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After the UK General Election, what does the next government need to do for the environment?


So, an election campaign that most had expected to deliver an increased Conservative majority ends in a hung parliament, and a Conservative government supported by the Democratic Unionist Party. Those in the business of predicting poll results might be better reading tea leaves for inspiration, but amid the shock, what does this all mean for the environment, and for WWF’s priorities?

Regardless of the uncertainty in Westminster, urgent steps are needed to protect the environment.

WestminsterWestminster © Shutterstock

Ahead of the General Election, WWF highlighted to all the parties what their priorities should be for the coming five years. Thank you to everyone who joined your voices with ours. Politicians need to hear from all corners and all walks of life how important protecting our environment is, and a collective call is stronger. We focused on three broad areas where we believe the UK government can have the most impact:

  • Global leadership on climate change, and the domestic plans to cut carbon emissions that are essential to back that up at home;
  • A long-term plan for the environment, which should tackle our footprint abroad, as well as improving how we protect our own wildlife and habitats; and
  • Action against the illegal wildlife trade that poses a huge threat to populations of iconic species including elephants, rhinos and tigers.
Valley mist on a country lane near Ambleside in the Lake District National Park, UK.Valley mist on a country lane near Ambleside in the Lake District National Park, UK © Global Warming Images / WWF

With the Conservatives returning to office at Westminster, we now expect Theresa May and her ministerial team to set out – as a matter of urgency – what they will do in each of these areas. The Queen’s Speech that is expected to open the new Parliament on 19 June is likely to focus on delivering Brexit, through the Great Repeal Bill that we are told will ensure that the whole body of existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in UK law.

WWF and other groups will need to be vigilant to ensure that, when those laws are brought across, they cannot be repealed or changed by Ministers at the stroke of a pen and without proper scrutiny by Parliament, but there are plenty of other things the UK government needs to be thinking about besides the Repeal Bill.

The Eiffel Tower, ParisThe Eiffel Tower, Paris

President Trump’s recent baffling decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement – in the face of global public opinion and overwhelming scientific evidence – puts even greater onus on the remaining 190-plus parties to that Agreement, including the UK, to step up their ambition. That means the next government must press ahead with producing a plan to reduce UK emissions and drive clean growth, including setting ambitious targets for energy efficiency, ultra-low emissions transport and a range of renewables.

The Conservative General Election manifesto reaffirmed the UK government’s pre-election pledges to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it, and to produce a comprehensive 25 Year Environment Plan. These are strong and ambitious commitments, but once again we need the government to get on with producing that long-awaited plan, and setting out clear milestones for how it will deliver. With last year’s Living Planet Report highlighting the crisis facing the world’s wildlife, the 25 YearPlan should have a strong international dimension, addressing our environmental footprint in other countries.

African elephantAfrican elephant © Greg Armfield / WWF-UK

Speaking of global responsibility, the new government must maintain UK leadership on the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) as we head towards next year’s expected London Conference on that issue. While the UK has made more money available to tackle IWT, and the Conservative manifesto promised conservation cooperation with international bodies to protect rare species, the 2015 commitment to press for a ban on UK ivory sales was missing from the 2017 manifesto. We hope this lack of a reference to ivory trade doesn’t indicate any reduction in commitment, and we will be working with allies across the parties at Westminster to press the government to produce its previously promised consultation on this issue as quickly as possible. The UK must get its own house in order on the IWT if it is to be a credible leader in London next year.

So there’s plenty in the new government’s in-tray besides Brexit. A week may be a long time in politics – in fact 24 hours is starting to seem like an eternity in these unpredictable times – but in environmental terms the period of this new government will be a short but critical time in which the UK must show real leadership, turn around wildlife declines and help put the world firmly on the path to a low carbon future.

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