Never before has climate change been so prominent in both the public psyche and the political discourse. Since the last general election in June 2017, climate protestors have marched the streets, Greta Thunberg has inspired action across the planet and a host of local authorities, businesses and other organisations have declared climate emergencies.
According to a recent YouGov survey, 26% of people said the environment was one of the top three issues facing the country, compared to just 8% in 2017. The 2019 general election has been called the ‘climate election’, and the major parties have – with good reason – pushed climate change up their political agendas.
With the election days away, what commitments are the parties making on climate change? Eunomia staff have digested some of the main parties’ manifestos to see whose policies conflict with environmental goals, and whose promises withstand scrutiny.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, climate change mitigation is a core thread running throughout the Green Party’s manifesto. Their pledges centre on their ‘Green New Deal’ – a ten-year plan for tackling climate change and ecological breakdown, aiming to achieve net zero carbon for the UK by 2030.
The party’s carbon reduction commitments cover five key areas: energy, housing, transport, industry and food, farming and forestry.
In the energy sector, they propose replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy by:
- Enabling communities to develop their own renewable energy projects;
- Introducing incentives and support, including transforming the planning system, for wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, hydro and other renewable energies;
- Removing oil and gas subsidies;
- Applying a carbon tax on fossil fuel imports and domestic extraction, which will rise progressively over a decade; and
- Expanding capacity for energy storage.
They commit to reduce domestic carbon emissions by cutting energy demand in homes, through better home insulation, heating upgrades for a million homes per year and creating 100,000 new energy-efficient council homes annually. They also mention low carbon construction, retrofitting and converting existing buildings.
The Greens promise to decarbonize transport through spending £2.5 billion per year on active travel infrastructure, such as new cycleways and footpaths, and making public transport more affordable. Excessive flying would be disincentivized and airport expansions halted, whilst the replacement of petrol and diesel vehicles with electric alternatives will be accelerated, with no new petrol or diesel vehicles from 2030.
Within the envisaged ‘green industrial revolution’, the Greens pledge to support businesses to decarbonize and to train people to access new green jobs.
Lastly, under a low carbon vision for the food, farming and forestry sector, the party pledges to reduce carbon emissions by planting 700 million more trees and to support a sustainable farming system, funded in part by a tax on meat and dairy products to tackle emissions from livestock.
In all, the Green Party’s Green New Deal would see an investment of over £100 billion per year in measures that would reduce emissions.
The Labour Party’s manifesto probably represents the greatest shift in narrative regarding the climate since the last election. Labour pledges to create a £250 billion ‘Green Transformation Fund’ to support a new green industrial revolution. It aims to put the UK on course for a net-zero energy system within the 2030s, and for food production by 2040, but there is no specific commitment to reach net zero overall.
Decarbonisation will be supported by delivering nearly 90% of electricity and 50% of heat from renewable and low-carbon sources by 2030, including a plan to erect nearly 10,000 more onshore and offshore wind turbines while expanding battery storage to balance the grid. It also plans to introduce a windfall tax on oil companies.
Other key climate policies include:
- Retrofitting almost all UK homes to the highest energy-efficiency standards;
- Making clear improvements to bus and rail services, increasing the budget for active travel and supporting the sale of ultra-low emissions vehicles; and
- An ‘ambitious’ programme of tree-planting across the UK.
Elsewhere in the manifesto, Labour speaks of climate diplomacy and climate justice, with pledges to stop all aid spending on overseas fossil fuel production and rejecting any trade deals that conflict with the Party’s climate principles.
Running counter to Labour’s climate policies, however, is the party’s ambiguity regarding airport expansions and aviation. Some parties have explicitly come out against airport expansion, but Labour’s manifesto implies that it would not oppose Heathrow’s expansion to alleviate pressures on airport capacity in the South East.
