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Nature and Climate Declaration

Volume 722: debated on Wednesday 9 November 2022

[JAMES GRAY in the Chair]

2.30 pm

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Government support for a nature and climate declaration.

Sir James, I am not sure—

Order. This is the second week in which people keep addressing me as “Sir James”; unfortunately, Her Majesty did not knight me, so I am just Mr Gray, if that is all right.

Sorry, Mr Gray; I exceeded my area of responsibility.

I am not sure that I have brought any subject to the House without having been petitioned by a constituent. In this instance, I have been petitioned by many of my constituents and by many town and parish councils. They have urged me to raise the issue of nature and climate, and they have been particularly keen to secure my backing for the nature and climate declaration.

I do know for sure what my fellow parliamentarians got up to over the weekend, but I suspect that many of us attended church services in our constituencies to mark the beginning of COP27. I was pleased to join members of the congregation at Madron church on Saturday afternoon as the church bells were rung out to welcome COP27. The service began with a reading of an old and simple psalm:

“The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.”

It seems to me that those words are a helpful reminder that we are simply caretakers and guardians of the planet we are so fortunate to live on.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have this debate at a time when the United Nations are meeting in Egypt for COP27. I am pleased to contribute, in some small way, to the effort to get back on track on the road to net zero following the severe disruption of the covid pandemic, the race to build back after it, and the current devastating impact of Russia’s evil war against Ukraine and the resulting global crisis in energy and food security.

This debate and the declaration itself support efforts to deliver on a commitment that we made in the Paris agreement, which was ratified in 2016. We committed to affirm

“the importance of education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information and co-operation at all levels on the matters addressed in this Agreement.”

I thank the Zero Hour team, who have built up support for the nature and climate declaration over the past month. I particularly thank Ron, who cannot be here today due to traffic and transport difficulties, but I also thank Amy and Oliver, who are here; it has been such a pleasure to work with them. Their hard graft prepared the ground for the launch of the nature and climate declaration in this place last week.

This is democracy at its best, because the nature and climate declaration has been signed by nearly 2,000 UK politicians from all parties, including more than 1,500 councillors. The first of its kind, the all-party declaration has been signed by councillors, elected mayors, peers, MPs and Members of the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies. It recognises and supports the UK Government’s efforts on climate change and biodiversity, and recommends that the UK Government deal with what it calls the critical environmental risks to Britain’s heritage, communities and future prosperity by doing three things: fulfilling our fair share of emissions reductions to meet the 1.5°C target; reversing nature loss by 2030; and delivering an integrated environmental protection and decarbonisation plan. I take this issue and the declaration seriously for a number of reasons, not least because all three recommendations are in line with UK Government policy and should therefore be welcomed and accepted by the Minister.

British citizens understand that there needs to be a shift towards a healthier and greener way of life—in fact, when I stood for election in 2019, that was the idea I stood on: to work for a healthier and greener west Cornwall—but they also recognise that this aim needs to be achieved both at home and abroad. We all recognise that we have a part to play; the problem is that net zero and 2050 are not expressions that particularly resonate with the average human being, although most people want us to treat the planet better than we do now and few would deny the sizeable benefits for everyone if we focused a little more on what nature recovery actually looks like and how efforts to decarbonise will improve day-to-day living.

In recent years the Government and Parliament have made great strides in getting to grips with the sheer challenge and opportunity of delivering on environmental protection and decarbonisation, but we have failed to clearly articulate what this means for our constituents. We get too hung up on what we mean by net zero by 2050 and do not talk nearly enough about the positive benefits of improving our homes, or about the creation of the skills to do that and of skills in farming and clean energy. We do not talk nearly enough about how important farms are for food production that enhances nature and captures carbon. We do not talk nearly enough about how energy can be secure and affordable if we use a natural resource such as underground heat, the sun, the wind and tide-generated energy.

That is why I want to briefly concentrate my thoughts on how delivering on the declaration’s three recommendations is not about inflicting hardship, or placing a straitjacket on our constituencies and communities, but rather about delivering levelling up in real terms—levelling up in skills, health equality, food and energy security, mental wellbeing, and knowledge and educational attainment. I will set out how the integration of environmental protections and decarbonisation will deliver those public benefits.

When we have debated net zero previously, we have tended to alienate farmers by somehow blaming them for our carbon footprint and loss of biodiversity. I agree that over recent decades we have hungered for cheap food at the expense of the natural environment. From visiting farms in west Cornwall, however, I know that it is not just possible to do food production, enhancing the natural environment and decarbonisation in harmony; they are mutually dependent. There is not time to go into the full detail now, but the use of herbal leys, tree planting and cattle grazing has led to enriched biodiversity, improved soil health and reduced run-off.

Farms that work with nature have an immense potential for productivity and high-quality food while securing resilience in the landscape and creating a robust environment that will cope better with climate change. Farming with nature can reduce reliance on imported inputs and rebuild biodiversity by creating habitats and space for nature at scale. Farming with nature builds complexity and diversity in denuded farmland, which can sequester vast amounts of carbon and create opportunities for education, community and social recovery.

There has been considerable debate recently about food security and the Government’s intention in relation to the environmental land management scheme. For what it is worth, I would fully support the Government if they decided to channel a far greater share of ELM towards our farms to support food production, environmental health, environmental protection, decarbonisation and food security, but there are other ways to rapidly increase environmental protection and decarbonisation hand in hand. For example, there is an ambition to ramp up clean energy and clean heating, as we heard earlier from the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions.

Cornwall is fast becoming known for geothermal, which has the potential to generate energy for Britain’s homes. Sadly, because of the way the Government organise their contracts for difference auction, emerging renewable energy technologies such as geothermal, and to an extent floating offshore wind, are not getting a fighting chance. I am aware that those developing the geothermal potential have submitted written evidence to the Government’s recent call for evidence. They suggest avenues for supporting geothermal that include a new deep geothermal renewable heat incentive, a ringfenced pot for geothermal in the fifth CfD auction round, and significant reform to the current planning process. I am hopeful that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will look carefully at the case being made for emerging renewable technologies.

Cornwall is also leading the way on community ground-source heating. Kensa, a world-leading Cornish company, has now completed ground array installations for the first private retrofit street. Residents’ properties will benefit from low-cost ground-source heating, which does not require gas or oil.

