Report (1st Day) (Continued)
Clause 3: Environmental targets: species abundance
5: Clause 3, page 3, line 6, leave out “further” and insert “meet”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would set a clear requirement for a target to halt the decline in the abundance of species by 2030.
My Lords, I am delighted to move Amendment 5 in my name, which has also been signed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. This is something that we raised in Committee, and during the Summer Recess—or just before—we had a very useful meeting with a few chief executives of environmental and conservation NGOs and the Secretary of State. We reinforced our view on this, and I am delighted now that they are giving fulsome praise, because the Minister and his Secretary of State obviously persuaded those elements of government that were reticent about some of this. They have seen the error of their ways and introduced government Amendment 6, which is exactly the sort of thing that we have been asking for. In fact, this amendment was the one thing that I was really prepared to die in a ditch for. Although some people might be disappointed to find that the ditch is now unoccupied, there may be other ditches in future, but for the time being, I remain extremely happy. I trust that other people at that meeting are as well, although I can see another amendment that possibly just pushes it a little further, but it is always worth a try—that is the way I would put that.
The other amendment in this group that I want briefly to speak to is Amendment 9 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, to which I put my name, on habitats. I do not want to dwell on it for too long, especially because we have the amendment to get the target to halt the decline in the abundance of species, but I will say—I am sure we will hear a lot more from a much more erudite Member of your Lordships’ House—that species decline is inextricably linked with habitats. I promised the Secretary of State that I would be good on this if I got what I wanted, but I cannot resist saying that habitats are extremely important too.
I beg to move but I will withdraw my amendment; I do not know the procedure for that. I will move it, but then I won’t.
My Lords, after that stunning introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, I feel I ought to speak to my amendment, although I do not think I can be as erudite as he thought. I am delighted that he, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, are my co-signatories.
First, in anticipation of him moving it, I thank the Minister for government Amendment 6, which toughens up the commitment to halt species decline. That is fine, but I am less well behaved than the noble Lord, Lord Randall. I am a bit like Oliver Twist—I want more—so I also support Amendment 7 from my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which would go further and quite rightly seeks not just to halt but to begin to reverse species decline. It is a bit like target golf: I am not entirely sure that you could halt species decline without being on a trajectory that will take you towards recovery anyway. No doubt my noble friend will illuminate us.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall, was absolutely right in saying that species are not sufficient and we need to talk about habitats as well. The twin currency of biodiversity conservation has for generations been both species and habitats, so in speaking to my Amendment 9 I am trying to lay out that we need targets to be set to improve the extent and condition of important wildlife habitats by 2030 as a complementary and twin part of the effort towards the species recovery targets also being debated.
My amendment has three prongs. The first is an increase in the area of the national protected sites network, which is not complete yet. The second is an increase in the area of the important habitats that are not protected sites. Many of our important habitats have no protection whatever at the moment. Noble Lords have heard me bang on about ancient woodland many times; I promise that I will bring on more when we get to the tree bit of the Bill. The third prong is that at least 60% of our sites of special scientific interest—these jewels in the crown of nature conservation—need to be in a favourable condition.
Why should the Minister accept this amendment? I will give him five reasons; I will be brief. Protected sites, by which I mean sites of special scientific interest, European protected sites—heaven knows what they are called now; they used to be called Natura 2000 sites—and even sites such as national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty have been, as I said, the jewels in the crown of our nature conservation effort for more than 70 years. It would be nothing short of weird if a government commitment to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 made no reference to this network of sites and ecosystems, because they support the species that we want to see recover. They are fundamental; they are the webs of life within which these species exist.
The second reason is that sites of special scientific interest are the most wildlife-rich places we have. They are absolutely fundamental for species recovery, yet we have gone backwards rather than forwards in improving their condition. Over the past decade, many of our SSSIs have not been monitored at all. Our current estimate is that only 39% of SSSIs are in favourable condition, so a commitment is needed urgently to improve their condition.
The third reason is ancient history. I am very old, in common with many Members of your Lordships’ House, and, once upon a time, in the 1990s, the NGOs worked incredibly hard and produced a detailed recovery plan for nature, the biodiversity action plan. This was so good it was adopted by government. It was judged essential that it contain action plans not just for declining species but for important habitat types, with measurable actions and outcomes. So why would we feel less able to do this now? That is ancient history, and they did it then.
The fourth reason why the Minister should adopt the amendment is that habitats are easy, not less easy, to assess and monitor. I know that his officials in Defra are telling him that habitats are very difficult to monitor, but that is absolutely not the case, especially with modern technologies such as satellites and drones. Habitats are big stretches of land; they do not move around; they are not complicated, like beetles with no names; they are pretty straightforward to assess and monitor.
Lastly, and this is my trump card, the Prime Minister’s father phoned me up and pointed out to me—I hope the Minister noted that, but I am sure he pointed it out to the Minister as well, because he told me he had—that the latest draft of the global biodiversity targets for 2030 under the convention on biodiversity, the CBD, which will be agreed in China, or remotely through China, in October at the Conference of the Parties 15, combines species abundance and habitat extent and quality. So if we do not have targets that combine the two, we will be out of step with what is being aimed at by the rest of the world. I know that the UK Government are playing a key leadership role in COP 15, and it would be pretty strange if they were settling here, back home, for a less effective target based solely on species abundance and not habitats.
My Lords, I put my name to Amendment 7 at the end of July, before the Government’s Amendment 6 was tabled and was public knowledge, because I think species abundance really matters. I am one of those, perhaps because I am a countryman, who gets worried about the state of our biodiversity. I worry that the CBD and COP 15 are almost never heard of in the press and in public, compared with COP 26—because COP 15 matters as much, if not more, to the future of our planet as COP 26 on climate change, although I realise completely that they are inextricably linked. In many ways, I am very glad that COP 15 has now been delayed until next spring, because the extra time might enable us to get better commitments from the rest of the world. To my way of thinking, government Amendment 6 is as good a way as any of throwing down the gauntlet to the rest of the world: “Copy that”, we are saying. Hopefully, with the extra time now available before COP 15 meets, it might encourage some countries to respond in similar vein. I am always eternally optimistic.
I give the Government credit, first, for introducing Clause 3 in Committee and now for giving it the greater commitment of Amendment 6. I realise that, in government terms, setting a target of this nature is quite a bold step. After all, 2030 is not so far off and, in spite of all the new habitats we hope to create before 2030, from ELMS, net gain, conservation covenants, local nature recovery strategies, et cetera, no one can really predict how nature will respond to these incentives and whether we will get our habitat creation exactly right first time. I suspect not, but it is great that the Government have given it such a priority and, as I say, challenged the rest of the world to follow their example. So I thank the Minister, whose personal hand I detect here, and the Defra team involved.
However, rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in the long run I still believe that merely halting the decline in species abundance is not going to be good enough for our generation—although, like her, I probably mean the next generation, actually. We are starting at a very low level—an appallingly low level—and we need to not only flatten the curve but eventually bend it into a proper recovery. We really need to put right and actually amend the damage we have done in our lifetime. We must start to restore, not just patch up, the fabric of our environment.
So, having set this ambitious target now, through Amendment 6, I hope that at some time in the future the Government might wish to extend the timetable from 2030 to, say, 2040, and, within that time, aim for a proper reversal of the decline of species that our generation has been responsible for: in other words, not just halting the drop but actually growing the abundance and distribution of species in our country, as our Amendment 7 suggests. I believe we owe it to our grandchildren.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I join other noble Lords who have already spoken in warmly welcoming government Amendment 6, which accepts the spirit of the amendment we had put forward. To halt the decline in species by 2030 is a very stretching target and I congratulate the Government on their clear ambition.
For many species, reversing the declines and halting them will require dramatic changes in land use and in habitat restoration. It will involve responding to the vagaries of unpredictable events, such as extreme weather and disease that could easily set progress back. So it is, without doubt, a very stretching target. I will ask the Minister to clarify a few points about it—perhaps, even if he cannot now, he might be able to subsequently in writing. First, what will be the baseline from which the target of halting will be judged? Secondly, which species will be included in the target? Thirdly, how will a composite measure of halting declines be computed if, as seems likely, some species will continue to decline while others do not? Fourthly, who will carry out the independent monitoring to check whether the target has been met: will that be the role of the OEP? Last but not least, who will be accountable if the target is not met?
I now turn to the two other amendments in the group. The amendment to which my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington has just spoken seeks to go further by requiring the Government to reverse the declines. I support it, but, as my noble friend said, this should be a longer-term aim. If the near-miracle of halting declines by 2030 is achieved, I think, inevitably, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said, the measures put in place to halt declines will, in the longer run, result in reversal of the declines—for example, by habitat restoration or creation.
That brings me neatly to Amendment 9 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, to which I have added my name, along with those of my noble friend Lady Boycott and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, no one would dispute the fact that, if you wish to maintain or restore species abundance, you have to create, maintain or restore the habitats on which those species depend. Therefore, this amendment is, in effect, a necessary precursor to government Amendment 6. Achieving the objective of halting and eventually reversing species decline will depend entirely on our understanding of and restoration of the habitats on which those species depend.
Habitat restoration is in itself a subtle art. In Committee, I referred to the example of the large blue butterfly and the complexity of its habitat requirements that have led successfully to its recrudescence in the south-west of England. Habitat heterogeneity is often crucial. Ecologists agree that one of the important ways in which agricultural intensification has caused dramatic declines in wildlife is because it has replaced a patchwork of different habitats with uniform monocultures. The relationship between species abundance and habitat heterogeneity is complex and needs to be understood.
Finally, in relation to habitat restoration, the so-called Lawton principles, put forward by Sir John Lawton in his review, Making Space for Nature, emphasise that not only do habitats have to be improved—be bigger—but they also have to be better connected, so that fragments of high-quality habitat are connected and crucial individuals and species can move between them. Amendment 9 is part of the package for halting species decline, and I hope that the Minister will accept that it is an essential precursor and adjunct to Amendment 6.
My Lords, I briefly offer my support for Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to which I thought I had attached my name; it was an administrative failure on my part that I did not. I also support Amendment 9 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. Both amendments have strong cross-party support. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. Indeed, his questions about how the Government plan to define and measure biodiversity are questions that we canvassed extensively in Committee. I do not believe—I would be happy to be corrected if I am wrong—that we have received any answers to them. It is essential for the understanding of this Bill that those things are defined and set out because, as we discussed in Committee, there are many different aspects of diversity, from genetic variance within a population to the number and range of species, and indeed the range of their habitats.
I will comment briefly on Amendment 6. Like other noble Lords, I welcome it, in that one always has to welcome progress and acknowledge the huge amount of work done by campaigning NGOs and campaign groups to get us this far. There is, however, a thing called “shifting baseline syndrome”. In the brilliant State of Nature reports, which are issued regularly by our NGOs, the baseline is often the 1970s. To quote one figure, more than 40% of species have declined since the 1970s. However, based on the figure from 50 years earlier than that there has been a massive decline. If you go further back, it becomes evident that we live in an incredibly impoverished landscape. In the UK we have lost 133 species since the 1500s. These include obviously charismatic species like the lynx and wolf, but also the apple bumblebee, Mitten’s beardless moss and the common tree frog, which fails to live up to its name.
I was reading, in preparation for this debate, a book called An Environmental History of Wildlife in England, by Tom Williamson. It speaks of 17th century England teeming with wildlife. The polecat and pine marten were present in every county. The great bustard was still a common sight on open land. We should be aiming to restore those kinds of wild landscapes, at least in part, and stopping decline does absolutely nothing to get us to that destination. That is where the habitats amendment, Amendment 9, is really important.
I was once lucky enough to visit in France one of 234 sites that are called—I apologise for my French, which I am told I speak with a broad Australian accent— réserves biologiques intégrales. They started in 1953 and that are quite small pockets of land that have essentially just been left untouched. I was lucky enough to visit one of these sites, and what amazed me was a depth of lichen on the trunks of the trees that you could touch; you felt that your hand sank into it and it went on for ever. That is a depth of richness of wildlife that we are so far away from now but need to start to head back to.
I strongly commend Amendments 7 and 9 to the House, but particularly Amendment 7. This is where I am afraid I will disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in that I do not think that halting decline is an ambitious target. It is holding us in a state of extreme poverty of nature. We have to do better.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate to listen to. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on bringing forward his amendment. I made up my mind to speak when I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. He put his finger on something very important but then moved off it. Which species are we going to keep? Who is going to decide which species will be protected? One thing that is absolutely certain is that the law of unintended consequences will continue: human beings will get involved in one area that will help some species but will be to the detriment of others. So I hope that my noble friend will tell us how exactly this part of the Bill is going to work.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said that success relies entirely on habitat, but, thank goodness, he changed his mind a little later and went on to say that it is part of a package. Habitat alone will not solve the problem and halt the decline of biodiversity. We need proper farming practices, we need habitats, we need winter feed and spring feed, which farming practices have all but eliminated on agricultural land, and we need predator control. It is a hugely complicated and difficult area. To give a simple example, many of us feed birds in our garden and think that we are doing a great job for nature. We are benefiting some birds; blue tits have certainly increased. But, as a result, a lot of other birds have not increased, because blue tits are quite territorial and quite vicious towards other birds. In this mix, we have some species increase but also some species decline.
