Motion to Take Note
My Lords, it is a year now since the European Union Committee published our report on adapting EU agriculture and forestry to climate change. In that report, we acknowledged that there had been changes to the climate in the past and repeated the widely shared concern that current projections of climate change indicate a far higher level of uncertainty in the future. We quoted from a November 2009 statement made jointly by the Met Office, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Royal Society which said that scientific evidence of dangerous, long-term and potentially irreversible climate change had significantly strengthened since 2007. The statement went on:
“In the UK, we will be affected both directly and indirectly, through the effects of climate change on, for example, global markets (notably in food), health, extent of flooding and sea levels”.
Indeed, your Lordships will recall what happened in Cumbria in November 2009 when unprecedented levels of rainfall caused flooding that devastated much of the area’s infrastructure. Water levels in Cockermouth, for example, reached over eight feet at their worst point. Estimates suggest that the cost of the damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure has amounted to more than a quarter of a billion pounds. Your Lordships will also be well aware of the recent Foresight report entitled The Future of Food and Farming which identifies climate change as one of the major challenges that our global agriculture and food system face.
We carried out our inquiry against this wider background, but more specifically in relation to the White Paper, Adapting to climate change: towards a European framework for action, which the European Commission had published in April 2009, together with a linked paper, The challenge for European agriculture and rural areas. In general, and perhaps even more so in the light of the Foresight report, our feeling was that the White Paper failed to emphasise the urgency of these issues. Perhaps I may also say that we felt that also to be true of the Government’s response. The White Paper was rather too long on aspiration and on getting together to prepare models and strategies, but somewhat short on action.
The main focus of our report is on the actions that the UK and our EU partners can and should take to face the challenges posed to agriculture. This in turn sets the discussion in the context of the common agricultural policy, where there is a larger debate now under way about reform after 2013. I should also mention that our report related to forestry as well as agriculture. Because the Commission published its Green Paper, Forest Protection and Information in the EU: Preparing forests for climate change, only in March 2010 when we were concluding our inquiry, we returned to the forestry aspects of our inquiry in July of last year when we responded to the Green Paper. My remarks today will take account of that response as well.
The Commission White Paper of April 2009 foresaw a two-stage approach on adaptation measures. Phase 1, from 2009 to 2012, would prepare the ground for a more comprehensive EU adaptation strategy. Phase 2, from 2013 onwards, would see that strategy implemented. Emphasis was rightly placed on action at the national and local level, while the Commission’s role was essentially that of strategy setting.
As regards agriculture and forestry, in phase 1 the Commission proposed that measures for adaptation and water management be embedded in national rural development programmes from 2007 to 2013. We explain in our report that those rural development and environmental programmes are supported under Pillar 2 of the CAP, which at present makes up some 20 per cent of the CAP spend—some €96 billion over that seven-year period. There was an interim review of the CAP in 2008—the health check—which, among other things, led to an agreement by member states that several “new challenges” should be seen as priorities for funding under the second pillar. Among those were measures towards the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.
We heard from witnesses to our inquiry, including a representative of the Commission's Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, that after the health check the take-up of climate change measures had been very disappointing, with only some 14 per cent of funds available used for this purpose and the bulk of the funding used by countries that had already been giving priority to such measures. We felt that there was much room here for greater transparency—perhaps a little naming and shaming—and recommended that member states should be required to spell out what they had done to promote measures for adaptation to climate change in the annual rural development programme reports which they are required to provide to the Commission.
In the White Paper the Commission also proposed that, before 2013, there should be an examination of the capacity of the CAP's farm advisory service to reinforce knowledge and adoption of new technologies that facilitate adaptation. That issue is very much at the heart of our concern about the future of agriculture in this country and in the EU more generally. One chapter in our March 2010 report deals with what we call research and knowledge transfer; and we are clear that the double challenge of feeding the world's growing population, at a time when climate change is likely to restrict the landmass that can usefully be cultivated, demands both developing new and innovative technologies and making use of those that already exist but where farmers need help with putting them into practice.
The White Paper proposed that by 2011 the EU should set up what it called a “clearing house mechanism” to serve as a database on climate change impact, vulnerability and best practices on adaptation. That is fine as far as it goes. However, more widely, we are concerned by the evidence that we received suggesting significant neglect of scientific research into agriculture generally and specifically into adapting agriculture and forestry to climate change. That was particularly true of the UK. We heard, for example, that between 1970 and 2010 there had been a significant fall in the number of agricultural research institutes in the UK, and in the number of university departments of agriculture and land management, paralleled by a large drop in the number of students in these subjects.
In our report, we therefore call on the Government to ensure that the UK's research capacity is strengthened. We also make clear our view that there is an important role for the EU to identify the research gaps, and to look to fill them with research supported by the Commission through the framework programme as well as by co-operative efforts between member states. Since our report, I am pleased to note progress in that respect. In March 2010, when our report was published, the first steps were being taken to set up a very promising co-operation between the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Services Research Council, the BBSRC, and France's National Institute for Agricultural Research, INRA, to carry out joint research into agriculture, climate change and food security.
A commitment to generating new knowledge is essential but not sufficient. It is also essential that such knowledge is translated into new products and techniques and that it can be applied in practice. Since last autumn our committee has been conducting a further inquiry, into innovation in EU agriculture. We were stimulated to undertake this latest inquiry by our work on adaptation to climate change and the seeming deficiencies in both the volume of agricultural R&D and the means of spreading best practice. In the past few months, we have learnt a great deal about the state of advisory systems in the UK and in other EU member states. In particular, I want to draw your Lordships' attention to the farm advisory system which all member states have been required to provide under the CAP over the past decade.
This requirement was introduced in parallel with the introduction of so-called “cross-compliance” obligations on farmers receiving direct payments under the CAP—obligations to meet certain conditions relating to environmental protection in their agricultural practice. Different member states have acted on the farm advisory system requirement in different ways. We have heard that, in some countries, FAS representatives are found to offer a very helpful service, while in others they are seen, in effect, as agricultural policemen.
We know that the Commission is reconsidering the role and functions of the farm advisory system and that the UK Government are looking again at arrangements in this country. We are clear that there is an unacceptable gap in the provision of advice to farmers—and that agricultural advisers could, and should, act as conduits for the application of research advances to farming practices. We look to the Minister to tell us more about the Government’s intentions in this respect.
The Commission’s White Paper looked to the period from 2013, the phase 2, for the implementation of strategies on adaptation to climate change. This coincides with the next funding period for the CAP, hence the shape of the CAP after the further reform which is now under discussion. In our report we said that the defining characteristics of the future CAP should be the “sustainable intensification” of agriculture, a term which was persuasively advanced in the Royal Society’s 2009 report, Reaping the Benefits.
In November last year, the Commission published a communication, The CAP towards 2020: Meeting the food, natural resources and territorial challenges of the future. We responded to it with a letter which drew heavily on our report on adaptation to climate change. In it we said that we welcomed the idea of the “greening” of Pillar 1 of the CAP, which would imply making some of the income support funding contingent on the delivery of environmental public goods. We have suggested that eligible activities might include incentives to mitigate agriculture's contribution to climate change and to adapt the impact of climate change on agriculture. We reiterated our view that there is no case for payments to be made available without an environmental justification. Again, we have stressed that better integration of environmental considerations in Pillar 1 must go hand in hand with vastly improved knowledge transfer systems.
I must say just a few words about the committee’s views on forestry in the context of concerns about climate change. In our July 2010 response to the Commission’s Green Paper, we agreed that there was no need to give the EU competence for forestry to match the competence which it has in relation to agriculture, while accepting that this still left scope for valuable action to be taken by the EU. Forests can play a key role in combating climate change, both as a carbon sink and as a source of renewable energy. We were much influenced by the evidence that we received from Professor Read, which suggested that restoring the proportion of UK land devoted to forestry to the 16 per cent at which it stood in 1980—compared with 12 per cent of our landmass today—could reduce UK carbon emissions by some 10 per cent, which is a very substantial amount.
However, we made clear our concern that the economics of forestry could prove the greatest obstacle to such policies. Given the wide range of experience across the EU, we recommended that the Commission should work with member states to exchange experience and develop an economic assessment of the viability of providing significant additional afforestation. I have to say that, so far, we have seen no strong signs of support from the Government for such a policy. I would welcome some comment from the Minister today on this recommendation.
Mr Jim Paice MP, the Minister of State at Defra, wrote to us at the end of June 2010 to set out the Government’s response to our report. I am glad to say that there is quite clearly a lot in common between our views and those of the Government on the issues with which we dealt in the report—not least on the longer-term shape of the future CAP. However, as I have indicated, we have not so far been able to persuade the Government in relation to our recommendations for future action on research and knowledge transfer. For example, in their response, the Government commented that,
“the number of agricultural institutes is not a good measure of agricultural research output”.
