If not now, then when?

In which Steve Dyke takes a look at what each party is pledging to do to tackle climate change, with very mixed results..

Thanks in no small part to David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, school strikers, Extinction Rebellion and the predictions of IPCC scientists, the environment (and in particular the climate emergency) has featured in this General Election campaign far more than in previous ones.  In the past, such issues were largely the preserve of the Green Party, for whom environmental protection is a core principle.  However in 2019 it seems as if any serious political party feels it must have policies and pledges to attract voters concerned with the climate crisis.  Do I personally feel attracted by what is on offer?

Boris Johnson has said the Tories will take action to protect the oceans and plant 30 million trees every year, because “There is nothing more conservative than protecting our environment”.  However their proposed policies in this area seem to be the least radical of the three traditional parties and they are sticking with the (conservative) target of 2050 for the UK’s transition to net-zero carbon recommended by the Committee on Climate Change.  The Conservatives’ recent track record on the environment is not brilliant, attracting widespread criticism from scientists and experts, and I can’t help feeling that in practice they will only ever move as fast on climate change as their business backers will allow them to.

The Liberal Democrats have upped the commitment on tree planting to 60 million trees each year and aim to achieve net-zero carbon emissions five years earlier.  They also aim to tackle the climate emergency by generating 80% of electricity from renewables by 2030 and insulating all low-income homes by 2025.  A more radical programme than the Tories but not as radical as Labour and the Greens.

The Labour ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ promises to “…not only tackle the climate and environmental emergency but…transform towns, cities and communities that have been held back and ignored”.  Following their September Conference they looked on course to commit to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030, but they now seem to have now pulled back from this and are probably aiming closer to 2040.  It must be said that Labour deserve credit for being the party who introduced the Bill that became the landmark Climate Change Act of 2008, which set the UK initially on a path to become a low-carbon economy.

The Brexit Party have promised to plant millions of trees, but beyond that seem to have no meaningful policy on the environment or climate change.  Not sure what UKIP think, but previously they have said they would scrap the Climate Change Act, which may give an indication.

In practice, many of the things now being pledged or promised in this area by the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, such as banning fracking, achieving net-zero carbon, creating green jobs, insulating homes, planting trees, providing green transport solutions and promoting clean energy, have been in previous Green Party manifestos.  For 2019 the Greens are proposing the most radical actions to address the climate emergency, including aiming for net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, a Green New Deal to transform the economy and society, building zero-carbon new homes and improving energy efficiency in millions of others, and totally removing fossil fuels from the economy.  Some very radical proposals which will involve significant changes in people’s lifestyle and in the way government thinks, acts and taxes if they are to be achieved.

More details of the different parties’ proposals can easily be found online.  Any proposals to tackle the climate and ecological crises we face are to be welcomed, even if in many cases the action being proposed is not really very radical.  But I do wonder how much of it is just ‘greenwashing’?

When Labour lost power in 2010 they were replaced by the Conservative-LibDem coalition which seemed more intent on imposing austerity than saving the planet.  The Conservatives won the 2015 General Election and David ‘hug a husky’ Cameron played his masterstroke of the Br*xit referendum which disrupted everything.

While much has been on hold since then, the Conservatives have managed to act in ways that have actually harmed the fight against climate change.  The Green Investment Bank was sold off, subsidies for solar energy have been scrapped and the zero carbon requirement for housebuilding abandoned.  They have failed to tackle air pollution, reduced the budgets and independence of the Environment Agency and Natural England and seem to be on course to miss several key environmental targets.  I do find it hard to trust the Tories on green issues, and it is perhaps telling that (at the time of writing) Johnson is the only major party leader refusing to take part in the forthcoming Channel 4 debate focusing on the climate crisis.  Bring on an empty chair I say.

Much of what will happen over coming years is uncertain, but because of the climate and ecological crises we are facing the way of life for many people will have to change.  As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in their 2018 report, we now have a little over ten years left to keep earth’s temperature increase to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius, beyond which even a small increase will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of our fellow humans.

If we do not take action now, then when will we take it?

I would not presume to tell anyone how they should vote in the forthcoming General Election.  People have different aspirations, principles and issues that are important to them.  For me personally this election is very much about choosing a government that will take the action that will be needed to tackle the climate emergency.  I know who I will be voting for.

Steve Dyke is a member of Medway Green Party and a previous local election candidate for Strood North and Strood South wards. Born in Northfleet, he moved to Medway aged 5 and has been here ever since.

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