Tory Attacks On Green Policies Signal Dark Times Ahead For The EnvironmentPublished by Tony Juniper on Fri, 24/07/2015 - 12:00am
The last few months mark the worst period for environmental policy that I have seen in my 30 years’ work in this field. The attacks on renewable energy, the scrapping of zero carbon homes and the resumed use of pesticides that are known to kill birds and beneficial insects are among the policy reversals that confirm we are into a new and troubling period.
The basis for the lurch backwards has been predicated on managing public money and the cost of living, when if fact neither are backed by evidence. Take the fact that more than 40% of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (Decc) budget is spent on nuclear waste management, and yet this technology, which will take years to make a material difference to our energy security, remains favoured by policy while renewable technologies that could deliver more quickly and cleanly are being undermined.
When one looks at the scale of subsidy backing fossil fuels – never mind pro-fracking policies – the government’s position becomes even more nakedly distant from evidence and rationality.
Then there are the reviews of the Birds and Habitats Directives presently being undertaken by the European commission, going ahead partly at the behest of the British government. We can be confident that these reviews are not intended to make these vital laws stronger, an impression confirmed by George Osborne’s claim that such measures to protect wildlife present “a ridiculous burden on British business”. This claim, made in a speech to Conservative party conference, was subsequently found by an official environment department review to be without foundation.
There is no doubt that this new period has little to do with evidence and everything to do with ideology.
It is an anti-environment ideology based on the view that ecological goals interfere with the market, increase costs and are against the interests of people. That such a ill-informed perspective could infect policy-making at this stage in our understanding of what is happening to our world (climate change, mass extinction, soil damage, water stress, resource depletion etc) is as worrying as it is remarkable.
What is worse is how it will fail even on its own terms, harming competitiveness, damaging growth industries, driving away investment and leaving the UK behind in the global race to lead in modern technologies.
It will also have consequences for the UK’s impact on the global stage, not least at the crucial UN negotiations on climate change that will take place in Paris at the end of this year. Britain’s leadership role is rapidly fading and, if we carry on as now, by December it will have gone completely.
So why are we embarked on such a disastrous agenda? The answer, it seems to me, is simple: George Osborne. With David Cameron focused on Europe and the Middle East the Chancellor is now de-facto prime minister and is free to indulge in a gleeful spree whereby he can get various political grievances off his chest, including what he sees as the inconvenience of delivering various environmental priorities.
So what to do? I believe a multi-sectoral pro-environment coalition needs to be built, embracing businesses, scientists, politicians from across the spectrum (but especially Conservatives), social groups, non-governmental organisations and think tanks among them.
The job is to reveal the scale of the falsehood at the heart of the current programme and to not only get us back on track but to re-frame environmental programmes for what they are, and increasingly can and should be: namely pro-competitive, pro-people, pro-security and pro-cost-saving.
This article was first published by The Guardian 24th July 2015.