Party Conference round-up: What are the big green ideas?

While the party leaders themselves gave climate change a short shrift at their respective conferences, a closer look at the environmental 'problems and solutions posed by the 'big three' political parties reveals the true extent of their green ambitions.

Today’s Liberal Democrat Party Conference saw the release of the final edition of a trio of green pamphlets produced by each political party in association with the Green Alliance.

‘Green Conservatism’, ‘Green Liberalism’ and ‘Green Social Democracy’ each highlight one structural problem preventing the UK from achieving a successful sustainable economy, and lays out a solution. Here’s a breakdown of what each party has to say: –

Conservative Party

Green Conservatism focuses on resource efficiency as a way to boost sustainability and protect the UK from global supply side shocks.

The problem: As a trading nation Britain has higher carbon footprint, and is more susceptible to fluctuating global prices and supply side issues. As Liam Fox put it last year: “As resources become more scarce, it is likely that conflict for control of water will become more common with demand likely to outstrip sustainable current supplies by 40 per cent.” His conclusion is that “water will replace – or at least join – oil as a primary source of conflict in the 21st century.”

The solution: Resource productivity – better resource productivity has many benefits. It reduces waste and makes the UK more competitive, it decreases the nation’s global footprint and the environmental impact caused by resource extraction and it helps to strengthen UK manufacturing which is vulnerable to increasing resource prices. The Conservatives say the Government would have to commit to:


  • A new Commission on Resource Responsibility to actively monitor resource risks, identify where the UK is vulnerable and outline the options available to address these risks; 
  • Improve regulation, such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, 
  • Ensuring reuse is promoted over recycling; Ensure incentives for remanufacturing are created through public procurement. 

Liberal Democrats Party

Green Liberalism argues that the Treasury’s short termism is damaging UK environment policy and suggests three possible changes.

The problem:There is an inherent conflict of interest between being in charge of the nation’s finances and its economic growth. Next year’s budget considerations may militate against projects with short term costs but long term pay-offs. The budgetary logic also means that benefits which are not easily quantifiable in cash terms, such as avoiding environmental damage, may carry less weight than monetary costs.
The Treasury discounts future impacts by 3.5 per cent a year for the first 30 years and three per cent up to 75 years. This test implies that £100 spent now would have to generate benefits of at least £281 after 30 years or £1,061 after 75 years (in real terms). Many would question whether we would really want to keep £100 in our pockets today at the expense of, for instance, more than £1,000 cost in damage to the natural environment that our grandchildren would inherit

The solution (three options)

  • Break up the Treasury – a new finance ministry could focus on ensuring the health of the public finances, while an extended Department for Business, Innovation and Skills could be given control of the longer term economic strategy. A similar separation already exists in many Countries, including Germany. 
  • Reform the Treasury – install dedicated junior minister, focus on 25 yr plan, not just 5, review discount rate 
  • Increase accountability – A new office for environmental responsibility could review the suitability of current policies for climate change and resource efficiency. The chancellor could be required to report against the Treasury’s environmental objectives, appearing before the Environmental Audit Committee on a regular basis. 

What they said
“Treasury orthodoxy has long been a barrier to holistic policy making, regardless of which parties are in government. It’s time that narrow approach is challenged, to allow a wider assessment of long term costs or benefits and help build a more sustainable future,” said Duncan Hames MP.

Labour Party

Green Social Democracy recommends installing political mechanisms to help build public support for necessary spending on energy and transport infrastructure, vital for an efficient renewable future.

The problem: The public mandate to oppose infrastructure is often stronger and clearer than that to support it. The renewal of transport and energy systems in the UK can’t be delivered if the government continues to follow the traditional route of low level engagement with the public

The solution: The establishment of a stakeholder council, providing broad civil society input into the national infrastructure assessment and subsequent reviews.

What they said : “Britain’s infrastructure needs to change significantly over the next decade to become both smarter and greener. This cannot be something which is ‘done to’ people, it must be done by and with the people of this country, in everyone’s interest. This paper seeks to set out the way in which the public mandate for low carbon infrastructure can be strengthened so we can build out the infrastructure we need,” said Chi Onwurah MP.

Brad Allen

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