Climate and Ecology Bill [HL] - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 1:39 pm on 15th July 2022.

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Lord Redesdale:

Moved by Lord Redesdale

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, for being here today, because I know that, like me, she wanted to be at the parliamentary clay pigeon shooting. Without our excellent skills, I am afraid that the House of Lords is facing defeat. I also thank all those who support the Zero Hour campaign, including the many volunteers, the staff both past and present, and the scientists, lawyers and campaigners who have helped draft and make the case for this Bill.

I had a whole section written about the need to prevent climate change going above 1.5 degrees, but of course, since I wrote it, we have seen the projections for the heat next week. While many years ago we used to argue whether climate change existed and whether it was manmade, we are now looking at the health service suffering the effects of this. I hope that people will take the warnings as seriously as possible, because there could well be deaths due to the high temperatures. I do not think anyone can dispute that this is a climate change-related event and that it will probably take place far more regularly in the future. It certainly highlights the need for this Bill—or the Government’s adoption of the targets within it—and shows that this is of growing importance. It shows especially that this is not a radical piece of legislation; it is something that we really need to look at.

There is support across the UK nations to follow the science, increase environmental ambition and continue the national effort we have begun to decarbonise our society and bring about a nature-positive future. That is what this Bill would do. It has nine clauses that will require the UK Government, in partnership with the devolved Administrations and with the backing of the public, to deliver a joined-up, science-led environmental plan. In short, it would set the crucial framework for us to achieve net zero before irreversible tipping points are passed.

Research from the Natural History Museum ranks the UK home nations among the 12 most nature-depleted nations in the world, yet current legislation—the Environment Act—calls for the UK only to halt biodiversity loss. The problem with this is that, as we are already at such an appalling state of natural depletion, simply halting the decline at this point would be disastrous. Wildlife and Countryside Link has reported that the currently proposed long-term targets for wildlife could see nature in a far worse condition in 2042 than today.

This is why Clause 1 in the Climate and Ecology Bill would also impose duties on the UK Government to halt and reverse the UK’s

“overall contribution to the degradation and loss of nature in the United Kingdom and overseas by … increasing the health, abundance, diversity and resilience of species, populations, habitats and ecosystems so that by 2030, and measured against a baseline of 2020, nature is visibly and measurably on the path of recovery”.

This would fulfil the UK’s obligation under the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity and its protocols.

Clause 2 would require the Government to

“publish and lay before Parliament a strategy … to achieve the objectives” set out in Clause 1. This must include interim targets and impose a variety of restrictions, consistent with reducing the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions and

“restoring and expanding natural ecosystems”.

Clause 3 would require the Government to

“procure, by open tender, an expert independent body to establish a Climate and Nature Assembly … comprising a representative sample of the United Kingdom population.”

The assembly would then

“consider relevant expert advice and publish its recommendations for measures to be included” in the Government’s strategy. I surmise that the Government are not very keen on assemblies. However, they have done great work in bringing together public opinion so that some of the difficult policies we are going to face, including changing people’s behaviour, are much more within the public ambit.

Clause 3 would also require the Climate Change Committee, the CCC, and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to

“review the Assembly’s recommendations … and … publish a joint proposal for measures to be included in the strategy”.

The Government would then have to include in their strategy

“all recommendations by the Assembly that have the support of 66% or more of its members”, where the recommendations are also jointly proposed by the CCC and the JNCC.

Clause 4 would impose a duty on the CCC and the JNCC to

“evaluate, monitor and report annually on the implementation of the strategy and on the achievement of the interim targets”.

In addition, the CCC would be required to

“recommend annual emissions budgets for each greenhouse gas for the United Kingdom, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”.

Clause 5 would provide a mechanism through which the devolved assemblies could give their approval to the targets imposed upon them and the strategy created by the UK Government. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are leading the way across many environmental areas, and I pay tribute especially to the proposed Scottish nature restoration target that is currently being consulted on.

Clause 6 would provide for a mechanism through which the UK Parliament could scrutinise the Government’s strategy and either approve it or require that it be amended if it is considered insufficient to achieve the objectives set out in Clause 1.

Clause 7 details financial provisions, including that expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Bill, should it receive Royal Assent, including for the implementation of the strategy, would be paid for out of money received from Parliament. It is important at this point to note that the amount of money we should be spending on climate change mitigation and adaptation will rise considerably if we do not hit our targets, and it is already taxing considerably the resources of the Environment Agency. The money put aside could be seen as expensive, but if we do not start looking at moving to a renewable economy, the price of gas will cause an enormous amount of hardship in the future, as it has in the present. Of course, every megawatt hour produced by renewable energy reduces our reliance on Russian gas.