To move to a perhaps more rural aspect, one could look at the work that the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust has done with the Allerton Project. It has been trying for years to bring back waders, but unsuccessfully. If my noble friend says that we must bring back waders and even the Allerton Project cannot do so, how will this succeed and what will be the price?
My noble friend the Minister is, I know, terribly keen on white-tailed eagles. They are one of his specialities and he mentioned them in Committee, but they are vicious birds and not terribly good breeders. They are vicious in that, in parts of Scotland that I know, they have driven out the golden eagle. They fight golden eagles and kill hen harriers and peregrines. That is the nature of white-tailed eagles. They are lovely birds to look at, but if you get too many of them you will destroy a whole abundance of species that have been living happily on the moor for hundreds and thousands of years. As they are not terribly good breeders, man will have to intervene to make certain that the numbers were maintained by bringing in hand-reared chicks.
Whatever we do, we are upsetting the balance of nature. Can my noble friend explain how he and the department, and subsequent Ministers, are going to handle this? To me, this is crucial. I thoroughly approve of not only halting the decline but turning it round, but we must be cognisant of the fact that some species will be far worse off. Who will make that decision? Will it be transparent, so that we can all decide whether those are actually the species we want to see decline and the other species increase?
My Lords, government Amendment 6 is truly world-leading. Here in the UK it will be pivotal in delivering the Government’s ambitions through the Environment Bill, and indeed it could be pivotal globally—as the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said—by ensuring that, in the run-up to the CBD next year, other countries deliver the level of ambition that we have.
I am grateful to be one of the co-signatories of Amendment 5, which the noble Lord, Lord Randall, so eloquently introduced. I hope he helped apply a little pressure, as this House did, to ensure that this state-of-nature amendment was strengthened. It was not just us four—we would never dream of thinking we were that influential. The House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Select Committee, which I am privileged to chair, made a strong case, I believe, to the Secretary of State to do likewise. I pay tribute to the many hundreds of small charities and organisations and thousands of individuals who have been part of the state-of-nature campaign and who put pressure on the Government to deliver this amendment. As I say, it is a truly world-leading amendment, and the Government are to be congratulated. I will come back to that in my final remarks, but I want to say two brief things about Amendments 7 and 9.
As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, says, it will be enough of a stretch to achieve the target outlined in Amendment 6, let alone that in Amendment 7. For my money, Amendment 7 has served its purpose. We created a strong pincer movement to ensure that the Government felt the full weight of pressure, and Defra was perhaps able to persuade other departments that there were far worse pressures out there if they did not acquiesce to Amendment 6. While I accept the case, I think it has served its purpose.
On Amendment 9, with apologies to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, with whom I rarely dare to disagree, on this occasion I again feel that there are times in politics when you just have to stop, look the opposition in the eye—in this case it is the Government—and say thank you, recognising the enormity of what has been done in Amendment 6. Therefore, we will make no further requests on this issue. There will be plenty more on many other issues, as I know the Minister will expect, but it is time to stop and say thank you.
My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment 7 in my name, and to support Amendments 5, 6 and 9. We had an extensive debate in Committee on the Government’s new clause setting out the need for species abundance targets, and many of the arguments have been reiterated today. It followed the excellent work of my colleagues in the Commons, who set out proposals for setting out and meeting a state-of-nature target, which we still believe is a clearer and less ambiguous concept than species abundance.
The flaws in the Government’s new clause were clear for all to see when it was published—in particular, the lack of determination to meet the new target and instead only a requirement to
“further the objective of halting a decline in the abundance of species.”
It also remained unclear which species would be covered by the target and whether they would be given equal weight. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, quite rightly raised those questions today, as well as asking about the baseline, metrics and monitoring. Those questions still remain to be answered, and I am sure the Minister will address them.
However, since the debate, we have been grateful to Ministers for meeting with us and discussing whether the commitment in the Bill could be tightened up. We are obviously pleased that the Government have now tabled a further amendment to the Bill, making it clear that they now commit to halting species decline by 2030. But unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, I regard this as only a partial success. I very much thank my noble friend Lady Young, the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for sticking with me on Amendment 7 and continuing to support it. The government amendment is a far cry from the action that is really needed and from the Government’s promises on this issue.
I will not rehearse it all again but, in Committee, we heard about the Secretary of State’s Delamere Forest speech, in which he made it clear that this is about not just halting the decline of nature but stemming the tide of the loss and turning it around. We know that the G7 communiqué states
“our strong determination to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030”.
So my question for the Minister is this: if not in this Bill, when will we see the actions necessary not just to halt the decline in species but to begin to reverse it? Surely our credibility at COP 26 will rest not just on the pledges and promises of our leaders but on their determination to make the commitment a reality. This is why we tabled Amendment 7, which would make it clear that the objective is to halt, and then begin to reverse, the decline.
In Committee, the concept of bending the curve was raised several times; it has been repeated again this evening. This is what our amendment seeks to address. Regretfully, we are still on a downward spiral of biodiversity decline. We cannot halt the decline overnight, but we can begin to slow and reverse that trend so that the curve begins to go in a positive direction by 2030. Indeed, the Minister confirmed in his response at the time that
“We are on a downward trajectory both here and elsewhere in the world. That is why our challenge and our objective is to bend that curve.”—[Official Report, 23/6/21; col. 339.]
That is what our Amendment 7 will deliver, with nine years to halt and begin to reverse that downward trajectory. The alternative, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, would be a state of nature destined to be much worse than it is now, with no way back. This is why we think that our amendment is simple and modest, and why it is the logic of everything that the Minister has argued up to now.
Nevertheless, we accept that the Government have listened on this issue. As I said, we welcome their Amendment 6 in the spirit of compromise, because I know that it was not an easy decision. We all know that the target to halt the decline of species abundance, although vital, is a stretched target and will not be easily reached. We pledge to do everything that we can to support the Government in delivering this commitment and begin the reversal of the decline, so we will not put our amendment to a vote. But we sincerely hope that such a reversal is the ultimate outcome of the pledge that the Minister has given today.
I want briefly to say something in support of my noble friend Lady Young’s Amendment 9. As ever, she set out the arguments with huge authority and clarity, and I will not attempt to compete with her. She rightly made the point that species recovery and habitat protection should go hand in hand. Individual species need suitable habitats to thrive. What we need are equivalent targets for habitats, also to be delivered by 2030, which would contribute to a positive state of nature by then. Whether it is hectares in the national site network or sites of special scientific interest, we need stronger measures to enhance and preserve them. I hope that, in his response, the Minister will be able to assure my noble friend that this is the Government’s intention and that these two strands of nature recovery will work in parallel and to the same timeframe.
