In the excitement of the planning reform debate I forgot to profile a significant new report on the UK Govenment's climate change commitments - Climate Check. This is one half of our assessment of whether the government is living up to the Prime Minister's ambition, stated on 14 May 2010, to be the "greenest government ever". The second assessment - Nature Check - will be published shortly.
Climate Check was launched a couple of weeks ago. But, as it is the topic of fringe meetings at each of the party conferences, I feel justified in talking about it now.
The report was published by think tank Green Alliance in conjunction with WWF, Christian Aid, Greenpeace and RSPB. It is the product of five months’ research and extensive discussions with over 40 officials and ministers across Whitehall. It assessed the progress that the UK Government has made against the climate change commitments that it has made.
The conclusion was that the government has made either moderate or no progress on 22 of its 29 low-carbon commitments. The study suggested there are low levels of support for the government’s low carbon agenda in the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and concluded that major opportunities to generate green jobs and increase investor confidence in the low carbon sector are being missed.
The 48-page report examined progress across 11 departments and concludes:
As well as assessing the government’s low-carbon record so far, Climate Check identifies three big opportunities which would help the government fulfil its stated goal to ‘decarbonise the economy and support the creation of new green jobs and technologies’.
These involve increasing cross-government accountability for the transition towards a low-carbon economy and boosting the Prime Minister’s engagement on both the international and domestic agendas.
Commenting at the time, Mike Clarke, the RSPB's Chief Executive said:
“There is a common thread running between the Government’s underwhelming performance on climate change, and its current, flawed approach to planning reform. We are seeing a clear conflict at the heart of the Coalition between green growth and economic growth at any cost.”
In short, the verdict is - could do a lot better.
And on nature? Well, you'll have to wait a few more days...
Some things are easier said than done.
I was struck by Ed Miliband's new soundbite "something for something". The idea that if you are given something then you should be expected to offer something in return. We've had our own soundbite which has informed our approach to many policy debates: public money for public goods. This is central to our arguments for reform of the Common Agriculture Policy. It explains why we are so keen for an increase in CAP payments to farmers which reward them for delivering an attractive countryside rich in wildlife - goods and services from which the public will benefit.
But, CAP reform is caught up in a wider debate about the future of the European Budget. I have blogged on this before and will do so again as this is the subject of a fringe at which I shall be speaking in Manchester this weekend (yes, the Conservative Party conference is just round the corner).
The European Budget needs to be agreed by the end of 2013. That seems like a long way off. Surely, we can expect agreement quicker than that? Alas, as we know too well, European negotiations are challenging. More than that - at times they feel like a social experiment. Let's take 27 different countries, each with their own culture, priorities and history and let's come up with a deal which we can all live on the subject of money during the worst economic crisis since, well since the last one. You begin to see why it might be touch and go to secure a deal within the next 27 months.
What's my point?
The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are caused by humans. And, it is only humans that can get us out of this mess. Influencing change in policy, legislation, attitudes and behaviour is at the heart of the environment movement's agenda. So we need to be smarter about the way we work with other members of our own species.
This week, two brilliant RSPB colleauges are setting off to the Panama climate change negotiations. This will be the last set of negotiations before the Ministerial conference in Durban in December when 192 countries will be trying to hammer out a global deal on climate change. While the economic crisis has distracted attention from the dangers of climate change, globally humans are emittting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than ever before. We are on course for a global increase of four degrees or perhaps even more by 2070. If we reach this the future looks bleak for us and for wildlife – achieving a global climate deal has never been more important.
And that means convincing politicians around the world to do things which may go against their short term interests but are in the long term interest of the planet.
So, if you have ever emerged from a meeting a little battered, bruised and possibly even grumpy with colleagues, spare a thought for those that are trying to agree the EU Budget or those that need to hammer out a climate change deal which satisfies 192 countries. And then think about what it takes to influence those talks.
According to Aristotle, the means of persuasion can be found in pathos, logos and ethos: passion, logic and empathy. This makes sense to me. And we shall need this is spades if we are to learn to live with each other in harmony with nature.
If you spend time thinking about family, you unleash a Pandora’s box of emotions: blood is thicker than water, sibling rivalry, remember to celebrate the success of others, don’t live your life through your children - nurture them and let them go etc.
