We can both protect our planet and invest in our future

  • If Government drives reforms and if we harness the benefits of technology for the good of all, then we can both protect our planet and invest in our future.

  • Chuka Umunna MP

At this time of year we are coming towards the end of Party conference season. Both of the main political party’s conferences have been dominated by Brexit, with Labour keeping all options on the table, including a People’s Vote, while at Tory conference Theresa May sought to wrestle back control of her Party. This is the nature of political system right now.

Brexit, more than ever, is consuming the whole attention and work of Government. Important national issues such as education, the National Health Service and policing are not getting the attention and work they need in order to drive reform and fix chronic long-term problems. However, there is no issue which poses a greater threat to our long-term security and prosperity than climate change and protection of the environment. Ultimately, we are custodians of our planet and the natural environment for the next generation. As a society we have become increasingly aware of the impact our behaviour has on the world around us – David Attenborough’s Blue Plant demonstrated this vividly and in a way that brought it to life for many.

We can all makes sure that we are doing our bit – recycling as much as we can; cutting down on our use of single use plastics which go straight into landfill and our oceans; making sure we are not wasteful with energy to make sure we aren’t burning fossil fuels unnecessarily; and taking public transport where we can to cut down on the amount of polluting vehicles on our streets. Small individual changes can have a massive impact if we act together as a community.

Yet I believe significant progress will need to be driven by both Government and technological change. The Institute for Public Policy Research’s (IPPR) recent report on solving London’s air pollution crisis found that most of the air pollution in London is caused by road transport, of which diesel vehicles are the most polluting, emitting about 40 per cent of the capital’s total nitrogen oxide and fine particle emissions. Therefore, Government has a role to play in progressively phasing out many diesel vehicles in order to bring air pollution to within acceptable levels. The IPPR argues that in the near-term, this means setting legal limits for emissions, and in the longer-term reducing emissions down to negligible levels. It is in the long-term where change will be driven by technological advancement, such as electric cars and climate friendly public transport, which will help secure our progress to a low emission future.

Government also has a role to play in investing in our public transport infrastructure. Research by the Campaign for Better Transport shows that funding for bus services across England and Wales has been cut by 45 per cent since 2010, and by more than £20m in just the last year. This has the effect of either cutting people off from the world around them, or forcing more people to drive, putting more polluting vehicles on our roads. The Government should be investing in public transport, not just to make sure it is fit for purpose today, but fit for the future and able to contribute to meeting our emissions targets.

The challenge of cutting our emissions and our waste in order to safeguard our planets future is a task we cannot duck. The cause is too important and the risks are too high if our society simply walks on by on the other side. But I believe that if we all do our bit; if we do what we can as individuals, if Government drives reforms and if we harness the benefits of technology for the good of all, then we can both protect our planet and invest in our future.