It can sometimes seem that the issue of climate change is so big and complicated that, as individuals or indeed single countries, we can do little about it: I don’t believe that to be the case. Every step we can make towards protecting and preserving the environment for future generations is a step worth taking. But it can also seem that the climate change debate downplays the opportunities and upside in reshaping our societies to maximise personal wellbeing, wealth generation and community cohesion. But change can be disconcerting so, if we are to mobilise the whole of society to address the climate emergency challenge, it’s important to make a strong positive case for the opportunities and benefits in so doing.
My ten election pledges on climate change are therefore to lobby for:
- National investment in carbon neutral technology as it impacts transport and industrial processes, including battery storage for renewables and carbon free electricity generation. For example, the technology already exists to build hydrogen powered trains. We have a proud tradition of railway engineering in Newton Abbot so we should seek to leverage that heritage by being at the forefront of green railway technology. More work needs to be done on exploiting the potential of this emerging transport technology, and I believe we should make the most of the opportunity to promote more strongly the environmental curriculum at Newton Abbot University Technical College.
- Support to local community initiatives to promote carbon neutral transport including supporting electric domestic /commuter vehicles, and bioethanol agricultural and commercial vehicles using local bioethanol sites. The Government has set a target for ultra-low emission cars to form 50-70 per cent of all sales in the UK by 2030, rising to all new cars and vans being effectively zero emission by 2040. There are now more electric charge-point locations in the UK than petrol stations.This forms part of the wider Road to Zero strategy, which sets out the Government’s ambition of being a world leader in zero emission vehicle technology.
- Enabling local renewable energy generation across both the public and private sector, and breaking down barriers to implementation in the public sector. An independent study found that the UK has decarbonised faster than any other G20 country, reducing emissions by 29 per cent in the last decade alone, while continuing to grow our economy. We must build on this momentum and we are well placed to do so in Devon. There are already regional initiatives that promote local energy generation to feed into the grid, with projects in place at schools, community halls and other public buildings. Public sector organisations should be mandated to embrace this agenda.
- A sustainable carbon-neutral built environment in domestic and industrial property, mandating change in new build but with support for retrofitting exiting buildings. The Government will help lower energy bills by investing £9.2 billion in the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals. Conservatives will make solar panels mandatory on new builds – that must apply to industrial units too.
- Waste reduction and recycling beyond plastics, working with local manufacturers and retailers to reduce plastic packaging and develop alternative recyclable alternatives. I have supported many local initiatives to reduce waste including Dawlish’s commitment to be a plastic straw free town. Enterprising children in Ipplepen produced remembrance day poppies without plastic – that’s the way to go. While there is a ban on micro-beads, we still need a solution to the beads still in our seas killing fish and polluting our water.
- Incentivising and supporting local food production, marketing, and distribution across the South West and nationally through supermarket chains. Currently, most supermarket chains take everything to centralised packaging and distribution centres. Produce from Devon can have travelled to the Midlands and then back to Devon for sale: this makes no sense. We need to incentivise logistics practices to reduce food miles. More needs to be done to encourage consumers to buy local, seasonal produce.
- Agricultural standards enabling both food production and wildlife preservation. Farmers are now very sensitive to the need to balance food production with encouraging native plants and wildlife to thrive, something we do particularly well in our area. The Government are committed to developing a Nature Recovery Network and, in the long term, to create or restore 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site series. A new framework for Local Nature Recovery Strategies will be legislated for in the Environment Bill, to help support the Nature Recovery Network and better direct investment in the environment and green infrastructure – creating places that are richer in wildlife and provide wider benefits for local communities.
- Specific initiatives to protect and grow threatened species. South Devon has a key role to play in educating and changing coastal farming practices and wildlife regeneration. For example, careful farming at Labrador Bay has enabled the local Cirl Bunting population to substantially increase. As well as being rare, Cirl Buntings are very sensitive to disturbance, particularly during the breeding season so this type of coastal land management is regarded as a best-practice template for the rest of the country.
- Regulation to better protect water quality, replacing outdated and ineffective measurement systems for both sea and river water quality. I have successfully fought for measures to keep Teignmouth beach clean. I am working with a wide range of stakeholders to help stop the practice of dredging deposits from the Exmouth Harbour going into Sprey Point and will advocate for changes in the system which allowed it. Better land-management to reduce run-off pollution and prevent flooding is essential.
- A new Clean Air Act to regulate and measure air quality more effectively and mandate measures for improvement. Air pollution is the top environmental risk to human health in the UK, and children are particularly vulnerable. I signed the Times Clean Air Act Campaign and I will be supporting a Conservative Clean Air Act. I fought very hard for the South Devon Highway and it has significantly improved air quality around Kingskerswell. Dawlish air quality has also improved over the last few years. There’s more to do in Newton Abbot and Teignmouth but we’re going in the right direction.
Rising to the challenge of the climate emergency is an urgent imperative for everyone involved in politics and decision-making, both at national and local levels. We’re beginning to see a national realisation that this is a trans-generational project which demands concerted and sustained cross-party effort. We should be proud that, in many respects the UK is leading the way, and we should build on these achievements. If re-elected on 12 December, I intend to play my part in rising to the challenges.