Lord Sheikh’s Speech; 7th June 2021 – Second Reading of the Environment Bill
My Lords, I am the tail-ender and I hope to bat effectively. It is imperative that we redefine our relationship with the natural environment. As I said in my maiden speech, the environment is a passion of mine. I was brought up in Uganda and, as a young boy, would fish on the shores of Lake Victoria and swim in the clean waters of the River Nile. I saw green vegetation around me and wildlife in its natural habitat. I was lucky enough to enjoy nature in my youth, and those experiences led me to a lifelong love of the environment.
It saddens and worries me when I see the problems created by climate change and human actions. Now we have left the European Union, we have the opportunity to set out our own legally binding targets that go above and beyond what has been set before. As we prepare to host COP 26, the Bill demonstrates our determination and commitment to deliver key objectives and set an example for other nations to follow.
Tackling the climate crisis must be a national and international priority, especially as we recover from the pandemic and build better and greener situations. The Bill sets out a clear road map by which we can meet these ambitious targets. It is a modern Bill for a modern age, and we must support it.
As a Muslim, we are taught by the Prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him—to look after the environment. The most popular Hadith on the environment states:Column 1295is located here
“The earth is green and beautiful and Allah has appointed you his stewards over it.”
This principle reiterates the Holy Koran’s teaching that human beings have been given the responsibility of guardianship over the natural environment. We must all live by these principles and do what we can. The Bill is an important step in doing that.
I welcome the Bill and have been impressed by how it sets out a new environmental system of governance. As a nation committed to healing our planet, we must enforce environmental protection, while holding the Government and businesses to account. I support the targets, plans and policies in the Bill, which are proactive and allow us to set out own path to protecting the natural environment. I welcome the environmental improvement plans and the ability of the Secretary of State to make regulations relating to air quality, water, biodiversity, resource efficiency and waste reduction. Having a policy statement on environmental principles is essential, as protecting the environment and climate should not be an afterthought but should be proactively considered in all legislation.
Furthermore, the office for environmental protection will provide necessary oversight, scrutiny, and enforcement through the courts where needed to restore the natural environment. It will also provide continuity and consistency to hold the Government and successor Administrations to account. I welcome this, but I hope that we can make sure that it is a robust and independent body which can work constructively. It is important that it should deliver the provisions of the Bill, and their adequate enforcement. Can my noble friend the Minister comment on these points, and give us this assurance?
The other issue which concerns me is air quality. In 2021 the Central Office of Public Interest has found that a quarter of homes are in areas with dangerous levels of air pollution. We must act on this, and I am pleased that the Bill has provisions on air quality targets. I look forward to discussing these points further.
I totally welcome Part 5, related to water quality, resources, drainage, and regulation of water and sewerage companies. These provisions are important, as use of water is an important part of our daily lives. I also welcome the provisions in the Bill related to tree felling and planting. According to the Hadiths, Prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him—told us that if one plants a tree it is deemed Sadaqat jariya: an act of continuous charity. Consequently, we are discouraged from cutting down trees. I co-chair the APPG on Islamic Finance, and I suggest that Islamic finance be used to provide support to the provisions of the Bill, such as the issue of Islamic bonds. Islamic finance provides support to projects which help communities, such as protection of the environment. Can my noble friend the Minister comment on utilising Islamic finance in our activities?
The Bill is comprehensive, and I hope that it can help us to take action in pursuit of our environmental goals. I will certainly follow it through its various stages.