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Sustaining the UK’s Future: Environment and Sustainability at the Heart of Decision Making



Martin Baxter, Chief Policy Advisor of the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA), sets out ten environment and sustainability steps the next government should take to ensure the UK’s prosperity and well being as voters to take the polls.

Environment and sustainability issues have received a relatively low priority during the run up to today’s General Election Poll.  However, as the focus moves from party political rhetoric to the formation of the next Government, there remains the opportunity to ensure that policies to address the long-term sustainability challenge are prioritised throughout the next Parliament.

The Election is taking place at a time when a series of long-term challenges around climate change, resource availability and price volatility, degradation of biodiversity and ecosystems are creating a perfect storm of threats.  It’s also apparent that businesses are not in a position to adequately address them.  While recent IEMA research found that just 13% of organisations are confident they have the skills necessary to compete in a sustainable economy, there has been a dismal lack of prominence from the political parties about how they plan to turn this problem into transformative positive action.

With the Parties giving little to no focus to environment and sustainability issues, IEMA Members have filled the gap by generating a list of key actions that need to be carried out over the course of the next parliament. By engaging in a series of polls conducted in the 12 weeks leading up to the General Election, IEMA’s 15,000 environment and sustainability professionals have identified ten steps that will be key to the UK’s future prosperity and well-being.

1) Environment and sustainability should have greater prominence across the next Government’s thinking and action – 89% of those polled were unhappy with the lack of focus on environment in the run up to the general election.  It is essential that the next Government applies appropriate focus and integrates environment and sustainability into the core of its decision-making.

2) Creating the workforce for a sustainable economy – 96% of those polled said the next Government should set up a cross-sector sustainability skills strategy to enable the UK to compete on a global stage on sustainability.

3) Implement a Nature & Wellbeing Act 89% of IEMA members say that the swift introduction of a new Nature and Wellbeing Act is needed to improve and reverse the UK’s current rate of loss of biodiversity and natural habitats, and enhance the UK’s natural capital which underpins our future prosperity.

4) Resolving the UK’s poor air quality is a critical priority – 89% say that making significant progress on improvements to air quality is extremely important. With poor air quality currently linked to 29,000 premature deaths each year, this step will benefit human health as well as the environment.

5) Strengthen International Leadership on Climate Change – 91% polled say incoming Government should prioritise commitment to tackling climate risks, including in the Paris 2015 international climate change negotiations to ensure an effective agreement and framework is in place such that global GHG emissions peak at the earliest opportunity, consistent with a maximum 2oC warming.

6) Government’s Green Investment Bank should have a greater role in taking forward nationally significant infrastructure – 92% said that they want to see the role of the Green Investment Bank increased so it has powers to appropriately borrow and invest in projects that both protect and improve the UK’s natural capital.  This is critical to support the £200bn investment needed to transition to a low-carbon energy infrastructure.

7) Prioritising national needs over local concerns will be necessary to deliver the infrastructure critical to the UK’s transition to a sustainable economy – 75% say the UK Planning System is not currently capable of playing its part in the transition to a sustainable economy.

8) Energy conservation should be a top priority for the new Government – 72% say that energy conservation and efficient use of materials is the area for future energy investment, presenting a key opportunity for UK businesses.

9) Next Government should deliver a “Stern for Resources” style report to make an economic case for resource management – 80% polled support this and would provide the basis to determine our success in developing a circular resource economy

10) Call for an independent body to scrutinise the Government’s progress on sustainability – 89% support the need for a body similar to the existing Committee on Climate Change Committee to track the nation’s transition to a sustainable economy.

Taking these ten steps will enable the UK to implement changes needed to halt further degradation of the environment, promote wellbeing, protect our natural capital and hold the Government to account. This advice comes from professionals who take a long-term perspective for the UK’s ongoing success – effective implementation will be the true test Government’s commitment to achieving a sustainable economy and providing certainty to voters throughout the UK. Action needs to start immediately.

Photo: Moyan Brenn via Flickr

Further reading:

#GE2015: Blue & Green backs a red, yellow and green policy coalition around sustainability

#GE2015: Will Northern Ireland Vote for Policies?