OPINION: Julie Fourcade, head of external affairs at the waste and resource management company FCC Environment writes about the opportunity presented within the Resources and Waste Strategy, and the case for action to address climate change.
Now that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has published its deadline (13 May) on the Resources and Waste Strategy, there is a temptation to dive straight in with strong viewpoints and forceful agendas.
At times like this however, it can be worthwhile to pause, take a breath, and reflect on the bigger picture for a moment; to step out from sometimes entrenched positions and consider why we are here in the first place.
If the last Waste Strategy was of the millennial generation, then this Resources and Waste Strategy will serve Generation Z.
Most members of Gen Z (born mid-1990s to mid-2000s) are yet to join the workforce; yet by the time some of the longer-term targets are coming to fruition, many of them will be grandparents. These are the young people who, inspired by 16-year old Swede Greta Thunberg, are striking from school to protest about inaction on climate change. They see the current inaction and time spent debating minutiae as time wasted.
The opportunity we now have before us as a sector therefore demands some searching questions.
What vision do we have for managing resources and waste? Are we an industry that protects our own economic interests, preferring business as usual, our heads down, while we hope to swerve demanding legislation?
Or are we still the “green star” of the economy? The industry that knows where it’s going and why; the industry that sees the bigger picture and understands its role in achieving a brighter future?
The international community has received warning that we have only 12 years to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5C – beyond which the impacts will be irreversible. By that time, Greta Thunberg will be 28 years old.
To know where we are going, we need to understand where we have come from. Twenty years ago, climate change was the main issue driving the Landfill Directive (1999) and previous Waste Strategy (2000). Much of our efforts towards recycling and composting were in response to the need to divert biodegradable waste from landfill – specifically to avoid climate changing methane gas emissions.
More recently, the circular economy movement introduced broader, restorative themes, but the focus ultimately remained on resource efficiency and protecting the living world. It is 2019 and we are faced with worsening air pollution, rising sea levels, and persistent pollution from unmanaged solid waste around the world.
This is our opportunity to make an impact, and leave a legacy that will not disappoint Gen Z. The 1983 Brundtland Commission report, ‘Our Common Future’, defined sustainable development as: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Let’s reflect on that as we provide our consultation responses to government. It is millennials and gen Z who will be implementing and delivering on what is agreed at this juncture. We have a responsibility to lead, and choose wisely.