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The UK Government’s Vision for a Greener Future

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After a long delay the government has finally launched its 25 Year Environment Plan. It was launched in a major speech by Prime Minister, Theresa May, and pledged to eliminate avoidable waste, introduce new safeguards for wildlife, and connect more children with nature. A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment – to give it its full title – includes proposals to:

  • Eliminate all avoidable plastic waste through extending the 5p plastic bag charge to small retailers, removing consumer single use plastics from the government estate, supporting the water industry to significantly increase water fountains and working with retailers on introducing plastic-free supermarket aisles.
  • Help wildlife thriveby creating 500,000 hectares of new habitat for endangered species, supporting farmers to turn fields into meadows and other habitats, replenishing depleted soils and providing £5.7 million to kick-start a new Northern Forest.
  • Be a world leader in environmental protectionby investigating the feasibility of an anti-poaching taskforce to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, committing overseas aid to help developing nations combat plastic waste, and extending the UK’s network of marine protected area.
  • Deliver a Green Brexitby consulting on a new environmental watchdog to hold government to account for environmental standards, and setting out a new approach to agriculture and fisheries management.
  • Embed a ‘net environmental gain’ principleso development delivers environmental improvements locally and nationally, enabling housing development without increasing overall burdens on developers.
  • Connect people with natureby creating ‘nature friendly schools’ and reviewing National Parks to see how they can improve and whether the network should be extended.

Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, said: “Our Environment Plan sets out how over the next 25 years we will radically reduce the waste that is choking oceans and rivers, cleanse our air of toxic pollutants, and create new habitats for our most precious wildlife to thrive. Through this plan we will build on our reputation as a global leader in environmental protection, creating an environment everyone can enjoy and helping the next generation flourish.”

The plan is designed to complement the government’s Clean Growth Strategy, which sets out how the UK is leading the world in cutting carbon emissions to combat climate change and driving economic growth, and shows how a ‘natural capital’ approach should enable everyone to appreciate the benefits through improved health and wellbeing, and prosperity.

In addition to the broader headline promises, the Plan also made a number of commitments to long-term issues raised by environmental campaigners such as soil health, reduced pesticide use, animal welfare, and farmland biodiversity, and received a cautious welcome for many points it addressed from the Soil Association, although they felt they would “need to see further detail on the practical measures that will turn these aspirations into reality in the near future.”

There was a similar response from Friends of the Earth, which welcomed a commitment to adhere to current EU green laws, a commitment to lead internationally on climate change, wildlife crime and biodiversity, seas and fish stocks, a nature recovery network, and a commitment to put children and young people at the heart of the plan. Less popular were no legal underpinnings, vagueness, a ‘toothless’ environment watchdog, an offer of new forests in exchange for old ones that will be lost, and too long a timescale for improvements to air and the banning of single-use plastic. Like the Soil Association, Friends of the Earth described the Plan as long on aspiration and short on detail and in danger of turning into more hot air without the backup of laws to enforce it. Similar responses were forthcoming from the RSPB, the Marine Conservation Society and the British Ecological Society, while Jonathan Porritt was scathing, and although he confessed that Gove has managed to charm many, he could not forgive him for sweeping away the sustainable schools initiative when he was Education Minister.

The publication of the Plan is way overdue and the government has since been taken to court by ClientEarth over inaction on air pollution. It was originally promised two and a half years ago when the world was a very different place, and the details were anticipated in 2017. We know that if Michael Gove gets his way we shall probably see many of the pledges supported, but if Liam Fox and Jacob Rees-Mogg are ascendant, much of it will be forgotten for the sake of trade with the US. It’s a document written by politicians, so it comes as no surprise that it is long on aspiration and short on detail, but the fact that it does include such aspirations is a clear admission by government that the British public supportive them. As with any election manifesto, it is now up to us to make sure they are acted on.

Posted in: Home Farmer Blog

About the Author:

Paul Melnyczuk is editor of Home Farmer, and together with Ruth Tott is the founder of the company. His Ukrainian father and Austrian mother came over in the 1950s, and he was raised near Accrington (of Stanley fame) in Lancashire. With a degree in European Literature and a year spent living in Sweden, and a further 2 years in the Sudan, his background is rich and varied.

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