by Mark Cordle8 minute read
If one party’s general election manifesto ought to appeal to the environmentally minded, it’s the Green Party. However, with the Lib Dems also bidding for the role of champions of nature, the Greens can’t rest on their laurels if they’re to succeed in their target seat of Bristol West, home to several Eunomia staff.
The manifesto compiles the concerns of green activists from across the spectrum: animal rights and ecosystem conservation, organic farming and local markets, renewables and energy efficiency – all get a mention. But are they coherent, practical policy proposals, likely to deliver meaningful environmental progress – or should the Greens’ laurels be consigned to the compost heap?
Energy and Climate Change
As you might expect, the Greens don’t go in for half measures. The manifesto includes:
- A target to reduce all CO2 emissions by 90% from 1990 levels by 2030 (our current target is 80% by 2050).
- A radical policy by which to achieve this ambitious target – the introduction of a personal carbon quota (half distributed to individuals and half sold to businesses). This would directly financially incentivise energy-saving, but would add a considerable layer of bureaucracy to our lives.
- No fracking or nuclear power, an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and lots more onshore wind and solar, supported by £35bn, new deployment targets and reduced planning constraints.
- £2.5bn for research and deployment of wave and tidal power.
- Expanding electricity storage capacity, and adapting our grid infrastructure to support renewables.
- A somewhat vague commitment to ‘maximising opportunities’ for community or municipal power generation.
- To crack the tough nut of household energy efficiency, a sledgehammer approach to retrofitting insulation is proposed. The Green Deal would be dwarfed by the £45bn the Greens would spend in a single parliament to provide free insulation for 9m homes, lifting 2m people out of fuel poverty in the process. Private landlords’ tenants would be allowed to demand energy efficiency improvements.
- All new homes would be built to the Passivhaus standard.
There would also be £4.5bn R&D funding for less energy-intensive industrial processes.
Green Grade: A. Serious money, serious ambition. If you’re the kind of green that dislikes nuclear power and prioritises CO2 reduction over pastoral landscapes, this is the manifesto for you. Critics will be concerned that the emissions target and carbon quotas will stifle growth (and therefore our ability to fund green innovation). However, the Greens would be less concerned, as they want to reduce natural resource consumption, and would replace the GDP measure of growth with an ‘Adjusted National Product’ that incorporates capital and depreciation, and even unpaid work at home.
Wildlife and open spaces
The Greens offer a heady mix of protecting, banning, securing, promoting, and prohibiting, alongside better public access, all delivered through a ‘Nature and Well-being’ Act. The first item on the agenda is to ‘Protect, expand, properly fund and improve non-car access to our National Parks’.
Highlights (other than elevating bees to ‘priority status’) include:
- Planning policy reform, including repealing the National Planning Policy Framework’s presumption in favour of sustainable development.
- Creating new spatial plans and ‘healthy water environment’ plans.
- Reform of the CAP and land payments to promote ‘landscape-scale conservation’.
- Expanding marine conservation zones.
- Protecting forests, habitats and biodiversity at home and overseas.
- An ecosystem-perspective on flooding, tackling flooding risks through ‘full river system management’ including wetland restoration, natural regeneration, and incorporating water management into rules for farming subsidies.
Green Grade: A. This is Green, for sure, and a conservative – perhaps controversial – shade of it, with a philosophy founded on protection and planning. A government more receptive to the multiple benefits of open spaces, and with a more mature approach to water management and flooding, would make a major change. However, overzealous conservation could risk thwarting green development.
Food, Farming and Fisheries
Shifting food production away from reliance on fossil fuels is no easy feat. The Greens have a resolute antipathy to ‘mass-produced food’, and focus on maximising local, sustainable production. The result might well be increased food prices, but the Greens can point to planned increases in the minimum wage to protect some of the least well off.
There are no explicit monetary commitments, but a mix of:
- ‘rigorous and reliable’ research into better farming methods and land management practices. GMOs don’t get a look-in.
