Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I start this short debate on the Convention on Biological Diversity by declaring my interest as chairman of the Living With Environmental Change partnership and by thanking those who put their name down to speak this evening.
The recent natural environment White Paper, entitled The Natural Choice: Securing the Value of Nature, describes the 2010 Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, held in Nagoya, Japan, as historic. We all hope that this will prove an accurate assessment and that the outcomes over the next decade deliver a new international deal to protect and enhance biodiversity and ecosystems.
The conference emphasised the value of the natural environment to human welfare and livelihoods and stressed the link between action on biodiversity, climate change and development. We all fervently hope that its new global vision will be achieved. This is stated as follows:
“By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.”
The parties also agreed on a shorter-term ambition, which was to:
“Take effective and urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity in order to ensure that by 2020 ecosystems are resilient and continue to provide essential services, thereby securing the planet’s variety of life, and contributing to human well-being, and poverty eradication”.
To achieve this, the parties agreed on 20 targets and five strategic goals. These commendable aspirations, however, have to be put into the context of the failure of Governments to meet the previous target, which over the previous 10 years was to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.
The convention’s report, Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, pointed out the failure to do anything of the sort. It warns of critical tipping points that could lead to large-scale rapid changes causing potentially irreversible damage to ecosystem services. The question is therefore whether this new strategic plan, with its 20 targets, will prove more effective.
In summary, the new strategic plan emphasises the need for effective and urgent actions, appropriate and effective policies and evidence-based decision-making. Each member state is required to develop a natural strategy in line with the strategic plan, integrating sustainable resource use across all sectors of policy and meeting biodiversity targets.
We missed our targets up to 2010 because of a basic lack of understanding among Governments about the value of nature and the long-term benefits to be derived from its protection. There was a lack of public awareness of how ecosystem functions contribute to human welfare and of their benefits, including goods and services, some of which can be valued economically and others that have a non-economic value. Ecosystem services, such as soil formation, nutrient cycling, flood hazard reduction, water purification and air pollution reduction are all underpinned by biodiversity, and the level and stability of ecosystem services generally improve with increasing levels of biodiversity.
Earlier this month, the UK National Ecosystem Assessment was published by the Government. It was a collaboration of scientists from a number of Living With Environmental Change partners, and could prove to be a massively helpful tool to help decision-makers in government, business and society put in place long-term measures to protect and enhance our ecosystem services, including our biodiversity. Both this report and the recent White Paper are important developments that point in the right direction.
A third document to be launched later this month is the England Biodiversity Strategy, which is to be followed by strategies from the devolved Administrations. Tomorrow, the European Union Environment Ministers will, we hope, adopt the EU biodiversity strategy. Here is a plethora of strategies and documents, and they will all have to spell out just how we are going to deliver on the Nagoya commitments.
Of the 20 targets, I will refer to just a few. Target 6 requires all fish stocks to be managed and harvested sustainably, and target 7 requires areas under agriculture and forestry to be managed to ensure conservation of biodiversity. We could have a full debate on the implications for the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, as perhaps we should, but clearly the EU biodiversity strategy will have to come up with some convincing reasons why that might become a reality.
Target 9, which concerns invasive alien species, is of particular relevance to our overseas territories, in a number of which the accidental importation of species, such as rats, has caused serious damage to the indigenous wildlife: for example, ground-nesting birds. Indeed, programmes are already in place in some of our overseas territories to eliminate such pests, but more programmes will clearly be essential if we are to meet our obligations under this target.
Target 15 commits Governments to restoring 15 per cent of degraded ecosystems by 2020, and the White Paper accepts this commitment. There will have to be a clear evidence-based assessment of what constitutes a degraded ecosystem and an inclusive procedure, by which I mean it should include as many people as possible in the process of determining priorities for restoration.
A key outcome was the Nagoya protocol on access to genetic resources and the sharing of benefits arising from their use. Access and benefit-sharing provisions are critical to countries with exploitable genetic material. Very often that means developing countries, which must at all costs protect their intellectual property. Access agreements are also very important to our national centres of excellence such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Natural History Museum. Kew's core business is to collect and research plant diversity for conservation purposes and to enhance the sustainable use of plants. The Nagoya protocol encourages research that contributes to conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity through the establishment of simplified measures for non-commercial research. This protocol is to be welcomed, and particularly the intention to simplify measures for non-commercial research.
