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Biodiversity: Dasgupta Review

Volume 809: debated on Thursday 4 February 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review, published on 2 February.

My Lords, at the start of an important year for global action to tackle biodiversity loss and climate change, the Government thank Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta for his independent review and welcome its publication. The review is a strong example of UK thought leadership on an important environmental issue with clear but often overlooked economic consequences. The Government will examine the review’s findings and respond formally in due course.

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for her reply. I am very glad to hear that the Government welcome this extremely important review, which looks at the loss of biodiversity through an economic lens. But if we are indeed to act on this report, have the Government assessed what mechanisms can be put in place to ensure that the principles of the report are adhered to? For example, will the Government include these measures in departmental plans, government spending reviews and, indeed, all future free trade agreements?

My Lords, while the Government have only just received the report, I reassure the noble Baroness that we are already taking action to include some of these measures in our decisions. For example, the 2020 Green Book and its supplementary guidance on valuing natural capital and climate effects continues to take significant and world-leading steps forward in appraising environmental policies.

I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for getting the order wrong. I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann.

My Lords, given that precious ecosystems are being existentially endangered and that remedying the problems identified in this brilliant report requires international co-operation, can my noble friend explain how the recommendations will be incorporated into the planning for COP 26 and our economic planning?

My Lords, the Prime Minister has agreed five policy themes for COP 26, and one of those is nature. In our nature campaign, we are committed to protecting and restoring the natural habitats and ecosystems on which climate, air, water and our way of life depend. This year we also have COP 15, for biological diversity, in China, which will be another important opportunity for global action on biodiversity.

My Lords, the Public Accounts Committee’s recent excoriating report said with regard to the Government’s record on the environment that “progress is disappointing” and that the pace has been “painfully slow”. Dasgupta also calls for transformative change, and he suggests that financial actors and institutions could help to drive this change—for instance, through transparent measurement and disclosure that could influence investors. Does the Minister agree, and, if so, does she think that the markets alone will achieve the necessary radical change or that government intervention is required?

My Lords, I disagree with the PAC conclusions, but I agree about the importance of the financial sector in making progress on this issue. In December, the Chancellor announced the UK’s intention to make climate-related financial disclosures mandatory across our whole economy by 2025 and to have a significant portion of mandatory requirements in place by 2023—becoming the first country in the world to make these disclosures mandatory. This will be an important step, but not the only step; we will also need government action on this issue.

My Lords, the report identifies the tripling of the world population, from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 7.6 billion in 2019, as a major contributor to unsustainability. As well as the need to look at family planning policies, Professor Dasgupta asks what else the review should consider in developing options for change. Is not voluntary euthanasia an option that could be considered? Would the Government ask him to look at that? That would reduce the numbers in the world.

My Lords, that question has taken me into unchartered territory on the topic of biodiversity. We will consider all the findings of the review very carefully and come back in due course.

My Lords, Professor Dasgupta outlined that to protect 30% of the world’s land and oceans by 2030 would require $140 billion annually. Will the Government publish their assessment of the investment required to meet the PM’s welcome commitment to protect 30% here in the UK and assign that amount to the next spending review?

My Lords, as part of the spending review process, all departments are required to look at their bids in terms of their commitment to climate change and our targets in that respect. We have made a number of commitments on UK progress towards protecting 30% of our land and oceans by 2030, including additional funding at the 2020 spending review.

My Lords, Sir Partha Dasgupta has produced a truly landmark document which will fundamentally change life in many societies in this world of climate change. The Agriculture Act 2020 provides us with one means of progressing with some of the recommendations, but do the Government intend to press ahead and integrate other findings of the report in the Environment Bill, which they intend to introduce next year?

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct in his assessment of the importance of the Dasgupta review. I reassure him that some of the measures in the review touch on areas where the Government are already taking action. We will consider the findings of the review carefully. The Environment Bill already contains world-leading proposals, including for mandatory biodiversity net gain for development, and I believe we will be taking it forward this year.

My Lords, if we are to value nature in all that we do, then nature needs to be part of our education system. Will my noble friend therefore ask her friends in numbers 11 and 10 Downing Street whether they will encourage the Department for Education to give a fair wind to the very well worked out proposal from OCR for a natural history GCSE, and will she let me know what they say in response?

My Lords, I will be very happy to undertake to make those representations and will let the noble Lord know the response.

My Lords, the oceans are surely the greatest asset—economically, as well as in many other ways—both for the planet and for humanity. Yet we have already depleted this asset by enabling 5.25 trillion macro and micro pieces of plastic to find their way into these great waters. What are the Government’s latest plans to prevent plastics reaching the oceans? Do they have a date when plastic will no longer enter the oceans from this country? If so, what is that date?

My Lords, the Government are taking world-leading action on preventing the use of single-use plastics and their presence in our ecosystem. That includes banning certain single-use plastics and microbeads. I will come back to the noble Baroness on her request for a date on the progress of those issues.

My Lords, what plans do the Government have to include the financing of nature-based solutions as one of the objectives of the national infrastructure bank to make sure that finance flows to projects that will enhance our natural assets and encourage nature’s recovery?

My Lords, the Government set out our green finance strategy in 2019. It contained a host of measures that we are going to take on green finance, including climate-related financial disclosure and green-proofing our ODA spend. I will come back to the noble Baroness on how that relates to the national infrastructure bank.

My Lords, this excellent report makes the point that conservation is much more important to biodiversity than restoring land that has been degraded. In the light of that, what will the Government do about the destruction of ancient woodlands along the path of HS2? Will the Minister also comment on whether now, in the face of this report, they will restore the ODA spending for those countries that cannot afford conservation, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa?

My Lords, our commitment on international funding for climate-related projects and specifically for nature-based solutions is unprecedented. I believe that we have committed £15 billion over the next spending period to help those countries in the developing world ensure that they have nature-based solutions to climate change.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, for being unable to call him.

Sitting suspended.