Climate change is probably the single most important issue facing our generation, so we need to make sure that whoever we vote for in May has a good policy for dealing with it. In fact, I’d even go so far to say that this blog post may be one of the most important thing you read this year. But I fear I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this particular issue. The topic for my previous election focus was fairly straightforward: was the party going to continue / increase / end the badger cull? Climate change policy is complex, encompassing a range of issues: targets to reduce carbon emissions, energy policies, adaptation and resilience, transport, energy efficiency, forest loss, and promoting low-energy technologies. In this post I seek to summarise what the main parties (including Plaid Cymru and the SNP) have to say on each of these issues.
The process of researching this post has been quite informative – not just for finding out what the parties’ policies are, but how much they talk about it. My main sources of information for this post are the parties’ own websites. For the Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru this was quite straightforward – they had plenty of information on their climate change policies and it was easy to find. There was much less information available on the other parties’ websites. Draw your own conclusions from that… In fact, I was unable to find anything about it on the Conservative Party website (it doesn’t help that they don’t have a search function).
I contacted the press offices of the parties I was unable to find sufficient information for, but have yet to hear back from them. I will update this post if and when I do hear anything. My other source of information was the very helpful Vote for Policies website, which contains information about all the parties’ policies on a whole range of issues – please do visit it. So, if it looks like I’m giving more coverage to some parties than others on this topic, it’s not because I’m biased (although I am), it’s because some parties have more to say on this issue than others.
Carbon emissions targets
The Conservatives say they will continue to cut emissions (although I was unable to find out how much by, which is pretty important). They also say they will work to secure a global climate change agreement, although what they hope this agreement will include is unclear.
Labour say they will stick to ambitious, legally binding targets for carbon reduction – including the full implementation of carbon budgets. This includes the target of decarbonising our electricity supply by 2030. They will push for global targets for reducing carbon emissions with regular reviews towards the long-term goal of what the science now tells us is necessary – zero net global emissions in the latter half of this century.
The Lib Dems say they will introduce a Zero Carbon Britain Act to strengthen the Climate Change Act targets, although I was unable to find what the stronger targets will be.
UKIP‘s policy is very different to that of the other politcal parties. They say they will abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change and scrap green subsidies. They will repeal the Climate Change Act 2008 and abolish green taxes and charges in order to reduce fuel bills.
The Greens have a huge amount of information about Climate Change on their website, and what they would do to tackle it. They have clearly thought the issue through in detail, based on science. They say they will take serious action on climate change by working with other countries to ensure global temperatures do not rise beyond 2 degrees. They will aim steadily to reduce all UK greenhouse gas emissions to 10% of their 1990 levels by 2030. They say they will establish effective mechanisms for getting back on track should an annual target be missed.
The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) is aiming for 80 per cent of Scotland’s electricity to be from clean green renewable sources by 2020. Through the Scottish Parliament they have introduced climate change legislation to reduce emissions by 42% by the end of the decade, with annual targets and a minimum of 80% reduction by 2050.
Plaid Cymru say the National Assembly of Wales has agreed, with cross-party support, to reduce emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. Plaid will work to ensure that this decision is turned into meaningful and effective action to achieve the full reduction. They have established the Climate Change Commission for Wales, and have set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3% per year in areas of devolved competence.
The Conservatives say they will invest in low carbon energy, but end public subsidies for newly planned onshore wind farms and reform planning.
Labour say they will decarbonise our electricity supply by 2030 (although I couldn’t find any details on what the mix of renewables and nuclear power will be).
The Lib Dems say they will introduce a decarbonisation target for the electricity sector and end the use of dirty coal power stations. Again, the mix of different renewables and nuclear power is unclear, as is exactly what the decarbonisation target is.
UKIP have provided more detail about their aims for power generation: they support a diverse energy market including coal, nuclear, shale gas, geo-thermal, tidal, solar, conventional gas and oil. They will encourage the re-development of British power stations, as well as industrial units providing on-site power generation. UKIP supports the development of shale gas (fracking) with proper safeguards for the local environment. They say there will be no new subsidies for wind farms and solar arrays.
The Greens say they will phase out fossil-fuel based energy generation and nuclear power, and invest in a public programme of renewable generation.
The SNP claim they have transformed Scotland into a world leader in green energy, with 39 new renewable projects since they came to power and pioneering climate change legislation. Scotland is on track to produce nearly a third of its electricity this year from clean green renewable sources. Under the SNP there will be no new nuclear power stations in Scotland. They want more Scots to live in carbon neutral communities and will continue to support and encourage local and community action on this. The SNP-led Scottish Government has invested heavily in our renewables sector. With 25% of Europe’s wind energy potential, including massive off shore as well as onshore wind power capabilities, a quarter of Europe’s tidal resource, and huge potential from clean coal and carbon capture, the SNP believes there are real economic and employment opportunities for Scotland.
Plaid Cymru say Wales could be self-sustaining in energy generation by 2020. Wales must take full advantage of its renewable energy resources and support micro generation and other small-scale sustainable power generation schemes, including tidal, wave-power, on-shore and off-shore wind, hydro and biomass. They call for emission performance standards for all new power stations and reaffirm their opposition to the construction of any new nuclear power stations in Wales. They call for research into the creation of a European Smart Power Grid for the sharing of renewable energies across Europe. They say they will work to ensure that the new feed-in tariffs encourage community-scale renewable energy.
