Tag Archives: politics

Election focus: protecting nature

For my second election focus, I’ve chosen the issue of protecting nature. Looking through the manifestos was a lot quicker for this topic than climate change, as the parties had a lot less to say. I’ve grouped what they have to say into the following topics:

  • wildlife legislation
  • protected areas (NB. I’ll do a separate post on marine conservation areas, so haven’t included that here)
  • international wildlife protection
  • fox hunting
  • the badger cull
  • neonicotinoids
  • woodland
  • other wildlife issues

Remember, this is just based on what they say in their manifestos (some of which had lots more detail than others) – I’ve kept my own thoughts out of the table. Click on the image to see it at full size.

What the parties have to say on wildlife legislation, protected areas, international wildlife protection and fox hunting
What the parties have to say on wildlife legislation, protected areas, international wildlife protection and fox hunting
What the parties have to say on the badger cull, neonicotinoids, woodland, and other wildlife issues
What the parties have to say on the badger cull, neonicotinoids, woodland, and other wildlife issues

My reflections

  • The Lib Dems had the most to say on these issues, and generally it looked pretty good to me. I particularly like their promise to set legally binding natural capital targets.  I’m disappointed they didn’t come out and say they would keep the fox hunting ban. Their phrasing on the issue of bovine TB is obviously carefully selected not to upset anyone, but I find it’s lack of a direct statement on where they stand on the badger cull unsettling. The badger cull isn’t  effective, humane and evidence-based, but the current government is fond of saying it is.
  • I was surprised how many of the parties had things to say on woodland – they obviously think there are votes in protecting trees rather than bees or badgers. The Tory promise to “continue  to ensure that public forests and woodland are kept in trust for the nation” made me laugh, given their previous (failed) attempt to sell off publically owned forests. They must think voters have very short memories.
  • Once again the Tories make bold claims (“We pledge to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it”) withour providing any information on how they will achieve it. But they say they will produce a 25 Year Environment Plan. We’ll just have to imagine what might be in that plan.
  • The Greens have surprisingly little to say on this topic – maybe they feel it goes without saying.
  • UKIP don’t have a huge amount to say on this topic, but what they do say doesn’t look too bad.
  • SNP and Plaid Cymru don’t have a huge amount to say on this topic either.
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Meeting my MP for #SpeakUp Week of Action on climate change

It’s not a huge secret that my political views are left of centre. Over the years I have met a few MPs about various  issues. But I have always struggled to put my point across effectively to Conservatives. How do you communicate with someone who doesn’t share any of your values? I knew I needed a different approach when meeting my MP for the Speak Up Week of Action on climate change.

My MP is a Tory with all the confidence a 25,000 vote majority gives. My previous attempts at communicating with him have not been massively successful. You can see his voting record on climate change – it didn’t fill me with hope that this was likely to be a productive meeting. But I remember one speaker at an eco church event telling us never to give up on our MP. So I needed to come up with a plan of how to persuade him.

In preparation for the Week of Action, the Climate Coalition organised a webinar focusing on how to talk to MPs from the centre right about climate change. It was massively helpful, emphasising the need to think about what they value, and how tackling climate change relates to that. They also talked about not using language that will automatically put them off.

Inspired by the webinar, I met with John and Roger (fellow Christians with a concern for environmental justice) to discuss our strategy. The plan was that we would all meet the MP together. Each of us would talk about why we care about climate change, using language that would speak to the MP’s values (protecting the landscape of where we live, leaving a positive legacy, and action on climate change making sense financially as well as environmentally). We would then ask him to write to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, calling on him to publish an ambitious low carbon investment plan.

Confident we had a good plan, I emailed  the MP’s researcher to double check the arrangements. It was at that stage I learnt that only I would be allowed to see the MP. This was a blow. Added to the fact that my MP only holds surgeries on a Friday afternoon, meaning that I had to take time off work to meet him, it gave the impression that he’s not terribly keen on meeting his constituents. I felt that this was an attempt to give him the upper hand, making me determined not to be phased.

