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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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