IF 2024 manifesto audit 2: environment

With only days until the 2024 General Election, Toby Whelton, IF researcher, gives a breakdown on what the different parties are offering on the environment – from net zero to clean energy to the insulation of British homes.

An environmental consensus?

One of the fundamental tenants of intergenerational fairness is the need for the current generation to not over-extract from the earth and leave the planet how they found it for the young and future generations to come. Unfortunately, the ever-worsening climate crisis means this will most likely not be the case.

On the surface, it appears all political parties, bar Reform, have acknowledged this. In all the party manifestos, there is considerable attention devoted to issues of the environment such as net zero, clean energy and improving the efficiency of homes. This is all great.

However, this should not be mistaken for an absolute cross-party consensus; there are key differences across the manifestos. An inevitable progression towards net zero should not be seen as a given, it will require great political action. Recent years in global politics have revealed the fragility of some nations’ climate agreements and there is no reason to think the UK is any different. With this in mind, it is crucial the political parties’ offerings on the environment are scrutinised.

IF manifesto audit

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.

All parties, barring Reform, have scored “green” for the majority of their environmental policy. However, there are several policies in the manifestos that do not go far enough and some that are intergenerationally unjust. The devil is in the detail.

Net zero

The easiest to directly compare are targets for net zero carbon emissions. The Conservatives and Labour will stick with the current target of net zero by 2050, the Liberal Democrats (LibDems) have pushed it forward to 2045 and the Greens are the most ambitious aiming for 2040. Reform will scrap net zero all together. While ideally the sooner the better, targets for net zero are all fundamentally intergenerationally fair.

Carbon consumption

Net zero should not be seen as the singular metric of success. Many argue that in pursuit of net zero we are not necessarily reducing our emissions but rather exporting them to other countries. Instead, emissions should not just be measured at the point of production but also during consumption.

Both Labour and the Conservatives recognise this and both will introduce tariffs that tax carbon produced by imports. The Greens make a deliberate distinction in aiming not for net zero but a “zero-carbon society” implying that the costs of imported carbon will be accounted for. The LibDems do not have a directly comparable offering but will tackle the global nature of climate change by increasing international development spending to 0.7% with a particular focus on tackling the climate crisis.

Clean energy

At the heart of the transition to net zero is the transition to clean energy and this features greatly in all the manifestos. In terms of targets, Labour and Greens are aiming for completely clean energy by 2030, while the LibDems are ever so slightly more modest aiming for 90% of energy to be clean by the same date. The Conservatives do not commit, instead emphasising energy security will be priorities over decarbonization.

In terms of how, approaches vary. The Conservative favour wind, promising a tripling of offshore wind, while the LibDems are keen to emphasis a “rooftop solar revolution”. The Greens also lean towards wind, pledging wind will constitute 70% of the UK’s electricity supply by 2030. Labour will favour a more mixed approach and double onshore wind, triple solar power and quadruple offshore wind by 2030. Reform – no comment.

Fossil fuels and the North Sea

The greatest point of divergence between the two main parties is the question of North Sea licenses. Labour will not create any new licenses, but will uphold existing ones until they expire. Conversely, the Conservatives will issue new licenses under the justification of cutting the costs of tackling climate change. If elected, the Greens would push to stop all fossil fuel extraction projects in the UK. The LibDems do not explicitly mention the issue.  Meanwhile, Reform aim to fast-track North Sea licenses for oil and gas.

Beyond the obvious negative effects on the environment, North Sea oil and gas is a particular instance of intergenerational injustice as younger generations did not benefit from the profits yet will foot a bill worth just short of £60 billion for their decommissioning. The longer extraction goes on the greater this bill will be, meaning the intergenerationally fair policy is to end extraction of fossil fuels from the North Sea.


Labour cannot claim a full sweep in regards to intergenerationally fair energy policy due to their commitment to build, upgrade and complete nuclear power stations. IF believes nuclear is not intergenerationally just as it leaves future generations with billions of debt, toxic waste and the eye-watering cost of decommissioning power stations from which young generations themselves did not benefit. The Greens, who plan to cease development of new nuclear power stations, rightly point out nuclear power diverts funding away from renewables. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have also committed to scaling up nuclear power.

Energy efficient homes

While lofty targets of clean energy and net zero are all well and good, it does not tell us much about the reality of the transition for individuals on the ground. In answering this, parties have focused on making homes more energy efficient. Labour will invest £6.6 billion in a Warm Homes Plan to upgrade 5 million homes to make them more efficient and sustainable. The Greens will invest £50 billion into retrofitting homes and the LibDems will introduce a ten-year home upgrade programme to improve energy efficiency for low income households. The Conservatives have less green-minded housing plans but will maintain the energy price cap. All of this should be applauded.


Transport also features in parties’ environment offerings. Both the LibDems and Labour will support the transition to electric vehicles, with the LibDems requiring all vehicles sold to be zero-emissions by 2030. The Greens have focused on planes, proposing to ban domestic flights that would take three hours or less by train, which is a policy that aligns with IF’s recommendation from our research report “Trains over planes”.  The Greens will couple this with a frequent flyer levy.

Unfortunately, the Conservative and Reform plan to reverse London’s ULEZ expansion is a step backwards, ending a policy that will ensure cleaner air for the capital’s children.

Public ownership

What role will the government play in the transition?

Most encouraging is Labour’s plan to establish a National Wealth Fund to support green growth. IF have long advocated for the creation of a Sovereign Wealth Fund as a golden example of intergenerational fairness in action. Instead of the current situation whereby future generations inherit a polluted landscape and mountains of debt, a National Wealth Fund would pass on a greener planet and wealth for generations to come.

Labour also plan to spend £8.3 billion to create Great British Energy which will be publicly-owned and invest in renewable energy.  While less than Labour’s initially promised investment of £28 billion, this policy is still welcomed.

The Greens will also utilise the levers of government by nationalising the Big 5 retail energy companies as well as the UK water companies. IF is largely agnostic on the public/private ownership debate, but if the overarching aim is to aid the transition to net zero this counts as intergenerationally just. The Greens also want public ownership at a local level, with plans for communities to own their electricity supply.

The Conservatives and LibDems will lean more on private investment to fund the transition, which as far as IF is concerned, is also fine, as long as Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) are not used to enable the private sector to continue to exploit public sector assets for profit, while leaving future taxpayers with the bill and shoddy buildings.

Different shades of green

While all parties main policies on the environment, apart from Reform, score a “green” in our audit, differences should not be overlooked. Even though the Conservatives sticking to the current net zero target and promoting green investment should be applauded and not taken for granted, the continued issuing of North Sea licenses and reversal of ULEZ are not intergenerationally fair. Perhaps even more concerning is their manifesto’s rhetoric of an unavoidable trade-off between renewable energy vs energy security and cost-of-living. This is simply not true.

The LibDems and Labour appear more committed to the environment, with their plans to accelerate the UK to net zero. In particular, Labour’s commitment to establish a National Wealth Fund deserves praise. However, unsurprisingly it is the Greens who have gone the furthest to ensure an intergenerationally fair environmental policy, not just focusing on clean energy and net zero but answering difficult questions of nuclear power and transport as well.

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