One of the points the webinar encouraged us to make was that we speak for the ‘silent majority’. People are concerned about climate change, and want the government to act. Now, that’s easy to say, but harder to back up, especially to a sceptical Tory. The turnout at the nature walk was a bit disappointing. Hardly convincing evidence of the strength of feeling in the constituency. Luckily we had another string to our bow. We were able to get almost 100 signatures for the big green heart at church, calling on our MP to take action. That gave me confidence to go into the meeting knowing that I was speaking on behalf of many others.

Another of the top tips the webinar gave was to dress in a way your MP would respect, so I dressed in my smartest work dress, and walked across town carrying the big green heart.

The meeting went as well as could be expected. He listened while I said my bit. I refused to be riled when he said a couple of things that I suspect were meant to provoke me. Generally his body language was quite defensive. The bit of the conversation he really engaged with was when I told him my solar panels were generating more electricity than we use each year.

He didn’t agree to write to the Secretary of State, but said he would forward on a letter if I sent one to him. At the end I asked if he had any message for the people who had signed the heart. He said to tell them that he was “on side”. Time will tell if his voting record on climate change improves. But even if he just looks into getting solar panels on his house, that will at least be some progress.

There’s a parable in the Bible about a widow who gets an unjust judge to give her justice because of her persistence (to shut her up).  Climate change isn’t going away, so perhaps she provides a useful example to follow when dealing with MPs whose actions don’t match the importance of the issue.

#SpeakUp Week of Action nature walk

Last week was the Climate Coalition’s Week of Action on climate change. People across the country got together to let their MPs know that they care about climate change. As part of it, I organised a nature walk for the Mole Valley constituency.

Organising a walk in October is rather risky, so Roger (who helped me promote the event) and I were both praying hard for good weather. And our prayers were answered: it was lovely and sunny as we gathered, and the rain held off until the end of the walk.

On our nature walk in the Surrey Hills
On our nature walk in the Surrey Hills

One of the ranger team at a nearby National Trust property had volunteered to lead the walk, which was great. Stu told us about the different trees we encountered, and how the rangers plan for the long term, planting trees now to replace those that will die in the next 100 years. I think we all learnt something, as well as having a very pleasant stroll in the beautiful Surrey Hills.

An example of Ash dieback: the top of this tree is dead
An example of Ash dieback – look at the top of this tree

Things I learnt:

 

  • beech trees have very shallow roots
  • stinking iris leaves smell of beef crisps
  • what Ash dieback looks like
  • you need to plan decades ahead when looking after an estate
  • one little pot of Rodda’s clotted cream was enough for my big scone, after all

Our MP wasn’t able to make it, but we knew that in good time, so have a plan. Three of us have an appointment to meet him at his surgery next week. We’ll present him with a big green heart with pictures people have sent me of things they care about that will be affected by climate change. The local Brownies have contributed, as have kids at church. We’ll also include some photos from the walk. We just need to work out what to say to persuade him to vote for action on climate change.

The intrepid walkers with the big green heart
The intrepid walkers with the big green heart

It was quite a lot of work, organising the walk, particularly promoting it to local groups and the local paper. I don’t think it played to my strengths. My efforts weren’t spectacularly successful, but the crucial bit will be meeting the MP.

For the love of… How do I persuade my MP we need to do more to tackle climate change? 

I need your advice: how do I persuade my MP (a Tory with a huge majority) to push the government to ratify the Paris climate change agreement?

The background

In October this year, the Climate Coalition are holding a week of action. They’re encouraging people around the country to invite their MPs to events which demonstrate how much people care about climate change. They want people to share how the things they love will be affected by climate change. The ultimate aim is to encourage MPs to support ratification of the Paris climate change agreement.

I feel like this is something I have to do, but I don’t know how.

My MP

My MP is a Conservative with a huge majority. According to TheyWorkForYou.com, he generally votes against measures to reduce climate change. At a hustings I attended last year he said he thinks the UK is doing enough to combat climate change. My encounters with him so far have not been productive; he doesn’t share my views and has no need to win my vote. He’s not interested in the scientific evidence on a subject, if it goes against his own views (most of us are guilty of that failing, but I would like to believe government policy is informed by evidence).

Planning the event

I think it’s important that it focuses on the emotional side as my MP isn’t likely to change his mind based on science. This is challenging to me, as my day job is all about trying to get scientific evidence into policy. But the focus of the week of action, ‘For the love of’ should help keep me away from the dry facts.

