Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership. One thing that I cannot take any credit for is the fact that this debate has landed up on Earth Day, which is incredibly useful and quite appropriate because it is about is one of the crises of our planet. The Question is straightforward: what are the Government doing about declaring an emergency on biodiversity? I am going to give the reasons why they should do just that.
First, obviously, it is because there is an emergency. We often think about this as a global issue. One may be away from the shores of the United Kingdom, particularly if regarding the rainforests of South America, large mammals such as tigers, or coral reefs and coastal mangroves. There is a crisis throughout the globe but it is equally so here in the United Kingdom. If we look at the various reports there have been around the state of nature, we will have seen that some 40% of species are in decline, 15% are under threat of extinction and, the one that struck me most, there has been a 13% fall in the abundance of nature since 1970. I can remember that year and since then our volume of nature has declined by over 10%—by 6 % in the past six years.
What also struck me in a report that came out earlier this week from the Woodland Trust was the great news that forest cover in the UK had doubled since the beginning of the last century. That is taken away from by the fact that only 7% of that forest and woodland is in good order and, even there, biodiversity has greatly declined. Of the 20 Aichi targets adopted back in 2010 at the Convention on Biological Diversity in Japan, the UK missed 14 of them. NGOs would suggest that we met only one. Globally, none of those targets were met, sadly, but that decline in nature is continuing. That is why we have an emergency on this planet and in this country.
The second reason why we need an emergency to be declared is because biodiversity is vital. Those many services provided by nature, often called ecosystem services—I was trying to avoid saying that during this debate because the world outside would look blankly at me—include genetic pool, pollination, soil fertility, clean air and water, the food chain, protection against disease and protection against pests. Indeed, we have found over the past year, so important during the Covid-19 emergency, that there is a help to the mental health and well-being of human beings. Without those ecosystem services, mankind will not survive.
My third reason for an ecological and biodiversity emergency is that the world outside this building has to notice it. At the moment, there is little recognition or understanding of it outside. If we compare it to climate change, it has taken perhaps two decades for the world, and the wider population of its citizens, to understand that challenge. Part of that has meant that it has overshadowed biodiversity. My opinion is that it is an emergency and we have to declare it, because we have to say that it is important and the rest of the world has to notice.
My fourth reason for declaring an emergency is that it needs to drive government policy. We have seen how this is working well, and I give credit to the Government today on climate change, our various objectives and targets and the way they are supposed to guide the action of all ministries and departments. We need that similar drive for biodiversity. At the moment, it seems to be only Defra that takes an interest. I give the Treasury all credit for the Dasgupta report, but it does not seem to have been particularly excited by it. I hope to be proven wrong when we finally get a response to it from the Treasury.
My fifth reason for an emergency is that this is much more complex than climate change. I could put my tongue in my cheek and say that climate change is dead simple because all we have to do is reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We can measure them, and we know all the solutions. The only problem is doing the road map to get there. Climate change is straightforward but biodiversity is much more difficult. We do not know all the answers, we certainly find it difficult to find suitable measures and metrics to follow and, even if we know them, to measure them is also difficult. It is complex and we need to concentrate far more on it.
My sixth reason is that it is the twin of climate change. They are both emergencies; one cannot be solved without the other. We cannot solve biodiversity challenges without climate change action—and without climate change action, biodiversity will continue to decline. We have that common agenda on, in particular, nature-based solutions and carbon sequestration. They work together and we cannot have one without the other.
What is my seventh reason? I have only three more to go. My seventh is that it needs a global champion, to be frank, and the UK could and should take on that role. We have the biodiversity conference—COP 15—at Kunming in China, now happening in October. This is the big opportunity for the United Kingdom to take a lead globally, give real profile and exercise the other powers that are coming to that conference so much more. At the moment, all the targets of the big conference back in 2010 have not been met.
