Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I wish to speak in support of Amendment 43 on the need for binding interim targets. I also support Amendments 16 and 18 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and, in many ways, support Amendment 15 about the need for evidence, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. The Government’s position on interim targets, as presented by the Minister in another place, Rebecca Pow, appears to be that legally binding targets would not be appropriate because of the unpredictability of the environment. In other words, events may make the targets hard to achieve. However, by this logic, the Government should not set themselves any targets at all, as unpredictable events will surely intervene.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Young of Old Scone, all referred to the Climate Change Act as showing us the value of legally binding interim targets. As we have already heard, the Climate Change Committee advises on the five-year carbon budgets that are—I underline this—the cost-effective road map to net zero. One important point that the Climate Change Committee makes is that you cannot back-end all the actions because it will cost you more. You have to take early steps to save later on. So far, the Government have accepted the first six carbon budgets, taking us through to the mid-2030s, so they are legally binding commitments. These budgets not only provide us with transparency about whether the Government are on track but also a clear indication of where progress has been good and where it has not. That is why we know that the Government, in spite of good progress in some areas, are not currently on track to meet their longer-term target of net zero by 2050.

I see no compelling reason why we should not do the same for nature’s recovery. I admit that in some ways it is more complicated than cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The path to net-zero emissions by 2050 can be measured in a single, common currency—carbon dioxide equivalents—and we have clearly defined ways of decarbonising our economy, whether it is through renewable energy, better insulation of homes or electric vehicles and so on. For nature’s recovery, there is as yet no single, common currency nor are there the well-defined building blocks for achieving long-term targets.

However, the Government will have to work out the answers to these questions if they are to meet their longer-term targets, so why not start right away and meet legally binding interim targets? Statutory interim targets would enable all of us to see how the targets are being calculated—which relates back to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—what progress is being made and what needs to change. You can see what happens without binding interim targets by looking at progress on climate adaptation. In contrast to the Climate Change Committee’s advice on mitigation—cutting our greenhouse gas footprint—its advice through the Adaptation Committee on building resilience for the inevitable future climate change that we will experience is not translated into binding targets. I should note in parentheses that I served for eight years as the first chair of the Adaptation Committee, as a member of the Climate Change Committee itself.

Last week, the Adaptation Committee reported on its latest climate change risk assessment. It said:

“Alarmingly, this new evidence shows that the gap between the level of risk that we face and the level of adaptation underway has widened. Adaptation action has failed to keep pace with the worsening reality of climate risk.”

That is what happens if you do not have binding interim targets, and I fear that without legally binding interim targets we will find exactly the same failures by the Government with regard to the commitments in this Bill.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I always feel rather humbled when I follow such eminent noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.

I added my name to Amendment 43 and support the general thrust of these amendments with regard to targets and interim targets. If we are not careful, targets just become aspirations. Without being too flippant, I have a target to lose a number of pounds—perhaps stones—in weight, but, without a statutory requirement to do so within a particular period, I am afraid that the time slips by and I find a good excuse, whether it is lockdown, the weather, all sorts, not to do it now but to do it next month. If we are serious about this, it is important to have interim targets that are statutory. I will not go on, except to echo the sentiments of my noble friend Lord Caithness in very highly recommending to my noble friend the Minister a visit the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton project in Loddington, which has done a lot of research.

My noble friend is absolutely right that you cannot just magic-up these things without detailed research. There are some uncomfortable truths. He mentioned curlews, for example, and he is talking about predation. There is a possible problem that by increasing woodland we are providing more cover for predators, so, where that is near habitat that might be good for curlews and redshanks, we are actually providing more refuge. These things are complicated, but we must have the interim targets on a statutory basis, otherwise they can just get lost in the sands of time.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, I thank those who have participated so far in this short debate on targets. Like other noble Lords, on these Benches we support the principle of evidence-based targets that was made powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in his opening remarks, and we also support the principle of the two amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

As other noble Lords have already indicated, I have put my name to Amendment 43, which would put a duty on the Secretary of State to meet legally binding interim targets. We think that this is an important step forward. I do not intend to say much on the arguments, given that they have been set out so powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, who made the case particularly coherently, reminding us that there are businesses out there which are asking for this. I know that the Government do not always want to listen to those of us who come from other parts of civil society, or from other groups, but they do tend to wish to listen to businesses. Therefore, the noble Baroness’s argument about responsible businesses asking for a duty for the Minister to meet legally binding interim targets was a powerful one.

