An election for the climate?

Climate change may not be the first thing you think of when deciding how to vote. But we at Sheffield Climate Alliance believe that the policies needed to tackle climate change could have many good impacts on the economy (e.g. creating jobs) and on social issues too, such as health (e.g. saving costs for the NHS) and poverty (e.g. homes that are affordable to keep warm). Politicians may assume voters don’t care much about climate change, but from our conversations, people are aware and concerned, and just need to see new policies that will tackle the issues.

So we’ve put together this handy guide to the key points that the main parties are making about climate change in their General Election manifestos.  (We hope it will appear in the Sheffield Telegraph on 1st June.) The UKIP manifesto had not been published at the time of writing, and so we have covered Conservative, Green, Labour and Liberal Democrat. For those who want to know more, a detailed summary on the Carbon Brief website is being updated as each manifesto is published, and Friends of the Earth have published their own guide.

First of all, what are the main statements each party makes on climate change – and how much importance do they give it?

The Conservatives tell us they are already global leaders who played a role at the Paris COP talks. However, climate change is not one of the ‘giant challenges’ they prioritise, and they seem complacent about achieving the UK climate targets they signed up to there. In fact, it is hard to see how their manifesto could deliver those commitments, as it aims to grow the high-carbon sectors of the economy, such as oil and gas.

The Green Party, as you would expect, puts “the need for bold and dynamic action on climate change” at the centre of its manifesto. They would push for “concerted global action to limit warming to 1.5 degrees”.

Labour promises to put us “back on track to meet the Climate Change Act and the Paris Agreement”, and they highlight the impacts of climate change on developing countries.

The Lib Dems make a similar promise, also saying they would introduce 5 Green Laws, which indicates they are thinking big.

This pattern of broad similarities between the Labour, Lib Dem and Green parties continues as we get down to more detail. In our analysis, we have focused on SCA’s main campaign areas: climate jobs, food, anti-fracking and investment/divestment, which we consider are the main things to tackle.

How would the parties create “climate jobs” to reduce emissions, in housing, energy, and transport?

Labour has very clear, strong policies for energy and transport, to bring the infrastructure under public control (e.g. re-nationalising the railways and the electricity grid, and enabling councils to create energy companies). This would be good news for efforts to tackle climate change. Labour commits to insulating homes, but the numbers proposed are lower than by the Greens, and the timescales seem less urgent than in the Lib Dem proposal.

The Greens also support re-nationalisation, and include buses and water as well as rail and energy. They have strong proposals for making transport less polluting and getting the health benefits from active travel such as walking and cycling. They plan to invest in warm homes for all.

The Lib Dems support local renewable energy companies and moving to electric transport. They don’t see the same role for public control, but support co-operatives and community ventures in renewable energy. A weakness seems to be that they focus more on technology to improve transport than on changes to how we travel.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are heading in a different direction to most of the ideas above. They support big, high-carbon infrastructure projects such as airport expansion, the proposed HS2 railway line and new roads. They are optimistic about moving to electric vehicles, but don’t give much sense of urgency for this, or for investment in good, clean, local public transport. Their proposals for insulating homes also seem slow and weak. They want to expand oil and gas for energy, especially fracking.

What about food, and the changes needed to make that more climate-friendly?

Food production accounts for around ten percent of total UK emissions, and intensive meat production is the most damaging. Labour say they will champion sustainable farming, fishing and food. The Lib Dems commit to tackling food waste and achieving healthy, sustainable food and want to reform farming subsidies to achieve flood protection and environmental care. The Greens tackle the issues of sustainable agriculture well, but appear to have less to say about how to achieve healthy food. The Conservatives want to produce and export more food, but don’t say how they will make this sustainable.

How do the parties differ on fracking?

Fracking, a new and highly controversial form of drilling for gas, brings out major differences between the Conservatives and the other parties. While all three other parties propose to ban fracking as bad for the climate and the local environment (e.g. problems from noise, pollution and lorries), the Conservatives are strongly supportive of fracking. They propose to go further than they have already in government to make it easier to start fracking – changing the planning system to weight it more towards the drilling companies rather than local people and their elected councils.

The Paris climate agreement means leaving more than 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. There is no recognition of this at all from the Conservatives, whereas the Greens are very clear about it. Labour recognise the danger called “lock-in” – that if we build the wrong infrastructure now, we just can’t shift away from fossil fuels; and the Lib Dems mention special help for areas such as north-east Scotland to move away from oil and gas drilling.

What will the parties invest in, and how will this happen?

We at SCA think it’s important to ‘divest’ (remove investments) from fossil fuel companies and re-invest the money in energy-saving projects, such as transport going electric and insulating homes, and in creating renewable energy – and of course in new skills to do all of this. We will still need materials such as steel, glass, plastic and cement, but we urgently need ways to use much less and make them with less pollution – here the Greens aim to build a “circular economy” (which would cut waste to zero).

The parties each propose their own version of an ‘investment bank’ with different ways of finding and using the money –  Greens, Lib Dems and Labour all link this to reducing climate emissions, which is not mentioned by the Conservatives. Labour makes a powerful statement that “building a clean economy of the future is the most important thing we must do for our children, our grandchildren and future generations”. Now that’s starting to sound like an election for the climate!