Amendment 106

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

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Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative 5:27, 15 September 2021

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.