“Anybody who says they know exactly what’s going to happen in the coming days, weeks and months is kidding you, because nobody is going to know what happens.”
- Mike Foster, Chief Executive, Energy and Utilities Alliance (as reported in Utility Week).
Our country is rudderless, with each day seeing changes in our leadership. It seems blinkered to talk about the environment in isolation. No one really knows what Brexit means for the UK, let alone vexing about what it means for our environment. But one thing we do know is that we have to work pretty hard to get quality of life at the top of the next prime ministers in-tray.
And even without the daily challenges of Brexit uncertainty, we are in a somewhat precarious position. The UK has yet to sign up to the Paris Agreement, and given that we are leaderless at the moment, our eyes are on Amber Rudd as she continues with our commitment. There are red flags flying with concern that the next US president may attempt to unpick the pact.
As reported in Utility Week, key water and environmental targets potentially face an uncertain future. A shadow has been cast over the UK’s standing as a global centre for research and development of new products and technologies – many of which are essential to a sustainable low carbon economy. Amber Rudd has heroically stated that whilst it may be tough, we are going to sign up to COP21 and our fifth carbon budget. This is in the face of the potential investment freeze and EU workers’ ambivalence on investing in the UK.
And what of the 10,000 deaths from air pollution each year - the situation, described by cross party MPs as a ‘public health emergency’? The EU was a key driver for change. EU laws and targets relating to air quality, as with waste, are enshrined in UK law. Perhaps there is a reason to be cheerful here. Could we braver and bolder, and even subscribe to World Health Organisation targets? WHO targets are more challenging than the EU targets, and also healthier, but they are likely to be opposed by our government. Local authorities have important Public Health Duties; as discussed at our event last week our communities are eager to hold them to their responsibilities. Thankfully clean air is something that the London Mayor supports. Whilst we could do with a refreshed Clean Air Act across the UK, we can support our Mayor in cleaning up air in London.
Talking to Waste Management World, Ray Georgeson chief executive of the Resource Association said: "We must continue to advocate the power and value of the circular economy and ensure that our concerns about policy uncertainty are addressed". Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth’s CEO, said: "We cannot let the UK return to the days of ‘the dirty man of Europe’. Protections for our birds and wildlife, our beaches and rivers, must not be sacrificed in the name of cutting away so-called EU ‘red tape’".
Since neither climate change nor air quality were mentioned much during the referendum campaign, how can we get the environment higher up the political agenda? We certainly don’t have time for the environment to take a back seat through years of negotiations.The answer has to be in smart jobs. We need to find a way to encourage investment and show that the Green Economy can provide a future that we can all get behind.