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Climate Change and Biodiversity

Volume 727: debated on Wednesday 8 February 2023

I beg to move,

That this House has considered climate change and biodiversity.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray.

Climate change has triggered more extreme weather conditions, causing heatwaves, droughts, high precipitation and flooding. Adapting to the impacts of climate change in the UK and around the globe is necessary to keep the human population safer. Taking steps now to adapt to future change will make us more resilient and less vulnerable to its impacts. Adaptation can include traditional engineering projects, such as sea walls or other coastal defences as sea levels rise, but the natural environment also has a significant role to play. Adaption covers everything from water storage to drought resistant crops, from green urban areas to protecting and restoring natural, indigenous ecosystems.

Nature-based solutions are often cheaper to implement and maintain than alternative grey infrastructure adaption options. When their multiplier benefits are taken into account, nature-based solutions usually have a significantly higher benefit-cost ratio.

The Climate Change Committee reports on progress on adapting to climate change in England. Many of its recommendations for improving adaption planning and implementation in England have been taken up by the Government and their arm’s length bodies. They accept the committee’s central message that they must take greater action to build resilience to the impacts of climate change.

The Climate Change Committee has advised that the UK should adapt to a 2° warmer world for the period 2050 to 2100 and assess the risks for a 4° temperature increase. It identified the eight priority risk areas that need the most urgent action: the viability and diversity of nature; soil health; the release of sequestered carbon; crops, livestock and forestry; collapse of supply chains for food, goods and vital services; power system failure; human health and productivity; and risks to the UK from climate change impacts overseas. Nature-based solutions can help to address all these risks.

Analysis has shown that nature-based solutions can help to address 33 of the 34 climate change risks identified as requiring more action in the Climate Change Committee’s third “UK Climate Change Risk Assessment”, including the eight risks requiring the most urgent action.

The UK’s national adaption programme sets out potential actions to address climate change risks. A recent report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the WWF-UK, “Nature-based Solutions in UK Climate Adaption Policy”, highlights opportunities for nature-based solutions in the UK and provides recommendations on how best to use nature-based solutions to deliver widespread benefits to both people and wildlife. I respectfully refer the Minister to those recommendations.

The report highlights the opportunities and policy support needed to implement nature-based solutions across the UK in ways that deliver for nature, climate and people. It also outlines how nature-based solutions offer opportunities to mitigate the eight key risks to the UK identified by the CCC, while supporting the provision of public and private goods.

A wide range of nature-based solutions is being deployed in the UK. For example, sand dunes, salt marshes, and seagrass meadows are helping to protect against coastal flooding. Restored and in good condition, peatland can slow the flow of water during storms. Urban trees, parks and sustainable drainage systems can cool and retain moisture and reduce stormwater run-off, thereby cooling down our towns and cities during extreme heat and protecting against urban flooding.

One of the key recommendations of the RSPB-WWF report is that in the upcoming national adaptation programme—the NAP3, for 2023 to 2028—nature-based solutions must be properly integrated and given the opportunity to help us to adapt to a warming climate, while also providing other carbon and biodiversity benefits.

I agree with everything the hon. Lady is saying. I have two points to make about attracting private-sector investment for these nature-based solutions. First, we have to be very clear about the carbon offsetting value of the projects. Secondly, when the biodiversity net gain details of that strategy come forward, we need to be clear that they are creating more diversity. Does she share my concern that we are not really at the stage where we can properly measure the multitudes of benefits of investing in such schemes?

I completely agree with the hon. Member’s question. We need to measure metrics and outcomes more thoroughly as part of the process of using nature-based solutions to adapt to climate change. That is absolutely spot on.

My hon. Friend’s debate highlights that it is in areas such as hers, which are very vulnerable to flooding to the sea and other urban floods, that the expertise on such complicated issues is found. Does she agree that one answer to the question from the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) is that private investment could be attracted through recycling centres and former landfill areas? We cannot build buildings on contaminated land, but there is an opportunity to plant trees there, and that is exactly what is happening in Gloucester right now.

I quite agree with my hon. Friend. We have an issue with leaching from coastal landfill sites. We really need to think about that when addressing what we are going to do with them, and we also need to think about tree planting, not building developments.

I ask for the Minister’s thoughts on the key recommendation of the RSPB and WWF report. Nature-based solutions contribute to reducing our vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. They are no longer peripheral, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has already started to develop policies that should be rolled out across all sectors. Nature-based solutions need to be mainstreamed in policy by establishing common goals, harmonising policy support and overcoming barriers across all sectors.

