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UN (IPBES) Report on Biodiversity – Transformative Change is needed!

May 8, 2019 3:34 PM
By Keith Melton

(This article has been written by Keith Melton, who is organising the GLD conference in June. It does not seek to represent an "official" Green Liberal Democrat viewpoint, but presents a view of where the Green Lib Dems may wish to move towards in terms of policy proposals. Keith Melton, May 2019)

There is no doubt that th Biodiversity Report presented to the IPBES Conference in Paris has underlined and confirmed all that the Green Liberal Democrats, and the Liberal Ecology Group before it, have been saying and seeking to do over the life of these groups. What is different now is that it is becoming apparent that people are now much more attuned to hearing the messages contained therein. This may be the result of the steady, remorseless, information flow over the past eighteen months to two years related to our natural world and the pressures we human are putting on the planet.

The UN`s IPCC report on Climate Change, the WWF report on wildlife losses, David Attenborough`s Blue Planet programme about plastics in the Oceans, German research on insect population collapses and many more have prompted eXtinction Rebellion`s recent worldwide non-violent direct action demonstrations and Greta Thunberg`s school strike, which has been taken up enthusiastically by school students around the globe.

Nature scene (Keith Melton)

Our Natural World

It is no accident, therefore, that the central theme of this year`s Green Liberal Democrat Conference in June is dedicated to a look at our natural world, so please make a date in your diaries to come along to Nottingham on 15th June and participate in our conference sessions (see here>>> https://greenlibdems.org.uk/en/page/2019-gld-nottingham-conference and here >>> https://greenlibdems.org.uk/en/article/2019/1303952/nature-and-the-gld-conference-in-nottingham-in-june for more details. Or, to book, go straight here >>> https://bit.ly/2TE4DER >>>> BOOK NOW!! )

Specifically, however, I want to use this article to highlight the AFTERNOON session of the Conference, which will be given over to discussing how the Green Lib Dems should be taking these issues forward. The exact timing of the session will depend somewhat on whether the Leadership contest has been launched by then or not - but more about that in a later article, so please watch this space.

The bulk of the afternoon programme will consist of a wide-ranging PLENARY session - characterised best, perhaps, by seeing it as a Liberal-Democrat-style "Citizens` Assembly" informed by the morning session speakers. But you will all, no doubt, have heard or seen the widely reported conclusion of the Paris Conference that we need to be focusing on TRANSFORMATIVE CHANGE. I have highlighted below the key paragraph from the executive summary document. Having looked at the background to the problems of biodiversity, the document concludes that:

"Goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors."

I have emboldened the specific section that relates to our plenary session, because we need to be addressing what we can do to prompt and promote such transformative change.

It is fairly clear that the Green Liberal Democrats do not need to push policy too hard on the issue of Climate Change because that is already under way through the Party`s Working Group, developing a whole raft of policy centred on Climate Change for the Autumn conference in Bournemouth. It may be possible that we can sharpen up that policy with amendments if necessary, but that will only become clear once the full report and its accompanying motion are released in due course.

The party also has a reasonably clear set of views on biodiversity and has a reputation for being very Green in this area, although we may need to look at policies with respect to the agricultural industry in the UK and the role of intensive farming more closely. Politically we need to ensure a balanced view and I know there is a tension between the need to eat and produce much less meat, which all of us understand and recognise as important, and the rather more radical pressures of veganism, which I know to be supported by quite a few Green Lib Dems and environmental activists outside the party.

That would certainly count as transformative change, but commitment to radical veganism may be a step too far in terms of party politics at the moment. By all means, let us have a robust debate and think about what is an appropriate position for GLD to take.


For me, perhaps the biggest area for urgent debate within the Liberal Democrats is to tackle the Economic stance of the Party. One of the harshest criticisms levelled at the Liberal Democrats, particularly from the Left, is that we "propped up" a Tory party hell-bent on austerity. I have argued consistently, and recently too, that the narrative should be about the degree to which Lib Dems actually CONSTRAINED the Tories worst excesses in this regard. You only have to look at the record of the Conservatives in government on their own since 2015 (notoriously "propped up" by a seriously bribed DUP, by the way, since 2017!) to know the truth of that argument.

However, it is important to recognise that there was a definite "neoliberal"/"libertarian" stance taken by Liberal Democrats, which is probably why the Cameron and Clegg bromance worked so well. If we are to make progress as a party which has at its heart the Green issues we all believe in, then it is probably time for Green Liberal Democrats to cause a serious rethink to our Economic platform. The reasons I am stressing this in relation to the IPBES report, here, are contained in the report itself. Let me just quote two of the key points made in the report `s Executive Summary, labelled B4 and B5:-

"B4 In the past 50 years, the human population has doubled, the global economy has grown nearly 4-fold and global trade has grown 10-fold, together driving up the demands for energy and materials."

"B5 Economic incentives generally have favoured expanding economic activity, and often environmental harm, over conservation or restoration. Incorporating the consideration of the multiple values of ecosystem functions and of nature's contribution to people into economic incentives has, in the economy, been shown to permit better ecological, economic and social outcomes."

This recognition that "economic growth" is a root cause of environmental decline is not new by any means. It is one factor that was made clear in the Liberal Ecology Group`s "Manifesto" just over 40 years ago! Oh, if only people had listened to us then! Nevertheless, the destructive argument between "growth" economists and "no growth" economists, which caused so much angst back then, seemed to have been neutralised by the concept of Sustainable Development which emerged from the Brundtland Report of 1983.

There is no doubting it made a significant impact then and it quickly became embedded in Liberal and then Liberal Democrat policy formulation where it remains to this day. However, Sustainable Development has since come to mean all things to all economists and means anything you want it to (and, therefore, it means nothing) nowadays. Indeed, the 2017 Liberal Democrat manifesto spoke of "Sustainable Growth" in its economic section - clearly a complete fiction in Green terms.

Now that the neoliberal `men in suits`, who apparently populated Liberal Democrat Headquarters during the Coalition, have left the stage, it is probably a good time for Green Liberal Democrats to stand up and be counted in terms of declaring our own Transformative Change to Liberal Democrat economic policy. Circular Economics and Doughnut Economics are expressions that may well become more familiar to us all before the end of the year and it is likely that there will be a draft motion for further consideration as part of the briefing for the Plenary session of the GLD Conference to be held during the afternoon of Saturday 15th June. So, watch this space.

GLD posters

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