Clause 8 details the terms used in the Bill and their interpretation, and Clause 9 provides the commencement and territorial extent of the Bill. It would apply to the whole UK and come into force on the day it received Royal Assent. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Oates Lord Oates Liberal Democrat 1:46 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Redesdale on introducing this important Bill and on his excellent speech in support of it. I was pleased to support the Bill, along with my Liberal Democrat colleagues and members of all parties, in its previous incarnation in the other place, where it was sponsored by Caroline Lucas. I pay tribute to her work and that of Zero Hour, which has been tireless in its advocacy for the Bill.

While Theresa May’s Government are to be commended for having adopted the net-zero target for 2050, we are way off implementing the measures needed to achieve it. Moreover, recent government decisions have run directly contrary to the legally binding target that the Government have set. For instance, who can forget Rishi Sunak’s decision to slash air passenger duty on the eve of the United Kingdom hosting COP 26 in Glasgow, the Government’s plans to license more fossil fuel exploitation in the North Sea and their refusal to end the policy of maximum economic exploitation of North Sea fossil fuels, or the UK’s central role in financing global fossil fuel investment?

As Carbon Tracker’s recent report highlights, listed fossil fuel companies make up 15% of the value of the London Stock Exchange, making it far more exposed than any other stock exchange in the world. According to Carbon Tracker:

“Only around half of the future ‘business as usual’ spending by oil & gas companies listed in London was found to be compatible” with keeping within our 1.5 degrees target. This suggests that London will be landed with trillions of dollars of stranded assets, posing a grave threat to financial stability, not to mention to the future of the earth itself.

As each month passes, the already yawning gap between rhetoric and reality grows ever wider and the consequences of it become ever more terrifying. The Bill would help to bridge that gap by introducing the measures on climate and nature that my noble friend has set out, including restricting net CO2 emissions between 2020 and 2050 to no more than the UK’s proportionate share of the remaining global carbon budget, setting a legally binding target to reduce UK imported emissions and establishing a requirement to halt and reverse the UK’s catastrophic biodiversity loss.

I particularly commend the measures in Clause 3 relating to public involvement via a climate and nature assembly. Such deliberative democracy has proved highly effective in many places, such as the Republic of Ireland, where it ensured that public engagement in complex and often highly controversial issues has been taken on board. It is crucial that, in all the complex decisions we will have to take on climate and nature, there is full engagement with the public in that decision-making process.

This week I had the pleasure of giving a tour of Parliament to my godchildren, Darcy and Kira, who are visiting from Australia. They left Sydney as it faced unprecedented floods and arrived in London as it faced record-breaking temperatures. Around the world, extreme weather events are multiplying. Climate change is not something happening in the future; it is here now, a clear and present danger. It will affect all of us one way or another, but the poorest and the youngest will suffer the most devastating impacts of our inaction. Young people are looking to us to act to safeguard their future, so it is time for us to step up to the plate, take our responsibilities to them seriously and pass this Bill.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Bishop 1:51 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for this Bill. I know he has made many contributions about diversity in the past. I seem to remember that red squirrels are something we have discussed on a number of occasions, and I am glad he still works on that.

This debate is taking place at a crucial moment in our country’s battle against climate change. Despite the circumstances that have led to a change of Prime Minister, there was at least genuine confidence in the urgency and seriousness with which he was approaching the issue of climate change—he spoke out on a number of occasions. Therefore, it seems all the more extraordinary that, in the current events going on, we are hearing virtually nothing from candidates who want to be the next Prime Minister about this vital area. It is as if the only thing that matters is taxation. Taxation is important for all sorts of reasons, but where are the prophetic voices speaking about where we must be for the sake of vital future generations?

Within the current cost of living crisis, myopic thinking could trump the urgent need to tackle the reduction in global emissions and reverse biodiversity loss. Ultimately, if we are going to meet our targets, the Government must lead by example and create incentives for people and businesses to reduce their emissions.

By way of comment on this, I am very proud of the example of the strong line that the Church of England has taken on climate change. In February 2020, the General Synod adopted an extraordinarily ambitious programme to go carbon neutral by 2030, and just last week, as we were meeting in York, a road map was officially endorsed to achieve that target. We are hugely aware that this is going to be incredibly costly for all of us if we are going to achieve it. Nevertheless, ambitious targets are galvanising people who in the past paid lip service to it and are now trying to think of what practical steps we need to put in place each year as we try to adapt tens of thousands of historic churches, community halls and vicarages across the nation.

Many organisations, such as the Church, will be taking a proactive approach to try to meet their obligations, but we have to face the fact that others will not be doing that and will take an approach based on expediency and pressure from the top which will simply see things in financial terms. For that reason, the framework referred to in the Bill would help to bind successive Governments to taking the necessary measures to tackle climate change and restore our natural landscape. Much work is being done on this. Some Members of this House, indeed Members taking part in this debate, worked on the Agriculture Bill and looked at environmental land management schemes and so on, so a lot of work is going on.