Adaptation and Resilience
Climate change is happening already, so we need to adapt to it. But you'd hope that the parties that are doing least on preventing climate change (UKIP) would have pretty darn good policies for adapting to the effects of climate change. It doesn't necessarily work that way...
The Conservatives say they will invest £2.3 billion in over 1,400 flood defence schemes between 2015/16 and 2020/21.
Labour say they will prioritise flood prevention and introduce a new climate change adaptation plan to help us properly prepare for the effects of a changing climate.
I was unable to find anything about adaptation and resilience on the Lib Dem, UKIP, Plaid Cymru or SNP websites.
The Greens say they will invest in a public programme of flood defences.
Reducing carbon emissions from transport
The Conservatives, Labour and UKIP seem to have little to say on how they will reduce carbon emissions from transport.
The Lib Dems say they will introduce a Green Transport Act to help establish a full network of charging points for electric cars, incentivise greener travel choices and update planning law and ensure new developments are designed around walking, cycling and public transport.
The Green Party‘s policy website has loads to say on the issue of transport. I can’t put it all in here (this is already my longest post ever), but the jist of it is they will work to reduce demand, improve planning, encourage renewable fuels, encourage walking and cycling, and improve public transport (including taking the railways back under public control).
The SNP say they have reduced the carbon footprint of the Scottish rail network by delivering 218 miles of new electrified track across the country. They have begun major investment in low carbon transport which will be a crucial part of our carbon reduction efforts.
Plaid Cymru say they have scrapped unsustainable plans to build an M4 relief road on environmental and financial grounds.
The Conservative party say they will deliver energy efficiency measures to bring down emissions and bills. They don’t state what these measures are (as far as I can find).
Labour say they will improve energy efficiency and insulate at least five million homes over the next ten years.
The Lib Dems say they will introduce a Green Buildings Act to boost renewable and district heating programmes, bring in tough new energy efficiency standards for homes, and step up action on fuel poverty. This includes a national programme to insulate homes with a Council Tax cut if you take part.
UKIP and the SNP seem to be silent on this issue.
The Greens say they will invest in a public programme of building insulation. They say the Government should institute a national publicity campaign on the threats from climate change, the need to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other green house gases, and how individuals can play their part in this.
Plaid Cymru say we all have a responsibility to improve energy efficiency within our homes and to use more renewable energy. Plaid in Westminster will continue to campaign for a windfall tax on energy companies to help pay for grants for insulation for lower income families
Reducing forest loss
The Conservatives and Lib Dems are quiet on this issue (perhaps not surprising, given the Coalition government’s attempts to sell off publicly-owned forests).
Labour say they will protect our forests, keeping them in public ownership, and bring nature closer to people by making public access to green spaces a priority.
UKIP say they will protect the Green Belt, and change planning rules to make it easier to build on brownfield sites instead of greenfield sites.
The Greens have a forestry policy that should lead to net CO2 absorption from land-use changes for several decades. They also say the industrialised nations and multinational companies have profited the most from the cheap timber and pulp, cattle feed, meat and other food imports which result from global deforestation, and must therefore pay the cost of implementing a logging and land conversion moratorium. Trade rules must be changed to ban the international trade in products produced at the expense of old- growth forests.
The SNP say they will plant millions of new trees, protect peatlands and protect and expand our marine carbon sinks as ways of rebalancing Scotland’s carbon account.
Plaid Cymru say they have created and supported indigenous woodlands, with the planting of more than 112,000 trees in Monmouthshire, Gwynedd and Blaenau Gwent.
Investing in low energy technologies
I couldn’t find any information about the Conservatives, Lib Dems, UKIP and Greens policies in relation to investing in low energy technologies (although the Greens probably have that covered in detail somewhere on their policy website – my investigative energies are flagging now, so I didn’t look as hard as I should have).
Labour say they will make Britain a world leader in low carbon technology and green jobs, creating a million new high technology, green jobs by 2025. They will also strengthen the Green Investment Bank with borrowing powers, ensuring it is better placed to support investment in small and medium green businesses seeking to grow.
The SNP say their £10 million Saltire prize for marine energy innovation has made Scotland a focal point for research and deployment of marine renewable technology. With tens of thousands of new jobs expected to be created in the renewable sector within the next decade they are working to build the right skills, attract new investment and ensure Scotland is recognised as the most attractive location in Europe for marine renewables and carbon capture.
Plaid Cymru say they have created the Low Carbon Research Institute which aims to build research capacity and establish Wales as an internationally competitive centre for low carbon research. They have announced a £34 million programme to drive forward cutting-edge research to secure a low carbon future for Wales, create green jobs and help business to develop sustainable products and technologies.
Well done if you’ve made it this far! I can’t overstate how important this issue is. We need a new government who is going to deal with it wisely. Having spent quite a bit of time looking into the varies parties’ policies, some of them have clearly given the issue a lot of thought, while others appear to have been scribbled on the back of a beer mat (or napkin from an upmarket gentleman’s club). I think the difficulty I had in finding a lot of this information reflects that the Conservatives, Labour, UKIP and the Lib Dems don’t think people care enough about it to pick it out as one of their focus areas for the election campaign. We really need to make sure politicians know that we do care, and will cast our vote accordingly.