Clause 1: Duty of the Secretary of State: climate and nature targets
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 2, leave out “objectives in subsection (2) (“the objectives”)” and insert “objective in subsection (2) (“the objective”)”
My Lords, In moving Amendment 1, I shall speak also to Amendments 2 to 18. I thank the Minister for turning up to answer today, although he is a Climate Change Minister, but he will notice that my amendments remove most of the climate change provisions from the Bill. This is not because I do not believe they were valuable measures. The problem with Private Members’ Bills is that you have to make sure that you have something that could pass the House of Commons. I am very hopeful that at the end of proceedings today, the Minister will see the value of what we are proposing and might even suggest that it be adopted as a government Bill and go forward to the Commons.
I shall give some background to the amendments and why we have tabled them. I plan not to make a Second Reading speech, but because I am speaking to 18 amendments in one area, I want to set out our position.
The UK is one of the most nature-depleted nations on earth. That is a horrendous thing to say in this House, when we are so proud of our green and pleasant land. More than 40% of UK species are in decline. More than 600 million birds have been lost from our skies over the past 40 years, which is a staggering statistic, and a quarter of UK mammals are threatened with extinction, including many once common species, such as hedgehogs and, in particular, red squirrels—an issue I have been looking at for a long time. Not only are they directly affected by climate change, they have also been affected by invasive species such as the grey squirrel. I know that this is an issue on which the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, has spoken on a number of occasions.
Therefore, as my amendments make clear, we should scale up actions that protect and restore the natural world. As the Government have themselves agreed on dozens of occasions over recent years, we need the right targets to drive action to reverse biodiversity loss and deliver a nature-positive UK by 2030. The problem is that when we lose elements of the natural habitat, including ancient woodlands, we will not be able to reverse that loss in our lifetime. We need to ensure that any actions we take are taken extremely seriously. Without action, we will be unable to tackle the joint nature and climate crisis that we face. Biodiversity is also critical to solving the climate crisis, as the Government, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the Climate Change Committee and countless businesses, NGOs, scientists and campaigners are telling us.
I am sure the Minister will welcome that this will now be a very simple Bill. Since Second Reading, we have focused on making it an ecology Bill, which would require the Government to do just one thing; namely, to require the Secretary of State to achieve a nature target for the UK—a target that would ensure that the UK halts and reverses its overall contribution to the degradation and loss of nature by 2030.
We have had many debates on the loss of nature, but the problem I have here is that we are talking about a halt only by 2030, yet we are seeing a massive degradation of species going forward. So how does the Bill set out how the targets should work? First, by increasing the health, abundance, diversity and resilience of species, populations, habitats and ecosystems so that by 2030, measured in against a baseline of 2020, nature is visibly and measurably on the path to recovery. Secondly, by fulfilling the Government’s existing obligations under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the commitments set out in the Leaders Pledge for Nature.
This is a straightforward, one could say almost procedural matter, reversing nature loss by 2030. With COP 15 around the corner, the Government would surely welcome this. The importance of this Private Member’s Bill is that it is oven-ready and the Government could give time to it and adopt it in law, so that it can be presented at COP 15 as the UK’s commitment.
I am certain that the Minister will not welcome a Private Member’s Bill with open arms—Ministers very rarely do—but I thank all the organisations, including Zero Hour and many faith groups, for their work on the Bill and for spreading the message. Whatever reaction I get from the Minister, the aim of reversing the decline in nature should be taken very seriously. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my conservation interests as a council member of the RSPB, a trustee of the Bat Conservation Trust and quite a few others; they are all on the register. I am delighted to see the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I was not able to speak at Second Reading, but the amendments have improved the Bill by concentrating the mind on ecology. One of the problems we face is that, although we hear from some people about the biodiversity crisis, it can often be subsumed by the much bigger climate change crisis. I am sure noble Lords realise that the two are interconnected, but we have got to concentrate on ecology, the environment and so on.
