Eco101: Environmental Policy
Small World, Big Cause presents Eco101
Environmental issues are the topic of our generation, and rightly so. More and more the consequences of our modern day lives are coming to the forefront of our consciousness, but it can be easy to become overwhelmed with so many terms and ideas being thrown around. Small World, Big Cause was created in 2017 to make environmental and conservation topics more accessible. My name is Rebecca, the founder of SWBC, and as I am learning about the world around me and the problems it faces, I am sharing that knowledge in the hope that, together, we can make significant, long-term change.
There is a lot going on in the world of politics right now both in the UK and beyond. It is easy to get bogged down with the ongoing dramas and the big news stories that dominate headlines. I know that personally I often find it too much to keep up with. What I do try to research and fully understand are the environmental policies that are either in place or being proposed, some of these can be really great and effective, sometimes they miss the mark, but it is vital that the government continues to try and tackle environmental issues through policy. It is one of the biggest tools we have to try and make long-term, significant change – although it will most likely be hard won.
Environmental policy is basically a stated commitment from an organisation (in this case that organisation is the UK government) to use their power regarding laws, regulations and other political mechanisms to mitigate and impact environmental issues.
UK environmental policy first started as a way to ensure a healthy standard of living for all. Our environment had to meet certain standards which reduced pollution, waste and dangers to the public health of the nation. Since then, as our understanding of the planet and our place upon it have increased, environmental policy has become much more centred around ‘green issues’ and taking, or proposing, action to hit environmental targets that have been researched and outlined by the EU.
The difficulty faced in enforcing new environmental policy is that people don’t like change. Politicians are trying to keep support and win votes and the kind of environmental policy reform that we need is not going to do that. This is why only small steps are ever taken and why we are now hearing the shouts of scientists and activists that we are running out of time to act. We also see, time and time again, environmental issues being overshadowed or pushed aside by other topics that are deemed, often wrongly, more pressing – the most recent examples are Brexit and the COVID19 pandemic. Although these are also important issues to address, the climate crisis and the associated environmental issues should be treated as equally urgent and vital to our nation’s health and wellbeing.
You can read more about how UK environmental policy has changed throughout the years and the challenges faced by reading this article:
The UK government is trying. A new environmental bill was passed in late 2019 which holds the government accountable to reaching proposed targets and ensures that environmental standards and laws are kept now that we have left the EU. These are all positive steps; however, they are currently simply theories and ideas.
You can read the full report on the new environmental bill by following this link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-introduces-ground-breaking-environment-bill
The idea of ensuring that environmental issues are at the heart of all policy making is wonderful, the idea of improving air quality and reducing emissions is encouraging, the preservation and restoring of biodiversity and natural spaces is desperately needed, the reduction of waste and enforcement of punishments to those who pollute our country is welcomed, sustainable water management is necessary but all these promises are just empty words until we see the subsequent action being taken.
According to the 2018 Environmental Performance Index, the UK is sixth with an overall score of 79.89. We aren’t doing too badly but there is so much more that we could do and achieve as a nation.
In the Environmental Performance Index, Switzerland came first with an overall score of 87.42. They are paving the way for environmental policy through the action they are taking to ensure the sustainability of their country. Their environmental policy includes the protection of natural resources and the importance of a circular economy, ensure good land use and containment of urban sprawl, reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, preserving water quality, preserving biodiversity, improving air quality, promoting the benefits of healthy soil and agricultural practices, and preserving the beauty of their landscapes to ensure a high quality of life for residents and the continued interest of tourists in their country. Switzerland are showing what can be done when correct environmental policies are implemented within government. We should be using them as a template for a better way of living.
So, should governments be taking more responsibility over environmental action?
Yes. They should. However, we all have to take more responsibility if we want to see change. Governments have a greater power and greater reach to impose changes in behaviour and regulations. Through implementing laws, the government could see huge change. For example, British Columbia enforced a carbon tax in 2008, taxing $10 for each tonne of CO2 released in the atmosphere. Between 2007 and 2011, greenhouse gas emissions fell by 6% – big business is centred around money, you have to speak their language to get them to change.
We have proved in 2020 that we can band together and we can embrace change. The COVID19 pandemic has seen a huge shift in the way we live our lives and lockdown measures have shown that when we understand the risks and the desired outcome, we can do what we once thought was impossible, we can change.
Despite the doom and gloom that surround the conversation about the climate crisis. Things are being done, it’s just too often not enough.
The Paris Agreement is one of the more ambitious attempts in modern times to tackle the negative human impact on the environment. In December 2015, 194 states, including the EU signed up to the Paris Agreement. By signing up, they committed to limit the increase in global temperature to below 2°C, with a hope to keep it below 1.5°C. An admirable, and vital, goal but, as before, a goal is worthless with the associated action being taken.
The Paris Agreement could be a blog topic all on its own – and most likely will be at some point! – so I won’t go into the ins and outs now but there is this great article which answers any questions you might have about the progress and importance of the agreement.
The predecessor to the Paris Agreement was the Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1992, which was the very first agreement between nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It consisted of a framework which had the intent to stabilise emissions “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Great ambition, but the fact that we now have the Paris Agreement proves that this most likely didn’t succeed fully in its projected outcomes. This is largely due to unnecessary red tape. The protocol outlined in 1992 didn’t come into effect until more than halfway through the proposed period of change (1992-2012), being finalised in 1997 and not enforced until 2005. Meaning that any reduction in emission after this point were really too little too late, as the global emissions had already increased substantially whilst they were dotting ‘I’s’ and crossing ‘t’s’ – or in other words – faffing about.
The success, or lack of it, of the Kyoto Protocol is a much-debated subject. Lots can be read online so that you can form your own opinion. Personally, I think that as long as we have learnt from the mistakes of the past then we have a chance, but I am not overly hopeful that we have learnt anything.
Like many environmental topics and concerns, the answers are rarely straightforward or simple. Different governments and countries have different areas of interest, or different priorities, it is impossible to come up with a blanket answer that suits them all. However, with the joint aim and a global spotlight currently on environmental issues and the climate crisis – I am hopeful that some steps might be taken in the right direction.
There is so much more that the government could do, there are examples out there of those who are doing it better than the UK and also some that are doing it worse. We are by far not the worst culprits but that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. There is always more that can be done. We must do more to try and mitigate our impact on the planet and try our best to mitigate that of the nations whose government is ignorant or blind to their impact. They will be on the wrong side of history. We must pressure our government to make the hard decisions and educate us to why what they propose is for the best in the long-term. We should be listening to scientists. We should be taking lessons that we have learnt from COVID19 and running with them into a more sustainable, environmentally friendly future.
To learn more about UK government policy and some of the proposed reforms and measures then check out these links. Any relevant content that you’d like to share? Pop the link in the comments section below.
Written by Rebecca Hansell for Small World, Big Cause Blog.
Research by Mickey Stanley – thank you!
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