The Plastic Crisis
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Environment, reducing plastic waste is an issue that is close to my heart. The UK continues to be a global leader in tackling plastic waste and I am encouraged by the Government's targets to increase recycling rates and reduce waste, including plastics. I would like to reassure you that my ministerial colleagues are still committed to: eliminating avoidable waste by 2050; achieving a 65 per cent recycling rate for municipal (household-like) waste by 2035; working towards all plastic packaging placed on the market being recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025; and eliminating avoidable plastic waste by 2042. I am assured that measures to achieve these targets have been set out in the Resources and Waste Strategy and the Environment Bill. I am also committed to these targets, and I will continue to monitor their progress closely.
Without urgent action to cut demand, it is estimated 34 billion tonnes of plastic will have been manufactured globally by 2050. The Resources and Waste Strategy sets out plans to reduce, reuse, and recycle more plastic than we do now. The target is to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste throughout the life of the Government's 25 Year Environment Plan, but for the most problematic plastics ministers are going faster and have committed to work towards all plastic packaging placed on the market being recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.
To keep products in circulation for longer ministers are taking steps through the Environment Bill to require products to be designed to be durable, repairable, and recyclable, as well as legislating for the use of extended producer responsibility schemes in a way that incentivises more resource efficient design. The Bill also includes powers to enable other commitments to be delivered which will improve the quantity and quality of the materials we recycle. These include commitments to implement a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers and the introduction of consistent recycling collections across the country.
Further, my ministerial colleagues have announced key details of the world leading Plastic Packaging Tax. The initial rate of the tax will be £200 per tonne and it will be paid by manufacturers and importers of plastic packaging that contains less than 30 per cent recycled plastic. Building on the microbeads ban, restrictions on the supply of plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds came into force on 1st October 2020, with exemptions to ensure that those with medical needs or a disability are able to continue to access plastic straws. Finally, since the plastic bag charge was first introduced in 2015, the Government has successfully prevented billions of plastic bags being sold and ending up in the ocean and environment. This charge has now been increased to 10p and extended to all retailers. It is anticipated that this extension will decrease the use of single-use carrier bags by 70-80 per cent in small and medium-sized businesses.
The Great Big Green Week: COP26
I am delighted that the United Kingdom will be hosting this conference as it provides an opportunity to further drive our ambitious environmental targets, including our COP26 Energy Transition Campaign and co-leadership of the Powering Past Coal Alliance. It also allows us to further our international ambition to unite the world by agreeing to coordinated action to tackle climate change.
The UK has a proud record on climate action, being the first major economy to legislate to achieve net zero by 2050. The Prime Minister has set the world’s most ambitious climate change target into law of reducing emissions by 78 per cent by 2035, compared to 1990 levels. This builds on the existing interim target of reducing emissions by 68 per cent by 2030. The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution lays the blueprint for how the UK can forge ahead in eradicating our contribution to climate change and achieving net zero.
While the UK is taking world-leading steps to combat global warming, it is an issue that requires global attention and international action. That is why we will bring together world leaders, climate experts, business leaders and citizens from across the globe to agree ambitious action to tackle climate change. Further, we will use our Presidency to work to four clear objectives:
To ask countries to commit to net zero by mid-century, with more ambitious nationally determined contribution targets for 2030;
To urgently protect and help adapt our communities and natural habitats from the destructive effects of climate change;
To increase funding to support these aims, making good on the $100 billion annual climate finance goal affirmed through the Paris Agreement; and
To close off the outstanding elements of the Paris Rulebook, and accelerate delivery of the Paris Goals through collaboration between Governments, Businesses and Civil Society.
Encouraging progress has already been made, for example, when the UK accepted the Presidency, under 30 per cent of the global economy had signed up to a net zero commitment and I am delighted that that figure has now increased to 70 per cent. Around 120 countries are committed to or are developing long-term climate neutral plans. We are dedicated to working with all countries to inspire action ahead of and during the conference, including pressing for more countries to set net zero targets.