In my job I am privileged, as many of us are, to see all sorts of examples of how we can integrate environmental protection with decarbonisation. I focus particularly on food and energy, which is where the pressure on households is today. I cannot tell Members how keen farmers and businesses in my constituency are to access support to clad their barns, warehouses and workshops with solar panels and to install battery storage. Penzance dry dock, which is also represented in the Public Gallery, is the UK’s oldest working dry dock and builds and retrofits ships and boats for maritime demands. That is an energy-intensive industry that looks to the Government to enable clean energy solutions in buildings and workshops.

The Government have nothing to fear from the declaration. Our communities are ahead in many ways. For example, Penzance Town Council recently committed to the future generations pledge, ensuring that every decision made, at every level, passes the good ancestor test that asks how each decision benefits our children’s children and makes their lives at least as good as our own.

There is so much more I would like to include in my speech, but I do not get any impression that the Government lack ambition or commitment in this policy area. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said as much on Monday at COP27, and reiterated it in the Chamber this afternoon. He said:

“The world came together in Glasgow with one last chance to create a plan that would limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees…By honouring the pledges we made in Glasgow, we can turn our struggle against climate change into a global mission for new jobs and clean growth. And we can bequeath our children a greener planet and a more prosperous future. That’s a legacy we could be proud of.”

The UK Government are, though, rightly under pressure to deliver on their commitment and assurances. It would be remiss of me not to refer to the fact that the Government missed their own deadline for publishing the legally binding targets required by the Environment Act 2021. Will the Minister give an indication of when we can expect those targets to be published?

Another frustration for Members in this place is that Government Departments do not necessarily work together towards the same goals. The Climate Change Committee has been instrumental in highlighting the issue and setting targets for each Department; however, we recognise that inconsistency across Government is a risk to achieving environment protection and decarbonisation.

The hon. Gentleman touches on the crucial point that the delivery of our targets is not on track because we are missing co-ordination within Government. Is it not time to bring back the Department of Energy and Climate Change to co-ordinate the delivery of our net zero targets?

There is a Committee in No. 10 that does that job, but I accept the hon. Lady’s point.

On Radio 4 last week, as I was driving back to Cornwall, Lord Deben said that we have some of the best, world-leading targets but are lagging behind in delivering on them. As I hinted at in relation to offshore winds, which affect the Celtic sea off Cornwall, Devon and Wales in particular, and in respect of the challenges around geothermal and new technologies, we need cross-Governmental work to ensure that nothing stands in the way for no good reason. On intervention by the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), it would be great if the Minister could outline what joint departmental work is taking place on these intertwined issues, especially between BEIS and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Finally, will the Minister meet me, the team from Zero Hour and other interested colleagues in this place? There is so much that Members from throughout the House can do to support the Government to deliver what has been committed and to improve the way we inform and take the public with us, as we pledged in the Paris agreement. There is a real opportunity to take the public with us so that they can see the positives of what I have briefly set out this afternoon. The declaration gives us a renewed opportunity to commit to working together to achieve what we all know is fundamental to our constituents in relation to skills, health equality, food and energy security, mental wellbeing and knowledge. It is the least they deserve from their elected representatives.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing this incredibly important debate; I was interested to hear about what is happening in his constituency.

As we all know, the need to act on climate change is urgent. Extreme weather events over the summer saw the UK endure record temperatures of more than 40°C for the first time—something the Met Office described as “virtually impossible” without human-induced climate change. Recently, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy urged the Government to get a grip on the major national security risks posed by the effects of climate change on critical national infrastructure such as that for power, transport, water and communications. Its note reported an extreme weakness at the centre of Government when it comes to tackling climate change.

Earlier this week at COP27, the UN Secretary-General gave a stark warning that humanity is on what he called

“a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”.

He said:

“We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing…our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible.”

With that in mind, it is disappointing that the Prime Minister saw COP27 as something of an afterthought and initially decided not to attend, only to be shamed into a U-turn. He did go—that is something—but it was very disappointing that he had to be forced. It is so vital that the Government now address the climate emergency with real urgency. I note the Prime Minister’s statement in the House today, but I point out to the Minister that there are glaring inconsistencies in his current position. I would like her to respond to the points I am going to make.

It was the Prime Minister who, as Chancellor, introduced the energy profits levy that allowed energy companies to shield 91p of every £1 of their profits from the levy by investing those profits in fossil fuel extraction. The promotion of fossil fuel extraction instead of investment in renewables is irresponsible as we face the climate emergency—it is an insult to young people and future generations. Of course, in addition to that, the Prime Minister is still committed to the ban on onshore wind which, again, given the urgency of the emergency we face, makes no sense.

I was proud to support the Labour motion in May 2019 that led to the UK Parliament being the first in the world to declare an environment and climate emergency. It was incredibly disappointing that Conservative Members abstained on that vote. Labour’s green prosperity plan would establish a national wealth fund and GB Energy, a publicly owned energy company, to invest in the technologies of the future. The policy would create 1 million new jobs in towns and cities in every corner of the country and bring down energy bills, raise living standards and ensure that Britain shows global leadership in tackling the climate crisis.

Labour also has a clear plan to insulate 19 million homes throughout the country to help to cut people’s energy bills and emissions. Home insulation rates and energy efficiency upgrades have plummeted since the Conservative party took office more than 10 years ago. Why have Conservative Governments decided to slow down on home insulation? We need to see a reversal of this. I urge the Minister to set out what plans they have to get the UK insulated.

I pay tribute to the Cool Places of Worship programme in Wirral, through which places of worship are taking action on climate change as part of Cool 2, Wirral’s climate change strategy. West Kirby United Reformed Church in my constituency is part of the programme and is doing some really interesting and exciting work. I congratulate the church on its recent event to share knowledge about how people can improve the insulation of their homes and tackle climate change, because it is incredibly important that that expert information is shared with people.

Recent research by the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit found that poorly insulated homes will have to pay almost £1,000 more on average than others on their energy bills this winter. Why are the Government not insulating homes on the scale Labour has outlined? The nature and climate declaration that put forward by the campaign group Zero Hour calls for the Government to ensure that the UK fulfils our fair share of emissions reductions to ensure that the average global temperature increase will not exceed 1.5°.

The Government’s October 2021 net zero strategy points to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shows that

“if we fail to limit global warming to 1.5°C…floods and fires…will get more frequent and more fierce, crops will be more likely to fail, and sea levels will rise driving mass migration as millions are forced from their homes. Above 1.5°C we risk reaching climatic tipping points…meaning we could lose control of our climate for good.”

What do the Government intend to do to ensure that the UK plays its part in doing all we can to keep below 1.5°?

