Amendment 106

Environment Bill - Report (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:27 pm on 15 September 2021.

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Lord Randall of Uxbridge:

Moved by Lord Randall of Uxbridge

106: Schedule 17, page 240, line 42, at end insert—“2A_(1) A regulated person in relation to a forest risk commodity must not use that commodity, or a product derived from that commodity, in their UK commercial activities unless the source organism was not grown, raised, or cultivated on land that was forest at the date this paragraph comes into force, or an earlier date specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State, and has since been degraded or converted to agricultural use.(2) Without limiting sub-paragraph (1), forest is regarded as degraded if its tree canopy cover (excluding trees planted for the purpose of producing timber or other commodities) has decreased due to human activity.(3) Sub-paragraph (1) does not apply to source organisms grown, raised or cultivated by indigenous peoples, or other communities with customary land use rights, in accordance with their customary rights and practices.(4) A regulated person in relation to a forest risk commodity must not use that commodity, or a product derived from that commodity, unless free, prior and informed consent has been obtained in relation to that commodity from indigenous peoples in accordance with their rights under international law, and from other local communities.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would require, with exceptions, that a regulated person does not use forest risk commodities or products derived from those commodities in their UK commercial activities if they are derived from land that is deforested after the commencement of Schedule 17 or an earlier date set by regulation.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, I once again reiterate my conservation and wildlife interests as in the register, particularly, in relation to these amendments, as a vice-president of Fauna and Flora International. I shall speak to a number of amendments in this group in my name. I will try to be brief, but they cover three distinct and important issues. In Committee, at the behest of my Whips—as always, I listen to the Whips—I rather gabbled through the arguments and although it read all right in Hansard, I am not sure anybody really listened to it. I will try to be a bit slower this time and ask for noble Lords’ indulgence.

Amendment 106 relates to the due diligence framework, which was a relatively late addition to the Bill, and is in broad terms very welcome. I congratulate the Government heartily on bringing it forward; indeed, I believe the Government fully understand this and rightly put a global halt to deforestation at the centre of their agenda for the COP summit in Glasgow. These measures are the first of their kind and we should be justly proud of our Government. They are the Government’s response to the Global Resource Initiative task force’s recommendation from March 2020 for a mandatory due diligence obligation on companies that place commodities and derived products that contribute to deforestation, whether legal or illegal under local laws, on the UK market. The GRI made other recommendations which are yet to be embraced in legislation. I hope that these might be returned to at the earliest opportunity, such as the need to ensure that similar principles are applied to the finance industry.

The question that we must ask ourselves is whether the Government’s approach is the right one. We know that action to tackle deforestation is not only a political and moral imperative; it is also an economic one, given the vital role that the world’s forests play in storing carbon, providing a home for some of our most spectacular and endangered wildlife on this precious planet, sourcing medicines and other valuable products, and in sustaining local livelihoods and cultures. The Government’s approach is focused on illegal deforestation. I fully understand the reasons for that, but will it be enough?

We should also ask ourselves how well the Bill responds to the challenges that will arise from the inevitable weakening or blurring of local laws that will follow it. That is one of the reasons why I propose my Amendments 107 and 108, which I will turn to shortly. It is also why I have tabled Amendment 106, which seeks to introduce a requirement

“that a regulated person does not use forest risk commodities or products derived from those commodities in their UK commercial activities if they are derived from land that is deforested after the commencement of Schedule 17 or an earlier date set by regulation.”

It also provides for an exception for forest risk commodities produced

“by indigenous peoples, or other communities with customary land use rights” according to traditional farming practices.

Under the proposals, large companies will have a legal obligation to carry out due diligence checks to ensure there is no illegal deforestation in their supply chains of so-called forest risk commodities, with the list of products affected likely to include, among others, beef, soya and palm oil. However, there is a loophole: what counts as illegal deforestation will be determined by the laws in the producer country. Products derived from legal deforestation, or rather deforestation deemed legal by a national or regional Government anywhere in the world that UK businesses source their goods, will still be available on the shelves of British supermarkets.

