Environment: The week Boris Johnson turned green, or did he? By Roger Harrabin
BBC environment expert Published duration 3 October
You might be forgiven for thinking this was the week Boris Johnson really grasped the dangerous state of the world.
After a long silence on environmental concerns, he made not one but 3 “green” speeches to the UN biodiversity top in New York.
At very first sight, his promises looked enthusiastic: take the heading on a Downing Street press release which checked out “PM dedicates to safeguard 30% of UK land in increase for biodiversity”.
Nearly a 3rd of UK land secured for nature … that’s remarkable, best? Well, not according to some.
Environmentalists called journalism release a work of art of spin: it provided the impression that 30% of land would be safeguarded for biological diversity.
But, as advocates pointed out, the UK’s proposed safeguarded location would primarily describe land secured for appeal, not wildlife.
The “30 by 30” target was initially proposed by global green groups in 2018, and clearly referred to nature protection, not landscape value.
But much of the area to be included in the UK’s proud 30% target are principally handled for walkers, travelers and sheep, not unusual plants and pests.
In reality, some secured uplands are really relatively poor in biodiversity, following decades of overgrazing.
This implies the federal government’s only firm guarantee today– after 3 prime ministerial speeches – is to protect just 4% more of the UK’s land for nature.
That’s hardly an urgent reaction to what the PM calls a crisis.
So what was the PM’s contribution to the top ?? Well, it pulsed with colour. He alerted: “Think about the pangolin– that flaky mammalian wonder of evolution boasting a prehensile tongue that is somehow attached to its pelvis.
” I don’t think any of us would pick to bestow a planet on which such a wonderfully unusual little creature is as unfamiliar to future generations as dinosaurs and dodos are to us today.”
However his scaly tribute bore no more brand-new policies.
What about climate promises ?? The previous week, on the subject of climate modification, the PM flamboyantly forecasted that the UK could be the “Saudi Arabia” of wind power.
He stated himself an “evangelist” for the exceptionally costly innovation of CCS– carbon capture and storage, which buries CO2 in underground rocks.
He declared a revolution for hydrogen fuel and stated the UK would get more nuclear power. He likewise stated Britain would phase out sales of brand-new fuel cars earlier than planned.
But he didn’t say when, and didn’t give any information of other policies in his in-tray, or how they would be moneyed.
As the UK prepares to host next year’s world environment top, the PM’s critics state he should urgently underpin his words with cash and timetables for delivery.
Former Tory minister Sir Nicholas Soames composed in the Times that, in spite of current rhetoric, the UK is falling behind on carbon-cutting usually and on the top-level diplomacy required to unify international partners.
He said: “The federal government should awaken to the obstacle in front of it and realise that the diplomatic landscape is the toughest it has actually been.”
So, what’s the PM doing right for the environment?? To be fair, the government is making pioneering moves in some areas of green policy.
It’s committing to break the link between deforestation and UK supply chains. And it’s assisted lead the Global Ocean Alliance, which intends to secure at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.
The UK’s Blue Belt programme is a little-publicised but major effort on track to safeguard marine areas the size of India.
But real company action is showing more elusive than words. Greenpeace was so incensed by what it called a lack of enforcement of marine zones that it dropped boulders in the North Sea to obstruct fishing.
On farming, the government likewise has – in theory – a great news story to inform.
It’s drawn in admirers with its plan to switch the widely-reviled EU farm policy for a grant system based upon wildlife security instead of farm size.
Today it seems the need to keep farmers in company may prompt ministers to raid the planned nature security budget.
On the other hand, the federal government’s enthusiastic Environment Costs would preserve biodiversity targets in law if only it wasn’t stuck in the Commons for a desire of Parliamentary time.
Does that indicate the green promises are useless?? The Guardian columnist George Monbiot provided a bleak evaluation on the week’s declarations.
” It’s the hope I can’t stand,” he stated. “Every few years, governments collect to make solemn guarantees about the action they will take to protect the living world, then break them before the ink is dry.
” Wherever Johnson has been, a trail of damaged guarantees litters his path like roadkill.”
Tony Juniper, head of Natural England, prefers to focus on potential. He told me: “If you look at it in the round, the government has an awful lot of great policies in the pipeline. If they handle to deliver their programme it’ll be a big achievement.”
He said work was currently under way to improve biodiversity in locations safeguarded generally for landscape value. If that succeeds, he stated, it would make the 30% security figure more outstanding.
Mr Juniper’s safeguarded optimism was echoed by Julian Glover, who conducted last year’s government-funded evaluation into National Parks.
He informed me: “This is an uncommon possibility to get reform, financing and more for nature and individuals.
” Environmentalists are best to point out today’s huge problems however I hope they will utilize this chance to get modification and not just grumble that because things for nature are often alarming now there’s no chance of a federal government assisting make them much better.
” It’s good the PM wishes to discuss the problem – let’s encourage him to back action.”
It’s rumoured that Mr Johnson was prompted to make the recent flurry of green announcements after being embarrassed by the reaction to his derogatory remarks about rare newts in a speech on preparation.
The huge concern now is what will nudge him to put finance and targets to the ideas in his green in tray?