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If we are to solve both climate change and guarantee the supply of energy we must resist the temptation to consider them as two separate issues. Much of what can be achieved would keep most current infrastructure in place require minimal additional regulations. The Climate Change Act of 2008, which combines the main principles of our climate change strategy, explains what we wish to avoid but doesn’t offer us many substantial ideas as to what the economic system devised to solve climate change would look like. Rather than preventing an undesirable future event from occurring, the attention should focus on what future would be desirable given all the current geo-political and economic concerns we face. The intellectual premise of sustainability offers us the best approach to imagine a world that embraces ecological ideas as an integral part of policy making. There are many definitions of sustainability but they all propose the notion that the current generation cannot pursue prosperity to the detriment of future generations. Politically, it presents the idea that we should apply the policy of austerity to our natural resources and our environment knowing that we require them for the following years. Earth Overshoot Day is a good example of how unsustainable we have become as the day on which it takes place is moving earlier every year.

Government led approaches are seeing their prominence fade for policy decisions. The concepts of carbon budgeting and drawing on expert advice have now been adopted by other countries as the most effective method to deal with the problem. What is missing are the policy details as to what a climate change free future might look like and how existing measures, such as CEN’s proposal for a Nature Act, could bring new ideas into the decision-making process. Into this vacuum comes the idea of sustainability and the need to legislate it into being. We don’t have the luxury of time to see if the cultural shifts occur organically and something needs to be done during this Parliament.

Sustainability seeks to unify the needs of an increasing population with the ecological constraints of life on earth. If society continues to stress eco-systems to the point of collapse, then human wants must be flexible enough to change. Climate Change as a problem requires leadership at the top, as it is considered too important to be left solely to the market. However, policies have often been ‘one step forward, two steps back’, especially when it comes to household energy use and renewable energy, with successes eclipsed by policy reversals and the withdrawal of funds creating uncertainty. This is especially true when considering the Green Deal was cancelled without a replacement on the horizon.

Politicians have to decide what sort of future they wish to see for future generations and if the successful improvement of living standards can be continued in the coming decades. This is an intentionally bold statement of what sort of world we want to live in, and how we, the current generation, want future generations to view us. Passing a Sustainability Act follows the tradition set by the Climate Change Act and serves as an example to the rest of the world that this is a problem that legislation can address and allows the UK to project a positive view of what we want to see. This is how we can achieve social, economic and environmental justice simultaneously. Building on the surprise success of the Paris talks last December this is the time to enshrine the principles of Sustainability into law through an act of Parliament.

What policies should the Sustainability Act enact?

– Establish a price for greenhouse gas emissions that equates to their social cost.
– Put into practice mitigation, adaptation, sustainability and resilience into practice throughout government.
– Reform both the electricity and gas markets to prioritise clean energy sources.
– Establish decentralised energy production to help local communities thrive.
– Streamline the procedure by which communities can create renewable energy cooperatives.
– Enshrine the principles of the Circular Economy, namely that natural resources don’t end up as landfill, thereby reducing waste and improving recycling rates through incentives.

With the creation of the new department BEIS, this is the chance to steer the industrial strategy element towards building a cleaner, greener and leaner economy.

We would welcome your views and ideas on these areas, why not get in touch or come along to our next drink tank or think forum?

Peter Kirby-Harris is a member of Bright Blue and chairs the Energy and Climate Change Think Forum. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.