A recent analysis by the World Wide Fund for Nature found that in areas of Brazil that supply soy directly to the UK, more than 2.1 million hectares of natural vegetation, including forest—an area larger than Wales—could be legally converted under current laws. The proposals as they stand also risk creating a perverse incentive for Governments in producer countries actively to lower their standards, to shift the goalposts of what counts as legal deforestation, in order to maintain access to the UK market. Laws can be changed quicky, as we are seeing with several controversial Bills going through the Brazilian Congress which could give an amnesty to land grabbers that have illegally deforested public land and reduced protections for indigenous peoples’ land rights. It is precisely the kind of recklessness that the UK’s due diligence regime should be working against and not inadvertently incentivising.

A far better approach is available to us. The NGO Forest Coalition, an alliance of leading environmental and human rights groups, has called for the new law to address all deforestation in UK supply chains and not just that deemed illegal. The benefits of such an approach are self-evident in terms of forest protection; they also make more sense for the British businesses that would have to implement the law. Global satellite tools exist that can clearly show whether deforestation has taken place, but no such technology exists that can easily identify whether that deforestation was legal or illegal. Last year, 20 UK businesses, including Sainsbury’s and Aldi, wrote to the Government asking them not to limit the due diligence requirements to illegal deforestation, a reflection of the fact that the British consumer is increasingly impatient to see businesses they trust take tougher action to protect the natural world.

How the UK decides to legislate in this area could have a considerable ripple effect. The EU and the US are also weighing up how to combat deforestation in their supply chains. If the UK Government decide to take a clear “no deforestation” approach, I am sure others will take note. There could be no clearer demonstration that this really is a “code red” situation and that half-measures will no longer suffice. I understand the practical difficulties, but I urge Her Majesty’s Government to be bold at this crucial time for our planet.

I have a number of questions for my noble friend the Minister, who I know shares my passion for the conservation of forest as well as biodiversity and the environment in general. I hope I may get some answers. If he cannot provide them today, I am very happy for him to write to me.

Given the central role that the Global Resource Initiative taskforce has played in informing and testing government policy, it would be immensely reassuring were my noble friend able to confirm to the House that the GRI will not only be maintained but its remit broadened beyond deforestation, as it itself recommended in its final report.

Amendments 107 and 108 would strengthen the review provision in Schedule 17. It is very welcome that this part of the Bill includes a requirement for the Secretary of State to review the effectiveness of the forest risk commodities framework every two years and to lay before Parliament and publish a report of the conclusions. However, there are no requirements regarding the quality, transparency or independence of the review, nor is there a requirement to address any deficiencies or weaknesses identified by any such review, or to make any needed improvements to the content, implementation or enforcement of the forest risk commodities framework. My amendments would address these omissions and ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples be considered, a consultation be held, and the Secretary of State take steps to eliminate forest risk commodities from UK commercial activities.

The recent report from Global Witness is clear evidence of why the rights of indigenous peoples must be a formal part of this review. We should all be shocked that 227 land and environment defenders were killed in 2020—the highest number of lethal attacks ever recorded. We can be under no illusion that our aims for this measure may not be shared by others in those very places this new law seeks to protect. It is essential therefore that the review consider the rights of indigenous peoples fully and explicitly. I urge my noble friend to confirm that this will be the case.

These amendments would help ensure that the measure is progressively improved over time. They would also enable the due diligence framework to be adjusted to address any deregulation or undermining of protections for forest in producer countries. Finally, let us not forget the public, as it is public pressure to free our supply chains from deforestation that has inspired so much of our progress to date. The Government must consult relevant stakeholders as part of the review, as my Amendment 107 proposes.

My Amendment 121 is on global footprint, and I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for supporting it. We discussed this matter in depth in Committee, where there was clear agreement about the importance and urgency of reducing our global footprint. In this year of global action, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to set out more clearly the Government’s plans on this. I welcomed his assurance in Committee that the power to set long-term, legally-binding targets in Clause 1 can be used to set targets on any matter relating to the natural environment, including reducing our global footprint. I am also grateful for the very helpful factsheet that I received from the department last night. However, while this is a welcome clarification, there are two matters of significant unfinished business for this Bill. The first is the timescale for setting a global footprint target, which my Amendment 121 would clarify. The second is the process that will be followed to develop any such target, which I hope my noble friend will be able to elucidate.