My noble friend, who is a very generous and warm-spirited gentleman, may not be entirely happy with some of these things, but he will try to be as nice as possible, as is his way. However, I shall give some encouragement to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. Back in 2000, I think it was, in the other place, I introduced the Marine Wildlife Conservation Bill. I was number one in the ballot, and I was overenthusiastic. I had this wonderful Bill, which passed through the Commons—and was then scuppered in this very Chamber. What eventually came from the Commons to the Lords was a much reduced Bill, and then it did not pass, as the phrase has it. In fact, it led to the Marine and Coastal Access Act, which was much harder and harsher in the view of those lobby interests that tried hard to stop it. Sometimes, it is not a bad thing for a Government to let something go, so they can tick a box—not that any box-ticking exercise is going on here. There is a chance that, even if this Bill is not accepted, it will be a further reminder; it knocks the whole issue up the political agenda. In fact, the Government are not slow in trying implement a lot of measures. I am sure we will hear about them shortly from my noble friend.
We are talking about stopping the loss, but we should be increasing our biodiversity at the same time. Someone used a wonderful expression the other day: we are looking at biodiversity but if we are not careful, we will end up with bio-uniformity. We will have a lot more of the same species, and if habitats are not looked after properly, there might be—God forbid—a lot more grey squirrels, for example.
We must do something. This is a very important Bill. Many people have written to me about it, passionate people who want it to succeed. I feel a bit guilty, because they are probably being a bit optimistic about this Parliament’s processes. I hope I am wrong; we will see. They have my assurance, and I am sure that of many other noble Lords, that this issue will not disappear from the political agenda.
My Lords, I support the intention of this Bill to concentrate our minds on ecology. I declare an interest in environmental degradation, having the great privilege of being chair of the Natural History Museum, as listed in the register of interests.
Everyone knows that the Natural History Museum is one of the greatest visitor attractions of this nation. I am delighted to report that in fact, we were the most visited museum or gallery in the whole of the UK last year—and yes, we do have dinosaurs. Less well known is that we have a unique and huge collection of specimens from the world’s environment, and that we are a major scientific research institute with 350 full-time scientists and 170 doctoral students all working on that unparalleled database and in the field.
There is a problem. We know that life on earth started around 3.5 billion years ago and that life has spread to every corner of the land and sea. The fossil record also teaches us that over that vast period, there have been five occasions when almost all life on earth has disappeared. We call these “mass extinction events”: five occasions when dramatic changes in the environmental conditions—warming, cooling, ocean acidification—have wiped out almost all existing species, most recently, some 66 million years ago, when we lost the last of the dinosaurs.
The problem is that the evidence is telling us that we could be heading towards a sixth mass extinction—and this time an extinction that we are causing. The causes are quite well understood and are uncomfortably reminiscent of the last but one extinction event, some 200 million years ago, when exceptional tectonic activity created enormous emission levels of carbon and methane in the atmosphere and led to the loss of at least 80% of all species then on the planet. Does this sound familiar? This time, the emissions are again the root cause of dangerous climate trends, but this time, it is humans who have caused those emissions.
The loss of biodiversity has other causes too. Factors such as land use and pollution are equally, if not even more important to biodiversity degradation. Last year, ahead of COP 26, the Natural History Museum published its new biodiversity trends explorer. This uses satellite imagery to collect abundance data on plants, fungi, insects and animals all around the world. It shows for the first time how local terrestrial biodiversity is responding to human pressures causing land use change and intensification. We can now measure with increasing precision and detail what is happening to our environment essentially everywhere.
Our research continues, but it is already showing that the earth has only 76% of its pristine natural biodiversity still intact—well below the safe limit of around 90%, which is the broad consensus among natural scientists. Here in the UK, only just over half our natural biodiversity is still intact, placing us last in the G7 and in the bottom 10% worldwide, because so much of our land has been given over to sometimes marginal agriculture or monoculture conifer plantations.
At this point we might be tempted to throw up our hands and give up, but the crucial point is that this is a fixable problem. We have the science and the solutions, and we know that—given the chance before it is too late—environmental diversity responds and recovers quite well.
The UK Government have been forthright in calling for biodiversity loss globally to be halted and reversed by 2030. One of the most important tasks at Montreal will be to push for a set of clear metrics and targets to achieve this overall objective, analogous to the clear headline targets on emissions and carbon neutrality that have been embedded in the international discourse on climate change.
