Norton Rose election briefing: environment

The law firm looks at where the major parties stand on the environment.

Environmental issues are likely to play a greater role in this General Election than ever before.
There is widespread concern about global warming but, with the effects of the economic crisis still felt, the electorate is unlikely to welcome increases in taxes designed to discourage the use of power or motor cars.

This presents a challenge to both Labour and the Conservatives to design policies which will address environmental issues without being overly burdensome to the electorate or business.

This briefing identifies and explains the main policy proposals in respect of the environment (see also Climate change and energy).

Both major parties propose reductions in carbon emissions through the introduction of new technologies.

In relation to recycling, the Labour Party says that the emphasis will be on municipal waste while the Conservatives say that consideration should be given to recycling more commercial and industrial waste.

Labour intends to ensure that, by 2010-11, 5 per cent of the fuel used in vehicles in Britain comes from renewable sources. Labour states that this will be a means of creating energy from waste whereas the Conservatives state that they will put an upper limit on landfill tax to encourage businesses to invest in new forms of waste disposal.

The Conservatives say that where marine conservation is concerned they would go further than the Labour Government has gone under the Marine Bill and would establish a network of marine protection areas.

Carbon Reduction
The Climate Change Act 2008 set legally binding targets requiring "greenhouse" gas emission reductions through action in the UK and abroad of at least 80 per cent by 2050, and reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of at least 26 per cent by 2020, against a 1990 baseline.

Labour
  • As part of Labour's strategy to reduce CO2 emissions, the Government introduced the Carbon Reduction Commitment, a mandatory emissions trading scheme. The Carbon Reduction Commitment will tackle CO2 emissions not already covered by climate change agreements and the EU Emissions Trading System. According to Labour, this will help to reduce the country's carbon footprint and deliver the emissions reduction targets set in the Climate Change Act 2008. The scheme starts in April 2010.


  • Labour has also set a five-point plan to tackle climate change. Included in this plan is a commitment to get 15 per cent of all the UK's energy (for electricity, heat and transport) from renewable sources by 2020. In July 2009 the UK Renewable Energy Strategy was presented to Parliament setting out the means by which Labour intends to meet the 15 per cent commitment. This will include:
    1.greater financial support, targeting a wider range of technologies and groups in society
    2.swifter delivery, including in the planning system, supply chains, grid connection and sustainable bio energy
    3.a stronger push on new technologies and resources to help reduce the cost of meeting the targets for 2020 and beyond.

  • In order to achieve the aims of the Renewable Energy Strategy, the Labour Government says that it will expand and extend the long-term incentives for major renewable electricity developments to ensure that it can deliver around 30 per cent of renewable electricity by 2020. According to Labour, this will provide continued support for large-scale centralised renewable electricity generation. Labour intends to consult on proposals to increase financial support for offshore wind. Labour also proposes:
    1.the introduction of "clean energy cash-back" for households, businesses and communities to use renewable heat and small-scale clean electricity generation by introducing new guaranteed payments through feed-in tariffs from 2010
    2.government investment in the UK renewables industry to develop the wider renewables supply chain, support next generation technology development and build up the necessary infrastructure to support a growing renewables manufacturing sector.


  • Labour intends that, by 2020, smart meters will have been rolled out to every home in Britain, enabling householders to understand their energy use and maximise opportunities for saving energy. By 2015, 40,000 homes per year are intended to get "green makeovers", which would include cavity wall and loft insulation. Labour also states in the five-point plan that it will require new homes to be built to higher environmental standards and from 2016 for all new homes to be "carbon zero".


  • At the final Labour Party conference before the General Election, in October 2009, the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, emphasised the importance of carbon reduction and said that the UK's future economy must be a "green economy". The Prime Minister also announced that the Labour Party would create over a quarter of a million new "green" jobs and that the Labour Government would work with the Eden Project and the Mayday Network to create up to 10,000 green job placements. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Hilary Benn, said that "a low carbon Britain will be the strong economy of the future making us less dependent on the oil and gas that is costing us the Earth".


  • Conserevatives
  • The Conservatives launched their own energy policy paper (The Low Carbon Economy, Security, Stability and Green Growth) early in 2009.


  • The Conservatives criticised Labour for failing to take any action to begin "decarbonising" Britain. The Conservatives propose that by 2050:
    1.most of the UK's electricity and transport can be provided through a new "electricity internet" whereby computing intelligence would be used in electricity networks through the introduction of a smart grid and the use of smart meters in homes so that demand can be intelligently managed; the Conservatives believe that this smart technology would be as significant a technological advance as the internet - hence the term "electricity internet"
    2.more use should be made of low carbon energy sources, such as tidal power and biogas, to provide heat and electricity for UK communities
    3.homes and businesses should be made dramatically more energy efficient
    4.the UK should be made much less dependent on imported fossil fuels from volatile regions of the world and as a result more secure
    5.the UK should meet its target to reduce emissions by 80 per cent from 1999 levels
    6.the UK should become a world-leading economy for green innovation and technology
    7.the UK's competitiveness should be enhanced through a significant reduction in the amount of energy required to manufacture products, provide services and to live and work in the UK.


