Moved by Lord Teverson
1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—“Purpose and declaration of biodiversity and climate emergency(1) The purpose of this Act is to address the biodiversity and climate emergency domestically and globally. (2) As soon as reasonably practicable and no later than one month beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, the Prime Minister must declare that there is a biodiversity and climate emergency domestically and globally.(3) The Government must have regard to this purpose and declaration when implementing the provisions of this Act.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would have the effect of the UK Government declaring a climate and biodiversity emergency.
My Lords, it has been two months since we debated the Bill in Committee over a period of three weeks, but the planet has not stood still over that time. First, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the IPCC—released its sixth report prior to COP 26, on which the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr António Guterres, commented:
“This is code red for humanity.”
This is an absolutely accurate declaration to my mind.
However, this is not just theoretical: let us look at other things that have happened during the end of July and beginning of August. First, we could look at fires: we have had forest fires in the northern hemisphere, almost unknown before, in California, Canada and Siberian Russia, where some 4 million hectares of forest have burned down and are still burning in parts of Siberia even today.
In terms of flooding, we have seen flash floods just now in New York. It was almost unexpected there, let alone down in the southern states of the United States. We have now had some 300 deaths in the north-east of the United States from those flash floods. Earlier, in July or August, some 300 people died in Henan province in China, many of them in underground metro systems, again in flash floods—something that had never happened in that way before. Of course, nearer home, in Europe—in Germany and close-by states—we had some 200 deaths because of flooding, which was unprecedented and unpredicted in terms of conventional weather forecasting.
In terms of temperature, in Lytton in British Columbia we had the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada at 49.5 degrees centigrade. More staggering was the fact that that was 5 degrees—I repeat, 5 degrees—more than the previous record. All those incidents and that report have happened since we last debated this legislation in this House.
We have also had, in July, the Government’s response to the Dasgupta report on biodiversity. They accepted, quite rightly, that we have to reverse biodiversity loss by the end of this decade; it is something that has been going backwards for decades and we have to amend that within a period of nine years.
We are now a month closer to the beginning of COP 15 next month, the biodiversity equivalent of COP 26, the first half of which will be centred around Kunming in China. Of course, we are now only 56 days away from COP 26 opening in Glasgow on
We want this to be a landmark Bill; in fact, the Government declare this to be very much a landmark Bill, and we all want it to be so. But what I find it difficult is that it is not yet that. I welcome many of the Government’s amendments that they want to put forward, but it is not yet a landmark Bill, as the Climate Change Act 2008 was at that time. I do not believe that it is credible that this House, this country, can have what will become an environment Act without pointing out and declaring the obvious—that we have at the moment a climate change and biodiversity emergency.
I am sometimes asked whether this is the way we do things in the United Kingdom, and I had some arguments with the Public Bill Office around this when I put down this amendment. But I remind Members that over 200 local authorities in our land have already declared a climate emergency, and many of those are now also declaring a biodiversity emergency. I believe that what is right for them is right for us as a Parliament. Also, the way that we in the United Kingdom show unity in parliamentary politics is through legislation, because that brings the two Houses together, together with the Government. Having a declaration in an Act of Parliament brings together the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Government, and I believe that this is absolutely what is needed to make this a landmark Bill.
I believe this amendment would achieve leadership for this country—globally as well as nationally—in both those crises. I believe it will give us extra credibility and leadership at COP 26 and COP 15. I believe it will make this Bill something like the Climate Change Act for the future, and that it will also bring biodiversity, which is so important to this Bill, up to a similar status to the Climate Change Act. As I said, I think it brings together the two Houses and the Government in a unity that is important and that we saw in the citizens’ climate assembly.
I am also sometimes asked, “Is this just politics?” It is not, because we all know that these crises are real, and we all know that we want our means of combating them to be effective. Here I would like to quote President Biden; he was asked a similar question and was talking about Hurricane Ida and its effect on the north-east of the United States. He said categorically, “This is not politics”. The climate crisis is here; it is now, it is here, it is happening. This is not about politics.