On timescales, noble Lords will recall that the power in Clause 1 allows the Government to set long-term targets which must last for at least 15 years. While this long-term approach is undoubtedly welcome, as it will extend beyond and between successive Administrations, it means that, with the best will in the world, the earliest the global footprint target might be set is 2023. As such, a target is not to be included in the first tranche of targets that we expect to be published for consultation next year. That means, in effect, that the earliest a target would need to be met is 2038. I fear this is simply too late, given the evidence that the World Wide Fund for Nature and many others have gathered. Its report, published in June, found that we need to reduce our global footprint as a nation by three-quarters by 2030 if we are to live within our planetary means. That 2030 timescale for a global footprint target is not possible within the framework of the Bill. I hope that my noble friend the Minister might look at this carefully to ensure that the Government’s commitment to tackle our global footprint will not be kicked into the long grass.

On process, will my noble friend respond to four simple questions? First, will he commit to consult on a target to reduce the UK’s global environmental footprint ahead of the conclusion of COP 15, as recommended by the Environmental Audit Committee in its June 2021 report on biodiversity in the UK? Secondly, will he agree to establish an independent expert panel to advise on the global footprint target? Thirdly, will he be able to appraise us of the legislative vehicle by which the Government would set a 2030 global footprint target, if they accept the evidence that this timescale is necessary? Finally, will he, when preparing the Government’s response to the independent report on the national food strategy, consider the potential for any legislative response?

I thank noble Lords for their indulgence for this speech, which is considerably longer than my customary contributions, but this is something I feel very strongly about. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 5:30, 15 September 2021

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 108A, 108B and 108C. Before I say anything else, I must say that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, had planned to be here to speak in favour of these amendments. Unfortunately he has been pulled away to a meeting and may not be able to get back to the Chamber in time.

The aims of the amendments are to ensure the earliest possible review of the deforestation provisions in Schedule 17 and, in the case of Amendment 108C, to enable Ministers by regulations, without delay—that being the important point—to extend their controls over UK use of forest risk commodities in commercial activity to legally deforested land. As noble Lords know, Schedule 17 currently applies restrictions on UK companies in relation only to commodities produced on illegally deforested land. This very much leaves all the power in the hands of the Government. This is very important when one is trying to gain their support on an issue.

I fully support all the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Indeed, I moved a similar amendment to Amendment 106 in Committee. That amendment would immediately extend the Schedule 17 provision to all deforested land, whether it has been done legally or illegally. Of course, this is ideally what should and needs to happen to save the planet. I support the noble Lord’s arguments but will not repeat them in view of the time.

According to one estimate, 15 billion trees are cut down each year over a land area equivalent to three and a half times the size of Wales. This is, of course, devastating for climate change and therefore the planet. Any delay in discouraging such deforestation is therefore obviously extremely serious.

In a very useful meeting with the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for which I thank the Minister very much, the Minister made it clear that he is negotiating with lots of other countries on this issue and explained that he needs to be seen to try limiting our controls to illegally deforested land initially to bring other countries along with us. Obviously, lots of countries working together to discourage deforestation is far preferable to just one country operating alone. However, I pointed out that having lots of countries doing something that actually makes no difference is not that useful, because countries such as Brazil will simply sidestep the policy set out in this Bill, and where are we? Nowhere at all, actually. Nevertheless, I respect the Minister’s wish to give this a try, but that underlines the importance of being able to rectify it as soon as we can.

The noble Lord, Lord Randall, explained the importance of a comprehensive law on deforestation from the point of view of our employers. Again, I will not repeat his arguments.

As I said, Schedule 17 as it stands limits the scope of our controls over commercial activity in forest risk commodities to those produced in illegally deforested land. There is no real prospect of this position being changed for years to come, as the Bill stands. That is my great concern, because every year really matters in this field. We would have two or three years before a review and then goodness knows how many years before we could have a piece of primary legislation. As noble Lords know, we really could wait many years for that. How many billions of trees will be lost before the UK takes meaningful action? It does not bear thinking about.