I have one main caveat—I may have more as the Bill progresses. I will support this Bill as it goes through the House, but I am concerned that the requirement to reduce greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide may not have been quite as thought out as it needs to be. We know, for example, that some methane is produced by cattle, but the facts are complex. Since 1996, the total number of cattle in the UK has dropped from around 12 million to just over 9.3 million, whereas over the same period methane levels have consistently increased. Statistics I have seen show that the UK is not even in the top 25 countries globally for its number of cattle. It is urgent that we look at the long-term need for food security and look realistically at the cost to the environment of bringing large amounts of food in from far-distant places in the world. Noble Lords will know that I am president of the Rural Coalition—I should have declared that at the start of my speech.

We need to make sure that we have an evidence-based approach. The danger is that if we simply find ways, for example, to reduce the number of livestock in this country, we might end up importing it at even greater cost to the environment. One urgent thing we need to do is to work with the National Farmers’ Union, and others that get the problem, to work out what is really going to address it. I absolutely support the need to reduce our methane output, but hope that we can do it by working with our farmers, not attacking them. Scientific innovations, such as the additives to cow feed, will reduce cow methane emissions significantly. In Australia, seaweed is currently being trialled as a way to change the diet of cows, which could pave the way for tackling climate change in an agriculturally friendly manner.

Incidentally—some of us were involved in a debate on this last week—another important aspect on which a number of us are working with the farming community is preventing nitrate run-off from ammonia into our precious chalk streams. We need to work with people to think about how we produce food and give ourselves food security, as well as to make the reductions that we desperately need and reverse biodiversity loss as we look to the future.

Time is certainly against us in the fight against climate change, which is why, despite my single reservation, I wholeheartedly support the bold framework of this Bill.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench 1:57 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on bringing forward this Bill. I support it and will speak very much in favour of it.

I echo the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans on the extra health warning that it will be 40 degrees on Monday and Tuesday. They are temperatures that we have never seen, yet we know that the candidates to be Prime Minister have not mentioned this. It feels, yet again, as though parts of Westminster live in a parallel reality to the rest of the world—that makes me really frightened. This Bill is important, necessary and could not come any quicker.

The Bill—uniquely, I think—tackles nature and climate together. As we recognised at COP 26, the climate crisis cannot be solved without solving the nature crisis. Across the board, nature is our best way of mitigating catastrophic climate change. All the worst impacts have been mentioned, such as the flooding at the moment in Australia and drought in my home county of Somerset. I have friends who are not on the mains water; they have two springs, and their family has lived there for generations. They reported to me yesterday that the second spring has dried up; they are now effectively without water. These are unprecedented events which are becoming completely normal. The question of looking after our remaining areas of biodiversity could not be more important.

Scientists at the Stockholm Resilience Centre have identified nine planetary boundaries that allow a safe operating space for humanity, and climate change is just one of these. We have breached nine of these boundaries, including the limit on freshwater use—I just mentioned my friends in Somerset. Breaching one impacts on the others and risks dangerous, irreversible tipping points. They include, for instance, the Greenland ice sheet. I am sure we have all seen the situation in Italy, where glaciers are now slipping and killing people. This is a tiny fraction of what we are going to see.

In my remaining couple of minutes, I have some questions. We could talk about this subject for a long time. Considering the cascade of benefits that a dietary shift would have in the UK, including, as has been mentioned, improved food security, nature restoration, better public health and a huge boost to rural economies, will the Minister explain why the Government have not adopted the Climate Change Committee’s recommendation that we cut meat consumption by 20% by 2030? This would reduce emissions, including of methane, and free up lots of land for restoring ecosystems that absorb and store carbon.

As was mentioned, our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, stated when he signed the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature that we must reverse biodiversity loss and increase finance. He said:

“We must turn these words into action and use them to build momentum, to agree ambitious goals and binding targets.”

Will the Minister explain why current legislation does not include the target to not only halt but reverse biodiversity loss by 2030? Our current net zero strategy recognises the importance of nature and the need for land use change but does not offer any transformative policies and it misses some of the opportunities to harness the power of nature. Does the Minister agree that we need joined-up legislation, such as this Bill, to provide a liveable future for our children? I am a member of the Environment and Climate Change Select Committee and we are looking at behaviour change and taking evidence across departments, across government. It is unbelievably patchy, not joined up and not thought through and there is no central intelligence, as such, or central policy guiding what the ministries are doing.

Finally, when the Office for Environmental Protection published its first report on 12 May 2020, saying that the key UK ecosystems are close to tipping points, the OEP’s chief insights officer, Simon Brockington, identified many things, one of which was seabed trawling, which destroys the integrity of ecosystems. He also identified the pollution of farmland and rivers with fertilisers. This issue has been raised in your Lordships’ House many times. It is something we could deal with, we have legislation to deal with it, but we underfund organisations such as the OEP and, in the meantime, rivers such as the Wye continue to disintegrate, lose fish and wildlife and, instead of absorbing carbon, become sources of carbon themselves.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 2:03 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for introducing this Bill, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said, is very similar to one introduced by my honourable friend Caroline Lucas in the other place. I join others in congratulating so many people who have been campaigning so long and hard on this Bill. I remember getting an email from someone in Oxford saying “I just got this leaflet through my door about this Bill. What’s it all about? I’m not used to getting leaflets about Bills coming through my door.” So, I congratulate everyone who has been working so hard. I say to them that they are making politics what you do, not what you have done to you. I fear that this is a process that does not necessarily work very quickly, but it is crucial.

