Motion to Take Note
That the Grand Committee takes note of the economic value of biodiversity and the report The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review, published on 2 February.
My Lords, I thank my colleagues on the Cross-Benches for choosing this debate. I am delighted. It means that many others are as concerned about this issue as I am. Sadly, we live in a society that respects wealth more than issues of contentment and well-being, so much of which is provided by the world around us: our air, clean water, abundant oceans, the minerals from the earth, out of which we make more or less everything we have, and the fertility of the soil, which grows all our food and, indeed, everything else. This is provided entirely for free and is taken entirely for granted, but it is essential for life as we know it on earth. It is often quiet, silent and completely invisible to the naked human eye.
The Dasgupta report was commissioned by the Treasury, which is why it is so important. There is nothing fluffy or sentimental in it. It is not about Easter bunnies; it is about money. For the first time, we are putting a value on nature and asking the hard, tough questions about what natural services we have taken for granted for so long and for free.
Since I was born, just about 70 years ago, the world has changed beyond recognition. The number of people in poverty has reduced from 60% to 10% while populations have exploded. Life expectancy has increased. I do not mourn that, but I mourn the fact that this progress has been at the expense of the world around us. If we are to think of nature and progress as assets, we paid for progress by taking an overdraft out with nature, and we are almost at bankruptcy. Economists often say that we need to live within our means, and this is definitely the case with our biosphere. There is only one. You cannot order another online.
Globally, the pandemic has devastated economies and lives. Its cause was our faulty interaction with nature. Some 96% of all mammals on earth are now either us or the animals we chose to eat—60 billion of them fretting in feedlots and cages, fed on food grown on monocultures. It is not a good system in any way. Some 30% of the world is still hungry, 30% is getting fat and 30% of all the food grown is wasted. In 2019, the global assessment report on biodiversity concluded that 25% of species in animal and plant groups are threatened with extinction in the next few decades and more than 85% of global wetlands, which store huge amounts of carbon, have been lost.
Professor Dasgupta estimated that as a planet we spend about $500 billion a year on environmentally damaging subsidies. He also acknowledges that this is probably an underestimate. In contrast, subsidies considered to be biodiversity positive total just $890 million a year and subsidies considered beneficial stand at just €2.6 billion. If we include other public finance expenditure associated with the conservation of biodiversity, it gets us to just under $68 billion, so, even at a conservative estimate, environmentally damaging subsidies are dwarfing the protection of the environment at a rate of 7.5:1. We are losing this battle. We can still win the war, but we need to act now.
What are the hidden costs? Let me give the Committee a couple of vivid examples. The first has always stuck in my mind. It is a picture of a vast Chinese apple orchard where the workers are laboriously brushing fluffy paint brushes across apple blossoms to pollenate them. They are doing this because they have managed to kill all the bees by the increasing use of pesticides.
In India, which we see so much of right now, vultures used to keep the streets clean, but they have fallen foul of the anti-inflammatory drugs injected into cattle and buffalo. Now, when you drive through villages, there are piles of rubbish; there is more illness. At the towers of silence, where the Parsis bury their dead—they used to have their bodies picked to pieces by the vultures—they have actually had to install solar panels to shrivel and desiccate the corpses.
Closer to home, our vast fields of wheat and cereal crops grow in endless acres. It might look good, but what happens when you smell or listen? You will hear nothing—no birds and no insects—and there will probably be no trees. In short, what you are looking at is a factory—one loaded with chemicals to enable the crops to grow as fast as possible, and in the process destroying the soil beneath them. As that soil weakens, denied the chance to form new life forms in its natural cycle because of the deep ploughing and intensive farming, more money needs to be spent on chemicals to make those crops grow. It is a vicious cycle.
We have always thought that we can do better than nature, that human ingenuity could overcome shortfalls, and that we could bust through the natural limits imposed by nature’s constraints. In the process, we never asked the simple question: “What does nature do for us?” Now is the time for that question. Now is the time when we need to understand that we live in a world which is brilliantly organised and interconnected, full of different life forms which, together, enable species—including us—to flourish. From the act of photosynthesis, which combines sunlight, carbon and water to create the plants we live on, everything—until now—has had a place in this complexity, doing its bit for the community of life. Now we are literally pulling it apart, believing that it is, for instance, more productive to tear down a rainforest and plant a monocrop to feed ourselves. The results are clear: fires, floods, changing rainfall and temperature, and it is getting worse.
The future does not need to be like this. The Government have committed to this being the first generation to leave nature in a better condition, but we need to have policies in place to make this a reality. We could live in a country that does not use chemicals or practice monoculture farming, and which has adopted agroecology and agroforestry. It could be a country with nature corridors between wild areas, where the flora and fauna we have relied on could flourish. We could have communities with local food networks, with clean rivers we could swim in and beaches we could be proud of. Very importantly, it could be a country where children are educated as to the power of nature and the environment, and where citizens are empowered to understand these issues and make the right choices, and, in turn, purchase products safe in the knowledge that no orangutans have been hurt or habitats compromised.
The Treasury has posed three big questions: what are the economic benefits of biodiversity; what are the economic costs when biodiversity is lost; and what practical actions can be taken to enhance economic prosperity and biodiversity. Last week, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, said in a debate on biodiversity:
“Ultimately all economic activity is derived from nature.”
I could not agree more. He went on to say that he was,
“absolutely convinced that this can be the year that change begins in earnest.”—[Official Report, 22/4/2021; col. GC 416.]
I hope that this is the case, but if we do not accept this report’s recommendations and we continue running roughshod over nature, this will not be the year of change. Nothing other than a decisive steer off our current trajectory will do the trick. To take this crisis seriously, the Government need to adopt the recommendations of this report to ensure that what the Stern review did for climate change and energy, the Dasgupta Review can do for biodiversity loss.
What can we do? It is a question that I often ask myself: how best can we affect change? Globally, the problems are immense, but that is not to say that there are not huge improvements that must be made here. For many reasons, countries still look to the UK as a bellwether or indicator, so implementing the best policy here at home will have ramifications abroad. We did it with the Climate Change Act and we can do it with this. We must send out a clear message through our foreign policy and our trade policy, and through our financial markets, to lead the world by valuing the economics of biodiversity.
