Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the future of environmental and climate change policy in the light of the result of the referendum for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.
My Lords, the European Union has produced the world’s most comprehensive body of environmental policy and legislation. It has protected our wildlife and biodiversity and has improved the quality of our water and other natural resources. It has also been pivotal in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and prompting the growth in renewable energy in our fight against climate change. As the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee concluded,
“the UK’s membership of the European Union has improved the UK’s approach to environmental protection and ensured that the UK environment has been better protected”.
So the challenge now for our Government is to continue to improve our environment as we move outside the overwhelmingly positive, collective approach to environmental policy that we have been party to in the European Union over the past 40 years.
Given the bulwark of protections provided by that body of European environmental policy, it is good that the Government have confirmed that EU law will be transposed into domestic law on the day that the UK leaves the European Union—protections such as rules that govern the use of pesticides and nitrates, ensure fewer toxic chemicals in household products, or deliver greater product efficiency standards, as well as the birds and habitats directive, the most significant and extensive system for protecting wildlife and wild places that we have. However, this does not mean that the hard-won environmental policy gains built up over 40 years are secure. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, has caveated this transposing with the phrase “wherever practicable”. The Farming Minister, George Eustice, called the birds and habitat directive “spirit-crushing” and, at a recent event that I attended, suggested that the need to designate special areas of conservation for harbour porpoises is an example of its inflexibility, despite a review by the coalition Government that showed that the directive’s implementation worked well.
We cannot allow “wherever practicable” to become a means to oust what is, to some, burdensome red tape when, in reality, that environmental policy framework has created a level playing field for companies and our farmers to trade fairly while tackling the threat of catastrophic climate change and environmental degradation. Further unpicking—as the Prime Minister herself said—to reflect UK preferences looks even more likely, given that a key plank on which all EU environmental legislation is built is that of the precautionary principle. The Government’s opposition to the precautionary principle has been all too clear, with their stance on the EU’s ban on three neonicotinoid insecticides and its approach to GM food. Moreover, this is a Government who pride themselves on championing deregulation. They refused earlier this year to reinstate the zero-carbon homes policy, arguing that it would place unnecessary burdens on small housebuilders, despite clear evidence that it would limit carbon emissions from future homes.
Let us make it clear that this House will insist on full parliamentary scrutiny of any proposed changes to environmental legislation—no using the back door of statutory instruments. I and my colleagues on these Benches will vigorously oppose any watering down of environmental outcomes of transposed EU legislation. Any changes should be made only when demonstrable environmental benefits would result.
Leaving the European Union will mean that we are no longer part of the common agricultural policy—a policy which has hugely impacted on our rural environment and natural resources, for good and for ill. The CAP currently provides much of the funding for the conservation of terrestrial biodiversity through our green environment schemes but it has also been a major driver of damage to the environment, despite reforms to green it in more recent years. Our departure presents a major opportunity for our Government to reshape our land management and agricultural policy. Liberal Democrats will contend that future policy, and the financial support allied to it, must reward farmers for the public goods that they provide, producing healthy food and protecting the natural capital of our farmed landscapes through building healthy soils, carbon storage, clean water and flood prevention.
There is no doubt that there will be political pressure to divert the £3 billion that farmers currently receive away from agriculture—who can forget the Brexit bus and its infamous promise of £350 million a week for the NHS? By allying a new agricultural and land management policy to the provision of public goods, political will to maintain farm support, which is critical to many farm businesses, particularly in environmentally sensitive areas, could be secured. I therefore ask the Minister to confirm that the consultation promised within a few months on the food and farming policy will dovetail with the Government’s proposed 25-year environment plan and actively encourage public engagement, and whether the Natural Capital Committee will be formally asked for its views.
The Government committed in their 2015 manifesto to this being the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. Work on the 25-year environment plan began a year ago and we are anticipating a consultation on a framework later this month. This plan now assumes a far greater importance as we move outside the framework of the EU’s seventh environmental action plan, with its bold ambitions up to 2050. Ministers should be clear: if their environmental plan fails to set ambitious targets for our stock of natural capital and biodiversity or to place a duty on all government departments and public bodies to implement it, it will be judged a failure. Moreover, the case for legislative underpinning of this 25-year environment plan is now even stronger. Up to now, the European Union policy process has made agreed environmental measures more stable, giving public authorities and private investors the confidence to plan ahead.
As we have learned from tackling climate change, intergenerational progress is best achieved when targets are underpinned by UK legislation, with a body to help deliver progress and hold the Government to account. So we need the 25 Year Environment Plan to commit to legislative underpinning, an environment Act with overarching targets for clean air, biodiversity, water and other natural assets, and to put the Natural Capital Committee, like the Committee on Climate Change, on a statutory footing to recommend actions, meet those targets and monitor progress.
The Government have committed to put the National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory footing to deliver the hard infrastructure we need. They should now commit to empower the Natural Capital Committee to do the same for our equally critical natural infrastructure. Nature does not respect national boundaries and some of the European Union’s major environmental successes have been in tackling challenges to shared resources such as our birds, air and water quality, and our fish. When we leave the European Union, the common fisheries policy will cease to apply. Recent reforms have started to deliver more sustainable fisheries with the principle of maximum sustainable yield and banning discards. The complexity of the transition to new arrangements will be huge and there is a real risk for fish stocks if negotiations are prolonged without a new deal and the UK falls into a default scenario for several years. I look forward to the report on this issue by the EU Agriculture, Fisheries, Environment and Energy Sub-Committee, ably led by my noble friend Lord Teverson, which we anticipate will be published shortly. But what is already clear is that it will require strong political will to improve, based on British conditions, the policy interventions that the EU’s common fisheries policy is delivering in reducing the environmental burden of industrial-scale fishing.
In a post-Brexit world, getting the right new policies in place will be critical, but so too will holding the Government to account for their delivery of environmental policy. As members of the European Union, both the Commission and the European Court of Justice are there to ensure that environmental policy is delivered, as the Government have found to their cost on numerous occasions. In December 2015 alone, there were three air pollution, two energy, two waste and three water cases active relating to UK non-compliance. Outside the EU these critical backstops will be gone and new ways of holding the Government to account will be needed if—or, more likely, when—they fail to live up to their obligations. Surely expecting individuals and organisations to fund costly judicial reviews cannot be the answer, as Dr Coffey, the Under-Secretary of State at Defra, suggested in a Westminster Hall debate earlier this week. Therefore, I ask the Minister: will the Government commit to ensure the proper enforcement of future UK environmental legislation? What mechanisms do they see replacing and replicating the current enforcement role of the Commission and the ECJ?
EU environmental policy is a mature body of work, although a less developed area is that around the circular economy—producing less waste and using our resources productively. The EU is grappling with this now and it looks likely that we will have left the EU before a circular economy directive will be in force. As someone who fought hard to persuade our coalition partners to introduce the 5p charge on plastic bags, I keenly anticipate the launch next month of the Government Office for Science report on how we should produce less waste and use our resources more productively. It should be a clarion call on the benefits of a circular economy. An early test of the Government’s commitment to improving our environment outside the EU policy framework will be whether it embeds the principles of a circular economy in their forthcoming industrial strategy.
However, environment policy cannot remain static. As our scientific knowledge and evidence grow in future, the policies must develop too. Yet not only has Defra a severely depleted number of staff in its agencies due to sustained budget cuts, it will lose access to EU institutions and funding for research programmes and the vital collaborations that come with them. So what reassurances can the Minister give about our capacity post-Brexit to continue to develop evidence-based environmental policy?
As the Liberal Democrats’ Defra spokesperson, I have naturally concentrated today on the issues around the impact on environment policy, and leave my noble friend Lady Featherstone and others on other Benches to focus on the other pillar of climate policy. In doing so, I am aware that the uncertainties and challenges in that area are no less severe. The rapid progress in ratifying the Paris climate agreement is welcome, as is the Government’s acceptance earlier this year of the recommended seventh carbon budget of the Committee on Climate Change. However, we urgently need the Government to produce their plan to deliver our emissions targets, which has been delayed. Such a plan is fundamental to giving investors and public authorities’ confidence to plan to deliver the low-carbon infrastructure we need to transition our energy supply and move to a low-carbon economy.
Post-Brexit it is clear there are opportunities for improving environmental policy and outcomes, most notably the fundamental recasting of agricultural and land management policy to replace the common agricultural policy. But sizeable threats are clear too, including the watering down of environmental legislation, finding timely responses to managing shared natural resources as well as a lack of policy capacity and enforcement mechanisms to deliver them. Strong political will is required to secure policies we need to protect our environment, and the public and private investment to deliver it. The imminent framework of their 25 Year Environment Plan will tell us whether this Government are prepared to deliver that or if, as some of us fear, outside the European Union we are about to enter a new dark age for green policy.