Again, whether all this will be practical will depend on whether Governments, the business community and society at large understand and value our biodiversity. In this country, we are short of taxonomists, which means that for many species we lack experts who can identify species before they face extinction. The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has, on three occasions, reported on the need for a national programme to support systematics and taxonomy. There are now grounds for believing that government departments, research councils and the taxonomic community itself are addressing this serious issue. We need to engage the enthusiasm of both urban and rural populations. I pay tribute to such organisations as the open air laboratories, OPAL, which enlist the wider public in such projects as the bugs count undertaken with the Natural History Museum.
The environment White Paper pledges the Government to invest £1.2 million to support the development of the National Biodiversity Network. This network collates a vast amount of records provided largely by knowledgeable volunteers and local organisations around the country, a highly cost-effective way of generating essential data. The long-term support for the National Biodiversity Network is of key importance if we are to meet our targets.
Above all, we need to encourage a new generation of naturalists. We need to ensure that in these difficult times public funds are still available for local museums and natural history societies so that we can continue to generate these biological records.
I look forward to hearing from the Minister that the natural environment White Paper will be followed up by policies and actions that will ensure that by 2020 we have indeed met these challenging targets.
My Lords, I have to declare an interest as a trustee of the Pond Conservation Trust. Freshwater is one of the most extensively exploited and vulnerable parts of the environment. That vulnerability has been further exposed by the drought that we have experienced this spring. Moreover, the harsh spell of weather that we had before Christmas, with record low temperatures, led to many frozen ponds and streams, and so further jeopardised the wildlife that is dependent on freshwater.
In the past 20 years, huge investment has gone into attempts to improve the quality of our rivers, but there has been little improvement in the biological condition of those rivers. About one-third of the monitored length of our rivers is not in a good biological condition due to such things as industrial pollution and fertiliser run-off from farmland. Over the next 20 years, a further £20 million will be spent to protect freshwater ecosystems through agri-environment schemes, investments in the infrastructure of the water industry and in conservation grants. However, ponds, a major reservoir of freshwater diversity, continue to decline in quality.
The Government’s White Paper on the natural environment, published this month, says,
“They are often overlooked but small water bodies such as ponds and ditches play a critical role in supporting ecosystems … Ponds alone support 70% of freshwater biodiversity and more endangered species than lakes, rivers, streams or ditches”.
Inevitably, government schemes to protect the environment will tend to be large-scale, such as the landscape-scale works recommended in the Lawton review, but ponds are essentially small-scale and local. The Pond Conservation Trust has since 2008, in company with local people and various partners, helped to create 1,600 new ponds, 420 of which are specifically for biodiversity action plan species. This project has also helped to change attitudes and has been used as an example of good practice by NGOs and by the Government.
However, work such as this cannot depend on local efforts alone, but needs to be underpinned by appropriate science and government policy. I want to ask the Minister two questions. Is he satisfied that the freshwater science base of this country is sufficient to provide the evidence needed by policy-makers to protect and ensure freshwater biodiversity? It is not just the species that depend on water directly—such as frogs, toads, newts, dragonflies and various plants and invertebrates—but also birds and bats, mammals such as voles and otters, and reptiles such as grass snakes. Secondly, as new schemes are introduced, are effective monitoring systems in place to determine which schemes are successful and cost-effective?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Selborne on introducing this debate in such a timely manner, given that tomorrow the Environment Council meets to discuss the EU’s biodiversity strategy till 2020. That meeting of EU Environment Ministers will be an important test of resolve in meeting the commitments agreed at Nagoya last year to meet the huge biodiversity challenges that we face.
I applaud the Government on the welcome they have given to the development of an EU biodiversity strategy and hope that tomorrow the targets suggested by the Commission in the draft strategy are adopted. In particular, I welcome the actions suggested by the Commission relating to the sustainable use of fisheries resources, including the gradual elimination of discards. Only today, a report to be debated at the UN from the panel convened by the International Programme on the State of the Oceans warned that ocean life is at a high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.
