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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 28th October 2019.

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Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge 4:30 pm, 28th October 2019

Cambridgeshire is not as flat as all that, if you cycle around. However, in answer to the intervention of Sir Oliver Heald—yes; some important leadership, and extraordinary plans and ideas, are coming from such places as the University of Cambridge, about the dramatic interventions we might make to tackle climate change.

To return to the topic of data, there are many ways in which we can assess what is happening in the world. I was reminded, during the discussion we were having, of the work of immensely important organisations such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust; its chief executive, the inspiring Gill Perkins, has pointed that out to me before. Its annual “BeeWalk” involves volunteer “BeeWalkers” walking the same fixed route once a month between March and October, counting the bumblebees seen and identifying them by species and caste where possible. That is important, and I suspect we are also all familiar with the hugely popular and important annual RSPB “Big Garden Birdwatch”. Those are just some of the ways in which we can monitor and assess what is going on. As hon. Members have suggested, such public engagement is vital. By encouraging each other to monitor the world around us, we shall, I am convinced, become better informed in our efforts to protect it.

During our discussion in Cambridge, the importance of data and evidence was further highlighted by Hazel Thornton of the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre. She told me that out of 337 common interventions that it had assessed, only about a third were evidence based. That is a striking statistic. I suspect that all too often we do things that we think are helpful, because they are what we have always done, without really knowing whether they have the desired outcomes, or—worse—whether there is a risk of unintended consequences.

Hazel Thornton advocated Government support for open-access data and decision-making tools, which should include consideration of costs and local values. She also called for Government funding for a long-term evidence monitoring system. I have considerable sympathy because, important as voluntary efforts are, they need to be complementary to rigorous scientific recording.

Dr Clements highlighted the need to tackle the carbon crisis and biodiversity crisis together. He pointed out that in some ways the carbon crisis is simpler to communicate to the wider public. We can probably all remember the need to limit temperature rises to below 2°C, but the biodiversity crisis, which is just as crucial, is perhaps harder to explain in simple memorable terms that capture public attention.

Almost as we speak here, discussions in the main Chamber will have an impact on the ways forward. The Environment Bill and our wider future relationship with our European partners will both have a significant impact on the issues that we are debating. A point that has been much stressed in the many recent debates is that, were we to leave the European Union, that should not lead to the potential regression of existing environmental standards. Dr Clements emphasised that to me and, as Members would probably expect, there is near-universal agreement among those who are expert in the field. The combined power and influence of 28 states acting together should not be lost. It is a global climate crisis and we must tackle it collaboratively.

Sue Wells, of the Cambridge Conservation Forum, focused on the need to take oceans into account when making policy. She explained that marine issues could get left behind in comparison with terrestrial projects. Another issue that was highlighted locally was fenland projects. Roger Mitchell, of Fens for the Future, talked about the need for nature-based solutions to the carbon emissions of the fens, which we have already discussed.

All this suggests a wider picture. When developing our land for our needs—housing, transport, infrastructure —we must maintain a focus on natural capital and on nature-based solutions to carbon emissions. Whether in planning flood diversions and defences with natural solutions, or in projects such as East West Rail, which affects my constituency, and the natural capital work there, we must focus on the environment alongside any development plans.

There are good examples of where past developments can be improved. Recently, I visited Anglian Water’s sewage treatment plant in Ingoldisthorpe, Norfolk, with the East of England all-party parliamentary group. We were all impressed with the work that had been done to create beautiful wetlands and increase local and regional biodiversity. The restored wetland removes the need for carbon-intensive, expensive nutrient-stripping techniques, while improving water quality; it is a great project led by the Norfolk Rivers Trust.

We must keep our focus on the environment when delivering investment for the future, and we must think long term. Sarah Smith of the Wicken Fen rewilding project told me the project has a 100-year plan to extend the nature reserve by 10 miles, as I mentioned earlier.