SPEAKING at this year’s Peter Melchett Memorial Lecture Caroline Lucas, twice former Green Party Leader and Brighton Pavilion MP since 2010, called for an urgent re-imagining of politics in the face of the environmental and nature crises.
Lucas said, “Peter Melchett understood that the state of Britain’s politics and the state of our environment were inextricably linked. He knew that you can’t have a good environment without effective politics. That means an end to short-term thinking and far more joined-up government.”
Her speech echoed the Soil Association’s new report calling for: “A reimagining of politics, so it is fit to deliver the transformation that this critical moment demands.”
Lucas said, “Getting food politics right is the political challenge. The Climate Change Committee has played a critical role in driving action on global heating – we now need an equivalent statutory committee, reporting to parliament, to advise the government of the day on what must be done to build the resilience of our food and agriculture system to the shocks to come.”
On the same day the Soil Association launched its new “The Time is Now” report – its vision for the decade ahead, calling for a better approach to policymaking. Despite some notable progress in the past decade – such as parliament’s declaration of a climate and nature emergency – the report argues it is clear that “the tribalism and cynicism of traditional Westminster politics is fatally impeding action urgently needed to tackle the combined environment, nature and health crises”.
The report calls for new alliances, new forms of citizen engagement, a new spirit of pragmatism and courage in political decision-making.
It highlights that extreme weather events and climate shocks are becoming more common, threatening food system stability – stating, “A dynamic and self-reinforcing process of environmental breakdown has been set in train – a state of chronic and compounding destabilisation in natural systems that has begun to permeate human systems. It is in this challenging context that we must strive to transform the way we eat, farm, and care for the natural world.”
Soil Association CEO Helen Browning said, “These issues are beyond party politics. Real leadership will be to build consensus across political divides, to be the grown-ups in the room who refuse to weaponize environmental necessity for political gain.
“We are in the majority, and by working together, we can still realise a better future. Only arrogance and vested interest stand in our way.”
Soil Association Head of Food and Health Policy Rob Percival said, “A ‘Climate Change Committee’ for food could be game-changing, forcing governments to take long-term food system resilience seriously. Without such a body, UK food and farming will be at an increased risk of disruption or even collapse.”
In “The Time is Now”, the Soil Association similarly highlights the need to build resilience into the food system. The charity is calling for:
- An emphasis on “preparedness” in food systems, understanding that chronic destabilisation is now the norm and set to intensify.
- A cross-government approach to food policy that delivers transformative change across multiple agendas, including health, climate, nature, and animal welfare.
- A vision for farming with agroecology at its heart, and a UK-wide land use framework that aligns food production with nature recovery.
- An organic action plan that sets targets for growing organic production and consumption, with action across the supply chain to make organic available to everyone.
- A “just transition” for farmers away from intensive livestock and into mixed, agroecological production, with immediate action to reign in the harmful industrial poultry industry.
Caroline’s lecture and the publication of the Soil Association’s new report follow stark warnings last week from a coalition of twelve leading scientists, writing in the journal Biosciences, who stated their “shock” at the pace of environmental breakdown, saying, “As scientists, we are increasingly being asked to tell the public the truth about the crises we face in simple and direct terms. The truth is that we are shocked by the ferocity of the extreme weather events in 2023. We are afraid of the uncharted territory that we have now entered.”
Previous editions of the Peter Melchett Memorial Lecture have been given by former Agriculture Minister Lord Deben, Professor Dave Goulson, Bee Wilson, and pioneering farmer Andy Cato.