Suzanna Hinson and Stephen Tindale
Climate change was not exactly a big electoral issue in 2010, but is even less frequently discussed now. When our politicians are willing to discuss actual policies, all they seem to talk about are austerity, immigration and Europe. The media focuses on popularity contests, incessant gossip and bacon-sandwich-eating photos – decreasing any real meaning to politics, parties and leaders.
However, the manifestos do cover climate change. This post analyses what the parties standing in England are proposing to do about climate change, even if they are not shouting about it.
At the last election, there was broad agreement between Labour, Tory and Lib Dems on most issues, though the Lib Dems opposed new nuclear power stations (see http://climateanswers.info/2010/04/editorial-18-april-2010-uk-manifestos-and-climate-proposals/. Now the Lib Dems have dropped opposition to nuclear, but the Tories are saying that they would not give any further support to onshore wind. And UKIP plus Greens are polling high enough to influence debate, even if the electoral system means that neither will win many seats. So below we comment on the manifestos of the Conservatives, Lib Dems, Labour, Greens and UKIP. We don’t consider the SNP or Plaid Cymru, who will win several seats, because we live in England so can’t vote for them. And we don’t consider issues other than climate change. (All those concerned about wildlife and conservation should read Mark Avery’s excellent blog http://markavery.info/2015/05/06/time-decide-voters-guide/).
When he was Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron asked voters to “vote blue go green”. Once in office, he promised to lead “the greenest government ever”. But in the current Tory manifesto there are not many climate proposals. They promise to be “the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than that in which we found it” and to protect our “green and pleasant land”, but don’t say much about how to protect it from global warming. They are broadly going in the right direction on energy policy, although more for energy security than climate action. They suggest continuing with their diverse approach including new nuclear, fracking, offshore wind and exciting development of tidal lagoons. But they say that they will end all financial support for onshore wind, which is very unpopular with many local activists. This approach would make renewable expansion more expensive, because onshore wind is the cheapest available option at present. So it would be bad for those in fuel poverty (all parties will continue to raise most of the subsidy via fuel bills rather than taxes).
Towards the end they restate their green plans, citing the trebling of UK renewable energy capacity in the last 5 years sources. They promise to commit £1billion to carbon capture and storage, to continue to support the UK Climate Change Act and to push for a strong global climate deal in Paris later this year “one that keeps the goal of limiting global warming to two-degrees firmly in reach”.
The green agenda makes it to the front page of the Lib Dem manifesto. In a green diamond they say “Our environment protected: Protect nature and fight climate change with five green laws”:
- Nature Act;
- Resource Efficiency and Zero Waste Britain Act;
- Green transport Act;
- Zero Carbon Britain Act;
- Green Building Act.
The number of environmentally-focused policies throughout the document is substantial. Even on the economy, the say they want it to be sustainable as well as strong, open and fair, with a focus on green investment, innovation, jobs and industry. They are also good on energy policy, which is understandable as the Lib Dem’s Ed Davey has done wonderful things to the UK’s energy system over the last 5 years – including the tripling of renewables which the Conservatives gloat about. The Lib Dems aim to reduce demand by 50% by 2030. They are willing to be diverse and accept nuclear, carbon capture and storage and heavily regulated fracking, as well as all the traditional renewables to enable them to end the use of unabated coal by 2025. They outline to promote green transport and improved air quality (though they sit on the fence on airport expansion – see http://www.rtcc.org/2015/04/21/uk-election-labour-and-liberal-democrats-offer-real-climate-ambition/ ).
Labour’s manifesto uses strong and impressive language on climate change:
- “Tackling climate change is an economic necessity and the most important thing we must do for our children, our grandchildren and future generations”;
- “We will work to make Britain a world leader in low carbon technologies over the next decade, creating a million additional green jobs”;
- “We will put climate change at the heart of our foreign policy. As the terrible impact of the floods in Britain showed last year, climate change is now an issue of national, as well as global security. From record droughts in California, to devastating typhoons in the Philippines, the world is already seeing the effects we once thought only future generations would experience.”
- “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made clear that if the world is going to hold warming below two degrees (the internationally agreed goal), global emissions need to peak in around 2020, and then decline rapidly to reach net zero emissions by the second half of this century. The weaker the action now, the more rapid and costly the reductions will need to be later.”
- “The effects of climate change hit the poor, the hardest. If we do not tackle climate change, millions of people will fall into poverty. We will expand the role of the Department of International Development to mitigate the risks of a changing climate, and support sustainable livelihoods for the world’s poorest people”;
- “We will push for a goal of net zero global emissions in the second half of this century, for transparent and universal rules for measuring, verifying and reporting emissions, and for an equitable deal in which richer countries provide support to poorer nations in combatting climate change.”
Labour promises “a legal target to remove the carbon from our electricity supply by 2030”, though no date before then for an end to unabated coal. They promise a major drive for energy efficiency, through a million interest free loans for energy home improvements in the next Parliament. “For those on low incomes, we will make 200,000 homes warm every year, delivered street-by-street by local authorities and community organisations. Privately rented properties will have to meet a decency standard, bringing warmth to a further three million homes.” A Labour-led government would set out “a timetable for the Green Investment Bank to be given additional powers so that it can invest in green businesses and technology”. It would “create an Energy Security Board to plan and deliver the energy mix we need, including renewables, nuclear, green gas, carbon capture and storage, and clean coal”. And it would “establish a robust environmental and regulatory regime before [fracking] can take place.”
But Labour too sits on the fence on new runways: “Following the Davies Review, we will make a swift decision on expanding airport capacity in London and the South East, balancing the need for growth and the environmental impact.”
Natalie Bennett was the only leader to mention climate change in the leaders’ debates. The manifesto states that “we believe in tackling climate change – taking serious action to limit our emissions at home, and fighting for a fair global deal that secures humanity’s shared future”. The rest of the manifesto carries on with what they call “our common good” at the centre; that is living sustainably, equitably and well. Their policies to achieve this are both extensive and intensive. They suggest traditional environmental policies – though often a bit more thought through – such as renewables investment, flood defences and improved air quality. And they also offer some more original, insightful and ambitious ideas, such as sustainable, publically-owned transport which is more integrated, more electric and free for some and cheaper for many. They also promote the benefits to the many through encouraging community power organisations.
The Greens’ rejection of nuclear in favour of a 100% renewable tomorrow is unrealistic. And their proposal of an EU referendum would jeopardise their ability to make any of their environmental policies a reality. But on local conservation, air quality, transport, energy in general, national and international targets, the Greens live up to their aim of being the deliverers of a sustainable world.
A vote for UKIP is a vote against climate or environmental protection. The first mention of environment – a rare word in the manifesto – is to say “immigrants have had significant consequences on our environment”. The first mention of climate, a word only mentioned six times in total, is to advocate the scrapping of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The 2008 Climate Change Act, which is strongly defended by the other parties, is dismissed as an “act rooted in EU folly”. UKIP would scrap it, to allow the maintenance of “perfectly good coal-fired power stations” and investment in new coal. UKIP is all for shale gas, saying that it is “time to get fracking” due to its affordability. Similarly they argue renewables will only be supported if they are competitive, meaning all subsidies will be scrapped and wind farms will be opposed altogether. UKIP aim to deliver their electricity strategy with reduced costs to the consumer by abolishing all green taxes and levies and withdrawing from the EU ETS. They would also repeal all EU Regulations and Directives that they believe stifle business growth, including environmental regulation.