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      GREENS IN THE HOUSE   
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SUCCESSES IN THE LORDS

Fourteen Lords' amendments to the Environment Bill will be debated by the House of Commons at the end of October and we need your help to lobby MPs, so they pass the ones listed below. 

Our Green Party peers - Jenny Jones and Natalie Bennett - have been working hard to get these changes through. An amendment on soil health passed because of Natalie's single-handed determination to change the discussion on the use of artificial fertilisers and chemicals in farming. While Jenny's constant focus on air pollution ensured that an amendment setting a target for fine particulates (PM 2.5) was successful.  

You can support Natalie's and Jenny's work by finding and messaging your MP using They Work For You. This newsletter sets out the amendments, what they would change and why those changes are important.

At the moment, the Environment bill allows ministers to do things, but in only a handful areas does it give them the legal responsibility to act - for which they can be held accountable. You can help support these amendments to ensure there are clear rules to protect us all.

These amendments to the Environment Bill on climate change, biodiversity, plastics and sewage will only protect human health and the natural world if they are enforceable and that is why two of the amendments are especially important. The Lords want to strengthen the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), so it has independence of funding and appointments, along with the ability to take court action against the government and other public bodies when they get things wrong. These key amendments will stop the government directing the OEP's work or hiding reports.  

 
The government has already written several of its own amendments into the legislation in response to the concerns raised by both peers and MPs. These changes help, but still fall well short of the protections our environment needs. We are asking you to lobby your MPs to improve the Environment Bill and give Caroline Lucas MP your help in convincing the Commons to back these crucial changes. 
Office for Environment Protection

As Jenny said in her speech"It is obvious to anybody looking in from outside that the office for environmental protection must do things such as hitting the share price of a water company whenever it dumps sewage into our rivers. We must have an independent OEP that commissions research into the impact of pesticides on our wildlife and insects and hands it over to MPs so that they can actually challenge Ministers and the lobbyists in Whitehall. We need an OEP that can say a straightforward no to damaging developments, whether it is infrastructure or development, urban or rural. It should not be suggesting mitigation and greenwash, which is what could happen with such a toothless watchdog. This country needs an OEP that is a rottweiler and not a lapdog.”

Amendment 24, removes the ability of the government to direct the work of the OEP and replaces it with a new clause that ensures OEP independence. 
 
Amendment 27 allows the High Court its usual discretion to enforce the environmental duties of public bodies by the grant of appropriate remedies. This is a modest aim for the OEP to achieve baseline credibility, whether at home or internationally, as an enforcement body. 

The government claim that the OEP will be able to bring legal proceedings against public authorities but its unclear about when it can do that and to what purpose. The OEP is unique among enforcement bodies in being disqualified from bringing proceedings for judicial review, save in urgent cases. 

 
Declaration of a biodiversity and climate emergency

Natalie spoke in favour of the amendment declaring a biodiversity and climate emergency: "We have had, and still have, a global pandemic, which is related to our biodiversity and climate crises, but in reaction to it we have seen enormous, massive and rapid change. We have seen the invention from scratch of highly effective new vaccines from a range of technologies. We have seen billions of doses of those vaccines already delivered. We have seen transformation on an almost daily scale of our entire way of life.

What has happened to the climate in those two years [of the pandemic] ? ... we have yet to see the scale of reaction that is needed to these [bio-diversity and climate] emergencies, which are on the same scale as the pandemic. Just look at the contrast between those two scales of reaction and the fact that the Bill was written two years ago. In the age of shocks, with time moving so fast, that is an age. Amendment 1 would update the Bill to be fit for today, as it must be, and create the frame for it to be fit for the future.”


Amendment 1 reads:

"(1) The purpose of this Act is to address the biodiversity and climate emergency domestically and globally. 
(2) As soon as reasonably practicable and no later than one month beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, the Prime Minister must declare that there is a biodiversity and climate emergency domestically and globally.
(3) The Government must have regard to this purpose and declaration when implementing the provisions of this Act."

 
Soil Health

Putting forward her simple Amendment 2, to add soil health and quality to the Bill, Natalie said“Soils are complex ecosystems in their own right. The “health” element of this amendment very much addresses that biology aspect, whereas the “quality” element speaks more specifically to the chemical and physical composition of the soil.

