Rebecca Pow is MP for Taunton Deane.
Michael Gove’s speech about safeguarding our environment for the future resonated with me completely. My constituents in Taunton Deane and colleagues in Parliament will already be aware of how passionate I am about our natural world, and his words summed up many of my own feelings.
Over the past 50 years, we have lost much of our green space. Trees and woodlands have been sacrificed and wildflower meadows are still being lost at an alarming rate.
The biggest disaster we currently face in modern society is that of climate change, yet exploitative political systems across the globe have plundered fragile habitats and placed species of plants and animals in new and mortal danger – gambling with the future health of the whole world.
Like Gove, I am an environmentalist because I care about animals, I care about protecting our precious natural resources, and I care about future generations. Having lived and worked in the shadow of the Blackdown Hills for years, and with a strong farming and environmental background, I believe we need to open our eyes to the destruction our modern way of life is causing.
Environmental action needs to be taken immediately, because, as his speech argued, ultimately, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the energy which powers enterprise are all threatened if we do not practice proper stewardship of the planet.
I have campaigned tirelessly on many environmental issues; I held the first debate on soil in Parliament, I chair the all-party group on ancient woodlands and helped secure greater protection for them, I ran a campaign to ban microbeads in personal care products, and I remain staunchly committed to protecting this planet. Last year, the Government launched a consultation on banning microbeads, which have such a devastating effect on marine life, and that ban will be implemented later this year. In October 2015, the Government introduced the five pence carrier bag charge. New figures released show the success of this policy – nine billion fewer carrier bags distributed since the charge was introduced, a fall of 83 per cent.
We will also be looking at new methods of reducing the amount of plastic entering our seas, improving incentives for reducing waste and litter, and reviewing the penalties available to deal with polluters as part of the Government’s renewed strategy on waste and resources that looks ahead to opportunities outside the EU.
It’s not simply enough, however, to halt the slow decline and decay of our natural world. We need to put in systems to regenerate and restore what we have lost, and what we are continuing to lose. To leave the environment in a better state than we found it would be an achievement of the highest level for this generation.
I believe we can and should be harnessing the optimism and energy of all those inspired to save our planet. Young people from across Taunton Deane and countrywide, play a key role in this, and campaigning from passionate individuals and larger organisations such as Greenpeace, WWF and Friends of the Earth ensure that governments don’t just sit on their laurels when the environment is what’s at stake.
With Brexit imminent, we are faced with new opportunities, and challenges, in particular on the subject of environment.
With the chance to go back and revise policies on agriculture, land use, biodiversity, woodlands, marine conservation, fisheries, pesticide licensing, chemical regulation, animal welfare, habitat management, waste, water purity and air quality, we now have the chance to take back some control.
When we leave the EU, this government will match the £3 billion that farmers currently receive in support from the CAP until 2022. Coming from rural Somerset where farming is at our very core, supporting farmers is one of my highest priorities. Our farmers here produce some of the best food in the world, and they have faced continual challenges. Now is our chance to better support this industry. It will be vital to speak with farmers and wildlife groups across the country to inform the land use policy for Brexit, as those working the land are those who understand it best.
In terms of marine conservation we are able to set the very highest standards, but we can also achieve the very highest environmental standards across the board. This country has been a leader in promoting biodiversity and we fund globally respected schemes such as the Darwin Initiative, which protects biodiversity and endangered species in developing countries and helps them to meet their environmental commitments.
This government has laudably committed to leaving the environment in a better state than we found it but to achieve this there is much to do to co-ordinate a comprehensive framework that will ensure a fully holistic approach. With clear policies, a long term focus and harnessing business and individuals in terms of their behavioural choices an optimistic future beckons. I am pleased to say, the Conservatives are already leading the way on the wider sustainable agenda having played a key role in the Paris climate change talks (COP21) and committing to phasing out coal fired power stations. In addition under the UN banner we have adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be reached by 2030. These commitments will require substantial financial and human capital investments and major changes in government and business thinking, but they also provide very real opportunities. And now it’s time to act and not just talk.
If we pull together with the joint aim of building on a sustainable future in terms of the food we produce and caring for our precious environment and if this all links in with the general ethos for the whole country we can develop a system to become world leaders in this field and produce a model that others might follow.