Amendment 3

Environment Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:09 pm on 6th September 2021.

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Lord Randall of Uxbridge:

Moved by Lord Randall of Uxbridge

3: Clause 1, page 2, line 4, at end insert—“(e) light pollution.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment aims to set a commitment to act on matters which relate to light pollution that are currently omitted from this Bill. It aims to ensure that the Government must produce targets to reduce levels of light pollution in England.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, Amendment 3 in my name is also in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, to whom I am grateful. I declare my environmental and conservation interests as on the register, and it is also relevant—although not registerable—that I am a member of Buglife, the invertebrate NGO. Perhaps one of the flies which have been annoying my noble friend Lord Deben is an agent.

Artificial lights disrupt the world’s ecosystems, human health and, I submit, society in general. Most of the earth’s population is affected by light pollution, as 80% live under skyglow, and very few in the UK can experience a natural night sky from where they live. Those few who do see a night sky naturally without light pollution are amazed by what they see on a clear night.

Light pollution is increasing from a variety of sources, including residences, public infrastructure such as lighting along motorways, and industrial activity such as energy infrastructure. Ironically, the rapid switch to LEDs is contributing to the installation of brighter lights, in places increasing light pollution and missing the opportunity to reduce it. That is ironic because LED is much better for the environment if used appropriately.

The 25-year plan for the environment states:

“We must ensure that noise and light pollution are managed effectively.”

However, no indication of how existing light pollution will be reduced has been proposed by Her Majesty’s Government. As far as I can see, the Environment Bill does not currently offer a suitable location for this form of pollution to be addressed. The amendment would ensure that the Government set out how they will reduce light pollution levels.

In Committee, 12 noble Lords spoke in favour of my very similar amendment on light pollution, covering a range of issues including the impact on invertebrates, astronomy, human health and bats, among other things. I was extremely grateful for their powerful arguments and I am extremely grateful for the many who support today’s amendment in the Chamber and elsewhere. Noble Lords shared their own experience of light pollution and provided compelling reasons why this issue should be included in the Bill.

In his reply, my noble friend the Minister did not seem to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence of environmental and health damage. His response, as drafted, was disappointingly focused rather narrowly on uncertainty about whether it has been proved that light pollution is the main driver of insect loss. That is one of the main reasons why I tabled this amendment: because I do not think we had a proper discussion of some of the other harmful effects of light pollution. Perhaps his department was unaware of the recent science review “Light pollution is a driver of insect declines”, published by Owens and others in 2020. Since that debate, many noble Lords may have seen that newly published evidence has confirmed that light pollution has a negative effect on local moth populations. The response given in Committee also did not address the other issues raised in the debate or recognise the cross-departmental benefits that reducing light pollution would bring.

In recent years, evidence of the impacts of light pollution on species and ecosystems has grown and consolidated. Increased artificial light at night is now directly linked to measurable negative impacts on energy consumption, human health, and wildlife such as bats, birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and plants. As I mentioned in Committee, noble Lords who saw the David Attenborough documentary will have seen turtles, instead of going towards the moon as they go back to sea, going back to some taverna on a Greek shore. This resulted in many of their deaths.

Unnecessary artificial light increases financial costs and contributes to greenhouse emissions. I submit that light pollution should be treated with the same disdain with which we treat other forms of pollution. As I mentioned, recent studies from Germany suggest that a third of insects attracted to street lights and other fixed-light sources will die. This results in the death of an estimated 100 billion insects in Germany every summer. As many noble Lords will recognise, insects are an incredibly important part of our whole ecosystem.

My amendment aims to set a commitment to act on matters relating to light pollution that are currently omitted from the Bill and would ensure that the Government must produce targets to reduce levels of light pollution in England. I will not go through all the examples I have written down, because I think that many people know them for themselves; besides which, we are a little pressed for time. However, speaking as a trustee of the Bat Conservation Trust, I know that artificial lighting can cause many problems for bats, including disrupting their roosting and feeding behaviour and their movement through the landscape. In the worst cases, that can directly harm these protected species. Even hedgehogs have been shown to avoid lighting, restricting their movements in areas of high artificial light.

Light pollution has been identified as a serious threat in many areas biodiversity areas, but the amendment is not just for the birds and the bees. Lighting is estimated to account for 15% of global electricity consumption and 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Social inequalities in exposure to light pollution occur across urban and rural settings. Light pollution is negatively impacting astronomy and our ability to observe the stars. The British Astronomical Association estimates that 90% of the UK population are unable to see the Milky Way from where they live.

