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  • Peers for the Planet

Peers propose new standards for climate and nature reporting

On 17 April peers debated an amendment to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which aims to set a new standard in data sharing with parliamentarians and the public on government action on climate and nature.

Government is required to publish periodic high-level delivery plans on net zero under the Climate Change Act. However, these leave many emissions savings unquantified. And when those policies are revised – as they were last autumn when the Prime Minister announced delays to key net zero targets – the government often fails to report any greenhouse gas impacts from the policy changes.

Section 20 of the Environment Act requires a statement on environmental law by government when there is environmental content in any new Bill. However, due to an extremely tight interpretation of “environmental content”, only one of the 28 Bills considered by Parliament in this current Session has been stated to contain environmental law, even whilst other bills directly reference environmental crimes and environmental investment.

Environmental impact assessments are similarly interpreted tightly - for 24 bills, no impact was reported. Nor are government and other authorities required to publish the greenhouse gas emissions associated with individual procurement contracts. Central government departments are encouraged to seek emission reductions plans from the firms that they are contracting with, but this only covers the contracting company’s operations and not the emissions of the contract.

In response, Peers tabled an amendment at Committee stage of the Bill to require Ministers and public authorities, such as regulators, to disclose analysis of the potential current and future impact of announcements (including legislation, changes in targets and large contracts) on UK climate change mitigation targets, adaptation to climate impacts and nature targets.

The amendment, tabled by Baroness Young of Old Scone,  was widely supported, by cross-bench Peers, and for the Government, Viscount Camrose apologised that environmental reporting “is quite a new area for me” and sought to argue that impact assessments were in place for existing data sharing arrangements which already cover economic, social and environmental impact, but did not fully address the point.

Next steps

Although the Government did not accept the amendment, it has highlighted there is strong support and interest from across the parties for a more transparent and accountable form of climate reporting.

The shift to a net zero and nature positive economy will require a whole systems approach to policy delivery from across all levels of government. Such an approach needs to be underpinned by mechanisms that help determine whether policy-making will impact positively or negatively on climate and nature goals. This includes transparency around analysis of the impact of new or policy changes and use of transparent metrics and data which are made publicly available and able to be scrutinised.

Greater transparency in decision-making could help avoid litigation on failures to meet the duties in the Climate Change Act, as well as promoting greater trust in public policy, even where difficult trade-offs must be made.


Watch Baroness Young of Old Scone’s speech and the subsequent debate:


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