibly important.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) put a local perspective on the importance of engaging local people, which is vital. In our structural reform plan, our business plan for the Department, we said that we will work with the Department for Communities and Local Government to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities. As we develop housing, we must understand that we can build an enormous number of benefits into new housing schemes—sustainable drainage systems, green open spaces or a conservation credit system—to replace the biodiversity lost due to the creation of those communities. Ultimately, though, it is the constituents and the people who live in our communities whose well-being it is in all our interests to maintain. Therefore, the right environment is vital, and he is right to raise the issue.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) made a powerful plea in support of plants as an important part of biodiversity. Too often, we think of biodiversity in terms of fur and feather. She is absolutely right that plants are intrinsically important. I went to the natural history museum within days of my appointment, and was shown the mind map that is biodiversity. Mammals are a tiny part of it. Compared with fungi and plant life, we are a small part of that great picture. The hon. Lady is right: that is why the millennium seed bank is important. We should all feel proud that it is based here in Britain.
I can give the hon. Lady the comfort that one part of the conservation zeitgeist in Britain at the moment is landscape-scale conservation. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds cares about that, and it is the purpose of areas of outstanding natural beauty, national parks and wildlife trusts. It draws together key areas with farmland in between and does conservation work on that scale. That is how to succeed, and how the plants that she talks about will be protected.
The hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Ongar mentioned peat, which is important to the Government. I recently visited the Peak District national park and saw the impressive peat restoration project there. I had not understood how degraded the peat had become due to the effects of a century or more of pollution, or what work, skills and technologies were involved in the vital job of protecting it.
At the other end of the argument, it is vital that we consider the market for peat and ensure that it is sustainable. The quick win is getting companies such as B&Q to use man-made products; it is the smaller companies, the local garage and other such outlets selling peat that must be worked on. We love having summits; I hope that they are summits with a purpose. We are having a peat summit at which we will get together with all the companies that sell peat to ensure that we drive forward that vital agenda.
May I suggest that, as part of that peat summit or an extension of it, the Minister engages with his ministerial colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and elsewhere? One opportunity in a transfer from traditional peat extractive industries to industries based on substitute products, if it is done in a joined-up way, is that we can create and lead in the European market a new industry involving green environmental substitutes for peat. That is a great opportunity for UK plc and British industry, but it cannot be left to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs alone; it will require engagement with other Departments.
I agree entirely. That is where Government and local government can lead. It can be written into section 106 agreements that green spaces will be maintained in an environmentally friendly way, including the use of such products. That will create a market that can be developed so the cost base comes down, and people can start to make the right choice when purchasing fuel.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland and others mentioned the uplands. They are a matter of absolute importance to us, as is the support that we can provide to those who manage them—the people who live and work in some of the most hostile climates in this country—and maintain them for the benefit of us all. The Minister of State—my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice)—and I are working closely on policies that will support the uplands, and we will make an announcement in the near future.
One concern doing the rounds of the rumour mill here is that higher-level stewardship might not be part of those considerations any more. If the Government are so minded—I do not expect the Minister to tell me today whether HLS will continue—will he give a commitment that whatever schemes come after it will deliver at least the benefits of existing schemes? Otherwise, we will go backwards in terms of biodiversity.
I wish that I could answer that question precisely, but until I am 101% certain, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the reply that he deserves. However, we value HLS and understand its importance, and I hope to be able to satisfy his concerns in the near future.
To reinforce what I know is the consensus here on the importance of uplands management, it may be useful in discussions if the Minister asks his civil servants to prepare a document along the lines of the valuation of natural capital, which we discussed earlier, that includes a precise valuation from a tourism and aesthetic point of view, as well as other elements, of natural capital valuation. Those are the arguments that will have to be weighed in the Treasury, as we all understand, so those methods can be used to protect an incredibly important subsidy scheme for farmers and keep some of the most important hill farmers going.