The RSPB is part of a wider family – it’s called the Birdlife International partnership. At a RSPB Council meeting yesterday, BirdLife’s Chief Executive, Marco Lambertini, gave a powerful and inspirational overview of the work of our family.
This is a large family - made up of 10 million voices in 120 countries. It is a family that spends a lot of money - $502 million annually on nature conservation. But it is a family on a mission – to prevent the extinction of species. The mission is challenging – one in eight of all bird species are currently categorised as ‘threatened’.
But, this is a family that knows what it needs to do. It has identified 11,000 sites (called Important Bird Areas) in 218 countries which need protecting.
We, the RSPB, are just one member of that family, but we have our own part to play: to help save nature in our own (UK) back yard and support other members of our family to achieve our goals. That’s why we actively support a large number of partners in countries from India to Indonesia and Sierra Leone to the Seychelles.
When the family has a problem, we close ranks and try to help out. That is what it means to be part of a family. We help each other out when we need it and together we are stronger.
I just must remember to tell the kids that the next time they are squabbling over a board game...
I don't get to wear my wellies as much as I'd like, but when I do, you'll be pleased to know that I've not opted for polka dots or stripes. Instead, my trusty green, comfortable pair come with me when I get out and about to the RSPB's nature reserves, and they are as stylish as needs be!
Wellington boots used to last a lifetime. But thanks to the likes of Kate Moss and her festival pals wearing them as their fashion item of choice, it's out with the old and in with the new much more frequently nowadays.
But instead of simply throwing them away, festival-goers, gardeners and fashionistas are being urged to put their worn-out wellies to good use by donating them to an RSPB nature reserve.
Saltholme, the RSPB's wildlife reserve and discovery park near Middlesbrough, is appealing for old wellies to use for autumn and early winter activities.
Donated wellies will be turned into mini gardens, used to guide visitors around the wildlife reserve, and a host of other ingenious uses.
Visitors to the site will be able to test their arm in the welly-wanging arena (now that's a phrase that you need to type with care), post a wildlife wish on the Welly Wish Tree and check on the waterproof qualities of their wellies by stomping through the specially-constructed welly-splash.
So anyone who can bear to part with their wellies in the knowledge that they'll be going to a good home, can take them along or post them to the wildlife reserve and discovery park.
I can just picture my size elevens transformed now; some nice primroses, a bit of heather, and maybe even a trail of ivy coming out of the hole in the toe...
I remember a meeting in early 1997 when Michael Meacher (the then shadow Environment Secretary) summed up the trials of opposition. He said, “For eighteen years, I have woken up and thought what am I going to say today. I look forward to waking up and thinking what am I going to do today.”
This week, in Liverpool, the Labour party will be doing a lot of talking. Talking about what they would do if they were in power now and talking about how they can develop a policy agenda which will help them return to government.
And that must be right. The first job of opposition is – to oppose. Any government needs a strong opposition to keep it on track.
NGOs have some things in common with opposition parties. We cannot decide new policies and laws but we can tell governments what we think they should do with their time in power. Alas, it is up to governments whether they decide to listen or not.
But unlike opposition parties, we can make the world a better place through managing our nature reserves, working with landmanagers and fishermen and by providing more people to have contact with nature.
This is not meant to be a eulogy in favour of the charity sector.
We can have sympathy and some empathy for parties when they lose power. So, we will continue to work with the Labour party as it searches for its way back to government.
I hope that the party remembers the many good things that it achieved while in government – new laws to tackle climate change and to improve the protection of our finest wildlife sites on land and at sea; more money for farmers who manage their land for wildlife and a definition of sustainable development that established the idea of living within environmental limits through a sustainable economy.
The sustainable development strategy of 2005 (topical again in the context of the current debate about the future of land use planning) was radical, but unfortunately never really respected. Too often, economic ambitions resulted in policies (such as the proposed new runway at Heathrow) which were inconsistent with environmental objectives.
One thing is certain - we will, as we do with any political party, share our best ideas for the future. We want parties to find a new policy agenda that helps create an economy that furthers rather than degrades the natural environment.