Turning to the attack on nature, I pay tribute to the campaign by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. We know that there is an urgent need to protect and restore nature. As the RSPB has said:

“We need immediate action from the UK Government to halt the plans which threaten our water, air, beaches and rivers. Nature cannot wait. We need the UK Government to halt their attack on nature, now.”

The chief executive officer of the RSPB said that

“this is not the time to be pushing forward with destructive legislation that will remove vital wildlife protections and threaten nature’s recovery.”

She has called for the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill to be stopped right now, for an end to the attack on nature and for the Prime Minister to set out an ambitious plan for tackling the nature and climate emergency. She is absolutely right.

The Wildlife Trusts have raised serious concerns that, through the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, we could see the loss of important protections for nature, including habitat regulations. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will soon return to the Commons, bringing with it further risks to environmental protections. The Government have an immense responsibility in the face of the climate emergency and the environmental breakdown that we are experiencing. I call on them to introduce a bold and urgent plan to address the climate emergency, to change course and to drop their attack on nature.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing this debate. Like him, I have been urged by constituents to show my support for this declaration. Like him, I welcome the strong support from church groups.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was at Worcester cathedral, meeting the cathedral’s eco-group. It was holding a fantastic green fair at which it showcased ideas for sustainable living, green skills and education, and better ways of dealing with food and energy waste. The declaration mentions, as did my hon. Friend, the importance of education and training. During my all too brief period as Schools Minister, I was proud to put the COP26 Education Ministers meeting on the agenda of the international forum for the teaching profession, thereby ensuring our attendance. I was proud to introduce the natural history GCSE, which had cross-party support in this House. I was strongly urged to do so by pupils in Nunnery Wood High School and Stanley Road Primary School in my constituency. I contributed to the Department for Education’s sustainability and climate change strategy, and it was great to stand alongside my right hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) and Bear Grylls at the Natural History Museum for its launch. I took the opportunity to visit schools that were providing strong environmental education, such as North Worcester Primary Academy in my constituency. It is part of The Rivers CofE Multi Academy Trust, which has rewritten its entire curriculum around the sustainable development goals. That is well worth looking at and learning from.

Today we have had the Prime Minister’s statement on COP27, showing that the UK continues to lead actively in this space. I was pleased to hear him say that there is no solution to climate change without protecting and nurturing nature. That has got to be right, and we understand that in the declaration. It is vital that we protect the natural environment, meaning not only the global natural environment—some of the work that the UK has done to protect our oceans is world-leading—but our domestic natural environment, through campaigning against litter in all our constituencies, campaigning to support biodiversity, and ensuring that the UK reaches the highest environment standards.

I was pleased when the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), announced that the Office for Environmental Protection would be headquartered in my Worcester constituency. In fact, it will be located very close to the Worcester woods, a fantastic area that preserves the natural environment. Although at the time Labour Front Benchers decried the decision to locate this institution in Worcester, I hope that by now they have changed their mind and realise, like Dame Glenys Stacey and me, that Worcester is an excellent location.

We are a city that has its fair share of flood risk, so we are very aware of the impact of climate change on flooding, and of the importance of nature and the natural environment in avoiding flooding. Trees do important work, particularly when planted in the upland areas that affect flooding on the River Severn, as does high-quality soil. On a visit with the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, I remember discussing the importance of soil porosity, which is supported by healthy, live soil, to avoiding flooding. I urge the Government, as I did at DEFRA questions a couple of weeks ago, to continue to engage with the Wildlife Trusts on the future of environmental land management schemes, and to support biodiversity through a strong British agriculture policy, which should play to some of the unique assets of our country, such as its hedgerows and ancient native woodlands.

I am proud of the work being undertaken in my constituency by the so-called WEG—the Worcester Environmental Group—which works with Worcester City Council and our county to support more biodiverse verges and roundabouts, and to create a fantastic new nature trail, which is linking Worcester’s primary schools with a circuit of green lanes, taking in some of the city’s oases of green space and areas for outdoor activity.

I praise all those in my urban constituency who help to create space for nature and think about how to support biodiversity. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister talk at today’s PMQs about the opportunities provided by offshore floating wind. Alongside wider investment in renewables, nuclear—which is a low-carbon technology—and hydrogen technology, that can play an important part in our journey to achieve net zero.

I agree with the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) that we need to do more on insulation. That was one reason why I supported my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) in both of the last two leadership campaigns—because he spoke about the importance of insulation during those debates. I hope that the Government he leads will come forward with more measures on that front.

Finally, as we rightly pursue the green technologies of the future, we need to be careful that we do so in a clear-headed way, which will allow our constituents to afford their energy bills and heat their homes effectively. I am concerned by the Government’s policy to encourage the complete electrification of heating, given that many of our constituents live in homes that are not yet energy efficient enough to be effectively heated by electric heating and heat pumps. I declare a constituency interest in representing one of the largest boiler manufacturers in the country, but I hope that the Government will explore carefully the opportunities for zero-carbon technologies to heat with gas, including the potential use of hydrogen. That could be an important part of the mix if we want both to keep our constituents’ homes warm and to move towards net zero.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Gray. I thank the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) for securing this crucial debate and setting the scene.

I hope you will forgive me, Mr Gray, for quoting again what António Guterres said this week:

“We are on the highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”

The world is on course for a 2.8°C temperature rise by the end of this century. Without taking action now, the 1.5°C target is unreachable, and complacency is the biggest danger we face.

Unfortunately, the UK Government are not acting with the necessary urgency. We are setting a lot of targets and having lots of plans, but we do not deliver on them. The Government have proven themselves to be climate action delayers. When the new Prime Minister was Chancellor, he cut air passenger duty on domestic flights and introduced a windfall tax that incentivised firms to invest in fossil fuel extraction. And our Prime Minister had to be dragged to the COP 27 summit this week. He was asked only today whether he would lift the de facto veto on onshore wind, but he did not answer the question. That gives rise to the question: what is this Government about?

We have just heard that we need to find solutions that are affordable. The most affordable solution for renewables is onshore wind, not nuclear. We heard last week that Sizewell C might be scrapped because it is too expensive. If the Government were serious about investing in renewables and doing it cheaply, onshore wind is surely the most obvious solution. The blindfold worn by Conservative Members is beyond my understanding.

