It is no longer hyperbole to state that our planet is facing multiple existential threats. It was the conclusion, and consensus, of international scientists laid out in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report late last year. And it is bolstered by the UN’s terrifying new report by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The conclusions can be summarised in a simple truth: humanity has caused mass extinctions and we are destroying the natural systems on which we all depend. It isn’t too late to change course – but we cannot delay a moment longer.
A Green New Deal (GND) will radically overhaul our economy and our society, delivering the policies needed to ensure a healthy and prosperous future. Significant elements of it can be introduced as amendments to the Agriculture Bill and Fisheries Bill.
At the heart of the Agriculture Bill, as currently drafted, is a welcome understanding that our environmental crises are exacerbated by systemic market failures. Put simply, because no one has to pay any money in exchange for the products and services that nature gives us for free, then economic actors draw on those with unlimited demand at zero cost. There is no monetary value put on our ecosystem services, the precious fresh water, trees, pollination and breathable air, simultaneously dumping limitless amounts of waste, carbon dioxide and other pollutants into our air and our oceans.
A GND will address these so far mostly ignored market failures while reinvigorating rural communities. It will devolve decision making to local communities to build resilience and provide the necessary funding for local economic development. The countryside can be properly valued as a producer of food alongside all of the ecosystem services that are provided. Farmers will be properly reimbursed for their environmental efforts at rewilding, encouraging biodiversity, and agroforestry. Land management will be better integrated with local watersheds, so that soil erosion is minimised, flood risk reduced, and clear water preserved. Farming will improve the soil rather than deplete it, locking up enormous amounts of carbon dioxide in soil that is teeming with life. We will make better use of our precious land by moving towards plant based diets which require less land than producing meat and dairy. We can turn over huge areas of our country into nature reserves and national parks to increase our tree cover and repair our peatlands.
A GND will also recognise the ecological importance of urban areas. The stark divisions between leafy, middle class suburbs and poor, grey, polluted inner cities must be broken down. Increased urban green space and tree planting will give nature a helping hand while improving people’s wellbeing, removing pollution from the air, and significantly reducing peak summer temperatures. Supply chains will be reformed to reduce waste and ensure that everyone has access to healthy, nutritious food, no matter where they live or how much they earn.
A GND can be brought in through amendments to the Fisheries Bill. The UN reports that 33% of global fish stocks are being harvested at dangerously unsustainable levels, and 33% of all fish are caught illegally or are unreported. Dead zones in the ocean, which are so polluted and damaged by human activity that they cannot sustain life, now total more than the entire area of the United Kingdom. We can bring fishing to sustainable levels, declare large marine conservation zones, and work internationally to protect the Earth’s oceans. Coastal communities will be reinvigorated by industries designed to protect and enhance our marine ecosystems.
The UN’s recent reports lay out a stark reality: the threats facing us are huge and the consequences catastrophic. But they also make clear that we can overcome them if we act immediately and fundamentally. A Green New Deal will tackle the challenges head on and lay the framework for the future of our country and our species. We must get on with it as if all life depends on it – because it does.