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How the next Government can deliver sustainability

Tabitha Dale

The UK’s political parties are taking it in turn to release the most important weapon in their political arsenal: the manifesto. The documents will set in stone what each party represents in this election, and their leaders will live and die by them.

As always, the sustainability sector looks towards these documents for glimpses of how the next Government might act and, more importantly, how the sector can shape and influence these outcomes. This year’s snap election has arguably precluded any long-term engagement with policymakers, but that has not stopped leading organisations from the sustainable resource sector from outlining their key manifesto ‘asks’.

Policy Connect has published its own manifesto for sustainability, which calls on the Government to “promote the circular economy (CE) in an industrial strategy, and commit to providing the stimulus for remanufacturing and greater resource efficiency, which will create jobs and reduce waste”.

The Aldersgate Group, the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), the Environmental Services Assocation (ESA) and the Resource Association (RA) have also all published documents outlining the key policy demands they would like to see the next Government take on. So what does the sustainable resource sector want?

First, there is a clear cross-sectoral call for a resource efficiency strategy. The ESA, CIWM and the Aldersgate Group all believe this is a top-ask in party manifestoes, and it is easy to see why. If the UK is to remain competitive post-Brexit, it needs to learn from other countries that have well-developed resource efficiency strategies, such as China, Japan, Germany and France.

Resource efficiency is widely viewed as a long-neglected topic of government policy but, as many of the responses to the industrial strategy consultation showed, there is a firm belief that greater integration of resource efficiency into the UK’s much-cherished ’long-term economic plan’ could deliver environmental and economic benefits.

A second clear priority policy for the sustainable resource community relates to ‘standards’. The RA has called on the Government to “guarantee that existing environmental standards and protections will remain in place as a minimum and commit to exploring improvements, regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations”, while the CIWM ask that “current environmental standards are maintained and the UK continues to show ambition on delivering clean growth and a better environment, irrespective of Brexit”.

Meanwhile, the Aldersgate Group has called for standards that “require products sold in the UK to be designed with resource efficiency in mind” which should be “as good as, if not better, than those in the EU CE package to avoid putting British businesses and consumers at a disadvantage” .

The message is clear: Brexit is seen as a real and present danger, and the Government needs to provide clear assurances that standards will be protected so as to provide the UK with certainty and competitive advantages going ahead. Only a foolish politician would blindly ignore these calls – regardless of how he or she voted on Brexit. The waste and sustainable resource sector clearly needs standards to ensure it can continue to be a thriving industry in the UK.

The final common theme from these organisations’ manifestoes will strongly resonate with the Conservative Party’s message: the sector wants a strong and stable environment for businesses to operate in. The ESA wants “policy stability to underpin investment in waste treatment facilities”, the CIWM “a clear and stable policy direction”, and the RA clear signals of a “strong and stable policy direction”.

Whatever comes from the UK’s party manifestos in the coming days and weeks, it is clear that the sustainability sector is looking for three minimums: a strategy for resource efficiency, the maintenance of standards and a stable future. But whether the Government walking into No. 10 on 9 June will be promising that remains to be seen.

Tabitha Dale, manager, sustainable resources, Policy Connect


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