Greens restore environment to heart of election campaign as others 'wilfully ignore' the issue

'Unless we have got a vocal Green Party, then the environment is allowed to fall off the agenda'

Ian Johnston
Environment Correspondent
Thursday 18 May 2017 17:03
Caroline Lucas said the need for the Green Party had never been greater
Caroline Lucas said the need for the Green Party had never been greater

The Greens are to put environmental issues at the heart of their election campaign because the other parties are “wilfully ignoring” the issue, co-leader Caroline Lucas has said.

At the last general election in 2015, the Greens decided to stress social policies in a bid to free themselves from the image of a single-issue party.

But, ahead of the launch of the party’s environment manifesto, Ms Lucas said that she felt this mission had been achieved.

And, given the lack of interest in green issues displayed by the other parties and the “hugely important” effect of Brexit on the UK countryside, she said it was important that someone spoke up about the issue.

Barack Obama, speaking at an international food conference this week, said he had made climate change a “top priority” because he believed it would affect life in this century more than any other issue.

But, just as he was replaced by a climate science denier, there are concerns that politicians with similar leanings could rip up EU regulations designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality and safeguard the natural world in post-Brexit Britain.

Ms Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “Personally I want to see the environment front-and-centre of our campaign.

“I don’t think I’ve heard any of the other party leaders even talking about the environment.

“The need for the Green Party is greater than ever — unless we have got a vocal Green Party, then the environment is allowed to fall off the agenda.”

The manifesto includes a pledge to introduce a new Environmental Protection Act “to protect natural world in the wake of the EU referendum decision by creating a new environmental regulator and court”, a statement issued by the party said.

It would also end the “monopoly” of the Big Six energy companies “by building democratic, locally owned alternatives”.

And a deposit scheme on plastic bottles — in which people paid slightly more but got it back when returning the bottles — would prevent 16 million plastic bottles “ending up in environment every day”, the party added.

Ms Lucas said countries like Germany had put the transition to a low-carbon future at the heart of their industrial strategies — partly because of the economic advantages.

“It’s just extraordinary that those connections don’t seem to be made in Britain,” Ms Lucas said.

“We are already tumbling down the list of places where green investors are choosing to come.

“All of the economic advantages of investing in the green economy are now put at risk.”

This election was also key because of the significance that Brexit will have on the environment.

This was, Ms Lucas said, “hugely important”.

Many of the current laws protecting the environment — such as from air quality rules, the habitats and birds directives— stem from EU law.

The Government has said this will all be transferred into UK law, but there are concerns they will not be policed as rigorously and that overall principles, such as the polluter pays and the precautionary approach to things like GM crops, will be lost.

“The environment has been wilfully ignored by the political mainstream and our climate and our countryside will pay the price of an environment-free election,” Ms Lucas said.

“With 2016 the hottest year on record and a climate-denier in the White House, the need for bold and dynamic action on climate change has never been more urgent.

“The UK must lead the world in building a green economy and investing in a viable future — one that respects and nurtures the natural systems on which we depend. The Greens are the only party to truly recognise the importance of the environment.

“Our economic prosperity depends on the natural world. It is the ultimate source of everything we make and use — from food and materials, to the air we breathe.”

The party said the need for a legislation to protect wildlife was clear with “almost 60 per cent of species in the UK in long-term decline and 15 per cent at risk of disappearing altogether”.

In order to do this, the Greens would create an “Office for Environmental Protection” and an “Environmental Court”, which would would “monitor and enforce new long-term goals for biodiversity, water and air quality”.

Everyone in the country would also be given a right to have access to “a healthy and safe green space promoting good mental health, physical exercise and building community”.

Saying investment in renewable energy was set to drop by 95 per cent over the next two years, the party said it would create a new green investment centre with powers to borrow and finance the transition to a zero-carbon economy.

The current energy system was “broken” and instead the Greens would harness the “dramatically falling costs” of renewable energy to benefit customers.

“Dirty” forms of energy would stay “in the ground” with a ban on fracking, coal phased out by 2023 at the latest, and a gradual end to the £6bn a year subsidy given to the fossil fuel industry.

Community energy projects would be given priority access to the grid, with support from Government to help local people produce their own electricity.

Those who were unable to pay would not be cut off and there would be progressive energy tariffs so small consumers paid less than larger ones.

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