Restoring Nature and Climate Change Debate

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Restoring Nature and Climate Change

Caroline Nokes Excerpts
Monday 28th October 2019

(11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 5:19 p.m.

Yes, that is really important. I think that there should be a ban on the burning of blanket bogs. I will have something to say about grouse moors in a moment. Another issue is peat in horticultural products. There has been quite a campaign to stop that, and I know that quite a lot of gardeners would support that. That is all part and parcel of this.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found that 1 million species

“already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken”.

It is a very sad fact that the UK is now one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world: it is ranked 189th out of 218, with a 41% species decline since 1970. Many of us are species champions; I am the parliamentary swift species champion. I know that other people are doing very good work on that front, and it is now more on the political agenda, but it is still shocking how much damage has been done in recent decades.

It is clear that nature is struggling against climate change, habitat loss, pollution and intensive farming, but we can turn that around radically by changing the way we manage land. Rewilding is the only solution that offers the opportunity to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies together. The benefits of rewilding our peatlands, heathlands, grasslands, woodlands, saltmarshes, wetlands and coastal waters are diverse. That would lock away carbon, clean air and water, reconnect us with nature, protect communities at risk of flooding, revitalise wildlife, restore our soil and support new economic opportunities.

In preparation for this speech, I read an article in The Spectator by the Minister’s brother, Ben Goldsmith, that was titled “The triumphant return of the British beaver”. He was saying that some people say, “Well, beavers are a bit messy, aren’t they?” This is the same sort of thing that we were talking about in relation to grass verges. I have some constituents who say, “Now that the grass in the parks and along the roadsides isn’t cut to within a centimetre of its life, it looks a bit messy with all this stuff growing,” but that is what nature ought to look like. Ben Goldsmith, in response to people saying that beavers make a bit of a mess, said:

“Considering that the majority of our land is stripped, cultivated, tidied and managed by humans, surely we can…allow nature a bit of free rein along our watercourses.”

That underpins this debate. Nature ought to be allowed to do what nature does. It should not be controlled and tidied out of existence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) mentioned peatland. We are lucky to have 13% of the world’s peatland in the UK, but the habitat is suffering: 80% has been damaged by drainage, extraction, burning or overgrazing. As a result, the equivalent of the emissions of 660,000 UK households are released each year. This natural resource can take carbon out of the atmosphere, but because of the way we treat it, it is releasing more emissions. The Government should ban the extraction and burning of peat immediately. Extraction for compost releases almost half a million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, which is the equivalent of 100,000 cars on the road, so why do we always talk about cars, but not how domestic gardening is causing a problem?

Voluntary targets to phase out horticultural peat are not being met and it is over a year and a half since the Government said progress was insufficient. It is now time for action. Rewilding our peatlands is a no-brainer: it sequesters significant amounts of carbon, provides clean water and reduces flooding. Several years ago, I went to flood-hit areas with my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch). Anyone who has been there can see the impact of the burning of the moors on the catchment area. It makes sense to look after our peatlands and plant trees.

Some critics of the rewilding agenda say that there is a choice between feeding ourselves and nature, and that turning more land over to rewilding, rather than using it for agriculture, will mean that we lose out in food security. However, the least productive marginal land often provides the best options for carbon sequestration, rewilding and other ecosystems services. We already have large areas of land that produce little food, which could be used to store vast amount of carbon. Grouse moor estates cover around 1.3 million hectares of England, Scotland and Wales. Deer stalking estates account for around 1.8 million hectares in Scotland. These estates are commonly located on degraded peatlands, currently managed at high environmental cost, using practices such as burning, for the benefit of a relatively tiny number of shooters. We need to reassess our priorities and take a more strategic approach to the use of that land.

I chair the all-party parliamentary group on agroecology for sustainable food and farming, which does excellent work on this agenda. The Minister was, before his elevation to greater things, one of the vice chairs of the APPG. Rewilding must be accompanied by a wider transition to nature and climate-friendly farming. The Knepp estate is a good example of how that works.

