THE GENERAL election will undoubtedly eat up much of the media and rhetorical space in the next few months. There will be much puff and little policy. But will environmental issues reappear on the radar?
They were de rigeur in 2010, but since then there has been Twitter, UKIP, energy scares and 4G to keep everyone busy. The big issues in sustainability have not gone away. Food security. Obesity. Public procurement. Surging up the outside has come the wage debate – specifically, the living wage.
So, what are the policies that any new government should consider as central to its manifesto?
Many departments have ignored the greening government commitments, while schools and hospitals have been faced with a flurry of initiatives and standards with little focus or, critically, finance. Let’s stick with the food procurement scorecard, announced in 2014, but make it mandatory. Tenders and budgets will need to reflect that.
The horse-meat scandal and now the campylobacter crisis are stark reminders that our food system is broken. The food available is cheap and unhealthy or expensive and ethical. A new tax on sugary drinks, confectionery and fast food will force businesses to rethink their strategies from short-term gain to long-term sustainability. It will also relieve pressure on the NHS. Many will be watching the situation in Mexico with interest.
Food scares have had the unintended environmental benefit of turning the population into flexitarians (see page 5). But little has been done to address an issue (livestock consumption) that creates more emissions than transport. Supermarkets, manufacturers and caterers to commit, under new regulations, to offer vegetarian or low-meat options in 30% of their ready-meal ranges.
Voluntary agreements tend to win votes among the business community but issues such as obesity are in danger of bringing public services to breaking point. The government needs to stop pandering to the big food-sector bosses. Voluntary deals are not enough and simply allow incumbent governments to tread water until the next manifesto.
To lift everyone to the living wage overnight would be economic suicide. But more companies need to start forcing the government’s hand. Councils in Scotland are now showing what can be done.