My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for giving us this opportunity for a timely debate, and timely it is. I agree with her that full parliamentary scrutiny will be very important as we implement national regulations in place of EU directives as time goes by. I also agree with her that the EU directives have indeed provided a historic framework. That is not to say that they are by any means perfect or indeed cannot be improved with national, regional and local emphasis. I may refer to that a little later.
However, it is clearly essential for the Government to plan carefully for environmental and climate change policy in the context of the new industrial strategy—the strategy which the Prime Minister assures us will get Britain firing on all cylinders again. We are expecting the 25 Year Environment Plan soon. It will be a framework document setting out the Government’s environmental vision and their thoughts on implementation. The 25 Year Environment Plan and strategy was originally proposed in the Natural Capital Committee’s State of Natural Capital report, published last year, with a government response in September 2015. That response was positive. It said that the plan would:
“Help individuals and organisations at local, regional, national and international levels to understand the economic, social and cultural value of nature, the impact that their actions have on it, and to use this knowledge to make better decisions and facilitate the design of sustainable financing models”.
We all agree with the high-flown sentiments but they simply must be reconciled with sustainable economic growth and sustainable financing models. That is the important thing to pick up there.
After the outcome of the referendum, Professor Dieter Helm, who chairs the Natural Capital Committee, wrote to the new Secretary of State, Andrea Leadsom, to remind her of the manifesto commitment to improve the natural environment within a generation, and of the 25 Year Environment Plan. The letter said:
“Following on from the referendum, you are now in a position to take a strategic view of how our environment is managed to maximise the total value of all the benefits it provides—including clean air and water, flood protection, carbon storage, biodiversity, health benefits and recreation—and, in the process, maximising sustainable food production and supporting rural communities. This is the path to maximising sustainable economic growth”.
Again, I think he got the right emphasis on ensuring that we have sustainable economic growth without which you will not get environmental enhancement. The Secretary of State replied positively in August, committing the new Administration to the production of the 25 Year Environment Plan. She said that,
“we must maintain the momentum and enthusiasm”
for the plan. We have, therefore, the prospect of a new industrial strategy and a 25-year environmental plan, both against the background of leaving the European Union with both opportunities and threats in so far as the environment is concerned. I see it as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to plan how we can deliver sustainable economic growth.
We start with some valuable assets to help plan our way forward. Yes, the EU directives and regulations—or most of them—are certainly part of those valuable assets. The work of the Natural Capital Committee is going to stand us in very good stead, going right back to the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, which was commissioned under the Labour Government and published in 2011. This was the beginning of taking into account natural capital, and pointed to a new way of estimating our natural wealth. Natural capital should provide the basis for financial support for environmental outcomes, but with the “polluter pays” principle providing the regulatory underpinning.
Some, but not all, of our ecosystems are still in long-term decline. However, just to look at some of the brighter prospects, freshwater quality has improved —we all know about fish coming up the Thames—and sulphur deposition has declined. I took some comfort from the National Flood Resilience Review, with its helpful pointers on how to deliver integrated catchment management. This has not yet been delivered, and there is much work to be done.
We are familiar with examples of long-term decline: the loss of soil carbon in arable systems and the reduction in insect pollinators, which are important to so many crops. While marine fisheries have levelled out, they have levelled out in terms of historic takes at levels that are way below what they were in the past.
Brexit has far-reaching implications for land management. We should remember that 75% of the United Kingdom is land. Pillar 1, which is most of the take from the CAP that comes to this country, is about £3 billion annually. It is a basic payment scheme, and some would say that there is very little compliance required. Pillar 2, which delivers the agri-environmental schemes, is only about a sixth of the funds. Therefore, I think everyone agrees that we have to move towards refocusing the Pillar 1 expenditure on ecologically sustainable farming systems. I mentioned soil status, for example, that delivers for the farmer, for society and for the environment.
I hope that we remember the economics of farming at the moment. Most farmers—I could not give an exact figure—rely on the basic payment scheme to stay solvent. If you remove Pillar 1 payments too rapidly—and they will have to be removed ultimately—you are going to find small farms, particularly in the uplands and marginal lands, going bankrupt. We should remember the inexorable trends in farming at the moment: one in 10 dairy farms has closed in the past three years, but the number of dairy cows has increased by 113,000. We are seeing farms getting larger, with higher capital, and more intensive. That is necessary if you are requiring farming to compete with low commodity prices globally and to meet a cheap—or anyway, a cheaper—food policy than natural costs would allow.
I do not think that sustainable intensification is an oxymoron: some people find the two words incompatible. Some of the farms that have won prizes for conservation have also been extremely successful, and intensification does lead to releasing land. We have to be quite clear that we are expecting farms to be globally efficient and, at the same time, we have to make sure that we have in place a suitable policy for supporting the environment.
Integrated catchment management is something we talk about a lot, but its implications are never very effectively understood. If you can get the land manager who is responsible for the land involved, then it is going to be much more effective than having somebody from the water company who is a remote character telling everyone who is involved. Since the report of Professor John Lawton, where farmers were encouraged to get together in clusters, there have been examples—voluntary, of course—where farmers have worked together at the regional scale, or the landscape scale, to deliver environmental benefits. That is the only way we are going to achieve integrated catchment management.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on having secured this debate and having introduced it so ably while struggling against what looks to be a pretty awful sore throat. I also have a sore throat, but it does not sound as bad, so I should be able to struggle through.
The Prime Minister of Luxembourg, somewhat improbably, made one of the best quips about Brexit. He said that the UK was in, but with lots of opt-outs, but wants to be out, with lots of opt-ins. In the case of climate change, which is a bit different from the single market, we hope that most of those opt-ins will be agreed by both sides.
In my speech, I shall concentrate on my concerns on the issue of climate change, arguably the most demanding challenge humanity faces in the 21st century. It is not only the most demanding, but the most intractable. On a worldwide level, virtually no progress has been made thus far in slowing the advance of global warming. World surface and sea temperatures in 2015 were the highest on record; 2016 is predicted by NASA to turn out even hotter.
Brexit seems insignificant compared to the global scale of the issue. After all, the UK creates only a small proportion of total global emissions. The country has a good track record in reducing those emissions compared to most other industrial states, and it has pioneered strategies of doing so that deserve to be emulated elsewhere. Climate change is a negative example of how interdependent the world has become and the impossibility of extracting any country from that interdependence, positive and negative. In such a world, Britain will have to continue to collaborate with other states, both in a European context and on a worldwide level, and in many, many different areas.
The area of climate change and energy demonstrates, in only one context, just how tortuous and difficult the process of Brexit will be. As in all the other domains of co-operation, the UK will have to sift in detail through what is to be kept and what is to be discarded, and in a context where the other 27 EU states will take the core decisions. Those who thought leaving the EU would mean an escape from bureaucracy are in for a rude shock. So far as the UK is concerned, there is likely to be a sharp increase, since in many instances specific procedures will be needed to deal with the details of the British case.
The think tank Carbon Brief, with which I am sure the Minister is familiar, has listed 94 questions for the Government to answer on the implications of leaving the European Union for energy and climate change. That list, the organisation adds, “is probably incomplete”. The Minister will be glad to know that the Government have already managed to answer one of the 94, by endorsing a fifth carbon budget consistent with recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change. There are only 93 to go. I will be more modest in my demands and list only five, or at least five clusters of issues on which it would be useful if the Minister would give some idea of the Government’s preliminary thinking.
First, somewhat disturbingly, one of the new Prime Minister’s first acts on coming into power was to close down the Department of Energy and Climate Change as a separate entity, seemingly connected with the invention of new departments relating to Brexit. Will the Minister unequivocally confirm that this change does not mark a downgrading of the significance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions? It is to the credit of the previous incarnation of the Government that much of the structure that Labour set up has been kept in place. Will the Minister confirm that all this will not only—to quote an unfashionable term—remain but be further deepened?
Secondly, the Paris agreement has now been backed by the European Parliament and has recently reached the level of international endorsement to come into force globally. How does the Minister assess the issues that surround the UK’s involvement? Will the UK ratify the agreement as a member of the EU or rely on the fact that it is already an individual signatory? Will Britain continue to take part in the EU emissions trading system, and if not, what parallel procedure will be developed?
Thirdly, what implications will Brexit have for the complex connections between the energy industries in the UK and the rest of Europe? Energy is obviously deeply implicated in all this. Some 50% of the gas used in the UK is imported and the bulk of this comes through pipelines that go through EU or EEA countries. Imported electricity has been projected to increase under current arrangements by more than double over the next few years. All this depends on the integrated arrangements made possible by the single market. Can the Minister say what happens if the UK is not able to stay a member of the single market, which is a distinct possibility if control of migration is taken to be the sine qua non of Brexit?