It is well documented that the intensification of farming since the second world war has left less and less space for nature in the UK. To turn that around, the Government ought to commit to a transition to sustainable agroecological farming by 2030. That is supported by the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. The Government must also commit to net zero emissions from agriculture by 2040 and reverting parcels of arable land, particularly the third that is used for animal feed, to permanent grassland, which has high levels of soil, carbon and biodiversity value.

I mentioned that the Agriculture Bill’s approach of public money for public goods is a step in the right direction, but it needs to be more ambitious. If £1.9 billion of the £3 billion currently spent on common agricultural policy payments were allocated to supporting native woodland re-establishment, and the restoration and protection of peat bogs, heaths and the species rich grasslands over a total of 6 million hectares, that could mean sequestering 47 million tonnes of CO2 a year, which is more than one tenth of current UK greenhouse gas emissions.

As I mentioned, we cannot think of natural solutions only on a domestic level. The UK should play its part on the world stage by ensuring that all UK aid is nature-positive. I know that the Minister, in his role as Minister for the Department for International Development, thinks that is important. We need to support more integrated interventions that improve people’s lives and enhance the natural environment. We need to stop harmful investments that destroy nature and contribute to climate change, such as the deforestation of the Amazon. We need to look at how our consumption patterns here are harming the environment overseas.

We need to negotiate an ambitious deal with people and nature at the Convention on Biological Diversity next October. We need to look at other countries that are leading by example on rewilding. Ethiopia planted more than 350 million trees in one day in July—God knows how they managed that, but that is what they did—with the aim of planting 4 billion in the next year. We should seek to follow that scale of ambition.

To conclude, the UK has the chance to become a world leader in natural climate solutions, but we need financial commitments from the Government. Markets alone will not solve the climate and ecological crisis. Next week, assuming we will still be here, the Government have the chance to prove their commitment—actually, this refers to the Budget, which is definitely not happening next week. At some point in the near future, hopefully, if there is not an election, the Government have the chance to prove their commitment, by guaranteeing at least £2.9 billion for the new environmental land management scheme in the Budget, as called for by the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the wildlife trusts, whenever that happens. It could also reverse the 42% funding fall as a percentage of GDP for biodiversity conservation since 2008.

Finally, taking a different approach to the way land is managed is as important as high-tech solutions to address climate breakdown. I have heard the Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry talk about weird technological advances that would suck carbon out of the air. I do not see why we need to do that when trees and peat bogs can do the job for us.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Ind) - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 5:26 p.m.

It is a pleasure to be here this afternoon and to follow the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who serves on the Environmental Audit Committee. When I first came to this place, I served on that Committee alongside the Minister, and we spent many a jolly afternoon debating a wide range of subjects and conducting various inquiries.

I fear this speech may become a march around my constituency. In the words of the chief executive of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Debbie Tan, we must look to local solutions. The national picture is crucial, but in each of our constituencies we can ensure that there are good and important projects.

I want to focus on trees. A fortnight ago, Extinction Rebellion came to Westminster and provided each of us with a tree. Perhaps it was not wholly sustainable, being in a single-use plastic pot. None the less, I was struck by the image in Portcullis House of Birnam wood coming to Dunsinane, as these walking trees were paraded through the building. The humble oak tree, a fantastic symbol of our countryside, is one of the best carbon reservoirs we could have. I was disappointed that afternoon to get a beech tree rather than an oak, but I proudly took it home and ensured it was planted in my constituency. The oak tree lives and grows for 200 years, which is why it is important that we plant all the time, ensuring there is a replenished stock.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) mentioned the Department of Health and Social Care being an important partner with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when it comes to the environment, but we must also look to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, because it has a crucial role in ensuring that our natural environment works hand in hand with the built environment, so we can address the challenge of climate change. I am blessed to represent a heavily treed constituency, but there are many instances of historic oak trees being chopped down, despite having tree preservation orders. There is relentless pressure to build more houses in areas where there is a conflict between nature and the built environment. Valley Park Woodlands are hard up against the 3,000 or so houses built in Valley Park.

