Standing at a Crossroads – Safeguarding the Environment

It is a powerful insight into the complexity and selfishness of the human heart that progress in environmental matters is so immensely difficult.

Bishop Steven speaks in the House of Lords on the second reading of the environment bill on 7 June 2021.

My Lords, it is a real honour to speak in this debate and share in the passion and expertise of this House in favour of clear, swift, accountable action to safeguard the environment and combat climate change. It is a particular pleasure to pay tribute to my colleague, the Rt Revd Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, who makes his valedictory speech today, to which I look forward. I thank Bishop Nicholas for his leadership within the Church of England, this House and more widely on climate questions. That leadership has played a key role in our national Church’s commitment to net zero by 2030.

The evidence is stark. Humanity stands at a crossroads in these next five years. We have a tiny window to make rapid decisions and take action that will affect the life of the entire planet for, perhaps, centuries to come. The majority of the world is looking to us and this parliament for justice, for an example and for leadership on climate and environmental matters in this year of COP15 and COP26. My sister and brother Anglicans in Kenya, South Africa, Bangladesh and many other places are already suffering the effects of our and others’ delay. Future generations – today’s young people – look to us to take the right actions now to give them at least a better chance of keeping global heating below 1.5 degrees. We are stewards of this good earth – God’s wonderful creation. As a nation, we bear a disproportionate responsibility for its present condition. As a parliament, we have the opportunity for extraordinary and disproportionate leadership for the coming decade. It is a powerful testimony to human endeavour that our combined impact on the planet is now rapidly altering its climate and threatening the life of the earth. It is a powerful insight into the complexity and selfishness of the human heart that progress in environmental matters is so immensely difficult.

In that context, I warmly welcome the Bill. As other noble lords have said, it is wide ranging and contains a number of ambitious targets. The Bill will be closely watched as an indicator of the government’s priorities in the run-up to COP26. The creation of the office for environmental protection is a vital and imaginative step forward. However, I do not yet see in the Bill sufficient guarantees of financial and political independence essential to good governance. I believe this has now been mentioned by every noble lord who has spoken thus far. The trajectory is clear, and I hope that the government will listen very carefully and take action.

Many of the decisions required of the OEP across the next decade will be difficult and unpopular politically, but right and just in terms of risk, geopolitics and intergenerational equity. Financial and political independence for the OEP is therefore essential. Parliament and government need a voice in both appointments and budgets for the OEP, not only to lead in the United Kingdom but to be a gold standard internationally.

It is never easy to share or give away power or entrust oversight to others. But this new body must be above party politics and immune to particular ministers’ enthusiasms or lack of enthusiasm. I urge the Secretary of State to give further serious consideration to measures that will strengthen the financial and political independence of the OEP in the debates that will follow. I warmly welcome the Bill.

The Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft
Bishop of Oxford
7 June 2021

Read more of Bishop Steven’s thoughts on the environment and climate change.