We must respond to the wake-up calls from experts & the public outcry over the state of our planet
Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Parminter writes following her Lords question this week on 'Strengthening the public authorities’ biodiversity duty'.
Nature provides us with the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe. It also creates moments of connection through sitting by water or listening to bird song which just makes our lives better. Yet our rapacious consumption and unsustainable use of nature threatens our future.
That message was brought home strongly earlier this year by the UN report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) that concluded that nature is being eroded at rates unprecedented in human history.
Political will to tackle the climate emergency has been evident in the face of global public protests but more action and resources to tackle the profound threat too of biodiversity loss is now needed.
Liberal Democrats fought the last election promising that protecting the natural environment would be a core commitment of every government department and agency. This would be in addition to a Nature Act with targets on biodiversity, clean air and water. The challenge of halting and reversing environmental decline is so pressing that all of us must play our part. That must include all public bodies and the Government’s forthcoming Environment Bill provides the opportunity to ensure this happens.
Last year the Select Committee on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 – of which I was a member - concluded that the existing Section 40 duty on public authorities to ‘have regard to’ the purpose of conserving biodiversity was not fit for purpose. The evidence showed the duty had been ineffective and the state of biodiversity in our country continues to decline. In Wales where there is a stronger duty it encourages public authorities to mainstream biodiversity across the delivery of their functions and integrate it an early stage in decision making. The House of Lords Select Committee recommended that the wording should be strengthened and combined with a reporting duty to improve transparency and accountability. Peers stand by that view and last month I coordinated a letter from members across the House of Lords to the Secretary of State at DEFRA reiterating the case for a strengthened duty.
On Monday I followed that letter up with a question in the Chamber. The Ministerial reply was disappointingly vague. Whilst the Secretary of State last week in a speech at Kew indicated he was in favour of a stronger public authority biodiversity duty, he chose his words carefully and did not commit the Government to including this in the Environment Bill. It appears other departments have other priorities above tackling the environmental crisis we face, and they may scupper its inclusion in the Bill.
Introducing as soon as possible a strong Environment Bill is essential if we are to meet the environmental challenges we face. My campaigning now is to show Government there is strong cross-party consensus that a critical component of such a bill is a strengthened public authority biodiversity duty. It is vital the Government seizes this important chance to ensure that public authorities can contribute to the laudable goal of improving the environment for the next generation. Without it we cannot hope to respond to the wake-up calls from experts and the public outcry over the state of our planet.
Baroness Parminter is a Lib Dem peer