We must stop exploitative overfishing now, and so it is vital that the reference to achieving maximum sustainable yields of fish by 2015 is retained in the EU’s biodiversity strategy. If removed, our efforts—and I commend the Government’s initiatives to date on this—to secure ambitious reform of the common fisheries policy are entirely undermined. They are undermined even before the starting gun on the reform of the CFP is fired in the next couple of weeks. Therefore I very much hope that our representative at tomorrow’s meeting will be pushing back hard on those countries, including France and Spain, which are pushing for the removal of this reference to stop overfishing.
I welcome the draft EU biodiversity strategy, but it mentions only in passing the key issue of financing biodiversity protection. Clearly, if we are to make a reality of the Nagoya conference goals, finance is key. It was this House’s EU Select Committee report on the EU financial framework from 2014 that recommended that biodiversity protection be mainstreamed through all the relevant funding instruments, especially the CAP, and that it be reflected in the framework itself.
Given that the Commission’s proposals for the new framework are due out next week, I would be keen to hear from the Minister whether the Government agree that the EU’s commitment in the area of biodiversity should be reflected in the framework. However, any financing available through the EU budget is going to be small compared to that required to meet the scale of the challenge. Two weeks ago in the welcome natural environment White Paper, the possibility of financing biodiversity protection through biodiversity offsets was raised. The Government propose to establish a new voluntary approach to biodiversity offsets and to test that approach in pilot areas.
Biodiversity offsetting schemes have been in existence in other parts of the world for some time. All the evidence from these is that such schemes must be well designed. Successful existing schemes, notably those in the US and Australia, generally involve an impartial oversight body. Their function is to monitor the size and quality of the offsets, making sure that they are calculated properly so that offset sites are ecologically similar and deliver an amount of biodiversity adequate to offset the impacts. They help developers to know how many credits, and crucially which type, they need by transparent calculation of offset needs or debits. Key to the scheme’s success is rigorous methodology to determine what trade-offs are appropriate or allowable.
I support the Government’s decision to pilot biodiversity offsetting so as to test and refine the operation, but I do question whether a voluntary scheme will generate enough interest to establish a viable biodiversity market. Moreover, I question whether a locally managed scheme where the approach to be taken,
“should be as simple and straightforward as possible”,
to quote from the White Paper, will have the necessary rigour to deliver the desired “no net loss” biodiversity outcomes. As such, perhaps I could invite the Minister to say a few words about how the Government intend to help with the design of the various schemes in the pilots as details in the White Paper are rather thin. This is a crucial part of how the Government are going to be taking forward our biodiversity commitments.
I say again that this is an extremely timely debate. Maintaining healthy, viable ecosystems over the long term is crucial to human well-being and to the survival of our planet. To that end, it is vital that we have a large-scale strategic vision, such as that drawn up at Nagoya, as well as clarity on how it will be delivered at the European, national and local levels so that we can better deliver the necessary biodiversity protection.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on securing this important debate. The Nagoya protocol rightly relates to global issues, but I will concentrate on the effective implementation of the agreement in the UK. I therefore declare an interest as executive director of the Countryside Alliance, as well as a farming one.
This country should show leadership not only internationally but within the European Union to protect and enhance natural assets and to promote environmentally sustainable growth. I am pleased that the Government's natural environment White Paper seeks to address many of these issues. However, I hope that I am not being too ungenerous by saying that one has to wade through amounts of jargon and suggestions of new bodies being set up to try to discover what we can do practically in our towns, suburbs and countryside to achieve economic growth in an environmentally sympathetic way and to adhere to the principles of Nagoya.
I am well aware that this country may be a small cog in the global environment, but we are significant because we should and can lead from the front. This is an area where, collaborating closely with our European and Commonwealth partners, we can force the pace. We can do so much in urban areas to make a significant contribution not only to biodiversity but to the quality of life of the residents and workforce of our cities and towns. Companies and institutions should play their part in bringing a greener infrastructure to urban areas. Everyone with a garden—large or small, window box or terrace—can also play their part. The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, gave us a lead on why our ponds and water courses are so vital.
