Environmental Well-being after Lockdown – How to make it happen

There has been much talk of a green recovery after lockdown. What does this mean and how do we achieve it? In a wide-ranging debate on the subject organised by the Castle Debates on July 1st 2020 speakers from the worlds of medicine, nature conservation, public policy and law contributed their ideas to improve well-being.

A green recovery certainly has an economic imperative but it also has a wider cultural and societal dimension. Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, spoke about her first report to the Welsh Assembly Government (May 2020) identifying steps to increase the pace of change with new thinking about promoting the needs of future generations and not just our own.

Sophie’s work is underpinned by law – the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. She acknowledged that, as governments make policy and pass laws at speed they may revert to ‘old-thinking’, driven by short-term expedients. However, the Act is a bulwark, ensuring that long-term interests are always taken into account. Sophie cited the case of the Newport relief road to alleviate congestion on the M4 in South Wales. With 35% of the working population in the area now working from home, congestion may be a thing of the past. Long-term thinking to protect the interests of future generations means that this relief road will not now be constructed, saving £1.5 billion for the Welsh Government to spend on other, more deserving causes.

Sophie explained that there is interest around the world amongst other progressive countries in establishing their own Future Generations Commissioner underpinned by law. She is liaising with governments in Scotland and Finland who have similar plans.

England does not have a Future Generations Commissioner at the moment, albeit that a Well-being of Future Generations Bill is gathering cross-party support at Westminster. However, the Government does not support the Bill at the moment. The next stage for this Bill, the Second reading, is scheduled to take place in November of this year.

The Government’s plan for COVID recovery is to “build, build, build”. If in so doing we fail to take the long-view – for instance, because England does not have a statutory framework to protect the interests of future generations – it seems inevitable that mistakes will be made, money wasted and the environment harmed.

By Stephen Sykes LL.B, MA, Director at Ashfield Risk Transfer Solutions

Email: stephen.sykes@ashfieldrts.com

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