I was also very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for adding her name to this amendment, even though it was after the date when it could be published on the Marshalled List.
This is exactly the right time for the Government to make such a declaration. We have this potentially landmark legislation going through the House, which will be completed—we hope—before COP 26. It is time to bring us together and confirm our leadership, and it is also the opportunity to recognise something that is real and happening now. At COP 26 we have the opportunity not just to have the presidency but to take global leadership. I believe passing this amendment would be part of that, and I beg to move.
Biodiversity is all too often seen as the poor relation of climate change and somehow less important. It is not. It is just as important and life threatening as any weather patterns, droughts or floods—and they are indeed all connected. So what is it? In essence, it is the variety of life on earth and all its interconnectedness. But it is also the product of millions of years of learning—of trial and error—by all the creatures, flora and fauna on earth to arrive at a system where this planet flourishes and where we can exist on it. Everything is in its place and everything is doing its bit—sometimes large, sometimes microscopic—and it keeps our planet in the healthy state that we want to preserve.
I have heard what we are doing now described as “burning the library of earth”. To take something really complex that we have made, let us think of an aeroplane going to New York, carrying 600 people. Out falls one rivet—not too bad. Out come two—maybe not a big deal. But suppose 10, 20 or 30 come out; at some point that aeroplane is going to come crashing down to earth—and that is what we are doing now with the complex world of our biodiversity. We do not know quite when we will pass the tipping point, but we are clearly very nearly there.
I have a few examples relating to the insect world, which is endlessly dismissed, but—as Einstein, apparently, famously said—the planet would survive without us, but it would not survive without insects. They are essentially the unseen rivers that keep the planet functioning, yet we have not managed to identify them all—and yet we are cutting down their environments. As I said, no one knows how close to the edge we are, but in China they are pollinating apples and pears by hand. In Bengal they are doing the same for squash plants. In Brazil it is passionfruit, and it is blueberries in Canada. Even the French beans in Kenya are now having to be mechanically pollinated because we have trashed the insects.
Clearly, many parts of the world—and, indeed, under the oceans; we have the temerity to think that we should destroy the ocean bed like we have destroyed the land above—have a huge value: trillions of dollars, or around double the world’s current GDP. In Europe alone it costs the 3% of GDP that we get from our natural services.
I thoroughly support the amendment. This is an emergency. That message needs to come from the Prime Minister and it needs to be made clear to everyone that we have only one planet and that we have to protect it. Biodiversity is extraordinary and amazing. It is up to all of us in this House to ensure that this becomes part of the Bill.
My Lords, I support both these amendments: Amendment 1, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and backed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to which I am pleased to have attached my name; and Amendment 21 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott.
In introducing his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, looked at what happened in the timeframe from when we last debated the Bill to today. I will take a different timeframe and go back to when the Bill was first introduced on
What has happened to the climate in those two years? Emissions fell in 2020, chiefly because of the pandemic, but a lot less than people expected. They then started to rise again. We have seen Extinction Rebellion out on our streets regularly and the climate strikers have become part of the national life of countries all around the world. But we have yet to see the scale of reaction that is needed to these emergencies, which are on the same scale as the pandemic. Just look at the contrast between those two scales of reaction and the fact that the Bill was written two years ago. In the age of shocks, with time moving so fast, that is an age. Amendment 1 would update the Bill to be fit for today, as it must be, and create the frame for it to be fit for the future.
I will briefly address Amendment 21. It is particularly important because we are starting to see the word “resilience” in news coverage, which was once an extremely rare occurrence. It is starting to rise up the news agenda. I speak as a former journalist. Amendment 21 seeks to address the risks, identify them and report on them.
