Policy & Politics

We can’t risk our hard-won environmental improvements

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Environmental Protection UK recently announced that it would stop being fully funded in March. Its chief executive James Grugeon explains how government funding cuts forced the difficult decision to make staff redundant but says he hopes to continue the organisation’s work on a voluntary basis

Last week, I spoke at what could be – but I hope is not – the last national conference organised by Environmental Protection UK (EPUK). The theme of Environment 2011 was ‘Adapting to change through localism’, which has a special, if unintentional, meaning for EPUK and our members.

We are the UK’s oldest environmental charity, established as the Coal Smoke Abatement Society in 1898 and responsible for ground-breaking legislation such as the original 1956 Clean Air Act. So we have been pretty adept at adapting to change as we played our part in developing sensible regulation put in place by successive governments of different political hues to protect our environment and promote healthier local communities.

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The cruellest month

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Environmentalists come in all varieties, from those in suits working for corporations to those dedicated to attacking those corporations. They all tend to get tarred as doomsters but there are plenty of optimists among them.

‘Are’ or ‘were’? The cause of planetary salvation has not had it easy since the credit crunch began. And here in the UK, October has proved to be the cruellest month… so far.

The plan to consult on an 80mph speed limit (ENDS Report 441, p 34) is the clearest case to date of the coalition government saying that cutting carbon is of secondary, or tertiary, importance. Never before has its Committee on Climate Change been told quite so clearly that on some things its views matter very little. (more…)

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Politics with a small ‘p’

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Devoting nearly a tenth of the entire ENDS Report May issue to an appraisal of the coalition government’s first year (pp 36-39 and p 48) leaves an uncomfortable feeling. Ministers and civil servants have done a huge amount of work, churned out quantities of paper and new law, but our overall findings tend to the negative. Are we being too political? (more…)

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Wheels start to fall off the “greenest government ever”

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It’s good that the state of the environment might feature in the new measurement of national well-being promised by Prime Minister David Cameron today. (Only might, mind.)

But after six months, the wheels are now well and truly starting to fall off “the greenest government ever”.

The Commons Environmental Audit Committee’s enquiry into government policy on sustainable development post-SDC is exposing a shambles. No one minister or department seems to be in charge. Arguably it was a bit of a shambles under Labour, but at least we had the Sustainable Development Commission to point that out.

Then there is the Public Bodies Bill. It gives ministers a fast-track route to abolishing or drastically rearranging all the key public bodies concerned with environmental protection and climate change. These include the Committee on Climate Change which has important, clearly defined advisory and monitoring jobs to do. Less than three years after its birth, the CCC is widely recognised and supported. Does this blossoming toddler really deserve to be on the bill’s schedule 7 – the “we can do anything to you we want, but we don’t yet know what that is” list?

Then there is a decision, buried deep in the comprehensive spending review, to abolish the little fleet of emergency tugs. Their job was to rush to stop any stricken tanker from going on the rocks, following the Braer and Sea Empress oil spills in the 1990s. Government says that task should be left to private sector salvage firms. Abolition is a green gamble. If the government wins, it saves a few tens of millions of pounds. If it loses, many miles of coastline get slicked once again.

Plenty of good green intentions were specified in the coalition agreement. Hardly any have yet been fulfilled; not one of the big, difficult ones.

However, after six months, the government is beginning to pump out copious amounts of paper – like the first national infrastructure plan and the white paper on local economic growth. Look within and you find the important environmental content is usually vague; a matter of wishing to be green, but not yet setting out how it will be done.

If ministers and senior civil servants keep repeating that they intend this to be the greenest government ever, then they deserve severe judgment. It might be wiser for them to refocus on under-promising and over-achieving. Saying “we’d like to be the greenest government ever, but dealing with the deficit makes it really difficult” would be less stirring but more truthful.

Government, ENDS, our subscribers, everyone, can share one hope – that the words above are soon proved wrong. Because we need each successive government to be the greenest ever, for some time to come.

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The ENDS All Environment blog provides expert comment, insights and information gems on the UK green agenda. The blog is part of ENDS Report .

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