We accept that—but it could still be a debating point. There is certainly a whiff of complacency about such an answer, particularly in light of the widespread concern, as we heard from our witnesses, that there has been a significant decline in agricultural research in this country and a major failure in knowledge transfer down to farm level.
The Government also commented that,
“communication to farmers and land managers is important to ensure that research and knowledge are used on the ground”.
Given our analysis that in England such communication currently falls short of what is required to enable farmers to put innovative knowledge into practice, we expect the Government to take on board the need to make farm advisory services more effective. In June 2010, the response said that Defra was mapping advisory services “to inform future decisions”. I hope that the Minister will be able today to say something more positive about those decisions .
We have also received a response to our report from European Commissioner Sefcovic in a letter dated 7 September 2010. We were encouraged to read that the Commission agreed with most of our views and recommendations. It is fair to say, however, that the evidence of the extent of its agreement will come when there are more specific legislative proposals for the future of the CAP.
My remarks this afternoon have shown how intensive a debate is now under way in relation to the future of the CAP, in Brussels and in the capitals of the EU member states. As our report of March 2010 makes clear, however, the sustainable intensification of agriculture must be a key determinant of the future CAP and must include a range of measures aimed at adaptation to climate change. It is important that these measures are put into effect in not too distant a time. I beg to move.
My Lords, the House will wish to join me in thanking my noble friend Lady Sharp for the authoritative way in which she has introduced this important report. I wish to thank all members of the committee who contributed, a year ago now, to this report and I am grateful that we at last have an opportunity to debate it.
I warm to the concept enunciated by my noble friend of sustainable intensification, which is the key to future common agricultural farming policy in Europe. European farming has to be considered in a long-term context and needs to be reviewed in the light of adapting to climate change.
I declare two interests: I chair the Living With Environmental Change programme, which is a partnership of major UK public sector funders of environmental research; and I am a farmer.
The role that Europeans and the global population might expect to be the contribution of Europe to meeting the global needs of food production after 2013 needs to be put into the context of not only climate change but of environmental, economic and demographic change, and over a much longer period than in the past the CAP has been considered; it is perfectly reasonable to think in terms of 40 years. Of course, when we are thinking about food security, as we are in a global sense, we have to recognise that there is absolutely no validity in simply considering national food security, or even continental food security. It all has to be looked at in terms of the needs of the world. If we look at the rather chequered career of previous common agricultural policies, we recognise that the obsession, which was perhaps understandable, of trying to achieve European food security in some ways exacerbated the problems in poorer countries by undermining local production by subsidised exports and import tariffs. So the concept that the committee enunciates of sustainable intensification is not, quite frankly, a policy that in some member states will chime very warmly—but for all that it needs to be promoted very strenuously.
The issues that will face us over the 30 or 40 years, which we can predict fairly confidently, bear repeating. There will be a population of 9 billion or more, with increased purchasing power. That is a positive factor; it is excellent that there are now opportunities for people to assume the nutritional levels that we take for granted. It is not to say that the millennium goal of 2,100 calories per capita will be met in many parts of the world, but at least there will be very significant populations that will eat more meat and therefore will need more animal feed, so the demand for feed will increase. We know also—or it is perfectly reasonable to assume—that the land area for crops will decline, at the very best. If it increased, it would be clearly at the expense of environmental issues, not least the loss of biodiversity. The urbanisation of so many parts of the world demonstrates that it is highly improbable to expect new cropped areas. So there will be severe limits in reclaiming for agriculture new land areas, and there will be a limitation of other natural resources—water above all, but also fertilisers and fossil fuels, which we would wish to limit because of their impact on climate change.
To go back to water, one of the most critical of those natural resources, we must remember that of the available fresh water already 70 per cent is used on a global scale in agriculture, although not of course in this country. The figure is relatively low in this country. But when you look at how you are going to increase production, you have to recognise that fresh water is a finite resource and that innovation is clearly required. Against that there is the issue, which we have discussed regularly, about the increased demand for biofuels, which has land use implications, and the need for agriculture, to make a contribution and to reduce its adverse impacts, in terms of not only climate change but environmental pollution to soil and water.
Above all, the requirement is to ensure that with the new agricultural systems that we anticipate having to be produced through new technologies, we must ensure that the price of food remains within the capacity of the poorer countries, which at the moment find it difficult sometimes to compete for food. Indeed, the higher food prices threaten their development.
In the developed world, as opposed to the developing world, we face increased volatility in food prices, which arises quite rapidly and unexpectedly sometimes, as we saw last year, with food bans from Russia, Ukraine and other countries. In 2009, Chatham House said very reasonably that we can no longer afford to take our European food supplies for granted. We may not be short of food ourselves, but our purchasing power of European consumers leads to these adverse impacts, export bans and food droughts, which we have seen since 2009, as a direct consequence of our reliance on food that we can purchase more rapidly than others. Over the next 40 or 50 years, we need in Europe to promote increased production, particularly in countries where consumption will increase—that is, we want to promote production in poorer countries and reduce price volatility, which helps no one. Above all, we want to develop lower cost production systems, or low-cost production systems at any rate, because I fear that they will not be lower than at present. We need to reduce our dependence on inputs, particularly of fossil fuel, and to make much better use of water. That is what we mean by sustainable intensification, which has to be done with the same or a reduced land area. The bulk of future increases in production will thus have to come by greater output per hectare, which means higher yields and a dependence on good quality soils, adequate amounts of water and the development of appropriate technology.
Chapter 6 of this helpful report deals at some length with the research and development requirements. This is where, with our own role in the United Kingdom, we recognise that we are the repository of much of the underpinning science. That is certainly relevant to other European countries, if perhaps to a lesser extent. While it is true that applied agricultural research has declined over the past 20 years, the same has not been true of the biological sciences as a whole. All credit to the previous Administration, particularly while the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, was Science Minister. He did a lot to underpin the basic sciences. The tragedy is that much of that basic science is not being adequately applied in ways which are relevant to these production areas where we see problems looming ahead, so we need to build those bridges.
We need technology transfer that is appropriate to the users. I remember that when Archbishop Tutu was asked what had been the greatest and most important advance in Africa over the past 10 years, or perhaps in his lifetime, he said that it was the mobile telephone. That is because many African farmers will have access to a mobile telephone with a camera on it. Being able to photograph the crop or the disease, they can get instant transfer with the sort of technology they are looking for. Above all, we need the infrastructure to ensure that the development work moves the science, which has moved so fast. In molecular biology, we now have knowledge of the plant and animal genomes. All that gives us a great opportunity and there is huge potential for innovative approaches.
The problem is that we have not been prepared to embrace some of those new technologies, an obvious example being GM soya. We have to rely on imported protein for animal feed, which we cannot grow competitively in Europe. Soya is now largely grown as genetically modified. If we insist on importing the non-genetically modified, our production systems will simply be more expensive. Of course there is a great deal of hypocrisy anyway, because we import meat that has been fed with GM soya—in fact we cannot tell whether it has or not. That is simply a case of not embracing a new technology for reasons that are nothing to do with either the science or the risk.
New technologies that will be relevant are no-till agriculture, which has already been widely adopted in Europe and certainly has much more application elsewhere around the world, and better irrigation systems, where the report refers to the technologies developed in the Middle East. I particularly draw attention to the excellent work done is Israel in developing irrigation systems that have far less loss through evaporation. Above all, there is integrated cost protection. All of those lead to lower input farming systems and cost minimisation.
We need to fund this strategic and applied agricultural research. Over the past 20 years, we have lost momentum. I have heard of and read many reports, and it is encouraging to hear Ministers say that they recognise that this now needs to be addressed, but it takes 20 years to move from basic research right through to the applied end of the spectrum. We need to understand that it should surely be part of our overall assistance to developing countries around the world. We are the repositories of so much of this science and we have an obligation to make sure that it is properly transferred.
My Lords, the most reliable measurements we have of CO2 in the atmosphere are those of the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii. As of February 2011, those showed levels of CO2 to be still rising. It is up to 391.76 parts per million, compared with 389.85 parts per million last year. Not only are those rising, they are increasing at an accelerating rate from decade to decade. Because, as collective humanity, we are doing so little to change the situation, it is now unlikely that we will be able to confine global warming to an average to two degrees Celsius—as noble Lords will remember, the limit that most scientists regard as reducing risk to reasonably manageable dimensions.