I will focus in particular on proposed new subsection (2)(c), which would ensure that the views of 11 to 25 year-olds in the United Kingdom are continuously engaged in debating these risks. I reflect on that because yesterday I was in Sheffield, where I joined the Young Christian Climate Network, which is on a deliberately very slow pilgrimage from Truro to Glasgow, stopping in as many communities up and down the land as it possibly can to engage communities, particularly young people, on this issue. Climate strikers, young pilgrims and Extinction Rebellion are leading. The amendment would ensure that the Government and the Bill are at least in the right place to catch up.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 1, to which I added my name. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for his helpful amendment. We agree that assessing long-term environmental risk should be an essential part of setting environmental targets and improvement plans.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, very much for setting out why recognising our climate and biodiversity emergency is so important. He and other noble Lords set out the case with clarity, passion and commitment. As he said, this is indeed code red for humanity.
We had a number of excellent contributions in Committee which all strengthened the importance of having Amendment 1 underpin the Bill. It has of course become commonplace for government and civic society to acknowledge that we have a climate change emergency. The recent global evidence that the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Bennett, referred to reinforces this view. Quite frankly, it has made a mockery of the dwindling band of climate sceptics.
However, we still have some way to go to put the biodiversity crisis on an equal footing with the climate crisis, with comparable attention and resources. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, biodiversity is seen as the poor relation, yet, as we have heard, the evidence of a biodiversity emergency is all around us. At a UK level, the RSPB’s State of Nature report showed that 41% of our species are declining and one in 10 threatened with extinction. We are one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. At a global level, the WWF has documented the international failure to meet the UN biodiversity targets, with an average 68% of species decline across the world. We see the impact of this decline in our gardens, countryside and waterways. For many of us, it is personally heartbreaking to see nature suffering and declining in this way.
We now understand more than ever that nature is not just a “nice to have”; it underpins our very existence and regulates the earth’s climate. As the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee’s report concludes:
“Biodiversity and well-functioning ecosystems are critical for human existence, economic prosperity, and a good quality of life.”
Of course, this echoes the previous conclusions of the much-quoted and seminal Dasgupta report.
That is why Amendment 1 is so important. A government declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency would be more than symbolic. It would make it clear that the two issues are inextricably linked and that both require action on an urgent scale. In Committee, the Minister acknowledged these arguments. He said:
“We absolutely recognise the extent of the crisis” that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and I had relayed. He went on to say:
“There is no doubt that the facts on the ground tell us that we are in crisis territory”,
but he also acknowledged that international action on climate change is well ahead of any comparable action on biodiversity. As he said:
“It remains the case … that of all international climate finance, only 2.5% to 3% is spent on nature-based solutions.”—[Official Report, 21/6/21; col. 37.]
This lies at the heart of the problem. A group of us were involved in debates on the Financial Services Bill earlier in the year. It was clear then that banking and businesses in the UK are slowly waking up to their climate change commitments, but I do not recall much mention of biodiversity in their strategies for the future. So far, it seems that biodiversity and nature-based solutions are seen as Defra issues, not government-wide issues. I do not doubt the Minister’s sincerity or commitment on this issue, but the evidence seems to show that the department is struggling to get other government departments to take this issue seriously. This is why it is important that the Government as a whole recognise the joint emergency of climate change and biodiversity, and why the Prime Minister needs to recognise the emergencies and put action on both issues at the heart of government policy for the future.
Nature will not wait. We are spiralling into levels of extinction that cannot be reversed. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, this is the right time to make this declaration. I therefore hope that noble Lords will heed our call and support our amendment if it is put to a vote.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the very powerful arguments that have been made. I believe that what is happening with biodiversity is more of an emergency than the climate. I am not certain that I like subsections (2) and (3) of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and I do not like Amendment 21, which is grouped with Amendment 1 but is not consequential on it. That would make it harder for the Government to pursue their environmental improvement plans and 25-year plan. There would be unnecessary duplication with the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Bird. I am very happy with subsection (1) of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. The purpose of this Act is to address the biodiversity and climate emergency domestically and globally. Once that is in print, it will be acknowledged by the Government as an emergency. Surely that meets the noble Lord’s point, and if my noble friend the Minister accepts subsection (1), I will be perfectly happy.
