Politics goes Green for a day
THE environment dominated the political debate on May 30 when the Wildlife Trusts, the RSPB and the Woodland Trust, among others, quizzed party representatives at Britain’s only ‘Green’ hustings, organised by Greener UK.
As might be expected, Brexit loomed large in the discussion. Labour’s Barry Gardiner, the Liberal Democrats’ Baroness Kate Parminter and the Green Party’s Caroline Russell raised concerns that Britain faces a real risk in the coming years because the majority of our Green regulations derive from the EU. ‘What we desperately need is some clarity, because, at the moment, there is really [none] over what is going to happen to these precious environmental protections,’ cautioned Councillor Russell.
Dr Thérèse Coffey, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for environment, food and rural affairs, countered that the Conservatives would transpose European rules into British legislation with the proposed Great Repeal Bill (GRB), thus providing much needed stability, but also creating a springboard from which to overhaul environmental regulations. ‘There will be an opportunity for Parliament to consider whether these laws are working as effectively as they could.’
However, speaking from the audience, Baroness Barbara Young, the Woodland Trust’s chairman, expressed alarm that some EU rules may not be ‘dragged and dropped’ into the GRB. Her views resonated with Mr Gardiner, who warned: ‘There is a real fear that those bits… will be dealt with in secondary legislation, [but] if it’s done through secondary legislation, it can be repealed and changed at a whim.’ He called for the introduction of an EU Rights and Protections Bill to ensure all environmental safeguards remain in place.
That said, the panel agreed that Brexit could also provide an opportunity to develop more ambitious Green policies. According to Councillor Russell, the UK could boost air quality by further reducing the limits of nitrogen dioxide from the current, Eu-wide level. Dr Coffey identified recycling as an area that’s ripe for improvement and suggested that, once outside the EU, Britain could ban the live transport of animals for slaughter.
Other proposals included pushing for worldwide, tariff-free trade of environmental goods and services (put forward by Labour) and reshaping agricultural funding to support the provision of healthy food, water protection and other public goods (Liberal Democrats).
Panellists also traded blows on climate change. After attacking the Government for its ‘disgraceful’ failure to criticise Donald Trump’s stance on the Paris agreement, Mr Gardiner said Labour would create a roadmap to ensure that 60% of UK power comes from zero-carbon sources by 2030. The party would also localise energy supplies and ban fracking because, he continued, if you’re committed to reaching the Paris targets, ‘you don’t lock yourself into a fossil-fuel infrastructure—it’s as simple as that’.
Taking this stance a step further, Councillor Russell advocated a lifestyle revolution that would see individual car ownership eventually replaced by public transport and a strong investment in renewables that would ultimately ensure ‘energy is free in perpetuity’.
By contrast, Dr Coffey talked about reducing the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and diversifying the energy mix to include nuclear, shale and solar power.
All the parties agreed on introducing measures to boost efficiency, improve home insulation and reduce energy requirements, as well as addressing the need for better air quality, healthier soils, more hedges and more trees.
Despite this consensus, some of the campaigners who attended the hustings remain worried about the future. ‘A lot of the right words were said, but none of the politicians on the platform seemed to grasp the scale of the task ahead, including what’s needed to reverse the catastrophic declines of species and habitats on land and at sea,’ noted Dr Tony Juniper, President of The Wildlife Trusts. ‘Well-thought-out plans are desperately needed and I hope some leadership will emerge soon.’
The majority of the UK’S Green regulations derive from the EU, leading many to wonder what will happen to them after Brexit