My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this very important debate on the noble Baroness’s Amendment 100. The first thing I would like to say is that I am most terribly sorry if a letter has not been attended to, but the messaging I have had is that, whatever the noble Lady decides, my door is always open and we can arrange meetings if there are—as I know there will be—continuing discussions on a range of things relating to climate change and agriculture. I want to put on record that I try my best to attend to correspondence and it seems that this one has slipped through the net—so I apologise for that.
This is a crucial matter and, as far as I am concerned, we must all work together on this. In June 2019, the Government amended the Climate Change Act to legislate for a target of net zero by 2050 and introduced carbon budgets, which cap emissions over successive five-year periods. The Government have set these as interim targets on the road to net-zero emissions. I am particularly interested in this matter, and I went through the noble Baroness’s amendment. The Secretary of State is already required to have due regard to the Government’s commitment to achieving net zero as set out in the legally binding Climate Change Act 2008, and in reference to the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The Committee on Climate Change advised that emissions reductions will be needed in all sectors to achieve the UK’s net-zero GHG emissions target by 2050. Targets are set by the Act, but we do not have sector-specific targets under it; this is true across all sectors and departments. The absence of legally defined sector-specific targets ensures that we can meet our climate change commitments in the most cost-effective way across the economy, maximising social and environmental benefits and mitigating damaging trade-offs.
In the United Kingdom, agriculture at this moment constitutes 10% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. I entirely agree that agriculture must—and I underline “must”—play its part in addressing this grave matter. I note, for example, the 2019 report from the Committee on Climate Change on achieving net zero, which says:
“It is difficult to reduce agriculture emissions to near-zero given the inherent biological processes and chemical reactions arising from crops, soils and livestock.”
Agricultural greenhouse gas emissions have reduced by 16% since 1990, with many farms using more efficient agricultural practices. My noble friend Lady McIntosh raised land-use change and forestry: all of these can continue to provide benefits in carbon sequestration. I would be the first to say that more needs to be done, and much more needs to be done.
I am obviously pleased about the ambition shown by many in the sector, including the National Farmers’ Union. Climate change represents a significant challenge. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, quite rightly feels passionately about this matter, so perhaps the words “significant challenge” are a terrible understatement. This is a very grave matter that we need to address. However, I will say that there are great opportunities for the sector, and we will continue to work closely on this issue with the NFU and other leading stakeholders, including through the Greenhouse Gas Action Plan partnership.
Another point the noble Baroness made in her amendment was on the devolved Administrations. Agriculture is a devolved matter, as we all know, so each national Administration is responsible for their own policy to address climate change in the direction of agriculture. The nations are united in a desire to reach net zero and reduce emissions from agriculture. This can be seen, for example, in DAERA’s efficient farming implementation plan, or in the Welsh Government’s Prosperity for All publication that outlines their low-carbon delivery plan. We will work together across the union to ensure we are delivering a solution that will work for the whole of the United Kingdom. This includes agreeing common frameworks, which include a framework on the best available techniques for preventing and minimising emissions.
Defra takes a key role in supporting emissions reduction from agriculture and land use by providing scientific advice and evidence. This includes long-term breeding work to develop more efficient, productive and resilient crops and livestock, as well as research on more efficient feeding strategies for livestock. Such research includes the clean growth through sustainable intensification project, which is due to complete in November of this year. This research has been carried out alongside academics, government officials, stakeholders and farmers, and will outline productivity and land management options, as well as advice on actions and innovative technologies that will reduce emissions from agriculture. These options will be the most effective, best value for money and most feasible for the sector to action. This research has influenced, and will continue to influence, development of future farming policies such as ELM.
“managing land, water or livestock in a way that mitigates or adapts to climate change”.
ELM will be the key delivery mechanism for this and a powerful vehicle for achieving goals set out in the 25-year environment plan, our net-zero target and commitments made in the Clean Growth Strategy. Schemes such as the productivity grant scheme, the Woodland Carbon Fund and the expanded Countryside Stewardship scheme will also contribute to emission-reduction goals alongside ELM. I agree with the point that my noble friend Lady McIntosh made: working with nature will be an increasing imperative and feature of our work.
As set out in the ELM policy discussion document published in February, it is proposed that tier 3 of the scheme should focus on delivering landscape-scale projects that can make significant contributions to national priorities such as net zero. This could include funding for afforestation, peatland restoration and wetland creation. We have proposed that the scheme should also incentivise environmentally sustainable farming through tier 1 and the delivery of locally targeted environmental actions through tier 2.
The provisions of the Environment Bill will bring all climate change legislation within the enforcement remit of the office for environmental protection, also known as the OEP. Under the robust governance framework established through the Climate Change Act, our independent advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, scrutinise government actions and hold us to account. The OEP will work closely alongside the Committee on Climate Change on climate issues, ensuring that their individual roles complement and reinforce each other.
The OEP is required to monitor the Government’s progress in improving the natural environment in accordance with the content of environmental improvement plans, the first of which is the 25-year environment plan, and—I emphasise—targets. It must produce an annual report on its findings. When undertaking this independent assessment of the Government’s progress, the OEP may consider that the Government could improve progress in meeting one or more of the goals within the 25-year environment plan. For example, this could include a recommendation that additional funding be provided to deliver the purposes set out in Clause 1 of the Agriculture Bill.
Having now been given a sight of her letter, I also say to the noble Baroness that Defra is not the only department responding to climate change. Reducing carbon emissions and enhancing the environment are priorities for the Government. Indeed, there is a new Cabinet Committee on Climate Change to oversee this effort and drive forward action across the whole of government. BEIS leads across government on climate change and net zero, and all departments are working to deliver. For example, DfT published the first phase of our transport decarbonisation plan in March 2020 and MHCLG aims to publish a heat and building strategy later this year. Next year the UK will host the vital COP 26 climate negotiations, and we are determined to use this conference to promote ambitious action to deliver the transformational change required by the Paris Agreement.
I looked very closely at the detail of the noble Baroness’s amendment. I think I have covered all the components of the amendment in terms of what the Secretary of State is already required under law to have due regard to in this matter. I have spoken of our work with the devolved Administrations, which again is imperative because there is no point us all spinning in our own orbits. This will need a collaborative approach.
I appreciate that noble Lords have had to deal with the Fisheries Bill and the Agriculture Bill, and your Lordships will have the Environment Bill. If there had been an omnibus Bill which involved all three, I might have gone quite mad. However, that might, conceivably, have helped noble Lords to see the context of how the governance and interrelationship of all these matters engage. I understand why the noble Baroness has sought what I hope are genuine assurances about what my department intends—and needs—to do to work with agriculture so that it plays its part in the reduction of emissions; and so that it does not become a predominant producer of emissions as other sectors reduce theirs. We need to work with agriculture and the research we are doing will be very helpful.
I hope that, with my full reply on the elements of her amendment, the noble Baroness will understand why I am asking her to consider withdrawing it, mindful that I believe its components are being dealt with and that there are legal requirements on the Secretary of State.