Green groups fear loss of momentum

A new report from Soil Association aims to reignite momentum around environmental progress and a 'Green Brexit' amid fears Tory leadership race is distracting.

The Soil Association has launched a new report to highlight the opportunities for a ‘Green Brexit’ in a bid to re-ignite the focus on the environment at government level.

It comes amid fears that the Tory leadership battle and potential departure of Michael Gove as environment secretary could slow momentum, despite recent high-profile mass climate actions.

Gove, who has been praised for his attention to agroecological farming and apparent championing of issues such as soil health, is currently one of five Tory MPs running to be next Prime Minister, and if successful, will leave his role at Defra.

Speaking in the House of Commons in January, he claimed that post-Brexit, the UK “will be an environmental superpower”, and has spoken repeatedly of his plan to deliver a ‘green Brexit’, where food and farming are closely tied with environmental protection through new subsidy systems and other policies.

While critics have been wary of Gove’s promises as rhetoric, new analysis from coalition group Greener UK has shown that all areas of the environment are at “high risk” of being less protected after Brexit.

Gove
Michael Goveis running to be the next Prime Minister. Image Flickr/Policy Exchange.

“This is despite a dramatic shift in the narrative around climate change, with the government setting a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and parliament declaring a climate and environment emergency,” the group said.

Most worrying is the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, which Greener UK said would stall hopes on climate progress due to economic risks, as well as the delays to the much-anticipated Environment Bill, caused by Brexit, and plans for a new independent body to enforce eco laws.

Speaking at the launch of the new report, chief executive of the Soil Association, Helen Browning, warned that the government’s new-found environmental focus could melt away.

“We have a strong mandate from the public to push for these changes with the increased concern about climate change, the school strikes and Extinction Rebellion,” she said. 

The report, named Setting the bar for a Green Brexit in Food and Farming, highlights policies that would strengthen the UK’s food and farming sector’s links to environmental protection, after Brexit, using sustainability examples in Spain, Italy and Norway.

“We have a fight on our hands to build on the progress Defra Secretary Michael Gove has started. It’s vital we convince the Treasury that the environment is a public good and to ring-fence the £3 billion farming already receives, and to link food, health, climate and farming policies,” Soil Association policy officer, Sam Packer, wrote in a blog.

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