Inevitably, we have to act in our own backyard and not just on the international stage. That is why I support the Bill’s intent in setting clear, robust targets for the UK, even as it champions robust targets at the global level. Indeed, I suggest that we see it as our national objective by 2030 to be not bottom of the G7 but top of the class. Maybe that is ambitious, but it is profoundly important that the Government show clear and strong leadership in this national task. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, at Second Reading I was happy to support the principle of this Bill as a way of plugging the gap in the Environment Act 2021, as then outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I appreciate the reasons he has outlined again today for his decision to concentrate solely on the nature loss reversal target to make the Bill more focused. I therefore support the amendments he has outlined in this respect.
We should not lose sight of the dramatic facts, which have been referred to not only by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, but by the noble Lord, Lord Green. The UK is one of the most nature-depleted nations on earth. Frankly, I was extremely shocked and surprised when I first heard this fact. Many will be surprised, especially now at the end of COP 27, where everybody was rather focusing on the problems in Amazonia. I feel this is an appropriate moment to mention how delighted we are to welcome President Lula’s statements in Cairo yesterday in respect of Brazil’s policies in this area.
In the United Kingdom I am heartened by Defra’s 10-point plan, issued in September, which asks for urgent investment in
“solutions that halt and reverse the decline of biodiversity by 2030.”
It seems to me that this ecology Bill, as I hope it will be at the end of these proceedings, ties in with and will support that objective. I will be interested to hear from my noble friend the Minister the Government’s views and the ways in which the Bill can help further the Government’s aims.
In looking at statistics in the area of biodiversity, we should not forget that the major part of the UK’s biodiversity is to be found in the overseas territories—places such as Tristan da Cunha, the Falkland Islands, St Helena, and so on. My only query to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is the extent to which he has had contact with the Governments of the overseas territories in forming his decisions on the Bill.
I would also like to hear from the Front Bench the Government’s view on how any future plans to create legally binding targets to deliver their environment policies, which include the provisions of the Bill, will be implemented by the devolved Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who have their own responsibilities in this respect. I support the amendments and the principle of the Bill.
My Lords, it is extremely welcome to have the Bill return for Committee, and I appreciate the opportunity to take part and to continue to raise issues that we feel are not being met by this Government and are within our grasp to make a real difference on.
Again, I commend the leadership shown in this area by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, in bringing the Bill forward. I also commend Zero Hour for providing us with all the important briefings to support and improve the quality of our debates, and of course I commend all the campaigners across the country who have worked hard to raise the issues concerned and to push them to the forefront of the political agenda. In today’s debate, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Green, in particular, for sharing his expertise, which added a richness to the discussions at hand.
I turn to the Bill and note all of the comments about the impact of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and what they actually mean. I welcome the decision to give the Bill a more concise focus. I believe that steps to make it more amenable to the Government of course mean that it is more likely to see actual action, which is the reason that we are all here. So I am pleased to support these amendments.
As we heard, the Bill as published had various joined-up objectives: imposing a duty on the Government to introduce a strategy for reducing the UK’s
“overall contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions to net zero”;
establishing a “Climate and Nature Assembly” to advise the Government; and giving additional duties to the Climate Change Committee and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. These all remain important aspects, but this group of amendments will leave us with a five-clause Bill with just one major objective for the Secretary of State: a duty to ensure that the UK
“halts and reverses its overall contribution to the degradation and loss of nature in the United Kingdom ... by ... increasing the health, abundance, diversity and resilience of species, populations, habitats and ecosystems”
“fulfilling its obligations under the UNCBD and … the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature”.
The case for tackling biodiversity loss, climate change and environmental risks to public health is clear. Research from the Natural History Museum—I am pleased that we have had its input—found that the UK is last among G7 countries in terms of how much diversity survives, and it sits in the bottom 10% of all countries globally. It is worth us all repeating these statistics.
As we have heard, we are one of the most nature-depleted nations on earth. Much damage has already been done, and letting it continue would be even more alarming. Some of our most iconic and much-loved British animals could soon be extinct, including the red squirrel, the wildcat, the water vole, the dormouse and even the hedgehog. We have already seen a two-thirds decline in flying insect numbers in England in just the last 16 years. Thousands of badgers continue to be killed, authorised by this Government—in my view unnecessarily—and there are also bee-killing neonic pesticides. The Government have also failed to act to stop illegal hunting or effectively limit peat extraction and moorland burning.
