So the starting-gun has finally been fired. The shadow-boxing has been going on for weeks, if not months, but, with the dissolution of Parliament, we are now in the final short campaign.
This is the period when candidates are hunkered down in their constituencies, pushing and contending for every vote, while party leaders criss-cross the country or fan out into the TV and radio studios to get the message out as widely as possible .
WWF’s work to influence the political parties, and their plans for power if they are successful in the election, has been going on for even longer. We set out our priorities at the start of 2014, and have been talking to all of the parties about them ever since. In a few days’ time, we’ll know whether they listened. The parties will publish their manifestos – their blueprints for government – in the first half of April.
What have we been asking for?
We believe that the next government, of whatever party or combination of parties, faces a critical five years in which it will need to make really important decisions about how we tackle climate change , protect endangered and iconic wildlife species and safeguard and restore threatened habitats . The challenges are great, but so are the opportunities.
And so, to help our politicians take the right path, we have set out priorities in three broad areas:
Save the world’s forests and wildlife
Our natural resources and wildlife are under pressure. Forests continue to disappear, while the senseless slaughter of rhinos, tigers, elephants and other species – and trade in their products and parts – diminishes their populations and outrages people across the world.
This year sees the beginning of a review of the European Union’s Timber Regulation, which seeks to control the import of illegal timber and timber products into the EU. At present, it is full of holes in terms of the products and items it covers, and is not enforced effectively across the EU. The next government must work with partners to close those loopholes and push for continent-wide coverage.
British politicians have been in the forefront of recognising the scale of the problems posed by the illegal wildlife trade and international wildlife crime; last year, the Government convened the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, and a strong Declaration emerged from that meeting. The next Government needs to maintain that leadership – both by working with other governments to ensure that the commitments from London are enforced and by providing long-term funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit here in the UK. This body is in the forefront of UK action against wildlife crime – it needs to know that it has continuing, rather than just year-to-year, financial backing from Ministers.
Action on climate change
It is not too late to avert the worst impacts of dangerous climate change, if we act now. The UK has led the world in this area, providing an international example when the 2008 Climate Change Act was passed with cross-party support. More recently, leaders of the main Westminster parties signed a pledge committing them to continuing leadership on climate change.
2015 is a critical year for climate action, culminating with a major Conference in Paris in December where governments from across the world will seek to agree a deal to limit climate-changing emissions. Again, the new government will need to be out in front in terms of pushing for this to be an ambitious deal that will really make a difference – this should be a top foreign policy priority for the new Prime Minister and his team.
And again, credible leadership internationally requires strong accompanying action at home, which is why we are calling on all the parties to give clear support to the UK’s renewable energy industry, and back a major programme of investment in energy efficiency.
Healthy UK rivers and seas
The next government also needs to conclude work that has begun to protect the UK’s marine wildlife and habitats and ensure a healthy freshwater environment. Among the priorities should be completion of the designation of a well-managed and ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas to safeguard the full range of habitats and species found in UK seas. We also need to see new laws to protect our water environment and prevent too much water being taken from our rivers.
How you can help us
Now, as candidates up and down the country seek our votes, we have an opportunity to ask them what they will do, if they are elected to Parliament, to be environmental champions. We’d be hugely grateful if you can contact your candidates to tell them about our priorities, and ask how they will support them. We’ve set up an action that allows you to build your own manifesto and send it those who aspire to be your MP. Thank you for your support.