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Defra has set ambitious environmental targets - now we must deliver on them

3 min read

Conservative MP Richard Graham writes about how the UK has led the way on environmental policy, reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality and increasing waste recycling.

If a government scores its own homework, any reader may be sceptical of a 90% result. So, does our government’s review of its own Environment Action Plan, which can be found here really deserve such a high, almost Kim Jong-un like score?

The extraordinary answer is ‘yes’. For Defra set itself specific and ambitious targets and has got on with delivering them - helped by the fair winds of cross-party support, real public recognition of more must be done (especially from the young), and critically a Secretary of State (Michael Gove) who gets it.

The starting point was encouraging. UK emissions have fallen by 42% since 1990, Britain's share of electricity generated from renewables has doubled since 2009, and Ministers are determined to ensure we become a world leader in the new green economy. But debate and the Extinction Rebellion showed that more must be done – and a new target of zero net carbon by 2050 has been agreed.

Since the 25 Year Environment Plan was published last year, the government has:

  • Published a draft Environment Bill, the first in over two decades, focused on environmental ambition and accountability
  • Introduced an Agriculture Bill in which farmers are paid for their work to protect the environment and provide other public goods
  • Published the Clean Air Strategy, with ambitious plans to cut air pollution, while giving stronger powers to local authorities to control major sources of air pollution
  • Brought in one of the world’s strongest microbeads bans and proposed plans to ban plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers, extend the 5 pence plastic bag charge and introduce a tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content
  • Committed to developing a Nature Recovery Network to create or restore 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site series.

Does that mean we can all sit back and say, well, job done and take our foot off the pedal? No way. There are masses more to be done - by government, local government, concerned local groups and by all of us citizens.

That’s why I called for a Greener Gloucester - leading litter picks, encouraging the city council on an ambitious solar energy project, initiating Wildlife Trust and Hospitals Trust co-operation on green spaces, and calling for a review of how to benefit more from the significant Pond and green lung (Westgate Boating Pond) near the city centre.

Locally and nationally we know our environment matters hugely: Defra is responding fast to national challenges, with BEIS, and we can do the same in every constituency. In Gloucestershire, that includes resolving the air pollution on the A38 by Llanthony and the huge A417 Air Balloon congestion problem, as well as finishing the cycle paths on the canal. It means doing more to reduce litter and extending Project Refill for water bottles.

It’s not, in fact, so much about what we can do, but what we must do to ensure our constituencies remain wonderful places to grow up, live and work in for future generations. Ultimately, the scoring of our homework will be by them in the next election. We may think we’ve made progress, but we’ve got a long way to go. Part of it could be by showing international leadership, with Jeremy Hunt and the FCO working with Defra to secure hosting the Climate Change2020 Conference in London. Two Secretaries of State who get it, lots of Conservative MPs and activists to back them – let’s show that when it comes to climate change, the UK leads.

Richard Graham is the Conservative MP for Gloucester

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