Joseph Lewis & Ellie Savage
June 2024

How to transform the UK for sustainable wellbeing

Woodland fading into UK Parliament with overlaid text "How to transform the UK for sustainable wellbeing: Priority actions for the next UK Government"

The UK requires urgent action to address environmental challenges and begin the transformation towards sustainability. At the interface between science and policy, evidence from environmental scientists is critical to help communities and the Government co-create a sustainable society where people and nature thrive. These priorities will form the basis of the IES's message to the next UK Government.

Cross-cutting action for sustainable wellbeing

The key message from IES members was the need for cross-cutting action. The environment underpins human needs, economic benefits, and natural services, so challenges and solutions are often cross-governmental. Bringing all government departments together is necessary to avoid siloed approaches or unintended consequences. The IES is prioritising a sustainable wellbeing approach that unites the mutually reinforcing goals of thriving people, a healthy economy, and a flourishing environment.

Ambitious & robust governance for clean air

On Clean Air Day, more than 60 air quality professionals joined the IAQM's discussion event on the most immediate priorities for clean air. The discussion focused on the theme of governance, as well as the need for coherent frameworks to support an ambitious approach to air quality.

Holistic land use & reuse for people & the environment

Despite the overwhelming consensus of the environment sector to take a holistic approach to land, deliver healthy soils, and realise the safe use and redevelopment of brownfield land, the system does not yet deliver beneficial outcomes from the use and reuse of land. A more holistic 'common sense' approach is possible and must be a priority.

A long-term approach to clean & sustainable water systems

There is increasing public demand for clean and resilient water. Those expectations can be met by recognising the dynamic nature of water and addressing the most pressing challenges for water quality. The sector must be honest about what can be achieved in the short-term and in the long-term we cannot compromise on high ambitions for water.

Transformative change to address the climate crisis

For years, the IES has been calling for a 'transformative change' approach to climate action, emphasising mitigation and adaptation as indivisible and parallel aspects of tackling climate change. We need to do things differently and use all the tools at our disposal to transform unsustainable systems and address the triple crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental pollution.

An implementation landscape set up to deliver

Policy implementation is quickly becoming the environmental challenge of the next decade. While further ambition on the environment is still needed, delivery must catch up with aspirations. Giving the most important delivery organisations, such as local authorities, the capacity and powers needed to act will be critical, and specific policies like England's EIP will require support to see them realised in practice.

Robust, modern EIA in a sustainable planning system

Environmental Impact Assessment is crucial for consistently delivering environmental outcomes and securing long-term sustainable development. The future of UK impact assessment has been put in doubt by incomplete reforms. Now, there is an opportunity to create a modern and robust system of EIA, embedded early in planning and infrastructure processes.

Embedding Education for Sustainable Development across education

Education is a crucial part of our sustainable future. What we learn shapes how we view the world around us, so education can make a big difference to how society approaches environmental challenges. To produce a society that takes sustainable wellbeing seriously, we need to embed it across all types of education and at all levels.

What next?

Efforts have already begun to translate the priorities identified in these discussions into a single coherent message for government, which will be published in the coming weeks. The final result will be a concise message on delivering sustainable wellbeing to transform the UK, supported by a list of priorities and key actions to help deliver them.

The message to government will also set out how the IES and our members can support the delivery of that transformation: putting environmental scientists at the centre of solving environmental challenges and co-creating a sustainable society where people and nature thrive. Making the 'business case', it will also identify the links between these priorities and the objectives, commitments, and legal requirements of the incoming government, maximising the chance of achieving meaningful change.

The next five years will be make-or-break for the environment in the UK. This is a fundamental opportunity and IES members have spoken with one voice: use the next five years to transform the UK through sustainable wellbeing, delivering the mutually reinforcing benefits of thriving people, a healthy economy, and a flourishing environment.