Increased funding is required. There is reportedly a £5.6 billion gap in the funding required to cover environmental gains, challenges facing the food system, an integrated response to net zero and local community benefits. But funding does not have to be the sole responsibility of government. Three per cent. of private financing mobilised under the 2018 Paris agreement went into adaptation, with more than 95% going towards mitigation. Adaptation will increase resilience, benefiting businesses and financial institutions, as well as nature and people.

The UK needs a clear vision for the role of nature-based solutions. They can be measured and monitored for their effectiveness by using defined metrics, indicators and targets, and standards can be set for high-quality nature-based solutions, benefiting nature, our environment and people. They need to be utilised.

I thank my hon. Friend for calling this debate. She is a doughty champion for her constituents, who are very lucky to have her represent Hastings and Rye. On her point about metrics, clearly consumers want to invest in and buy products that are nature positive and that support biodiversity. At the meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on environmental, social and governance, which the Minister was at, we talked about placing a green tractor on everyday products—it would be an equivalent to the Red Tractor mark—so that people would know that they were buying British products that are aiding biodiversity in the UK and helping restore nature. Does my hon. Friend think that is a good way of encouraging the public and business to get behind a nature-positive solution in the UK?

I thank my hon. Friend for a very good question. He is right: the public do really appreciate it and really understand the need for biodiversity. A very good message has been sent out, but the green tractor route really highlights the importance of biodiversity on the goods that people buy. I think it would be a really good measure to take forward.

We have a window of opportunity to take action to adapt to climate change and avoid the worst impacts, and political commitment and follow-through across all levels of Government to accelerate the implementation of adaptation actions is vital. I believe that the Government have the will to do this. Climate change will increasingly cause extensive, sometimes irreversible, damage to ecosystems. This degradation of ecosystems increases the vulnerability of people. The rise in weather and climate extremes has led to some irreversible impacts, as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt.

Nature-based solutions offer opportunities for cost-effective adaption to climate change, while also providing benefits to people and wildlife. Safeguarding biodiversity is fundamental for climate-resilient societal development. Conservation, protection and the restoration of land, freshwater and coastal ecosystems, together with targeted management to adapt to unavoidable impacts of climate change, reduces the vulnerability of biodiversity to climate change and benefits us all now and into the future.

There are something like nine speakers and we have 38 minutes left, so I ask Members to take approximately two or three minutes each, please.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) on securing this debate.

The world is facing a global biodiversity crisis triggered by human disruption to nature and the destruction of habitats. Members across the House know the seriousness of the challenges we face, but we also know we are nowhere near where we should be given the critical condition our nature is in. One million species are at risk of extinction due to human activity, but it is not only individual species that are threatened. The collapse in the abundance of nature also means that many of our ecosystems are not functioning as they should. Climate change is driving nature’s decline, and the loss of wildlife and wild places leaves us ill-equipped to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to a changing climate. We must recognise that the climate and biodiversity emergencies are intrinsically linked and should be tackled together.

Britain has faced a catastrophic loss in its biodiversity, with 41% of species having declined in abundance in the UK in the past 40 years. Of the G7 countries, we have the lowest level of biodiversity remaining. Immediate action is required to reverse current trends. The biodiversity crisis requires greater ambition. I ask the Government to reconsider the ambition of their biodiversity and environmental targets. In my constituency, Cheshire West and Cheshire Council, along with local communities, schools, businesses and partners and other organisations, are committed to making Chester a greener city and to building a community that people want and are able to live in now and in the future.

We must see a more ambitious approach to nature recovery, with local communities at its heart. The success of a nature recovery corridor in my constituency, led by community groups and guided by conservation experts, is an excellent example of how this can work in reality. Does the Minister agree that conservationists around the UK, such as those at Chester zoo, are in prime position to empower local people to help tackle the biodiversity crisis? Will she comment on what concrete plans the Government are making to commit to more ambitious biodiversity and environmental targets? We cannot put this crisis off any longer, and we must work together to protect and recover our global diversity.

I welcome this important debate. It comes at a brilliant time. Only yesterday the Prime Minister set up the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, which builds on the Government’s commitments in recent years to all those who live in the UK and around the world. Such an important development is welcome—and so soon after the publication of the Skidmore review on net zero. As I say, the formation of this Department is a clear commitment to caring for our planet and taking our responsibilities seriously to match and build on the commitments the Conservative Government have made since we legislated for net zero in 2019.

