One of Theresa May’s first actions as Prime Minister was to get rid of the department responsible for tackling climate change and put in charge of environmental policy Andrea Leadsom, a minister who up until very recently didn’t believe climate change was happening.
Is it any wonder, then, that we have witnessed such a feeble and ineffective response to Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris agreement? Given the chance to present a united front with our international partners on climate change, the Prime Minister instead opted for “expressing her disappointment”. In other words, silence and subservience to Donald Trump.
The implications of having a weak and low-priority approach to climate change couldn’t be clearer in communities like mine in Cumbria, where the increased frequency and severity of freak flooding and extreme weather present a real risk to farming yields, transportation and the local economy.
A toxic combination of inadequate flood responses, lack of investment in rural infrastructure and a weak and ineffective attitude to climate change from Theresa May’s Conservatives mean that the future of farming in such communities hangs in the balance.
But this government’s failure on the environment goes much further than its inaction on climate change.
Just last week, NGO ClientEarth declared that it would once again be taking legal action against the government on its toothless and inadequate air quality plans. The situation is beyond embarrassing and incompetent.
With up to 40 million people living in areas where there has been a breach of legal levels of air quality, and with more than 2,000 schools and nurseries close to roads with damaging levels of fumes, this “public health crisis” has gone from bad to worse on the Conservatives’ watch.
On fracking, the Conservatives are now the only major party not supporting a ban. Labour has taken the bold step of committing to an outright ban on fracking as we know that it would lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels, long after the point in 2030 when the Committee on Climate Change says gas in the UK must sharply decline.
In contrast, Labour has a clear and costed plan for tackling climate change and protecting environmental standards, grounded in our values of social justice. A Labour government will insulate four million homes to fight fuel poverty and help prevent the health problems and winter deaths associated with it.
We will champion lower-carbon energy through new nuclear and renewables, not just depleted and polluting fossil fuels, and we will invest in an economy that is capable of technological innovation like at no other point in British history. Under Labour, 60 per cent of the UK’s energy will come from low or renewable sources by 2030, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process.
A Labour government will reclaim Britain’s leading role in tackling climate change, working hard to preserve the Paris agreement and deliver on commitments to reduce emissions.
Within our first 30 days in office we will bring forward plans for a new Clean Air Act and invest in clean transport infrastructure.
Labour will ensure EU environmental protections are maintained after Brexit, as well as championing sustainable farming, food and fishing. We will reinvest in renewable energy projects, including tidal lagoons.
With the Brexit negotiations due to start imminently, it is essential now more than ever that we have a Labour government in place, committed to maintaining and furthering environmental standards and protections, not watering them down in a hard Brexit free-for-all.
Labour knows that investing in our environment is investing in our future. Theresa May might have dodged the environment during her time in office and throughout this campaign, but we must not allow her to continue to put our health and environmental standards in jeopardy through what is certain to be a continuation of her careless and short-sighted attitude.
Some environmentalists have said that we have witnessed the worst period for environmental policy in three decades under this Conservative government, and they are right.
The choice is clear this election. A Conservative Party veering backwards on climate change and the environment, or a forward-looking, progressive environmental agenda driven by a Labour government, ensuring long-term public health, action on climate change and economic and social prosperity for the many, not the few.
Sue Hayman is the shadow secretary for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.