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UK election - how do the parties stack up on sustainability?

UK election - how do the parties stack up on sustainability?

Tomorrow the UK goes to the polls for the third time since 2015 in what is being billed as the ‘most important in a generation’. While a lot of the focus has inevitably been on Brexit, some parties have attempted to make sustainability and the climate crisis a focus of the campaign. Channel 4 even held a leaders’ debate dedicated to the climate, which was attended by all the major party leaders except Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party and Nigel Farage of the Brexit Party (who were represented by ice sculptures).

In my view, sustainability and the climate crisis are issues that will outlive even Brexit and should be accorded the weight that status merits. The next decade also represents a critical juncture in whether the UK, and indeed the world, can meet the emissions target agree in Paris. With another election not due until 2025 the next government could have a huge influence on sustainability and climate policy for decades to come.


Party representatives at Channel 4's climate election debate

Photo: Environment Journal


So where do the parties stand on sustainability and the climate? Let’s take a look. While both the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru have comprehensive sustainability and climate policies for Scotland and Wales respectively, in the interests of brevity I have focused on the five major UK-wide parties.


Brexit Party

Rather than publish a manifesto, the Brexit Party has a ‘Contract with the People’ with a couple of vague pledges to plant millions of trees and recycle our waste rather than export it. Not much to see here.


Conservative Party

The apparent contradiction between Boris Johnson’s failure to turn up to debate the climate and the statement ‘Conservation is, and always has been, at the heart of Conservatism’ aside, the Conservative Party manifesto is a bit better. The central pledge is to deliver on the target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Some of the other promises include:

  • Using the UK’s position as host of the 2020 UN Climate Conference to press global partners to match the net zero pledge

  • Setting up international partnerships to tackle deforestation

  • Establishing a £500 million Blue Planet fund to protect the oceans

  • Prioritising the environment in their first Budget by investing in decarbonisation schemes, flood defences, electric vehicle infrastructure and clean energy

  • Working with the market to deliver two million new high quality jobs in clean growth

  • Reaching 40GW of capacity in the offshore wind industry by 2030

  • Investing £800m to build the first fully deployed carbon capture storage cluster and £500m to help energy intensive industries move to low carbon techniques

  • Spend £9.2b in the energy efficiency of hospitals, schools and homes

  • Ban fracking unless there is scientific evidence it is safe

  • Set new laws on air quality and consulting on the earliest possible date to phase out the sale of diesel and petrol cars

  • Set up an Office for Environmental Protection

  • Introduce a new levy to increase the proportion of recyclable plastics in packaging and extend producer responsibility


Green Party

As you might expect, the Green Party manifesto devotes a significant portion to ‘The Green New Deal’, which is their central policy plank. The headline goal of this policy is to achieve net zero emissions by 2030 and it sets out ‘a comprehensive ten-year plan ambitious enough to tackle climate and ecological breakdown at the scale and speed set out by science. It will deliver a fast and fair transformation of our economy and society, renewing almost every aspect of life in the UK: from the way we produce and consume energy, to the way in which we grow the food we eat, and how we work, travel, and heat our homes.’

There is a pledge to spend £100b a year in the Green New Deal, with key objectives including:

  • Meeting most energy needs through the domestic production of renewable energy

  • Reducing overall energy demand from buildings and homes

  • Transforming UK industry, transport and land use

  • The creation of millions of new jobs in renewable energy, transport, land management and other sectors transformed by the transition to a net zero carbon economy

  • The provision of the training people need to access these new jobs

  • The creation of at least 100,000 new socially rented homes a year through low carbon construction and retrofitting, converting and extending existing buildings


Labour Party

Labour’s manifesto is split into five sections, one of which is a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. The headline ambition of this policy is to create one million jobs and achieve the substantial majority of emissions reductions by 2030, keeping the UK in line with the Paris Agreement target of no more than 1.5 degrees of warming. Some of the key pledges are:

  • Economy and Energy - create a Sustainable Investment Board, a £400b National Transformation Fund (including a £250b Green Transformation Fund and a £250b National Investment Bank to focus on green investment, change the criteria a company must meet to be listed on the London Stock Exchange so that any company that fails to contribute to tackling the climate and environmental emergency is delisted, establish Local Transformation Funds in each English region, deliver nearly 90% of electricity and 50% of heat from renewable and low carbon sources by 2030, build 7,000 new offshore and 2,000 onshore wind turbines and 22,000 football pitches worth of solar panels, ban fracking, trial tidal energy, upgrade almost all UK homes to the highest energy-efficiency standard by 2030, introduce a zero carbon standard for new homes, introduce a windfall tax on oil companies, and nationalise the energy and water systems.