In this debate, we are recognising the critical role of biodiversity and nature-based solutions. We need to match our efforts to deliver decarbonisation with our efforts to recover nature and biodiversity. It would be a tragic shame to reach net zero but not reach our commitments to recover nature, which is why this debate is so timely and important. It can be done. We worry about food security and production in relation to nature recovery, but I believe there is no conflict—they can be done together and, in fact, they are co-dependent.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument. I completely agree; there can be no conflict between delivering the food production we need and reinvesting in the biodiversity we need. Does my hon. Friend not agree that the key to ensuring that there is no conflict is investment in new technology, which is something the Government need to look closely at?

I agree completely. Time and investment must be given to ensure that those technologies actually get to market and are commercially viable. I would go beyond that: it is about not just technology, but treating our land differently. A brilliant example of that in Cornwall is our use of herbal leys, which my hon. Friend will be familiar with, to increase the quality of the root structure of the grassland and retain moisture. There are all sorts of ways of providing better grazing land for cattle. It is certainly about devices and technology, but it is also about different ways of caring for the land from which we produce our food and which sequesters carbon.

I recently secured a debate in support of the nature and climate declaration, which embeds nature recovery in the road to net zero. The Climate and Ecology Bill is a natural instrument to build on this necessary approach. I am sure we will all be hearing more about how that Bill intends to deliver on the key things that were raised this morning by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) who opened the debate. I will leave it there.

It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship and oversight, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), who made an excellent speech, on securing what is a really important debate.

In the two minutes I have, I want to talk about the uplands. They are massively important to us as a country and hugely important to our communities in Cumbria. They can be a massive contributor to our fight against climate change. They are where we see water management happen; 70% of our drinking water comes from the uplands. Think of the peatland and soils there, which are vital to carbon sequestration.

Very quickly on that point, the Somerset levels near my constituency contain 231 square miles of peatland, which store nearly 11 million tonnes of carbon. Every pound invested returns about four times that in economic and social benefits. The commitment to peatland restoration in the England peat action plan covers less than 20% of England’s peatland.

I am grateful for the intervention. Peatland is hugely significant. It is more quickly restored than woodland and therefore has greater capacity to tackle climate change as a carbon sink. Our uplands are critical. While I support the principles underlining the environmental land management schemes and the transition payment for farmers, I think the ELMs at the moment have badly let the uplands down.

I will give you some quick figures, Mr Gray. The current basic payment rate for the uplands is £240 per hectare. With the new sustainable farming incentive, the rate for the lowlands is down to £151 per hectare; for the uplands, it is £98. Why is that? There are many things we have lost from being outside the EU, but one thing we have gained is the ability to not continue the nonsense of providing support for farming through income forgone. The idea that we compensate farmers only for what they might have got out of that land use, had that been for food or other production, rather than giving them the actual value of what they do is a nonsense. I urge the Minister to do away with income forgone as a way of calculating the payment rate and stop the system that actively penalises farmers in the uplands.

I mentioned the value that the uplands can provide in the fight against climate change and the need to value biodiversity in such an important part of our country. We must also remember how important they are to the landscape—and the economy—of the lakes and the dales. There are 60,000 people who owe their jobs to the hospitality and tourism industry in Cumbria, and we have a £3.5 billion tourism economy.

Based on what the Lake district and the Yorkshire dales look like, it would seem wrong for the Government to—I hope—accidentally transform in a negative way the landscape of our communities, particularly in the lakes. My major ask is that the Minister reconsider the payment rates for the uplands so that we can value our upland farmers and tackle climate change in our most beautiful places.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart)—an excellent MP—on securing this important debate. I welcome the environmental improvement plan from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, although you will be delighted to know that I will not read all of it. It follows the Environment Act 2021, the Fisheries Act 2020 and Agriculture Act 2020 in laying out a path to improve our environment and to make this a better and more prosperous place for us and our wildlife.

Hedgerows are the perfect example of how the environmental improvement plan will positively impact climate change and boost biodiversity. As a hedgerow hero, I am proud to have worked with the Campaign to Protect Rural England to increase hedgerow coverage by 40% by 2050. The environmental improvement plan announced the target of 30,000 miles of new and restored hedgerows by 2037, and 45,000 miles by 2050. That will result in 360,000 miles of English hedgerows—10% above the 1984 peak. Hedgerows are a classic symbol of the English countryside, providing a sense of continuity across the changing seasons. They also provide biodiversity’s best friend—a stable home for a bounty of flora and fauna. One in nine of the UK’s most vulnerable species, such as the hazel dormouse, the hedgehog and the brown hairstreak butterfly, rely on healthy hedgerows.

Hedgerows also play a crucial role on our path to net zero. We all know that planting trees and protecting peatlands are key to capturing and storing carbon, but so are hedgerows. Unmanaged hedgerows are estimated to sequester over 140 tonnes of carbon per hectare, compared with 169 tonnes for a 30-year native woodland. If hedgerows are properly managed, they can sequester even more, both in their woody stems and in the roots below.

