Political rhetoric is being ramped up and photo opportunities are made the most of. A general election must be on the horizon. With exactly a year to go, Tom Revell looks at the energy and environment credentials of the five major parties.
When the nation, or at least those who aren’t doing a Russell Brand and staying at home in protest or apathy, takes to the polls next year there are signs that questions of energy and the environment may be higher up the agenda than ever before.
True, the leading political parties are not quite clamouring for the green vote with the same passion as 2010, with David Cameron moving from hugging huskies to shooting badgers (though not personally, that we know of).
However, in the years since the last election, the warnings from scientists over climate change have become ever more dire, highlighting the need for inspired environmental stewardship.
The findings of numerous opinion polls suggest that the lasting legacy of the storms that battered many parts of the UK this winter – linked recently to climate change – will be an increasing number of voters demanding action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
While in general voters are far more concerned with issues such as immigration, education, health or house prices, this could be significant. One survey, commissioned by WWF-UK, found that 47% of voters are willing to switch their political allegiance based on which party was offering the best environmental policies.
This comes after campaigners warned that all of the three main parties had so far failed the environment.
The winter bill hikes enforced by leading energy companies also put the government under pressure. This led to the removal of so-called “green levies” – which arguably were not the problem anyway – but questions remains over the competitiveness of the energy market as customer complaints rise.
Few hints have yet been given about tangible policies and how their manifestos might look, but with all this in mind, what approaches can be expected from the key five political parties on issues of energy and the environment?
Though David Cameron promised to lead “the greenest government ever” he has remained rather quiet on the subject since, and environmentalists have grown increasingly critical of the coalition’s climate change credentials.
Some achievements have been made, such as the foundation of the Green Investment Bank, but environmental policy has seemingly been unnecessarily sacrificed in the name of austerity.
The chancellor George Osborne’s most recent budget was criticised for boosting “energy-inefficient makers, climate change deniers and planet wreckers”.
The Conservatives also seem intent on pursuing the controversial energy quick fix that is fracking, while pledging to cut subsidies for the more sustainable option of onshore wind farms. The growth of the much-needed green economy may hang in the balance.
It also won’t help the party win green hearts and minds if Owen Paterson, an alleged climate sceptic, remains the environment secretary while Conservative peer Lord Lawson continues his campaign against climate science.
However, some greener Tories have urged their colleagues to get with the sustainability programme in recent months. The Conservative 2020 group, an alliance of “modern” Conservatives, is acting as a cheerleader for the economic benefits of sustainability. How influential such voices will prove to be over the upcoming manifesto remains to be seen.
In recent months, energy and the environment have become popular subjects with Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Following energy companies’ winter price hikes, the party pledged to impose a 20-month price freeze on bills to help tackle the “cost of living crisis”.
Miliband, a former energy secretary, has also urged voters to get behind onshore and offshore wind farms, while promising that Labour “will have manifesto commitments on green energy”.
After the winter floods, Labour were quick to point out the division in the Tory ranks over the reality of climate change. Miliband scaled up the rhetoric, calling global warming “a national security issue” and a “generational struggle”.
“If we’re going to properly protect the British people we cannot have doubt in the government”, he said.
While solid policies are yet to be announced, Miliband does at least have a consistent stance, backed by his party, on climate change.
As part of the coalition, the Liberal Democrats are subject to the same criticisms as the Conservative party. However, the party has been quick to take credit for any genuine achievements, arguing that the energy secretary Ed Davey is responsible for keeping climate on the government’s agenda.
The Lib Dems are also opposed to Tory plans to curb onshore wind projects, arguing such a move threatens the green economy. They insist that they alone are the only party that can be trusted to deliver green jobs and green growth.
A group of Liberal Democrat MPs also recently launched a Green Manifesto, urging the party to put sustainability at the heart of its approach.
On the subject of energy, the Lib Dems are at least vocal supporters of renewable energy. Davey argues that Labour’s proposed price freeze will only hurt the green energy industry.
Instead, he has lobbied for greater competitiveness in the energy market, pushing through measures aimed at helping customers shop around.
The Green party insists climate change is “one of the worst environmental hazards facing human society”.
Unsurprisingly, it is more concerned with environmental issues than the three main parties. It calls for decarbonisation targets and international action, urging the UK to remain in the EU so it can lead efforts to curb climate change. Principally, the party recommends that the UN introduce a global Contraction and Convergence (C&C) framework, complete with an emissions trading scheme.
The Greens are also advocates of renewables, critics of fracking, and the only remaining anti-nuclear option.
In February, party leader Natalie Bennett demanded a place in the leaders’ debates in the run up to the 2015 general election, fairly pointing out that the Greens’ one MP is one more than media monopoliser Nigel Farage can claim to have at UKIP.
To give UKIP its due, the Euro-sceptic party gives the most succinct explanation of environmental policy available. Flying in the face of scientific consensus, UKIP insist climate change “is so last century”, perversely claiming that there are increasing doubts that mankind is to blame.
Education spokesman Derek Clark MEP even said he would ban teaching climate change in schools if his party somehow won the general election in May 2015.
Their energy policy is equally simple and anti-science. They want to “scrap all green taxes and wind turbine subsidies”, keep coal-fired power plants open and develop nuclear power stations, while describing fracking as “a get out of jail free card” and opponents to fracking as “eco-freaks”.
Photo: soosalu via Flickr