General Election: Can UK policy deliver a climate emergency response?

As the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party launch election manifestos pledging to respond to the climate emergency by 2030, leading UK green group the Aldersgate Group has called for existing policy frameworks to be revamped to help reach the net-zero target for 2050.

General Election: Can UK policy deliver a climate emergency response?

The pledges are ramping up ahead of the 12 December General Election

Climate change got minimal airtime on Tuesday’s (19 November) leaders debate, but both the Conservatives and Labour agreed that it was a “colossal issue” that could be combatted through a national contribution to reach net-zero emissions. That, however, is where the agreement ends.

The Conservatives have legislated a net-zero emissions target for 2050, based on the scientific recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). Labour had called for a 2030 net-zero target, but has since softened its stance, instead aiming for a “significant majority” of carbon emissions to be removed by 2030.

While Labour and the Conservatives are yet to formally launch their election manifestos, both the Lib Dems and the Green Party have unveiled their sweeping general election plans.

Jo Swinson’s party would respond to what they describe as the “climate emergency”, by generating 80% of UK electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Plans are also in place to generate funds to make all homes greener, starting with low-income homes.

Wind and tidal power and hydrogen-powered trains are just some of the technologies the party would back to deliver its climate pledge. On an individual level, the party would also overhaul flight costs to target frequent fliers in a bid to deter air travel and the associated climate impact.

As for the Green Party, it is still placing its response into the Green New Deal Bill, which is seeking to reduce emissions to net-zero by 2030.

The party would also introduce a Sustainable Economy Bill that sets binding targets on the economic impact on the environment and a New Homes Bill, which would create a legislative framework for building 100,000 new zero-carbon homes for social rent each year.

Sian Berry, co-leader of The Green Party, said: “The Greens are clear about which path we must take as a country. And that’s why each and every Green MP elected this December will have in their in-tray a legislative agenda ready to go.

“Ten Bills ready for the next Parliament to hit the ground running. Because the future won’t give us another chance to get these next two years right.”

Existing pathways

Despite reports to the contrary, climate change is not dominating the voting topics, with the “Fact Check” twitter fiasco now making the election an issue of trust.

Promisingly, all parties have agreed on the end destination – net-zero emissions and responding to the climate emergency. The debate is in the semantics and how the UK should and can reach the destination.

The Tories will argue that the instruments are already in place to transition to a low-carbon and closed-loop economy, through the various bills they have published (albeit all delayed by Brexit negotiations) over the last one or two years.

Green campaigners the Aldersgate Group has launched its own election manifesto wishlist today (21 November), calling for existing legislative frameworks to be delivered to ensure the UK adopts a leadership position on the net-zero transition.

The Aldersgate Group’s, Time for action: building a competitive and inclusive green economy manifesto report called for a targeted update of the Clean Growth Strategy that includes new policies for the built environment and transport to be published ahead of the COP26 climate summit next winter.

A national low-carbon skills strategy should also be developed to ensure industry, local bodies and government create a holistic approach to attracting skilled workers and investment into green growth industries.

On the Environment Bill, the Group has called for safeguards on environmental protections currently enshrined in EU law to be increased through legally binding environmental improvement targets and establishing delivery policies covering key areas such as air, water, soils, peatland, biodiversity and resource efficiency.

A “radical improvement” in the UK’s resource productivity is also required and can be delivered through the Resources and Waste Strategy, including new product standards and fiscal incentives through extended producer responsibility schemes and tax rebates for resource-efficient products.

Green finance is also a key area of the manifesto, with the Green Finance Strategy ideally used to introduce a mandatory requirement for businesses and investors to disclose their exposure to climate-related risks from the early 2020s in line with the TCFD recommendations.

All of this should be extended and championed further through global calls for actions and new trade deals that promote sustainability.

Nick Molho, Executive Director of the Aldersgate Group, said: “This General Election is taking place at a crucial moment for the environment and the UK’s future competitiveness. Actions over the next five years will determine the UK’s ability to achieve its environmental targets and will also have a profound impact on whether UK businesses can become leading providers of the low carbon goods and services the world economy will increasingly demand.

“The UK will be hosting the critical COP26 climate summit less than a year after the General Election. To be in a credible position to encourage international partners to increase their commitments on climate change, the next government will need to demonstrate that the UK has a comprehensive plan in place to deliver its own net-zero target.”

Matt Mace

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