Eighthly, it is the right time. Covid-19 and the crisis showed us so well how when people need to get out and enjoy the outside when it is so restricted nature and biodiversity are important to them. That is recognised much more now than it has been in the past. We need to build back better, and part of that needs to be through the biodiversity emergency. I believe we would have far more public backing than ever before. The time is ripe now.
Lastly, now is the right time for an emergency. It should be declared because we have the opportunity to do so in the Environment Bill. We have waited a long time for that Bill to come to this House. That Bill could become even more credible when it becomes an Act if a biodiversity emergency was declared as part of it.
Those are my reasons. This is a true emergency and something that Britain could lead on if it wishes to, and it should. Will the Minister say who will represent the British Government at the Kunming conference? More importantly, will he ensure that now or, as the Environment Bill becomes an Act, we as the United Kingdom will declare a biodiversity emergency?
My Lords, I declare my interests as chairman of the Woodland Trust and president or vice-president of a number of environmental charities.
As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, the biodiversity emergency is a real threat to our economy, our ability to meet climate change targets and our very survival globally. The Woodland Trust’s recent report, State of the UK’s Woods and Trees 2021, is a startling indictment of the perilous state of our native woodlands and their biodiversity. As the noble Lord said, despite increasing tree cover over the past 100 years, only 7% of our native woodlands are in good ecological condition and woodland wildlife species are in steep decline.
Defra’s 2020 biodiversity indicators report for England shows a chilling wider picture of decline: farmland and wetland birds are declining and the percentage of water bodies in good ecological condition is declining, to name but a few. The only things that are increasing are invasive non-native species and the rate of importation of plants and trees from abroad—both of which are bad—so it is official: there is a biodiversity emergency here in the UK.
If the UK is to show that strong international leadership that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, talked about, it has to be exemplary here at home. It must start in the Environment Bill with those legally binding biodiversity targets. The soon-to-be-published English tree action plan must be bold and ambitious in tackling the challenges outlined in the State of the UK’s Woods and Trees report, including by creating incentives for effective woodland management. Investment in the UK and Ireland saw the UK and Ireland sourced and grown assurance scheme, the expansion of UK tree nurseries for safe trees and legislation, at long last, for statutory protection for ancient woodland. This is an emergency.
My Lords, for biodiversity to be diverse and flourish in the UK, it needs habitat, species protection where appropriate, the provision of winter food for birds and animals and sensible predator control. Given all the protection and proscription that we have enacted over many years for habitats and species, one must ask why biodiversity is still in decline. Clearly our policy has failed. We are not good at providing winter food due to farming methods and efficient modern farm machinery. Hopefully ELMS will help with that. More importantly, we are increasingly bad at management, including sensible and humane predator control.
Mankind has changed the environment in which all species live. There has been the removal of apex predators, the introduction of alien species, the loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitats and pollution. Nature will always find a balance but, often, it is not the balance that we want and leads to a reduction in biodiversity, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said.
Take, for example, Auchnerran farm in Aberdeenshire, owned by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and managed for biodiversity. This year alone, two-thirds of the lapwing nests have already been destroyed by badgers. This is a property that is farmed for biodiversity. Similarly, at the trust’s property in Allerton, Leicestershire, there have been no hedgehogs for seven years and no waders for 10 years because of predators.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned trees. Of course, trees are suffering hugely from a deer problem. Deer are notorious browsers and are bad for coppicing. They reduce the understory, which is bad for nightingales, primroses, primulas, nesting birds, butterflies and other species. Of course, it suffers from grey squirrels too.
We have a severe problem, not an emergency, but we can solve that problem if we and the Government get our policies right.
My Lords, happy Earth Day. Many thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for securing this important debate.
As a land manager responsible for biodiversity in a small part of Devon, I am interested to know what the declaration of a biodiversity emergency entails. What is the geographical extent of this emergency? Should we declare a global emergency or a UK emergency or, as environmental policy is devolved, should we consider only England? Given that we have competence over only England and our overseas territories, should that not be the limit of our ambition? To pronounce wider and beyond our jurisdiction smacks of imperial overreach.