When the Environment Bill comes to this place next Session, we must work together to include a robust and legally binding framework that will ensure that we keep to the targets. Some are calling this a state of nature target. We need to push other countries to do the same. On this, the Minister said last week:
“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.”—[Official Report, 22/4/2021; col. GC 414.]
He is, of course, completely correct, but so far we lack this mechanism, and we cannot ask others to do something we will not do ourselves.
With the competing priorities of government it can sometimes be easy to put something off, if it is not absolutely immediate, but it falls to all of us to hold the Government’s feet to the fire to make the case for policies to stop the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. If the Government are serious, then implementing the report’s contents is too good an opportunity to pass up. This is about saving not just the planet but humans’ place on it. It is 100% in our self-interest to mobilise everything at our disposal to stop what will otherwise be inevitable.
I say to finance ministries around the world: the future is genuinely in your hands. Only you can charge other ministries and create domestic budget oversight bodies ensuring environmental compatibility with spending. If we are to have truly sustainable economic growth and development, or at least a good life, then we have to understand that our long-term prosperity relies on balancing our demands on the planet. We have to account for what our impacts on nature really cost. It is a balance sheet—one in which economics and ecology must stand side by side. Nature is not separate from the economy, a drag on growth or an expensive, luxurious distraction. It is not, as I said, about fluffy rabbits or nice animals on TV. It is, essentially, our economy; it is where we get everything from.
This is such a crucial year. We have the G7 and COP 26 ahead of us, as well as the CBD meeting. It would be a waste and a mistake to confine climate change to COP and biodiversity to the CBD. They both come from the same source: our failure to understand the interconnected nature of our world. They must be solved together. This is the year that we have the chance; please let us seize it.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust and as patron or vice-president of several environmental organisations. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, outlined, the Dasgupta Review makes it absolutely clear that if we continue to destroy nature at the rate we are, not only will we risk the survival of all species but there will be catastrophic consequences for our economy, our well-being and our very survival. As an example, the Woodland Trust’s recent report on the state of the UK’s woods and trees emphasised the critical role of our native woods and trees in supporting our future prosperity, including in locking up carbon, improving our health and well-being, and reducing pollution and flooding.
It is good to see the Government championing the review internationally. This must be backed by an ambitious approach to its implementation domestically. We have literally a once-in-a-century opportunity post Covid to rebuild the ecological foundations of our wealth and well-being. The Treasury will have a key role in embedding the Dasgupta principles into the UK economic framework for local and national government, and for business. Government incentives, regulation and guidance will be important too. Measurability will be key: we need a clear framework for measuring nature, as clear as we have for measuring climate change and carbon reduction. To prevent further damage to our already precarious ecosystems, we need legally binding targets in the delayed Environment Bill to halt—and to begin to reverse—declines in nature by 2030.
Lastly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, let us learn from the hugely influential Stern report on the economics of climate change. Nicholas Stern—the noble Lord, Lord Stern—worked his socks off to see his report implemented nationally and internationally. Whatever he did right, let us see a similar sustained effort for the Dasgupta report.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for her powerful opening speech, articulating the values of this report at a time when the evidence shows that nature’s resilience is being severely eroded, yet our economy, livelihoods and well-being all rely on nature. The Government need to use the opportunities they have this year at the G7, CBD COP 15 and COP 26 to showcase the report’s findings and their framework for nature. To do that credibly, they must respond formally, before the start of these events, and show how they are using all opportunities to deliver, despite the National Audit Office’s report that there is still a long way to go before we can have confidence that the Government have the right framework to deliver on the aspirations in their 25-year environment plan.
There are a number of areas where the reality is not in step with the Government’s stated ambitions. In the short time that I have, I will raise just one: the proposed exemption for Treasury Ministers from having due regard to the Government’s policy statement on environmental principles. This policy statement is a key tool to drive delivery across government of the 25-year environment plan. The duty for Ministers to have regard to it does not give undue weight to the environment but just embeds consideration of the importance of policy on the environment in decision-making.
Professor Dasgupta argued for a new vocabulary to factor the value of the environment into our economy. This exemption shows that the Treasury is not even prepared to open the dictionary. If the Government were to remove it before the Environment Bill returns to Parliament, that would be a powerful symbol of business not as usual. Without that, there is little hope of embedding nature into decision-making and delivering the protection for the natural resources on which we all depend.
My Lords, there is a scene in “The Simpsons Movie” where the dysfunctional family arrives in Alaska and is handed a wad of money, and the border guard says, “Here is $1,000. We give everyone in Alaska this, in exchange for letting us destroy the environment”. It seems that that is the view a lot of people take of the tension between growth and nature—that, somehow, man is a pollutant or despoiler and that capitalism is intrinsically bad for the natural world.
When I got to visit Alaska with my children a few years later, I was very surprised to see that there had been a most extraordinary rise in biodiversity there. We saw virtually every one of the characteristic animals. We saw sea otters, which were almost extinct at the beginning of the 20th century and now cutely hold hands as they float on every surface. We also saw whales, whose recovery has been one of the untold stories of the past 30 years, bears and eagles—the works. This is not only true in Alaska. When you have a country where there is sufficient economic progress that people want to shoot with cameras rather than guns, it creates a space.
It is an observable fact that you are breathing cleaner air and drinking cleaner water in London, as compared to Lahore, because it is a wealthier place. I do not think I had seen a red kite in the wild before my 30s; now, they are as common as eagles in Alaska—I was about to say, “as pigeons”. I had never seen an otter in the wild until five years ago; I would have doubted my eyes, except that you can hardly mistake an otter for anything else. The Thames was biologically dead in the 50s; now, you can fish salmon in it.
The point I am making is that economic growth creates a space for environmental protection—this is a luxury that poor and developing countries do not have. My noble friend Lord Ridley has a nice phrase, which is that 50 years ago, wolves, tigers and lions were all endangered; now, wolves have rebounded, tigers are flatlining and lions remain endangered. Why? Because wolves live in rich countries, tigers live in middle-income ones and lions live in poor ones.
