With the election looming on 12 December, Cameron Leitch (IF placement) details the various environmental policies that parties are offering the electorate in their manifestos, and evaluates them in terms of intergenerational fairness
This election is unusual in the sense that the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union (Brexit) is the precursor for this snap general election, and it is unsurprising that – as a result – a considerable amount the debate has been consumed by Brexit policy.
However, whilst Brexit’s significance in this election cannot be understated, this blog focuses the attention upon the parties’ environmental policies – one of the leading policy areas where intergenerational fairness is recognised as a guiding principle.
In the full IF Manifesto Audit, we have applied a traffic-light system to signal how intergenerationally fair we consider the various policy offers to be. We grade intergenerationally fair pledges as “green”; “yellow” if intergenerationally neutral; “orange” if some progress has been made, but more needs to be done; and “red” if intergenerationally unfair.
Fortunately, most political parties are waking up and smelling the coffee on the environmental issue, with most of the main political parties achieving the Intergenerational Foundation’s green light on their respective environmental policy.
However, there are two notable exceptions, namely the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the Brexit Party, which have both failed the Foundation’s intergenerational fairness test, and have subsequently been given a red light. The following passages of text will explain exactly what the parties are offering and elucidate why it is, or is not, intergenerationally fair.
Most of the political parties have all pledged to ensure that we as a nation are net-zero by a certain date. This means ensuring that the nation only produces the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions which naturally leave the planet on an annual basis. Scientists have shown that human-made activity has increased the levels of emissions to an unsustainable level. The possibility that the future and younger generations may not even have a planet to exist on makes environmental policy the pre-eminent issue of intergenerational fairness.
Three parties, namely the Labour Party, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru have pledged to achieve net-zero by 2030, with the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (SNP) pledging to achieve net-zero by 2045, and the Conservatives promising it by 2050. It is hoped that these parties can collaborate with one another to ensure that, at the very least, they achieve the 2050 target, irrespective of which party or parties form the government.
Worrying signs for two parties
Despite the overwhelming recognition of the urgent need to reach carbon neutrality, the Brexit Party fails to give any attention to the net-zero policy. With the party delaying in producing a manifesto – relying seemingly on its Brexit policy – it is unsurprising perhaps that the party appears not give significant attention to environmental policy. They get a red light for pursue fracking policy and pledging to scrap HS2.
Even worse, UKIP states clearly within their manifesto that there is no climate emergency. This claim is at odds with the vast amount of scientific literature from well-respected scientists who state that there is a climate emergency. Therefore, UKIP, like the Brexit Party, is also red-lighted.
Despite no net-zero
Despite UKIP and the Brexit Party choosing not to tackle the issue of net-zero carbon emissions, they both at least detail a couple of positive pledges which will benefit the environment, and hence younger and future generations. The Brexit Party promises to plant millions of trees to capture carbon dioxide and would make it illegal for waste to be exported across the world to be burnt, buried or dumped at sea – both of which are appreciated additions.
Moreover, UKIP will seek to address excessive packaging and the use of plastics. This is welcomed as research asserts that 5,000 items of marine plastic pollution have been found per mile of beach in the UK – having deleterious effects on our ecosystem. UKIP also pledge to protect the Green Belt – which is welcomed. However, we view that UKIP’s belief that unsustainable population growth, fuelled predominantly by mass immigration, is the main threat to the environment is misguided.
The other main political parties add to their net-zero pledges
A fivesome of political parties is competing with one another on improving the energy efficiency of homes within the UK: Plaid Cymru vow to build 20,000 social homes; the Conservatives promise to improve the efficiency of 2.2 million homes; the SNP pledge £5 billion to tackle energy efficiency; the Liberal Democrats promise to insulate all low-income homes by 2025; Labour plan an investment of £250 billion to ensure that 27 million homes are made energy efficient. Whilst all these policies receive a green tick when aggregated against intergenerational fairness, you can see that some parties are offering distinctly more than others.
There is also cross-party support (except for UKIP and the Brexit Party) for clean transport, although some parties are more specific than others when detailing how they will achieve this. Labour are pledging to commit £300 million to establish an electric fleet of 30,000 vehicles. The Liberal Democrats pledge that by 2030 every new car and small van sold is electric. The Greens would end the sale of new petrol- and diesel-fuelled vehicles by 2030. On the other hand, the Conservatives, the least specific of the parties pledging for cleaner transport, state that they will still need further consultation to set a date when clean transport will be achievable.
Despite environmental policy and aspects of transport policy being a devolved matter, and thus not applicable beyond their respective nations, it must be stated that both Plaid Cymru and the SNP are helping lead the way in the quest for clean transport. Plaid Cymru have set an ambitious target of developing a fully electric transport system by 2030, and the SNP have pledged to produce a fully electric vehicle system by 2030.
Of course, if the respective parties are to live up to their net-zero pledges, it should be expected that they will make significant inroads into developing the infrastructure for a fully electric transport system. The current model is too heavily reliant on petrol and diesel, both of which are fossil fuels, which emit high volumes of carbon dioxide.
Not only does the fossil-fuel based transport system contribute to global warming, it has also been linked to 40,000 deaths through air pollution, according to research conducted by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
With research suggesting that each cohort of young people since the early 1990s uses cars less than the preceding cohort, and with the youngest generation legally unable to drive, we can start to unpack the presence of intergenerational inequality within a polluting transport system, and the urgent need for an overhaul.
Whilst most political parties are ostensibly providing intergenerationally fair environmental policies, some parties are distinctly ahead of curve. The quintet of the Green Party, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party and Plaid Cymru have all set ambitious targets, on achieving net-zero, working towards a clean transport system and ensuring that housing is energy-efficient, and have achieved a green light.
The Conservatives, whilst also granted a green light, demonstrate a notably less ambitious approach towards environmental policy.
UKIP and the Brexit Party on the other hand, are markedly detached from the main body of political parties, with both receiving red lights from the Intergenerational Foundation for some of their policies. UKIP’s denial of the climate emergency and the Brexit Party’s relative neglect of all issues which are not synonymous with Brexit have meant that they have failed to demonstrate that they will suitably tackle environmental policy, and suggest that the younger and future generations would be worse off under the governance of these parties.
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