Secondly, what are the implications of such a declaration? What impact would it have on policy? Given the huge upheavals under way in agriculture and environmental land management, yet further changes could be confusing and mix up the message.
Thirdly, by what metrics is this emergency to be assessed? Is there a common standard that the Government would apply? Speaking from personal experience only, I am not convinced that 2021 constitutes such a biodiversity emergency in England.
To some embarrassment, I grew up with middle name Peregrine. I remember being given a painting of a peregrine as a child and being told that it was the only likelihood of me ever seeing the bird as they did not exist in southern England. Now we see them regularly off the red cliffs of Dawlish. Similarly, we now see ravens, goshawks and egrets, which were never present in my youth. I vividly recall camping out at night to see a rare badger in the woods. Now, dead badgers litter the roadside and the hedgehogs have gone. We have a hedgerow at home that was about the only place in England to see the Jersey tiger moth in the 1980s. Now, they are common across the south-west. Finally, as we have heard, on a macro scale, we have seen considerable reforestation of our country since the nadir of the First World War, albeit that much of it is admittedly coniferous monoculture.
The point I seek to make is that, on many metrics, through responsible land management, biodiversity has increased in recent decades while continuing to provide cheaper food to an ever-expanding population. The declaration of a biodiversity emergency now might ignore that important work.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for initiating this debate. We are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, the only one caused solely by mankind. Since 1970, the worldwide human population has doubled, yet at the same time species have been wiped out faster than ever. What is this Government’s policy on population?
Up to one million species, plant and animal, are at risk of extinction due to human activities. David Attenborough is right when he says that we are the invaders affecting plants, animals, insects, oceans and ecosystems all over the planet. Half of our pollinators are in decline, and that is a real threat to food supply. If apple tree blossom is not visited by bees or other pollinators, there will be no apples. That is why it is vital to make biodiversity a priority of our lifetimes.
We know that well-planned and generously funded conservation and restoration projects work. I ask the Government to work with other countries where endangered animals and plants exist. Pangolins—beautiful, gentle creatures—are under threat because some idiots think their scales contain health-giving properties. These same people think the same about rhino horn, which is made of the same substance as human toenails. Let them set up a toenail industry and leave our rhinos alone. More than half of people in some Far Eastern countries think that ivory is a mineral rather than the teeth of living, sentient, intelligent animals, now poached in such numbers that elephant deaths exceed births. It is our duty to make amends for the generations of mankind who, often through ignorance, have exploited and persecuted wildlife and ravaged landscapes to destruction.
Extinction is permanent. Once a species is lost, it is lost for ever. Let us not lose any more.
My Lords, if we are to make a difference to the trend in biodiversity, we need to make a difference to all our children. We need interest in biodiversity, familiarity with biodiversity and the value of biodiversity to be things that our children grow up with. At the moment, they are leading much more restricted lives than we did—certainly, very much more restricted lives than our parents did—in their ability to interact with nature and to get a real understanding and appreciation of what nature is and what humans can get from a relationship with it.
At the moment, there is a proposal from OCR for a natural history GCSE that has been in the DfE’s inbox for about six months. I know that the DfE is busy, but everybody in this climate and biodiversity emergency has to make their contribution. I hope my noble friend will be able, at some quiet moment, to emphasise to his colleagues in the Department for Education that it matters that they do their bit too, that they let this GCSE through and let us start the process of getting children back in touch with nature. That is where, over the long term, we can make a difference to this. If we all live in cities with our backs turned to nature, we are never going to want to spend the money and time that will make the difference.
My Lords, happy Earth Day. Well done to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for getting this debate. We have passed legislation in the past year at the most incredible rate; a year ago, we would have said that it was impossible, unconstitutional or just plain ridiculous. Parliament and the Government have shown that they can act fast in an emergency. Covid has been an interesting case study, because it shows how fast we can move. We have declared a climate emergency, and it is self-evident that an ecological and biodiversity emergency is ravaging the world. We have to act on that as well.