Strong hedgerows with healthy root systems also aid soil health and reduce flooding. Farmers recognise those benefits, and more are planting and restoring hedgerows. Some 86% of farmers believe that hedgerows are important to them and their business, recognising the benefits of developing a healthy and sustainable natural environment for their land and livestock. Last month’s ELMS announcement of the establishment of a hedgerow standard in the sustainable farming incentive scheme in 2023 was a welcome step.

As we go forward with our environmental improvement plan, it is vital that we continue to support farmers as they invest in sustainable practices. Leaving the EU has given us the freedom to move beyond the basic payment scheme to support farmers in a more targeted manner.

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill gives us only until December 2023 to adopt or adapt 570 different pieces of legislation on environmental issues. Given the crises that we face, does the hon. Lady agree that we need to strengthen some of those laws rather than simply retain them?

As is so often the case, I need to correct the hon. Gentleman on the details of that legislation. We do not have to stop everything in 2023; there is an opportunity within the sunset clause to extend legislation beyond that point. Like my Conservative colleagues, I will continue to work to ensure that our environmental protections are strengthened and not reduced.

To come back to biodiversity and moving towards net zero, it is important that we boost our biodiversity to strengthen our rural economies. So many steps that we have taken, which are laid out in the environmental improvement plan, are key to that. It is fantastic that, as part of the plan, DEFRA recognises the importance of supporting green jobs and careers with apprenticeships across forestry, ecology, countryside management, the water environment and more, especially given that this is National Apprenticeship Week.

As we face more frequent extremes of climate change, we need to ensure that our natural environment is healthy and our relationship with it is sustainable. By doing what we can, we will support biodiversity and harvest the gains that the countryside provides on our path to net zero.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray.  Climate change is an absolutely huge subject and massively important, particularly for our children’s and grandchildren’s futures. It is really important to Stroud, because we are the greenest constituency in the greenest county in the country, and people passionately care about this issue.

I have tried to focus on a few campaigns, such as creating a GCSE in natural history. I have also focused on wetlands and biodiversity, so I was really pleased to have the Minister visit us last week at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge, which is the headquarters of the WWT. We got to show off our wetlands, show her all six varieties of flamingos and introduce her to Mr James, who is 70 years old.

I will get my asks in first, because I know we are short of time. As we explained last week, the first is for Ministers to work with the APPG for wetlands, which I chair, to reach our ambition to create 100,000 additional hectares of wetlands in the country. The second is for them to lead investment in natural flood management. We can do that through local authorities having a better strategic approach, through setting targets and through funding with blended finance options.

My third ask is for Ministers to assist us to develop the saltmarsh code, which is really important. As the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) pointed out, we want to get private investment into this work. To be fair to companies, they get a really hard time: if they do something, they are told they are greenwashing; if they do not do anything, they get into trouble. We want to put evidence behind what we are asking them to do, so that they can be confident when they are investing, and that is what our code will achieve.

I would also like to see a specific domestic wetlands team in DEFRA, because we have amazing, brilliant experts who focus on things such as peatlands and biodiversity. I appreciate that wetlands cross a lot of these areas, but giving us that focus, with a team behind us, will ensure that we meet all our ambitions.

Wetlands play a key role in helping to tackle climate change. The issue of climate change gets a bit shouty sometimes, and very shouty at other times, but when I talk to the public about biodiversity and things such as wetlands, which they can see, they get it. For the benefit of hon. Members in the room, I should say that one of the conversations we had with the Minister last week was about the carbon benefits of forests. The Minister asked to the local experts, “How do the carbon benefits of forests compare with the carbon benefits of wetlands?” The experts’ response was, “They’re about 18 times better.” That is absolutely extraordinary. It is not something that farmers or the National Farmers Union understand properly yet, and we need to get the evidence so that we can back it up.

We can do great things. We can help to hit this country’s net zero targets if the Minister really puts her shoulder behind the APPG for wetlands and all my asks.

My hon. Friend is making as powerful an argument for wetlands as our hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) did for nature- based solutions. Does she agree that we can square all these things? She has fantastic wetlands, I have some contaminated land where we can put a new wood and have some green energy, and down in Hastings and Rye there are all sorts of different solutions to protect the sea. It is about recognising the value of this great environmental plan and then implementing it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) has in her constituency.

