Tag Archives: General Election 2015

Election summary

Thank goodness there’s only one day to go until the election. In case you still haven’t decided whom to vote for, here’s a quick summary of where the parties stand on some issues relating to wildlife and the environment.

Summary of where the parties stand on some nature issues
Summary of where the parties stand on some nature issues

Of course, this table is a very simplified summary. If you want to find out more, please read the full posts:

Fellow blogger Georgia Locock has been looking through the party manifestos to see what they have to say on a variety of other nature issues (sadly, in most of cases she’s investigated, most of the parties have little to say, reflecting the importance they place on these issues). Do have a look at her posts, as they provide a useful summary of the issues, even if the party manifestos are uninformative:

I hope that, if you can vote in the UK, you will consider some of these issues (along with other important things like the NHS) when deciding who to vote for. And if you’re wavering on whether to vote or not, please do, as there is real difference between the parties on some of these issues.

I’m looking forward to normal service resuming on this blog, focusing on my wildlife adventures rather than politics. But we only get a chance to vote in a national election once every five years, so we need to make the most of it.

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Church speaks and acts on climate change

Update, 1 May 2015: Since I wrote this post earlier this week, the Church of England has announced that it will cut its investment in fossil fuel companies. The Church of England has investment funds worth £8bn, so this announcement is significant. While it's not withdrawing all its funds from fossil fuel companies, it is using its position as a shareholder to press for increased transparency on climate change.

I’m heartened to see the Church (both Catholic and Anglican) speaking out about climate change, and challenging politicians to do more.

The Catholic Church have been holding the Vatican Science Academy, where leading scientists, economists and theologians have been discussing climate change, in the hope of influencing UN meetings on Sustainable Development Goals. The Vatican are expected to issue a statement saying  that action to cut climate emissions is “a moral and religious imperative, highlighting the intrinsic connection between respect for the environment and respect for people – especially the poor, children, and future generations”.  

Meanwhile, Church of England Bishops have also been speaking of a moral duty to tackle climate change, and calling on politicians to back their pledges up with firm action. And in the US the head of the Episcopal Church has recently come out to say that climate change is “is certainly a moral issue in terms of the impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable around the world already.”

Some people (especially politicians when they’re being criticised) say that the church should keep out of politics. But reading the Gospels (and the Old Testament prophets) has convinced me that the Church has a duty to speak out on some political issues. Jesus wasn’t a politician, but his teaching was revolutionary. The House of Bishop’s pastoral letter to parishioners in the lead up to the General election explains why they believe the Church should be speaking out on political issues, including the environment.

The Church (and others) have been speaking out about climate change for years. But this recent intervention is timely, at least for the UK, with our General Election next week. Climate change hasn’t featured highly on the political agenda so far. Hopefully this will make some Christians consider the parties’ policies on climate change (among other issues) when deciding whom to vote for next week. Twice as many people attended a Church of England service last Sunday than are members of all the political parties put together in the UK, so Christians have a real opportunity to influence the outcome of this election.

Further information

UKIP’s climate change policy is dangerous and cynical

UKIP’s climate change policy is extremely dangerous, and their attempts to justify it don’t just misunderstand the evidence, but blatantly, cynically distort it. I know that I have already blogged about the climate change policies of the political parties. But I really need to get this off my chest.

Last week I attended a hustings, where the audience got to grill potential parliamentary candidates from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Green Party and UKIP. It was interesting, but nobody said anything very unexpected. But one point really raised my hackles: UKIP’s response to a question on climate change. I already knew they planned to do nothing to tackle climate change. It was their justification for this that astounded me:

  1. Climate change isn’t happening
  2. And it’s not down to humans anyway (it’s all the sun’s fault)
  3. The 97% of scientists who say otherwise are all in the pay of the Green lobby
  4. The 5th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report supports UKIP’s views on this

When challenged on this latter point the UKIP candidate proceeded to quote parts of the report which discuss the areas where the existing models are not yet perfect. Someone from UKIP has clearly been through the report, looking for any minor caveats that, when quoted out of context, may make it sound like the report is saying climate change isn’t really happening.

My day job is about making sure the results of scientific research influence policy and practice. So I spend a lot of time thinking about how evidence should be used to inform policy (see my blog post on the evidence around the badger cull if you’re interested in science and policy). Science is often messier than it is portrayed in the media: we don’t always understand everything about an issue perfectly. That’s why there are caveats about the limitations of the evidence in every scientific paper. Science is very good at quantifying the level of uncertainty in results – scientists use confidence intervals to show the range in which they can be confident the true value sits. Acknowledging uncertainty and limitations doesn’t make science useless: you bear the limitations and uncertainty  in mind when interpreting the results, but you certainly shouldn’t ignore the body of evidence completely.

