Election 2015 – 55 days to go!

Today, Thursday 12 March, we have 55 days remaining to enjoy/endure the run up to the UK General Election on May 7. The parties have by now, hopefully, decided the key issues on which they will set out their stalls, although jostling for the most attractive policies continues. Manifestos have been refined and polished, party supporters briefed from top to bottom on what they can (and cannot) say in public, and for the first time in many decades, there are new players on the block. It’s an interesting time to be an observer, and a confusing time to be a voter.

All of the key policy areas promoted so far are undoubtedly important. Houses and jobs are badly needed, national and personal security is essential, and a healthy population and economic prosperity are the foundation stones of a successful nation state. Amid the welter of campaigning words and rhetoric flooding the media so far, however, two overwhelming issues have received scant attention.

The first, the domestic one, is the need for a meaningful strategy to recognise and deliver on the importance of a healthy environment to people where we live, where we work, where we invest in our future. The second issue is global in its span. It’s the lack of a coherent UK policy to deal with an issue that is already impacting heavily on Developing Countries, and will impact all of us in the future. The failure of the current election debate to give more than a passing nod to Climate Change seems akin to a child hiding under the bedclothes to avoid seeing the monster in the corner. It’s difficult to tell whether the omission of any real consideration of Climate Change from core election manifestos is intentional or just too big an issue for most UK politicians to risk taking to the ballot box.

The Landmark ‘Manifesto’

Landmark’s hopes for the coming election need to be set in the context of our history. It’s Landmark’s 30th Birthday this year. The company was set up in 1985 to provide development services based on environmental principles, a potentially risky commercial concept in the middle years of a government founded on tough economic policies and market deregulation. In fact, our business flourished and since that time we’ve built a reputation for delivering development that is both commercially and environmentally sustainable. It’s not always been easy, but we’ve worked hard to hold on to our fundamental objective of helping our clients to create high quality development that mobilises environmental, social and commercial benefits.

Interestingly, our early years coincided with the UK committing to a number of key national and international obligations and research funding around environmental protection. The Environmental Protection Act in 1990 set the foundations for, among other measures, control of UK greenhouse gas emissions, while the Hadley Centre for Climate Change, set up in 1990 and now part of the Met Office, has become one of the leading research bodies on the predicted impacts of Climate Change in the world. The Conservative government of the 1980s contributed to setting up the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), and Margaret Thatcher was one of the first leaders to speak on the global stage about the risk of Climate Change risk on world economic development.

Three decades later, the IPPC reports that the effect of global warming on climate systems is “unequivocal” and already irreversible, and that it is “extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century“.

Since the winter floods of 2013/14, there’s no longer any doubt about the economic cost, the human misery and the damage caused to the UK by ‘exceptional’ climatic events. Looking further afield, those countries with the least historical responsibility for causing climate change – the poorest and most vulnerable – are also those already suffering the most violent consequences. Extreme weather events such as typhoon Haiyan, which displaced 750,000 people in the Philippines last year, are both more extreme and more likely to recur as a result of climate change. Notably, countries such as the Philippines are also those with the least capacity to respond when disaster strikes, resulting in far more serious consequences than when similar storms strike countries in Europe or North America.

The picture can only be described as grim. Yet the implications of Climate Change to the UK electorate, the economy and the environment seem to be perceived as a side show by the main political parties as we head for May 7.

In terms of the policies that we’ll all be invited to vote on in May, Landmark would happily contribute to the debate about housing and the need to find better ways of delivering homes that are affordable in communities in which people want to live. We have a lot to say about the importance of renewable energy, green infrastructure, and safeguarding the natural and historic environment for future community health and enjoyment. We would also comment on the need for integrated spatial planning to manage natural events like flooding, rather than short term investment in flood defences. We would even offer our experience of helping clients to navigate a confusing and under-resourced planning system if anyone wants to hear about it!

November in Paris

There’s another important event planned in 2015 that needs to be factored into election manifestos. The UK, as a signatory to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has a seat at the table at the Climate Change Conference in Paris in November. The conference is widely seen as the last chance to agree international actions capable of having a real impact on tackling climate change. International agreement will be crucial to to ensure that contributions pledged by each signatory nation add up to meaningful global action. At the moment, it’s unclear what our government, whatever form it may take post May, will be offering to that discussion.

So, Landmark’s ‘manifesto’ is simple, and it’s not ‘party specific’. Notwithstanding the critical domestic issues that affect our everyday loves now, we want to see the investment of government time and resources in a concerted effort to address Climate Change, and for that effort to be embedded in the legal responsibilities of future governments of whatever political persuasion. Without this, it’s difficult see how the costs of dealing with the day to day issues can begin to be solved. Even Margaret Thatcher, the icon of a deregulated economy, recognised the need for changes and sacrifices “so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.”