My Lords, it is a curious experience to be standing up without being called.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has made the classic Conservative error of separating biodiversity from climate. It is all interconnected: you cannot talk about either without accepting that each has an impact on the other. Every noble Lord must understand that we have a climate emergency, and therefore this government Bill is not good enough. We all know that–it is why there are so many amendments at Report. It is our job to improve the Bill and it is the Government’s job to listen and, I hope, accept our improvements.
I hope that your Lordships will remember the words of the Pope in Laudato Si’, when he said that climate change was the symptom of what we had done to the world. That brings together bio- diversity, imposed poverty, the lack of fertility in our soil, modern slavery and a whole range of other things. Climate change is the planet crying out for the elimination of its disease.
I was not present for his speech but I read carefully what my noble friend said about his commitment to both these things. I hope that, when he comes to answer this debate, he realises that it is extremely difficult for us in the Climate Change Committee to explain to people why biodiversity is part of the answer—putting that right is just as important as a range of other things, and we cannot divorce them from each other. It is difficult, because we have already started doing that, making climate change one sort of thing and these other things different from it. I hope that the Government will understand why this amendment has been put down and why it is important to connect these things. If I have a difficulty, it is that a lot of other things ought to be connected as well, but these two are particularly important this year, given the nature of international negotiations in this area.
I hope also that my noble friend will think to himself a very simple thing: if the Government will not accept the amendment or rewrite the Bill—my noble friend Lord Caithness may be right; I am not arguing in detail about the particular amendment—it is perfectly possible for them to come forward and make a statement in the Bill which makes it clear that the biodiversity and climate emergencies are intimately and intricately connected. I hope my noble friend will realise that, if he cannot say it, he will be showing that the Government are not prepared to say it. That would be really worrying. The reason the Government have to say it is that there is a fundament problem with government: it has a series of silos, and if we are not careful these big issues get caught up in some ministries and not others. Unless we make it clear that this should be a driving force in, say, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as much as in the Department for Education, Defra or BEIS, we will not win this battle.
I hope my noble friend will recognise that the House is asking for a very simple statement. If it is refused, I really would not blame people outside for questioning the commitment of the Government as a whole to these two essential parts of the same problem. I look to him if not to accept these amendments then to at least tell the House that, at Third Reading, he will introduce an amendment that will assert publicly the Government’s commitment to these being urgent, necessary issues that deserve the title that we have asked for. I hope he is able to say that; if he is not, it will send the wrong signal, at a time when we should be united in sending the right signals, so that in all discussions people will know precisely where Britain stands.
My Lords, in supporting the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I draw attention to a particular feature that has been mentioned but perhaps could be made more explicit. It is a feature of both the climate emergency and the biodiversity emergency: the discontinuities that will arise as a result of incremental change. My noble friend Lady Boycott alluded to this in talking about the rivets in an aeroplane: it does not matter, perhaps, if one, two or three rivets fall out, but when more than a critical number fall off there is a discontinuity and the plane falls out of the sky. This is true, as we know from the IPCC and others, of the climate emergency. We hear over and over of the notion of dangerous climate change, whereby if we exceed a certain boundary then we will tip into a new world in which life becomes intolerable and many regions of the planet are uninhabitable for the human species. That is equally true of the biodiversity emergency.
I am an academic ecologist, and so I will refer back to the scientific literature. Back in 1969, an American ecologist, Robert T Paine of the University of Washington, drew attention to the notion of keystone species. He was studying a species of starfish that lives in the intertidal zone of the north-western United States—Washington state. If this species of starfish disappears then the whole ecosystem flips to a new state, because the starfish is the keystone species that maintains the equilibrium of the intertidal ecosystem. The same will be true in many other situations.
