The Environment in the Next Parliament

Last night saw the BES Policy Team attend the winter reception of the All Party Parliamentary Environment Group (APEG) at the Houses of Parliament. Delegates from NGOs and industry were joined by MPs and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates on the House of Commons Terrace, for an evening of networking and speeches from Jonathan Porritt, Peter Ainsworth MP and representatives of the energy sector.

Peter Ainsworth MP, Chair of the APEG, introduced the event by stressing the importance of highlighting the up-side of a transition to a low-carbon economy to the electorate. He praised those present from the renewable energy sector for taking advantage of opportunities to create jobs. This was a theme of the evening; the need to relate climate change and the alterations needed in society and to people’s lifestyles to their everyday concerns. In a time of economic hardship people are concerned about their jobs and livlihoods; the opportunities which a transition to a more sustainable society can bring need to be better articulated.

The event was sponsored by the Mark Group and by the Micropower Council and speakers from both bodies again stressed the positives to come from a low-carbon society. Feed-in tariffs, paying people for the electricity they generate in their own homes and feed back into the National Grid (whether through solar panels or roof-mounted wind turbines), have now been released and are due to come into force on 1st April. One speaker emphasised that generating your own electricity can now yield a return of 8% on your investment, ‘better than any bank’. Householders will need an excuse not to generate their own energy, speakers stressed.

Jonathan Porritt, former Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, praised the APEG and Peter Ainsworth in particular for work in parliament to raise the profile of environmental issues. However, politicians still haven’t woken up to the reality of what living within sustainable limits actually means, he said. Commenting on the environmental agenda for the next Parliament he saw it as unlikely that any new Prime Minister would take the difficult, innovative, decisions needed to move to a new form of economic system. He said, therefore, that backbench MPs and groups like the APEG would be more important than ever to highlight environmental concerns, particularly if no political party achieves a clear majority at the next election. He wished all the Prospective Parliamentary Candidates present luck with the election, urging them to enter parliament energised and with new ideas for reform. He stressed the need for them, and others present, to work hard to move other environmental issues up the agenda; these have not simply followed in the wake of climate change and more needs to be done to raise awareness of biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystem services – and what these too mean for society.

One powerful point made by Mr Porritt was directed at science and scientists. ‘The truth will not conquer all’, he suggested; the public will not simply accept that changes need to be made to their lifestyles if the science behind climate change is presented to them- the reality of public engagement with science is far more complex. Scientists have to be better communicators and must relate climate change to people’s everyday lives. Again, as with other speakers he stressed that the positive side of de-carbonising the economy, the wider suite of benefits it will bring to society, must be articulated.