Air QualityEnvironment & ClimateNews

UK General Election. Why there is a need for a climate change focus.

By November 12, 2019 No Comments

In a week which saw the United Kingdom’s Green Party declaring it’s election manifesto, Extinction Rebellion being banned from the streets of London being proved unlawful, David Attenborough’s ‘Seven Worlds, One Planet’ showing the stark reality of anthropgenic climate change & the new report being penned from 11,000 scientists all expressing their views that we are ‘now’ in a climate emergency; the needs & the survival of planet Earth, can no longer be ignored.

It is no secret that planet Earth is in the midst of a climate crisis. This turn of phrase has been spurned by the many protests we have seen globally & been adopted by many forward thinking parties. It is no myth, it is not a hoax & it most definitely is not an SEP (some else’s problem)

Dolphin N2 have explored extensively the vast & diverse scientific & natural solutions being rolled out to prevent catastrophic & irreversible climate change. As a species, the human race has had to slowly accept that anthropogenic climate change is a very stark reality & although based on predictions from the IPCC & the UN that we are hurtling towards a 1.5°/2.0° hike in the global temperature; there are millions of people, organisations, scientists, leaders, Governments & policy makers who are making the changes we need.

The world is well aware that in the wake of another Brexit date having come & gone; that the UK is now in the broiling pot that is a General Election. With the election date having been called for 12th Dec 2019, it is interesting to observe where the climate crisis falls in the priorities of the leading political parties.

Naturally the Green Party’s campaign puts the needs of the climate at the forefront of their campaign. Despite criticism from some corners showing concerns about the usual priorities of the NHS, Education & the Economy; we most definitely have to consider the following.

The NHS has already seen a considerable hike in the amount of respiratory illnesses being reported & their most recent statistics make a clear connection between lung disease & air pollution.

  • Respiratory disease affects one in five people and is the third biggest cause of death in England (after cancer and cardiovascular disease). Lung cancer, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are the biggest causes of death.
  • Hospital admissions for lung disease have risen over the past seven years at three times the rate of all admissions generally.
  • The annual economic burden of asthma and COPD on the NHS in the UK is estimated as £3 billion and £1.9 billion respectively. In total, all lung conditions (including lung cancer) directly cost the NHS in the UK £11 billion annually.
  • Incidence and mortality rates from respiratory disease are higher in disadvantaged groups and areas of social deprivation, with the gap widening and leading to worse health outcomes. The most deprived communities have a higher incidence of smoking rates, exposure to higher levels of air pollution, poor housing conditions and exposure to occupational hazards.

Only two weeks ago, Dolphin N2 (2) uncovered startling statistics from the WHO which further add weight to the argument for cleaner air:

  • 29% of all deaths and disease from lung cancer
  • 17% of all deaths and disease from acute lower respiratory infection
  • 24% of all deaths from stroke
  • 25% of all deaths and disease from ischaemic heart disease
  • 43% of all deaths and disease from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (3)

Therefore, when the Green Party plan to spend £100bn per year to tackle the climate emergency, with borrowing & a change in taxes being part of their strategy to reap the funds necessary to undertake this plan; this would, one would hope, go some way to ease the burden from the NHS. However, if air pollution is not tackled as a priority, the logical outcome would be that the crippling impact of air pollution related illness on the NHS will continue. With both of the leading UK political parties making the NHS a priority for their initial wave of campaigning; rather than only heaping money into the NHS infrastructure, maybe now is the time to make prevention of unnecessary illness a priority.

Education is always on the agenda for the Election Campaigns & each time an election rolls around, the UK is offered the dangled carrot of reforms, more money, more teachers & more diversity in the education system.

Therefore, one has to question, where does climate change fit in to the education offerings from this round of election campaigns? This is a valid question, as we are well aware that not only do we need to prepare our young people for a future of climate change & all of the adaptations this will entail; but we will also be seeking to develop & educate the scientists, engineers & ecologists our future needs for sustainability & our education system will need to reflect this.

Italy has recently become a pioneer country having announced in the past week that they will be the first country in the world to make climate change mandatory for all students aged between six & nineteen years old.

Italy’s education minister, Lorenzo Fioramonti, announced on Tuesday that climate change and sustainability will be a mandatory part of education for students ages six to 19.

The new law will make Italy the first country in the world to introduce compulsory climate change education at all levels.

Teachers will start training in the new year and the school module will be rolled out in September 2020.(4)

The plan is to ensure that all students gain at least one hour per week as part of their curriculum, with the lessons being based around the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

However, the UK are not lagging behind, as a report by the Guardian (30.07.19) reported that the North of Tyne combined authority was already planning to put a UN accredited teacher in every primary & secondary school in the area. The UN EduCCate Global training scheme enables teachers to be trained in areas such as climate change science, adaptation planning, health, forests, climate change finance and international negotiations. (5)

Both of these radical changes in the school’s mindset’s could be a way for education reforms to make a positive impact on the climate education, knowledge & understanding our young people need to make relevant & informed decisions about their ecological futures. As both of the UK leading political parties have already stated, developing & expanding the UK green economy is a priority, with the current Government having already created “400,000 low carbon jobs [while in government]” (6)

A radical change for this round of the General Election, is the demands made recently by school strikers, students & pensioner groups to have a live television debate between the leading political parties to discuss the climate emergency, ahead of the December poll.

This notion has thus far been welcomed & supported by the Green Party, Labour, the Scottish National party & the Liberal Democrats. Labour & the SDP have both been quoted as saying that having a debate about the climate & the environment is “essential” with the SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford stating “The SNP strongly supports the proposal for climate change debates and will work with the youth climate strikers to ensure the climate crisis is at the forefront of the upcoming general election.” (7)

Joe Brindle, 17, a campaigner with the UK Student Climate Network, said: “We need to know what a potential prime minister will do to tackle the climate emergency. It’s essential that we have a climate and nature debate to inform the electorate and centre the issue at the heart of the election.” (7)

These observations are only the very tip of a climate charged UK General Election, with the needs of the climate & our environment seemingly to be at the heart of most of the UK political parties campaigns. Many UK voters are becoming keenly aware of the needs not only of the climate & the environment, but also the needs of the NHS, our education system & the economy in a future where 1.5°/2.0° could wreak havoc on all three.

Written by Katy-Jane Mason for & on behalf of Dolphin N2.