Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies (Environmentally Sustainable Investment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:36 am on 11th September 2020.

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Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk 10:36 am, 11th September 2020

Yes, absolutely, that will be one of the challenges. In my experience, the benefits of these co-operatives and societies has been the local engagement, and the danger is that outside influence could change that ethos and approach.

As other Members have noted, the Bill’s foundations are in using investment for wider good. This is an important step forward, in terms of shining a spotlight on this type of business model and highlighting the importance of environmentally sustainable investment, but more needs to be done.

Last year, a study commissioned by the Department for International Development examined public demand in the UK for sustainable development opportunities. That was the most comprehensive study of the UK public’s demand for such opportunities, understanding whether people want the impact on people and the planet to be considered in investment decisions. Generally, the survey found that 68% of UK savers want their investments to consider the impact on people and the planet alongside financial performance.

Since 2012, sustainable investments have grown by 107% annually as an investment strategy. There is significant growth of individuals who invest sustainably in companies, organisations and funds with the purpose of generating measurable, social and environmental impact alongside financial return. Impacts are spread across various sectors from renewable energy and climate change, to health, safety and community development. The Bill arguably fulfils some of those desires and pivots towards a more sustainable future, unlocking new finance sources through the green shares, which must be invested in an environmentally sustainable way.

As investment trends change, policy such as this drives that change in our culture to adopting socially responsible practices in businesses and industry, and encourages adaptation towards a sustainable investment environment. I hope that this is a step towards changing the sustainability outlooks of other companies and business models. Although, of course, protecting lives and suppressing the coronavirus has been the priority for the Government over the past few months, as the virus has devastated many of our communities, that is not to say that we should put the climate crisis on the back burner; that must remain our priority.

As we heard earlier from my hon. Friend Andrew Lewer, the UK has played a world-leading role in tackling climate change. I challenge some of the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Cardiff North, the sponsor of this Bill. The transition to clean growth for the UK has demonstrated that we are one of the pioneers in this area. We are the first country to legislate to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050, and the fastest in the G20 to cut emissions.

At the same time, the Environment Bill is being introduced to protect and improve the environment for future generations, enshrining in law environmental principles and legally binding targets. The first progress report of the Government’s ambitious 25-year environment plan found that 90% of the priority actions have been delivered or are on track to be delivered. Coal power stations will be completely shut down by 2025, if not 2024. Glasgow will host COP26, coronavirus allowing, putting Britain at the heart of the world’s efforts to combat climate change. We are currently on track to protect 4 million sq km of ocean across our overseas territories before the end of 2020. These are huge achievements in themselves, and I hope the hon. Lady will acknowledge that we are making significant progress, notwithstanding her comments earlier.

However, I am all too aware that there is a need to accelerate work to protect the environment. Innovative ideas to make it more affordable and more accessible to finance environmentally friendly investments are to be welcomed and studied closely, and this Bill gives us that opportunity. Through green shares, we can begin to allow local communities to rise to the climate change challenge and see more level playing fields between co-operatives, community benefit societies and their private competitors.

The Bill also presents itself as an opportunity to aid a recovery from the pandemic in a greener, more sustainable and more resilient way. There are extremely difficult times ahead, but we must look to the future and consider the green jobs and skills that we should be able to facilitate and create as part of our green recovery.

Just last week, in my own constituency, plans for 50 new jobs were approved in the coastal town of Eyemouth. These jobs will come from the new maintenance base for an offshore wind farm off the Fife coast. Providing skilled jobs or improving towns and villages in other ways, such as in Eyemouth, must be how we tackle climate change. Not only does that ensure that no one is left behind, but it helps to persuade those who are less convinced of the merits of such projects that that is the way forward. Co-ops have a huge opportunity here to play a big part in providing jobs and community benefits.

To conclude, I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff North again on bringing forward the green shares Bill. I look forward to seeing it progress, I look forward to seeing it improved, and I look forward to hearing the other contributions to the debate.