Kirsty Finlayson is Director of Communications for the British Conservation Alliance, which launches today. She is a solicitor and has previously stood as a Conservative candidate in the 2017 General Election and the 2019 European Election.
Millennials like me routinely consider the environment our number one concern. Yet this issue has been hijacked by the Left for far too long. What is more conservative than conserving the air that we breathe, the water that we drink and the animals that we share our planet with? Our traditional values include the principle to defend for the next generation. Conservative members tend to agree, on the whole, that nationalisation of industries, subsidy-regimes and large-scale government intervention will not solve the environmental crises that we face. Encouragement and empowerment of individuals and business is often key to harnessing real change for the long-term.
We must do more to ensure that this message comes across to a new generation of voters who are massively concerned with the future of the planet’s natural resources and wildlife. That is why I am excited to have joined the British Conservation Alliance, a new non-profit organisation for millennials to engage on the principles of pro-market environmentalism and “conservative conservation”. Our shared beliefs stem from the revolutionary idea that economic and environmental successes are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to harness both the power of the free market and the beauty of our environment to benefit everyone in society. Whereas environmental activism has historically shunned anyone right-of-centre, the British Conservation Alliance is acting to recapture market-based solutions to encourage people live more green-conscious lives.
The Conservative Party has already achieved so much to protect the environment, but these actions have all too often been drowned out by the lefties. It has been a Tory Government who introduced a £140 million fund for developing countries to cope with global warming, ended the exemption for small shops from England’s five-pence plastic bag charge and explored plastic-free aisles in supermarkets.
Looking to the future, it is a Tory Government who will lead global innovation in sustainable plastics, helping support our best entrepreneurs, scientists and businesses to develop the solutions and industries of tomorrow, whilst improving our environment at the same time. It is a Tory Government who will encourage our financial sector to invest more in sustainable projects to establish London as the pre-eminent international centre for green finance, introduce an expectation for listed companies to disclose how climate change impacts their work and launch the Green Finance Institute with the City of London to foster greater cooperation between the public and private sector. And it is a Tory Government that is establishing a £5 million Green Home Finance Fund to help pilot products like green mortgages (using green finance for home energy efficiency) and energy efficiency retrofit (to make homes more environmentally sustainable).
But we must ensure a bottom-up approach bringing individuals and businesses along the journey. I recall a trip to a convenience store during my East Ham General Election campaign, where one business owner was deeply concerned about being forced to accept returned plastic bottles at the till and store them for collection, proving a logistical and health and safety nightmare for his small corner shop.
Our Prime Minister’s new government must:
- Champion green business. Let’s give businesses incentives rather than penalties to reduce their use of single-use plastics and increase their use of green energy. We have recently seen the positive impact of charging for single-use cups, reflecting the success of the plastic bag charge; let’s extend the plastic bag charge for smaller businesses where there is wide support from the Association of Convenience Stores, allowing smaller businesses to keep the profits.
- Empower the individual. In one Conservative Association I visited recently, councillors proposed the idea of providing lower car parking charges to those using electric vehicles. Local government as well as central government can provide a carrot rather than stick approach to embracing alternative energy supplies.
- Protect wildlife. The Government has set out how developers should protect much-loved British wildlife, so that building the homes this country needs does not come at the expense of our natural heritage. We must do the same on agricultural land encouraging areas of re-wilding which have a positive impact on both land use and surrounding nature. There are huge opportunities to rethink how farmland is managed with the potential overhaul of the Common Agricultural Policy.
- Encourage brownfield building. House building should not come at the expense of protecting our green and pleasant land. As outlined in Oliver Letwin’s 2018 report, greater incentives for faster development must be given to both councils and developers to build on brown field sites where there are alternatives to green belt development.
- Translate the ‘Blue Planet’ phenomenon into ‘Blue Britain’. Last year’s coverage of Lewis Pugh’s swim from Land’s End to Dover highlighted the sad truth that of the 750,000 square kilometres of seas around the UK, only seven square kilometres are fully protected. We can protect our seas and national parks through designated land and maritime protection schemes which work with local fishermen and communities.
- Give young people a voice. The British Conservation Alliance is launching a campus network of volunteers to provide each ambassador the skills to be the pro-environmental voice at their school, college or university.
And what about that tiresome argument that delivering Brexit will lead to deregulation? Not only can we ensure that standards on clean air, water and soil be maintained post-Brexit, but after Brexit, with autonomy over our own laws, we can be as strict as we need about over-fishing of certain species, re-planting woodland during infrastructure projects or incentives for businesses using clean energy.
It is time for those who believe in market and conservative principles to take charge of the debate, emphasise our commitment to the environment and to show that our values are fully capable of being climate-compatible. We are all the stewards of this beautiful planet of ours and have a moral imperative to keep it clean, thriving and in harmony with human development. Let’s break the left-wing monopoly on environmental issues, now.