I thank my hon. Friend, who is my near neighbour. We need to be creative, to be open to ideas and to work together in our fabulous constituencies. The focus from DEFRA is absolutely brilliant—the Government and the country do not get enough credit for the progress we have made on the environment—but with things such as those I have suggested, we can also help the public to see progress.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) on setting the scene so well. I am a huge supporter of biodiversity and, where appropriate, rewilding. I declare an interest as a landowner and a member of the Ulster Farmers Union. A number of years ago, I made use of a scheme to plant saplings on the family farm, and we planted 3,500. That was many years ago, and the area is simply teeming with wildlife and various plants and foliage.

It is my sincere opinion that, for landowners to dedicate space to promoting biodiversity or rewilding, there must be schemes to make it worth their while. I know that that is not the Minister’s direct responsibility—it is probably another Minister’s—but I ask that she pass it on.

Given the price of saplings and seedlings, few landowners can afford to voluntarily plant trees at this time, but I know several who would if they had them and there was a scheme to incentivise that. This is not the Minister’s responsibility, but my local council back home—Ards and North Down Borough Council—has taken a very successful approach to rewilding. It has taken significant steps in the last couple of years to benefit our borough’s biodiversity by altering and reducing our mowing practices. That is something that councils can do without a lot of expense—they can reduce mowing charges and rewild. The council has rewilded 22,000 metres of closely mown amenity grasslands to managed grassland habitats, which are capable of supporting a much more diverse range of floral species, pollinators and insects—how important it is to have our bees and pollinators in place! My colleagues and friends down the road, Valentine and Chris Hodges, gave us some native Irish black bees and five beehives—they are still theirs, but they put them on our land, and that adds to biodiversity. Councils are keen to do that back home, and I am sure that the Minister will endorse that.

The council needs to have public understanding, and support is key to the success of the project. Interpretive signage is part of that as well. Studies have shown that, as well as the biodiversity benefits, conversion from species-poor to species-rich grassland can significantly increase the soil carbon sequestration rate. In addition, a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions as a result of less frequent grass cutting—that is the key issue in what the council is doing—has reduced the council’s carbon footprint. That is one thing that can be done.

In conclusion, I know that there would be greater buy-in if tree planting was financially possible. Will the Minister therefore tell us whether consideration has been given to funding schemes that would allow for free plants and shrubs to be given to people? That would allow more people to perhaps look at that wee square in their back garden not as an extra piece of mowing to be done, but as a chance to help our environment.

I thank and congratulate Back-Bench colleagues; we have got a great deal into a short space of time. Thank you all for being so prompt and courteous. We move to the Front Benchers, with John Mc Nally.

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) for securing this important debate.

As our climate worsens, it continues to negatively affect our biodiversity and threaten the stability of our natural world. The issues that arise from that are inextricably linked to many of the challenges we face as a society, and it is impacting our health, wellbeing and prosperity. Given those growing threats, it is about time that the UK Government stepped up and joined Scotland in leading the world on the frontlines of tackling climate change. We must work together as we prepare for the worst effects of the climate catastrophe.

Climate change is simply an issue of justice; it disproportionately affects the most vulnerable communities and nations. Scotland was not only the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency, but the first to introduce a climate justice fund. That fund was set up to help the developing countries most at risk to tackle the effects of climate change on the frontline. Fulfilling our role in tackling the global climate emergency is simply a moral obligation. The climate justice fund was trebled to £36 million over this Parliament, in stark contrast to the espoused global Britain led by a Tory Government who would seemingly rather cut international aid. The Scottish Government believe that a just transition is at the heart of our nature recovery ambitions, which are focused on nature-based solutions that create a greener, fairer and more prosperous nation for all.

Meanwhile, the UK Government do not seem to believe in their own consultations. In March last year, a UK Government consultation produced a legally binding target to increase tree canopy and woodland cover from 14.5% to 17.5% of England’s total land area by 2050. That target was set to help to meet net zero ambitions by 2050 and provide many other benefits, including the creation of new wildlife habitats and a reduction in flooding by slowing the flow of water off hills—all admirable ambitions. Despite that, DEFRA decided to cut the target to 16.5%, claiming that a “review of our evidence”—from its own consultation—now showed that the lower figure was “the most ambitious target” that could be set. One per cent. may seem trivial, but that equates to a reduction of over 100,000 hectares in the total area to be planted by 2050 and, significantly, to an enormous 37 million fewer tonnes of carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere by the end of the century.

In response to the target being cut, DEFRA upped its recommended ratio of conifers in the overall tree-planting mix. Foreign conifers make much poorer habitats for wildlife than native broadleaf trees, but they grow more quickly and, in the early years, can store more carbon. However, even with the additional conifers, the 16.5% woodland target would still leave 1.9 million tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere by 2050.