  • The Conservatives have pledged to introduce a new Carbon Levy to replace the Climate Change Levy. This would be linked to the levels of carbon emitted by a business.


  • In order the achieve their aims, the Conservatives intend to transform electricity networks with smart grid and smart meter technology so that use of electricity for a wide range of household and workplace appliances and the charging of electric and plug-in hybrid cars can be tailored automatically to match the supply of electricity, permitting in turn a huge increase in renewable power.


  • The Conservatives also intend to expand the amount of offshore wind and marine power by giving the National Grid the incentive to construct a new network of under-sea cables.


  • The Conservatives (like Labour) plan to create a decentralised energy revolution by introducing a system of feed-in tariffs for electricity generation to multiply electricity production from micro-generation.


  • At the final Conservative Party conference before the General Election, in October 2009, the Conservatives announced a plan, similar to the Labour Party's, under which an allowance of up to £6,500 would be available to make households (including households already in use) more energy-efficient by fitting efficient lighting and cavity and loft insulation. The householder would then pay back this money over an extended period of time from the savings on energy bills made as a result of the lighting and insulation improvements. The Conservatives have said that this scheme would see the creation of up to 70,000 skilled jobs including 3,500 apprenticeships. Other proposals made during the conference included:

    1.approving 5 GW-worth of coal-fired power stations fitted with carbon capture and storage technology which according to the Conservatives has the potential to trap up to 90 per cent of carbon emissions
    2.securing planning permission for nuclear power stations by 2017
    3.extending the National Grid out to sea to enable the development of offshore wind, wave and tidal energy.


  • Business implications
    Both major parties say that they will make greater use of smart technology which would allow energy to be more intelligently used. This technology will have to be paid for and it remains to be seen whether or not businesses will have to bear these costs.

    There will be opportunities for businesses which can provide the technology needed to bring about the required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The plans of both parties to improve home electricity use may lead to the creation of a significant number of jobs in the construction sector.

    Energy from waste
    Producing energy from waste is intended to tackle two issues. It is intended, first and primarily, to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and, secondly, to be a source of sustainable energy. When waste is incinerated in large amounts, the heat energy can be recycled and used to heat factories, hospitals and other large buildings. Alternatively, the heat can be used to generate electricity.

    Labour
  • Labour contends that greater use should be made of anaerobic digestion (processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen) and the Government has set up the Anaerobic Digestion Task Force which, in July 2009, published an implementation plan. Labour proposes to require suppliers of transport fuel to ensure that a proportion of the fuel used in vehicles comes from renewable sources such as anaerobic digestion. It is intended that by 2010-11 this proportion is to be 5 per cent.


  • Labour has not announced any proposals regarding the standard rate of landfill tax after 2013; it proposes to keep the lower rate at £2.50 per tonne until 31 March 2011.


  • Conservatives
  • The Conservatives believe that more should be done to capture the potential energy from waste and propose that biogas produced from farm and food waste should replace half the fuel needed for domestic heating; the Conservatives propose to do this by changing the regulatory regime for the gas grid and introducing further feed-in tariffs.


  • The Conservatives have announced that the standard rate of landfill tax will be at least £72 (plus inflation) per tonne from 2013 until 2020. The Conservatives have not yet made any proposals regarding the lower rate of landfill tax.


  • The Conservatives also state that they will consult businesses, the waste industry, local authorities and interest groups about when a goal for zero waste to landfill can be set.


  • Business implications
    Currently incineration is the most common form of generating energy from waste. However, with increasingly stringent emission standards, businesses will need to move to more environmentally friendly methods.

    At the present time it will be difficult for businesses to adopt such methods on any large scale. Future improvements in technology may make it easier.

    Recycling
    The UK's recycling rates are among the lowest in Europe. For example, UK households produced 30.5 million tonnes of waste in 2003-04, of which 17 per cent was collected for recycling.3 Other EU Member States recycle up to 50 per cent of their waste. Recycling is necessary to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

    Landfill tax is payable on waste disposed of at landfill sites and the standard rate is currently £40 per tonne. Landfill tax is payable at a lower rate (£2.50 per tonne) on certain types of waste such as soil, stones and glass.

    Labour
  • The Labour Government's policy on dealing with recycling (set out in the Government's strategy document Making the Most of Packaging) is to work towards achieving recycling rates which would be amongst the best in the EU. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued an outline implementation plan in June 2009 which gives details of how Labour intends to maximise the recycling of packaging waste. It is intended that this will be achieved through: more recycling by householders; recycling schemes that collect all main packaging materials and which are easy to use; ensuring that local authorities and businesses treat waste packaging as a resource (which would lead to more recycling by businesses); and an emphasis on efficient household collection and sorting.


  • In order to discourage the use of landfill sites, the Labour Government announced that the standard rate of landfill tax would be increased by £8 per tonne until 2013.


