Within the first three months of the new government ten different environmental policies have been watered down or scrapped, according to analysis by a group of leading UK environment organisations.
These range from support for renewable energy technology and tax exemptions for low carbon vehicles, which have existed for over a decade, to privatisation of the Green Investment Bank and the scrapping of the Green Deal, the establishment of both being achievements celebrated by the last Conservative-led government.
Protection for the natural environment has also been weakened with a u-turn on a ban on fracking in protected areas. And the UK has cited an ‘emergency’ to exempt itself from an EU-wide ban on neonicotinoids.
Environmental leaders have called on the Prime Minister, as a matter of urgency, to clarify his government’s approach to environmental protection and climate security in what is a vital year for action on climate change.
In a public letter to the Prime Minister, written in response to the findings, the heads of the UK’s leading environmental groups said:
“We welcomed the Conservative manifesto commitment to ‘being the first generation to leave the natural environment of England in a better state than that in which we found it’. Unfortunately, ten green policies which could have helped you to achieve these goals have been cancelled or weakened in the past three months. These policies were developed over many years, often with cross party backing, and with the support and involvement of many businesses and charities. Only one of these decisions, to end subsidies for onshore wind, was a commitment from your manifesto. We have, as yet, seen no positive new measures introduced to restore the health of our environment or grow the low carbon economy.”
Responses to the analysis:
Dame Helen Ghosh, director-general, National Trust, said:
“We are keen to play our part in meeting the big environmental challenges of today – climate change and the catastrophic decline in wildlife and habitats. We see their impact day by day in our places. But Government has to play its role in setting the right regulatory and fiscal framework – and the recent shift in policy positions is worrying.”
Shaun Spiers, chief executive, CPRE, said:
“The Government’s commitment to neighbourhood planning and making better use of brownfield land is very welcome, but its overall record on the environment has been woeful. The Prime Minister clearly cares about the countryside and the wider environment, and recognises that strong environmental policies support a strong economy. He must now assert himself and ensure that his government lives up to its promises rather than taking decisions that we all regret in the long run.”
Stephanie Hilborne OBE, chief executive, The Wildlife Trusts, said:
“This list of recent policy reversals is shocking, and shows disregard for the health and wellbeing of current and future generations, as well as for the environment we all depend on. The Prime Minister should reset the government’s path as a matter of urgency, by reinstating these policies and bringing in truly visionary legislation like a Nature and Wellbeing Act.”
Craig Bennett, chief executive, Friends of the Earth, said:
“This all out attack on green policies undermines UK efforts to tackle climate change ahead of global talks in Paris, and sets back our renewables industry when other countries are speeding towards clean energy and green jobs.
“Over-turning the science-led ban on toxic pesticides may be illegal as well as irresponsible at a time when bees need protection.”
David Nussbaum, chief executive, WWF UK, said:
“This watering down of environmental commitments is short-sighted and short termist. As the world races ahead to develop new green technologies the government’s international standing is at risk unless the Prime Minister takes up the reins of his government and shows he is serious about establishing a long term framework for investment in renewables and positioning the UK as a leader in protecting the environment. Thankfully – so early in this new parliament – he still has the opportunity to do so.”
Mike Clarke, chief executive, RSPB, said:
“The Conservative manifesto made a moving statement that our moors and meadows, wildlife and nature, air and water are a crucial part of our national identity and make our country what it is. For this to be credible, we will need to see a long term plan for the natural environment matched by actions across government, not a legacy of empty rhetoric.”
John Sauven, executive director, Greenpeace UK, said:
“Since the election, we have been moving from the ‘greenest government ever’ to the ‘greyest government ever’. This is not the mandate this government put to the country in the general election. And it will be a hard sell to the international community at the climate talks in Paris at the end of the year. Without any real domestic action to tackle climate change this government will lose any credibility to influence others.”
Stephen Joseph, chief executive, Campaign for Better Transport, said:
“The changes announced by the Chancellor to vehicle excise duty have largely removed the financial incentive to buy a more efficient and less polluting car and fly in the face of the government’s environmental commitments.”
In her first major speech as Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Amber Rudd has today set out the government’s approach to combating climate change.
