Where do UK political parties stand on the environment?
Author: Jonathan Whiting
Published: Wednesday, 11 February 2015
In his State of the Union address on January 20, 2015, the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, said that no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.
In his speech he mentioned the issues of terrorism, war and recession. It was a hard time for many, he said, but in addressing his nation he added that it was climate change that posed an immediate risk to National Security.
He criticised those who deny climate change is an issue, saying “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does: 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration and conflict around the globe.”
So, as we look towards our next General Election this year, how do the political parties of the UK stand when it comes to this vital issue?
David Cameron worked hard during his time in opposition trying to convince the public that the Conservatives were a more environmentally-friendly party; they even changed their logo to a green tree.
Unfortunately, during their time in Government, the Conservatives have moved from David Cameron’s promise to make the coalition government “the greenest government ever”, to skirting away from environmental issues at the last Conservative Party Conference. In the past they have been criticised by the Environmental Audit Committee for their “lacklustre environmental efforts” and David Cameron has been known for his enthusiastic backing of fracking despite its significant impact on the environment.
However, former environmental secretary and Tory MP Caroline Spelman recently joined a growing number of Conservative MPs calling for a ban on fracking, fearing it could jeopardise efforts to tackle climate change. And, following huge concern from the public, the Conservatives have accepted Labour’s proposals to tighten environmental regulations which would include banning of fracking in national parks and areas where drinking water is collected.
Verdict: Failed to live up to early promise
Labour is another major political party which has been fairly quiet lately on issues facing the environment and climate change. However, the Shadow Environment Secretary Maria Eagle recently mentioned plans for a Labour Government to put in place a 25 year plan for the recovery of Nature.
And, at last year’s Labour Party Conference, the Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint revealed plans for zero interest loans for insulation and making it easier for schools to install solar panelling. The Labour Party also plans a freeze on electricity bills, although they may have to rethink this due to recent price falls. They have also shown a willingness to go along with Tory fracking plans as long as there is a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection.
Verdict: Room for significant improvement
The Lib Dems have always maintained that they are the
Verdict: Much talk, little action
The Green Party very clearly aims to ensure the planet is protected from the threat of climate change, both now and in the future. The party stands very firm in its bid to ban fracking and stop the building of nuclear power stations. It also aims to invest in renewable energy and reduce reliance on fossil fuels in order to build a stable and sustainable society that will protect the planet from climate change.
In its mini manifesto, The Green Party also talk of plans for home insulation and renewable energy, as well as bringing energy bills down. A major investment would be on the cards for energy efficiency and the renewable energy industry and the party aims to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Verdict: The environment’s guardian angel
UK Independence Party
The UK Independence Party is very clearly pro-fracking in its stance, as it aims to develop shale gas to reduce energy bills and “free us from dependance on foreign oil and gas.” It would also scrap the HS2 national high speed rail link, because it feels it is uneconomical, unjustified and “skint Britain” cannot afford it, as well as scrapping all green taxes and wind turbine subsidies.
Other UKIP policies include abolishing the Department of Energy and Climate Change along with green subsidies, repealing the Climate Change Act 2008 which “costs the economy £18bn per year”, and encouraging the redevelopment of British power stations, as well as industrial units providing on-site power generation. It states that it supports the development of shale gas as long as proper safeguards are implemented in the local environment.
Verdict: I wonder if they know any scientists
Scottish National Party (SNP)
The SNP talks of the challenges of climate change in its manifesto, but more in relation to Scotland itself, rather than the planet as a whole. Richard Lochhead MSP, who is the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment speaks on the party website about the wealth of opportunity that climate change could provide for Scotland by using its expertise and enterprise, as well as generating greater wealth and opportunity from the country’s vast natural resources. He added that he wanted to see more Scots living in carbon neutral communities and more people living and working in rural Scotland, with communities enjoying a bigger direct benefit from Scotland’s vast energy resources.
Verdict: The jury’s still out
All in all, the major players in UK politics have a lot to say when it comes to our environment and climate change, and views vary tremendously from party to party. But how much of it is from a real awareness of the dangers that our planet faces and how much is just words said to placate the “tree-hugging” proportion of the voting public?
Fact is, we have to get very real about the increasing risks posed to our environment from climate change right here and now, before it’s too late. And if Barack Obama is making it a priority, then maybe so should we.