I don’t have to tell you that Westminster has been rather distracted from the nuts and bolts of reality in recent months and years. When many hundreds of hours of Parliamentary time are devoted to dancing on the heads of various pins over the minutiae thrown up by our imminent withdrawal from the European Union, other things – naturally – will get squeezed.
The Palace of Westminster is an eight acre metropolis, crawling with people from across the country and beyond, bending the ears of politicians and decision makers. With some fifteen thousand meals being served each day, either MPs are extremely hungry, or the place is awash with those in need of refreshment having, quite rightly, sought to tear us away from the intricacies of Brexit and re-focus our attention on other matters.
And one subject which we neglect at our peril is the environment. Again, I don’t have to point out to you that this matters to us particularly here in Somerset. We, here, are surrounded by an astonishing environmental legacy, and it’s our duty to preserve and maintain this heritage.
This requires something of a strategic plan. A joined up approach with a keen eye to the future: looking at our biodiversity and biosecurity, minimising waste, safeguarding the beauty of – and accessibility to – the natural spaces around us, ensuring we’re using resources more sustainably and efficiently, reducing the risks of environmental hazards, protecting our wildlife-rich habitats, working to secure clean air and water - and all this while mitigating and adapting to the threat of climate change.
I meet regularly in Parliament with those who are pressing to make sure that the environmental agenda doesn’t get buried beneath the enormous workload of Brexit, and it’s my job to engage with government by keeping up that pressure.
I’m sure you’ll have noticed the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which makes the case for nothing less than global carbon neutrality within the next 12 years if we are to prevent something of an ecological catastrophe including widespread crop and water failure. Now I realise that not everyone will accept such thinking, and some will have strong views about alarmism, but I hope that most will agree that prudent policies to protect ourselves and our environment can only be sensible.
Frome has officially declared a climate emergency and set ambitious aims to be entirely carbon neutral within just eleven years. To achieve this, a multitude of new plans will be rolled out in the coming months, including increased insulation of local homes, ramping up the number of electric cars on the road and using more solar, hydro and wind energy.
Similar initiatives are being explored across Somerset, with councils and groups working with businesses, land agents and schools to minimise dependence on fossil fuels, and focus on our collective future.
As a member of the Conservative Environmental Network, I must say I’m keen to support such ambitious thinking and I’ve been pleased with many of the measures introduced by the Government’s 25 year environment plan last year.
If our exit from the EU offers us the freedom to define greener policies in our own image, then this is an opportunity which must not be missed.
So I welcome those who brave the queues and security checks to visit Westminster and lobby MPs like myself so that, in all the hullabaloo surrounding backstops and customs unions, our glorious surroundings here in Somerset are properly defended for future generations.