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Environmental Programme: COP 26

Volume 802: debated on Monday 9 March 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they will ensure that they will have “the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on Earth”, as stated in the 2019 Conservative Party Manifesto, in time for COP 26.

My Lords, we are determined to cement our position as global leaders on the environment. That is why we have brought forward our Environment Bill, Fisheries Bill and Agriculture Bill. They will transform how we manage our natural resources and set a gold standard on environmental protection. Our policy and legislative programme for this environmental super-year will culminate in the UK hosting the COP 26 climate change conference in November.

I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. I am sure he is aware that this Government, if they are to achieve this grandiose promise to the British people, need to think more about stopping things such as airport expansion, new road building, building houses that are not zero-carbon, and building new waste incinerators. Can he reassure me that the Government are thinking along those lines?

This Government are introducing genuinely ground-breaking legislation this year. The Environment Bill introduces world-leading environmental commitments based on environmental principles and with a new organisation for environmental protection to hold the Government to account. The Fisheries Bill puts sustainable fishing at the heart of government policy and the Agriculture Bill scraps the old land-use subsidy system, which many people believe was entirely destructive—I am sure the noble Baroness agrees—and replaces it with a system conditional on land managers delivering some kind of public good, not least environmental protection. That is just the start of what this Government are doing this year. In hosting COP, they have enabled the Prime Minister, whose commitment to tackling climate change is in my view unquestionable, to convene the Government to ensure that we have a whole-government approach to honouring the commitment that this country made to achieve net zero by 2050.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that action on the environment is not just an issue internal to the UK? We also have to tackle our global environmental footprint. For example, we continue to import food and other goods that are causing the loss of the Amazon and other forests. Will our COP 26 commitment include legislation to control UK commodity supply chains, which often go across the globe, causing environmental damage?

The noble Baroness is right that it is not just about what we do domestically. There is a big question about what the UK brings to the world in this super-year for nature. We have already brought a great deal. We are world leaders in marine protection; our blue-belt scheme is on track to protect an area of ocean the size of India. We have doubled our climate funding to £11.6 billion, and much of that uplift will be invested in protecting and restoring nature on an unprecedented scale. She is right also to talk about supply chains. In a few weeks’ time we will hear back from the GRI—the Global Resource Initiative—which was established by a former Secretary of State. It will report back at the end of this month, and I imagine one of its headline commitments will be to clean deforestation out of our supply chain. We will respond as soon as we hear that report.

My Lords, while I congratulate my noble friend on the environmental land management scheme, the nature recovery networks and the policy of net gain that he mentioned, could he ensure that environmental policies do not end up harming the environment? Examples of this include the burning of wood to produce electricity, which is causing forest destruction, and the siting of wind farms where trees have to be cut down and where they damage bird and bat populations.

The noble Viscount raises an important point: there is such a thing as good environmental policy and such a thing as bad environmental policy. Unfortunately, the last few decades are littered with examples of the latter. We disagree in relation to the value and contribution that can be made by onshore wind. It is telling that this year we expect a new wind farm to come online that will be the first to require no public subsidies of any sort at all, which is testament to that technology. It has proven itself, just as we have seen with solar power. However, I absolutely take his point about the burning of wood on a very large scale to produce electricity. This has all kinds of consequences—I would say unforeseen, but they were not entirely unforeseen.

My Lords, if the Government’s environmental ambitions are to mean anything, they have to be matched by action. In that context, does the Minister agree that a good start would be for the Government to back the Domestic Premises (Energy Performance) Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath with cross-party support? Does the Minister understand that if the Government are unwilling even to support such a modest but very important measure such as this, their talk of environmental ambitions will ring very hollow indeed?

To be able to meet our commitment of net-zero emissions by 2050, every single department of government has to deliver a plan showing how they intend to do their part. One of the most difficult areas—perhaps the least avoidable—that we will have to tackle is ensuring that existing homes are made more efficient. Money invested in that is not just money spent; it is an investment because you can expect, through normal means, to receive payback and make savings within four to seven years, depending on the work conducted. I am not familiar with the Bill that the noble Lord cites, but energy efficiency is certainly a major priority for the Government.

My Lords, does the refusal to expand Heathrow not just mean that expansion will take place in another part of the world? It will not reduce pollution at all.

The noble Lord is right that it does not matter where an airport or a new runway is built, in terms of carbon emissions. The Government are probably enormously relieved to know that I am not the Minister in charge of airport policy. I afforded myself a quiet cheer when the court made its ruling a few weeks ago.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on introducing environmental measures in the Pension Schemes Bill. I wonder if my noble friend agrees that the potential for using pension assets to improve mitigation against climate change and measures to adapt to climate change is really important? In the context of International Women’s Day, does he agree that closing the gender pensions gap, which is more than twice as big as the gender pay gap, would be of assistance in that regard?

As I rose to answer my noble friend’s question, I was told that her second point is being considered by the Government as we speak. On her first point, she is right that investment in energy efficiency and so on lends itself absolutely to pension funds, not least because it offers the kind of long-term, low-risk, medium-return investment that is exactly what they tend to favour. I do not believe that the mechanism for deploying huge amounts of private finance of the sort that we will need if we are to solve these problems exists to channel enough money into environmental solutions, but there are enough examples of what that mechanism might look like so that, by the end of this year, we as a country will be able to demonstrate real leadership in deploying the levels of private finance that we will need.