Mind the gap (between aspiration and action)

23 December 2019
Comments 11
Category Blog, Comment, FrontPage
23 December 2019, Comments 11

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.

11 responses on “Mind the gap (between aspiration and action)

  1. RJA. says:

    The Conservatives in government have unfortunately shown themselves to be long on talk and very short on environmental action. Since 2016 they have reduced the subsidy for electric vehicles, from £5000 to only £3500 on a more restricted range of EV’s and just recently, 1st November increased VAT on Solar PV panels from 5% to 20%. There are probably more nasties ready to come crawling out the woodwork as the new MP’s get their snouts into the lobbyists troughs!

  2. Jon Cooke says:

    It is not only Government which must have truthful and bold action plans nationally. We need to get the public on board and this requires action plans in local communities, led by Government and local authorities. Local authorities may be announcing zero carbon reduction plans but so often they only apply to their own emissions and not those of the general public. Individuals will only take action if led.
    Church communities have a role here as well, setting examples to others. Individual church members should not only discover their own emissions but be prepared to announce them as an example to neighbours etc.

  3. Simon Reed says:

    I’ve asked this question before and never received an answer but what is A Rocha’s view of Extinction Rebellion (which this year included the Christian Faith Bridge action) and other forms of more direct action such as the anti-fracking campaign? It’s all very well being involved in conservation and writing insightful critiques of government policy, but on their own they are unlikely to effect the changes we seek. A growing number of Christians think more immediate and urgent action is required. Where does A Rocha stand?

    • Geoff Stratford says:

      I’m sure there’s quite a number of us A Rocha supporters who are also active in XR and CCA 😉
      The challenge for me is how do we get the wider church engaged.

    • Geoff Stratford says:

      I’m sure that quite a number of us A Rocha supporters are also actively involved in XR / CCA 😉
      The challenge for me is how to get the wider church (locally and nationally) involved.
      We especially need to challenge the “net zero by 2050” mantra: it’s woefully inadequate. Professor Kevin Anderson is helpful in his interview on BBC R4 on 30th December: listen for 5 minutes from c.1:01.40 in the podcast https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07z5h48.

  4. Mike Buckland says:

    A good summary of where we are in the UK on the environment this Christmas – thank you

  5. Mike Hayes says:

    Yes let us know of any proposed action in Feb, thank you

  6. David Ursell says:

    In the farming community we are hearing a lot of criticism about livestock production and it’s effect on global warming.There are issues that are often missed:
    1. Grassland itself is one of the greatest carbon sinks,on a par with trees, because they retain their leaves all year round , taking in CO2 and giving out oxygen’
    2.If we were to loose much of our lowland grass it would have a very significant effect on our climate. The ploughing up of grassland produces huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.
    3.Much of the uplands could not produce anything else other than grass . If this was to be used for crops , most of it would be too steep, and the loss of soil would be huge, through erosion. Rothamstead have said at the current rate of soil loss we only have 6o years of harvests left. It takes 100 years to produce an inch of topsoil. One could re -wild, but we as farmers still have to feed the nation. As the N.E.F. says we are only 9 meals away from anarchy.

  7. Philip Nalpanis says:

    One question arising from the suggestionHS2 shouldn’t be built: how are we to persuade people to travel less in this country? Not all work can be done from home, not all business can be conducted by videoconferencing; sometimes there is a need to travel and to meet colleagues or clients. (A project I did earlier this year involved several return journeys from just north of London to Cumbria, all but one of which I did by train. That project couldn’t have been done remotely and there wasn’t anyone local with the requisite skills.)

    How do we put the genie back in the bottle? “Flygskam” (Swedish for “flight shame”) may persuade some to swap foreign holidays for domestic ones – but to holiday at home, not even travelling, for example, from the south of England to the Lake District? That would be a huge ask. If we don’t build HS2 and don’t build any more runways, what are the alternatives? With an increasing appetite to travel, the roads won’t cope, the railways won’t cope (most of the trains I travelled on for the project I mentioned above were well filled). How do we reduce demand to the point no new railways are required (or upgrade existing railways without causing years of disruption that would probably force more people onto the roads)?

  8. Richard Avery says:

    The question you raise about reducing the need to travel is not easy to answer.- but very valid. My wife and I decided not to go on a mini- break to Rome because of the carbon emissions so we are going to Canterbury instead ( hopefully by train) . We can only do short breaks because we have two disabled children one of whom does not cope with holidays. The better off members of our church congregation seem to have no problem with hopping on Easy Jet to somewhere warmer than Merseyside. whenever they can. Friends ( who are not Christians) have decided to go on one three week holiday abroad instead of three one week breaks to reduce their impact. Remember, too, that many people have been lifted out of poverty because of income generated by the tourist industry.

  9. Martin Letts says:

    We need a better public transport system too. The necessity to do the school run causes tremendous pollution with vehicles travelling shortish distances. How about encouraging more to walk, use bikes even electric ones. And “Yes – I can make a difference” by small changes in my own lifestyle; picking up litter, writing to my MP asking what he/she is doing to reduce the effects of climate change and by being ecologically thrifty!
    At the moment for every one electric car purchased 37 SUVs are purchased. If only a third of the cars on UK roads were replaced by EVs the UK would require to double its electrical generating capacity. Australia currently (pun intended) is having many power cuts because its generating capacity does not meet demand.