The Prime Minister’s latest intervention in the EU referendum campaign illustrates how the environment is taking its place in the modern political canon. Speaking from the RSPB’s Rainham Marshes nature reserve, Cameron noted how our EU membership underpins crucial environmental protections, and talked about the importance of nurturing Britain’s countryside and wildlife. At the same time, his speech, if not his words, demonstrated that environmentalists are important too.
The environmental charities RSPB and WWF, representing 1.7 million people, joined Cameron today in making the green case for EU membership. Dwarfing the size of the UK’s political parties, these organisations are a manifestation of the British passion for nature. Our green and pleasant land has inspired our most treasured poets, playwrights and presenters, from Shakespeare’s sceptred isle to daffodil-loving Wordsworth and of course Sir David Attenborough.
But the environmental community is not just a bunch of panda-hugging, poetry-spouting, muddy-booted enthusiasts. It’s a potent political force.
Preserving our environment is something everyone can agree on
That’s because it bridges conventional political gulfs. We saw this last year when the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition agreed to work together across party lines to tackle climate change, collectively signing a pledge before the general election. It is in no party’s long term interests to undermine the foundation of our wellbeing and future productivity.
We saw this again in the London mayoral campaign, when the major candidates were in a green race to the top, promising to roll out solar panels across the city and protect the green belt. Following words with deeds, Sadiq Khan’s very first action as mayor was to increase the size of London’s clean air zone more than two-fold.
That’s because green issues really matter to people, and smart politicians know they have to listen to their electorates.
The EU provides vital protection
But protecting the environment is a long-term game, and a week is famously a long time in politics. The EU has been a crucial backstop, sticking up for the cleanliness of our beaches and the survival of our bitterns. As the overwhelming majority of environmental leaders have argued, the environmental benefits of staying in the EU are clear-cut.
And the Brexiters are failing to provide any convincing counter-arguments. The RSPB’s chief executive, Mike Clarke, has noted that “no one from the ‘Leave’ campaign has yet been able to reassure us that we wouldn’t need to start again from scratch were we to leave the EU. What will happen to nature in the meantime?”
In a changing, interconnected world, joining forces with our neighbours makes sense, and the environment is a prime reason to do so. Nature, as well as air pollution and toxic chemicals, know no borders, and we’ll only tackle major global challenges like climate change by working together.
But today has been a reminder that not only does the environment need policy; politicians need environmentalists too.