Opinion: Who cares about the environment? The coalition doesn’t seem to

fishSunday’s Observer features two related stories (Revealed: how water firms are polluting our rivers and beaches and Ministers putting seas and marine life in peril) which suggest that the coalition does not plan anything more than a minimal response to major environmental problems and opportunities.

There is an opportunity for this government to act on ready-made recommendations from the sentencing council, from select committees and from a representative group of environmentalists and fishing industry interests. The “greenest government ever” seems likely to deliver either nothing at all or a merely pathetic set of proposals.

The first issue is the deteriorating environmental record of monopoly water companies, with more than 1000 pollution incidents in recent years. Two-thirds of these have resulted in cautions and the fines for the rest have been derisory The companies have an easy life funded by borrowing to avoid almost all tax and pay one pound in every five of turnover in dividends for a small group of shareholders.

The sentencing council has produced proposals to increase fines to more reasonable levels – potentially significant chunks of turnover. The environmental audit select committee has backed the suggested changes but there seems to be no response from the government.

The second piece concerns a carefully considered report which identifies 127 marine conservation zones for England and Wales. This results from balanced consultation with interests such as science, environmentalists and the fishing industry – it is not a biassed proposal. Yet DEFRA is only taking 31 of them further, ignoring more than half of the 59 rated at “high risk”.

Most of the groups which contributed to the report have reacted angrily and the science and technology select committee has laid into the government’s lack of understanding (at the very least).

In both cases you can only suspect kowtowing to industry lobbying. LibDems inside and outside the government should be insisting on stronger action so that we can hold our heads high in world arenas.

* Ed was a Young Liberal in the late 1960s, a supporter on and off over the years and finally rejoined the party in 2010.

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  • nuclear cockroach 6th Aug '13 - 10:45am

    Sadly, I can only agree with this. Cameron’s “greenest government ever” was only ever a marketing exercise. The reality has been dismal, despite the best efforts of Lib Dem ministers (and, to be fair, a number of Tory backbenchers). Utter the word “environment” and George Osborne starts snarling.

  • “Yet DEFRA is only taking 31 of them further, ignoring more than half of the 59 rated at “high risk”.”
    Is that true?. Or is it your spin, on what is actually happening?
    Item 61 in the link suggests that they have not been ‘ignoring’, but will be re-evaluating in late 2013.

  • It’s a good job you’re a cockroach, nc, because we’ll be staring down the barrel of pointless and dangerous nuclear power station developments if we go with what Stephen describes as the view of respondents to a Member Questionnaire. I can’t understand why opinion (in the Lib Dems, and it would seem in the UK generally) has moved that way. Just wait till we have any genuinely new sites which haven’t experienced them before.

  • Stephen Hesketh 6th Aug '13 - 8:09pm

    I may as well add my voice to this as a significantly disappointed green Liberal Democrat.
    In addition to the points raised above, local communities have essentially been given a blank NIMBY cheque (without having to take some local responsibility for the generation/saving of energy consumed locally) and perfectly good SME-dominated industries such as solar PV have been rendered unconscious and kicked in to the long grass.
    I also blame Osborne and the Tory’s general relationship with their party-funding large-scale business friends but this is little more than wasted emotion in the face of their blatant cynicism.

    To some extent ‘we are were we are’ for this Parliament but I am likely to be yet another sad departer should we find ourselves in such a weak position in a Tory-led coalition following the next election.
    It is not without good reason that the Tories have been our century’s-old opponents. I sincerely hope our leadership or their successors will carry forward some important lessons in dealing with such reactionary ‘partners’.

  • Steve Bolter 10th Aug '13 - 12:53pm

    Re Tim13. Perhaps the movement towards acceptance of the need for nuclear energy is because people now realise that the dangers from properly designed and run nuclear power stations are minimal compared to the dangers of trying to get by without them.
    Does Tim rely imagine that that business and the general public would be prepared to tolerate the expense, the changes and the disruption necessary for a rapid change to a “low carbon” non-nuclear UK? Building replacement reactors adjacent to some of those closing down gives another 40 years to reduce energy demand and to develop and build the necessary infrastructure for a renewables powered UK in a less disruptive and hence acceptable way.
    Without replacing the existing nuclear contribution, renewables would be replacing nuclear rather than fossil fuel generation and our contribution to rapid global climate change will continue. Our delay in starting a nuclear replacement programme has already given the multinationals the confidence to invest in ever more difficult and expensive methods of extracting oil and gas. Repeated elsewhere, ignoring the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will lead to flooding, crop failure, migration and wars. The greatest number of deaths will be among the poor of the developing world. It is not in our backyard, but it matters.
    The proposals are to continue not expand nuclear generation. This can be most economically by extending existing site allowing the sharing or takeover of such facilities as site containment, security, grid connections and the eventual post operational management.

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