If the Government fail to deliver on their environmental targets, their promise to protect at least 30% of our land, waters and ocean by 2030 is in serious doubt. It is no surprise that environmental groups, including the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust, have accused the Government of an attack on nature by their policies, such as weakening environmental protections in investment zones, the retained EU law Bill and threatening to downgrade new environment-friendly farming subsidies.
The Government have cut funding for national parks by 40% in real terms over the last decade, leaving our most precious nature sites in crisis. Their plan to make up the shortfall is “through private investment”, without giving any further detail on what that will look like. They also failed to set new 2030 biodiversity targets in line with their legal requirements under the Environment Act 2021, and there is no current suggestion of when these will be set. Perhaps the Minister can comment on this in his remarks.
The Labour Party has committed to putting the environment and climate at the heart of its agenda and delivering nature-positive action which halts and reverses the loss of biodiversity by 2030, for the benefit of all people on the planet, as is the ask of the Bill. That element of reversing will make the real difference between the Government’s position and what is necessary. The Environment Act commits to halt species decline but fails to reverse decline and does not tackle broader biodiversity loss.
Without revisiting all the discussion at Second Reading, again I ask the Minister to tell us about progress towards a plan to tackle these messages. Also, where is the positive engagement strategy? Taking the public with us is so important in this agenda and, as we have discussed previously, a wider communication and education strategy is so important as we go forward.
The Government should back the Bill and commit fully to what is necessary to save our natural environment.
My Lords, I join all other speakers in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on securing this Committee for his Private Member’s Bill today and on continuing to highlight this vitally important issue. I particularly welcomed his comments on red squirrels. When I was a Member of the European Parliament for the north-east, I was a proud member of the European Squirrel Initiative—that major NGO at the forefront of the debate—and of course, Northumberland is on the front line of the battle to preserve red squirrels, which persist primarily in Scotland; the greys have managed to eradicate them for most of England. In my view, we need to pursue an eradication policy of the greys—my noble friend Lord Randall also mentioned that important issue.
We do not have to shy away from the fact that nature is in decline around the world. That is exactly why we are setting a legally binding target in England to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. This ecology Bill deems “species abundance” too limited and seeks to widen this to include habitats and ecosystems. However, in our view, species abundance is a good proxy for the health of the wider ecosystem. The indicator we will use to track progress includes over 1,000 representative species for which we have robust data. Between them, these species depend on the majority of habitats found in England. Action to achieve the species abundance target will necessarily require the creation and restoration of wider habitats and ecosystems.
This target is an ambitious one—indeed, it is world-leading. We will take determined actions to halt the decline of nature, but those actions will not stop once we meet that target. We know that halting the decline in nature is not enough and we will continue to take action naturally leading to a reversal of that decline. That is why we have consulted on long-term targets to increase species abundance, improve the red list index for species extinction risk, and create or restore more habitat—all by 2042. Five-yearly interim targets will help the Government to stay on track.
Furthermore, the overall suite of targets, including on water and air quality, will put nature at the centre of all government policy-making for generations to come. We will confirm all our long-term environmental targets as soon as practicable and will set out our approach to meeting them in our revised environmental improvement plan in 2023.
The package of new policies introduced by the Environment Act, alongside wider investment and action, including environmental land management schemes, will help us to reach our ambitious targets and, in so doing, tackle climate change and biodiversity loss together. They will lay the foundation for the nature recovery network, a network of places that are richer in wildlife, more able to capture carbon, resilient to climate change and able to provide wider environmental and recreational benefits. Biodiversity net gain, local nature recovery strategies and a strengthened biodiversity duty on public authorities will all work together to restore and to create habitats that enable wildlife to recover and to thrive, while conservation covenants will help secure habitat for the long term.
Global biodiversity loss is as urgent as climate change. It is absolutely critical that we achieve success at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity COP 15 next month. The UK is committed to securing an ambitious outcome at COP 15 to halt and to reverse biodiversity loss globally by 2030. We will continue to champion the protection of at least 30% of land and ocean globally, and we recognise that significantly increasing finance from all sources is needed to halt nature loss.
