26 June 2019 by Gemma Cantelo
On Wednesday 26 June, thousands of people will line the streets of Westminster as part of The Time Is Now, a mass lobby for climate, nature and people. The lobby will urge MPs to take urgent action to tackle climate change and to create a healthier environment for people and wildlife. Gemma Cantelo explains why the Ramblers is taking part.
Has environmental activism finally hit the mainstream? Earlier this year – somewhere between the Brexit postponement and the start of Tory leadership contest – it seemed that way. Extinction Rebellion protesters filled Waterloo Bridge and the headlines. UK parliament declared a climate emergency, following Bristol, Manchester and nearly 90 other councils across the country. We celebrated the announcement of a new ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, David Attenborough’s voice still ringing in our ears. Our senior politicians tripped over themselves for the chance to meet Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist.
But, where are we now? The Environment Bill – with its hope of ‘ambitious targets on the environment’ – is still stuck in the Brexit quicksand. Reports on the graveness of the threat we face continue to roll in. The latest, written by a former fossil fuel industry executive, predicts societal collapse as soon as 2050 unless we get our act together pretty darn quick. Nature fares no better. According to the latest report from the United Nations, one million species now face extinction.
So, what’s all this got to do with walking?
The Time Is Now for green, walkable neighbourhoods
On 11 June, Theresa May announced that a new target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 would be enshrined in law though the Climate Change Act, making the UK the first member of the G7 group of industrialised nations to legislate for net zero emissions. To achieve that target, the Committee on Climate Change estimates that we will need a 10% shift away from travel in cars towards walking, cycling and public transport.
If you love walking in London as I do, the Extinction Rebellion protests were hard to miss. Streets normally lined with bumper-to-bumper traffic, were filled with family picnics, performance artists and guerrilla plantings. Whatever your view of their tactics, the joy of walking in suddenly car-free streets and squares was hard to ignore. It felt like somewhere along the way, we’d lost sight of what matters. Shouldn’t our streets and public spaces prioritise people, not cars? That’s not to advocate a complete traffic ban – life is more complex. But, if we are to combat climate change, tackle poor air quality and get more people active, it is clear we need to radically rethink how we design our towns and cities. We need to make it easier and safer to travel by foot or on wheels and fill our local neighbourhoods with nature.
The Time Is Now to connect people to nature
If we don’t tackle the climate and ecological emergency we face, where will future generations walk? As the School Strikes show, young people are often some of nature’s greatest advocates. But, green poverty is rife: children who live in lower income areas, and those from black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds, are less likely to spend time outdoors than those in more affluent areas. Nearly half of the most deprived areas in England are outside the 15-mile catchment area of a Protected Landscape, such as a National Park.
We need to promote - and invest in - a thriving network of green, natural spaces and connected by green routes and public transport, from the local park to National Parks, local footpaths or National Trails. To help make this happen, we need an ambitious Environment Bill, underpinned by legally-binding targets on biodiversity and the quality, proximity and accessibility of green space. That’s good for climate, good for nature and good for people.
That’s why I’ll be joining thousands of others at the mass lobby to keep up the momentum in the fight for a cleaner, greener world.
Gemma Cantelo is the Ramblers’ head of policy and advocacy, leading the organisation’s policy, public affairs and legal work. The Ramblers’ Charter for Walking Neighbourhoods sets out some of the steps local councils can take to achieve this. Our Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood Award celebrates the places that are already taking action – polls close on 30 June 2019, don’t miss your chance to vote!
You can find out more about the mass lobby, organised by the Climate Coalition and Greener UK, on The Time Is Now website.