It is no surprise to me and other interested parties that 75% of all the new woodland trees planted in the UK were planted in Scotland. That is more evidence that Westminster should follow the Scottish Government’s lead if it wants England to meet decarbonisation targets and put in place biodiversity protections.

In January 2022, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published its report on the role of nature-based solutions in mitigating climate change and achieving net zero by 2050. It argued that, although the Government’s plans for nature-based solutions were “ambitious”, they were at “severe risk of failure”. In addition, a report published in October 2022 by the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee stated:

“Behaviour change is essential for achieving climate and environment goals, and for delivering wider benefits. The Government’s current approach to enabling behaviour change to meet climate and environment goals is inadequate to meet the scale of the challenge.”

Will the UK Government finally take heed, work with the Scottish Government and commit to restoring nature and decelerating the climate crisis?

In December 2022, the Scottish Government published the draft biodiversity strategy for Scotland, which set out what our natural environment needs for us to halt biodiversity loss by 2030, reverse it with largescale restoration by 2045 and protect our environment for the future. As part of that, the Scottish Government have made significant funding commitments to protect and restore biodiversity. That is important, and it includes the establishment of a nature restoration fund, which will provide at least £65 million over five years to support large-scale natural restoration. The Scottish Govt have also committed an additional £500 million towards the natural economy over the course of the Parliament.

I will finish by saying that if we want to change the world, we need to get busy in our own little corner, and I believe that the Scottish people and the Scottish Government are doing just that. I would like Westminster to follow that lead.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) on securing this important debate. I commend Back-Bench colleagues on their brevity, and I will prune my speech in a suitably nature-friendly way to fit into the time. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon), who praised her local organisations for seeking to green their city. I strongly commend them on their nature recovery corridor.

It is almost five years ago that the House of Commons approved Labour’s motion declaring a climate and nature emergency. Sadly, the acknowledgment of that twin emergency does not seem to have galvanised the Government into the kind of response that many hoped for. We all know that we must halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity by 2030 for the benefit of all people and the planet. However, I am afraid that the Government’s actions often seem to take us in the opposite direction, whether it is flirting with fracking, seeking to reopen coalmines or letting off the hook oil companies profit from the misery of war.

The Government are also threatening to allow 1,700 or so environmental regulations to fall under the retained EU law bulldozer. They breached the statutory deadline for setting Environment Act 2021 targets and watered down those they eventually did set. Five years into the 25-year environment plan, not one of its 23 targets was assessed as being on track by the Government’s own environmental watchdog. Frankly, the verdict of the Office for Environmental Protection and its chair, Dame Glenys Stacey, was completely withering.

As many have pointed out already this afternoon, our natural carbon stores—peatlands, trees, woodlands, salt marshes and wetlands in particular—are in decline; indeed, they are at high risk of degradation in the extreme climatic conditions that are, sadly, likely over the next 30 years. Wetlands in particular can accumulate carbon for centuries, but in some areas of the UK we have lost over 90% of our wetland habitat. As the hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) pointed out, restored wetlands provide rich habitat, clean water naturally and reduce flood risk downstream.

Given the time, I will not; sorry.

We do not believe that the current ambitions to halt the decline of species abundance in the UK are good enough. Frankly, the latest targets are too weak. We must be nature-positive; we should aim for a dramatic incline in species abundance. Nature fundamentally underpins human health, wellbeing and prosperity. By delivering for the planet’s nature, we also deliver for its people, and Labour has always understood the importance of viewing the environment through this twin lens. That is especially important now, as we live through the worst cost of living crisis in a generation.

We need to consider those living in communities plagued by dirty air and water, and acknowledge that disadvantaged communities are disproportionately impacted. These communities are also twice as likely to be neighbourhoods without nature-rich spaces. We want to see a UK in which everyone has proper access to wild places and wildlife. A healthy natural world and more equitable access to nature are key priorities for Labour.

We also understand the importance of doing our fair share to cut UK emissions, in order to try to keep global heating down. Our shadow Secretary of State for Climate Change and Net Zero, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), has been clear on this, and the shadow Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), has pledged an investment of £28 billion every year until 2030 to tackle the climate and nature crisis, and to create clean, green and secure jobs for people in the UK.

In conclusion, we recognise that this is a cross-Government challenge that needs focus from all of Government, so we have committed to a robust net zero and nature test for every policy, to create certainty for business and provide leadership to seize the opportunities for the UK, while protecting nature here and abroad. It is a historic challenge, one that we absolutely have to meet, and Labour is determined to do just that.