Hence the importance of the modest Amendments 108A to 108C. They would ensure that there was a review within one to two years after implementation. In many ways more important than even Amendments 108A and 108B is Amendment 108C, which would enable the Government to prepare regulations and implement them immediately following the review. As the Minister said, we will know very quickly whether this limit to illegal deforestation is working. In fact, we will probably know pretty quickly that it is not. Therefore, to give Ministers the power—and in this case to introduce regulations—seems absolutely justified. I say this as a member of the Delegated Powers Committee, which fights week after week against Henry VIII powers. This is a Henry VIII power, but we need it so that Ministers do not have to delay. This is far too important an issue to hang about.

The Minister agreed that we will all know very quickly, as I said, so we really do need to get on with this. We could then finally have a Bill that leads to effective action and, I hope, will bring in other countries behind what we are planning to do. These amendments are desperately needed to ensure that good action is taken. I hope the Minister will be able to accept Amendments 108A to 108C, but if not I will want to test the opinion of the House.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative 5:45, 15 September 2021

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Randall’s amendments, particularly Amendment 121. This would enable global footprint targets to be part of regulations. That in turn can give us much more confidence that we really will manage to stick to these necessary dates and deadlines.

In Committee, my noble friend the Minister pointed out that the Clause 1 power might be used to set a global footprint target. That is certainly helpful. However, the Bill is unclear about timescales. Within its current scope, long-term targets have to be for at least 15 years. As my noble friend Lord Randall just observed, the latter focus already becomes anomalous if, for example, targets cannot apply for a period less than 15 years, such as that until 2030, which is exactly by when we are told as a nation that we should reduce the United Kingdom’s global footprint by three-quarters.

Does my noble friend the Minister agree that while the implementation of Amendment 121 guards against slippage, putting these targets into regulations would also give a strong message internationally that, in this matter, the United Kingdom is committed to leading good practice?

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the three noble Lords who have already spoken on this group. They have given us a comprehensive explanation of why we need all these amendments. I shall speak chiefly to Amendment 121 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, also signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on the global footprint timetable. It has already been clearly set out why this amendment needs to pass: we need drastic action now.

A large number of amendments in Committee addressed the broader issues here. There was the call to look at not just resource efficiency but cutting total resource use in Part 1. There was the call to move towards the Treasury managing our economy for the purposes of people and planet, not chasing after growth that we cannot have more of on a finite planet. Your Lordships have heard the Government’s cries about their desire to progress the Bill quickly, so many of these amendments have not been put. They have been boiled down to some very clear, simple essentials that need to happen. I offer support for all these amendments.

The questions that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, asked were very clear and important, but I will address a direct question to the Minister on Schedule 17. It is crucial that Schedule 17 covers the main commodities driving global deforestation, so can he confirm that it will cover beef and leather, cocoa, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber and soy? They are not currently defined in the schedule, and there is concern that any limits to the approach would utterly undermine the intentions expressed in this provision and by the Government.

I also want briefly to address Amendment 107 on the rights of indigenous people. We know that many of the parts of the world that still remain relatively pristine rely heavily on indigenous people to protect them, and how often their rights to do so and to live their lives are threatened by mining companies associated with us—often large multinationals with close ties to the UK. When one considers that and our historic legacy, as well as the impact of colonialism on those communities, we have a particular responsibility to ensure, practically and morally, that they are being listened to.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Randall, on his speech and his due diligence on this issue, which is crucial in terms of deforestation. We have the frustration whereby we want extraterritoriality, which we do not normally have in the UK, but we can influence some of these matters only through supply chains and our own British corporates. The United States seems to get away with extraterritoriality in relation to more or less everything. We do not have that privilege.

As regards this approach, I also like the reference to recognising indigenous people. It is clear and obvious that it is so much more effective to keep forests rather than start to regrow them. That is the other side of the coin, as it were, to the previous debate and perhaps is even more important. That is why these Benches are very much in favour of the system proposed—although one of the big challenges that we have faced regarding environmental regulation and the Bill is enforcement and making sure that the regulations that we make can operate and are policed. We have the FSC, the Forest Stewardship Council, which works okay but all of us know of instances of duplicity in the system—not in the work of the FSC itself but among those copying and wrongly branding products. That challenge remains, but that does not mean that we should not move ahead in these areas.