Given the pressure that exists, there has to be a balance; that is what much of this debate is about. Of course, we have to provide houses, but we have to ensure that they are in the right place and that there is access to the natural environment so that people can enjoy the special areas that need to be preserved, or simply have somewhere to walk the dog. Those things do not always fit together very easily—walking the dog in an SSSI is never a good idea. There are many examples in my constituency of pressures on Ramsar protected sites such as those in the New Forest, as well as places such as Emer Bog in North Baddesley. It is about providing the right facilities.

I spent 10 years as my local authority’s cabinet member for leisure. At the end of that time, we were heavily in negotiations with the local landowner to take possession of an area called Fishlake Meadows. The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust now describes the area as a

“glimpse of how the Test Valley would have looked over 2000 years ago…a dynamic, shifting swathe of ponds, lakes, reedbed, willow scrub and fen grassland”,

but 20 years ago it was farmed agricultural land—it was drained, planted and ploughed for food that we clearly did not require. It is a much healthier environment now that it has been given back to nature and is functioning exactly as it should: as a flood prevention area for the town of Romsey and as a place where ospreys, otters and kingfishers can thrive. It is all about ensuring that we have the right resources in place to support the land. Hon. Members have spoken about nature being “tidied up”, but when we took possession of Fishlake Meadows, it was at a tipping point. If it had been left any longer, the balance would have tipped towards those invasive species that are not wholly desirable, and bringing it back to the point it is at today would have been a much harder job.

I wish to pick up on comments made about farming. It is important to reflect that agriculture can have an important role for good. Last Friday, I had a visit on my schedule to Broughton Water Buffalo in my constituency. Who would have thought that Indian water buffalo provided so much good to the Hampshire countryside? They are farmed completely sustainably, fed only on grass and moved on to different pasture every day. The hay that they eat in winter is grown on the farm, where more than 15,000 trees have been planted in the past few years. That is an example of how local farmers can play a fantastic role in ensuring that the environment is at the forefront and climate change is uppermost in their thinking when they decide how to get a return from their land and protect it at the same time. Unfortunately, the weather in Hampshire was too miserable for me to be able to go, but it is certainly high on my list of priorities. Who knows? We may all have an opportunity in the next few weeks to disappear back to our constituencies and stomp around in our wellies to our heart’s content.

My final point is about volunteering. It has been suggested that volunteers might be inclined to “tidy up”, but actually in both Valley Park Woodlands and Fishlake Meadows a fantastic relationship has built up with the local communities and the local university—Southampton University, which I am blessed to have on the very edge of my constituency. In many instances, it is students who have been on the forefront of ensuring that nature is not tidied up, but enhanced and given the opportunity to thrive as we all want it to.

The Minister will know that part of my constituency is on the edge of the New Forest. We have heard a great deal about the reservoir of CO2 that peat bogs can provide; peat has not been burned in the New Forest for many a long year, but there are still instances where it is dug, quite illegally, so the national park authority has a massive role to play in ensuring that laws are adhered to and peat bogs are restored and maintained. Again, that can provide some conflict. I had better declare an interest as a member of—I am going to get the name wrong—not the New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society, but one of the other horsey societies in the New Forest. There is a real conflict between draining the peat bogs, which riders would love because it would give us wider access to the forest, and the crucial need to ensure for nature’s sake that that does not happen and that peat bogs and mires are managed correctly.

Many hon. Members who have spoken in our debate were recognised a fortnight ago with species champion awards. I will make a quick pitch for the species that I champion: the Duke of Burgundy butterfly, which I gather is the pollinator that has recovered most over the past 12 months. I would like to pretend that that is the result of some great breeding programme of mine, but sadly it is not; it is the result of our warm summers and the efforts of landowners to ensure that the habitats for that extremely endangered butterfly are kept as they should be. In yet another example of how farming can work hand in hand with nature, it is coppiced hazel that provides the best environment for that butterfly. It is important that forestry management continues, but it needs to continue in a way that enables species and, crucially, pollinators to thrive.