Equally, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, made the case well that this step will be important to help the OEP do its job. We will come on to a lot of debates about the OEP, including on its overarching remit and function, but, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said, we must always be thinking about how this will be translated on the ground, not just in terms of how it will affect the biodiversity of species but in how it is being delivered on the ground by this new organisation that will be set up to be the government watchdog. Obviously we only have an interim OEP at the moment, but I would have thought that this is something that the Government would really want, to help it to do the job that the Government have said that they want it to do and which all of us in this Chamber want to help it to do when hopefully it is set up permanently, later this year.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, dismantled the arguments put by the Minister in the other place as to why the Government were not prepared to accept this proposal. Other Peers have made clear and convincing arguments about why this is an important step and that there is a parallel that we know already works: the Climate Change Act. So, in supporting these amendments, I say to the Minister that he will have to do rather better than he did in his remarks at Second Reading, where he seemed merely to echo the comments of the Minister down the other end. The contentions from people around this Chamber is that this is an important step which is absolutely critical to help the OEP do its job and which businesses want. If we want to deliver on the ground, this needs to go ahead. Therefore, I look forward to his remarks and hope that they will be, to put it delicately, a little more convincing than they were at Second Reading.

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Lord Young of Norwood Green Portrait Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I have found this a fascinating debate. I put my name to Amendment 49, but I support the general approach of all these amendments. Clearly, air pollution is a key issue for the Government. I hope that, when we look at this, we do so in the round.

I cannot agree with the some of the statements, I am afraid. I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, say that we have to ban all roads and we must not build any more. That assumes that those towns and cities that are being heavily polluted because the roads go through the town centre should have to put up with that. Similarly, she referred to the Silvertown tunnel. The argument for that is that the current Blackwall tunnel constantly gets blocked and the traffic queues cause more air pollution. There have been many occasions during this debate when people have said that we need to look at the evidence—we do.

More generally, I regard the investment that the Government are making in more cycle lanes as fundamentally important, as is encouraging young people to cycle or walk to school. The irony of it is that those children who think—or whose parents think—that they are safely protected in their SUVs are actually breathing in more pollution than if they were out walking or cycling. Of course, if they were doing those activities, they would also be getting the benefit of exercise. I welcome the targets; they are important. How we achieve them, through monitoring, et cetera, is important.

I too read that article on leaded petrol, which remains in the city 20 years on. Above that article, and perhaps even more interesting in some ways, was one on smart traffic lights smoothing the way to reducing emissions by a quarter. It said:

“A new generation of smart traffic lights could be introduced after a government-backed trial showed that eliminating unnecessary stops at junctions can cut emissions by a quarter.”

That stresses the importance of ensuring that we do not forget that innovation will play an important part in reducing these emissions. I hope that, when the Minister responds, he will take into account—I am sure that he will—a holistic analysis, if you like, of what the Government are doing.

There may well be more cars on the road because people are a bit reluctant to travel on public transport at the moment. As someone who cycles every day and has had an electric car for a few years—I am lucky to be able to afford one—I like to think that I play my part. We are seeing changes in attitude. There are many young people these days who are not bothering to learn to drive or do not own their own car—they hire or share—so we should not be too pessimistic about the situation. It is serious, which is why I put my name down—I felt that this was a necessary probing amendment.

