2019‎ > ‎


Source: BBC Radio 4: Today
Date: 12/02/2019
Event: "... it needs to be a large-scale transformation in how our societies and economies work"
Credit: BBC Radio 4

  • Martha Kearney: Presenter, BBC Radio 4: Today Programme
  • Laurie Laybourn-Langton: Senior research fellow, IPPR

Martha Kearney: The changes to our environment are happening at an unprecedented pace, and politicians are failing to recognise it - that's the view of the IPPR, a centre-left think tank, in a report being published today. Well, let's talk now to Laurie Laybourn-Langton, senior research fellow at IPPR and lead author of the report. Good morning.

Laurie Laybourn-Langton: Good morning.

Martha Kearney: And you are looking at a range of factors, including climate change and biodiversity, loss of habitat.

Laurie Laybourn-Langton: Correct - we have been observing the warnings of the scientific community for a while and wanted to work out what it means for us in policy communities. And in bringing together a lot of the science, we concluded that political debates do not adequately recognise the scale of what we are doing to the environment. It's not just that we are disrupting the climate system, we are also degrading our soil, we are damaging the oceans, we are destroying species. This is happening at an unprecedented rate, in some cases faster than at any point in human history, in other cases more than in millions and millions of years, and the consequences of this are far more serious than are recognised in those debates. This isn't just about emaciated polar bears or plastics in the sea - this is about a high incidence of famine, it's about drought, it's about destabilisation of societies and economies, forced migration and, potentially, conflict.

Martha Kearney: And it's your view that politicians aren't paying enough heed to the kind of warnings of environmental scientists.

Laurie Laybourn-Langton: Yes, so and it's not just the warnings, it's a recognition as well of the kind of transformations that are needed. There are not small fixes that can be done here to sort out these enormous problems - it needs to be a large-scale transformation in how our societies and economies work, because a lot of the ways that they are built, that we've built them are causing a lot of this environmental breakdown.

Martha Kearney: Now we got in touch with the Department for the Environment, DEFRA, and they gave us a statement saying that, you know, over 25 years, they've got a plan which will replenish depleted soils, rid our seas and rivers of the rubbish trashing our planet, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and so on.

Laurie Laybourn-Langton: Yeah, and there are a lot of these individual policies that have been effective in the past that I'm sure will be effective into the future, but this goes far deeper into the very way that our social and economic systems are constructed, and crucially we among other countries need to play a part in a great global effort to sort out these problems, and that can only be done if we work together. And one of the things that we bring out in the report is that we have enormous rates of inequality and other poor social and economic outcomes. We need to transform our economic systems to stop them destroying the environment and to become more just and to improve social and economic outcomes at the same time which is something we can definitely do, it definitely needs to go a step further to recognise that wider system wide transformation that's needed.

Martha Kearney: But when you look at the scale of the problems outlined in the report, like the number of floods increasing by 15 times since 2005, extinction rates increasing by a huge rate - are these reversible?

Laurie Laybourn-Langton: In some cases, some of the changes will not be reversible. They will take a very long time to - some of the impacts will last a very, very long time in the climate system - for example, it will last hundreds, thousands of years and beyond. This is where we are - and we need to respond quickly and quicker than we have in the past. I turned 30 recently and in my entire lifetime the scientific community have been warning world leaders to act - that has not happened to the scale required, and it needs to happen now.

Martha Kearney: Laurie Laybourn-Langton from the IPPR, thank you.