I want also to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Randall, on his pioneering work on the global footprint. We have mentioned a number of areas but the Dasgupta review, sponsored by the Treasury, again stressed that in terms of natural capital we are extracting far more than we are putting back into the planet. I suspect that the noble Lord is not expecting the Minister to accept the amendment but I hope that the Government will do further work in this area. I agree strongly with a point that the noble Lord made: if we can become the leader of standards in this area, it would be incredibly important.

Lastly, I come to the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on urgency. That is the word I hear from her and she is absolutely right. We have so little time in so many of these areas and here, through these amendments—which I hope the Government and the Minister will accept—we have an opportunity to wind up that urgency and start to make right what we need to do soon and so urgently.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench

I have put my name, although only online, to my noble friend Lady Meacher’s amendments as well as to Amendment 121 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall.

We outsource so many things in this country that globalisation has destroyed any sense we have of how products get to us or what they are made of. Just look at the list of ingredients that go into a cheap ready meal. They will certainly contain stuff that one’s grand- mother would not recognise and probably include ingredients such as soy. Manufacturers are keen to keep us ignorant of those chains.

Much of what happens on Amazonian land, in the forests of Brazil and other parts of South America, is the growing of soy and feed crops for cattle, which then go to feed us. From an environmental and energy point of view, that is a travesty. I am not even counting the transport involved. We are colluding—for many people, I am sure, completely unwittingly—in pulling and cutting down ancient rainforests for the simple reason that the loggers and farmers can get away with it. We actually do not know about it. It is time to stop it and for us to stop buying those kinds of products, but we have to know and have transparency.

Amendment 108C also makes it clear that we must be aware not just of illegal deforestation, which varies between countries and often between jurisdictions, but of what might today be considered legal. Brazil’s forest laws have changed in the past decade but that does not mean that we should lay off the pressure. The good news is that 81% of the biggest UK companies in the forest risk supply chains have stated that they aim to remove all deforestation from their supply chains, and 22 major UK businesses recently called on the UK Government to develop a legal framework to halt it. Citizens also support such a move. In the Government’s own consultation, 99% of all residents supported the introduction of just this kind of legislation. However, in the meantime we continue to see ghastly pictures of the Amazon on fire. Scientists know that decades of human activity and a changing climate have pushed the jungle near to a tipping point; 17% of it is nearly destroyed and the tipping point will soon be reached.

That brings me neatly to Amendment 121 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and I congratulate him on his speech and for all his work. The day that the UK overshot our planetary boundaries was 29 July this year—the day that demand for ecological resources and services in any given year exceeded what the earth can generate. It hardly needs to be explained why that matters. I understand that all the measures in the Bill are effectively working to ensure that we live in harmony with the earth and that we do not use more than we can regenerate. However, it is also easy to see that it is not entirely working. We are a long way from that but we are not the first country to take measures. We therefore need to measure the progress, even though it is difficult to do so.

I have just finished reading a chapter from a new edition of Jared Diamond’s extraordinary book, Collapse, about Easter Island, which was the home of a once-thriving community who drove themselves almost into extinction over a period of about 250 years. They had amazing trees called Chilean pines, from which big canoes could be produced that were capable of going out far into the Pacific Ocean. One can tell from dietary remains that at that point the people ate big fish such as tuna, and porpoises, dolphins and so on, and were very healthy. Indeed, the society was so wealthy and healthy that they could spend their time making the extraordinary heads found on Easter Island. At one point, the people cut down the last Chilean pine. No one thought that it mattered because they then made smaller canoes. Unfortunately, their diet worsened, as did the soil because there were no trees. When travellers visited that society in the middle of the 1850s—not really that long ago—they found a bunch of people in rags who were impoverished and soil that was incapable of producing many crops.

That is a metaphor for our time, because the point is that it happened not with a bang but a whimper. Right now, one could say that the earth was beginning to scream. When we saw Covid coming, that was a bang and we were able to respond, but what we are doing now is slowly grinding down the planet to a point at which one day, we might end up like the people of Easter Island.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, we have been debating a number of amendments in this group that seek to strengthen Schedule 17. The first is Amendment 106 on forestry commodities, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. He has clearly explained what his amendment sets out to achieve and, importantly, why it is needed. His speech may have been longer than normal, but it was important to hear his words.