Fourthly, so-called hard Brexit—a pretty daft name, but it has come into currency—will have huge implications, both for climate change agreements and for energy more generally. In these areas, as in almost all others, the review of competences found that the existing arrangements worked well. It is an odd situation to be leaving the EU when that review went through every single connection and found that almost all of them worked well. If the UK were to leave the single energy market, a raft of environmental standards would have to be reconsidered. Moreover, the UK would be more vulnerable to the vagaries of energy markets than is the case at the moment. How would the Government handle these issues? As an addendum, personally I think that the UK will be vulnerable economically as it detaches itself from the EU because it is an open economy, subject to the whims of global investors. That is not taking back control.
Finally, how will the Government plan ahead in respect of climate change and energy policy when so many factors are in play, and when even the Chancellor has been forced to concede that economic turbulence is likely to be caused by Brexit? Assessments of impact will have to be carried out in the light of multiple contingencies, including possible changes in the wider world economy. The review of competences, which I just referred to, was child’s play compared to the multiplicity of issues that lie in wait and must be resolved.
Brexit sounds so simple and straightforward, especially now that Mrs May has explained to us what it means. However, the issues and problems it raises are dauntingly complex.
My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking my noble friend for tabling today’s debate and giving the House an opportunity to debate an aspect of Brexit which was underdiscussed both during the referendum campaign and subsequently.
At the outset, it is worth reflecting on how far we have come in the last 40 years. Occasionally you still hear people of a certain age refer to London as “The Smoke”, which reminds us of what the air quality was like here in our capital just four decades ago. Many people who swam off Britain’s beaches will regale you with horror stories about doing the breaststroke through pools of raw sewage; just last week the Guardian published some pretty gruesome photographs of Blackpool beach 40 years ago, which showed just that. Standards of animal welfare have increased significantly, and measures to reduce the harmful effects of pesticides and fertilisers have had a significant impact.
However, of course there is still a lot to do. The World Health Organization recently warned that dozens of British cities were failing to meet air pollution standards and it is estimated that over 16,000 deaths in 2012 were caused by ambient pollution. Recently, 4.9% of bathing sites in the UK were revealed to have poor water quality. We are just beginning to understand the impact of tiny plastic microbeads in our oceans on marine ecosystems. The threat to native species from habitat destruction, alien species, or diseases such as ash dieback is very real. The State of Nature 2016 report found that more than 10% of species are at risk of extinction in the UK and nearly 60% have declined since 1970.
It seems to me that, in reflecting on how we have made the progress we have, we find the pointers to how we will deal with the challenges we have yet to face. It is true that some change has been effected by individuals and organisations who are motivated to do the right thing, and in some cases the power of public opinion alters behaviour. But overwhelmingly, public policy drives change, through fiscal instruments, regulatory measures or by using targets to alter behaviour.
The development of environmental policy in the European Union has taken place over the last 40 years and continues today. In doing so, it has revealed some of the many strengths—and, if we are honest, some of the weaknesses—of a common EU approach. However, it is based on the inarguable logic that most environmental issues are cross-border in character or impact, and are better addressed by co-operative action than unilaterally. The transboundary and sometimes global nature of many environmental issues means that a collective approach is either more efficient or simply essential to address them effectively. Obvious examples apart from climate change include the protection of migratory birds and air and water pollution.
The importance of the single market and its development has also given an impetus to create common EU rules, particularly for environmental and technical product standards, which enables benchmarking and target setting to take place. Negotiating common standards can allow a degree of environmental ambition which would not be available to individual Governments acting alone because of fears about short-term impacts on competitiveness. Common standards also inhibit the possibility of economic advantages accruing to those countries that have lower environmental standards. A further advantage of the EU system is that it has a range of legislative, funding and other policy measures which can work in combination, and of course EU environmental legislation is backed up by hard legal enforcement mechanisms of a kind that is rare in international agreements.
It is also true that the EU has several institutional advantages that other international fora lack. First, contrary to Eurosceptic myths, EU institutions make decisions on a democratic basis, through a process of debate and adoption by both the European Parliament and the Council, which gives them the authority to monitor, report back and enforce binding legislation. The requirement for member states regularly to report on progress has created a culture of transparency which allows citizens to see how their country is performing.
A practical example of that is air quality. Our Supreme Court ruled that the UK was in breach of the 2008 directive, which resulted in the UK Government publishing a new air quality plan last year. I am not convinced that British citizens would have known about the scale of the problem or that government would have done anything about it had we not been subject to EU law. Indeed, the breaching of EU quality regulations was cited by Zac Goldsmith as a reason not to extend Heathrow, which shows that even the most ardent Brexiteer is not above praying the EU in aid when it suits their argument.
In the debate about “taking control” very little has been said about what that means for the future of our environment. The outcome closest to where we are now, the so-called soft Brexit, leaves the UK outside the common fisheries and common agricultural policies. I argue that that is a mixed blessing. But both the birds and habitats directives and the bathing water directive would no longer apply, and those policies have provided the backbone of conservation in the EU and have generated significant improvements for species and habitats. Of course, if we were to maintain some sort of access to the single market, we would still have to comply with a whole raft of EU environmental legislation, while having no say in its creation.
However, it looks as though we are heading for hard Brexit, and there is a wide consensus that this will create identifiable and substantial risks to future UK environmental ambitions and outcomes. Either because of political ideology or necessitated by a damaged economy, there is a significant risk that environmental standards will be lowered to seek competitive advantage outside the EU.
As we move towards the date identified by the Prime Minister for triggering Article 50, we should be seeing much more clarity from the Government on the relative priority they intend to give to environmental issues. If the approach is, as we have heard, to keep all the legislation at the point of exit and then to review it as we go along, that seems perfectly sensible, as it will mean that we will not have immediate legal uncertainty and can debate individual elements as time goes on. However, it is worth reading the report, published today, from the House of Lords EU Select Committee, which shows that even this relatively straightforward-sounding approach is not as simple as one might think. In the longer run, there is no reason why we cannot adhere to EU standards, if that is what we agree, but of course we will then fall outside the legal enforcement mechanisms, so we would have to think about how we would do that.
What business needs above all is regulatory certainty, and ironically it is often the slow pace of getting agreement in the EU that provides that certainty. Things, once agreed, are not easy to change. There is now a significant period of uncertainty, which could go on for some years.
Taking control means taking responsibility. We now have to decide as a nation what sort of agriculture we want. Is it about the production of cheap food or do we continue to put value on the environment, landscape and animal welfare? And if we do, are the Government prepared to reframe financial support for farmers to sustain this? What sort of framework do the Government envisage for managing fisheries in a sustainable way, and how do they intend to work with our European neighbours to achieve this?
The EU sub-committee which I chaired until May produced a report on regional marine co-operation which suggested that national Governments need to do much more in working together for the marine environment. I am afraid that the Government’s response to that was pretty tepid. They will need to rethink that because, outside the EU, that will be the only show in town. In any event, the WTO is about to start discussions on a global fisheries scheme, so taking control may not be as easy as it sounds. In addition, are we going to hold on to the principles enshrined in the habitats directives, and the targets for recycling and ending land-filling?
It seems to me that as we go forward, while we cannot expect detailed answers, especially today, from the Government on how they will tackle all these things, we should expect a sense of how they are going about it. Whom are the Government talking to? Whom are they consulting to identify the risks and opportunities as we go forward? Significantly, from the point of view of this House, how is Parliament to be involved?
My Lords, I declare my interests as chairman of the Woodland Trust and as president and vice-president of a range of environmental and land management NGOs and professional bodies. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for securing this debate—and I hope she lives.
We are told that Brexit means Brexit, but what it does not mean is junking our standards of environmental protection. A number of public surveys during the referendum campaign demonstrated continuing public support for high levels of environmental standards. However, many of these standards have been negotiated as part of the EU framework over the last 40 years, and, as many previous speakers have said, the task of untangling them and taking control from a UK point of view is going to be very complicated.
Brexit might mean Brexit but no amount of wishing removes the UK from the European bioregion. We will continue to share air, seas and migratory species, so it is vital that we at least maintain the current standards of protection for air, water, land and biodiversity, and that we recognise the full range of regulation and legislation involved. The range is massive—25% of EU legislation is about environmental protection, and it will be a big piece of work to repatriate that. It is crucial that we maintain robust, well-enforced environmental and wildlife laws, and it is absolutely vital that we give business a sense of security and continuity in delivering to these standards. The last thing that business wants is absence of certainty or, even worse, the flip-flopping that we have seen on environmental standards from the Government over the last 18 months.