This Queen’s Speech, I believe, is the fourth time that the Queen will read out that we are going to have an Environment Bill. That shows the lack of urgency in the Government’s response, which is a real problem. When we compare it with the speed, volume and sheer intrusiveness of the dozens of pieces of Covid legislation that have passed in the last year, it reaches a point of embarrassment. However, I know that the Minister understands the problem as well as I do and possibly better. I would like to know how much longer the Government will let the emergency roll on before they finally respond.
Targets are great, and I welcome better and higher targets, but they are not met without a plan. It is not enough to talk. We must act. The Dasgupta Review and the Climate Change Committee’s sixth carbon budget have given us a pathway to doing exactly that—to declaring a biodiversity and climate emergency, acting on it and reducing our impact on the natural world. Plus, of course, there is the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, which was introduced by Caroline Lucas MP in the other place last year. That offers the UK an unparalleled opportunity to provide much-needed global leadership. I very much hope that the Government will take those options and make life better for all of us.
My Lords, the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill annual risk report for 2020 ranks biodiversity loss as the third most impactful risk facing the global economy and the fourth most likely to actually occur. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services estimates that between $235 billion and $577 billion in annual global crop output is at risk as a result of pollinator loss. Bee populations are declining because of pesticide use, habitat degradation and reduction, global warming, agricultural practices and a lack of floral diversity. A recent red list showed that out of a total of 1,101 species of bee in the EU, about 15% are threatened with extinction or near-extinction.
The Government need a joined-up approach to dealing with the impact of biodiversity loss. Section 172 of the Companies Act 2006 requires directors to promote biodiversity. Business performance measurement models are distorted by a focus on shareholder wealth maximisation and environmental degradation and neglect of biodiversity by companies. This neglect is further perpetuated by the Government’s current consultation paper on corporate governance reforms, which clings to a shareholder-centric model of corporate governance.
A first step for dealing with the challenges is for the Government to promote a stakeholder model of corporate governance so that diverse voices are empowered. Hopefully, the Minister will give us that commitment in his response.
My Lords, I declare interests as a retired farmer, a landowner and chair of the UKCEH.
We do have a crisis. We have made a total Horlicks of this issue over recent years. It will take decades to put it right. It will not be easy. However, we have to step back. These days, good land managers provide many outputs and services: food to keep us healthy and our nation secure; landscape and access for tourism and healthy exercise; renewable energy; buildings for rural businesses; timber for carbon capture and storage, and for buildings; and, yes, habitats and wildlife management for the biodiversity that we desperately need. In doing all this, we have to minimise our carbon footprint.
It is a tough call to maximise the services from your piece of land and still stay in business, but we must never again prioritise one output at the expense of all the others, which is what we have been doing. We must get everything in perspective and take a balanced view of what the land can produce. Every piece of land will have its own solutions. We will need to carry out research as well as prod, train and incentivise all land managers, both urban and rural.
On our Somerset farm, we have a 50-acre solar park. Some 10 years in, our FWAG officer visited the site and said that he had rarely seen 50 acres with more biodiversity, with every kind of insect and butterfly, voles, field mice, hares, barn owls, kestrels, partridge, plovers and even hen harriers. My point is that land can be multi-purpose. However, we need the research, training and incentives to maximise the possible outputs on all our land.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Teverson on securing this debate on Earth Day. I want to talk about earth, but the sort of earth that is under our feet: the soil.
A healthy soil is full of living things, including microbes, bacteria, amoebas, mycelium and invertebrates. I remember the late Lord Peter Melchett, a great champion of the soil, talking about the soil food chain and saying that moles are to the soil what lions are to the Serengeti. Given that soil is so much the base for a healthy ecosystem, has the situation improved with regard to the number of academics working on soil? If we are to have environmental land management, we will need people to analyse, measure and make sure that the targets and remedies are correct. In 2017, when I asked the Government about the number of soil scientists, there were just five professors in the whole of the UK working on soil science and 25 academic staff in total. Can the Minister tell me what the situation is now? We will need to assess the biology of the soil. If there are so few experts, who is to do so?