- reform of CAP and other agri-environment schemes to support sustainable farming, and
- policy, including making fishing sustainable.
Other ambitions, such as reducing food imports and food waste, increasing home food production, encouraging local markets and getting tougher on supermarkets are mentioned, but haven’t found concrete form.
Green Grade: C. More ambitious than many, but there’s a lack of clear funding for their commitments, and I’m not easily sated by aspirations.
Waste and Recycling
The Greens call for a ‘jobs rich circular economy’ and would appear to be enthusiastic prospective partners to any circular economy proposals that emerge from the EU.
They would use taxation and regulation to ensure products are designed with a view to re-use, recycling and recovery. They’d do away with ‘damaging landfill and incineration’ by increasing national spending on recycling and waste management by £4 billion a year, and for good measure would follow Scotland in banning sending food waste to landfill.
The current 50% recycling target for 2020 would be raised to 70%, which would trigger a massive scramble amongst waste managers in England.
Green Grade: B. Strong on ambition and intent, which Scotland and Wales have shown are key to changing waste management. However, the 2020 target seems to have been set without much consideration of the infrastructure changes needed to get us there and how fast they could take place.
The manifesto puts forward a priority order for transport (a sort of ‘travel hierarchy’) which starts with walking and cycling and progresses via public transport and low emission vehicles to end up with HGVs and aircraft.
To deliver on this prioritisation, the Greens would scrap the £15bn programmed spend on major road-building over the next parliament and divert it into improving public transport and cutting fares by 10%. Rail would be re-nationalised to save money and allow better integration, while buses would be re-regulated. Smart regional payment systems like London’s Oyster Card would be introduced with integrated ticketing and timetables. HS2 would be scrapped in favour of a host of smaller schemes. Needless to say, there would be no airport expansion.
To cut transport emissions, rail and buses will be electrified. Since the aim is to reduce reliance on personal transportation, there’s not a lot about encouraging electric cars. However, car drivers might struggle to enter cities covered by new ultra-low emissions zones, would have to pay congestion charges to do so – and are less likely to find somewhere to park when they arrive thanks to new parking restrictions.
Green Grade: A. It’s a pretty comprehensive set of proposals, and probably more than can be achieved in a single parliament. A lot of work would be needed to bring the public along with some pretty radical changes to how we get around.
The Greens promise a return to environmental taxes, with the fuel duty escalator making a comeback. It would also apply to aviation fuel (predicted to raise £16bn annually). VAT would be reduced on housing renovation and repair, and they would tax plastic bags and ‘unnecessary packaging’ to find another £1bn. Meanwhile ‘eco-taxes on non-renewables or pollutants’, focused on agricultural fertilisers and pesticides, are expected to raise £5bn a year.
Green Grade: B. The proposals press many of the buttons suggested in recent Eunomia work for the EC on environmental fiscal reform, shifting the tax burden away from “goods” such as employment and onto “bads” such as environmental damage. The only key omission is taxation on air pollution.
Overall Grade: A minus. It’s hardly a timid agenda for a single parliament. Though the Greens have been accused of left-liberal utopianism, few of their policies are far outside the bounds of what could be implemented. Uniquely, their programme offers the sort of progress on CO2 emissions that the scientific consensus would appear to demand.
In general, the proposals knit together well. For example, an increased minimum wage (equality), farm payments for organic farming (farming and fisheries), and subsidies for fresh fruit and veg (health) make sustainable food affordable to more. However, they’re not without potential internal conflicts, particularly between the policies that demand development and those that provide the tools to resist it. A commitment to localism and conservation in the planning process and an end to a presumption in favour of development may give succour to those opposing wind farms, while a hard line on biodiversity offsets could restrict the potential for tidal energy schemes.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Green Party is how to take society and business along with it, particularly given the rate of change that is envisaged. Under a Green-tinged government, might we see a grey backlash, with residents enraged by a lack of parking spaces and an end to cheap foreign holidays taking to the streets to expend their carbon quotas on burning their recycling?
Read our other manifesto analyses: