Lib Dems bolster green credentials

The Liberal Democrats went on the offensive this week trying to persuade the nation they were the party to be trusted on the environment.

Reacting to the Conservatives’ green epiphany under the leadership of David Cameron (see

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) the party has hit back, reminding voters it has always considered the environment and has concrete policies rather than hollow rhetoric.

“Let no-one be in any doubt – the Liberal Democrats are not about to cede our emphatic, sincere and long-standing green credentials for some spray on aerosol version,” said Charles Kennedy, calling the Conservatives the jonny-come-latelys to the green agenda.

He delivered his speech in Westminster on Monday to a media scrum more interested in the Lib Dem leader’s future than his position on climate change.

But between attacks on political opponents he did outline his party’s stance on the environmental issues of the day, advocating contraction and convergence as the way forward on carbon control and cross-party co-operation to tackle pressing environmental issues.

Kennedy and the party’s environmental spokesman, Norman Baker, ruled out building a new generation of nuclear power stations saying the right energy mix could be achieved by investing more in renewables, clean coal power stations and investigating the potential of carbon capture and storage in the UK.

The Lib Dem leader said he had been pushing for co-operation on the eco-agenda which should transcend party politics.

“We want, as far as possible, to take on the challenge of climate change with all parties…but the experience so far has been disappointing,” he said.

He claimed the Liberals had had some success in moving the idea of a cross-party consensus forward with the Conservatives but the Labour Government did not want to know, demanding the opposition fall into line with its own ‘failing’ policies.

And on the global playing field Kennedy argued we could learn something from environmental pariah the USA.

“It is clear that millions of Americans are deeply concerned about climate change,” he said.

“Moving beyond Bush means encouraging the new wave of green politicians in the United States itself.

“We can do that by supporting the north-eastern American states that have begun an emissions trading scheme designed to mirror the EU’s [and the] 195 city mayors representing 40 million US citizens who have signed the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

“I would like to see British cities and local authorities forge a similar agreement. This is about creating Green Cities – local people taking responsibility for local pollution.”

On the prickly subject of how a political party can persuade the fickle electorate and industry that sacrifices may have to be made and behaviour may have to change, Baker told edie: “We need to get all the parties to come together to be honest with the electorate about that.

“The action required often has a long-term payback and a short-term pain and that pain often coincides with the next electoral cycle.

“It’s got to be made more expensive to do the wrong thing environmentally and less expensive to do the right thing.

Giving the example of the fact there was no VAT bill for developing greenfield sites at the moment, while those renovating existing properties had to pay the tax, he said the environment could be helped without an increase in the overall tax bill.

“It’s not about more tax but about redistributing the tax in the right way,” he said.

In conclusion, Kennedy argued it was time to seriously rethink the political approach to climate change around the world.

“Let’s be clear. As a planet we are using up our environmental capital faster than we can replenish it.

“Climate change is the result, it is a threat to all humanity.

“Governments around the world must start taking the tough decisions required to tackle climate change – and match the rhetoric with real environmental action.

“Changing attitudes and behaviour requires the kind of courage that has been lacking in political classes across the world.

“We need to transform politics so that we can take on the challenge of climate change.”

By Sam Bond

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