General Election: The key green policy considerations for climate-focused voters
As the public takes to the polls tomorrow to decide the next Government, edie lists all the potential impacts and ramifications of short-term and long-term green policy in the UK, helping those still undecided to cast crucial votes.
Politics through the lens of green business is verging on paradoxical. For once, the major political parties are aligned on the trajectory of a green economy, with Labour, the Conservatives, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats all committing to a net-zero mandate in their respective manifestos.
It is a shame, however, that the furore over Brexit and the rightful concerns over potential privatisation of the NHS have turned this impromptu election campaign into a devolved argument built on weaponising social and environmental injustices.
In an era plagued with fake news and distrust, the blame for current social, environmental and ecological degradation lies at the feet of the opposing party, based on what politician you ask, and this election campaign has changed from one where a potential cross-party pact on green legislation has been subdued by rose-tinted glasses of party followers alike.
In an ideal world, sustainability business professionals would be able to cast a meaningful vote for the party that has accurately blended realistic and ambitious climate targets. As edie’s manifesto matrix suggests, a vote for the Greens or the Lib Dems would act as a vote for the strongest set of green policy commitments.
THE MUST-READS TO INFORM THE GREEN BUSINESS VOTE
If you’re still undecided on who to vote for in the General Election, the below links are the must-read pieces of content to ensure you’re aware of all the green policy implications.
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.
The problem is that the current “first past the post” political system means that a vote for any party is merely assisting either Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson in becoming Prime Minister.
The manifestos of these two parties are by no means unambitious. The Conservative manifesto reiterates the party’s commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, which has already been enshrined into law. It also confirms the mooted Office for Environmental Protection, which will uphold performance against environmental standards post-Brexit, including new legal targets for air quality.
As reported, Labour does indeed ease away from a previous net-zero by 2030, instead aiming to achieve “the substantial majority of our emissions reductions by 2030”.
In fact, Friends of the Earth this weekend claimed that Labour is offering the greenest manifesto, but some regarded analysts have dubbed it the “bastard love-child of a treehugger’s wet dream and a Marxist developing country's five-year plan from 1970”, mainly due to perceived pipedreams over the affordability of it all.
If you’re still pondering what party, if any, is worth your vote for this election it is worth looking across current, short-term and long-term options.
edie’s Party Manifesto Green Policy Matrix breaks down every long-term commitment and pledge from the major parties, giving you a birds-eye view of how the green policy landscape could change. Download the Matrix here.
At a more local level, Friends of the Earth has been encouraging those running for election to take the pledge to support measures to rapidly decarbonise the UK economy if they are elected.
edie has analysed – by party - which candidates have heeded the changing climate-related demands of the public and taken the Friends of the Earth pledge. The graphs below provide a snapshot overview, but more information can be found here.
Both Labour and the Conservatives have since outlined what their first 100 days in charge would look like and there a few key green policy implications to consider.
What a Conservative majority means for short-term environmental legislation
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already outlined the first 100 days of a Conservative Party majority during the General Election cycle. There would be “future schemes for agriculture, fishing and the environment” post-Brexit, including the Environment Bill, which had been previously presented to Parliament in the previous session.
In the immediate days after the General Election, a raft of post-Brexit Environment legislation will look to be signed off under a Boris Johnson-led Tory majority government.
Plans for a Boris Johnson majority government include an immediate fresh Queen’s Speech on 19 December – followed by passing legislation on the EU Withdrawal Act before Christmas, including a raft of changes that would alter 40 years of EU environmental regulations.
Part of the Withdrawal Agreement on the departure from the EU customs union and the laws that it enforces is a new regulatory system that the UK will need to stick to as part of any future trade deals with EU nations. This has been called a “level playing field”. This would require the UK to conform to EU standards on environmental policies and others as part of a trade deal, but the UK has no legal obligation to maintain current standards if no trade deal is agreed, this has already sparked concern that the UK could renegade on environmental standards in pursuit of other trade deals, notably with the US.
The document includes details of the EU laws which would be transposed into the UK under this level playing field agreement and the numerous emissions and environmental-related standards that the UK has signed up to throughout its membership of the EU. This includes directives on industrial emissions, transport emissions - including a variety of rules on Euro 5, 6 and 7 vehicles - waste, and biodiversity.
What a Labour majority means for short-term environmental legislation
“If we are going to stop the climate emergency becoming something even worse, any future General Election will be too late. We need to start this week, and we need to start together,” Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell proclaimed earlier this week.
In fact, McDonnell alluded that Labour could immediately focus on pushing its view of a Green Industrial Revolution to avert climate catastrophe into legislation.
Labour has pledged to “kick-start a Green Industrial Revolution that will create one million jobs in the UK to transform our industry, energy, transport, agriculture and our buildings, while restoring nature”.
This Revolution commits to building 7,000 new offshore wind turbines, 2,000 onshore wind turbines and enough solar panels to cover 22,000 football pitches. Nuclear will also be provided for energy security.
Before Christmas, Labour will also set up National Transformation Unit to provide finance for a new National Investment Bank, regional development banks and Post Bank that will funnel investment into regional areas prioritising clean growth.
Labour will also start the process of bringing water and energy into public ownership and will create a People’s Assembly to give the public a voice on how utilities are run.
The party also claims that as Prime Minister, Jeremy Corbyn will have “secured a new Brexit agreement with our EU partners to put before the British people within six months”. The Labour manifesto commits to a £people’s vote” on a withdrawal bill alongside the option to remain.
What a hung parliament means for short-term environmental legislation
If the General Election results in a hung parliament then things become a little harder to predict. While Johnson will remain in immediate control, he’ll have to attempt to form a majority with other parties, but the DUP, which helped the Tories form a majority last time, has already rejected this notion due to the current Brexit deal.
We could end up with a scenario that the major party leaders resign, which would result in a massive political reshuffle. Alternatively, Johnson could create a patchwork majority that enables him to get his Brexit deal over the line.
Regardless, a hung parliament will ultimately result in climate policy and actions taking a back seat to Brexit, much like it has done for the last three years. The lack of certainty will also dent investor and business confidence, which may result in a slowdown of private-led actions to decarbonise sectors and operations.
What notable politicians are at risk?
A few politicians that hold key positions within the government to shape green policy are also at risk.
Defra secretary of state Theresa Villiers holds a 300 majority in Chipping Barnet; the main challenger is Emma Whysall from Labour – part of ‘Open Labour’ Corbyn-sceptic group which in its group manifesto states:
“Open Labour notes that the international and local struggles for social an environmental justice go hand in hand, and that the economy cannot be divorced from the global environment.
“Open Labour notes the work of SERA within the party and resolves to promote their work within our own organisation and CLP branches. We call on Labour to adopt a path towards a zero-carbon economy and action against polluting waste such as single-use plastics as part of its next manifesto.”
Within the Environment Audit Committee (EAC), both the chair and deputy are at risk from Tories and SNP in their seats. Chair Mary Creagh (Labour) holds a 2,300 majority in Wakefield and deputy Colin Clark (Tory) holds a 2,000 majority in Gordon.
With Boris Johnson revealed as the chair for a new Cabinet committee on climate change that will drive progress towards net-zero across all areas of Government, questions will need to be answered about the role of the EAC and where scrutiny for climate action will sit post-election.
Matt Mace & James Evison