Secretary of State for the Environment Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change Ed Davey, Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas all took to the stage to address the most pressing environmental issues facing the next government.
On the future of Defra, Ms Truss –Conservative MP for South West Norfolk – said the department would continue to make efficiencies within the next five years and protect frontline services.
But others were less convinced with Ms Lucas arguing that an “office of environmental responsibility” should be set up in response to the department’s failure to act on issues such as climate change and air pollution.
Ms Flint meanwhile suggested that the department would face more cuts under a Labour government.
The Labour MP for Don Valley said: “There will have to be departmental cuts year on year. There is more we could do to devolve some of those responsibilities to local government, and there is a lot we could do across government to use money in a smarter way.”
Asked how environmental policy would be affected if the UK exited the EU during the next Parliament, Ms Flint added it would be “a recipe for disaster”.
She said: “There would be an enormous impact on clean technology investment. I could not think of anything worse than two years of internal wrangling of how we are going to leave the EU in the run up to a referendum.”
However, Ms Truss took an opposing view. “We can take decision making more locally,” she explained. “I would like to see more local decision making within a European framework; 25% of proposals in the Red Tape Challenge were Defra regulations.”
Surprisingly, Ms Lucas was also sceptical of the role the EU could play on the environment – suggesting that innovative policies such as Sweden’s recycling refunds for cans and bottles “get in the way” of the EU’s single market economy agenda.
Commenting on the Lib Dem plans for the environment, Mr Davey said his Party had promised even more investment in the Green Investment Bank than Labour.
He went on to champion the ‘five green laws’ in the Lib Dem manifesto – including a Zero Waste Bill to crackdown on crime and legislate on a 70% recycling target by 2030 (see letsrecycle.com story).
However, speaking to letsrecycle.com after the event, Mr Davey said that the Zero Waste Bill “would not be a first session bill”. He added a Stern-style review and “a more holistic approach” to consider if the 70% target would be needed before it goes ahead.
Asked whether the Lib Dems could justify the policy given Defra minister Dan Rogerson’s reluctance to adopt the EU Commission’s 70% target last year, Mr Davey said: “That is called being in a coalition government. We have got a lot done given the circumstances.”