Political will

8th April 2015

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Alastair Ross Jack

Paul Suff examines the political parties' election pledges on the environment and finds them wanting.

Last year, Decc found that 80% of respondents to its annual tracking poll supported the idea of electricity, heat and fuel being supplied from renewable sources, while a Populus poll found that almost 73% of the British public want to see a global deal on climate change agreed at Paris in December.

With the UK general election just weeks away and the political parties vying for votes you might expect their energy and environment spokespeople to set out a clear vision for how they will meet the aspirations of the electorate on renewables and tackling climate change. Sadly a lack of imagination prevails.

The "green hustings" hosted by the Green Alliance at the end of March demonstrated the dearth of ideas. The participants were: Liz Truss, the Conservative environment secretary; Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat energy and climate change secretary; Caroline Flint, shadow energy secretary for Labour; and Caroline Lucas, the UK's only Green MP. Before the politicians faced questions, members of the audience were asked whether they were optimistic the next government would "make progress on the environment".

Thirty-six per cent said yes. That only just over one-third had any confidence that Westminster could deliver change was itself revealing. More depressing was that by the end of the debate the proportion had dropped to 30%. Only the performance of Lucas generated overwhelmingly positive feedback on social media.

So, where are the politicians with the vision to significantly move forward on the low-carbon agenda in the built environment, for example? Buildings account for more than 40% of UK emissions but offer the best cost-effective opportunity to reduce them. New regulations have just been passed that will set minimum energy efficiency standards in England and Wales from April 2018 for commercial properties and from June 2016 in Scotland, but the level of ambition is low.

How many prospective MPs are demanding the roofs of all new commercial buildings contain solar panels or plants - which would cut the amount of energy needed to heat a building in winter and cool it in summer - as France has just done? And who is asking for panels to be fitted to all public buildings with south-facing roofs that can support them?

The price of panels has plummeted over the past few years and is expected to fall further, so the cost is not the barrier just an absence of political will. That lack of resolve also exists for many of the other environment and sustainability measures that should be a priority.

With billions of pounds being pumped into new infrastructure over the next few years, the decisions the next government takes will have long-term impacts. UK readers need to think carefully where they place their cross on the ballot slip.

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