The Green Standard 2013, published today, assesses the environmental leadership provided by senior ministers and shadow ministers from the UK’s three main parties since the last election in May 2010. Here, the leaders of the seven organisations behind the assessment, including Green Alliance, introduce the review.
Our intention is not to compare and contrast the parties directly, or to repeat the comprehensive policy audits published as Climate Check and Nature Check, but to look at the performance of the main political leaders in Westminster.
Leadership matters. UK politicians are in a unique position to enlist the support of party members, citizens and organisations, including business, behind the UK’s environmental and climate change goals.
The UK has cross party agreement to decarbonise the economy and reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, to stop the decline of species and the fragmentation of habitats, both in the UK and globally, and to protect the world’s poorest people from the effects of environmental degradation.
These threats will not wait for the current period of economic difficulty to end but, if our leaders act with purpose, the right political response to these challenges will hasten recovery, rebalance the economy and improve quality of life for UK citizens.
We have assessed the performance of the three largest parties in Westminster, because of their dominant role in determining the UK’s environmental and economic direction. We recognise that it is an incomplete picture because it does not assess the performance of smaller parties like the Green Party, or the distinct role of parties in delivering environmental policy in Scotland and Wales.
Good performance by some MPs but inconsistent leadership
We have identified good performance by Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers and Labour shadow ministers in committing to specific pro-environment policies, and have named them where possible as they deserve recognition.
Unfortunately, individual good performance is not reflected in visible and consistent leadership. After a promising first few months, the coalition government and the UK’s senior politicians have often been silent about the UK’s environmental goals. The prime minister’s promisethat he would lead “the greenest government ever”, has been devalued by the chancellor’s framing of high environmental standards as a threat to economic success.
Despite strong statements on the green economy, the Labour Party has not yet made it clear that the environment will be among its priorities going into the next election, while the Liberal Democrats have failed to match their early ambition on climate, showing a patchy performance on the detail of electricity reform and no clear vision for the natural environment.
Two decades of progress is threatened
The impact of government diffidence and disagreement has been a sharp decline in confidence in the UK’s environmental policy and investment in green infrastructure has not reached its potential. Two decades of incremental but steady environmental policy progress in the UK is threatened. There are now regular assaults on the centre ground consensus that it is in Britain’s interest to develop an environmentally sustainable economy, but most of our political leaders have failed to respond.
This has contributed to the sense that politics is failing the public interest. The British public has not stopped caring about our green and pleasant land and continues to support renewable energy and action to stabilise the climate. But political leaders have focused on arguing about traditional, short term economic decisions, to the exclusion of many other collective problems, including positive environmental measures that would boost the economy.
We have set out how all three parties could provide a positive agenda, which could contribute to rebuilding public confidence in politics as well as creating a richer, more stable and less polluted world to live in. The review charts the highs and lows of the performance of senior politicians over the past three years, and identifies the party-specific challenges that will have to be overcome if they are to provide effective leadership in the future.