Climate Change and the 2015 General Election
Whilst members of the Westminster establishment continue with their political sparing in one of the closest run elections in recent history, there has been one key policy area that has dropped off the radar. Climate Change (and subsequently low carbon energy) appears to have lost its omnipresence with the political establishment, reflected in its omission from the various leader debates with this year’s elections being centred on the NHS, the Economy, and the EU.
Against a backdrop of arguments about coalitions, health care, and deficits, Electric Corby has taken the time to analyse the manifestos of the main British political parties and their stance on low carbon energy to provide assistance to any potential floating voters who have yet to decide how they will cast their vote come May 7th.
The Conservative party afforded energy and the environment just four pages in their 2015 manifesto, much reduced in comparison to their 2010 manifesto when they dedicated 18 pages to both the environment as well as building a greener economy. There’s not much low carbon policy to write about other than some ambiguously worded policies such as ‘backing good value green energy’.
The policy that potentially undermines the notion of environmental progress is their commitment to Fracking. Fracking is still a highly contentious issue with various streams of reports contesting its environmental friendliness. A Parliamentary inquiry into the ‘Environmental Risks of Fracking’ stated there was both an increased risk of toxic air pollution near Fracking sites, and contamination to local water supplies. The contradiction and irony in all this is the Conservative stance against onshore wind generation whilst paradoxically supporting Fracking.
The Labour party’s manifesto continues the trend of relegating the importance of climate change and low carbon energy. Their limited low carbon policy area is augmented by ambiguous sounding statements such as promising ‘to play a leading role in tackling climate change’ and to produce an ‘ambitious adaptation programme’ which lacks much needed substance.
Labours most notable policy, and what would appear to be their only measurable policy from Ed, the man that wants to “under promise and over deliver” would be their commitment to de-carbonising the electricity supply by 2030 and to freeze energy prices until 2017. The last Labour government was not able to formulate a long term strategic energy plan, something that they hope their new ‘Energy Security Board’ will be able to formulate for them. This security board will look to deliver the energy mix needed from all segments of the energy generation sector, and given their pledge that any onshore unconventional oil and gas exploitation will have a ‘robust environmental and regulatory regime’ effectively serves as confirmation that they foresee a role for Fracking to play. Labours energy policies appear to be orientated firmly on the side of protecting the consumer with additional plans to tackle the Big Six through both limiting the role of energy companies to operate in either a generation or supply role, whilst reforming the ‘broken’ energy market.
The Liberal Democrats, much to their credit and regardless of what you think of their ability to keep promises, have outlined a strong environmental strategy to take the country forward. It ticks all the big boxes, even incorporating some nice buzz words such as ‘circular economy’, with actual low carbon targets being a particular highlight. It should not come as a surprise that 20 renewable energy representatives have backed the Liberal Democrats to be part of the next coalition as a result of this.
Their main policies are to increase the capitalisation of the Green Investment Bank, set legally binding targets to bring net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, and to incentivise sustainable behaviour through tax incentives. Their aspirational targets for a low carbon energy supply include:
- Targeting a 50% energy demand reduction by 2030
- Stimulating £100 billion more from private investment in low-carbon energy infrastructure by 2020
- Aiming for a minimum of 30% of the household market to be supplied by competitors to the Big Six by 2020
Similar to Labours policies, the Liberals also aim to regulate Fracking with a low carbon transition fund in which 50% of any tax revenue from the projects will be used to support energy efficiency, community energy, and low carbon innovation.
The Green Party have taken a different approach to the energy issues facing the country. Whilst all other parties look to plaster over the cracks, the Green Party look to take a sledge hammer to the wall and rebuild it anew, reconstructing the paradigm that governs how we both use and generate energy. The Green Party promise their green transformation will bring comfortable homes, better health, less pollution, jobs, and far less dependency on foreign fuel imports. The party pledges to cut energy demand by a third by 2020. This will be supported by a £45 billion insulation retrofit programme over the next parliament in the unlikely event that the Green Party seize power, with £4.5 billion pledged to the research and development of less energy-intensive industrial processes.
The Green Party would look to reduce the status of the Big Six, targeting 42 Gigawatts of community power by 2020 as well as breaking up companies that work in both production and supply as Labour has pledged.
The party still see no future for Nuclear as part of the energy mix unlike the other parties and plan to phase it out within 10 years despite its low carbon advantages. This will be compounded by the phasing out of fossil fuel generation by 2023, with a £35 billion investment in renewable generation and the national grid to serve as a counter measure to this.
UKIP’s stance is different again from the rest of the main parties, mainly for the reason that they are open Climate Change sceptics. Their flagship climate policy would be to scrap the ‘costly’ 2008 Climate Change Act which in their view ‘prohibits growth’, along with scrapping investment in renewable energy sources other than hydroelectricity which they identify as price competitive. The party supports Fracking given the correct safeguards are in place referencing the “remarkably unproblematic U.S. shale industry” which will be used to supplement a resurgent British coal industry which would receive much investment from any government UKIP works in conjuncture with.
The only real conclusion to be made from the parties manifestos, other than the obvious fact that the Green Party would most engage with the issues of Climate Change (which is to be expected), is that the ideologically right leaning parties appear to prioritise the aesthetic purposes of the environment over the challenges of Climate Change. A close second to the Green Party are the Liberal Democrats, who much to their credit have placed strong emphasis on a low carbon economy in a general election in which all the other major parties appear to have more or less forgotten about the issue. There is one certainty, come May 7th, whomever forms the government, and regardless of which coalitions comprises it, Fracking will play a role in the joint vision of any new UK government.
There are of course many other factors to take into account when voting for the party that will govern the country for the next five years, with the environment being only one of a plethora of policy areas up for discussion. If the environment isn’t enough for you, then why not get a better insight into who you should vote for by taking the poll below: