Manifestos are finally talking about the environment, but how do they compare?

polling station squareWhat a difference two years can make. In 2017, we were shouting to get the environment heard in the hubbub of a general election, but 2019 has seen the first election in living memory where climate and nature are at the heart of the debate.

Party leaders are recognising the issues as vote winners. The public are saying the environment is one of the top three important issues facing the country. And the real life impacts of ecological and climate breakdown are continuing to dominate news cycles, from floods in Yorkshire, to bushfires in Australia, and the deforestation of the Amazon at its highest level in decades.

Hopefully, this will be reflected on Thursday when leaders from all major political parties take part in the first ever televised climate and nature election debate. All of the opposition leaders have said yes to this with only Boris Johnson yet to confirm if he is able to attend.

In the meantime, we now have most of the manifestos from the major parties to judge what a future government’s approach to the climate and ecological crisis will look like. Manifestos from other parties, such as the SNP and Brexit Party, are being launched soon and could play a vital role in a future hung parliament.

In my analysis below, I have had to focus on specific policy areas as there is simply too much to capture all in one blog. I have tried to fairly balance content between the main Conservative, Green, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos and also note what is missing on the policies we have been calling for.

The manifestos

Reflecting this new impetus, the manifestos have the environmental crisis running through them like never before. The Liberal Democrats list climate change as their second most important issue (after Brexit). Labour opens their manifesto by outlining the party’s approach to the green industrial revolution. The Green Party’s entire manifesto is through the lens of a Green New Deal. And the Conservatives list reaching net zero as one of their top six guarantees.

Recognising the importance of these manifestos cannot be overstated. Not only will they set the direction over a five year parliament and chart the course of the country for years to come, but the next twelve months will be one of the most important periods for the environment in quite some time.

The future relationship with the EU will be decided (at the very least in broad terms) before December 2020, no matter what the outcome of the election is. Meanwhile, the UN COP26 summit in Glasgow in November 2020 will be the most significant moment for international climate policy since Paris 2015.

Cutting carbon now?

To truly be able to lead at the Glasgow summit, the UK government must immediately ensure its domestic action is matching its international ambition. At the bare minimum, policy must be in place to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets by the time of Glasgow 2020 and be on the pathway to net zero.

Under our Cutting Carbon Now project we have outlined five simple policies that will allow any government to do this within the next year. They are: bring forward the petrol and diesel vehicle ban to 2030; improve energy efficiency standards in all existing housing stock up to EPC C by 2035; give onshore wind and solar power access to markets; a programme of tree planting, peatland restoration and soil improvements to store carbon; and a programme of measures to improve industrial productivity.

So far, all the existing manifestos have set a different long term target for net zero. The Conservatives are guaranteeing to meet net zero by 2050; the Liberal Democrats are saying by 2045, but with a focus on substantial cuts straight away and the majority of emissions reductions by 2030; likewise, Labour will achieve the substantial majority of emissions reductions by 2030; and the Greens will hit net zero by 2030.

But no matter what the long term target is, all the parties, and any future government, will be judged on what solid policies they put in place within the next year. Likewise, policies alone will mean nothing unless they are fully funded. We believe the next government should hold an ‘environmental spending review’ in 2020, committing £42 billion a year (two per cent of GDP or five per cent of government expenditure) for the next three years to tackle the climate and ecological crisis.

What are the manifestos saying on the issues?

Transport
The Liberal Democrats are promising that all new cars will be electric by 2030; Labour and the Green Party will end the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030. The Conservatives will consult on the earliest date by which they can phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars. All parties are promising investment in nationwide charging infrastructure, with the Conservatives promising that everyone will be within 30 miles of a charging point.

On wider transport, all parties are promising investment in rail, particularly in the north, midlands and south west. The Greens will cancel the HS2 project, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats will go ahead with it. The Conservatives will consider the outcome of the Oakervee review. The Conservatives will also pump £28 billion into local and strategic roads while the Greens will stop the building of all new road capacity and airport expansion. The Liberal Democrats will put a moratorium on new runways, including Heathrow expansion. The Conservatives will ensure no more public money is given to the Heathrow expansion and Labour says any expansion must pass their tests on air quality and climate change obligations.