I turn to matters rural, for it is here that much of Nagoya in the UK will be achieved. With more than 70 per cent of the UK managed by rural communities, farmers and land managers play a crucial role for the nation in so many regards such as water supply, flora and fauna, food production and landscape. We need increasingly to ensure that we produce enough food in this country, as food security becomes an ever higher priority in public policy. There is of course a range of professionals who have cared for the land over many generations. The Government should back them in this role.
When it comes to halting declines in habitats and species—a key objective in the Nagoya agreement—one needs to look no further than the uplands of the north of England. There, heather moorland that has been managed for grouse shooting has been responsible for making the greatest contribution to the improvement in the environmental health of the country's outstanding wildlife and geological sites. Sites of specific scientific interest cover more than 2 million acres of the land surface of England, and provide vital and extensive refuges for wildlife and essential free natural resources for people. Today, 96 per cent of grouse moors are in a favourable or recovering condition. The support of upland landowners and grouse moor managers has been crucial in achieving this goal. Moorland managed for grouse shooting accounts for some 850,000 acres of uplands, 60 per cent of all upland SSSIs and nearly one-fifth of all England's SSSI land.
What is either not known or overlooked is that the majority of that management is carried out at the private expense of the land manager. The rural community of this country has a long track record of working in harmony with nature. Since the Moorland Association was formed 25 years ago, members have regenerated and recovered more than 217,000 acres—including 57,000 in the past decade—thereby exceeding the Government's 2010 conservation target by 170 per cent. Grouse moor owners have shown that they have the ability to achieve this at their own cost, but it should be with the Government's backing.
It may be an inconvenient truth for some, but it is the case that the hare was in its most abundant numbers when its habitat was managed for coursing and hare hunting; the red deer herd on Exmoor was one of the finest in the world because of the management undertaken by the three packs of staghounds; and the fox was best managed and looked after when the species was considered quarry rather than vermin. The White Paper claims that:
“Nature is sometimes taken for granted and undervalued”.
However, this is simply not the case for those individuals who manage the countryside and have an interest in its future. The Government should take the opportunity that already exists in the countryside, with rural communities undertaking conservation work each year.
All signatories to the United Nations convention on biodiversity are to draw up national biodiversity plans. These should include measures to control invasive species, halt the loss of genetic diversity and expand nature reserves to 17 per cent of the world's land area by 2020. Are we to lose the nightingale because we are not prepared to manage the muntjac, which is destroying the habitat of so many species at an alarming rate? Are we to lose the iconic red squirrel because we allow the grey to run riot? It is important that by the time the convention meets in India in October 2012, our country will have made further progress in achieving these highly laudable aims.
The White Paper suggests that there will be local nature partnerships, new nature improvement areas and a range of initiatives. I therefore urge the Minister to ensure that in the evolution of these proposals and their fulfilment, those in the countryside who know so much about it and have a track record of caring for it are actively engaged at every step of the way. It is because of the people I have spoken about, not in spite of them, that the British countryside has remained as exceptional as it still is. If we are serious about implementing Nagoya and securing practical results, we must engage the rural communities on whom we already rely.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, on the Question that stimulated this excellent debate and on his fine opening speech. The Convention on Biological Diversity is a key plank of the international community's commitment to protect our environment. I was fortunate to attend the 2006 conference of the parties in Curitiba, Brazil, as the UK ministerial representative, and I have retained a strong commitment to this agenda as a result. Last October's conference of the parties to the convention in Nagoya, Japan—as the noble Earl said—was described by the Government as “historic”. None of us can disagree, and it was an important statement of intent from the new Government that the Secretary of State herself attended to take part in the negotiations.
The outcome was positive. The 190 countries agreed a refreshed vision that by 2050 biodiversity will be valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people. The parties also agreed a shorter-term ambition to:
“Take effective and urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity in order to ensure that by 2020 ecosystems are resilient and continue to provide essential services, thereby securing the planet's variety of life, and contributing to human well-being, and poverty eradication”.
The five strategic goals are particularly significant in focusing our minds. They are: to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society; to reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use; to improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity; to enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services; and to enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building.