In the 25-year environment plan, the UK Government articulated an ambitious set of goals and actions, including that

“our consumption and impact on natural capital are sustainable, at home and overseas”.

Unfortunately, as in a number of other policy areas, the Environment Bill does not adequately deliver on this commitment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, mentioned the concern that, if the Government do not address the full range of commodities driving global deforestation, this may undermine the purpose of Schedule 17, thereby falling well short of their global leadership aspirations. In Committee, it was discussed that the focus on forests and land conversion was a first step only and that wider environmental and human rights impacts must also be addressed. We must consider industries such as mining—and I thank the London Mining Network for its helpful briefing on this issue. The expansion of the mining frontier into forests is a significant driver of forest loss in some countries, so it is extremely concerning that mining with regard to deforestation has been omitted. Can the Minister explain to your Lordships’ House why this is the case?

It is also frustrating that the Bill addresses only illegal deforestation, as we have heard from a number of noble Lords who have spoken today. We know that all deforestation, whether legal or illegal, has the same potential negative ecological, climate, human rights and sustainability impacts. The noble Lord, Lord Randall, mentioned the work of WWF, which proposes the inclusion of a statutory deforestation target. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on this proposal.

Amendments 107 and 108, also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, would, as we have heard, strengthen the review provision to ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples are considered, that a consultation is held and that the Secretary of State takes steps to eliminate forest-risk commodities from UK commercial activities. We strongly support the noble Lord in these aims. He mentioned the report that came out this week from Global Witness about attacks, many of them fatal, on indigenous peoples. Those reports are truly shocking. This aspect of deforestation needs to be taken seriously into account and acted on. Will the Minister make a commitment to ensure that indigenous peoples are consulted as part of any review of the legislation? May I also make a suggestion to the Minister? COP 26 could provide an opportunity to meet with Brazilian indigenous communities to discuss the impact of logging, whether legal or illegal, on their livelihoods, communities and the climate. Is this something that the Minister would consider?

I turn to Amendments 108A, 108B and 108C, which were tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and to which I have added my name. These amendments look to bring forward the timescale for the review so that it takes place after one year, not two. I will not add anything else on this because the noble Baroness has explained passionately and in detail why this is so important.

In Committee, the Minister explained why he could not accept a similar amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, to that set down today by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. On the understanding that this is still the Minister’s position, which would be disappointing, and that the Government are not prepared to accept Amendment 106, I hope that the Minister will accept the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, so that the opportunity to extend the scheme to cover both legal and illegal activity can be enacted as soon as possible. As the noble Baroness said, it is far too important for us to hang about.

Finally, I look briefly at Amendment 121, on the duty to produce a global footprint target timetable. This is something that we strongly support. Again, however, the Bill has failed to deliver on a commitment in the 25-year environment plan, in this case to ensure that

“our consumption and impact on natural capital are sustainable, at home and overseas.”

This has been a good debate. These are serious issues and I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

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) 6:00, 15 September 2021

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this hugely important debate. The UK has a strong history of supporting supply and demand-side measures to tackle deforestation, including the commissioning of the GRI, which my noble friend Lord Randall mentioned, to provide us with advice on how we could strengthen our efforts to tread more lightly on the environment. We welcome the widespread support that we have received for the Government’s work in this area, including our public consultation on due diligence legislation last year. That legislation is a world first and the Government are committed to ensuring that it is effective in addressing illegal deforestation and cleaning up our supply chains.

As I mentioned in Committee, a significant proportion of global deforestation is illegal. At least 69% of tropical deforestation for commercial agriculture between 2013 and 2019 was conducted in violation of national laws—it is closer to 90% in some key areas, including parts of the Amazon. Our due diligence provisions will directly tackle this deforestation. I just say to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that dealing with illegal deforestation—as I said, it amounts to 90% in key parts of the Amazon—does not equal, to quote her, “nothing”. Tackling such a vast proportion of the problem that we are addressing cannot simply be described as “nothing”. If we can stop illegal deforestation, we can all be pretty happy. Equally, no one is pretending that that is the whole solution.

