Clause 55

Climate Change Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 3rd July 2008.

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Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 69, in clause 55, page 25, line 35, at end insert

‘including in particular the risks of harm to—

(a) the well-being of the population,

(b) the environment, including natural resources, biodiversity, living organisms and ecological systems of which they form part, and

(c) the economy.’.

Members of the committee will have heard me speak on more than one occasion over the past few sittings. Colleagues on the Opposition Benches have echoed my concern that the Bill does not give sustainability, particularly protection of the natural environment, the prominence that it deserves in decision making. Clause 55 requires the Government to prepare risk assessments and adaptation programmes in response to the dangers of climate change.

Although clause 55(2) requires programmes of action to further sustainable development, that duty as currently drafted will not secure adequate protection or enhancement for our natural environment, nor will it guarantee that the poor and vulnerable in society do not suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change. That is why we feel it necessary to state those requirements specifically in clause 55.

Precedent shows that stand-alone sustainable development duties unfortunately rarely delivered a step change in the sustainability of policies and practices on the ground, without additional legal underpinning. The Sustainable Development Commission recognised that fact in a recent review of sustainable development duties, of which there are now over 100 in law. We cannot afford to risk applying a meaningless or toothless duty to the Government in the case of adaptation policy. There are important decisions to be made in all sectors, which, if we get them wrong, will further erode our natural environment and resource base, but if we get them right, could help to protect and enhance those vital assets for the future.

The water sector provides a good illustration of that point. To be truly sustainable, responses to droughts and floods must work with and benefit from healthy wetland ecosystems and the services they provide, such as flood storage and water purification. Responses focused wholly on new hard floor flood defences can damage the environment further and reduce its ability to support human needs in the future, and will ultimately cost society more.

At present, while lip service is paid to sustainable approaches to adaptation of the water sector, there is no clear obligation on any part of the Government to ensure that they are put into place. To drive truly sustainable adaptation, the Bill needs to ensure that the Government take full account of the natural environment and the services that it provides, both when undertaking their risk assessments and designing their adaptation programme. We should also take full account of the  risks posed to the poor when securing justice. The amendment would place a duty on the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on particular risks of harm to our population, our environment, biodiversity and the health of our economy from the impacts of climate change.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I shall not detain the Committee for long. My only criticism of the amendment is that it is a bit of gold-plating. Surely the impact of climate change will be judged by a competent committee to include its impact on the well-being of the population and on the environment, including natural resources. However, there is no harm in specifying that in the Bill so I welcome the amendment.

Proposed paragraph (b), in particular, specifies the importance of natural resources,

“biodiversity, living organisms and ecological systems of which they form part”.

It is well-worded, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle on the phraseology used. The wider impact on ecosystems of our plans to respond to and adapt to climate change is important. It is not simply a process of reducing carbon emissions, but consideration of their total impact on our natural environment. That is a welcome clarification and would reinforce what might already be in the Bill.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

I am sorry that I shall have to resist the amendment, as I have been advised to do. I do not disagree with anything that the hon. Members for Bexhill and Battle and for Cheltenham said. We all know that sustainable development is crucial to our work.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

In view of what my hon. Friend is saying about sustainable development, will she clarify what difference the world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg made so that we can ensure that we are doing everything we can to protect our natural resources and ecosystems not only in the United Kingdom, but globally?

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

My hon. Friend is right to refer to the extraordinary meeting in Johannesburg. I was fortunate to be present, and it has made an enormous difference to the world, particularly to some developed nations, such as our own, which, in our rush towards development, have so often neglected our natural environment. However, the lessons have been learned and, as she knows, they have been learned throughout the Government.

The amendment contains a list. Although it has the virtue of being shorter than some of the other lists included in the Bill and proposed in the other place, there is still a problem with it. All the factors listed would easily be included in any understanding of sustainable development. I know that it is boring repetition, but we have defined sustainable development as living within environmental limits that clearly cover biodiversity and ecosystems, and the achievement of a just society. That clearly includes realising the impacts on the most vulnerable and the poorest people, and we do that by means of a sustainable economy, good governance and sound science.

That is why, as the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle acknowledged, clause 56(2) already requires the adaptation programme to contribute to sustainable  development. My argument is that the amendment is unnecessary. It might seem to be harmless and benign, but it is unnecessary because we have in the Bill all the means for covering the aspects that the hon. Gentleman outlined.

The amendment would insert into the Bill a reference to particular factors in respect of the climate change risk report. Clause 55(1) already requires an assessment of the risks to the UK arising from climate change. Obviously, that means all risks, so potential climate risks would be covered, including the factors that the hon. Gentleman proposes. In a sense, by putting in a short list, the scope is reduced. Also, some issues, possibly including the built environment, would not easily fall under the list as currently worded.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does the Minister not believe that the built environment is covered by the reference to the environment?

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

There is a problem of understanding. Many people understand “the environment” to mean the green environment. In speaking to his own amendment about biodiversity and ecosystems, the hon. Gentleman was alluding primarily to the green environment, as distinct from the built environment. We want to ensure that the drafting of the Bill takes all possible factors into account.

It will, I hope, give the hon. Gentleman some comfort to know that we have already appointed our statutory advisers on the environment—Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. They will be part of the steering group for the work to ensure that sustainable development, especially the environment in the way that the hon. Gentleman intends it, is given due regard. I cannot accept amendment No. 69.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am sorry to hear the Minister’s response. This is not a central feature of the legislation but it is important for the legislation to be clear to the layman. It should not require or presume a specialist knowledge of the jargon or the vocabulary of the environmental industry. People out there, our constituents, should be able to pick up any part of the Bill and understand it as much as possible on a stand-alone basis.

The inclusive list—which does not exclude anything, although I am sure we could tweak it to improve it—would contribute to the general understanding of the Bill. It is a welcome reminder that climate change embraces disparate topics from the well-being of the population through to the economy. It is important to remind people of that and not fall back on a rather ghastly piece of jargon, however well intended and well defined it may be. Sustainable development means many different things to many different people, however it is defined in the legislation. It is worth reiterating that we are concerned not only with the well-being of the population or our economy, but with biodiversity, living organisms and ecological systems. I am wearing my biodiversity tie today, just to prove the point.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

For the record, we are indeed concerned about all the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentions.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I do not doubt that the Minister is concerned about those aspects, and I welcome her comments about the contribution that Natural England and the RSPB will make. However, I am talking about being clear in the Bill and ensuring that it makes sense as a stand-alone piece of legislation that the layman—our constituents—will readily understand. For that reason, I shall press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division number 10 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 55

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendments made: No. 19, in clause 55, page 26, line 5, at end insert—

‘( ) Before laying a report under this section before Parliament, the Secretary of State must take into account the advice of the Committee on Climate Change under section [Advice of Committee on Climate Change on impact report].’.

No. 20, in clause 55, page 26, line 8, leave out subsection (6).—[Joan Ruddock.]

Clause 55, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.