This is the right response from Governments to the challenges facing the planet—not just for the sake of biodiversity but because of the importance it has for human prosperity and well-being. The national ecosystem assessment, commissioned by the previous Government and published by this one, gives examples of that importance to humanity. It states that the benefits that inland wetlands bring to water quality—here I pay tribute to the speech of my noble friend— are worth up to £1.5 billion per year to the UK. Pollinators are worth £430 million per year to British agriculture. The amenity benefits of living close to rivers, coasts and other wetlands is worth up to £1.3 billion per year, and the health benefits of living with a view of a green space are worth up to £300 per person per year. It is clearly in the public's interest for the commitments made in Nagoya to be translated into action here in the UK. Indeed, they can serve as the benchmarks to test the success of the Government in delivering on their commitment to the natural environment.
I do not want to appear too cynical, although that is the burden of opposition, but while UN conferences meet every two years and agree important words—the noble Earl suggested this—and while we have in the past made commitments, for example, to the IUCN's Countdown 2010 target, targets are serially not met by Governments of whatever complexion and words too often do not turn into action. I have therefore looked at the new White Paper, The Natural Choice, with great interest. It was not published with much of a fanfare. I heard about it via word of mouth. I am sure that is not down to the new shyness of Mrs Spelman, the Secretary of State, to be heard in the media. I am happy to believe that the media had little appetite for something as uncontentious as a policy paper on the natural world.
It is good news, as the Minister says from a sedentary position, but it does raise my first question for him. If we are to realise the aims of Nagoya, we need to raise the profile of these issues and their importance with the public. How is the department going to achieve this? A genuine cynic might say it has already done a remarkable job. At the same time that Mrs Spelman was in Nagoya, her department was busy trying to privatise the forests. It is a novel approach, but privatising trees was certainly an effective way of getting the public engaged on the importance of protecting biodiversity.
Returning to the White Paper, I accept that it makes clear that the Government's detailed response will be in a new biodiversity strategy for England, which has been referred to,
“to follow this White Paper”.
Can the Minister assure us that, unlike the water White Paper or the waste policy document, this will not be delayed? Will it be published this month, as the noble Earl suggested? Can we expect Ministers touring the studios to promote it this time? What about the money? I note that over the five-year period Defra will lose £2 billion in cash terms from its budgets. There are around 70 commitments in the White Paper. How much will be spent on meeting them? How much has been committed to fund meeting the new commitments made in Nagoya? The press release the department published at the time suggested new money of £2.6 million over four years for international biodiversity. Can the Minister assure us that that is enough?
In the mean time, there are some other questions to ask in relation to action at home and abroad to address the five strategic goals that I took the time to read out. I very much welcome the renewed commitment in the White Paper to the Darwin initiative. I have been fortunate enough to visit Darwin projects in three continents of the world and have seen the very positive effect on animal and human populations alike. Darwin is part of the UK punching way above its weight internationally on these issues. The world genuinely looks to us to help broker conservation agreements such as the GRASP agreement I signed in Kinshasa in 2005 to protect great apes. This sort of work is the result of remarkable work by civil servants in the Minister’s department. Can he tell us whether staffing and resources in the tiny international wildlife division are being protected?
At home, in my time, I was pleased to insert in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act the duty for public bodies to have regard to biodiversity loss. Whitehall took some persuading that that was justified and was not a costly burden on services such as the NHS. Can the Minister tell us, in the course of meeting the first of the five Nagoya goals, what bilateral discussions have taken place since October between Defra Ministers, Ministers from other departments and Ministers from devolved Administrations that have included biodiversity protection on the agenda? If he cannot tell me off the top of his head, perhaps he will write to me. How will the Government ensure that action is taken across departments, in devolved Administrations and in all tiers of Government to secure the commitment to halt biodiversity loss?
Finally, the other strategic goals all need biodiversity to be a key consideration in land use. How will this be achieved? I was pleased in my day to agree PPS9 with the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to secure this as a material consideration in the planning system. The planning system is currently going through massive changes via the Localism Bill, which is in Committee today in this Chamber, and measures such as PPS9 will be absorbed into the national framework and the regional tier of planning protection will disappear altogether. Conservation groups have rightly expressed concerns that the Government's approach to growth will damage the environment. In that context, can I ask the Minister how the Secretary of State is getting on with Mr Pickles? They appeared to have a bit of a set-to over waste collection. Have such arguments been consigned to the dustbin of history or is there a danger of them being recycled over the burden that councils, developers and planners will have to bear in playing their part on halting biodiversity loss? Given that the Chancellor said in his Budget speech that planning will now have jobs and growth as the priority, can the Minister give us reassurance that this will not squeeze out biodiversity and the goals of Nagoya?