I welcome the great repeal Bill—a wonderful title. We have to watch that the tweaks made to ensure operability do not result in any watering down, either by design or by Sod’s law. In particular, as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, stressed, we need to understand what will replace the compliance regimes that are currently ultimately ensured by EU processes such as infraction procedures and the European Court of Justice, to make sure that our environmental and wildlife laws are enforced by domestic compliance regimes that are at least as tough. Can the Minister tell us the Government’s initial thoughts on such monitoring, compliance and enforcement regimes?
We also need to take this opportunity to address the parts of our domestic policy framework that are failing. Trees and woodlands are crucial for a whole range of things: wildlife conservation, timber productivity, the management of carbon, enhancing farming output with shade and shelter for crops and livestock, the improvement of water quality, reducing soil erosion, flood control, access to recreation and human health. What is not to like about trees? Apart from that, the public love them. So people need trees, yet over 600 of our ancient woodlands—those cathedrals of woodlands —are at risk from proposed infrastructure and built development.
There is a huge loophole in the national policy planning framework that means that ancient woodlands have little protection compared to ancient buildings, and local planning authorities are therefore often unable to stop the destruction of ancient woodlands and trees. I press the Minister to say what the Government intend to do to improve the protection for ancient woodlands and to at least bring it into equivalence with the protection given to ancient buildings under the national policy planning framework.
I turn now to land management policy, which will be fundamental to Brexit. For many years, the common agricultural policy has been slated as being the major downside of European membership, along with the common fisheries policy. CAP is a major element of European activity, in that it accounts for 45% of the European Union budget, yet it has been pretty disastrous for about 30 years in driving the decline in our native wildlife and environmental standards. It is pretty odd that even the farmers—those who benefited from it—did not much like it either. Post-Brexit CAP demise may be the only silver lining. I am trying to stay enthusiastic in the face of the blackness that will follow Brexit by saying that, like the kid in the sweet-shop, we will have the opportunity to design, at long last, a properly integrated approach to land use policy, focused on multipurpose land use and public benefit.
Land is a scarce commodity; we are not making any more and, with climate change, we may have rather less. But it is not clear what we consider land to be for. Is it for food security; timber production; ecosystem services and the protection of air, soil and water; biodiversity; climate change mitigation; flood management; public access; or built development? We need to face the fact that all these are legitimate claims on land, and therefore a future land use strategy needs to take an integrated approach that balances all these needs. Will the Minister tell us how the Government intend to establish an integrated debate on this issue? All the competing interests need to be round the table at once, talking about it, not just part of a consultation after the Government have had unilateral and bilateral consultations and discussions with those various competing interests.
The Government should take this opportunity to combine their proposed environment and agriculture 25-year strategies. They are currently being prepared separately, although with some overlap, but they are both about what the same land is going to deliver.
Currently, 75% of our land is farmed, and land managers need to be incentivised and rewarded for delivering the full range of land-based services, but only for services that are delivered for public benefit. We need to see the integration of food and timber production with the delivery of ecosystem services, and that must be the basis of any incentive and grant system. As the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, was quite right to point out, this needs to happen on a landscape scale greater than that of individual farms. Public subsidies need to be targeted spatially to reward groups of land managers for delivering public good together.
It is vital that the new land use policy takes full account of the benefits to be gained from substantially increasing woodland cover. The current subsidies for woodland planting—with the benefits that trees bring, which I have already outlined—simply are not working. Last year, as a nation, we undershot the government planting targets by a whacking 86%. We are the country in the European bioregion with the lowest level of tree cover but we are now effectively deforesting. Will the Minister give a commitment to turn around this situation in the short term to get the planting rates back up, and make a longer-term commitment to enhance the creation of forest cover in a future integrated land use policy?
Before I finish, I want briefly to touch on two or three other issues. The first is the importance of integrating what we want to deliver for the environment for the future in all the current Brexit discussions. The industrial strategy will be fundamental, but it must have the environment at its heart. The trade strategy will be crucial, both to the standards we need to achieve in environmental terms and to the future viability of farming. The infrastructure strategies we need for future economic development must take full account of the environment, and likewise the climate change and energy policies we adopt for the future. Therefore, will the Minister let us know what government thinking is on putting the environment at the heart of all these key debates that are happening as we speak?
The law of unintended consequences is an axiom that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong—I am feeling that enthusiastic and optimistic at the moment. The range of what might emerge from trade negotiations is huge, from quasi-single market membership to the World Trade Organization. Let us not mess up the agricultural industry by mistake during those negotiations. Let us not develop a system of our own that is even more bureaucratic than the previous European one. Last but not least, please, we must have full parliamentary scrutiny as we transfer to the future—improved, I hope—system for environmental protection in this country.
My Lords, I would like to mention two main subjects, one of which is climate change. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, has already given us an excellent exposition of that subject, but I will add one or two other points. The other is the fisheries policy, and I declare my interest as a board member of the Marine Management Organisation. I will also say a little about Defra itself.
About a year ago I was pleased to host a dinner for the All-Party Group for Energy Studies, which does great work for the two Houses and provides a good interface between parliamentarians and industry. Our guest was the then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd—now the Home Secretary. It was great to be next to her because she was still, rightly, celebrating the Paris agreement; this must have been at the very end of December or the beginning of January. She was talking about the great feeling of achievement not just for the UK but for Europe, and globally, because, despite all the difficulties and negative comments, and some of the problems in Copenhagen a few years earlier, the world had managed to come together and achieve a climate change agreement.
I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and I could give a 90-point list of all the things that were wrong with that agreement, but we were pleased about the fact that it was a way forward, there were ways in which it would succeed, and the world had come together. What was really instructive about the conversation between the Secretary of State and me at that time was the fact that we agreed that Britain, within the European Union, had been a major driver behind the success of that agreement. Clearly America and China coming together before that was equally important, but Britain had played a major role, not just politically but technically, such as in the preparations made beforehand by the sherpas. We had led a lot of those negotiations and we had brought about compromise: we had done the right work with the other nations and groups in Paris. Through that work, through our expertise in this country, and through our Civil Service and the determination of Ministers—the Minister himself played a part, and I am sure he would agree with this—we had a major part in achieving that success.
Given that leadership in Europe, and the importance that we were seen to have in a global context on a matter fundamental to our future, my question is: where do we now go, post-Brexit, in terms of that national role? It is one of the classic areas where not only is this potentially damaging to us, to our reputation and to what we can do, but, more importantly, we are blunting our ability to guide the world forward to a sustainable future in which those agreements can succeed. I shall be very interested in the Minister’s comments on where, when we are not part of the European Union, we might stand. Do we group ourselves with, say, Japan—or with the developing nations, or with the G20? Where does the Minister see us playing our role? Once we have left, who will we be allied with and work with in the working groups before the meetings—the next of which will be in Marrakesh—and in the other conferences of the parties? Where will we stand, and how will we make sure that we can contribute in those areas? It is fundamentally important, from a global aspect, to understand where we might go.
To me, fisheries constitute one of the great ironies of the Brexit debate. When I was an MEP, in the 1990s and well beyond I was hugely critical of the common fisheries policy. Let us be clear: it was an area in which the Eurosceptics were absolutely right. They had hit the nail on the head. The precious stocks were going down. North Sea stocks were hugely challenged, the Baltic was equally bad, the Mediterranean was going nowhere and there were huge challenges in the Black Sea—which, admittedly, was not completely under EU control.
The irony is that this was one of the fundamental areas of contention within the European Union where we actually managed to get change. It was Britain that drove much of that change. Because of that, we now have, as the Minister will know, two major changes in fisheries policy. We have, at last, a recognition that regionalisation works, as my noble friend Lady Scott said: we can devolve out of Brussels and make decisions that are right for where the fish stocks are, and where they migrate and circulate. The second change concerns the tragedy and obscenity of discarding. Coming in gradually, but being effective as it does so—resisted by parts of the fishing industry, particularly in Scotland—is the landing obligation, whereby we stop discarding. We are not yet close to sustainable yields, but we are moving in the right direction and I congratulate the Government on having pursued this relentlessly and on the agreements that have been made.
We now have another challenge in that the marine environment is quite naturally not one where fish, crustaceans and other marine animals understand borders. We have areas where control by a single member state in the western waters of the North Sea is just not possible. How are we going to approach this? I was pleased to hear the Minister responsible for fisheries, George Eustice, say to our committee that the landing obligation would remain in place. I welcome that statement. However, are we going to follow the Norwegian model post-Brexit? It is a positive one in that Norway has a good track record in terms of conservation and management of stocks, but there are huge challenges here. I would be very concerned indeed if we go down the route that some are advocating, which is that of saying that our EEZ boundary is it. We will do whatever we want to do here, no one else shall cross it, and we shall take advantage of our own stocks. While I realise that relative stability was probably not the best solution for us in the past, and we may want to try to negotiate that, I would be very concerned if we do not recognise the fact that marine species move across all boundaries. If we do not have an agreement, stocks are likely to be fished out in French, Dutch or Norwegian waters before they reach our own. Lastly, other speakers including the noble Baroness, Lady Young, have mentioned the trade issue. We should never forget that we export 80% of our fish, so increasing our catch will be of no use if we cannot actually reach our markets.
