Should Environmental Policy Be Separate From Government?

houses of parliament

After reading Tony Juniper’s latest book on the economic benefits we get from nature (you can read my review here), one of the things that really struck a chord with me was how, in the final chapter, he talks about the short-termist approach taken by governments and how this was counter to the long term thinking required for sufficient action to be taken on climate change.

Now I have had similar thoughts myself but Juniper confirmed that there may well be a case to answer.

I’m not going to sit here and say that the short term fortunes of the country and its residents are not important because they clearly are and, in general, it is short term policies that governments get voted in and out of office on.

So I’m not so much criticising governments for thinking short term but rather concluding that a subject matter such as climate change that requires a genuine long term approach should not be in direct control of politicians.

The debate over fracking for shale gas is a prime example – George Osborne seems fairly adamant that tapping reserves of shale gas under the UK will play a role in the UK’s future energy needs despite the fact that many analysts say we need to decarbonise the energy industry by 2030 (a target which was recently failed to make it through the Commons). Without the rapid emergence of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, even burning gas for our energy needs (which is far cleaner than burning coal) is not compatible with such a decarbonisation target.

What’s more, once the infrastructure is built and costs are irrevocably sunk into the industry, it becomes even harder to change course. Indeed, private companies will only invest in fracking if the government provides long term guarantees of domestic demand for gas.

So given that Osborne is fairly climate sceptic, pro fracking and seemingly the driving force behind the governments anti-wind agenda, should he really be partly responsible for the country’s environmental policy?

Surely it makes more sense to put all of this in the hands of an organisation that is completely separate from the government and party politics. Sure, the government can help to forge targets for things such as emissions and resource efficiency (i.e. recycling and waste) but this separate body should then be responsible for creating a long term blueprint for meeting the targets? This blueprint would be one that is based on projections and sound scientific evidence rather than personal views or political lobbying.

Given a budget, such an organisation could then weigh up the various options and put in place a well considered plan and spend the money where it most makes sense to do so.

If it believed, based on the evidence on offer, that fracking was a good thing then fair enough; if they decided to pump more money into energy efficiency then so be it – I would trust what they say a lot more than I would any politician.

And they would not be held back by short term thinking and winning votes at the next election – they could just get on with things in the long term national interest.

To be clear, I am not talking about an advisory body such as the Sustainable Development Commissions (abolished as part of coalition spending cuts in 2010) but rather a fully fledged decision maker with a budget to spend on actual policies.

I’m not even sure that the carbon budgets introduced as part of the 2008 Climate Change Act are enough because in all honesty, what happens if we fail to meet these targets? Diddly squat as far as I’m concerned – a slap on the governmental wrists at most. It has already been said elsewhere that we are likely to fail to meet these targets because of current government policy.

I guess I am possibly missing a reason why this does not and could not happen – I am not an expert on governments and how they work – I am merely an observer looking in and seeing things that I do not believe bode well for the future state of the UK and the planet in general.

Maybe someone a bit more in the know can enlighten me?

I will admit that my idea actually contradicts what Juniper himself says in his book. He argues for governments themselves to start to realise the economic value that the natural world provides so that policies can be created with this in mind. I just think that governments will always prioritise the next 4 or 5 years rather than plan too far ahead and just how are you ever going to convince ol’ Georgie Boy Osborne and other Tory MPs who doubt the very existence of anthropogenic global warming? No, best leave it to independent experts.

Steve (156 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.

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