To conclude, this has been a useful opening debate in what I hope will be ongoing scrutiny by your Lordships' House of the implementation of the Nagoya agreement. The ambition is to be applauded, but it is against the actions of the whole of the Government that the Secretary of State and her Ministers will be judged.
My Lords, I start by offering my welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, on what is, I think, his first appearance at the Dispatch Box back as a spokesman on Defra matters. The noble Lord started his ministerial career, some years ago, as a Minister in this honourable department, and we welcome him back as the opposition spokesman on this. He brings a wealth of experience, and I was particularly grateful for the fact that he reminded us that he had attended earlier conferences on this matter. He will bring great expertise to this subject.
The noble Lord asked me quite a number of questions, as did all the other noble Lords who spoke. I think that all noble Lords will understand that, in the 12 minutes that I am allowed, it will barely be possible for me to answer a mere tithe of the questions. I will try to do my best, but I make it clear that I will respond by letter in due course in good time. I would also like to thank my noble friend Lord Selborne for bringing forward this debate—in the dinner hour, admittedly, when we are limited to merely an hour. I would also like to echo a point made by an opposition spokesman and say that this might have to be the first of many debates where we can explore these issues in good time.
I was very grateful to my noble friend for referring with praise to the natural environment White Paper, as did others, just as I was grateful for his references to Kew, to which he has given honourable service in the past. Kew is close to all our hearts and I imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Knight, was involved with Kew back in his ministerial days. Again, that is something that we would want to look to.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, asked a number of detailed questions but started off by mentioning that she was a trustee of a freshwater trust, and referred to the drought. I remember the last time we had a fairly serious drought. One can only say that in this House—not in another place, but we are all somewhat older—we can remember Denis Howell and how, soon after he was appointed Minister for Drought, we had a lot of rain. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has pointed out to me that ever since she announced that there was a drought in one part of the country, we have had some fairly consistent rain. However, the noble Baroness quite rightly referred to many rivers not being in good condition, and she wanted to know what we were going to do about that, whether our work on freshwater science was adequate and what monitoring there was of our various agri-environment schemes. Again, I will write to her.
On the larger questions of drought and water shortage, again I would refer back to the Climate Change Act and the work that has been done over the years since then in terms of adaptation to climate change by a number of bodies. I was recently at Rutland Water where I saw what Anglian Water was doing in terms of announcing its adaptation to climate change. There is much we can do, much that is already being done and we should be grateful for that.
My noble friend Lady Parminter referred, among many other things, to problems relating to the sustainable use of fishery resources. Again, this is something very close to my honourable friend Mr Benyon’s heart, particularly the problems of discards. We will continue to work on this, and I know my honourable friend has made considerable progress, but this is something we obviously have to work very hard on in our negotiations with Europe.
My noble friend Lord Gardiner, among many other things, referred to the particular importance of achieving both economic growth and greater biodiversity. The important thing to remind all noble Lords is that these are not opposed to each other—they are matters that we can achieve together and certainly want to. Again, I was very grateful for what my noble friend said about heather moorland and the grouse moors. I remind him, as I think he was reminding the House, that they are really the only businesses in the upland areas that survive without subsidy.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, as is right and proper for all opposition spokesmen, asked a whole range of questions, particularly about the importance of raising the profile of these matters. We can achieve that to a very small extent through debates in this House, but it is something that we should all try to do. He asked about the timing of a future White Paper on water. Again, that is something for which he would not expect me to give a conclusive date at this stage, but I can assure him that it will appear in due course at the appropriate time. We want to make sure that we get that right.
The noble Lord also asked about the importance of bilateral discussions, not just between Defra and other departments but between Defra and the devolved Administrations. I can assure him that we will continue to discuss matters with all other departments, as the Government are increasingly good at doing, but we shall also continue to discuss these things with the new devolved Administrations. I can assure him that, with new Ministers being in place in all three of the devolved Administrations, we have already established relations with them and we will make sure that we discuss these matters more importantly.