The UK loses more than 3 million tonnes of topsoil every year. Soil is degraded even while it remains in situ; almost 4 million hectares are at risk of compaction - the life and air squashed out of the soil, mostly by the passage of heavy farm machinery. Soil can also be contaminated through dangerous, damaging substances being swept or blown or landing on it - or still sometimes, sadly, being deliberately placed on it through error or fraud. We are also just beginning to understand micro- plastic pollution, something that cannot be escaped anywhere on this planet. Soils are stores of carbon too, of course. They are rich ecosystems and stores of life and biodiversity on a scale that we have barely begun to understand."

 
Air Pollution

When supporting a minimum legal target for the highly damaging particulates, PM 2.5, Jenny said: “Amendment 4 is crucial: it could save your life. We have to reduce PM2.5. Exposure to these fine particles is the main cause of death for most people who die early from air pollution. These are tiny bits of soot and grit that are so small that they not only stick to the lungs but can pass through them. We must understand that this is incredibly difficult to control without targets.

Many countries around the world follow the previous World Health Organization guidance, which was issued 16 years ago, but we still have nothing. We have a public health crisis leading to tens of thousands of premature deaths and we have identified the main cause, but still we do nothing.

Incinerators can be built and ignore this pollutant. Heathrow can be expanded and ignore this pollutant. Local authorities and national government are making decisions that will potentially damage human health and increase these emissions, but we allow it because we ignore the scientific advice. That really should not be acceptable.”


Amendment 4 reads:

"in clause 2, page 2, line 24, to leave out subsection (2) and insert -
(2) The PM2.5 air quality target must -
(a) be less than or equal to 10µg/m3,
(b) so far as practicable, follow World Health Organization guidelines, and
(c) have an attainment deadline on or before 1 January 2030."

 
Interim targets

Amendment 11 places a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to meet any interim targets they set.

Any study of human behaviour shows that a statutory duty in five years’ time will get more focus than one in 20 years’ time. Whether it is polluting emissions, biodiversity, water quality or soil health, people need to feel the urgency of 'now'.

Amendment 11 reads:

"in clause 5, page 4, line 5, at end to insert -
(d) interim targets are met."

 
Stop the Ministry of Defence and Treasury from being exempt from environmental protections

Currently, the Environment Bill principles ask departmental Ministers to consider the least environmentally damaging option when they are looking at a range of policy options. However, the MoD and the Treasury are exempted because defence and tax and spending have a disapplication from the forthcoming statement on environmental principles.

As Natalie pointed out that: The MoD has a third of all the UK’s SSSIs - our most special land for habitats and for environmental protection. In addition, there are all the tenanted farmers, the ancient woodlands and all the land that could deliver so much in terms of natural resource protection on the 2% of the UK land mass which is the military estate in the UK.

Amendment 20 reads:

"in clause 19, page 12, line 4, to leave out paragraphs (a) and (b)"

The point of Amendment 20 is to help the Government’s policy statement on the environmental principles to put environmental protection at the heart of government decision-making.
 
Plastic and our single use culture

In supporting this amendment to give Ministers the power to apply charges on all single use items, not just plastic, Natalie said: “We are in a situation rather like the “dieselgate” scandal, where we saw encouragement of a shift to diesel vehicles, with severe deleterious effects on human and environmental health. Those effects were multiplied by corruption and fraud in the car companies, but there was an underlying error in the decision being made. We need systems thinking to look holistically at the environmental impacts of laws, regulations and policies. The waste pyramid tells us that the first thing we should be doing is reducing the use of all materials—plastic is particularly pernicious, but all materials have an environmental cost—and then looking to reuse, with recycling a poor third choice."

Amendment 40 reads:
"in Schedule 9, page 188, line 39, to leave out paragraph (b) and insert -
(b) are made of plastic or any other single use material, and
This amendment would broaden the proposed power in Clause 55 to enable regulations to be made about charges on all single use items, including plastic. This would provide a tool for Ministers to address single use culture and prevent existing materials being replaced by alternatives which cause similar levels of environmental harm."

