Parties gather for pre-election environment showdown

Greener UK hosted the only debate dedicated to the environment in the run up to next week’s General Election on Tuesday (30 May), with representatives from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party engaging in a lively debate around the UK’s environmental future.

Parties gather for pre-election environment showdown
L-R: Lib Dem Parminter, Conservative Coffey, host Anderson, Labour Gardiner, Green Russell
The debate, hosted by TV presenter and President of the Woodland Trust Clive Anderson and put on by Greener UK, a coalition of 13 environmental organisations formed to ensure ‘important opportunities’ presented by Brexit are taken, saw Therese Coffey (Conservatives), Baroness Parminter (Liberal Democrats), Barry Gardiner (Labour) and Caroline Russell (Green Party) answer a series of questions from members of the audience, comprised of experts on the environment.

A breadth of topics were covered about the implications of Brexit on environmental legislation, how each party plans to bring Britain closer to a zero-carbon future, recycling, energy efficiency, farming subsidies, green transport, housing and the Green Belt and, of particular interest to those in the resources industry, a potential revision of how recycling rates are calculated.

Labour’s Shadow Secretary for International Trade Barry Gardiner wasted no time in criticising the Conservative government’s failure to take Donald Trump to task over his now-confirmed decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, calling it a “disgrace” and accused the government of “sucking up” to Trump.

Brexit debate

In response to a question about Brexit’s potential impact on environmental regulations and the potential to strengthen those regulations, Gardiner went on to state that Brexit poses a “threat” to environmental protection in the UK, and that the government’s Great Repeal Bill does not rule out the possibility to change or reverse European environmental legislation in the future.  

Parties gather for pre-election environment showdown
Labour MP Gardiner said the prospect of a loss of European oversight on environmental regulations was "frightening"
Gardiner described the prospect “that there will not be that oversight that was provided by the European Court and the EU” as “frightening”, promising that Labour would introduce an EU Rights and Protections Bill to bring all EU-derived environmental laws into UK law.

The Conservative Resources Minister Therese Coffey herself had said that her party’s “first priority as a government will be to provide stability” and restated the oft-repeated government commitment to “leave the environment in a better place than we found it”.

Coffey went on to state that we should not solely thank the EU for our environmental protections, saying: “Our own domestic legislation – the Environmental Protect Act, for instance – shows that we absolutely want to see an improved environment. We should also be fully aware of all the international obligations that we join in and will continue to take our seat at the table in at various conventions across the world.”

Caroline Russell, the Green Party’s spokesperson on Transport, expressed concern over the potential ramifications of the government dropping several European environment regulations, demanding “immediate clarity” on their future.

Russell spoke of the Green Party’s worries concerning air quality and the potential impact of a repeal of the EU Air Quality Directive, challenging the next government to look towards making public transport more accessible.

Baroness Parminter, Environment Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, who is set to deliver a keynote speech at this month’s Resourcing the Future conference, underlined her party’s commitment to respecting the Aarhus Convention to ensure people affected by environmental decisions can participate fully in the decision-making process, and to creating an Office for Environmental Responsibility to hold a future government to account.

Space for resources?

The question of resource policy was not covered in any great depth during the debate, although Coffey did mention that the way recycling rates are calculated may be revised after Brexit.

Parties gather for pre-election environment showdown
Therese Coffey says that weight-based targets would be looked at if the Conservatives remained in government
She stated: “We are negotiating right now about waste and recycling and today within the directive we are still looking at what is weight based. One of my biggest surprises when I came into government is how much of our recycling is the weight of grass clippings.

“I think there is a real opportunity to think about recycling and reuse. What is counted as recycling is what’s done by weight and heavy weight grass clippings – especially if someone pours a hose over them before they get weighed – it is that kind of thing that we can find a new direction and think properly about a clean growth policy that maximises resource efficiency.”

While a specific question on resource efficiency submitted through Twitter was posed to the panel, only Gardiner was given time to answer the question before Anderson moved swiftly onto another question, preferring instead to respond to a previous question on housing, planning and the Green Belt.

The environment has largely played a bit-part in this election campaign, but you can view the environment policies from all of the parties’ manifestos on the Resource website.

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