Concern for the environment is at a record high. Over a quarter of Britons now cite it as one of the top three issues facing the country. The amazing uprising of young people this year sparked a real awakening, which political parties responded to at this election. Across the board, the manifestos contained more prominent, detailed and ambitious green commitments than ever before.
As they form a new majority Government, the Conservative Party has some pretty significant green manifesto commitments to deliver on. As part of developing “the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth”, they have committed to introducing an Environment Bill and establishing an Office for Environmental Protection, investing £640 million in natural solutions to climate change, achieving net zero by 2050, moving to an agricultural payments system based on ‘public money for public goods’, introducing a legal commitment to fish sustainably and setting up a new £500 million fund to help protect our oceans.
Action to meet these commitments can’t get started soon enough, but here are three things we believe the new government must prioritise to tackle the ecological emergency:
- Establish a mutual and legally binding commitment to non-regression, so that environmental standards will rise, not fall.
During the election campaign, the Conservative Party committed to bringing back the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill before Christmas. This Bill must include provisions that ensure high environmental standards are maintained and cannot be weakened in the future.
- Urgently bring back the Environment Bill to kick start nature’s recovery.
This Bill must lead to ambitious long-term and short-term targets to halt nature’s decline, an Office for Environmental Protection with the necessary independence and powers to hold government to account, and, crucially, it must enable the creation of a Nature Recovery Network to restore and expand natural habitats across the country.
- Introduce an Agriculture Bill that pays farmers for helping wildlife and for restoring our natural countryside.
Public money should be used for the good of everyone. An agriculture policy based on the principle of public money for public goods would help create a landscape full of connected habitats and help restore our natural countryside.
The year ahead will be critical for nature. On the world stage, the UK will host the UN climate change summit (known as COP26), where nature-based solutions to tackling climate change will be a key focus, and world leaders will also gather in China for a crucial UN biodiversity conference to set targets for nature’s recovery across the globe.
Global leadership and major domestic decisions by the new Government, such as the future of HS2 and the Ox-Cam Expressway, will define the future of our environment for generations.
Nature’s in crisis and the need to reverse its decline is more urgent than ever. It’s up to all of us to make sure that as the new Government gets going, election promises aren’t forgotten, manifesto commitments are strengthened, and we push all of our MPs to act with the urgency and ambition needed to meet this crisis head on.
Elliot Chapman-Jones is the Public Affairs Manager at The Wildlife Trusts.