Those advising farmers and selling products to them—agronomists and agricultural product retailers—are good on chemical analysis and telling whether the soil is compacted, but they are not so good on soil biology. If we are to transform our terrestrial biodiversity, we must be able to recognise that good soil, in all its richness, is a food source to those higher up the food chain as well as a means of producing food for ourselves.
My Lords, regardless of whether there is a biodiversity emergency, there is a crisis of nature. We are seeing species disappearing, even in our own land. We need to keep species under constant review and achieve a balance in the ecosystem. Badgers, bats and grey squirrels need to be kept under control, and other species that are dwindling need to be promoted.
In responding to the debate today, will my noble friend the Minister give a guarantee that farmers will be given a role to play in nurturing wildlife, flora and fauna, in particular through the environmental land management scheme that other noble Lords have spoken about, but with a proviso that tenant farmers will be enabled to benefit? Farmers, and tenants in particular, understand that they are close to nature and best placed to promote and nurture it.
Turning to marine life, will my noble friend give a further assurance that the biodiversity of our marine environment, in particular of the North Sea, will not be substantially damaged by the building of offshore wind farms? We are effectively seeking an urbanisation of the sea through offshore renewables, raising issues of energy generation at sea. We need to take every opportunity to ensure that our sea and marine life—including mammals such as dolphins, porpoises and others—are protected. I hope he will agree that it is for the industry which benefits from this form of energy generation to contribute to the research on how to protect our marine life going forward.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on submitting this Question on the biodiversity emergency for debate today. Like him, I believe that the climate emergency is the twin of biodiversity and that there is a symbiotic relationship between them, because one has an impact on the other. They cannot be addressed in isolation and require urgent and immediate attention.
Every Government, every business, every organisation and every individual must play a part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions; assisting in the adaptation to climate change; halting biodiversity loss; and restoring habitats and species through changes in laws and regulations, policies, behaviours and lifestyles at local and national levels. In my own local area, there is one company doing that through one individual at True Harvest Seeds, which is looking to ensure that the local, indigenous seeds of the island of Ireland are protected and allowed to germinate. It is trying to deal with a lot of the invasive species that are destroying our local biodiversity.
This is an extensive subject and I hope that the Environment Bill will give the Government the opportunity to deal with biodiversity loss and the biodiversity emergency. I would very much like to see the Minister give us answers today about the future content of the Environment Bill. Can he also indicate what actions will be taken to ensure that the national infrastructure bank is pivotal in facilitating the financing of nature restoration and nature-based solutions to climate change?
I call the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. Lord Bradshaw? No. I regret that we will have to go on then. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for tabling this timely and important debate. As has been said, it fittingly coincides with Earth Day, when global citizens are taking a stand right across our world on the climate and biodiversity emergency.
Today, noble Lords have provided a depressing indictment of the Government’s record on biodiversity. We are now more aware than ever of the fragility of our own ecosystems. By their own admission, the Government are failing to meet two-thirds of the biodiversity targets agreed at the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010, while 41% of our species are in decline and 10% face extinction. But here in the Lords, we have a real opportunity not just to talk about biodiversity but to act upon it.
Amendments to the forthcoming Environment Bill could allow us to introduce legally binding targets to halt and reverse declines in nature by 2030. The Bill could allow us to set meaningful baselines against which progress could be measured but also enforced. It could enable us to determine that biodiversity net gain should be a fundamental principle running through all future government investment, without exception. It would enable us also to put the biodiversity crisis on an equal footing to the climate crisis, recognising that action and resources on both are necessary to deliver a sustainable planet.