The Environment Agency’s state of the urban environment report acknowledges that light pollution comes with urban life and identifies an uneven distribution of the natural environment across all sectors of society, leading to issues of environmental justice. Humans have evolved to rely on the cycle of night and day to govern our physiology, and evidence suggests that light exposure at the wrong time has profound impacts on human circadian rhythm, affecting physical and mental functions. Studies have also shown links between artificial light at night and low melatonin levels and disrupted circadian cycles with heart disease, diabetes, depression and cancer, particularly breast and prostate cancers.

To me, the evidence is clear that light pollution has a significant impact on the normal activity of invertebrates, birds, bats, plants and humans. These impacts are more than sufficient to require action. It would be a failure not to address this before we have the long-term data. Doing so would go against the Government’s draft environmental principles, in particular the precautionary principle but also the prevention and rectification at source principles. As it is, there is no official report for the UK on light pollution levels. However, and distinct from the previous debate in which we talked about soil and how difficult it is to measure soils, measuring light pollution is simple to do. Satellite images can be used to establish pollution levels, and the CPRE has developed a nine-band classification system that could form the basis of monitoring change.

My amendment is designed to provide clarity on how the Government will reduce the impact of light pollution on nature and people’s enjoyment of it. I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister. We have had some very good discussions on this during the Recess. I know he understands it and I recognise that many noble Lords regard this as a serious matter. Perhaps, as the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said, it is not of the same magnitude as soil, and it is possible that we cannot keep adding more and more to the list of priorities, but I think that national targets should be set to include, at a minimum, no net increase in light pollution, with an ambition to reduce existing levels.

I have received a certain amount of support on this, but I will wait to hear what my noble friend the Minister has to say. If he can give me ample reassurances, we might not have to test the electronic voting system again—but no promises yet.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 6:15 pm, 6th September 2021

It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Randall, on one of his and my pet topics. He has covered the issue extremely well. We have all had a very good briefing from Buglife, which I thank very much, supported by Butterfly Conservation, the Bat Conservation Trust, Froglife, the Mammal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society. This comes from a lot of areas of expertise. They all draw attention to the fact that light pollution impacts on humans and other species. I argue that it also impacts on the planet in terms of energy consumption and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, whether we use LED lights or not. It deserves a place in the Environment Bill.

The last comprehensive consideration of this issue by the Government was the 2009 report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Artificial Light in the Environment. Almost none of its recommendations have been implemented, and tackling this cannot be achieved by planning alone. There is also the fact that humans have evolved to rely on the cycle of night and day to govern our physiology. I am a very primitive soul: I would actually like to go to bed when it gets dark and I always wake up at first light, so I am extremely vulnerable to light exposure at the wrong time. I would like the Government Whips to note that when they insist on keeping us here beyond 8 pm. It is inhuman; it goes against human health, and it leads to underperforming. There is also a link to health conditions. We are much better off if we understand that light pollution is not good for us and it is not good for other species.

The noble Lord, Lord Randall, mentioned several species. I would like to add birds that migrate or hunt at night: they navigate by moonlight and starlight, so artificial light might cause them to fly to lit areas, which may or may not have their prey. Many marine species, such as crabs or zooplankton, are attracted to artificial lights, and that can disrupt their feeding and life cycle. All in all, it is an important environmental issue that we really should not ignore.

Photo of Lord Carrington Lord Carrington Crossbench

My Lords, there is very little that I can add to the speeches of the two noble Lords who have spoken already, but I will make one small point. The opportunity to prevent species’ decline and improve our environment is certainly presented by this Bill, and this amendment would assist. Addressing light pollution offers a simple solution for the species that we are trying to enhance and protect. We should bear in mind, however, that the pollution that we are trying to address does not linger when the source is dealt with—it is an easy win. It also has the added advantage of reducing carbon gases, so these two are major issues that are worth considering in relation to this amendment.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

My Lords, I spoke in favour of my noble friend Lord Randall’s similar amendment in Committee. I confess to being a little disappointed that the Minister has not brought forward an amendment to deal with this. While I think that adopting too many targets that cannot be realised is not necessarily a good thing, to adopt a target for light pollution would at least show that the Government accept that it should be included together with other types of pollution. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has just pointed out, it is certainly true that it can be dealt with immediately—unlike the soil—by just switching off lights or reducing the number of lights.