I want to devote my closing few minutes to Nagoya. As the House will be aware, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State played a key role in securing those milestone agreements at Nagoya. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Knight, for his remarks about her attendance there. Since then, officials have been working very hard to ensure that those key decisions from that meeting are implemented and that we prepare for the next conference in Hyderabad in 2012.
There were 47 decisions made at the Nagoya meeting and we have identified five key strategic priorities for implementation, as my noble friend Lord Selborne made clear. The key strategic priorities are: first, implementing the strategic plan for biodiversity from 2011 to 2020; secondly, pursuing the objectives of the resource mobilisation strategy; thirdly, stepping up the process to integrate valuation of biodiversity and ecosystem services into financial processes; fourthly, making progress on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, which is, I should say for the sake of Hansard in case I get a further chance to talk about it, what we now refer to as REDD+; and, fifthly, establishing the intergovernmental platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
As well as that, we have been working, as other noble Lords have made clear, with the European Commission to develop the EU 2020 biodiversity strategy, which was published on 3 May. The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, and my noble friend Lady Parminter, said that tomorrow the Environment Council will consider these matters. I very much hope that an agreement can be reached, but I note the queries from some noble Lords about how we will achieve that. We recently published—again, I am grateful to all those who have spoken about it—our natural environment White Paper for England and our national ecosystems assessment for Britain, and I welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Knight, said about that.
In the few remaining moments, I should like to say a little about the five strategic priorities and explain the work that is underway to ensure that the United Kingdom both meets the demands of the Nagoya agreement at a domestic level and achieves the greatest influence internationally. Implementing the strategic plan for biodiversity was one of the main areas for United Kingdom leadership at Nagoya and now offers opportunities to show our leadership role. That plan set 20 targets in all areas of biodiversity. The United Kingdom led in the preparations for the strategic plan and it is therefore appropriate that we should now lead in the development of meaningful, proportionate and realistic indicators for these targets for use by the global community. This week, the United Kingdom is doing just that by hosting an expert workshop to develop such indicators. To inform the work of this workshop, the United Kingdom commissioned an international review of the use of indicators for assessing biodiversity at the national level, which will be a key reference document for the experts.
The resource mobilisation strategy is intended to be the main means of providing support to developing countries to implement the strategic plan on global biodiversity. At Nagoya, there was agreement to indicators of biodiversity spend and we are already engaged in the process of establishing baselines and targets for those 15 indicators. We are also identifying options for innovative financial mechanisms for biodiversity through our work in the EU.
We are also putting natural capital at the heart of government accounting by working with the Office for National Statistics to fully include natural capital in the United Kingdom environmental accounts and will establish an independent natural capital committee reporting to the Economic Affairs Cabinet Committee chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The committee will advise the Government on the state of English natural capital.
Finally, turning to REDD+, my department is working closely with the Convention on Biological Diversity to help develop advice on applying biodiversity safeguards, which are operational guidelines and standards that should be applied to prevent harm and enhance biodiversity in forests and linked environments from REDD+ activities, as well as indicators for REDD+, through research, finance and by leading expert discussions. This will also inform negotiations on safeguards in the climate change convention and, in turn, will help to achieve other linked benefits for developing countries and the global environment, including effective carbon storage and poverty reduction.
The International Climate Fund supports these multiple goals under forestry and REDD+, helping countries’ wider efforts on climate change mitigation and adaptation, and sustainable low-carbon development. My department has £100 million allocated to support REDD+ over the next four years but that is only part of the £2.9 billion coming from the United Kingdom through DECC and DfID.
I would like to go on speaking for some time, but obviously there are constraints on that. What I can say is that I would like to offer an assurance that I will write to noble Lords about a range of the points they have raised, and to make it clear that the Government take their biodiversity commitments very seriously indeed. Officials within Defra are working hard to ensure that we continue to show leadership both internationally and within the country as regards biodiversity, and we are committed domestically to ensuring positive and real change.
Again, I thank my noble friend for raising the matter and I welcome the opportunity I have had to outline, albeit briefly, some of our approach to the commitments made at Nagoya.