Amendment 106

Part of Environment Bill - Report (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 15th September 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

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 pm, 15th 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.