On that basis, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Again, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. It is clear, as it was in previous debates, that there is strong support from all sides of the House for restoration of our precious species and the habitats they call home.
Government Amendment 6 is relatively straight- forward. It requires the Secretary of State, when setting the species abundance target, to be satisfied that meeting the target would halt a decline in the abundance of species. The amendment puts beyond any doubt the Government’s existing commitment to nature. It is a credit to the tireless campaigning of noble Lords across the House, notably my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge—who texted me rather too many times on the issue—the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Hayman and Lady Parminter, whom I thank for her very kind words, as well as numerous green groups, such as Greener UK, the RSPB, Wildlife and Countryside Link and Wildlife Trusts, and over 200,000 members of the public who signed a petition on this issue. I am extremely grateful to them all for applying the pressure they did.
We are leading the way internationally in requiring a target like this to be put into legislation, and I hope that your Lordships are as delighted as I am that we are breaking new ground. I hope this will encourage international partners to make similarly ambitious commitments. The ambition for this target is in line with the previous commitments made by the Prime Minister at the G7 summit, in the G7 nature compact and in the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, which the UK was very much involved in drafting.
The target is particularly important because it will strengthen our hand as we encourage other countries to make similarly ambitious commitments during the 15th Conference of the Parties for the CBD—the Convention on Biological Diversity—in spring 2022. Only with a global and truly collaborative approach will we be able to turn the tide on the global loss of nature.
I again thank noble Lords and all the various campaign groups who worked so tirelessly on this hugely important issue. I thank my noble friend Lord Randall for indicating his intention to withdraw his amendment and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for indicating that she will not press hers.
To answer some of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, nature has been in decline for decades, as he observed, and halting the decline of species in the timeframe we have—by 2030—will be a major challenge. Through the target we are committing ourselves to an undoubtedly ambitious objective, and we are leading the way internationally in doing so. But we are working now with scientific experts to try to model species outcomes—this also addresses some of the points made by my noble friend Lord Caithness—so that we can set a target that is evidence based and so that the Government understand what has to be done in order to deliver it. We do not have all the answers now; those answers will have to emerge as a consequence of that process. We will also need to ensure that the metric used to evaluate the success of this target is based on the best available data, that we have high confidence that it will continue to be collected, and that trends will be clearly identified over time.
In answer to the noble Lord’s question about who will hold the Government to account, that will be the OEP. It will hold the Government to account on progress towards the targets, and every year it will be able to recommend how we can make better progress towards meeting those targets. The Government, as ever, will have to respond.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, talked about shifting baselines. This is a well-documented phenomenon for land but also particularly in relation to ocean abundance. I hope that she, like me, will take some comfort in trends in recent years with the re-emergence of the pine marten, the proliferation of the beaver—with a green light from Defra, more or less—and the increase in the number of wildcats and other species, not all as charismatic, as well.
In response to my noble friend Lord Caithness, the truth is that no one can fully predict what is going to happen as nature recovers. It is just not possible. I do not think that anyone would have been able to predict the full impacts of the introduction of the beaver to certain environments. The impact has been phenomenal and profound, and it has created more dynamism in nature and more biodiversity than I think anyone would have been able to predict in ways that people were not able to predict. Likewise, the experience in Ireland is that the pine marten has a hugely disproportionate impact in terms of driving out the grey squirrel in a way that—again—I do not think anyone was able to predict. In those areas where wild boar proliferate, that comes with various problems, but there is no doubt that the presence of the wild boar in certain ecosystems is also enormously beneficial for lots of different types of species that might not otherwise flourish. So it is very difficult.
We are not starting this process on the assumption that we know all the answers. We do not know the answers—I do not think that anyone does—but we will put details in secondary legislation, and we will be conducting as robust and full a public consultation as we can early in 2022, to which I hope numerous noble Lords will contribute. I am afraid I am not giving my noble friend the specific answers he was looking for, but I do not think those answers exist.
In Amendment 7, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, highlighted the importance of ambitious targets for biodiversity, and of course I support the sentiment. However, nature has been in decline for many decades, and halting that will be a real challenge. A decade is not a long time from the point of view of biodiversity and the interventions we will need to meet that target will continue to be beneficial long after that date. But having bent the curve of destruction by 2030, it is in no one’s interest that we should then flatline. The ambition is not to stop the loss of biodiversity, but to bend the curve, the implication being that once we have managed to do so in such a way that we have halted the destruction, the curve will continue to move in the same direction and we will continue to see nature restored. That is what we are aiming for. All the policies we will introduce to halt destruction by 2030 will be just as important in reversing the loss we have seen in recent generations.
Assessing the impact of policies aimed at recovering our biodiversity demands a rigorous, evidence-based process and this is the approach that the Government are taking. We have listened to stakeholders and campaigners alike and understood and share their concerns, and we have pushed this issue as far as we can. I hope that what we have done reassures the House, and in particular the noble Baroness. I am grateful to her for saying that she will not be pressing her amendment.
On Amendment 9 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, given that habitat loss is one of the principal drivers of species loss—as we have already debated—our domestic 2030 species target will not only benefit species but will encourage actions to improve habitats, ecosystems, and the services they provide. The Prime Minister also announced in September 2020 that we will protect 30% of the UK’s land by 2030. That involves not just lines on a map, but improving the quality of land protected as well, a point which has been made by a number of noble Lords. This amendment is therefore not necessary, and I respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw it. Indeed, in light of the significant step we have taken in this area, I ask all noble Lords not to press their remaining amendments on this issue.
My Lords, we have had a very good debate, and I have a new vision of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, as Oliver Twist. I was thinking which Dickensian character I might be; I was hoping for the Artful Dodger, but after my procedural mistakes earlier, I am only going to be Mr Bumble.
I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and who have also worked very hard to get where we are, and particularly to the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
6: Clause 3, page 3, line 6, leave out “further the objective of halting” and insert “halt”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State, when setting or amending the species abundance target, to be satisfied that meeting the target or the amended target would halt a decline in the abundance of species.
Amendment 6 agreed.
Amendment 7 not moved.
