General Election 2017: How Green is Thy Manifesto?

Yesterday, Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Green Party, carried a green question mark around London to draw attention to the absence of any discussion of the environment during the general election campaign. Across the pond, Donald Trump is about to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement.

So, what do the manifestos say about climate change and green energy?[1]

The political scene has changed hugely since December 2009. That month the world’s leaders – and Prince Charles – arrived for the Copenhagen climate summit (COP15). There was a sense of the urgency and necessity of tackling rising CO2 emissions and halting the rise in global temperature. Climate change deniers were then, as now, in full swing but they didn’t win the day. Just months later, David Cameron wrote of “a vision of a truly modern economy: one that is greener and more local” in the Conservative manifesto for the 2010 election. He pledged to form the “greenest government in our history”. In the party’s 2015 manifesto, he boasted: “We have been the greenest government ever.”

Theresa May has dropped all pretence of “Vote Blue, Go Green” but still commits to leave the environment in a better state than when the Conservatives inherited it. That doesn’t square with the manifesto’s commitment to ensure the oil and gas sector “continues to play a critical role in our economy and domestic energy supply” and its plans to take decisions on shale gas extraction (fracking) out of local hands.

The jury is out on Labour’s commitment to the green agenda. Tony Blair was a better champion of the climate agenda than Gordon Brown. Under Jeremy Corbyn, there is a clear commitment to the Paris Agreement (COP21) and to tackling climate change. But the party is sending out mixed messages. It would ban fracking but it will safeguard the offshore oil and gas industry.

Fortunately, UKIP hasn’t a hope of getting into power otherwise it would repeal the 2008 Climate Change Act, which is says “has no basis in science” and “its aim of cutting greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050 is unachievable.” UKIP would also withdraw from the Paris Agreement and the EU missions Trading Scheme. It wants a diverse energy market based on coal, nuclear, shale gas, conventional gas, oil, solar and hydro.

To find a real green agenda you need to look to the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.

The Green Party wants the environment to be top of the political agenda. Its manifestos do not mention the Paris Agreement but the party would aim for a stronger global deal on climate change and a limit on the rise in global temperature of 1.5 degrees. It wants an environmental court and regulator to enforce environmental law. It will set up a Green Investment and Innovation Centre to help transition to a zero-carbon economy. They will ban fracking and replace coal power stations and nuclear with renewable energy.

The Lib Dems want a Zero-Carbon Britain Act to set new legally binding targets to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2040 and to zero by 2050. It aims for an ambitious carbon capture and storage programme. The party supports the Paris agreement and wants the UK to play a leadership role in international efforts to combat climate change. It would ban fracking, cut fossil fuel imports and assist areas where the economy is dependent on fossil fuel industries to diverse away.

Here is my summary of the commitments in the manifestos on climate change, the environment and energy.[2]

Climate Change and Environment

Conservatives. Leave environment in a better state than we inherited it. Lead the world in environmental protection. 25-Year Environment Plan to improve environment during Brexit. Meet 2050 carbon reduction target and global climate change commitments.

Greens. Ensure environment is top of political agenda. Refocus public funding for the rural economy towards restoring biodiversity, sustainable land management and farming, improving animal welfare, and tackling climate change. Cooperation with businesses and other countries to limit global temperature, aiming for 1.5 degrees. Strengthen global deal on climate change. Ensure EU principles, such as precautionary principle and polluter-pays, are transposed into UK law. A 25-year target for biodiversity, water and air quality. Environmental court and regulator to enforce and monitor environmental law. Green Investment and Innovation Centre will replace the Green Investment Bank to help transition to a zero-carbon economy.

Labour. Defend and extend existing environmental protections. Put UK back on track to meet targets in the Climate Change Act and the Paris Agreement. Support international negotiations towards an Environmental Goods Agreement at the World Trade Organisation. Consult on new standards for zero carbon homes.

Lib Dems. Green Transport Act. Zero-Waste Act. Zero-Carbon Britain Act to set new legally binding targets to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2040 and to zero by 2050. Ambitious carbon capture and storage programme. Support Paris agreement. Play a leadership role in international efforts to combat climate change. Green Buildings Act to set energy-efficiency targets, including every home to reach at least energy rating Band C by 2035. At least four million homes are Band C by 2022, priority given to fuel-poor households. Restore the zero-carbon standard for new homes and extend it to non-domestic buildings by 2022.

UKIP. Brexit will not put countryside, marine environment or wildlife at risk. Idea that our membership of the EU has been only good for environment “is quite simply false”. Repeal the 2008 Climate Change Act has no basis in science. Its aim of cutting greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050 is unachievable. Withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

Nuclear Power

Conservatives. No mention.

Greens. Cancel contracts for Hinkley Point. Scrap plans for all new nuclear power stations.

Labour. Nuclear to be part of the UK energy supply. Further nuclear projects will be supported.