I am grateful to my constituents for bringing Great Big Green Week to my attention, which is taking place this year from 18-26 September. I am pleased that this is taking place before COP26 to encourage further awareness of the key issues surrounding climate change. I appreciate you taking the time to invite me to meet you to discuss these issues ahead of the Great Big Green Week. to discuss the Government's plans to tackle climate change. Unfortunately, due to a very busy diary in the months ahead, I do not have time to schedule a meeting before the Great Big Green Week. However, I always welcome a chance to discuss environmental issues with my constituents and host regular Environment Forums. My next one is due to be in November to discuss COP26, and I hope to see you there.
I note your concerns about global temperatures. As you may know, the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015 aims to halt global warming at well below 2°C, while pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. I was delighted that when we hosted the G7 in June 2021, world leaders committed to accelerating efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and keep the 1.5°C global warming threshold within reach. In addition, they committed to protect the planet by supporting a green revolution that creates jobs and cuts emissions. I hope that further global action is achieved at COP26.
The Queen's Speech: CEE Bill
I understand that this Presentation Bill has been developed by campaign members of Extinction Rebellion, Big Ask and Power for the People. Let me be clear: tackling climate change is a priority for the government, and myself personally. As a former environment editor of the Observer newspaper and the Times, and currently as chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Environment, I believe it is the defining mission of our generation to pass on a sustainable planet to future generations.
I am proud that the UK was the first G7 country to legislate to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. We have already cut our greenhouse gas emissions per capita by half since 1990, a better track record than almost any other major country. Our greenhouse gas emissions per capita are now one third those of the US, Canada and Australia, and less than almost all EU countries including Germany and Denmark. But there is no room for complacency, and we do need to do more to stay on track.
I note that the Bill seeks to examine the UK’s global carbon footprint, such as indirect UK emissions in our supply chain which may affect developing countries. I am encouraged that the UK remains committed to environmentally sustainable development as set out in the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals. In January 2021, the Prime Minister announced that the UK will spend at least £3 billion of international climate finance on nature and biodiversity over five years. The funding will deliver transformational change in protecting biodiversity-rich land and ocean, shifting to sustainable food production and supply, and supporting the livelihoods of the world’s poorest.
In addition, I was encouraged that the Prime Minister announced as he opened the Climate Ambition Summit that the UK will end support for fossil fuel exports overseas as soon as possible. This is a significant change, as in the last four years, the Government supported £21 billion of UK oil and gas exports through trade promotion and export finance. I understand that this new policy will be implemented after a short period of consultation and is intended to come into force as soon as possible, and before COP26 in November.
I do not believe citizens' assemblies have advantages over conventional policy making in this context. Previous experiences in Canada, for instance, included citizens in the decision-making process but they failed to produce impactful or long-lasting results. I know that a Climate Assembly UK was formed because of work conducted by Parliamentary Select Committees. Ministers have assured me the Government will be looking closely at the findings. However, I am reassured that many of their recommendations, published in their report, are already in place or in progress as a result of the Government’s net zero strategy. Achieving net zero will benefit everyone and it is important that we work together to achieve it.
While I welcome the increased awareness and debate that this Bill brings, I do not believe that it is required as work is already underway.
The Queen's Speech reaffirmed the Government's commitment to tackling climate change by investing in new green industries to create jobs, while protecting the environment. The Environment Bill which failed to complete its passage will carry-over into this new session. The Bill ensures that the Government will take strong action to deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth and leave the environment in a better state than we found it. It is for these reasons I will not be tabling an amendment to the Queen's Speech.
Promoting Cycling & Walking for Environmental Purposes
Cycling and walking have a significant role to play in tackling some of the biggest health and environmental challenges that we face. Indeed, an uptake of these greener modes of transport throughout the pandemic has played a great role in the national coronavirus effort, helping to reduce the pressure on public transport, and, in facilitating social distancing, lowering infection rates. I therefore welcome this increased interest in cycling and walking and hope to see these behavioural changes last.
I am very pleased that the Government has committed to the largest ever financial boost for active travel of an additional £2billion in cycling and walking over the next five years. This will deliver transformational change, hopefully encouraging people to maintain their transition to greener, more sustainable modes of transport such as cycling. In the Summer, the Department for Transport also published the 'Gear Change' policy paper, detailing a bold new action plan to boost active travel.