I have a few ideas of what the event could be:

  • A walk in some of the beautiful countryside where we live (maybe risky in October?)
  • An exhibition of art on the ‘For the love of’ theme (I’ve no idea how to organise an exhibition, but I like the idea)
  • A talk from a local expert on the wildlife in our constituency
  • Some kind of combination of the above

My vicar has agreed to it being a church event, so I have access to a venue, and there are lots of talented artists I could involve if we went for the second option. I could try to make contact  with some other local groups who may be interested in climate change.

Of course, organising an event is one thing, but getting the MP to come along is crucial. What sort of event do you think would be best for showing my MP that his constituents care about climate change?

Responding to the referendum result

Last Friday was a dark day for me, finding out the result of the referendum and trying to process the implications of that vote. I was shocked at the result – I found it hard to believe that so many people were ready to take such a big gamble. I was angry with the leaders of the Leave campaign who had deliberately and repeatedly mislead people on issues such as the cost of the EU contribution, and how that imaginary money will be spent post-Brexit. I was also angry with my fellow citizens, for falling for those lies. I was saddened and scared by what it might mean for things I value: environmental protection; workers rights among others. I was ashamed of how it must seem to my European colleagues and neighbours.

I work in London, and live in the Mole Valley, both areas where the majority of people voted to remain. Every colleague and neighbour I have spoken to about it has, like me, been saddened by result. Some have talked of their fears about what it will mean for them financially, or their work. Some have talked about leaving the country.

Things haven’t got better over the last few days. I have seen chilling reports of xenophobia surfacing. The Labour Party seems intent on self-destruction, while the candidates for next Tory leader are not reassuring. We seem no clearer on what will happen than we were on Friday. What model of Brexit will we go for? Will the United Kingdom survive Brexit? I’m deeply concerned about the direction this country is heading.

Grieving over the result is natural. But as I have worked my way through all these emotions (I’m not through them yet – they’re all still mixed up inside me), I have become convinced that’s not enough. That’s easily said, but what can or should I do? I don’t have the full answer yet, and it may take a while to work out.

Should I stay or should I go?

Leaving the country for somewhere new and more attuned to my values is tempting. I’ve considered sounding out colleagues in Africa or Canada. But I love this country (or at least bits of it) – its hills and woods and coast. I love its wildlife. Leaving would feel like washing my hands of it. A selfish act.

Staying to fight?

If I am to stay, I have to try to protect the things I love. It’s not going to be good enough to bury my head in the sand. On Friday, for the first time in my life, I joined a political party. Until now I have avoided party politics. No party completely represented my views. It seemed an ugly game. But now is the time to engage more with politics, as so much will need to be decided over the next few years. It’s no time to take a step back. Signing online petitions isn’t enough. I don’t know what will be enough, but joining a political party is a start.

Praying for peace and love

That sounds fluffy and hippyish. But it’s not. This country feels divided, with old hatreds bubbling to the surface. Lots of people are hurting, scared or angry.  There doesn’t seem to be a leader coming forward who can bring unity. I am a Christian, and I believe we need God’s grace in this situation. I will redouble my prayers for this country. And I will try to be loving in all my interactions with others.

 

I don’t have the answer. I don’t have a neat way to deal with the situation we’re in. I’m scared by what the future might hold. But I think this plan is enough for now, until it’s clearer what more is needed.

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.

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: 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.

Election focus: the badger cull

If you live in the UK you’ll have noticed the political parties have started jostling for position, ready for the general election in May. As much as it would be nice to avoid the murky world of politics, who we vote (or don’t vote) for will have a big impact on our environment, as well as society and the economy. So, over the coming months, I will examine the main parties’ policies on various issues that I think are important for nature.

Since it’s something that I’ve covered a bit here before, I thought I’d start with the badger cull. (As the badger cull is only being done in England, I’m only going to look at English parties for this issue). Both the Conservatives and Labour have announced the line they will take on the badger cull in their manifestos. But since other parties are likely to play an important role in the outcome, I’ve also contacted the Lib Dems, UKIP and Green Party for their position on this issue.

The Conservatives

Speaking to the National Farmers Union, Conservative Environment Secretary Liz Truss has announced that the Tories will roll out the cull to other areas of the country, if they are elected. “We will not let up, whatever complaints we get from protesters groups. We are in it for the long haul and we will not walk away.”