Ending fossil fuel subsidies by 2025
The Liberal Democrats’ “Plan for a Green Society and a Green Economy” proposes to immediately set in motion a ten-year emergency programme to substantially cut emissions, arriving at net-zero in 2045. Their commitments include:
- Improving domestic insulation, installing heat pumps and building zero-carbon new homes;
- Increased funding for renewable energy, removing restrictions on wind farms and banning fracking;
- Electrifying cars and railways and investing in public transport, while barring any increase in the number of airport runways; and
- Requiring all listed companies to set greenhouse gas targets consistent with the Paris Agreement and encouraging green investments.
Furthermore, the Liberal Democrats commit to ending fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 and creating a Green Investment Bank – replacing the one sold off in 2017. All of this would be overseen by the proposed Department for Climate Change and Natural Resources.
Green policies are integrated throughout the manifesto, in pledges regarding innovation, economic growth, technology and social justice, with no policies that obviously push in the opposite direction. However, it is silent on certain issues that make it less radical than it might at first appear.
There is little focus on disincentivising car use or ending road-building programmes, no mention of a ‘Green New Deal’ to set in motion the proposed shift to renewable energy, and despite the pledges on public transport, it does not propose measures to make long-distance trains more financially viable. Their commitment to completing the HS2 rail project is divisive and linked to plans for regional airport expansion.
Though heavy on pledges, the manifesto is thin on detail regarding the mechanisms to implement them.
The Conservative Party’s manifesto does not advance on the ‘net zero by 2050’ commitment that was enshrined in law this summer and focuses on ‘clean growth’.
They pledge a £640 million investment for a new ‘Nature for Climate fund’, planting 30 million trees per year (compared with Labour’s post-manifesto announcement of 100 million per year) and working to restore peatland. Another four billion is pledged for decarbonisation schemes such as electric vehicle infrastructure and cleaner energy.
The party presents costed investment plans for carbon capture and storage, helping energy intensive industries to reduce emissions without changing fuel source. They also propose support for nuclear and renewables, and £9.2 billion to improve the energy efficiency of schools, homes and hospitals. Overseeing this shift would be a new independent Office for Environmental Protection.
Yet, elsewhere in the manifesto there are some contradicting and ambiguous offers, not to mention Boris Johnson’s refusal to participate in Channel 4’s recent climate debate.
Notably, the Tories do not rule out a third runway for Heathrow, and offer a sector deal tosupport North Sea oil and gas. They offer a moratorium on fracking, rather than the ban proposed by the Lib Dems and Greens. A £28.8 billion investment in local and strategic roads will also hinder progress on emissions, especially as their proposed phasing out (subject to consultation) of new petrol and diesel cars would not happen until 2040 – while the Greens and Lib Dem pledge to stop their sale by 2030.
Who’s getting cross?
With all major parties addressing climate change in their manifestos, the need for action has become a matter of consensus. There is widespread backing for renewables and electric vehicles, and an industrial transition to a lower carbon future. There is also agreement on the need for new air pollution laws, which will tend to be a good fit with reducing CO2 emissions.
The main differences are the urgency the parties place on climate action, and the scale of what they propose. The Greens commit to net zero by 2030, by which date Labour promises to end the great majority of emissions. The Lib Dems offer net zero by 2045, while the Tories are targeting 2050. The parties are divided over several issues, such as aviation and support for North Sea oil and gas.
Overall, the Greens lead the pack, and they are the only party to broach emissions from livestock and farming. They are also the only party promising to increase taxes on carbon emissions – although even they aren’t proposing other new environmental taxes. In the event of a hung parliament, their manifesto could yet prove more influential than might currently seem likely.
Whoever the UK’s next prime minister may be, they will be hosting global leaders in Glasgow for next year’s COP26 UN Climate Summit. It will be a chance for the UK to demonstrate a leadership role on emissions reduction, and might apply sufficient moral pressure to ensure that the manifesto policy pledges are delivered, rather than melting away like Channel 4’s ice sculptures.
Featured image: Paul Albertella (CC BY 2.0), via Flickr