Government must show climate leadership
The 2019 general election results are in and we have a new government.
For political junkies like me, the national election campaign has been a mixed experience, often draining and divisive, and increasingly difficult to separate out reality from fake news.
But there’s been real campaigning energy in constituencies and local community debates on the environment – we even had the UK’s first ever election debate centred on the climate. Many will feel that a strong political response to the public’s enthusiasm on climate issues was lost amongst campaign rhetoric.
We need urgent action to tackle the climate, nature and health crises
The new Conservative government now has an opportunity to show leadership by transforming farming, forestry and food policy. This means joining up the dots between the system change needed to achieve sustainable farming and land use and the change needed to achieve genuinely healthy diets, as well as halving needless food waste.
We called for this in our pre-election manifesto asks. People, organisations and farming bodies need to work together to make this a reality. We know it’s possible. The Soil Association and its supporters can be a powerful lobbying force for environmental change.
Our new government must appoint food and farming ministers with a positive track record on environmental issues. We will continue to work with them to drive real change and urgent action on the climate, nature and health crises we face today.
UK must show global climate leadership
Our progress on tackling the climate emergency will become clear when Glasgow hosts the global climate summit in 2020. The time is now to show the UK as a global leader in addressing the climate and nature emergencies.
We must put nature-based solutions at the heart of a future farm policy that is good for climate, nature and farm businesses. The government has pledged £640 million over 5 years for peatlands and trees in a "Nature for Climate" fund. This is a good start, but it is worth noting that £2.5 billion has also been pledged for potholes over the same period…
Trade deals must not undermine UK high food and farm standards
The pressure to secure new trade deals, after a rapid withdrawal from the EU, puts our ability to lead on climate issues at risk.
Previous Ministers have committed to protecting our food, farming and environmental standards. Will they hold firm when they face leaders in the USA, Brazil and Australia? If we make trade deals with world leaders who deny climate change, we risk undermining UK farmers with high food and farming standards. This will also make it harder to improve standards here.
UK farmers already have some of the highest standards in the world, but we need to go even further. We will make the case that organic farming, agroforestry (trees on farms) and other nature-friendly agroecological farming approaches have a strong part to play. These systems should become the baseline on which we build, the foundation of a productive, resource-efficient, environment enhancing food chain – and that means diets will need to change too.
Build on previous commitments
The previous government has already set out some ambitious plans to transform food and farming policy. Here are some urgent priorities to start delivering on these:
- The Office for Environmental Protection must be impartial and able to hold governments to account. They should be able to fine them for failures, much like the European courts have done.
- Protecting nature needs long-term strategies. The 25-year Environment Plan is a good start but needs the right legislation to reverse the nature crisis and degradation of our soil.
- The Clean Air Strategy must help farmers reverse their climbing ammonia emissions and we need nature-based solutions to do so.
- The National Food Strategy must set out a transformation to our diets for health and sustainability.
- The Hospital Food Review has stalled due to the election. Its proposals are essential to improve NHS food.
This government has promised a greener Britain outside of the European Union. Given Europe’s strong environmental track record, this sets the bar high for UK leadership.
A ten-year transition to nature-friendly farming (known as agroecology) in the UK must be a cornerstone of the response to the climate, health and nature crises. Energised by our community and our alliances, we will make sure it is, and hold the government to account on their promises.