Amendment 106

Part of Environment Bill - Report (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 15 September 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench 5:45, 15 September 2021

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.