I entirely understand that point, but we cannot support HLS to the exclusion of other systems. The benefit of entry-level stewardship is that it is done over a lot of space. Others have spoken today about the need for connectivity between our natural sites; agricultural land is the key to getting that right. It is important to get the balance right. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I hear the points that have been made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) spoke in support of the points made by the hon. Member for Brent North, and noted, as I have done, the important work being done with farmers by water companies. That has been a revelation to me, and I have started to think about how it can be extended. I applaud the water companies that are doing such work for showing us how caring for the natural environment saves the taxpayer from having to build large constructions, nitrate-stripping plants and so on. Ultimately, too, the customer gets better-quality water at less cost, the environment is protected and the farmer is rewarded. It is an entirely virtuous circle for ecosystems, and I am slightly incredulous that I did not twig earlier in life that that is obviously the way forward. I applaud those doing it.
The hon. Member for Ongar mentioned the Darwin initiative—
I will try the English version. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Darwin initiative. I spoke about it earlier, and I know of its value. In my conversation with Professor Macdonald, I discussed things that I had seen in parts of the world where there is great pressure between local people and certain species that we in the west might value, such as elephants, large cats and tigers. We need to lever funding to encourage local people to value those species, rather than see them as a threat to their existence. That is very much the case with elephants in northern Kenya, for example, where group ranching schemes can be operated with local people. Such schemes allow local people to get value from tolerating those animals. Those are the sorts of things that the Darwin initiative has been particularly good at, and I want to see it do such things in future.
There has been much talk today about the Treasury. My experience of those who work in the Treasury is that they are very warm and cuddly souls who have nothing but the milk of human kindness flowing in their veins, so I hope that some of the apocalyptic views of the future of funding will not come to pass. Ultimately, it comes down to how these matters are viewed at the highest levels in Government, and the issues of the natural environment and biodiversity are absolutely at the core of the highest levels of this Government. In our Department, those issues are part of our three main areas of priority.
Some of today’s comments have been about how to get across the message on biodiversity, and how we brand it in a way that people understand. I was very taken by the words of Jonathon Porritt, who some years ago admitted that if the green movement has a problem it is that it can be unutterably miserable about the prospects for our globe, planet, society and existence. He said that if the green movement could be more optimistic, it might be listened to by more people. That was very self-effacing and courageous. If we try to communicate the problems about biodiversity purely by saying that the situation is miserable and terrible things are happening, it becomes a weight on people’s shoulders that, in their busy lives, they do not want to bother with. We need to make people feel close to the issue and encourage them to become involved with it—whether that is with the local countryside around where they live, or through concern for an international species that is under threat or the marine environment where they go on holiday. Those are the sort of drivers that will be much more effective in unleashing the undoubted enthusiasm that exists in society for this key cornerstone of our existence.
The hon. Member for Ogmore talked about his experience on ministerial visits. I had a fascinating visit to Bristol where, just a few yards from 500,000 people, I saw some plants being protected that do not exist anywhere else within the Avon gorge, and I was practically dive-bombed by a peregrine. All of that existence was being maintained locally by enthusiastic volunteers, a committed local authority, and government in the form of Natural England and others doing their bit and working together. I completely understand the need for partnership. I also understand the importance of uniting the environment, the economy and society in one concept to deal with the issue.
I will now tackle the specific questions that the hon. Member for Ogmore put to me. We very much hope that the issues of access and benefit sharing can be taken forward at Nagoya. That is an absolute priority. Some people are depressed about the prospects for Nagoya, but that should not mean that we do not try our hardest. We do not want a clash between the developed world, the fast-developing world and the developing world, which is way behind. That dynamic is not insurmountable; we can find a way through. I welcome the fact that a number of different people are going there. I also welcome the fact that GLOBE is so much at the centre of trying to push the concept of doing the work set out in TEEB, and of putting the issues of biodiversity, ecosystems, and green accounting—valuing our natural environment—at the heart of Government.
On Lawton, I share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm. National parks and AONBs all have a role in our campaign to reverse the decline in biodiversity. That will be absolutely vital for a host of organisations, including those that are voluntary or member-led—the National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts, small local groups and many more. I look forward to hearing what Sir John says in his report and I applaud the work that he and others have done. I have seen at first hand—well, through a video link—a BioBlitz in Bristol. They are very impressive. It was truly impressive to see young people engaged in that way.
