lake and treesFollowing blog posts looking at what the main political parties are promising for UK research and innovation and education, we have taken a look at what the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, SNP, UKIP and Green manifestos have to say on energy and the environment.

Climate change

All of the party manifestos make mention of climate change and, with the exception of UKIP, focus on action the UK can take to influence international negotiations and reduce domestic carbon emissions. Ahead of the election, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg signed a joint agreement pledging to seek a strong global climate deal to limit temperature rises, work together to agree carbon budgets and transition rapidly towards a low-carbon economy

Interestingly Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Greens place international action on climate change in their foreign/international policy sections, rather than in their environmental policy sections. The parties call for an ambitious (Labour and SNP), strong (Conservative) and major new international (Greens) agreement on climate change. The Liberal Democrats set out their vision for the UK to be a world leader of global action on climate change.

At a domestic level there are some clear commitments:

  • As part of five ‘green laws’ the Liberal Democrats propose a zero-carbon Britain act to set a new legally binding target to bring net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. They also propose an Office for Environmental Responsibility scrutinising the government’s efforts to meet its environmental targets, in the model of the Office for Budgetary Responsibility.
  • Labour’s ambition is for the UK to become a world leader in low carbon technologies over the next decade, setting a legal target to remove carbon from our electricity supply by 2030. They plan to establish an Energy Security Board to plan and deliver the UK’s energy mix.
  • The Conservatives commit to cut carbon emissions as cheaply as possible to meet the UK’s climate change commitments. They also commit £1 billion for carbon capture and storage.
  • The SNP aim to ensure the UK matches and supports Scotland’s commitments to carbon reduction and call for additional support for carbon capture and storage schemes.
  • The Greens match the Liberal Democrats by setting a goal of a zero-carbon economy by 2050. They also outline proposals for a carbon quota scheme.
  • In contrast, UKIP would repeal the Climate Change Act and abolish the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

Adapting to the impacts of climate change

The need to adapt to the impacts of climate change is touched on in the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green manifestos. Labour promises an adaptation programme and investment in flood prevention through their proposed new Infrastructure Commission. The Liberal Democrats propose a national resilience plan and a commission to research back-to-nature flood prevention schemes, the Greens similarly mention exploring different options for water management and investing money in adaptation. Our recent Resilience to Extreme Weather report looks at the effectiveness of different measures that can be taken to defend against extreme weather experienced here in the UK (and elsewhere) such as flooding.

Energy

Affordable, secure and sustainable energy is touched on in all of the manifestos. Many of the parties consider initiatives to better insulate homes and improve energy efficiency. All of the parties talk about the need for diverse energy sources, varying in their views over what technologies should make up the mix.

Several parties set targets for future energy supply. Labour propose a legal target to remove the carbon from our electricity supply by 2030, the Liberal Democrats set an indicative target of 60% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and the Greens aim to deliver an energy system based mainly on electricity from renewables within 15–20 years.

Hydraulic fracturing (or ‘fracking’) for shale gas

Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP are all open to the development of shale gas in the UK. The Greens say a clear no and the SNP would place a moratorium on fracking.

In all cases, support for fracking is contingent on tight regulation and consultation with local communities. The Liberal Democrats give more detail, requiring that completed shale gas wells should be offered to geothermal heat developers to expand this renewable technology, and 50% of tax revenues should be directed into a fund to support energy efficiency and renewables.

Our 2012 report on Shale gas extraction in the UK examines the health and safety and environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing and whether these risks can be effectively managed in the UK.

Nuclear energy

Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP all see a role for nuclear power as part of a future energy mix. The SNP do not make any direct statement on nuclear power; they have a strong focus on renewables and community energy generation schemes. The Greens would phase out nuclear power in 10 years as part of a move to an energy system based mainly on electricity from renewables within 15-20 years.

Renewable energy

All of the parties talk about the importance of renewable energy generation as part of the UK’s future energy supply, with some proposing either direct investment in research and commercialisation in low carbon technologies or initiatives to encourage this.

Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats reference their role in establishing the Green Investment Bank. The Bank uses its capital to back green projects, also encouraging private sector investment in the green economy.

Apart from the Conservatives and UKIP, each of the parties outlines plans to expand the Bank’s role.

The Liberal Democrats undertake to expand the Bank and ensure it can support green innovation – linking this closely to their commitment to ringfence the science budget. Labour plan to introduce a timetable for the Bank to be given additional powers to invest in green businesses and technology as part of their industrial strategy for the green economy. The SNP similarly support the Bank and plan to ask the next UK government to report on options to increase the capital available to it, including new borrowing powers. And the Greens are perhaps most far-reaching, proposing to boost the equity in the bank by £9 billion over the Parliament, giving it greater powers including offering Individual Savings Accounts and pensions and loans to insulate homes.

Wind power is mentioned by all except Labour and gets a more mixed reception.

UKIP oppose wind power completely. The Conservatives plan to end public subsidies for onshore wind and give the public the final say on windfarm applications, citing lack of public support. But they highlight that the UK is the largest offshore wind market in the world. The Liberal Democrats would support onshore wind in appropriate locations and take steps to ensure the UK’s strength in offshore wind remains competitive. The SNP are similarly supportive of onshore and offshore wind and the Greens would aim to expand wind energy, reducing planning constraints, as part of their goal to move towards renewable energy generation within 15-20 years.

Biodiversity

Many of the parties mention the importance of protecting the UK’s biodiversity.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats all reference the Natural Capital Committee. Labour undertakes to support its work to protect and improve wildlife habitats and green spaces, making a link between this and tourism. The Conservatives commit to extending the life of the Committee to the end of the next Parliament and developing a 25 year plan to restore the UK’s biodiversity. And the Liberal Democrats plan to put the Committee on the same statutory footing as the Committee on Climate Change, tasking it to propose legally binding targets to ensure sustainable use of natural resources. The Greens do not directly mention the Committee but commit to promoting a new Nature and Well-being Act.

Several of the parties make specific mention of bees with the Liberal Democrats proposing steps to prevent their decline, alongside other pollinators, in their Nature Act. The Conservatives undertake to invest Common Agricultural Policy money to enhance England’s countryside and “help our bees to thrive” and the Greens propose to reduce pesticide use and ban neonicotinoids, making bees a priority species in biodiversity strategies.

Interestingly, while UKIP are clear that they plan to abolish excessive and unnecessary environmental regulations and directives, they make clear that they will be guided by relevant scientific and/or professional veterinary advice.

Farming, fishing and food security

Many of the manifestos touch on farming, fishing and food security. Labour plan a long-term strategy for the food, farm and fisheries sector, similarly the Conservatives undertake to set out a long-term vision for British farming. They also highlight the role of agri-tech. The Liberal Democrats focus on sustainable food production and the Greens propose a number of steps to improve sustainability and food security.

The use of genetic modification (GM) gets a few mentions. The Conservatives support a “science-led approach on GM crops and pesticides”, UKIP support research into GM foods, including research on the benefits and risks involved to the public, promising a free vote in Parliament on commercial cultivation. In contrast, the Greens call for a moratorium, at national and EU level, on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in all agricultural systems, including production of human food and animal feed, and on importation of GM food or feed.

 

For more detail you might like to check out this IPPR analysis – The political climate: Where do each of the parties stand on energy and climate change?