Welcome to the December Parliament activity report

Note this is a summary of some of the points - read the full set of Hansard on https://hansard.parliament.uk/ - This blog is to inform rather than to express affiliations with a certain point of view. Feel free to scroll through to the headline that interests you - the House of Lords Hansard summary is in indigo and the House of Commons in green. Links to relevant information have been added.

This months blog includes information on climate change, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Environment Bill, the future of coal, marine renewables, a new Forest Landscape Integrity Index, Environmental Land Management Schemes, green economic recovery, the National Trust, National Tree Strategy, net gain concerns, the use of declassified military intelligence, climate and distribution of species, hi-vis bees, and marine health.

3rd December 2020 - Climate Change

Lord Whitty raised concerns over the need to revise the national planning statement in line with the commitment to net zero. Meanwhile, Lord Browne of Ladyton, raised awareness of the Five Reasons for Climate Justice in Spatial Planning, which states “As the climate crisis deepens disadvantaged communities will bear the brunt.”

Further information is available on the Hansard

7th December 2020 - Convention on Biological Diversity

Lord Goldsmith stated that the Government is working internationally, for example, through the Leaders' Pledge for Nature and the UK-led Global Ocean Alliance, and as ocean co-chair of the High Ambition Coalition as COP 15 approaches. A new Nature for Climate Fund has been established and there is a current shift from destructive land-use subsidies to subsidies that are conditional on good environmental outcomes.

The Ice Ages have left us with only 30-odd native trees of limited genetic variety, whereas a healthy temperate forest would have some 1,000 species.

Lord Lucas

We will be ...planting or restoring 30,000 hectares a year by 2025... We do not want to see trees as just carbon-absorbing sticks; they have a crucial role to play...

Lord Goldsmith

Can my noble friend assure me that Her Majesty’s Government will be as ambitious on this as they have been on climate measures, not least by setting robust targets to halt and reverse the decline in species and habitats by 2030, committing to protect what we already have and creating not just new woodlands but also wetlands and grasslands?

Lord Randall

Our overarching ambition is targets that... will halt and reverse global biodiversity loss and, crucially, that will be underpinned by clear accountability and implementation mechanisms... Climate change represents perhaps the greatest threat that we face, and global biodiversity is being lost at an appalling and unprecedented rate. We cannot tackle one without a major focus on the other, and that is reflected in all our ambitions.

Lord Goldsmith

Further information is available on the Hansard

Environment Bill 2019-2020

For note, the Environment Bill is in the Report Stage which is in place to give MPs an opportunity to consider further amendments. After this, the Bill will be debated during its third reading. See the Bill's progress here.

3rd December 2020 - The Future of Coal in the UK

  • Emissions are down by over 70% since 1990, although usage is up.
  • Moving from coal to hydrogen is planned for the future.
  • Coal is still important for steel production and the cement industry.
  • We import millions of tonnes of coal a year.
  • There is an impending ban on the domestic use of coal. 

According to Mr Richard Holden Britains domestic coal production has some of the highest environmental standards, with open-cast mines being appropriately dealt with and re-landscaped after use. The import of coal would add to the pollution of the world's oceans. Mr Holden was concerned about the ban on domestic coal use, and referenced the use of oil creates 25% more carbon dioxide, whilst stating that wood is bulky to transport. Mr Holden stated that his concerns about offshoring our carbon footprint elsewhere. 

Graeme Morris spoke of the hardships that the coal miners faced and stated his hope for a "new, bright, clean and green future for the former coalfield areas". He suggested exploring ground source heat exchange pumps. 

Mark Jenkinson agreed that steel production requires coking coal or metallurgical coal for the foreseeable future. Importation of steel would offshore the carbon dioxide footprint. However, he stated he would welcome the phasing out of coal use, but there is no commercially available technology that can act as a coking coal replacement. 

Lee Anderson emphasised the need for coal for steel production, stating that the UK consumed 7.9 million tonnes of coal in 2019, 3 million tonnes of that was used for the steel industry, and 6.8 million tonnes was imported. He agrees with the previous gentlemen that it is not right to import coal, especially in light of the planned cessation of power stations in 2024. 