I will start by talking about rivers, which the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, just mentioned, because when we talk about the climate and ecological emergency, we often talk very abstractly. I want to be really concrete, and on this Friday afternoon, I will be really kind to noble Lords and those who have joined us and put you all beside a lovely river in Norfolk. The water is flowing, you are under the shade of a lovely big tree and you have your toes in the water. It looks idyllic, but what is actually happening in that river? Let us say that this is on Sunday, when the heatwave that others have referred to has hit. The water is getting warmer and warmer, which means there is less oxygen for the animals that live in it. Once the water temperature gets past 20 degrees centigrade, it is actually hostile to the life of those animals. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, referred to, there are huge, unbearable levels of pollution in that river already, but with the evaporation that comes from the high temperatures, the water disappears, and the pollution becomes even more concentrated. There might be bullhead fish and white-clawed crayfish in that river—both red-listed species.

We need to have joined-up thinking, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said. The climate and ecological crises, the way we have poisoned our planet with pesticides, artificial fertilisers and all kinds of other novel entities—all of these things together are making our planet unliveable. This Bill seeks to create a response that is fit for the Anthropocene.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, is doing great Sherpa work for a number of departments today, so I do not necessarily expect a response from her to this right now, but I ask her to take it back to Defra. I hope that we will get a response on the National Farmers’ Union report, The Foundation of Food, out this week, which is focused on the importance of soil and how the government policy of the sustainable farming initiative is simply not doing enough. This picks up the points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans.

When we think about biodiversity and ecology, we do not really think about soil. We still far too often think about soil as dirt. But a square metre of healthy soil will have hundreds of thousands of small animals in it, and 90% of those species have yet to be named. We do not even understand in any meaningful sense what is there. There will also be kilometres of fungal filaments, and all those systems will be working together in a healthy soil with the plants. The plants will take up to 40% of the energy they create from photosynthesis to feed into those species. It is a whole ecological system. So, the next time you look out of a train window and see a field—level, neat and tidy, ploughed—think about how much has been destroyed by the passage of the plough through that soil. We should also look at the fact that the National Farmers’ Union is saying that we need to do much better to protect that life.

Finally, I will briefly consider the really important provision in this Bill for a climate and nature assembly. In terms of deliberative democracy, the climate assembly—which, sadly, was rather disrupted by the arrival of the Covid pandemic, itself related to the global ecological emergency—produced excellent, practical and democratic proposals. If you ask me what we should do about any of the multiple crises facing us now, my answer will always be that we need democracy. The people of the UK know that where we are now is profoundly unsustainable—economically, socially, environmentally, politically and educationally—and they have so many brilliant ideas and plans for ways forward.

I will just mention an excellent report from Natural England, Facilitating Dynamic and Inclusive Biodiversity Conservation in Britain, again out this week, which focuses on listening to people and working with communities, using a place-based approach to solve our climate and ecological emergencies. This Bill shows the Government a way forward. Another noble Lord said that maybe the Government do not like the people’s assembly approach. I suggest that the Minister talks to the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, because I know that in a different departmental role, she was involved in overseeing those and seeing them work very successfully.

Photo of Baroness Hooper Baroness Hooper Conservative 2:09 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, I am grateful for being allowed to speak briefly in the gap. I regard myself as an enthusiastic amateur in this field, and I realise that many experts have spoken in the debate so far. However, I do have the experience of being vice-chairman of the European Parliament’s committee on the environment. That was in the early 1980s, when, for the first time, there was a focus on green issues and the need to take action in this field.

The experts who have outlined in detail all the issues that prompted the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, to bring the Bill before us are to be thanked and congratulated. I also congratulate the noble Lord on bringing the Bill before us and explaining its provision so clearly.

The severe weather conditions we are experiencing and that we see all around the world leave no doubt as to the urgent need for action. The United Kingdom, as part of the troika preparing for COP 27 in Egypt, has an important role still to play. I put on record my support for the Bill and I hope my noble friend the Minister will be able to give us a very positive push forward.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee 2:11 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, as a number of Members have said, we have a Conservative Party leadership election at the moment that could determine where this country goes on this subject. I have to completely reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, that two members of that leadership campaign, Mr Sunak and Mr Tugendhat, have signed the Conservative Environment Network’s pledge, so maybe we are saved; I do not know. Future policy certainly seems questionable, but we will see where it goes.

One of the things that always happens in debates on the environment is that the Minister, whoever she or he is, reminds us that the UK is a leader on the climate challenge. Actually, it is true to say that we are. We can be proud to a degree as a country that we have had leadership in both Houses and, generally, on all sides of the political spectrum. It is subject on which we have made good progress to some degree.

