We can’t afford Tory inaction: Labour has a plan for nature recovery

Sue Hayman

Alarm bells are ringing ever louder as the climate debate ice sculpture continues to melt, with no sign during this general election that the Conservatives have taken in the emergency and understood the urgent need for action.

Around one million species are threatened with extinction – more than ever before in human history. This is the planet’s sixth wave of extinction but the first that is down to humanity. The latest RSPB State of Nature Report revealed that one in seven species are at risk of extinction, and 58% of all species are in decline.

Daily reports show climate and environmental degradation taking hold, in the grip of the dangerous feedback loops scientists predicted. Even in temperate Britain, extreme weather, storms, flooding and wildfires are alarmingly more frequent, hitting communities and farmland where flood prevention and protection have been badly neglected.  

In their complacency, the Tories would have us believe that we just each need to share the guilt and take responsibility for our individual carbon squandering and environmentally damaging choices. But their superficial offers and lack of structural solutions have plunged us deeper into environmental breakdown. Our communities, wildlife and environment simply cannot afford another Conservative government.

The Tories have supported fracking and the badger cull. They have effectively banned onshore wind, slashed solar energy support, and even put VAT on solar panels. A decade of austerity has had a huge impact on frontline environmental protection, cutting it beyond the bone, leaving Natural England’s staff barely coping to deliver basic statutory requirements.  

Inspections and monitoring of even the most precious habitats have dwindled almost to non-existence. The Natural Capital Committee recently concluded that only half of our habitats meet minimum quality targets, with bees, butterflies, birds and bats continuing to decline. 

Just as in the peacetime recovery of 1945, the scale and urgency of our response demands massive public investment, not just voluntary private action and cheap political gimmicks. So, our nature recovery plan goes hand in hand with the Green Industrial Revolution, creating sustainable new industries and combining nature recovery with economic regeneration.  

The Plan for Nature headline that seemed to get most traction was the investment of £2.5 billion in planting two billion trees – in native mixed woodland, agroforestry, street and park trees, an NHS forest, as well as commercial planting for a significantly expanded timber trade.  But our Plan for Nature is about much more than trees.  

Right across food and farming, the plan encompasses net zero carbon food production, resilience to extreme weather and nature recovery. We commit to transform farm support payments, reduce pesticides and emissions, expand local fruit and vegetable growing and access to land. We will transform our food system to end the shocking scandal of the rise in foodbank demand, the obesity and diabetes epidemic, and obscene levels of food waste.  And, we also commit to embed environmental and animal welfare standards, not be whittled away or undercut in the type of deal the Tories are discussing in 500 pages of detail with Trump’s trade officials.

I am privileged to live in a beautiful and inspiring environment, representing a Lake District constituency. Our National Parks are beautiful landscapes, but they have also suffered severe resource cuts. In this climate and environment emergency, our commitment is to restore funding and make nature recovery their central purpose. Creating ten new National Parks and putting them at the heart of reversing species decline and pioneering natural climate solutions. 

Our £4.5bn investment in waste and recycling systems will kickstart the transition to a truly circular economy. The Tories have yet to ban single use items with no deposit return scheme until 2023, but every day another 700,000 plastic bottles end up on our streets.  Stalled recycling rates, little infrastructure investment, waste shipped overseas with inadequate controls, and fly-tipping going backwards, over one million incidents, the highest in ten years. 

They have not even acted effectively to clean up the air poisoning our children’s lungs, with 38 million people living within areas of illegal air pollution. Labour will bring in an effective Clean Air Act and a scrappage scheme so that the clean-up costs do not fall on those who can least afford to make the change.

But our leadership on nature recovery will focus on the international stage as well as at home. Labour will build the concerted international action we need to take to restore and recover our oceans. It is Labour that has taken the bold step of promoting the adoption of a new international crime of ecocide.

Launching our Plan for Nature, Jeremy Corbyn said: “We are living in the jaws of a climate and environment emergency. We cannot afford more wasted years of Conservative inaction from a government bought and paid for by the big polluters and the billionaires.”

A Labour government will invest nearly £10bn over the next ten years in natural solutions to climate change, to recover our islands’ biodiversity, reduce waste and protect vulnerable habitats and species.

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