Restoring Nature and Climate Change — [Stewart Hosie in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:57 pm on 28 October 2019.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 5:57, 28 October 2019

The right hon. Lady is exactly right. Frequently, when it comes to problems of biodiversity loss and habitat loss, the problems are always “and” rather than “or”—as are the solutions. That gives me an opportunity to mention the contribution of David Tredinnick. I feared that he may have stumbled into the incorrect debate for most of his remarks; however, he raised an important point about pharmaceutical effluents seeping into waterways.

The Minister has not yet had an opportunity to sit with me in a Delegated Legislation Committee and hear me talk about water quality, but I am sure those days will come very soon. He will hear of my concern about coked-up eels in the River Thames. Cocaine passed through by human behaviour is resulting in severe consequences for our marine life. “Coked-up eels” is a phrase that sometimes attracts the attention of our friends in the media, but I know that the Minister will be very familiar with the impact of human behaviour on the natural environment.

In my last few remarks, I will mention one part of the petition that has not really been picked up on. The petitioners said:

“Those who manage our land and sea play a pivotal role and should be supported to come together to deliver carbon reductions.”

Indeed, before the debate the World Wide Fund for Nature sent round a very helpful briefing paper about the importance of seagrass replanting. The majority of our debates about carbon sequestration tend to focus on tree planting, and for good reason. Trees are part of our natural environment. We drive past them, walk past them, and cycle past them, and we have them in our own gardens and our parks. They are vivid, and indelibly part of the solution. However, seagrasses can sequester 35 times more carbon than equivalent tree planting in the Amazon, for instance.

There is a huge opportunity to expand our seagrass replanting. Indeed, that is what is taking place in Plymouth Sound, the country’s first national marine park, in my constituency. The reintroduction and replanting of seagrass and kelp forests have a hugely important part to play not only in the biodiversity and fantastic marine species in our coastal waters, but in sequestering carbon. We cannot underestimate the importance of the oceans in playing a part in climate change. They have saved our bacon so many times regarding climate change, because of the amount of carbon they absorb. That is leading to ocean acidification and the loss of habitats, as we see around the world.

In sequestering more carbon, we must not focus only on tree planting, as the Government rightly have in their headline policy. I would like the Government to look, through their marine policy—both in terms of the UK’s coastal waters and our waters around our overseas territories further afield, which I know the Minister has an interest in—at how the planting of seagrass, kelp and other marine plant forms can not only contribute to habitat restoration, providing a nursery for many fish and other marine life, but provide an opportunity to sequester so much of the carbon that we have spoken about.

If we do not act quickly, climate change will be irreversible. That is why all the topics that we have spoken about, from actions at ministerial level down to the actions of local groups and wildlife groups, which we have heard so much about today, are so important. We must all do more to tackle climate change. We must all recognise that the climate emergency means that the way we live, work, travel and play all need to change. That is why the direction set by Ministers is so important. Under the previous regime, we had countless consultations from DEFRA, but not enough action. I hope that in this new era, with the Minister in place, there will be an end to the greenwashing and the obsession with press releases. I hope that the era of acting properly, with the swiftness and urgency that we need to address the climate emergency, will truly have begun.