8: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—
“Environmental targets: plastics reduction
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations set a target (the “plastics reduction target”) in respect of a matter relating to reducing plastic pollution and the volume of non-essential single-use products (including but not limited to plastics) in circulation.(2) The specified date for the plastics reduction target must be by 31 December 2030.(3) Accordingly, the plastics reduction target is not a long-term target and the duty in subsection (1) is in addition to (and does not discharge) the duty in section 1(2) to set a long-term target in relation to resource efficiency and waste reduction.(4) Before making regulations under subsection (1) which set or amend a target the Secretary of State must be satisfied that meeting the target, or the amended target, would further the objective of reducing the volume of non-essential single-use products (including but not limited to plastics) in circulation.(5) Section 1(4) to (9) applies to the plastics reduction target and to regulations under this section as it applies to targets set under section 1 and to regulations under that section.(6) In this Part “the plastics reduction target” means the target set under subsection (1).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would require the Secretary of State to introduce a target for reducing plastic pollution and the volume of non-essential single-use products (including but not limited to plastics) in circulation in the economy and society.
My Lords, I am moving Amendment 8 and speaking to Amendments 10 and 36 in my name, and I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, for adding their names in support. We are now moving on to a different but equally important issue.
These amendments would require the Secretary of State to set an overall target for reducing the amount of single-use and other plastics in circulation by 2030. Amendment 8 provides a specific obligation that would require more urgent action than the longer-term measures in the 25-year environment plan. Amendment 10 would require draft regulations to be set before Parliament by October 2022, and Amendment 36 would create a new clause to deliver an overarching “plastics strategy” to Parliament. This would include a reduction in plastics use, waste and pollution as well as avoidance of harmful substitutions and measures to help to mitigate impacts on climate change.
We believe that these are necessary because current UK legislation, and indeed the proposals in the Bill, address only four of the top 10 types of plastic pollution—and, even then, only in part. Yet we are surrounded by evidence that plastic pollution is suffocating our planet: it is choking our wildlife and it is in the food that we eat and the air that we breathe. This is why we need a target and a strategy to reduce plastic pollution overall, rather than dealing with it piecemeal. This is what our amendments would deliver.
Meanwhile, the current target, in the resources and waste strategy, of eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 is simply not bold enough. We had an excellent debate on this issue in Committee, and it attracted widespread support. There was huge frustration that the Government are not being tougher on this issue. Noble Lords all had excellent examples of how waste plastic was damaging their local habitats and waterways, how discarded fast-food containers were littering the streets, how wet wipes were blocking the sewers and how single-use plastic bags were fouling our rivers and destroying marine life. Then there are plastic sachets of cosmetic goods, single-use plastic masks and polystyrene packaging—the list goes on and on. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, rightly made the point that health issues also arise from plastic waste, which is increasingly being digested by humans in the food chain, with as-yet unknown consequences for public health.
All the evidence shows that the public want to see urgent action to limit the use of plastic. They increasingly understand the environmental damage that it can cause. Almost 80% of British people are trying to use less single-use plastic—but, although they are doing their bit, they also want action by businesses and government to address the main causes of plastic pollution, so there would not be a political problem in moving more quickly on this issue.
I acknowledge that the Government have taken some action already: the action on microbeads and plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds is welcome, as is the increased charge for plastic bags. However, with the best will in the world, these issues are just the low-hanging fruit; they do not address the major causes of plastic pollution. We know that just 10 products, including plastic bags, bottles, food containers and fishing gear, account for three-quarters of global ocean litter. Plastic bottles and beverage containers alone contribute 33% of plastic pollution in our oceans and are a major source of street litter, despite the fact that alternative, recyclable drinks containers already exist.
It is a step forward that the Government have now announced that they are taking action on plastic knives, forks and plates—but this involves yet another consultation on a very small part of the plastics mountain, with an implementation date of 2023 at the earliest. We will make very slow progress if the Government are going to have a separate consultation on every knife, fork and spoon in production. Meanwhile, the EU and the devolved nations are already moving ahead on implementing a ban on these items.
The fact is that action on plastics so far has been painfully slow and beset by delays. As it stands, the Bill simply gives the Secretary of State powers to act on these issues; it does not set meaningful deadlines for change. In his response to the debate in Committee, the Minister talked about needing
“a more holistic approach to reduce consumption, not just of plastic, but of all materials.”—[Official Report, 23/6/21; col. 255.]
He said that that was why he felt that a long-term approach was needed—but we do not need to wait until 2042 for this holistic approach to be rolled out.
We all want to see a more circular economy with more resource efficiency and less waste. We also understand the need to guard against undesirable substitutions for plastics, but we believe that our deadline of 2030 is quite modest and would deliver the more holistic approach we all recognise is necessary. I therefore hope that noble Lords will see the sense of our amendment and give it support. I give notice that I am minded to press it to a vote, depending on the Minister’s response. In the meantime, I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendments 8 and 36. It has been four years since “Blue Planet II” seared on our minds the image of the pilot whale mother refusing to let go of her dead calf. In the commentary, David Attenborough tells viewers that it could have been poisoned by its mother’s milk, contaminated with microplastics she had absorbed from the plastic pollution in the ocean. It thrust into the public mind the unseen blight of microplastic pollution on our planet, which is destroying the health, and often the lives, of billions of creatures. New studies show that it is also having an adverse impact on human health.
This pollution comes not just from broken down plastic packaging and products but from microbeads in our cosmetics. As the Minister has said repeatedly during this Bill, the Government want to deal with this problem holistically. However, the clauses he cites to support this claim and the action the Government have already taken to reduce plastic pollution will give neither a holistic response nor the means by which it can be measured.
The noble Baroness, Lady Whitchurch, mentioned the ban on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products. It is important to emphasise that, while this is laudable, the ban still allows trillions of microbeads from cosmetic and sunscreen products to pollute our seas. This now represents nearly 9% of microplastic pollution. Of course I welcome the Government’s ban on plastic stirrers and cotton buds and the consultation launched on plastic cutlery and plates, which is to take place this autumn. These are supported by voluntary agreements, such as Textiles 2030 and the plastics pact. All these measures are important, but they are piecemeal attempts to deal with a massive planet-wide problem. To tackle such a huge issue, we need to look at the economy as a whole and for this country to lead the world in creating a path to resolving the dreadful scourge of plastic pollution. Equally importantly, we need to know that, beyond the warm words, progress is being achieved.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has explained the deficiencies in the 2018 government resources and waste strategy. It is a very ambitious document; I spent much of the first lockdown reading it and felt that the Government had the issue in hand when I first read it. However, the target to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042—although excellent and most welcome—misses out the steps to achieve that target. To reach any target you need milestones along the way that allow industry and consumers alike to organise a progressive and achievable series of intermediary targets. That is what proposed new subsection (2) of Amendment 8 offers, with an earlier target of 31 December 2030. I fear that without progressive plastic reduction targets for the coming years, we will not succeed in beating one of the great scourges of our times.
