Climate and Ecology

– in the House of Commons at 12:40 pm on 10 May 2023.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Labour, Sheffield, Hallam 1:20, 10 May 2023

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the United Kingdom to achieve climate and nature targets;
to give the Secretary of State a duty to implement a strategy to achieve those targets;
to establish a Climate and Nature Assembly to advise the Secretary of State in creating that strategy;
to give duties to the Committee on Climate Change and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee regarding the strategy and targets;
and for connected purposes.

It is a great honour to introduce the Climate and Ecology Bill. I pay tribute to the Bill’s current sponsor and former promoter, Caroline Lucas, who has long championed this Bill, as well as to Lord Redesdale, who did likewise in the other place. I am proud to lead this cross-party effort for the UK to embed in law the ambition and the action we need to tackle the environmental crisis.

The Bill has been drafted and is supported by many of Britain’s leading climate and ecology scientists. We must align our policies with the latest science and with what the UK has agreed internationally. This is not a matter of partisan politics; it is a matter of survival. It is about providing a sustainable way of life for our nation today and for generations to come. I urge all colleagues to join the growing all-party cohort of Members from both Houses who back this Bill, and I am especially grateful to Derek Thomas for supporting it so enthusiastically.

This Bill is our chance to position the UK as a world leader on climate and environmental action. Our ability to prevent temperatures rising by more than 1.5°C is in the balance. Now is the time not to give up on that aim, but to redouble our efforts to meet it. As the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, told us in Glasgow, 1.5 is the only way to survive.

The double-headed climate and nature crisis is affecting people’s lives now, especially in the global south, but increasingly here in the UK as well. Just think of the climate change-triggered heatwaves in India and Pakistan, the floods we have seen worldwide and, of course, the floods and heatwaves of recent years here in the UK. There is no room for complacency and no time to waste.

Nature provides our best chance to mitigate climate change and its worst impacts, such as extreme flooding and drought. As Sir David Attenborough has shown us, nature is not a “nice to have”; it is all we have. As one of the world’s most nature-depleted nations, we must aim higher and we must do better.

We cannot solve the climate crisis without saving our key ecosystems, restoring habitats and protecting our much-loved species. The UK’s critical carbon sinks and stores, such as peatland, woodland, soils, wetlands and seas, are deteriorating, reducing their capacity to absorb carbon. In some cases, they have even become net carbon sources rather than sinks and stores. Protecting nature must take equal priority with cutting emissions.

Half of the world’s annual economic output, some $44 trillion, is being put at risk by the depletion of natural resources. Alongside that, up to 300 million people face an increased risk of floods and hurricanes due to the loss of buffering coastline habitats, and the loss of pollinators is already causing some 430,000 deaths every year by reducing the supply of healthy food. It is clear that we must act with all urgency, at home and abroad, and stand united for nature.

That is why the Bill is such an important piece of legislation. It is the only piece of proposed or existing legislation that would tackle the intertwined crises of climate and nature together to ensure a strong, integrated response. If enacted, it would create a joined-up plan to cut emissions in line with the 1.5°C target, while halting and reversing nature loss by 2030. By following the science and involving the British public, we can deliver the transition to a zero-carbon, nature-positive future, allowing us to live in harmony with nature. The ongoing Ukraine and energy crises remind us all too clearly of the need to transition fairly and rapidly away from fossil fuel dependency. We need to see action at home and abroad, and legislation is very much part of the solution.

The Bill centralises the importance of social justice and the fact that the UK cannot and must not offshore environmental destruction at the expense of the global south. That means we must take responsibility for our emissions footprint and our overseas footprint, and deal with the root causes of climate and ecological breakdown. The Bill also seeks to protect people by ensuring that no one is left behind via its fairness provisions and through the inclusion of a climate and nature assembly to incorporate public opinion in the unprecedented pace of change that is now required.

