Last week the Conservative Party announced its new plan to tackle our environmental issues over the next 25 years. In this article, Katie assesses some of the strengths and weaknesses of these Tory policies and questions whether they are doing enough.

Will the Conservatives’ ‘25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’ really lead to a green future?

picture from CIWM Journal

Climate change and the environment are clearly incredibly important issues in the modern world, with temperatures globally breaking records, sea levels rising at their fastest rate in 2,000 years and glaciers melting at an unprecedented speed. This crisis is also contributing to other serious problems facing our world, as climate change related hazards have forcibly displaced over 21.5 million people since 2008. Due to many horrifying statistics like these coming to light people in Britain and across the globe are beginning to change their lifestyles. This is especially important in the UK as it has been proven that we, along with China, the United States, Germany and Japan, already consume twice the amount of resources than we provide. Clearly Britain is in need of drastic and transformative climate change policies. On January 11th the Conservative government introduced their plan entitled ‘A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’. Will this be the game changer that we so desperately need or is it just a half-hearted and futile attempt?

Arguably the most significant policy in the plan is the introduction of the 5p plastic bag charge in all shops, including small shops that had initially been exempt from the charge. This change will impact 3.4 billion plastic bags meaning that hopefully billions less will be used in the next few years. This could be a fabulous step forward given the detrimental effect on the environment that plastic has been proven to have, including the use of fossil fuels in its production and plastic pollution in the air and ocean. The economic impact of this policy is also very significant. Over the next decade the scheme is predicted to raise over £780 million for the government, partly due to a £60 million saving on litter clean-up costs and a £13 million saving on carbon. Evidently, this policy will have a positive impact on both Britain’s economy and the environment.

In keeping with the theme of reducing plastic production and waste the government has also promised to encourage plastic free supermarket aisles, aisles in which all food is sold loose. They are promising that by 2042 there will be no avoidable plastic packaging in supermarkets. If achieved, this will be an important development in combatting climate change. However, they have not set out comprehensive guidelines for shops to achieve this and no incentive for them to do so. This illustrates that although in theory the government’s plans intend to do good, in practice they are too tentative and unspecific to create any real change. The government’s cautiousness is also shown in their promise to create more habitat for wildlife, reassuring people that ‘the environment department will investigate establishing 500,000 extra hectares of wildlife habitat’. Evidently this is an empty promise, committing to nothing concrete whilst suggesting that the government intends to make great strides, only just not yet. This shows that although on the surface the plan will make some positive impacts, it lacks the substance and specifics necessary to encourage businesses and the general public to get involved and therefore in the long run will certainly not transform the environment.

This is also clear when you analyse what is missing from the 25-year plan. Surprisingly, there is no mention of how the government intends to increase rates of recycling or mention of the introduction of a levy on disposable coffee cups. Recycling could have been a key focus of the plan, especially given that in 2015 recycling rates dropped for the first time in over a decade, and with the correct messaging and incentives the government could have used this plan to encourage more and more households to recycle. This would have had a very significant impact on improving our environment as recycling is one of the single best things that any individual can do to combat climate change. Recycling saves important natural resources, energy and helps decrease the amount of waste going into landfill sites. The absence of an aim to increase recycling rates in the UK demonstrates how this government plan is too bare to have real long-term effects. It is missing out a policy that will be sure to be at the forefront of any noteworthy future environment proposals.

This future proposal will also certainly contain a levy or even a ban on disposable coffee cups, as only 1 in 400 of these are recycled. Due to this statistic disposable coffee cups are a considerable contributor to landfill waste and given that a person could so easily make their own coffee at home or ask a barista to make the coffee in their own flask, it seems ridiculous that the government hasn’t tackled what could be a relatively easily solved problem. This shortcoming demonstrates that while the government are happy taking small steps in the right direction, any game changing policies, which may initially be negatively received by paying customers or big companies, will be a long time coming as they are not yet brave enough to take those more radical leaps. For any true environmentalist who feels that climate change is the greatest threat that our generation faces this ‘25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’ is not the answer to all their prayers. Sadly, we will just have to wait for when the inclination to protect and preserve the world for future generations outweighs our obsession with ease and consumption today.

By Katie Wharton