Whatever we do now, there will be significant levels of climate change. Noble Lords should remember that that climate change is irrevocable and cumulative. Once the greenhouse gases are in the atmosphere they will be there for centuries, and we know of no way of getting them out again. That means that globally, regionally and locally we will be deeply in adaptation. The term “adaptation” sounds benign and almost reassuring, but the risks that we face are truly profound and scary. It is a myth to suppose that the most dangerous changes will be confined to the developing world; Europe is as vulnerable as anywhere else to the increasingly intense patterns of drought, flooding and extreme weather that will follow.
For that reason, because of its emphasis on adaptation, I welcome the report. It was produced before I became a member of the sub-committee but I congratulate my colleagues on its production and on their excellent work. It is a highly important report because agriculture and land use produce something like 10 per cent of the greenhouse gases produced by the European Union, including some very lethal ones, notably methane.
The report and the EU commissioner’s White Paper are both rich in detail so I will comment only on a few aspects, and then only briefly. First, a core point is that we have to think about adaptation proactively and in a long-term fashion. It is no good waiting for climatic changes to occur and then trying to adapt to them later; our defences against a newly aggressive nature would be quickly overwhelmed. We have to prepare and invest now for outcomes that may be 20 or 30 years off. This is a difficult situation because it involves the assessment of future risk and there are several different scenarios for what that risk will be, so preparing for the long term is complex—it is not a simple matter. However, it is easy to find instances of where the threats are. For example, the core agricultural industries that exist in the southern Mediterranean almost certainly will not be there at all 20 years down the line, so we face massive issues of adaptation and we have to prepare now, not leave them for the future.
Secondly, improving the resilience of crops, woodland areas and water management systems is going to be key. Science and technology will have a massive role here, and I agree wholeheartedly with the comments that the noble Earl has made on this issue. I agree with the report when it emphasises the importance of biotechnology, which is probably the only way of simultaneously increasing the productivity and the hardiness of crops in response to changing climatic conditions. I do not see any other way of doing that on the horizon.
Thirdly, it is right to point out, as has been pointed out, that forestry has a dual role. Over 40 per cent of the EU is still forested. Protecting the forests is crucial since deforestation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe and across the world. Forests also absorb CO2 and therefore act as a brake on emissions. I think that the Green Paper on forestry and the work on forestry that is currently being done in the European Union and, I hope, in this country will have a crucial role in adaptation in future.
Fourthly, it is important to stress that there is a positive side to all this, in spite of the real risks and dangers with which we will have to cope. We know that creating a low-carbon economy can have many positives, such as reducing our dependence on imported oil and gas, creating new industries and generating net new jobs. It is not often said that much the same goes for adaptation, which will also have to be creative and innovative. It will, I hope, at least have similar positive consequences. A good example is the research that is now going on into latest-generation biofuels. They can be grown in areas where no crops can be grown at the moment; they can be grown in the far north and, in the form of algae, in the oceans. There are many other examples of a proactively positive approach to adaptation. It is important not to lose sight of the significance of this.
The tasks facing us are huge. It is an open question whether, on a global level, we can cope with them. Certainly, in our region we must do so on a pan-European level, as it is obvious that climate change is no respecter of national boundaries. In conclusion, I would like the Minister to comment on anything he sees fit to comment on in what I have said, but also on one core question. Does he accept that adaptation to climate change must be proactive and demands a long-term strategy, as well as a pro-European one?
My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, I will speak more about mitigation. However, I must agree with him, after that very serious and penetrating speech, about how important adaptation is. If we do not make sure that our agricultural systems and crops are far more robust than they are at the moment, there will be a real problem in food security globally, especially in Europe, in the future.
The thing that I liked about this report was that it brought focus on to the agricultural sector. I am someone who gets particularly involved in issues of mitigation. I can never really understand why, effectively, mitigation is in DECC and adaptation is in Defra. It seems to split an important policy area, but we should not get into that in this debate. Agriculture does not come over very strongly; it is a theme that is sometimes, but not often, recognised. The steel, aluminium, cement and aviation industries get top billing, and we often forget about agriculture and forestry altogether. Why is that wrong?
I am very glad that this report highlights why it is wrong. First, agriculture accounts for around 14 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In Europe, as the report points out, it accounts for almost 10 per cent—9 per cent, I think. In the UK, the figure is 7 per cent. However, I ask myself: if 7 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK are from agriculture, what proportion of GDP comes from agriculture in the UK? It is close to 1 per cent. Perhaps that is an unfair comparison and ratio, but here we have an industry that, as a percentage, contributes seven times more to greenhouse gas emissions than to national product. For all those reasons, this is an important sector.
This is further highlighted in the report by figures that I found quite staggering. Nitrous oxide is, as the report says, 300 times more lethal as a greenhouse gas than CO2, but in agriculture accounts for some two-thirds of emissions. Agriculture accounts for almost half the emissions of methane, which I thought was 70 times more potent than CO2 but the report says is somewhat less so. That means that this sector is important, and it is one that I ask the committee to keep focusing on in the future. It is one of which we should take a great deal of notice.
However, that is as nothing compared with forestry. When one looks at forestry on a global scale—as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said, climate change knows no boundaries—one sees 30 million acres of deforestation per annum creating more greenhouse gases than motor vehicle and truck emissions worldwide. It varies between 15 and 20 per cent, depending on the rate of deforestation in any one year. The sector is crucial for the rate of global warming in future. I will return to the relevance of this for Europe, which has already deforested most of its land surface. However, in a small but perhaps quite important way, it could perform better and reforest more.
Another area of mitigation that worries me—again, it relates to points made by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens—is that agriculture plays an important role even in Europe with biomass and biofuels. It has been disappointing that after the introduction of regulations such as the renewable transport fuel obligation, and the enthusiasm for biofuels, we had a very negative analysis of the sector which reversed the view about whether it could help with climate change mitigation. I urge the Government to stick with making sure that we get the sustainability criteria right for biofuels, so that we do not throw away this opportunity for the advancement of the agricultural sector in terms of mitigation of climate change by saying that it is too difficult or controversial. As we have already heard in the debate, whether it is algae or growing biomass in areas where it is not grown at present, we have a great opportunity. We in Europe should not give that away, nor rely on imports from the rest of the world.
I come back to the strength that Europe can have—and has had in Cancun—because of its status in the negotiations on the reduction of emissions through deforestation and forest degradation. Europe is crucial to enabling that programme to succeed, both because of its political leverage and through its financial contributions to making sure that that will become possible. It is one of the most crucial short-term programmes that we have to make a significant difference to climate change. What is the current state of negotiations on this part of the United Nations procedures? The Government have taken a lead in this area, but do they feel that Europe is putting sufficient emphasis on global deforestation to make sure that it is kept high on the agenda? I know that there has been movement in this area, whereas in others there has not. It depresses me that Europe, after the Lisbon treaty, still has pillars in the agricultural sector and in the common agricultural policy. We got rid of them in justice, home affairs, the CFSP and other areas, but we still have them in agricultural policy.
Something in the report that I liked is the idea of the carbon contract and carbon compliance. This is fundamental to reform of the common agricultural policy. Will the Minister and the UK Government champion this concept when considering where the CAP should go in future?
This is an excellent report. I hope that there will be renewed focus on this area, and I look forward to the Minister's responses on the crucial issue of the management of our climate for the future.
My Lords, first, I declare an interest as a farmer, as a Lawes trustee at Rothamsted Research Station and as the new chairman of the Government’s global food security strategy board.
I was not on Sub-Committee D at the time of this report, so I come at the subject only from the evidence of my own experience, and I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I extend my horizons slightly wider than Europe.
The Government’s chief scientist has, rightly, become famous for his “perfect storm” analogy, wherein the world has to produce at least 50 per cent more food over the next 40 years without damaging the environment, while emitting fewer greenhouse gases and using less energy and, above all, without depleting our water supplies. It is on this last issue that I should like to focus today in connection with agricultural adaptation. Indeed, the committee report highlights my point, saying:
“Effective water management lies at the heart of efforts to adapt EU agriculture to climate change”.
Although the Environment Agency gave evidence to the committee that water availability in England and Wales is going to be 15 per cent lower by 2050, it is elsewhere in the world, including southern Europe, that water problems are going to be really critical.
We actually have enough fresh water in the world to go around. We are currently using only 54 per cent of all accessible fresh water, which leaves 46 per cent untapped. However, even now, with today’s population, the reality is that a child dies as a result of poor sanitation every 20 seconds, amounting to some 1.5 million preventable deaths each year. Without serious political action, that situation can only get worse. Total world water demand is projected to rise by over 30 per cent by 2030. Many river systems, such as the Yellow River in China, the Murray-Darling in Australia, the Colorado in the US and the Indus in Pakistan, are already running dry due to excess irrigation. As we will all be aware, the Indus had terrible floods recently. However, it is the Indus delta, which is a very fertile and productive area of Pakistan, that has problems. It is being invaded by saline water and is thus becoming less productive.