Lib Dems. New nuclear power stations have role provided concerns about safety, disposal of waste and cost are addressed, new technology is incorporated, and there is no public subsidy for new build.

UKIP. Support nuclear.

Fossil Fuels

Conservatives. Ensure oil and gas sector continues to play a critical role in economy and domestic energy supply. Support a world-leading decommissioning industry for North Sea. Work with the industry to create a multi-use yard and the UK’s first ultra-deep water port. Non-fracking drilling will become permitted development. Expert planning functions created to support local councils. When necessary, major shale planning decisions will be decided under the National Planning Regime. A Shale Environmental Regulator to regulate environmental, safety and business aspects of shale. More tax revenues from proposed Shale Wealth Fund to directly benefit communities hosting drilling sites. Direct payments to communities that accept sites.

Greens. Replace fracking, coal power stations and nuclear with renewable energy. Ban fracking. Phase out the £6bn-a-year fossil fuel subsidies. Bring forward coal phase out to 2023 at the latest. Divest public funds from the fossil fuel industry. Ensure a just transition for communities dependent on fossil fuel jobs.

Labour. Ban fracking. Safeguard offshore oil and gas industry.

Lib Dems. Oppose fracking. Cut fossil fuel imports. Assist areas heavily dependent on fossil fuel industries to diversify away.

UKIP. Support a diverse energy market including coal, nuclear, shale gas, conventional gas and oil. Invest in shale gas but not allow it in national parks and AONBs.

Green Energy and Efficiency

Conservatives. Review into cost of energy to ensure UK energy costs are as low as possible, while ensuring reliable supply and meeting 2050 carbon reduction objective. Upgrade energy infrastructure in an affordable way, with ambition that the UK should have the lowest energy costs in Europe. Energy efficiency scheme for large companies. Smart meters offered to every household and business by end of 2020. Improve energy efficiency by committing to upgrading all fuel poor homes to EPC Band C by 2030. Review efficiency requirements on new homes. More large-scale onshore wind power is not right for England. Maintain UK’s position as a global leader in offshore wind. After leaving European Union, energy policy will be based not on way energy is generated but on outcomes – reliable and affordable energy and meeting global commitments on climate change.

Greens. Insulate nine million homes. Bring two million people out of fuel poverty. Progressive energy tariffs so that small consumers pay less per unit than large ones. End the monopoly of the Big Six. Invest in community owned energy. Pioneer new Community Energy Tool Kit. Reform Tax Relief for smaller-scale projects. Require all projects with government support to have a community ownership element. Require grid operators to give priority to community energy projects.  Replace fossil fuels and nuclear with renewable energy. Clean Energy Plan to ensure new investment is for renewable energy and a smarter grid. End the effective ban on onshore wind. New support for onshore wind and solar-photovoltaics. Scale up investment in offshore wind and marine renewables. Decarbonise heat, including pilot residential and commercial projects. Introduce Green ISAs. Promote tax-free Green Bonds.

Labour. Invest in low-carbon gas and renewable electricity production, including tidal lagoons. Ensure 60% of energy comes from zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030. Invest in new publicly owned energy provision. Take energy and grid infrastructure into public ownership.  Emergency price cap to ensure average dual-fuel household energy bill remains below £1,000 a year. Support publicly owned, locally accountable energy companies and co-operatives. Insulate four million homes as priority. Interest free loans for homeowners to improve efficiency. Improve landlord energy efficiency regulations and allowances. Emerging technologies such as carbon capture and storage to help smooth transition to cleaner fuels. Maintain access to the internal EU energy market.

Lib Dems. Saving energy a top infrastructure priority. Expand renewable energy, aiming for 60% of electricity from renewables by 2030. Restore government support for solar PV and onshore wind in appropriate locations. Build more electricity interconnectors to underpin reliance on renewables. Invest in cutting-edge technologies including energy storage, smart grid technology, hydrogen technologies, offshore wind and tidal power. Give go-ahead for Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. Reduce energy bills by improving home insulation and encouraging small-scale, community and local-authority renewable schemes. Expand community energy schemes and encourage councils to develop community energy-saving projects and local electricity generation. Promote city-scale demonstration projects in electric vehicles and clean energy. At least 30% of household market to be supplied by competitors to the ‘Big 6’ by 2022.

UKIP. Remove VAT from domestic energy bills. Scrap green levies currently added to bills to subsidise renewable energy schemes. Support solar and hydro, as well as other renewables, when they can be delivered at competitive prices. Remove taxpayer-funded subsidies from wind and solar schemes.

Notes

[1]. A piece of trivia. The 1939 Richard Llewellyn novel How Green is My Valley inspired the title of this blog. The 1941 film of the novel was directed by Philip Dunne – not I am sure the current Conservative candidate for Ludlow.

[2]. This is extracted from a briefing on planning and the environment prepared for CPRE South East.