In a week of unsettling discoveries about the health of our environment scientists have discovered the world’s sea ice shrank to a record January low last month, the lowest since records began. A new estimation shows us that sea levels could rise 1cm each year from 2100. In Borneo, scientists estimate that since 1999 we have lost 150,000 orangutans due to habitat destruction. Clearly our planet is sick and in dire need of help.
Recently Theresa May made a public speech addressing what her government is doing in order to try and turn the tide against environmental destruction. Whether she will put words into action and take steps towards a greener development is unknown, many experts believe she is simply full of hot air, much like our atmosphere. In this article we will take a look at what the government propose for their ‘Green Future Plan’.
Firstly, one of her major points was that of a clean air act. She pledged to meet the legally binding targets already set to reduce emissions of the five most damaging air pollutants. Due to the fact that these are legally binding then is it not her obligation to do this anyway? She also mentioned that they will try ending the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040. This is a nice idea but how can she promise this if she is not actively funding research and development of alternative transport. Perhaps she needs to have a chat with Elon Musk.
Promising to clean up the transport industry is all well and good but actually it is an easy way out. The general public have already accepted the knowledge that this kind of transport is bad for our environment. The governments should be trying to tackle the other (just as dangerous) forms of greenhouse gas pollution such as the livestock industry. New studies have also found that chemicals in everyday consumer products including soaps and paints are also a major source of air pollution comparable with emissions from the transport sector. Every source of pollution must be addressed not just the easy ones.
The whole action plan is full of hopes and wishes and does not offer any direct action to actually implement what is being said. For example, one point is ‘ensuring that all fish stocks are recovered to and maintained at levels that can produce their maximum sustainable yield’. That is an easy thing to say to impress people but what is she actually doing? There is no mention on taxing this industry or putting in tighter fishing quotas.
Another perfect example of false promises is this, the government pledged to focus on giving more children access to nature and planting more trees across the country. However, the government only provide around 1 percent of the funding needed for the Northern Woodland and with HS2 set to plough through 30 ancient woodlands, their forestry plans don’t stand up to scrutiny.
On the other hand, perhaps the only impressive action in the whole plan is the one concerning plastics in our oceans (and actually we have David Attenborough to thank for stressing the need for action on plastics). Plastic microbeads can no longer be used in cosmetics and personal care products in the UK. The ban initially bars the manufacture of such products and a ban on sales will follow in July.
Microbeads from products such as exfoliating face scrubs and toothpastes wash into the sea at an unimaginable rate. Being consumed by wildlife and ultimately humans too. A ban on these microbeads is a huge step in the right direction. However, the plastic disaster is a big one, the government also needs to address successful use of deposit return schemes on plastic bottles, a latte levy for plastic-lined coffee cups and reforms to make producers responsible for their packaging.
Despite the government offering a £7bill research and development pot to inject new funding into plastic innovation, Britain is lagging behind other European countries when it comes to recycling. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute around the world, and too many of these are ending up in our oceans. Our government needs to make producers pay for this, whilst also trying to change the mind-set of the consumers.
This government action plan has come under enormous scrutiny from environmental experts. Many suggest that actually we are more in need of a 25 month emergency plan for nature, not a 25- year vision. Reducing plastics in the ocean is like treating heart disease with a bypass, without changing your diet or taking up regular exercise. The greatest threat we face to our oceans is, without doubt, climate change. And very little was mentioned in the plan to immediately deal with climate change.
The conservative’s failure to take real, decisive action on climate change makes this green reboot a bit of a false hope. Reducing plastics is an amazing step in the right direction but we cannot ignore the fact that the government policy continues to hold back the renewable industries essential to our country’s decarbonisation. Whilst at the same time agreeing new fracking sites across the country.
It has been suggested that 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if we’re to have a decent chance of stopping the worst effects of climate change. However, those in charge of dealing with this problem are dependent on an economy reliant on fossil fuels. Solar subsidy cuts have caused the loss of thousands of jobs. A subsidy ban for new onshore wind farms could add £1bn onto energy bills over five years by eschewing one of the cheapest forms of energy. The government is saying one thing, and most certainly doing another.
The budget announced no new funding for renewables until at least the mid-2020s. Not only are ministers backing fracking, they also hand subsidies to gas and oil- with the PM boasting about the ‘£2.3bn package of measures in the last two budgets, to make sure that the North Sea continues to attract investment and to safeguard the future of that vital national asset’. One step forward, 10 steps back.
So what can we take from this action plan? Any hope? To start with there is not a plan for comprehensive legislation to lock in the government’s plans. Ministers are refusing to act. Some political observers suggest the moves in this act are intended to woo younger voters (who are generally more environmentally savvy) towards their regime and away from Labour’s more hopeful outlook.
If this is true that they are trying to get through to young voters, then they need to offer change that happens before these youths turn middle age. The truth is that our planet is changing at an alarmingly fast rate, and unfortunately a 25 year plan is just not going to hack it, we need to make changes now.
If you want to have a vision to not just protect the environment but improve it you need ambitious new laws in place to do that. Although the plan does give some hope, it really does lack any actual plan. Unfortunately, our government is funded on the back of the industries that are causing this destruction, and so any effective change is unlikely. The best chance we have to stop climate change is for individuals to change the way we live, if we change our lives then the governments must change the way they act also, otherwise how would they make all of their money?