The first stage of this £2 billion investment was a £250 million emergency active travel fund. Through this, the Government supported local authorities to increase the amount of road space provided for cycling, and enabled local authorities to reallocate road space and make changes to road layouts in response to the coronavirus. The Fund delivers new pop-up cycle lanes with protected space for cycling, cycle and bus-only corridors, safer junctions and wider pavements. Furthermore, a £50 Fix Your Bike Voucher scheme was launched, to help people to bring their bikes out of retirement. It was hugely popular and there will be more opportunities to secure vouchers in the coming months.
Beyond these measures, there will be a long-term cycling programme and budget, which will ensure a guaranteed funding pipeline. This will usher in thousands of miles of protected cycle routes in our towns and cities and improve the National Cycle Network.
Furthermore, over 1,000 miles of safe and direct cycling and walking networks are due to be delivered by 2025 with network plans developed and being built out in every town and city in England. Cycle training will be made available for any child or adult who wants it and a new national e-bike programme will be introduced to increase access to e-bikes. I welcome that Cycling UK have already provided information on how cycling can be enjoyed safely.
Higher standards for cycling infrastructure have also been introduced and a new inspectorate, Active Travel England, will ensure these new standards are upheld. The new standards will ensure schemes are better designed around the needs of cyclists and will make sure that schemes support the growing numbers of cyclists. I understand that the Department of Transport is already developing a framework to help local authorities monitor and evaluate the schemes that they will be delivering through phase two of the Active Travel Fund.
A consultation was also held on strengthening the Highway Code to enhance protections for cyclists and pedestrians. Among other things, Ministers want to improve the legal protections afforded to vulnerable road users and introduce tougher lorry safety standards.
The Environment Bill (Report Stage)
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Environment, ensuring that the Environment Bill is as robust as it can be to protect our country is extremely important to me.
I am pleased that the Environment Bill will put environmental ambition and accountability at the very heart of government, enhancing the commitment to leave the natural world in a better condition than we found it, and creating a new environment body to ensure it succeeds. Ministers have been clear that they will realise the benefits of leaving the EU, including implementing new ways of delivering better levels of environmental protection.
I spoke in the Chamber during the report stage of the Environment Bill on January 26th; you can read my speech here. I hope I have reassured you of my commitment to ensure the Environment Bill is as strong as it can be.
Protecting Nature & Biodiversity
Like you, I am also passionate about protecting nature and I am concerned that our country’s rich biodiversity and ecosystems are under threat. While it is encouraging that seventy-five world leaders registered their support for the ambitious Leader’s Pledge for Nature to put nature and biodiversity on the road to recovery by 2030, we must now turn those words into meaningful action. I am therefore thrilled that Ministers are launching a partnership to help deliver the biggest nature recovery project in England’s history, which will restore our depleted ecosystems and habitats as we continue to build back greener.
The Nature Recovery Network Delivery Partnership, led by Natural England, will bring together representatives from over 600 organisations to drive forward the restoration of protected sites and landscapes and help provide at least 500,000 hectares of new wildlife-rich habitat across England. The Network will link together our very best nature rich places, restore landscapes in towns and the countryside and create new habitats for everybody to enjoy. This is the biggest initiative to restore nature ever to be launched in England.
As well as making sure our existing protected sites are in the best possible condition, the Nature Recovery Network programme will recover threatened animal and plant species and create and connect new green and blue spaces such as wetlands, ponds, meadows, woodlands, and peatlands. It will engage conservation rangers and environmentally focused community-based projects and put lost features like hedgerows and trees back into our landscapes. These restored habitats will help address climate change through capturing carbon, while improving the quality of our air, water, and soil, and provide natural flood protection. They will also provide us all with places to enjoy and connect with nature and helping to improve our health and wellbeing.
Of course, Ministers cannot deliver the Nature Recovery Network alone. They are providing new legislation, tools and funding, but it is together that we will deliver the network of wildlife-rich places that allow nature and people to flourish.
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