This post is by Richard Benwell, head of government affairs at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT).
Last week Matthew Spencer proposed a new British Environment Act to fill the legislative lacuna left by Brexit and set ambitious new environmental standards. He is not alone in calling for a new law.
Last year, a coalition led by RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts proposed a Nature and Wellbeing Bill, which was adopted in the Green Party and Liberal Democrat general election manifestos. ClientEarth has captured the public imagination with a call for a new Clean Air Act. And the Natural Capital Committee, the government’s advisers on nature and economics, say that investing in natural wealth needs legislative underpinning.
And, today, WWT is launching a new report, Rich in nature, which sets out detailed proposals for a Natural Wealth Bill, designed to put the UK’s natural wealth on an equal footing with other aspects of economic wealth. We focus on the government’s manifesto commitment to a 25 year environment plan as a chance for early environmental action by the new government.
The referendum decision caused great concern among environmentalists because it stripped away in a stroke many of our most important environmental protections.
Yet in these suggestions of new laws, perhaps we have a reason to hope.
EU environmental protection wasn’t enough, we could do better
EU environmental protection has been extremely good, but it has not been enough: species are still declining, the air is still heavy with pollution, too many rivers and lakes are still barren of life. With visionary leadership in the UK, there is the chance to create something stronger that can stir action around the world.
The Clean Air Act idea is inspired by British leadership in the 1950s. Matthew’s Environment Act idea conjures a sense of home grown ambition. The natural wealth ideas draw on a field of natural capital accounting where the UK’s academic insights are at the forefront of global thinking. Concepts that bring together nature and wellbeing highlight the importance of environmental equity, which can help to demonstrate the benefits of protecting and improving the environment across social divides.
In other words, from out of the jeopardy of Brexit, there is the opportunity for international environmental leadership by the UK.
Of course, while this is possible, it will not happen automatically. Do nothing, and the prospects for our environment are arguably far worse than they were before the referendum.
Collaboration makes us stronger
So, for Brexit to be a success for the environment, we need to stand together as a sector as never before. Environmental NGOs need to work with their members, with progressive businesses, with forward-thinking politicians and with the wider public to ensure that the environment is at the heart of British politics.
And that’s the other reason for hope. At WWT, we’re delighted that the launch of Rich in nature is being held in association with Green Alliance and Wildlife and Countryside Link. Already, these groups have begun to corral the voices of conservationists and environmentalists large and small, so that together we can stand up for our natural world.
With this kind of unity, we can hope for a strong plan for nature and a British Environment Act that will inspire the world.