Thursday, 25 January 2018

The UK's Environment Plan >>> “the rhetoric is compelling, but the substance is lacking”

The government is going all gooey over the environment:
Futures Forum: UK to cut 'all avoidable plastic waste' by 2042
Futures Forum: The UK pledges action to reduce plastic waste in the world's oceans - "to lead the world in environmental protection"
Futures Forum: Environment Secretary “determined to tackle the throwaway culture which plastics encapsulate”

But not everyone is convinced and would like a little more substance:
Futures Forum: The UK government "should bring in an environment act immediately"

And others would call the lack of substance a distraction - which is pretty standard political fare of course:
Futures Forum: How fake news misdirects us from the elephant in the room

In fact, it's magic:

Environmental deregulation - here's the latest: you'll like it (not a lot)

David Powell, New Economics Foundation

17 January 2018

David Powell argues that just like the late, great Paul Daniels the government is using distraction techniques to divert attention from the trick that is being pulled

I remember going to see the late Paul Daniels doing a live magic show in Worthing. He did a great trick at the end where he got a tenner that an audience member had signed to appear inside a lemon...

Environmental deregulation - here's the latest: you'll like it (not a lot) - Business Green

Here are a couple of in-depth pieces from David Powell of the New Economics Foundation:




The Government is keen for you to know that it loves trees and animals and clean seas. People facing the threat of fracking, however, may not be so easily persuaded.

Theresa May, not known for her green views, just delivered the first speech on the environment by any Prime Minister since 2003. It heralded the unveiling of the latest Big Document from the Government – this time, the very long awaited 25 Year Environment Plan.

The reality of Big Documents like this is that they generally trigger the same set of reactions, no matter what they’re about. Just like the Industrial and Clean Growth Strategies, there’s general consensus that it’s a good thing that they even exist at all; but due in part to their sheer breadth and the diversity of issues they probably don’t properly fully tackle, just about everyone ends up having a pop at them for not having the grit to match the headline blether. As my colleague Andrew Pendleton wrote rather more eloquently about the Industrial Strategy, “the rhetoric is compelling, but the substance is lacking”.

And so it is again with the Environment Plan. On the plus side, the rhetoric is indeed compelling. It talks a very good game on the importance of the health of nature and ecosystems, not just to our economy and wellbeing, but intrinsically, as a thing in itself. And there’s no faulting its optimism: we are promised, again, a ‘Green Brexit’, repeating previous promises that farming and fishing policy and subsidies will be revamped to better deliver on environmental outcomes. They’ll need to be: NEF’s research into fishing for example, has found that without an array of new, ambitious policy, Brexit poses huge risks to sustainable practice.

There’s a lot of very good stuff in here – like more on the genuinely exciting promised overhaul on how farms are subsidised. But sifting out the rhetoric from the reality is always the greatest challenge.

With the wonders of Blue Planet II still fresh in our eyes – together with the widespread revulsion it triggered about our impact on the health of the oceans – the Government’s majored big time on cutting plastic use. Or has it? The hugely successful plastic bag charge is to be extended in England to cover all retailers, which is better late than never – and there’ll be a consultation on using tax and pricing to discourage other plastic use. This is a good start, but can’t help to feel like drops in the ocean.

Mrs. May promised to “eliminate all avoidable plastic waste within a quarter of a century” – ie, by the year 2042. That feels like a loooong time. You’d also be within your rights to be sceptical about that word ‘avoidable’: supermarkets, currently surfing a wave of public ridicule for covering vegetables like ‘cauliflower steaks’ in plastic, argue that all this packaging is necessary to minimise food waste.

The truth is that lately, within these Big Documents always lurks a Big Elephant: the Government is loath to tell companies what to do. While it has recently toned down its gung-ho rhetoric on deregulation, its preference for asking companies nicely to help clean up the mess they cause, rather than bloody well making them, means one can’t help but feel that the Environmental Plan lacks teeth.

That, combined with the whole thing being part of a charm offensive to woo younger voters, means as much is left out as is shoehorned in. One glaring omission is fracking – not mentioned at all. Ask the people of Eckington in Derbyshire whether they think the Government is entitled to bask in green glory, and you’d get short shrift. They may well ask how serious a Government that is bending over backwards for the frackers can be about the environment or the climate. And they’d be right to.

This is, after all, the reality of ‘the environment’ for most people. Not grand plans and distant targets, but the here and now: nature, landscape, animals, and the health of where they live. What matters most to people is that they feel like they have an element of control over what happens to those things. With fracking, it is increasingly evident that they don’t: it is so nightmarishly unpopular precisely because it puts corporate profits ahead of local pride, democracy, and nature.

