Amendment 100

Part of Agriculture Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 22nd September 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:30 pm, 22nd September 2020

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, for adding their support to this amendment.

Our amendment would require the Government when applying this Act to have due regard to their national and international obligations set out in the Climate Change Act 2008 and the Paris Agreement. It also requires the Government within six months to set an interim target for 2030, setting out how agriculture and land use could play their part in reducing and sequestrating emissions. This would be followed within 12 months by a strategy setting out how this will be achieved. We have additionally required the Government to obtain and take account of the advice of the Committee on Climate Change.

There are very good reasons why these steps are necessary. Climate change is a global challenge, and the UK has an obligation to play its part. The Government’s commitment to net zero by 2050 is welcome as far as it goes, but noble Lords will know that we are way behind in meeting the fourth, fifth and sixth carbon budgets that would make the commitment a reality.

To be successful, every sector must play its part, whether it is energy, transport, housing or, in this case, agriculture, which is currently responsible for about 10% of total emissions. So we welcome the addition in Clause 1(1)(d) of the Bill that financial assistance can be given for

“managing land, water or livestock in a way that mitigates or adapts to climate change.”

But what does this mean if there is no strategy and no targets to deliver it? As the Committee on Climate Change points out in its report this year,

“the current voluntary approach has failed to cut agricultural emissions, there has been no coherent policy to improve the resilience of the agricultural sector, and tree planting has failed outside Scotland.”

This is pretty damning, and it is why our amendment seeks to deliver legislation and a mechanism for detailed policy design, which the committee recommends is necessary to deliver the transformation that is needed. Even the Government’s own progress report on implementing the 25-year environment plan, published in June, shows emissions of greenhouse gases from natural resources in a downward negative trend, with agricultural emissions remaining stagnant. So overall we seem to be going backwards.

In her response to similar amendments in Committee, the Minister tried to put a more positive gloss on progress, citing efficiency gains in dairy and pork. I am sure that that is good progress and we welcome that. But you cannot cherry pick when the Government’s own analysis is saying overall that there are different trends.

In her response, the Minister also argued for a generalist approach to climate change, saying that we do not have sector-specific targets under the Climate Change Act. That is true, but all the steps that the Government have taken since are focused on actions by different departments—for example, in renewable energy, electric cars and housing retrofit. Despite the criticisms of the Natural Capital Committee for the lack of meaningful metrics, even the 25-year environment plan also aims to have specific targets. So agriculture must step up and play its part in reducing emissions.

The Paris Agreement requires signatories to set long-term climate plans as well as shorter-term 2030 goals. This is why we have included an interim 2030 target in our amendment. Meanwhile, the Committee on Climate Change has written to the Defra Minister, Victoria Prentis, setting out how ELMS could be shaped to meet our climate change obligations. It has identified four important areas that need to be addressed and has offered to support Defra in setting out how climate change risks can be incorporated in the delivery of the ELMS outcomes.

We welcome this offer of help and support, which is why we have specified in our amendment that the advice of the Committee on Climate Change should be taken into account. We believe that the amendment is central to delivering the Government’s aspiration of net zero and ensuring that the farming sector plays its full part.

We had hoped to meet Ministers or their civil servants to discuss the progress being made in other departments. For example, we particularly welcomed the Government’s addition to the recent Pensions Bill, requiring pension trustees to take account of the Paris obligations. But, sadly and uncharacteristically, we had no response to our letter last week. So, unless a positive response is given today, I have no option but to give notice that I might divide the House. In the meantime, I beg to move.