The climate emergency is a problem not just for future generations. It is having a material impact on people now. We have seen extreme weather events cause suffering, conflict and destruction around the world—from droughts in east Africa, to bush fires in Australia. If we exceed 1.5°C, floods and fires will become more frequent and intense. Crops are more likely to fail and millions will be driven from their homes. Some politicians treat this 1.5°C target as being like a bus that can be missed because we can catch another one. We cannot miss this target. We have to keep global temperatures to less than 1.5°C or we face catastrophic climate breakdown.

The Government’s net zero strategy recognises the danger of not meeting the 1.5°C target. The Government themselves acknowledge that we might miss the target. Their own plans do not even guarantee that we will hit it, given that their chance of success is just over 50%. Our own targets, in our developed nation, might not succeed. Our Government are taking major risks with the lives of people across the world. The Government know the dangers, yet they refuse to act at the necessary pace and with the necessary focus, as shown by their refusal to lift the veto on offshore wind. It is as if there is always something else that might be more important. No, the climate emergency is now and it is the most important issue on which our Government and Governments worldwide need to focus.

Nature provides our best chance of mitigating climate change and its worst impacts, such as flooding and droughts. As nature declines, so does the quality of human life. Protecting ecosystems that regulate the climate or contain critical carbon stores, such as ice sheets, forests, peatlands, wetlands and the oceans, must be prioritised alongside cutting emissions.

The Government are not acting to protect nature as they should. The Natural History Museum has named the UK as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, and current Government policy will do nothing to improve our standing. The Government have tried to deregulate environmental protections at every opportunity, and have failed to make halting and reversing biodiversity decline by 2030 a legally binding target. At this rate, the Government will miss their commitment to leave the environment in a better state than they found it. Once again, they are not matching words with action.

I fully support Zero Hour’s nature and climate declaration, but it must be matched with more substantive action. The Government must consider supporting the Climate and Ecology Bill, which addresses the full extent of the climate and nature crisis in line with the most up-to-date science. The Bill sets out a whole-of-Government emergency plan to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels and reverse the destruction of nature. It would require the UK to do its fair share globally to cut its emissions and stay below 1.5°C of global warming. The Bill would also require the UK to reverse the destruction of the natural world, by committing the Government to restore and expand ecosystems and to ensure that nature is visibly and measurably recovering by 2030.

Will the Minister set out how the Government are measuring their ambitions and targets for 2030? We need a clear and transparent way of measuring whether we are actually delivering on what we say we want to deliver. The Government are in the driving seat, and we need answers from them.

To some, these plans might seem radical. However, radicalism is necessary in the face of the climate emergency. The time for inaction is over. This is one of our last opportunities for a decisive response. If Governments do not step up, we risk losing the battle to preserve nature and the climate.

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Grady, and I am glad to have caught your eye slightly spontaneously—clearly, there is space in the debate for further contributions. I congratulate the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing the debate. It is absolutely fantastic to see Government Members proposing debates on this topic, as there have been recent Westminster Hall debates in which the Government Benches have not been occupied. The hon. Gentleman spoke passionately about what his constituents have said to him. Other Members said the same, and I have definitely had that experience. That is testament to the power of constituents lobbying Members of Parliament, engaging with us, making those visits and inviting us along to the parish services, nature demonstrations and woodland walks.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the church services that have been held to mark COP27. That reminded me of the many church services and demonstrations—the entire range of civil society activities—that took place in Glasgow this time last year for COP26. People from Glasgow North and across the city were immensely proud to host that conference and welcome the whole world. The momentum that was generated there cannot be lost, which is why debates such as this are so important, particularly as it is taking place while COP27 is happening in Egypt.

Many constituents have asked me to sign the nature and climate declaration, and I have been very happy to do so and to work with Zero Hour and the other organisations promoting it. On several occasions, constituents have made the journey to London to speak at mass lobby events on the Climate and Ecology Bill. The attempt to take it through the House of Lords is generating a lot of momentum, and I really hope the Government pay attention to what is said in the upper House. Not all of us are fans of the fact that people can be appointed for life to that place, but it has a role in the UK’s constitution. If the Government are serious about protecting the UK’s constitution, they need to show that they are taking the House of Lords seriously. When it debates issues such as this, it is important that the Government pay attention.

It is timely that this debate is happening during COP27. In the Chamber today, the Prime Minister was subject to some robust questioning from both sides of the House. One of the key points for the Minister to consider is that there is growing cross-party consensus not just about the need to tackle the climate emergency and the crisis facing nature, but about some of the steps that have to be taken. As we said in the debate that the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) secured last week, if Members of the Conservative party want to come up with free market-based solutions to tackle the climate emergency and preserve ecology, that is fine, but the problem is that externalising pollution and damaging factors from the current economic system caused the climate emergency in the first place. We can debate how we reach the targets—that is fine—but we have to agree that the targets are absolutely necessary.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the best delivery mechanisms is local government, but the Government are not prepared to devolve power and resources to local authorities, which are often closest to the people and are where the best solutions can be found?

Yes, indeed, and a lot of local authorities are doing what they can. The city authority in Glasgow, having hosted COP, is determined to be a leader in reaching net zero and for Glasgow to become a net zero city. Many local authorities and devolved institutions have been way ahead of the Government in recognising and declaring a climate emergency. To date, we have not had a Minister accept at the Dispatch Box that the planet is facing climate emergency, and adopt that language. If the Minister were prepared to do that, that would be a helpful step forward.

A moment ago, the hon. Gentleman asked whether Conservative Members could come up with ways in which the private sector and the market can help, and I think that was a fair challenge. One of the positive legacies from Glasgow, which was mentioned in the Prime Minister’s statement earlier today, was the international climate finance pledges, and private sector organisations have got involved in that. Does he agree that that is a better approach to engendering international progress on this issue and supporting developing countries than the suggestion from the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) that we should be paying reparations to countries around the world for climate damage?

I think it is important that we address loss and damage. It is a question of climate justice, and this is a concept that the Scottish Government have embraced for many years. The reality is that those of us in the developed part of the world—western, liberal economies—have benefited from an industrialisation process that has led to the anthropogenic climate change we are experiencing. The effects of that climate change are being felt first and hardest in developing parts of the world that have done the least to cause climate change. Whether people use the language of reparation, loss and damage or mitigation and adaptation, the reality is that it will have to be paid for.

Climate change is a reality that people have to adapt to. As we said in last week’s debate, there are already significant population flows. The population flows that are coming to these islands are as nothing compared to what is happening with internal displacement of people in Africa and Asia. There are small island states that are simply not going to exist any more, but the people who live on them have to go and live somewhere, and that has to be paid for.