I hope that, when the Minister responds, he will give us that holistic analysis of how the Government intend to meet these targets and how they feel that they can respond to the very real and present impact of particle pollution, whether it is nitrous oxide or carbon emissions.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I added my name to Amendments 20 and 49, but I support the general thrust of all the amendments in this group. I am old enough to remember that, when I was a very young boy in 1962, my father had to wear a mask—we have got used to them these days—because of the smog in London. It was not the Great Smog, which was a few years earlier, but it was a serious incident of air pollution that killed a significant number of people. At that time, it showed up that, although the Clean Air Act had been brought in in 1956, there were serious gaps in it: it dealt with emissions of smoke but not sulphur dioxide. If we are not careful, there is a danger that we will think that we have solved this problem and things are getting better—there are indications of that, but we are far from perfect.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, I have been raising this for a long time: I remember having an Adjournment Debate in the other place in 2003 on air quality in London. That was based not just on my concern for the welfare of my fellow Uxbridge citizens but on my own experience of how I could feel the ill effects of increased pollution. Where we live in west London, there is Heathrow and the major roads, and we often seem to exceed the legal limits.

We have already mentioned one thing that convinced me that we have to go further: Ella’s campaign. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Rosamund, Ella’s mother, and I have not met a more courageous and forceful advocate for this. Despite the obviously terrible tragedy that she endured, she was able to be extremely convincing in all the arguments; she did not have to rely on the personal issue. We owe it not just to Ella but to all the other young people. As has been mentioned, it is very often those who live in less well-off areas.

There are difficult decisions. Of course, sometimes, as the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, has just said, there are occasions when traffic congestion could be eased, and smart traffic lights could provide one of those. The only trouble that I have with building more roads is that they inevitably get filled up. I remember that, when the M25 was first built—little sections of it—it was a joy because no one was on it, but it filled up quite quickly and sometimes is the largest car park in London, as I think many noble Lords will agree.

This is a really serious issue, and the Government must take forward the view that we must have ambitious targets. We should accept the WHO targets. This is something that I feel very strongly about.

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Lord Chidgey Portrait Lord Chidgey (LD)
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My Lords, allow me first to declare my interests—first, as vice-chair of the All-Party Chalk Streams Group, and as a past chairman of the town council of Alresford, in Hampshire, and a Winchester city councillor at the same time. Alresford lies in the headwaters of the River Itchen, astride the Alre, and it has been around a while—since Bishop de Lucy constructed a causeway taking the road out of Alresford to Basingstoke. Behind it, he constructed a massive freshwater lake, which in the day was teeming with fish of all descriptions. Winchester, of course, lies further down the Itchen, and is a major city of our nation.

Sadly, the eminence of the water pursuits and the value of the river have declined very seriously over the years. This is the primary reason why Amendment 23 in my name, together with Amendments 22, 24, 25 and 26, covers different aspects of the importance of species abundance in our rivers and streams. In this regard, the inclusion of a target-setting framework is a welcome part of the Bill. Putting targets into law brings certainty and clarity, to the benefit of all.

Depletion of species is not a new problem. It is a problem for Governments around the world, which, generally speaking, they have failed to reverse. The UK, however, has failed more than most. We are at the bottom of the league for G7 nations, based on the biodiversity intactness index. The latest State of Nature report showed that around one in seven species is threatened with extinction and more than 40% of species have declined since 1970, according to Greener UK.

Government Amendment 22 is thought to place a very weak duty in the Bill; it does not provide a legally binding commitment to halt the decline in species abundance, which the cross-party Amendment 24 addresses.

My Amendment 23, however, recognises the very great importance of species abundance in our chalk streams and chalk rivers in the south and south-east of England, which are a vital source of clean water, serving the needs of many millions of people across the region. It aims to ensure that at least one of the species which contribute to the species abundance target should act as a proxy for being able to assess the health and abundance of species in chalk streams, which in turn will act as a clear indicator of the overall health of chalk streams.

It is understood that the target proposed in the new clause will be constructed from a range of indicator species, which, taken together, can give an assessment of the level of increase in abundance. It is felt that at least one of these species should act as a proxy for being able to assess the health and abundance of species in chalk streams, which in turn will act as a clear indicator of the overall health of chalk streams.

To achieve the necessary improvements in abundance, action will be required to tackle issues around flow and abstraction, water quality and the need for habitat restoration. In the context of this amendment, it may be helpful to mention some of the indicator species the Government may wish to consider, all of which are good proxies for the overall health of chalk streams. These include the distribution and abundance of: blue-winged olive flies, brook water crowfoot and, naturally, brown trout. In addition, the distribution and abundance of gammarus, a shrimp-like invertebrate measured by riverbed kick samples in chalk streams, are a clear indicator of the overall health of a river.