However, I have two points to make. On climate, we are nowhere near where we need to be to meet our sixth carbon budget. As the Climate Change Committee’s report said so well last month, the situation is stark in that we are likely, under the present climate change strategy, to meet one-third of the necessary cut in emissions. We might be lucky to meet another quarter through the current strategy, but some one-third would still not be met.

We have those climate challenges, but the Bill is not just about those. I congratulate my noble friend on introducing it, and I should have declared my interest as chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership. Very relevant to that is the fact that the Bill is also about ecology, ecosystem services and biodiversity. There, we are hardly anywhere at all. I am sure the Minister will remind me, but I think that we have missed 14 out 16 of our Aichi targets and we are pretty marginal on the other two. There again, not only are we worse than the rest of the globe but that performance is derisory in terms of what we need to do. Although there are targets that are trying to change that and prevent that move backwards on biodiversity by 2030, I see very few signs of us meeting them. As we have been reminded, the UK is one of the most nature-depleted nations on the planet, so we have huge challenges there. That is why I very much welcome the Bill. It might not be perfect in every way, but it would move us in a direction in which we need to go.

There are real reasons why I like the Bill. One of them, which has been mentioned already, is that it does not treat climate and ecology as separate subjects but brings them together. Areas that overlap both those subjects include nature-based solutions and adaptation, which tackle both these major crises together. I congratulate the people who have written the Bill on that.

I want to follow up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, about the citizens’ assembly. I think all of us had high expectations when, in 2019, the House of Commons Select Committees set up the citizens’ assembly that met in Birmingham. Unfortunately, as the noble Baroness said, the assembly was disrupted by the Covid pandemic, but it did not grind to a halt. It showed, as many of these assemblies have done, that if you bring together a mixture of citizens across the spectrum, and if they fully understand information that is not biased but practical, then citizens’ assemblies, education and the act of going through these issues with individuals and communities make it possible to deliver messages that have practical application to our citizens, and which will make our politicians—who, unlike us, have to be elected—brave. One of the criticisms we always have is that it is great to have targets but if we do not deliver on them, enforce them through legislation or make things happen, we are wasting our time. So I welcome the citizens’ assembly; I am not sure how it would work but we could flesh that out to make it possible.

I like the fact that the Bill relates to the earlier COP—I forget the numbers now, but I am thinking of the Paris conference; I am sure my noble friend knows which one it is—which started making real commitments on tackling climate change in future with the 1.5 degree target. The Bill takes its base from there, rather than the strange numbers we have from 1990 and the Climate Change Act, and apportions how much carbon is left that we can put into the atmosphere.

Returning to a point made by the right reverend Prelate that has not been mentioned much during the debate, I have always been an advocate of following carbon consumption figures, on which the UK is not as good as it is on carbon production. We have got better and the trend has started to be the same, but we are still far from where we need to be. On imports, whether of animals or whatever, the Bill would make sure that carbon consumption starts to be taken into consideration. The system in the Bill is not pure but through it, we would notice imports, so I welcome it.

This Bill is an important one, and it is a start. I would love it to get into Committee so we could shake it up a bit, but it is absolutely where it needs to be. It concentrates on where this nation needs to aim, and on real leadership for this country on both these agendas.

I have a question for the Minister. We are finally going to have—in December, I think—the biodiversity COP 15, which was originally going to be in China but is now in Montreal. It is a crucial conference but the run-up to it has not been particularly successful. I would like to understand from the Minister how the British Government view that and what ministerial representation we are going to have there.

I welcome the Bill and hope it will proceed through the House. However, we do not just need legislation; we also need action and implementation to make sure that our aspirations are really met.

Photo of Baroness Blake of Leeds Baroness Blake of Leeds Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and International Trade) 2:19 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, I add my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for the opportunity to take part in this Private Member’s Bill, which seeks to tackle an issue that, I am afraid, despite all the warm words and commitments, is being failed by government. I add my concern to that which has been expressed across the House about the silence on net zero and climate emergency issues in the current Conservative leadership debates. It does not bode well for future direction of policy.

It seems appropriate that we are talking about these issues today. There were two items on the “Today” programme this morning on the launch of the British butterfly count, a really important piece of work for us all to take part in, and the stark news just announced that we are heading for a level 4 national emergency heatwave for the first time, predicted for the beginning of next week. As we all know, very sadly, the evidence shows that these extreme weather events are becoming even more frequent as time goes on.

I pay tribute to the many thousands of young people across the country who have done so much to raise the issues concerned and to keep them at the forefront of our debate. I also thank Zero Hour for all its briefings and the information flow that it continues to bring forward. I firmly believe that the climate emergency is the gravest threat facing our country. It will be the British people and future generations who pay the price of government and general failure. Action on climate is also the way to tackle the cost of living crisis and to boost the economy, creating tens of thousands of highly skilled jobs across the whole of the UK.