I want to talk specifically to Amendments 106 and 108C, tabled by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, respectively. I reiterate my strong view that this legislation is the best and most strategic way that we can make a truly global impact and I will try to again explain why. Our legality-based approach allows us to lead the charge on tackling illegal deforestation, while working in partnership with producer country Governments and communities and respecting their laws. This is critical. The UK is a big market, but we are nowhere near big enough alone to change a global dynamic on deforestation. It will only be through building a coalition of countries—producer and consumer countries—committed to working with us that we will have the capacity to flip the market in favour of forests. That is a major piece of work that we are doing both as part of the run-up to COP 26 but also beyond. We are already seeing real progress in that coalition-building exercise.

While I completely agree with the sentiment of these amendments, all our diplomatic work so far tells us that they would undermine our ability to coalition-build and, therefore, the UK’s wider efforts to support sustainable supply chains. The principal reason is that they would alter a core intention of this policy, which aims to respect producer countries’ laws and responsibilities. That is not to say that there are no concerns on wider issues surrounding legal deforestation and other drivers of deforestation. There are of course many such concerns.

However, there is no single silver bullet that will tackle all these issues at once, and I do not pretend that our due diligence measures alone will do the job. They are hugely important and will help us to deal with a significant chunk of the problem, but they are not the silver bullet; they are just one part of a wider package of measures to improve the sustainability of our supply chains. For example, I co-chair the Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade Dialogue as part of COP 26. Through this, we are working with a growing network of producer and consumer countries to develop a shared road map of actions to protect forests and other ecosystems while promoting sustainable development and trade. My officials and I are also working extremely hard to secure a range of outcomes at COP 26 that, combined, will enable us to turn the corner on deforestation as a matter of urgency. Much work remains to be done in the run-up to COP, but I am optimistic that we will get there.

Our global Forest Governance, Markets and Climate programme promotes inclusive policy-making, working with Governments, local business and NGOs—including indigenous peoples and local communities—and strengthens the rule of law that helps indigenous peoples and local communities to clarify and secure their rights to forest resources that they ought already to have. Additionally, the UK welcomes and has been actively helping to shape the development of the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance—or LEAF—Coalition. LEAF aims to mobilise many hundreds of millions of pounds in financing, kicking off what is expected to—and I believe will—become one of the largest ever public-private efforts to protect tropical forests and support sustainable development. At the heart of the LEAF programme is a recognition of the vital role of indigenous people and the threats that they face.

Turning to Amendments 108A and 108B, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, again I agree that of course it is important we have strong reviews in place to ensure that the legislation works. That is why Schedule 17 contains a provision requiring the Secretary of State to conduct a review of the law’s effectiveness every two years once it has come into force and set out any steps needed to be taken as a result of that review. The amendment would limit the Government’s ability to conduct an effective and meaningful first review of the legislation. Businesses would have had hardly any experience of the regulations by that point, and there would be hardly any data available for the first review to really understand if they were working. Two years seems to me about the right time for us to be able to assess the efficacy and usefulness of this legislation. I reassure the noble Baroness that, if we do not see progress towards delivering the legislation’s very clear objectives that we are looking for, or if we see perverse outcomes of the sort that the noble Baroness and others have cited, we will take whatever action is necessary.

This leads me on to Amendments 107 and 108, tabled by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. Schedule 17 sets out what these reviews should consider in particular, but they are not limited to just these factors and we can review other aspects too. As part of the review, we have the ability to monitor the protections of indigenous peoples and groups. Indeed, the Government absolutely recognise the critically important role that indigenous peoples and local communities play in protecting forests. It is not a coincidence that the majority of intact ecosystems today are lived in and looked after by indigenous people. Equally, those same people often face existential threats and appalling violence, as the Global Witness report pointed out.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in relation to COP 26, I cannot go into all the details now but it is certainly the case that indigenous people, including from Brazil but from other parts of the world as well, will play a very significant role in COP 26 and the run-up to COP 26. Indeed, I have meetings tomorrow with indigenous groups to help to try to put a bit of meat on that particular bone, because we want that participation not to be a box-ticking exercise but something really meaningful. We are also working through the former DfID component of the FCDO to see what more we can do to provide support to indigenous people, particularly around land rights, which as the noble Baroness knows well is the core issue for indigenous people.