The hon. Gentleman wants to know how we are going to take the matter forward and whether at the end of the international year of biodiversity we are going to forget all about it. No, we are not. He and others would not let me, and we would not want to. It is very important that we build up a head of steam through the international and national work that is taking place, particularly through our White Paper. We can carry that forward and translate it into real, positive action on the ground. That head of steam, or wave of enthusiasm, will not be allowed to diminish.
The Minister will know that the bulk of Britain’s biodiversity is not within these islands; it is within our overseas territories. Will he give a commitment that the White Paper will include a very clear focus on the work that we need to do in those international territories? Our responsibilities for biodiversity do not stop at these shores or at the 12-mile limit; they go right across the oceans and islands of this world, because of the commitments we have in those overseas territories.
I am well aware of the importance of our overseas territories. The RSPB and others are campaigning hard. Work is being done in places such as Tristan da Cunha and other islands, some of which the hon. Gentleman referred to. I am not entirely certain how that matter will be structured within the White Paper on the natural environment, but I will certainly take his thoughts back to the team. We are conscious of the importance of our responsibilities beyond, as he says, the 12-mile limit.
I hope that the hon. Member for Ogmore thinks that we are continuing the good work that he was doing on common fisheries policy reform. The difference this time around is that we are pushing at an open door with the Commission. Local control is what is needed. We need an ecosystem basis for assessing the matter in the round. It is absolutely vital that there is marine planning, which we are undertaking at the moment, and that a holistic view of our marine environment is taken. There needs to be an end to silo thinking—whether that is by species, geography or sectoral interest. Such an approach has to go; it is in the past. He is right: there are some good people in the Department working on this. We, too, will be working with the devolved Governments to ensure such an approach.
As the hon. Gentleman said, there are global management responsibilities when it comes to fishing. I am keen to support the pan-African agreement on fisheries and to support communities because, as we were discussing, if we allow their fisheries to collapse, we will all feel the impact. If we were to encourage aquaculture that did not take a sustainable approach, we could be diminishing tilapia stocks in other countries, which could have a disastrous effect on their economies. That is just one example.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned uplands. I have already said that of course we value uplands as precious habitats. We understand the importance of schemes that have supported them in the past and that will do so in the future. On the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, the previous Government made the right decision to take a voluntary approach. We have to ensure that we can deliver on that, as must the farmers. They are at the heart of the programme, with the National Farmers Union and other landowning interests, such as the Country Land and Business Association. We will work closely with them. Are we confident that we can measure those benefits? That is something I am determined will come out of the White Paper on the natural environment. I want to ensure that we have a clear way of measuring the benefits that will undoubtedly come out of the programme.
One word that I believe is important is “outcomes”. I want us to be completely driven by the need for outcomes. Enormous amounts of public money can be put into the hands of farmers and other organisations, but although they might be doing good work by creating habitats in their areas, they could be ignoring some factor, meaning that we are not fledging more farmland birds or creating more invertebrate habitats. It is so important that an outcomes approach is at the heart of our thinking.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned non-native and invasive species. I, too, hope that the introduction of psyllids will be a success; I have read the report of a recent debate on that in the House of Lords. I know that the scientific work testing whether it is the right approach is at an advanced stage and hope that we can find a natural way to deal with harmful invasive species.
On the water framework directive, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that a partnership approach is the way forward. Lord Smith, from the Environment Agency, and I discussed that this morning and are taking forward a variety of ideas. River trusts are full of enthusiastic, knowledgeable and committed people, and I want to harness their enthusiasm, along with that of a range of other people who are interested in rivers, whether they are anglers, naturalists or people who want to watch otters, for example. Everyone should feel a sense of ownership of not only the narrow stream of their river, but the entire catchment. Engaging that enthusiasm when providing governance for our rivers as we implement the water framework directive will be absolutely key.