Meanwhile, projections in Mediterranean countries such as Spain and Morocco indicate that declines in rainfall of up to 30 per cent might be expected in the future. Equally, the rainy seasons in Africa and India seem to be starting later and later. Perhaps because of this, Indian farmers are now taking 100 cubic kilometres more from their aquifers than are being replaced by rains. They have to drill deeper and deeper. Likewise, the water level in the aquifer under the Hebei Province of China, where much of the wheat is grown, is falling at the rate of 3 metres per annum.
As the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has already commented, nearly 70 per cent of all water in the world consumed by man goes to produce food. Water availability becomes a critical issue when 40 per cent of the renewable resources are used for irrigation. It is at that point that difficult choices have to be made between agriculture and urban water supplies. By 2030, some southern European countries will be at or nearing this 40 per cent level, and, believe me, all politicians will choose to support the urban voter over his rural brother. Therefore, in all these countries and regions, adaptation and new practices will be needed, and I give a few examples.
The first is drip irrigation. Israel is at the forefront here, employing expensive sub-surface drip irrigation that puts the water right to the roots of the plant. There are not even pipes on the surface, and of course that is infinitely better than spray irrigation, where most of the water evaporates.
The second is recycling urban sewage. For example, faced with paying higher costs for imported water and desalination, Singapore has gone for self-sufficiency through treated sewage water. When the fifth plant opens this year, water from flushed toilets and so on will account for some 30 per cent of Singapore’s drinking water. There are other examples, such as in India, where the sewage effluent of Hyderabad is mixed with the waters of the River Musi and put into underground pipes to help to grow vegetables in Andhra Pradesh.
The third is better capture and storage. They do not have to be big reservoir schemes, as many small schemes for individual farms and communities are usually better. In southern Europe and elsewhere they will need government support either with grants or with cheap capital.
The fourth is better use of shallow aquifers. If you want to store water in a hot country, what better way is there than pumping the excess water in the rainy season down to the underground aquifer to store it so that you can use it later on? You have a ready built reservoir, free from the problems of evaporation and free from the problems of flooding people’s homes, as can happen when you build an above-ground reservoir. I realise that there are complications in doing that, but as a method it has been quite successfully used in many parts of the world.
The fifth is better use of modern farming systems, such as no-till cultivation techniques, which, again, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, mentioned. That greatly reduces the evaporation of water from the soil and encourages better organic matter, which is very useful in developing countries as an important source of fertiliser.
Last, but not least, we need to make better use of modern plant-breeding techniques across Europe. For example, if you can silence the gene in maize which makes the plant transpire and therefore need twice as much water as it really needs in order to grow its cobs, you can help to feed more with less. Equally, plant breeders are finding varieties of rice and other staple crops that now require less water than old varieties. There is a variety of rice with the wonderful name of scuba rice which allows rice to survive underwater in floods for much longer periods than was possible in the past.
Europe simply must invest in new technology and it must not be frightened of persuading its consumers that these varieties are safe to grow and to eat. I have a view that if scientists, farmers and everyone involved in the food chain seriously focused on how to feed 9.4 billion people—our forecasted population—we will be able to feed them, providing, of course, politicians and other funders can take a long-term view.
On water, no one is denying that there will not be serious problems in some areas, which there already are, as there is some political unrest and strife in areas such as northern Kenya and the Middle East. As regards food shortages, if the nations of the world can continue to work together and trade together, water shortages will remain localised and not affect the overall supply of food. I agree that that is a big “if”, and the key phrase is “providing politicians can take a long-term view”—which, in the immortal words of Private Frazer, means: “We’re all doomed!”.
My Lords, I am deeply honoured to become a Member of your Lordships’ House, and I am immensely gratefu1 for the warm welcome I have been given by everyone, not least the staff of the House who have been unfailingly helpful and kind throughout. I am deeply indebted to my sponsors for escorting me safely through my introduction: the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, who is an old friend from Suffolk, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, under whom I had the great pleasure of serving as a Deputy Speaker. I am particularly grateful to them as a recent illness has left me temporarily unsteady on my legs. I suspect that they were as anxious as I was throughout the entire ceremony.
As Michael Lord, I was for 27 years the only Lord in the Commons. On my appointment to your Lordships’ House, I would have been a Lord in the Lords. I was advised by the powers that be that this really would be most confusing in so many ways, not least in debates in your Lordships’ House, where I would have been referred to as the noble Lord, Lord Lord. To choose another title was no hardship. On the contrary, taking the name of Framlingham, a delightful ancient and historic market town in my old constituency, where I was originally adopted as a parliamentary candidate in 1983, gave me, and will always give me, enormous pleasure.
For my last 13 years in the Commons, I was a Deputy Speaker. That has inevitably made me, among other things, a good listener. How often in the Speaker's Chair I yearned to intervene in a debate, only to realise later how glad I was that I had not.
Fairness and firmness are required of the occupant of the Speaker's Chair. To the extent that I have any of these qualities, I got them in due part from all the sport that I played over the years—particularly, in my younger years, Rugby football. I played for Cambridge against Oxford in the 1960 Varsity match. Our fair and firm, top international referee was a highly respected Welshman called Mr Gwynne Walters. Impeccably dressed, he always refereed in a blazer; he refereed impeccably too. Although the match was ferocious, as all such matches are, not one player spoke a word to him throughout the entire match. How things have changed. Modesty forbids me mentioning the outcome of the match, save to say that further details could be gleaned from the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who played on the opposite side.
A Deputy Speaker in the Commons must have a good memory. He or she must be able to name immediately what was, in my day, any one of 650 honourable Members at the moment that they rise to speak, however unexpectedly. It was not always so. In earlier times, the occupant of the chair simply pointed to whomever he wished to speak next. Then, on 19 May 1685, the House of Commons, in its wisdom, elected as Speaker Sir John Trevor, who appears to have been cross-eyed. The result was that every time he pointed, two people stood up. Ever since then, names have had to be remembered and called.
Before entering the House of Commons, I started and ran my own forestry company. I became increasingly involved in what is sometimes called urban forestry and, finally, in arboriculture. I was privileged for several years to be the president of the Arboricultural Association. Having listened to the debate so far, I am sure that your Lordships will be well aware that arboriculture is about trees for their looks; as opposed to silviculture, which is about trees for their timber.
I worked through the dreadful ravages of Dutch elm disease and on the subsidence problems caused by trees near buildings on shrinkable clay subsoils. When, some years ago, the Clore extension was added to the Tate Gallery, I was retained to ensure the survival of the adjacent London plane trees. Strangely enough, my experience proved useful soon after I arrived in the House of Commons. Someone had advised the felling of the Catalpa trees in New Palace Yard. I was asked what I thought, and I am delighted to say that, 25 years later, they are still there. I have a great interest in our ancient and historic trees as well. Before politics took over entirely, I lectured both in this country and in the United States.
One of the most pleasurable duties of a Deputy Speaker in the House of Commons, when the Speaker is not available, is to greet and entertain visiting Speakers or their deputies. Without exception, they were full of admiration and respect for our Parliament, its systems and traditions, and anxious to learn from us wherever possible. They still truly believe that we are the mother of Parliaments. I trust that we do too.
My great pleasure in being appointed to your Lordships' House was heightened by the fact that I have a huge affection for and belief in our Parliament, the way it works and all it stands for. We take it for granted, in this rapidly changing world, at our peril. I have always believed that one of the principal duties of any generation is to hand on to the next generation that which has been entrusted to its care. In this context, I say that I was deeply saddened that we have agreed to experiment with allowing the use of electronic devices in this Chamber. I believe that that will prove to be harmful and disruptive, and I sincerely hope that it will not become a permanent feature.
Politics is often said to be the art of the possible, but sometimes I think it is the art of having the courage to do the obvious. I also suspect that many great issues are essentially very simple and that we make them complicated when we do not want to face them. In this, the role played by your Lordships’ House in the great issues of the day, free from simplistic party politics, is so very important.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for her comprehensive introduction of her report. The term forestry—one of the topics of this debate—means different things in different countries and to different people and organisations. In this country, it originally referred to the hunting domains of kings, thus we have Hatfield Chase and Cannock Chase, and it came to mean, until relatively recently, planting and harvesting trees, principally softwoods, for timber. Currently the word covers everything from the great Kielder Forest to copses on our farms, and from ancient woodlands to urban forestry in Milton Keynes. It includes large tracts of conifer-planted uplands as well as the New Forest, the Forest of Dean and, in my part of the world, Thetford Forest.
In many of these areas now, the amenity value of woodland is considered to be as important as its timber value. In this increasingly hectic world, it seems more and more people are turning to and appreciating the enjoyment provided by trees and the habitat that they create and preserve. Whatever the terminology, however, it is all about trees. Trees really are one of the world’s blessings. They take in our carbon dioxide and give us back their oxygen. They give us their timber and their fruits. They help to stabilise mountainous regions, are crucial in the battle against desertification and, on top of all this, they are a joy to behold. So whether they grow in our country, in tropical rainforests or in the developing world, we must do all we can to increase tree cover. Regardless of the pros and cons of climate change, let us do the obvious and plant trees, protect rainforests and generally treat trees with the respect that they deserve, not for their sake, but for our own.
I thank noble Lords for listening to me so patiently. I look forward to making further contributions to debates in your Lordships’ House in due course and to playing my part in the affairs of this noble House.
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to congratulate my noble friend Lord Framlingham—the noble Lord, Lord Lord—on his excellent maiden speech and to welcome him to the House. Besides gracing the green grass at Twickenham, he is a great sportsman because he also captained the parliamentary golfing association and has participated in many other sports. He has also done lots of other things in his life. He has great experience, which he will bring to the House, in local government, having served on North Bedfordshire Borough Council and Bedford County Council before he contested the seat of Manchester Gorton in 1979 where he got over 38 per cent of the vote, and nobody has come close to that figure since then. He was realised as a good bet for the future, and he moved from a Labour stronghold to a fairly good Conservative stronghold in Central Suffolk which later became Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, which he served from 1983 to 2010. More important than that, he brings to this House huge experience in agriculture and, particularly, forestry, and we welcome him for that especially. He graduated from Christ’s College, Cambridge with an MA. Presumably he played rugby for Cambridge rather than for the rather superior Oxford, which I would have supported, although I did not go there. His knowledge of forestry will be important in the future. We welcome my noble friend. We all enjoyed his maiden speech very much.
Turning to the debate, I say to my noble friend Lord Henley that I sympathise with him because he has an utterly impossible job. Far too much is expected of Governments but Governments cannot manage the climate. There is too much sensational press reporting on climate change and utter confusion in the minds of a lot of people who cannot separate climate change and manmade or man-encouraged greenhouse gases. Underlying all that, there is a huge lack of scientific knowledge. What there is is often contradictory.
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, talked about air temperature. Just to show that we are not all on the same side, I would rather welcome a change in air temperature and a little warming in Caithness. That would be good. After all, it was much warmer in the days of the bronze age, as can be seen from archaeological evidence. My noble friend Lord Teverson will know that from Dartmoor. I know it from Caithness. It was certainly warmer when my ancestors, the Norsemen, came over to this country and benefited by integrating with the Picts.
Air circulation, an issue on which we are short of scientific knowledge, concerns me more. We are told that because air temperature is going to rise it will be more stormy. But the storms that bring the rain to this country, mostly during the winter, arise very much because of the difference in temperature between the Arctic and the mid-latitudes. The wider that temperature, the greater the storms. If, as it is, the Arctic ocean is increasing in temperature, the gradient between the two temperatures is decreasing and the chances of storms are decreasing. We believe that that is what happened in the times of the Norsemen who went Viking. That could bring positive benefits but it could also mean that we will have very variable rainfall in the future. I am rather more sceptical than the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, as regards manmade climate change but I take the precautionary principle. I think that that is based on the fact that I am more of a countryman. I really believe that we have abused our planet in far too many ways.
On agriculture, the key to adaption, mitigation and changes for the future is the common agricultural policy, reform of which is essential. In her excellent introduction to the debate my noble friend Lady Sharp spelt that out clearly. However, what is more important about changing the CAP is the fact that it is the only way in which the EU will ever get close to playing a part—I hope a strong part—in feeding the burgeoning world population. I believe that to be a much more serious threat than manmade climate change. That is why paragraphs 68 and 69 of our report are so important and I welcome the Government’s reaction to that point.
I hope that my noble friend Lord Henley will work towards a reform of the common agricultural policy that is flexible because each area in Europe is different. Each area in the UK is different. Some of the solutions will need to be quite local. We have talked about the air circulation of the jet stream, which affected our weather this winter and brought on the early snow. Sutherland and Caithness are adjoining counties in the north of Scotland; one has hills and one has not. A local solution will be extremely important. Perhaps I may stress to my noble friend Lord Henley how worried some of us were about evidence that we received from the Commission, which seemed totally to lack comprehension that we are a maritime climate, unlike most of the rest of the continent. Therefore, our problems are different, particularly in the less-favoured areas.
As my noble friend Lord Framlingham said, there is a change of perception of forestry. There also is a change of perception as to how people view the countryside. That is why paragraph 150, in which we say that farmers and foresters must be compensated when they make a provision of public goods, is important. The Government gave a warm response to that recommendation. However, that is the easy bit. The difficult bit is how to value the provision of public goods. If my noble friend can say anything on that, it would be very helpful.
A point that has not been raised is regulation in agriculture and forestry. In our current report alluded to by my noble friend Lady Sharp, we took evidence from Rothamsted Research, which said:
“The disjunction between restrictive regulation in the EU and the lack of resources for agricultural research and innovation is probably the biggest threat to the long-term viability and competitiveness of EU agriculture”.
We will discuss that rather more fully next Tuesday evening, so I will not say anything more now.
I want to say a brief word about forestry, which was mentioned by my noble friends Lady Sharp and Lord Teverson. We do need more trees. That is essential not just for their significance as regards carbon but also for preventing the further degradation of soils. However, unless trees are profitable, they are not going to be planted. If they are not profitable, the taxpayer is going to have to subsidise the landowner or planter of the trees. That brings me back to paragraph 150, which I have just mentioned. Agriculture is one thing: you grow a crop and harvest it in the same year. When you plant a forest you are looking at what your grandchildren will harvest. Therefore anyone who is going to plant trees has to have confidence in the Government. As Governments change, we have seen time and time again that what one Government promise, the next may renege on. More importantly, the woodland owner has to compete with the Forestry Commission. As we discussed the other day, the Forestry Commission is both judge and jury in its own right. It controls anything a private owner can do and can set up in competition to the private owner. My noble friend faces a huge challenge in creating a climate in which people can have the confidence to plant trees for the future. It is necessary, but under the present structure with the Forestry Commission, it is not likely to happen.
I end with a brief word about innovation and research. There is no doubt that our research base, which, as my noble friend Lord Selborne said, has stood us in good stead, is now at severe risk. We were prime leaders around the world, something the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, knows far better than me. British agriculturalists did a phenomenal amount of good work in Africa and elsewhere. Unless we put more into research and allow farmers to innovate by ensuring that the resulting knowledge reaches farming and forestry people, I am afraid that we face a fairly bleak future.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, on a delightful maiden speech. We look forward enormously to his future contributions. This is a fairly welcome and very good report which should be read together with the Foresight report and the later one from the European Commission, which has now been published. It is clear from these what the problems are: hunger, rising population, a shortage of good agricultural land, a severe shortage of water and all the effects of climate change.
I will speak only on the question of biotechnology. I have probably made more speeches about biotechnology than any other Member of this House. The reason is that it is not generally appreciated in Europe that while biotechnology is not a panacea for all our problems, and while an enormous amount of valuable research into greater productivity in agriculture is being done, which holds a lot of promise for the future, in Europe we have not recognised quite how important agricultural biotechnology is. Indeed, the Government demonstrate an attitude of considerable caution. Europe imposes severe restrictions on the import of food and feed, which has repercussions for those elsewhere who want to export to Europe. In many countries there are bans on biotechnology. As I have said, the Government are also cautious. In this report, the junior Minister for Agriculture said that the benefits of genetically modified crops have not yet been established. I do not know where he gets that idea from or whether he has really looked at the international evidence, which is quite clear.
What is not recognised is that, outside the European Union, agricultural biotechnology has been the fastest and most effective application of a new technology in agriculture ever. It is an enormous success story. There are now 148 million hectares on which genetically modified crops are cultivated, in 29 countries. Over 15 million farmers now grow genetically modified crops, over 14 million of them small-scale. There is no doubt about the crops’ success. One can look at the emphasis given to them in China, which regards agricultural biotechnology as one of the most important technologies for the future. In India, it is growing at a very fast pace indeed. So far as the problems in terms of greater productivity and dealing with drought are concerned, biotechnology has an enormous amount to contribute, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said.