If we take these actions now, and provide the resources to make them happen, we can go to the CBD in China later this year with credibility to ask others to follow our lead and deliver a radical global programme for action. I hope that the Minister can confirm that he is indeed ready to deliver a more radical version of the Environment Bill which can reverse the decline in nature and produce bold new targets and deliverables by 2030. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Teverson for securing this debate and for his passionate introduction. I am currently reading James Rebanks’s book, English Pastoral: An Inheritance. The Rebanks family have farmed in Cumbria for over 600 years. His latest book details the massive change in farming practices and the devasting effect that such change has had on biodiversity. The removal of stone walls, destruction of ancient hedgerows and accelerated use of chemical fertilisers and weedkillers have all taken their toll on plants, insects and birds.
The Government have produced numerous plans to remedy the loss of biodiversity. In 2011, Defra produced a strategic plan for England, Biodiversity 2020. An evaluation in 2019 showed insufficient progress against its targets. In January 2018, the 25-year environment plan appeared. December 2020 saw the development of a new strategy for nature to replace Biodiversity 2020. The Environment Bill’s First Reading in the Commons was in January 2020; it will eventually arrive here. In March 2021, the Prime Minister said that tackling climate change and biodiversity would be his number one international priority. For all this rhetoric, there has been no actual progress.
The Woodland Trust has produced a report on the state of our woods and trees which finds that only 7% are in a good ecological condition. However, some local authorities have risen to the challenge. Bristol City Council has declared an ecological emergency and has a plan to redress the decline by 2030. We hope that others will follow suit.
It is estimated that 75% of the world’s land surface and 66% of the ocean has been significantly altered and degraded by human activity. One million species are threatened with extinction. Are we going to wait until we, as humans, are also threatened with extinction before we take this matter seriously? Will the Minister press the Government to declare a biodiversity emergency now and take stringent action?
My Lords, we have been able to reconnect with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, whom I therefore call.
Thank you, Lord Chairman. I wanted to say that all of us, I think, are members of the National Trust, wildlife trusts, national trails, the CPRE or the RHS. I implore of the Minister that, whatever new arrangements are brought into being in the Environment Bill, the huge army of volunteers in all those organisations can be empowered. This needs some money and some professional leadership, but if that is provided, a lot more work will be done, much of it to restore biodiversity.
The other subject that I wanted to raise, of which I gave notice, is the horticultural use of peat, about which I am still extremely worried. I have raised this with the Minister before. I am anxious for there to be a goal of stopping the use of peat for horticultural purposes. It is not good practice, but it is very expensive at the moment to use anything else.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their thoughtful contributions to this hugely important debate.
It should not need to be said, but we cannot reasonably expect to be able to destroy the natural world in the manner that we are without paying a terrible price. There is no doubt that that is what we are doing. I will not rehearse all the facts and figures of destruction, as noble Lords will be depressingly familiar with many of them, but it is worth reminding ourselves that we are currently losing around 30 football pitches-worth of forest every single minute; that a million species face extinction, including two in every five of the world’s plants; that the grim illegal wildlife trade is now the fourth biggest criminal sector; and that, just as we are stripping the ocean of life at a terrifying rate, we are filling it with trash just as quickly. And all this against the backdrop of an increasingly destabilised climate.
There is an abundance of science telling us that we are heading for disaster. But you do not need to be a scientist to understand that these trends cannot continue without appalling consequences. When ecosystems fail, so too do the multitude of free but hopelessly undervalued services that nature provides—services that each and every one of us depends on. Turning this trajectory around is, without a doubt, the most important challenge that we face by far.
To some extent, that is already happening in relation to the low-carbon revolution. The cost of renewables has tumbled, and zero-emission vehicles are on the cusp of going mainstream. Who would have predicted that the cost of solar would fall by 90% in the 12 years since the banking crisis? To be clear, I am not suggesting complacency: we are asking every country in the world to ramp things up as we head towards COP 26. When it comes to attaching a value to nature and a cost to its destruction, we have barely left the starting blocks, and that has to change because technology alone will not save us.
