Since the vote to leave the European Union last year, the Government has been negotiating the terms of our departure. Being one of the biggest constitutional changes in our country for many years, the return of much of our sovereignty gives the us the unique opportunity to charter the course that we will take as a nation for years to come.
From economic change and prospective trade deals, to the future of our justice system, there is a lot to consider when it comes to laws returning to Westminster. However, a huge chunk of control coming back to us from Brussels will be in regards to our natural environment.
I have just completed the 184 miles of the Thames Path National Trail – walking the length of the river from its source in Gloucestershire to the Thames Barrier in East London. Along this route, I have taken time to reflect on the future of our environment. Within 20 years, our climate is expected to warm, rainfall is expected to decrease, and population is expected to rise. This means that many resources we often take for granted in this country – such as water – will be under increasing pressure.
As a country we need to adapt, and I am proud to be part of a Government that is dedicated to safeguarding our natural habitat and tackling the issues we face. Despite these pressures and challenges that our natural environment will face, I am optimistic about the future of our beautiful countryside.
Leaving the EU does not mean that we will “water-down” our environmental protection laws. Instead we now have the opportunity to tailor our environmental policy to suit our own environment, rather than the current one size fits all policy which applies to 28 different countries with vastly different environments.
We must remember that the Government is already doing great things such as the commitment to plant 11 million more trees by 2020, the banning of harmful plastic microbeads in cosmetic products, the implementation of Clean Air Zones, the 5p plastic bag charge and continued investment in cleaner technologies and energies. On the global stage, I am positive that we will continue to be a strong voice for combatting climate change, as we did at the Paris Conference.
Looking forward, the Government is working on an ambitious 25 Year Plan for the environment and will be looking closely at protecting our precious habitat and wildlife once we have left the EU. The Treasury has also confirmed that structural fund projects, including agri-environment schemes, signed before our departure from the EU will be honoured for their lifetime even if they run beyond this point.
But we cannot rely on just the Government in our modern world, we are also seeing fantastic innovations and projects in the private sector in conjunction with local and national government. Take for example Sustainable Drainage Systems which are helping reduce pollutants in our water systems or the Thames Tideway Project, the largest infrastructure project the UK water industry has ever undertaken with the ambition and aim to stop millions of tonnes of untreated sewage entering the Thames.
The UK has the perfect opportunity to become a gold standard in environmental protection and an example for the rest of the world. We should be preserving our environment for all generations to come, no matter where you live or who you are. Just as making decisions about sound public finances is for the sake of those who come after us, we must continue to take action over the environment for those same future generations. Every action we take, from planting trees to building super-sized sewers, we make our planet greener and better, and work towards an environment that works for everyone.