I am aware that there are doubts about the targets for measuring microplastic pollution and how it can be measured. In the past there have been similar doubts about measuring carbon emissions. However, scientists have come up with amazingly accurate metrics in this field. The same is being achieved for plastics pollution. The Joint Research Centre of the EC worked with 100 laboratories across the globe last year and came up with 16 different methods for measuring plastics in the water. If a target is included in the legislation, I hope the OEP can work with these scientists to harmonise the best ways to measure and monitor the problem.
It is in the Government’s interest to focus the public’s minds on the steps they are taking to reduce plastic pollution. If they can prove by December 2030 that they are being effective, the public support will be enormous. Recent polls show that 92% of people in this country are concerned about this issue. It is easier for the public to monitor visible plastic pollution such as litter and discarded plastic masks; however it is harder to focus the public’s minds on the invisible microplastic pollution which makes up 50% of plastic pollution in the ocean. I ask the Minister to respond to public concern by having a target for reduction in nine years’ time, which can quantify the effect of the Government’s action.
I have also put my name down to Amendment 36, which calls for a plastics strategy for England. I am glad this is grouped with Amendment 8. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, pointed out, the two amendments work in tandem. A plastics strategy on the face of the Bill will allow Parliament to hold the Government to account on tackling this issue, and a plastics pollution target will allow that strategy to be checked against quantifiable goals. The only reason I can think of why the Government would not want to introduce a pollution target is a fear that they might fail to meet it.
I ask your Lordships’ House to support Amendment 8. In doing so, noble Lords will respond to a huge public concern. In the coming years, it will allow Parliament to hold the Government’s feet to the fire and ensure that this country leads the world in determinedly and continually bearing down on the scourge of plastics pollution in all its forms.
My Lords, I have signed Amendment 8, and I support the others in this group. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, not just on an excellent, very clear introductory speech but on her relatively simple, clear Amendment 8. Is it not obvious to everybody that we need to reduce the volume of non-essential single-use plastic products—and more than just plastic, but plastic predominantly?
Plastic is the most incredible material. I could not function without it. But, before lockdown, my partner and I had reduced our single-use disposable plastic to virtually nothing. Covid put a hole in that, because so much food is wrapped up and there was not much choice. But now we do have a choice, and it is obvious to everybody that we have to encourage a policy environment that diverts food manufacturers and retailers towards, for example, compostable materials for food-contact packaging instead of plastics. Of course, we have to make sure we can compost those materials easily and not just by some special arrangement with local authorities.
A Plastic Planet is a global solutions organisation, and it has the single goal of inspiring the world to turn off the plastics tap by working with politicians, the UN, scientists and industry to convey the importance of the situation and to take action in reducing the use of plastic. It has created several schemes. Our Government could just pick up many of those schemes and use them immediately; they are ready-made and oven-ready.
According to 2020 figures from WRAP, flexible plastic represents a quarter of all UK consumer packaging, and plastic packaging is 40% of global plastic production. It is a problem. Only 4% of that consumer plastic packaging is currently recycled. The rest ends up in landfill or incineration, contaminating other waste streams such as food waste or, worse, our oceans and natural habitats where wildlife is threatened. It is threatened not just by contamination but by direct injury. We have all seen photographs of animals tied up, and birds tied up in plastic and dying. As WRAP acknowledges in its road map:
“Urgent action is required to address the complex challenges that underpin this: poor design, collection infrastructure, inconsistent communications, sorting challenges, reprocessing technology, capacity and unstable end markets.”
The Government claim to be a leader in tackling plastics pollution, but Greenpeace pointed out that they are actually fuelling the plastics crisis. The UK is the biggest contributor to this waste production behind the USA. What we do is force our waste on other countries. Some have refused, but, apparently, 40% of our plastic waste is sent to Turkey, where of course it is producing serious health problems for the people in the surrounding areas, such as respiratory issues, nosebleeds and headaches. So the Government are fuelling not just the nature emergency but health crises as well, and you have to take responsibility for that.
The Green Party has a long-term policy whose aim is to have no more than 20% residual waste and to recycle and compost more than 80%: also, to have the costs of disposal charged to all district councils in direct relation to the quantity of waste collected for disposal by each district. This provides an incentive to district councils to promote waste reduction and increase recycling, as they will save directly on disposable costs. I hesitate to put more pressure on councils, because they are already incredibly strap-cashed—I mean cash-strapped; it is getting very late for me, it is 50 minutes past my bedtime. They are already deprived of funds by this Government, so they would have to be funded to do this.
I am very persuaded by my noble friend’s argument for a holistic approach to waste. Could my noble friend take this opportunity, in the context of these amendments, to set out how his approach would differ from the circular economy which we were signed up to when we were members of the European Union? I hate to deprive the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, of her beauty sleep, but, at the risk of doing so, I will ask my noble friend why we are continuing and indeed increasing our export to countries such as Turkey and, I understand, other third countries, considering that we have the facilities to dispose. We are a first-world country and have much better facilities to dispose of this. My understanding is that landfill sites, certainly in England, are full and that many have already closed. I just wonder how, in the context of disposing in particular of plastic waste, we will address this issue as a responsible Government.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, but I was getting increasingly worried, over the years, that I was tending to agree with so much of what she said. Then I realised, when I saw her sitting temporarily behind me, that she might be a closet Conservative after all. I was quite overwhelmed and thought how much more joy there is over one sinner that repenteth than over 99 just persons.
I was tempted to support these amendments, even to the point of a vote. When I heard the announcement last week from my noble friend at Defra that they were planning to ban single-use cutlery and plastic plates, I asked myself: if a Minister has the power to do this without putting anything in the Bill, can he extend it to other plastics as well? That is my main question for him. If he can do that, I would like him to target my bête noire which, initially, is polystyrene. There is absolutely no justification now for any polystyrene food dishes whatever: whether they are used as takeaways, for carry-outs or plastic cups, there are paper alternatives.
The other totally unjustified use of polystyrene—without rehearsing the speech I made in Committee—is in packaging material, whether it is those awful plastic bubbles that go everywhere and get stuck to everything under the sun, or large pieces of polystyrene holding televisions or tape recorders and so on. There is no need for them whatever, because cardboard can do the job infinitely better—it is just as sound and can protect valuable material. I also suggest that that should be a target: one could move on that very quickly indeed. The polystyrene used in house construction is another matter; it could take longer to come up with an alternative.
There is a final form of plastic I would like the Minister to tackle. If one buys ready meals, for example, some seem to come in grey containers, some in white containers and some in black containers, but I understand that if they are all mixed together in recycling, the whole thing is useless—only some of them are recyclable. So I simply say to my noble friend that, if he has powers to do so, can he start to compel the food manufacturers and supermarkets to go for a plastic microwavable dish that is recyclable and get rid of those which destroy the recyclability of the good ones?