A National Trust spokesperson said: “Climate change is having major impacts on the natural and historic environment. We aim to play our part in reducing emissions from our own activities through our renewables programme. We want to see strong leadership from the government abroad. This must be backed up by an ambitious set of polices to reduce emissions and the impact of climate change at home.”
Ten leading environmental and conservation NGO CEO’s signed the below letter that appeared in the Daily Telegraph today. This letter is about putting the Greener Britain agenda on that of all of the main political parties in the run up to the 2015 General Election.
Working together, the leading organisations from the environment and conservation sector have jointly developed seven goals for our next government that would have a profoundly positive impact on our country and the way we live.
From making an ambitious 2015 global climate change deal a key foreign policy priority to protecting vast areas of our oceans, both near and far from home; from an ambitious plan for nature’s recovery to making the energy efficiency of our homes an infrastructure priority; these and our other ideas are an exciting programme for the future.
Environmental policy making has been challenging in the last few years and the biggest challenge to achieving a greener Britain has been the hesitant approach of our political leaders. Some might feel that government can no longer tackle our biggest environmental problems; that we should leave international leadership to someone else; that our communities have become less interested in the nature around them and the quality of the green spaces they use.
We disagree. We know individuals and organisations with ambition and purpose have changed the world for the better, and that it will happen again. We also believe our political leaders can help us achieve it. It’s not certain that we will secure a global agreement to slow climate change next year in Paris. But a good agreement is more likely in 2015 than it has been for many years. It’s not certain that we will reverse the decline in British wildlife and countryside, but we are a country of nature-lovers, many millions of people are members and supporters of our organisations, and there is no shortage of ideas about how to ensure nature’s recovery.
We offer our political parties these ideas as they develop their general election manifestos, as a recipe for a greener, fairer, better Britain.
Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive, CPRE
Mike Clarke, Chief Executive, RSPB
John Sauven, Executive Director, Greenpeace UK
David Baldock, Executive Director, IEEP
David Nussbaum, Chief Executive, WWF UK
Helen Ghosh, Director General, National Trust
Stephanie Hilborne, Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trusts
Matthew Spencer, Director, Green Alliance
Stephen Joseph, Executive Director, CBT
Andy Atkins, Executive Director, Friends of the Earth
This week’s announcement by government that local people are to get a stronger voice over planning decisions on wind farms is an important step in the right direction.
We have long advocated the need for a robust planning system that values the opinions of local people and gives them a say on what type of developments they want and need for their own communities. And this move by government towards engaging and empowering communities in decisions around renewable technology is really important.
The National Trust believes in the need to grow cleaner, greener energy to tackle the damaging effects of fossil fuels on our environment and wellbeing. That is why we have pledged to generate 50 per cent of our energy from renewables, including biomass, solar and hydro technologies, by 2020 . It is also why it is important that this move does not signal a major backward step in the government’s commitment to expanding renewables. Fewer renewables to be replaced by any anticipated bonanza in fracked shale gas would be a serious blow to the Coalition’s low carbon credibility and do nothing to help us all tackle climate change.
We also believe there is a place for well-sited, well-designed wind technology as part of a mix of renewable energy schemes, but that this should not be at any cost.
So we welcome the communities and local government minister Eric Pickles’ statement this week, in which he says: “Meeting our energy goals should not be used to justify the wrong development in the wrong location.” And also his strong support for clear policies in local plans which will ensure that “impacts from wind farms developments, including cumulative landscape and visual impact, are addressed satisfactorily.”
As a leading conservation organisation, we have a duty to protect beautiful places for ever, for everyone and believe that great care needs to be taken in the siting of any renewable technology, wind included, to ensure that the special character of our most sensitive places and landscapes is not compromised.
Long overdue is a national debate and then clear plan – organised by regions – which aims to set out where large scale renewable technologies could be located. This would take so much of the understandable heat out of the current situation where scattergun and speculative approaches to, for example, wind farm development are creating incessant pressures on some local landscape and their communities. The best development proposals engage local people early and help them take part proactively in the what, where and how of any major interventions.