Let me close by mentioning one technology that is not plugged in the Dasgupta Review. It talks about using GM and so on as a way of freeing up more space, but I note the ability we now have to fabricate meat—not meat substitute but actual cells that are grown, as it were, so that you can grow the chicken breast without the head, feathers, feet and all the rest of it. Think of how that will free up those ghost acres and barren landscapes of which the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, spoke. Think of how that will free up the space that we use for feed growth and animals. Is it not a wonder that technology will continue to deliver these marvels to an ungrateful world?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for sponsoring this debate and for her very persuasive and articulate opening comments. My interests are as recorded in the register, but, in particular, as far as this debate is concerned, I note that I chair Cawood Scientific, an analytical company whose range includes soil testing et cetera.
The Dasgupta Review is extremely helpful, and I fully endorse its conclusions on the seriousness of the issue of biodiversity loss and the decline of ecosystems. We must take action. The report calls for “transformative change” and suggests
“insisting that financiers invest our money sustainably, that firms disclose environmental conditions along their supply chains … and even boycotting products that do not meet standards.”
This assumes that, in time, the market will influence behaviour and enable pull-through. However, at present, this is not the case; the concept of natural capital accounting is in its infancy and not developed. It will take time for market pull-through.
Until such time, the Government have only two key tools at their disposal to address the concerns identified in the report: legislation and incentivisation. As stated in the report, this is a global challenge that will be addressed only if local action is taken on the ground—literally, on the ground. What legislation might the Government be considering through the office for environmental protection within the Environment Bill? What incentives might be available through the environmental land management scheme for farmers and growers? Will this require an environmental audit for each farm to target the actions required to enhance natural capital and biodiversity gain? It would be helpful if the Minister could consider these questions.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans has withdrawn from the debate, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Sikka.
My Lords, the Dasgupta Review reminds us that the trappings of neoliberal capitalism, its unrestrained pursuit of growth, consumption, exploitation and accumulation of private wealth, have brought humanity to the edge of disaster. Paradoxically, the review seeks a solution to the crisis of nature and biodiversity within the framework of neoliberal capitalism, which is unlikely to make a significant difference. For example, it emphasises the need to correct what it calls “pricing distortions” because, currently
“most of Nature’s worth to society—its accounting prices—are not reflected in market prices”.
It recommends that natural capital be brought into national accounting mechanisms; that is, that the externality of nature be expressed in terms of money. One consequence of this will be to treat nature as a tradeable commodity and to unleash a different kind of crisis. The use of terms such as “capital” is problematical, as it signifies something which is to be exploited and privately appropriated.
There is also a fundamental error in the review. Just because something is priced does not mean that it will not be exploited, at least by those who can afford to pay. Does financialisation deliver the desired outcomes? Carbon pricing generates a lot of revenues, but it has not significantly reduced global resource consumption or emissions. To save humanity and all living things, we need a transformation of education and society. Equitable distribution of income and wealth and stakeholder capitalism are the first necessary stepping stones towards that goal. I hope that the Government will embrace them.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, on getting this debate and on her excellent introduction. When I first saw the title of the report, The Economics of Biodiversity, I was a little conflicted, because there is the overwhelming sense that our economic system has always hugely undervalued the natural world, which has led to huge damage and very poor decision-making. The second feeling is one of concern that, by looking at the natural world through the lens of economics, we risk repeating exactly the same mistakes that got us into this mess. The answer is not more banking, more financial engineering and more big business.
I was elated to see that the Dasgupta Review recognised exactly that; in fact, the report almost reads like a Green Party publication in its criticisms of the status quo, so much so that the Government have glossed over some of its biggest sections. In particular, they seem completely to have ignored Dasgupta’s criticism of gross national product as an economic measure:
“The contemporary practice of using Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to judge economic performance is based on a faulty application of economics.”
It goes on to say that GDP ignores
“the degradation of the natural environment”
“is wholly unsuitable for appraising investment projects and identifying sustainable development.”
Perhaps even more importantly, it states that
“in recent decades eroding natural capital has been precisely the means the world economy has deployed for enjoying what is routinely celebrated as ‘economic growth’”.
This has been obvious to Greens for decades; it is one of their foundational principles that sets green philosophy apart from other political parties and movements. Politicians have to end their obsession with economic growth and understand that we are on a finite planet with finite resources.
My question and challenge to the Minister is: what are the Government doing to replace GDP with proper economic measures that do not make trashing our planet look like economic success?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, on securing this debate. I want to touch on the main factor that is driving the world’s ecological footprint, which is consumption. The debacle over who paid for the Prime Minister’s Downing Street refurbishment is serious because of where the money came from and because of where the truth lies, but it is really serious because, if we are to address the issues in this excellent report, we must all address our consumption habits. The Prime Minister refurbishing a perfectly decent living space that was recently redecorated and had pretty much new furniture is setting a very poor example. We need to address thoughtless and wanton consumption. Professor Dasgupta’s report states that
“consumption in high income countries … is projected to remain the key factor in driving the world’s ecological footprint”
The section of the report on supply-chain innovation and trade lays out how we can create systems to ensure that, when we consume, we do so more responsibly. Part 3 of the Environment Bill, which we will have the opportunity to amend in the Lords, talks about producer responsibility. Given Professor Dasgupta’s report, I believe it needs to have something on consumer responsibility as well. I hope that we can add that when the Bill comes to the Lords.
My Lords, this report is a bold assembly of experience and data in a worldwide context. The fact that we live and breathe means that we all have an interest to declare. I will declare a further interest in the subject of this report as our family runs a livestock farm in Scotland. Along with that, for 40 years I owned a wetland national nature reserve designated for its wild flower and botanical interests. At the last count, our enthusiastic bird-watchers had recorded more than 200 species within the boundaries, so at this level at least I have some acquaintance with biodiversity.
However, this report presents what are likely to become the criteria on which any government rural support will be based, and we still have to see whether its proposals will make any effort that is required worth while. Section 22 of the abridged report discusses ways to get natural capital recognised in accounting practice, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, said. In the sale of retail food, the firm’s reputation matters. I know that one supermarket is promising that by 2030 all its food will be net-zero carbon. Many farmers are now considering how close they can get to net-zero production. One result may be that a large part of rural carbon sequestration that the Government are counting on may be used to offset elements of food production. Fundamentally, the question still remains whether biodiversity can best be achieved through extensive rewilding or intense ecological management.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Boycott for securing this important debate and introducing it so eloquently. The Dasgupta Review makes eminently good sense, but I fear that, like so many well-intentioned reports, its very commissioning will be considered an end in itself. After a little debate it will be filed under the heading “too difficult”. Trying to persuade a country that it needs to change its attitude to what constitutes wealth is no easy task.
