The (now) Ecology Bill, sponsored by Liberal Democrat Lord Redesdale, aims to see the government commit to reverse – not just halt – nature decline by 2030. This would see the pledge under the Environment Act, which currently just commits to halting species decline by 2030, strengthened to be in line with the UK’s new 10-point plan for financing biodiversity, published by DEFRA in September.
The new bill would also require the secretary of state to “increase the health abundance, diversity and resilience of species, populations, habitats and ecosystems so that by 2030, and measured against a baseline of 2020, nature is visibly and measurably on the path of recovery”.
The goal is for this aspect of the Ecology Bill to apply to devolved nations also.
Conservative politician Lord Randall backed the bill in the debate and offered his encouragement to Lord Redesdale saying: “This is a very important bill. Many people have written to me about it, passionate people who want it to succeed. I feel a bit guilty, because they are probably being a bit optimistic about this Parliament’s processes. I hope I am wrong; we will see.
“They have my assurance, and I am sure that of many other noble Lords, that this issue will not disappear from the political agenda.”
Conservative politician Baroness Hooper also voiced support for the bill, saying it “ties in with and will support” the objectives of the 10-point plan.
After the debate, Redesdale told ENDS he was “elated” the bill had passed through committee stage.
On whether the government may be reluctant to eventually pass this bill through the Commons in the face of mounting missed environmental targets, such as those that were supposed to be published by the end of October as per the Environment Act, Redesdale said: “For the government, what they don’t like doing is signing up to things that actually have cost implications.
“So, at the moment they’ve got an agenda saying we must have growth, we must have development, we must have house building. These again directly impact the natural environment. So, the question is will they sign up to this knowing that it will have a knock on effect on other policies?”
Speaking at a roundtable event before the debate on the reasons why the bill had been amended to leave out the climate aspects, Redesdale pointed to how his previous experience with passing private members bills has shown a “razor-sharp” focus is needed to provide results. He also emphasised the importance of timing, and focusing on nature ahead of the UN biodiversity summit in Montreal next month.
A spokesperson from Zero Hour, the cross-party group lobbying for the bill, welcomed the result, but mentioned they were disappointed it is being considered under the remit of BEIS rather than DEFRA, as its focus is now on nature loss rather than climate. A spokesperson said: “Zero Hour is looking forward to engaging with ministers on how to live up to its ambitions.”
Lord Redesdale also expressed disappointment in the earlier roundtable that Lord Callanan, minister for the business and energy department, rather than Lord Benyon of DEFRA, was to be hearing the debate.
Zero Hour director, Dr Amy McDonnell, said: “We’ve taken a huge stride forward – both in terms of drawing together civil society to help push for the urgent nature targets that Zero Hour are calling for, as well as seeing the bill itself – with its nature focus – progress into its next stage in the House of Lords.”
Zero Hour expects the Ecology Bill to be passed to the Commons in early 2023, where it will be picked up by Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale and continue its journey into law.
The Climate and Ecology Bill was seen as “too long and over-ambitious” for a private members bill, but according to the campaign group Zero Hour it will still look to see this full bill introduced in the House of Commons before Christmas.