While this week’s announcement has prompted concerns that higher incentives from wind farm developers to communities might lead to distorted planning decisions – and it is important that the government ensures this does not happen – there is a need to recognise the benefits that can be gained from energy providers working with local people on developing models for sharing the dividends of local, community renewables.
We support the principle of local energy tariffs, where communities which host schemes can benefit from access to cleaner, less costly heat and power. Our new energy partner, Good Energy , is already a pioneer in this approach, and we are working with them in exploring how our new hydro schemes, for example at Hafod y Llan in Snowdonia , might embrace this concept of local, mutual advantage.
By Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director
We welcome the announcement of the £1.6m funded Catchment Based Approach from DEFRA which recognises the need for us to work at a larger catchment scale and in partnership across government, conservation organisations and local communities. Managing our land and water carefully is vital not only to National Trust places which are dependent on the quality of the water environment for wildlife and people, but for wider landscapes and communities. The way that land and water is managed in one place can have a much wider impact elsewhere. Recognition of the need to work collaboratively to tackle the challenges of water pollution, flood risk and water availability for the benefit of all is a huge opportunity for freshwater conservation.
The National Trust has enshrined the principle of working at a catchment scale in ‘From Source to Sea’ which documents our approach in managing water as it flows through the catchment out to the coastal zone. With up to 43% of water in England and Wales draining through National Trust land we believe engaging at a larger scale is critical in delivering and influencing land and water management. We are already testing working at the catchment scale in places such as the Holnicote Estate where we are trialling practical land and water management measures to deliver positive outcomes from flood risk to habitat creation. We’re also involved in supporting community led catchment initiatives such as the Loweswater care programme where along with the West Cumbria Rivers Trust the National Trust is helping local community driven schemes to improve water quality. This is taking us in the right direction but the Catchment Based Approach could help to deliver on much wider scales to meet the ambition of River Basin Management Plans.
What is essential now in line with the Blueprint for Water response is that the detail surrounding the Catchment Based Approach be agreed and the delivery frameworks be put in place if this approach is to be fit for purpose and deliver truly collaborative partnership working. We would envisage the role of water companies as a critical part of this development.
Andrew Bush – Adviser on Paper Conservation for the National Trust finds that there is more than meets the eye down his microscope.
One of the favourite tools of my trade is a trusted digital microscope, not much bigger than a fat cigar but capable of up to 200 times magnification. It’s a very portable piece of kit, which is a good thing as I travel all over examining collections in any of the 200 or so historic properties on my patch. Although I have had it for a couple of years now, I am only just beginning to realise its wider potential use, of which more later.
A typical use for the microscope is to help me examine the condition of some of the Trust’s 1,400 portrait miniatures, many dating from the 18th century. The majority of these are painted in watercolours, with a very fine brush on wafer thin sheets of ivory. The ivory is so thin, and translucent, that it can be painted on the reverse to give subtle toning to the face as seen from the front. Sometimes a sheet of silver leaf was placed behind to give added luminosity.
As far as conservation and stability is concerned, the marriage of ivory and water based paints is not a happy one. It is the inability of the watercolour to keep a grip on the smooth surface of the ivory together with the shrinkage and expansion of this thin organic support that leads to flaking and splitting. This, along with keeping an eye out for mould growth, is the purpose of my visit…..At least I used to think that this was the purpose of my conservation assessments, things have changed.
When I am carrying out a survey, I am usually with our collections in our showrooms and often the house will be open to visitors. If I am looking at something particularly delicate, or if distractions are to be avoided, I might be tucked away in a quiet corner, but increasingly I am working in front of the public, discussing what I am doing with anyone interested. It is this interaction with the visitors that I believe could potentially have just as much significance for the future well being of our collections, as any observations and recommendations for care or remedial treatment that I make in my reports. It is not only in raising awareness of the need for conservation, but showing that there are career opportunities in conservation. This is where my digital microscope has such a powerful role, it acts as a magnet to nearly every young visitor, and hopefully, who knows, for some of them it will be a way marker on a route to a career in conservation. Until I was at University I had absolutely no idea that a career as a conservator was possible, hopefully through the powers of microscopy others might cotton on faster than I did.
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