It is not just the number of rivets that fall out of the plane that is important; it is particular, key rivets. The sad thing is that, if we lose some of these keystone species, we will be among the ones that suffer, because we will suddenly find that the systems we rely on to produce food, purify our water and provide other ecosystem services will simply not exist any more. A genuine emergency is created by crossing these thresholds: once we have crossed them, it will be too late.
My Lords, in the Book of Common Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer says:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, in earth as in heaven.”
I repeat, “in earth”. It was not the work of some liberal conspiracy in the Church or the Liturgical Commission but, somewhere in the last 300 or 400 years in the popular saying of the Lord’s Prayer, it somehow changed from “in earth” to “on earth”. This tiny change encompasses for me all that is wrong in our relationship with the earth of which we are a part. We used to understand that we live in it, we are part of it, we depend on it and that, as good stewards of the earth, the earth depends on us. Then, somehow, we decided that we did not live in it any more but on it; it was ours and we could do with it as we wanted.
Therein lies the whole challenge to the human race. What I want to hear from the Government on this crucial amendment is a clear signal that we have recognised—as a human race, as a nation and as the Government of this land—that there is an emergency, and that what is happening to our climate and to biodiversity is completely connected. At the same time there must be recognition of the terrible responsibility that we bear for having imagined that we lived on the earth rather than in it. By giving that signal, everything else could follow.
My Lords, I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Caithness. The Government are to be congratulated on the first major piece of environmental legislation in two decades; I congratulate them on this. It will set a world-leading framework for environmental improvement and vigilance. I believe that the Government—certainly my noble friend on the Front Bench and our excellent Minister in the other place—recognise the scale of the crisis. That has been said in the House already.
It is inevitably the case that the climate change emergency is much better recognised than the biodiversity emergency, yet the two are so linked. Indeed, it is frightening to see the decline in biodiversity. The figures announced by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for example, are a telling reminder of the dangers to our precious planet and the interconnection between all species on earth. Part of my religious belief is founded on the amazing magic that nature produces. This world has been created for us, yet we are in danger of ending the precious balance that has, in my view, been created for us. I hope that those who do not agree with my underlying religious belief on this matter will forgive me.
I hope that my noble friend might be able to accept the first part of Amendment 1, which aims to address the biodiversity and climate emergency both domestically and globally. I am not convinced that proposed subsections 2 and 3 are clear in what they imply. What does this mean? What do these extra bits add? What we want—and I think this House is keen to see—is that we are addressing a crisis in biodiversity and in climate change. Of course, there is pollution and waste management. All these things are incorporated in this crisis. I cannot support Amendment 21, but I hope that my noble friend will be able to speak to the first bit of Amendment 1.
My Lords, I wish very briefly to endorse everything that my noble friend Lady Altmann said a moment ago. There is a great deal to be said for clarity and simplicity and I believe that the first part of this amendment moved so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, frankly, says it all. We do not need the encumbrances. We need this clear, unambiguous, emphatic statement. If my noble friend the Minister will agree to give us that, I think it would be unwise of the House to seek to vote on the composite—as the trade unions would call it—resolution. This is what we need.
The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York put it very well when he quoted from the Lord’s Prayer. We are in earth. As president of the Prayer Book Society, I always say that and would not say anything else. I beg my noble friend the Minister to take on board the wise words of my noble friends Lady Altmann and Lord Deben—how good it is to have him back in the Chamber—and that he will accept this; then, we can move forward.
I am delighted to be back debating the Environment Bill on Report and not least to be able to do so in person. I thank noble Lords for continuing to meet me and my officials over the Summer Recess.
Off the back of much of that engagement, as well as the many insightful contributions in Committee from right across this House, noble Lords will have seen that we have secured and tabled some significant amendments to the Bill. I outlined these in a letter to your Lordships last week and I look forward to discussing these in more detail as we progress the debate.