To put it simply: there is no pathway to tackling climate change that does not involve protecting and conserving nature on a massive scale. Nature-based solutions, like trees and mangroves, could provide a third of the most cost-effective solutions we need to mitigate climate change, as well as helping species recover and helping communities to adapt to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change. But despite that huge contribution, nature-based solutions currently receive less than 3% of total global climate finance. That makes no sense.
It is right that we in this country have put nature at the heart of our response to climate change, domestically and internationally, through our presidencies of both the G7 and COP 26. We are leading by example. Very soon after entering Downing Street, the Prime Minister committed to doubling our international climate finance to £11.6 billion. More recently, just a few weeks ago, he committed to spending nearly a third of that—around £3 billion—on nature-based solutions to climate change. We are encouraging other donor countries to do similarly. On the back of that commitment, we are rolling out a pipeline of ambitious new programmes. There is a new £500 million blue planet fund, for example, which will help to protect fragile marine ecosystems, and we are growing our magnificent “blue belt” of marine-protected areas around our overseas territories, which now cover a protected area the size of India. There is a new £100 million landscapes fund to link threatened ecosystems, providing safe passage for wildlife and green jobs for people. We are trebling funding for our extraordinary Darwin Initiative to £90 million. With other donor countries, we are developing right now an offer for forest protection that exceeds anything that we have seen so far.
We are also investing £30 million to protect species from the grim illegal wildlife trade, which I hope reassures the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, who made this point very clearly. I share his concern about pangolins and was delighted—as I am sure he was—when the Chinese decreed recently that pangolins can no longer be used in traditional medicine. He may also be pleased to know that, in addition to funding via the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, the UK played a defining role in getting proposals past CITES in 2016 that ensured that all eight species of pangolin received the highest possible level of protection from international trade.
We know that change is possible and that nature protection works. It works for people and it works for the planet. Look at Costa Rica: it has doubled its rainforest in one generation, putting more than half the country under canopy and growing its economy alongside its nature. We are leading global alliances to protect at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans by 2030, and we are pursuing an ambitious new UN treaty to establish mechanisms to protect ocean beyond national jurisdiction.
In answer to a question put to me by the author of this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, we are working as closely as possible with the Chinese as hosts of the next biodiversity conference in Kunming. Although our representation will be confirmed closer to the meeting, we are doing more heavy lifting than perhaps any other country. We are pressing hard for the highest possible ambition and, crucially, we are pushing for inclusion of mechanisms to hold Governments to the promises they make, which currently is lacking.
We know that public money alone is not going to be enough, so Governments need to identify and use the powerful levers that they uniquely hold to remove the perverse incentives that drive environmental destruction. Consider, for example that the top 50 food-producing countries spend $700 billion a year supporting often destructive land use. That is four times the world’s aid budgets combined. Imagine the impact if that public support could be redirected to help farmers transition to climate-friendly, nature-positive land management. In a world first, that is what we are doing in the UK, and we are building alliances of countries committed to doing the same.
Commodity production is responsible for the vast majority of deforestation, so we are building a global coalition of countries committed to cleaning up commodity supply chains. We are also calling on the large multilateral development banks to nature-proof their entire portfolios. There is no point in having bits of investments here and there in nature if the rest of the portfolio is taking us in the opposite direction. That point was made well by the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, in relation to the private sector, where the point stands just as strongly. We are pulling every lever we have to get private finance flowing, including by accelerating progress towards high-integrity carbon markets.
There is no doubt in my mind that we are driving the agenda internationally, and that is recognised by other countries around the world. However, as a number of noble Lords have said, we need to get our own house in order. We have seen shocking biodiversity loss in recent decades. Last year’s State of Nature review found that 41% of UK species are declining. We have seen an increasing intensity of flood damage caused at least in part by poor land use. We know that meeting our net-zero emissions obligation will require heavy lifting on a scale that we have never seen before.