It is not necessarily helpful to get tied up in the language around how the finance is leveraged. There is absolutely a role for the private sector and private funding. I was very interested to attend, at last year’s COP, events organised by the Global Ethical Finance Initiative, which spoke about how the private sector can ethically, effectively and sustainably leverage funding that helps businesses grow and develop but that also tackles precisely these challenges.

Last week, I asked the Leader of the House if we could have some progress on the pledge on accessing climate finance for poorer countries. She could not answer that question. I have asked for a debate. It would be great if we could have a statement from the Government on the progress on access to climate finance.

The hon. Member is absolutely right, and I would support a bid for such a debate—I might even notify the Chair in advance that I wish to speak, rather than popping up at random.

As the hon. Member says, it is all good and well making pledges—the Prime Minister spoke many times today about the £11.6 billion that has been pledged—but that money has to be disbursed. It has to be spent effectively, and that cannot be at the expense of other development projects. Climate funding and justice have always required additionality to pre-existing aid flows. Without that, we will go backwards on progress towards meeting the very sustainable development goals that the hon. Member for St Ives spoke about, which school pupils in his constituency, as in mine, are so concerned about.

This issue has to have implications for the Government’s domestic agenda as well. The reality is that new coal and nuclear power stations are not a sustainable solution, nor a route to protecting climate or nature. In Scotland, we are very proud that 100% of our electricity requirements are generated by renewable sources. We want to continue to build on that as time goes on. That is why it is important that the UK Government, and indeed devolved Governments and local authorities, start developing a broader vision of a circular economy that has wellbeing at its heart. I am very relieved that the language of growth at all costs, which was briefly the mantra of the UK Government for 40 days or so from the start of September, has quietly disappeared. Infinite growth is simply not possible on a finite planet. While growth is an important indicator, it is not the only indicator of wellbeing, prosperity or success.

All those considerations have to fit into the Government’s thinking. A cleaner, greener future is also a cheaper and safer future. I have heard from constituents who are concerned that, in among the cost of living crisis and everything else that is going on in the world, some of these priorities—particularly those we heard about at COP26 last year—have begun to be forgotten. That is why the COP process is so important: we have that annual reminder, the whole of civil society is mobilised and Governments are motivated—including the latest Prime Minister. Actually, if we want to tackle the cost of living crisis, adopting a more sustainable approach to our energy use and our consumption of goods and so on will lead to a cheaper and safer future at the same time.

The fact that there is a certain amount of cross-party consensus behind the climate and nature declaration represents an opportunity for the Government. Support will be there for action that helps us meet our targets. The Government should recognise that and capitalise on it. The fact that we are having the debate during COP27 makes it particularly timely. We all look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing this important debate. I would not normally take part in such a debate, as my personal knowledge of the matter is quite small. However, I was grateful to him for mentioning things such as herbal leys and rewilding, because I listen to “The Archers” regularly. That keeps my nature and farming knowledge up to date.

In the shadow of COP26, Scotland continues to lead on nature restoration and climate targets. Scotland has the most progressive climate targets in the world, and has had for a while: delivering a just transition to net zero by 2045, with an ambitious interim target of a 75% reduction in emissions by 2030. Scotland was the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency, and the first to introduce a climate justice fund, which has a human rights focus on helping those in developing countries, who are most at risk from climate change, to tackle its effects on the frontline.

Scotland has made great progress on our net zero journey, such as in energy supply and waste management, but further emissions cuts will involve some genuinely difficult decisions for Scotland, with significant long-term investment and behaviour change. Our schools are also playing a leading role. I learn not just here but from my grandchildren what I should be doing and what the planet needs. The Scottish Government have been a world leader in renewable energy technologies, with onshore and offshore wind, hydropower and solar meeting the equivalent of 90% to 100% of Scotland’s energy demand. That is up from only 28% in 2009.

We are making progress but there will always be more to do. The Scottish Government’s biodiversity strategy aims to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 and reverse it by 2045. They have also led an international coalition resulting in the Edinburgh declaration, which urges increased international action to tackle biodiversity loss. It now has 244 signatories from Governments, cities and local authorities representing every continent. The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) emphasised the need for action not just at Government level but at local authority level.

During the last Parliament, the Scottish Government exceeded the First Minister’s commitment at COP21 in Paris to provide an extra £12 million to support projects in Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda through our world-leading climate justice fund. Under the Scottish Government, the climate justice fund has trebled to £36 million over this Parliament, which aims to support those on the frontline of the climate crisis. That is in contrast to the global Britain espoused by this Tory UK Government, who have cut international aid. For example, the £3.2-million Climate Challenge Programme Malawi, which ran from 2017 to 2020, supported a select group of rural communities to identify and implement their own solutions to adapt to and build resilience against the worst effects of climate change. That contributes directly to many of the UN global goals, especially goal 13 on climate action.

The Scottish Government have provided support through their climate justice fund to not just Malawi, but to Zambia, Tanzania and Rwanda to train people in water resource management and resilience, to improve sustainable agricultural and irrigation systems, to plant 122,000 trees, to develop renewable forms of alternative farming and to fund clean drinking water initiatives. The SNP welcomed the UK Government’s climate justice fund that was announced at COP26, following the nine-year lead of the Scottish Government’s own fund.

As the world gathers in Egypt for COP27, the Scottish Government have been praised for their world-leading loss and damage funding support. At COP26 in Glasgow, they used Scotland’s role as the venue for the summit to support others in calling for action on loss and damage. Scotland became the first country in the world to make an explicit commitment to providing funding to address loss and damage in other nations. That happened 30 years on—30 years, Mr Gray!—from small island states first calling for a loss and damage fund.

Commitments followed from Wallonia, Denmark and philanthropy through the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, showing that there is recognition of the importance of the issue and an appetite to address it. The Scottish Government pledged £2 million from the climate justice fund to the project, jump-starting a further £17.5 million in funding from other Governments and civil society—a ninefold increase on the initial commitment.

Amid the flip-flopping over whether the Prime Minister would attend COP27 at all, the UK Government have not provided the $280 million they pledged to the green climate fund or the $20.6 million they pledged to the adaptation fund. Scotland leads the way in committing to loss and damage funding; it is time for the UK Government to step up.

