Environmental controls key to coronavirus recovery, chancellor told

Strengthening environmental regulations must be a key plank of the UK’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis to help prevent the spread of future pandemics, say a cross-party group of MPs – and bailouts for industries must contain strict conditions on their future environmental performance.

The expansion of intensive farming, mining and infrastructure around the world has contributed to diseases spreading from wildlife to people, scientists say. The 26 MPs want the government to learn this lesson and encourage better agriculture, help developing countries to halt deforestation, and provide funding for poor countries to improve their health systems.

In a letter organised by Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, they ask the chancellor to provide funding, and to recognise in his economic recovery plans that human health is dependant on that of animals, plants and the environment, and to reform the financial system to protect nature.

Lucas said: “For too long, governments have ignored the link between the emergence of disease and climate change or biodiversity loss, failing to recognise that human health depends on the health of animals, plants and our shared environment too. If our economic system continues to push the natural world to destruction and fuel the climate emergency, we will become ever more vulnerable to future pandemics.”

The MPs are asking for environmental regulations to be strengthened and enforced, and any economic support for industries such as aviation and intensive agriculture to be conditional on environmental sustainability commitments. They also call for better funding of healthcare, and an approach to economic decision-making that takes into account health and environmental concerns, including the full costs and consequences of policies for people and nature.

Their letter follows a warning last month by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity, which said recent pandemics were the direct consequence of human activity. The scientists warned: “Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have greater economic impact and kill more people if we are not extremely careful about the possible impacts of the choices we make today.”

The MPs said systems that prized economic growth above other considerations would fail to take into account the need to protect the natural environment.

Lucas said: “You can’t negotiate with a pandemic. If we’re to avoid the worst in future, rebuilding our economies in the wake of Covid-19 must be on the basis of development that respects the Earth’s natural limits and recognises our own need for a healthy natural environment.”

She criticised the decision to bail out easyJet, saying that unconditional aid for industries that fuelled deforestation, destroyed natural habitats or harmed the climate would lead to problems.

The 26 signatories included Sir Edward Davey, acting co-leader of the Liberal Democrats; Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts; the SNP; and seven Labour MPs, including Clive Lewis. No Conservative MPs have signed the letter.

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