As the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned, responding to this crisis means

“rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

I am afraid that we are simply nowhere near achieving that. For example, the Energy Bill being debated in the House next Tuesday will be the latest way in which the Government are set to let the country and the world down on green energy, blocking cheap power such as onshore wind and solar and refusing to invest for the future, including by cutting domestic energy bills through a national plan for energy efficiency. Where is energy efficiency in that Bill?

The UK is on track to deliver sufficient progress against only eight of 50 new key indicators set out by the Climate Change Committee; 11 are significantly off track. It also warned that the Government have credible plans for only 39% of the emission cuts required to meet the UK’s legally binding carbon budget. This simply is not good enough. What is needed is a joined-up, whole-of-government approach to successfully tackle the interlinked climate and nature crises. So, rather than prescribing specific action, this Bill would instead require the Government to achieve defined targets, including through the development of a strategy for reducing the UK’s overall contribution to emissions. Of course, that does not mean that individual considerations are not vital, and I have some questions for the Minister. I am very happy for her to come back to me on these issues, particularly about the steps that the Government are taking towards the same ends.

As this Bill makes clear, net-zero dates are an important marker, but it is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that we put into the atmosphere that counts. Can the Minister explain how the Government intend to stay within their fair share of the global carbon budget, in order to give us the strongest chance of remaining below safe global temperature rises?

We urgently need to get a full, transparent picture of the entirety of UK greenhouse gas emissions, not just those that take place on UK soil but British import emissions. Could the Minister suggest a timeframe for the inclusion of imported emissions in the UK’s emission targets, so that we might finally take responsibility for our full emissions footprint and bring production home to the UK?

Given the Government’s stated ambition ahead of the COP 15 biodiversity summit to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030—a target reflected in this Bill—what plans do the Government have, before the Montreal summit in December, to align domestic policy with international ambition? Surely the Government can do better than simply halting nature’s decline. Could the Minister explain why it is seemingly good enough to call on other nations to restore nature while at home we are satisfied with managing its decline?

The Bill incorporates a climate and nature assembly as part of the creation of a joined-up climate and nature strategy to achieve its climate and nature targets. Citizens’ assemblies, juries or panels have been proven to work and support political ambitions across the globe. Many agree that the public must be more involved in the just transition we need to become a zero-carbon, nature-positive nation. Perhaps the Minister could set out how the Government mean to meaningfully involve citizens in their decarbonisation plans. If there are no such plans, perhaps she might instead consider raising greater public awareness of the behavioural changes we need to see.

By way of example—and to assist, I hope—when I was leader of Leeds City Council, we declared a climate emergency early in 2019, and were one of the first local authorities to do so. We set up the Leeds Big Climate Conversation, reaching out to all communities across the city, and a citizens’ jury. Its extremely constructive recommendations have informed the Leeds Climate Commission’s roadmap to net zero as a template for the city’s future actions. I think there is a fear of involving the public in this way that we need to get over. It certainly can be done, but the Government need to take more action.

Targets are essential to monitor and measure progress. However, what really counts is delivery and action—both, I am afraid, sadly lacking so far. I urge both this Government and any Government who follow to take this action seriously, and with the urgency so obviously required. This Bill would present a welcome step in that direction, and I am pleased to support its passage through this House today. I look forward with great interest to the Minister’s response to all of the points made in the debate today.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 2:28 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on securing the Second Reading of his Private Member’s Bill—I fear that the Lords’ team in the clay pigeon shooting is firmly doomed.

At the outset, I pay tribute to my officials in the Box, because although they are BEIS officials, this is more of a Defra debate. I am the Whip for both departments, so some of this stuff is familiar to me, but they have been working like Trojans in the background to get me answers on specific points from two departments. It is a marvellous example of the way both departments have been working together at very short notice.

Tackling climate change is of course of the utmost importance to this Government. As many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale and Lord Oates, noted, tackling climate change is of particular importance to young people. The Government are committed to being the first to leave the natural environment in a better state than that in which they found it. I also thank the Church for its work on climate and environmental issues, as highlighted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans,

We have already achieved a lot on our road to net zero. Between 1990 and 2019, we grew our economy by more than three-quarters and cut our emissions by 44%, decarbonising faster than any other G7 country. However, I acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to be done and that we cannot do it alone. Worldwide emissions also need addressing urgently; importantly, the leading role we are taking is not just to reduce our emissions but on new industries and exports in tackling climate change around the world.

The UK already has a world-leading emissions reduction framework in place. The Climate Change Act 2008 was the first of its kind and made the UK the first country to introduce a legally binding, long-term emissions reduction target. Last October, we published the Net Zero Strategy, building on the Prime Minister’s landmark Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. It is a cross-economy strategy which keeps us on our path to net zero by 2050. The strategy includes the action we will take to keep us on track for meeting carbon budgets and our 2030 nationally determined contribution.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, said, we must ensure that we reduce our emissions in line with carbon budgets. Last June, the Government set the sixth carbon budget, setting a level representing an approximate 77% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, including international aviation and shipping, compared to 1990. This bold step demonstrates our continued leading role in tackling climate change. Our domestic target is consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and pursue efforts towards 1.5 degrees. The sixth carbon budget is another indication of this Government’s dedication to Britain’s green industrial revolution, positioning the UK as a global leader in the green technologies of the future.

