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Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:53 pm on 9th January 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench 3:53 pm, 9th January 2020

My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord and his 12 very good and challenging points. I want to make some points about the principles we must abide by if we want to secure this happy and healthy economy that has been laid out in the gracious Speech.

Our three-day debate raises interesting questions about what policy considerations we should cluster together. Today we have the economy, business and public services, yet, if we want a successful economy, we must consider it alongside the things that threaten to weaken it. Climate change is surely the greatest of these, affecting our business interests, the delivery of our public services, and our health, jobs, skills and infrastructure. I could go on; the truth is, it will affect everything.

We cannot think about our economy without also thinking about how we achieve our net-zero emission target. The food sector, which noble Lords will know is the one I work in, is just one sector, but a very good example, because the link between our economic well-being, climate change and food is huge. Food is a massive economic contributor. The food and farming sector is worth almost £122 billion to the UK economy, and the number of people employed in the UK agri-food sector is now well over 4 million. But if we do not look at our food economy through a climate lens, we will be in big trouble, because food contributes so much to global warming.

Global food loss and waste generate about 8% of humankind’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, and deforestation and forest degradation—a significant proportion of which is due to food-related farming— account for 10% to 11% of greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, climate change will seriously threaten the food economy. According to the IPPC, crop yield declines of 10% to 25% will be widespread by 2050, and rising temperatures are predicted to wipe out up to 40% of the world’s fish. So much of what we eat is threatened and we cannot rely endlessly on other countries to feed us—whatever Mr Fox used to say.

If these scenarios play out, we will severely damage our health and economy, not enhance them, and food represents just one slice of them. I am in no doubt about the complexity of this challenge. But, as all the great systems thinkers know, tackling complex challenges requires us to think about the guiding principles of the whole system. We have an opportunity to do this through the legislative and policy agenda that the Government have just announced.

First, the planned Green Budget is a critical opportunity for the Government to reconsider the economy and fiscal policy through a climate lens. Perhaps the Minister can say a little more about what we can expect. For instance, will we adopt the laws that New Zealand has that say there must be climate consideration in every piece of legislation, including on things such as housing? Secondly, will there be sector-specific legislation where all these principles can be embedded? In my sector, the planned shift in the agriculture Bill from a system that incentivises poor stewardship to one based on public money for public good is extremely welcome, but Ministers will know that there are many problems with how it will be administered.

Thirdly, we need to make sure that unilateral environmental principles govern all our decision-making. Despite indications from HMG, the last Environment Bill, introduced to Parliament in October 2019, did not enshrine environmental principles in law. It also specifically excluded public spending and taxation from their application, and it did not ensure that critical principles would apply to all public bodies. So, given the urgency, will HMG ensure that this is rectified in the forthcoming Bill?

To wrap it up, we cannot consider the economy any more without considering climate. We cannot consider business and we cannot consider public services, either. We should be operating on 10-year or 20-year plans. We cannot just look to the next electoral cycle—even five years now is too long.

I had the privilege of working with the Prime Minister when he was Mayor of London on many green projects, and he was tremendously enthusiastic about delivering everything from community gardens to trying to lower carbon gas emissions from the food system in the City. I feel very optimistic that the optimism that he showed and the popularity it brought him will go forward in his reign at No. 10. I would like to see him, when we get to the end of the year, step on to the stage in Glasgow and treat it as the Olympics of his prime ministership, and say that we in Britain will lead the world on this. We may not be the biggest country and we may be small emitters, but my gosh we can show the way as to how you can make climate and the environment completely part of all you think about. Quite frankly, if we do not, the future we leave our children will not be fit for purpose.