The IPCC report was written by hundreds of scientists, and reviewed by more than a thousand experts, and governments, from around the world. When writing the report, the IPCC will have considered all the evidence, uncertainty and limitations. Taking that all into account, here’s their summary shortest summary of all that evidence (I’ve added the emphasis in bold to help you pick out the bits that relate to UKIP’s claims) :

"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have 
warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the 
concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.

"Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. 
The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750

"Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse 
gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and 
understanding of the climate system. 

"Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all 
components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and 
sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions." 

Don’t take my word for it – you can read the IPCC report online, in varying levels of details, from a 28 page summary for policymakers, an 84 page technical summary, or the full report.

UKIP’s attempt to justify their climate change policy by misrepresenting the scientific evidence is cynical. It’s not that they don’t understand. They are attempting to deceive the British public. I pray they get nowhere near power – whatever you think of their other policies (beyond the scope of this blog), their climate change and energy policies will be disastrous.

OK. Rant over. For a more dispassionate look at the climate change policies of UKIP and the other parties, read the Election Focus.

Election focus: The Hunting Act

Hunting deer, foxes and hares with dogs was outlawed 10 years ago. A poll by Ipsos Mori, conducted at the end of last year, found that 80% of people in Great Britain think that fox hunting should remain illegal, 86% for deer hunting and 88% for hare hunting/coursing. These figures are about the same in both rural and urban areas (despite claims from the Countryside Alliance that only urbanites support the ban).

So why do an election focus on this issue? There can’t be much legislation that is so popular with the general public. But hunting has become an election issue, with pro-hunt campaigners  actively supporting (campaigning for and financing) candidates for parties who promise to repeal the legislation.

Opponents of the Hunting Act claim that it doesn’t work, has done nothing to protect animals’ welfare, and restricts a countryside tradition. Supporters of the Act claim that it’s a highly effective piece of legislation, pointing to successful prosecutions of hunts breaking the law. Some anti-hunt groups argue that the law needs strengthening, or enforcement improving, as illegal fox hunting still continues in some areas.

So where do the parties stand on this issue? I’ve been looking into it, checking parties’ websites, emailing party head offices, and emailing the candidates standing in my constituency. I’ve only included parties standing in England, as there is different legislation in Scotland. Here’s what I’ve found.

Conservatives

Writing in the Countryside Alliance magazine (a pro-hunting lobby group), David Cameron said:

“The Hunting Act has done nothing for animal welfare. A Conservative government will give parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government bill in government time.”

So a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for a return to hunting foxes, deer and hares with dogs.

Labour

Labour has said it would not repeal the ban. Maria Eagle, shadow environment secretary, has already stated:

“Only Labour will protect the Hunting Act. Ten years ago the Labour party ended the cruel practice of hunting with dogs, because we believe that causing defenceless animals to suffer in the name of sport has no place in a civilised society. But just as we celebrate the Hunting Act, the Tories plan to repeal it. Only Labour can protect the Hunting Act because Labour is the only major party committed to defending it. The hunting ban is a testament to the progress made since the days of bear baiting and other such barbaric blood sports.”

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats haven’t responded to my emails yet, and I haven’t been able to find any policy statements about this on their website. However, it’s widely recognised that lack of support from the Liberal Democrats is the main reason why the current Coalition Government haven’t repealed the Hunting Act already.

If I hear anything from the Liberal Democrats I will update this post. In the meantime, you could ask the candidates standing in your constituency what their views on it are. The League Against Cruel Sport have an easy way to do this with their General Election Survey.

UKIP

I couldn’t find anything on the UKIP website about this issue, so I emailed them. Here’s the response I received from Alan Bigwood of UKIP Headoffice:

“UKIP has absolutely no policy on Hunting, and the reason is simple.   Those in favour of hunting and those opposed to it, are separated by a gulf that is in reality a chasm.  There is no point in UKIP having an official policy on Hunting because it has nothing to do with pulling out of the EU, and even within UKIP itself some of the members are pro hunting and others are vehemently opposed, a mirror of wider society.

UKIP does not intend to bring hunting back even if Nigel Farage may take a different personal stance, which he has every right to do.

It is party policy to offer referendums to the public, and if enough petitioners were to demand a referendum on Hunting then a UKIP government would, of course, accede to that request…  In such instances we feel that it is best to let the people decide, not an out of touch clique in Westminster, many of whom have never done a proper job in their lives.”

The Greens

My Green Party prospective parliamentary candidate replied to my email, saying:

“The Green Party is committed to maintaining and strengthening the ban on hunting with dogs, and would extend this ban to all hunting of all animals for sport or pleasure.”

There’s lots more information about the Green Party’s position on other animal welfare issues, including snaring, shooting, dog fighting and greyhound racing on their website.

More information

Watch the disturbing video below, then visit the League Against Cruel Sports website for more information, and to take action.

Election focus: climate change

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.

Power generation

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.

Energy efficiency

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.

Conclusion

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.