The shock of the global coronavirus pandemic and how unprepared many governments were for it foreshadows the destabilisation that will come as a result of the climate and nature crises, the report from think tank IPPR said.
Human activity has caused climate change, a huge loss of wildlife, damaged oceans and degraded soils and is creating a risk of persistent destabilisation in everything from financial markets to food supplies and conflict.
The report, which comes after a year-long investigation by IPPR into environmental breakdown, warned the historical disregard of the environment in most areas of policy has been a “catastrophic mistake” and called for politicians to wake up to the risks.
And it warned action to deal with the shock of the pandemic and reduce the risk of future outbreaks is “insufficient” without addressing environmental breakdown.
The unprecedented emergency measures taken by governments to deal with the pandemic are a reminder of the resources that can be mobilised across society in the face of major threats - with the environmental crisis an “even more extreme moment”, the report said. The UK’s performance on tackling environmental breakdown is lagging behind where it needs to be, the report warned.
Areas where needed action is not being achieved or only partially being met include setting legal targets to tackle the UK’s environmental impacts abroad, and missing goals to cut carbon emissions and restore nature.
The report calls for the UK Government to bring the country’s entire economy to within sustainable limits.
There needs to be a sustainable economy act, with legally binding targets and a green industrial strategy driving “huge, state-led investment and regulation” to speed up economic development towards meeting goals on the environment and wellbeing, it urged. IPPR also called for a royal commission looking at how prepared the UK is for environmental breakdown and votes at 16 to give a voice to those with the biggest stake in the future.
Luke Murphy, head of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission, said: “The lights on the environmental dashboard are flashing red.
“As we recover from the Covid-19 crisis, we must not accelerate headlong into another crisis for which we are not prepared.”