Clause 1 contains the Bill’s apex climate and nature targets. Having a net zero date is an important marker, but we need to understand the area below the curve—in other words, how much carbon we can emit into the atmosphere before we breach 1.5°C. The Bill would limit the UK’s total carbon emissions to no more than its proportionate share of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s remaining global carbon budget for a 67% chance of limiting heating to 1.5°C.

By transitioning to a renewable energy future, we would not only end our reliance on deadly fossil fuels, but create the jobs of the future and tackle the soaring cost of living crisis at source. Bridging the ambition gap between current emissions reductions and what is needed for 1.5°C is essential if we are serious about restoring the natural world, and it could not be more urgent.

We know that human activities have already altered 70% of the Earth’s land, degrading up to 40% of it, and 87% of its oceans. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has found that 1 million animal and plant species now face extinction and that mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish populations decreased globally by 68% between 1970 and 2016.

That is why the Bill’s nature target is to halt and reverse the UK’s overall contribution to the degradation and loss of nature in the UK and overseas. It is aligned with the international commitment to halt and reverse the destruction of nature by 2030, which the UK signed up to at the UN biodiversity conference, COP15, in 2022.

Current legislation contains a target to halt the decline in the abundance of species by 2030, as well as a longer-term target to increase species populations. However, the absence of any concrete plan to address the current rate of decline means that the state of nature is on course to worsen considerably by 2030, which risks pushing ecosystems beyond danger points from which they may not be able to recover.

The Bill’s holistic nature target would therefore see the health, abundance, diversity and resilience of species, populations, habitats and ecosystems visibly and measurably on the path to recovery by 2030, measured against a baseline of 2020. That is what this moment requires: to follow the science, to invest in nature and to restore our once-wild isles.

Clause 2 is focused on the development of a climate and nature strategy. It states that the strategy must produce a just transition for all, by protecting vulnerable communities and providing financial support for workers transitioning from fossil fuel and ecosystem-intensive industries into the jobs of the future. The clause contains measures that must be met in achieving the Bill’s apex targets, including accounting for all of the UK’s imported emissions, as well as those that take place on UK soil, so that the UK is not offshoring our pollution; ending the exploration, extraction, export and import of fossil fuels by the UK as rapidly as possible; ensuring that all UK policies prioritise avoiding the loss of nature; and ensuring that the UK takes account of its entire ecological footprint and all the destruction to nature caused by the production, transportation and disposal of the goods and services we consume.

The transition to a zero-carbon, nature-positive UK will affect how we all live, travel and work, so we should all have a role in planning how we get there. The climate assembly set up by six Select Committees that reported in September 2020, as well as the citizens’ assemblies that have taken place on climate and biodiversity in Ireland and the many others around the world, demonstrate the value of including citizens in the difficult decisions that we will have to take.

From my work in Sheffield Hallam on the climate manifesto, which comprises ideas directly sourced from my constituents, I know the importance of democracy in the transition to net zero and in protecting nature. For that reason, clause 3 would provide for a representative sample of the UK population to consider expert advice and reports on recommendations for inclusion in the strategy as part of the temporary nature and climate assembly. Clause 4 contains duties on the Committee on Climate Change and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to evaluate, monitor and report on the implementation of the strategy. Clause 5 ensures that measures in areas of devolved competence would be agreed by the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

As my hon. Friend Ruth Jones said so well during a debate on the principles last November:

“We know that climate action must be nature-positive action and that we must halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity by 2030 for the benefit of all people and the planet.”—[Official Report, 9 November 2022;
Vol. 722, c. 150WH.]

This Bill brings that vital issue to the fore. I am delighted that so many members of local councils, including Councillor Georgia Gould, and local Mayors, including the Mayor of London, have recognised that and are backing the Bill. It is time that we got the action we need from the Government to ensure that we can survive.

Question put and agreed to.


That Olivia Blake, Geraint Davies, Caroline Lucas, Colum Eastwood, Ed Davey, Wera Hobhouse, Liz Saville Roberts, Stephen Farry, Sir Peter Bottomley, Derek Thomas, Alan Brown and Brendan O’Hara present the Bill.

Olivia Blake accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 304).