Final fling of a government of lost opportunities

| 6th June 2014
Our green and pleasant land deserves better than this! Photo: Matthew via Flickr.
Our green and pleasant land deserves better than this! Photo: Matthew via Flickr.
The Government has let down Britain with its repeated failures to seize the opportunities of green growth, healthy local food, better housing, environmental protection - and is instead pinning all its hopes on flawed, outmoded ideologies that betray our futures.
Few of us ever quite believed the 'greenest government ever' promise ... But we never thought it would be quite so bad as this.

There was one element in the Queen's Speech that you might have missed.

If you did, it's hardly surprising - it came at the end of the delivery, by an understandably depressed looking monarch, of an almost empty programme.

That was the part where the Queen, on behalf of David Cameron and Nick Clegg, said "my ministers will also champion efforts to secure a global agreement on climate change."

Yet it deserves attention because it helps draw attention to the fact that the actions of this "greenest government ever" are profoundly, totally, at odds with its own professed commitment to environmental issues, particularly dealing with climate change.

In fact, when political historians look back on the Coalition, what they're likely to remark on most is not its structure, but that it presided over 'five lost climate years'.

What happened to our 'green economy'?

These are the five years after the Climate Change Act of 2008 in which Britain went backwards in its commitment to cutting carbon emissions and threw away opportunity after opportunity to create jobs, develop technologies and build businesses in renewable energy and energy generation - leaving behind a policy vacuum that the next government is going to have to fill fast.

Instead of giving the renewables sector the long term policy stability needed to attract investment, it has created confusion and uncertainly, undermining confidence through ill thought out policy flips. 

Result: this is the government that has left us ranked 26th out of 28th in Europe for percentage of energy generated from renewables. Well - at least we're ahead of Malta and Luxembourg.

Meanwhile China, the US and our European neighbours power ahead with wind and solar, leaving us far behind.

And then, they just made it even worse

The proposals in the Queen's Speech for the Infrastructure Bill contains about as climate-unfriendly a collection of measures as could possibly be imagined.

The Infrastructure Bill, with championing of fracking and roadbuilding, has caused widespread outrage, especially over the plan to allow fracking companies to trespass under private land pursuit of gas -including our homes and gardens.

The plan to reduce standards for 'zero-carbon' homes, allowing offsite 'carbon offsetting' of emissions, has also been met with derision and incredulity - especially as the energy performance of the UK's housing stock is among the worst in Western Europe.

And the lack of a promised Forests Bill, to prevent public woodlands from being sold off, and to put their ownership and management in the public interest on a secure long term footing, was a further disappointment, and a betrayal of past promises.

A Forests Bill was first promised in 2013 - so why it was not included now in this sparse legislative programme is a mystery, especially as it would have been a clear vote-winner. As the Woodland Trust comments,

"We are frankly perplexed why the Coalition didn't choose to take what would have been seen as a very positive step by the many thousands of opponents to the proposed sell off of the Public Forest Estate."

5p on some plastic bags won't save the world

As for the promised levy on single-use plastic bags in supermarkets, with its confusing exclusion of biodegradable bags, only invites the label 'too little too late'.

And more, these were five years when the government missed the opportunity to rebuild in other ways - to bring manufacturing and food production back to Britain, preparing for a low-carbon world. The model of globalised production of basic essentials has hit the buffers in part due to the rising cost of transport.

'Reshoring', the returning of production back to Britain, is happening -but in spite of, not because of the policies of a government still firmly in the grip of the fraud-ridden financial sector, and the failed convinction Britain can earn its way on banks and services, and forget producing the essentials of life.

Committed to stripping away environmental protection

This government will also surely be remembered for its commitment to the removal of regulation to protect the environment on which our economy is entirely dependent, including its attempts to wriggle out of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives.

George Monbiot has this week done a fine job of exposing the damage done to our soils by this government's actions. The government has also utterly failed to provide the protection our seas so desperately need to give them a chance to recover from centuries of depredation.

It is also a government determined to force genetically modifed crops and food on us all, although neither consumers nor retailers want anything to do with it. The policy appears to be driven entirely by agrochemical companies and the handful of land barons that dominate the National Farmers Union.

Few of us ever quite believed the "greenest government ever" promise, and we mostly viewed Cameron's 'hug a husky' initiative with the scepticism it deserved.

But we never thought it would be quite so bad as this: 'the government of lost opportunities'. The sooner it comes to an end, the better for us all.



Natalie Bennett is Leader of the Green Party of England & Wales.

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