The issue of climate change has been one concerning environmentalists for decades. Only now, when there is no escaping the threat it poses, genuine action is being taken. For years it was embraced in name only by companies in search of enhanced image without undertaking any real change.
The broader biodiversity issue is destined for similar treatment. Take, for instance, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. It sounds very worthy. More than 200 companies are proud to be members, but how committed are they to the ideas of genuine sustainability? Forgive my cynicism, but when the three worst companies on the offenders list compiled every year by Break Free From Plastic—Coca Cola, Pepsi and Nestlé, which have held those positions for the past three years—can proudly proclaim their membership of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, it is hard to believe that change will come about without firm action from government.
We now insist that companies report on carbon emissions. If this report is to be effective, we have to find a way of forcing companies to report on their use of natural capital. It will not be easy, but will the Minister commit to trying to work with the Financial Reporting Council and its successor to find a way that this might be done?
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, has withdrawn from the debate, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Carrington.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. This report educates the debate on economic growth, the environment and climate change. Remedial measures are being announced that may not have been thoroughly costed and cannot consider future developments in science and technology. Science in this area is recent, complex and often controversial. This is not to excuse or argue for delay, but to underline priorities and risks.
First, the unarguable point is that vast resources are required for most actions to mitigate and resolve the issues. The least costly and most effective measure that can be taken is the use of the education system. If the population develops best practice, the cost of remedial measures will fall. Could the Minister reassure us that the education system is central to the solution?
Secondly, in farming, overreaction to threats and overoptimism on benefits could lead to unforeseen food shortages; nature is capricious. The reduced harvest of 2020 experienced by most farmers could well be repeated in 2021, with the recurrence of the same weather conditions. The Government’s policies are likely to cause a lot of farmland to come out of food production. Consider the political consequences of food shortages and price rises.
Thirdly, has anyone really thought through the funding and maintenance aspects of the Government’s tree strategy, which is so important to biodiversity? Growers need a current commercial return.
Climate change must be urgently addressed and biodiversity is central. Could the Minister confirm that the issue is not about who shouts the loudest, but who has done their quiet homework on the affordability and consequences of what is involved?
My Lords, as well as being one of my favourite lecturers at university, Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta has done all of us a great service through his seminal report. By framing the economics of biodiversity around nature as an essential asset, he triggers a whole series of logical follow-on questions. How do we properly account for the depletion of this asset? How do we manage it and replenish it? What is the portfolio effect from diversification? As a finance geek, I find these analogies both comforting in their conceptual familiarity but also perceptive in identifying the consequences of our actions.
However, my interest in nature extends well beyond economics and finance to the world of philanthropic impact. As noted in my register of interests, I have the honour of serving on the board of the British Asian Trust, a charitable foundation established by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. We recently merged with Elephant Family, a respected conservation charity providing a wider canvas across south Asia. This megadiverse region has revived several important species from the brink of extinction.
I am therefore pleased to inform your Lordships that, in just under three weeks’ time, we will bring alive India’s rich biodiversity through a high-profile campaign called CoExistence. More than 100 life-sized elephants will transform the Royal Parks and other locations across London. These elephants are handmade from lantana camara, an invasive weed whose removal from protected areas benefits wildlife by leaving more space to roam. Each work of art is a sight to behold.
The aim of this campaign is to highlight how India’s indigenous communities live alongside wild elephants in denser populations than anywhere else in the world, competing for food and space. Our objective is to build a network of corridors supporting human-wildlife coexistence. This campaign provides a small but practical way in which the theoretical underpinnings of Professor Dasgupta’s report can be brought to life.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is not on the call so I call the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, on securing this debate and introducing it so eloquently, which is greatly appreciated. I refer to my interests in the register.
I quote David Attenborough in the foreword to the report:
“The Dasgupta Review at last puts biodiversity at its core and provides the compass that we urgently need. In doing so, it shows us how, by bringing economics and ecology together, we can help save the natural world at what may be the last minute—and in doing so, save ourselves.”
I think this is the first time that, in reality, we are valuing natural capital and putting a price on nature. If that really is the case, we should recognise the role that farmers play in protecting our ecosystems and in which case, farmers should in fact be the wealthiest folk in the land. When she comes to sum up the debate, will the Minister tell us how farmers will benefit under the Agriculture Act and the forthcoming Environment Bill if they do not own or possess the natural capital but take the economic risk, which is particularly the case for tenant farmers?
What will the particular role of the Treasury be in delivering on biodiversity in the Environment Bill, as it will fall to Defra to implement its provisions and, as I mentioned earlier, those of the Agriculture Act, which is already on the statute book? I hope that my noble friend and her colleagues at the Treasury will take an active role in delivering for natural capital, protecting our ecosystems and recognising the role that the farming community and farmers will play in this regard.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, has withdrawn so I call the noble Earl, Lord Devon.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for this crucial debate and Professor Dasgupta for his decades of ground-breaking work, to which this is a fitting culmination. I note my interests as a graduate of St John’s College, an environmental land manager, a lawyer with clients in this field and a citizen investor who is passionate about biodiversity.
Professor Dasgupta highlights the need for systemic change to combat our rampant assault on biodiversity, with a focus on education—[Inaudible]—our affection for nature into a learned appreciation of it through mandatory nature studies and better access to nature in all her glorious forms. He says that
“we should all in part be naturalists.”
Will the Government add nature studies to the core national curriculum? Will they also support safe access to the countryside, under ELMS or otherwise, that does not in itself damage biodiversity? Will they consider food and product labelling to identify natural capital costs, allowing consumers to read about the rainforest degradation inherent in every bite of a Brazilian soybean burger?
On finance, how will the Government amend their economic measures to account for natural capital? New Zealand recently adopted a well-being budget. This year, when we will host COP 26, will the UK adopt a biodiversity budget, or at least recognise the consumption of natural capital in all its financial models?
