Author Archives: Matthew Spencer

What environment and development communities can learn from each other on achieving political impact

22780192163_5b7e9e62c3_kThis post is by Matthew Spencer, former director of Green Alliance and now Oxfam’s director of campaigns and policy.

Before the end of the first week of the UK election campaign, to widespread surprise, Theresa May agreed to the development sector’s main demand to maintain the UK’s 0.7 per cent overseas aid commitment. In contrast, the following week, the government had to be forced to publish its plan to reduce air pollution by a judge so fed up with its delaying tactics that he instructed ministers to ignore election purdah rules. The first decision helps people who live thousands of miles away, the other obstructs action to address something proven to be killing British voters. It should, therefore, be easier to get political leadership on environmental health than on international development, but the reverse appears to be true. Why? Read more

From the rose garden to the referendum: six years leading Green Alliance

PDW_6349.jpgRunning Green Alliance often feels like bare back horse riding. It requires a constant appetite for danger, good balance and lots of trust. You don’t have the padding of a large public membership to keep you stable, but if you channel the support and ideas of the sector you get an exhilarating ride. Read more

Prime Minister May needs a bold plan to protect Britain’s environment post Brexit

British landscape in SummerBritain may be a divided nation but the environment is one thing we all still share. The loss of 40 years of EU environmental agreements will have a detrimental effect on the quality of our rivers, our fields and our lungs. Want to develop a new container port on that estuary? Wait for the European habitat law to go and then you only have to convince the Treasury to overrule guidance by Natural England. Live in an air pollution hotspot? Move out or suck it up, because current British legislation won’t protect you. Read more

We must now avoid a race to the bottom

Beautiful yorkshire dales landscape stunning scenery england ukThe environment community is in shock. Forty years of environmental agreements with our neighbours are now threatened by a vote in which the environment didn’t feature. The electorate voted by a small margin to build higher walls, but walls don’t work in the natural world. Within the next two years we will lose the best enforced nature laws in the world, which the UK did so much to help create.   Read more

Why we should worry more about shoddy toasters than limp toast

ToasterThe Eurosceptic media recently ran a set of stories on the EU’s ecodesign rules, repeating claims by UKIP MEP David Coburn that “EU approved” toasters had ruined his breakfast, and suggesting that many “vital gadgets” could “face the chop”. In fact, toasters aren’t currently regulated under the EU’s Ecodesign Directive, so any difficulty Mr Coburn has had operating his toaster is because he bought a shoddy appliance, not because of the EU. Read more

UK climate strategy: strong ambition followed by weak delivery

Wind Turbine and sun from belowThe recent letter from conservative backbenchers supporting the fifth carbon budget reminds us again that the Climate Change Act is worth its weight in gold. Eight years on from its agreement the act retains strong cross party support, despite concerted attempts to make climate change a partisan issue. Its regular budget setting cycle means the government regularly has to restate and reappraise the longer term direction of the economy. Carbon budgets have provided one of the few points of stability in a period of high policy volatility. Read more

Can city leaders succeed where national politicians fail?

Victoria Square BirminghamThis first appeared in Breakthrough Birmingham: outputs from the UK Green Building Council city summit 2016.

If you despair about the lack of sustainability leadership from Westminster, you may have higher hopes for what city leaders can achieve. London’s mayoral candidates are currently competing to be greener than each other. We haven’t seen this in national politics since 2010 when Cameron ran for election on an explicitly green ticket. But that’s the rub. It proved only a short term boost to UK sustainability. So, are green promises from city leaders likely to be any longer lived? Read more

Seven things you should know about the EU and the environment


Corn bunting1. The EU is also an environment union
The EU was established for economic reasons but has evolved into an environment union.  Threats like air pollution, climate change and habitat loss mean the UK and its neighbours have used the EU to agree over 100 new laws to protect people and the environment. These cover everything from reducing the risk of industrial chemical accidents to protecting rare birds. The EU now has the biggest programme of environmental legislation in the world. Read more

What does the Paris agreement mean for the UK?

1fe618a8-cbea-4c11-843b-acdd28e1d355Few political deals deserve to be called historic but, as President Obama tweeted a few minutes after the gavel came down in Paris, “this is huge”. It’s huge because it’s a global agreement which means every country has to review its effort every five years. Historic because it’s a one way street to net zero emissions, and it will accelerate the low carbon technology shift we are already seeing in the global energy economy. Read more

Coherence is returning to UK energy policy

Stromleitung mit SonneUK energy policy took two big steps forward today, after months of self-inflicted damage by a government unclear about what it wanted to achieve.

There remain some big gaps, most notably on energy efficiency, onshore wind and solar, but we now know a lot more: the government is serious about coal phase out and it will give offshore wind a fair crack at the whip. The first two building blocks of its energy policy have been put in place. Read more

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