To oversee progress, the Climate Change Act established the Climate Change Committee, an independent statutory body to provide expert advice to government on climate change mitigation and adaptation. As highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, its role in providing such independent expert advice is widely accepted as global best practice. Indeed, our 2050 net-zero target was considered, in line with advice from the Climate Change Committee, the earliest feasible date for achieving net-zero carbon emissions. Our carbon budgets are also in line with the latest science as the level recommended by the Climate Change Committee.

As noble Lords will know, the Government have also brought forward the first Environment Act in over 20 years, with ambitious measures to address the biggest environmental priorities of our age; this includes restoring and enhancing nature, which is of immense importance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, noted. In England, the Environment Act will drive the long-term action nature needs to recover through legally binding targets, new policy measures, a new environmental enforcement body—the Office for Environmental Protection—and placing environmental principles in domestic law in a consistent and transparent way.

Nature has been in decline for decades, so our target to halt the decline of species by 2030 will be a major challenge. Through this target, we are committing ourselves to an ambitious objective and leading the way internationally by going beyond what is required under the CBD and setting key targets in law. Our recent public consultation included a proposal to reverse this loss by 2042, alongside other proposed targets, including to improve water quality and availability. The noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Bennett, referred to those as vital issues, which the Government have rightly seized. The Government have an explicit duty to ensure long-term nature targets are met. Five-yearly interim targets will help the Government stay on track in meeting the long-term targets, similar to the five-year blocks we have already set in our carbon budgets.

The four countries of the United Kingdom have also agreed to develop a new UK biodiversity framework. Our collective intention is that the new framework will set out shared priorities and areas for collaboration across the UK. It will support our collective responses to the global framework of goals and targets expected to be agreed at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 15th Conference of the Parties, COP15. I am pleased to confirm to my noble friend that I received a WhatsApp message from my noble friend Lord Goldsmith saying that he will attend in his capacity as head of the delegation. This is our chance to agree a Paris moment for nature by adopting a high-ambition global biodiversity framework. We have asked the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to advise on and co-ordinate this process, on which discussions are under way.

A number of noble Lords, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to public engagement, which we regard as incredibly important. The Government already track public views on climate change on a regular basis through the BEIS Public Attitudes Tracker, which is published every quarter. It measures public awareness, attitudes and behaviours relating to the department for policies on issues such as energy, consumer rights, artificial intelligence and workers’ rights. The survey shows that awareness of the concept of net zero among the public has increased compared with 2020, from 52% to 87%.

We also regularly fund public dialogues, which provide in-depth insight into citizens’ views to inform a wide range of policy areas. In recent years, we have run public dialogues on a range of climate and environment issues, such as net zero, heating, transport decarbonisation, hydrogen, food, CCUS, advanced nuclear technologies, energy and the environment. The Government will continue to engage the public on the changes needed to deliver net zero by the 2050 target and to listen to the public’s feedback. That is not to diminish the contribution of county councils, such as in Leeds, in running their own public consultations and feeding that information back to, in this case, BEIS.

The support of UK-based companies will be vital in meeting our net-zero target. Recognising the important role of measuring and reporting energy use and carbon data, the Government introduced a new streamlined energy and carbon reporting framework on 1 April 2019. Streamlined energy and carbon reporting is designed to be a light-touch reporting regime that sets out minimum mandatory reporting requirements. The Financial Reporting Council oversees compliance with streamlined energy and carbon reporting disclosures requirements as part of its role. At the same time, it spreads the benefit of measuring and reporting key energy and emissions data, and creates a level playing field where all large or quoted UK organisations are required to report publicly their energy use and emissions.