So, as is becoming customary, it’s a plan that has a grand vision, but is full of holes. What’s in there is often ultimately lacking in real bite; and plenty of things aren’t in there that really should be. The truth is that if the Government wants to actually be a good thing for people, place and the environment – rather than just talk about it – it should start by abandoning its quest to pincushion this green and pleasant land in fracking rigs.

May's green vision: don't mention the frackers | New Economics Foundation




Diversion; sleight of hand; showmanship. Skills to be found in any good government’s playbook. Just because there’s something shiny to look at, doesn’t mean that’s where we should be looking.

Take fracking. The government doesn’t bang on about fracking much anymore, principally because almost everyone hates it. This is a change from most of the previous decade, when ministers wouldn’t shut up about how great it’s going to be when every town and village in the country gets fracked. But it’s not gone away. It’s just not being talked about as much.

The government may well conclude that the rhetorical heavy lifting is largely done. Fracking in the UK is edging ever closer, after ministers have spent the best part of a decade greasing the wheels. Just ask the people of Eckington and Marsh Lane in Derbyshire, who are currently facing the prospect of petrochemical giant INEOS going over their head to get national approval to test-frack.

Earlier this month, Theresa May’s big environment speech launching the 25 Year Environment Plan got bucketloads of coverage, mostly about plastic. Since Blue Planet II, this pretty much is ‘the environment’, as far as the spin doctors are concerned. And talking about plastic is better than not talking about the environment at all. Indeed that’s the whole reason the Conservatives are on such a tree-hugging charm offensive at the moment. But it doesn’t mean it’s where the action really is – particularly when that action is as popular as kitten chutney.

The same is happening with deregulation. Back in simpler, pre-Brexit times, the ‘war on red tape’ was one of the defining crusades of the 2010 and 2015 governments. Apparently without much else to worry about, David Cameron oversaw an armada of initiatives to slash the ‘burden’ of environmental and social regulation on business.

What started as ‘one in, one out’ – a civil service wheeze where mandarins weren’t allowed to bring in a new regulation unless they’d found one of equivalent ‘cost’ to offer up in ritual sacrifice – became ‘one in, two out’ in 2013, and then ‘three out‘ in 2016.

Sounds daft and dangerous. Is daft and dangerous. But common sense wasn’t really the point. It was the look of the thing, rather than its usefulness, that mattered. A 2017 paper from the University of Oxford concluded you don’t really get any economic benefits through deregulation, but it sends out a message about what kind of government you are. The Government’s offensively arbitrary ‘Business Impact Target’, which aimed to cut the cost of regulation by £10 billion, was savaged by both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee as a rather silly and semantic PR exercise. Numbers were cherry-picked to make it look like the ‘cost’ of regulation had fallen when in fact it had gone up massively.

Ministers have shut up about deregulation these days, at least in public. Almost certainly the tragedy at Grenfell Tower – the debate around which thrust ‘deregulation’ onto the national stage – played a role. The triumphal ‘Cutting Red Tape’ website has been quietly archived off. And deregulation is simply less of a thing: like fracking, it’s not the face that Mrs May or her government, in these strange new times, fancies presenting to the world.

And Brexit has also come along of course, and, given the total throwing-up-of-everything-into-the-air that it entails – including the UK absorbing the entire corpus of EU law – it doesn’t make sense for even the most deregulation-obsessed minister to promise there’ll definitely be fewer rules around. As soon as one tries – like Liam Fox’s chlorinated chicken– they run slap bang into the fact that, for example, we’re almost certainly going to have to stick to the EU’s animal welfare standards if we want to continue to trade with them.

But it still is a thing. Just not a thing you’ll hear much about. Dig a little deeper and actually deregulation isn’t going to be that easy to get rid of, even if you wanted to. It’s law. The Enterprise Act 2015 now requires a ‘Business Impact Target’ to be set. The Industrial Strategy promised that it would continue to promote (new euphemism alert) an “agile approach to regulation that promotes and supports innovation [and] growth”. And the recent Budget doled out £10 million for a ‘Regulators’ Pioneer Fund’ – information about which is so far pretty scant.

The moral? What the government wants us to think about what it’s up to, and what it’s actually doing behind the scenes, are rarely the same thing. While everyone’s eyes are on gimmicky plastic-free shopping aisles, the fracking rigs are entreated to move ever closer to once peaceful and now furious villages. And even if the government no longer thinks it’s a good idea politically to cheerfully promise cuts in ‘red tape’, that doesn’t mean we can relax.

A longer version of this article first appeared at Business Green, and is summarised here with permission.

Don't fall for the Government's sleight of hand | New Economics Foundation

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