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  • Writer's picturejoheneker

an open letter to Liz Truss, our new Prime Minister

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

Welcome to your new role as PM of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. What a time to become the leader of our nation, with pressing matters to attend to, including the cost of living crisis and the state of our planet.

Having followed the leadership campaign closely, I was surprised to see that a number of your manifesto policies appear to move our country away from becoming more sustainable*, especially when comparing them to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs).

To be fair, one of the flaws of the SGDs is that you can’t deliver against all of them equally, as there are some conflicts within them, but they are a really useful tool to help assess whether your policies are harmonious or not.

Let’s start with your policy on fracking. We know that we need to get to net zero** as soon as possible but fracking will take more fossil fuels (carbon) out of the earth to use them as energy. This is going to make reaching net zero even tougher and is in opposition to SDG 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, which states ‘our current reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable and harmful to the planet, which is why we have to change the way we produce and consume energy’. (Not to mention the risks of earth tremors and so on.)

In contrast to your support for fracking, you say you want to make more use of renewable energy, which is absolutely the right thing to do, and you support offshore wind farms. You also oppose fields containing solar panels, which I agree with, but farmers are diversifying because they are not making sufficient money with traditional farming. Please consider helping farmers to earn the money they deserve, alongside support to reduce the impact on biodiversity, and finding an alternative way to harness the power of the sun (stricter green construction guidelines, perhaps?).

Our utility companies are making massive profits, while the majority of the population is struggling to find the money to pay for huge energy price increases. SDG 10, Reduced Inequalities, demands the ‘adoption of policies, especially fiscal, wage and social protection policies, and progressively achieve greater equality’.

You have said that you don’t believe in a windfall tax, but that you would suspend the green levy. This means that our energy companies will continue to get richer, while our most vulnerable and the environment suffer. I’m not sure I understand why your approach to reducing bills must be to the detriment of the environment without consequence to industry.

I was relieved to see that you would hold the water companies to account for polluting our waterways and coastlines. It will be interesting to see how you approach this, what your timelines will be and what you will use any fines for. SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation, demands the ‘improvement of water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials’.

You briefly mentioned your support for work to protect endangered species in the FT at the beginning of August. This is in support of goals 14 and 15, Life in Water and Life on Land. I look forward to hearing more detail on how your government will approach this.

Let’s move on to your policies that affect people more tangibly that those environmental ones above.

It was interesting to hear that you’d scrap speed limits on our motorways, which I believe would lead to more accidents and avoidable death, counter to SDG 3, Good Health and Wellbeing, which demands a reduction in road injuries and deaths. According to the Institute of Advanced Motoring, pushing the limit up by 10mph would see average traffic speeds increase, meaning that accidents would be significantly more severe and thereby would lead to more people killed or seriously injured.

Not only this, but driving faster, unless you’re lucky enough to have an electric vehicle, burns more fossil fuels and costs motorists more, so again, this doesn’t really fit in with net zero ambitions.

I was delighted to hear that you’d resist a cashless society, which is so isolating for some of our older and vulnerable people, and those without access to the internet or bank infrastructure, in support of SDG 1, No Poverty, which demands equal rights to ownership, basic services, technology and economic resources.

Conversely, you wouldn’t allow asylum seekers to work, so what will they do while they’re here waiting for their case to be heard? I understand you’re keen to ‘put people off’ coming to the UK, but I’m not sure this is the right tactic. Genuine asylum seekers could contribute a lot to our society, if we have well managed migration policies in place (SDG 10, Reduced Inequalities).

Above all, it’s not clear to me where you stand in terms of moving the UK towards a truly sustainable way of life. This lack of clarity will lead to inaction and apathy amongst the public, at a time when we need action and momentum from everyone to achieve net zero by 2050.

As a conservative (small c), surely the core of your manifesto must be to conserve our planet and society for future generations? I would urge you to reflect on this, work with sustainability experts and share your clear vision on the future of our nation with us as soon as possible. We must start acting and making change, even if it’s imperfect, because if we keep debating and changing our approach every time we have a new leader, it will be too late – not for us, but for our children and grandchildren.

*sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, according to the UN’s definition from 1987.

**Net zero means that a country/organisation/household is not emitting any greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere (not to be confused with carbon neutral that means you’ll offset carbon emissions to bring your impact to zero – you could in essence increase your emissions, and just pay to offset more, so they’re very different)

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