I turn to the other points made by noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, asked why we have not adopted the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations on diet change. Our policy is to make it as easy as possible for people to shift towards a greener, more sustainable lifestyle while maintaining people’s freedom of choice, including on their diet. The Government have no intention of telling people to eat less meat. We recognise that more people are choosing vegan and vegetarian options, and we are working to support sustainable food choices. Supermarkets have already demonstrated significant efforts to market plant-based products. Although food choices can have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions, well-managed livestock also provides benefits, such as supporting biodiversity, protecting the character of the countryside and generating income for rural communities. Our food strategy, published in June, identifies new opportunities to make the food system more sustainable.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, the UK follows the agreed international approach for estimating and reporting greenhouse gas emissions under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris agreement, which is for countries to report emissions produced in their territories. All UK domestic and international GHG emissions reduction targets are based on territorial emissions. The UK’s independent climate change adviser, the Climate Change Committee, has also recommended that this remains the right basis for the UK’s carbon targets. None the less, measuring consumption-based emissions provides helpful insight and supports policy development, enabling us to keep track of our carbon footprint and informing our efforts to reduce it—for example, through our efforts to reduce carbon leakage.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, noted, working with local authorities is of the utmost importance. The Government recognise that local authorities can, and do, play an essential role in driving local climate action, with significant influence on many of the national priorities across energy, housing and transport, which are all needed to achieve net zero. The net-zero strategy sets out our commitments in enabling local areas to deliver net zero. They include setting clearer expectations on how central and local government interact in the delivery of net zero and building on existing engagement with local actors by establishing a local net-zero forum, bringing together national and local government senior officials on a regular basis to discuss policy and delivery options on net zero. We are continuing the local net-zero programme to support all areas with their capability and capacity to meet net zero.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blake, also asked about energy efficiency and the Energy Security Bill. As she will know, the Government are investing more than £6.6 billion over this Parliament to improve energy efficiency and decarbonise heating, and an additional £3.9 billion of new funding to decarbonise heat and buildings, bringing existing government spending to a total of £6.6 billion across the lifetime of this Parliament. We are scaling up our consumer advice and information services to help households understand how to reduce their energy demand effectively—

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Lord for his intervention.

We announced a zero rate of VAT over the next five years for the installation of insulation and low-carbon heating.

The Bill would legislate in some areas where we already have a well-developed legislative framework in place and, where we do not, there are sound policy reasons not to adopt them, but I thank the noble Lord for bringing the Bill to the House and enabling this debate. The Government are not convinced that the Bill is the right solution to the matter that has been raised, but I assure the House that the Government continue to press ahead with our world-leading climate and nature goals. We will continue to monitor the situation and to make improvements where needed, as our record has shown.

In closing, I reassure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, on the issue of red squirrels, in which I know the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is also interested. He may have heard this week of the long-awaited research into a chocolate contraceptive paste put into funnels accessible only by grey squirrels, which will prove very effective in keeping down the grey squirrel population.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat 2:41 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, and I thank her officials. I know that it is very difficult working in two areas, but it has ever been thus—DTI and Defra, then DECC and Defra and now BEIS and Defra—and I have worked with many of them in the past. I also thank so many noble Lords for taking part.

I was absolutely devastated by the Minister’s admission that the Government will not take this Bill in its entirety and give it time to take it forward, but I take note of all the reasons given and look forward to going into Committee and, perhaps, moving a couple of amendments to make it more agreeable to the Government taking it forward.

I thank all those who have taken part in the debate for the issues they have raised, including my noble friends Lord Oates and Lord Teverson, who raised the issues of the assembly. I take on board what the Minister said about there being real value in making sure that people understand the issues, because we will need a massive change in behaviour—indeed, this Chamber is quite cold at the moment, considering it is so hot outside, and that has an emission cost; in future, perhaps we will just have to change dress codes in the Chamber.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. I realise that the Church of England has done a great deal, and there is a role for many faith groups to raise this issue.

On the issue of red squirrels and the trials that the noble Baroness mentioned, the paste has been trialled in my woodland, because I have one of the few remaining populations of red squirrels on account of, over the past few years, the slaughtering of 27,500 grey squirrels in the local environment. The red squirrel is a key species, because it is quite likely that it will go extinct in England in the next couple of years without the work that is being carried out. That is through an invasive species, but climate change is having an effect on that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, raised the number of the targets that we failed to hit. One good thing that I recently heard is that the Climate Change Committee’s net-zero target for enough people to go vegetarian has been exceeded—and more than was expected to reduce the carbon count. I say to the Government that one of the areas that has been missed, especially on the Defra brief, is that permanent pasture can lock more carbon into the soil than trees. We have the issue that, if we are going to plant trees to save carbon, we need to ensure that it is done in the right place and in the right soil.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the fact that her honourable friend in another place Caroline Lucas brought this forward, and it was perhaps churlish of me not to acknowledge in my introductory speech the great deal of work that she has done in this area.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for taking part from the Conservative Back Benches. It is often the case, especially at this time in the afternoon, that we do not get as many noble Lords from different parties, but she has shown that there is cross-party support, and I know that this is a major issue among many of her noble colleagues.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blake, raised the issue of energy efficiency, which is always underrepresented. I very much hope that her argument about reversing biodiversity loss means that Labour Party policy will be changed, maybe by introducing a clause on reversing biodiversity loss.

I do not think that we can carry on as business as usual, and I very much look forward to bringing this to Committee. The Minister raised the simplified energy and carbon reporting regime, on which I did some work with the Treasury before it was brought in. It is a fabulous way for companies to understand their emissions and what they can do about them. The problem associated with them is that there is no enforcement procedure, which means that a vast number of companies which could do this, and would want to do this, will just ignore it because there is a cost implication. I hope that we could have a discussion with BEIS about this. I hope to bring this back in Committee and beg to move.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 2.47 pm.