Moving on to the important issues at hand, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his Amendment 1. He described an emergency; I reassure him that the Government fully recognise the seriousness of both climate change and biodiversity loss, which, as a number of noble Lords have said, must be addressed in tandem if we are to protect the planet. There is no credible pathway to net zero that does not involve the protection and restoration of nature on an unprecedented scale. Indeed, there is no pathway to meeting our sustainable development goals—any of them—without massive efforts to protect and restore nature. We know that those people who depend most on the free services that nature provides, and which have been described by a number of speakers today, are in the most vulnerable and poorest communities. As we destroy nature, we destroy those services and plunge people in huge numbers into base poverty.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, pointed out that of total global climate finance, less than 3% is invested in nature-based solutions to climate change. An attempt to shift that balance and get that 3% much closer to 50% is at the heart of our ambitions as the president of COP. In addition to committing to double our own international climate finance to £11.6 billion, we have committed that nearly a third of that will be invested in nature-based solutions, including forests, mangroves, seagrasses and more. As part of our diplomatic efforts in the run-up to COP, we are talking to other donor countries on a regular basis to try to persuade them to do something similar. There has been some progress and I hope that, by the time we reach COP, I will be able to present significant movement in that area.
My noble friend Lord Deben, who I too am very pleased to see here and who is an authority on climate change, quoted the Pope; I am not sure whether it was the current or previous Pope but he quoted a Pope. The point he made was absolutely right. Climate change has been described by others—perhaps from a less theological point of view—as a fever caused by decades and generations of our abuse of the natural world. The more we can see it in that way, the more likely we are to deliver appropriate solutions. COP will be a nature COP; this is at the heart of what we are attempting to do with our presidency.
I take issue with one suggestion that the noble Lord, Lord Deben made: that we need to make it clear to others where the UK stands on these issues. I would not pretend that there is a country in the world, including the UK, that is doing enough. The gap between where we are and where we need to be is vast; that is true of every country on earth, and that is why we are having this discussion today. But where the UK stands on climate change and nature already sends a pretty powerful message to the world. I think we are regarded internationally as leaders: we were the first major economy to legislate for net zero by 2050; we have committed to ending taxpayer support for fossil fuel projects overseas, which the noble Lord has been urging for many years; we are the first to make our land use subsidy system conditional on environmental outcomes; we have doubled our international climate finance, as I said; and we have committed to a third of investment into nature-based solutions. As COP president, we are all engaging in intense diplomacy to try to raise ambition across the world.
I think my noble friend misunderstood my point. My point was that, given the opportunity to declare this simple thing in an Act, the Government, if they do not take it, cannot avoid the fact that many will say they do not want to. The Government have the opportunity. I do not want the rest of these amendments; I just want the statement, and then no one can argue. If he cannot give that, I merely say that people outside will think we are not willing to do so.
I thank my noble friend for his intervention, and I will address his question directly.
The Environment Bill contains numerous world firsts as well—for example, legislation to move illegal deforestation from supply chains, which we are trying to persuade many other countries to emulate, and with which we think we are making some progress. Biodiversity net gain is, I believe, a world first. I am delighted to introduce a legal requirement, which we will debate later today, to everything the Government can do to bend the curve of biodiversity loss by 2030. The Bill will enable us to improve air quality, address nature’s decline, deliver a resource-efficient economy, tackle the scourge of single-use plastics and ensure we can manage our precious water resources in a changing climate. All climate change legislation in England will be part of the enforcement remit of the office for environmental protection, including enforcement of the net-zero target. The OEP will work closely alongside our world-leading Committee on Climate Change on these issues, ensuring that their individual roles complement and reinforce one another.
Through the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, the Government set out steps to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This innovative programme outlines ambitious policies and includes £12 billion of government investment to support up to 250,000 green jobs, accelerate our path to reaching net zero by 2050 and lay the foundations for a green recovery by building back greener from the pandemic. The Government have also published their energy White Paper, transport decarbonisation plan and hydrogen strategy, and we will bring forward further proposals, including a net-zero strategy, before COP 26—a strategy that all government departments, without exception, are working on. We will continue to tackle these interrelated crises in an integrated way, internationally, as hosts of COP 26 and by playing a leading role in pushing for the development of an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework to be adopted at the CBD COP 15.