The Tories see the cull as a central part of their 25 year strategy to end bovine TB. They have promised farmers to roll the cull out to other areas with high levels of TB. This is despite the pilot culls failing to reach their targets for number of badgers killed, being expensive and being found to be inhumane. When the independent committee set up to monitor the cull reported unfavourably last year, the Tory-led government disbanded the committee and carried on the cull without independent scientific oversight.

The strategy does say that any culls should (eventually) be funded privately, although the government will consider providing transitional financial support. The strategy is decidedly luke-warm on badger vaccinations, which it says should be developed, implemented and financed privately.

Labour

On the other side of the House of Commons, Labour have announced that they will scrap the “ineffective and inhumane” culls, if they are elected. Instead, they will bring in stricter measures to limit transmission between cattle, and increase both badger and cattle vaccination.

Maria Eagle, the shadow environment secretary, said this week: “Labour has consistently said that to get bovine TB under control we need to bring in stricter cattle measures and prioritise badger and cattle vaccinations, but these culls are not the answer. It’s time the Tory-led government stopped ignoring the overwhelming evidence and got together with scientists, wildlife groups and farmers to develop an alternative strategy to get the problem of bovine TB under control.”

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have been quieter on the issue in public. When I asked them for their position, a Lib Dem spokesperson said: “We need to maintain a consistent government strategy including developing science-led ways to control this terrible disease. Badger cull trials in Gloucestershire and Somerset will continue, alongside investment in a vaccine. But we would only support further culls if they are shown to be effective, humane and safe. The TB Eradication Strategy will be fully implemented, to make England TB free within 25 years, while maintaining a viable cattle sector.”

So, it seems like, regardless of whether they are effective, humane and safe, the pilots will continue. Further culls will have to pass this test.

Perhaps their quietness on the issue is because their policy is unlikely to please the National Farmers Union, who are keen for the culls to be rolled out more widely, and also unlikely to appease the campaigners who think the cull has been a costly failure.

The commitment to implement the TB Eradication Strategy is important to note, as this document says: “The Government considers that licensed badger culling, delivered effectively, is an important bTB control measure in areas with high and persistent levels of bTB in cattle epidemiologically linked to endemic TB infection in badgers.”

UKIP

When I asked UKIP for their position on the badger cull, their press office replied: “UKIP supports the trial culling of badgers for the control of Bovine TB, if veterinary opinion substantiates it.”

This is rather more nuanced than the Tory approach (which seems to be to continue the cull regardless of what anyone else thinks). The crucial “if veterinary opinion substantiates it” is interesting. So far the British Veterinary Association (BVA) have supported the culls. However, when data from the second year of the pilot culls was released back in December, the BVA expressed some reservations “The headline data continues to raise some concerns on humaneness and reveals a mixed a picture in terms of effectiveness”, and said that they needed more time to consider the data. Presumably, if the BVA came out against the pilot culls UKIP would also oppose them…

The Green Party

Like Labour, the Green Party have come out strongly against badger culling. They have repeatedly condemned the badger cull as cruel and unnecessary, and called for an immediate end to the killing. They say it is unethical and unscientific, pointing to the Independent Expert Panel report as evidence for this.

Caroline Allen, Green Party Animals Spokesperson and vet, said:  “It is unbelievable that this Government is continuing to fund animal suffering after the shambles of last year’s pilot culls and the news so far suggests that this year is just as bad. In the meantime Wales has been doing what we suggested: concentrating on cattle. The results in Wales are impressive, the number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered as a result of TB testing having fallen by more than 50% since 2009 without a single badger being killed.”

Conclusion

If you’re really keen on culling as many badgers as possible then the Tories are the party for you. If, on the other hand, you’d like to see an end to the pilot culls immediately, and no further roll-out, then vote for Labour or the Greens. The Lib Dems and UKIP both sit somewhere in the middle, although UKIP are probably slightly closer to the Labour and Greens on this issue than the Lib Dems are.

Of course, few people will vote based solely on a single issue. Over the coming weeks I’ll explore where the parties stand on other key environmental issues. Let me know if there’s any particular topic you’d like me to investigate.