Under those circumstances, why is there still such opposition? I think it is because we tend to treat the green organisations—Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth—and the organic movement with extraordinary respect. We treat them as though they stand for motherhood. People are terrified of criticising them publicly, yet if one looks at their effect on agriculture one sees that they do far more harm than good. They keep saying that we must prove that the technology is safe, but there have been any number of reports. Every national academy of sciences in the world—those from Mexico, India, China, the third world, America and Brazil, the Royal Society and other European societies—has examined this time after time. Their conclusions are absolutely clear: that so far there is no evidence of harm to human health or the environment, despite 12 years of growth and consumption. That is completely ignored by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, and their opposition is not rational. Many years ago, when this House held an inquiry into genetically modified crops, Lord Melchett—then director of Greenpeace—gave evidence. He was asked:
“Your opposition to the release of GMOs, that is an absolute and definite opposition? It is not one that is dependent on further scientific research … ?”.
His answer was:
“It is a permanent and definite and complete opposition”.
That means that it is a faith—it cannot be influenced by evidence—and nothing has changed. All the evidence of the way in which genetically modified cotton has been a huge success throughout the world—it saved the Australian industry and has spread faster in India than anywhere else—is completely ignored or contradicted. The result is that the European Union is left behind.
Again, as far as the organic movement is concerned, I have made the point several times that at a time of cuts it is extraordinary that we spend £30 million a year subsidising the inefficient use of land; it is used to encourage conversion to organic farming. There is no question about it: organic production is a less efficient use of land. Why does organic food cost more? It is not because organic farmers want to rook the public, but because the yield is consistently lower. That cannot be denied, yet we subsidise it. If we spent that £30 million on agricultural research, it would be of enormous benefit. We would not have to cut the programme at all; in fact, we could give extra help to those excellent crop research institutes in Norwich—the John Innes Centre—and Rothamsted and to the Scottish research institutes.
The European Commission has issued any number of reports stressing the advantages of genetically modified food, explaining why it is no danger to health or the environment. But the Commission also subsidises Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth with €100,000 a year to carry out anti-GM propaganda in India. It is an extraordinary position.
In this country, the opposition to genetically modified food is superficial. That has been shown by some careful research done in Nottingham and Cardiff. The Government should speak out boldly, stop being cautious and give a lead. If we do not support this technology we will continue to be left behind, and Europe as a whole will suffer.
My Lords, I must remind the House of my interests; my husband and I own and run a 40-acre vineyard, and I am chair of the All-Party Group on Agro-Ecology. I warmly thank my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford for her knowledgeable and passionate introduction to the report, as it came to some important conclusions that were rather hidden behind a slightly anodyne summary and a less-than-passionate introduction. I am glad that she has redressed that today.
Agriculture and forestry are tremendously important; after all, they occupy the vast proportion of the entire land surface of the EU. For that reason alone, they offer tremendous opportunities for climate change mitigation to be incorporated into our land use. There are also some dreadful penalties to be paid by future generations if we do not manage to get adaptation right. Those penalties will be paid in food production, flooding and the very ability of future generations to able to produce food at all.
Is the Commission capable of altering the CAP in order to address some of this? That is where my worries lie. The difficulty was spelled out in some of the evidence that the committee received from Ms Andugar, which is on page 158 of the report. She said:
“The CAP is not a climate change policy, so it is impossible for this policy to provide all the tools, incentives or instruments”.
That is the crux of the issue.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Teverson that the debate hovers unhelpfully at the moment around pillars—pillars are depressing—and whether we should green Pillar 1 rather more or move further towards Pillar 2, where environmental goods are recognised as a desirable outcome. I am worried that the Commission might simply settle for the compromises that are needed to achieve any CAP reform by 2013. Those compromises will fall far short of what it must deliver in order to start addressing some of the critical issues that climate change puts before us and which your Lordships have touched on today. Here, I disagree with the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. Even without climate change, the issues of profligacy and waste would be no less critical. We cannot go on using water as we have. we cannot go on using artificial fertilisers as we have, and we would need three planets in order to farm as we have. I think that the noble Earl is nodding assent. Even if we set climate change aside, the CAP would still need radical reform.
It was cheering to hear in our evidence sessions of the multiple wins to be had from incentivising land users and farmers to take the right measures that address not only climate change but the crucial issues of soil quality, water stress and waste. For example, green cover crops slow down water run-off, stop soil erosion and allow better water absorption, with leguminous plants reducing the need for artificial fertilisers. All these provide more opportunities for beneficial insects and encourage biodiversity.
The report gets very excited about biochar—I agree that the evidence from Mr Prodi MEP was among the most exciting and compelling that the committee received. However, the committee could have extrapolated more fully the biochar lesson, which was that there should be no such thing as waste in the agricultural process. Waste at the start of the food chain is compost, mulch and manure; at the end of the food chain, and under some of the new technology coming forward, it is biofertiliser from the anaerobic digestion of food waste. We all agree that there is far too much food waste, but while it exists, let us use it. Biofertiliser is a liquid containing nitrogen, phosphate and potash, along with other trace elements, and it can be applied to farmland, reducing drastically the need for purchased fertilisers. That is another example of a win, win, win situation.
As other noble Lords have mentioned, this report needs to be read in conjunction with the recent government report from Foresight entitled The Future of Food and Farming. That report contains a critical, almost throwaway, sentence. It states that there is nearly as much carbon in the organic compounds contained in the top 30 centimetres of soil as there is in the entire atmosphere. That deceptively small statement contains an enormity of importance on which the UK Government and the Commission need especially to focus.
There are dangers in badly managed soils and potential in properly managed soils. In order to manage soil, farmers and land managers need the skills and knowledge, and indeed the right incentives, to restore its health and its properties. We have had more than 50 years of throwing on to it as much imported and artificial fertiliser as a farmer could afford. That has resulted in degraded, eroded soils and an industry addicted to artificial fertiliser.
I disagree with my noble friend Lord Taverne, who has offered biotechnology as the solution to the problem, but it will not restore the soils or supply more water. Before he is tempted to intervene, I should say that I have a very short time in which to speak and that I have kept my remarks as moderate as I can. We have to consider other ways of addressing this issue.
The UK response to the Commission communication and consultation, published in January 2011, also contained a worrying phrase. It said that,
“a minimum level of direct payment for small farms—however defined—would provide a perverse incentive to such farms to remain small and would impede consolidation”.
However, there is nothing magic about consolidation. Small farms might have seemed undesirable in the 1980s monoculture philosophy of maximising one-crop production as cheaply as possible without worrying about externalising the costs. Now we are thinking about carbon outputs, soil compaction from enormous machinery and, indeed, unemployment as the workforce is reduced. In today’s world, small farms can be seen as highly efficient units. Indeed, some studies of innovations on farms in south-east Asia have discovered highly efficient units of mixed production that re-use animal manures; they have a mixed polycultural approach and spread the risk for the farmers.
They also deliver a landscape that is attractive and rich in biodiversity. You do not find many tourists demanding to see the wheat fields of the Ukraine, but mixed farming areas such as Tuscany, Devon, Dordogne and County Waterford are attractive to tourists and wildlife alike—and they produce high quality food.
There is a huge amount of training to be done, knowledge to be imparted and research to be undertaken, and that message from the report is incredibly valuable. As noble Lords have mentioned, we need to build on the best of modern knowledge. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, mentioned drip irrigation, for example. How simple, but how very important. We also need to build on the tradition of what grows best where, not only geologically but climatically. Again, biotechnology cannot deliver that for us.
The EU and its member states had better address fast the appalling situation that has arisen whereby vast tracts of land—most recently, for example, 50,000 hectares in Kenya—are being sold off to European companies to produce biofuels. Smallholders in those areas are being dispossessed to become the urban unemployed. That situation is utterly immoral. It might be about meeting the EU climate change targets, but we cannot accept it and we should not encourage it.
Finally, I ask the Minister: what are our preparations for Rio 2012 on the agricultural side of the equation?
My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting debate. I, too, congratulate the committee on its report and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, on how she introduced it today. Indeed, I thank all speakers in the debate, but give a particular warm thank you to the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, for his impressive and very enjoyable maiden speech. It was a pleasure to listen to it. It is always a bit of a surprise to address long-standing colleagues in another place by a completely new name. Indeed, it might have been rather fun to talk about the noble Lord, Lord Lord, but I fully understand—and I think that we all appreciated—the reasons for his choice of title. It is a particular pleasure for me to be able to pay tribute to him, having been a colleague of his in another place. Because of that, I have known of his long and distinguished history of interest and involvement in agricultural and forestry issues. That was clearly illustrated today. His description of the role of trees in our world was better than any I have ever heard before. We greatly look forward to the contributions on these and other issues that he is going to make during his time in your Lordships' House.
