Earlier in the week I was lobbied by 30 or so constituents seeking more action on climate change.
Their principal request was for local empowerment so that communities could lead initiatives themselves. I agree. Of course, there is an agenda that Government must lead from the centre, but there is so much that can be done locally.
Our New Forest Communities are active in tackling the scourge of pollution, from litter picks, to recycling initiatives across the area, to mass tree plantings on community land. This volunteering spirit reminds me of what we tried to foster a decade ago through the ‘Big Society’ which sought to give “communities and local government the power and information they need to come together, solve the problems they face and build the Britain they want.”
It is a force that we need to harness in order to drive forward change.
A good example of initiatives that we should be pursuing is in the Local Electricity Bill which is currently in Parliament. This will allow electricity to be generated locally and sold direct to households in the community. It is not only positive environmentally to harness energy locally but in an increasingly uncertain world it is also prudent in terms of energy security.
Making those households much more energy efficient is the natural partner to renewable electricity supply. The statutory requirements for The Future Homes Standard to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 75-80% don’t kick-in until 2025. I’d prefer it to be much sooner, but there is a cost involved, and we have yet to address how that cost is to be divided between the developer, the purchaser, and the taxpayer.
Inevitably the group raised the issue of litter and plastic pollution. I am all too familiar with it and I’ve used this column on before to draw attention to it. I am frustrated that, having concluded a consultation last year on a bottle recycling scheme, the Government has decided to proceed with yet another one next year before we see it implemented. Nevertheless, there has been some success with a 90% reduction in single use plastic bags. Again, I’ve used this column to point to the example of Rwanda where plastic bags are banned entirely -and they are doing just fine.
I also believe there is far more scope for regulation to reduce the obscene amount of packaging. I am glad that progress has been made on banning micro-plastics in cosmetics and the ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds takes effect in October.
From 2022 products will be taxed that do not contain 30 per cent recycled materials.
I was happy to report that the leading campaigner on this agenda, Rebecca Pow, the MP for Taunton Dene, has been promoted to be the minister with responsibility for this brief.
There was a clear preference expressed by the group for more cycle-friendly transport policy. As a cyclist myself, I am glad that this has been part of the Government’s strategy: we can expect more cycle lanes when the Prime Minister (himself a keen cyclist) announces a new cycling and walking strategy later this Summer.
We all agreed with each other that the move to electric vehicles required a transformation in the charging points available. Equally, we should congratulate local services like MoreBus: Their electric X3 from Salisbury to Bournemouth via Ringwood and Fordingbridge generates fewer emissions than my push lawnmower.
It was a useful and positive exchange, and it is essential that we keep it that way: I’ve come across far too much defeatism on climate change. It is not beyond our wit to reverse the damage that we’ve done to the planet, and to enjoy a better quality of life. The UK was the first developed country to impose legislative targets to reduce our emissions, since when we’ve met those targets and reduced emissions dramatically. There is plenty more for the Government to do, for local communities to do, and for each and every one of us to do.