General election: What do the parties promise on the environment?

Written by Lori Campbell on 5th Dec 2019

It has been by far the greenest campaign in UK election history, with all the major parties pledging tougher policies on the environment and climate change. Coming at the end of a year that has seen unprecedented protests about climate change on a global scale, the poll on December 12 has been dubbed ‘the climate election’.

Brits have made it very clear that climate change matters – enough even, to be the deciding factor in who gets their vote. But what have the main parties promised on the environment, and are any of them up to the enormous challenge ahead? To help you decide, we round up the parties’ key policies on the environment.

 

Cutting carbon

The parties all agree that the UK must virtually eliminate its greenhouse gas emissions (which contribute to global warming) in the coming decades – but the deadlines they’ve set for achieving this varies hugely.

The Green Party makes the most ambitious pledge, to put a total ban on the gases – which are created by burning fossil fuels – by 2030. This would mean swapping all petrol and diesel vehicles for electric, every home being effectively insulated, and phasing out gas boilers. The steel and chemical industries would need to capture the harmful carbon they emit. The issue with this plan is whether it can realistically be achieved.

After issuing an emotive warning that “we stand on the brink of unstoppable change”, Labour says it would aim to reduce the majority of emissions by 2030 and would reach net zero within that decade. The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, say 2030 is impossible. Like the SNP, they say they would stop emissions by 2045 – which in itself would be quite a feat.

The Conservatives are sticking to the 2050 target announced in June, which remains a world-leading goal. But given the enormity of the climate crisis, it could be viewed as being a little tame.

Sign up to our weekly newsletter

Get better with money, in every way.

Tackling transport

All parties say they want to improve public transport and reduce the number of cars on the road. The Conservatives promise a £28.8 billion investment in local and strategic roads. This would increase cars and make it harder to reduce emissions.

Labour intends to invest in local roads but it also wants to tempt people away out of their cars and into buses to cut pollution. Bus travel would be free for the under 25s. It will aim to scrap petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

The Liberal Democrats want to reduce the number of cars on the road and plan to spend 10 per cent of the overall transport budget on boosting walking and cycling. It has set aside £4.5 billion to preserve and restore bus routes. The Green Party has set 2030 as the deadline for stopping the sale of non-electric cars.

Labour says it will also aim for that date, while the Conservatives would review its current target of 2040 (which is too late if they want zero emissions overall by 2050). The SNP wants the whole of the UK to follow its target of moving to electric vehicles by 2032.

The Conservatives say there will be no more public money for a third runway at Heathrow airport, but does not mention broader airport expansion. Labour, under pressure from the unions, has left the door open to more airports, although it has set a high bar for Heathrow expansion.

The Green Party will scrap the ongoing rail project, HS2. It is also the only party to totally oppose airport expansion (while the Lib Dems are against Heathrow, they do not oppose regional airport expansion).

The SNP wants the whole UK to follow its target of moving to electric vehicles by 2032. Most radically, they and the Lib Dems would impose a frequent flyer tax on people who take more than one or two return flights per year. That would penalise the wealthy 15 per cent who do 70 per cent of the flying.

 

Cleaning the countryside

Neither Lib Dem nor Labour nor Conservative manifestos acknowledge the emissions involved in eating meat, despite the rapid rise of veganism in the UK due to environmental concerns. Only the Green Party tackles this controversial issue, proposing a tax on meat and dairy products in order to curb emissions from livestock.  It also proposed a new “ecocide” law which would prevent crimes against the environment (including banning pesticides).

The Conservatives pledge to redirect farm grants to farmers who improve the environment. This could be by encouraging wildlife or capturing floodwaters on their fields and would be supported by a £640 million ‘Nature for Climate Fund’ to support natural systems to soak up emissions. The Green Party would borrow £100 billion a year for the purpose of transforming the country to bring in new industries and green jobs alongside them.

Labour has also set out plans for a Green New Deal which would include investment in a green transition, the transformation of the financial system and one million new green jobs in the energy sector.

 

Tree planting

The effectiveness of planting trees in soaking up CO2 emissions is now universally accepted. But how many trees are each party pledging to plant?

Labour: 100 million a year (two billion by 2040)

Greens: 70 million a year

Lib Dems: 60 million a year

SNP: 60 million a year

Conservatives: 30 million a year

 

Reducing waste

The Liberal Democrats and Labour would clamp down on single-use plastics, while the Conservatives would ban waste exports to all countries except those with the right facilities to recycle them.

 

Paying for a Green transformation

The Green Party says it would put protection of the environment at the heart of all government policy. It would borrow £100 billion a year to pay for it, prioritising mass home insulation and new industries which create clean jobs as dirty industries close down.

Labour also commits to huge government spending, promising to retrofit energy saving measures such as double glazing and insulation into almost all the UK’s 27 million homes.

The Lib Dems promise an emergency 10-year programme to reduce energy consumption from all buildings. But it insists massive borrowing isn’t necessary to transform industry as government incentives can draw in private investment. Plaid Cymru and the SNP are also promising a green jobs revolution. Plaid also plans to borrow £5 billion to support clean industries such as wind and tidal energy.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have made fracking (which involves cracking rocks to extract gas, and has caused earthquakes in Lancashire) an unlikely prospect in the UK. They’re also proposing improved energy efficiency for homes, although less than the other parties, and want a big investment in offshore wind.