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Gray, and a real pleasure to listen to my colleagues speak so positively about nature-based solutions, including wetlands, hedgerows and upland farming. However, I have to agree with the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), my constituency neighbour, that Cumbria is the greenest and most pleasant county. Nevertheless, I must also say to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) how beautiful her constituency is, in particular her wetlands at Slimbridge, which was the very first of the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust’s fantastic sites that I have visited; I will say more about it later.

The debate today has been so positive, or mostly incredibly positive, and I start, of course, by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) for securing it. How timely it is, straight off the back of the environmental improvement plan, which we published just last week.

I was really pleased to see that plan on the desk in front of my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) and to hear her speak so enthusiastically about hedgerows, because I recognise the value of hedgerows. I also recognise her value, as our very own parliamentary hedgerow hero, who champions the benefits of hedgerows for nature and carbon sequestration. Personally, I would emphasise their benefits for foraging, too, because a wonderful pie can be made from the brambles found in a hedgerow, as well as many other tasty dishes. However, I will return to the substance of the debate.

We absolutely recognise the urgency of climate change. Although we are accelerating our efforts to end our contribution to climate change, we must also continue to take action to ensure that the country is well prepared to face the challenges that the changing climate is bringing. Reducing emissions is key to reducing climate impacts in the long term and our policies to support net zero are crucial. However, climate change-related events, such as droughts, flooding and wildfires, are already impacting the natural carbon stores that we rely on to achieve net zero. We know that our country and our world is going to become hotter, drier and wetter, and that the impacts will be colossal. Our third UK climate change risk assessment, published last year, highlighted the risks and opportunities facing the UK from climate change. There are risks to all sectors of our economy, including the natural environment. We are addressing these through the third national adaptation programme—NAP3—which my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye mentioned. That will be published later this summer. We are working with many other Departments to produce the report.

Adaptation is mainstreamed across Government. All policies and programmes need to consider the risks that climate change poses to their success and build in adaptation actions to reduce these risks. Those are all brought together in NAP3, which looks at the 63 risks. NAP3 actions include restoring and creating new habitats for general resilience, as well as targeted actions, such as protecting species that will be particularly vulnerable to climate change. I have just been handed a note to say that I have confused my numbers. I said the number of risks was 63, but we are actually currently monitoring 61 risks in the national adaptation plan.

Many of these actions will be delivered through the environmental land management schemes. I want to thank my hon. Friends the Members for St Ives (Derek Thomas) and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), and the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale for recognising the value that farmers will bring to the nature-based solutions we will need for adaptation. We can deliver this through environmental land management schemes, be that countryside stewardship plus, the sustainable farming incentive or landscape recovery.

To respond to the point by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale about how we are going to look after the upland farmers, as an MP representing many upland farmers it is critical that we do. We have an opportunity now as we leave the common agricultural policy to move away from an area-based scheme and toward much more targeted support created by England’s politicians for England’s farmers. It is very much more targeted to environmental stewardship and those three schemes.

I am really grateful to hear the Minister say that. We differ on Brexit, but I think one of the silver linings of leaving the European Union is that we can construct our own policy and are not stuck on the old forms of income forgone as a way of paying farmers. Would she look again at the upland rate for the sustainable farming incentive, because that is what at the moment is going to push many hill farmers out of business altogether?

It will come as no surprise to the hon. Member that I am challenging how we best support our upland farmers. I am from a farming family myself and live in a farming community. In the Lake District national park I see how hard our farmers work. They are the original friends of the earth. They have created our countryside for our enjoyment, particularly across the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. The hon. Member can be assured that I will continue to champion farmers while also reviewing policy. While the environment is important, farmers also need to be able to thrive and survive.

The Minister mentioned 61 risks, but does she worry, like I do, that low uptake of ELM schemes could be one of those risks? Or are there actually 62 risks?

It is absolutely the case that we need as many farmers as possible to take up ELM schemes, but from the discussions I am having in my constituency and with the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) in DEFRA, and from the pilots we have undertaken with the sustainable farming incentive, we are optimistic about farmers taking up the schemes, but we will constantly look at them to make sure they are as attractive as possible to farmers, while also ensuring we provide best value to the taxpayer.

The Minister is being very generous. It is very important that farmers are incentivised, because they are the custodians of the land. They want to do better. Let us be quite clear about that. The thrust of the debate shows—and hopefully the Minister agrees—that incentivising farmers is how we can help them to achieve those goals.

Absolutely. There is no other industry or sector where knowledge and experience is passed down the generations as it is in farming. As a farmer himself, the hon. Gentleman will know that only too well.