There is strong evidence that light pollution has a detrimental effect on birds, bats and insects. I am certainly no lover of clothes moths, and would love to find a way of introducing light pollution to my cupboards to protect my clothes, which have been devastated during lockdown. However, the Government are committed to increasing biodiversity, which means a wide range of species, including insects. Studies from Germany are among the clearest, as my noble friend Lord Randall pointed out, in showing how serious a problem light pollution is for insects, frogs, bats, birds and hedgehogs, among other species.

As for homo sapiens, we have indeed evolved to rely on the cycle of night and day to govern our physiology. We all know how exposure to light at the wrong time affects our mental functions. Light pollution is not included within the existing priority areas in the Bill. My noble friend’s amendment would provide clarity on how the Government could reduce the impact of light pollution on nature and, especially, on people’s enjoyment of it.

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, I have not yet participated in the discussion of light pollution during the stages of this Bill. That is not due to idleness: it is because at the times the Committee or the House were discussing the light pollution issue, I was double-booked on the Charities Bill or the Dormant Assets Bill, in both of which I have a particular interest. That failure means that I should be very brief this afternoon, and indeed I will be. I add my support to the very important point made by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and others, and will just make a comment about the all-pervasive nature of light pollution.

I have a house in Shropshire, on the Welsh border, well in the country, 500 feet up. If you go into my garden at night, the whole of the eastern horizon is suffused by the glow of the conurbation from Birmingham. If you swing your eyes round, you hit Kidderminster; south is Hereford; and even when you turn to the West—to Wales—there are frequent patches of light from small towns and villages. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give due weight to the very important points made by people who are much more expert in this area than I am.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, to which I have added my name. The noble Lord set out the case for this amendment previously in Committee and has reiterated his arguments this afternoon. I agree with him and the other speakers—the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. I declare my interest as a member of the APPG for Dark Skies and am lucky enough to live in a village with no street lighting. I appreciate, however, that street lighting is an issue that can divide communities. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that light pollution is not as important as soil quality, but it nevertheless has a place in this Bill.

Street and security lighting, which are on throughout the night, can have a number of serious side effects. For plants, there is no real darkness in which to rest; nocturnal animals, birds and insects become confused, and this affects their well-being and, subsequently, their numbers. As has already been stated, moths, in particular, being attracted to light, struggle to maintain their normal life patterns. This is particularly damaging, as moths are essential pollinators, which is something we do not always recognise as happening at night. The lack of a plentiful supply of insects and moths has a knock-on effect on bats, for whom they are the main food source. Over recent years we have seen a steady decline in the number of bats. For us humans, exposure to excessive artificial light can lead to sleep deprivation, which affects our overall health and well-being, as was so eloquently demonstrated by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.

A number of amendments will be debated over the next two weeks that seek to address climate change and redress the loss of biodiversity and species. Light pollution is undoubtedly contributing to this loss, and adding this amendment to the Bill would contribute towards halting and redressing it. The evidence is slim that switching off streetlights late at night causes a spike in crime. Security lights, which cause the greatest distress when excessive, should be focused on the ground, not pointing upwards towards the night sky.

There is also the effect on children’s development. The wonder of the stars at night is lost to millions of children who live in urban areas, where streetlights are never switched off at night. I am lucky enough that I can frequently go out and optimistically think that I can look for a UFO. I never see one, but I nevertheless look up into the dark sky.

The satellite illumination profile of our country shown on TV news programmes clearly demonstrates the level of light pollution over the whole country. There are very few dark sky areas. The exceptions tend to be the national parks, such as Exmoor, which has declared itself a dark sky area.

Light pollution may seem like a very minor issue for some people, but for me, it is absolutely vital that each one of us should be able, if we choose, to go outside at night and enjoy the night sky and the creatures that should, by right, be able to thrive in the darkness. I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and hope that the Minister will, on this occasion, have some encouraging words for us.

Photo of Lord Khan of Burnley Lord Khan of Burnley Opposition Whip (Lords) 6:30 pm, 6th September 2021

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, has made important and eloquent points in relation to light pollution throughout the passage of the Bill. Not only is this crucial for our insects and wildlife, but it is important that we can see the stars and better understand our place in the universe.

The 25-year plan for the environment states:

“We must ensure that noise and light pollution are managed effectively.”

However, no indication of how existing light pollution will be reduced has been proposed by the Government and, as the noble Lord, Lord Randall, indicated, the Environment Bill does not currently offer a suitable location for this form of pollution. The Minister needs to acknowledge and deal with this important area, as encouraged by the Government’s draft environmental principles, encompassing both precaution and prevention.

