Ecological debt is defined as the level of resource consumption and waste discharge by a population which is in excess of locally sustainable natural production and assimilative capacity. The term was coined in 1992 by the Insituto de Ecologia Politica in Santiago, Chile, wherein the production of greenhouse gases by the developed nations of the north was seen as inequitable. This was exacerbated by utilisation in the north of resources extracted in the south which imposed climatic and social changes not included in the calculations of international debt. Subsequently, a rich versus poor argument emerged, asserting that the impact of exploitation of finite natural resources from these nations had not been fully ‘compensated’ by price, royalties or licensing fees. Surrounding this was a series of ‘debt for nature’ agreements wherein some parts of a nation’s debt was erased in return for the designation of large wilderness areas. However, due to the inherently interrelated nature of ecology and ecosystems, ecological debt has now transcended the physical and political boundaries of any individual nation to become a global phenomenon that involves every person on earth in calculating the suggested debts through collective and individual behaviours worldwide.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy last month released a white paper setting out their industrial strategy. This document claims to contain a plan which is “building a Britain fit for the future”, as such, it is important to see how environmentally friendly that future appears.
The first notable thing is that the government identifies four “grand challenges” which are to be tackled to put the UK at the forefront of the world economy; the ageing society, future of mobility and AI & data economy are three of them. But the final challenge the government has identified is clean growth, which appears to be a strong environmental commitment. The government states it “will maximise the advantages for UK industry from the shift to clean growth.”
So what does the government mean by this? And more importantly, what do they plan to do? Let’s begin by going through the “early priority areas” identified in the strategy.
Today marks the six-month anniversary of Michael Gove’s appointment as Environment Secretary. In the past, Gove had shown a fairly poor voting record on environmental issues, voting against a ban on “unconventional petroleum exploitation” and alongside that voted against a motion explicitly requiring environmental permits for natural gas fracking operations. The MP also had no previous experience in agricultural or environmental roles, previous roles being Justice and Education secretary, so his promotion sparked outcry from many. Ed Davey, the former Environment secretary, described the appointment as ‘an act of environmental vandalism’, and said it would be ‘like putting a wolf in charge of the chicken coop’.
The looming prospect of Brexit makes for uncertain times in the realm of UK environmental policy, and so in many ways Gove’s tenure takes place at a truly pivotal moment. So, what has he achieved since June?
OCS Media and Research Team
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