Egypt’s COP27 presidency welcomed actions by Scotland and Denmark—two very small countries—as

“steps in the right direction”

on loss and damage. It encouraged other developed nations to follow their lead. Ahead of attending COP27, the First Minister said:

“For many countries, particularly in the global south, this must be the COP where the global north not only delivers on our promises to finance adaptation and mitigation, but recognises the need to address the loss and damage experienced by countries already impacted by climate change.”

She has committed to increasing that funding further in future.

At least 33 million Pakistanis have been directly affected by floods in rural and urban areas, after unprecedented torrential rain inundated almost a third of the country, breaking all records of mega-floods, with cumulative damages worth $14.906 billion—I have trouble saying these figures, they are so big. If that is not a call to action, I do not know what is.

The First Minister has called it our “moral responsibility” finally to acknowledge the damage done by developed nations through emissions and to contribute to loss and damage funding. Yesterday, she pledged a further £5 million of funding for loss and damage caused by the climate crisis, such as the effects of sea-level rise or non-economic effects, including the loss of cultural identity. Importantly, the funding will be in the form of grants, rather than loans, ensuring that there is no additional debt burden for recipient countries. The process will be community-led and owned.

Loss and damage is now on the formal agenda for the first time. As the First Minister said,

“this COP can mark a turning point in ensuring the views, experiences and perspectives of the global south”

are at the heart of negotiations.

The UK Government must commit—and act—to restore nature and decelerate the climate catastrophe. Scotland has asked the UK Government to increase their ambition on decarbonisation of the electricity grid and gas network and to immediately confirm support for carbon capture, usage and storage. The UK Government have not yet responded positively to those requests. Such changes would support both the UK and Scotland to meet their emission reduction targets.

The House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee stated in a report last month:

“Behaviour change is essential for achieving climate and environment goals, and for delivering wider benefits.”

It stated:

“The Government’s current approach to enabling behaviour change to meet climate and environment goals is inadequate to meet the scale of the challenge.”

That is from the House of Lords.

The UK Government must incentivise instead of cutting electric vehicle access schemes such as England’s electric vehicle grant system, which has been further downgraded from £5,000 in 2011 to £1,500 in 2022. In balancing their budgets, the UK Government might subject electric and zero-emission vehicles to vehicle excise duty, which is a huge worry. The majority of fossil-fuel buses in Scotland will be removed by next year and will be replaced by green buses that are free to use for all under-22s and over-65s. In fact, the Serjeant at Arms picked up my bus pass from the Floor of the Chamber for me only last night. Scotland’s scheme is a positive way to encourage the use of public transport. Despite the Scottish Government’s achievements, the UK Government have cut bus decarbonisation funding by half, with local authorities warning that up to a third of English bus services are at risk of being scrapped. Public transport must not be sacrificed to balance the books.

I note the hon. Lady’s remarks about bus fares. In the Liverpool city region, the metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram, has introduced the £2 fare, which is having a fantastic impact on the way people travel, because it makes things so much more affordable. Does she agree that we need to see a lot more of that around the country?

Absolutely. If people use public transport and not their cars, that is a really good way to cut emissions, but the cost of public transport has been rising for quite a long time.

The evidence from Scotland’s rail electrification programme is clear: having a strategic plan on decarbonisation and sticking to it means more efficient and cheaper electrification schemes. The cost of electrification in Scotland is 33% lower per route-kilometre than in England. The electrification schemes recently announced for Scotland’s railway will mean the introduction of even more decarbonised journeys across the Borders, Fife and the Lothians, and the roll-out of innovative battery electric units to accelerate the move to a net zero railway. That must be followed by the UK Government.

A Public Accounts Committee report released last Wednesday states that the UK Government’s commitment that the public sector should “lead by example” in moving to net zero is not being met. It highlighted the poor quality of emissions measuring and reporting, among other things. If we do not measure and report, we do not know where we are. That is a challenge for the UK Government, particularly following the High Court’s ruling that their net zero strategy is unlawful.

The current Prime Minister removed the COP26 president, the right hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), from the Cabinet even before the UK’s COP presidency had ended. He stopped the Minister for Climate from attending Cabinet, and effectively banned the King from attending COP27. The UK Government have blocked plans to ease planning restrictions on onshore wind, despite its being the cheapest form of energy and key to the transition to a renewable energy future.

The UK Government must get the balance right and put the fight against climate change at the forefront of the Prime Minister’s policy agenda, as the First Minister of Scotland has done. We must all root for each other to succeed as we prepare for the worst effects of the climate catastrophe. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in answer to my questions and all the other questions that have been asked this afternoon.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Gray. I am sure that those in the know will be listening to the debate, and that your elevation to the peerage will happen very soon.

I am delighted to be here in place of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), who is attending the COP27 conference in Egypt at this moment, and to be able to respond to this timely debate secured by the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas)—who, I have to confess, is a friend of mine, even though we sit on opposite sides of the House. I am also pleased to welcome the Minister to her place; I think this debate is the first time that we have sat opposite each other in this Chamber, and I look forward to working with her in future in a friendly, debating way.

It will come as no surprise to anybody present, or indeed to anybody watching our proceedings, that our United Kingdom is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. That is why the case for tackling biodiversity loss, climate change, and the environmental risks to the health of the public is the challenge of our time—indeed, that is why the Climate and Ecology Bill is so important. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West is very proud to have been one of the original co-sponsors of that Bill when he was on the Back Benches, and I pay tribute to him for his work and commitment to these issues.

Halting and reversing biodiversity loss in the United Kingdom by 2030 is essential. We parliamentarians, particularly Ministers in His Majesty’s Government, must do everything possible to make sure that that promise is realised. There can be no more dithering, no more delays and no more missed deadlines: this is an emergency, and it needs to be treated as such. I am afraid that the Government are setting their baseline too low. The 30 by 30 agenda ignores the other 70% of our land. Our national parks are in a poor state of health after 12 years of Conservative Government, and our protected natural areas need far more focus and support. The fact that this Tory Government failed to meet their own deadlines under the Environment Act 2021 does not inspire much confidence that they will ever get around to meeting the 30 by 30 deadline.

The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) mentioned the Office for Environmental Protection’s location. I respectfully suggest that the shadow DEFRA team did not decry Worcester as its final resting place; rather, we were surprised. We were originally told that it was going to be Bristol, but that was a U-turn by the Government—we were not surprised by that.