Finally, I come back closer to home, to Defra. If there is one department facing the biggest challenges in terms of Brexit, it must be Defra. There has to be a new devolved agricultural policy and a new devolved fisheries policy as well as other areas such as the environment and all the legislation that is primarily European. Can the Government say that, for our own safety and success following Brexit, the budget for Defra will be sufficient to make sure that all of this can be delivered to our national advantage?
My Lords, I welcome this debate, introduced by the throaty noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. I hope that she recovers, as I did a few weeks ago from a similar problem. The debate gives us an opportunity to speak on the future of environment and climate change policy following the EU referendum. The Labour Party has been strong in its support of environmental policies and EU policies, so many of us were of course very disappointed by the Brexit decision.
The UK’s membership of the EU has provided many benefits in terms of influence on the environment, regulations, the financing of policies and practical actions to be taken. These have been set out in the helpful Library Note. Moreover, as other noble Lords have commented, the EU has been very effective in dealing with adverse climate change. I declare my interests, which are on the record. These benefits, with the UK leaving the EU, are under great threat and will affect considerably the UK’s future. We have seen that the UK Government have been criticised in the courts recently for not meeting EU environment regulations, and the question is whether they will permit such legal challenges in the future. For example, the tendency to use the courts successfully in the UK is a relatively recent affair. Some 30 or 40 years ago I met the chief alkali inspector, who commented that the British Government had never lost a court case to do with the environment, but I am pleased to see that they do lose them now, and that has been greatly helped by our being in the EU. The other feature, of course—and I was involved in work in the old CEGB—is that one of the first areas of tremendous European collaboration on the environment was in monitoring and dealing with acid rain. This began as an intergovernmental collaboration and later became a strong policy of the EU. Transboundary pollution will continue to have to be considered and, without our being in the EU, presumably we will go back to the intergovernmental arrangements of the 1960s and 1970s.
Equally important, of course, was the way in which the EU established regulations for local air pollution, particularly in urban areas these have been taken very seriously by urban and national agencies across Europe. The UK’s cities, and those of many other countries, are not meeting the required standards. In fact, in the UK 16 out of 43 areas are not meeting the standards. Furthermore, as we heard this week, the Treasury is not prepared to permit urban areas to develop their own standards because the Treasury says it has not got enough money. The inevitable result of having different standards across Europe will be costly and inefficient and will not help the motor car industry.
Although I have been in universities in the UK and working abroad on research collaborations to do with the environment and on practical benefits, this co-ordination has been greatly helped by the EC. We had a meeting last week at the Royal Society on the polar environment. It was very interesting that there was an organisation that deals with the environment in polar areas and co-ordinates research between countries not only in the EU but in the areas around Europe, in North America and so on. Quite interestingly, it says that it has been considering what is going to happen in future, and that the co-ordination work by the European Union will almost certainly continue but the difference is that the countries in the EU will have funding to pursue their research, whereas UK research people may be able to co-ordinate and go to meetings but there will be no EU money for their work. It is clearly very unlikely that the kind of funding that now arrives to UK institutions from Brussels will continue. That will mean that we will begin to fade out in terms of this leadership role. In fact, as I heard yesterday from one leading scientist, they are receiving very juicy proposals from universities in other parts of Europe saying, “Why don’t you come and join us? There’ll be lots of money from the EU, and you wouldn’t want to stay in Britain, would you, where there will be much less funding for your research”. It is going to be a very big issue.
I turn to the other question that many noble Peers have talked about, the water environment. It was interesting that when the BBC commented in relation to the way the EC has led on the environment, with nice pictures on the television, it emphasised the way in which the cleaning up of the coastline has been a considerable success and has been welcomed by tourist organisations and local authorities. It is, of course, impossible to understand why the areas of the country which have so benefited from these kinds of programmes are the areas which voted strongly for Brexit. Others may have some political solutions for that argument.
When I was thinking about this debate I recalled that it is not just a question of the EU having regulations that make us, as it were, advanced environmentally, but there have been examples of where the UK has made contributions to the environment of other parts of Europe. We should recall that. In fact, we have just heard about the UK helping greatly in fishery regulation. The UK was the first significant country to develop congestion charging, which is still moving very slowly in Europe. The other one, of course, which enables us to go into restaurants and bars across the rest of Europe, is the fact that we introduced the cessation of smoking in public places. There have been examples where we have led the way. Will that happen in future? I hope so.
However, the most important long-term environmental problem has not been mentioned: what to do with nuclear waste. This will slowly decay over tens of thousands of years—some people say even longer—and the storage and clean-up will need to be co-ordinated even if the UK leaves the EU, and negotiations are continuing about how we co-ordinate with Euratom, which has a big role in this. This is a field in which the UK has technological capability and should continue to do so in future. An interesting scientific area that Euratom has been able to work on, with UK participation, is the transmutation of radionuclides so that decay can proceed much faster, rather than having to rely on geological storage.
Of course, an equally long-term global environmental problem that requires European co-ordination is climate change caused by human emissions of carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuel combustion and other gases such as those emitted by refrigeration and air conditioning. The consequence of all these dangerous effects is that it is necessary to find ways in which to reduce the emissions, not only the ones that are produced by industry and transportation but those that are triggered, for example, by methane from the polar regions.
Currently the UK works effectively with other EU countries, as we saw in Paris. But the big question is whether we are going to come close to reducing the ultimate temperature rise to less than 2 degrees. We would expect that the UK’s participation will continue even if we leave the EU. Some of this will happen through the existing intergovernmental agencies such as the International Energy Agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, but the Government need to publicise the role of these agencies and use it in their future negotiations.
Finally, the EU is making a very large financial contribution to much of that climate research and it will be very important that the UK Government make their contribution. The politicians who advocated Brexit said that there was going to be lots of money to do things in the UK—in research as well as in health and so on—and we are waiting to see whether that will actually happen.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Parminter on her absolutely excellent introduction to this debate, which she secured. Unsurprisingly, there has been great consensus in this Chamber on what we do not want to see happen as a result of Brexit.
We do not want to return to our pre-EU membership status as the “dirty man of Europe”; nor do we want to allow the dramatic decline in our biodiversity to continue. It was very speedy in the latter half of the 20th century but it is continuing due to loss of habitat. Nor, quite honestly, can we afford a continuing decline in the number of foods in which we are self-sufficient, which is coupled with a poor-quality national diet that sees too much of the population obese, unhealthy and at risk of heart disease. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, reminded us that often farmers have not been doing so well under that regime either, with low commodity prices and volatility. We have a food system that in some ways is pretty broken and a land-use system that leaves a lot of room for improvement. It is a moment of opportunity but also a moment of danger. There is one more thing I should mention before I leave what we do not want to return to: a point where low animal-welfare standards are the price paid, by the animals, for a cut-throat free-trade regime.
If we are to have Brexit, which it seems will be forced upon us, it will at least be an opportunity to redesign our policies and strategies so that we can deal with the challenges and grasp other opportunities. What sort of strategy should we aim for? We should aim for one that makes the most of our climate, rich grasslands, varied soils, temperate lowlands and dramatic uplands. We need to bear in mind the gains made under EU directives, such as otters returning to our rivers, red kites to our uplands and bitterns to our wetlands.
We will not achieve the sort of future that your Lordships have talked about this afternoon if we heed the siren calls suggesting that we should have a division in our land use. I have heard of all sorts of divisions being called different things by Defra and various NGOs. There is nature-sharing and nature-sparing, where you have intensive agriculture and then set aside some land for nature. By others it is called rewilding—a slightly different concept, where you allow dramatic areas of the landscape to rewild. It is not quite plain to me whether the public will still be allowed access to those areas. It would mean rewilding in some areas, with forest growth and so on, and intensive agriculture in others. I do not believe that is the sort of future we are trying to design because we are a relatively small island, whose centres of population like to go out into the countryside to walk and see the farmed landscape. They enjoy that as a really important part of their lives. At the same time, we need a form of agriculture that will allow our biodiversity to thrive.
