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Dasgupta Review

Volume 820: debated on Thursday 7 April 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in implementing the recommendations of The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review, published on 2 February 2021; and what international engagement they have undertaken to further the review’s objectives.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and draw attention to my conservation interests as set out in the register.

This Government are committed to delivering a nature-positive future in which we leave the environment in a better state than we found it and we reverse biodiversity loss globally by 2030. We are taking action to ensure that economic and financial decision-making, and the systems and institutions which underpin that, support the delivery of that nature-positive future. That includes international advocacy to promote the global Dasgupta review and the UK’s domestic approach to applying its findings.

I thank my noble friend for her Answer. It should be recognised that the Treasury should be thanked for commissioning this excellent review by Professor Dasgupta in the first place. What opportunities does my noble friend think that Her Majesty’s Government will have to advocate this excellent review internationally in the coming months?

My noble friend will know that we have the Convention on Biological Diversity this year, and the UK is committed to playing a leading role in developing an ambitious post-2020 global framework for biodiversity at that conference. Building on the review’s findings, we will work with partners to ensure that the post-2020 global diversity framework is ambitious, effectively spurring global action and the transformative change needed for halting and reversing global biodiversity loss.

My Lords, the Minister quite rightly referred to the forthcoming conference which I think is in Kunming, China this month, COP 15. Is the Minister aware that, as a result of COP 26 in Glasgow, there was a great deal of concern in the scientific community, which was reported in Nature, that researchers were not given access to the key sessions that took place in Glasgow? Given the fact that overseas territories of this country encompass a great deal of biodiversity and the Dasgupta review, as the noble Lord said at the beginning of his Question, is an extremely important document, can the Minister give some assurance that researchers attending this conference in China will have access to the key sessions?

My Lords, the UK is not responsible for organising the conference. However, despite the delays to the timetable to that conference, we are fully engaged in the negotiations process in the lead-up to it—for example, working through the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, the UK-led Global Ocean Alliance and our role as ocean co-chair of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People. The noble Viscount makes a good point about the need for different voices to contribute to that process, and that is something which the UK values.

My Lords, as Dasgupta makes clear, food-intensive farming is the primary cause of all biodiversity loss across the world. Yet, if we look at COP 26 in Glasgow, food was not really on the agenda. Indeed, for Sharm el-Sheikh in November, food is on the agenda, but from a point of view of food security. So I ask the Minister whether there is going to be a change of heart about that, and whether food, as both a cause of carbon emissions and biodiversity loss, will have a bigger presence.

Perhaps I might beg the Minister’s time to ask another question. As we are in a food shortage caused by the Ukrainian war—for instance, Germany is putting down a million acres to grow wheat in an intensive farming fashion, and I hear rumours that ELMS itself might be put back a bit—I urge the Minister to say that this a really bad time. Can the Government put further support into regenerative farming that will produce the same high yields but respect and preserve the biodiversity and good soils we need?

The noble Baroness has a good point that food security and biodiversity and the preservation of our land do not have to be in tension with each other. The aim of our environmental land management scheme is to promote both of those goals by making farming and agriculture more productive and sustainable on some land, while using land which may be less productive to achieve our biodiversity goals. That is something to which the UK remains absolutely committed.

My Lords, the Dasgupta review said that it was vital that UK aid assists countries with population and family planning issues because of the biodiversity implications. The Government’s response last June confirmed that they would continue to prioritise aid for family planning. However, following the Chancellor’s cuts to ODA in November, there is a £132 million reduction in grants for family planning—that is a 60% cut which will result in 9.5 million fewer women and couples receiving any family planning services. How does this match the commitment which the Government gave only five months earlier?

My Lords, this House has discussed many times the difficult decision that the Government took to cut ODA spending, and they have set out the criteria for returning to 0.7%. I say to the noble Baroness that we have committed significant funds to nature-based solutions to climate change internationally and to protecting biodiversity.

My Lords, on foot of the Dasgupta review, what work is ongoing with the devolved Administrations to protect our precious peatlands throughout the UK to prevent further loss of our precious biodiversity?

The noble Baroness is quite right that our peatlands will play a crucial role as part of our nature-based solutions to climate change here in the UK. That is why the Government have put in additional funding to restoring both peatlands and forests to help with carbon capture in a nature-based way.

My Lords, one of the causes of the loss of biodiversity in Britain is the overuse of chemical fertilisers and chemical pesticides. What are the Government doing to find alternatives that enable us to produce food in a way which does not destroy our biodiversity?

The noble Lord is quite right. I believe that Defra made some announcements this week about looking at the inputs to agriculture in the context of rising costs there, and the potential for a mutually beneficial solution in terms of finding more natural solutions to some of those inputs. As part of our environmental land management scheme, we will also promote the maintenance of healthy soils. There are two soil standards within the sustainable farming incentive launching in 2022.

My Lords, in her initial response to the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Randall, the Minister told the House, in a chain of elegant abstractions, what the Government were going to do. Do the Government recognise that, in order to bring about the aspirations of the Dasgupta review, it is necessary that concrete actions, not abstract aspirations, are the policy?

Absolutely. On the international stage, for example, the UK Government have committed to spending at least £3 billion over the next five years on nature and nature-based solutions in developing nations. Through our G7 and COP 26 presidencies, we have ensured that nature has stayed on the global agenda, and we have got commitments from other countries to embed climate change and nature into economic and financial decision-making. Those are just a few examples of concrete action which we are taking on this agenda.

My Lords, a key message from the Dasgupta review is that we need to change our measures of economic success. That cannot be done without replacing the shareholder-centric model of corporate governance with a stakeholder model of corporate governance. Can the Minister explain what changes the Government are considering to the model of corporate governance, and what alternative measures of economic success they propose?

I do not think that the Government agree with the move towards a stakeholder governance structure for businesses, but the noble Lord is right that, in our financial system, we need to make the decision-making with transparency on the impact of investments on our economy. We set out a green finance strategy in July 2019 that addresses all sorts of aspects of that, from developing a green taxonomy to having nature-related financial disclosures in our finance system. Overall, the Government are committed to the UK becoming the world’s first green global financial centre.

My noble friend the Minister has talked about food security—as has Defra. Do she and the department recognise that we grow only 50% of the food that we eat? In those circumstances, and given the topsy-turvy world in which we live, should the policy not now be called “food insecurity” rather than food security?

My Lords, the figures I have are slightly different, at around 60% of the food we eat. Defra is committed to maintaining that. The UK does have good levels of food security and it will ensure that is the case in future.