State of Nature
Natalie is supporting the big push by NGOs to make it a duty for the environment minister to set a target to halt, and begin to reverse, the decline in the state of nature in England, as soon as reasonably practicable, and no later than 2030. She also supported amendments on soil health and the importance of whole ecosystems such as ancient woodlands. We can protect plants, animals and fungi—the three kingdoms—and look at them in isolation, but it is the relationship between them that makes up the natural world and the natural environment.
Jenny is backing seven amendments on air pollution, including the WHO standards for particulates being written into UK law and achieved by 2030 at the latest. She wants many of the elements that are in her own Clean Air Bill to be taken up within the new government legislation. A new duty to ensure Clean Air with the government having to report to Parliament every year on progress.
Several of the peers, including Jenny, mentioned Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived next to a dirty, filthy road and died at nine years old because of her asthma It is children who will have health problems all their lives because of living near polluted roads. This Bill is an ideal opportunity to fix this problem. We know what the solutions are, and they are here in these amendments, so we hope the Government accept them.
Mandatory Targets and Enforcement
The government’s proposed approach has weak (or non-existent) enforcement powers, along with an Office for Environmental Protection whose funding is dependent on the government and whose work can be directed by Ministers.The green peers will be pushing hard for targets to be mandatory and enforceable. Natalie stressed the need for an interim 15 years’ target to focus the minds of the current government.
An example of this is an amendment regarding the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017/1012 which simply goes through and replaces the word ‘may’ with ‘must’. Another amendment replaces all the 'due regard' clauses with Ministers having to stick to the environmental principles and rules. So instead of Ministers having the option of acting, or not acting, to protect our most precious natural areas, this would ensure they have to conserve biodiversity and protect human health. Another amendment requires that local authorities have a similar duty to protect biodiversity. Natalie has also spoken about why the armed services need to be covered by the Environment Bill, rather than exempt.
Office for Environment Protection
There are a large range of amendments regarding the powers and independence of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). The Government say 'trust us, we don’t have any ill intentions', but the point is not who the current Minister is, or what the Government of the moment’s intentions are. We are setting up something new and important here, which is likely to continue for decades. If this organisation is not to fail to protect biodiversity and our natural habitat - as Nature England and the Environment Agency both failed - then it needs to be truly independent and underpinned by strong legal principles.
Natalie backed an amendment that would ensure that all the research that guides the OEP decisions is publicly available and that government, along with other organisations, have to release environmental information in line with the Arrhuse Convention. This could be the basis of partnership working. For example, a great deal of this information would also be of great use to farmers.
The UK Government used to report environmental failings and successes to the EU. One of Jenny's amendments requires the government to report on air pollution, water quality, waste etc. to the new Office for Environmental Protection. Another amendment gives the OEP the power to impose fines for government bodies that fail on the environment, with the money going to the NHS for treatment of those suffering the impacts of air pollution. These amendments combined would give the Office for Environmental Protection some teeth.
Natalie supported an amendment right at the start of the bill that adds to the explanation of what the bill aims to do “to address the biodiversity and climate emergency domestically and globally”.
The net zero emissions approach to farming - in an amendment backed by Natalie - requires a shift in what we produce as well as how we produce it. Other amendments set out a path for reducing meat consumption and resource use and improving soil quality by natural means.
Reducing sewage in water is just one of several amendments to improve water quality. Jenny said that if she had to pick one amendment as the most crucial, it would have to be Amendment 166 tabled by the Duke of Wellington, which sets the essential target of zero discharges of untreated sewage into rivers. This is the level of ambition that we should be working toward as a matter of urgency.
Natalie has taken up the amendment on pesticides not being used near areas of human habitation, such as schools or shops. We have been applying stronger poisons, and more of them, more often. In the first half of the last decade, three metrics—the area treated, often measured as spray hectares, the frequency of applications and the number of active ingredients used—all leapt significantly. This impacts on us, or the soil, on pollinators like bees. We have a natural world—a world of air and ground in which we live—that is out of balance: a poisoned world. These amendments are very modest. They are small steps towards turning that around.
Jenny pointed out that the international waste economy is a nasty, polluting system, where the richest countries are using the poorest as dump sites. Many people would be outraged to see that the recycling that they so carefully do is just baled up and either dumped on poor countries or incinerated. When we export plastic waste we are exporting CO2.
A big push on reducing plastic pollution by Jenny would require Ministers to set targets (“the plastics reduction targets”) in respect of the reduction of plastic pollution and to reduce the volume of non-essential single-use plastic products sold. She also made a plea
for the government to end the confusion over compostable plastic and to set minimum standards for plastic recycling.
Meanwhile, Natalie focused upon a ban
on polystyrene packaging and the takeaway containers which are the scourge of many town centres.
Natalie is taking up the hugely practical initiative to have local authorities run nappy services to provide an alternative to disposable nappies and the mountains of plastic waste currently produced by them. She also supported amendments to reduce packaging waste from supermarkets and other big companies.
The Lords also wanted action
on the long-awaited and much-delayed bottle deposit scheme for England. Ten other countries in Europe are operating these schemes, with bottle-recycling success rates running from an outstanding 98.5% in Germany, where of course they have had lots of practice since they started in 2003.
A big idea amendment
replaces the Government's aim of “resource efficiency” with a “reduction in resource use”. The law could thus acknowledge that we cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet and that a circular economy is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a sustainable world. A more targeted amendment
would act against built in product obsolescence and the associated fly tipping that goes with it.
A significant step forward for local planning is the amendment to ensure that all future residential developments be net zero-carbon in construction and design.
Access to land
Natalie is supporting a proposal from the Right to Roam campaign that all woodlands, all downland, and all green belts be opened; not just to walkers but to camping, kayaking, swimming and climbing. This right exists, in Norway, Sweden, Estonia and Scotland. It was a common law or long-established right, which has subsequently been largely codified in law, along with the responsibilities of those doing the roaming.
Jenny will be taking up the cause of animal protection by asking Ministers to set targets for the replacement of tests on animals. Some tests are supposedly conducted to protect human health and the environment, where there are fully viable alternatives. It would also require a reduction in the numbers of animals used and the suffering they endure, while these tests are being phased out.
Finally, one of Jenny’s favourite amendments would see an outright ban on fracking.