CAfS response to new UK environment strategy

The Government published its 25-year plan on the environment in January 2018. It sets out the Government’s goals and strategy for tackling challenges like pollution, waste and climate change.

Here at CAfS we waited with interest to see it, and there’s much to be welcomed in the principles and direction of the report. However, we would agree with many of the organisations and politicians who have commented that the plan lacks the necessary urgency to tackle the environmental challenges we face today. Indeed, many of the measures in the plan have yet to be underpinned by legislation or changes in taxation.

I am sure that everyone relishes the Government’s commitment to “work towards eliminating all avoidable waste by 2050 and all avoidable plastic waste by end of 2042”, but CAfS would call for much earlier time frames. Our existing landfill crisis is already facing immediate strain and will now face additional pressures from China’s legitimate refusal to accept plastic from the UK from 1st January 2018.

Positive action needed

“Seeking views on how the tax system or charges could reduce the amount of single use plastics waste” is all well and good, but we equally need more positive action, including the introduction of incentives. For example, let’s see the Government supporting Cumbrian companies like James Cropper at Kendal to expand their existing coffee cup recycling processes to tackle the 2 billion plastic coffee cups thrown way in the UK every year.

“Encourage producers to take more responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products and rationalise the number of different types of plastic in use” makes environmental sense but not necessarily business sense. So CAfS would support the temporary introduction of a system of carrot and stick (incentives and taxes) through a transition period, driven by responsible consumer choice.

There’s little that’s new about climate change in the plan, but it does at least reaffirm the Government’s goal to “keep the average global temperature rise below 2°C above preindustrial levels, and aim for a rise below 1.5°C”. We welcome the commitment to: “show global leadership by phasing out unabated coal-fired electricity by 2025.” However, we would call for a much clearer strategy to take us from all fossil-fuel energy to renewable energy provision.

Flood resilience

Interestingly, the plan also includes a section on refitting properties for flood resilience, which CAfS is currently working on here in Cumbria. The plan states: “We will support the insurance and construction sector in developing a voluntary Code of Practice to encourage consumers and businesses to make properties more flood resilient by the end of 2018.”Our own research into the waste caused by flooding links directly to this and is available on our website: www.cafs.org.uk/environmental-cost-flooding.

Tucked away at the back of the report is a goal to “set up a stronger domestic carbon offset mechanism and carbon guarantee scheme” to “develop markets for domestic carbon sequestration”. What exactly does this mean? More trees? Incentives to invest in renewables? Or even an about-turn on the development of sequestration technologies?

A common criticism of new build homes is that they often lack any renewable energy or solar panels. Perhaps this has something to do with the UK previously repealing the Code for Sustainable Homes legislation and the Zero Carbon Homes 2016 targets! Sceptical support must therefore accompany the Government’s statement that “new homes will be built in a way that reduces demands for water, energy and material resources, improves flood resilience, minimises overheating and encourages walking and cycling. Resilient buildings and infrastructure will more readily adapt to a changing climate.” For 12 years CAfS has been exemplifying such buildings in Cumbria through its Green Build Festival every September.

Consumer power

Whether you think ‘democracy’ or ‘the market’ is the greater force for change, CAfS believes we should harness both channels. Show your commitment by exercising consumer choice whenever you spend your money. Most companies have a manager you can write to and many have Facebook and Twitter accounts you can post on if you feel strongly about a product, about packaging or perhaps lights left on throughout the night, for example. Tell them why their products are great or how they could be improved. Be supportive, encouraging, tell them who’s doing a great job, making a better product or doing more to make our planet safer. And write to your MP explaining why you think change needs to be effected more urgently. Perhaps this really is an area we really can be ‘all in it together’!