I have probably said enough. I very much welcome our recognition of the crucial role that nature can play in sucking up CO2. In the words of the hon. Member for Bristol East, we do not need any great technology to do that; trees can do it for us.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab) - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 5:35 p.m.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hosie, and to follow the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), who has reminded me of some pleasant holidays in the New Forest. My wife always reminds me that I fell off a bike there—she will be delighted that that is now on the public record.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on his excellent introduction on behalf of the Petitions Committee. E-petitions have become a feature of this Parliament; they are an excellent way for the public to ensure that we hear their concerns and to press us to take action. It is fair to say that we have all received many representations on climate change in the past year or two, but today’s debate relates to a particular aspect that we have not touched on much. That shows that the climate emergency is moving up the agenda of the public’s priorities fast. In my view, we are not going far enough fast enough. How many of us can say that in our own lives we are doing all we can to tackle climate change?

Of course, change should come from the top. The Committee on Climate Change’s report in May led the UK to adopt a net zero target by 2050, but it also found that the Government are failing to prepare the country for the inevitable impact of climate change. That failure is putting our communities and infrastructure at risk. The consequences of our actions are with us already: over the past two decades, severe weather events across the country have cost an average of £1.5 billion a year—only this weekend, parts of Cheshire were subject to severe flooding. Those figures will be dwarfed in coming years by the overall cost and effect of climate change, including the cost to our environment and the human cost as swathes of land become uninhabitable all over the globe. If we do not take action now, the effects predicted in this country alone will include a trebling of heat deaths by 2050, far more frequent flooding, and food insecurity, which is a matter of national security. This is an emergency—and, of course, we may well be one of the more fortunate countries in respect of the impact of climate change.

We cannot and should not act alone, but that should not be an excuse for failing to take a lead. Why are we still financing fossil fuel projects overseas? According to Christian Aid, the UK Government are still spending more on fossil fuels than on renewable energy in developing countries. How does that set an example? It is not leadership. What does it say to the likes of China and India, whose CO2 emissions dwarf our own? Will our desperation to seal trade agreements with those countries—should we ever leave the EU—inhibit our ability to talk candidly with them about their need to change tack, too? I have a particular regard to the United States in that respect.

We know that our homes, our workplaces and other infrastructure need to be prepared for unavoidable climate impacts, yet the Committee’s report also tells us that the Government funding to help to support regions, businesses and individuals has ceased.

There has been a failure to start the critical conversations that we need to have with the public about the changes to behaviour that are necessary. In those circumstances, how will we really be able to equip our communities to meet the challenges of reducing carbon emissions and removing carbon from our atmosphere?

We know that natural climate solutions, and carbon capture and storage, can play a very important role in getting us to net zero. Rewilding and other natural climate solutions can be used to draw potentially millions of tonnes of CO2 out of the air, and to restore and protect our living systems. Indeed, new research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities. Of course, to do that we need to really prioritise the environment.

There was a manifesto pledge from the Conservatives during the last election to plant 11 million trees. I do not know whether the Minister can update us on the figures today, but I think we are some way short of that at the moment. Also, tree planting targets have been missed every year since they were set in 2013. Tree planting in England fell short of targets in the last year, with less than 1,500 hectares of the Government’s planned 5,000 hectares being planted with trees. Only 13% of the UK’s land area is covered by trees, which is well below the figure for other European countries; on average, the figure is about 35% across Europe. So, 13% simply will not be good enough to meet the challenges we face.

We often trade numbers across the main Chamber: the number of operations carried out, the number of homes built or the number of police officers that we have. Perhaps the real sign of change here will be when we begin to trade insults over the number of trees being planted by each Government. That would be a real sign that there was a genuine commitment on both sides of the House to take this issue seriously.