  • Transport - aim to end new sales of combustion vehicles by 2030, position the UK at the forefront of development and manufacture of ultra low emissions vehicles, deliver rail electrification across the country and increase funding available for walking and cycling.

  • Environment - introduce a new Clean Air Act with a vehicle scrappage scheme and clean air zones, £5.6b extra funding for flood defences, embark on a programme of tree planting, aim to achieve net zero emissions food production by 2040 and make producers responsible for the full cost of recycling and disposal of their waste.

  • Animal Welfare - work internationally to end commercial whaling and ban the importation of hunting trophies of threatened species.


Liberal Democrat Party

Similar to Labour, the Liberal Democrat manifesto devotes an entire section to ‘Our Plan for a Green Society and a Green Economy’. The headline goal is net zero emissions by 2045 and the first priorities are insulating all Britain’s homes by 2030, investing in renewable energy so 80% of electricity is renewable by 2030 and banning fracking, planting 60 million trees a year, electrifying Britain’s railways and ensuring all new cars are electric by 2030. Other key pledges include:

  • Climate Action Now - require all UK-registered or listed companies to set targets consistent with the Paris Agreement, regulate financial services to encourage green investments, create a statutory duty for all local authorities to produce a Zero Carbon strategy, increase government expenditure on climate and environmental objectives to 5% within five years, create a Green Investment Bank and end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 in line with the UK’s G7 pledge.

  • Renewable Energy - support investment in tidal and wave power, energy storage, demand response, smart grids and hydrogen and provide £12b over five years to support renewable energy.

  • Warm Homes and Lower Energy Bills - provide free retrofits for low income homes, require all new homes to be built to a zero carbon standard, adopt a Zero-Carbon Heat Strategy.

  • Green Industry, Green Jobs and Green Products - support carbon capture storage and new low carbon process for concrete and steel production, increase the Industrial Energy Transformation Fund, ban non-recyclable single use plastics and aim for their complete elimination within three years, introduce legally binding targets for reducing the consumption of key natural resources, extend deposit return schemes for all food and drink bottles and containers, and establish and statutory waste recycling target of 70% in England and extend separate food waste collections to at least 90% of homes by 2024.

  • Saving Nature and the Countryside - introduce a Nature Act to set legally binding targets for improving water, air, soil and biodiversity and supported by £18b of funding over five years, reduce basic agricultural support payments to larger recipients, and establish a ‘blue belt’ of marine protected areas covering at least 50% of UK waters by 2030.

  • Improving Transport - accelerate the transition to ultra low-emission transport.

  • Clean and Green - accelerate the take-up of electric vehicles by cutting VAT to 5%, pass a Clear Air Act based on World Health Organisation guidelines, extend Ultra Low-Emissions Zones to ten more towns and cities in England, and reform taxation of international flights to focus on those who fly the most.

  • Reducing the Need for Car Travel - give new powers to local authorities to improve transport in their areas.

  • Fix Britain’s Railways - convert the rail network to ultra low emission technology by 2035.

  • Animal Welfare - enshrine the principle of animal sentience in UK law to ensure that due regard is paid to animal welfare in policymaking.

    Reading through the various manifestos there are some areas of commonality, for example on investing in renewable energy, banning fracking and improving energy efficiency of homes. There are though, varying degrees of ambition and detail in the manifestos. Aside from the Brexit Party it’s fair to say that the Conservatives represent the lowest common denominator - to say that the Conservatives have put conservation at the heart of their manifesto would be a stretch. The Green Party are the most ambitious, as you might expect, and the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats have broadly similar aims but rather different approaches, favouring nationalisation and innovation respectively.

    Ultimately the choice is yours!

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