 
Pesticides

Natalie spoke in favour of Amendment 53, which fixes gaps in the authorisation process for pesticides so they include the long-term effects of pesticides on honey bees and the omission of effects on wild pollinators. She said"Amendment 53 looks at protecting nature from the toxic, disastrous chemicals that are pesticides"

The widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides has resulted in a reduction in the success of honey bee hives, significant declines of  wild bee species and is implicated in butterfly population decline. This has resulted in reduced pollination services and crop yields. 


Amendment 53 reads:
"after clause 73, to insert the new clause Protection of pollinators from pesticides.
(1) A competent authority must not authorise for use any pesticide product, active ingredient, safener or synergist unless it is satisfied that there will be no significant short-term negative effect, and no long-term negative effect, on the health of honeybees or wild pollinator populations.
(2) A pollinator risk assessment report relating to the relevant substance must be published by an expert body.
(3) The expert body must consist of individuals free from vested interests in pesticide use, who shall have been independently appointed.
(4) The pollinator risk assessment report must include - (a) data examining acute and chronic effects of the relevant substance on honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and hoverflies,(b) all relevant available scientific evidence relating to any pollinators,(c) conclusions relating to the likely acute and chronic effects of the relevant substance on honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other pollinators,(d) an assessment of the likelihood of synergistic effects, and(e) the identification of any risks to pollinators where the available evidence is insufficient to reach a conclusion.
(5) The expert body must consult the public on the draft content of the pollinator risk assessment report.
(6) When making any authorisation decision the competent authority must - (a) aim to achieve a high level of protection for pollinators,(b) be satisfied that the requirements of subsections (2) to (5) have been met,(c) consult all relevant authorities with environmental responsibilities..."
Sewage in rivers

Amendment 60, in clause 80, page 74, line 34, at end to insert -
“141ZA Duty on sewerage undertakers to take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows
(1) A sewerage undertaker must demonstrate improvements in the sewerage systems and progressive reductions in the harm caused by untreated sewage discharges.
(2) The Secretary of State, the Director and the Environment Agency must exercise their respective functions under this and any other Act to secure compliance with this duty.”


The success of this amendment has forced the government to bring forward its own amendments (61 and 62) to ensure minimum levels of transparency from the water companies about how much sewage is being dumped and what its impact is. However, this falls well short of actually stopping the discharges.
 
Habitat protection

Amendment 99, after clause 109, inserts a new clause Habitats Regulations: limits on powers to amend. This amendment ensures that powers to amend the Habitats Regulations may only be used for the purposes of environmental improvement following consultation. It ensures that the level of environmental protection that must be maintained includes protection for important habitats, sites and species as well as overall environmental protection.

Natalie said: “We were promised non-regression with Brexit, and this would restore some of the protections that we lost with Brexit and, more than non-regression, we were promised improvements. This is simply standing still, so the Government really must commit to this amendment.”
 
Ancient woodland protection

Amendment 100, after clause 110, inserts a new clause Duty to implement an enhanced protection standard for ancient woodland in England

This amendment is intended to address the more than 800 ancient woodlands in England that are currently threatened by development. As a large number of these threats result from indirect effects of development next to ancient woodland, these changes will improve the weight afforded to protecting these irreplaceable habitats in planning policy.

Natalie said“We are talking about something very ancient and precious, and we can make comparisons with cathedrals and indeed with your Lordships’ House. I was on the site of what is supposed to be the Norwich western link, standing at the base of an oak tree that was a sapling when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne. 

We often think of ancient woodland as being out in the countryside somewhere. I want to be a little parochial and point out that Sheffield has 80 ancient woodlands within its boundary. I want to think and talk about the benefits to human health and well-being of having these ancient woodlands - indeed, London has some of them, and, when I lived here, I used to walk in them as well. They have enormous human health benefits that we have to take account of."

 
Urgent review of the risks to forests from UK commercial activities

Amendment 108A, in Schedule 17, page 246, line 27, to leave out “second” and insert “first".
 
Instead of the Secretary of State reviewing the effectiveness of the forest risk commodities framework and putting that to Parliament in two years time, the government would have to do it in one year. This report on the state of the world's forest and indigenous peoples would be presented to Parliament for debate. Hopefully this will lead to the Secretary of State taking steps to eliminate forest risk commodities from UK commercial activities. 

 
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lordsmedia@greenparty.org.uk

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House of Lords Green Group · House of Lords · London, Greater London SW1A 0PW · United Kingdom

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