Nature fundamentally underpins human health, our wellbeing and our collective prosperity. By protecting our planet and preserving our environment, we deliver for all our people in Newport West, in St Ives, and across the United Kingdom. Opposition Members, particularly my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), have always understood the importance of that challenge. We view the environment through a twin lens—human health and environmental health—and we see the impact of inaction all around us, such as last weekend’s heavy rainfall and the subsequent flooding in places such as Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Hornsey and Wood Green, Chichester, Canterbury and Lewes. My hon. Friends the Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) and for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) have been out there speaking to businesses, engaging with local councils and supporting local people, and I thank them for that.

We have seen wildfires in Australia, Africa and the United States, and—as the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) said—we have seen drought in Zimbabwe, Sudan and other parts of southern Africa. This issue is as global as it is local, which is why we need to consider people living in increasingly expensive housing without proper insulation who are now increasingly dependent on prohibitively expensive fossil fuel energy. That is why a Labour Government will cut energy bills and fight climate change by insulating millions of homes and making the UK the first major economy to have a zero-emission power system, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) outlined. Moreover, when we form the next Government, we will introduce a proper windfall tax on the obscene profits of the oil and gas companies to protect both vulnerable people and our vulnerable planet.

I want to say a word about those living in communities plagued by toxic air and dirty water. Restoring nature will never happen successfully without us acknowledging that these issues disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities and the health of our natural environment. Our poorest communities are also twice as likely to live in a neighbourhood without nature-rich spaces, which is outrageous. I want our country to be a place where everyone has proper access to wild places and wildlife. In other words, delivering for the natural world requires both social and economic justice. A healthy natural world and more equitable access to nature are key priorities for us—but not just for Labour Members. As the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) outlined, there is growing cross-party consensus on the need to move now and to move fast, because we understand the importance of the UK doing its fair share to cut emissions in order to stay below 1.5°C of global warming.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) has been clear on this and, as a party, we have pledged not just words but a promised investment of £28 billion every year until 2030 to tackle the climate crisis and create clean, green, secure jobs for people in all parts of our United Kingdom. A Labour Government will deliver a science-led, joined-up plan to tackle the climate and ecological emergency. We have committed to a robust net zero and nature test for every policy, as well as our £28 billion a year investment pledge. We want to create certainty for business and provide leadership on the world stage. That is how we seize the opportunities for the United Kingdom, while protecting nature here and abroad.

We know that climate action must be nature-positive action and that we must halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity by 2030 for the benefit of all people and the planet. This important declaration and the Climate and Ecology Bill alongside it will be a huge step towards achieving those aims. I am delighted to have been able to participate in this important debate today.

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, for what I believe is the first time. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) very much for his timely securing of this important debate. Given that it is taking place at the time of COP27, I am mightily impressed with the timing. He is an outstanding champion for his constituency, particularly on the issue of nature and biodiversity. It has been a real joy to listen to the cross-party support for nature and biodiversity, and I will set out to respond to the many questions. They strayed across many different Departments, and I certainly work across Departments, because that is absolutely what we need to do in this area.

We do have a strong track record. It is not correct to say that we are the most nature-depleted country in the world. Depending on the measure, we are 142nd out of 201. But we recognise that nature has been declining for a very long time. There are historical reasons for that, such as the pressure on land and the industrial revolution. That is why it is the mission of this Government to halt that trend by 2030, and then reverse it. Our world-leading target to halt the decline in species by 2030 demonstrates our very strong commitment. On nature, we have already implemented myriad measures to support biodiversity and to increase carbon capture through natural methods.

I noted the Minister’s remarks about how she likes to work across Departments. I am particularly concerned about the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, part 5 of which will essentially remove environmental impact assessments and strategic environmental assessments and bring in environmental outcomes reports. It kind of gives the Secretary of State a blank cheque to do what he or she wishes to do, and I am very concerned about what it will mean for the planning system and therefore for the protection of nature. Could the Minister tell us what discussions have taken place between her Department and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about that Bill? I think that it poses potentially a very serious threat to the quality and sustainability of our natural world.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right, but she should be reassured when I say that there must be no regression, and there will be no regression. I have been to speak with my counterparts in BEIS recently, and we are working with DLUHC as well, to ensure that the protections for our environment focus not on the EU as a whole but on the UK.

It might be helpful to set out our record. Although we recognise that there is much more to do, since 2010 we have supported the creation or management of 175,000 hectares of priority habitat. In 2021 alone, we created over 2,700 km of new hedgerows through the countryside stewardship scheme. That is over 3,870 different agreements. There were 9,000 countryside stewardship agreements with the management of hedgerows option, leading to over 46,000 km of hedgerows. Our farming and protected landscapes programme also planted 88 km of hedgerows and delivered around 45,000 hectares of habitat improvement for biodiversity.

We have established over 100 marine protected areas, and we are now putting in place byelaws to reinforce their protection, alongside our work to launch highly protected marine areas. We have brought over 5,800 hectares of peatland in England under restoration, predominantly through the £750 million nature for climate fund. We have also announced 22 ambitious projects receiving funding through the landscape recovery scheme, allowing land managers—in particular, farmers—to take a more long-term and large-scale approach to producing environmental and climate outcomes on their land.

Between 2010 and 2021, 123 hectares of new woodland have been planted across the UK. That is an area equivalent to Bedfordshire. Tree planting is so important for biodiversity, and it is at the heart of our environmental plans for the future. We increased tree planting and woodland creation by approximately 10% to 2,700 hectares of trees planted in England in 2021-22. Is it enough? Absolutely not, but we are improving every year. As part of flood and coastal capital programmes, 25 schemes that include natural flood management measures have secured approval.

We are seeing that improvement in habitat also play out in the improvement in species such as the cirl bunting, which demonstrates how agri-environment schemes have supported species recovery. In 2016, the population exceeded 1,000 pairs, representing a nine-fold increase since conservation action commenced in the early 1990s. The marsh fritillary butterfly increased in abundance by 700% between 2005 and 2016, following years of decline, through action under the two moors threatened butterfly project. Our bat species increased by 47% between 1999 and 2019. Those are just some examples of the progress that is being made. It is important to have hope and to take personal responsibility for the way that we can all improve nature and biodiversity in our back gardens, our farms and right across this country.

Reaching net zero remains a top Government priority. We are really proud to lead the world in ending our own contribution to climate change, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because we are determined to seize the unprecedented economic opportunity it brings for jobs, innovation and exports. That is why our British energy security strategy and net zero strategy build on our 10-point plan and our blueprint for a green industrial revolution. Those commitments will unlock £100 billion of private investment and support 480,000 well-paid jobs in green industries by 2030. I know that many of those jobs will be in Cornwall, which I look forward to visiting. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives set out exactly what is needed right across the country and the need for society to play its part.

