Pressure on Johnson to deliver on climate commitments

Written by: Eve Preston | Published:
Eve Preston is a senior account manager at Westminster-based communications agency PLMR

Eve Preston reflects on the environmental challenges ahead of the new Conservative government in 2020

As we enter a new decade and the dust settles on the Conservative party’s somewhat unexpected landslide victory, returning prime minister Boris Johnson and his team are charging ahead with their plans to secure the UK’s departure from the EU at the end of the month.

The surge in the Conservatives' majority and Johnson’s bolstered mandate means a Conservative government will likely govern for the foreseeable future.

What remains to be seen, however, is if and (importantly) how Johnson will deliver on his pre-election promises to tackle the environmental crisis, and work with the recycling and waste management sector.

Environmental issues, including climate change, plastic and packaging waste and carbon emissions, were given greater priority and prominence in this general election than ever before.

The environment tied with the economy as being Britain’s fourth most important issue, with 25% of Brits placing it within one of their top three. It has therefore quickly become a fundamental issue within British politics, which the government now must deliver on.

The Conservative party was successful in recognising how concerned the electorate, particularly younger generations, had become about this issue, and was consistent in voicing its support for environmental action during the campaign.

In his first major campaign speech, Johnson reaffirmed his commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and pledged to lead a clean energy revolution that would make the UK the “cleanest, greenest [country] on earth with the most far-reaching environmental programme”.

It is therefore critical that the government’s policy decisions in this parliamentary term sends a clear signal to the electorate, and the recycling and waste sector, that it is implementing credible and thorough policy which will generate meaningful, measurable, and lasting change.

What’s in store for 2020?

Despite Johnson’s claims of a green revolution, and the pressing need to make up for lost time, it is inevitable that Brexit and the wider implications of leaving the EU will dominate policy-making in the sector.

A significant body of new legislation relating to environmental law, including the Agriculture Bill and Environment Bill, is expected to be taken back to the Commons post-Brexit.

The bills are likely to cover everything from agriculture, fisheries, resources, and waste, right through to the environment, trade, and energy. As this legislation will decide the UK’s environmental protections outside of the Union, the Bills will undoubtedly spark significant scrutiny and debate as we enter 2020.

The shape of the UK’s environmental governance post-Brexit seems clearer, with an Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) likely being established which will hold public bodies to account.

However, we await confirmation on how far the government will deviate from EU standards, despite Brussels officials insisting on the need to maintain a “level playing field” in exchange for access to the EU’s internal market.

The resources and waste strategy, published in December 2018, is still expected to dictate the direction of policy for much of the resources and waste sector for the foreseeable future.

Although delayed by the Brexit process, the government is continuing to assess the responses given to a number of consultations, including its plans to implement costs to packaging producers to prevent waste, initiating taxes on plastic packaging, and the establishment of the deposit return scheme (DRS) programme.

For the energy from waste (EfW) sector, one of the landmark commitments of this government is to reach net-zero by 2050.

Once the UK formally leaves the EU, our place within the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is expected to come under scrutiny. There will certainly be opportunities for businesses across the industry to influence the Government on how they can support it to achieve its ambitious reduction targets, and to secure a UK emission trading system which works.

Government will also be seeking to position Britain as a global leader on climate change. 2020 will see Glasgow host the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26.

Up to 30,000 delegates, including 200 world leaders, are expected to descend on the city in November. The conference is being dubbed as the most important climate change gathering since the 2015 Paris negotiations and will seek to strengthen the international response to the climate emergency.

Alongside the summit providing the UK with the chance to set the tone for the world’s environmental future, there is also huge responsibility resting on the Government’s shoulders to have its own positive environmental record in place by then.

With COP26 on the horizon and an electorate and industry which are mobilised to make an environmental impact, Johnson and his team are under enormous pressure to start delivering on their promises of credible environmental action.

Eve Preston is a senior account manager at Westminster-based communications agency PLMR

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