Housing
On existing stock, Labour will upgrade almost 27 million homes to “the highest energy efficiency standards”. The Greens will retrofit one million homes a year (ten million by 2030) to EPC A, starting with low income households. The Liberal Democrats will provide free retrofits for low income homes whilst the Conservatives will invest £9.2 billion in the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals.

The Liberal Democrats want all new homes to be built to a zero carbon standard by 2021 and the more efficient Passivhaus standard by 2025. The Greens will empower local authorities to create 100,000 new homes for social rent a year, built to this standard. Labour will introduce a zero carbon homes standard for all new builds and the Conservatives want to build “environmentally friendly homes” that have low energy bills.

Onshore wind and solar
On power, the Conservatives are aiming for 40GW of offshore wind by 2030 but do not mention onshore wind or solar. The Greens’ target is for 70 per cent of the UK’s electricity to be from wind power by 2030 and to provide support for solar, geothermal and tidal energy. Labour aim to build 2,000 new onshore wind turbines and solar panels to cover 22,000 football pitches (their metric, not mine); and to provide 90 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2030. The Liberal Democrats will remove restrictions for onshore wind and solar and aim to have 80 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2030.

Land use
When it comes to tree planting, there are lots of different metrics to consider. The Greens will plant 700 million new trees, the Conservatives will reach an additional 75,000 acres of trees a year by the end of the next parliament, the Liberal Democrats will plant 60 million trees a year. These three parties also promise to restore peatland with the Greens additionally banning the burning of peatland. Labour will embark on an ambitious programme of tree planting but do not mention peatland.

Industry
The Liberal Democrats promise to adopt a circular economy approach, supporting new low carbon processes for cement and steel production. They will also expand the market for green products and services by raising green criteria in public procurement and Introducing legally binding targets for reducing consumption of key natural resources. They will ban non-recyclable, single use plastics. The Conservatives will invest £500 million to help energy intensive industries move to low carbon techniques, introduce a levy to increase the proportion of recyclable plastics in packaging, and ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries.

The Green Party views the circular economy as underpinning their Green New Deal; they will provide companies with grants for the replacement of high emitting equipment, develop the infrastructure necessary for corporations to recycle close to 100 per cent of the resources they use, and require manufacturers to only produce the most energy efficient white goods. They will ban the production of single use plastics. Labour will establish a Foundation Industries Sector Council to provide a clean, long term future for heavy industries such as steel and glass, investing in three new recyclable steel plants. They will also make producers responsible for the waste they create and the cost of recycling or disposal and end exports of plastic waste.

Finance
The Conservatives have pledged that their first budget as a new government will prioritise the environment. The Liberal Democrats promise to increase government expenditure on climate and the environment to five per cent of total within five years. Labour are promising £250 billion to directly fund their Green Transformation Fund, co-ordinated by a Sustainable Investment Board that brings together the chancellor, business secretary and Bank of England governor. The Greens are promising over £100 million a year to fund the Green New Deal and will create a new government department, led by a carbon chancellor based at number 11 Downing Street who will set a yearly Carbon Budget.

Brexit

What the Greener UK coalition is asking for
As well as climate leadership, Brexit will be a huge factor for the environment in the coming year. The Greener UK coalition has made it clear that a no deal Brexit is the riskiest outcome for the environment and has called for a legally binding commitment to non-regression, meaning that standards could not be weakened in the future. It also wants to see a future relationship with the EU that includes a high level of environmental protection as a shared objective, and a UK approach to trade that is transparent, democratic and aligned with environmental ambitions.

On future legislation, the Environment Bill should return to parliament as soon as possible, containing ambitious, legally binding targets. We need firm legal footing for EU environmental principles (eg the precautionary principle and polluter pays principle) in domestic law and a powerful, independent watchdog that can ensure such targets are fully implemented in the event of Brexit.

On the future of agriculture, there should be a focus on ‘public money for public goods’ that pays farmers and landowners for the services they provide, such as healthy air, clean water and thriving wildlife, and promotes environmentally sound management of our land. Guarantees that current funding will be maintained and paid over multi-year frameworks are vital, as is a system of effective regulation that underpins all of the above.