Core to Professor Dasgupta’s message is the need to price biodiversity. He recommends that the ONS establishes an inclusive value to counter the short-term pull of financial returns. As we establish ELMS, will the Government do that? If they fail to do so, the dominant price will be that of carbon, and we may lose yet more biodiversity in our worthy pursuit of carbon sequestration. What a tragedy it will be if the Government’s ambitious tree strategy is satisfied by desolate hectares of coniferous monoculture—a biodiversity wasteland.
My Lords, I join noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness on obtaining this debate and point to my declarations in the register of interests.
If the conclusions of the Dasgupta report about biodiversity are right—I believe that, in general, they are—they are equally applicable in a range of other activities, including climate change and another of my general interests, the preservation of the historic environment, in which I have a specific registered interest. This report is a severe critique of the way we are now and the way we do things these days. The report’s conclusions rest on the simple but far from new proposition that we are custodians of the world we live in, as opposed to us being its master and it our slave—a concept that, in our tradition, goes back to a misreading of the first chapter of Genesis. You do not have to be a fully-fledged adherent to James Lovelock’s Gaia theory to recognise the interdependence of creation.
In my view, the fundamental problem is the troika of greed, its better-mannered twin brother, profit maximisation, and envy, which are exhibited by individuals, businesses and Governments wherever you look. Everything is measured in monetary currency. Other values are converted into monetary values, which invariably lose worth in the exchange. The evidence behind the Dasgupta report shows that this approach is failing in a manner of ways. This Government—indeed, all responsible Governments—recognise this in principle, which is a good start. I have no doubt that the Minister will endorse this in her concluding remarks; I would be horrified if she did not. However, as she will know, that is not the real response, which is to be seen in deeds, not words, and may well include involvement in activities far beyond our shores—as occurred in the Second World War, for example. It is how the Government deal with this as a leader, not a follower. It is not what they say on the Floor of the House that matters, but what they do in the real world.
My Lords, a character in an old radio programme had this catchphrase: “The answer lies in the soil”—although he said it in a strong West Country accent, which I could not possibly copy. The fact is that he was right. In his remarkable report, Professor Dasgupta emphasises the economic value of the soil as an ecosystem fundamental to life.
The problem is that, although we know some of the things that endanger soil, we know very little about how it works, although the farmers and gardeners among your Lordships will know a good deal about the fertility of their own soil. Despite the fact that we know a lot about terrestrial mammals and higher plants, such as how many have become extinct and how many are in danger of disappearing, we know very little about the conservation status of the billions of fungi, bacteria and protozoa in the soil.
Despite our ignorance of how this complex life-supporting system works, we know what the threats are: overly intensive farming without putting anything back; excessive inorganic fertilisers destroying the finely balanced soil chemistry; wind erosion; monoculture; and covering it with concrete or tarmac. Flooding carries soils away, yet we know that planting trees can help to prevent this. The flooding we have suffered in the UK and around the world over recent decades has been caused by climate change, but it is less well known that the microorganisms that make up the living element of soil are also threatened by climate change. Healthy soil is the world’s largest carbon sink, but soil could shift to become a net emitter of carbon as global warming increases respiration by soil organisms.
Professor Dasgupta emphasised that
“it is less costly to conserve Nature than it is to restore it”.
Can the Minister tell us whether there has been an assessment of the economic value of our soil and the threats to it, and whether there is a strategy to conserve it?
My Lords, I join my noble friend Lord Carrington and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, in emphasising education, which is where Professor Dasgupta ends his report. Education is the foundation for all that we are required to do. We have been asked to make some very substantial changes in the way that we live and run the world. To do that, we are going to need a great deal of common understanding and consent. To achieve that, we are going to need an education system that equips our children with an understanding of nature and a real familiarity with it, so that they value it and it is part of their lives. They need to have an inherent understanding of why they are being asked to make room for it and the value of sharing their lives with it.
I know that this is not my noble friend the Minister’s responsibility but I really hope that she will find a way to get this message through to the Department for Education: there is something you can do here. You have in front of you a natural history GCSE, put together by OCR and very widely supported; we would like to see that starting in schools in September 2022. You need to do something now to let it through. I know that this is a hard time, and that this is not the easiest moment to focus on starting a new GCSE, but we all need to put our weight behind regenerating the environment. You, the Department for Education, have your bit to do, too.
A related suggestion that I would make to the same department, but via Defra, is that Defra should put some serious support behind the Queen’s Green Canopy. That is intended to involve every school in the country in celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee by planting trees and hedges. Schools are in no shape to do this well without finance or support. Put some money behind it and you will get every school in the country responding. Without money, it gets very difficult to do anything significant.
My Lords, as usual, I declare my interest in this area as chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership. In terms of some of the related climate finance, I also declare my role as a trustee of the Green Purposes Company, which holds a green share in the Green Investment Bank.
I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for having brought this debate to Grand Committee. It is great that we are actually giving this subject the level of attention in the House that it deserves. Her reminder that we have only one biosphere is particularly important. I liked—or disliked—her reference to vultures. I remember my first visit to south Asia in the early 1980s. You knew you were coming to a settlement well ahead from the fact that large black vultures circled above these settlements. When I visited there more recently, they were almost completely absent. She is right to show that as an example of a loss of biodiversity, but also to show its implications throughout human society.
I welcome the fact that the Treasury is involved in this issue and that it took the initiative to have Professor Dasgupta produce this report. We as parliamentarians all know that the Treasury actually does stuff and decides stuff, which is not true of many of the departments that we sometimes talk about and deal with. This is a serious subject in a serious department of government.
A number of things are absolutely clear from the Dasgupta Report and this debate. First, biodiversity is a real problem: it is a big issue, and we are failing in that area. The statistics are not just bad but continuing to get worse. In the period from 1970, not just globally but equally in the UK, there has been a 40% fall in a number of key indicators of biodiversity, but they have been even worse since 1990.
Some 10 years ago, there was the UN conference on biodiversity in Japan; the 20 Aichi targets were laid down there, and globally we have met none of them. The Government suggest that we have met six of them in the UK, but NGOs suggest that it is only one. My noble friend Lady Parminter mentioned the National Audit Office report, which was very condemning—regrettably—about the progress in relation to the 25-year environment plan, which we all welcome but want implemented and to be successful.
