Earlier this year, in January, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs published ‘A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’. Since then National Friends of the Earth and others have been working to understand the document and to clarify meanings and intentions. Paul de Zylva, Senior Campaigner on Nature for Friends of the Earth, came along a few days ago to bring us up to date on that work and to link it in to the work that our group is doing.
The plan is, of course, only one part of the government’s approach to all things environmental. Energy, for example, is addressed in the Clean Growth Strategy, while other matters are currently addressed by policy. An example here would be that the approach to fracking is part of the current energy policy, and the plan would not be able to say anything that apparently altered that policy. All of which means that the plan has to be read strictly in context: cleaner air and water; plants and animals which are thriving; and a cleaner, greener country.
The plan sets itself a target of 25 years, a whole generation, or 5 general elections. This is ambitious, and very welcome. However, for those of us who are aware of the urgency needed in all environmental matters, the plan seems initially disappointing. There are gaps in coverage, a lack of clarity on how we get to there from here, and inevitable questions of funding. There’s too much detail to go through here, but Paul has published his own analysis on the Friends of the Earth site and it is well worth reading.
There are many points to welcome, including the commitment to current EU environmental regulations. In fact, quite sensibly, much of the document builds on existing initiatives. As an example, Central Beds council has had a policy on sustainable drainage systems since 2015, based on government standards. The plan builds on all of these initiatives with an implied intent to strengthen and extend the requirements. Among the newer proposals, there is support for nature recovery networks, building links between wildlife areas, reinforcing our own wildlife gardening efforts. And, in the short term, 2019 has been designated as a year of action for the environment, fitting well with our groups’ work in schools and public areas. Most importantly, the plan exists. Its implications will be discussed amongst us for some time to come, and we are looking forward to making the most of the year of the environment in 2019.