I look forward to the Minister’s response to what seems to me a fairly simple request. I beg to move.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 24 in my name, and I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for joining me in supporting it. I apologise to noble Lords for a lengthier contribution than I normally aspire to, but for me and many thousands of others this is a crucial issue.

Like others, I have been pressing for a state of nature target to be inserted into this Bill for some time. Indeed, a current petition has well over 200,000 signatures. I was therefore delighted to hear my honourable friend George Eustice’s recent speech at Delamere Forest, when he said:

“Nature is going to be key pillar of our work as host of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26. We were the first major economy in the world to set a net zero emissions target in law. To meet that target we must protect and restore nature, with nature-based solutions forming a key part of our approach to tackling climate change.”

He went on to say something we all know:

“The UK is sadly one of the most nature depleted countries in the world.”

He said:

“We want not only to stem the tide of this loss, but to turn it around and leave the environment in a better state than we found it. I want us to put a renewed emphasis on nature’s recovery. And, that is why today we will be amending the Environment Bill to require an additional legally binding target for species abundance for 2030, aiming to halt the decline of nature. This is a huge step forward, and a world leading measure in the year of COP15 and COP26. We hope that this will be the Net Zero equivalent for nature, spurring action of the scale required to address the biodiversity crisis.”

My noble friend the Minister has just echoed those words.

After that speech there were many virtual cheers, not only from conservation and environmental NGOs but from those thousands of our fellow citizens who care deeply about this issue, myself very much included. Indeed, I am sure that many Conservative MPs were equally delighted to be able to report back to their concerned constituents that this Government, my Government, were taking the steps required to start the decline of our nature.

At the recent G7 summit, part of the communiqué stated:

“We therefore confirm our strong determination to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, building on the G7 Metz Charter on Biodiversity and the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature as appropriate.”

However, I have to say, very regretfully, that when these much-heralded government amendments were laid they were disappointing—really disappointing. I take no pleasure in saying that so much expectation was dashed to the ground so quickly. I suspect that my noble friend the Minister shares some of that disappointment —I will not press him on that—and that somewhere, the original aspiration and maybe even an earlier draft of these government amendments were squashed. I cannot think where. It cannot be the Treasury, as it commissioned that excellent piece of work, the Dasgupta review, which laid out clearly the economic case for restoring nature. It is all a bit of a mystery to me. Perhaps my cynicism is misplaced and my noble friend will be able to assure me that our simple amendment now has the green light. That would save us all a lot of time.

Why is this state of nature target needed? As I said, the Government have accepted the need to halt the decline of nature. I have already said that this has been managed in the G7 nature compact, the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature and the Dasgupta review. The Government have stated their intention to

“halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.”

Previous global agreements to halt nature’s decline failed because global goals have not been matched by domestic implementation. The UN Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 showed that the world had failed to meet any of its targets to halt biodiversity loss set under the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Environment Bill is of course largely framework legislation, without a definite environmental objective. Adding a meaningful state of nature target would help upgrade the Bill to landmark legislation, setting a clear direction for environmental improvement.

The Government’s proposal for a species abundance target just does not lock in a level of ambition to halt species decline by 2030. Instead, it merely requires the target to “further” the objective of halting nature’s decline. This means that there would be no fixed date at all for achieving the ultimate objective of stopping biodiversity loss. Under the Government’s proposed approach, the level of ambition for the species abundance target would be set by statutory instrument, along with other targets, in October 2022 at the earliest. Setting half a target of this kind undermines the very purpose of a statutory target. It does not provide a fixed point of accountability, give certainty to investors or create a clear requirement for all government departments to achieve a clear goal.

The Government may argue that it would be appropriate to wait to set the target following consultation. However, I believe that there are three problems with this approach. There is no guarantee of ambition: the final target could fall far short of an objective to halt species decline by 2030 and there would be no statutory obligation to set that target for a later date. This would also show a regrettable failure of leadership. Part of the reason for setting a state of nature target is to inspire action in other countries, but the Government’s approach would mean the target being set after the COP 15 Convention on Biological Diversity talks.