I know that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, questions the need for us to declare an emergency but I hope that my opening remarks, as well as this bleak picture of declining biodiversity in the UK, persuades him otherwise. I could add that our indicator of pollinator distribution has fallen by 30% since 1980. Our indicator of farmland bird abundance has fallen by more than 50% since 1970. That case was made extremely well by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said, no matter what we do now, improvements will take time to materialise. In answer to the noble Earl’s question, biodiversity is devolved; however, all the regions are in broad agreement on the need to act. That is a good thing.
We have a packed agenda. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, asked for precise targets and a clear plan, a point also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. The recently published Dasgupta review provides an extraordinarily important backdrop, and we will be responding to it properly and thoroughly soon. Our plans to boost biodiversity and improve the environment within a generation are set out in the 25-year environment plan. We set the world’s most ambitious climate change target into law to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035, compared to 1990 levels, an announcement made just a couple of days ago.
We are setting out plans for a bold net-zero strategy to demonstrate how we will cut emissions and create new jobs across the whole country. Our upcoming Environment Bill will deliver improvements in waste, air quality, water, nature, biodiversity and more. It lays the foundation for the nature recovery network and creates duties and incentives, such as biodiversity net gain for all new developments, which is also a world first. The Bill establishes spatial mapping and planning tools to deliver nature recovery, creates new nature covenants for the long-term protection of land—another world first—and creates a new body to hold government to account.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about biodiversity targets in the Bill. It creates a power to set long-term, legally binding environmental targets, and we will want to ensure that for biodiversity these targets at least align with international targets to be set through the CBD. We are continuing work on that suite of targets, including in the priority areas of biodiversity and improving the state of nature.
We are switching our land-use subsidy system so that the payments are conditional on good environmental outcomes, just as we are asking the world to do. That, too, is a world first. Incidentally, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, raised the underappreciated but hugely important issue of soil health. I can tell her that soil health has been identified as a priority for our environmental land management scheme. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked if the scheme would support farmers to play their role in reversing nature decline. Absolutely. That is the entire purpose of the environment land management system.
In another world first, we are legislating to require big companies to remove deforestation from their commodity supply chains to help shrink our international footprint. Again, we are asking other countries to do the same. We know that to meet net zero we need to establish record numbers of trees, so we have committed to planting 30,000 hectares a year across the UK by 2025, using the new £640 million Nature for Climate Fund. We want to unleash the extraordinary power of natural regeneration as well. Anyone who has seen the wonders of NEP will know why that matters.
In answer to my noble friend Lord Caithness—the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, also raised this—we will be investing in methods to control deer and grey squirrel numbers as part of our efforts to protect new and existing native woodlands. To further protect them, and in answer to my noble friend Lord Lucas, we will be emphasising the huge and critical importance of not only species diversity but genetic diversity. Incidentally, he raised the importance of educating children, and I could not agree more.
Alongside our tree commitment, we have committed to restoring 35,000 hectares of peatland. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked about the use of peat in horticulture. I can tell him that we are committed to phasing it out in England. We told industry that if we had not seen enough movement by 2020, we would look at further measures that could be taken. We are now considering those future measures. We also have ambitious plans to protect our threatened pollinators, a point made well by the noble Lords, Lord Jones of Cheltenham and Lord Sikka. All this goes alongside plans to greatly improve the health and protection of our precious marine environment.
It is often said that we need to weave the environment into our economics but, as Professor Dasgupta’s seminal study explained, that is the wrong way round. Ultimately all economic activity is derived from nature. Without nature, we have nothing and we are nothing. Reconciling our lives and economies with the natural world on which we all depend is really the defining challenge of our age. I am absolutely convinced that this can be the year that change begins in earnest.
My Lords, that completes the business before the Grand Committee this afternoon. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.
Committee adjourned at 6.22 pm.