Conor McGinn shared his views that the UK should lead and renew its efforts to diversify energy sources, and move towards cleaner fuels and industries, in line with COP26. With Government announcing a cessation of coal power stations by 2025, Mr McGinn raised the importance of giving people access to new skills so that they can work in clean industries. 

The debate continued. 

As an aside, this Hansard contains some nice details about the history of coal mining. Information on Hydrogen Energy Technologies being investigated in Sweden can be found here

Further information is available on the Hansard

8th December 2020 - Marine Renewables

Alistair Carmichael brought attention to the power of the sea that the generation of electricity using wave and tidal power - marine energy.

According to the UK Marine Energy Council, there are currently 22 tidal stream and 23 wave developers active in the UK, with an estimated investment to date exceeding £500 million of private capital in developing marine energy technologies, and £70 million in direct public support. Estimates of support suggest that the tidal stream could deliver £1.4 billion gross value added by 2030, while the figure for wave is £4 billion by 2040. Those figures, plus the thousands of jobs that would come with them, are a tremendous prize.

Orbital Marine Power is at the forefront of this industry, and the most recent prototype successfully generated 3.25 GWh into the UK grid during a 12-month period of trials at the European Marine Energy Centre... The same runs true of Nova Innovation which deployed the world's first offshore tidal array in Shetland.

Mr Carmichael

Take a look at Orbital's floating platform here, and Nova Innovation's array here.

Further information is available on the Hansard

9th December 2020 - Forest Landscape Integrity 

A new Index has revealed that only 17.4 million square kilometers - 40.5% of forests have high ecological integrity. These areas have a high level of biodiversity, provide a range of ecosystem services and display a resilience to climate change. Further information can be found in the full article.

14th December 2020 - Environmental Land Management Schemes

Lord Gardiner of Kimble, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, informed the House of Lords that the ELM national pilot plans are progressing, with the overal aim of delivery of: 

  • clean air
  • clean and plentiful water
  • thriving plants and wildlife
  • protection from environmental hazards
  • beauty, heritage and engagement with the environment
  • reduction of and adaptation to climate change

There are 72 ongoing tests and trials, covering various sectors and geographies. The 6 priority areas are: 

  • land management plans
  • role of advice and guidance
  • payments
  • spatial prioritisation
  • collaboration
  • delivery mechanisms

Lord Greaves raised the availability of The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan. Lord Greaves stated that this plan sets out some ways of working however lacks in certain details around public goods. 

Further information is available on the Hansard

14th December 2020 - Green Economic Recovery

Lord Callanan, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, stated that we must build back greener as we recover from Covid 19. He mentioned the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, as mentioned in a previous blog. This plan will involve the release of £12 billion to support 90,000 highly skilled green jobs. Further to this the Government will be publishing a Heat and Buildings Strategy, and have published the Energy white paper

Further information is available on the Hansard

15th December 2020 - National Trust

The National Trust, which had its 125th Anniversary this year, was founded in 1895 to ensure that historic properties and the countryside were, and still are cared for. Derek Thomas raised the importance of the National Trust as a institution and reminded everyone of its purpose:

“The National Trust shall be established for the purpose of promoting the permanent preservation for the benefit of the nation of lands and tenements (including buildings) of beauty or historic interest and as regards lands for the preservation (so far as is practicable) of their natural aspect, features and animal and plant life.”

Mr Thomas raised his concern that the National Trust may be reaching far beyond what people believe to be its purpose and function. 

Nigel Huddleston explained that the National Trust is governed by a board of independent trustees that are required to ensure that they do not contravene its statutory purpose and have broad discretion to further the charity’s purpose in a way that they consider most appropriate, however, they must engage with communities and listen to concerns to make an informed decision. 

The need of quiet, the need of air, and I believe the sight of sky and of things growing, seem human needs, common to all men.