The other thing that we have all now recognised is that our national accounting does not work in the way that we need it to. As the report says so well, it takes account of produced—and perhaps human—capital to some degree, but not natural capital. GDP, described as a “flow” of economic activity, does not include depreciation, as I understand it from the P&L accounts that I look at. This cannot work well for us into the future; it is important but needs to be supplemented.
This issue of biodiversity is complex, and we should not ever run away from that. It is not an easy issue to measure or solve. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, mentioned, we need metrics, but those are not easy here. Climate change is so much easier in terms of tracking what is happening in relation to greenhouse gas emissions or the proportion of CO in the atmosphere—that is not the case for biodiversity. As Professor Dasgupta himself says, the economics of biodiversity is a hard subject, and we should not underestimate that.
We have also learned that we have the twin emergencies of not just biodiversity but climate change. Although there are clear areas of common interest, such as nature-based solutions and carbon sequestration, we know that we cannot solve just one of these; we have to solve both. We cannot have one without the other; both are fundamental to the survival of not just us but our planet in the way that we know it.
Contentiously, Professor Dasgupta mentions food production as being one of the biggest problems. That is the case, and it is also true in the United Kingdom, regrettably. I do not blame farmers for this; I blame the way that they have been incentivised in the past. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Curry, mentioned ELMS, which I hope will reorient that sufficiently—it is a big ask. Of course, my noble friend Lady Walmsley mentioned the soil—again, ELMS will be important in making sure that we give that greater attention.
As my noble friend Lady Miller mentioned, the other area is that we are consuming more than our planet can provide; that is very clear in this report. We consume 1.6 planets’ worth, in comparison to what we have available to us, and we have to look at that. We are embedded in nature, and we have to make sure that our consumption, as well as the way that we treat nature, is managed.
As such, we have no easy answers; we have only glimmers of the solution. A number of those are mentioned in the Dasgupta Report, but we do not, by any means, have a comprehensive answer yet about how to deliver in relation to biodiversity challenges. However, one thing that comes out to me from this is that we have an emergency. We need look no further than the World Economic Forum in Davos, which sees biodiversity as one of the top five challenges to the global economy into the future.
My questions to the Minister are as follows. First, on finance and coming back to the way capitalism can work, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, we found good ways that capitalism and green finance can work for climate change and renewable energy. Does the Minister see such ways forward for biodiversity? There is much work being done—the Green Finance Institute, which the Government support, is looking at that—but do we see answers on that in the near future?
Secondly, will the Government continue to look at alternative ways of accounting? It is not about getting rid of GDP but about using additional methods, as Professor Dasgupta mentioned. As he said,
“nations need to adopt a system of … accounts that records an inclusive measure of their wealth.”
That is: the stock of the economy’s assets, of which nature is one. I read a book recently by Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics, as many others will have done. Is the Treasury looking at those areas as well? Will it discuss this report with other countries? In my own area of Cornwall, we have the G7 happening in June. Will Professor Dasgupta be there with the Treasury to put forward those arguments?
Thirdly, will a Treasury Minister be at the CBD COP 15 conference in Kunming in October? I think that will be so important. Finally, will the Government have the guts and determination to declare a climate emergency?
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the South Downs National Park Authority, which is responsible for preserving biodiversity in our protected landscape. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for tabling this important debate and for her thoughtful and incisive contribution.
There is no doubt that the Dasgupta Review is a hugely significant report. It builds on the work of the Natural Capital Committee and puts a new approach to natural assets at the heart of government, where it belongs. If the Government take it seriously, it has the potential to be a game-changer by delivering for biodiversity in the way that the Stern review put climate change centre stage; a point made by a number of noble Lords. The ball is now in the Chancellor’s court and we look forward to his response with considerable interest.
As the report points out, we rely on nature to provide us with food, water and shelter. It balances our environment and climate. It provides opportunities for recreation and enhanced health and well-being, but we have been very slow to put a value on these core assets that are fundamental to life. They have been taken for granted. As a result, we have allowed them to be overexploited and degraded.
Noble Lords have pointed out that biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history. Extinction rates are accelerating, and nature is finding it more and more difficult to adapt and survive. The complex interrelationship between living organisms, including humans, has been massively underestimated. We are close to the tipping point, where there is no way back, with potentially catastrophic consequences for economies and for human well-being. We agree with the persuasive conclusion in the report that nature and the contribution of our natural assets need to enter economic and financial decision-making just as goods, services and skills do now. For today’s debate I want to concentrate on four key issues.
First, as noble Lords have argued, the decline in biodiversity represents an emergency which now needs to be addressed urgently. There are actions which the Government can take immediately to begin to reverse the crisis. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset our priorities for nature through the Environment Bill. Does the Minister agree that we should use that Bill to set legally binding targets to reverse declines in nature by 2030? Does she agree that we should use the Bill to require meaningful baselines to be set, against which progress can be clearly monitored and reported?
Does the Minister accept that biodiversity net gain should be established as a fundamental principle applying to all government investment and infrastructure projects? Does she agree that we need a powerful and fully independent office for environmental protection, on a similar footing to the Committee on Climate Change, able to hold the Government fully to account on progress on these issues? All these things can be delivered in the next few months via the Environment Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond, noted earlier this month that
“to speak with authority internationally, the UK needs to get its own house in order.”
He was very frank with your Lordships’ House in saying:
“That is not the case at the moment.”—[Official Report, 13/4/21; col. 1149.]
So does the Minister agree that the steps I have outlined would give the UK greater credibility when representatives attend the Convention on Biological Diversity later this year, which will enable us to create an ambitious global response to the crisis?
Secondly, as the report points out, restoring our ecosystems not only addresses biodiversity and climate change but delivers wider economic benefits. It can also be used to create employment, which has high social benefit and quick returns. Research shows that green projects can be delivered quickly and effectively. They can have an immediate return on investment as well as creating rich and rewarding work. As we rebuild our economy after Covid, which has had a particular impact on opportunities for young people, does the Minister agree that there is a unique opportunity to be grasped? Already, other counties are creating ambitious green economic programmes. Are we now prepared to match and exceed the example shown by others by bringing forward £30 billion of capital investment in the next 18 months to support 400,000 much-needed, new, clean jobs?
