Amendment 1

Part of UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 4 July 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 4:00, 4 July 2022

My Lords, we start Report with a topic that has already been central to our discussion of the UK Infrastructure Bank: its role in investing in nature and the environment. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and all noble Lords who have engaged with the Government on this important topic.

I turn first to Amendments 1 and 3, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which seek to add natural capital, biodiversity, wider environmental targets and climate adaptation to the bank’s climate change objective. As we discussed in Committee, nature-based solutions and projects to support climate adaptation are already within scope for the bank. Those who attended the briefing with the bank’s chief executive and chair last Tuesday will have heard that the bank is keen to explore this area. We have given thorough consideration to the question of adding to the bank’s objectives through our environmental review on whether nature-based solutions should be in the objectives. We engaged with a wide range of stakeholders during this review, from think tanks to investors, and we heard from a majority of them that they felt that there was already significant scope for intervention in nature-based solutions within the bank’s existing mandate without adding a third objective.

In considering this question it is important to acknowledge that the bank already has two stretching and broad objectives that are the outcome of significant work, starting from the recommendations of the National Infrastructure Commission and the national infrastructure strategy. Ultimately, the bank is an infrastructure bank, so it should invest in nature as a means of achieving its objectives and to enhance the UK’s infrastructure. The Chancellor made this clear to the bank when he sent it a strategic steer in March this year. The bank’s strategic plan sets out that it will explore opportunities to invest in nature and highlights opportunities to invest in water-related projects, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, mentioned.

While the bank’s scope to invest in nature is already significant, it is important to note that this is not the only, or indeed primary, government intervention to support the market for natural capital projects. I will mention just a few areas. To provide an accredited route for income for nature projects, the Government are backing the maturation of the woodland carbon code and peatland code through the nature for climate fund and woodland carbon guarantee. To create demand for nature projects, we are implementing regulation to grow the market—for example, through mandating biodiversity net gain for development. The nature recovery Green Paper also sets out plans in this area, specifically on ensuring that environmental regulation and regulators, including Natural England, the Environment Agency and Ofwat, are equipped to support the uptake of nature-based solutions and more strategic, landscape-scale approaches to environmental protection and enhancement by industry. To help the market mature from grant support to a more commercial basis, Defra has established the natural environment investment readiness fund of up to £10 million, which will provide grants of up to £100,000 to environmental groups, local authorities, businesses and other organisations to help them to develop nature projects in England to a point where they can attract private investment. Defra is also initiating the big nature impact fund, a blended finance vehicle designed to use public concessionary capital to attract private capital into the fund. The fund will invest in a portfolio of natural capital projects that can generate revenue from ecosystem services to provide a return on investment. These initiatives will support the growth and commercialisation of the natural capital market.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for her support for the government amendment in my name. I again reassure noble Lords that it was always the Government’s intention that the bank could invest in projects to increase energy efficiency—for example, the retrofitting of homes. In fact, this forms a key aspect of the bank’s strategic plan. However, recognising the points raised in debate on this, I have tabled this amendment to add “energy efficiency” to the non-exhaustive definition of infrastructure in Clause 2 to ensure that it is explicit that the bank can invest in projects to increase energy efficiency.

Amendments 6A, 7, 9, 10 and 11 all seek to make further changes to the definition of infrastructure in the Bill. Amendments 6A and 7 seek to add “nature-based solutions” to the definition of infrastructure. As noble Lords have already heard, the Government are confident and, through our review of the bank’s environmental objectives have sought third-party views to ensure, that the definition we have included covers nature-based solutions. The bank’s strategic plan also makes clear its commitment to supporting the development of a circular economy.

On Amendment 9 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, I hope she has received the letter from John Flint, the bank’s CEO, on this issue. As highlighted in the bank’s strategic plan, we do not anticipate the bank investing much in roads. However, it is important that it has the flexibility to do so under the right circumstances. The bank may, for example, consider supporting local authorities in road upgrades that feature as part of their wider transport infrastructure and transport decarbonisation plans. For example, the bank has already financed the West Midlands Combined Authority’s sprint bus programme, which includes road adaptations such as priority signalling, redesign of junctions and additional bus lanes.

I take this opportunity to comment on the bank’s investment in gas, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked about. The bank will not lend or provide other support to projects involving extraction, production, transportation or refining of crude oil, natural gas or thermal coal, with very limited exemptions. These exemptions include projects improving efficiency, health and safety and environmental standards, without substantially increasing the lifetime of assets, for carbon capture and storage or carbon capture, usage and storage where projects will significantly reduce emissions over the lifetime of the asset, or those supporting the decommissioning of existing fossil fuel assets. The bank will not support any fossil fuel-fired power plants unless this is part of an integrated natural gas-fuelled CCS or CCUS generation asset.

Finally, I come to Amendments 10 and 11 tabled by my noble friend Lord Holmes and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. This is a difficult area to tackle, so let me set out how the bank considered the wider environment within its policy framework. First, there are investments which, while addressing climate change or growth, can help to improve the environment. Separately, there is a policy framework considering whether and the extent to which the bank’s investments impact environmental factors beyond climate change. With this in mind, I shall set out how the objectives of the bank relate to pollution.

The bank’s objectives are tackling climate change and regional and local economic growth, but not wider pollution. The bank can invest in projects that tackle pollution, but only so long as they also help to achieve its core objectives of tackling climate change or regional and local economic growth. Investments directly into infrastructure to tackle other pollutants that can impact clean air will already be broadly covered by the existing definition of infrastructure and the objectives in the Bill. For example, tyres would fall under transport, in the same way that water pollution is covered by water, and tackling those pollutants is in scope as long as that investment is also tackling climate change and/or facilitating regional and local economic growth. As we have discussed, there are likely to be large numbers of synergies in this area.

I know that there has been interest from Peers in broadening the bank’s definition of infrastructure to ensure that the bank takes into account the wider environmental impacts, beyond climate change, of its investment decisions. Widening the definition of infrastructure in this way is not the best way to achieve this. Instead, the way that wider environmental impacts are dealt with is via the bank’s environmental, social resilience and governance policy. The ESRG policy and framework that the bank is developing will be used to screen projects and provide transparency on its portfolio. Part of this policy will involve collecting data from each investment to meet reporting standards, such as the forthcoming sustainability disclosure requirements, which will include green taxonomy reporting. The objectives of the green taxonomy include pollution prevention and control, which the bank will need to report on for its investments.

More broadly, infrastructure projects are subject to a range of environmental regulations appropriate to their specific type and circumstances. It would not add value to apply these directly to the bank when they already bind the project developers directly. Defra is consulting on new legal targets for air quality, water, waste, and biodiversity, which the Government are required to set under the Environment Act by October this year and which noble Lords will be well aware of.

I hope, therefore, I have provided sufficient reassurance for the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to withdraw her Amendment 1 and for other noble Lords not to move the other amendments in this group when they are reached.