THE BLOG

Action on the Environment Is Too Important to Be Used as a Political Football

01/12/2014 16:47 GMT | Updated 31/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Once the Autumn Statement is out later this week, the momentum towards the upcoming General Election in the UK will be gathering pace. So far, the political and media discourse around the election has been marked by a certain amount of uncertainty and negativity about the future social and economic situation in the UK.

This is understandable up to a point. Whilst the UK economy has performed much better recently compared to what many analysts had predicted and has recovered all of the output lost in the 'Great Recession' six years ago, there have arguably not been comparable gains for society or the environment. But going forward, the tone of the political debate doesn't have to remain so downbeat.

Looking ahead to the next 5 years, there are many areas that offer promising opportunities for the UK's continued economic recovery. Whilst rarely on top of many parties' priorities on the campaign trail, the environmental agenda is undoubtedly one of them. That's why today, the Aldersgate Group, whose business members have a collective global turnover in excess of £300bn, launched its manifesto for the General Election. In it, we urge politicians of all parties to take environmental issues seriously from pushing ahead with the transition to an efficient and low-carbon economy, to improving the UK's natural capital and accelerating the move towards a circular economy.

There is no shortage of evidence showing that coherent and ambitious action on the environment makes economic sense. A recent report from Cambridge Econometrics showed for instance that by investing in the infrastructure that will help us cut our emissions of greenhouse gases in line with the first four 'carbon budgets' recommended by the Committee on Climate Change, the UK's GDP, employment levels and average household income would all be higher in net terms by 2030 compared to a situation where little was done to reduce emissions.

When it comes to the circular economy, a report this year by the All Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group found that reducing material waste and increasing the remanufacturing of components could represent a value worth of up to £5.6bn for the UK.

There is an equally compelling case for protecting and restoring the UK's natural environment, on which businesses are often highly dependent. Take the example of water: it takes 134 litres of water to produce a single cup of coffee and 50,000 litres to manufacture a car. As the business-led Ecosystems Market Services Taskforce found last year, improving our awareness of businesses' reliance on nature and understanding that we can't just rely on key natural services such as water being available in the future will help "drive innovation, increase resilience and enhance competitiveness".

And of course, action to protect the environment has never been so urgent. This election will choose the parliament that will take us to 2020, widely seen as the last period in which the world economy can implement sufficient decarbonisation programmes to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.

But the benefits of taking strong action on the environmental agenda will only materialise if we can provide a sufficiently supportive policy framework to attract the investment we need in environmental projects at an affordable cost and equip our workforce with the skills needed to take part in these promising growth areas.

This, in turn, requires three ingredients that lie at the core of our manifesto: providing policy stability, which requires continued and growing cross-party political support for the environmental agenda; ensuring that the ambition of Government action on the environment is in keeping with the severity of the economic damage that continued environmental degradation threatens; and proactively looking at those parts of the environmental agenda where the UK is well positioned to derive significant economic value from having ambitious policies in place.

Coherent and long-term policy making on the environment is worth the prize. It doesn't just make sense for nature and the economy; society will benefit too. As we argued in our recent Economy That Works report, environmental policies are also key to delivering important social benefits such as better health and wellbeing from cleaner air.

Put simply, the value of nature is too important in its own right, our economy and people's lives to be used as a political football.