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Local elections preview: Labour



Struggling to decide who to vote for in the local elections on Thursday May 2? Don’t worry, as all this week, Blue & Green Tomorrow is outlining the energy, environment and investment credentials of all five major parties.

For a full list of local authorities that are voting, and for more details on the elections more generally, see here.

After kicking this mini-series off with the Conservatives, next up is the opposition: Labour, whose leader is Ed Miliband.

Leading the way on climate change

The Labour party was the first government in the world to pass a climate bill into law, when it created the Climate Change Act. On March 13, 2007, a draft climate change bill was published following cross-party pressure over several years, led by environmental groups.

The act puts in place a framework to achieve a mandatory 80% cut in the UK’s carbon emissions by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels), with an intermediate target of between 26% and 32% by 2020.The bill was passed in November 2008.

With its passing, the UK became the first country in the world to set such a long-range and significant carbon reduction target into law, or to create such a legally-binding framework.

The Committee on Climate Change was formally launched in December 2008, with Lord Adair Turner as its chair. The Committee gives advice to the government on setting carbon budgets and reports regularly to the parliaments and assemblies on the progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

It also advises the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and is supported by a small secretariat of economists, scientists and corporate staff. The Committee works closely with today’s coalition government, demonstrating its importance ever since its inception.

Labour also founded DECC. Since February 2012, the department has been run by secretary of state for energy and climate change Ed Davey.

It is the responsibility of the DECC to reduce the UK’s carbon outgoings and greenhouse gases through encouraging more low-carbon technologies, as well as maintaining UK energy security – including helping households reduce their energy bills, as well as a larger plan to reform energy markets.

In April 2009, the government set a requirement for a 34% cut in emissions by 2020, in line with the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change, and announced that details of how this would be achieved would be published in the summer

A ‘green recovery’

For Labour, not only is investment in renewable and low-cost energy important, but so too is the creation of jobs.

In its 2010 manifesto, the Labour party promised to create 400,000 jobs in the environment and energy sectors by 2015. With five dedicated pages on UK and global climate change and resource management, Labour certainly put environment and energy at the heart of government responsibility.

However, Louise Gray, environment correspondent at right-leaning Telegraph, wrote in 2010 that she felt any jobs that would have been created by Labour would have been dependent on UK energy projects securing foreign investment: “The new jobs [would] mostly be in manufacturing green technology, like wind turbines and installing insulation and micro-renewables on homes.

It is a good idea but depends on companies coming to the UK to build green technology and households taking up the incentives to have their households refurbished.

The 2010 manifesto added, “We are building a clean energy system which will reduce Britain’s dependence on imported oil and gas and increase our energy security.

We are planning for around 40% of our electricity to come from low-carbon sources by 2020 – renewables, nuclear and clean fossil fuels.

A major drive for energy efficiency will be enhanced by a ‘smart grid’ using new information technologies.”

Labour described a 60% emissions reduction by 2050 as “necessary and achievable” in its 2005 manifesto. Targets have been increased since then, however, with an 80% reduction promised by all three major political parties. Since 2001, there’s no doubt that Labour has increased its interest in energy and the environment.

Responsible investment

The engine of growth is private enterprise: we will give business our full support in creating wealth and jobs.”

Although not in power, the Labour party was also committed to reforming banking objectives in terms of also creating a Green Investment Bank – something the Lib Dems and Conservatives also pledged and have since brought into action.

The opposition

Although Labour has continued to pledge for progression on environmental issues and in energy sectors, there has been criticism that, since becoming the opposition, not enough has been done to oppose the coalition government’s action on such topics.

At the centre of the 2010 Labour Manifesto was of course then-Labour leader and prime minister Gordon Brown, who resigned after the Conservatives and Lib Dems formed a coalition. Ed Miliband took over as Labour leader.

Since the coalition promised to be the “greenest government ever”, Miliband has failed to hold the government to account over that pledge, according to some. Blue & Green Tomorrow has also commented on Miliband’s lack of environmental action in the past.

Craig Bennett, head of policy and campaigns for Friends of the Earth, wrote in The Guardian in September last year: “The coalition would find it harder to disregard the environment and the need to build a strong low-carbon economy if Labour put the issue high on the political agenda.

During the last parliament, Cameron’s support for the Climate Change Act was pivotal in persuading the then-Labour government to put their weight behind it. If we really are going to build the low-carbon future that we so urgently need, it’s time for Labour to step up to the plate.”

He added, “We will never capitalise on the promise of our burgeoning green economy or avert the worst excesses on climate change, unless politicians are prepared to stand up and be counted both in opposition and in government.”

Joseph Iddison is a student in his final year of an English degree at the University of Leicester.

Further reading:

Ed Miliband’s Bedford speech heavy on rhetoric, weak on action

Ed Miliband: “I believe we have duty to leave the world a better place than we found it”

Ed Miliband: green investors are ‘going elsewhere’ because of this government

Joseph Iddison is a master's student at the University of Leicester. Having graduated from the same institution in July 2013 in English, Joseph will start the global environmental change course in September.


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