Think tank urges UK Government to go green

The UK Government needs to make the environment a higher political priority, a pamphlet published by the Labour-affiliated think tank, the Fabian Society, has said.

New Labour gives the impression that it doesn’t regard environmental issues as important, the pamphlet Environmental Modernisation: The New Labour Agenda warns. But part of the fault lies with the environmental pressure groups, who have become too closely linked to ‘green’ ideology.

Michael Jacobs, General Secretary of the Fabian Society, argues in the pamphlet that both the environmental movement and the Government need to present environmental issues in ways which better reflect the aspirations of ordinary people and global business trends. The Government’s environmental record is good in some areas, but leading ministers, including the Prime Minister do not see it as a priority. In several fields – climate change, transport, biotechnology and GM foods – key decisions are looming which will test the Government’s commitment, the pamphlet says.

The pamphlet argues that environmental issues should be a central part of the Government’s modernisation programme. The Government should be emphasising that raising ‘environmental productivity’ – the efficiency with which business use resources – is an essential part of making the British economy more competitive. British firms need to raise their levels of investment and innovation, the pamphlet says. The world market in environmental technologies and services is £270Bn pa and will grow by 50% over the next decade, with considerable potential for new jobs. But the DTI must make this a priority. The pamphlet calls for the appointment of an ‘Environmental Business Envoy,’ the development of sectoral strategies with key industries and support for innovation in environmental technologies. It calls for the Treasury to introduce an accelerated depreciation allowance for innovative environmental technologies.

The pamphlet argues that food and health will be the new flashpoints of public environmental concern, as BSE and GM foods have shown. New ‘hormone disrupting’ chemicals are likely to emerge as the next issue. The pamphlet warns that the government is in danger of losing public trust on its management of risk issues such as GM foods. It calls for the creation of a new independent ‘Commission on Environmental Risk’ to inform and promote public debate.

The pamphlet argues that the Government should present environmental issues to middle England in terms of improving the quality of life, particularly in urban areas: air quality, traffic congestion, children’s road safety. It calls for spending on public transport to be increased before congestion charging is introduced, and for the building of a new generation of New Towns.

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