Party conferences reveal clues to policy priorities

31st October 2014


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Author

Lucy Barratt

Environmental practitioners have expressed a mixed reaction to the debates at the three main party conferences.

Key speeches by the party leaders, cabinet members and shadow cabinet members revealed few new concrete policy proposals (see below).

Prime minister David Cameron’s speech contained one reference to the environment, that the UK is “leading not following on climate change”.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said that his party would set a national goal for Britain to become a world leader in the green economy, creating one million jobs by 2025 and decarbonise electricity by 2030. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg committed the Liberal Democrats to five green laws, including on energy efficiency and decarbonising the electricity system.

Philip Pearson, senior policy officer for energy and climate change at the Trades Union Congress, said: “Of the three parties, two of them get it, the other doesn’t.”

Nick Molho, executive director at the Aldersgate Group welcomed cross-party commitment to the green investment bank. “All three parties provided clear indication that it would play a part in the low-carbon economy,” he said.

While the parties differed on the rate at which the economy could be decarbonised, there was broad support for a strong European target and a recognition that this would be in line with the UK’s, Molho added.

Although many politicians acknowledged that the green deal energy efficiency scheme is not working, the detail on how to improve it was lacking from the three main parties, he said.

Martin Baxter, executive director of policy at IEMA, said that all parties tend to play to their members and core voters rather than the wider world during conferences. “The critical thing is what policies they will put in their manifestos and I don’t think we have a clear idea yet of what will go in.”

He added that the surge in support for the Green Party could influence the other parties. Labour has appointed shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan to lead work on how the party can defend itself against losing votes to the Greens, whose membership in England and Wales has increased by almost two-thirds since the start of 2014, to more than 22,500.

Conservatives

Starter homes would be exempt from zero-carbon homes standards, prime minister David Cameron said. Environment secretary Liz Truss said she was “determined” to restore habitats, rivers and flood defences. Energy minister Matthew Hancock argued that the nation must invest in shale gas and new nuclear, and ensure that renewables support provides the best value for billpayers. Chancellor George Osborne promised that he would “tap shale gas, commission nuclear power and renewables”, build high-speed rail, and decide where to build a new airport runway .

Liberal Democrats

Electricity generation from coal would be banned after 2025, energy and climate secretary Ed Davey said. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg pledged five green laws: to reduce carbon emissions from the electricity sector; legal targets for clean air and water; give everyone access to green space; boost energy efficiency and renewable energy; and prioritise the shift to “green cars”.

Labour

Energy efficiency would be put at the heart of energy policy, with free home energy reports for 500,000 homeowners and energy saving measures retrofitted on 200,000 homes of those on low incomes, with councils in charge of delivery. Councils would also be given more powers to tackle air pollution. The party would introduce a national programme of low-emission zones, and establish a new climate adaptation programme.


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