Those are the only points I wish to make to my noble friend and I come back to my question: can he reassure me that he and Defra have all the necessary powers, in due course, to ban any other forms of plastic, whether it is horrible little sachets with shampoo in them, plastic food containers or polystyrene? That is all I seek from my noble friend tonight.
My Lords, there is an emerging consensus that plastics are worse for the environment than other substances used in single-use products. The plastics tax scheduled to be introduced next year will create an incentive for suppliers to shift away from plastics towards other substances, such as glass, aluminium and cardboard. However, this will not necessarily benefit the environment in all cases. I agree very much with what my noble friend Lord Blencathra just said about polystyrene, but the situation as far as plastic bottles are concerned is different. The carbon footprint released by the manufacture of glass and aluminium is around five times greater than that released by PET manufacturing. In other ways, too, PET has advantages over other substances for water and soft drinks bottles. Do we want a return to the days when there was a significant risk of cutting your foot on broken glass discarded on a beach?
Furthermore, there is growing public acceptance of a higher proportion of recycled material within bottles on the market today. Many brands of bottled water now supply bottles containing 50% recycled material. As far as plastic bottles are concerned, the answer is surely to introduce a deposit return scheme similar to that in operation in Germany, which should enable us to equal the German achievement of recycling 98% of plastic bottles compared with our record of around 68%.
Amendment 36 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, would introduce a plastic strategy for England. I think it should cover other materials besides plastics. It is also essential that discussions with the devolved authorities result in the adoption of a single coherent strategy for the United Kingdom as a whole. The Scottish deposit scheme, for example, requires producers to provide a great deal of detailed information, but, bizarrely, does not require labelling to state clearly whether a product can be recycled. This is very difficult for small brewers that sell through wholesalers that distribute products in England and Scotland.
I do not know whether the noble Baroness and her co-signatories recognise the conflict inherent in subsection (3) of their proposed new clause. Subsection (3)(a) seeks to achieve
“a reduction in single use plastics”.
This is surely incompatible with subsection (3)(b), because the shift to greater use of glass and aluminium will result in increased carbon emissions.
As far as bottles are concerned, if we can move to a culture of recycling based on an effective deposit return scheme, there are reasons to retain PET. We should not throw the baby out with the bath-water.
My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point: we must not condemn plastic out of hand if it is a better option than another. Regarding Amendment 36, which is the one that I like in this group, his concerns will be covered under proposed subsection (2), where the Secretary of State sets out his objectives. If the objective quite clearly states that plastic is the best material for a particular process and preferable to another for carbon, the strategy would take that into account.
My Lords, I rise mainly to speak to Amendment 8, though my observations are also relevant to the other proposals. I share the mover’s desire to reduce plastic use and plastic waste, especially given the damage they are doing to our rivers and oceans and the creatures they support. We have all seen the horrific pictures of fish throttled by plastic, and there is growing awareness of the growth of plastic use and its irresponsible disposal—but this amendment would not provide the best way to achieve the desired objectives.
The proposals are inappropriately interventionist and wasteful of administrative effort and political capital. They are also insufficiently radical, as they mainly focus on single-use plastic. Using a bag, a cup or a fork—or, indeed, a plastic car part—twice is only marginally better than using it only once. The question is whether the use of the resource is justified or whether the need could be satisfied in a way that did not use damaging plastic.
I am also of the view that we should not focus the Bill and our efforts on yet another strategy and yet more targets in this area. We need action now—I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, feels the same way—and preferably on an international basis. What plans does the Minister have to encourage international effort in this area? Do the Government perhaps envisage raising it at COP 26, when all those who could drive real change on plastics are gathered together?
We also need research to develop and get to market substitute products that break down safely and rot in a few years. I have seen everyday plastics that break down within 18 months pioneered at Imperial College. The French have developed plastic substitutes made from vegetable crops and the Italian fashion industry has pioneered the reuse of plastics such as fishing nets in its designer clothing. Use of such technologies should be invested in around the world.
Plastic is oil based, and the stratospheric growth in its use needs to be reduced by international action and domestic taxation. Small changes such as the phasing out of plastic straws, forks and microbeads are fine and to be commended, but they do not begin to bring about the change in resource use that we need. Sadly, the Government have been too slow in reducing the damage caused by plastics. I have been calling for many years for a decent national recycling system for plastics, with proper labelling of products and recycling bins backed by sensible incentives to replace the motley collection of schemes run by different local authorities. I welcome the move towards a single, consistent scheme of recycling across the UK, and ask my noble friend the Minister when that will come in. In this case, we should have a uniform system of bins and labelling to get recycling up from current levels, reducing the pressure on landfill, which has been mentioned in this debate, and making it easy for the consumer to help with the change that we need in plastic use.
In conclusion, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for the progress that is at last being made on plastics with this Bill—and I think there are a lot of powers in the Bill—but I urge him to focus on the detail and actually to deliver. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for initiating this debate, but I believe that her objectives could be better met by other means.
My Lords, given the hour, I will try not to duplicate the contributions of others. I will speak to Amendment 8, which I have signed, and I support Amendments 10 and 36 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and others. The noble Baroness introduced this important group of amendments with knowledge and passion. Others have also spoken with passion and repeated their comments from Committee.
Plastic pollution is all around us, yet we seem unable of our own free will to tackle its use, reduce its impact and move to alternatives. It is therefore imperative that we use the opportunity of the Environment Bill to take bold steps to legislate to ensure that plastic use and pollution are reduced as quickly and effectively as possible. It is, of course, true that not all single-use items are made of plastic. Other items have a limited use, and it is time to move away from a throw-away society. Plastic is the most invidious and long-lasting material, contaminating our countryside, waterways and seas. It kills our wildlife, which becomes entangled in its web, and poisons those animals and birds that unwittingly eat it.
A target for reducing the use of plastics must be set for December 2030. This target must be stringent to be effective. Vital to achieving reduction in the use of plastics is a properly thought-out plastics strategy. This should be laid before Parliament by March 2023. This is not an unreasonable target for completion. Plastic reduction was trailed in the 25-year environment plan, and much work has been done on this subject already.
I welcome the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and agree that we should not be exporting our waste to other countries; I spoke to that in Committee. Microplastics are present in all areas of our life: our oceans, landscapes and mountains. All around us, microplastics are polluting our lives and wildlife. Plastic bottles and polystyrene packaging and food wrap, however well designed, are still causing pollution. Microplastics, which occur from plastics breaking down into tiny pieces, must be tackled. Legislation to ban microbeads in wash-off products was welcome, but this dealt with only 1% of plastic pollution, whereas beverage litter contributes to 33% and tyre dust to 18%. It is really time that we met this challenge head on and produced both targets for plastics reduction and a proper plastics strategy to ensure that this happens, with milestones to ensure that progress is being made.
