Environmental Protection

While some are mourning 2016 as a year of political shocks and celebrity deaths, conservationists say it has seen some “landmark” environmental successes.

Environmental campaigners warn global wildlife populations could have declined by two thirds on 1970 levels by the end of the decade, but said 2016 shows that people can make a difference.

Some of the world’s most charismatic species have seen an upturn in their fortunes, with tiger numbers increasing for the first time since efforts to conserve them began and giant pandas moved off the “endangered” list, wildlife charity WWF said.

Nepal has achieved two years in a row with no rhino poaching, while trade in the world’s most trafficked mammal, the pangolin or scaly anteater, has been made illegal by countries meeting to discuss international wildlife trade.

The UK was among 24 countries and the EU that signed an agreement to protect 1.55 million square kilometres (600,000 square miles) of the Ross Sea in the Southern Ocean, Antarctica, from damaging activities.

2016 saw the UK commit an extra £13 million to tackling the illegal wildlife trade and, elsewhere in the environmental arena, ratify the Paris Agreement, the world’s first comprehensive deal by countries to tackle climate change.

People in Cornwall are playing our part. We will be hosting ground breaking work to develop a sustainable local energy market. A three year £19 million programme has just been agreed, including EU funding, with Centrica, British Gas, Western Power, The National Grid and Exeter University. The programme will be working with local businesses and residents, utilising new technology to develop more sustainable and lower cost energy.

I am delighted that this innovative work will be undertaken here. It is just part of a plan enabling Green Growth in Cornwall, with high skilled and well paid employment that brings.

First published in the West Briton 04/01/17

Winter Wellness

The Cornwall Community Foundation is calling on anyone who receives the Winter Fuel Payment but does not need some or all of it, to donate it to Cornwall’s Surviving Winter campaign. The aim is to help local people to stay warm and well this winter.

Despite the mild temperatures this year, winter is still a very challenging time for many of those who live in our communities. Too many local people live in poorly insulated and costly to heat homes. Living in a cold home causes serious health problems including heart attacks and strokes with over 342 ‘excess’ deaths in Cornwall in winter each year.

There are many small specialist community organisations who are equipped to give support and direct, practical help, and these will be funded from the donations. This year we are aiming to raise £30,000 to help those most in need of our support.

Donations can be made by sending a cheque made payable to The Cornwall Community Foundation or visiting http://www.cornwallfoundation.com.

Last winter the campaign successfully allocated £15,550 in grants to a total of 13 organisations. Over 500 people benefited from the help received in Cornwall.

The groups that benefited last winter include Community Energy Plus, Cornwall Rural Community Charity, Cornwall Women’s Refuge Trust, Gateway 2 New Life, Inclusion Cornwall, Launceston Memory Café, St Austell Community Kitchen, The Oasis Centre, Volunteer Cornwall and the Wild Young Parents Project.

There is a great deal of local help for people who are struggling to make ends meet but not everyone knows where to turn.

Sadly, I have found that the people who most need help are least likely to receive it.  You can help by promoting The Winter Wellness free phone 0800 954 1956- the expert and friendly advice service that connects people to the help they need.

Flooding

Improved rain and flood modelling, a significant increase in new temporary flood defences and greater protection to infrastructure were all outlined in the Government’s National Flood Resilience Review this week.

Lessons learnt from last winter’s floods have helped build a new approach so the nation is better prepared and more resilient to flooding, now and in coming years.

The review includes £12.5 million for new temporary defences, such as barriers and high volume pumps, at seven strategic locations around the country. By this winter, the Environment Agency will have four times more temporary barriers than last year. Utility companies’ have committed to increase flood protection of their key local infrastructure, such as phone networks and water treatment works, so they are resilient to extreme flooding. There will be a new stress test of the risk of flooding from rivers and the sea in England and, for the first time, Met Office forecasts of extreme rainfall scenarios will be linked with Environment Agency modelling to provide a new assessment of flood risk.

Locally, we have seen just how devastating flooding can be. This review sets out clear actions so we are better prepared to respond quickly in the event of future flooding and can strengthen the flood defences.

The extra funding will help the Environment Agency do even more for local communities so that we can better protect homes and businesses and respond even more rapidly and flexibly when extreme weather strikes.

With the evidence of the National Flood Resilience Review, Government will now turn its attention to investment after 2021, making sure funds are directed where they are needed most.

This builds on the £2.5 billion already being invested between 2015 and 2021 to strengthen our flood and coastal defences, as well as spending £1 billion on maintaining the nation’s flood defences over this Parliament.

Microbeads

I fully support the ban on the use of microbeads in cosmetic products and have been working with Surfers Against Sewage to promote this. Microbeads are certainly having detrimental effects  in oceans all around the world so it is essential that we take action.

Recently the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology published a report on Marine Microplastic Pollution. This report explains what microplastics are, what effect they are having on both wildlife and the environment and how they are currently being managed.

The UK, along with several of our neighbours, is party to an international organisation known as the Oslo and Paris Convention for the Protection of the North East Atlantic. One of its most important objectives is to reduce marine litter, and in 2014 its members agreed a regional action plan to address this problem. The plan includes action on microplastics, and involves co-operating with manufacturers to achieve a voluntary phase out of their use in cosmetics and personal care products.

Following this agreement the European trade body for the industry, Cosmetics Europe, issued a formal recommendation to its member companies to discontinue the use of microbeads in these products. It also noted that many of its member companies had done so already.

I welcome the news that Asda, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury’s have all agreed to take action on microbeads. Tesco has committed to remove all microbeads by 2017 and Waitrose will remove all branded products with beads from 4 September. Other supermarkets say they are seeking to ban the microbeads – Boots, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Next, Aldi, Superdrug and Asos are also seeking to banish the ‘toxic’ beads from their products.

I am delighted that the Government has announced further action and will continue to work with our international partners to eradicate the use of microbeads.

Brexit and the Environment

The Bank Holiday weekend gave me some time to enjoy our precious natural environment. Many people have asked me what is going to happen to environmental policy post Brexit.

The two outgoing energy and climate ministers, Amber Rudd and Andrea Leadsom, were on opposite sides of the referendum debate but swiftly presented a firm, united front, emphasising continuity in energy and environmental policy.

Both remain in cabinet positions. The appointment of Greg Clark and Nick Hurd to DECC’s successor has been greeted with warmth by leading environmentalists: both have long championed the UK’s commitment to climate and the environment. As Margaret Thatcher said: “The core of Conservative philosophy and of the case for protecting the environment are the same. No generation has a freehold on this earth.”

The UK’s own Climate Change Act, enshrining legally binding emissions reductions, is a major benefit and was passed by an overwhelming cross-party majority. The act is unaffected by Brexit, and the government’s decision to recently approve the fifth carbon budget was an explicit confirmation of this.

A Conservative manifesto commitment to develop a 25 Year Environmental Strategy is currently reconsidering how to deliver its environmental ambitions post-Brexit. This is an opportunity for us to go beyond EU targets and put in place more sustainable resource management policies and environmental protections. While new measures are put in place we have domestic legislation, as well as international commitments ratified by the UK, such as the Bern and Ramsar Conventions that protect our environment.

As someone who grew up here, I have seen first hand how EU policies have benefitted us, particularly the bathing water directive. I remember swimming from our local beaches where raw sewage was routinely discharged. Thankfully this is now a rarity so I am determined to build on these successes.