The green election
Is this the first green election? For the first time, the climate crisis and related issues dominate the manifestos. Politically, many are saying green is the new yellow, red and even blue.
Why is there so much support now for climate crisis action?
The UK was the first country to use legislation to cut greenhouse gas to almost zero by 2050. Whilst this might not seem to be an ambitious target, it is.
Since the global financial crisis in 2008, the Government’s austerity programme and focus on Brexit have overshadowed environmental issues.
But we are now only 30 years away from this 2050 target and much remains to be done — including agreement about how we should move forward in tackling climate change.
And new climate evidence is reinforcing both the urgency of the problem and raising public awareness even further.
Campaigns on plastics, protests from school children worldwide, Greta Thunberg’s rise to global fame, and Extinction Rebellion have all put environmental problems squarely on the map.
Is it just individuals that need to make changes?
There is a lot that we can all do, however the scale of change requires government action.
Most people understand the problem and many are prepared to make personal changes. But they realise it takes government action to change the way we live and interact with the environment. So it’s over to the parties who want to be in power.
For instance, electric cars tend to be less affordable for many people. So it might be necessary to have grants or tax breaks to encourage individuals to invest in an electric vehicle.
Grants to insulate homes effectively so that power demand can be reduced might have to be made available for the less well-off.
The Greens and Labour have the most ambitious agendas.
Do the main parties agree on any policies?
All the main UK parties, with exception of the Brexit party, have put forward policies to tackle the climate crisis.
There is some overlap in manifesto pledges. Here are a few.
The Greens, Lib Dems and Labour all favour national investment banks to support green transformation. This addresses the problem that commercial banks are too risk averse in their lending and investments.
All parties support further rail electrification, bus route expansion and reinstatement.
While all parties are agreed that extra funding is needed for environmental issues, this varies a lot when it comes to just how much.
The Conservatives are only planning to invest £2.9 billion a year (although £4 billion in the first year) by the end of the next Parliament. The Lib Dems would spend much more: £50 billion a year, over the same period. Labour plans to spend £83 billion, and the Greens a massive £100 billion.
What is a realistic date for net zero CO2 emissions in the UK?
One of the big areas of difference concerns how fast the UK, and everyone else, needs to move to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially CO2.
Most ambitious are the Greens, that have a target to reduce CO2 emissions by 2030. This is extremely ambitious and possibly unattainable. However, their policies would push us towards understanding the scale of change in the way we travel and live, in what we eat, and how our energy is produced and used.
The other parties all have policies for reaching net zero CO2 emissions in the UK, sometime between 2030 and 2050. Labour, perhaps more realistically, suggests the 2030s; the Lib Dems 2045, and the Tories not until 2050.
What are the other differences between the main parties?
All parties try to make their respective manifesto distinctive in some way.
The Greens want to see the oil fields and remaining coal mines decommissioned and to phase out nuclear energy, but on a more gradual basis.
The Lib Dems’s manifesto does not mention nuclear power. Although asked in ITV’s Election Interview if “she would be prepared to use a nuclear weapon”, party leader Jo Swinson replied, “Yes.”
The Labour and Conservative parties see a continued role for nuclear power for the foreseeable future.
But the Greens, Lib Dems and Labour all propose major investment programmes to support transformation from fossil fuels to reliance on cleaner, renewable energy. They also want to increase spending on training and job creation in a new green industry, and to introduce more regulatory changes to help it develop.
The Conservatives are continuing with a modest investment, hoping to achieve the later 2050 target date for net zero CO2.
Will the climate crisis be the issue that people base their vote on?
Probably not. However, for 27% of voters, it is one of the top three issues; among younger voters (18-24 year olds), 45% say it is the second-biggest issue for them after Brexit.
It does seem that it could sway voters to consider what the parties say about their policies for the environment. There has been a significant spike in interest over 2019, as the graph above shows.
This briefing is produced by The Day in association with ENGAGE Public Policy.
- What should be the priority for young voters: Brexit or the climate emergency?
- The Green manifesto includes an “ecocide” law to prevent crimes against the natural environment. Many pesticides blamed for the loss of insects would be banned. What else would you list as a crime against the planet? As a class, prioritise — through debate — a list of 10 eco crimes you would ban.
- Global financial crisis in 2008
- A severe worldwide economic crisis considered by many economists to have been the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
- Austerity programme
- The UK’s austerity programme included reductions in welfare spending, the cancellation of school building programs, reductions in local government funding, and an increase in VAT. Spending on the police, courts and prisons was also reduced.
- Tax breaks
- Tax breaks are often made to promote certain types of behaviours, like buying energy-efficient appliances, or giving to charity. Taxpayers can then save money when they pay for certain things through tax deductions or exemptions (when you don’t have to pay anything) and other incentives.
- Insulate homes
- Reducing heat or electricity loss in your home by making it more energy efficient.
- National investment banks
- Viewed by some as a way to help end austerity. National investment banks lend to — and invest in — private companies and public bodies, while co-financing with private banks and investors. Small and medium-sized businesses will benefit, especially those more likely to innovate and grow. And they expand finance for key sectors such as renewable energy, which are presently insufficiently funded by private finance.
- Green transformation
- A system which puts emphasis on the use of renewable energy sources and green areas for the sustainable future of cities.
- Risk averse
- Reluctant to take risks.
- Expansion and reinstatement
- In this case, to increase the number of existing bus services and to restart some that were stopped.
- Withdrawn, especially weapons or military equipment from service.
- Fossil fuels
- Fuel (like coal, fuel oil and natural gas) formed by natural processes, such as decomposition of buried dead organisms, containing energy originating in ancient photosynthesis. Such organisms and their resulting fossil fuels are usually millions of years old — sometimes over 650 million years.
- Controlled by rules.