I thank the noble Lord for bringing the Bill to the House and enabling this very useful and informative debate. I assure noble Lords that we remain firmly committed to tackling the twin challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change, and we will continue to implement the measures required to do so.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate on the amendments. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Randall, for talking about the difficulties in getting Private Members’ Bills through, especially with the Government not often being receptive. The purpose of Private Members’ Bills is often to prod the Government to do something that they should do as part of their obligations.
I thank the Minister for setting out the Government’s response. Many of their aspirations are worthy of the points set out in the Bill. However, considering that we are looking at reducing and reversing biodiversity loss globally, it seems odd that we cannot actually bring forward the Bill and place it as an obligation for the Secretary of State. The Minister mentioned that we are looking at a plan for 2023 but, if we are to achieve this by 2030, we are only seven and a half years away. By 2023-24, we will be talking about trying to undertake this in five years, which does not bode very well. While I recognise the enormous amount of work being done by Defra and its officials to try to move this forward, there will be a major issue coming up with the amount of money available to undertake these policies, especially in the present economic crisis.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Green, for his contribution. The Natural History Museum is one of our premier institutions, and I am very glad that Dippy is back—that was a great loss. I remember taking my nephew when he was five years old, and he almost fell over when he saw it; it is one of the most impactful exhibits I have ever come across. The scientific database is amazing; it is quite marked how differently the people who began the collections from 18th century onwards would have seen the world, compared to today.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, asked about the overseas territories, in which I know that she has a particular interest. I apologise to her, because I did not talk about the overseas territories; however, it is incredibly important that we work closely there, especially with introduced species. I know that albatrosses have been heavily impacted by the import of mice that eat chicks, so ensuring that they have the finance to halt some of the degradation that we have brought to those environments is important.
I thank the Labour Front Bench for its support for the Bill. I know that there are many from the Labour Party in the Commons who might look to take this Bill forward. I just say to the Minister that I do not think it is a party-political Bill. We did some research and 255 of his colleagues in the other place have already signed petitions to achieve the objectives in the Bill. Therefore, if it went to the other place, I think it would be quite a popular measure. I very much hope that the Minister could take that back and, before COP 15, maybe grab this proposal and give it government time. It would be a simple measure that would move towards the Government’s targets—maybe moving us a little further, though not a great deal.
Amendment 1 agreed.
Amendments 2 to 4
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, leave out “objectives are” and insert “objective is”
3: Clause 1, page 1, leave out lines 5 to 15
4: Clause 1, page 2, line 1, leave out sub-paragraph (iii)
Amendments 2 to 4 agreed.
Clause 1, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 2 to 4 disagreed.
Clause 5: Approval by devolved legislatures
Amendments 5 to 12
5: Clause 5, page 4, line 11, leave out “The targets in section 1 apply” and insert “The target in section 1 applies”
6: Clause 5, page 4, line 15, leave out “climate and nature targets” and insert “nature target”
7: Clause 5, page 4, line 16, leave out “Climate and”
8: Clause 5, page 4, line 18, leave out “climate and nature targets” and insert “nature target”
9: Clause 5, page 4, line 19, leave out “Climate and”
10: Clause 5, page 4, line 22, leave out “climate and nature targets” and insert “nature target”
11: Clause 5, page 4, line 22, leave out second “Climate and”
12: Clause 5, page 4, line 24, leave out subsections (3) and (4)
Amendments 5 to 12 agreed.
Clause 5, as amended, agreed.
Clause 6 disagreed.
Clause 7: Financial provisions
13: Clause 7, page 5, line 22, leave out “, including for the implementation of the strategy”
Amendment 13 agreed.
Clause 7, as amended, agreed.
Clause 8: Interpretation
Amendments 14 and 15
14: Clause 8, page 5, line 28, leave out from beginning to end of line 10 on page 6
15: Clause 8, page 6, leave out lines 22 to 24
Amendments 14 and 15 agreed.
Clause 8, as amended, agreed.
Clause 9: Extent, commencement and short title
16: Clause 9, page 6, line 28, leave out “Climate and”
Amendment 16 agreed.
Clause 9, as amended, agreed.
In the Title
Amendments 17 and 18
17: In the title, line 1, leave out “climate and nature targets” and insert “the nature target”
18: In the title, line 2, leave out from “Kingdom;” to “; and” in line 6
Amendments 17 and 18 agreed.
Title, as amended, agreed.
Bill reported with amendments.