Green Shoots Of Recovery: Why The Conservatives Are Embracing The Environment

Eamonn Ives
(POOL New / Reuters)

Last week, the Prime Minister launched the long-awaited 25 Year Environment Plan, which emphasises the crucial importance – and fundamentally conservative principles – of sustainability and resource stewardship.

It included several policies which ought to enhance our nation’s natural environment, whilst also arresting some of the most flagrant instances of its degradation. The £5million of funding for a new Northern Forest, for instance, will help to sequester more carbon from the atmosphere, mitigate flooding, and provide a welcome reprieve for wildlife and biodiversity. The extension to nearly all shops of the highly successful plastic five pence plastic bag charge – which has led to nine billion fewer plastic bags being in use – should result in a land less blighted by litter, benefiting humans and animals alike.

Many of the policies contained in the Plan have been advocated for by Bright Blue, including: the phasing out of coal-fired power stations; establishing an international alliance to phase out coal across the world; and redirecting rural payments after Britain leaves the Common Agricultural Policy towards the commissioning of ecosystem services.

Much of the media attention around the Plan has focused on plastic pollution. But it also underscored the importance of mitigating and adapting to climate change. The role in which healthy natural environmental features such as peatland, soils, and woodland can play in carbon sequestration was a prominent theme – and rightly so, given their immense, yet oft underacknowledged, potential in the fight against a warming world.

Admittedly, the Plan did hit more at the long-term ambition of the Government for the environment, rather than proposing detailed policies. Nevertheless, it still referenced the Government’s intention to publish a Clean Air Strategy for consultation, introduce a forthcoming Agriculture Bill, Fisheries Bill, and Fisheries White Paper, as well as enshrining existing environmental law within the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

When the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP became Environment Secretary, he made a number of speeches clearly signalling that he is “in listening mode”. Indeed, his consultations on policies such as bottle deposit return schemes, extending the ivory ban, and strengthening protections against invasive species are testimony to this.

Whilst the Conservative Party won the most seats in the 2017 General Election, it lost heavily amongst younger voters. Theresa May’s speech, the publication of the 25 Year Environment Plan, and indeed much of the Conservative Party’s efforts to go big on green issues should help in addressing this. And for good reason, with evidence from polling which Bright Blue commissioned last year showing that the environment and climate change are the two issues which 18 to 28 year olds want politicians to discuss more.

Conservation is at the heart of the conservative philosophy. Some of the most committed environmentalists within Parliament sit as Conservatives. For too long, they have not been vocal enough about that fact – yet the tide now seems to be turning.