Fortunately, we have some great examples of how we can achieve the sort of future that we all want, which combine a successful farming business with careful stewardship of the countryside and its biodiversity. I was extremely pleased that yesterday the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, managed to spare such a generous amount of his time to attend the event hosted by the All-Party Group on Agro-Ecology. I declare an interest as co-chair of that group. I was very grateful for the time he spent in coming to meet the farmers and NGOs at that event because, with that approach to farming and food production, we have a design of the future that we are trying to get to. I know that agroecology is a difficult word; it really means trying to work with nature, rather than suppressing it. It is not about trying to corral nature into one area and food production into another. Nature’s principal strategy is one of diversity—a healthy and diverse ecosystem—which in agriculture tends to mean mixed farms.
One example I want to ask the Minister about is that of agroforestry, which the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, touched on in her contribution. Growing trees on land that is used for livestock or, for example, horticulture can have many benefits but Defra has so far resisted that system. I believe that it could have had support under either Pillar 1 or Pillar 2 but Defra has resisted it. It integrates trees into farming systems so that they offer or help with shade, windbreaks, pollution management, pollinator opportunities, homes for a diverse range of wildlife, integrated pest management and product diversification. That one small example of an agroecological system is one that we should aim towards. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, laid her finger on it in her very thoughtful contribution: we need a comprehensive land-use strategy that integrates farming into our land use.
I shall mention a couple of other things. One is that, as we redesign our systems, I would like the Minister to bear in mind the benefits of the healthy diet that is so often talked about in debates on health. Fruit and vegetables were the poor relations under CAP support. In a post-CAP world, horticulture needs to get a much better deal for the benefit of our population’s health.
Overall, public subsidy for farmers in a post-Brexit world must be based on the output of public goods. Farming businesses produce a commodity and sell it, which is their basic business, and beyond that any public money is conditional on their producing public goods that the market cannot deliver or cannot fully deliver. Otherwise, in the longer term our urban populations will have no inclination for their taxes to support the lifestyles of those in the countryside who are not delivering for public benefit.
Finally, my noble friend Lady Parminter mentioned the EU directive on the circular economy. In a farming context, it is particularly important because we should not be growing bioenergy crops, such as maize, for feedstock for our digesters. We should be moving to a scheme where farm waste is the resource and the Government encourage small, rural anaerobic plants. That feeds into the question of energy.
We could design a very exciting future for our rural areas and for our population’s diet if we make the right linkages, but unless we join farming up with the environment and do not keep the two strategies separate, which the Government were inclined to do before, we shall never make that more positive future.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Parminter for securing this most important and timely debate. We have had excellent contributions from Members on all sides who have clearly understood the potentially negative impact that leaving the EU could have on our environmental, energy and climate change policies as well as the few opportunities.
There will indeed be huge challenges. My noble friend laid out with absolute clarity the crucial need for the Government to recognise the environmental benefits of access to the single market in their negotiations. Of course, as energy and climate change spokesperson, I implore the Government to recognise the equal need to ensure that energy and climate change take centre stage in those negotiations.
My noble friend called on Her Majesty’s Government to commit, in the forthcoming 25-year environmental plan: to set ambitious targets enshrined in an environment Act; to put the Natural Capital Committee on a statutory footing to drive delivery; to ensure that food and farming policy and allied fiscal measures build a natural health service, producing healthy food and protecting our environmental resource; not to revise transposed EU environmental legislation unless environmental outcomes would be improved; and to build the principles of the circular economy into their industrial strategy.
We have heard a number of important comments from across the House. I shall not go through them all as it would take more than my time. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure sustainable economic growth. I could not agree more. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said that we will have lots of opt-ins instead of opt-outs and that most of those opt-ins will need to be agreed on both sides for our well-being in the future. My noble friend Lady Scott reminded us of the improvements in air quality, beaches, animal welfare, native habitats and species extinction and that the single market has given us the benefit of common EU rules. Without such rules, how will we trade?
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, asked what would replace monitoring, compliance and enforcement, as she tries to keep her enthusiasm in the blackness that follows Brexit. My noble friend Lord Teverson spoke to us of climate change, fisheries policy and Defra, and reminded us that Britain had been a major driver within Europe of the Paris agreement. He asked where we would stand, who we would work with and who our allies would be in the future. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, raised the question of whether the UK Government would permit legal challenges. My noble friend Lady Miller asked how we will combine successful farming with people’s need to be in the countryside and biodiversity. How will they thrive together to work with nature?
Obviously, I want to have my two pennies’ worth, but before I go on to address some of the specific issues on energy and climate change that concern these Benches, I want to preface what I am about to say with an overriding concern about Her Majesty’s Government—this Conservative Government—and their commitment to the green agenda. In the relatively short time I have been in your Lordships’ House, this now Conservative-only Government have taken a number of retrograde steps on this agenda.
We had been doing so well during the coalition years, but the undermining of Britain’s growing green industries, and the destruction of investor confidence by measures such as the precipitate withdrawal of support for many forms of renewable energy and the abandonment of commitments to investors in carbon capture and storage, mean that investors have seen this Government put party before country. Their nervousness can now only be magnified by the huge uncertainty of Brexit. We led in Europe on climate change, and although our Climate Change Act 2008 still stands, our ability to influence and raise the game of other EU countries will be lost.
The UK will no longer have to meet targets within the EU renewable energy directive, and as it stands the UK is off track to meet the 2020 renewables targets. I would have thought the Committee on Climate Change report, Next Steps for UK Heat Policy, made grim reading for this Government, who appear to be doing nothing much in terms of effort to meet that target and who are way behind on renewable heat. Without the pressure of being a member state signed up to those targets, I fear there will be even less chance that the Government will feel obliged to keep to them. Once outside the EU, a future Administration could simply overturn the Climate Change Act if they wanted and move climate policy in a completely different direction. All that would have to be changed would be UK law, as it would no longer be subject to any EU law. If that is “taking back control”, then I have to say there is absolutely no gain in taking back control.
There is now huge uncertainty about what leaving the single market will mean for energy. EU countries already have significant control over their own energy policy, which is why there is this huge variety across EU countries. If we stay part of the energy union, we will need to continue to follow EU law, but we will not have a seat at the negotiating table. Energy is not like other types of trade. It is not so easy for us simply to say we will do trade deals with other countries such as China instead. We are connected to Europe—literally. Interconnectors, the guarantor of our energy security in terms of managing peaks and flows, are, not surprisingly, connected with our European neighbours. We need to trade energy with them. We can already feel the short-term impacts of Brexit in, for example, the dramatic decline in exchange rates, which is pushing up energy bills. Do we really think that the European Investment Bank will still invest in us when we are outside the EU? I think that is highly unlikely.
We have been a strong voice within the EU for liberalising the energy market. Without the UK there, the direction of EU energy policy may well change and we will simply have to deal with that without having any influence. The independent report by National Grid shows that leaving the EU could cost the UK up to £500 million per year in the 2020s due to the uncertainty of energy and climate investments. The most significant Brexit risk to the energy sector, according to that report, is that it will lead to higher investment costs.
What about trading emissions and the internal energy market? The Government need to move swiftly and certainly to guarantee our commitment to the environmental, energy and climate change agenda—not just with words, but with actions. New nuclear, enabling and encouraging more fossil fuels such as shale gas and ignoring the differentials relating to good or bad biogas are not going to lead to the sort of thriving, go-ahead atmosphere for energy supplies in future, let alone an economic miracle. HMG seem determined to ignore that.
This is a world that is hungry for low-carbon services and products, which was the growth market after the 2008 crash. With the Paris agreement and the sustainable development goals, those are the very products and services that we could be offering to the world if the Government had any sense. Instead, we are falling away from the global race.
We need to be bursting with ambition to capitalise on economic opportunities. We need to drive innovation. We need an industrial strategy that invests in renewables in time for that industrial strategy. We need a green regional strategy that addresses structural funds. We need to be strong in our assurances and demonstrate our commitment to the low-carbon economy. We need to ensure that we do equal or better.
Life does not, and should not, stop at Brexit. We need to push ahead. Brexit should not mean a threat to the broader context of environmental legislation. It is vital to keep on improving. Now more than ever we need the Government to step up and demonstrate international leadership on climate change; not to strip back our investment in renewables but to be bolder than ever before; to step into new growth areas such as the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon; to have a clear plan on how we are going to fulfil the Paris agreement; to retain the EU 2020 climate and energy package; to participate in the 2030 package; and to bring forward a new clean air Act to tackle pollution, protections for nature and wildlife, and strong animal welfare legislation.
I reinforce my noble friend Lady Parminter’s point about a new farming policy to provide much-needed subsidies to farms that deliver public goods, including the care of the natural environment. I am afraid this Government have been found wanting on environment, energy and climate change policies. Brexit must not be their excuse to resile, undermine or take us backwards.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for initiating this crucial debate and for the clarity with which she has introduced the many challenges, despite her croak. I echo other noble Lords in saying that I hope she recovers soon.