Briefly, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, who talked about the need for action alongside this but questioned the action taken during the passage of the Bill, most of the examples I gave earlier are things that have happened during the passage of the Bill but, in addition to that, the Government announced a few months ago the £3 billion green investment fund to create thousands of green jobs and upgrade buildings; a £2 billion green homes grant; the England peat action plan, produced by my honourable friend Rebecca Pow in the other place; the England trees action plan, which was part of my portfolio; and a £5.2 billion fund to better protect properties from flooding, increasing amounts of which will be invested in nature-based solutions to try to deal with numerous problems using the same investment. We are taking action.
In response to the amendment, but also to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben: it is clearly the action against which a Government will be judged. Any Government can make declarations, as we have seen. As we approach COP, every declaration made so far in relation to deforestation globally has been missed. The Aichi targets were missed catastrophically. I cannot think of a single grand statement about the environment, biodiversity or climate change that has in fact been met—not a single one. It is the steps—the actions—that Governments take against which they should be judged.
A number of noble Lords have described an environmental crisis, a biodiversity crisis and a climate crisis. I have, in the short time I have been in this place, described those crises myself. Indeed, the reason I am in politics is to tackle those crises. It is hard to talk about the scale of the crisis. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, gave the example that the populations of key species have declined by nearly 70% in my lifetime, and that would not even qualify as a nano-blip in evolutionary terms. One more nano-blip like that and we are in very serious trouble. Of course this is an emergency; there is no doubt that we are describing, combating and tackling a biodiversity and climate emergency. But adding this proposed new clause to the Bill would not, we believe, drive any specific further action. It does not change the nature of what we need to do or of the action we are already taking. While I agree completely with the sentiment behind the noble Lord’s amendment—and I think the Government have demonstrated, in the steps they have taken, that they share that sentiment—respectfully, we do not see that this amendment would have any material impact.
Amendment 21 was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, but he has not spoken to it, so I hope it is okay if I address it. I am not sure what the protocol requires, but I will do so unless I am told not to. I firmly believe that environmental risks are already accounted for under the Bill—in numerous ways, such as the environment improvement plan and annual reports that will consider risks related to improving the natural environment and be actively managed through ongoing performance management. These reports will be published and scrutinised by Parliament and the office for environmental protection. Furthermore, the Government report publicly on specific environmental risk, including long-term environmental trends and high-impact environmental risks, through Defra’s annual reports and accounts and the outcome delivery plans for each government department. These are all available online.
Regarding youth engagement, a point raised by a number of speakers, we have consulted the Youth Steering Group and are exploring new approaches to youth engagement as part of the EIP review due to take place in 2022. In addition, the emphasis being placed by the COP president-designate on the value of youth engagement and youth involvement cannot be overestimated, and that is demonstrated through the actions he is taking and the plans he is making.
The Bill and the actions we are taking elsewhere will deliver on the sentiments behind both amendments. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Before my noble friend sits down: if the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, or anyone else for that matter, brought back at Third Reading proposed new subsection (1) of Amendment 1, which is merely a headline, would my noble friend pledge to accept that it does not detract one iota from the Bill? Yet headlines can be useful—they can be pointers—and I would urge my noble friend to do that. It is a pity to start on a Division when we all agree that that is the one thing on which many of us feel particularly strongly.
I thank my noble friend for his intervention and his earlier comments, but the reality is that I, the department I work for and the whole of the Government will be tested and judged against the actions we take—actions and commitments we make in the run-up to COP and alongside the Bill. My view, and that of the Government, is that accepting this amendment and writing these words into the eventual Act would have no material impact on policy whatever. The reality is that securing changes to a Bill requires a great deal of heavy lifting. There are areas where I hope noble Lords will see that the Bill has improved considerably in recent weeks as a consequence of arguments put forward by noble Lords in this House. But those are material changes that will have a material impact on our stewardship of the environment.
