Charities demand clarity over green ‘U-turns’
Ten different environmental policies have been scrapped or ‘watered down’ in the first three months of the new government, according to a group of national environmental organisations.
Heads of the Campaign for Better Transport, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, IEEP, RSPB, National Trust, Wildlife Trusts and WWF all signed the letter to Prime Minister David Cameron this morning (31 July), to express their concern at the continuing marginalisation of green policies.
The letter urges Cameron to resolve the perceived contradictions in his government’s stated intentions, and its approach to environmental protection and climate security, as a matter of urgency.
The letter reads: ‘On the basis of the decisions made by your ministers in the first period of this government, we have concluded that early policy choices being made are running counter to the strong intentions you outlined in your pre-election climate pledges and in your manifesto.
‘We were delighted when you signed a climate pledge in February to “accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy efficient low carbon economy”, showing leadership that was applauded both domestically and internationally. We also 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,  green policies which could have helped you to achieve these goals have been cancelled or weakened over 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.’
Amongst the 10 policies ‘cancelled or weakened’ in the past three months are:
- the Green Deal – central government recently announced that it will no longer fund the energy-efficiency scheme, citing low takeup and and concerns about industry standards;
- the Climate Change Levy – an exemption for zero carbon energy and renewable energy sources was withdrawn in the Summer Budget;
- the prevention of shale gas exploration in protected areas – government recently outlined that underground fracking activities can take place 1,200 metres below protected areas; and
- the Green Investment Bank – Business Secretary Sajid Javid announced last month that government would sell ‘at least a majority’ of the government’s shares in the bank, which invests in environmentally-friendly infrastructure projects. to private investors.
Other altered policies include Zero Carbon Buildings 2019, Differential Vehicle Excise Duty, onshore wind support via the Renewable Obligation and contracts for difference, and the Europe-wide ban on bee-killing Neonicotinoid pesticides.
Subsequently, the group of charities is accusing the government of going against its pledges, adding: ‘We have, as yet, seen no positive new measures that would restore the health of the environment or grow the low carbon economy.’
In addition, the letter warns that the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) – ‘the two departments which are most able to deliver [the] environmental agenda’ – are also now ‘unprotected and at risk from disproportionate reductions in their staffing’.
Charity chiefs say Prime Minister ‘risks government’s international standing’
Adding to the letter, David Nussbaum, Chief Executive of 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.”
Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, added: “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.”
John Sauven, Executive Director, Greenpeace UK, continued: "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.”
Read the full letter to the Prime Minister.