This post is by Baroness Parminter, the chair of the new Environment and Climate Change Committee.
We have begun a crucial decade. The environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change, and using the earth’s resources faster than they can be replenished, are well known. These will be the ten years that determine whether governments, industries and citizens can change direction in time to avert global climate and environmental disaster. The situation could not be more urgent.
The creation of the new Environment and Climate Change Committee is a welcome sign from the House of Lords of a collective commitment to leverage its skills, expertise and resources to address both the climate crisis and the unsustainable use of natural resources. These issues are two sides of the same coin – our collective failure to respect the constraints of the planet on which we depend for our survival – so having one committee to consider both means we’ll be able to take a productively holistic view.
The members who proposed the committee did so in the hope it would provide accountability, scrutiny of policy coherence, leadership and expertise; also recognising the need for collaboration as the challenge of meeting net zero becomes harder. Those are roles that a House of Lords Committee is ideally placed to take on.
A new committee to scrutinise government action
As I see it, the committee’s job will be to scrutinise how the government is tackling these issues, and to inform the public policy debate. I hope that we will help the government deliver on its climate and environment goals and have a measurable impact on moving the debate forward. With this year’s UN climate and biodiversity summits on the way, not to mention an endless stream of government consultations, strategies and targets, we won’t be short of options for topics to work on: the challenge will be identifying areas of work where we can make the most difference.
The membership of the committee reflects the breadth of expertise and views of the House, with members including a former chief executive of the Environment Agency, the president of the Royal Geographical Society, and the chair of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, not to mention active farmers, environmental campaigners, journalists and business leaders. This range of experience, and, as ever with House of Lords committees, a cross party approach, puts us in a good position to hold the government to account.
It will listen to a wide range of views
These are complex issues, and of course I acknowledge that there is not always consensus about the causes, implications or the best ways forward. I intend to ensure that we listen with respect to different views within the House, and in wider society, and sift the evidence we hear to make sure we’re always basing our conclusions on the best available information.
This is the only parliamentary committee explicitly established to examine climate change issues. I’m proud to chair it and acknowledge the responsibility of doing so at this important time. But I also know that this is a busy space, with many other committees taking an interest in climate issues in the run up to the Glasgow climate summit. That can only be a good thing – these issues run cross government, cross society and cross economy – and I plan for the committee’s work to be complementary, not duplicative.
From my time in parliament I’ve seen first hand the important role of non-parliamentary expertise developing UK policy and scrutinising the government’s action, from environmental NGOs, like Greener UK, to industry bodies, local councils, regulators and many more. I look forward to maintaining a constructive relationship with the environmental movement and other key stakeholders to make sure the committee benefits from that expertise.
Open and transparent engagement
Over the past decade, I’ve been glad to see a significant increase in public engagement with environmental issues. The Climate Assembly UK initiative, sponsored by the Commons’ committees, was a fantastic demonstration of how far public debate can move us towards solutions; I’ll be looking for the new committee to find our own way to listen to and communicate with broader society and make sure we’re not only talking to, and on behalf of, our own circle.
With that in mind, I intend our work to be as open and transparent as possible. We have a dedicated webpage and a twitter account. Both will be a little quiet until the committee has decided a work plan but, as we get going, they’ll be the best ways to track what we’re doing and get involved.
I am an optimist by nature. I think that, backed up by a healthy dose of pragmatism and the expertise and dedication of my fellow committee members, this is a real opportunity to help move the dial on climate and environment action in the UK.