MPs give ‘red card’ to Government’s green record

The UK's self-proclaimed 'Greenest Government Ever' has been given a 'red card' for its limited progress in reducing air pollution, protecting biodiversity and preventing flooding.

A new scorecard assessment of the Coalition’s green policies, detailed in a new report from the Environmental Audit Committee, calls for the creation of an independent body – the ‘Office for Environmental Responsibility’ – to oversee the implementation of a number of new legal commitments to protect the environment. (Scroll down for full report).

“Our inquiry provides a wide-ranging examination of the state of the environment and shows that further and continued effort is required to protect it properly,” explained the Committee’s chair Joan Walley MP. “A dedicated, wide-ranging ‘Environmental Strategy’ is needed to ensure the Government meets the requirements to protect human health and the natural world.”

Flooding protection

Following the widespread and persistent flooding last winter, the Committee’s report supports calls for the Government to help businesses and communities become more flood-resilient. It states that climate change ‘appears to be driving an increase in extreme weather’, including sudden heavy rainfall, and rising sea levels which will put pressure on coastal defences.

The Environment Agency and local defences protected properties in approximately 1.3 million instances, but 2.4 million properties are still at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea, and three million from surface water.

Air pollution

The Committee found that the emissions of a number of airborne pollutants increased last year, after being steady between 2010 and 2012 and in a longer term decline before that. Earlier this summer, Defra reassessed the time needed to meet nitrogen dioxide limits, stating that Greater London and two other areas ‘would not meet the required levels until after 2030’.

“A whole generation of young people in our cities will potentially have their health impaired by pollution before the Government meets air quality safety standards,” added Walley. “That is not acceptable. We need to see much more urgent action in this area and we will be looking at this area in more detail when we publish the results of our inquiry later this year.”

Key responsibilities

The report concludes that the Government should set up the Office for Environmental Responsibility, which should be responsible for: –

  • Reviewing the Environment Strategy the Committee advocates 
  • Advising Government on appropriate targets 
  • Advising Government on policies – both those in Government programmes and new ones that could be brought forward to support the environment 
  • Advising Government about the adequacy of the resources (in both central and local government) made available for delivering the Strategy 

Monitoring and publishing performance against the Strategy and its targets

Commenting on the report, Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said: “It’s little surprise that MPs believe the government is failing the environment – the Coalition’s green record is abysmal.

“Time and again Ministers have bent over backwards to make life easier for big polluters, such as oil and fracking firms, while consistently undermining efforts to develop the UK’s vast clean energy potential.

“Add to that its absurd opposition to the European-wide ban on bee-harming chemicals, the blocking of EU energy efficiency moves and tolerance of climate change denial from its backbenches and you have a pretty sorry picture.

“The Prime Minister’s decision to engage again with climate change by attending next week’s summit in New York is a welcome step forward, but real leadership requires action at home – not more hot air.”

Yesterday, a separate report from the Energy & Climate Change Committee argued that the Government must now consider new incentives to encourage energy efficiency after its Green Deal initiative has failed to attract enough potential customers in its first 18 months. Read more here.

Luke Nicholls

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