UK should ‘urgently extend climate laws to other environmental threats’

The Institute of Public Policy Research is calling for binding targets for the rapid reduction of environmental impacts, including biodiversity and air quality

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The UK is being urged to “urgently” extend climate change laws to other areas of “environmental threats”, including biodiversity, soil fertility and air quality.

The Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) is calling on the government to adopt a Sustainable Economy Act (SEA) that mandates binding targets for the rapid reduction of a full range of environmental impacts, beyond the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on climate breakdown.

It comes as the think tank’s previous report argued a combination of damage to land, soil, air and animal populations alongside climate change is creating “catastrophic” global risk.

The IPPR’s latest report on the policy implications for the UK argues for a new way of thinking about economics and calls for new binding targets to be set across all the systems, including the environmental impacts of goods and services produced in and imported to the UK and work towards restoring and conserving the natural systems.

It suggests the SEA should be modelled on the Climate Change Act and the UK’s net zero goal for 2050 – which effectively places a greenhouse gas constraint on the economy – and overseen by two independent bodies: one to advise and another to enforce.

The advisory body, potentially called the Committee on Sustainability, similar to the Climate Change Committee (CCC), would be independent and advise government on environmental breakdown, its causes and extent, long term goals and targets, give policy advice on how to achieve the objectives and assess potential policies.

The enforcement body would hold government to account on meeting the legally binding targets of the SEA, taking action to enforce any breaches and would have more extensive powers than those already planned for the UK’s new Office of Environmental Protection.

The think tank says these recommendations would also ensure all aspects of Britain’s environment are protected after Brexit, with or without a deal.

Laurie Laybourn-Langton, IPPR Associate Fellow and the paper’s lead author said: The Climate Change Act and the UK’s target of net zero decarbonisation by 2050 effectively places a greenhouse gas constraint on the economy. It is vital that similar constraints are extended to all the areas of environmental breakdown. A Sustainable Economy Act can do this.

“We urgently need to rethink economics so that we can continue to live within the UK’s and the planet’s means – protecting the many natural systems that are crucial to everyone’s ability to lead good lives in a way that is just, sustainable and prepared.

“Environmental breakdown is an unprecedented challenge that requires rapid structural change to social and economic systems of a scale and pace unseen in human history. We need a new story of how the economy works, for the benefit of whom, and how it relates to nature – and a new economic model that rapidly slows environmental breakdown. Our future depends on it.”

ELN has contacted BEIS for a statement.

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