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19 Dec 2017

Watery reflections, environmental action and toothpaste

Posted in Blog posts

WWT’s Senior Government Affairs Officer Hannah Freeman is also the Chair of a coalition of environmental organisations working to revolutionise the way water is managed in England for the benefit of people and wildlife. The coalition is called Blueprint for Water. Hannah and her colleagues regularly provide evidence and advice to politicians, civil servants and public agencies.

Here’s Hannah’s blog to wrap up 2017 and look ahead to 2018.

What a year, so much has been going on, momentum is pulling us, let us embrace change.

Change happens because of aspirational thinkers and doers, it doesn’t happen by going, ‘oh well, it would be good to make a few tweaks’. It finally looks like government is moving in the right direction for nature. We have a Secretary of State for the Environment who wants to see change and seems to be eager for action. But we need to see words become a reality rather than a promise or a piece of paper.

Can Michael Gove give Defra the confidence and status in Government it needs to deliver on its aspirations or will the claim to leave the environment in a better condition than when we inherited it yet again be hot air? There’s an important role for us NGOs to play in this. We need to support Defra and Michael Gove as small cogs in the big Government machine and help them turn such promises into action.

To deliver on proposed actions Defra need wider Government support, funding and opportunities for partnership working. We have seen great collaboration in 2017 between NGOs, water companies and Government, demonstrating we can work together to make things better. I applaud this collaborative effort – let’s keep it up through 2018.

Yet there is a delicate balancing act to play between being supportive and pushing for more – if we don’t push enough we might not get ambitious offers, if we push too much we could end up with nothing. This is especially difficult when officials argue that we tick the box already because the environment is in a better state than it was 120 years ago. Badgers do not move goal posts, people do.

But there is also more to be done. The health of our environment is declining and there is no need for this to be the case. Government and industry need to take the opportunity of Brexit to fundamentally change the rhetoric of economic prosperity OR protecting and enhancing the environment. Both can and should be achieved through intelligent decision making.

In 2018, I would like to see the Government deliver in two particular areas that will help to protect the environment and enhance it:

  • To enshrine their commitment in an Environment Act (including an independent body to hold Government to account).
  • To put its money where its mouth is to deliver measures for public goods (such as funding and delivery of an agricultural policy which works for farmers and wildlife) and to support partnership delivery.

And finally, a plea to everyone out there at Christmas time that this is not just down to Government but down to every single one of us. We can make a difference, people can move mountains! It is people power that got Governments to commit to reducing greenhouse gases, to protect whales, our oceans and more recently to take action on plastic. Keep an eye out in 2018 as opportunities develop for you to tell Government that you want them to protect and enhance the environment.

We can all make a difference. If everybody reading this makes a commitment to give up something superfluous this New Year, the impact could be huge. I’ll start by promising to make my own toothpaste, but there are simple changes like refusing to drink out of a disposable cup, turning the heating down a degree, taking a shorter shower, or eating vegetarian once a week.

The world is in our hands so let’s look after it, let’s show the world in 2018 that the UK is leading the way and aim for the blue sky.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Hannah Freeman

Chair, Blueprint for Water

Senior Government Affairs Officer, WWT