The UK should urgently extend climate change laws to other areas of environmental breakdown including biodiversity, soil fertility and air quality, according to a paper from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
The think tank calls for a UK Sustainable Economy Act to set binding targets that would protect the health of a wider range of natural systems, beyond the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on climate breakdown.
This would enable the UK to enshrine in domestic law existing European Union safeguards after Brexit, some of which – despite being more limited – will fall away without new legislation.
But new targets should encompass the wider environmental impact of all economic activity on these systems – including on countries that export goods and services to the UK, the IPPR paper argues.
It follows publication earlier this year of the award-winning IPPR report, This is a Crisis: facing up to the age of environmental breakdown, which argued that a deadly combination of damage to land, soil, air and animal populations alongside climate change is creating catastrophic global risk.
As a result, the world faces a growing risk of a “perfect storm” of runaway changes caused by widespread environmental breakdown, according to that report. Natural systems are now being destabilised so quickly that dangerous “tipping points” may soon be reached, with potentially extreme consequences that may threaten the stability of societies, that report said.
The IPPR paper on the policy implications for the UK argues for a new way of thinking about economics, and calls for:
The UK government to pass a Sustainable Economy Act to extend the range of the Climate Change Act to the wider range of damaging environmental impacts discussed in that report – including biodiversity, soil fertility and air quality.
New binding targets to be set across all these systems, encompassing the environmental impact of goods and services produced in and imported to the UK, and working towards restoring as well as conserving these natural systems.
A new Committee on Sustainability to advise on objectives, similar to the UK’s expert Climate Change Committee.
A new enforcement body to hold the government to account, with more extensive powers than those already planned for the UK’s new Office of Environmental Protection – to ensure the Government is held to account after Brexit.
Deeper changes to prevailing economic models, including a new conception of prosperity and living standards, rapid increases in green investment, and a leading role for the state and local communities.
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.”
Luke Murphy, Head of IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission, said: “The Climate Change Act was a revolutionary piece of legislation that required the government to limit the total carbon emissions of the UK to levels set in law. But as IPPR’s work has shown, climate change is not the only environmental threat.
“With much of the UK’s environmental policy deriving from our membership of the EU there is an even greater and more urgent need to put in place a Sustainable Economy Act to protect all aspects of our environment after Brexit – with or without a deal.
“This should be supported by a new Committee on Sustainability to advise the Government and a new enforcement body with extensive powers to hold the government to account.”
* Read Facing the crisis: Rethinking economics for the age of environmental breakdownhere
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