Thirdly, the report makes a powerful case for resetting the UK’s economic framework and how we measure economic success. If we accept the premise that our economic success and biological success are intertwined, we need to find mechanisms to reflect the importance of nature in measuring our prosperity. At its heart, we need a strategy to conserve the precious natural assets we have. As has been said, food and water are not infinite. We need to place a new value on our land and sea stocks, and not just in the context of the measures in the recent Agriculture Act and Fisheries Act. This will require a shift to sustainable patterns of consumption and production right along the supply chains at a global level.
As a high-income country, we need to take more responsibility for the demands we place on the world’s ecological footprint. One example, as we have discussed, could be changing diets, ideally towards less meat consumption or at least promoting homegrown produce with a lower carbon footprint. Does the Minister agree that the Government’s policy and fiscal priorities can help to embed more sustainable consumption and production patterns? What plans do they have for making this a reality? How will they ensure that future spending plans across government reflect our biodiversity goals? Will they extend the use of green taxes to embed the principle of “polluter pays” and more fully reflect the damage being done to our environment? What proposals do they have to scale up incentives for private sector investment in nature recovery initiatives?
Finally, the report makes the crucial point that citizens should demand and shape the change we seek. This debate is not just about big government and shifting capital; it is also about local knowledge and passion for nature in the community. In the UK, we are seeing a widespread awakening that nature matters and is part of our well-being. This was already taking place before the pandemic but has gathered pace over the past year. We need to ensure that local communities have a real say in how our environment is protected and utilised for the future.
This is a big report in every sense. I hope that in her response the Minister can confirm that the Chancellor is up for the challenge and intends to match Professor Dasgupta’s challenge with the sort of action that could really make a difference. I look forward to her response.
My Lords, it is a privilege to close this debate on behalf of the Treasury and the Government. I thank noble Lords for their many insightful and constructive contributions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there has been a significant degree of consensus—although not complete consensus—on the importance of this issue and on the action that needs to follow on from the report.
The Government’s position is simple: protecting and enhancing our natural assets and the biodiversity that underpins them are crucial to achieving sustainable, resilient economies. That is why the Government commissioned the independent and globally focused Dasgupta Review on the economics of biodiversity. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, noted, the review has particular significance as the first such review commissioned by a finance ministry.
I thank Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta for his landmark review. It makes a clear and compelling case for nature as vital for the health of our economies as well as that of our planet. The Government welcomed the publication of the review, not least as a strong example of UK thought leadership on an important environmental issue with clear but often overlooked economic implications. We are now reviewing and examining the review’s findings and encouraging international partners to do the same. We will respond formally in due course. I assure noble Lords that action on many of the issues raised by the review is already under way and need not await the Government’s response.
The Government have already legislated to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, as we all know. Through the Environment Bill, we will deliver on our commitment to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better condition than how we found it, as set out in the 25-year environment plan. The Bill includes setting a new and ambitious domestic framework for environmental governance, embedding environmental principles in future policy-making, setting legally binding targets for environmental improvement—including on biodiversity—and strengthening environmental oversight with the new office for environmental protection scrutinising progress and enforcing compliance. The Bill also includes: measures to reduce waste, including single-use plastics; the creation of a deposit return scheme; strengthened power for locals authorities to address air quality issues; improving the sustainable management of our water resources; and creating a mandatory requirement for biodiversity net gain in the planning system.
This strengthens the action already taken to reform farm payments and create the environmental land management scheme to promote sustainable agriculture by paying farmers for work that protects and restores the environment, which a number of noble Lords touched on in their remarks. The noble Lord, Lord Curry, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh asked specific questions about the operation of those schemes, which I am happy to write on.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked about the economic value of soil and what plans we have to address soil degradation. In 2022, we will start rolling out some elements of the environmental land management scheme. The sustainable farming initiative will support sustainable approaches to farm husbandry to deliver for the environment, such as actions to improve soil health.
The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked a question in relation to the Bill on the fact that taxation, spending and the allocation of resources are excluded from the remit of the principles contained in the Bill and the work of the office for environmental protection. This provides maximum flexibility in respect of the nation’s finances. I assure noble Lords that this exemption will apply only to the allocation of funding between multiple policies or programmes to or between departments. It is not an exemption for any policy that requires spending. Further, the Treasury takes environmental impacts into account in the Green Book, which guides policy-making decisions at fiscal events. The Treasury is undertaking work to strengthen those guidelines on environmental policies, including biodiversity. In particular, there is a current review of the environmental discount rate and work is under way on biodiversity evaluation, which the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, rightly noted as essential so that we can measure the impact of our policies on biodiversity.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering also asked how the Treasury would contribute to the Environment Bill. That work on biodiversity valuation is one example of how it will do so, as it is an essential part of the requirement for biodiversity net gain included in the Bill that the planning system should be able to measure what biodiversity net gain there is.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and many others asked about GDP and role of biodiversity and natural accounting in our national accounting. GDP remains one of our most important economic indicators, because it correlates closely with employment, income and tax receipts and helps guide economic policy. However, the Government recognise that it has its limitations. Indeed, those were acknowledged in Sir Charles Bean’s Independent Review of UK Economic Statistics in 2016. The Government have fully supported the recommendations of that review, including through providing the ONS with an additional £25 million to support its Beyond GDP initiative to address the limitations of GDP. As part of that work, the ONS published comprehensive natural accounts last year and has started to publish human capital accounts as well, both of which are central to the Dasgupta Review’s “inclusive wealth” concept.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about government investment in green jobs. The Treasury has supported a green recovery at the spending review and in this year’s Budget. The spending review backed our Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution with £12 billion of government investment to create highly skilled green jobs in the UK, and spur over three times as much private sector investment by 2030. The spending review also increased Defra’s budget by almost £1 billion, helping it to harness the power of nature in the fight against climate change, and to connect people with green spaces by creating habitats and investing in national parks. We have also committed more than £600 million to the nature for climate fund in England, which will support our objective to plant 30,000 hectares of trees a year in the UK by 2025 and to restore more peatlands. During the pandemic, we also set up the £80 million green recovery challenge fund to help our environmental NGOs and their partners invest in a wide range of natural capital improvement projects, including tree-planting and habitat restoration, while protecting jobs.