The briefing from Buglife, which, to be honest, the noble Lord might have authored himself, stipulated that light pollution is a real contamination of our environment. It affects not only human, animal and bird health but insect health—not only how they function but how they can act as pollinators. There are serious environmental consequences of light pollution.

In Committee, the Minister’s response did not acknowledge the overwhelming evidence of environmental and health damage, focusing narrowly on uncertainty about whether it has been proven that light pollution is a main driver of insect declines. I know we cannot vote on everything we care about, as we will never finish the Bill, but I use this opportunity to ask the Minister again what action the Government will take to reassure us and provide clarity on how they will reduce the impact of light pollution on nature and people’s enjoyment of it.

Existing UK law and regulations relating to light pollution do not provide sufficient guidance and are not strong enough to tackle its increasing impact. There are now several examples of countries that have introduced a national policy on light pollution, such as Germany, France, Mexico, South Korea, Croatia and Slovenia. Will the UK also produce a national plan intended to prevent, limit and specifically reduce light pollution, including a series of targets and a programme of monitoring?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, for his Amendment 3.

As my noble friend campaigned for, the Bill requires the Government to set a legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030, and we will talk more about that shortly. But to meet a species abundance target we will need to address the multiple interacting causes of nature’s decline, including light pollution. This does not mean that we need to or should set targets for each and every cause of nature’s decline. The species abundance target will drive the right mix of policies and actions. For light pollution, this includes measures such as planning system controls for street lighting improvements. Through the designation of the dark sky reserves that a number of noble Lords mentioned, we are also working to protect exceptional nocturnal environments that bring great natural, educational and cultural enjoyment to members of the public.

The noble Lord, Lord Randall, made a compelling case, as he did in Committee. I should start by saying that if I appear to play down the importance of light pollution, the seriousness of the issue or its impacts on a whole range of things, including biodiversity, that certainly was not my intention. I say that in response to the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Khan, as well. The noble Lord powerfully summarised the impacts of light pollution. He gave the example of insects in Germany, the turtle hatchlings which a number of us saw on that powerful Attenborough programme, and bats. I also saw the Buglife briefing, which was full of examples as to why this is such an important issue. I thank the noble Lord for bringing some of those recent papers to my attention. I can tell him that my officials are already in touch with many of the academics and researchers behind that work, as well as with the NGOs that have been cited by him and others. That work is happening.

Although I cannot accept the amendment, I can commit to the noble Lord that we will continue to take action both to minimise risks and to improve our understanding of the impact of light pollution. We will continue discussions with PHEPublic Health England—and DHSC, focusing on the impact of light pollution on human health and the best approaches with which to tackle it. I am also happy to relay the noble Lord’s points on the planning system and light pollution to ministerial counterparts in MHCLG, and I will ensure that his remarks both now and from a couple of months ago are conveyed to them.

It is probably worth noting that the National Planning Policy Framework includes consideration of the impact of light pollution from artificial light on local amenity, intrinsically dark landscapes and nature conservation, but I do not think anyone pretends that this is an issue that has historically received the attention that it should. I hope that, using his powerful words, I will be able to move things a bit in MHCLG. I am also happy to confirm that we will continue to work with our academic partners to keep emerging evidence under review, and the Government can set a target in secondary legislation if it is judged to be the best way to deliver long-term environmental outcomes and subject to this review.

I hope this has reassured noble Lords that the Government are taking serious action to act against light pollution and that they agree that these amendments are therefore not necessary. I hope this reassures noble Lords and I beg the noble Lord, Lord Randall, to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, I would like to thank my noble friend the Minister very much. He has gone a lot further than he was able to in Committee, and for that I am very grateful. I am also extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have lent their support and spoken in this debate. It is a very important issue and something that we will continue to hear about. While the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, is looking for UFOs, I tend to look for the drones from the Whips’ Office to keep an eye on me at these crucial stages of Report. So far, they have managed to keep away from me.

As I said, I am extremely grateful; we have had a good debate. I think the things my noble friend has said about the other departments are also very important, particularly planning. I have attended many planning meetings over the years, and I am not sure that that has ever really come up. Perhaps that is another tool that some people, when they are having big developments, should look at. So there are some good things. As the noble Lord opposite said, we cannot vote on everything. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 3 withdrawn.

Clause 2: Environmental targets: particulate matter