I am pleased that a great deal of work has and is being done to tackle climate change and preserve our environment by Government. It’s an agenda I have been involved with and I wanted to update you on some of the progress. While there have been great strides forward I recognise that there is much more to do and the urgency of going even further is vital.
Importantly, the Government has committed to leaving the environment in a better state than we found it and the 25 Year Environment Plan sets out a framework to enable this. It includes tackling the scourge of plastic, delivering cleaner air and water and crucially using the opportunity Brexit provides to develop our own bespoke agricultural and fisheries policies with a more sustainable focus.
Key Environmental achievements:
- Banning plastic microbeads in personal care and cosmetic products: These include face scrubs, soaps, toothpaste and shower gels. Just one shower was sending 100,000 microbeads down the drain and into the ocean, causing serious harm to marine life.
- Ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds and a deposit return scheme for single-use plastics that is underway and subject to consultation.
- Introducing a 5p charge on single-use plastic bags: This has reduced their use by 85% - with each person on average now using 25 bags a year compared to 140 before the charge came into effect.
- Doubling the maximum fine for littering to £150: For the first time, local authorities can also use these littering penalties against vehicle owners if it can be proved litter was thrown from their car.
- Our Resources & Waste strategy: Will end confusion over recycling and tackle problem packaging by making polluters pay.
- Create a Northern Forest from Liverpool to Hull with the aim of planting 50 million trees over 25 years: Spanning more than 120 miles between the cities of Bradford, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, the proposed Northern Forest will help boost habitats for woodland birds and bats and protect iconic species such as the red squirrel.
- Securing extra protection for precious Ancient Woodland and veteran trees: New planning rules have at last given ancient trees and woods the highest possible protection from development.
- Creating 41 new Marine Conservation Zones around the UK: Safeguarding almost 12,000 square kilometres of marine habitats and marking the most significant expansion of the UK’s ‘Blue Belt’ of protected areas to date.
- Internationally protecting marine habitats with a Blue Belt to protect an area the size of India, including recently protecting 4m sq. kms of pristine waters around Ascension Island.
It is clear that tackling climate change is at the forefront of many people’s minds and I am pleased this is being taken extremely seriously in government. Working with the Climate Change Committee, colleagues in government are taking advice on achieving net zero emissions across the economy. Many MPs have pushed for this with strong support from their constituencies.
Tackling Climate Change:
- The UK has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 25% since 2010, faster than any other G20 country.
- The UK was the first country in the world to commit to phase out unabated coal power by 2025. This Easter Britain broke its record for the longest continuous period without generating electricity from coal.
- Invested £52 billion in renewable energy since 2010 with 400,000 people now working in low Carbon businesses.
- 2018 was the cleanest and greenest year with renewable resources supplying a third of our electricity, up from just over 6% in 2009.
- The Government has established the International Climate Fund (ICF) to provide £5.8 billion to help the world's poorest adapt to climate change and promote cleaner, greener economic growth.
- Encouraging Greener Homes by bringing an end to fossil fuel heating systems in all new houses by 2025 and ensuring new housing developments deliver environmental improvements locally and nationally by using the ‘net-environmental gain principle.’
As we exit the EU, there is an opportunity to rethink our land use policy through the Agriculture Bill. We are lucky to have local farmers who know the value of nurturing the environment and ensuring farmers are paid for the delivery of public goods is a central part of government policy. The Fisheries Bill will also ensure we have a sustainable fishing industry post-Brexit.
In a game-changing moment, demonstrating this Government’s true commitment to the environment, the Chancellor announced a whole range of measures in the recent Spring Statement. Foremost is a new global review to assess the economic value of biodiversity globally so we know what action is needed to take to restore our precious environment which has suffered such a catastrophic decline in recent decades. This could do for the Environment what the Stern Report did for Climate Change. In addition, we will enhance environmental standards through the forthcoming Environment Bill and establish a world-leading, green governance body – the Office for Environmental Protection – to uphold environmental legislation.
The Clean Air Strategy will see us tackling poor air quality through; banning petrol and diesel cars by 2040, investing millions in greener public transport, electric and hydrogen vehicles.
I was honoured to participate in The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, which focuses on creating sustainable forest conservation initiatives throughout the 53 countries of the commonwealth, ensuring we have green spaces to enjoy for years to come. As part of the project I planted silver birch, rowan and hazel tree saplings locally.
I am also proud to be a supporter of the Great British Spring Clean, which takes place annually between March and April. The campaign led by Keep Britain Tidy aims to encourage people around the country to litter pick in order to help improve the environment on their doorstep. They are aiming to inspire 500,000 people to join forces - in partnership with community organisations, businesses and the government - to collect and safely dispose of litter from our streets, parks and beaches, recycling as much as possible.
As a Minister, I am bound by the convention of collective responsibility which prevents me from speaking in debates, such as the recent Opposition Day debate to declare a climate emergency. However, my position allows me direct access to Ministers and I have had several conversations with Claire Perry and Michael Gove about this issue.
I hope you will agree that the Government is demonstrating a genuine commitment to leaving the Environment in a better state than we found it. Whilst many positive steps have been taken, I realise there is much more to do and the urgency of addressing this has certainly been stressed to me by many individuals and groups that I have met with. Rest assured I understand this message which is so important for future generations. Climate Change has no boundaries and it is important that it is tackled worldwide. I would like to see the UK host the COP26 and push for others to do more. This is a global issue and the response must be from polluters such as China, India & the United States if we are to reverse the trend.