My Lords, if my noble friend is not prepared to give the very simple assurance that at Third Reading he will have some form of declaration, he is being politically most unwise. What is more, he is setting himself up to have a great deal more trouble with this Bill than he otherwise would.
I simply say to my noble friend that I am not in a position to accept this amendment. If the House feels strongly on this issue, then it is important that it tests the amendment in a Division. Accepting it is not something that I am able to do or, frankly, that I think would make any material difference to government policy.
I do not want this to start off so badly, but the fact is that many of us do not want to have various bits of this amendment and it is not our fault that my noble friend has been offered the opportunity to make this statement. I have to ask him: is he really going to stand up and say that, if just that bit were put in at Third Reading, he would whip his side to vote against it? If he did that—and that is the only way in which he could stand behind refusing such an amendment—then that seems to open up the reality of the question that he has been asked.
I agree with him about statements. I am constantly attacking the Government for not doing the things that are necessary to achieve the ends that they have so nobly accepted, so he must not accuse me of being in favour of declarations. However, when he has been asked to make a declaration and he does not do so, that seems to me to be a very different circumstance.
Perhaps I have misunderstood my noble friend. If he is asking me to acknowledge, as I have done many times in this House and outside it, that we face a biodiversity and climate emergency then I believe I have already done so. However, it is not for me to unilaterally accept an amendment on behalf of the Government that would have no material impact. As my noble friend says, we have made some big commitments; accepting the amendment would not change our commitment to net zero or to reversing biodiversity loss by 2030, or indeed in relation to any of these issues. I am afraid I have to come back to my noble friend and others by saying that if the feeling is strong then this issue needs to be put to a Division.
I would just like to get clarification on this. Since it is now so difficult to table an amendment at Third Reading, it needs my noble friend to say that he would consider it before Third Reading. As I understand it, that would allow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, to bring it back at Third Reading. If my noble friend is point blank saying that he will not even consider it, then the noble Lord has no alternative but to divide the House.
As I said, I like subsection (1) of the proposed new clause but not the rest of the amendment, which puts me and indeed quite a lot of us on the Benches behind my noble friend in an extremely difficult position. I think it is essential, as my noble friend Lord Deben said, that we get subsection (1), but we would have to vote for the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in order to get it into the Bill.
My Lords, I am afraid the noble Baroness cannot summarise. The rules in the Companion are quite clear that interruptions on Report are solely for points of clarification. I think we should let the Minister move on with this.
I have been told to finish but I am not sure how; this is the first time I have been asked to finish in these circumstances. I will repeat what I said earlier: all I can suggest to the House is that if feelings are strong then this question should be put to a Division. I do not see an alternative to doing so.
My Lords, in all my time in this House, this is the first time that I have got to a point where the Minister is calling for a Division on an amendment that he does not agree with. We have perhaps made history this afternoon.
This is a very serious matter. I listened carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. If subsection (1) had been accepted by the Government then I would have been in a great dilemma, because it does not quite say what I wanted to say but gets pretty close to it. The reason why it is written as it is, I have to say, is partly because of the Public Bill Office. I would have appreciated the Government’s help in getting it right and we could have done that at Third Reading, but we are not in that position.
I want to be quite clear about this. These are key issues where what we say matters as much as what we need to do. All of us here believe there is no difference between saying what we want and actually doing it; we all know that we need both of those, not just one. The Bill goes on to do a lot of what we need in some of those areas.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her in-depth look at biodiversity. As the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Bennett, and other Members have said, biodiversity has to be brought into greater focus. The point is that, in public life as in private, there is a big difference between acceptance and public declaration. That is why the amendment is so important for the Bill and why I, like the Minister, would like to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 209, Noes 179.