For our marine environment, a fisheries management system is needed that: includes commitments not to fish over scientifically recommended levels; ensures public authorities are accountable to achieving fisheries objectives; commits to full and verifiable documentation of catches; and sets out a fairer and more sustainable approach to distributing fishing opportunities.

Future relationship
Labour has ruled out a no deal Brexit. They will negotiate a new deal with the EU and then hold a second referendum on this deal. The manifesto promises that this deal will ensure a ‘level playing field’ so that environmental protections are maintained and ‘dynamic alignment’ to ensure these protections keep pace with the EU27 as a minimum.

The Conservatives will implement ‘Boris’s deal’ which the Greener UK risk tracker has identified as high risk. The manifesto promises to raise standards in agriculture and the environment but rules out extending the transition period beyond December 2020 which could lead to a no deal Brexit.

The Green Party will also hold a second referendum but will ensure the harmonising of minimum environmental standards no matter what the outcome.

The Liberal Democrats will simply revoke Article 50, keeping the UK in the EU.

Trade
The Conservatives aim to have 80 per cent of UK trade covered by Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) within three years, starting with the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, in parallel to EU negotiations on the future relationship. In all trade negotiations, they will not compromise on “high environmental protections”.

Labour will introduce legislation to ensure parliamentary scrutiny on trade deals and will reject any trade deals that undermine environmental protections.

The Green Party will guarantee a parliamentary vote on any FTAs, and that any future deals will maintain and enhance environmental standards.

The Liberal Democrats will work through international bodies to ensure better regulation and scrutiny of trade and investment deals and will strengthen environmental goals in EU trade agreements, including refusing to enter into any deals with countries that have policies counter to the Paris climate agreement.

Environment Bill
Labour will be splitting their legally binding targets across a Climate and Environment Emergency Bill, a Clean Air Bill and a Plan for Nature. There is no mention of a new watchdog but they will fully fund frontline environment agencies and establish a new environmental tribunal.

The Liberal Democrats will set their binding targets through a Nature Act and Clean Air Act but also guarantee an Office of Environmental Protection that is fully independent of government with powers and resources to enforce compliance. They will increase the Defra budget and ensure associated agencies are well funded.

The Conservatives will bring back their Environment Bill that sets legally binding targets and establishes an independent Office for Environmental Protection.

The Greens will have an ‘ecocide’ law, a Clean Air Act and a Sustainable Economy Act that all set binding targets. They will create an Environmental Protection Commission that will enforce protections whilst also increasing funding for existing agencies.

Agriculture
The Conservatives have maintained their focus on ‘public money for public goods’, ensuring farmers are paid for farming in a way that enhances the natural environment and they guarantee the current level of payments for the next five years.

Labour too have promised to maintain agricultural and rural funds but will split them between environmental land management and “sustainable methods of food production”. They aim to achieve net zero carbon food production by 2040.

The Liberal Democrats will reduce basic agricultural support to larger recipients and will redeploy these savings into public goods.

The Greens will champion reform of the Common Agriculture Policy to promote more sustainable farming methods and will refocus subsidies to support farmers through a ten year transition to agro-ecological farming.

Fisheries
All four manifestos are fairly light on the subject of fisheries. The Green Party will review the Common Fisheries Policy to increase its sustainability. The Liberal Democrats will rebuild depleted fish stocks by ensuring sustainability lies at the heart of fisheries policy. Labour will set maximum sustainable yields for all shared fish stocks and redistribute fish quotas on social and environmental criteria. The Conservatives will set a legal commitment to fishing sustainably.

More to read

As someone who has worked in the environment sector for a while, it has never been an issue that the party manifestos include too much on the environment, but that is the happy problem I have found myself with now. Many more environmental policies can be found in these four manifestos, as well as in the manifestos I haven’t been able to cover. From fracking (all either banning or not supporting) to marine protection; from low carbon heat to international ecological footprints, there’s plenty more to digest. Please take a look and judge for yourself.

[Image courtesy of Descrier, via Flickr]

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