Bishop of St Albans speaks in support of Climate and Ecology bill

On 15th July 2022, the Climate and Ecology Bill, a Private Member’s Bill, was considered at Second Reading in the House of Lords. The Bishop of St Albans spoke in the debate – his speech is below, along with contributions from other peers:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for this Bill. I know he has made many contributions about diversity in the past. I seem to remember that red squirrels are something we have discussed on a number of occasions, and I am glad he still works on that.

This debate is taking place at a crucial moment in our country’s battle against climate change. Despite the circumstances that have led to a change of Prime Minister, there was at least genuine confidence in the urgency and seriousness with which he was approaching the issue of climate change—he spoke out on a number of occasions. Therefore, it seems all the more extraordinary that, in the current events going on, we are hearing virtually nothing from candidates who want to be the next Prime Minister about this vital area. It is as if the only thing that matters is taxation. Taxation is important for all sorts of reasons, but where are the prophetic voices speaking about where we must be for the sake of vital future generations?

Within the current cost of living crisis, myopic thinking could trump the urgent need to tackle the reduction in global emissions and reverse biodiversity loss. Ultimately, if we are going to meet our targets, the Government must lead by example and create incentives for people and businesses to reduce their emissions.

By way of comment on this, I am very proud of the example of the strong line that the Church of England has taken on climate change. In February 2020, the General Synod adopted an extraordinarily ambitious programme to go carbon neutral by 2030, and just last week, as we were meeting in York, a road map was officially endorsed to achieve that target. We are hugely aware that this is going to be incredibly costly for all of us if we are going to achieve it. Nevertheless, ambitious targets are galvanising people who in the past paid lip service to it and are now trying to think of what practical steps we need to put in place each year as we try to adapt tens of thousands of historic churches, community halls and vicarages across the nation.

Many organisations, such as the Church, will be taking a proactive approach to try to meet their obligations, but we have to face the fact that others will not be doing that and will take an approach based on expediency and pressure from the top which will simply see things in financial terms. For that reason, the framework referred to in the Bill would help to bind successive Governments to taking the necessary measures to tackle climate change and restore our natural landscape. Much work is being done on this. Some Members of this House, indeed Members taking part in this debate, worked on the Agriculture Bill and looked at environmental land management schemes and so on, so a lot of work is going on.

I have one main caveat—I may have more as the Bill progresses. I will support this Bill as it goes through the House, but I am concerned that the requirement to reduce greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide may not have been quite as thought out as it needs to be. We know, for example, that some methane is produced by cattle, but the facts are complex. Since 1996, the total number of cattle in the UK has dropped from around 12 million to just over 9.3 million, whereas over the same period methane levels have consistently increased. Statistics I have seen show that the UK is not even in the top 25 countries globally for its number of cattle. It is urgent that we look at the long-term need for food security and look realistically at the cost to the environment of bringing large amounts of food in from far-distant places in the world. Noble Lords will know that I am president of the Rural Coalition—I should have declared that at the start of my speech.

We need to make sure that we have an evidence-based approach. The danger is that if we simply find ways, for example, to reduce the number of livestock in this country, we might end up importing it at even greater cost to the environment. One urgent thing we need to do is to work with the National Farmers’ Union, and others that get the problem, to work out what is really going to address it. I absolutely support the need to reduce our methane output, but hope that we can do it by working with our farmers, not attacking them. Scientific innovations, such as the additives to cow feed, will reduce cow methane emissions significantly. In Australia, seaweed is currently being trialled as a way to change the diet of cows, which could pave the way for tackling climate change in an agriculturally friendly manner.

Incidentally—some of us were involved in a debate on this last week—another important aspect on which a number of us are working with the farming community is preventing nitrate run-off from ammonia into our precious chalk streams. We need to work with people to think about how we produce food and give ourselves food security, as well as to make the reductions that we desperately need and reverse biodiversity loss as we look to the future.

Time is certainly against us in the fight against climate change, which is why, despite my single reservation, I wholeheartedly support the bold framework of this Bill.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Baroness Boycott (CB): I echo the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans on the extra health warning that it will be 40 degrees on Monday and Tuesday. They are temperatures that we have never seen, yet we know that the candidates to be Prime Minister have not mentioned this. It feels, yet again, as though parts of Westminster live in a parallel reality to the rest of the world—that makes me really frightened. This Bill is important, necessary and could not come any quicker.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP): I hope that we will get a response on the National Farmers’ Union report, The Foundation of Food, out this week, which is focused on the importance of soil and how the government policy of the sustainable farming initiative is simply not doing enough. This picks up the points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con): The Government are committed to being the first to leave the natural environment in a better state than that in which they found it. I also thank the Church for its work on climate and environmental issues, as highlighted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con): In closing, I reassure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, on the issue of red squirrels, in which I know the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is also interested. He may have heard this week of the long-awaited research into a chocolate contraceptive paste put into funnels accessible only by grey squirrels, which will prove very effective in keeping down the grey squirrel population.

Lord Redesdale (LD): I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. I realise that the Church of England has done a great deal, and there is a role for many faith groups to raise this issue.

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