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Stephen Hale: It's now or never

All parties should sign up to this ambitious green initiative

Monday 21 September 2009 00:00 BST

The UK's next Parliament represents our last chance to prevent dangerous climate change and to preserve and restore our natural environment. Unless we do so, we are heading for what the Government's Chief Scientist, John Beddington, has described as a "perfect storm" of food, energy and water shortages by 2030.

This is why, just ahead of conference season, the UK's leading environment groups have published Common Cause: the Green Standard manifesto on climate change and the natural environment. We are calling on all parties to endorse our Common Cause declaration, which outlines the incontrovertible case for action and states that climate change and the natural environment should be the highest priority in the next Parliament. We believe that endorsement of Common Cause should be the threshold for credibility for parties at the election.

But this declaration must be backed up by concrete policies. So we are also calling on parties to adopt our 10 proposals for 2010 in their election manifestos. These include launching a nationwide housing retrofit program by 2011, dedicating all income generated by the emissions-trading scheme after 2012 to tackling climate change, making significant progress towards restoring the natural environment by 2020, and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to experience nature by providing access to green space within walking distance of where they live.

Important progress has been made during the current Parliament. We welcomed the Climate Change Act and the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, which were supported by all parties. We also welcomed the Labour government's Renewable Energy Strategy and the designation of the South Downs National Park, the Conservatives' principled positions on coal and aviation, the Liberal Democrats' climate-change commitments and new natural-environment strategy, Our Natural Heritage.

But we've been frequently alarmed by the timidity of the commitments and action by the three main political parties on climate change and the environment. The current mismatch between the scale of the problems and the solutions being offered risks failure at a time of historic responsibility.

The recession has cast a long shadow over the current Parliament and will continue to affect the next. But action on climate change and the environment can and must be designed to contribute to the recovery. Climate-change policy could be used to create new jobs, opportunities and savings for people in the short-term. In the long term, the only way to ensure prosperity and security is to create a low- carbon, resource-efficient economy and society.

The stakes for the next Parliament are high. Our lives will be fundamentally affected by the decisions made by government in the next five years. Action is crucial to avoid dangerous climate change, to tackle the looming crises of food, energy and water, and to improve the resilience of our natural environment.

For any government prepared to meet these problems head on, the next few years offer the opportunity to unleash the UK's huge potential for renewable energy and to lay the foundations for a prosperous and secure society. If the next government is not prepared to rise to this challenge, the future for both the economy and society at large looks very bleak indeed.

Stephen Hale is the director of the Green Alliance. The other organisations that are part of the Green Standard initiative and have authored the report are CPRE, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and WWF

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