Championing the CAN Bill with the W.I

Pippa Stilwell outlines her work championing the CAN Bill with the W.I

I’ve been campaigning on climate matters since 2014, I’ve been a member of Zennor WI since 2003, and I was delighted when in 2016 the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) set up their Climate Ambassador scheme and delivered an excellent day’s training in London, in partnership with the organisations, Hope for the Future and Climate Outreach.

The WI is the largest women’s organisation in the UK and has a proud history of campaigning on climate and environmental issues. Over the past 100 years, generations of WI members have used their campaigning might to call for action on issues as diverse as water pollution (1936), acid rain (1985), the ozone layer and CFCs (1988), deforestation (1989), renewable energy (1977 and 2006), honeybees (2009) and many others.

Currently, NFWI are working with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Microfibres to ensure that all new domestic and commercial washing machines are fitted with microfibre filters by 2025—and to secure the appointment of a Minister for Plastic Pollution. The WI is a respected voice in these forums—as we have no party-political axe to grind—and we are totally embedded in our local communities.

Therefore, it came as a surprise to find that NFWI had not publicly come out in support of the Climate and Nature Bill; especially as we are members of The Climate Coalition, who have supported the Bill for some time. We were in a Zoom meeting of WI Climate Ambassadors when someone raised the point, so I thought that, with the failure of the Environment Act to deliver the comprehensive protections we had hoped for, it should only be a formality to gain the support of NFWI.

Two or three WI Federations were already signed up to support the Zero Hour campaign for the CAN Bill, so we gained support both from an expanded list of Federations and from individual Climate Ambassadors. With the help of the central Zero Hour team, we drafted a letter to NFWI and awaited their response—and we were absolutely delighted to receive a positive answer.

Sir David Attenborough is quoted as saying that “the biggest threat to biodiversity is human indifference”. I’m always astonished at how quietly we all take the huge loss of biodiversity—of life itself—for example, in the wake of wildfires, 3 billion animals perished in Australia following a single fire. And yet, our future on a habitable planet depends on preserving all those other lives which surround us.

Surrey Wildlife Trusts have recently published a report demonstrating that the ‘no net loss’ metric used by HS2 Ltd—their ‘accounting tool’ for assessing impacts on nature—is untested, out of date and fundamentally flawed; and that across phase 2(a) of HS2, at least 36 times more biodiversity will be lost than that calculated by HS2 Ltd. It seems likely that other big infrastructure works will be similarly flawed.

We therefore desperately need a legal framework to tackle the climate and nature crises together: to keep 1.5°C alive, and to put the preservation and restoration of nature front and centre, thus forcing the UK Government to demand more stringent standards to protect nature and enable its recovery.

I am enormously pleased that NFWI is now fully behind the CAN Bill, and we can now go forward campaigning together.

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