There will also be adaptation benefits from the new England-wide system of local nature recovery strategies. That is how farmers can come together to create wildlife corridors. I really did disagree with the spokesman for the Scottish National party, the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally), because doing this in our own corner just will not cut it. I can talk about the importance of the UK on the international stage and the success of the Secretary of State in encouraging countries right across the globe to protect 30% of their land and seas by 2030 and a whole raft of other measures. The climate sees no boundaries and we need to work together. I, for one, am looking forward to meeting with my counterpart in Scotland.

Local nature recovery strategies prioritise actions to drive nature’s recovery. Part of our work on adaptation is to make net zero policies resilient to climate risks, for example, by planting tree species that will cope with future climate conditions in their location; through ensuring nurseries are stocked with a high-quality, diverse range of species; and by ensuring that land managers have the right tools to make decisions for the future.

The hon. Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon) demanded more action. I thought it would be appropriate to set out what we have already achieved because that is sometimes forgotten. We have already put in place legislation, backed by action, to address the concerns that have been raised. That includes a suite of ambitious statutory environmental targets under the Environment Act 2021. Let us not forget that we were one of the first developed countries to legislate for net zero and then we set out the 25-year environment plan. Although all of those targets will help us to adapt to climate change, particularly relevant ones include: ensuring that species abundance in 2042 is greater than in 2022, and at least 10% greater than in 2030; and restoring or creating over 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside protected sites by 2042, compared with 2022.

Restoring our natural habitats has numerous benefits for helping communities to adapt to climate change risks: natural flood management, urban cooling and supporting the resilience of ecosystems to climate change. As part of our commitment to a nature recovery network, in May 2022, we launched five unique nature recovery projects spanning nearly 100,000 hectares. They will see the creation and restoration of wildlife-rich habitats, corridors and stepping-stones. They will help wildlife populations to move and thrive, provide nature-based solutions and enable people to enjoy and connect with nature. One of the more recent pledges in the environmental improvement plan is that no one should live more than 15 minutes away from nature—a green space or a blue space.

The debate is about climate change, as opposed to just climate change adaptation. I appreciate that adaptation is in the DEFRA brief, but I am a little concerned that there does not seem to be that joined-up thinking about the importance of nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation as well. Those can be incredibly powerful for carbon sequestration, whether that is wetlands or planting trees. Is the Minister talking to colleagues in the newly created Department for Energy Security and Net Zero about how to ensure that those two things work together?

I think, Mr Gray, that the debate is about the role of nature in adapting to climate change. I am prepared to stand corrected if I have got that wrong.

Jolly good. Yes, absolutely, I confirm that I speak regularly with my counterparts elsewhere in DEFRA, which has been one of the lead Departments, certainly for net zero, although the climate change national adaptation plan involves many Departments. However, mitigation is also a key priority in DEFRA, where I speak with colleagues, although it the direct responsibility of Lord Benyon.

Moving on to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, her request to look at a target of 100,000 hectares of wetland protected for nature was relevant. That is a worthwhile ambition, and I will certainly ask my team to look into how we ensure that we are sufficiently resourced in DEFRA to understand the benefits. She said that 18 times more carbon is sequestered in wetlands, compared with forestry, which is an impressive statistic. Wetlands not only store huge volumes of carbon, but act as natural sponges for floodwaters or as storm-breaks against extreme weather events. Furthermore, I have seen children and other people enjoying the wonders of wetlands, such as meeting the most marvellous Mr James.

That is important, and others referenced the importance of bringing society with us—I could not agree more. That is why goal 10 in the 262-page environmental improvement plan talks about ensuring that we work with people and communities to achieve what is absolutely necessary, as set out in the plan.

I have simply run out of time, although so much more could be said on the subject. I look forward to further debates on a whole raft of nature-based solutions, matters and the environmental measures that the Government are taking. I assure the House that we are committed to protecting nature, not just in England or the UK, but right across the globe. Nature sees no boundaries, and we are one of the very special places for migratory birds, as I learned at Slimbridge. We need to achieve our targets domestically, and to work with our counterparts across the globe. Finally, I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye for sparking such a wonderful debate this afternoon.

I thank the Minister for her response. Clearly, Members across the House, representing all parts of the UK, have left us in no doubt that biodiversity and nature-based solutions are vital to this country in the actions we take to mitigate the effects of climate change. I thank everyone for attending the debate.

Using biodiversity and nature-based solutions to adapt to climate change is key. I welcome the Minister’s understanding of the situation and the recommendations, and of our need to consider those and other policy measures by working closely with the organisations that are expert in the area on NAP3.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered climate change and biodiversity.

Sitting adjourned.