On Thursday, the prime minister, Theresa May, is expected to deliver a high-profile speech on the environment to coincide with the publication of Defra’s 25-year plan for nature.
Commenting ahead of the PM’s speech and the publication of the nature plan, Greenpeace UK executive director John Suaven said:
“Theresa May should use her speech to announce that 2018 will be the year when Britain turns the tide on throwaway plastic. With millions of people in Britain worrying about plastic pollution, the prime minister has a strong mandate to take the bold action we need. A serious package of measures should include a ban on non-recyclable plastics, a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and measure to force plastic producers to take responsibility for their waste.
“Having a long-term plan for nature is all well and good, but what we need is serious action here and now. Whether it’s ocean plastics, air pollution or climate change, there’s a huge price to pay for every day that goes by without progress. Plastic production is expected to double over the next 20 years and traffic fumes are harming our kids’ health for decades to come. Theresa May’s environmental push will be judged by the action it commits to take within this parliament, not by the memo it leaves for future administrations.
These are the key areas where the UK government must take action to protect our health and our environment:
Millions of people have watched marine life being hurt by plastic pollution on Blue Planet II and the vast majority of the public supports action on plastic waste . Theresa May has a very strong mandate to be ambitious – and the success of the plastic bag charge and microbeads ban shows boldness pays off. Since our whole society is awash in disposable plastic, a piecemeal approach won’t work – we need to tackle our plastic problem at the source. The government needs to draw up a major strategy which includes measures like a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, extending the microbeads ban, and a policy that forces plastic producers to take responsibility for their waste instead of dumping the cost on the taxpayer. Ministers should also bring forward a ban on non-recyclable types of plastic and fund innovation into sustainable forms of packaging, including new materials.
The government air pollution plan fell way short of the action needed to clean up illegal air pollution. Ministers need to go back to the drawing board and come up with something better, starting with bringing forward the date for the phase-out of new petrol and diesel cars. The current date, 2040, is far too late to stay ahead in the global clean transport market. With China, India, Norway and the Netherlands all looking at a ban in 2030 or before, there’s a real risk of Britain being left behind in the race to embrace the clean vehicles set to dominate the market in the coming years.
As the UK leaves the EU, it has the opportunity to finally fix a broken fishing quota system that’s rewarding vested interests and penalising our most sustainable fishers . The government should make sure fishing opportunities are allocated to those boats that use more selective fishing methods and provide jobs and an economic boost to our coastal communities. Ministers should also acknowledge that they have an obligation under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to work with neighbouring countries on the management of straddling stocks.
Giving millions of pounds in farm subsidies to wealthy families and businesses just on the basis of how much land they own is indefensible . Public money should be going to those who provide a public good, whether it’s by keeping soil fertile, giving access to the public, preventing floods or growing healthy food. Future support should be targeted at farming methods which do not deplete the soil or harm plants, insects, mammals and birds. Ministers should recognise the importance of a return to mixed farming to protect biodiversity, moving away from monoculture and single commodity crops. They should also promote investment in science and technology that can help transform our farming sector.
The UK should seek to stay within the EU’s world-leading chemical regulatory system REACH. Without continued membership of this system the UK will lose access to the world’s most detailed information on chemical safety and use, and risks becoming a dumping ground for chemicals that are banned in the EU. UK should also aim to stay in the EU’s regime for regulating pesticides, and should act rapidly to identify and control those pesticides with particularly hazardous properties. It is important to take a more precautionary approach to the use of pesticides, given the evidence of harm to insect populations and concerns over impacts on humans health.
While this lies outside the scope of the 25-year environment plan, no government can be really ‘green’ without vigorously driving towards a clean energy economy. The government should start supporting onshore wind and solar, increase ambition for offshore wind, commit significant public money and policy to making our buildings more energy efficient, and work up the programmes to cut carbon emissions from our heating systems and road transport.
We need to see a credible plan to keep the government’s commitment to plant 11m trees by 2022. The announcement of Northern Forest is welcome if well implemented, but should be supported by the incorporation of forestry widely across England and devolved nations.