The environment is the bedrock of our economy, our security and our wellbeing. Healthy soils, oceans and woodland are vital for our food security, for mitigating and preventing flooding, supporting pollinators and biodiversity more broadly, and storing carbon.
The Conservatives broke their promise to be the greenest government ever. They have allowed fracking in national parks, evaded their responsibilities on air quality and cut the funding for flood defences. The future of our farming, food and fishing industries hangs in the balance, to be used as leverage in Brexit negotiations.
Labour will introduce a new Clean Air Act to deal with the Conservative legacy of illegal air quality. We will safeguard habitats and species in the ‘blue belts’ of the seas and oceans surrounding our island. We will set guiding targets for plastic bottle deposit schemes, working with food manufacturers and retailers to reduce waste. We will protect our bees by prohibiting neonicotinoids as soon as our EU relationship allows us to do so. We will work with farmers and foresters to plant a million trees of native species to promote biodiversity and better flood management. Unlike the Conservatives who attempted to privatise our forests, Labour will keep them in public hands. Our stewardship of the environment needs to be founded on sound principles and based on scientific assessments. We will establish a science innovation fund, working with farmers and fisheries that will include support for our small scale fishing fleet.
As I am sure you will be aware, in December last year, the Government published its Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill. In addition to the creation of a proposed new environmental watchdog – the Office for Environmental Protection – the Environment Bill will focus on four main areas: air quality, the restoration of nature, waste management and resource efficiency, and water management.
I am concerned that, while the Draft Bill is a step in the right direction, the Government’s proposals will require a clear commitment to a level of funding which the Government has previously refused to provide for our public services. I am also aware that concerns have been raised by the National Audit Office that DEFRA has not done enough to engage other parts of government with its approach, nor set clear accountabilities for performance.
Addressing the environmental challenges that we face requires a transformational effort from government and urgent interventions now. It is therefore vital that we protect all EU environmental rights, standards and protections as a baseline, while introducing more ambitious domestic environmental policy than that guaranteed at the European level. This must include an Agriculture Bill which enhances the responsibility for farmers to conserve, enhance and create safe habitats for birds, insects and other wild animals and a Fisheries Bill which contains a clear, stated approach towards greater sustainability.
The remainder of the Environment Bill is expected to be introduced later this year. The Government has promised to consult on the wider aspects of the Bill and I hope it will listen to the concerns raised by WWF and respond accordingly.
If you would like to read more on Labour’s Environment position you can view these in our manifesto.