A number of noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and my noble friend Lord Lucas—raised education. Nature is covered in the national curriculum, and schools have the autonomy to explore the topic further. What is more, in 2017, we introduced a new environmental science A-level which will enable pupils to study topics that support their understanding of climate change and how it can be tackled. An economics A-level also requires the study of the allocation of scarce resources, which could include the effects of economic decisions and activity on the environment.
My noble friend Lord Lucas has raised with me before OCR’s proposal for a new GCSE in natural history. The Department for Education is exploring that and has held an initial discussion with OCR, but I should say that it has made no commitment at this stage to introduce such a GCSE.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, raised the question of consumer responsibility in the Environment Bill, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, asked about information and labelling for consumers to improve their understanding of the products they buy. There is an important connection between the products we buy and their wider environmental footprint. The Environment Bill will help consumers to make purchasing decisions that support the market for more sustainable products through powers to introduce clear product labelling that identifies products that are more durable, repairable and recyclable and informs consumers about how to dispose of used products. Clauses will also enable us to set minimum eco-design requirements for products and require the provision of information to buyers to support a shift towards more sustainable products. The Bill also includes an amendment to tackle illegal deforestation in agricultural commodity supply chains.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, and others asked about the role of finance. We absolutely acknowledge the importance of encouraging financial institutions to understand and disclose the impact of their activities on nature. To this end, the Government have offered their support to the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure, which looks to do just that.
That is some of the work that we are undertaking at home but, as noble Lords have noted, biodiversity loss is a global crisis. Biodiversity underpins all economic activities and human well-being. It is estimated that $44 trillion-worth of economic value generation—more than half the world’s total GDP—is moderately or highly dependent on nature, yet global capital accounts show that from 1990 to 2014 almost 90% of countries have seen declines in their natural capital per head of population.
That is why arresting and reversing the fast decline in biodiversity also requires concerted and co-ordinated action internationally. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, noted, this year is critical. As co-host of the COP 26 climate conference, we have made nature one of the core themes that we will raise. As president of this year’s G7, the UK will ensure that the natural world stays right at the top of the global agenda, although I cannot speculate on the cast list or invite list for the G7 at this time.
As noble Lords have also noted, the international summit on the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held in China this year, will see the world come together to agree long-term global biodiversity targets, and as such is a key opportunity to set nature on the path to recovery. The Government have committed to playing a leading role in the development of an ambitious set of global biodiversity targets under the convention. The Government are demonstrating genuine leadership in other ways too, and have so far committed to spend at least £3 billion over five years on nature and nature-based solutions in developing nations as part of our £11.6 billion commitment to double our international climate finance from 2021 to 2025.
We also committed in the UK’s green finance strategy to ensure that our ODA is aligned with our commitments under the Paris Agreement for climate change. Also, as we a signatory to the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, the Prime Minister has committed to mainstreaming nature into all government policy and investment, so officials are also undertaking work to explore how we can nature-proof ODA, not just climate-proof it, and indeed make it nature positive. We have striven to raise ambitions on the international stage as pioneers of the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, which has now been signed by more than 80 countries. Signatories have committed to 10 critical actions to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. At the same time, the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, co-chaired by the UK, has managed to get more than 50 countries to pledge their support for the 30x30 targets to protect at least 30% of the world’s land and ocean by May 2030. Of course, the UK has signed up to that itself.
I have tried to cover an immense amount of ground, but I have not managed to cover all the ground noble Lords did in this debate. I apologise to those whose points I did not manage to address directly. I will happily write to all those who have taken part in this debate to pick those up afterwards.
I close by saying that this has been an incredibly important debate. I think it is welcome that a finance ministry, the Treasury, is engaged on these issues. That shapes how we approach our action as a Government on biodiversity and climate change, which, as many noble Lords have said, are two sides of the same coin. I thank noble Lords for their contributions and, finally, make the Government’s position clear: biodiversity loss is an issue of critical importance on which we are determined to continue taking action, at home and internationally.
I thank everyone who spoke and the Minister for that detailed response, which managed to cover a great many of the points that were raised. We have an emergency—I noted that the Minister did not use that word in her response. I thoroughly applaud the Treasury for producing this report. At the beginning of her reply, she mentioned the “thought leadership” approach and said that it was thought leadership for the world. The important thing is that this becomes much more than thought; it has to become action and that has to happen in the Environment Bill, with a lot of detail. It is not enough to just make general sweeping decisions that we have to take nature into consideration; this needs money and attention to detail.
As various noble Lords have pointed out, it is relatively simple to figure out how to lower our carbon emissions because they are measurable, but measuring biodiversity and natural capital is a whole other ball game. I would plead that this huge and fantastic report does not end up on a shelf, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, implied that it might—because many reports do—but instead really becomes a call to action.
I thoroughly endorse the plea of the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Lucas, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, for this to get into education. At the end of the day, this is our home and we are asset managers. In the same way that we are lamentable in teaching schoolchildren how to look after their finances, it is now time that we taught them how to look after their larger world. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for bringing up the subject of consumption, which I had not talked about. The consumption habits and patterns of our world are quite unsustainable if we want to make radical change. I cannot respond to every single point, but I thank everyone very much.
I will leave the Committee with one last story. This is not the first time that this has happened, and it has had disastrous consequences. Some 15 years ago, I found myself in Leptis Magna on the north coast of Africa—in a desert with a wonderful old Roman city in it. It had an extraordinary market where they pulled the water down from the mountains and kept it underneath the market to keep the vegetables cool. You look around and think, “Vegetables? What are they talking about?”. But the Romans went to north Africa because it was the bread-basket of the Mediterranean at that point. It was so fertile and extraordinary that they could get three wheat harvests a year.
They sustained their civilisation but did not know what they were doing: they planted the crops too often and planted monocrops, and it all fell apart. It was fine then because you just packed your suitcase and went to find another place. We do not have another place. There is no room on Mars—that is a super bad idea, and I wish Elon Musk would spend his money on protecting the environment rather than looking for somewhere else to live.
On that note, I thank everyone very much for the debate and the Minister for her response. I hugely congratulate the Treasury on undertaking this report and publishing it. We all hope that we will see real action in this regard in the months to come.
That completes the business before the Grand Committee this evening. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.
Committee adjourned at 6.59 pm.