Standing up for green business in turbulent times

With environmental markets never having faced the levels of uncertainty they currently do and with Brexit threatening to reshape the regulatory framework that green businesses work within, this year’s EIC Political Summit could not have taken place at a more opportune time.

The summit, organised by trade body the Environmental Industries Commission and sponsored by Bird & Bird and Lancaster University Environment Centre, looked at the prospects for green growth over the next few years through the thoughts and insights of a number of top speakers who gave the audience in Committee Room Ten at the Houses of Parliament the benefit of their wisdom on environmental and business issues.

First to speak was London deputy mayor Shirley Rodrigues, who spoke about London mayor Sadiq Khan’s new Environment Plan for London, highlighting the important role that environmental businesses can play in supporting Khan’s plans. There was some discussion about the potential for push-back over the mayor’s controversial proposals on diesel vehicles and the T-Charge but Rodrigues was steadfast in defending the measures, saying that they were needed to improve Londoners’ quality of life and wellbeing.

Former climate change secretary Sir Ed Davey MP offered his audience a somewhat pessimistic view of the current approach to environmental policy, particularly in the aftermath of the vote to leave the European Union. Davey said he was very sceptical about environment secretary Michael Gove’s commitment to his brief and he wasn’t at all optimistic about the UK’s trade prospects in Europe post-Brexit.

“Brexit means that we won’t be able to influence other countries on climate change because we don’t have a seat at the table,” said Davey. He said that the UK’s influential role on climate change in persuading other countries to do the right thing would be lost and that this would have ramifications for the environment. He tried to strike a more optimistic tone in looking at the up sides of the UK being able to do some things more effectively by going it alone but on the whole he thought that Brexit would have a negative effect.

 Two panel sessions looked at the effect of Brexit on environmental regulation and what businesses wanted from the environmental sector at a time of change. Green Alliance director Shaun Spiers said that the sector was still no clearer now about the outcomes of Brexit and that this was a worry. However he thought that there would be no cliff edge withdrawal from the EU and somehow the politicians and business would make it work, though the road would be uncertain and bumpy.

There was a clear view from the audience and panellists that it was never more important for environmental businesses to be arguing the case for what they do and the benefits they bring to clients and government. Given this to be the case, it was also never more important for the sector’s trade body, the EIC, to be taking a strong stand on the key issues and informing and educating its members and also the government.

Finally, Mary Creagh MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, gave her perspectives on environmental politics in a hung parliament. She gave a withering and often scathing assessment of the government’s commitment to the environment and to green legislation, saying that there was “no strategy from government currently” on the key issues.

Creagh also said that she thought that Brexit would be used by the various factions within the Conservative party to settle political scores and that the environment and green legislation was in danger of being side-lined. “Your industry’s challenge is to ensure that it doesn’t die as a result of the EU withdrawal bill,” said Creagh who appealed for the businesses present to help her and her committee to keep the government under scrutiny as the Brexit process wends its way through parliament.

So, much food for thought then for those environmental businesses present and much to do for the Environmental Industries Commission and its executive director Matthew Farrow, who told the audience at a reception following the summit that his organisation would continue to represent the interests of its members to government and ensure that their interests and those of the environment were paramount amidst the ongoing political turbulence.

Click here for more information on the EIC and its work.

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