As stewards of 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity, indigenous peoples are leaders in how to develop nature-based, resilient and effective solutions to climate change, through their knowledge and innovations, technologies and their cultural and spiritual values. The UK welcomed the new two-year work plan agreed on the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform at COP 25 and we look forward to further discussions on the next three-year work plan at COP 26. I assure my noble friend that the Secretary of State will seek input from a very wide range of stake- holders when conducting these reviews.

I turn to Amendment 121, also tabled by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. As I have stated previously, the Bill gives us the power to set long-term legally binding targets on any matter relating to the natural environment, including contributing towards objectives on reducing our global footprint. Before committing to obligations such as this, we have the need to form a better understanding of whether a target is the appropriate mechanism to drive this change. A rushed target or indicator could hinder rather than aid progress towards our environmental objectives. While we are developing a global footprint indicator to further our understanding of the impacts of our consumption overseas, we need to be sure that the data landscape is sufficiently developed to measure any target. We can only develop the data so far unilaterally, as this requires a joined-up approach across the globe. We want to make sure that any interventions to reduce our global footprint are able to be monitored and enforced, and do not create any kind of perverse outcomes. For these reasons, we want to consider the best way to take action, which may or may not involve setting a target.

We are committed to leaving a lighter footprint on the global environment and want to take decisive action to this end. As mentioned a moment ago, our COP 26 nature campaign will catalyse global action to protect and restore forests and other key ecosystems. For example, at COP 26 we will explore actions that can be taken with other nations to support and implement transparency and traceability throughout the supply chain, which will inform progress against climate goals.

In regard to the specific questions from my noble friend Lord Randall—and I hope that I got them all down—the Bill’s target framework will allow the Government to set a global footprint target if it is judged to be the best way to deliver long-term environmental outcomes, building on progress towards achieving the vision of the 25-year environment plan. Any target set would need to need to meet the criteria set out in the Bill’s framework, so while we could set a target with this proposed scope, we could not do so based on where we are today with a 2030 date attached.

In regard to my noble friend’s question about consulting on a target in this space, I can confirm that we will be conducting a public consultation on long-term target proposals. We are engaging key stakeholder groups already, and expect to publish a public consultation in early 2022 on proposed targets. I recognise the enormously important work and role of the GRI in providing us with advice and information on the issues that we are discussing and more. We are looking now at options to enable us to avoid losing that expertise, but I am afraid that I cannot say more about that at this point. I absolutely take my noble friend’s point, however.

I am sorry, but I have forgotten which noble Lord asked the question about which commodities will be in scope, but the answer is that it will be a phased approach, bringing commodities into scope. We recognise the need for this legislation for our approach to look at issues as broad as beef, cocoa, leather, palm oil, rubber, soya and no doubt others as well. We want a comprehensive approach.

This Government are committed to carefully considering the conclusions of the national food strategy and will respond with a White Paper, setting out our priorities for the food system. We will be discussing this in two groups’ time, and I look forward to that. In the meantime, I hope that I have reassured some noble Lords and ask that these amendments are not pressed to Divisions.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative 6:15, 15 September 2021

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and given such strong support.

I was amazed to find myself in this place when I was appointed here, and I must admit to sometimes being concerned about what I am actually doing here. But for me, today is one of those occasions when I am the mouthpiece for hundreds of thousands of people, in this country and elsewhere, who care about these matters deeply. It has been a privilege to be able to put these amendments forward.

My noble friend has given me some very good answers, and I know he cares as deeply as I do. I recall that, in another life, he was appointed by David Cameron as the forestry champion but was relieved of his position because of a mistake, when he voted the wrong way. I am delighted to see that the Whips down this end of the building are much more forgiving.

I would love these amendments to go forward, and I have a certain amount of confidence that, if I pushed them, they might pass in this House. However, I heard what my noble friend said. I am a pragmatist and a realist, and this is not the moment to go further. The Government have to be congratulated on getting this far. We have to continually push on this, to get a coalition of nations around the world to make sure that this issue is addressed, and quickly. But in the light of my noble friend’s comments and what I have just said, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 106 withdrawn.

Amendments 107 and 108 not moved.