#GE2015 Election Debates: Environment and Climate Change

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Andrew Neil and the BBC’s environment analyst Roger Harrabin were joined yesterday by leading politicians to debate climate change, energy prices and the countryside. You can view the debate for the next 29 days here.

On the panel were Caroline Flint (Labour), Matthew Hancock (Conservative), Andrew Cooper (Green), Ed Davey (LibDem) and Roger Helmer (UKIP).  Ms Flint has held the shadow Energy and Climate Change portfolio since 2011, and previously held ministerial posts from 2005 to 2009. Mr Hancock has been the Minister for Energy since 2014. Mr Cooper is a Kirklees Councillor, PPC and their party’s energy spokesperson. Ed Davey is the Secretary of State of Energy and Climate Change. Mr Helmer is an MEP.

Mr Hancock argued strongly that the government had done well in reducing carbon emissions but his claim was undermined by Mr Davey’s claim that he had to “fight every day” with the Conservatives. Ms Flint pointed out that much of the carbon emission reductions had been the implementation of schemes started under Labour and primarily due to provisions in the 2008 Climate Change Act. Mr Cooper described the action on emissions as “feeble.”

UKIP’s Helmer argued that he did “not believe that the changes in climate are substantially caused by human activity”, but did make the valid point that we have reduced the UK’s emissions, in part, by exporting our manufacturing to other countries with carbon-intensive power generation and weaker environmental standards.

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    Roger Harrabin challenged Mr Helmer on the science of climate change pointing out that while surface temperatures have paused, our oceans our acidifying. Mr Helmer replied that our seas have been more acidic in the past and life on earth existed. Life on earth yes, but not as we know it. Mr Helmer sees climate changes as one of those things that left wingers leap on to scam people into accepting government interference.

    Mr Hancock sung the virtues of the growth of solar power but again was undermined by his ministerial boss, Davey, who pointed out that the Conservatives planned to end subsidies for the most widely adopted renewable energy source, onshore wind. This was rebutted by Mr Hancock arguing that we needed to protect the “beauty of our green and pleasant land.” It was pointed out that despite his opposition to solar energy, Mr Helmer had had solar panels fitted and was benefiting from government subsidy. He replied that he wasn’t going to turn down free money, but could still blame the government for handing it out.

    There was a significant debate about the impact of environmental policies on domestic utility bills (they represent 7% of dual fuel energy bills [Ofgem 2014]). Roger Helmer blamed the increase in bills on these policies alone, whereas Caroline Flint pointed out that wholesale prices (43% of the bill) had increased, and recent falls had not been passed on. Energy companies pocket 9%. Flint and Hancock clashed on whether Labour’s 2013 price freeze commitment (which would allow prices to fall, but not rise) would have led to lower prices or higher prices for consumers.

    Flint and Hancock clashed again on the difficult point of the cost of not changing our energy mix versus the status quo. Flint argued that a medium term increase in investment (and cost on energy bills) in renewables would offset future rises, whereas Hancock argued against this preferring a slower rate of investment.

    In terms of fracking, all the parties except the greens backed the use of this resource, ignoring Mr Cooper’s point that we need to leave 80% of fossil fuels in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change.

    All parties except the Green now back new nuclear power – although the LibDems have reversed their opposition since 2010. Labour, the LibDems and the Greens would allow fuel duty to rise, whereas the Conservatives and UKIP would freeze duty.

    Photo: bernadg via Flickr

    Further reading:

    General election: Green Party turns to the crowd to raise funds

    Vote for Policies launches ahead of General Election

    General election: quarter would switch vote based on climate change policy

    100 days until a pivotal UK general election

    #GE2015 Vote for Polices hits 502,000 surveys completed