That is why campaigners are calling the Government’s progress on this matter “painfully slow” and are calling for a new strategy to enable the Government target to be met. The Woodland Trust has called for much greater Government support and I echo that call. I am pleased that my own party has pledged to be more ambitious. I refer to the pledge made last month by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) that a Labour Government would plant a million trees in hospitals throughout the UK, which is a very innovative and interesting way to look at things. Some departmental leads could be taken on this matter, too.

I was also pleased to put my name to a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) in support of the Northern Forest. Again, that is an initiative spearheaded by the Woodland Trust that aims to plant 50 million trees in the north of England. It is said that this Northern Forest would generate around £2.5 billion of social, economic and environmental benefits, which would be at least a fivefold return on investment. That sounds like a win-win situation to me and I hope we can all support it.

In addition to these ambitious plans, I am pleased that the Labour party has pledged to ban all harmful pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, which we believe pose a serious risk of harm to honey bees and other pollinators. We should not underestimate the importance of wildflowers to the ecosystem; we know that if we do not get them right, there is a risk to the entire food chain.

In that regard, I congratulate my local authority, Cheshire West and Chester Council, on work that it has been doing in respect of bulb planting and allowing certain sections of the highway verges to grow wild. The aesthetics of that certainly work for me; it is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it adds a bit of colour and a bit of pollen to the ecosystem, which is something we can all learn from.

One of the chief recommendations of the Thirty by 2030 report, which was launched last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), the shadow Business Secretary, was sourcing 90% of electricity from renewables and low-carbon sources by 2030. This includes greater use of carbon capture and storage, with a goal of expanding it to become a “significant component” of the energy mix by the late 2020s.

On that front, I was pleased to learn about a carbon capture usage and storage initiative for the north-west that is based in my own constituency. The HyNet proposals would be based on the key industrial cluster around the Mersey estuary, alongside state-of-the-art hydrogen production in the long run. About 5% of the UK’s energy output comes from this area, due to the high concentration of energy-intensive industry there, but its location also brings with it an opportunity, because there is the ability to repurpose the Liverpool Bay oilfield and gasfield infrastructure, to divert around 1 million tonnes of CO2 per year into those oilfields. That would be the equivalent of taking 600,000 cars off the road. Ultimately, these proposals have the potential to take over 10 million tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere each year, which would make a huge contribution to reducing our emissions.

The plan would also have economic benefits. It has the potential to create around 5,000 jobs between now and 2025. The key is to finalise business models quickly, to bring forward some of the first stages of industrial development, so that we can start to realise the impressive ambitions for this project that a range of local players has come forward to try to realise.

I believe that these plans have a big role to play, not only in carbon capture but in taking us away from CO2 and getting our economy more involved in hydrogen. I hope that we can discuss with the relevant Ministers—they are probably Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Ministers, rather than the Minister before us today—how we can bring that plan forward as soon as possible.

I believe that this country has an opportunity to become a world leader in climate solutions, but that can be achieved only by strengthening policy to deliver emissions reductions across all levels of Government, including across Departments. Delivery must be regarded as being much more urgently needed, and we can also do our part at other levels of Government.

Let us take the example of planning, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) referred to. Planning is not normally a party political battleground, but I believe that, if used innovatively, it could drive forward this agenda. I have long held the view that we should be doing an awful lot more to require developers to future-proof developments in terms of not only the environment, but climate risk. However, we should not just look at the bricks and mortar of the homes; we should look at how estates are designed.

Planning decisions made decades ago can still affect things now. I say that because on some of the estates built in the 1960s I see how the trees planted as young saplings have grown out of all proportion to the surrounding houses. Such trees are often too unwieldy to be of use, and they can damage surrounding properties with their roots, which have to be cut. Then, the tree has to be cut down. Also, some trees become diseased. So, this is an issue on which, in future, we could probably show a little more forethought.

Let us make sure not only that developments being built now have a minimum number of trees planted in their common areas, but that the trees planted will grow in sympathy with their surroundings. Let us think about what those trees will look like in 20 or 30 years. Also, there is no good reason for new industrial developments or office blocks not to have trees and plants designed into their layout.

