The King’s Speech: biodiversity and climate clearly not a priority.

King Charles III addressed Parliament this morning setting out the government’s policy priorities for the year ahead.

Well-trailed in advance, the speech was expected “to put criminal justice “at the heart” of its plans”. Speaking ahead of the speech Rishi Sunak said: “I want everyone across the country to have the pride and peace of mind that comes with knowing your community, where you are raising your family and taking your children to school, is safe. That is my vision of what a better Britain looks like.”

There may be another King’s Speech before this Parliament is dissolved (the next General Election must be held by January 2025), but if the Conservatives want another five years in power then surely a ‘better Britain’ should also include serious actions on biodiversity, ecosystems, and the environment?

Following years of doing nothing about the managed decline of the UK’s waterways (almost all of the UK’s waterways are polluted), plummeting biodiversity (a very recent world-leading study, State of Nature, found that one in six species are at risk of being lost from Great Britain), and a rapidly heating climate (‘the single biggest health threat facing humanity’, according to the WHO), would the Tory government finally take these issues seriously?


State of Nature 2023


In a word, no.

Read in what appeared to be a deliberately flat monotone (imagine an extremely posh person holding their nose and clearly looking to avoid press debate about the meanings of inflections or pauses), the short vague speech barely mentioned the real crises facing us now and into the future. Of course we are all concerned about anti-social behaviour (sabs and monitors possibly see more of it than many of us), legislation ensuring victims are at the heart of justice considerations should be enacted, any and all racism is to be abhorred, and smoking should have been banned decades ago. These shouldn’t be touted as new policies though. Protecting its citizens should be ‘what a government does’.

Licencing pedicabs (surely a council issue) and restructuring football clubs (it may well be too hot to play football except in winter in a decade or so) might be important to some, but the environment and collapsing ecosystems will impact every single one of us – and soon. Non-detailed one-line ‘promises’ to do something about biodiversity loss and something about climate change is simply not enough. When even a supine Natural England, the government adviser for the natural environment, acknowledges that the ‘nature crisis… is right here, on our doorstep‘ the government (whoever is in power) really should listen.

While no one seriously expected announcements on banning so-called ‘trail hunting’ or outlawing snares in a ten-minute shout-out to the Tory right, given how serious the situation is, we surely have a right to expect our elected government to take its responsibilities about biodiversity and the climate more seriously. This government came to power in 2010. Since then the UK has failed to meet 17 of its 20 UN biodiversity targets, half the UK’s badgers have been destroyed to protect the dairy industry, the shooting industry has been allowed to release so many pheasants and partridges that they account for HALF of all the UK’s bird biomass, and more than 384,000 discharges of raw sewage (or more than 2.5 million hours of dumping sewage into rivers) were reported by water companies across England and Wales in 2022 alone.


Wildfires until the end of August. Source: EFFIS © EU 2023


Globally, the decade between 2011 and 2020 was the warmest on record, exceptional heat and rain, wildfires and floods’ marked a summer of extremes ‘according to an August post from the World Meteorological Organisation, and the UN Environment Programme estimated in 2016 that the global cost of adapting to climate impacts is expected to grow to $140-300 billion per year by 2030 and $280-500 billion per year by 2050. That puts a Prime Minister making announcements about new fossil fuel sites (the new Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill backs North Sea oil and gas extraction) and positioning himself as the ‘car driver’s friend’ into perspective…

No matter your politics this was a tired ‘reheating’ of old or previously announced policies. Sky News headlined a report with “Hard to see how Rishi Sunak’s first King’s Speech won’t be his last”.  The BBC’s business correspondent described the measures announced in the speech as a “not newly-minted…raft of policy proposals that have been long promised”. At least business got that. It’s hard to imagine how an environmental correspondent would find any positive proposals at all. I certainly struggled.


Rishi Sunak. Image Sky News


Fuller debates in Parliament over this coming week may offer some encouragement, but it’s doubtful. Sunak is determined to appeal to the Conservative fringe, and believes that creating ‘dividing lines’ that clearly separate himself from Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens will win him votes.

If his calculation is correct, that more fossil fuels, more roads, and less ‘tree hugging’ is what the electorate wants, then frankly we’d all be screwed. Protect the Wild doesn’t believe that is true though. Alongside a sustainable economy and feeling safe, more and more of us want a proper vision for the country, the countryside, and wildlife.

Will any of the parties provide that though? Over the next twelve months we will make it our business to find out and – of course – report back.