This subject is particularly important because, despite the best efforts of many in the Chamber today, the threats to the environment received very little media attention in the run-up to the referendum. Indeed, in a memorable moment of cross-party unity, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, my noble friend Lady Young and I spent a rather windy afternoon on Brighton beach with Boris Johnson’s dad, Stanley, highlighting the Brexit threats to the marine environment. In the end other, louder voices dominated the outcome, sadly, but we did at least try. We are left peering into a void, with huge questions about the future direction of environmental policy in the light of the Brexit decision.
What do we know so far? The Prime Minister has made it clear that she wants to trigger Article 50 by March next year and complete the exit negotiations within two years—in other words, a hard Brexit. Given the complexities of these negotiations, there is a real danger that environmental issues will be marginalised, particularly as it appears that Defra has transferred only eight staff to the Brexit unit. Again, perhaps the Minister could clarify whether that is the case.
Sadly, Andrea Leadsom, the new Secretary of State, does not have a great record of voting on environmental measures, and indeed has raised questions as to whether there is any evidence for climate change itself. Similarly, as the noble Baroness pointed out, the Farming Minister, George Eustice, has described the birds and habitats directives as so rigid that they were “spirit-crushing” and would need to go. Both these Ministers actively supported the Brexit campaign, yet over 80% of our current environmental legislation comes from the EU, so we are quite right to be anxious about the future safeguards for our environment.
This has been exacerbated by the secrecy that has been draped over the Brexit negotiations. Various Ministers have been quoted as saying they are not prepared to give blow-by-blow accounts. That was never our intention. Given the importance of these negotiations to the future of Britain, though, Parliament should have the right to debate the negotiating strategy and to receive regular reports before the end of the Article 50 process. What plans are in place to update the House regularly on reports from those negotiating Ministers?
In this House, we have particular knowledge and expertise, not least in the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. How do the Government intend to make best use of the considerable body of work the committee will be publishing in parallel with the Brexit negotiations? How will they take into account the views of wider civic society, including the many environmental charities which have previously played such an important part in shaping legislation? A recent YouGov poll found that 83% of UK respondents wanted the same or higher levels of wildlife protection as have been in place under the EU regime. How will all those voices be heard when the negotiations seem to be taking place behind closed doors?
I do not envy the Government in trying to untangle the complexities of our current obligations. There has been talk about a great reform Act, or something similar, which will embed existing EU requirements in our UK legislation until each section is reviewed, but, as many noble Lords have pointed out, even within Defra that has huge ramifications.
Many of these obligations are linked to wider international agreements. Others are in the pipeline, with a future implementation date. Many others are now governed by the devolved Administrations. Adopting existing EU legislation, even temporarily, is pointless without a UK system of governance and compliance in order to take action when the laws are breached. Can the Minister give us some idea of the mapping exercise, which I presume is taking place in the department, to capture all the EU and international regulations, and whether it will be published in due course? Can he indicate the Government’s thinking about future UK structures to regulate and uphold those laws? Will he address the important point raised by my noble friend Lord Hunt about how future EU research collaboration will be funded?
It would be easy to have a negative debate today and to focus on the difficulties ahead, but there are real opportunities to improve our environmental standards and enhance the UK’s reputation if the Government remain committed to their 2015 manifesto commitment to deliver an improved environment. First, will the Government reassure NGOs and charities of their longer-term commitment to the birds and habitats directives, which are a bedrock of our environmental policies?
Secondly, on climate change, I agree with my noble friend Lord Giddens and others that the UK has been more ambitious than some of our eastern European partners and other industrial nations. Although we will lose our wider influence on climate change, we also have more freedom to deliver our commitments in the Climate Change Act 2008, to follow through on the fifth carbon budget and to demonstrate our determination to roll out the Paris agreement. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is the Government’s intention.
Thirdly, a rethink of the CAP could result in a much more targeted use of agricultural subsidies based on improved environmental protection, with a land use rich in nature and wildlife and a greater sense of public benefit. Meanwhile, as we have heard, the Government have rightly taken a lead in reform of the common fisheries policy, leading to greater scientific input and improved stock levels. Whatever new mechanisms are in place, will the Minister confirm that we will continue our reform agenda to conserve fish stocks for the longer term?
Fourthly, on air quality, we should acknowledge our failings and introduce a clean air Act with the highest standards of pollution controls to protect public health. If the UK Government had complied with EU air quality and emissions rules in the past, we would all be breathing much cleaner air.
Finally, on waste, recycling and resource efficiency, the Government should reinforce the EU’s 50% recycling targets and embrace the principles of a circular economy —a point that a number of noble Lords have reinforced this afternoon. This, of course, sadly runs counter to the statements of the new waste Minister, Thérèse Coffey, to the Environmental Audit Committee a few days ago, when she said she was not convinced about the concept of a closed-loop economy. Perhaps the Minister could commit to having a word with her about this and reaffirm the Government’s intention to embed the policy in UK legislation.
There is still an opportunity for the Government to fulfil their manifesto promise and become a champion of the environmental cause. But one thing is clear: whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, we cannot adopt an isolationist approach. The environment does not respect borders, and we have global responsibilities to clean up our planet. So whatever the outcome of the talks, we need to work closely with our European allies, which will require strong cross-government institutions in future. That is another layer of complexities that the Government will have to address.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister is able to say this afternoon to reassure your Lordships on this important issue. I hope that, at a minimum, the noble Lord can guarantee that the environment post-Brexit will be stronger and in better shape than it is even today.
My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. Although this is a debate about the environment, agriculture clearly comes into it very strongly.
I join your Lordships in expressing gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for raising these important issues for debate. It has been a very thought-provoking debate, and I have listened carefully. I do not think that there were 93 questions, but I fear that I shall not be able to satisfy your Lordships as to all the numerous questions. I shall, of course, write in full after the debate.
My department leads on environment and climate change adaptation policy, and works closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which has lead responsibility for climate policy generally. From the outset, I want to set out the Government’s stance on the future of environmental policy. We are committed, irrespective of the result of the EU referendum, to delivering the environmental outcome laid out in our manifesto—to be the first generation to leave the natural environment of England in a better state than we found it. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that we want to enhance not maintain it—we want to go beyond that—which is why we are developing a 25-year environment plan to deliver this. This plan will be key to informing our approach to environmental policy in the longer term. I am very pleased that my noble friend Lord Selborne rightly emphasised the work of the Natural Capital Committee.
Following the decision to leave the EU, we have the opportunity to widen the scope of the environment plan and design an approach and supporting regulation that are tailored for our country. That is something very much that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, sought to tease out in her questions. We have started conversations with stakeholders to understand views on opportunities for Defra policy outside the EU. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is holding stakeholder meetings on farming and horticulture, fisheries, food and drink and the environment. The plan will set the direction for all our more detailed environmental policies and plans, and there will be full consultation with the Natural Capital Committee. Defra will continue to engage with the full breadth of stakeholders. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to charities and civil society; we shall, of course, engage with all at official ministerial level.
As noble Lords have said, three-quarters of our landmass is farmed, and how we manage our farmland is key to tackling some of the environmental challenges. The 25-year environment plan will be developed to dovetail and sit alongside the 25-year food and farming plan. This was something that I think the noble Baronesses, Lady Young, Lady Miller and Lady Parminter, all raised. Again, I think that all of us recognise that the two plans need to work together to show how agriculture can contribute to our natural environment and, at the same time, be increasingly productive and provide good-quality, high-standard food for our country and to export.
We need to make sure that even more people are better connected to the environment and that everyone has the chance to appreciate the wonders of our country. We need to take account of our natural systems, such as river catchments, and landscapes. Local communities have an intrinsic role and are often best placed to secure the best outcomes for the environment. This engagement with local communities will allow everyone to understand better how agriculture and land management can work in harmony with improving our environment and, for instance, coping with flood risk. We want our water and seas to be cleaner, our air to be of better quality, our plants and wildlife to be healthier and our land to be better managed. We want to invest in woodland planting and peatland restoration, which will contribute towards achieving carbon targets as well as improving water quality, flood mitigation, biodiversity and recreation. To make this a reality, we will publish an environment framework shortly, which will start off a period of public engagement to help shape the 25-year environment plan. We aim to publish the full plan in 2017.
The UK has a long tradition of protecting the environment, which indeed pre-dates our accession to the EU—we have the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, the Protection of Birds Act 1954 and the Clean Air Act 1956. We have recently taken action independently of the EU with, for instance, the expansion of two national parks and we have announced plans to ban the sale and manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products containing microbeads. I was very taken by what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, said about the coastline—only yesterday I was talking to the Marine Conservation Society about the important work that it does with volunteers to help clean up our coastlines.
