What are the key environmental priorities for the next government?

There is increasing worry that the environment is far down the list of voter’s priorities. As stated by the Society for the Environment “the environment lobby seems to be losing ground in the battle for political hearts and minds. The agenda in Westminster is focussed on devolution, immigration and the economy”.

Professional bodies across the UK have assembled to produce a report which highlights the importance of the environmental agenda and sets out key environmental priorities for the next government. The report, led by the Society for the Environment, was launched on the 16th March at Westminster and provides a series of short papers which set out ideas for government to: “protect our health, wealth and security through the more rational and sustainable management of natural systems, upon which we all depend”. 

Overall the Society of Environment report recommends that future governments should use “a more holistic approach, creating long-term strategies to tackle environmental challenges for the UK.  The report also sets out a diverse range of policy ideas from across from across twelve professional bodies and Policy Connect. The main points raised in the report were:

  • the importance of the UK leading on climate agreements and embedding the environment across education in order to challenge and change behaviours;
  • supporting the call for a Nature and Wellbeing Bill, a new Air Quality Strategy and highlighting the vital importance of soil protection;
  • asking that energy be regarded as an ecosystem and recommending low carbon energy policy measures from energy production, through supply to consumption;
  • exploring the long term commitments needed to build a resilient UK and create a circular economy, which will return resources to the UK and create jobs.

How do we protect the UK’s Natural Capital?

One of the most significant priorities highlighted by the Society of the Environment was to ‘protect the UK’s natural capital’, which is also a key priority for the British Ecological Society.  As stated by the reports “only 37% of all protected sites in the UK are well maintained and 60% of UK species are in decline”.  Five professional bodies have presented a range of recommendations within the report, in aim of protecting the UK’s natural capital in the future.  These institutions included: Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), Institute of Agricultural Engineers (IAgrE), Institution of Environmental Sciences (IES), Institute of Air Quality Management (IAQM) and Institute of Fisheries Management (iFm).

The greatest number of recommendations were provided by CIEEM, emphasising the need to ‘nurture nature’. Dr Stephanie Wray at CIEEM stated that “our current approach to managing biodiversity through site and species protection is clearly not delivering the outcomes that are the needed”.  In order to tackle this, CIEEM’s key recommendations for nurturing nature are centred on the following:

  • Furthering the development of a Nature and Well-being Bill.
  • Taking sound ecological advice to move the focus from the protection of individuals of rare species to the protection of ecosystems at the landscape level.
  • Building on the Lawton Report and Biodiversity 2020  to take a strategic view of the natural environment in Britain.
  • Communicating the importance of the natural environment in supporting human health and well-being.
  • Reversing the decline in funding for and prominence of the statutory environment bodies.
  • Ensuring that the local and regional level local authorities have access to good ecological advice associated with their planning and development control functions.
  • Requiring businesses to report on their triple bottom line including their impacts on biodiversity.
  • Focusing on implementation and enforcement action to ensure that actions to protect, or to mitigate harmful effects on, the environment are carried through.

As stated by Tony Juniper, President of the Society for the Environment, “the report confirms once more that achieving a healthy environment is far from marginal to Britain’s interests. Looking after where we live, both globally and locally, is vital for our long-term health, wealth and security and must be a far more prominent agenda as we approach the election”. 

What’s next?

Similar issues were also discussed by the UK’s six leading political parties at the ‘People, Politics and the Planet: Looking Ahead to the General Election’. Panellists were questioned on the environmental priorities they hope to put into practice after May’s general election. The ‘protection of natural capital’ was a significant theme throughout the debate. Across the panel, there was universal acknowledgement of the need to protect and enhance the UK’s natural capital, as well as recognition of its value for human well-being and prosperity.  Panellists also recognised the need for parallel accounting and the importance of integrating environmental aims into all government decision making. This demonstrated the extent to which the language and framing of natural capital is becoming part of mainstream policy-making. See link for more information and to watch a video of the debate.

At the BES we have identified three ambitions for good policy-making over the term of the next Parliament: (1) environmental policy informed by sound scientific evidence, (2) recognising the vital role of ecological science in meeting societal challenges, and (3) integrating the value of the environment to human well-being and prosperity across government.

Over the next few months, we will be fleshing out our priority policy issues for the next Government, underpinned by the three key principles outlined above. We are keen to hear from our members about their priority issues ahead of the general election, and case studies that can demonstrate the impact of ecology to policy-makers. Our policy work depends on the support and expertise of our members and there will be numerous opportunities to engage over the coming months. Current opportunities include consultations on the Birds and Habitats Directives and the Nurse Review of the Research Councils to events on conservation conflicts and the science-policy interface.   Please get in touch with our policy team to find out more.