When we consider new developments, let us look at transport too, because that is a key factor. There is evidence that improved bus networks can reduce carbon emissions. A fully loaded double-decker bus can take, on average, 75 cars off the road, based on average vehicle occupancy for both buses and cars; one bus can move 10 times as many people as a car can.

The benefits of a renaissance in bus travel are very clear in reducing CO2, but I wonder whether the people setting climate policy in London really understand that it is not quite as easy to get around on public transport in the rest of the country. Try getting a bus after 6 pm in my constituency, or on a Sunday, and it soon becomes apparent that if someone’s shift pattern is not 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, they need a car for work. So, we absolutely need to boost local bus services, which will help us to tackle CO2 emissions.

I am sad to say that previous generations of politicians have failed to appreciate the enormity of what we now face. We are sleepwalking into a climate catastrophe, and unless we begin to face up to the fact that carbon reduction needs to be done now, we will be the last generation to enjoy the benefits of industrialisation and we will impose on the next generation the consequences of our indolence.

This debate is not about some theoretical future prospect; it is about something that is happening now. We see it all around us, and around the world, with increased fires, droughts and cyclones. The warnings from the scientists are crystal-clear: unless we begin to tackle these issues with urgency, we will only see more of these climatic events. We should not hesitate to call this an emergency. People say words can be spoken in here that do not really change anything, and maybe at the moment they have a point, but we must show people that we can do better and that we have a real commitment from the heart of Government to tackle climate change. A substantial British green new deal should be central to that. It would reduce emissions, create employment and show the rest of the world that economic benefit and climate benefit are not mutually exclusive.

We need to recognise that we are here now because there have been several centuries of relentless pursuit of economic growth without thought for the environmental consequences. There have been so many advances made in that time that it would be wrong to suggest that economic growth is a bad thing, but it is no longer tenable to consider economic advancement in isolation. The scale of the challenge we face from climate change should lead us to say that restoring nature is as much an economic imperative as a moral one.

Break in Debate

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 5:56 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for introducing the debate so well. He spoke with passion in his calm-mannered speech, and many of the points he raised set us up nicely for what was a good debate on all sides of the Chamber.

It is quite common for there to be consensus across all parties in Westminster Hall. If only BBC Parliament and the news channels showed more of what goes on here and less of what goes on in the main Chamber, people would see politics at its best. Many of the debates that take place here get into the detail and intricacies. They encourage Ministers to look at the details that matter, not just the soundbites. When we look at rewilding and restoring nature, it is in many cases the detail that matters. It is easy to put big picture phraseologies around how we want to restore and rewild nature—let us insert a very large number of trees and say we will plant this—but it is the detail and delivery that makes a really big difference.

It has been said by colleagues on both sides of the Chamber that climate change is real. In Parliament, businesses, local government and in all our communities, we are confronted by a pressing question: since Parliament has declared a climate emergency, what are you doing differently? If the answer is nothing, as frequently it is, that is not a good enough answer. When it comes to restoring nature, it means not only looking at how we reverse the biodiversity loss in rural areas, but how we reverse it in urban areas as well. It is about what role our brilliant local councils can play, as well as central Government. It is about businesses, voluntary groups, the third sector, and co-operatives and mutuals as well. There are lots of challenges and it is up to each and every one of us to do something.

That is why, when the shadow DEFRA team talks about the climate emergency, my hon. Friends the Members for Workington (Sue Hayman) and for Stroud (Dr Drew) are always keen to mention the phrase that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) used in her remarks: this is a climate and ecological emergency. If we focus solely on carbon, we will miss part of the debate. That is why we need to look at habitat loss, biodiversity loss, the problems with our soil and so much more besides.

The issue matters to all of us, no matter where we live. We know that catastrophe awaits us if we do not act sooner. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) mentioned, we are already seeing the effects now. If we do not drastically cut the amount of carbon we produce, the result will be sea level rises, extreme weather, population movements, and large parts of our planet—our home—becoming inhospitable and unliveable. There will also be greater biodiversity loss, habitat loss and the extinction of countless animal, insect, fish and plant species.

[Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Indeed, while the debate has been going on, according to the latest biodiversity loss figures we will have lost a couple of species around the world. That shows just how pressing the matter is. Many of those species might not be household names. We had good debates on the ivory ban, in which the Minister played a part, regarding the loss of some flagship species—the elephant and the rhino—due to hunting activities. However, as we saw in the debate about the loss of insects led by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), small insects that many of us will not know the names of are just as important to our environment.

That is why it is good that so many Members have spoken about why rewilding is good. My hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East and for Ellesmere Port and Neston, and the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) talked about activities in their constituencies, highlighting best practice. Other Members discussed the big themes. I was very glad that the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) mentioned green walls in schools and roadside planting. Frequently, it is not just about big schemes; small things add up as well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) said that we need to have more nature-based solutions, which is at the heart of what we are talking about. Frequently, we get very good language, but not enough action follows. That is why we need to say that rewilding and restoring nature is good, and we should promote it much more. It is a really important part of a nature-led solution to the climate and ecological emergency.

The right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North spoke passionately about the importance of trees, and Opposition Members made contributions about the variety of trees as well. We need not only to plant more trees, but to ensure that the species that we plant do not contribute to a mono-species environment in which it is harder for insects, birdlife and other plants to thrive. We need to have a mixed approach because, in some cases, not ordering a million trees of the same species makes it slightly more expensive. However, ordering different species is what creates a truly unique environment, and we know from the research that planting multiple species alongside each other sequesters more carbon and provides a home for more animal species than having tree species of the same variety in the same location. When we talk about tree planting, we need to ensure that we are talking about true diversity.

The Government say a lot of good words on tree planting. Indeed, their manifesto commitment to plant so many trees, as my hon. Friend for Ellesmere Port and Neston mentioned, was positive. It is a shame that we have not seen action on it. I know that the Minister will not accept any greenwash in his Department, but unfortunately, we have lately had very bold soundbites and very poor delivery on tree planting. I would be grateful if the Minister set out how he intends to reverse that.

Sequestering carbon in our forests is really important. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East spoke about the importance of, and the opportunity to, sequester so much more in our natural environment, which could come from a potential change in agricultural setting. I look forward to the introduction of the Agriculture Bill and, as the shadow Minister for fisheries, that of the Fisheries Bill. Those two very important Bills have been hamstrung by the Brexit paralysis, but we need them because of the impact on our natural environment and on coastal and rural communities.

Many Members spoke about the importance of rewetting our peat bogs and preventing the burning of our grouse moors. My party launched that policy during the summer, and I spent an entire day at BBC Plymouth talking to different radio shows and TV stations about why moving driven grouse shooting and changing the economy and approach surrounding it could create additional biodiversity in those rural areas.

That approach works not only on driven grouse shooting, but on rewilding other forms of our natural environment. It is important to make the case not just for a rural environment, but for an urban and rural environment. We need to enhance biodiversity in all settings. As the majority of our population live in urban environments, it is important that our activities as individuals can take place in the areas where we live, not just the areas we want to visit or that we might think of when we talk about natural environments.

The right hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald), who is unfortunately no longer in the Chamber, very boldly called for a policy for water. Indeed, the Government’s policies for water are far too managerial when it comes to our response to climate change. I encourage the new Minister to give his Department a little kick in that area, because there is an opportunity to go much further. The over-extraction of water from our chalk streams, for instance, rightly carries an awful lot of headlines. Severe damage is being done to our chalk streams, and it is not just fantastic figures such as Feargal Sharkey who campaign in those areas. Local groups right across our chalk stream communities are really concerned about what is happening in those precious and unique environments. We need to do so much more about that.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 6:05 p.m.

I have in my constituency the finest chalk stream in the world, the River Test. It is not simply abstraction that is one of our big challenges; we have a significant problem with nitrates going into our watercourses, which is causing huge challenges locally.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard - Hansard
28 Oct 2019, 6:06 p.m.

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 the hon. Member for Bosworth (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.