  • Conservatives
  • The Conservatives believe that the UK's recycling rates should increase from the current levels but propose that incentives should be used rather than penalties. They state that they would allow local councils to decide which collection system works best (co-mingling or kerbside sort). The Conservatives also say that it is important to get the highest value from recyclables that are collected.


  • The Conservatives would consider whether to encourage the recycling of commercial and industrial waste. Currently the focus is on municipal waste, which amounts to only 9 per cent of all UK waste. The Conservatives say that a large proportion of commercial and industrial waste is similar to municipal waste and could be recycled or used for energy recovery.


  • Business implications
    It is widely accepted that the UK needs to increase the amount of recycling. Currently the emphasis is on municipal waste. Although an increase in recycling of commercial and industrial waste may bring with it an increase in the cost of collection of such waste, it may also open up the opportunity for businesses to sell some of the waste they produce.
    Marine conservation
    The seas around the UK are an important source of food and potentially an increasingly important source of energy. They are also a diverse ecosystem easily damaged by pollution and over-fishing.

    Labour
  • The Labour Government introduced the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. Under the Act a Marine Management Organisation (MMO) will be created in 2010 to deliver, regulate and oversee marine activities. The MMO's work will include preparing marine plans, licensing marine development, fisheries management, furthering Marine Conservation Zone objectives and enforcing fishing operations, nature conservation and licensing legislation.


  • Conservatives
  • The Conservatives have criticised Labour on the grounds that the MMO appears to consist of Marine and Fisheries Agency personnel, rebranded and without civil service status, such that it can be overridden by the Infrastructure Planning Commission4 for large projects. The Conservatives say that there should be a widespread network of highly protected marine reserves throughout all UK seas and that this is an important marine management tool which is required in order to rebuild UK commercial fish stocks and to halt the serious damage being caused to marine ecosystems.


  • The Conservatives say that they will develop selection criteria under the Marine and Costal Access Act for establishing a network of protected marine areas based on science-based decision making.


  • Practical implications
    It remains to be seen whether the seas around the UK will become a significant source of energy. There are opportunities for businesses operating in the renewable offshore sector - for example, wind and tidal power - if they can develop technology which is effective and reliable.
    Flooding/Water resources
    According to the Environment Agency over five million people in England and Wales live and work in properties that are at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea. Climate change may lead to wetter winters and more frequent storms, both of which may increase flood risk.

    Labour
  • Labour has promised to increase the amounts spent on flood defences. An example of this is the recent decision of the Welsh Assembly to invest £5 million on a flood risk management scheme in Denbigh.


  • The Labour Government has introduced the Flood Risk Regulations 2009, to implement the EU Floods Directive. The Floods Directive requires a six-yearly assessment, mapping and planning cycle that begins with the first preliminary flood risk assessment due by 22 December 2011. The assessment forms the basis for determining areas of potential significant flood risk which will subsequently be mapped and for which flood risk management plans will be then prepared. The flood hazard maps and flood risk maps are due to be completed by 22 December 2013 and, based on the information provided in these maps, flood risk management plans must be prepared by 22 December 2015.


  • Conservatives
  • The Conservatives have criticised Labour's response to the flooding in recent years pointing out that since 1997 120,000 new homes have been built in high flood risk areas but the Conservatives have not provided any details about how they would address this issue.


  • The Conservatives have also criticised the insurance industry for the high costs of insurance against floods, warning that insurers risk forcing people to abandon insurance altogether by putting up premiums and reducing cover. Again, little detail as to how this issue should be addressed is currently available.

    Practical implications
    It is becoming increasingly difficult for businesses located in higher flood risk areas to obtain insurance cover against those risks. Where cover is available it is increasingly expensive. This is an area which the Government (from whatever party) will need to address during the next parliamentary term.

    Liberal Democrat policies
    The Liberal Democrats argue that a healthy natural environment is crucial not only for quality of life but also for the sustainability of life on the planet. They say that finite resources are being used at an ever-increasing rate to such an extent that some key elements will be exhausted by the middle of the century unless net consumption is curbed.

    The Liberal Democrats contend that the burden on ecosystem services is now so great that water resources are being overwhelmed, soils are losing their fertility, fish stocks are disappearing and biodiversity is threatened with mass extinction. In order to address these issues the Liberal Democrats have developed a number of policies.

  • A more efficient use of resources: the Liberal Democrats would enact an Anti-Waste Efficiency Act to establish an independent Resources Efficiency Committee (REC). The REC would be given the task of identifying the key resources being used unsustainably and would have a duty to recommend legally binding targets for reducing net consumption.


  • Improved water management: the Liberal Democrats would introduce smart water metering in water-stressed areas by 2020 and provide grants and preferential VAT rates for rainwater harvesting systems, water butts and dual-flush toilets.


  • Action on waste: the Liberal Democrats would give top-tier local authorities a statutory duty to develop resource recovery plans for all types of waste (municipal, commercial and agricultural) in their area, with the objective of maximising the recovery of useful resources and bringing efficiencies of scale.

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