Climate and Ecology Bill [HL]

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Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, it is extremely welcome to have the Bill return for Committee, and I appreciate the opportunity to take part and to continue to raise issues that we feel are not being met by this Government and are within our grasp to make a real difference on.

Again, I commend the leadership shown in this area by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, in bringing the Bill forward. I also commend Zero Hour for providing us with all the important briefings to support and improve the quality of our debates, and of course I commend all the campaigners across the country who have worked hard to raise the issues concerned and to push them to the forefront of the political agenda. In today’s debate, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Green, in particular, for sharing his expertise, which added a richness to the discussions at hand.

I turn to the Bill and note all of the comments about the impact of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and what they actually mean. I welcome the decision to give the Bill a more concise focus. I believe that steps to make it more amenable to the Government of course mean that it is more likely to see actual action, which is the reason that we are all here. So I am pleased to support these amendments.

As we heard, the Bill as published had various joined-up objectives: imposing a duty on the Government to introduce a strategy for reducing the UK’s

“overall contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions to net zero”;

establishing a “Climate and Nature Assembly” to advise the Government; and giving additional duties to the Climate Change Committee and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. These all remain important aspects, but this group of amendments will leave us with a five-clause Bill with just one major objective for the Secretary of State: a duty to ensure that the UK

“halts and reverses its overall contribution to the degradation and loss of nature in the United Kingdom ... by ... increasing the health, abundance, diversity and resilience of species, populations, habitats and ecosystems”

and by

“fulfilling its obligations under the UNCBD and … the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature”.

The case for tackling biodiversity loss, climate change and environmental risks to public health is clear. Research from the Natural History Museum—I am pleased that we have had its input—found that the UK is last among G7 countries in terms of how much diversity survives, and it sits in the bottom 10% of all countries globally. It is worth us all repeating these statistics.

As we have heard, we are one of the most nature-depleted nations on earth. Much damage has already been done, and letting it continue would be even more alarming. Some of our most iconic and much-loved British animals could soon be extinct, including the red squirrel, the wildcat, the water vole, the dormouse and even the hedgehog. We have already seen a two-thirds decline in flying insect numbers in England in just the last 16 years. Thousands of badgers continue to be killed, authorised by this Government—in my view unnecessarily—and there are also bee-killing neonic pesticides. The Government have also failed to act to stop illegal hunting or effectively limit peat extraction and moorland burning.

If the Government fail to deliver on their environmental targets, their promise to protect at least 30% of our land, waters and ocean by 2030 is in serious doubt. It is no surprise that environmental groups, including the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust, have accused the Government of an attack on nature by their policies, such as weakening environmental protections in investment zones, the retained EU law Bill and threatening to downgrade new environment-friendly farming subsidies.

The Government have cut funding for national parks by 40% in real terms over the last decade, leaving our most precious nature sites in crisis. Their plan to make up the shortfall is “through private investment”, without giving any further detail on what that will look like. They also failed to set new 2030 biodiversity targets in line with their legal requirements under the Environment Act 2021, and there is no current suggestion of when these will be set. Perhaps the Minister can comment on this in his remarks.

The Labour Party has committed to putting the environment and climate at the heart of its agenda and delivering nature-positive action which halts and reverses the loss of biodiversity by 2030, for the benefit of all people on the planet, as is the ask of the Bill. That element of reversing will make the real difference between the Government’s position and what is necessary. The Environment Act commits to halt species decline but fails to reverse decline and does not tackle broader biodiversity loss.

Without revisiting all the discussion at Second Reading, again I ask the Minister to tell us about progress towards a plan to tackle these messages. Also, where is the positive engagement strategy? Taking the public with us is so important in this agenda and, as we have discussed previously, a wider communication and education strategy is so important as we go forward.

The Government should back the Bill and commit fully to what is necessary to save our natural environment.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, I join all other speakers in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on securing this Committee for his Private Member’s Bill today and on continuing to highlight this vitally important issue. I particularly welcomed his comments on red squirrels. When I was a Member of the European Parliament for the north-east, I was a proud member of the European Squirrel Initiative—that major NGO at the forefront of the debate—and of course, Northumberland is on the front line of the battle to preserve red squirrels, which persist primarily in Scotland; the greys have managed to eradicate them for most of England. In my view, we need to pursue an eradication policy of the greys—my noble friend Lord Randall also mentioned that important issue.

We do not have to shy away from the fact that nature is in decline around the world. That is exactly why we are setting a legally binding target in England to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. This ecology Bill deems “species abundance” too limited and seeks to widen this to include habitats and ecosystems. However, in our view, species abundance is a good proxy for the health of the wider ecosystem. The indicator we will use to track progress includes over 1,000 representative species for which we have robust data. Between them, these species depend on the majority of habitats found in England. Action to achieve the species abundance target will necessarily require the creation and restoration of wider habitats and ecosystems.

This target is an ambitious one—indeed, it is world-leading. We will take determined actions to halt the decline of nature, but those actions will not stop once we meet that target. We know that halting the decline in nature is not enough and we will continue to take action naturally leading to a reversal of that decline. That is why we have consulted on long-term targets to increase species abundance, improve the red list index for species extinction risk, and create or restore more habitat—all by 2042. Five-yearly interim targets will help the Government to stay on track.

Furthermore, the overall suite of targets, including on water and air quality, will put nature at the centre of all government policy-making for generations to come. We will confirm all our long-term environmental targets as soon as practicable and will set out our approach to meeting them in our revised environmental improvement plan in 2023.