We have already achieved some success—I think my noble friend Lord Selborne referred to this. Our rivers, beaches and air are cleaner than they were 50 years ago, household recycling levels have quadrupled in the last 15 years, tree cover has increased to its highest level in 600 years and 63% of our protected habitats have been restored. We have also seen the recovery of some species such as the lesser horseshoe bat and birds such as the tree sparrow, cirl bunting and stone curlew. The 5p plastic bag charge introduced last year has already led to 6 billion fewer bags being handed out. But I am the first to say that, of course, more needs to be done. My noble friend Lord Selborne mentioned soil health, which is vital for food production and the state of the welfare of the planet.
A number of your Lordships, including the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, quite rightly mentioned sustainable fisheries. I very much remember the debate that was introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, about the North Sea. I am sorry if I was not quite as buoyant as her description suggested, but I felt very strongly about the important work on sustainable fisheries, and indeed what is starting to come out from that work, which is that—as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to—there are some success stories. We must look positively at the opportunities. There are lessons to be learned about what has happened in the North Sea in terms of sustainable fisheries and also about what has not worked. I was pleased to hear more from your Lordships on that. Of course, what we want from our fisheries policy is a more financially self-sufficient, profitable and responsive UK seafood sector. We also want to deliver a cleaner, healthier and more productive marine environment. Those two must go hand in hand.
We also have an ambitious manifesto commitment to plant a further 11 million trees. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, in admitting that I love trees. I think that they are absolutely essential to our lives—I have indeed planted a few myself. I was pleased also that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, mentioned agro-forestry and its importance. I very much enjoyed the visit I had yesterday; it was really interesting.
We also need to do more to tackle invasive non-native species. As the Minister responsible for biosecurity, among other matters, I assure your Lordships that I am very strongly of the view that we need to help our environment in that regard.
We take air pollution seriously and are committed to improving air quality. Our national air quality plan for nitrogen dioxide, published last December, sets out a comprehensive approach for achieving compliance in the shortest possible time, including the introduction of clean air zones.
We will have opportunities through the 25-year environment plan to strengthen integrated planning at river catchment level. My noble friend Lord Selborne mentioned river catchment levels and a number of your Lordships mentioned the need for integration. That is absolutely clear and we must do that.
The decision to leave the European Union means that we have to consider how we achieve our long-term vision to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state. It is an opportunity to design an outcome-focused regulatory framework, one which is effective, efficient, tailor-made and—I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter—evidence based, to ensure that it is right for the needs of our country.
The desire for certainty around what Brexit means for our regulatory and legislative framework is, of course, well understood. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, confirmed that the Prime Minister announced earlier this month our plans for a repeal Bill that will convert current EU law into domestic British law. We will also continue to honour our obligations contained in the numerous multilateral environmental agreements reached as a result of global action on environmental protection which the UK is a party to in its own right. I hope that is some reassurance to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch.
The UK has already played a central role in securing a global agreement to bear down on the use of hydrofluorocarbon greenhouse gases over the next three decades. The agreement, secured only last week in negotiations under the United Nations Montreal protocol, is estimated to reduce cumulative emissions by the equivalent of between 60 billion and 70 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050.
Climate change remains one of the most serious long-term risks to the planet. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, explained that in his usual way. I am afraid that I could not begin to deal with the 93 further questions, but I will make sure that I look at those more thoroughly and digest them before I next meet him. The Government’s commitment to tackling climate change is as strong as ever.
We should all be proud of the role played by the UK’s negotiators and the leadership shown by my right honourable friend Amber Rudd, as former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, during the Paris conference. The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, about our civil servants and negotiators were absolutely right. My right honourable friend played a crucial role in building alliances, facilitating discussions on climate finance and brokering arrangements on pre-2020 ambition. Therefore, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, will accept that those were actions and not words. This was crucial to securing a successful deal.
The Paris agreement is a significant step forward, with 195 countries committing for the first time to take action to keep the average global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, pursue efforts towards a 1.5 degree centigrade figure and work towards a long-term goal of net zero emissions in the second half of this century. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, asked me about our own commitment to that. The UK has started domestic procedures to enable ratification of the agreement and will complete these before the end of the year.
We are fully committed to the global climate deal agreed in Paris and, in demonstration of that commitment, we have started the domestic procedures. Indeed, we are already playing our part in delivering the Paris agreement through our domestic climate framework set out in the Climate Change Act 2008. Under the Act, the UK was the first country to introduce legally binding emission reduction targets. We remain committed to meeting the Act’s target to reduce UK emissions by at least 80% on 1990 levels by 2050, and adhering to the interim carbon budgets set out under the Act.
We have already made great progress. Provisional statistics indicate that UK emissions in 2015 were 38% lower than in 1990. Consistent with our commitment to the Act, in July, the Government set the fifth carbon budget in line with the recommendation of our independent advisers, the Committee on Climate Change. As a result of our strong domestic stance, the Climate Action Network rates us as second only to Denmark in taking action against climate change.
We are now looking ahead to our emissions reduction plan, which will set out how we will cut our emissions through the 2020s. This will form an important signal to the markets, businesses and investors. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and other noble Lords mentioned the importance of signalling to markets and investors in business. We want to invest the time now to undertake the preparatory work necessary to ensure that we get this right. This will, of course, include engaging across businesses, industry and other stakeholders, on the shared challenge of moving to a low-carbon economy.
Looking to the future, the decision of the British people to leave the EU does not mean that we will step back from our international leadership against climate change. I know that this is of considerable concern to many of your Lordships who have spoken today. The key role the UK played in securing two recent major global climate agreements—one to combat aviation emissions at the assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization and the other to phase down the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons under the Montreal protocol—evidences this fact. I hope, again, that the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, will accept that this is action, and not just words. Our relationships with the US, China, India, Japan and other European countries will stand us in good stead as we deliver on the promises made in Paris.
Domestically, we are preparing for the impacts of climate change, including the increased threat of extreme weather and flooding, working on a five-year cycle of assessment, action and review underpinned by the Climate Change Act. Adaptation is integrated across the policies and programmes of Government. Departments work closely together—as I know myself, with responsibility for the climate change adaptation sub-committee—to increase the nation’s resilience to climate change, using the first ever national adaptation programme as a common framework.
Over the past few years, that adaptation sub-committee, under the exceptional leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has made great strides in improving our understanding of the impacts of climate change. In 2015, that sub-committee published its first independent assessment of the progress being made. In July this year, the sub-committee published a comprehensive report for the second climate change risk assessment. This has provided a detailed assessment of those risks that are the most immediate priorities for action, and will form the basis of the Government’s climate change risk assessment that we will publish in January and which will underpin our next national adaptation programme due in 2018.
Internationally, we continue to support countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change as well as enabling them to take action to reduce their emissions. Last year, we committed to provide at least £5.8 billion of international climate finance over the next five years, as well as continuing to mobilise funds from a variety of sources.
The noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, asked about climate change ambition and consumer confidence. The Government are committed to tackling climate change. As I said, domestic legislation is supported across the political spectrum and is unaffected by the results of the referendum. As I also said, in July, the Government set out the fifth carbon budget, and our emission reduction programme will outline our plans to meet our targets.
The environment plan framework will be published shortly and there will be a period of consultation. I will ensure that your Lordships are all sent the documents when they have been published, and I very much encourage and look forward to responses. I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that it has always been the Government’s intention that Parliament should be engaged throughout the process that has been described today. There is of course, as I think she concedes, a balance to be struck between transparency and good negotiating practice. I can assure your Lordships, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and his committee, that I know that they are undertaking important work and I very much welcome the opportunity for them to feed the results of their work into our policy development.
We have had some interesting exchanges today. As a representative of Defra in this House I very much want to assure your Lordships that I will always be available, both inside and outside this House. I want the issues that have been debated today to be current for me; therefore I welcome regular dialogue. They require our utmost attention. I conclude by assuring your Lordships of the resolve of all my ministerial colleagues, as well as myself, to secure an objective which we all share—that is good—which is that we want a better environment for all.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he clarify one thing? I absolutely agree with his sincerity. He talked about the great repeal Act. Will that be a blanket process, in which everything which is currently in EU legislation is absorbed into UK legislation, or will there be a process of sifting out what is fit for purpose and what is not?
I can quickly say but in more detail that this is to ensure that there are no gaps and therefore EU law will be brought into domestic law.
My Lords, I thank all Members who have participated in this debate. Again, they have shown the breadth of expertise in this House but also, as my noble friend Lord Teverson said, the breadth of environmental issues that Defra will have to cover as a result of Brexit. I thank the Minister for the answers that he has been able to give to us today; there are clearly many unanswered questions. As we move outside the European Union, which acts as a backstop holding the Government to account, as does the European Court of Justice, we need to be that backstop. This House will make sure that we will hold the Government to account.
House adjourned at 5.03 pm.