The issue of the environment and climate change is obviously one on which action is needed at every level—from the dustbin outside your house to the stratosphere. Action is needed at local, regional, national, European, global and international levels. This report obviously looks particularly at the EU role in tackling these issues, and does so in a number of different ways, which I think are highly appropriate. It looks, very importantly, at the role of the common agricultural policy and at environmental policy more generally within the EU, as well as other EU policies that may have an influence on this area, whether they are policies on research and development or approaches to forestry, although there is not a formal EU forestry policy, structural funds and so on. All those issues need to be taken into account in looking at the EU’s role. Finally, the report refers to the EU’s role in world affairs and how its role in negotiations can affect the global outcomes on environmental and climate change issues. We have seen the Government’s response, which I understand is dated September 2010. The Minister may be able to give some updates. I notice, for example, that in the response to us it is mentioned that there will shortly be a formal response to the Commission’s forestry paper. I wonder what stage that is now at, whether that formal response has been submitted, and how favourable it was to the Commission’s ideas.
I turn to the areas relating to the EU’s role that the committee has identified. First, I think that the committee was right to look at the common agricultural policy in the immediate short term and to look ahead at the revision of the CAP in 2013, which is an extremely important moment for us. The committee is also right to have focused on the role of the second pillar, which has become one of the more important developments in the EU in recent years. I remember during my own time in the department when it was smaller than it is now. Although it has grown fairly slowly in comparison to Pillar 1, it is none the less an important development, and the committee is right to assess its potential for the future.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, expressed some frustration with having to talk about pillars all the time. However, that is how the CAP is organised at present and we have to look at that in order to decide how we would best like to see things change for the future. Certainly, to me, the second pillar has always had the great benefit of, first, being able to help sectors of agriculture which Pillar 1 traditionally ignored, such as pig and poultry producers and other areas. Secondly, I felt that it was a much more forward-looking part of the agricultural policy than Pillar 1, because it allowed farmers to identify new market opportunities. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it factored in the environment in a way that agricultural policy in the EU had singularly failed to do up until then. I think we in the UK have tried to use that potential within Pillar 2 to good effect in the environmental schemes that have been brought in. Those have involved the delivery of important public goods. Since this is public money, it is important that some public goods are delivered as a result of it.
I also agree with the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about the need for a more flexible policy. There is certainly no doubt that Pillar 2 has been a good deal more flexible than Pillar 1. Although I understand and appreciate how important many of the payments under Pillar 1 are at present, none the less that has been a rigid, ossifying policy as opposed to Pillar 2, which has the potential to both work with the market and bring in environmental factors. Furthermore, as the noble Earl said, it has the potential to respond to the different agricultural situations in different member states, and in different regions within them.
Interestingly, the committee itself identified some of the present needs of different parts of the EU. One passage in the report refers to the needs of southern European countries and I very much accepted what the committee said on that. In its response, the Government made the reasonable point that in terms of the projects supported, Pillar 2 is largely the responsibility of member states. However, I hope that will not prevent at least the encouragement of certain activities in the countries of southern Europe, where there was particular concern. Indeed, the sharing of knowledge and expertise is also a relevant task within the European Union.
Obviously, we are not sure at this stage how negotiations will proceed on the futures of Pillars 1 and 2 under the reform of the CAP but, whatever the balance in future, there certainly needs to be much more coherence between the two, particularly in view of the environmental and climate change goals that we feel are so important. There needs to be coherence in that respect with the structural funds as well, so that one part of the EU system is not working against some of the goals and commitments which we have, quite rightly, set ourselves. I should be interested to know whether the Government have already identified some of the gaps in the rural development programmes that they think ought to be filled in future, particularly when tackling environmental and climate change issues.
In their response, the Government also praise the voluntary approach adopted by farmers and the industry. That is important as during my own involvement with agriculture, I have certainly seen how much more environmentally aware the farming community is and how many useful initiatives have been taken. Those, such as the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, need to be recognised. There is also, for example, work being done in the dairy industry to identify ways of reducing greenhouse gases and so forth. At the same time and given the gravity of the situation, which was well put to us by my noble friend Lord Giddens, we have to monitor carefully what is happening and be prepared to take tough measures if necessary. The voluntary approach can deliver a lot but it cannot be entirely left to that, given the danger of simply slipping backwards rather than moving forwards, as my noble friend Lord Giddens mentioned in the statistics that he gave us.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, mentioned the importance of water. I will not repeat what he said but I thought that the comments he made about the situation both in the EU and more widely internationally were important.
Forestry is also part of the subject of the report. What action do the Government propose to take as a result of the Read report, which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, also mentioned and which was first produced in 2009? How might some of the issues that have been raised today be taken forward by the new panel on forestry that was announced recently? Its remit includes climate change mitigation and adaptation, along with a number of issues that have been raised during the course of this debate. Today’s debate will therefore be relevant to the work of that panel.
I have mentioned the vivid description by the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, of the role of trees and the importance of urban woodland planting, which was mentioned by other speakers in the debate. I noted yesterday that my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere, who used to chair the Forestry Commission, talked about the 1 million trees that had been planted in Wigan, the 1 million in Moseley, the 1 million in Ellesmere Port and the 2 million in Warrington. Although these trees were not planted for profit, they were planted with the public good and public benefit in mind, and that is an important aspect of what we are talking about today.
All Members of the House today have stressed the importance of research—the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, mentioned research into plant disease—and the potential of biotechnology. I agreed with the point in paragraph 180 of the report that an important aspect of the research work being undertaken by the Commission on biotechnology and GM will be ensuring that the conclusions of such publications are accompanied by public communication strategies. There is a real need for a rational debate on these issues to take place.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, mentioned the issue of soil management and use. I note that mention was made in the Government’s response to the committee’s report of the Defra research programme. Can the Minister give us an update on the work of that programme?
Sharing and disseminating information in the EU are obviously crucial and the committee is right to stress that. However, it is also right to stress that doing so needs to be translated into effective advice for farmers, farm workers, landowners and voluntary organisations and indeed throughout society. The role of the EU in world affairs was also mentioned. I very much support what the report said about it.
Overall, in our response to these challenges, we need to follow the words of my noble friend Lord Giddens who urged the Minister to be proactive and positive, despite the huge challenges that face us. I welcome the report and this debate, and I wish the committee every success in its future deliberations on this and related issues.
My Lords, along with other noble Lords, I offer my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Framlingham on his maiden speech, particularly on bringing his expertise in both forestry and agriculture from another place to this House. I hope that in due course I can deal with some of those concerns. He raised some of his other concerns about the use of new technologies in this House. That is not a matter that I will try to address this evening, but will leave for the House authorities to address in due course.
Like other noble Lords, I congratulate not only the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on introducing this debate, but all the members of the committee—those who served on it, those who serve on it now and those who have spoken in the debate. We welcome the report on adapting to climate change. I can give a simple assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Giddens: yes, we take adaptation to climate change very seriously. We support it and it has all-party support. We will continue to work with the previous Government’s Climate Change Act. As the noble Lord will remember, we have the adaptation sub-committee, which is chaired by our own noble Lord, Lord Krebs. He will also know that we are required to lay the national adaptation programme before Parliament in 2012 and revise it every few years. We will make sure that we do so by January of next year.
As the noble Lord also knows, there are requirements on several key organisations to produce their own reports on adaptation to climate change. Only recently, we saw some of the key organisations, such as Network Rail, the water companies and others, produce theirs. I involved myself in the launch of Network Rail’s report, just to see how it was going on. We are very glad for what it did and the work it is doing, much of which could be described as being on the “stitch in time saves nine” principle. That is, if one does some work now it will save much greater work later, when changes that are sure to happen take place. As the noble Lord put it, certain things have already happened that make change inevitable whatever we can do in mitigation in the future.
We welcome the opportunity to discuss these important issues. As the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, put it, this is an opportunity to give an update on what the Government have been doing. As the noble Baroness will know, it is almost the anniversary of the publication of this report; it came out just before the election last year. If I can correct her, my honourable friend Mr Paice sent the Government’s response on 29 June. At least, that is certainly the date that the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, cites in his letter of 7 July 2010, in which he thanks Mr Paice for submitting the Government’s response to the report on adapting to climate change. I just make that very small point. I will respond by giving an update on what has been happening since then, because we laid out our response in some detail last year.
We have listened to constructive comments that have been made by all noble Lords as we decide what further action is required to ensure that agriculture and forestry, in both the United Kingdom and Europe, are able to prepare themselves for the threats and—we ought to say, as others have implied—the opportunities that climate change might bring. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for mentioning the Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures report, which was published in January. It provides further evidence of the challenges facing the global food system; and of the need to adapt to climate change to continue to produce food sustainably, and to produce more food for a population that, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said, is likely to rise to a little more than 9 billion by the middle of this century. We hope that at that stage, with a bit of luck, it might stabilise at that level.
