Help us to hold Government to account on its green credentials

Guest Blog by Joan Walley MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Select Committee:

We’re delighted to host a special blog by environmental champion, keen Woodland Trust supporter and Chair of the Chair of the Environmental Audit Select Committee, Joan Walley MP. Joan was elected by the House to be the Chair of EAC in June 2010 and her tenure comes to an end in May 2015, when she also steps down as MP of Stoke on Trent North, a seat she has held since 1987.

Joan is proudly committed to supporting environmental initiatives in her Constituency, has been a strong local champion for ancient woodland, and has supported the Woodland Trust with a number of planting schemes in and around Stoke.

Image: JWalley

“The Environmental Audit Committee was established in November 1997 to reflect a manifesto commitment on the part of the incoming Labour government to consider the extent to which the policies and programmes of Government Departments contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development. To achieve this, the EAC audits the performance of Public Bodies against existing sustainable development and environmental protection targets.

“We regularly call inquiries on a wide range of topics where we take both written and oral evidence to help us formulate a series of written recommendations for Government. Critically, Government is required to respond in writing to these recommendations and Ministers are required to make personal appearances before the committee, where they are questioned on the performance of their Department. Unlike most select committees, the Committee’s remit cuts across government rather than focusing on the work of a particular department. This has the broad aim of ensuring that sustainable development is embedded right across Government.

“In the context of the current Coalition Government, our role has been to test the feasibility and credibility of their Greenest Government Ever rhetoric. Over the past year we have looked at a range of critical issues, which I know will be are of interest to Woodland Trust supporters including, biodiversity offsetting, green finance, wellbeing, the codes for sustainable construction, the plastic bag tax, and invasive species.  A defining moment for me in the past 12 months was our inquiry on the Carbon Budgets, where we clearly highlighted that there is no scientific case for watering down our long term emissions reduction targets – a message received loud and clear by Government, even if it isn’t supported by all their backbenchers!

“Our recent Inquiry into Biodiversity Offsetting will be of particular interest, certainly in the context of the Environment Secretary’s recent unhelpful comments on offsetting of Ancient Woodland, which I understand that the Woodland Trust is campaigning against. We concluded that there is a danger that an overly simplistic offsetting system would not protect long-established eco-systems and recommended that ancient woodland and Sites of Special Scientific Interest should be exempt. We called on Government to get offsetting right or risk giving developers carte blanche to concrete over our important habitats.

“We have recently launched an inquiry into environmental protection around Phase-I of HS2, an issue I know that the Woodland Trust is very concerned about in the context of ancient woodland loss and damage. I look forward to hearing from the Trust and others on those issues.

“I’ve always been motivated by ensuring that Government invests in the right policies to secure the future we want in environmental terms – tackling environmental degradation and valuing nature. I therefore feel very privileged to be Chair of the EAC, at a time when it is so important to question the ‘business as usual’ approach to our environmental challenges.

“During my tenure I’ve come to the conclusion that we can vastly improve our effectiveness as a Committee if constituents regularly lobby their local MPs on the issues we are examining. I therefore welcome this fantastic opportunity to highlight our on-going work to an already passionate audience, and hope that you are enthused to help support us in our important duty to hold Government to account and ensure that they match their rhetoric with real action when it comes to the environment.

You can follow the work of the EAC on our website www.parliament.uk/eacom.”

Joan Walley MP

About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
This entry was posted in Climate Change and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Help us to hold Government to account on its green credentials

  1. Derek West says:

    Its unfortunate that Ken Brown considers renewable energy targets as absurd,what are his options for rising carbon emissions,its true that windfarms in sensitive locations are a disaster,but here in East Anglia windfarms on arable praries would cause little damage to wildlife.This is an urgent problem and with the search for fossil fuels becoming more desperate and potentialy more damaging,we need to consider all our options.

    • Dr Ken Brown says:

      Derek

      We will be getting shale gas and nuclear, whether we like them or not, because so much time has been wasted in putatively ‘green’ fantasies about the potential of windmills to reduce carbon emissions significantly. I noticed today that Quadrilla’s most recent estimates of shale gas reserves in their concession in NW England are something like 5-6 times the remaining oil and gas reserves in the North Sea. And shale gas does have serious potential to reduce carbon emissions as experience in the USA has demonstrated. Indeed, for all its sins, that country is the only major economy in the world to have achieved that, though probably more for economic than environmental reasons. Note that Germany, which has committed itself so very heavily to wind power, is resorting once again to coal fired power plants and their CO2 emissions rose by about 2% last year. (This is to say nothing about the escalating problems of fuel poverty and lack of economic competitiveness there).

      Unfortunately, environmentally sensitive locations are precisely the places where wind farms are being sited – most worryingly in the Scottish Highlands and islands. Apart from the fact that any contribution by East Anglian wind farms would be so vanishingly small as to be irrelevant, the southern counties of England will remain relatively immune from wind farm blight for simple, electoral reasons. People think they favour wind turbine arrays until they have to live with them. We do not have an energy policy so much as government by sound-bite. The result has been neglect of the need for R & D in clean sources of energy and left us with the prospect of a nuclear industry consisting of hugely expensive and old fashioned uranium reactors – funded on behalf of our present ‘free enterprise’ government by French and Chinese state enterprises!

      I agree that we need to consider all our options. That is precisely what has not been done because of the 25 year near-exclusive obsession with wind power. We need an independent commission on all aspects of energy and a government that recognises that something of such huge importance must not simply be relegated to the multinational corporate sector and encouraged by a grotesquely regressive subsidy regime.