Octavia Hill, social reformer and one of the three founders of the National Trust

Further information is available on the Hansard

16th December 2020 - National Tree Strategy

The debate started by giving a nod to the legal rights for ancient trees petition which was responded to in July 2020, with the Government stating:

Ancient trees are a living link to our history so we already have extensive controls on their protection; additional legal rights for ancient trees are not necessary in addition to those.

Dan Jarvis acknowledged that we face two major environmental crises, namely climate change, and biodiversity collapse. He stated that trees can help mitigate both of these problems and that the time to act is now. Mr Jarvis referred to the Sixth Carbon Budget report, which is based on analysis and consultation, in saying that the UK needs to do more towards Net Zero, by increasing tree cover in the UK to around 20% (8% more than current levels), equating to 70,000 more hectares of new trees and woods annually. Mr Jarvis suggested that instead of looking at the number of trees planted, we should define a reliable national metric, such as percentage of land covered by trees. as well as some sub-targets. Mr Jarvis revealed plans for a Northern Forest, involving the planting of 50 million trees over the next 25 years.

Chris Clarkson agreed about the importance of trees and stated that he had called for all future housing developments to have tree-lined streets. He went on to say that there should be an environmentally sensitive approach, planting the right trees in the right areas - these trees should be cared for appropriately. Derek Twigg agreed with respect to promoting tree establishment.

The right trees need to be planted in the right place to maximise the long-term environmental, social and economic benefits of urban trees, as well as ensure that they do not perish and can survive. This means that species are identified, sourced, and planted in the environment best suited to their needs in order that they may flourish. The planting of the tree is a crucial part of the process, but it is but one part: tree establishment is equally as important. In particular, young tree maintenance is essential to enabling a newly planted tree to establish and thrive.

Trees planted in urban settings need maintenance which has not always happened in the past, as responsibility is often passed between local government departments. Ensuring that local governments have the capabilities to maintain trees in the long term is crucial to ensuring that planting efforts are not wasted. The right professionals with the right resources are needed, but under-investment in the industry in recent years has left many struggling.

Derek Twigg


The importance of trees was posted here, by Wildcare, during National Tree Week. The National Tree Improvement Strategy, by Future Trees Trust can be found here. The England Tree Strategy Consultation, by DEFRA can be accessed here. Responses by The Tree Council, Woodland Trust, and Friends of the Earth.

Further information is available on the Hansard

16th December 2020 - Net Gain Concerns

Researchers at the University of Kent studied the impact of Biodiversity Net Gain like policies being implemented by four councils in England. They found that there is not the required governance to ensure the successful delivery of promises. This is based on unpublished data and a small data set, however provides food for thought around the importance of ensuring that the right mechanisms are in place to ensure losses are appropriately mitigated.

Biodiversity losses and gains can be calculated using Natural England's Biodiversity Metric 2.0.

17th December 2020 - Declassified Military Intelligence

Ecologists are using new advances in image processing and declassified historical US military intelligence photographs to find environmental changes, such as a decline in keystone species in relation to land-use.

18th December 2020 - Climate & Distribution

With the world warming through climate change, it is not surprising that the distribution of organisms is shifting. This could seem innocuous however it may cause problems with movement into a new habitat creating a disturbance in the ecological balance depending upon the interactions that the newcomer has with the existing species.

18th December 2020 - Bees in Hi-Vis Vests

Monitoring of bees has got even more interesting with these important pollinators being fitted with retro-reflective tags and tracked with a built off-the-shelf low-cost system by the University of Sheffield and The Bumblebee Conservation Trust. This is another tool for ecologists to understand foraging and navigational behaviour.

21 December 2020 - Marine Health

Saunders et al. undertook a literature-based study on marine restoration and identified that interventions that are large scale can impact that environment for decades and bring numerous social and economic benefits. They described these examples of success as 'bright spots' and can be used as a 'nature-based solution' to improve other areas. This is important as coastal ecosystems, from saltmarshes to coral reefs have undergone a massive decline of 85% over decades.