As part of our plans for decarbonisation—this is personal to me, because I was the Minister in the Department for Transport who led on it—we have published our ambitious transport decarbonisation plan. There has been much talk of COP27, but I was proud to stand on the world stage during transport day on 10 November last year at COP26—[Interruption.] Indeed, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) was there as well—where I set out what we were doing across the modes of transport to set our pathway to net zero by 2050. We will require all new builds from 2025 to be future-proofed with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency.

DEFRA has a vital role to play in delivering the Government’s net zero strategy. During the debate, there have been many calls for us to work across Departments. That is absolutely what we do and I will give a few examples. The joint air quality unit works across DEFRA and DFT to improve air quality and reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. The Office for Zero Emission Vehicles works across DFT and BEIS to ensure that we roll out the electric vehicle programme. It is not true to say that the amount of money being spent on electric vehicles has been reduced; the focus has changed to ensure support for taxis and trucks, because we needed to diversify and ensure that our funding has the greatest impact.

We have boosted the nature for climate fund to total spend of more than £750 million by 2025 to protect, restore and expand the support and resilience of habitats such as peat bogs—both upland and lowland peat bogs are essential for nature. This will help us to achieve our ambitious targets to restore 35,000 hectares of peatlands by 2025 and treble woodland creation in England by the end of this Parliament. Yesterday I had the privilege of joining the Northumberland National Park Authority, and the day before I was in woodlands in Cumbria with the Forestry Commission, to understand how we can bust the barriers and increase planting of trees, both coniferous and deciduous, because we recognise the vital role that trees play as well as the value of supporting the UK timber industry. It was also a pleasure to visit A.W. Jenkinson to learn how it takes the waste from woodlands to create peat-free compost. There are fantastic opportunities like this one for our economy as we decarbonise and support biodiversity.

At COP26 last year, we brought nature into the centre of the climate COP for the first time. Today, at COP27 in Egypt, we will maintain our global leadership by demonstrating progress and integrated action on climate and nature since the UK’s presidency, focusing on protecting forests, the ocean and nature. We will build political momentum to secure ambitious outcomes at the convention on biological diversity COP15 in Montreal next month. We are working to ensure that nature is resilient and adaptable to climate change. We recognise that the interlinked threats of climate change, pollution, and habitat and biodiversity loss threaten the security of global health, the food supply and the economy. In 2019, the value of natural capital in the UK was estimated to be £1.2 trillion. The biodiversity net gain measure created by the Environment Act 2021 to aid nature recovery will drive green growth by creating and supporting a private market estimated to be worth £135 million per year. We are committed to halting and reversing the decline of biodiversity, as I have set out. We will continue to implement our world-leading Environment Act, including by building on the 2030 species target by setting other long-term targets to improve our biodiversity, resource efficiency and air and water quality, and to reduce waste.

To set out what we are doing to create habitats and protect species, we have requirements on new developments to build habitats as well as legally binding targets to halt species decline by 2030. We are reducing plastic waste through bans on a number of single-use plastic items, as well as powers to introduce charges for single-use items of any material. We are recycling more plastic through the introduction of a deposit return scheme for single-use drink containers, and extended producer responsibility which makes producers responsible for the cost of the disposal of packaging waste.

I note that Minister said that the Government are introducing the deposit return scheme. I am pleased to hear that, but there have been four consultations and we have had no action yet. When will it happen?

I am unable to provide the hon. Member with a confirmation of actual dates, but she should be assured that we are working across Government to ensure that we involve manufacturers and get this right.

There is increasing concern that we will introduce a deposit return scheme that is not fit for the 21st century—that is, one that involves going back to vending machines in supermarkets. There is a very strong push for the digital delivery of a deposit return scheme. Will the Government look into that?

The hon. Lady will have to forgive me, because this is not my area in DEFRA, but I am happy to provide a more detailed response from the DEFRA Minister responsible for this matter. She will be aware of the various discussions that are going on —for example, on whether to include glass or not. I know that Scotland includes glass. Those are the kinds of discussions that we are having in DEFRA with our partners and stakeholders. We are ensuring that we get the scheme right and that we implement it as soon as possible.

We are also taking forward measures to tackle deforestation overseas and increase domestic planting. We are preventing UK businesses from using commodities associated with deforestation, committing the UK to planting 30,000 hectares of trees per year by the end of this Parliament, and maintaining new planting at that rate from 2025 onwards. There was reference to environmental targets. I hope that Members will appreciate that we have had 180,000 responses to the consultation. We are working at pace to review those views, and we look forward to updating Members on targets and our environmental plan very soon.

We are protecting our waters and cracking down on water companies that discharge sewage by enshrining in law a duty to reduce the impact of discharges from storm overflows. We are also cleaning up our air, through a requirement on local authorities to tackle air quality and making enforcement in smoke-controlled areas easier. We have established the independent Office for Environmental Protection, and I recently met the chief executive and chair of the organisation. We are also developing a third national adaptation programme, which addresses all 61 risks and opportunities identified in the latest climate change risk assessment.

I have set out quite clearly much of what has already been achieved, but also what we hope to achieve with our ambitious, world-beating, world-leading Environment Act, and with the support of brilliant Members across this House, not least my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives. He will wrap up the debate in the final minutes.

I thank the Minister for her response, and I am glad she mentioned species. For example, the Cornish chough and the Manx shearwater are birds precious to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. They have made a remarkable recovery, and it is good to mention that along with all the other achievements.

In 2019, I was one of many Conservative MPs who supported the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), in setting out legislation on the commitment to net zero in the UK. I am very proud to have been a part of that discussion and debate. I have heard the various political points made by Opposition Members, but outside this place we see businesses big and small, schools, the public sector, farmers, food producers and householders all looking seriously at how they can decarbonise and promote nature recovery. That is because there has been a national effort, led by a consecutive Conservative Prime Ministers, to get everyone engaged in the process. I do not pretend that we have done enough; we should do more, more quickly, and the nature and climate declaration helps us to do that. I again thank the team for making it possible and launching it last week.

My colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), would have loved to be here to say more about the great things that are happening in Cornwall, but she has been detained in the Chamber. It is good to conclude by thanking everyone who took part. Let us move forward, recognising the great things that are in place, the targets and achievements, while recognising that by working together we can achieve much more, not just for our constituents but for people around the world.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Government support for a nature and climate declaration.

Sitting suspended.