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The government’s 25 year environment plan is strong on catchphrases and weak on action

The plan’s approach to taking control seems shaky in the extreme.

In a week in which New York has responded to the global climate crisis with a lawsuit against fossil-fuel companies, and China has taken the lead in renewable energy investments, Theresa May’s government has used the launch of their 25 Year Plan for the Environment to announce – not much.

The Prime Minister launched the new environment strategy with a speech at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s Centre in Barnes.

Notable catchphrases included a promise of a Green Brexit in which Britain has “taken back control of our waters”.

Yet the plan’s approach to taking control seems shaky in the extreme. The plan “makes no solid commitments to new law and it lacks any detail about how we will enforce environment laws once we leave the EU,” says Karla Hill, the Director of Programmes at the lawfirm ClientEarth said in a statement.

Other early criticisms from environmental bodies include:

  • A Greenpeace statement querying the plan’s failure to support a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles.
  • Friends of the Earth’s CEO, Craig Bennett, censuring its failure to “get to the heart of the problems – especially the nation’s fossil fuel addition”.
  • The National Trust’s Government Affairs Director, Richard Hebditch, lamenting the scarcity of laws and institutions that can ensure the plan "isn’t just dependent on having a friendly minister who ‘gets it’.”
  • Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, expressing concern that 2042 is too long to wait to reach zero “avoidable” plastic waste.

By its own definition, any 25 Year Plan lends itself to providing the start of the discussion, rather than an end. And there is much in it to welcome – from a pledge to get more inner city kids outdoors, to a new “Nature Recovery Network” that will create 25,000 hectares of new habitats.

But with the next 25 years so critical in the global fight to keep our planet’s natural systems in balance, the government’s lack of clarity is far from hopeful. If we can’t take back control of our climate soon, will any other kind really matter?

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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The UK is suffering from an extreme case of generational inequality

Millennials across the developed world are struggling. But the UK stands out. 


“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”

Joni Mitchell’s lyrics may refer to her first trip to Hawaii, but they could just as easily apply to UK trends in generational living standards that the Resolution Foundation’s Intergenerational Commission has uncovered. That’s particularly so in light of new analysis comparing these trends internationally.

While there are huge living standards differences between high-income countries, there is also much shared ground, with the financial crisis and demographic patterns putting pressure on younger generations’ living standards everywhere. But the UK stands out. With the partial exception of Spain, no other country in living memory has experienced as large a “boom and bust” in generation-on-generation progress across both incomes and home ownership rates.

On incomes, the millennials (born 1980-2000) who have reached their early 30s are just 6 per cent better off than generation X (born 1966-80) when they were the same age. This is very small progress indeed when compared with the progress older generations are enjoying – baby boomers (born 1946-65) in their late 60s are 29 per cent better off than the silent generation (born 1926-1945).

These sorts of slowdowns have occurred in most countries, but not to the same extent. In the US, millennials in their early 30s are doing 5 per cent worse than their predecessors, but this compares to relatively modest 11 per cent gains for generation X relative to the baby boomers. In fact, in the US – despite higher levels of income – the absence of generational progress is what stands out. Typical incomes in the US for those aged 45-49 are no higher for those born in the late 1960s than they were for those born in the early 1920s.

Back to the UK. The “had it then lost it” story is also clear when we look at housing. Our previous research has shown that young people in the UK face much higher housing costs (relative to incomes) than older generations did when they were making their way in the world. In a large part this is driven by the rise and fall of home ownership.UK home ownership rates surged by 29 percentage points between the greatest generation (born 1911-1926) and the baby boomers, but this generation-on-generation progress has been all but wiped out for millennials. Their home ownership rate in their late 20s, at 33 per cent, is 27 percentage points lower than the rate for the baby boomers at the same age (60 per cent).

This fall between generations is much smaller in other countries in which housing is a key areas of concern such as Australia (a 12 percentage points fall from boomers to millennials) and the US (a 6 percentage point fall). As with incomes, the UK shows the strongest boom and bust – large generation-on-generation gains for today’s older cohorts followed by stagnation or declines for younger ones.

Let’s be clear though, the UK is a relatively good place to grow up. Ours is one of the most advanced economies in the world, with high employment rates for all age groups. In other advanced economies, young people have suffered immensely as a result of the financial crisis. For example, in Greece millennials in their early 30s are a shocking 31 per cent worse off than generation X were at the same age. In Spain today the youth (15-30) unemployment rate is still above 30 per cent, over three times higher than it is in the UK.

But, if everything is relative – before the parking lot came the paradise – then the UK’s situation isn’t one to brush away. Small income gains are, obviously, better than big income falls. But what matters for a young person in the UK today probably isn’t how well they’re doing relative to a young person in Italy but how this compares with their expectations, which have been shaped by the outcomes of their parents and grandparents. It’s no surprise that the UK is one of the most pessimistic countries about the prospects for today’s young.

The good news, though, is that it doesn’t have to be like this. In other parts of the world and at other times, large generation-on-generation progress has happened. Building more homes, having strong collective bargaining and delivering active labour market policies that incentivise work are things we know make a difference. As politicians attempt to tackle the UK’s intergenerational challenges, they should remember to look overseas for lessons.