The state of the parties

8th April 2015


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Victoria Noble

the environmentalist guide to where the main parties stand on environment and sustainability issues.


Like the leaders of the other two main Westminster parties, David Cameron signed the joint pledge in February to tackle climate change. The commitment includes a promise "to work together, across party lines, to agree [UK] carbon budgets" and "to accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy-efficient low-carbon economy and to end the use of unabated coal for power generation". The party supports the extraction of shale gas and oil, viewing the former as a way of strengthening energy security and as a transition fuel to a low-carbon economy. "We will tap shale gas, commission nuclear power and renewables," the chancellor, George Osborne, told the party's 2014 conference. In his recent budget, Osborne gave tentative backing to a planned tidal power lagoon at Swansea (pp.38-41). The Conservatives are expected to introduce a moratorium on new onshore wind projects and to halt the expansion of photovoltaic arrays on land. Party policy is to exempt a proposed 200,000 new "starter" homes from the zero carbon standard, which is due to come into force in 2016. On the countryside, the Conservatives are likely to extend badger culls across the country after the trials in south-west England in 2014 were deemed a success.

Democratic Unionists

The DUP says it is focused on promoting renewable energy, reducing pollution and preserving Northern Ireland's countryside and wildlife. The party wants 40% of country's energy consumption to come from renewable sources by 2020 and is aiming for 10% of heating to also be from renewables by the end of the decade. The party's plans also include: a province-wide retrofit programme to improve energy efficiency; installation of low-energy lighting and fittings in public buildings; an increase in recycling rates and reduction in food waste; and measures to arrest by 2020 the recent loss of wildlife, and to retain and restore native forests.

Green party

The Green party says it will take "serious action" on climate change. This will include: working with other countries to ensure global temperatures do not rise beyond 2ºC; phasing out fossil-fuel based energy generation and nuclear power; and investing in a public programme of renewable generation and the insulation of buildings. "We should aim steadily to reduce all UK greenhouse-gas emissions to 10% of their 1990 levels by 2030," the party states. It advocates a system of tradable quotas to reduce UK emissions, with a proportion distributed free to all eligible individuals and the remainder sold to organisations. The quota system would be supported by investment in energy conservation, energy-efficient appliances, public transport and renewable energy technology to ensure that people can live within their quotas. The party opposes shale gas extraction. It would establish a natural resources department to oversee resource use.


Labour leader Ed Miliband has pledged to pursue a new global climate treaty at the Paris summit consisting of: emissions targets for all countries, based on a scientific assessment of the progress towards the 2ºC goal and reviewed every five years; and a net zero global emissions target for the second half of this century. He also wants transparent, universal rules for countries to measure, verify and report their emissions. Domestically, the party has pledged to stick to the legally binding targets for carbon reduction and to fully implement the UK carbon budgets. It also plans to set a 2030 decarbonisation target for the energy sector, which it says will "unlock" investment in clean energy, and will aim to make Britain a world leader in low-carbon technology. Labour promises one million new high-tech, "green" jobs by 2025, and says it will strengthen the Green Investment Bank by providing it with borrowing powers. Interest-bearing "green bonds" will be offered to the public to fund clean energy projects. The party also says it will prioritise flood prevention and introduce a new climate change adaptation plan to help the UK properly prepare for the effects of a changing climate. It would put a moratorium on fracking until a stricter regulatory regime was put in place.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats plan to introduce five "green laws" in the next parliament. These would focus on carbon, homes, nature, transport and waste. Measures in its planned zero carbon Bill include: a legally binding target for zero carbon Britain by 2050; a legally binding decarbonisation target for the power sector by 2030; an office for accelerated low carbon innovation to fast-track new technologies, such as tidal power and renewable heat; and emissions performance standards for existing coal plants from 2025. The party also wants to double the UK's production of renewable electricity by 2020. Its commitments on "green homes" include investing £2 billion to insulate around 10 million homes by 2025, while the proposed zero waste Bill would introduce a 70% recycling rate for England and Wales, end waste being sent to landfill and introduce larger fines for fly tipping. An action plan to turn waste into an economic asset would also be pursued. Legislation on nature includes legal targets for biodiversity, clean air and water, and establishing new marine and coastal reserves. The party is also proposing a 25-year "nature of Britain" plan, with clear recommendations for reversing the decline of species and their habitats, and to strengthen legal protection for bees.

Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru says Wales needs to take full advantage of its renewable energy resources, and support micro-generation and other small-scale sustainable power generation schemes. These include tidal (pp.38-41), wave power, onshore and offshore wind, hydro and biomass. The party is keen on harnessing the energy of the Severn estuary and its preferred option is a combination of lagoons and tidal-stream turbines, which it claims would minimise environmental damage. Plaid supports emission performance standards for all new power stations and is opposed to the construction of any new nuclear power stations in Wales. It also opposes the use of waste incinerators and supports binding targets for waste prevention. It would set recycling targets of 80% for domestic waste by 2020 and introduce a higher landfill tax. It also advocates changes to public procurement legislation so that local authorities can favour materials from recycled and local sources.

Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin says Ireland's energy system must be renewable and sustainable, and be of value to both the environment and the consumer. "The future of Ireland's energy system must incorporate far more renewables if we aim to achieve energy security and reverse the onset of climate change," says the party. It supports the principle of sustainable development, and says all economic activity and policy decisions should be "environmentally proofed" to ensure no needless damage is inflicted on Ireland's environment, which the party describes as already being under severe pressure from unnecessary pollution and inefficient waste management.


The party's vision for a "greener" Scotland includes expanding the climate challenge fund to encourage more communities to become low-carbon by, for example, improving the energy efficiency of community buildings and supporting low-carbon travel options. The SNP also plans to establish "green skills academies" to ensure Scots have the right skills mix for the future. It will also plant millions of new trees and put in place measures to protect Scotland's peatlands as well as protect and expand the country's marine carbon sinks as ways of rebalancing its carbon account. Scotland's zero-waste strategy, introduced by the SNP government in 2010, includes a 70% recycling target for all the nation's waste, with just 5% going to landfill by 2025. Meanwhile, the Climate Change Act 2009 set a target to reduce emissions by 42% by 2020, and by at least 80% by 2050. The party wants Scotland to make full use of its renewable energy potential, including offshore and onshore wind, and tidal power. It supports "clean" coal and carbon capture and storage technologies, and opposes new nuclear power stations in Scotland.


Ukip wants to abolish Decc and scrap "green" energy subsidies; repeal the Climate Change Act 2008, which it claims costs the economy £18 billion a year; scrap the Large Combustion Plant Directive, which controls emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter with the aim of improving air quality; and provide no new subsidies for wind farms and solar arrays. The party says it supports a diverse energy market, including coal, nuclear, shale gas, geo-thermal, tidal, solar, conventional gas and oil. Shale gas exploration will get the go-ahead if "proper safeguards" for the local environment are established, says Ukip. Other proposals include allowing the British parliament to vote on growing genetically modified crops and altering planning rules to make it easier to build on brownfield sites, with low-interest bonds issued to enable decontamination. It also plans to hold local referenda on whether large-scale developments should receive planning permission.


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