A Rocha UK CEO, Andy Atkins, examines the new government’s environment policies and the critical year ahead.
2020 will be a key year for the environment in the UK and beyond. There are some massive questions as we start the year. But some massive opportunities too. With the UK leaving the EU on 31 January, how will Prime Minister Johnson’s government replace European environmental protections, agricultural and fisheries policy? In only 11 months’ time, the UK will host the critical ‘Paris plus 5’ international climate negotiations, ‘COP 26’, in Glasgow. Will we lead the world by example onto a new path away from climate catastrophe, or just gloss over ‘business as usual’? Public scrutiny of government action, and demand for change will play a key role in the outcome.
Many of our new government’s stated aspirations are good, but their actions don’t yet match up. In the Queens’s Speech a week after December’s election the government announced that it would be setting legally binding targets on key environmental indicators previously under EU jurisdiction, such as air quality and biodiversity. It will also set up an independent Office of Environmental Protection which can take public authorities to court for failure to comply. A Rocha UK welcomes these plans. Sadly, they will have little effect on air pollution and biodiversity loss if the government continues with other plans such a new road building programme and HS2, to name just two.
There is a similar reality gap on climate policy. The government is proud to be hosting the ‘COP26’ climate negotiations and boasts of the UK being a world leader in cutting our carbon emissions. This is a half-truth. Yes, the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions have fallen dramatically in the last 30 years and it was the UK parliament which passed the world’s first Climate Change Act (in 2008). But official UK emissions data omits our share of emissions by other countries, when in reality we have simply ‘outsourced’ the manufacturing of so many products we consume to the ‘new big emitters’ such as China and India. Moreover, the UK is off track to meet even its domestic emission cuts targets established by the Act. And still the UK government plans an expansion of climate-damaging air travel, including a new runway at Heathrow.
At the start of this most critical of decades for the UK and global environment, tackling the climate and nature loss emergency requires truthful statements, bold and consistent action from all governments like never before. The Chair of the Government’s official advisory body on climate, Lord Deben (former Conservative environment minister, John Gummer), has already written to the Prime Minister urging him to use his massive parliamentary majority to drive much bolder, faster action than is currently planned, to get Britain back on track with its own carbon targets and lead the world by example. We, the public, should demand no less in this critical year of major risk but also major opportunity for positive change.
A Rocha UK believes that Christians and Churches have a major role to play with others in civil society. In February we will announce plans to equip churches for action in 2020.
Image: Glasgow – where the UK will host the critical ‘Paris plus 5’ international climate negotiations, ‘COP 26’, in November 2020.