  2. Dr Ken Brown says:

    As long as the greatest environmental scandal in Britain is ignored by the vast majority of environmentalists and members of the public, the prospects for the conservation of our natural heritage are dismal. Highland Scotland includes, by far, the largest areas of relatively unspoiled wild land in Britain and these are of international importance. They include remnants of the ancient Caledonian pine forest and plant and animal species that are rare or extinct in other areas of this country. See, for example, the website of Trees for Life, the charity that aspires to restore large areas of that superb forest – and that now finds itself occupying a glen under seige by wind farm developers. The result will be the slaughter on an unacceptable scale of golden and white tailed eagles and other raptors and bird species as well as bats which are particularly vulnerable to changes in atmospheric pressure caused by revolving turbine blades.

    The Highlands are experiencing damage of an unprecedented scale and rapidity as a result of the nationalist Scottish Government’s foolhardly and philistine energy policy; the notion of an independent Scotland that would be ‘the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy’. This has already resulted in a fundamental change in the purpose of Scotland’s Forestry Commission which has now been felling millions of trees to make way for turbines.

    There are currently hundreds of applications by wind farm developers for sites for turbine arrays in the Scottish Highlands. Past experience demonstrates that most of these will be effectively rubber-stamped, if only because Highland Council lacks the resources to oppose appeals by a corporate sector intent on milking the prevailing system of subsidies; subsidies paid disproportionately by the poorest members of society through their energy bills. These subsidies encourage the corporate strategy of bribing communities with ‘community benefit’ payments. Moreover, this scramble for profit by private, multinational companies is sanctioned by a fatuous belief on the part of the general public and their elected representatives that wind farms reduce carbon emissions and therefore play a part in mitigating climate change. This is nonsense!

    Even on optimistic figures released by the industry lobby about a year ago, all the wind farms in the UK failed to reduce global emissions by even one five-thousandth. They reduced the annual increase in carbon output for the same period by far less than one percent and did not get anywhere near eliminating the increase in UK carbon emissions during that period of economic stagnation. And that, of course, is to ignore carbon emitted in the manufacture of goods imported to the UK.

    This anarchic rash of industrial development is taking place in an exceptional part of Britain that is, nevertheless, poorly known by most UK citizens. Consequently, it is worth offering the following perspective on the sale of the destruction of our wild land that is being wrought for the sake of easy profit and political grandstanding. A typical wind farm of about 30 turbines involves scores of miles of roads cut into land that is all too often our most valuable carbon store – peat. Borrow pits and turbine foundations involve the removal of hundreds of thousands of tons of rock and replacement by cement. All this is to say nothing of the associated pylon lines and substations required to link these arrays to the transmission network. And, by way of comparison, the area occupied by a wind farm needs to be several hundred times the area needed to produce equivalent amounts of energy by a nuclear plant or a shale gas well.

    Politicians in the EU and throughout Europe are now seeking face-saving ways of dumping the absurd EU renewable energy targets. A report by a panel of experts appointed by the German Bundestag has just recommended that their legislation on this subject should be reversed as it is unfit for purpose and economically disastrous. It will be a tragedy for British environmental conservation if the reversal of this policy comes too late to save some of Scotland’s wildest and most iconic uplands. So please don’t take my word for all this – do some research of your own and take action.

    • matt derrington says:

      I couldn’t agree more. This is the perfect example of both the problem, and the better ways forward.

      The problem. People. No people- no problems that Nature isn’t able to adjust for.

      People? You and I. And those stupid, greedy and or evil so-and-so’s who can’t see anything except through a pound, or dollar sign frieze.

      What do you and I do that is wrong? We have the heating set higher, longer and more often than we need. We don’t turn the lights off when not in the room. We think we want to holiday “somewhere with decent weather”, instead of visiting the truly magical highlands and shores of our own island. We buy into the lazy, “should be all right” stories peddled to us below.

      What do the stupid, greedy and or evil lot do? Well, we all know. Even the stupidest of them do, probably- deep down. They start with what they can do to make more money. And work backwards from there. Not the other way round as they should. Activities need to be sound morally and ecologically 1st, economically viable 2nd- as a means to an end- not the end itself. So they peddle us the “it’ll do everything you want/need, honest!” garbage, while practically salivating about all the money they think they’re going to be allowed to accumulate and somehow keep.

      The better ways? Well, all pretty obvious. And shamefully easy. And fun! How few excuses can you have and keep doing nothing? Program your central heating more actively. Turn the light off! Buy and install your own micro generation. If you feed the birds, probably best stick with solar! Please more people experiment with micro hydro- just don’t forget the fish passes. Question everything put to you, whoever it’s put to you by. Then if necessary object loudly to plans based really only on making money, or being re-‘elected’. Don’t let the most beautiful, awe-inspiring places be covered with massive turbines of dubious benefit. Support them on brownfield, or industrial sites where birds have got used to tall chimneys and towers, or at least where they don’t do a lot of traversing. Then go enjoy and appreciate those beautiful places (and the new glorious industrial ones!)- not only to help cherish them, but so that the stupid money-centred complaints can be answered more clearly- ie “Ruin The Caledonian Forest?! It’s the national holiday resort and makes billions for Scotland”. The money chasing idiots can then fit in around these new ways, as and how we allow them to. Then they might actually help further a decent purpose for a change, instead of being the chief architects and motors of destruction.

      Time to break free of the blinkers.

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