The country as a whole is extremely concerned about the use of plastic and the pollution it produces, the effect it is having on our wildlife and the unsightly detritus around our countryside. Now is the time to show that the Government are taking this matter seriously. If the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, presses the amendment to a vote, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches will be supporting her.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this important debate. The Government of course share the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, regarding plastic pollution, and we are already working hard to address this urgent issue. Building on the action taken to date on the most commonly littered items, we announced just a few weeks ago that we will carry out a consultation this autumn on banning single-use plastic plates, cutlery and polystyrene drinks containers. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, will be pleased with the last one, and I confirm that the answer to his question is yes: we already have the power to extend that ban to any items that cause environmental damage. I strongly agree with his condemnation of the foam used to protect televisions, sachets and all the rest of it. I hope that we will be able to go much further than we currently have.
The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, made the point about the carbon footprint of plastic versus the alternatives. He is right in some circumstances—a paper bag versus a plastic bag, for example—but it is not just about carbon, as a number of noble Lords have said. The damage that plastic does when it gets into the environment goes far beyond its carbon impact, as we saw in those extraordinary David Attenborough images.
Regarding Amendments 8, 10 and 36, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the Government’s view is that publishing a separate plastics strategy and setting a plastics target in isolation from the wider waste agenda risks detracting from the action that we are taking now to achieve our overarching circular economy ambitions. It is worth emphasising that our profligate attitude to resources is doing immeasurable harm to the natural world, and not just our use of plastic. Extraction and processing of those resources in the round contributes to about half of the total global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as 90% of biodiversity loss. And the problem is growing. Globally, we extract three times the amount of resources from nature as we did in 1970, and that figure is set to double again within a generation unless we change course.
The Government are committed to reviewing the resources and waste strategy every five years, and this provides an opportunity to set out further detail on our approach to tackling plastic pollution within our transition to a circular economy. The Bill already requires the Government to set and achieve at least one long-term target on resource efficiency and waste reduction, and we intend to set a target to reduce consumption of all materials, including plastic. In addition, the Government are already exploring packaging recycling targets, under the proposals for extended producer responsibility for packaging. We have made progress to increase reuse and recycling and combat unnecessary single-use plastics. The Government introduced bans on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds last year, and I have already outlined our next steps to build on that. Following the success of the carrier bag charge in reducing consumption of single-use carrier bags by 95% in the main supermarkets by 2020, the Government have increased and extended it to all retailers in May this year.
In addition, this Bill includes a number of measures targeting all stages of a product’s lifecycle, which will enable the Government to further tackle plastics and plastic waste as well as drive toward a more circular economy. These measures include powers to enable us to apply extended producer responsibility across a wide range of material and product streams, introduce deposit return schemes and establish greater consistency in the recycling system—a point made by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. The Bill will also allow us to place charges on single-use plastic items, set minimum resource efficiency and information requirements for products, and ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries.
In response to a comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, local authorities have always been, and will always be, under pressure, but we have committed that any additional cost incurred as a consequence of this Bill will be covered by central government.
On the international front, we are very much engaged in trying to encourage other countries to tackle their waste problems. We set up the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, and well over half of Commonwealth members have signed up and committed to it. Many of them have already introduced legislation to reduce single-use plastics. We are one of the leading countries calling for an international plastics treaty—a sort of Kyoto agreement for plastic—and we are very active members and funders of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative. More than half of the waste in our oceans is actually ghost gear, abandoned fishing gear, as opposed to plastic bags and the like. We are doing a great deal internationally. We can and should do more, but we are objectively world leaders in relation to the international campaign.
This Bill provides a robust approach for ambitious targets and takes action to achieve them. The amendments are therefore worthy but unnecessary. I hope the examples that I have put forward reassure the noble Baroness that we are very much on the case in tackling single-use plastic as well as plastic more broadly, and I beg that she withdraws her amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. Once again, the examples that people have given underline the scope and scale of the task. I think there was also consensus on the need for urgent action.
I have listened carefully to what the Minister had to say. I absolutely accept, of course, that there are consultations taking place, but our concern always has been and continues to be that they are happening on a piecemeal basis. It is also true that the Bill gives Ministers powers to take further action but, again, there are no deadlines in the Bill for those measures, so we are left waiting—step by step, item by item—for progress to be made. I know that there is a lot of activity, but not much is landing at the moment in terms of practical measures to cut back on the use of plastic.
The fundamental problem here is that the Bill has a fragmented approach to reducing plastic pollution rather than, as I was saying earlier, a holistic approach to tackling all plastic pollution. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, that our Amendment 8 is not just about single-use plastics; it is about an overall reduction in the plastic in circulation, setting a precise target that we believe will focus minds and deliver what the public are crying out for. There is huge public pressure for this.
The Bill has measures on resource efficiency and waste production, and those are welcome, but, as it is framed, it is likely to miss out, for example, lightweight plastic products and microplastics, which have little monetary value but cause huge damage to the ecosystem —one of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, was making. It is also true that it says very little about other important issues, such as discarded fishing gear, plastic pellets and synthetic fibres, which are part of the campaign of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that there is the continuing scandal of exporting our waste. I heard what the Minister said about that and I am pleased to hear that those talks are taking place but, again, this requires more urgent and immediate action.
Fundamentally, we believe that our amendment is practical and achievable. In a sense, it is much easier than some of the complex issues that we were talking about earlier, to do with tackling soil and air quality. This is something to which we know the solution now—we know the answers. For most of the issues that we are talking about, there are alternatives to using plastic. It is not as though we are waiting for the science to catch up with us.
A plastics strategy is required to reduce the use, manufacture and sale of single-use plastics. We need to make sure that we avoid switching to more damaging alternatives, but those issues can and should be delivered by 2030, in line with the other shorter-term measures in the Bill. It would require ambition and leadership, and that is what we expect from this Government.
Amendment 8 says that we should set a deadline for an overall reduction in the use of plastics. I am sure that everybody here agrees with that and believes that this is what needs to be done. We need to write it into the Bill, so that we can make sure it happens to a sensible deadline. It can be done by 2030, and we believe it should be.
I regret that the Government have not felt able to embrace our proposal, and on that basis I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Amendment 9 not moved.
Clause 4: Environmental targets: process
Amendment 10 not moved.
Consideration on Report adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.29 pm.