I start by dealing a little with research and knowledge transfer, which was raised by many Members, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. All noble Lords will be aware that only yesterday my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture and Food gave evidence to the committee’s new inquiry into innovation in EU agriculture. He answered questions on research and development capacity, programmes and adaptation to climate change. The Government have funded the development of climate change scenarios that provide an essential tool for predicting the impact of climate change. Defra has also commissioned research that used those scenarios to determine the impact on United Kingdom agricultural production and on wider ecosystem services. Therefore, we now have a reasonable understanding of what these impacts are, and are working to identify and prioritise measures for on-farm adaptation. Further discussions with key stakeholders will take place shortly.
The department will also continue to monitor the situation closely. Work is ongoing on the climate change risk assessment, which will draw together evidence and analysis to evaluate the risks, threats and opportunities for the UK posed by climate change. As I made clear in my opening remarks, the report will be laid before Parliament by January 2012, and will inform adaptation policy.
Under the United Kingdom cross-government food research and innovation strategy 2010, set out by the Chief Scientific Adviser, government departments, public funders, industry and academics are all working together to consider how they can stimulate R&D and innovation to meet the challenges posed by climate change and the threat to food security. In addition, the Government will invest up to £90 million over five years in match-funding industry-led applied research through the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform. That funding will stimulate the development of new technologies to increase productivity, and at the same time reduce the environmental impact of the food and farming industries. The aim is sustainable intensification.
I will refer briefly to the report, Science for a New Age of Agriculture, produced by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach when we were in opposition but adopted by the Government, which was published last December. We are committed in our structural reform plan to implement the recommendations of this report, and work is ongoing in that area.
The Government also feel that communication to both farmers and land managers is important to ensure that research and knowledge are used on the ground. We are considering ways to develop and facilitate knowledge transfer, to help farmers adapt so that they can produce food sustainably. In February, Defra started a study to look at how to develop and deliver integrated advice to farmers on a range of policy objectives, including climate change adaptation, mitigation, competitiveness and environmental outcomes. This integrated advice pilot is also expected to report early next year.
The current farm advisory system in England provides one-to-one advice via a telephone helpline service. We intend, as part of the development of a more industry-led approach to farm advice, to explore further the potential for face-to-face advice, and in particular to address areas where breaches of requirements are common. Defra is considering the future delivery of cross-compliance advice under the FAS and will develop options for a big-society approach that will fit in with other advice streams.
In the context of the EU, it is expected that the clearing-house mechanism that was foreshadowed in the European Commission's 2009 White Paper on adapting to climate change, which was referred to by a number of noble Lords, will go live at the beginning of 2012. It will be an aid for the development of adaptation strategies focusing on the needs of national and regional policy-makers.
I turn now to the long-term changes to the CAP. As noble Lords will know, last November the Commission published its communication, The CAP towards 2020: Meeting the Food, Natural Resources and Territorial Challenges of the Future. It identifies adaptation to climate change and fostering green growth through innovation as objectives of a reformed CAP. The Government have responded to the communication and are now taking an active part in discussions with the Commission and with other member states. As I think noble Lords will know, the Government’s view is that at this stage the proposals do not go far enough and they risk missing a vital opportunity to put farmers on the right footing. The challenges that farmers are facing are serious and require a long-term solution. Ambitious reform of the CAP is needed if farmers are to meet those climate change adaptation targets and other challenges in the future, as well as to make the most of the opportunities.
The Government agree with the committee that a reformed CAP should reward land managers for the provision of public goods, including land adaptation actions which would not otherwise be undertaken. The CAP should also support sustainable production, which may mean not supporting agricultural production where it would result in unacceptable environmental cost. The United Kingdom is already providing effective support for environmental public benefits through the various agri-environment schemes under Axis 2 of Pillar 2. There is already provision for adaptation actions under the existing Rural Development Programme for England—the RDPE—and measures that benefit soil, water or biodiversity also underpin adaptation action. This should continue to be supported under Pillar 2 as part of a reduced CAP supporting climate change resilience and correcting market failure.
The Government will continue to work positively within Europe to press for the greater ambition that we see as necessary on CAP reform. It will obviously be a very difficult matter, as anyone who has ever been involved in agricultural negotiations in Europe will know. I see almost a wry grin on the face of the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, but she knows what I mean, and I think other noble Lords do as well. However, we shall continue to work to that end.
We will also continue to work with the Commission and other member states on the implementation of the EU White Paper on adapting to climate change, which includes embedding adaptation in all EU policies and not just the CAP.
Perhaps I may say a word or two about forestry. This subject was raised initially by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and then by all other noble Lords. Climate change represents a significant challenge to our trees and woodlands. It is possible that climate change is currently allowing some of the diseases that come into the country to take hold in our forests. There are also synergies between climate change adaptation, forestry and meeting a number of other environmental objectives, including the water framework directive. However, those synergies will be exploited only if land management is treated in a holistic way. The CAP reform process represents a real opportunity to develop that approach and for woodlands to play an integrated role with agriculture.
The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, and others referred to Professor Read’s report, which showed conclusively that woodland creation is a very cost-effective approach to helping to tackle climate change. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, stressed the evidence that Professor Read gave to the committee. As part of the work of the Woodland Carbon Task Force, the Forestry Commission has also commissioned analysis to examine further the returns of investment in different types of woodlands in delivering a range of ecosystem services, including mitigating and adapting to climate change. This will help to focus investment where it will deliver the greatest benefits for the least cost. It is also important to consider the implications for forests when developing and implementing EU directives and other legislation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and my noble friend Lord Caithness also asked about support for forestry. I assure them that, as a result of recent controversies, if I may put it that way, we have set up a panel on the public forest estate. The panel will, as the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, will be aware from the terms of reference, range slightly wider than purely the public forest estate, which manages some 18 per cent of our woodlands. It will obviously consider these matters.
We will also always look at what other support forestry needs because, as my noble friend Lord Framlingham made clear in his maiden speech, forestry yields many benefits, not just in carbon retention but in many other public goods, and it provides timber that has uses. For that reason my noble friend Lord Caithness was very anxious to know what we can do to make forestry a profitable and sustainable industry. That might be too big a question to deal with now, but I think we all agree that forestry should be a sustainable and profitable industry for the good of the country in the future.
Monitoring the effects of climate change and the suitability of adaptation actions in the agricultural and forestry sectors will be essential to the development of robust and coherent adaptation strategies. Sharing that information at European level will provide added value for member states to develop their own programmes.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, stressed the importance of water and water quality and possible future problems in dealing with water shortages, not just in parts of the United Kingdom but throughout the world. I was very grateful for what the noble Lord said about making much more efficient use of water. We shall certainly continue to support research into improving water efficiency. I can give an assurance that quite a lot of work is going on in Defra in that respect. He is certainly right to talk about the problems that face us. We will also continue to discuss these matters, as we did only yesterday or the day before, with our water stakeholders’ forum. That was built around the water framework directive.
I have a brief comment to make about the remarks from the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, on biotechnology and GM crops, a matter that was addressed by other noble Lords. I can give him an assurance that the United Kingdom has worked towards finding a solution, with the Commission, to the low-level presence of non-approved GM in feed imports. That will certainly reduce the threat to feed suppliers bringing in food that might otherwise be contaminated, if that is the right word. We recognise that GM is, dare I say, a controversial issue and as the noble Lord made clear when he commented on Lord Melchett’s comments, it can be somewhat polarised. We believe that the argument should be based on the existing science and evidence; we will always make our decisions on scientific evidence for the future. I am sure that in the long run, once we have achieved a consensus on these matters, it will be right to go forward in a direction that will help to feed the world in the future.
I end by thanking the committee for its work. We look forward to future reports that the committee will bring forward. I can assure the House that the Government are committed to assisting agriculture and forestry in every possible way to adapt to climate change, and I can give an assurance that we shall continue to work with our domestic, European and international partners to achieve that end.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate and, in particular, join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, on his excellent and very amusing maiden speech. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, I shall treasure his words that trees are one of the world's blessings. That was one of the themes of our debate. With the exception of my noble friend Lord Caithness, who is somewhat of a sceptic on these things, all noble Lords who have spoken have stressed how vital the subject of the adaptation to and mitigation of climate change in European agriculture is to the future of the planet.
Noble Lords have spoken not only about the CAP but about water and soil management, forestry, research and its applications, and the role of GM technologies in raising productivity. All those issues are relevant and extremely important. I thank noble Lords for bringing them to the attention of the House; and I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response.
It has been a good and wide-ranging debate. With those thanks, I commend the Motion.
House adjourned at 6.06 pm.