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Biodiversity: Aichi Targets

Volume 804: debated on Monday 20 July 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards meeting the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

My Lords, the UK assessment shows five targets on track and 14 targets progressing. The Government need, and are determined, to do more. We are playing a leading role in developing an ambitious new global biodiversity framework and putting nature at the heart of our COP 26 presidency, paving the way for transformative action to tackle biodiversity loss and climate change holistically. In England, we have announced significant funding and new legislation to transform how we manage and protect nature.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer and welcome the progress that has been made, but does he recognise that we are still not making as much progress as we would hope on a number of targets, including targets 5, 10 and 15 on the degradation of natural habitats, the pressure on coral reefs and the contribution of biodiversity to climate change mitigation? Does he agree that local authorities up and down the country—such as South Lakeland District Council, which is working hard to increase biodiversity—have a key role to play? Can he tell the House whether his department intends to strengthen local authorities’ powers in this area?

We have expanded our protected areas at sea, provided new funding for woodland expansion, peatland restoration and nature recovery and increased significantly our funding for international biodiversity conservation. However, we acknowledge that there are ongoing declines in biodiversity in many areas, which is why we are driving an ambitious legislative agenda and backing it up with investment, not least the £640 million nature for climate fund. It is also why we are ramping up our global leadership in tackling climate change and biodiversity loss as two sides of the same coin.

My Lords, in March 2019 the JNCC, which advises on progress towards targets, reported both a short-term fall in government funding for biodiversity in the UK and that, increasingly, it is difficult to assess data due to the tendency for Ministers to address multiple priorities with integrated funding on wide-reaching projects. What assessment is being made of the success or otherwise of this approach and how is it reported to Parliament?

One of the problems with the Aichi targets is that they are so open to misinterpretation or different interpretations. One thing that we are pushing hard for in the next round of discussions is meaningful targets where individuals, countries and businesses are aware of what they are expected to deliver. At the moment, it is possible for a country to sign up to the Aichi targets and to claim success even while very little changes. We are taking as prominent and as active a role as we can in the next round. One thing that the Prime Minister launched and that we are pushing for is the 30x30 campaign, getting as many countries as possible to sign up to a commitment to protect 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030, among other targets.

My Lords, turning to the target on air pollution, will the Government reconsider their approach to fine particulate matter, whereby fuels used in wood-burning stoves are to be phased out in February 2021? Given the impact of Covid, does the Minister agree that the target needs to be brought forward in advance of this coming winter so that people at high risk are less susceptible to fine particulate matter pollution?

Defra is analysing all the available data on air quality, in particular the impact on air quality of the measures taken to protect people against Covid. I am not in a position unilaterally to declare that targets will be strengthened or brought forward, but I assure the noble Baroness that we are looking at the data and will act accordingly.

My noble friend will be aware that the Convention on Biological Diversity, due to take place in China this year, has of course been postponed. Can he comment on the implications of this postponement and commit to briefing the House at an appropriate moment this year about where we are going to go next?

As far as we can see, the postponement has not damaged the agenda, in the same way that our being given a few extra months to deliver the climate clock at the end of next year has given us more time to build up more coalitions to drive greater ambition and to push a much more radical agenda than I think we would have been able to had we been required to deliver to the old agenda. I very much hope that the same dynamic holds true for China’s hosting of the biodiversity COP half way through next year. The UK is working closely with China to ensure that the strongest possible framework is agreed. We are also keen that a bridge should be built between the biodiversity and climate COPs, as we regard a success for one as having a direct impact on the other and vice versa.

My Lords, target 13 is on the genetic diversity of farmed and domesticated animals. Strategies should be implemented for safeguarding their genetic diversity. However, published figures show a decline of some native animal breeds—pig breeds decreased from 170 in 2000 to 152 in 2018 and horse breeds from 178 in 2000 to 117 in 2018. What are the Government doing to ensure that a proper strategy is developed to meet target 13?

There is no doubt that monoculture is the greatest friend of pandemics and disease and that biological diversity is the greatest buffer and hedge against instability and the kind of dangers that we have seen materialise in recent months. Although the details remain to be worked out at the finest level, we are shifting from the common agricultural policy, where payment is based pretty much on the amount of land turned into farmable land, to a new system of environmental land management that rewards farmers on the basis of their delivery of a public good. That includes environmental stewardship, management of land to slow the flow of water and diversity of species. I very much hope that this move to ELM, which is a world first, will deliver the kind of results for which the noble Baroness asks.

I am delighted that my noble friend has put nature at the heart of the Government’s biodiversity targets. Will he go one step further? Can we learn the lessons from Covid and accept that food security should be recognised as a public good in the Agriculture Bill?

The Agriculture Bill is winding its way through Parliament as we speak, being expertly delivered by my noble friend Lord Gardiner. The concern about putting food security as a public good is that we are trying to move away from a subsidy system based on rewarding landowners for converting land into land that can produce food. While on the surface, and when it was developed, the old system may have made perfect sense, it has proven to be disastrous. It is clear that the new system has to be designed to ensure that no public money is handed to landowners without a return of some form of public good. We have to be slightly careful about how we define public good and that work is under way. We certainly recognise the value of food production but, on the whole, that is recognised by the market, unlike the environmental benefits that we know landowners, more than anyone else, provide.

My Lords, with just 14% of UK species having had their conservation status assessed, but 21% listed as threatened, what are we doing to increase the collection of data and to accelerate remedial measures, not least for restoration, of at least 15% of degraded ecosystems, including peatland and woodland, as we are urged to do in Aichi target 15?

Measurement is crucial to understanding and delivering good policy, but it is not as important as the policies themselves. If you look at what the Government are doing as a whole, we have probably the most ambitious environmental agenda of any Government to date. We have the first Environment Bill in over 20 years. We have ambitious measures, including restoring and enhancing nature. We have just announced a £40 million green recovery challenge fund to help charities and environmental organisations to start work on delivering much of that environmental gain across England, restoring nature and tackling climate change. We are going to use the new nature for climate fund to deliver woodland expansion, peatland restoration and more. We have announced a tripling of Darwin Plus to protect our precious Overseas Territories. We are replacing the disastrous CAP system, as I just explained, with the new environmental land management scheme, which will be revolutionary for our countryside, and we now have 25% of the UK’s water in marine protected areas. We are making progress.

My Lords, when on 8 July I asked the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, about progress in establishing the office for environmental protection to help deliver our environmental goals, he replied that

“we have always said that we will ensure that there are alternative arrangements if, given the position we are in, the OEP is not up and running by 1 January.”—[Official Report, 8/7/20; col. 1113.]

Can I ask the Minister what these alternative arrangements are?

The department on whose behalf I am speaking today is making progress in the construction, development and delivery of the OEP. As the noble Baroness knows, we need legislation and that requires the safe passage of the Environment Bill, which we hope to deliver in the coming months.