I agree with the gist of what the Minister is saying. I think that the first tranche of the river catchment management plans were right in their approach and ambition, although we would have liked to have seen a little more ambition. However, they were met with some caution because they did not go far enough. The previous Government would have faced the difficulty of finding out how to do even more, and the Minister now faces the challenge of doing even more—we all agree that we need to move up the scale, logarithmically, on water quality—with less. Can he say with confidence that, whatever way he cuts it, whether through partnership or whatever, the outcomes approach he talked about will be apparent, so that we deliver huge, tangible improvements over the next five to 10 years not only in water quality, but in the ecology of those river systems?
I am prepared to say that we can. I have dealt at great length with a variety of people and organisations over the past few months to see how we can move forward in the important direction in which the directive takes us. Whether or not we had a directive, that is a route that we would take anyway. The hon. Gentleman will know that we face judicial review over certain aspects of it, but I want to go beyond the point of lining the pockets of lawyers, and instead work with organisations, such as those taking that legal route, to ensure that we achieve what we all want: a much better ecology for our rivers. In recent years we got to grips with point source pollution, and credit for that is due to the previous Government, but the big challenge now is to deal with diffuse pollution, which is not easy.
On the illegal trade in protected species, we have carried forward the previous Government’s work in a variety of ways. We are determined that the UK should not be a hub for the activities of criminals who trade in illegal products from endangered species. Where we find that products suddenly have new value, there will be stiff action. The hon. Gentleman will have seen that we recently signed an order that seriously limits the trade in old rhino products. The mounted head of a rhino hanging on someone’s wall, which could have been shot 60 or 70 years ago, could now be of huge value in international sales, so we have banned the sale of those products unless an extremely good case can be made for it leaving the country. There is much evidence to prove that such products are being used in the illegal medicines trade, as is the case for ivory.
I recently met the secretary-general of CITES—the convention on international trade in endangered species—who was very supportive of our national wildlife crime unit’s enforcement work. He gave me an indication of the international nature of the trade and how it is important to work in partnerships, and the European Union is important in that regard. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are no less determined. I hope to go out with the national wildlife crime unit and to assist it in feeling a collar or two in the near future.
The hon. Gentleman asked what units of measurement will be used. Those will be developed, and there will be no secret in our processes for doing so. If he or others want to contribute to how we do that, they will be welcome. We will be building on the work of Pavan Sukhdev and TEEB and developing that through the White Paper. Hopefully, by next spring the hon. Gentleman will have an indication of how we can do that. The benefit is that we can start to develop concepts such as conservation credits, which could have a huge benefit in preventing biodiversity loss.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the place of climate change and biodiversity on the international agenda. Next week I will attend the OSPAR convention, and climate change and biodiversity will be at the centre of what we will say when working with partners in that forum and in the EU. I hope that I have indicated today that we will push those ideas forward next week in New York, next month in Nagoya and in any international environment we can.
One of the big-picture issues that the Minister has not fully addressed is where to go from here, in terms of the mechanisms of government. Perhaps I could offer a practical way forward, if he would agree to meet me, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), who has experience of the matter, and perhaps the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). I appreciate that that is at Secretary-of-State level, but it would be good to have the opportunity to push the boat out a little further. I am sure that that is not going to come through in its entirety in the White Paper, but it is something that we should be doing over the next couple of years, and we have to start that process.
I am grateful for that offer. I will certainly talk with anyone about that, particularly those who have had experience in government. We are still relative newcomers at looking at the machinery of government from the inside, so any assistance that the hon. Gentleman or others can give would be much appreciated. I sense that there is a determination and a real interest at the top of the Government to try to take those ideas forward, so we will work together on that.
The loss of biodiversity, the degradation of the environment and ecosystems, and the need to adapt to and mitigate climate change are the global challenges of our age. International agreement on the successor to the 2010 biodiversity target must be secured. The existing target has galvanised action across the world by Governments and NGOs to tackle the most urgent problems. We cannot afford to lose momentum and must all redouble our efforts to achieve success under a new target.
Question put and agreed to.